Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mormon-to-Orthodox converts: Jaccy.

Today I have the pleasure to share with you my interview with Mormon-to-Orthodox convert, Jaccy. Hers is a story that I believe will resonate with many who have made the transition from Mormon to Orthodox Christian.

MtO: There seem to be two main categories that those wi
th an LDS background fall into. First, there are individuals who are or were faithful, active participants, fulfilling their callings and other LDS-specific duties (i.e. temple service, mission service); then there are those who have an LDS background, but have never been particularly active, or have been semi-active at best. Tell us about your LDS background and whether or not you see yourself as falling into one of these two categories. Where did you grow up? Were you and your family active in the LDS faith? How many generations of your family have been LDS? Did you serve a mission? Did you marry in an LDS temple? Jaccy: I didn't grow up in a very strict Mormon family. We missed Sunday services at times for family trips, fishing, and sporting events. I remember being embarrassed that I didn't know many of the Sunday School songs or scripture stories when I did attend. That being said, my identity was Mormon and I was proud of my heritage. When I was about ten I really started to read heavier books and became very interested in my faith. I read the entire volume set of Doctrines of Salvation. Despite our sporadic attendance, I completed seminary, never broke the word of wisdom, kept the law of chastity, and saw myself an ambassador of the Mormon faith. I attended BYU and got married in the temple at 19 to a returned missionary from my home ward. I became much more serious about my faith and did all that I could to attend services, study, pray, and fulfill callings. Tell us about how you transitioned from faithful member of the LDS Church to an Orthodox Christian.
We had been raising our children in Utah, when my husband joined the military. I loved Utah and leaving was difficult. I decided to take the opportunity to be a better member missionary. We moved to the Bible belt and I was exposed to many different types of Christians. I had discovered that many of them had a much closer relationship to God than I, were semi familiar with Mormonism, and had no intention of ever joining. This was difficult for me to accept. As someone who strove to live their covenants and hoping to obtain exaltation, how could I enter the celestial kingdom and not them? I just wanted to give up the spot I was hoping to achieve. I decided the problem was with my missionary efforts. I decided to double down on prayer, handing out the Book of Mormon, inviting missionaries over, fulfilling callings, inviting friends to LDS Church functions, and really studying LDS Church history.
My husband and I did this for about two years. We were happy being LDS. Everything was going smoothly, except that my studies (all from faithful LDS sources) on early Mormon history had brought more questions and I felt that my personal beliefs were becoming more and more incompatible with Mormonism. Despite those feelings, I continued on, bearing my testimony every fast and testimony meeting and fulfilling my calling in the Primary Presidency.
At this time I decided to read about Orthodox Christianity. This was not an odd thing for me to do. I often studied other faiths out of curiosity and to help my missionary efforts. I bought the book Introducing the Orthodox Church: It's Faith and Life by Anthony Coniaris. I remember reading each page thinking, "yes, yes, this is what I have always believed in my heart." It was the combination of feeling unsatisfied spiritually and that there was an intriguing new door that was open to me that allowed me to ask myself, "What if Mormonism is not true?" When I allowed myself to truly consider that question it was as if a huge weight had been lifted. I stop believing in Mormonism right in that moment.
I did not get to see my first Orthodox Church until months later. My husband was still committed to the LDS faith, dealing with his unbelieving wife. We had a very short staffed ward and I did not want to abandon my calling and everyone who had been relying on me. I simply taught about Christ during my lessons and sacrament talks. I kept my unbelief a secret. I wanted to take time to study, fast, and pray, in order to be sure of such a life changing decision that not only affected me but everyone around me, especially those I love.
