Becoming an Orthodox Christian is no small matter in the first place. Coming to Orthodoxy from a Southern Baptist background can cause friends and relatives to look sideways and wonder what has gotten into you.
In my case, everyone has been polite and no one has expressed any anger or disappointment. But they do wonder what would cause such a drastic change. For someone who considered getting into ministry as a Protestant to join a church that requires you to kiss paintings raises questions. One question is asked above all:
In my case there was no single event, no epiphany that struck me like Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. It has been a journey of small steps that has taken many years. And yet I am only at the very beginning.
I remember occasionally riding past a Greek church in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. The stone doorway of the old building had strange looking letters chiseled into its face. I never gave much thought to what or who was inside, except that this was apparently where Greek people went to church, and that they were probably some kind of Catholics.
In my early twenties my girlfriend and I were invited to dinner by one of her coworkers. She was a shy wisp of a girl with a bohemian sensibility and a softspoken nature that drew people closer to hear what she had to say. Her basement apartment was decorated in the shabby chic style favored by people with more taste than money. French posters for exotic liquors hung on the wall. Mismatched chairs somehow had a unity in their differences.
The best available wall for a television or entertainment center instead displayed family photos, all in tasteful black and white. There was also a photo of a group of bearded men wearing long black robes and matching black flat-topped hats. Whether the photo had been taken that week or a hundred years ago I could not say.
During dinner she told us she had been attending the Greek Orthodox church I had passed so many times. It was like finding out she was from Mars, or Vermont. Suddenly she was part of something strange and otherworldly.
She told us she had been looking for something other than the same old church experience she had known all her life. She said it was a peaceful place, and that she’d never felt more comfortable with church. I didn’t ask too many questions because I didn’t know what to ask. My curiosity was stoked, but I put it aside, as I probably would never go to an Orthodox church, and likely would never meet another person who had.
I cannot recall giving Orthodoxy another thought for many years. But I remember that girl’s peacefulness. And I remembered wanting that for myself.
In Part 2 of this series, which you can read here, I consider that there could in fact be One True Church.
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