I've been contemplating telling my story on this thread for awhile, so here it goes:
I was born into a Catholic family and was baptized as an infant. From that point on things get rather hazy as to what I believed. The catechists at my home parish were flat out horrible, and I don't remember having a clear grasp of what made us "Catholic", I just knew were weren't like those crazy sola scriptura fundamentalist protestants and I kinda had a thing for Francis of Assisi (not because of his faith, but because he was all about the environment). To sum up my beliefs upon my confirmation at age 17: Jesus was a good guy who was all about helping the poor (and little else), the Church was only a human institution, only really really evil people like Hitler were actually
going to hell, all paths claiming to lead to God lead to God, etc... and all the while I met not one person at my home parish who challenged these beliefs. In fact, the only reason I went through with the sacrament was to not break the heart of my grandmother, who is still a devout Catholic.
Needless to say, I was only one step away from falling completely away from what little faith had been instilled in me as a child, and shortly after being confirmed I was ready to declare myself a "free-thinker" and became a closet (I was afraid of the backlash from my family) agnostic/atheist. It felt good for awhile, but over time I just became more cynical. Music became my God, Neil Young and Bob Dylan were my patrons, science was my bible, and liberal politics was my muse. From a materialist view, I should have been on top of the world. I was young and about to enter college with my whole life ahead of me. But on a spiritual level, outside of losing myself in distractions, I could only feel good about my lack of belief when I was putting down the "unwashed masses" who still clung to their religion. At the same time however, I never felt comfortable leveling those accusations at people I actually knew whose faith I experienced first hand. At one point during that summer, I can remember just being completely fed up with it all. I was miserable. I needed a reason to believe.
Coming from a materialist worldview, I started reading books about the relationship between science and God. The work of Catholic biologist Dr. Ken Miller (who teaches at Brown University) and the Protestant Francis Collins (who headed the human genome project) really made an impact on me. I had taken my first step from atheist to deism, but I still wasn't completely satisfied. At this point I turned to the writings of Jewish physicist Gerald Shroeder. Dr. Shroeder was able to harmonize my need for scientific evidence with the god of Genesis, which allowed me to believe in a personal god again. After this step, I realized I had hit a crossroads, it was either Judaism or Christianity. In other terms, who was Jesus? On a side note (and because I really didn't know where else to put this in my story), it's worth mentioning that at no point in my search did I ever seriously consider polytheism or Islam. There was one creation of the physical universe, so from there I reasoned that there must be one god. Why I never considered Islam is a trickier question, and one I still don't have a concrete answer for. I have my reasons now, but they came rather late in my conversion process.
The Jesus question was one I straddled for several months. I set about trying to solve it by learning, the same way I had dealt with my earlier questions, but this time I had prayer. While throughout this whole process I had never stopped attending my home parish for weekly Mass (trying to keep up appearances), in private I only felt comfortable calling upon "the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob". My major breakthrough came by reading the writings of Anglican New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright. Wright's book How God Became King
, really cemented in me the belief that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. It was Jesus or bust from this point out.
Catholicism seemed like a natural home base once I had found Jesus. At no point had I externally broken away from the Church of Rome (as an atheist, I probably attend Mass more regularly than most Catholics), but internally I still felt no affinity for her hierarchy or her teachings. I set about solving this by learning as much I could about Catholicism. It didn't take long for me to be swept off my feet. I was in love, and for about four months I ate, breathed, and sweated Catholicism. But even after all this I still
wasn't completely satisfied. No matter where I went, from my "spirit of Vatican II" home parish to the local Cathedral, something was missing. While intellectually I had assented to Rome's doctrines, I was never able to find my niche in Catholic spirituality. I eventually realized that what I wanted more liturgical tradition
than what was being offered at the college I attended (if I wasn't part of the youth culture, it had no place in the liturgy) or what I could find in town (historic parish building, same bad liturgy). I became an advocate of the Latin mass, said my daily prayers out of the 1962 missal, would only read from the Douay-Rheims... a "more Catholic than the Pope" attitude. But then one day, out of the blue, I was browsing a traditionalist Catholic Facebook page and something just felt wrong. Then it hit me: Why were all the things that define traditional Catholicism absent from the church until the 11th century?
I started reading articles on orthodoxinfo.com, attending catechumen classes at a local parish, made myself a makeshift icon corner, and started saying my morning an evening prayers from an Orthodox prayer book... but I still couldn't bring myself to miss Mass with my family (I stayed at home for college) to attend a liturgy. I was caught between two worlds. Fate forced my hand rather abruptly when I got the news one morning that my grandfather had been diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer. Within two months he was dead. My grandfather really meant a lot to me, and in the wake of his passing I felt the need to be there for my grandmother (who has just buried her own mother eight months earlier) in any way I could. I felt like that despite all my reservations I had
to remain Catholic. I cobbled together what ever proof I could of Rome's assertions and forced myself to close the case. Rome had won, end of discussion.
But my questions still remained in the back of my mind, and the spiritual void was in no way filled by my forced conclusions. I flirted briefly with sedevancantism, and considered joining the Society of St. Pius X. I stopped praying in front of my icons (despite the fact that I had only Christ, the Theotokos, and my guardian angel) for fear that it would somehow make me Orthodox... it was a rather pitiful state. Finally I was forced to face the facts, the issue had not
been resolved. I had to defeat the Orthodox position on papal primacy once and for all if I was ever going to get any peace. So I asked: "If St. John Chysostom appealed to Rome when he was exiled, why don't the Orthodox accuse this beloved Saint of Papism? For if he really saw Rome as the head of the Church as Catholic apologists claim, it would be absolutely erroneous for the Orthodox to venerate him today."
Needless to say, real story of St. John Chrysostom was a lot more complex than I had been led to believe by Catholic apologists. I consulted the fathers in their proper context, and found that many of the claims for Roman supremacy taken form the writings of the fathers are a mix of half truths, biased translations, and blatant distortion on the part of Catholic apologists. It was during this time I affirmed another long held suspicion, that many of the spiritual practices of the post-schism Western church were at direct odds with the teachings of the spiritual masters of the undivided Church, yet Orthodoxy had retained these teachings intact. A straight line ran from St. Anthony of Egypt to Elder Paisios.
I then set up a meeting with the priest who had held the catechumen classes that I had attended several months before. He rightly viewed my new found enthusiasm with skepticism, but was willing to take me on again. I let my parents know that this was something I was considering seriously, and after three painful weeks I was finally able to attend my first Vespers. From that point on I knew that this was something I had to do. I immersed myself in Orthodoxy, and found that what had been lacking in Catholicism was present in abundance. Here was everything I had ever wanted, and things I didn't even know were missing. I felt home
for the first time in my life. Ever step I took from that point on only pulled me in deeper.
I could go on and on at this point, but hopefully you get the idea. Telling my grandmother was rather painful, but once I got that out of the way things really opened up and she's been respectful and supportive of my decision. Same with my parents, although I don't think that either of them will be converting anytime soon. My biggest falling out was with my friends from college who were Catholic, but my new parish family has filled that gap.