Having just been received yesterday and today into the Church, I felt it would be a good time for me to add to this thread!
I was raised entirely without religion, by a mother who is nominally "spiritual but not religious", somewhat admiring of her quaker heritage, and to a father born to a line of southern Episcopalian aristocrats, who is a rebellious, politically and ideologically gentleman farmer who would probably fancy his own philosophy to fall somewhere in between Che Guevara, Tolstoy, Bakunin and an African Animist. I was raised well, never wanting of anything, but always very restless. As a young adolescent, as early as 11, I began to dabble in drugs, booze and sex, and this dominated the next 7 years of my life. I finally fell out of this, and through an odd series of events: a moment at St. Peter's when I was still qute a hedonist, trying to write my own ode to Tropic of Cancer, a night when I made an sort of informal confession to a friend, and then experiencing Christianity more and more, I knew I was a Christian. I searched through Protestantism and Catholicism, eventually reading Augustine and befriending a devout Catholic, himself returning to faith from great sin, and was finally confirmed a Catholic 8-9 years ago.
This has been a strange process, one that, in an acute sense, I did not expect to ever begin (though in many ways, I believe it began 10 years ago...). When I was received into the Roman Catholic Church, it was after a lot of thought and prayer, and it became the center of my life, in many ways. No matter what trials I went through, over the last 10 years or so since then, no matter what views I maintained, what self-image I projected, where I lived, what I did, etc., my identity as a Roman Catholic, and most importantly follower of Christ, and believer in One Apostolic Church, did not change. I was married a Catholic, had my children baptized as Catholics, was inspired by the Saints and their works, and forged some important relationships through the Church. I was never "cafeteria" about it, in theory, though at various points, like all of us, I believe I drifted in practice; spiritual laziness can be hard to escape, but I never doubted the Faith, not in any whole or external sense. Of course, we all experience inner doubt; Some corner of my mind will probably doubt God's existence even as I write this!
Anya, my wife was raised in the USSR, and as such was not raised with much faith. (though her family is mostly Orthodox now, having all been baptized in the early post-Soviet years, like many Russians) That said, even as I became, technically, a Christian before she did, while we were early in our dating, I believe she inherently possesses a lot more Christian-ness than I do, or most people I know. Her coming to Christ was understated and gradual, but she was eventually baptized and chrismated Orthodox, something I assumed she did, not really falsely at that, at least initially, for cultural reasons. As a Roman Catholic, not well-versed in the East, I just adopted John Paul II's "two lungs" idea, and figured that the Eastern Orthodox were just like us, just a bit stubborn, perhaps, but good enough. The issue did not arise, for a while.
Then, we had children. This changed a couple of things. For one, it bound our marriage more firmly. Secondly, it made us much more aware of the need for a family unit, almost a united family front, in the spiritual realm. Finally, the mutual insistence of each of our churches that those children be baptized one or the other opened our eyes a bit to the reality that these churches were not, to be totally accurate, the same. This came to a head when we spent our first long stretch of time in Russia together, last Spring. These things, combined with a longing for that aforementioned unity, spurred us on to agree, together, to look into one another's faiths. It was very hard to try to create the "little church" that a family rightly should be, when we could not even commune together, or attend one church on Sundays. For Anya, this search was double-edged; she admitted to not knowing much of the deeper fundamentals of her own faith, so for her, she was looking into both. We agreed to research independently, to speak each to priests and laypeople from both churches, to attend different services together, not to meddle in the other's path, and to shed our prejudices and outside influences, i.e., for Anya to forget that the OC was "Russian", at least in her jurisdiction, and for me to forget that I had such a firm conviction in Catholicism, and had such close friends in the church. This "inquiry" began late last Spring. I began lurking and then posting on this board around then, and have continued to.
My assumption, from the outset, was that I would find no compelling reason to even consider Orthodoxy, that it was a nice thing, but that Anya, earnestly looking at the whole picture, would have to shed her cultural ties if she wanted the fullness of truth. I was puzzled by how fragmented/ethnic Orthodoxy seemed(Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Oriental Orthodox, OCA, etc.), and by their lack of a defined hierarch similar to the Pope. Once I began looking, though, a lot of doubt began to arise.
I don't want to go into every little point of theological debate that I encountered. This would be a waste of time. I will say that various things began to make me wonder if Orthodoxy might be the way:
1. Certain Catholic doctrines, when held up to Orthodox alternatives, troubled me: the validity of the modern (post 10th or post 19th century) definition of the papacy, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, indulgences (not the paid ones, I know that was never supposed to be allowed), various marian apparitions, and how they influenced dogma, the development of the Novus Ordo liturgy, filioque (which many will claim is insignificant, but I can't believe that. Kallistos Ware lays out why quite well), and universal celibacy of priests. These issues troubled me in a way they had not when I had looked at only Protestantism and Catholicism, years ago. Protestant ideology never held any sway with me; it was too blatantly obvious that their model looked nothing like historical, apostolic Christianity. Sola Scriptura was too plainly lacking, among other major points, as in, lack of apostolic succession. I didn't know there was a church that maintained perfect apostolic succession, unchanged in doctrine, essentially, that functioned sans Rome. Further, with regard to the various scandals of history, though I recognized that any church composed of men would always be rife with sinners, I found that the particular, extraordinary claims made by the hierarchy of the RCC seemed in a way incongruous with the realities of some of Her actions.
