Hello all, God Bless.
Let me start this story at the beginning. I was born and raised in Minnesota. My parents are loving, dedicated parents.(For the record I am 21 years old now.) I grew up a "baptist." I saw "baptist" because my parents believe in Jesus, and if anyone were to ask them they'd say their baptist, however they rarely attended church. I would go to church with the neighbors, and I would go to "youth group" on Wednesday nights. However, most of my religious education growing up came from my grandmother. She is a fire-breathing died in the wool baptist. She has read through her KJV more times than I can count, and almost never missed church. During my summers with her she would bring us to church with her. When I was 10 years old I got "saved" one Sunday. I remember my grandma crying and just being so proud of me, and I felt like I was making God happy, so from then on I read my Bible and started praying a lot. When someone said "Christian," I immediately thought of my grandma. To me, being a Christian meant believing in Sola Scriptura(although I had no idea such words existed at the time), and of course Sola Fide. Also, the Bible was the Inerrant Word of God, the world was created in six literal days, there would be a rapture one day with the Anti-Christ and the whole shabang. As I got a little older, I even renounced my previous liberalism, because as we all knew, Jesus was a Republican, and loved America just a little more than everyone else. (You know people actually think like that, and I was young and impressionable.
) I was a true evangelical fundamentalist Christian. On the outside, I was a "great Christian."(It was a facade, on the inside I was raging with turmoil as I was struggling with many personal demons, including struggling hard with pornography)
One day however my world was shaken up. I was sitting at youth group one day, and we were having an open discussion. A girl mentioned how she would like us to pray for her friends who were Roman Catholics, she was sure they were going to hell. I thought, "who the heck is this girl to send these poor people to hell? Also, aren't Catholics Christians?" It never occured to me that any other group of Christians could be labeled "false Christians," except Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, whom my youth directors regularly labeled as "cults" and "heretics," and we were all assured that they were going to hell. Back to the point, my youth directors agreed with this girl's assessment. Roman Catholics were going to hell, and were false Christians. "But they love Christ just like we do! I mean, they taught that all you needed to do was make Christ 'your personal Lord and Savior' and you were a Christian! You could go to heaven! What's so bad about these Catholics?" God put it in my heart to do some research. I poured over countless websites and read some books on Catholicism, I did have to admit it was all foreign to me. I mean they didn't believe in Sola Scriptura and all of that, and they had the Pope, and Mary and it seemed strange to me. But I couldn't believe they were all going to hell.
On another night, we were told that we shouldn't be friends with non-Christians anymore it was "too dangerous" or something like that. Of course they were all going to hell. What bothered me most is the way they said it. My youth directors(a married couple) are lovely people and are so nice, yet here they were so off-handedly condemning 90% of the world to hell like they were discussing the weather! It didn't seem to bother them at all!
I left that church in search of something different. Through my research I began to have doubts about all of my cherished protestant tenants. For instance, Scripture Alone falls apart like a house of cards under scrutiny. Once you un-ravel Sola Scriptura, it's like driving a stake into protestantism. However, I was so stunned to have the faith of my upbringing unraveled that I became agnostic. I didn't trust institutional religion anymore. I looked at Buddhism and eastern philosophies. However through it all I discovered Catholicism again. After much prayer and study, I enrolled in RCIA and began the process of becoming Catholic.
I officially became Catholic Easter of 2006, at the age of 18. However, certain questions about Catholicism never left me, mainly issues with the Pope and Mary. I had issues with the "infallibility" of the Pope, and titles like "Co-redemptrix" being bestowed on St. Mary.
Off and on for the past 10 months or so, I have been considering converting to Orthodoxy. I have been praying and studying. I have attended Divine Liturgy a few times, and have enjoyed my experience. The people have been friendly, and DL is just so...beautiful. The Icons, the singing, it's so...peaceful and timeless. And theologically speaking, Orthodoxy matches up very nicely with me. However what I really like about Orthodoxy and Divine Liturgy is it's not about me. Orthodoxy isn't "seeker-friendly,"or "purpose driven," she doesn't care about current fads or trends, she doesn't change her beliefs and values with the times. Divine Liturgy isn't about my enjoyment, or "what I get out of it," it's about worshiping the Holy Trinity.
With all of that said, I have a few questions.
From what I have read, I can't say I fully..grasp the concept of Toll-Houses, nor can I say it sits well with me. Are Toll-Houses widely accepted, or is it more controversial? Also, if a demon were to drag you off to hell, is it for eternity? It just seems weird that demons would be the gate-keepers to Heaven...
My next question is, does the Orthodox Church teach that only Orthodox Christians will be saved in the end? I am married, and my wife doesn't have much interest in converting to Orthodoxy, and so such a question matters to me on a personal level.
I want to thank all of you who took the time to read my lengthy post. I said all of that to say this, I believe that everything happens for a reason, I think that perhaps God lead me to Catholicism in preparation to lead me to Orthodoxy. To expose me to the world beyond evangelical protestantism. Thanks to all again, and God Bless.