My Journey from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy (part 1)

churchlargeI love Facebook.  It gives me the opportunity to talk with people I haven’t seen in many years, people who remember me from my days at Calvary Chapel.  Needless to say, when they discover that I have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy,  they are very curious and would like to hear my story.   Here it is.


I was raised in a Christian home.  We attended the rustic Baptist church in our rural Ohio community.  I remember a lot of sermons about hell.  Now, I am almost certain that the pastor preached about many other things, but all I remember are his sermons about hell and the Rapture.  I was terrified and had nightmares and in this fearful state I “walked the aisle” one Easter morning when I was twelve and was baptized in Lake Erie soon after.  This episode didn’t calm my fears at all and I always worried that I wasn’t really and truly saved.  It seemed that my salvation was dependant on the sincerity of my confession of faith.  I was never sure I had been sincere enough. In fact, I was totally motivated out of fear of hell and not love of God. Not surprisingly,  I lacked the assurance of my salvation that I was told I should have.  Singing “Blessed Assurance” made me nervous. Nevertheless, I had a specific date I could refer to when people asked when I was born again- “Easter, 1964.” 

I continued attending Baptist churches until I was thirty when the church I was attending in California went through some changes.  A  friend and I tried out the new Calvary Chapel in town.   We stayed at Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay for the next twenty years.   We loved the folksy music and the non-preachy teaching.  My friend immediatley “plugged in” to the active singles group but I didn’t find my niche for many years until I became involved with the women’s ministry.   Eventually, I was a leader and teacher in the women’s ministry, the manager of the web site,  the producer of the daily radio program, one of the directors of the weeky TV show and the maker of the Powerpoint slides. I also began teaching history at Calvary Chapel High School, which began in 2001.  I  didn’t hold all these jobs simultaneously, but to say I was busy was an understatement. I wanted to do these jobs.  I believed in saying “yes” to God and sincerely wanted to be a servant.  However, I also enjoyed feeling important.  I came to see myself as a very important person at church.  

I don’t know when the cynicism began to creep in exactly,  but I gradually became aware of the fact the I was no longer agreeing with what I was hearing from the pulpit on Sunday.   Our pastor was an excellent teacher; it wasn’t his fault. It was basic Protestant theology that I was beginning to question, although I didn’t realize it at the time.   On the one hand, we were told that it was God Who sanctified us and that we couldn’t do anything ourselves except, it seemed, to read the Bible.  God did it all and to think otherwise was “works righteousness.”   But if it was God Who did all the sanctifying,  why were the results so poor?   If  Bible-reading was the path to holiness,  why wasn’t I becoming a more Christ-like, since I read the Bible all the time?  The truth of the matter was that I was becoming a bigger jerk with each passing year.  Reading the Bible and waiting for the Lord to sanctify me wasn’t  working.  I wouldn’t describe the problem in these terms today, but that’s what I was thinking in the year 2002.

So 2002 was the year of my discontent.  I began to privately question a lot of things that were taught and done at church.  Around about this time,  my 22-year old daughter announced that she and her fiancee were planning to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy,  thanks to the influence of a child-hood friend who had become Orthodox after being raised as a Baptist.  I was horrified.  I knew next to nothing about the Orthodox and thought they were simply an exotic version of Roman Catholicism, which is to say, pagan.   I decided to do some research and read Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church.  To my great surprise,  I realized that what I was reading was thoroughly Christian.  In fact,  the book addressed some of the very issues I was privately wrestling with.   I concluded that my daughter could do a lot worse than join this ancient Church and gave her my blessing.   

My own spiritual life was going down-hill at a rapid rate.  I fell into a black hole and actually began dressing in black.   As I helped direct the TV show, I began to view the Sunday morning service as a stage performance which made my cynical attitude even worse.  I quit talking to people.  I wanted to leave Calvary Chapel but where could I go?  We had had it pounded into our heads that Calvary Chapel was God’s cutting edge work for our time.   Yet that summer, I began visiting different churches.  I visited the local  Lutheran, Baptist, non-denominational  and Pentecostal churches.   They were all the same. They all sang the same repetitive,  happy-clappy songs and had the same sermons.  In fact, they all seemed like pale imitations of Calvary Chapel.   I was thinking about leaving the world of churches entirely.   They were all the same and none of them offered what I needed to cure my sick soul.  Time to toss in the towel, I figured.  

Once Sunday morning, when my cup of discontent was at its fullest,  I decided to visit St. Seraphim’s,  the Russian Orthodox Church here in Seaside.  All I knew about Orthodoxy was what I read in The Orthodox Church and I had no idea what to expect when I opened the front door and stepped inside.   All my senses were affected.   I heard heavenly music,  which was the  choir chanting ancient hymns in (what I thought at the time was) Russian.  I smelled sweet church incense,  which was quite different from the Asian incense I was used to.   It was a small room, and all the people were standing- no pews.   The walls were covered with icons.  I was prepared to hate the icons- it was one feature of Orthodoxy where I didn’t find The Orthodox Church to be convincing.  But it was the icons that did it for me.  There was Isaiah,  there was John the Baptist,  there was St. Nicholas,   over there was St. Mary,  and up front was Jesus Himself.  It was like visiting an elderly aunt and finding photographs of all your long-lost relatives on the mantel.   I  had not been in that church building more than five minutes when all my faith came rushing back to me, all at once.  All my cynicism and doubts left in a moment.  I was home again.

How could it be that incomprehensible singing,  a whiff of incense,  and a roomful of religious art could restore my faith so completely?   All I can say is that it was a work of God.  As I stood there in a roomful of mostly elderly strangers,  I knew I had to become Orthodox.  I didn’t know how or when, but I knew this Church had the answers to  my questions.  I knew this place was the hospital that had the medicine my sick soul needed to be made whole.  I walked into St. Seraphim’s that morning a cranky, doubting cynic and floated out an hour later,  basking in the love of God and optimistic about the future. It was a miracle.

It took a few months to disentangle myself from my jobs at Calvary Chapel so I could persue Orthodoxy. I mentioned the Orthodox Church in a casual way a few times to people in leadership,  and they responded with phrases like “those people are trying to work their way to heaven.”    There didn’t seem like much point in announcing that I planned to abandon Calvary Chapel for Eastern Orthodoxy so I just slipped away.   I was chrismated in January of 2003  at the Greek church in Salinas,  taking the name “Xenia”  after St. Xenia of St. Petersburg.   


That’s enough for now.   Next time I’ll explain some things like Sola Scriptura vs  Tradition,  the Eucharist, etc.   I realize my complaints with Evangelicalism sound a little vague and unformed in this article so I’ll sharpen things up a little bit next time.


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amy
    Feb 02, 2009 @ 17:48:06

    I am SO glad you are writing about your journey to Orthodoxy! I’ve always wanted to know more, but presumed you would write as you felt the time was right.

    God Bless you Xenia! and I can’t wait to read more.


  2. Frank Kulik
    Feb 02, 2009 @ 19:00:21

    The “cradle-born” Orthodox need to lean how to reach out and share with their neighbors about the true Church of Jesus. Forget the stupid food festivals for they are in inspiration of the devil.

  3. Amy
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 16:08:48

    PS., Xenia, I’d like to connect with you via facebook, how can I find you?

  4. Marilyn Raffensperger
    Feb 08, 2009 @ 07:04:12

    Thanks so much for blessing me by writing about your faith journey.

    Hugs from New Zealand,

  5. Debbie Z
    Feb 14, 2010 @ 01:07:54

    Wow Diane, what a moving story, I’m glad that I finally found it! What a wonderful work of God in your life, and exciting.

  6. Katherine Bolger Hyde
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 20:26:11

    Thanks for writing this, Xenia! I love hearing other people’s stories.

  7. Alex
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 10:55:32

    Just a question, do you have assurance of salvation right now, and upon what basis is that assurance, if you have it? Do you have assurance of going to heaven when you die, and what is that assurance based upon?

    I’m asking out of curiosity, no harm intended 🙂

  8. Xenia
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 18:39:09

    Alex, I don’t think about the idea of “assurance” at all. I just try to follow the Lord.

  9. Kim
    Jun 06, 2012 @ 08:19:36

    Hi Xenia,

    I just ran across your testimony. I can relate in so many ways. Your experiences reflect many of my own. I knew something was missing in my faith, but I wasn’t sure I would ever find it. But I did in the Orthodox Church. I am a catechumen now and look forward to joining the Church someday in the near future.

  10. Keith
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 14:49:04

    I don’t know if you read this blog anymore, but my story is a little similar to yours, however I became Catholic. Much the same thing, I felt that Calvary was not doing it for me and after spending time in other non-denominational churches I was confirmed in a very traditional Latin Trinentine Mass. Anyway to connect with you on facebook?

  11. Xenia
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 21:31:33

    Hi Keith, I just discovered your post. I am at on FB.

  12. events & lifestyle
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 23:49:04

    It’s a shame you don’t hhave a donate button! I’d definitely
    donate to this excellent blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle
    for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to new updates and will share this site with my Facebook
    group. Chat soon!

  13. Rayla
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 10:10:41

    I had the same experience with CC after 20 years a member. My cup of cynicism too ran over and I got sick of all of it. Especially the smugness and certainty that CC is God’s cutting edge church on earth. I attended an Orthodox service because after 40 years of never going to church, my brother became Orthodox. I jwent to a service so I’d have something to talk to him about. One service and I knew I had to convert to this beautiful, ancient, unchanging and full expression of the Christian faith.

  14. Richard Cook
    Jan 17, 2015 @ 15:10:53

    Xenia that account was beautiful. I recently became a catechumen in ROCOR going the catechumen service before Divine Liturgy. I finally feel I am home.

  15. Bill
    Jan 22, 2015 @ 11:34:31

    Your story is sort of like mine. I am still in the investigative process though. Grew up overseas a son of a Baptist missionary. The last few years I have questioned many of the my beliefs. I don’t doubt for a minute that I am a Christian. I am just really disappointed how the act of worship has become a form of entertainment vs worshipping our creator. I have read a few books on Orthodoxy and watch some YouTube video’s and what has drawn into further research is the “act” of worship itself. I am not looking to go to a rock concert. Please pray as I explore further that God will give me direct for not only me, but my family.


  16. Amy Hoffman
    Nov 27, 2016 @ 10:52:02

    Moos! Do you have anything about ‘The Encouragers Club’, that you got me into in the 1980s? I can’t find anything at all on the Internet. It was from Boulder, Colorado, I think, but the Boulder Public Library searched and found nothing.

  17. Amy Hoffman
    Nov 27, 2016 @ 11:00:04

    Ref: ‘The Encouragers Club’: I sent a message also to Calvary Chapel, since that was your church at the time. No reply yet.

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