2. Theological style, and style of praxis. I was attracted to the mysterious nature of the Orthodox Church. This can be a very vague statement, almost cliché and it's tough to quantify, though for one, I just felt, in a profound way, how the church, during the Liturgy, became a totally different place, a place where the Kingdom of God becomes absolutely present. I also believe that the distinction of Essence and Energies really articulated what I had always believed about the nature of God and our relationship to him, and I think that most Christian expression is eventually rooted in attempts to articulate our experiences of His Energies. Many Orthodox-influenced works, including theological ones, right on down to Dostoevsky, had a great effect on me.
3. My comparative discussions with clergy and laity had an impact on me, especially one Orthodox priest back in the US. I know that His prayers, and those of many of you have played a part in my journey.
There are other things, but I won't dig any deeper here. The most important point comes in a bit.
The search went on through the summer/fall. My interest in Orthodoxy/Religion at all initially waned a bit when I got home; baseball season started (I coach and play for a College team that plays a Fall season), I was near my home Catholic parish again, and not in Russia anymore. I attended that church, but I felt something strange about it. I got so confused, that for a time last Fall I think I even doubted God. I became very aloof, all the different arguments and bits of history I had read invading my thoughts and jumping around in circles. I attended no church for a few weeks, did not pray, just felt off, overwhelmed by all the reading and talking I had done. I exhibited some ugly attitudes, I believe, at this time.
Finally, I came back, like I always did, but resolved to stop trying so darn hard, and let prayer, and attendance at church do the talking. This was just before coming back to Russia, but I had already begun to feel the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit into the Orthodox Church. The last few weeks we were in the US, we went to Anya's church together, I a few times alone, to Vespers, etc.
When I got back to Russia, we all started going to church together, and then I met a fellow American convert to Orthodoxy, and then a priest, and a parish. I finally had a sit-down with this priest, and expressed my interest in Orthodoxy. We chatted for a while, and he made some suggestions. I, unofficially, at this meeting, became a catechumen, for all intents and purposes. I resolved to basically keep trying Orthopraxis out, eyes wide open. Anya and I began to say a prayer rule every night, together. The children were chrismated, and I entered Lent not certain, but feeling like I was becoming Orthodox. I have fasted through Lent, which has been eye-opening in many directions, kept that prayer rule, and been more Christ-centered than ever before, looking for His will as much as possible. I have prayed more thoroughly, constantly, and meaningfully than I ever have before.
This is that important point I mentioned before; Every time I am honest with myself, I recognize that pull into the Orthodox Church, and how right what I am doing is.
This is/has not been an easy path, at all, for many reasons: I hate thinking that I would be putting up a barrier between myself and my very close Catholic friends. Orthodoxy, the most ancient of Christian faiths, is still in its infancy in America; it is present, but people don't understand it. The community of the Church is not so ubiquitous as is that of the RC Church, or the various branches ofProtestantism. I know that those in my family/friends who are not believers, and who probably took my conversion to Catholicism not too seriously a decade ago, seeing it as a passing phase, whom I have worked so hard to gain respect for my faith from, will find newfound conviction in that assumption that I am just passing through phases. I will have a hard time explaining this move to many people, even believers, who do not understand Orthodoxy. I will be leaving a tradition that has nursed me in many ways, that brought me to Christ, really, that has worship, music, art, literature and spiritual tradition that I love, and always will love in some ways. Make no mistake, I will never see the Roman Catholic Church as just another denomination. I have disagreements, now, and I believe that Rome is in error in many ways, and I believe that the Orthodox Church is the fullest embodiment of the One, Holy , Catholic and Apostolic Church, but I cannot hate Rome, nor should I hate anyone searching for Christ.
Yesterday, Saturday, I made a confession to my priest here in Russia. I said the Creed, with him, took the name of Nikolai, and renounced my RC beliefs. I approached heartbroken, and exited the cathedral to the brightest sun I've seen in a long time. Today, on Palm Sunday, I took Communion with my family, and was received into the Orthodox Church fully. My feeling of calm and well-being is incomparable, and our little family, I, my wife, my son and daughter, and the next little one whom we are eagerly awaiting, are so joyous!
I ask that you pray for me, a sinner, especially in my spiritual infancy, when I am so vulnerable to the attacks of the Evil One. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
Humbly and gratefully, In Christ,