My journey to Orthodoxy was a long and winding road. I was born into a Mormon family, but my parents divorced when I was three-years-old. After my mother remarried, I was baptized Catholic at the age of six, and we attended Sunday Mass and Saturday Catechism classes. Later my family transitioned to a Southern Baptist community. During those years I participated in church rallies and mission trips to orphanages in Tijuana, Mexico. By the time I was a teenager I had already been active in three very different expressions of Christianity! I’m thankful for all God has led me through and allowed me to experience. In my childlike mind, I worshipped the same God all of those years–Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There was no judgment or discernment about the differences, as I never learned anything about church history at that age. Children have a way of simplifying concepts in their minds so they can understand them. God is love. That is what I knew was true.
It was the 1960s and I was entering into my “got to be me” teenage years. The Jesus Movement was big on my high school campus. While I continued to seek a genuine walk-with-God, I rejected all I had understood about church before, and traded it in for church services on the beaches of Southern California. How perfect that seemed!
In my twenties, I married, started a family, and began my career in cardiac ultrasound. We attended a Protestant non-denominational church, of the Calvary Chapel movement founded by Pastor Chuck Smith. At Calvary Chapel it was not unusual to have five hundred people in “the Tent” for a Wednesday night Bible study. Even with these impressive numbers at church, I felt empty and disconnected. I thirsted for something more.
In 1989 a job opportunity led our family to move from Southern California to Northern California. My new employer was a physician, a quiet man raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. I was drawn to the icons in his office and the smell of incense on his clothes when he would enter the office after attending an early morning Liturgy. I knew nothing of this very strange and different Christian tradition, but my interest was piqued. My eyes were drawn to a very large icon of Mary holding the Christ child in his office. I felt at peace as I gazed at its beauty. What was happening? Looking at the icon, I felt I had found something very different from all the other churches I had known. One day I noticed the book Becoming Orthodox by Fr. Peter Gilquist on the doctor’s desk. I asked if could borrow it and he obliged. I began reading that evening and couldn’t put it down; I read through the night. A light bulb had gone off for me! Suddenly all the Scripture verses that didn’t make sense before, made sense. Of Course! Why wouldn’t we honor Mary, the Theotokos, as she proclaimed to her cousin Elizabeth, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48)?” Why wouldn’t we follow the Apostles’ teachings,when St. Paul instructed us to “hold fast to the teachings whether in word or in deed (II Thess. 2:15)?” Why wouldn’t I believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ when He said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me (John 6:56)?”
Reading Becoming Orthodox changed my life and I could not turn back. My next step was to visit with the local priest at St Basil Greek Orthodox Church in Stockton, California. Thus began my Catechism: Fr. Philip Armstrong assigned books for me to read, followed by meetings to discuss topics I had questions about from my reading. After two years of studying and discussing, I was received into the Orthodox Church in 1991. Fr. Philip gave me St. Eleftherios as my patron. His name translates to “freedom.” Finally, I was free to worship in Truth. I felt I had come home. The old me could never fully understand the Scriptures and faith that the Western mindset had presented to me. The new me was beginning to understand with a different mindset, and to receive the fruit of St. Paul’s work “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:9).”
Over the past twenty-eight years, I’ve been involved in almost every aspect of parish life. It was important for me to do this, in order to help me understand both the parish and the Orthodox life. I’ve been in choir the entire time, which helped me to learn the Liturgy and to begin understanding Greek. I served on the Parish Council, and as the president of our Philoptochos chapter. Then as our parish began getting more converts, I started to feel a calling to share with other newcomers. That’s when I became the leader of our parish Missions & Evangelism Ministry. In this role, I’ve organized the church tours at the festival, and created outreach classes for the community and the parish, using Fr. Barnabas Powell’s Journey to Fullness videos. This has been a rewarding experience.
As even lifelong Orthodox Christians will agree, there is always more to learn. I continue to grow in Christ through His mercy and grace. Like the Ethiopian in Acts 8, I have been asking,” How can I understand except someone shall guide me?” As the Ethiopian did, I pray that by God’s grace, my eyes will be illumined, as I continue to study and serve. Glory be to God!