My Story So Far (for TITL)

edited February 2011 in Random Issues
Please forgive me for what will probably be a fairly long post. There have been a few twists and turns in my journey that require some explanation.

I was born into an actively Christian household, albeit of the Protestant variety (Presbyterian). My mother raised my older brother and me to go to church every Sunday, participate in religious ritual (we did "lent", for instance; I was not aware until later that this is not something that all Christians participate in), read the Bible, and love God above all else.

But when I was 13 and my brother was 17, our mother was diagnosed with skin cancer. She fought for about 18 months before dying only a few days short of her 48th birthday. It had been increasingly difficult during this period to continue to go to church as I saw my family basically disintegrate before my eyes, but I kept going to help and honor her and her wishes. These activities included a youth group in which I was somewhat at odds with the leadership, because I was hurting and scared and couldn't really handle the situation I was in, but the church wanted me to be happy and sing kumbaya and all that. Shortly after my mother's death, still in shock and acting out in all kinds of ways that would've been typical of a 14-year-old (e.g., dying my hair shockingly red and showing up to church that way), I was pulled aside and told that my behavior and attitude was not welcome, and I would have to leave. Basically, I was kicked out of church.

By that point, I was all too happy to leave. I didn't set foot in another church of any kind for 10-11 years. I didn't become an atheist, but I became a sort of agnostic, believing that God probably did exist, but it seemed pretty clear that nothing we do or believe matters, since He apparently does whatever He wants anyway. My mother, who was nothing if not a strong believer in God, was killed in a terrible, painful, degrading, and unimaginably awful way, and when I tried to keep going on in the faith I was raised in despite her being taken from me, I was told I was not welcome, please go away.

The time away from Christianity is by now a kind of blur. It's probably best this way, as I doubt anyone here needs to be told explicitly the kinds of evils that are in the world. I'll just say that I got to know them all very well.  :(

One of the people that I met when I was out in the world was a nice young girl named Elizabeth. She was Hispanic, and like most Hispanic people, she was Roman Catholic. So after we had been seeing each other for a while, I confided in her that it bothered me that there was this entire side of her life (her religion) that I knew nothing about. So out of that curiosity I went to a Roman Catholic mass. I had been to a few before (my grandfather's funeral, and a few in Mexico while volunteering at an orphanage), but this was the first one I went to with the idea of actually learning something about the religion. It was incredibly confusing to me. What were all these people doing? How did they all know how to respond in unison to something that the priest said? Why do they kneel? It looked like some sort of weird performance art! I was leaving that day, no doubt looking very perplexed, when the priest stopped me at the door. I figured I was about to be kicked out of yet another church for some imagined offense, but he was very kind and even asked me about my family history. It turns out he knew my grandfather, who had attended the very same parish.

Since I didn't understand what was going on, I figured it was only right to keep going until I did. I'm not the type to give up quickly. So I kept going and eventually enrolled in catechism classes. Somewhere in all this Elizabeth and I parted ways, but by that time I was deep enough into studying the Catholic Church that I had developed an interest in it and a love for it on its own merits, so that didn't matter much. I was received into the Catholic Church in 2006. Since my father's side of the family were from Mexico and Ireland, it did feel a bit like gaining some of my own history back, as I remembered fondly my grandmother saying rosary prayers in Spanish while cooking when I was very, very young. Now I knew what they meant could do them too! My grandmother attended my baptism and was very happy, which is very special to me since she is no longer with us.

Shortly after this I went off to college to become a linguist. I had studied Russian language for about 5 years by that point, which included some visits to the local OCA (Russian Orthodox). I learned the "Jesus Prayer" in Slavonic (it still sounds much better to me that way than in English, since I learned it in Russian first), and the "Hail Mary" that is in Orthodox use ("Bogoroditse Devo"). I liked it quite a lot, but didn't really connect with Orthodoxy at that point. I think I felt like it was a "Russian thing", and since I'm not Russian it's not for me. (That didn't stop me from choosing Sts. Cyril and Methodius as my confirmation saints, though.)

