Joslyn ‘Josie’ Ramey- September 2015
Orthodox Christian Resource Center- Dept. of Church Research & Studies
Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE
My conversion story to Holy Orthodoxy is not, in fact, not so much a story, but rather a pilgrimage of Grace. It has been a long road and, the more I travel, the more I realize what a long way I have left to go. It is my prayer that my journey inspire your own.
I was raised in a Baptist family, and the church we attended was a member of the General Association of General Baptist Churches. My parents had attended our little Baptist church as kids and had grown up, fallen in love, married, and decided to raise their family in the same community. As a girl, my mother was my Sunday School teacher, my father a “deacon” of the church. I participated in church pageants and plays. The congregation was not merely a collection of people– they were truly my church family.
I remember being a very deep and thoughtful little girl. When I was three years-old– and I actually remember this event– I asked my mother, one night just before bed, as I stared at the glow of the nightlight in my room, how we could know “for sure” there was a God. Perhaps it wasn’t the best timing. My mother now quips when recalling the story, that she ought to have said, “If you don’t go to sleep now, you’ll get to meet Him!” Whatever her answer at the time, it didn’t satisfy. God remained an illusive mystery to me.
I went through the motions of “asking Jesus into my heart” when I was four and a half years-old. The date of my “salvation” is written in the first page of my first Bible, which I still have today, an old King James Version that is now worn with age and is falling apart. The things of God were always important to me, even from an early age, but even after I invited Christ into my life, I didn’t have the “assurance” everyone in my family and in my church said I should.
Fast forward to my last two years of High School. After a lifetime of attending public schools, my parents were able to afford to send my brother and me to a private, non-denominational (with Baptist leanings) academy. I was absolutely elated! My fellow classmates and I were all professed Christians. Our teachers prayed before each class. We could talk openly about God– and could find connections with faith in subjects like English, Math, History, and Music as well as in Bible class.
After a while, though, I started to wonder. If we all were Christians, why did we have different names above our church doors? Why were some of us Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal while others were Methodists, Reformed, or even Lutheran? Why did we debate about the Armenian view of salvation vs. the Calvinistic one? Was alcohol okay for Christians to consume in moderation? Should women be preachers? What about the End Times? Who had the Early Christians been and what did they believe? Which one of our denominations was the right one?
Towards the middle of my Senior year of High School, I was scanning the Christian section of Barnes and Noble, a bookstore chain, when I came across the title of a book called, “Rome Sweet Home” co-authored by Dr. Scott Hahn and his wife, Kimberly Hahn. The name, as a play off the phrase “Home Sweet Home,” amused me. I read the back of the book. The Hahns had dealt with subjects I was interested in and questioning, myself, and their journey ultimately led them to become Roman Catholics. I remember covertly buying the book and hiding it until I could finally read it in privacy.
There was a reason I was scared about reading a book concerning Catholicism. I was raised to believe that Roman Catholics worshiped Mary, didn’t really know Jesus, and probably were not “saved.” I did not want anyone knowing I was reading the conversion story of a couple– a former Protestant Minister and his wife– who had become Catholic.
That book changed my life. I devoured “Rome Sweet Home” in two days, reading it whenever I could between classes, homework, babysitting my little brother. Later, I was able to look up Catholic apologetics on the internet. I was introduced to an ancient, liturgical tradition that claimed apostolic origins. I realized that my Baptist tradition was only a few hundred years old, at best.
By the time I graduated High School and was preparing for university, I was a Roman Catholic at heart. I still had not found the courage to tell my parents, out of fear for their reaction. I knew it would be bad. So I decided to go to a small, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Bible College with the idea that I would study, grow in my newfound faith, and then– at the end of one year– be ready to share with my parents.
When, at last, my parents discovered my desire to become a Roman Catholic, they reacted just as badly as I had always feared. They placed me under virtual “house arrest.” I had to check in with them at certain times of the day. I could only drive to places pre-approved of. My belongings were constantly searched for contraband.
I was also taken to several pastors, both at the church in which I had grown up as well as my grandparents’ more strict church. The last meeting I had with a pastor, my grandparents’ pastor, was excruciating. We talked together for an hour. I was surprised that we did not even so much as open up a Bible, but that he listened to me and seemed to honor my decision as a 19 year-old adult. Sadly, that was not the case.
