“The holy icons from my Palestinian friends turned me toward the Light”
My name is Timotheos. I’m from Indonesia, a country with the biggest Muslim population in the world. I am one of the many Orthodox Christians in Indonesia who converted from Islam. Before I discovered Orthodoxy, I was a pious Muslim and an activist for Palestine. In 2004, a delegation from the Middle East, many of them Palestinian, visited Indonesia. Because I can speak little Arabic, I was appointed as one of their guides. One day, when it was time for Friday prayer, I was surprised that several of them didn’t join us. When I asked them about this, they said that they were Orthodox Christians. It was quite surprising to us.
After their visit, I kept in contact with them. I didn’t know anything about Orthodox Christians, so I was very curious. I searched for information on the internet, and made friends with some Palestinian Orthodox. I learned about Orthodoxy from the inter-faith discussions with them. Without engaging in debate, we discussed the Oneness God, the truth of who Jesus was, and the Bible. They responded all of my ‘dumb’ questions theologically, and were able to answer well because they understood Islam. Even though their explanations have changed my point a view about the teachings of Christianity, at that time I was asking to help me understand another religion.
In 2006, three of my Palestinian friends from Australia came to my country for vacation, and I acted as their guide during their trip. They were all young Orthodox Christians. I saw they had small icons of Jesus and Mary on their bag, which they said were icons for travelling. We had a serious conversation about what the icons meant and why they kissed them. This seemed to be idolatry to me. They gave very me very clear and simple explanations. They asked if I carried pictures of my loved ones in my wallet when I traveled, and if I kissed the pictures when I missed them. They also explained using examples from my faith, using the tradition of kissing which also can be found in masjid el haraam when Muslims go on Haji (pilgrimage). The discussion during their vacation was very nice without any debate and they didn’t preach their faith to me. Before they went back to Australia from Bali, I asked them whether I could get an icon as a remembrance of our visit. They gave one to me with condition that I would keep it well. I was happy to have it and have kept it.
In 2007, I met a beautiful woman, a Charismatic (Pentacostal Protestant). When she asked me about my religion, I was a bit confused as to what to say. I ended up telling her I was an Orthodox Christian. I had no idea why I said it, because until then I had never been to an Orthodox church, but it made me serious to find an Orthodox Church in my city. I got online, and in November of 2007, I found an Orthodox Church about 30 km (about 15 miles) from my home. Here I Divine Liturgy for the first time. In this parish, I also found several other catechumens who were converting from Islam. After I had attended the church for just one week, I decided to take catechism classes with the parish priest. I didn’t have any serious difficulty in the catechism class because the parish priest was a very good teacher.
My relation with the Charismatic woman became serious and one time I asked her to attend liturgy with me. It was really hard for her to understand what was going on because the worship was totally different than her church. It was difficult for her to accept what the Orthodox Church believed and how we worshiped, but with the help of my priest she became willing to accompany me to the catechism class.
In April 2008, we decided to get married that coming August. She wanted to get married in a Charismatic church, but I knew I had to be married in an Orthodox church. I asked my priest to consider me for baptism and he decided I was ready. About my fiancé, he was hesitant to baptize her at first (because she hadn’t been attending catechism classes for as long) but because she desired be baptized as well he approved. The two of us and the other seven catechumens were baptized together on Jun15, 2008, the Sunday of Pentecost. On August 2008, we had a beautiful service of holy matrimony in the then still under construction Church of the Holy Epiphany.
I was luckier than some of my other brothers at my parish who converted from Islam. They were suffering from threats by their Muslim neighbors. I live in a neighborhood where the majority of people are Christian. However, after we married, our biggest problems came not from our Muslim brothers but from those of other Christian denominations who did not understand Orthodoxy. For them we are no more than an old-fashion sect of Christians. We went through the most difficult moments in our faith during the first year of our marriage. My wife, who was still comfortable with her previous faith, tried to bring Charismatic traditions (practices) into our family. This was something weird that I didn’t expect. Besides this I was confused and upset when we had to attend Protestant church services with her family and join in their Charismatic worship at family gatherings . Everything was strange for me. These problems made me realize that I had to be able to lead my wife in the “Orthodoxia- Ortholatria -Orthopraxia” (Orthodox faith, worship, and practice) in our daily life. With the help of parish-priest, my godfather, my friends in my parishes, and several of my Orthodox friends on the internet, I learned bit by bit how to build a good Orthodox Christian family.
In the second year of our marriage, we were blessed by having a beautiful daughter. She was baptized on the feast day of Theophany together with other 2 babies and two adults at my parish.
Now we feel the presence of the Church as a part of our family. With Christ in our midst, we feel the beauty of rejoicing in the Lord that we never felt before! I can’t describe how we love the Orthodox Church and how beautiful She is. All we know is that from now on we don’t want to be distant from our One Holy Church for she is the Lantern who gives light to the journey of my family in this world.
The Holy Icon for travelling, which I received from my Palestinian friends four years ago, I put in the middle of our prayer corner among the Icons of the Holy Saints which we venerate in our daily prayers to intercede to Christ our God for His Great Mercy for my family.