Why You Shouldn’t Convert to Orthodoxy

Why You Shouldn't Convert to Orthodoxy

After five years or so in the Orthodox Church, I’ve seen a lot of friends and acquaintances come home to the apostolic faith.

And yet, not all of these journeys have worked out. Some have even ended in apostasy.

Why does this happen?

Shortly after the beginning of our own catechumenate as a family, we saw friends—and their families—begin journeys towards the East. The more familiar I became with Orthodoxy by serving in a local parish, on a parish council, and as an altar assistant, the more I saw others approach the Church, test the waters, and walk back out the narthex door.

I love the Church, and so I find it difficult to understand how a person could not see the beauty in our faith, leaving it all behind. However, I do think that there are certain factors that influence and even cause these abandonments and apostasies from the one, true Church. There are two sides to this ‘coin,’ as well: Some people become Orthodox for all the wrong reasons, while some don’t become Orthodox for all the wrong reasons.

Many times, inquirers approach the Orthodox Church as a safe haven from controversy and scandal, believing that the Orthodox Church—as the one, true Church—is immune to such things. However, this is a mistaken viewpoint and can lead to the destruction of a person’s faith.

This perspective presupposes a defective Christology—one that fails to account for the anthropos of the theanthropic (Divine-human) Church. As the Body of Christ, the Church is a Divine-human organism, just as with the Person of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. While the Church is certainly Divine in one respect, She is also comprised of human beings—human beings that can, and do, err. Failing to remember (or be taught) this, we are scandalized and even lose our faith in the Church, not distinguishing between the divine and human natures, or confusing them.

Another issue is becoming Orthodox because one thinks the Church will reward them in some way for doing so.

For example, if a person goes through a great deal of hardship, sacrifice, and turmoil in order to join the Church—as in the case of former clergy in a different communion, or when one’s family does not approve—they might feel that the Church ‘owes them’ for converting. But the Church is not dependent upon any one convert or their family, nor will the Church ‘reward’ people (beyond the mysteries and salvation) for converting.

Those who were clergy in a former denomination have no guarantees they will become clergy in the Orthodox Church. It doesn’t matter how long they have served, or how extensive their education. Holy Orders are a mystery (sacrament) of the Church, and the Spirit blows where it will. Becoming Orthodox means being willing to submit to the Church and Her bishops, who might not be interested in ordaining you. If anyone is unwilling or not ready to submit to the Church in all areas of life, they should stay away—until or unless they are ready to do so.

Another danger is converting to Orthodoxy simply because it is beautiful.

No doubt, I felt ‘at home’ when first attending the Divine Liturgy, but this was after months of study and discussion with other Orthodox people. Orthodox worship can be overwhelmingly beautiful and attractive—on multiple, deeply-felt levels—but this should not be the only reason why a person converts. Forgetting early on that Orthodox worship is liturgical and cyclical (i.e. it’s the same every year, year after year), it soon becomes familiar, and perhaps even ‘boring’ for some. If our only reason for converting is more somber, reverent, and beautiful worship, the ‘newness’ of this experience soon wanes. The reality of the difficulty of living the Orthodox life then bubbles up, and apostasy from exhaustion is a real risk.

On the other hand, there are cases where a person rejects the Church for what I would consider to be erroneous reasons.

For example, I know someone that spent over a year studying almost every aspect of Orthodoxy, including many fathers of the Church and practically every nuance of both doctrine and history. However, they rarely spent any time in Orthodox worship services or their local parish, developed no relationship with a priest, and did not engage their spouse or family in their studies and interest in the Church. In the end, they concocted a list of reasons for not converting. For example, their local parish was ‘too ethnic’; the priest wasn’t nice or outgoing; their spouse wasn’t interested; they found ‘logical inconsistencies’ in the writings of the fathers; and so on.

