The following Q & A was done with Diana Chapdelaine on December 28, 2014. Diana is currently a catechumen who has been attending Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Willimantic, Connecticut, for nearly eight months. She has faithfully fulfilled the number one prerequisite for those who desire to enter into the church: she has attended every Divine Service. Her attendance has been perfect. Diana will be received into the Orthodox Church through the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation during Divine Liturgy on Sunday, January 18, 2015, on the Feast Day of Saints Athanasius the Great and Cyril of Alexandria, Archbishops of Alexandria. We welcome you to be with Diana on this day of great joy in her life. What makes Diana’s story so inspiring is that she has Cerebral Palsy. Her husband, John, has Multiple Sclerosis.
Q: Tell us about your journey into the Orthodox Church.
Diana: Short or long version?
Q: Short, please.
Diana: Although I had been baptized, I did not attend church. It was only up until a few years ago I would have considered myself an agnostic, if not an atheist. I didn’t know what I actually was, and that was the problem. Within the past few years, I had really been looking for something. As I was getting older, I began to realize I was not treating people the same way I wanted others to treat me. That alone led me to become more introspective in terms of where my life was headed. Although my job (in banking) is stressful, it is not particularly intellectually challenging. Put it all together, and I knew I needed something more, something that would challenge me to think, and to be a better person at the same time. It was then I began to think about exploring the Orthodox Church. I will admit, too, that in another life, a long time ago, for several years I dated Dean Constantopoulos (now Fr Dean) who at the time was a seminarian at Holy Cross (Greek Orthodox School of Theology) in Brookline, Massachusetts, so I had attended Divine Services before, but it had been a while. There was no contact between us for over 20 years, closer to 23 actually, then somehow at a time I was doing some genealogical research, I came across his wife, Nora, on Facebook. Nora became my Facebook friend. She began to provide me with reading material recommendations, and things just kind of took off from there. I began to read, and then I began attending Divine Liturgy every Sunday at Holy Trinity. There’s been no looking back since. The whole story is kind of incredible, if you ask me.
Q: That actually seems like the long answer.
Diana: No, it really is the short version.
Q: What were the first books you read which your friend Nora recommended?
Diana: ‘Investing in the Kingdom of God’ and ‘When God is Not There’, both written by Nikolaos of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki. (Also, ‘The Diary of a Russian Priest’ by Alexander Elchaninov.
Q: Any other titles that had a great impact on you?
Diana: Oh, yes. ‘The Orthodox Church’ and ‘The Orthodox Way’, both by Timothy Ware.
Q: Is there one aspect of the Orthodox Church which has resonated with you?
Diana: I really love the long history of the Orthodox Church. Two thousand years is a long time. The church is rooted in Apostolic Tradition, and that doesn’t change. Orthodoxy is a liturgically-driven faith, and that’s key for me. Perhaps that is why I went out and bought all my own service books. I also enjoy the ethnic diversity the church offers, yet I also totally embrace that we are not an ethnically driven parish at Holy Trinity.
Q: How about from a spiritual perspective?
Diana: I especially like that church does not try to put everything in legalistic terms. All of religion is rooted in faith, and the belief in God. Although everything has a reason, not everything has to be explained in order for it to become known and accepted. The church calls it a mystery for a reason.
Q: Paraphrasing John the Evangelist, he calls us to be part of the world, but not of the world. Any thoughts on that?
Diana: A lot, actually. I thought that by coming to church it would serve as some sort of personal self-fulfillment. But I was way off base on that one. I sometimes hear people say the reason they come to church is to get something out of it; that’s the self-fulfillment piece I thought was important. Wrong, again. You come to church to sing praises to God, and to bring glory to Him. You listen to the hymnography of the church, venerate icons, and when you immerse yourself so totally into the church, what strikes me most is the simplicity of the Orthodox Church. There is no other human response to all that God has given us other than to glorify God. Give all the glory to God.
Q: You’ve mentioned in the past you are particularly drawn to female saints. Who, and why?
Diana: Saint Helen is of special interest to me. She is not just the founder of the Holy Cross of our Lord, but she also is the Patron Saint of Archeologists. To research the past and to explore where everything began is a fairly significant endeavor. Remember, too, I kind of rediscovered my Orthodox past by doing a genealogical research; my mother is of Greek descent. Saint Helen was a strong-willed woman; I’m a strong-willed woman, too. In a spiritual sense, I am attracted to strong-willed women. The Greatmartyr Catherine of Alexandria is another one of my favorite female saints. I like the idea she debated against men who were theologians and was victorious. Saint Mary of Egypt rounds out my top three favorite female saints.
Q: You had mentioned previously you’ve read over 20 books on Orthodoxy. Top three favorites, please?
Diana: 1. The Orthodox Way by Timothy Ware; 2. The Ascetic of Love by Mother Gavrilia; 3. The Eucharist by Alexander Schmemann; 4. The Diary of a Russian Priest.
Q: That’s four, not three.
Diana: I tried. It’s the best I can do.
Q: Your personal rule of prayer?
Diana: I try to start every day with prayer. If I don’t, everything is out of balance for me. I am especially thankful for The Jesus Prayer. I use it a lot when I am short-tempered and need to work on my humility. I also pray throughout the day, and then again at night.
Q: Final thoughts?
Diana: I often think about the 10 years I have worked in Willimantic, and the five years I have lived here. How many hundreds of time I had driven past Holy Trinity on this street corner wondering what it was like inside. When I stand here in this small church, and I am surrounded by the icons of so many saints who were willing to die for their belief. I find that incredibly inspiring, to be able to say you gave your life for your faith. I am at home here at Holy Trinity in Willimantic. By embracing the Orthodox faith, I have found a way, a better way, to live my life, to give it order and balance, and a way to give glory to God every moment I have left remaining in this life.
-V. Rev. Marc Vranes