My first contact with the Orthodox church came on a study tour of the Bible Lands. We saw Coptic and other Eastern Orthodox churches, chapels, and cathedrals in Istanbul, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. We were even privileged enough to go into St. Catherine's Monastery after visiting hours and see the grounds while the brothers took their mid-day nap. After all that I saw, I pretty much ignored it. I was 18 and arrogant, very Presbyterian, and afraid that all of this idolatry was seeping into my system. There are only two icons that I can remember seeing that stuck out to me--both of them frescoes of the Resurrection. The image of the triumphal Christ remains firm in my memory.
The Orthodox church fell off my radar after that trip. I still had postcards of mosaics and icons that I showed people as souvenirs of the trip, but they held no real spiritual significance for me. I know that I was supposed to see the Sinai icon of Christ, but I have no recollection of it. I was in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and my only excitement was that I had spent the school year researching it, and my interest was purely academic. There was nothing that stuck in my psyche (my soul) to keep me attached to the Church.
One year in college, we had a day of prayer (actually, this was an annual occurrence; but this is the only year that I attended the Orthodox service) there was an Orthodox prayer service. The flier listed it as Vespers. I was intrigued, and so I went with a really good friend who, it turns out, grew up Roman Catholic. The service was either a Paraklesis or an Akathist service. I honestly didn't know the difference at the time, and I still am unsure which service it was. Either way, it was a service in praise of the Virgin Mary. I was slightly taken aback and refused to say things like "ever-virgin" throughout, yet the service stuck with me. I was left with a question after that service: How do we fulfill the requirement to call Mary blessed? My father's response: we read that passage and remember that she gave birth to Jesus--no more; no less, and that was where he left it. That wasn't enough for me. For me, there was something missing in that response: it wasn't enough.
I traveled about for a little bit during college. My friend invited me to the Easter Vigil at the local Anglican church my senior year, and my worldview was blown wide open. I had never celebrated Christ's resurrection with such joy and gusto. People were literally whooping in the church, shouting, raising their hands, and praising God at the top of their lungs! At that point I was hooked on liturgy; and I coincidentally went to a very liturgical Presbyterian church for a time as well. I was being pursued by the ancient Tradition of the Church. During seminary I attended weekly mid-week liturgy with some friends of mine and generally tried to convince my girlfriend that this was actually worship and authentic and true.