When I was invited to write this piece for OnePeterFive, Steve Skojec wanted to know why I was becoming Catholic now.
After all, I was obviously a conservative. An outspoken counter-jihad activist. A vehement defender of the existence of only two sexes. Hardly the sort of person with a high tolerance for the progressivism and relativism embedded within so much of the modern Catholic culture.
On top of that, I was baptized Greek Orthodox. I was catechized Greek Orthodox. Four hundred-plus-year-old liturgy or bust! I come from an incense-scented Byzantine world that would be horrified to see what passes for liturgy in so much of our aching, suffering, post-Vatican II (I find Belloc’s “knavish imbecility” comments somewhat comforting in such times) Holy Mother Church.
Why did I make my way to Catholicism instead of reverting to my Orthodox roots?
I left Orthodoxy and ran off for years to act (in varying degrees) like a pagan, a Buddhist, a Muslim, an atheist, a Protestant, a Jew. Yet for all the running I did from Orthodoxy, I never could quite outrun orthodoxy. I never lost the certainty in my heart that the Truth, one truth that was right and all others wrong, must be out there, and that if I looked for it long enough, I would find it.
Instead, I found sin, confusion, and a life that brought me much pain.
The Truth, fortunately, found me.
Anyone who knows my personality at all would think I must have “read my way” into Catholicism. Many recent converts I have seen – particularly former Protestants who share my penchant for study – have taken that path across the Tiber. But this was not the road to Rome in my case, to my astonishment.
Catholicism was the one faith I had never considered, intellectually or otherwise. If anyone had told me even seven months ago that I would be converting to Catholicism soon – let alone dedicating so much of my life to learning and talking about the faith! – I would have looked at him as if he had just informed me that Muhammad was actually a women’s rights activist.
My journey to Catholicism will be a constant reminder in my heart that I myself am nothing – anything I achieve and any gifts I posses in order to do so belong entirely to the Lord.
The simplest explanation for my conversion? God showed me people – broken, sinning, imperfect people – who embodied 1 Peter 3:15, people who had a hope in them that ripped the scales from my eyes despite me. I had to know the reason for why I gazed upon them and felt a stirring in my soul – a memory and a promise of new birth, all at once.
In other words? They possessed the light of Christ, and I knew I had to seek what they reflected.
I walked by my parish a hundred times and never thought I’d be walking in there for the first time around the start of Lent, realizing I was home, realizing I was crying, and having no explanation for why I was there at all except that God had told me to show up.
My son was baptized and I was received into the Church on March 31, 2018, at the stunning Easter Vigil Mass. I will cherish that day for the rest of my life.
My life today holds a joy that I have never experienced before – even as by the standards of the world it has become more difficult since my conversion. I live at all times as part of one universal Church, and it is the wild expanse of the Summa Theologiae, the history of the saints, the depth of theological speculation, the history, the art, the music. Everything, for the Church has touched the world in every sphere. The Church is space to let my indefatigable curiosity roam for what seems like forever.
And yet, it is also beautiful constraint. Sometimes, the Church is simply my Father’s house. My parish, very modern, very Novus Ordo, is not where I would choose to attend but clearly where the Lord wants me in this season of my life.
This is my Father’s house, where I try to be respectful, where sometimes my two-year-old makes too much noise and I’m reminded to ask Mary to help me mother better, where sometimes I kneel quietly in deep prayer and sometimes I feel as if my amazing little boy and I are a detriment to everyone’s peace, but where always I receive the simple ordinary “anything” that is made everything by the power of God: the Bread that is Life.
I am a Catholic because the Catholic Church is Christianity as spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles. Not some weak, hazy concept of Christianity like what so many cling to today, but something tangible and solid and unwavering.
Even when, at times, it seems hard to know where exactly to hold on in this difficult age of the Church, I trust in the same Savior who brought me home to keep my soul safe.
I see the pain of so many Catholics today, people who have kept this treasure alive long enough for me to find it at the eleventh hour. Long enough for me to show up and think I could possibly make a difference, could possibly hold a place of useful service within the Church Militant. I see a longing toward the Eastern Orthodox, with their reverence and their indifference to the concerns of Protestants and modernists on liturgical matters, among other things.
I am profoundly thankful for being made Orthodox from the cradle. It made my journey to Rome so very gentle and quick compared to many converts, for in many ways, I feel more like a revert due to the closeness of our faiths. For me, guitars at Mass was always bizarre. I could sense the crisis within the Church from day one, and as much as it has made me a little more hawk-eyed than many a convert, I’m thankful for my ability to see easily why reverence matters to zeal.
I love our Orthodox brothers and sisters – most of all, my father, whose prayers, along with those of my now deceased Yiayia and Papou, almost certainly availed much in saving my soul. I love the Orthodox – so I study the Great Schism that I live every day in miniature with care, to be ready to defend Rome whenever called upon in my day-to-day life.