If someone is approaching the Orthodox Church from a purely rationalistic standpoint, they will almost surely find it wanting. The Orthodox Church does not fit into the paradigms of modernity; it is not a wholly rational faith. This doesn’t mean we shun catechesis, but just that it’s not always done in the same way everywhere—and where it exists, it’s likely different from what a catechumen might expect or even hope. We must be willing to embrace mystery, to submit to other authorities, and to ultimately submit to the Church Herself. Those who approach Orthodoxy looking for all their questions to be answered in a neat-and-tidy manner will be deeply disappointed, left rejecting the faith to which they’ve only been shortly exposed.

So why should someone desire to join the Orthodox Church?

For me, the one and only valid, core reason is because a person desires to be part of the one, true Body of Christ. Because we confess and believe in the “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” this means we are not looking for a Church that fits our own preferences and ideals, but rather one that teaches us what our preferences should be. We are not seeking to reform or to teach the Church how it should do things, but are rather seeking to be formed by the Church and to learn how we should be doing things as faithful Christians.

Now, I don’t share all of this in order to dissuade anyone from becoming a catechumen, but rather to encourage those who are on such a journey—or who have strayed away from one that began on the wrong foot.

Becoming an Orthodox Christian is not easy, nor does it promise great happiness or success in this life. In fact, it promises a Cross and joining with Christ in both suffering and humiliation.

But if you are still intrigued and drawn to the Orthodox Church, considering all of these disclaimers, then do so with faith, reverence, and a healthy fear of God. Pray for the Lord’s mercy, and you can find the strength to endure to the end. Believe in the Church as the true Body of Christ, and the Church—flawed people and all—will help lead you down the right path.

But don’t do it for all the wrong reasons.

30 comments:

  1. Mr. Martini, what are your thoughts on a person converting to The Church, if his wife is not going to convert? I’ve been reading about The Church, attending sporadically and investigating for a few years. I truly desire to enter The Church, but my wife wishes to remain Evangelical and has zero desire to enter the Church with me. I’d welcome your thoughts.

    1. I’m in the same situation as you. I have been advised by my local parish priests (both ex-Evangelicals) to be patient. It’s tough, but I am trying to let Christ shine through me in my marriage.

    2. I can’t really give qualified advice on such things. Speak with the local clergy and ask for their guidance, continuing to pray.

    3. I’m no theologian but I think this is a very simple question: Everyone should be orthodox, no matter what other people may think, including their families. I think Christ is quite clear on this.

      1. In all sincerity, comments like Nils’ are very upsetting. This kind of thinking can tear
        marriages apart. Just because you believe you’re right doesn’t mean others will believe you and you cannot blame them if you come at them with this sort of arrogance.

        Please, Daniel, you have to respect her and love her as Christ does. Please consider if you’re talking at her or to her. Are you answering questions humbly or making her feel stupid? Are you getting a contingent of priests together to talk to her or considering who she would feel comfortable speaking with (if she even wants to speak to someone)? Are you forgetting that faith runs deeply in people, that maybe conversion means turning her back on her upbringing?

        Pray for her, but also for yourself, that you won’t let this newfound knowledge build up the type of pride that brings you away from Christ even though you think you’re getting closer.

        Protect her. From yourself and others who may want to convert her.

        Love and patience go a long way. True love and patience, not the love and patience that’s contingent on her conversion. You married her for a reason, see Christ’s image in her (it’s there, even if she doesn’t convert).

        May God bless you and your marriage.

        1. I know you only asked the author of this blog for his opinion, but if I may be so bold, I would offer you this little snippet based on experience with people whom I know. If your spouse isn’t going to convert, then you shouldn’t either.

          One case involved a very pious man from a very pious Roman Catholic family which attended a Melkite (Eastern Rite) Church. Its liturgy was Byzantine and the customs were very similar to what you would find in an Orthodox Church. He said he needed to be Orthodox. His wife was not going to come over. After being received into the faith (His wife and kids did not come for that ceremony), he spent some time at our parish, but then jumped around to other parishes in the area including the Western Rite one (AANA) to find one that would be more palatable to his wife. That didn’t work and after three years, he’s back with the Catholics simply because he didn’t want to fight with his wife anymore.

