Saturday, March 7, 2015

Mormon-to-Orthodox converts: Jim.

This week is a bit different than the other interviews that will be posted on the blog over the course of the next few months. Jim has written his own conversion story, and I have posted it here for you to read.

I was born in 1957 and raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(Mormon). I remember attending church regularly; I attended Sunday school, the main church
meeting and all the activities, boy scouts, plays, dances, cook outs and many other things
associated with the church. Like all Mormons I was taught about Joseph Smith, the first vision,
and mostly from the book of Mormon every Sunday. I was taught that the Mormon Church was
the only true Church and other church doctrine. I believe I had a good understanding of those
teachings presented.

Our neighborhood consisted mostly of Mormons, however we had one Catholic family and I
think one that was some form of evangelical.  All the kids got along really well, at least to me
there was no religious tension, and I had no restriction placed on me to not associate with non
Mormons. I knew several kids who were not allowed to play with non Mormons and I found this

At some point (pre teen) I remember receiving a little green covered bible and reading it. After
reading the bible and listening to my Sunday school teachers I started having questions.  I cannot
remember the exact things I questioned (should have started a diary but didn’t) but I know that
the answers did not sit well with me. Either the question was not answered or I was told that the
question was not important. I started to have reservations that later in life developed into doubts.
During this time we started to attend church less often, due to our family getting into snow skiing
and boating, but still went on a fairly regular basis.

It was sometime in my early teens that I started to question fully the teachings of the Mormon
Church. There were many things, after reading the bible, I could not square with those things I
was being taught. I remember while attending Sunday school thinking, that I had heard this same
thing over and over every year. I felt I was being brainwashed and I resented it. I started not
wanting to attend church and resisted when asked. After a while my parents let me decide if I
wanted to attended church, which eventually became infrequent and finally never.

It was during my junior high school years that really planted my rejection of Mormonism. In
Utah, when I was in school, you were allowed to take LDS seminary as an elective and therefore
it was used by a lot of kids as an easy class. It was in this class, the only one I attended, that I
came to the conclusion that the teachings of the Mormon Church were wrong.  The teacher,
when pressed, would tell us that the subject in discussion, had been determined by a church
prophet, or was not important and that was that. There was not room for questioning or
discussion. This really did not sit well with me, I wanted real answers.  My parents had always
encourage us to question everything, which now that I look back on I did quite often.
I ended up rejecting the Mormon Church and the any idea of an organized religion. I felt that
religions run by men were going to be incorrect. Over the years I had questioned the different
definition(s) of God I had encountered but never stopped believing in a Him. I still believed in
God, the bible, and family. I just did not feel I needed anything else.

I had read a book on North American Indian spirituality (Seven Arrows) and felt that the Indians
had a good understanding of things. It showed their belief in a higher spirit and how life’s
journey, (the medicine wheel) was a guide to reaching full spiritual awareness. This was what I
was feeling and it had a great impact on my outlook and mindset.

I continued in this manner until I graduated from High school. At that time I decided to join the
Navy. When entering in the Navy you are asked to state your religious orientation, I selected
none. During boot camp I looked into other religions to just see what it was all about.  I looked at
the Catholic Church, did not like the thought of the Pope who decides doctrine, been there done
that. A few evangelical faiths, did not like that there were always different views/interpretations
on everything, and decided to not participate in anything.

All this time I still felt God was with me. I believed and He watched over me, we were good.
While serving on an aircraft carrier I developed a back condition that is still with me to this day.
This condition would prevent me from finishing my tour of duty and resulted in my being
honorably discharged from the Navy.

Upon returning home I entered College in my home town. I don’t remember going to any Church
during this time and did not feel that I needed to.  None of my friends were very religious and it
just did not seem important. I still was where I wanted to be. God and I, in my view, were still

It was in college that I met my future bride and best friend. We had gone to junior and senior
high school together but never dated. She was working in the college cafeteria and I used to go
there to study after classes. We would talk and she would on occasion take a break and sit with
me. I finally asked her out and we began dating.

Religion really never came up, because I don’t remember ever really discussing it in any depth.
She knew I was raised Mormon and that I did not believe in it any longer, other than that it was
not on our radar. It did not even occur to me to find out what religion she was. It finally came up
when we decided to get married.

I discovered she was an Orthodox Christian (Greek) which was never on my radar, nor did I have
a clue what that really was. Did not even know we had that church in our city. It was very
important to her that we get married in her church and seeing as I did not care one way or
another that was fine with me. We arranged to meet with her priest to find out what needed to be
done so we could get married in the Greek Orthodox Church. It was during these meetings that
we were informed that my baptism in the Mormon Church was not recognized as valid by the
Orthodox. They do not baptize in the name of the Trinity.

