From Sand to Rock
My Orthodox convert origin story
I really do believe humans have an innate proclivity to hear a good redemption arc, its why the most legendary tales throughout human history are stories of redemption. No matter how many times I read or hear the story of the prodigal son, it will always move me. I’ve noticed that the conversion story is one that is told frequently among Orthodox social circles, especially since it’s so uncommon to become Orthodox in America, people are always genuinely interested to know what led you down that path. “How did you become Orthodox” is a question that is occasionally asked by heterodox Christians but among other Orthodox people it’s practically a required question. If you are a new convert, you’ll get a lot of practice with answering this question with the challenge of not giving your entire life story.
Your conversion story is the most essential detail of your personal lore that encapsulates where you were when Christ revealed Himself to you and how He renewed you from the state you were in. It’s really a story about the saving work of Christ, the convert is simply the recipient of His grace. Minus a few very obviously unique personal events in my conversion experience, I have found that my story is not that unlike many other converts I’ve met. Now that I’ve been Orthodox for over a year, I’m getting pretty used to telling my story, although this is my first time putting it to writing.
I grew up going to charismatic Protestant churches, my parents and their siblings had all converted from Roman Catholicism during the time of the Jesus movement in the 1980’s, which was accompanied by what was considered a charismatic awakening. My earliest memories of being in church were of fully grown adults rolling around on the floor, convulsing in their seats, freestyling jibberish, and jumping up and down, flapping their arms like chickens. Ironically, this was literally a theater that was converted into a church, and it was quite a show to see. Many of the experiences I had in the charismatic movement were described in “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future” by Fr. Seraphim Rose, one of the many reasons that book resonated with me so strongly.
My parents have always been on their own faith journey and by the time I was a young adult, they had evolved in their beliefs to much less chaotic and more convicted expressions of Pentecostal worship, specifically a denomination called Assemblies of God, which is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. As an adult I attended an Assemblies of God bible college where I studied theology and biblical languages, but after 2 years I realized I wanted to go somewhere a little more reputable so I transferred to another Christian university and continued my studies there. It was at this point I started losing interest in both my studies and my faith, and gaining more interest in partying and having a more lively college experience.
I was able to enjoy alcohol in excess but thank God I never had a drinking problem, my real vice was weed. I had smoked pot regularly for about 16 years with the exception of the 14 months I lived in South Korea, only because of how insanely illegal and expensive it is there. Otherwise, everything of interest to me derived from being stoned; all the art and music I liked, the places I’d go, the friends I made, it was all a result of myself being a weed bro.
Spiritually, I never became an atheist but I held to the typical perennialist idea that God existed but that He is mostly unknowable and all the world religions are just different cultural expressions of the same divine objective. As a stoner I definitely had more of an interest in Buddhism and Taoism, but never got that deep into it, psychedelics had just really postured my mind to embrace eastern spiritual practices like yoga and meditation. It’s funny, looking back, I thought I had this incredibly open mind and profound understanding of the world yet in reality it was just the standard stoner NPC spiritual philosophy. Many such cases.
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The infamous summer of Floyd in 2020 was the last straw for me. Living in Philadelphia during the race riots and lockdowns had completely drained me spiritually, emotionally and physically. I was already starting to wake up before that, as I was noticing that all the various ways the demoralization of our society was occurring, were direct attacks on the traditional family and Christian values. But undergoing the mass humiliation ritual that summer pushed me past the point of no return. I had already drifted apart from my old college friends and despite living in a major metropolitan city and cohabitating with my ex, I felt the most socially and spiritually isolated I’d ever been in my life.
In the back of my mind I always knew I was one prayer away from surrendering my life to Christ. By some miracle I had suddenly lost interest in getting high. I couldn’t remember the last time I prayed, the thought of it seemed silly to me, my doubts started to resurface as I even considered it. What if I say the wrong words? How do I know I’m praying to the true God? At this point I was willing to try anyway, if God actually hears the prayers of sinners, I had to trust that the things I was anxious about were irrelevant. I hadn’t hit rock bottom or anything, but because of how isolated I felt, I figured I had nothing left to lose.
Finally I just prayed a very simple prayer. “Lord God, if you can hear my prayer, I surrender. I can’t do this on my own anymore. Please show me the way”. I remember being surprised that I was still able to acknowledge Him as Lord, it kind of revealed to me that I knew the truth in my heart all those years and I was just larping the whole time. The next morning, it was as if a spiritual reset button had been pushed. I literally dusted off my old ESV bible from when I was a cringe Calvinist and just started reading the psalms. “I guess I’m a Christian again”, I thought to myself, contemplating how I had felt like a complete pariah at that point anyway.
