After much contemplation, reflection, prayer, and research I’ve decided to be confirmed and baptized into the Catholic Church. I had been thinking about taking this move for about two years but had a hard time deciding which Church I wanted to be baptized and confirmed into. My three options where the Episcopal Church, Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. When I first moved to D.C. I started attending Episcopal services both on and off the American University campus. While the Episcopal Church introduced me to the traditions and liturgy I was looking for in a church but the inconsistencies in liturgy from church to church bothered me. Although while attending various Episcopal churches I came across St. Paul’s on K Street Parish. This is a gem of a church in the District. The interior of the church looks it could be an English country church and the liturgy is breath taking. The liturgy in the Anglo-Catholic was the closest liturgy I’ve seen to a Latin Mass in the Extraordinary Form or to what Roman Catholic Mass was like before Vatican II. This is where I discovered my love for high liturgical traditions.
I also discovered my affinity for Catholic liturgical traditions. Further, I had always found a natural connection between myself and the Blessed Virgin and was thrilled when I discovered that St. Paul’s had a Marian alter dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham. While at St. Paul’s I was introduced to Holy Benediction and fell in love in with ritual presentation of the of the True Christ. I was also touched by how the parish had placed Eastern-style icons throughout the church for personal devotion. While attending St. Paul’s I was invited by an Orthodox Christian friend to attend Greek Orthodox vespers at the American University Spiritual Life Center known as Kay. This was my first time attending an Orthodox service but I loved the simplicity of the service in that musical instruments were not used but I loved the beauty of Byzantine chant, the use of incense, and the veneration of the Theotokos (Blessed Virgin) icon upon entering the sanctuary. Soon after attending the Greek Orthodox vespers I was invited by the same friend to attend a Russian Orthodox vesper at St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Columbia Heights, D.C. I was blown away by the vesper, all the ritual in the service, and the icons. I loved how the service told a story of Christian hope in Christ and the moving from light, to darkness, and not light again. I loved the service so much that I was invited by my friend to Divine Liturgy the next day on Sunday. During the Divine Liturgy I felt a spiritualness that I had never felt before, as if I could feel the presence of in the church itself. The ritual used during the liturgy helped point to the presence of God in the church. I would start attending services at St. John the Baptists as regularly as possible for the next two years.
During my sophomore year at AU I started attending UMSA (United Methodist Student Association) Healing services on Thursday nights. This was a midnight service that started at 11pm and ended at 12 am. The Healing Service is the same as weekly Holy Unction in the Episcopal Church. The UMSA service was held in the Spiritual Life Center on campus and was a very simple service with hymns accompanied by a piano, Holy Eucharist was celebrated, sermon and readings read, and the anointing of oil at the end of the service. The service was very intimate with dimmed lights but there was little ritual in the service but that didn’t matter to me, I still felt like I was a presence in the church and the service created a close knit community amongst UMSA students. While I liked the Healing Service, it was my favorite, I was not a fan of the Sunday worship service. The Sunday service did not feel like church to me and Holy Eucharist was not celebrated every Sunday and that bothered me. Even though I was not a fan of the Sunday service I kept going because most of my friends on campus went to the service on a regular basis and the congregation was student based and very welcoming. I wanted to attend Sunday services where the congregation was welcoming, this was one reason why I attended Divine Liturgy at St. John the Baptist but the church was hard to get to on Sunday during the second half of my sophomore year. This is also why I started attending UMSA Sunday services, it was a ten minute walk from where I lived. While I loved how the UMSA lived out their Christian faith in surrounding community doing social and community work, I felt that the faith was not always lived out in the Sunday service but I liked how they welcomed all people to their services and that was a testament of their faith. I just didn’t feel any holiness during Sunday service and instead I felt like I was just going through the motions. I needed ritual to point me to the presence of God during worship.
