We continue to publish the materials of Spas TV program My Path To God where Priest George Maximov interviews people who converted to Orthodoxy. The guest of today’s program is Yulia Posashko, a former Baptist.
Priest George Maximov: Hello. You’re watching My Path To God. The guest of today’s program was a member of a Baptist community since her childhood and spent many years in this community before converting to Orthodoxy. Could you tell us how and when your journey to faith began?
Yulia Posashko: I can say that I never had any doubts that God exists. This was never a question for me. Our family wasn’t religious and I never saw any of our relatives going to church. Nevertheless, my sister and I were baptized at the insistence of our grandmother when we were about four years old. This event, however, totally faded away from my memory. Still, I knew that my parents believed in God. I remember my father reading us some stories from the Gospel. I recall that once he spoke about Heaven with such admiration, saying that people wouldn’t be limited in their movements there and they would be immediately transported to any place they want just by thinking about it. Father used to read the Children’s Bible to us. I remember that later I was quite surprised to find out that the actual Bible had much more text and no pictures. When I was a child, I didn’t have any questions about the meaning of life.
Also, I knew that my grand grandparents were Baptists. They lived in a small town of Berezino in Minsk Province, Belarus. After they passed away, we inherited their house and started going there for our summer holidays. My sister and I were 11 years old then. There were many Baptists living in the area around our house. When my grand grandfather was alive, this house was used as a Baptist house of worship, so our family was well-known. Our friends who were almost as close as family lived across the street. They were also Baptists and had six children. My sister and I met with their girls and became friends with them. Occasionally we would go with them to Baptist meetings. Our parents didn’t try to stop us, probably in memory of our grand grandfather.
Father George: Did you like going to those meetings right away?
God suffered for us and I am not worthy of these sufferings.
Yulia Posashko: At first, we simply tagged along. Later, when I became 12, I started going to those meetings consciously. I remember that I consciously turned to God. I started reading the Gospel and it came alive for me. I remember my first impression, when I realized that God suffered for us and that I was not worthy of these sufferings. My sister and I started regularly going to Baptist meetings, and as we spent practically all summer in Berezino, we spent all this time with Baptists. We were singing songs with them, going to their camps, attending their Sunday School. In general, we started hanging out with them. We fit nicely and felt like we belonged. So since I was 12, I started conscientiously considering myself Baptist. Eight years passed. Everything was fine, and there were no issues until I turned 20. Then… How should I put it… I felt that something was missing and that I missed some profundity in the Baptist church, so I went to one of the pastors and told him that I wanted to be baptized to become a full-fledged member of the Baptist church. As you know, Baptists do not recognize the Orthodox infant baptism. They believe that people who were baptized in their childhood must be re-baptized. It was the summer of 2005. The pastor was leaving for some time and couldn’t baptize me, so we decided to postpone the baptism till our next trip to Berezeno either in the fall or in the spring. I was told to prepare for it by reading the Bible and praying. I started doing that, but when I came back to Moscow, I rationally thought that if I receive baptism in the Baptist church, I would have to admit that my Orthodox baptism was not worth anything. It will be cancelled. So I decided to read about it to convince myself.
Father George: To understand what was it that you were giving up?
Yulia Posashko: Yes. I started following the discussions about infant baptism in various Internet forums, reading books, printing some information out… I still have those printouts with my angry remarks. I didn’t agree with the Orthodox view. However, I was quite impressed by the book Points of Polemics—Orthodoxy and Protestantism by archpriest Vyacheslav Rubsky. It was the first time when I saw some very serious arguments. Secondly, I was very surprized by his respect toward his opponents. There was no disrespect or negativity toward Protestants. It was a respectful and polite attempt to have a discussion. I was impressed. I can’t say that his arguments convinced me right away, but at least I understood that the Orthodox can be reasonable.
I tell you about this because although Baptists do not directly reject Orthodoxy, they cultivate some kind of underlying contempt… or at least a certain condescending attitude toward it. They allege that the Orthodox Church is a place where people only kiss the Bible but don’t read it and that this church has some strange and unnecessary rituals that take precedence over Christ. Why do they need all these rituals? They are unnecessary and must be discarded. I remember they even tried to cultivate this approach when we were playing games as kids. They said that the crosses were nonsense and that worshiping the icons was unnecessary. That was their attitude. Perhaps, that was why I was arguing with the Orthodox people so intensely, trying to understand and convince myself that infant baptism is absolutely unnecessary.
