Conversion and the Return of our Humanity

My wife and I returned last night for Detroit, Michigan, having attended and been part of a Colloquium on the Orthodox Faith, aimed primarily at Episcopalians and Anglicans. We met a wonderful group of people and were struck by the quality of the conversation that took place.

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I thought I would share a thought or two of my own from the conference (in the next weeks I’ll have links set up so that you can listen to any of the presentations). Ancient Faith Radio was kind enough to record the entire event.

One of the thoughts that I shared was that “we are all ‘cradle born’ Orthodox (I’m beginning to tire of the distinction between ‘cradle born’ and ‘convert.’ Everyone in the Christian faith must be a convert – and must be a convert as often as possible.

But I commented that “I was a ‘cradle born’ Orthodox who lived in schism from myself for 44 years.” In that sense I stated that I thought everyone was a ‘cradle born’ Orthodox, if this is indeed the Truth as found in Christ. We were not created for anything less than the Truth.

But living in schism from your true self is a great sin indeed. For me, it led to much and continued confusion. I was constantly being drawn in a direction that ran counter to what I was doing and made demands on me that I wanted to avoid. In short, this is simply the problem of being a human being pursued by God. And we are all human beings pursued by God.

I noted that Bishop Kallistos Ware not only said that “God became man so that man could become God,” but also that “God became man so that man could become man.” This I believe with all my heart and think is frequently more to the point. It is our willingness to live on something less than a human level that is the hallmark of our sin.

Conversion for me, means daily saying to God, “Here am I!” (to quote Scripture). It is as Cranmer’s Anaphora says, “And here we present unto Thee our selves, our souls and bodies, a reasonable and living sacrifice” (echoing St. Paul’s admonition in Romans 12).

We are not meant to live out of union with our heart, much less out of communion with God. I recently quoted Yeat’s The Second Coming.

In his poem he said:

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Those lines echoed in my mind as I thought about the journey I have made over the years. Continuingly losing innocence as I was initiated in the world of men, where lies and half-truths reign, where decisions are made for political expediency and you simply learn how to “get on.”

I saw that the “best” did lack all conviction and were willing to let the larger part of the Christian faith disappear, so long as the institution remained healthy (i.e. solvent).

And those of us who complained were brim-full of passionate intensity, constantly angry and losing our souls in the process.

The narrow path that came to me in the Orthodox faith, was the simple path of accepting that there really is a God Who has made Himself known in Christ Jesus, and that He established a Church which has faithfully maintained that living relationship in its fullness.

My conversion was a return to the cradle for which we were all born – the cradle of humanity – where God Himself can be found – having once lain there as the first true man. United with Him. heart to heart, I now meet real human beings on a regular basis, who have also taken up the cross of Christ’s humility and found it to be the way forward to the fullness of their humanity.

My last thoughts are that none of us should think about movement from some ecclesial body to Orthodoxy as moving from one “Church” to another. That’s the Protestant model and it misses the point. If there is a coming to Orthodoxy, it can only be because we are coming to God. The Church is about God, and only about God. Coming to anything else is to not discern the Body of Christ, and to still maintain the delusion that leaves us trapped in something less than the fullness of our humanity. To embrace the Orthodox way is to embrace a journey back to God, nothing less. God help me, I don’t want to forget that. Nor let others around me fail to hear that witness.

Comments

  1. says

    The photo is with my wife last year in Zion park. It is after an hour long journey up and around cliffs. I tiny metaphor but apt. It felt like heaven when we stopped and saw the view.

  2. says

    Father,

    As we are all “cradle Orthodox” so we are also all “convert Orthodox.”

    Your point is well taken.

    I was speaking at a heavily ethnic parish in the North East this past Sunday and after the talk so many came up to me and said that “our church needs more of this talk of conversion.”

    It seems no matter where I go I come across the hungry souls of Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike wanting conversion.

    So my question is why do we hear so little of this talk among the leaders of our churches? I am convinced the shallow slur against those in ethnically oriented parishes is false. They want to be confronted with a continual conversion to faith. They want to be challenged with a robust Orthodoxy, and those who truly do not will make their voices heard.

    But I am convinced there is a silent majority in our parishes alla cross the country who would rise up and call our priests and hierarchs blessed if the pulpits of our Orthodox churches became alive with a call to sincere and continual conversion.

    Forgive the rant.

    Barnabas

  3. Fatherstephen says

    I agree. That is my experience. Orthodoxy without conversion is like the Christian life without repentance. Metanoia is utterly necessary. We must not think of conversion as something we do to join a Church, only something we do to unite ourself to Christ.

