Sunday, January 3, 2010

Discovering that there is more to my faith than just Jesus and me

My name is Simon Scionka and my wife Ira and I have been at Holy Theophany Orthodox Church since December of 2003…

My wife Ira is from Russia and due to her god-fearing babushka, she was baptized in secret as a baby during the communist regime. Ira grew up in the Orthodox faith. My coming to Orthodoxy came much later in my life after time spent in Russia but then really discovering Orthodoxy here in America at Holy Theophany Church.

I grew up in a non-denominational Christian home. My parents were introduced to Christ and were baptized in Costa Rica when I was three years old and so I was brought up in the Christian faith. My dad is a godly man who raised me up to have a Christ-centered, biblical worldview and he taught me how to pray. I’m very thankful for this upbringing and it definitely set me on a good course in life.

While I was a young teenager I was very involved in my youth group. I got connected with a group of friends with whom I would remain deeply connected with and serve the Lord together with them. We pursued God and a life of ministry together. We did youth ministry and traveled to Russia to do orphan care ministry with a grouped called Children’s HopeChest. It was on my first trip to Russia in 1997 where I was first introduced to the Orthodox Church. I didn’t know anything about Orthodoxy but Children’s HopeChest taught us that the Orthodox Church was the Christian church of Russia and it should be respected. I found these Russian churches I visited to be fascinating yet I didn’t really grasp what was there. I thought the sounds we beautiful, the iconography was beautiful, but I certainly didn’t get it. It was interesting and I liked it, but it just wasn’t for me.

Back home in Dallas, Texas my Christian community and I eventually started our own church. We started a “youth church” for high school and college students and we lived and breathed that ministry for about 3 years. We were honestly searching for something bigger to be a part of but we just couldn’t find it so we tried to make it up on our own. We were learning about early church traditions so did things like burn incense, light candles and serve communion. Little did we know how we were actually reaching out for the traditions of the Orthodox Church.
At 21 I moved to Colorado Springs and pursued working in the video production industry. It was my first job outside of church work. I was kind of tired of church work in fact. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. In fact, I didn’t even go to church at all for quite awhile even though I never gave up on my faith. It was just “me and Jesus” and I thought I’d be happy that way. Well, I wasn’t. I knew there had to be more to life, faith and the church than just me and Jesus.

During my many trips to Russia I met and fell in love with Ira who worked for Children’s HopeChest as a translator. We met in 1999 and she has now been my wife since 2003. She grew up Orthodox in Russia and it was dear to her, but she didn’t necessarily have a solid formation of her faith and the traditions of the Church. When she first came to the States, I was visiting a non-denominational protestant church in town and she’d go with me. I thought it might be cool for us to go visit the Orthodox Church sometimes as well. We started visiting here at Holy Theophany and after a few weeks of hearing the services in English (I had previously only seen Orthodox services in Russian), I started to hear some things that I really responded to. Initially I had the misconception that Orthodoxy was about tradition and not scripture. Well, I heard scripture being read. In fact, I heard a lot of scripture being read at every service. I heard more scripture in one Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning than I had heard in months of services combined at previous churches I had attended! I loved the liturgy, the teachings, the focus on living a life of humility and of love; love of God, love of neighbor and even love of my enemies. Christ’s Gospel was proclaimed and Christ was the center of the worship, culminating with communion to partake of His holy body and blood. I was blown away by the richness and depth of what I experienced and began to learn.

One thing that our priest Father Anthony said to me early on was “come and see.” Just come and see the church. Hear the music, listen to the words, and participate in the worship. And so I did just that. And the more I came, the more it made sense and the more I embraced it, the more it began to change me, to bring me closer into a right relationship with Christ. After a few months I became a catechumen in the church. During my 6-month time as a catechumen, I went through an intro to Orthodoxy class with Fr. Anthony and then received holy Baptism into the Orthodox Church in September 2004. My wife Ira was along side me in this journey. She was learning with me and lovingly encouraging me the entire time. It has been great for us and for our marriage to be joined together in the same Church. We have truly found our home here.
I’m very grateful for my early years of faith. It introduced me to Christ and gave me a good foundation for my life. In the Orthodox Church, I discovered this rich heritage that I never knew existed before. Initially I had met Christ, but now in Orthodoxy I met the rest of His family, including His Mother. As well as I was introduced to the great cloud of witnesses who came before me; the great martyrs, the holy saints, the keepers of the Holy Tradition. In Orthodoxy I’ve discovered that there is more to my faith than just me and Jesus. I do have a personal relationship with Christ, but it’s not individualistic. It must be experienced within the context of the Church, that greater body of Christ. I have a biblical worldview, but my biblical interpretation does not come from what makes me feel good, by modern trends, by currently political issues, or by how I choose to interpret scripture. My biblical understanding comes through the framework of the Holy Tradition of the Church, which has been preserved and passed down throughout the ages.

I began to think back throughout the years and see how God had been tracking me down. The first year I went to Russia, the teacher I worked with gave me a little icon book of Mary, Christ and St. Nicolas. He told me to keep it for protection. I gave him a What Would Jesus Do bracelet back. Oh well. I still have that little icon and I carry it with me in my computer bag wherever I go. I bought an icon of Christ on my second trip because I thought it was cool. That icon is now in my icon corner at home where I pray. The first gift my wife gave me when we first met in 1999 was an Orthodox cross. It eventually became my baptismal cross and I wear it to this day. Years ago I bought the book “the Way of the Pilgrim” because it was a Russian classic. I had no idea of the true treasure of Orthodox spirituality that was in that book. There are countless things throughout the years where I can look back and see the slow work of God in my life to bring me closer to Him and into the fullness of His Church.

Glory to God for all things!


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