My parents were subsequently invited in to the meeting and, for the next 4-5 hours, that preacher denounced me, psychoanalyzed me, and shared many dire predictions for my life if I left the protection of my father’s home. My mother was crying. My father looked like he would explode at any moment. The pastor looked from them to me and asked the question, “Is all of this worth it?”
It was meant to be a sucker-punch, a blow to make me realize just how out of my league I was. A pitch to make me feel keenly guilty at the pain my parents were experiencing. Yet, I couldn’t help but think of the early Christians who were faced with the dilemma of renouncing their faith and living or claim Christ and face the consequences. It was a defining moment. I looked at the pastor and said, quietly but firmly, “Yes”
Yes, indeed. Christ was worth it. Being true to where I thought He was leading me, despite the pain and uncertainty, was infinitely worth it. Did I enjoy hurting my parents? No. Yet, for the first time in my life, my faith was my own. Is that not what my parents had always wished for me? To live my faith?
My parents had given my an ultimatum: stay Baptist and enjoy continuing to live in their home or become Catholic and leave. I am sure they meant this threat to shock me into complying with their wishes. It almost did. I was a girl of nineteen, completely sheltered and ignorant of the ways of the world. Where would I go? Where would I live?
To this day, while I deeply regret my actions on many levels, the following days and weeks became so terrible at home, with my family, that I finally ran away. I did not feel as if I had any other choice. I moved to the American South, far enough away from my family that they could not coerce me back. Finally, I thought, I was free.
It turned out that, yes, I was free in certain ways. In other ways, not so much. It was an absolute joy to be able to attend Mass on Sundays and walk right up to the church building, bells ringing and parishioners entering, without fear that I might be discovered! On the other hand, the “friend” from whom I had rented a small pool house at the back of his property in exchange for cleaning his home and taking care of his purebred dogs, turned out to be a waking nightmare.
I was abused in many ways– physically, psychologically, and sexually. With no where else to turn, and with his abuse being preferable to returning to my parents and seeing their triumph at my fall, and forever being branded with a sort-of “scarlet letter” of my own, I learned to endure it. I still suffer from the affects of these years to this day.
Eventually, I was able to move on with my life. I was baptized and confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church. Years later, I met and courted my husband, Adam, who in many ways has been an icon of Christ to me. Adam and I married in 2006 and have lived all over the United States and now abroad, in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, in the Middle East.
This is where my story turns into an Orthodox pilgrimage of grace.
Adam grew up in a Maronite Catholic family. His father is Lebanese, from a small village called Falougha in the beautiful mountains of Lebanon. He immigrated to the United States just before the Lebanese Civil War broke out. My father-in-law married my mother-in-law, a Roman Catholic woman of French-Canadian decent. They both settled in the Boston area of the United States and raised their family of three children.
My husband and I were married according to the Maronite Rite of Crowning on the 13th of May 2006. It was the first time many in my family had even stepped inside of a Catholic Church, let alone an Eastern Catholic parish. I am grateful that, despite my father’s words in the final pastor’s office, he did indeed walk me down the aisle at my wedding.
I am also grateful that the ethnic identity and customs went a long way to smoothing things over in their eyes. My extended family still fondly jokes about all of the “anomalies” of our wedding. And, my wedding was the very first one in which members of my family dared to dance at a reception.
Adam and I settled into married life. For the first four years of our marriage, he completed graduate school at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. After graduating with his Ph.D. in Political Science, Adam took a job at Harvard Business School, and we moved back to Massachusetts.
We were faithful church-goers. One thing that drew Adam and me together was our faith. We were not just nominal Catholics, but Catholics who were deeply interested in the ancient liturgical traditions of our church. In Rochester, NY, we attended a Latin Mass parish. Once in Massachusetts, Adam and I spent our Wednesday nights at our Latin-rite church– Adam serving as an acolyte, assigning the priest at his weekly Tridentine Latin Mass. I knelt quietly in a pew, my head covered with a lace mantilla. I even had a side business on Etsy, selling lace chapel veils.
One Spring, I decided to go on a spiritual retreat. I had heard from a friend about a group of Roman Catholic nuns who were hermits and, while being Latin-rite, incorporated Byzantine liturgical practices into their Liturgy of the Hours. I made arrangements and soon, I was off to visit the Monastic Sisters in Livingston Manor, NY.