This was an emotional time. Even though I had been introduced to Orthodoxy, I was unprepared for what it would be like to suddenly discard my most fundamental beliefs that largely contributed to my very identity. I felt like I was just left with a mess of puzzle pieces that didn't fit together. The frustration and exhaustion led me to profess atheism for a short time. Rebuilding my beliefs was overwhelming, especially with my new found skepticism. I needed a clean slate to build up my beliefs from the ground up. Starting from the perspective of a materialist atheist seemed to be the easiest course. Christ had always been the most important part of my faith as a Mormon. Every spiritual experience I ever had was centered around Him. Letting go of my Mormon beliefs was relatively easy compared to what it was like for me to mentally let go of Christ. I felt like I needed to see and experience Christ with new eyes. But I really wasn’t sure who Christ was. I decided to learn about Christianity from its roots so I began studying the early Church Fathers, pre-Nicene Creed. This ended up confirming my need to go and experience Orthodoxy. When LDS Church callings in my ward were being switched around, I took the opportunity to request that my bishop not call me to anything else. That was the last day I attended an LDS Church service.
I attended my first Greek Orthodox service alone. My husband, no longer a believing Mormon but not ready to explore new beliefs, was supportive. I attended for a month, met with the priest, and asked to be baptized. He kind of laughed and told me that I needed time to learn the faith. I didn't know it at the time, but I had become a catechumen. Seven months later my children and I were baptized followed by my husband six months later. I am sure that the difficulties you experienced during this transition period resonate with many of us who have converted from the LDS faith to Orthodoxy. That said, each of us are drawn to the faith for unique reasons. What are the main factors that drew you to Orthodox Christianity?
The draw to Orthodoxy was that I believed and still believe it is Christ's Church. Reading the early Church Fathers, brought me to belief in the Trinity and that the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ. I wanted to be where I could touch God. I also admired the bold truth claims of Orthodoxy that were also bereft of judging the salvation of those outside the faith. Entering an Orthodox service, kneeling and praying Orthodox prayers, and living the faith brings my soul to a place of peace. Did you ever consider any of the other so-called apostolic faiths (Roman/ Eastern Catholicism, Oriental Orthodoxy)? If so, why did you ultimately choose Eastern Orthodox Christianity?
I had always considered Roman Catholicism. I had a pleasant experience in a Catholic parish as a child. One of my neighbors when we moved from Utah was Catholic. I felt God in her home and working through her person. My daughters were in American Heritage Scouts that worked out of a Catholic charter. I probably would have been open to becoming Catholic but I found my home in Orthodoxy. While an Orthodox catechumen I studied some of the history and divisive issues between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and I usually favored Orthodox practice and teachings. What are the main differences or changes you have seen in your life since becoming an Orthodox Christian?
Since becoming Orthodox, I have become more aware of my own failings and less judgmental of others, God help me. I look forward to attending services and am disappointed when I cannot attend. It is not a feeling of guilt but more out of loss of a missed opportunity. Praying is easier for me. In Mormonism I felt tremendous performance pressure during prayers. I love Orthodox prayers and am able to focus more on my heart. I have developed a great love for Mary. I have become more focused on the transformation of my character and less on my outward appearance of righteousness. Do you have a favorite saint? If so, why is she/ he your favorite?
I don’t have a favorite Saint. One of the wonderful things about being Orthodox is there are so many different Saints with different life stories that can appeal to our own lives at different times. My Saint name is Sophia. My three daughters also took the names of her daughters Faith, Hope, and Love. The Saint I have been thinking about the most recently is St. Monica. I will probably never be a monastic. I may never be asked to give my life as a martyr. But I am a mother like St. Monica. She became a Saint due to her love and diligent prayer for her family. When there is nothing I can do, I can always pray. Many times I forget to pray and St. Monica reminds me.
What is one thing about the Orthodox Christian faith, or your own personal conversion to Orthodoxy, that you would like LDS people to know?
I would like LDS people to know that I still love them. I loved being Mormon and will always appreciate my upbringing. I tried to live the Mormon spiritual life as much as could but there was a disconnect for me. I hit a wall spiritually. Orthodoxy is where my soul found peace and I found growth in my relationship with God. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jaccy.

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