Journey To Orthodoxy
By Mark Bach
I looked across the room, saw her and fell in love with her immediately. Yes, love at first sight! We dated and I was overjoyed when Lori accepted my proposal. We would marry and my loneliness would be over forever. 13 years of marriage followed. There were ups and downs, but importantly I was not alone. When Lori asked for a divorce, I was devastated. She told me that that she loved me but was not in love with me. I panicked! Was I to be alone again?
Knowing how happy I was being married, I thought only unhappiness could be in store for me after marriage. I distressed – what was I to do now? I could not continue living alone and unhappy, so I decided that suicide was the only option for my future. On the way to work, I obtained the strongest sleep aid available without a prescription. I would overdose on sleeping pills and take the pills with vodka to be certain that I would never wake up. Driving to work, I prayed to God: “Please Lord, if this is not the way, please let me know!” I researched my planned suicide online and found a story written by someone who tried what I contemplated. The author wrote that he simply awoke with a hangover. I took this as the Lord telling me something. I decided against suicide.
I needed help and decided to go to Marytown, a Franciscan monastery and church in Libertyville, Illinois. Someone there could help me – I could see a priest and ask for help. At Marytown, I was told that a priest was not available. Luckily, the receptionist said that she could ask a Brother to meet with me. Brother Don came down and shook my hand. Choking back tears, I asked him if we could talk. Brother Don escorted me to a private room. Alone, I told Brother Don of the change in my wife and her request for a divorce. I cried heavily - so many tears. Brother Don comforted me and recommended prayer. He saved me from suicide and advised me on how to continue with my life. He gave me a prayer card of Saint Michael, and told me that I should pray to Saint Michael and ask him for help as Saint Michael is the one to fight against evil spirits. I followed Brother Don’s suggestions and started attending mass at Marytown hoping that the divorce would not occur.
Lori and I divorced on January 30, 2006. A part of me was ripped away. I was alone again. Empty and longing – for what I knew not. I continued with prayers and attending mass at Marytown. Catholic mass at Marytown was nice, but something was missing. I decided to continue with my life and to see what would happen next.
Months after the divorce, I met Melissa and we became good friends. Melissa is Serbian Orthodox and she introduced me to Orthodoxy. I knew generally about the Orthodox faith since high school, but was ignorant of details of the Orthodox faith. As Melissa showed me more and more aspects of Orthodoxy, my curiosity increased. Was there something for me in Orthodoxy? Melissa lent me a copy of “The Orthodox Church” by Ware and “Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father”. I was astounded! Here is a religion that does not include all of the issues I had with Roman Catholicism! Orthodox theology agreed with me. Could this be what I needed all along? I needed to know more!
I asked my best friend Jim for his perspective. Jim recommended that I research Orthodoxy online, especially at www.oca.org. Jim referred me to one of his friends Jill who is OCA Orthodox. I researched OCA online and visited a few Orthodox churches in the west suburbs of Chicago. I spoke with Jill over the phone and she invited me to visit her church, St. Luke Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, Illinois (www.stlukeorthodox.com).
When I arrived at St. Luke, I felt something. I did not know what is was, it was something I had not felt before. I spoke with Father Andrew and attended Matins and Liturgy. There was something here! A number of parts of Matins and Liturgy touched me deeply. The morning prayers – acknowledging that all things come from God and asking for His help in dealing with everything that comes throughout the day – seemed to be the best way to start every day! Liturgy was incredible – reciting the Beatitudes and “Remember me oh Lord in Your Kingdom” – remain with me always. I wanted to participate in Holy Communion, but that had to wait until I became Orthodox. I never felt this way in church before! Orthodoxy impacted me as never before! I met a number of members of St. Luke. They made me feel welcome and at peace. After Liturgy, I would go to the church basement and had many conversations with various members.
This is so good, I wanted more! I told Father Andrew that I wanted to convert to Orthodoxy. Father Andrew told me that I could be chrismated on Holy Saturday 2009 and, to prepare, he assigned me a number of books to read: “The Orthodox Church” and “The Orthodox Way” both by Ware and “The Way of the Pilgrim”. I also joined the School of the Seventy, an adult Orthodox education group at St. Luke. I eagerly read these books and my desire to learn more grew. I discussed these books with members of St. Luke and Melissa. They recommended more books (“Primacy of Peter”, “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”, “THE KINGDOM OF GOD The Sermon on the Mount”, “Holy Father Martinian”, “The Ladder of the Beatitudes”, and “Interpreting the Bible & the Constitution”). I read these books with fervor. I could not get enough!
Looking at the books in the basement of St. Luke, I found “God's fullness for our emptiness”. I read this and it dawned on me! Yes, I am lonely and empty – but that emptiness could only be filled by God! He would never leave me! This is what I have been looking for all of my life! It was wrong of me to try to fill my emptiness with Lori. By trying to do that, I forgot God. I sinned against Him. Only God can fill my emptiness! All I need is Him! I want to start my journey to Him! I know that He wants me with Him!
I attended a presentation by Father David Rucker at Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Palos Park, Illinois. Father Rucker recalled a man coming to him in Tennessee after attending Liturgy questioning the age of the Liturgy. Father Rucker told the man that the Liturgy was the newest, it was only about 1500 years old! I smiled – God is eternal and never changing, so worship of Him also should not change. Then, Father Rucker mentioned that Orthodox missionaries recalled their visits to other countries and said “God broke my heart in” the other country. I wondered, did He break my heart, has He emptied me so that I can be filled with Him? This seemed to agree with what I read in “God's fullness for our emptiness”. I feel confident that He has set my feet firmly upon the path to Him and He is guiding me along my journey. I have many Orthodox friends that help me on my journey.
