I grew up Protestant. My grandparents on both sides were Baptist; the Texas ones Southern Baptist and the North Carolina/Virginia ones, Primitive Baptist. Along the way, out of convenience more than anything else, we ended up Methodist. I went to Jamestown Methodist before it was the biggest church in town. I remember playing post office on the steps of the old church and riding tricycles under the huge cedar trees during my kindergarten days.
As I got older I was looking for something; I didn't know what. I went on a mission trip to Mexico with the Quakers, ordered books on Jewish rituals, and pondered the idea of joining the Unitarians. I came to Orthodoxy through a book about life in a Soviet prison camp, two White Russian sisters, a trip to Sitka, Alaska, and falling in love with a Russian poet/seminarian.
The book was One Day in the Life of Alexander Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn which we studied in English class at Ragsdale High School around 1977. I became interested in Russian language and culture and wondered what the people were like behind the Iron Curtain. At the time I wasn't really aware of the Orthodox Church.
I started looking into Russian culture in America by submitting a pen pal request to a Russian language newspaper. I got a lot of replies from young Russians in Brighton Beach. In college I took Russian classes, and studied intensive Russian at Columbia University one summer.
I went looking in Alaska where Russians had left their mark through fur trading and missionary work 100 years ago. It seemed that all the Russians had left; at least I didn't meet any. I visited the Sitka cathedral one Sunday and had the chance to experience the service, but it was more of a tourist experience than a spiritual one. The service was partly in Tlingit, the language of the mostly native membership.
Still searching for real live Russians, l traveled to Long Island to the home of “Aunt” Katya Lvoff and “Aunt” Liza Gagarin. The two sisters, who had left Russia in 1917 for France before coming to America, were looking for some help around the house and a ride to church. I was fascinated and enchanted by seeing the icons on their walls, by hearing them speak Russian to each other, and by listening to their stories. I loved their church: a small country church with dark wooden shingles and a small blue cupola. I loved the services, the icons, the Russian choir music, and the sense of reverence and mystery. I learned to appreciate the depth of teaching by the church fathers handed down over centuries, and learned the meaning of the church rituals from my American godmother and my Russian fiancé Sergei (the poet/seminarian). I ended up getting married there and baptizing our two children Ksenia and Andrei at Our Lady of Kazan in Sea Cliff, NY.
After my stepmother died my dad needed someone to stay with him back here in Jamestown. I came back in 2011, and was lucky enough to find another wonderful church home in Holy Cross. I first heard about Holy Cross when my dad sent me an article from the Jamestown News. It had a picture of Fr. Chris blessing the water and an article about him and Holy Cross. I wasn't exactly excited about coming back to NC until I read that. It's not Russian but it has the same beautiful music and icons and the same faith, reverence, mystery, and spiritual truth. The congregation is small and warm and welcoming. We are blessed with a priest who is kind and patient and passionate about everything Orthodox.
So I went looking for Russian culture and I found a real treasure: Orthodox faith and Holy Cross, a church that is like home to me. I'm excited about Raising the Cross. We love our little church but it will be nice to have our own building and more space. From a few families in the beginning, to a mission church, to the growing close community of faith that we have now, it will be such a blessing to finally have our own building; a place where we can keep growing spiritually, bring up our children, and welcome new members for generations to come.
Holy Cross Orthodox Church · www.holycrossoca.org