At 15, I was finally given the female role models I had longed for. My family converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, and I embraced it wholeheartedly. No longer did I have to pray only to God, but I had the Theotokos to turn to.. someone who could understand me as a girl. After our conversion, my prayer to God (whether the Father or the Son) diminished greatly, and I prayed often to both Mary and St. Katherine the Great-Martyr.
I was searching for unconditional love and acceptance, and it was hard to see it in the God who would stand judging you when you died. It was easier to find it in a woman who watched her son be crucified.
Regardless, I was determined to do things right. I still had to be the perfect daughter, only this time I had confession to help hold me accountable. I wasn’t content to just be Orthodox… I had to be the best I could. I made the effort to fast more… not just from meat, but from dairy as well, and during the Great Fasts, I abstained from fish on Wednesdays and Fridays.
I felt guilty going to confession, and I found myself spending more time alone in the woods in tears. I felt that I was doing the same things wrong, that I was struggling with the same sins over and over. I wondered if the priest kept count, if he thought I would never learn… I was trying to do my best, I really was. I followed daily prayer, I read my Bible, I said the Jesus prayer over and over on my prayer rope, I learned about the saints and their feast days, I attended every Liturgy and daily service I could.
There was still something that I was doing wrong, there had to be. I still struggled with my temper, I still wanted things that didn’t quite line up with wife and mother, and my mother and I still had a rocky relationship.
Things continued for two years, until I turned 17. I began a courtship… a courtship where the gentleman in question asked my father’s permission, and we waited to say “I love you” until we were given permission. We held hands for the first time that day, and I was elated to have someone who was converting to Orthodoxy as my beau.
Even from the early days of our courtship, though, Anthony (name changed for privacy’s sake) was a constant reminder that I wasn’t as ascetic as I should be. He pointed out that I was too drawn to worldly things, and I should be more interested in the eternal. It wasn’t what clothes I wore, or the size of my heels, or whether I wore makeup that mattered, but how many times a day I prayed and how well I followed the mandates of the Church. He bought me books written by nuns, and talked about entering the priesthood.
I was against his constant strife for asceticism from the start. I didn’t want to live like monks. I didn’t want to be a priest’s wife, either. We had arguments about it, but how could I argue with someone who wanted to be holy? How could I express what I wanted, without coming across as selfish and too obsessed with the ways of the world? The saints didn’t always want to follow their callings, and this was far less unpleasant!
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce