Today at church I was reminded that it’s been a year now that I’ve been regularly attending Orthodox liturgies in America. It was because we sang the hymn of St. Mary of Egypt that I remembered. This time last year I had just started talking on the phone with the man that would later become my fiancee. Our main topic of conversation was the Orthodoxy we were both being drawn into. I had been reading everything I could get my hands on since returning to America about the Orthodox church. Talking with D. I realized that I was no longer interested in going to the Presbyterian church I had been going to for over a year. I just still couldn’t swallow (thankfully) the idea of “chosenness” and wondering if I was one of the “pre-ordained”.
I hope in later posts to discuss other reasons I was struggling with church. For now I’ll stick with my story.
I had driven past a Greek Orthodox church on the way to the Presbyterian church each weekend and decided to check it out. It happened to be the 5th Sunday of Lent where St. Mary of Egypt was commemorated. In his homily, the priest shared St. Mary’s story and how she had been drawn to the filth of sin and living as a prostitute before she encountered Christ for the first time at the veneration of the cross in Jerusalem.
It’s been a long year. During that church service I wondered how it could be that I was connecting spiritually and emotionally with a guy on the phone and that I was supposed to be moving to Central Asia to begin a second term as a Protestant missionary on the field. I had so many doubts and questions about the ten years I had spent with this same organization and with the non-denominational faith I had been raised in. In just a few short weeks, I was on a plane to spend Pascha in California with D., was present at his baptism and first communion and met who would become our spiritual father, Archimandrite Fr. Gideon. At our first meeting after a vespers service the night I met D. for the first time, Fr. Gideon told me that he would do our wedding and baptize our children. I thought I would throw up!
Holy Week services were long and hard and dark and bright and confusing and peaceful. I was processing so much about the differences in the way the Orthodox people I was meeting acted and talked and treated each other, and the way that they celebrated Christ’s Resurrection seemed to be more about Christ than about us. Seeing D. baptized and then standing so peacefully and joyfully beside Fr. Gideon at the front of the church afterward was something I couldn’t put into words. God was growing my heart to love this gentle, honest, fascinating man whose hope in church and faith was being renewed right along with mine. This was what strengthened the bond between us and helped us to think that it would be possible to make it all work out.
The day before I was supposed to return to Florida after just a week with D., we were both regretting the upcoming separation. When looking at my flight details, we realized that I flew first out of Santa Barbara and then out of L.A, we were thinking with our brains in la la land, so decided he’d drive me to L.A. in order that we’d have more time together. Little did we know that when a person doesn’t show up for the first flight, they cancel the other legs! We were slightly stressed about having to re-book and pay the rescheduling fee, but mostly giggling and enjoying ourselves with another day to spend together.
Just after meeting D., I learned that my 3-year assignment in Central Asia had been cancelled. Because of visa problems in Kazakhstan, this organization was no longer able to send teachers under their care. Of course this was a shock after I’d been spending several months speaking and raising the funds to serve there. However, I was grinning just minutes later because I suddenly felt free to go in a new direction. Of course I love the Post-Soviet world that my life has been wrapped up in, but I had gotten way too concerned with doing and working hard and trying to change people and feeling like I had to have the right answers. I felt a weight on my shoulders that I couldn’t seem to shake. My sins felt too heavy. The pain of a whole lifetime of unhealed wounds was seeping into every other part of my soul. I thought that pouring my life into understanding a people and a country and a history would serve as a distraction, but in reality my bones felt dry and brittle and my knees feeble and weak.
This was a battle because I saw so many things that the evil one tried to do to keep me from going in the direction of the Orthodox church. Having a companion beside me made it a beautiful and terrifying thing. I decided to take a risk and embark on this journey with D. in California, where I had already been planning on spending the summer to do my pre-field training and graduate school orientation, as well as helping my best friend move from Northern to Southern California. I packed up my office at the mission, my room in community housing, sold my rocking chair and elliptical (the former used daily, the latter used twice) 😛 and packed up everything in boxes and suitcases and found a storage container.
Upon arrival to Santa Barbara, D. and I began the journey together that seemed so unknown and exciting and terrifying and so right yet so hard at times. I stayed with a couple from his church that were very gracious and kind and communicative about their faith. I liked walking to the kitchen in the early morning to see the husband standing in the hallway whispering his prayers before his icon shelf. D. let me use his new Jetta while he drove his old Cabrio convertible that stalled sometimes. I would go visit him at the Orthodox school where he taught middle school humanities, bringing him Trader Joe’s salads and kefir and coffee. I liked when the afternoon was drawing near because it meant I got to see D. again. Living in Santa Barbara was like a dream with the ocean and mountains and flowers blooming and such beautiful weather. My allergies did suffer from the excess of pollen, but I’ll try to forget that part of the story…
To be continued…