Someday, I pray that our separated brethren will flock to us in droves, and it would be an immeasurable joy to my heart to be used by the Spirit to help even one come home.
St. Ignatius of Antioch had this to say. It spoke to me.
Make no mistake, my brothers, if anyone joins a schismatic he will not inherit God’s Kingdom. If anyone walks in the way of heresy, he is out of sympathy with the Passion. Be careful, then, to observe a single Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and one cup of his blood that makes us one, and one altar, just as there is one bishop along with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves. In that way whatever you do is in line with God’s will.
The Orthodox have much to teach us about liturgy and tradition. However, they are still obligated (even by their own idea of the papal “primacy of honor”) to be in communion with the See of Peter, the Rock. Without this, they can never be the true Church. A house divided cannot stand.
The Orthodox rejection of doctrinal development is precisely why they have directly changed doctrine. I do not, and cannot, worship God within a body that chooses to change His commandments.
The Orthodox have changed in doctrine. This is simply a fact of history.
Their most blatant change is, ironically enough, the one thing I feared most when I was called home: the orthodox, Catholic teaching on divorce and “remarriage.” I realized that if I became Catholic and could not get a declaration of nullity, I would have to spend the rest of my life as a single mother – no small thing to consider at 26 years old.
In Orthodoxy, divorce and remarriage falls within the realm of “oikonomia” (household economy). In practice, the Orthodox today believe that bishops have the authority to bless their flock to act in a way that is contradictory to the direct words of Christ and call it pastoral care.
This seems particularly stunning in light of the common modern Orthodox claim that they do not require the visible universal head of the pope, for Christ alone is their Head, and yet they can’t even seem to obey Him when His words are at their most plain.
What God has stitched together, let no man separate. Be that one man and one woman – or one Christ and one Bride.
I also found the Catholic teaching on birth control, the fact that we are the single Christian institution on this Earth which continues to regard contraception as intrinsically evil, incredibly convicting compared to yet another case of Orthodox “oikonomia.”
Orthodoxy is, in a sense, the easy way out of the morass we find ourselves in as Catholics in a post-Catholic world. It’s a church with a more elastic ecclesiology, where we don’t have to place our trust and obedience at the feet of a chair that so many times in our history was filled by a corrupt and broken man. (Now, in many ways, I see that things are much worse.)
It’s tempting. It really, truly is. And yet, Proverbs 3:5-6 echoes in my head often. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The more I deepen my study of Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology – and particularly the Four Marks of the Church – the more I am certain that I am in the steadfast ship that will carry me home from my exile.
And yet, study is not the main reason for this trust I feel. It’s something beyond that. It’s a supernatural certainty unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The kind of internal anchoring of joy that I rarely can explain without having to simply say “trust me” – a frightening thing when I am talking to non-Catholics about the fate of their souls. For who am I that anyone should trust my words?
However, despite my total unworthiness of your trust, I hope you will trust God working in me and pray for me that my life will be worthy of being called a good example. Pray for me that my faith will encourage Catholics looking east to hold fast in the storm. The Lord has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.
The greatest thing the Lord has given me is an unshakable feeling of assurance that I am in the One True Church – though feeling is not even the right word. This is a knowing. It’s the kind of knowing I’ve experienced only one time before my conversion – when I gave birth to my son and I knew that motherhood is the greatest miracle on Earth, except perhaps the Eucharist.
I had to be Catholic – the one Church on the entire planet that has held fast to the commands of our Savior, in dogma if not always in adherence.
As human and broken as our current holy father may be, he sits on the same Seat of Saint Peter that has kept the universal Church from heresy since the time of Christ and the Apostles. The pinnacle of our faith is the Eucharist – one Eucharist.
I have to believe that what I see in the Church today is not an end of days, but the beginning of a new age. It is an age of chastisement, perhaps, and certainly an age where we witness the Passion of the Church herself, but an age where it is exciting to be a Catholic. It is an age of new birth, with all the birthing pains expected.
If we fight our continuing battle against the principalities and powers by first taking up our spiritual arms, we will not fail. Our enemy is not even the most evil people within or outside Holy Mother Church.
Our enemy is Satan.
I know it’s clichéd to say these things. I know you’re tired. I’m tired, too. But this is a conversion we must all pray for – to remember in our hearts, in all we do and say, that we have a promise that no other Church on this planet has nor ever will have. A promise that has never – in 2,000 years – been broken. Christ does not lie, and the Holy Spirit will not allow for anything that would make Christ a liar.
All I know is that for the first time in my life, I gave my little fiat – and God moved mountains for me.
What more will he do for the tide of faithful believers rising in the Church today?
Never limit Him. We’ve already won.
Stefanie Nicholas is an unexpected Catholic convert from a (very lapsed) Greek Orthodox background. The history of the Crusades played a positive role in her faith journey, and she believes firmly that the Rosary will save the world. Readers can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @StefMNicholas.