So, this is when I decided I would either be Orthodox or Catholic but I had the hardest time deciding which path I should take. For about a year I was convinced that I should be confirmed and baptized into the Orthodox Church but I soon realized that I would miss the familiarity of the Western Church. What initially held be back from becoming Catholic was the legalistic nature of the Catholic Church and the power of the Pope. These might be minor issues to some but the Episcopal/Anglican tradition is not a highly legalistic one and the Anglican Communion, like the Orthodox Church, disputes the power of the Pope since the Anglican Communion and Orthodox Church don’t have a Pope-like figure as the head of the Churches. Instead the Anglican Communion has the Archbishop of Canterbury who is seen as Primus Inter Pares, or First Amongst Equals. In this case the Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England and Metropolitan and one of thirty-eight Primates of the churches (provinces) of the Anglican Communion. The Orthodox Church also has Primates and a First Amongst Equals. As one can imagine I had a hard time coming to terms with the king-like powers of the Pope over the Catholic Church. So, with this in mind I was convinced that I should be Orthodox. But I had doubts.
The doubts I had towards Orthodoxy were not theological in nature but more to do if I was willing to give the entirety of myself to the Orthodox Church. There was something in me that was holding me back from going through the process of being received into the Orthodox faith. If I could not commit myself fully to the Orthodox Church, then why go down that road? I also realized that the traditions that I held dear from the Western Church would not be present in the Orthodox Church and that the comfort that I was looking for could only be found in the familiarity of the Western Church. But I took a year and a six week visit to Rome to figure out the puzzle.
From Christmas up until my arrival in Rome to study early Church History I was convinced that I should be Orthodox. But that all changed while in Rome. If any thing Rome showed me the diversity of the Catholic faith from talking to and seeing Catholics and religious Brothers and Sisters from all four corners of the planet, the different rites of Masses and evening prayers, and different rites within the Catholic faith. It was amazing! In the morning I could attend a Roman Catholic Mass being said in Italian, then at noon I could be attending another Roman Catholic Mass being said in English and one being said in German right after that or I could attending Divine Liturgy at a Melkite Catholic (Greek Catholic) church for Pentecost. The possibilities were endless as to what one could see, do, and witness. What I was not expecting was all the public appearances that Pope Francis made while I was in Rome. Other than the weekly Wednesday Papal audiences that are held, the Pope made appearances at the blessing of the Argentine national soccer team before the FIFA Soccer World Cup and at the 200th anniversary of the Carabinieri (Italian military police). And the Pope made an appearance in the neighborhood of Trastevere where I was staying. The Pope was visiting two churches in the neighborhood: Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and the Church of Sant’Edigio for his visit to the Society of Sant’Edigio. So despite the poring rain (one of the few days it rained in Rome) I walked to the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere where Pope Francis would make his first of the day at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. I arrived at the piazza a few minutes before the Pope did and I was pleased to all sorts of people there from neighborhood locals, members of the Society of Sant’Edigio, police, and Carabinieri. I was pleased to receive a blessing from the Pope but I was memorized by how he interacted with the crowd despite the rain. It seemed like the Pope was talking to every single person he walked by and he was not afraid to give out endless amounts of blessings. The Pope showed so much care and loved towards the people he interacted with and I thought to myself that this is what Christianity is suppose to look like.
When I was done studying in Rome I flew back to the U.S. and put the idea of converting out of my mind while I finished my last year as an undergrad. The idea of choosing between Orthodoxy and Catholicism would pop up into my mind every now and then but it would be quickly pushed out. I started giving conversion a serious thought after I finished BA in Religious Studies. When I did think about choosing between Orthodoxy and Catholicism it caused anxiety and stress but when I started researching the different rites in Catholicism I found that the Church spanned both Western and Eastern rites. I was still having a hard time choosing between Catholicism and Orthodoxy but when I thought about Catholicism and the different rites within the Church I found that I would be able to find familiarity within the Roman Catholic rite and when I missed the rites and theology of the Orthodox Church I could attend Divine Liturgy at an Eastern Catholic church. When I decided to be confirmed into the Catholic Church an incredible peace came over me, the kind of peace when one knows that they are making the right decision. So I contacted the Catholic Father at American University to sign up for RCIA classes (Catechism) to be confirmed into the Catholic Church.