This page contains audio from the 2009 conference on Missions and Evangelism sponsored by the Missions and Evangelism Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese. It took place on Labor Day weekend 2009 at Antiochian Village. The theme is Sharing Our Faith Building Our Church.
Lord, have mercy. I’m not a speaker, and what I’m going to talk to you about is straight from the heart. I’m not a theologian. I’m the cook at the monastery. I rarely go out to talks, and I was thrilled to come to this one. I’m not surprised that Fr. Peter asked me to do this, and I was actually praying for it. You’ve got to be careful what you pray for; you might get it.
My life, I was exposed a little bit to [the] Baptist church, a little bit to Assembly of God growing up. My mother divorced; she was black-listed from the church. So I was basically raised in no church. Funerals, maybe; maybe a wedding, we would go to church. As I grew up and got out on my own, which was very early—I wanted to get out quick—and I lived a life… pretty much it was drugs, alcohol, and a fast life. That’s what I did for ten years.
I realized that someone… I was watching people my age. I moved to Alaska. I won’t go into that story; it takes more than three minutes. I got to Alaska, and I believe by the prayers of the saints up there that this kind of happened to me: I was watching friends die, and one night I just realized that I had to stop this life or I’m going to die. And it dawned on me: I’m going to die! I never thought I’d die till then.
I ended up trying to get out of that lifestyle, and I was in a situation, was doing deals or whatever, and I found myself in a situation where my life was threatened, and I thought I was going to die that night. I actually went in and got on my knees. I said, “I have to go to the bathroom,” and they said, “Okay,” which is pretty funny, I think. So I went in and I got on my knees and I said, “Okay. I don’t know you, but if there is a Jesus Christ like my grandmother said, and you’re there, if you get me out of this, I’m yours.” I had no idea that this was going to happen. [Laughter] None whatsoever. And my mother—I go back to Kansas—my mother’s going: “We prayed a little too hard for you…”
So I ended up… I went back out into that room, and the person said, “You know, I’m really tired.” He had a knife. “I’m tired, I’m going to lie down.” I’m like: whoa, this is too good. Got in the car and I ran. I lived a year, literally on my own. I had no friends. All my friends partied, and I had never lived in that world before. I grew up in a completely different world. Fast money and all. So anyhow, my friends all thought I had a nervous breakdown, and they all kept trying to get me back in. I went for a whole year praying to the Lord, “Okay, I know you’re there… I have evidence now, you’re there. You’ve got to show me where to worship, because I know that I have to worship you, and I don’t know how to do that.”
A year went by, and it was just me and my dog and work and church. I kept thinking, “If he wants me to worship him, where is he?” And lo and behold, I got out a phone book and I thought, “Okay, I’ll go to every church in Eagle River, and I’ll go three times, and when I find the right one, I’ll stay there.” The next day, Fr. Peter’s daughter-in-law, Jennifer, called me and said, out of the blue, “Do you want to go to church with me?” I said, “Well, this is good. At least I know someone.”
So I went to church with her, and I think it was the service before Christmas. I walked into the church, not knowing what to expect at all. I met the priest; I remember Fr. Paul. I said, “I’m going to look at every church three times. I’ll let you know.” Well, I don’t talk to priests like that now, but that’s what I told him at the time. [Laughter] And I stood in church, and the service started, and I’m like: “Where’s Jingle Bells?” I’m listening, and like… Well, this isn’t anything like I’d heard. About halfway through the service, I just started to weep. I just stood there and I just cried. That’s all I did, just stand there and cry. In my heart, I knew that this was it. I was like: “Oh my gosh, you’ve been…” I’d tried different churches off and on during my life, but they were all… something was wrong. I just knew that this was it.
I thought, “Well, but you were going to every church,” so I left that night. I came back the next Sunday, then I started to work my work schedule around. I came to noon hours. Then I started coming to matins. And then I started coming to a lot of different things. Then Fr. Paul comes up and says, “You’re a liar.” And I said, “Yes, Father. I lied”—by that time I’d learned to call him “Father”—“Yes, Father. This is true, but could you be a little more specific.” He said, “You said you were going to go to each church in town three times and then let me know, but you’ve been coming here six months now.” [Laughter] “Now we know you’re a liar, because you told me a lie.”
It was probably, oh, maybe a year later, I went through the catechism up there and then came into the Church. I was so smitten by the worship that I kept… I actually got rid of my business and I started working in the youth house. I kept asking Fr. Harold: more services, more services. They finally kind of told me up there, “If you want more services, go to a monastery.” So I did. [Laughter]
And I wanted to go… I wanted to find one. He kept saying, “Well, we don’t know any nuns.” The next weekend his matushka, his khouria, brought nuns up to talk to us. So it’s like: “Well, Father, here’s the nuns!” And it was probably… he made me wait five more years. I waited until I had his blessing, and then I went to the monastery, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
The only thing I can tell you is with the life and the memories and the battles I still have, I like when young people come, because I can share with them a lot of what I know, and all that stuff they’re putting in their heads—and this is for all of you, too—all that stuff they’re putting into their heads, it’s there forever. Don’t watch it. And the only time my heart is really at peace is when I’m standing in prayer before God, either in a chapel or in my room or in my cell. That’s when I find the peace for my soul, and I know it’s going to be a lifetime battle, and that’s okay. I want that.
The Orthodox Church, it’s it. There’s no other church that can give you that worship and that peace. I’m not a theologian, but that’s my story. Thank you.