I became Orthodox because there was nowhere else to go.
Like many Southerners, I was raised going to church. I am grateful for the congregation of my childhood: a safe, friendly environment that instilled the importance of Scripture, prayer, and a relationship with God. But when growing pains led to a departure from there, I felt bewildered. I knew I wanted to stay in Christendom, and to do so in a community, but beyond that I was out of ideas. I had seen a variety of places, Protestant and Catholic, but still felt uncertain. So when my stepbrother and his wife invited me to go to an Antiochian Orthodox Divine Liturgy with them, I accepted. I just need somewhere to go, I thought; somewhere that isn’t nowhere. The place was pretty, chant-y, and smelled nice, not a bad place to sit and think things through. So I decided to go to Orthodox services while waiting for The Answer to my Church question: where else can I go?
And in an environment with a worship style and approach to spirituality unlike anything I had seen growing up, I soon had even more questions. And for each one, there was an answer in the ancient teachings of the Orthodox Church. I had grown up with a staunch attachment to the Bible as the only source of answers for a Christian. This seemed like a good idea until I started to realize that-with interpretations of scripture and doctrine as numerous as the people who read them- Scripture wasn’t meant to be a stand-alone resource. The Bible itself attests to this edgy idea. While the Apostle Paul does agree the Scriptures are divinely-inspired (2 Timothy 3:16), he also calls the Church “the pillar and the ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). I could answer my questions about my faith with the Bible, but could no longer separate that Bible from the Church whose teachings formed it.
But how did I know that I was attending the Church the Bible talks about, if there are so many? While reading one evening, I came across a passage on baptism written in the year 100 by Ignatius of Antioch, after whom the parish I had been visiting was named. History says that Ignatius was brought to the faith by one of the 12 apostles, to which the entire Orthodox Church can still trace its roots today. I remember thinking about so many of the churches I had seen and visited. They were all trying to restore Christianity- to “bring back the Church of the Bible”-as if it had disappeared or been altered beyond recognition with time. But it had been here all along, without being overcome by the Gates of Hades, and it was Orthodoxy. So, no matter how foreign its ideas and atmosphere were to me, my answer was clear: if I wanted to be a Christian, this was the place I would have to do it. Since converting to Orthodoxy in 2010, I have continued asking questions about my faith, and the Church answers each time, with love and patience.
When the answer promises to challenge or change me, I remember Peter’s conversation with Christ. Knowing he had given a hard teaching, Jesus asked Peter if he, too, would leave. Peter’s answer is, in essence, the same reason I became and remain an Orthodox Christian: “Lord, to whom [else] shall [I] go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Beth Hopkins lives in Nashville, Tenn., where she works for a nonprofit advocacy agency for people with disabilities. She is the writer of the blog In Case of Fire, Use Stairs, featuring a range of topics including humor, social issues, music, disability and Orthodox Christianity. Her work has been featured in Breaking Ground Magazine, Art House Nashville, and the Huffington Post. Beth shares her cozy apartment with two houseplants and a phonograph. You can (and should!) follow her on Twitter at @bethahop.