That retreat was the real beginning of my journey to Orthodoxy.
I was given a little wooden cottage. The downstairs continued a single bed, a small kitchenette, an eating area, and a bathroom. A staircase ascended to the prayer room, a large area of space decorated in the Byzantine fashion. Two Eastern icons adored either side. A podium with the Holy Scriptures stood towards the front. A desk, for study, in the back.
Each morning, I walked a mile to the chapel to pray the morning liturgy of the hours and to hear Holy Mass. Every evening, the night prayers. The Byzantine worship of the sisters– as well as their grounded spiritual life– spoke to my soul. I began to fall in love with icons.
When I returned home, Adam and I began to spend more time with a friend who was a friend our ours, a Melkite-rite Catholic postulant at a local monastery. It was he who taught me about the Jesus Prayer, the significance of icons in worship, and Byzantine worship. Adam and I began to attend the Melkite Greek Catholic Divine Liturgy, and we loved it.
That summer, we moved to New York City. Adam had taken a job with New York University in Abu Dhabi, but we had to spend an “integration” year in Manhattan while we waited for our visa paper work, before we moved to the Middle East, to go through. We started attending a Russian Catholic parish a few blocks from us, It was there that we met and befriended a Melkite deacon who was friends with our monk friend back in Massachusetts.
Between our worship at St. Michael’s and my obedience to my spiritual director, I began to fund myself more and more Orthodox in practice and belief, but Roman Catholic in name. I could be “Orthodox in Communion with Rome,” I thought. Oh, how I tried.
Adam and I moved to Abu Dhabi. In our first year there, we attended an Orthodox parish instead of the Catholic Cathedral. My husband was actually studying, under the direction of the Melkite Patriarchate’s seminary in Lebanon, to become a priest. It was with their knowledge and permission that we attended the Greek Orthodox parish. In the meantime, I was finding– through my prayer life, studies, etc.– that I was becoming more and more Orthodox.
I spent a fearful year and a half, worried that our desperate views on faith would tear my husband and me apart. In the end, God was good. Adam’s studying Orthodox sources and, more importantly, living out the Orthodox life, helped him to cultivate his own longing to become fully Orthodox.
Adam and I were chrismated into the Antiochian Orthodox Church on Christmas Eve of 2013. What a blessing this has been to us! Holy Orthodoxy has helped to heal our wounds, both individually and as a couple. Our marriage is stronger than it ever has been before.
What is more, Adam’s family is open to Orthodoxy. Adam and I bring our six year-old, fatherless niece to church with us whenever we are in town. Although she cannot receive Holy Communion, she loves to pick out a few pieces of the Holy Bread and she cherishes the older ladies of the parish sneaking her a piece on their way back to their pews. Adam’s mother and his sisters also enjoy visiting our parish for holiday Divine Liturgies. It is a real blessing getting to worship together.
My family is likewise more open to Orthodoxy than they were to traditional, Latin-rite Roman Catholicism. In many ways, the Protestant movement was an attempt to get back to Orthodox roots, but the leaders of the Reformation lacked the tradition and history of Eastern Christianity. I continue to pray that, one day, my family, friends, and loved ones will come to the fullness of the faith.
In my own life, I have discovered that I finally have– as I was taught to believe in during my youth– a dynamic relationship with God, I confess the Orthodox faith that was handed down from Christ to His Apostles, that was once delivered to the Saints (Jude 1:3). God willing, I will also continue to progress in theosis, a sharing of God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
All I want, and all I have ever wanted, was to become a saint. I still struggle with my past. I still do battle in my soul over the Western chauvinistic, Calvinist view of God the Father. I often wonder what would have happened if I had gone further in my research of the Early Church and had become Orthodox first, instead of Roman Catholic. And then, there is the more recent loss of my husband and my precious, pre-born triplets.
I don’t have all of the answers. Yet I am confident that Holy Orthodoxy does. I pray that, by yielding my understanding and submitting myself to God through His Holy Church, my soul will be healed. May God’s will be done, in all things.
Editors Note: Joslyn believes in Pan-Orthodox Christian Concilliar Unity. Fr. Peter Farrington of the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Church is her spiritual guide and father.