4. Encountering Living Orthodoxy, September 2003 to the Sunday of Orthodoxy (25 February 2007)
A Year of Testing and Struggle
Last year, 2006, was the most difficult year I’ve ever faced. We began the year with significant financial struggles. By God’s grace those had eased by mid-year. As part of those struggles, we were without a home of our own for about two and a half months; and as a result of that state, my family and I were separated from one another during that time, while I continued to work and earn an income, staying with friends, and my wife and daughters stayed with her family in Oklahoma. And, finally, as the year wound down with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, I experienced the severe turmoil with my mom and sisters, and we lost our baby in utero, and as a result of the miscarriage, I almost lost my wife. I can’t imagine very many scenarios that would have been so difficult as this past year was for us.
Although our struggles began prior to Lent, they really began to come to a point as Lent was getting underway. That, coupled with my wife and daughters temporarily relocating to Oklahoma in April, made for a Lenten desolation I had never before known. While things eventually improved, including my landing of a job that is both challenging and rewarding—though it is not the academic job I envisioned myself in about this point in my life—new challenges ended the year. As with all sorts of things like these, some of our struggles were a mix of the consequences of our own failings, as well as the happenstance of hurtful things that happen in a fallen world. Others, of course, were simply the sorrow that a bent and twisted world brings as we all await the cosmic redemption.
While I might say that I learned a deeper faith from enduring these things, I’m not certain my life has the sort of faithful constancy to back such a claim. I did learn something about the seldom-early, never-late merciful compassion of God, and was once again given the indisputable evidence that he is a God to be trusted. But again, these things are not for me to teach, inconstant as I am. And with regard to the pain of the struggle of those months, that is such an inwardly private thing, I’m not sure it can be communicated without stumbling over one’s pride. So it is best to pass over much of the year in silence.
Finally, into the Catechumenate
One thing that did happen this past autumn was our second “false-start” into the catechumenate. We’d had our first such “false-start” a year before in the autumn of 2005. During Autumn 2005, Anna and I had gone to meet a friend for dinner up in Guerney, and on the way home, with the girls asleep in the car as we drove down the interstate, I broached the subject of my desire to become Orthodox, but also affirmed my desire to do so as a family. I tried to express my willingness to wait a bit longer, but at the same time tried to communicate that I did not feel I could wait for forever. Surprisingly, Anna indicated that she would be willing to become Orthodox. We talked to Father Pat, a few weeks later, but as it turned out, we didn’t then make it into the catechumenate. Looking back, last year would doubtless have been a difficult year to meaningfully grow through the catechumenate amid such significant life traumas.
A similar scenario played itself out this past autumn. Our life circumstances had begun to improve on many fronts, and I expressed again my desire to be Orthodox and my desire that we do so as a family. Anna reiterated her own willingness to become Orthodox, and once again, we tried to get a meeting with Father. This time Father’s travel schedule and our own holiday travels failed to mesh. Then the miscarriage focused our energies and resources. But we renewed our query shortly after the new year began and life had once again settled down for us.
This time, we finally were blessed to enter the catechumenate. Though, I must admit, it did not unfold in quite the way I though it would. Whereas I thought we’d have a face-to-face with Father Pat, and that we would formally enter the catechumenate in time for the start of Great and Holy Lent, instead, it was a lot less formal, even sort of anti-climactic. On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, after Lent had been underway for a week, and after trying without success for a couple of weeks to get with Father, we finally tried to get with Father Pat immediately after services (he was going out of town over the following days), but he was busy and deferred us via a phone call later toward mid-afternoon. Father and Anna spoke for less than fifteen minutes on the phone, and that was that. We were catechumens.
As it happened, our “enrollment” in the cathechumenate was a portent of the low-key way the catechumenate period would unfold for us.
[Next: 5. The Catechumentate, the Sunday of Orthodoxy (25 February 2007) to Pentecost Sunday (27 May 2007)]