At school in Oregon, a very unchurched state, it took me about a year to even find the local Roman Catholics! Eventually I connected with a local priest, who I still hold very dear, and spent many, many hours in discussion (and confession!) with him. He was by no means Orthodox (he was a Dominican), but he had a deep respect and interest in Eastern Christian traditions, having been trained at seminary alongside a Chaldean priest. I took a year of Arabic in college, which was nurtured by listening to Eastern Christian liturgy and hymns by Eastern Orthodox of the Middle East like Fairuz's famous "Good Friday" hymns and others. Most importantly, it was during this time that I somehow stumbled upon the Coptic Orthodox Church, probably when looking for more Arabic-language hymns (I don't remember). I found translated sermons by HH Pope Shenouda III and was blown away. Such deep, deep faith! I could hardly believe that it was out there. By this point, I had grown a little discouraged by the Mass I was attending, being "youth-oriented" to a fault in a way that seemed to tolerate laxity in attitude and practice. Whatever happened to "lex orandi, lex credendi"? It turns out it was somewhere, I just wasn't there to enjoy it! So rather than suffer through another Mass with guitars and a JAZZ BAND (I kid you not...), I decided I would have to go deeper into my Catholicism. I gleefully took my leave of the "Novus Ordo" mess (er, excuse me, Mass!), and attended a nearby Ukrainian Catholic Church. It was nice, but I felt the same sense of being a visitor to anothers world, like I had when I had gone to the OCA back in my home area. I was very out of place among the Ukrainians. I was the only one who didn't recite the filioque in the Creed!  :-[ So I took another avenue. Together with my encouraging priest, I visited the Benedictine monastery at Mt. Angel, on the Oregon coast. That was a wonderful experience, but I couldn't help but notice that the "deeper" I went into Catholicism, the more I tried to embrace its oldest forms and values, the more it looked (outwardly) like Orthodoxy. The hymns were unaccompanied and serious, the language was traditional and reverent (in both English and Latin), the composure of the monks was dignified, there was incense (something I hadn't experienced in a Catholic Church since my grandfather's funeral when I was 8 years old) was great! But it was, sadly, the last taste of Catholicism I would have, since I moved back to California the following day.

I attended exactly one Mass after returning to California, on the Sunday after my return in July of 2009. It was nice and all, but didn't even seem like a religious event, after having experienced a taste of the East with the Ukrainians, and of the West at the monastery. It was nowhere, and I felt like I was nowhere in it. I knew in my heart, if not yet in my head, that I could not return. And I haven't.

So here I am, having gone from Protestant to nothing to Catholic to...whatever this is. Out of curiosity, I went to my account to see if I could find out when I bought my copy of Fr. Tadrous Malaty's "Introduction to the Coptic Orthodox Church" (which I bought after deciding to seriously investigate Coptic Orthodoxy). I couldn't find that, but I see that I purchased my copy of the Liturgy of St. Basil (in Coptic-English-Arabic) on July 6, 2009. If I remember correctly, I only purchased that after having finished Fr. Malaty's book, so it was probably a few months before that when I finally got serious about the Coptic Orthodox Church. Since then, I am just trying to learn as much as I can, in preparation for hopefully finally being able to attend the liturgy.

Please pray for me. I have a long way yet to go.


  • wow cool story, God Bless!
  • Wow.

    That is a really nice story.

    There is always a story behind every person, a story that one can learn from, whether its learning not to do it, learning to do it, or taking in as an example of what it would be like to go that way.

    Thanks for posting this.
  • blessed is your story my friend, it remind me of mine... but I went from Coptic, to atheist, to islamic, to catholic, to jewish, to protestant, to Sikhism, to God knows what, to back home. some of these were repeated... but I understand your story VERY well, it is VERY close to my heart, because I was there...

    but something I like about judasim, is they will refute you from the faith, they will literally push you away from the faith and test you, until you prove yourself, they will do this for about three years, while teaching you about the faith... thank God it is not the same way in the church, but IT WILL HAPPEN, it will not be meant, but it will happen, as I'm sure you have experienced people looking at you, people will have their group, etc.. but remember who you seek before you go to church...

    do not take in consideration words of a human, look what kind of mess humans already made, just take God, and what He wants for you... and see how God sought you in you life, and continues to do so... so keep your post in your mind, print it out, and put it in front of you, and I'm sure there is more that is left out, on how God sought you out, so TITL tricked you in writing your story, but it is good, so whenever you dont feel God, you can see how much He seeks you... remember "only God can seek, because I'm too weak"

    neshkor Allah, akhadna el baraka (Thank God, I took the blessing)
  • It seems that you have been on a very long journey dzheremi.