Living with my ex girlfriend of 7 years, at the time, made things complicated since not only was she was not interested in any kind of religious dialogue, but she was quite uncomfortable with my new religious practices. This created an undeniable rift between us and I realized I was completely alone in my new journey. But now it was time for me to consider finding a church, at the very least, to surround myself with likeminded Christians. I quickly remembered why I had stopped going to church in the first place, I was mentally exhausted from trying to figure out who had the correct doctrines, since they were all claiming to be deriving their doctrine from the same source, Scripture alone. What I did know was what kind of church I was not interested in, which really narrowed down my options quite a bit.
I had already done all that church hopping years ago, so I wasn’t particularly optimistic that I’d just find some based and trad Protestant church that didn’t ordain women, fly rainbow flags, or have rock concert worship with some Ted Talk sermon. Even if I did, there would be no guarantee that they would be able stay that way. If I was going to commit to going to church, it had to be a place where I could raise my children, and they could raise their future generations, without it at any point being infiltrated by the societal trends of the world. A church that shared zero resemblance to the secular hellscape that drove me to it. That easily ruled out the thousands of Protestant denominations for me, even the ultra conservative reformed churches just looked so bland, white walled, nihilistic, and reminded me more of government buildings than places of divine reverence.
So my search was on hold until I could figure out ecclesiological matters first, a familiar experience for me. What bothered me most when I was studying theology in university, was how none of the Protestant theologians I was studying could agree on essential matters of faith, such as what the sacraments are, the model of Church heirarchy, what is the purpose of Church, what even is the Church. It was these basic ecclesiological matters that were never consistently addressed during my Protestant studies, which always frustrated me and fueled my pessimism about Christianity as a religious practice.
I’m often asked if I considered Catholicism; I have not, and my main reason is not as much a theological one. I was already familiar with the Masonic infiltration of the Vatican and its Satanic imagery, the Jesuit Pope serving mass with pagan idols in front of the altar. If Rome is the Holy See where the infallible authority of the Church presides, what is to stop the same subversion the Protestants deal with from trickling down from Rome? I realize this may not be the strongest argument, but this is a conversion story, not an apologetic for Orthodoxy.
So I figured if I’m going to revert back to my faith, let’s do a full reversion by starting with the Apostolic Fathers. I turned to my bookshelf where I still had the books that were assigned in my Eastern Orthodox class from university, some of which I later realized were essential catechetical works. For how little I payed attention in that class, I remembered learning that the Orthodox Church was the same Apostolic Church that Christ built. So I dove in by reading several books at once, accompanied by the Rock and Sand videos by Fr Josiah Trenham and Jay Dyer debates. I soon was immersed in Orthodox theology and Church history. It was the classic proverbial drinking water from a fire hose.
Despite some major theological issues I had begun to wrestle with, I was convinced enough to attend the closest Divine Liturgy. During a time when the churches were barely opened, I was certain I’d be a surprising new visitor wherever I went. I had no idea what was going on during my first liturgy, I just knew it was closer to how I always imagined the worship in heaven was like. I was brought to tears. What really excited me was experiencing the exact opposite of how I was conditioned to approach theology. Its wasn’t an academic pursuit that required building your own foundation based on what makes sense to you as an individual. This was something I experienced first, which I did not fully understand, and that encounter I had with the divine is what led my journey while my intellect followed. Thats how I got over those theological road blocks.
Almost immediately, my goal was to receive the body and blood of Christ as soon as possible. I knew in order to get to that point, I could not be living with my girlfriend. I didn’t even have to ask a priest about it, I just knew it would not be attainable nor permissible while living an Orthodox Christian life, especially given the fact that she had zero interest in even engaging in religious dialogue. Our relationship was not going well and we knew it, I believe it reached a point where it was unsalvageable so we decided it was time for me to move out. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done, not only leaving her but leaving that house and the cats, I was going through the stages of grief of my former life while transitioning out of it.
Seven months later, I am baptized and Chrismated at the parish by my family home, and in attendance is a face I had not seen in 11 years, though I recognized it immediately. I had thought about this man often while I was reading those Orthodox books I had on my shelf; he was the professor who assigned them, who taught my Eastern Orthodoxy class in college and introduced the true faith to me at a time when I could care less. Here he was 11 years later witnessing my Chrismation into the Church.
He had barely recognized me, if at all. Although I was not a memorable student to be fair, in fact at that point I was below average and barely passing my classes due to decreasing interest in my major. Never in my life had I been so happy to see someone who had not remembered me. I will never forget that. He told me that he had seen over 30 of his former students, including myself, get Chrismated. I can’t imagine what a blessing that is for him.
This is where my journey into the Orthodox Christian faith began and it is where my conversion story ends, at least for the purposes of this article, but it is not really the end at all. Although I’ve been Chrismated and living the sacramental Orthodox life for over a year, in many ways I feel I am still undergoing my conversion process, and may be for the rest of my life. So if you are still reading this, please pray for me, that I can continue to turn away from the influence of this world.