That was what I thought for a while. In the fall, one event happened that may seem insignificant… It was not a big tragedy, like when one of your relatives dies or something like that… It was a kitten, and she died right in front of our eyes. This was very unsettling for me. I just remembered the words of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) who used to say that he always had a very sensitive heart. Maybe the same can be said about me. Somehow, this event got to me. I was overwhelmed by depression. What should a religious person do in such a situation? Pray, go to church and try somehow to deal with it. However, I found myself thinking that I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to pray, I didn’t want to read the Bible. It was all dead to me. Then I got scared, because I thought, “What kind of faith do I have then? How can I believe at all? Who is God for me, if in a situation like this I don’t want to turn to him?” That’s what got me thinking. I understood that I needed some advice. There was one man I could talk to, because I knew that he would understand. He was a Baptist too. I wrote a letter to him and sent it from Moscow to Berezino. He responded. The fact that he responded was already a consolation, but most importantly, his advice was quite unexpected.
Father George: What was it specifically?
I felt that I was guilty of something and it was stopping me from simply coming to Church and asking for help.
Yulia Posashko: He wrote, “My advice may seem strange to you, but I suggest you go to confession in an Orthodox church. Just go into their church, for the kind of prayerful silence found in the Orthodox church cannot be found anywhere else.” Just think how this advice sounded to a Baptist. It was really something… Walking into an Orthodox church, let alone going there for confession, seemed like a crazy idea to me, but somehow I accepted it. I remember my first conscientious visit to an Orthodox church, when I simply walked into a church in Berezino during the service. The building had a very strange roof and didn’t look like a church at all because it was converted from a regular house. There were some old ladies singing when I walked in, and it seemed to me that I heard the angels sing. This was my first visit. After that, when I already returned to Moscow, I thought that I needed to follow the advice and go to confession. However, it was a serious step for me—going to an Orthodox church when you feel that you… Because of that somewhat condescending attitude to Orthodoxy I had before, I felt that I was guilty of something and it was stopping me from simply walking in and asking for help. It was a serious step for me. I remember, I was sitting in front of the church and I could hear the service that was broadcasted through loudspeakers. Not daring to walk in yet, I just sat and listened to the service. I really liked the sound of it. Then I decided to walk into the church. It was the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Krylatskoye district. I am very thankful to the priests of that church who welcomed me and received my first confession. Gradually, I started getting used to the church life.
Father George: Not only Baptists, but other Protestants and neo-Protestants who live in the traditionally Orthodox countries have such prejudices. Actually, it is because they are the minorities in these countries, they have to keep answering the question of “Why aren’t we Orthodox?” I heard many people say that in Russia, for example, Protestants often mention this during their services and use other means to maintain the state of conscientious antagonism against Orthodoxy just for the sake of assuring themselves: “We are not Orthodox because Orthodoxy is wrong.” At the same time, “our” Protestants are sometimes obviously influenced by Orthodoxy. For example, sometimes they use Church Slavonic fonts in their advertising or invitations. I know that they celebrate Christmas on January 7. There are many similar examples, but these similarities are simply superficial, of course. In reality, many people who converted from Protestantism also say that they had a wall of prejudice against the Orthodox Church.
Yulia Posashko: Yes, that was how it was.
Father George: What helped you break that wall down?
Icons and prayers to saints do not take precedence over Christ; on the contrary, they help you to know Him.
Yulia Posashko: Probably, the most important thing we should mention is this: Protestants have this stereotype that there are many unnecessary things in the Orthodox Church, many traditions that take precedence over Christ. I think that the best part of Protestantism is its focus on the personality of Christ. This is Protestantism’s main attraction. However, when I converted to Orthodoxy, I understood that I did not lose Christ at all. Moreover, I found Him and got to know Him much better. I was very surprised for I didn’t know what I would find there. Simply following a good advice, I just went wherever God was leading me, disregarding all my logical objections. Indeed, I didn’t lose what I loved, because primarily I was looking for Christ. And when I converted to Orthodoxy, I felt that none of the attributes of Orthodoxy, including icons and prayers to saints, take precedence over Christ. On the contrary, they give you an opportunity to know Him much better. Interestingly, all those questions that Protestants usually ask, such as “Why do you pray to saints?”, “Why do you kiss icons?”, “Why do you kiss the priest’s hand?” and others, became irrelevant. The same goes for worshipping of Theotokos. There are words of Christ that I really like, “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing” (John, 16:23). I had that very feeling, knowing that I don’t have any questions. Although I have to say that the veneration of Theotokos was difficult to accept on a rational level. I decided that since I joined this Church, I would try to accept it, hoping to God that I can understand it rationally. Indeed, this understanding started to develop gradually. I was born on August 28, on the day of Dormition of the Theotokos, and I notice that every year on that day I understand this venaration a little better.
