My transition from Eastern Orthodox habits to Pentecostal habits was gradual and transparent. Within the Orthodox church itself, there was a group of youngsters who gathered every week where they prayed without printed books, sang songs, clapped their hands and studied Bible. As a nice guy from the Sunday school, they invited me to their meetings and I began to attend. There I learned to pray the evangelical prayer which started with ‘Dear Heavenly Father’ and ended with ‘In Jesus’ name, Amen’; I learned to clap my hands and sing and came to know there are other books in the Bible other than Psalms and Proverbs. Then eventually after coming to America, I started attending full-fledged evangelical churches.
This wasn’t the case with my wife. Up until our marriage, she attended only catholic churches, was rosary praying, mass attending, and a huge Mary devotee. When she worked in Newyork city, during the 2+ hours of commute in train and bus she used to do her rosary 50 to 100 times every day. After she came to live with me, the first Sunday I took her to the Assemblies of God church where I attended service every week. In the concert like, casual atmosphere, she felt like an alien, quite shocked to see the people singing out loud and dancing. She didn’t feel comfortable that there wasn’t any robe wearing priests, no burning candles, no statue of bleeding Jesus. And above all, the crowd was loud and lacking the church ‘discipline’. She could not gratify any of her Catholic habits and felt awful and out of place.
Ask her and she would tell how hard is to break some habits. Few Sundays we attended a catholic church just to make her comfortable, but eventually we stuck ourselves to the AG church. Within few weeks (or months – I can’t remember) she started picking up on the raising and clapping of hands and started learning the lyrics of some of the favorite songs of the worship leader of that church. Now she knows what to expect in an AG church and is pretty comfortable with the atmosphere. I remember after having our daughter, every Sunday we run to the church, usually late, put the car seat down in front of our seats, and without any warm up we will start singing with the crowd, raising our hands and sometimes crying when they sang ‘I will never know how much it cost’ lines.
We both were baptized as infants, but the pastor at the AG church convinced us the importance of adult baptism while giving us a Baptism class. In the class someone asked if Baptism was necessary for salvation and pastor said no, BUT… now you know the importance of Baptism and you have an opportunity to be baptized and if you still don’t do it, I am NOT sure… that you reach heaven. Well, that one statement was enough for us to make our decision to get baptized and we were baptized in water in few weeks. I don’t know if this is true in all AG churches but in that church they believed in progressive salvation. Step 1 – Sinners prayer or giving your hart to Jesus, step 2- Water Baptism, step 3 – Baptism in the Holy Spirit (talking in tongues). Now we are only upto the step number 2 and started feeling the pressure to perform step-3, which is an ultimate step, where according to them the Holy Spirit comes in FULL (I don’t know if that means He came only in half at the time of sinners prayer).
More than half of the congregation had a habit of speaking in tongues during the fast track and high pitch songs in their worship services; and now we both wanted the same. And also, tongues was necessary to be bold and start witnessing like Apostle Peter in Acts 2. We were told fasting was necessary to get the Baptism in the Spirit and there came a time where the entire church decided to fast for 3 days and we both fasted as well. No food at all for the entire 3 days. On the second night or third night, I can’t remember, I was almost feeling dizzy due to the fasting and we went to this special meeting designed for the people who are desiring the baptism in the spirit. Special drums were brought in and the songs started, and the already baptized people started speaking in tongues and at some point I too started yelling hallelujah at the top of my lungs (We were told that we have to lose our tongues to the spirit, shouldn’t use our brain, and repeat hallelujah loudly until we feel that our tongues are not capable to keep up). I did the exact same thing and I started speaking in tongues. After the meeting people lined up to congratulate me on my newly achieved blessing and I felt so good that day. My wife was happy for me but at the same time was disappointed that she didn’t get it. During that time, she went for so many such fasting prayers but still didn’t get it. She felt so unworthy and we thought there is something which is blocking it for her. There were so many people offered prayer for her that she would receive what her husband received, but she didn't.
I too prayed hard for her seeing her despair. She thought either God rejected her or her intelligence is coming in the way of the spirit. In almost all sermons pastor mentioned the necessity and importance of speaking in tongues and I remember my wife lived in disappointment for 2-3 years until she was revealed the truth of Gospel and God’s grace.
Back to the story, on the day I spoke in tongues I fell down and crawled on the floor for a while. From that day onwards I had no problem in falling down when someone laid their hands on my head, but the truth is that I wanted to fall down. After the sermons, while the organs playing, with all the lights dimmed down, pastor would invite the people to the front and lay his hands on their head and people would start falling down. The more people fell down the more anointed that day’s service was. We could tell by looking at the face of the people who were all going to fall. So, now I learned tongues and slain in the spirit. One thing that I noticed (at least in this church), for most people who spoke in tongues loudly they all started with one word ‘santhara’. That really puzzled me even at that time. There was a young lady in our church that every time she went to the front she fell down. It was as if she goes to the front just to fall down. I thought she didn’t feel comfortable if she didn’t fall down.
Over the years, my wife and I picked up so many of the Pentecostal habits, learned to follow the crowd and we couldn’t really think anything outside of it. It is amazing how our brain can get programmed into certain patterns. Such habits included evening prayer at home, praying before each meal, praying before each journey etc. We were told that when we pray we need to be specific, the more specific we are the soon the blessing would come. A friend of mine explained this to me with a story. In one of the churches he attended before, there was a need for more chairs in the sanctuary and pastor started praying for money to buy chairs. But nothing happened. He prayed for so many weeks and finally it occurred to him that he is not specific enough in his prayer and that day he prayed a specific prayer that how many chairs he need and what color he prefer and the style he needed (metal or plastic). The next day someone offered the exact same number of chairs he prayed for, the same color and style!
And I learned to pray specific prayers. I learned to shake hands with 'Praise the Lord'. I learned to say good bye and 'God bless you'. I learned so many Christian phrases.
There is so much more to say, but for now I am wrapping this up. I don't feel the need to conclude this post into a theological right and wrong package and tie up all the lose ends. I leave that to you all... I will share some of the other stories in the future posts.