I have difficulty pinpointing where it all began. Perhaps, it was the stunning icon displayed in an art store window that I felt compelled to stare at every time I passed. Or maybe, the ball started rolling with my first visit to an Orthodox Church. Of course, it might’ve been all the history and writings of the Church Fathers that I began to read shortly thereafter. Personally, I believe it was a combination of all of those things and the nudging of the Holy Spirit.
It took about ten years for me to come into the Church; but it did finally happen on the feast of the Nativity, December 25th, 2016. A number of my friends and family made it a point to support me by showing up for my Chrismation. Not long after that, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. She was accepted into the Church within a year of our meeting one another.
My background is evangelical Protestantism. The basic perspective in that particular tradition goes something like, “it’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ”. Well, I still have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I relate to Him in the Mysteries (sacraments) of the Church. There are no other means, that I’m aware of, on this plane to draw closer to Jesus Christ than by receiving His body and blood in the Eucharist.
The Saints have a special place in my life as well. Those holy ones who lived selfless lives are great examples of what it means to be a real Christian. Saint Paraskeva (Petka) is one of those for whom I have a particular affinity. My association with her began on a Saturday evening before Vespers. I was standing at the back of the church staring at the floor when I felt that I was being watched. I sensed that It had to be coming from one of the icons nearby. Reluctantly, I lifted my eyes to see that It was Petka’s icon (with one of her relics) before me. I am no one special so I don’t know why she chose to reach out to me, but I want to work to keep that door open now that she’s presented the opportunity. This experience also solidified my belief that we truly are one Church, and even though she died centuries ago it’s not enough to separate us, as His kingdom transcends time and space.
It’s been a fruitful journey and I love the Church. My wife and I ring bells and that has been an adventurous pursuit as well. You see, the bells aren’t merely pretty sounding musical accouterments. Rather, the Church teaches that the bells are “singing icons” and the “voices of angels”. Truly, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Then again, there is no other place I would rather be.
By Michael Hayden