  4. says

    Amen, Barnabus, I am inclined to agree. The parish I am at now is mainly ethnic Orthodox, who are mainly students from Greece, Cyprus, Ukraine, etc… and they are eager to learn and grow in Christ. Granted, I have also met others from Orthodox countries who are either not interested in the Church, and/or are heavily into some other religion. Like yesterday I talked to a couple of Cypriots who have rejected Orthodoxy and are now New Agers. But otherwise, yes, I agree. Those still in the church want to be there.

  5. Matt Redard says

    “If there is a coming to Orthodoxy, it can only be because we are coming to God. The Church is about God, and only about God. Coming to anything else is to not discern the Body of Christ, and to still maintain the delusion that leaves us trapped in something less than the fullness of our humanity. To embrace the Orthodox way is to embrace a journey back to God, nothing less.”

    Bingo! My wife and I are presently preparing to become catechumens. A few nights ago I remarked to her that I do not want to become Orthodox if this is just another way to “do” church. Everything leading up to our discovery of Orthodoxy and everything going forward from this point is and should be about the conversion of our souls.

    Father Joseph told us last night that Orthodoxy is not a religion. Christ did not come to establish another religion, but, a way of life. A way of living His life. Orthodoxy is that Way.

  6. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    My comments are not directly related to this post, but I could not find your email on the site or I would have sent it that way.

    I currently watch a program on the travel channel called No Reservations. Last night the host was in Russia with a Russian friend. I was delight when they visite a church for a service. The comments after the service interested me greatly and gave me some insight about possible differences between Eastern and Western Christianity.

    When they left church, the host said that when he left church he also felt like he was going to hell. The Orthodox friend said that it made him “feel like a better man”. What a difference? On a popular level I wondered if this speaks to a difference between the two conceptions of religion. While on one hand you enter church feeling good about yourself and leave condemned, and on the other hand you enter condemned and leave feeling somewhat redeemed.

    Just some idle thoughts.

  7. Michael Bauman says

    God does not compel, He leads us, he does not force us. Entering the Church is not unlike entering Narnia, it starts out a little strange but as we walk further into her, the strangeness reveals much that we already know and is familiar to our hearts and the very air we breathe there strenghtens us to fight the battle to which we are called. Entering the Church is leaving the world and entering the infinite and the eternal. As such, we will never plumb her depths completely, she will always be new and strange. I have been Orthodox for 20 years, but I have longed for God all of my life. That longing is both fulfilled in the Church and made more intense. What the western mind considers opposite and opposed are, in the Church, united in the truth starting with God becoming man. Whatever may have been the case prior to the Incarnation, once the Incarnation occured, we cannot be fully human if we are not in deepening communion with God.

  8. says

    The event of Christ’s birth from the Virgin Mary brings together all hopes and longings of mankind throughout the centuries preceding it, as well as the faith of all the centuries that followed it, and it will last throughout all the centuries to eternity. This is the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), for God and man are united together in the person of Christ.God is born as a man without ceasing to be God, so that man can become “god by grace”, without ceasing to be man.

    His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle – Christmas Message 2006

    Father,

    How you said it beautifully! It is our willingness to live on something less than a human level that is the hallmark of our sin. I agree 100%

    And of course even human level can be transcended, and we could in the future, while on earth, experience that we are God’s Children, thanks saints for showing us that it is possible.

    The poor man plows his field and shakes his head when I say to him: “Rich man, deep beneath your barren field lies a lake of molten gold.”

    Do not shake your heads, impoverished sons of the King, when I tell you that the body is more precious than clothing, the soul is more precious than the body, and the Blazing King is more precious than the soul.

    St. Nicholai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake, XIV

  9. Alice C. Linsley says

    57 years of seeking God have led me to Orthodoxy and I rejoice to finally be at this threshold to Heaven.

  10. says

    Dear Father,

    As a member of the St. Andrew House Board of Directors we thank for making our first colloquium a success.

    Most of all we thank you for enriching us with your knowlegde of the faith during the conference and look forward have you back again soon.

    We invite your bloger to visit our web site to learn more about St. Andrew House Center for Orthodox Christian Studies at http://www.orthodoxdetroit.com.

    Your Friend in Christ,
    Steve Lionas

  11. Michelle says

    “In short, this is simply the problem of being a human being pursued by God. And we are all human beings pursued by God.”

    Brings to mind a favourite Sam Phillips song lyric, (from “Strawberry Road” from her album “Martinis and Bikinis” – by the way, Sam Phillips was once Leslie Phillips a CCM artist):

    “Pain gets sharper
    when I suspect that True Love runs,
    looking for us,
    like a lion in our dreams”