By Rebekah Moll
A few years ago, I may have thought I was Orthodox simply because of the community I was surrounded by. Moving to a church in which I knew no one, taught me that although community is an important part of Orthodoxy, the core reason behind me staying Orthodox does not lie there, nor does it begin there.
It began simply with my family. I grew up cradle Orthodox in a very pious family, my mom working in the church as a church secretary and my dad eventually becoming tonsured a reader. My parents showed me in the home that Orthodoxy was a way of life, not simply a religion practiced on Sundays. Together we followed the fasts, prayed, and had our own set of religious discussions.
Outside of the home I was blessed to grow up within a loving community at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis, MN, one of the largest Orthodox congregations in the U.S., where there were many young people and caring older generations. After worship on Sundays, there was fellowship at coffee hour, which was then followed by Sunday school. During the week, there was choir practice and occasional youth events, all of which helped me to create solid relationships and in turn made church life more meaningful.
During college, several of my church friends went away to school, but I still found ways to connect with the Orthodox community by Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) at the University of Minnesota. I started to date someone outside the faith during my final college years who I married a month out of college. While we were dating, his desire to learn about and convert to Orthodoxy led us on a new journey that taught us much about our shared faith today.
My youth was filled with people who fueled my spiritual growth. After marriage, however, I experienced a lull in that growth. I was working as a full time high school English teacher and needed the faith as an outlet for the overwhelming emotions a teacher experiences, but I felt an increasing emptiness. I felt that I needed “more.” More of what was a mystery, but I started to seek it. I began visiting other Orthodox churches, but that was not enough to satisfy me. I then went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic with a local Christian Organization, and on that trip, I experienced an affirmation in the Orthodox faith while at the same time found a new admiration for the Protestant faithful. Still, despite these attempts, I remained unfulfilled.
God heard my cry, and I accepted a part time position as a youth minister at a nearby Greek Orthodox Church. There, I needed to go to that church to fulfill the requirements of the position. It was a church where I recognized a few faces from pan-Orthodox activities, but had no solid relationships. My reason to go to this church was not because of the community; it was my job. The comfort I used to know at St. Mary’s where I was surrounded by people I knew my whole life, was gone. As an employee, I had to think about the concerns of my work, which made it hard to be at peace during worship. I was not happy with how my work was causing my attention to shift during Liturgy. I knew I had to let go of worry and uncertainty and focus on the one thing I thought was certain: God.
Before this new experience, I looked to others in the community for development in the faith. Now I learned that I needed to seek God first. Through God’s grace my emptiness began to fill. From meeting and working with youth directors from various churches, I was given new literature to explore. As an English teacher and major, I have a natural love for reading and to this day can’t seem to stop reading Orthodox-related texts. I also started to attend various talks and lectures, and listened to numerous podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio. Through all this, my education in the faith increased. In Liturgy at the new church, my heart began to feel more in tune with God, and I realized that my focus was being re-set in the right place.
During services, I began to experience a tremendous feeling of unity with everyone around me, even though I was just beginning to form relationships with the parishioners. Having come from an environment in which I naturally looked to the people as a source of strength, in my new situation I found myself looking at the faces of the saints in the icons near my place in church and asking for their prayers. For me, this awakened my understanding of the unity that extends beyond the physical community we are surrounded by. I felt a relationship beginning to grow with the saints depicted in the icons, and developed a sense of the heavenly kingdom in the celebration each Liturgy.
The reason I am still Orthodox does not end here. I am still Orthodox because it is a never ending journey. As one who does not like books to end, Orthodoxy is like a wonderful novel that has no final page. One continues to learn, and there is always room for growth. As I grew in the faith, so did my sense of unity. I found that when I sought God first, I not only found a spiritual connection with the people worshiping around me, but also with the heavenly community which stretches beyond the people around me: the angels and the saints. I find Orthodoxy to be a faith of unity through God’s grace if one seeks it. I am still Orthodox because I continue to seek it.