Good afternoon, forum members,
I have been a casual reader of this forum for the past few weeks and thought that I would sign on. I hope that this opportunity for interaction and discussion with others more seasoned in the faith will be beneficial.
I'll introduce myself and then will look forward to joining in (and learning from) the discussions, as time permits.
A bit of my background and how I got here:
I converted to the Orthodox Christian faith and was received by chrismation into the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in January. I was born into a Methodist family, with parents who were not active church-goers but with pious grandparents who bought me my first Bible when I was four years old and saw to it that I went to church with them every Sunday.
I've always had a love for history. At an early age, I became active in studying the genealogy of my family, a hobby (addiction?) which has stayed with me ever since. At first, I peppered my older relatives with questions and then began examining whatever old documents I could find, traveling far and wide to study these old records. Through these studies, I learned that my ancestry was a thorough mixture of Pennsylvania German (Mennonite/Lutheran/Reformed/United Brethren), Scots-Irish (Presbyterian) and one-quarter Ukrainian (my maternal grandmother). Although many of my ancestors have been in America for three centuries, the most enigmatic for me was that of my grandmother's family. Her parents emigrated from the former Galicia (Halychyna) and were Ukrainian Catholics, later attending a Roman Catholic Church when no Eastern Rite church was available in their community.
I was always active in church work growing up, eventually attaining the status of a certified lay speaker within the United Methodist Church. This position enables one to supply pulpits (preach) whenever a pastor is away, there is a vacancy, etc. It is not a clergy position, Methodism relying heavily on the support of its lay leadership. I preached many, many sermons in various churches and nursing home settings.
Increasingly – from where, I do not know – when drafting these sermons, I developed an inclination to seek wisdom and guidance from the fathers of the church. More and more, Sts. Polycarp, Chrysostom, etc., began to find their way into my sermons. I became increasingly interested in a more liturgical form of worship and advocated, as much as I could, for reforms to accommodate my “discoveries.” I sought for our little church to observe more of the feast days, such as Ascension Day, processing with the Gospel, and to embrace a more liturgical form of worship. These efforts met with some (small) degree of success, usually instituted by me. I recall that I often sought, and queried my pastor, about what the original form of worship for the church looked like.
I became increasingly dismayed with the laxity that I was observing in worship, and had an internal conviction that the proper expression of worship, hymns, etc., should be God-ward, rather than us-ward. There is a tendency in mainline Protestant churches today (from where it came, I do not know) for prayer requests to be offered up in the middle of the service. I saw this everywhere, and in some cases it turned into a bragging/gossip session. In short, it made me uncomfortable.
When I was traveling for extended periods, I sought out worship services in a more high-church Methodist Church as well as in an Episcopal Church. I saw great value in the continuity of tradition and the emphasis on liturgy and the sacraments in the Episcopal tradition, but I could not reconcile myself, in my heart of hearts, with their extreme reinterpreting of the church’s traditional social positions. Something about it just didn’t “feel right” inside. It seemed that, in so many ways, the church bended so much to accommodate outsiders and to feel welcoming that it broke. My grandfather always warned that if a church continually changes to accommodate the wishes of the world, eventually it will have nothing left. I saw this in so many ways.
Now, these storylines begin to converge. In the course of my genealogical studies, two significant events happened. First, while visiting with friends one weekend, I happened to mention about my efforts at tracing my Ukrainian ancestry and to learn the language. My friend offered that there was a Ukrainian Catholic Church nearby and perhaps we might visit it that Sunday for worship. So we did. In the process, I discovered that distant relatives of mine helped to found this church, and I recognized many surnames in the parish cemetery, which intrigued me all the more. The liturgy was beautiful and reflective of that seriousness and reverence toward God that I had been seeking. At that liturgy I met a young man from Western Ukraine who was there on summer work and travel, and who has remained one of my great friends ever since.
Additionally, I discovered living relatives in Ukraine. To facilitate my communication with them, I joined a social network and posted my profile. In short, through this medium, I met my wife. She immigrated from Ukraine and we married last year. Although “culturally Christian” and a believer, she was a member of no established church when we married. We were living in a new community and, for the first month or so, I attended worship services alone in various Protestant and Catholic Churches.
At about that time, however, we discovered that there was a Ukrainian festival in our community, held at the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Of course, we went. Everyone was very, very kind there. I had some questions about the history of the church, I think, so we were told to speak to the priest, outside.
It was a life-changing decision. He sat with us for the better part of an hour, and took a genuine and sincere interest in us, as people. He discussed our marriage, the importance of building a strong spiritual foundation for our family, as well as being a very down-to-earth, decent human being. This greatly affected my wife, whose experiences with priests in Ukraine were much less than positive. Soon after, she asked me if we could go to his church on Sunday. We visited a few times, and she sought baptism there.
I was still somewhat reluctant – somewhat prideful – but I decided that, if my wife was affected by the power of God in this church, and if it has held to the same liturgy and teachings from the days of the Fathers, I should investigate it. I went to the library and took out half a dozen or so books on the history and teachings of Orthodoxy, read Internet forums, and asked the priest to give me some literature. I devoured as much as I could and was convinced that this Orthodox Church is the Church that is spoken about in the Bible, retaining its worship and teachings from the times of the Fathers. These teachings, which I saw dimly reflected in my past experience, and for which I hungered, were now apparent in their fullness. I expressed my belief to the priest and, at the end of January, I was received by chrismation. My prayer life, with which I greatly struggled all of my life, began to deepen and become more rich. I felt at home and, while yet far off, felt that God was drawing me closer.
Now, I seek to deepen my life of faith and I hope that this forum will help me to deal with my spiritual growth. There are hard spaces, including dealing with older relatives who do not understand exactly what I’ve converted to, a need to familiarize myself with the details of the Eastern tradition of worship which remain mysterious to me, and the need – which I look forward to – to meet and fellowship with others in our community of faith. I’m sure that I will have many, many questions, and perhaps I can contribute something to the discussion down the line.