Eastern Orthodoxy and American Youth, Part One: I Find Community
“I’ve heard young people are joining the Orthodox Church. Why would they do that? It’s so old.”
My personal journey to Eastern Orthodoxy began on a 6-week trip to Ireland. While there, I heard horrific stories: Catholic monks and priests murdered by Puritan soldiers, children molested by their Catholic caretakers. My illusions about the Christian church were shattered, but, ironically, my interest in Christian spirituality blossomed. I encountered Saint Brendan the Voyager in abandoned island monasteries, quiet chapels, and ocean cliffs. I became enamored with illuminated manuscripts and the ancient Celtic church.
Nine months after we returned from Ireland, my husband and I stumbled upon a Russian Orthodox monastery on Vashon Island, WA. We talked with the abbot, ate a meal with the monks, and attended vespers. I experienced, in the present, the spiritual fullness that I had sensed in Ireland’s history. Within six months, we had become catechumens at Three Hierarchs Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wenatchee.
I had not attended church regularly since high school. I believed in Jesus, but for eight years I expressed my faith, not through church membership, but through para-church ministry and small home gatherings. “The church,” whatever I thought that was, seemed unnecessary and, based on history, dangerous. At some point, however, I realized that I was not going to be able to find the perfect gathering of believers, the one that had never, and would never, hurt someone.
Freed from paralyzing idealism, I accepted the Orthodox Church for what it is: a spiritual hospital. The human race is sick and when sick people crowd together conflict arises. So, I learned to pray the prayer of Saint Ephraim, “…grant that I may confront my own offenses, and remember not to judge my brother. For you are blessed, always, now, and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
Finally, I began to experience community that transcends time. Some of us are old; others are young. Some of us are alive; others are dead. We all pray together…Saint Brendan included.
Continue to Part 2.