A fellow Christian asked me on this blog to include a statement of why I left the Roman Catholic Church. I answered it briefly on my bio page, but now I realized that the answer I gave was perhaps too brief. Here is a little more meat on this chapter of my life, which has become a cobwebbed room in the not-too-distant past for me.
The truth is, I never officially joined the Roman Catholic Church. I grew up nominally Catholic, but my family was non-practicing. We typically went to church twice per year (if that) — Christmas and Easter. I was never catechized, never confirmed, never received Communion, and really had no idea of the tenets of the Christian faith. I could not have told anyone who Jesus was, was clueless about the Trinity, and didn’t care too much about it. I usually sat in church restlessly, annoyed at all those dour scripture readings during the mass and wondering why people’s names were on each pew.
By my teen years, the mandatory trips to the C&E masses dried up and they became optional, which means, from around age 16 or 17 on, I stopped attending mass altogether. I remember turning up at midnight mass a few times in my later teens on Christmas Eve, for kicks, after I’d had a few drinks. Maybe I was checking out the Catholic girls out in their nice Christmas get-ups, but I don’t have total recall of the situation. It was a hazy time.
Even hazier days followed in subsequent years, and I totally forgot about church while I became a party animal. After hitting bottom, I sought help and eventually acquired a “higher power” per recommendations from people in various programs I attended. I remained an agnostic, created a God of my own understanding which was nothing more than a version of me (a truly frightening “higher power”!), and I drifted around on such New Age platitudes throughout my twenties into my thirties. Then, years later, brought to my knees again by poor choices, I picked up a bible in a rehab and became interested in Christ’s salvation.
Around this time I happened into a black Pentecostal church in the Bronx, and realized that this was the first church I had gone to since my youth in the Catholic fold. As I waited in line for the laying of hands, a young girl behind me asked me if I was Catholic. She said I carried myself like one. Must have been the way I folded my hands or something.
A few months later, I decided that I wanted to become a church man. I had been “saved,” but the only real experience I had was with the Catholics, so that was where I went. I knew nothing of different Christian denominations so to me Catholic Church was the same as nondenominational evangelical. Plus, I had a mystical side of me that didn’t sit right in a conference room church.
I joined the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program at my parish and quickly became one of the star students. I began attending masses and for several months, I coveted the Eucharist that I couldn’t receive. I awaited my Confirmation with great joy. Then, paperwork intervened. The clergy didn’t like the fact that I was divorced and wanted me to get an annulment. I disagreed: I hadn’t been married in a Catholic Church. I had been married abroad in front of civil authorities in a different country. Definitely not in church. But the church basically told me, “Prove it.” Therefore, a few weeks before First Communion and Confirmation, I was informed that I would not be allowed to participate in the service because of my marital situation. I argued with the priest to no avail. I was essentially blocked until I dotted the I’s and crossed the t’s to satisfy the Church. There was a money issue involved, but I had no money and no means to go back to the foreign country and get whatever documents the church wanted just to prove that I had not been married in a R.C. church. I was crushed. I came to the beautiful Easter Vigil service, saw my RCIA friends and colleagues baptized, confirmed and fed the Holy Eucharist, and attended their party afterwords in the Rectory. There I did something I’m not proud of — I’m not sure why I did it — but when I attended that party, I began to inform everyone there that I would be checking out other denominations. I wanted communion badly and I was ready to shop around. So, in the space of one long and sad evening, I left the Roman Catholic Church I never joined and ventured further out into the rather confusing world of Christian heterodoxy. Sure, I was filled with pride and envy, anger and vengefulness, but I was hurt. I thought that churches were supposed to be nice to their flock.
That began a long period of searching through biblical Protestantism — mostly with churches run by bible-wielding Baptists, actually, and then, without going too far into it here, being led to my real and final Church home, the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church.
I now understand that this is the closest thing to the ancient church and is the least “modern” of all organizations calling itself Christian. This piece is not an attempt to compare and contrast other Christian branches with Orthodoxy. It is really just to provide a better answer for why I left the Catholic Church.
There are other important personal considerations as well. My family, although nominally Catholic, stemmed from the Former Yugoslavia. In fact, my heritage as Croat and as a Serb is both Catholic and Orthodox. On the Orthodox side, in fact, there was at least one priest. And then if you mix in my mother’s pedigree — standard American stock, heavily Protestant — and it becomes evident that my roots embrace all three major branches of the Christian faith. I like to say now that I chose the branch with the best music — something about Russian choral chant sends eternal chills throughout my spinal region. I believe that this is the music that one hears upon entering heaven, and, with all due haste, I would reiterate the famous quip from the envoy of St Vladimir the Great upon experiencing his first Orthodox Divine Liturgy: “We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth… We only know that God dwells there among the people.”
The reason I left the Evangelical/Fundamentalist fold is just as complicated, and probably not worth getting into because I have found my home in Christ. And perhaps most importantly, we’ve got the best tunes!