On Sunday, I attend Matins and Liturgy at St. Luke. The members who chant Matins invited me to join them and I did. I look forward to chanting Matins every Sunday. By chanting, my familiarity with Orthodox prayers, scriptures and practices increase. I learn more about scriptures and portions of the scriptures become instilled in my being.
Mark, a friend I met at St. Luke recommended that I read “For the Life of the World”. With this book, I learned to identify some sign posts along the journey to God. Melissa gave me “The Holy Angels”, and by reading this I know that I am not alone! Angels guide and protect me! On our journey to Him, we are not alone! We have the aid of many who provide spiritual guidance. Mark also recommended that I read “Great Lent” in preparation for the Orthodox Lenten season. Joe, another friend at St. Luke, recommended a movie “Ostrov “, “The Island”. Watching this film showed me the power of Orthodoxy and how Orthodoxy can impact life and produce impressive changes. The assistance provided by all of my friends helps me immeasurably on my journey to Him. I want to continue on my way to Him.
I attended the Canon of Saint Andrew. These services move me deeply. Tears well up in my eyes as I hear “Have mercy on me oh God have mercy on me” and “Arise oh my soul, why are you sleeping”. The impact of these words on me convinces me that I am on the right path to God and that the path to Him extends an immeasurable distance ahead of me. Oh yes, I am a wretch! But He wants me and is waiting for me. I will not disappoint Him!
I asked Mark and he agreed to be my sponsor for chrismation. I have taken another step toward Him!
I was told to be ready for Holy Week. It was good to be prepared. These services really touch the soul and heart! It was very provocative to see some members of St. Luke bow under the gospel as it was read at Holy Wednesday service. I eagerly await next year after I am chrismated and I can participate fully in this service. Father Andrew’s homily at the afternoon service on Holy Friday put the passion story into perspective and made it personal. When the people cried “His blood be on us and on our children” that means that the blood of Christ is on all of us. Every time we transgress God’s commandments, we wound Him anew. We injure Christ even though He has done and continues to do great things for us. In spite of all the bad things we do and all the injuries we inflict upon Him, His love and mercy are boundless as He continues to love us. Maybe this is a lesson for me – trying to teach me what love is. Maybe, maybe – I know He will instruct me further as I continue on my journey to Him.
Holy Saturday morning I go to St. Luke to guard the tomb. This is a little eerie. I stand at the podium where I usually stand when I chant Matins, but this feels a little different. I cannot explain. The sight of the tomb, knowing that He is in there, haunts me.
I am eager for my chrismation – which is only minutes away! My chrismation is at the beginning of the longest Orthodox service of the year. My chrismation begins! I approach Father Andrew and he asks me a number of questions. I answer affirming my commitment to Orthodoxy. A few minutes later, my chrismation is complete! I am accepted into the Holy Orthodox church! I feel complete! I feel that I am where I belong! This is a feeling of peace I never felt before! Words are insufficient to express my feelings of security and belonging! I am lonely no more!!
I return to St. Luke at about 10:00 pm Holy Saturday evening for the Pascha service. I was told that this is a service not to be missed. I wonder what will happen next.
The icon of the crucified Christ is in the tomb. Father Andrew and others go to the tomb and remove the icon. All of the lights in the church are extinguished. All of us light our candles and walk out of the church. We walk circumferentially around the church and return to the front doors. They are closed! Father Andrew raps on the doors and exchanges words with someone inside. The doors open and we proceed inside. All of the lights are on! The tomb is removed! Everything is bright and exuberant! The choir sings “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” Odes to Christ are sung and after each ode either Father Andrew, Father Howard or Deacon Andrew, carrying candles, walk briskly through the church shouting – YES SHOUTING – “CHRIST IS RISEN!” to which we SHOUT “INDEED HE IS RISEN!” This is repeated in many languages and these were listed in the program.
OCA - Christ is Risen! / Indeed He is Risen!
Greek Diocese - Christ is Risen! / Truly He is Risen!
Greek - Christos Anesti! / Aleithos Anesti!
Slavonic - Christos Voskrese! / Voistinu Voskrese!
Arabic - Al-Masih-Qam! / Hakkan Qam!
Romanian - Christos E Anviat! / Adeverat Anviat!
Spanish - Christo Ha Resucitado! / Verdaderamente, Ha Resucitado!
German - Christus ist Auferstanden! / Jawohl Er ist Auferstanden
French - Le Christ est ressuscite! / En verite il est resuscite!
Japanese - Harisutosu Siochatsu! / Makoto-ni Siochatsu
I see Father Andrew smiling as he shouts. Incredible, the priest shouts in church! And I am shouting too! Tears flow from my eyes – not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy, tears of extreme happiness! I am so happy to be here – at St. Luke – at this time – celebrating, being exceedingly glad that CHRIST HAS RISEN FROM THE DEAD! We proceed into Liturgy and I receive Holy Communion! I wanted this so badly and now I receive Holy Communion! I feel a sense of – for lack of a better term – wholeness. He is definitely with me – both physically and spiritually!
After Liturgy, I go to the church basement with the other members for the blessing of baskets and the Pascha banquet. It is good to now be a fellow member of St. Luke! Many members congratulate me on my chrismation. Father Howard shakes my hand and tells me that he knows that I enjoyed the Pascha service because he could see my smiles from the altar. I think to myself, maybe my soul and I were smiling together making the smiles extra-visible. Jeremy, who was chrismated with me, shakes my hand and says “welcome home!” It dawns on me – yes, I AM HOME!! He led me here and He will help me move closer to Him. From this day
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES . . .