Voices from St. John’s
Our members’ stories on our fifth anniversary
Why would someone seeking spiritual healing become an Orthodox Christian?
by Panagiota Dunham, Milton PA
My journey to Orthodoxy has certainly been profound to say the least. I found myself on a journey to Orthodoxy after a time of constant trial and tribulation, after much suffering in a life that I left behind in search of something new. I have always been in constant prayer asking God to show me and to lead me in the way that I should go to get the best spiritual healing I could possibly get on the planet from a life lived in the past of complete darkness, despondency and suffering. Only by the Grace of God was I introduced to Orthodoxy by a man who helped to start the Lewisburg Pa mission 5 years ago. He and I met at Bucknell University, in the summer of 2018 in the lobby of the Athletic Dept, where he invited me to watch a film about the last Russian Royal Family, I was not familiar with Orthodoxy at the time, as a matter of fact I had never heard of Orthodoxy prior to this invitation nor was I familiar with why the Royal Family was important to Orthodox history but I was soon to find out, and from that point he and I had continuous open dialogue about life in the Orthodox Church and also about how The Orthodox Church was a Spiritual Hospital where one could get a healthy dose of spiritual healing. I knew then that God was leading me in the way that I should go, I knew that I been in prayer, I knew that I had been in meditation and I knew this was the way God intended for me to go and only by God’s Grace was I then beginning my Journey to the Orthodox Church. What I have found in the Orthodox Church is not comparable to any other church I have ever been to in my entire life, the Orthodox Church offers a rather deep spiritual richness that one can only get through experience. I encourage those who have never been to an Orthodox Church to Go and See, Go experience the Church worship service, get acquainted with the Church Triumphant, through the many Icons of Christ that hang on the wall and in some places that are painted on the ceiling, smell the beautiful aroma of the incense that burns which is used to engage your senses during the church service, go and hear the beautiful voices singing and chanting, for nothing is simply said during the Orthodox Church Services.
Why did a Charismatic-Pentecostalist come to Christ in Orthodoxy?
by Luke Soboleski, Watsontown PA
History—my own and my family’s, and my gradually dawning knowledge of the history of the Church—formed the background to my path to Orthodoxy. My ancestors promoted the illegitimate claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the “only true Christians.” It was not until I was in the third grade that I had come to the conclusion that I was in fact, born into a cult. Later, I was baptized into a non-denominational Protestant congregation and soon found myself in a Pentecostal organization, the Assemblies of God, which offered to satisfy my addiction to “worship music.” I became Production Manager, helping the Pastor use music and lights to manipulate the congregation’s feelings and mood, to prompt an emotional response for “altar calls.” But I began to feel as if this New Age-charismatic style had washed away the authentic pious humility of the Christian body and replaced it with pride and attention that fuels off of emotion. I felt that my soul, and by then the soul of my young daughter, remained in grave danger of missing out on the gift of unity with God made possible through the death of Jesus. It was during this period that I decided to re-examine Christian history. I was introduced to Ancient Faith Radio and began listening to their podcasts, and there found Father Andrew Stephen Damick’s book Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. It provides a complete history in chronological order, breaking down the complete timeline of destructive apostasies that have led to the many schisms that fractured the unity of all. I discovered that Christian history and the truth are preserved! I learned of Mt. Athos and its role in the preservation of Holy Tradition. I discovered the lives of the Saints and the Ecumenical Councils, the Church Fathers, and of the intimate and pious traditions of prayer. It wasn’t until I learned the difference between veneration and worship that I learned the true meaning of Grace. With the understanding that “grace” is the very energies of God, much like the warming rays of the sun, I was able to finally understand what it means to be “saved by Grace.” This new knowledge really made me look deeper into the Eucharist in Orthodox tradition (John 6: 53-58). It is by the Eucharist that we are touched by Grace, and this saving Grace--we pray--is not for our condemnation, but for the healing of both soul and body. Our souls will never be satisfied by anything less than the Eucharist, and we cannot be spiritually fed without it. It is truly the very Body and Blood of Christ, and by receiving the Eucharist, we shall have the hope of eternal life. “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire His blood, which is love incorruptible.” - Saint Ignatius
Why would a millennial atheist join the Orthodox Church?
by Anonymous, Northumberland County PA
In junior high in the 2010s, I had found the arguments of New Atheists like Richard Dawkins appealing despite my loose religious background in Methodism and New Age-style spiritualism. There was according to Dawkins and others no empirical evidence for a Creator, so why should I believe? But a deeper emptiness and sadness came with being a “None” and the nihilism of not having at least basic answers to life’s big questions. Throughout my teenage years I began independently searching for the answers. While I flirted with Buddhism during some of my teenage years, I still found it lacking what I was seeking. For one, the Buddha never answered the big questions, either viewing the answers as distractions or as unknowable, and instead suggested he was only concerned about the existence and end of personal suffering. The prevailing form of Buddhism throughout history and what people still actually believed (other than mostly Western converts who philosophized and secularized the religion), was also still full of “supernatural elements,” for lack of a better word. The Buddha also suggested that he wasn’t going to save us from suffering, but instead we essentially had to save ourselves – meaning, if we wanted to test his teachings as he suggested we do, it would probably be a lifelong (or several lives long) endeavor. Still troubled by nihilism, one night I decided to get a Bible off my family’s bookshelf and began reading the Gospel of Matthew. The more I read, the more I realized I had been wrong about this book. I saw that God was not a vengeful judge out to punish everybody for being human, but was a loving father trying to correct His rebellious and self–destructive children, to help them be truly human, but giving them space if that is what they demanded He do. I saw that the disciples did not act like characters in a fable or myth, but like real people encountering the living God. I saw that the Gospels pieced together a cohesive picture of Jesus and His teachers that made logical sense. Even in the Old Testament, I saw in Ecclesiastes and Job that God understood what it was like to be human, and He wanted to fix our fallen states and for us to be joyous with Him. Over time I became intrigued by cosmological and teleological arguments for a Creator, and by the historicity of the Gospel accounts. I journeyed from being a long-haired hippy to joining a Protestant congregation, and began reading Church history and the writings of the Church Fathers, which I found convincing, and was led to the Orthodox Church by study and prayer with God’s grace. Hearing of miracles associated with the Church, including myrrh-streaming icons such as the one at the Orthodox Church in Taylor, PA, also affected me. I began attending Orthodox services and found a home at St. John’s, into which I was baptized with my wife into the Orthodox faith in 2018. So, Seeker, if you’ve read thus far, I implore you as well: “Come and see!” You may be surprised in the very same way I have been.
Why would a Catholic become an Orthodox Christian?
by Gregory Newburg, Northumberland PA
My path to Orthodoxy was a circuitous one, beginning in my youth when I was raised a Catholic in the 50's. During college, like many others I somehow decided I was “smarter than all this religious stuff,” and became a confirmed atheist for the next 38 years. At age 60, however, I began to realize there was something missing in my life, and I underwent an epiphany which turned my life completely around. It was God I was missing, and I needed to come back to Him. I returned to the Catholic Church because it seemed the natural thing to do, and within a year I was attending mass every day. I grew interested in monasticism, and spent several weeks each year on retreat at various Cistercian abbeys throughout the country. Eventually I seriously considered becoming a Cistercian monk myself. At the last minute I hesitated: perhaps I could remain close to God without giving up family and friends. But my experiences with my parish, although positive, just weren't rewarding to me, and I felt none of the authentic, devout commitment to worship and learning and tradition that I was seeking.
I was aware of the Orthodox Church, but I knew nothing about their faith. Out of curiosity I purchased a copy of Timothy Ware's classic The Orthodox Church, and I was immediately a lot more interested. I read more books: on the Seven Ecumenical Councils, on the Divine Liturgy, and about John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Cyril, and Gregory the Theologian. I came to realize very soon that here was the tradition, the authenticity, and the genuine seriousness about God and about “community” that I had sought. I had read about the Orthodox mission church in Lewisburg, but knew nothing about what I might find if I dared to show. Having read that Saturday evening Vespers would be the best way first to “Come and See” an Orthodox service, I gathered up my courage and went to see St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco for myself. There weren't many people there that night, but those that were treated me like a long-lost friend. I didn't follow the service, and it was totally different from anything I was used to, but I knew almost instantly that I'd found my home. My next step was attending the Divine Liturgy, and I was enthralled from start to finish. I found I didn't mind standing through the entire service, and got by just doing what everybody else did. Everyone – the priest, deacon, and reader, and every single parishioner – was warm, friendly, and totally welcoming in every way. Several months later I became a catechumen, and finally converted completely to Orthodoxy. I'm still learning more every week, and finding new experiences and challenges as I embrace this Church. I do know with all certainty that conversion has been the best decision I've ever made.
Why would a Millennial Techie join the Orthodox Church?
by Nicholas, East Snyder County PA
I found Orthodoxy through what some would call chance. I was truly lost, filled with a sickness of mind, body and spirit. I had lived my life devoid of faith in a higher power, seeking meaning only through internal personal reflection and the academic study of reality. I saw only the movement of matter and the reaction of chemicals spread onto the canvas of infinity. This view of life nurtured a very detached, ironic nihilism. The life I lived left me burdened with regrets and anxieties, and I began a practice of frequent meditation to attempt to calm the raging of my spirit. It served perhaps as a field triage for my soul, and in the course of that meditation I began to ask for forgiveness. Somehow, around that time I encountered the words of The Prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy", saw the painting "The Hesychast" by Oleg Korolev and began to read about that tradition. Reading of the history of The Orthodox People, the incredible stories of Saints and the unbroken tradition of worship and study of The Word pierced totally through the walls I had built around my heart. I began to study the bible earnestly and attended several churches looking for deeper understanding, there were no Orthodox churches in the area I lived and I felt something missing when attending protestant and nondenominational services. During this period I moved to Lewisburg, and found myself a block away from the Lewisburg Club, where the St. John's mission currently holds the Liturgy. Standing before the Iconostasis, taking part in services and eventually receiving the Eucharist has been a tremendous blessing. The guidance in study and prayer has opened my eyes to God's love for his creation, and the continuing miracle of the Church and its Family is a light that burns away darkness, a panacea for both the individual and collective sickness all of us experience in this material world. If you feel an emptiness or lacking, or are simply curious, put away any fear and come and see! The people of St. John the Wonderworker are kind and wise in abundance, any and all will be welcomed as I was.
Why would a fallen-away Unitarian academic become an Orthodox Christian?
By Deacon Paul A.K. Siewers, Lewisburg PA
I was raised a Unitarian and then was a member of the Christian Science denomination for a time, both related to my family’s religious backgrounds. But I fell away from faith while working as a newspaper reporter and beginning graduate work in literature. Neither the secular activism of Unitarianism nor the more conservative mind-healing cult of Christian Science seemed fulfilling. I sought solace in materialism, intellectualism, and career achievements. But all this time, despite my many sins and disregard for faith, I nursed still a deep interest in Christian tradition that I had had from my youth, when I turned to prayer and secret Bible reading during the chronic fatal illness of my sister. The meaninglessness of life without Christ weighed on me. As I prayed sometimes in despair, I was led by Him both to study early Christianity (which was related to my academic work) and to recognize its living tradition still with us in the Orthodox Church. I began visiting Orthodox Churches in my university town, and through sins and long delay, was blessed finally to be baptized into Orthodoxy in 1999. My struggles continued but I was blessed with guidance from holy fathers in the Church and by participating in her mysteries, and by marriage to an Orthodox wife, starting a family now with two children baptized into the Orthodox Church. They are the first in my family whom I know to have been baptized into the Orthodox Church as babies for nearly 1,000 years since the Schism of the West. Growing up as a teenager and a college student I was struck deeply in reading The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn at the faithfulness of those Orthodox Christians who endured severe persecution under Communism, and with Solzhenitsyn’s warnings that Western materialistic culture was treading the same blood-drenched and tragic road toward totalitarianism, albeit of a different kind. I did not know then that I would be blessed to enter, with my family, St. John’s Mission Church in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, a jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church that had stood strong against nihilistic atheism under the persecutions of the Communists, and today against the same in the West. As a college professor I see many young people today struggling as I did with the burden of nihilism. St. John’s strives in a small way with God’s grace to keep the light of Christ shining in our college-town community and surrounding rural areas, a slice of Americana now touched by the ancient Church of Christ brought to us from Russia. With what joy we in 2019 celebrated our mission’s first Christmas-Nativity service, also the first Christmas service celebrated in this region on the Julian calendar since probably the 18th century. With God’s grace unworthily I found the path to personal salvation in the Orthodox Church, and also within her protection the light of hope for our troubled country and culture. Glory to God for all things!