Father George: It is difficult to understand filial love for one’s mother, if you don’t have an experience of such love. When you do have such an experience, everything becomes clear. This is also applicable to the veneration of the Theotokos. I wanted to ask you, how did your former friends and acquaintances from the Baptist community react to your conversion?
Yulia Posashko: You know, my closest friends I had there are still my closest friends. There was no negative reaction. Nobody grabbed my hand, sat near me and said, “What are you doing? Where are you going?” Even though none of this happened, I felt that it is difficult for them to accept. A few years later they admitted, “We thought that we wouldn’t stay in touch and you would distance from us.” It was painful for them. But time passed and we stayed in touch, although we can’t discuss all subjects. I can’t explain all things to them, no matter how I try. In the beginning, as every neophyte I think, I had a great desire to share the things I learned, because the whole new world had been opened for me. I had a feeling that I’d been living in some room without ever leaving it and then suddenly the walls went down and the ceiling disappeared and I saw the starry sky, and an amazingly beautiful field around me. Naturally, you want to tell everybody about it, but you understand that maybe you won’t be able to find anybody who is willing to listen. This was a difficult thing to live with.
Father George: Your wish to share your feelings is absolutely normal and righteous. Although sometimes it takes a while to find the right way to do it. What about your sister? You mentioned that she was with you when you were in the Baptist community. How did she react? What spiritual path did she chose?
Yulia Posashko: I asked her a couple of times what she thought about my conversion to Orthodoxy. At first, she didn’t think it was serious, believing that it was just a whim. She said, “I don’t know how serious you are about it.” However half a year or a year later, she quit Baptism and converted to Orthodoxy. She did it in a totally different way, though. She even went to another city, probably just to be able to figure things out away from everybody. In the end, we arrived at the same destination, even though we took different roads to get there.
Father George: Since we touched upon the subject of infant baptism, I’d like to share a few thoughts. Our Lord said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me. (Matthew, 19:14). So when Protestants forbid the children to be baptized, it seems to me that they disobey the words of Christ. He also said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John, 3:5) – Wouldn’t it be a pity to deprive a child of the Heavenly Kingdom, if, God forbid, such child would die before being baptized? Our Protestant opponents often say that “faith cometh by hearing” (Romans, 10:17), implying that baptism may only be received by those who have a conscientious faith. According to them, children cannot have a conscientious faith. However, you said that you believed in God from the early childhood and that you conscientiously believed in Christ since you were 12. You are not an exception here; I also believed in Christ at the same age, when I was still a child, as did many people of our generation. Maccabean martyrs and martyrs of early Christian church demonstrated how serious the children’s faith could be, when even small children became martyrs for the sake of Christ, conscientiously choosing to suffer for His sake. Although they weren’t infants, they weren’t adults either. If they could behave like that, it means that they had faith. Unfortunately, Protestants miss this aspect and as such take Christ away from their children.
Naturally, we baptize infants based on the faith of those who brought them, just like Our Lord cured the one sick of the palsy based on the faith of those who brought him. This is the procedure established by the Church and we revived it by introducing mandatory catechesis. Unfortunately, in the past there were deviations from this procedure when we baptized the children brought by parents who didn’t believe in God or were not church-going. But as we see in your example, even these situations are made for the better by God, for it was the fact that you were baptized as a child that made you think about Orthodoxy and start comparing it to Baptism.
Yulia Posashko: Yes. If ten years ago, when I decided to join the Baptist community, somebody told me “You’re going to celebrate the next Easter in an Orthodox church”, I would not have believed it.
I had a feeling that I came home.
I’d like to add that I often heard people say that when they converted to Orthodoxy, they felt at home. I had the same feeling. Speaking about the things that Protestants usually find objectionable, such as traditions and all those things that surround us in an Orthodox Church… You know, I converted to Orthodoxy thinking, “I turned to God and came here for the sake of Christ. So no matter what they do to me… Let the old ladies grumble at me (people are usually worried about being lectured by old ladies in the church)… I decided, let them grumble, it is not a big deal.” As a result, the things that initially seemed to be obstacles did not get in the way at all.