This really did not surprise me as I knew that the Mormon beliefs were really different from that
of the mainstream Christian community.  During this time the priest gave me materials to read to
see if I was ready to enter into Orthodoxy. I read the materials and through these and
conversations with the Priest I found that I already believed in what I was being presented.
Christ is the head of the Church and not man. The Church through an Ecumenical council can
refine doctrine but not add or delete doctrine.  In Mormonism the current President/Prophet can
establish/change doctrine.

God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were one God, the Trinity. In Mormonism each is a separate
being and not God except for the Father.

Baptism is putting on Christ, uniting with him, and removing of your sins. In Mormonism
baptism is not about putting on/uniting with Christ, but remove sin, and making a covenant with
God promising to keep his commandments and is a specific requirement to get into heaven,
which is why they baptize dead people,. This practice has always seemed wrong to me seeing
that when you are alive you make your decisions on what you believe and the bible says once
you are gone it’s over.

The bread and wine were the blood and body of Christ, in Mormonism the bread and water is
just a symbol and used as a renewal of your commitments to God.  There were other things but
you get my drift.

After a few meetings and discussions the priest determined that I was ready and could be
baptized into the Orthodox Church.

The baptism service was awesome, the spitting on Satan and turning to and accepting Jesus was
enlightening. The church where I was baptized had a large metal box for its adult baptismal font.
As most know during an Orthodox baptism the person is anointed with oil before emersion and
the water is also blessed with oil. After the third emersion the priest asked me to standup. To my
chagrin I was so oiled up that each time I tried to stand up I slid and went under again. After
numerous times the priest reached in and helped me to stand telling me that that was enough
emersions and I was good to go. I received my first cross and I felt very much renewed and new.
We proceeded to get married. The wedding service had a major impact on me. Never had I
experienced anything like it. The service was not just getting married and exchanging vows (no
exchanging vows in the Orthodox wedding service), but God uniting us into one with him. The
emphasis on self sacrifice to the other, as Christ sacrificed himself for the church and becoming
one. That has stayed with me to this date.

We began attending services. The church services and songs were mainly in Greek therefore I
followed along in the Liturgy book which had both Greek and English text, not the easiest thing
to do. I was really taken with the beauty and majesty of Holy Week and the Pascal midnight
service. Attending Pascal service was enlightening, so much different from my youth, which was
just another meeting.

After our first child we began getting more involved, helping in Sunday school and participating
in the yearly festival.  I found that I was comfortable, I believed, was involved but not fully
immersed in worship. This situation remained for a number of years and two priests.
Things changed when we got a new priest Father Dan. He is an excellent witness for Christ. He
made some amazing changes that took awhile to be accepted by the parish. Services were now
mostly in English He requested everyone to participate in services, to sing (now a lot in English),
to actively join the worship and get involved. Bibles were placed in the pews, weekly bible study
and classes. He had classes on the history of salvation and the ecumenical councils.
He taught me that communion was not something you did every so often but should be done as
much as possible (except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no
life in you, John 6:53), as long as you are right with God. I participated in my first sacrament of
confession with him. Confession really had not been made a priority to me before and I never
really thought a lot about it. I knew we had the sacrament but I thought after baptism unless you
did something really bad you were ok. He taught me that as we get closer to the light (Christ) we
begin to see all the little marks the light exposes on us.  He used the onion as a metaphor that as
we continue to strip away the layers we expose those underneath. What a liberating and
humbling experience and I still strive to continually strip away layers.

Wow what a difference this had on me. Now I started to see what a treasure I had been given.
What a pearl of great price this was. This man had changed me forever, I was now participating
fully, I was no longer just there.

I had joined the Orthodox Church, its worship and all, but now I was actually fully engaged.
Services have greater meaning, things like daily prayers are something that I looked forward to
and most of all the doctrine and theology is now mine.
It has been 30 years and I still continue to deepen my understanding of the faith; the depth of
which still surprises me, no matter what I learn there is always more.
As I look back over my journey I see God was always with me, he did have a plan for me, finally
guiding me to the truth.

“We have been saved by the death and resurrection of Christ. We are being saved by our active 

participation in the Sacramental life of the Church as a work of love manifesting the fruits of God's 

Grace. We will b saved if we remain in him at His glorious Second Coming.”

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