Today, October 29, is the third anniversary of my baptism into the Orthodox Church.
I was twenty-two years old and converting out of a strong evangelical Protestant background. Part of me is still amazed that I actually went through with it. To tell the truth, I was not fully convinced of the rightness of my conversion until I emerged from the baptismal waters. I am a champion self-doubter and second-guesser. I don’t like taking risks, and I don’t like unknowns. If I don’t understand something, I research it until I do. If I make an assertion, I generally only do so if I feel well-backed by facts or a knowledgeable authority. When deciding to convert to Orthodox Christianity, I had researched and visited and asked questions, sometimes over and over again–but still a feeling of doubtfulness remained. It was not until my priest was anointing me with chrism that I felt a sense of peace about converting.
I realized then that sometimes you don’t truly understand why you did something until after you have already done it. I also began to learn that sometimes this understanding comes not in a moment, but through a process.
Although the day of my baptism was the day I “officially” converted, I often feel that I am still undergoing conversion. At the time of my baptism, I had been learning about Orthodoxy for over three years, but had only been regularly attending an Orthodox church for a few months. Conversion was something of a culture-shock–especially in combination with getting married (a week after being baptized) and moving from New York to Texas (a week after getting married). Where church was concerned, I struggled with fasting (did I mention that all of these changes came almost on the eve of the Advent fast?), with learning the service at a new church, with standing for so long during liturgy, and with what seemed, at times, like the overbearing patriarchal authority of the Church. There were times when I wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?”
What I should have remembered was something my priest had said at my first confession–that the Christian life is not a sprint to the finish. Becoming holy is a long, long marathon. For me, conversion was only a part of the marathon–it was a beginning, not an end. It is a process, one which wasn’t necessarily completed, wrapped-up and closed-out by the time of my baptism.
The thing that helped my early struggles was experiencing Holy Week and Pascha for the first time. We attended as many services as we could, and as the week unfolded, I found that my fragmented understanding of Orthodoxy came together, piece by piece. The liturgy made more sense. Fasting made more sense. Discipline made more sense. I better understood the joy of my baptism as I experienced the joy of Pascha. I took another step forward in the marathon.
So today, I joyfully remember my baptism. I am encouraged by how far I have come, and I try to be determined, not discouraged, about how far I have to go–even if it seems like it is very far indeed. I remember that sometimes understanding only comes after the fact, and in the long-term. I remember that I walk by faith and not by sight. I remember that what seems like an end might really be a beginning. And I pray for strengthened faith and greater understanding.
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.