    I am glad that you found your home.

    God bless.
  • That was an amazing story dzheremi. I can't tell you just how happy I am to get to read your life's story. The amount of reverence that you give to the Coptic orthodox church is amazing. May God bless you and guide you. Amen.
  • WOW, that was really an amazing story!  :o
    I am so happy to see that there are so many people who are looking for the real God and faith,
    they always end here :)
    I admire your perseverance to find God, and this story could be a good example for me and the rest.
    I just realise that I am so lucky that I am raised in the coptic orthodox church, just to realise that there are people
    who are making a very long journey to find the C.O.C!

    I really enjoyed reading ur story and great that u don't give up, that's amazing! "And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you." (Luke 11:9)

    Keep it up brother and pray for me!

  • hi, dzheremi, that was deeply moving. i hope everyone who is adult and reads this takes care how they talk to children. children are usually 'bad' coz they are confused or disturbed, and as well as bringing correction (eg. we can't allow kids to get into fights etc. without stopping it), we should also think, 'why is this kid doing this?' and pray for the kid and love him/her. adults in church have a responsibility to get to know the kids (we are all their aunties and uncles) and to encourage them in their faith and their life.

    if anyone who reads this is a kid, i would like to say that adults say some stupid things sometimes. mostly this is because they have forgotten what it feels like to be a kid. God wants us to forgive them because 'they do not know what they are doing'.
    i remember being very small, i think less than 10 years old and some old lady who i didn't know at all but who was talking to my parents said to me 'school days are the best days of your life'. i was depressed for months!
    if she had bothered to get to know me and find out about the bullying, i think she wouldn't have said that.

    superman, thanks also for sharing your story. we should all take care to live our lives sincerely in the love of God, so we don't cause anyone to leave the church by our hypocrisy or gossip or bad behaviour.
    let us all love each other as Jesus Christ loves us.
  • Good points, Mabsoota. I feel like I should clarify here that I don't hold anything against the church I was told to leave. I did for a while, but not for years now. They were right to kick me out, based on their worry for my possible influence on the other children at that time.
  • I am actually quite surprised as I assumed you have had much more experience in the Orthodox church.  The answers you provide in your posts sound very familiar and comfortable. I don't sense any Protestant or Catholic style in your writing. I guess being Coptic was just meant to be for you ;D

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this with us!!! Reading your story was very moving, indeed! I felt that I walked the journey with you (maybe it's just your style of writing), as if your mom was mine, and being kicked out of church was me. Your story definitely brought tears to my eyes (in the beginning), but the ending put a smile on my face :)

    This would be a great movie to watch (note to SuperMan(BAM)).

    Oh and,

    so TITL tricked you in writing your story,

    You craaaaaazy boy! I ain't trick nobody to do nothin. Stop getting people to hate me.

  • TITL, you are quite funny!

    You know mabsoota, since I am still a "kid" in most of your eyes, I think it would appropriate to say that sometimes when we go down the wrong path, it could be influenced by your friends or school or even wise teachers, but not always by your parents. At least speaking for myself and other friends I know.

    Mabey parents say somethings that does not make sense, but never stupid. Everything they say has importantance and truth in it. They (mabey, at least mine do) always look for your benefit and they have great love for you because you are their child.

    Mabey I am wrong (most likely)but I don't know what I would do without my parents, they are everything in my life!

  • wow. you've had one full journey! I think my favorite thing to do is to listen to people tell their stories about how they got to the coptic church. They're always amazing! Superman (bam)! I'd like to hear your details! lol.

    It's nice to see how God uses people to bring you to where He wants you to be. Like Elizabeth for you :)

    There's a Hispanic guy that goes to my church. I think he's the most amazing christian ever. We went to convention one year, and a group of us sat all day listening to his story.

    He orginally found the COC through his wife (haha, as so many do...) but the journey didn't stop there for him. He and his wife both got really serious about God, and they decided to go and serve in africa. They stayed for a year, and when they came back they had the most amazing stories. They seriously had miracles happen on their hands.
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