Ignatius and Senia Strange
Our path to Orthodoxy was longer than some and quicker than others, but one thing I know for sure is that it sure felt like a long time, and for the longest time I had no idea how the issues between my wife and I were going to be resolved.
We were serving as Protestant missionaries when we first encountered Orthodoxy. After our first experience in an Orthodox church while visiting friends, I started asking a lot of questions about Orthodoxy. I was mostly interested in learning more about this “branch” of Christianity which had completely illuded me in the past.
In the mission field, I had struggled for many years with what the “Church” should be and why everything seemed to be so fractured and individualized instead of unified and full. While Scripture was not written to explain what the Church was, it certainly provides a wealth of clues from which I drew a mental sketch of traits the Church should have.
As I asked many questions of my Orthodox friend, I was quite surprised to find that not only did the picture he was painting strongly resemble my sketch, but even when I asked questions intended to find discrepancies, no contradiction ever arose. That sketch helped point me in the right direction, but I have been pleasantly surprised many times since as I continue to experience how great, detailed, and beautiful the real painting is.
The catch was, every step I took closer to the Orthodox Church widened the division between my wife and I.
This is his wife. I just want to make it short. After six years of disagreement in our faith journey, by God’s grace, we made it through. Here is my story.
I was mad, very mad at him for making us move out of the mission field (though it was our decision together). I am from Thailand, so moving to the U.S. was moving away from home for me. The first year was very tough, though the Lord blessed us with friends that helped us along the way and made me feel more comfortable with life here.
I have a Buddhist background, but had become a Christian, and Orthodoxy was so different from the Christianity I had been introduced to. For the first couple years, we constantly and intensely argued about theology. But then, we got smarter. We stopped talking about theology and focused on love. That much we could agree on.
It seemed to work, though, every once in a while, we did slip back into that old argument…at least I did. Then, one day, six years into it, we started arguing about some comments I heard from a friend about his faith in Orthodoxy. I was so mad that I didn’t talk to my husband for almost two days.
At that point, I thought I had enough. I prayed again and simply asked God to have mercy on us. Several nights later, something happened in my heart. Something that I can’t explain in words. I felt like Christ was leading me to this way…the Orthodox way.
I didn’t say anything about it, but started to read one of the Orthodox books in the house and realized how much I had misjudged the Orthodox teaching. It was fascinating and deep! Though I didn’t understand everything, it gave me a desire to read more.
I started to read the commentary in the Orthodox Study Bible. It blew my mind! How foolish I had been! I was blind…so blind that I had missed the truth of its teaching and practice. I finally decided to tell my husband that I wanted to join his journey.
Not long after, we were received as catechumens, and thanks be to God, we were baptized into the Orthodox Church in 2013.
My journey to Orthodoxy began as a child. How do I describe a lifetime of hearing God, following Him, ignoring and running the other way? Buddhism, Vedanta, Psychology… All wanted me to “do” it by myself. I was ill, I just couldn’t “do” it by myself. Why would He call me back, after all the things I had done, said and thought? I was not managing on my own spiritually.
Depressed, lonely (but not alone), something was wrong but I didn’t know what it was. In 1979 we lived in Etna, California. At that time I returned to a Protestant church, and it helped for a while. Then, one day, my husband took me to a service at Sts. Adrian and Natalie Orthodox Mission in Etna. It was a Vesper service during Pentecost. Father Seraphim Rose, a saintly priest-monk from a nearby monastery, was reading the Gospel amid incense, candles, singing, and icons. I knew I was home. I didn’t have a clue about what was happening, but I did know, “I want that! And I will do anything it takes to have it!”
I didn’t understand the veneration of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), or anything else. I just wanted to be in the presence of Christ our God. All our family was eventually baptized. We were graciously allowed to be a part of Father Seraphim’s last few years, and we consider St. Herman’s Monastery our spiritual birthplace. My dear husband is now buried there, very near the grave of blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose.
We put our shoulders to the plow of repentance and for the most part never looked back… Well, except for a dark time when I was insistent on my own way. God is a God of Love and Freedom. We have free choice. He lets us exercise it anytime we want. But then we reap the fruits of that fallen labor. I strive to hear that still small voice through prayer, repentance, fasting, reading the Scriptures and attending the Holy services. My husband had such a blessed falling-asleep, and I pray that I will be found worthy to join him in the Heavenly Mansions. God must love me very much, humbling as it is. I still strive to be a true and faithful servant, to turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. When someone walks into our church, I always gives thanks for that miracle and I think, “Oooh, God is calling them, may they have ears to hear with their heart!”
It was the summer of 1991, and our marriage was on the brink of destruction. Even though we had pledged our love to each other in a civil ceremony in 1983, it was not enough to withstand the looking for the center of that love in all the wrong places. Sexual experimentation and drug abuse had weakened our senses and the sin of it all had almost been more than we could bare.
We were both serious spiritual seekers, yearning for the truth of our existence. We both had Protestant backgrounds. We believed in Jesus Christ, but could not abide the watered down form which had been presented to us. So we followed the trend and began to look for God in Eastern Mysticism/Religions and the occult. Nothing was working. There was no peace in our hearts and only intermittent moments of elusive happiness that vanished the morning after our latest escapade. Divorce seemed the only solution.
At that time my husband began to pray for God to reveal to him ancient Christianity. In less than a week, an acquaintance at his workplace invited us to attend an English language service at a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco. We took him up on his offer, and the evening before we were on pins and needles in anticipation of what might transpire. On the trip from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, our friend Peter explained to us the history of the Church and why he had left the western Christianity and become Orthodox. We were captivated by his words and experiences.
As we entered the cathedral for the Liturgy, Peter explained that we could walk around and look at the icons and light candles if we were moved to do so. As we stepped inside, the holiness and grace within that church hit us like a cannonball. James went to the left and I went to the right. We met in the center with tears rolling down both of our cheeks. Looking into each others eyes we just knew we had found what we were looking for. Our spiritual home was here.
As the service began, James was drawn to stand toward the back, but I was drawn to the confessional (not knowing what it was, as I had never confessed in my life). As the priest first came forward and began to cense the people, his eyes looked at me. And it was the eyes of Jesus Christ, looking deep into the wound that was my sinful soul. Christ seeing all the dirt and sin, all my mistakes and yet covering me with such compassion and love. It was like being hit with a hurricane of love. The priest, an Irish convert himself, understood what was happening to us and took us under his wing. He would become our spiritual father and most beloved guide in the years to come.
Within the next few months we would become catechumens, then baptized and chrismated and finally married in the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. It was only later that we would find out that July 2, that blessed day that we entered “the Old Cathedral” for the first time, was the anniversary of the repose of the soon to be Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, and that this was the very church in which he served. We also found out that the place my husband choose to stand for every Liturgy thereafter was the place that the beloved monk Seraphim Rose had stood during his time of conversion.
This is the miracle of our conversion, the beginning of the healing of our marriage and the beginning of our life in Christ whose love and compassion has no end. Many trials and tribulations followed in the years to come, but with Christ as our Guide and Savior we were able to withstand the storms and find calm harbor. Since then my dear husband has departed in the Lord and waits for me to follow him someday.
May every heart that yearns to know the true God be united to Him in faith and love for this is the beginning of our salvation.