Speaking about long services, the first service that I decided to attend from the beginning to the end was a vigil before some feast day. It was a real vigil that lasted about three hours and at the end I simply fainted, even though this never happened to me before. In fact, this was meant to happen, because people made me sit on a small chair, surrounded me with care, and gave me smelling salts so I would regain consciousness. Somebody even gave me an embroidered towel as a gift (I still have it). Then they gave me a lift home. That is, they made me feel better. In general, all that I saw made my heart soar. Even when you simply observe the service, you see the special attitude among people, for example when altar servers bow to each other and to the priest. Everything is imbued with a special feeling toward each other, a special respect and awe toward what is happening in the church. I was very touched. I think that this was what I was really missing. So I accepted all of it right away.
Also, Protestants often question the priest’s blessing, “Why do you kiss the priest’s hand?” You can try to explain it rationally and this matter is discussed in the books (I think Father Andrey Kurayev wrote about it), but when you walk into a church, everything becomes clear to you and you do not need any rational explanations. You just think, “This couldn’t be any other way” and all pieces of the puzzle fit together.
I was also surprized by the fact that earlier, when I was a Protestant and a Baptist, I didn’t feel that I belong in my own land. That is, I could walk into churches, acknowledge and enjoy their beauty, but they were like museums for me. When you look at all that from inside… After converting to Orthodoxy, I felt that this land became my native land. In a sense, I found my home. Everything fell into the right place. I don’t know if I can put such impressions into words, but hopefully somebody will hear me.
Father George: Of course, it is important for both Orthodox people and Protestants. Quite often, I see people who converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, and they say, “It is such a pity that we learned about Orthodoxy so late. It is a shame we didn’t know what Orthodoxy really was.” So it would be great if your story could help somebody learn about the profundity and spirituality of Orthodoxy, in terms of both the intellectual aspect, and the relationship with Christ, that this is important.
Let’s take the tradition of kissing the priest’s hand. Orthodox people know that it is done to venerate the gifts bestowed upon that priest by Christ, in other words they do it to express their love for Christ rather than the priest.
As far as saints are concerned, these are the people whom Christ called “my friends” (John, 15:14). If we love someone, wouldn’t we extend our love to his close friends? This doesn’t mean that we love the friends more; to the contrary through our good attitude to them we express our feelings for the person we love. In the case of the saints, it is particularly easy because they teach us to love Christ in word and in deed.
The same thing goes for icons. When a son, overwhelmed with feelings, kisses the picture of his mother, does it mean that he is worshipping the photograph? It is clearly an expression of love for the person on the picture. Christians have been greeting each other with a kiss since ancient times, so how can they not kiss the image of Christ? The Apostle wrote, “Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.” (1 Thessalonians, 5:26), so does the image of Our Lord deserve less honor than we ourselves?
We have long services and prayers for the same reason. They were written by people who loved God, and when you’re in love with someone, you don’t say, “I only have five minutes to talk to you, then I’ll lay around on a sofa or go about my business. We can talk to the ones we love for hours on end. Everything is like that in the Church.
The fact that you were looking for Christ is very important. When people are really looking for Christ, they understand everything that is going on in the Church with the right reference to Christ. All these attributes do not get in the way of people’s love for Christ, but rather help them to love Him, because they were initially formed as an expression of love for Christ and that it why they are in the Church.
You really understand what Church is, when you’re in it.
Yulia Posashko: There are probably people who must read many books to realize that, but you really understand what Church is, when you’re in it. Again, speaking about my experience… Immediately after my conversion, I started reading a lot. I had this thirst for knowledge. I still have it. I learned a lot, but I noticed that it wasn’t the words that convinced me. I was convinced by something else, something very subtle. Maybe it is really important to look for the Truth, even if this leads you to a destination you never intended to reach. That is, if at some point you leave your own “wisdom” or human thoughts behind and go wherever God calls you, then you will find God. If you cling to your own “wisdom”, you won’t get anywhere.
It wasn’t the words that convinced me. I was convinced by something else, something very subtle.
Father George: Yes. It is said in the Scripture that if thou seek him, he will be found of thee (1 Chronicles, 28:9). It is also said that The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God (Psalms, 14:2). That is why the person yearning for the Truth won’t be left without God’s help. If, as it sometimes happens, a person is not interested in the Truth, but in something else, then unfortunately even good, moral and sincere people are left outside of the Church because their “ego” and their own opinions are more important to them. Anyway, we will pray to God to help all those who want to know Him and those who currently don’t even think about it. Thank you very much for your story.