          Another case involved a married couple, both of whom did convert. The wife was clearly into it. The husband not so much. Though both were chrismated, within a few months, divorce was coming and did. It was a terrible situation. FOrtunately, they didn’t have kids. Both have since remarried and are both full members of the Church, but it took a lot of pain and heartbreak to get there and it is nothing short of a miracle that both of them still wanted to be in the Church.

          If your wife isn’t on board, then for the sake of your marriage and kids, don’t convert. Quoting Jesus’ words about “Loving father, brother, spouse, etc. more than He is not worthy of me” does nothing except to exacerbate the situation.

          1. becoming orthodox is not easy.people put too much eemphasis on christ paying for our sins;therefore,they would much rather be entertained in church with fire and brimstone speeches.the problem with orthodoxy is some priests do not want to be bothered and/or think they are in a country club enviroment.im orthodox and i had a g.o.priest explain theosis to me and that sealed the deal.

        2. Why be upset at Nil’s comment? It is in line with Scripture. We worship God, not marriage! Too many people nowadays have made an idol of marriage. Marriage isn’t what will get you into Heaven. God is. If the Lord is truly calling for the conversion to Orthodoxy, it will happen no matter what. It shouldn’t be left to the decision of a wife (or kids for that matter.).

    4. First, you must discuss this with your priest: he will have experienced situations like this before and hopefully will be able to guide and support you both. You need to attend regularly, before you can make any decisions, have a thorough catechumenate and then make the decision. Never doubt the power of Christ and continue to pray for your wife, no matter what you both choose. It will make life less convenient if you are both going to different places on a Sunday morning, your daily prayers and icon corner will be a constant presence in your home and she will see them, and your faith. Still, I am aware of marriages where it has taken 10, 15 years for a partner to be ready even to attend the Church. Don’t forget too that there are practical issues like fasting: how can you observe the Fasts and not upset your wife? All of these issues, and more, have to be taken to your priest or spiritual guide, and above all, pray.

      1. Your marriage (and hospitality for that matter) trumps fasting.

        If it’s a fasting period and your wife forgot (or even if she did it on purpose) you lovingly eat what is set in front of you (you needn’t go hog wild of course), thank her for her hard work, and observe the fast on your own time, not on hers. That’s striaght from my priest and the late Archbishop Job of Chicago.

        If you are visiting and theyve made a fantastic meal to honor you, you eat it and thank them sincerely. Your fasting does not enter into it.

        Fasting (and other) rules do not mean you can use your faith to justify treating others efforts on your behalf with disrespect. Instead delight in what they’ve done for you, enjoy, be grateful to them and to God and SHOW it.

        Hopefully you can slowly bring your wife to understand why it’s important to you, even if she never converts. Although I am now divorced due to my wife’s mental issues (her choice to leave not mine), she made the effort to help me keep the fast and other rules after she understood how important it was to me.

    5. Daniel, I inquired for nearly two years before my wife decided to join me. Before that, Orthodoxy was driving a wedge between us that grew wider each time I left for church on a Sunday morning. I am not a priest so I can speak only from experience, but I advise extreme caution on your part.

      Yes, you could simply move ahead by becoming Orthodox, assured of your theological correctness. But see to your wife and her needs in your marriage. Be patient.

      As it so happens, our sponsors were split over converting to Orthodoxy for about five years before the wife came around. This is a common story, but only with patience does it have any potential to end well.

  2. You have ample knowledge from your studies of the fathers and doctors (prior to Photius) and from holy scripture that Christ did not leave His Church without a visible head, Saint Peter and his successors. Even when the church was punished with bad popes, it still had a head. The orthodox who choose to be separated from the authority of the Vicar of Christ (prescinding from the jurisdictional issues that are only part of law not doctrine) are sinning against charity which is the “bond” of truth. The Church must be visibly one, each of its bishops in union with Rome. The Church cannot be acephalous and still be one and universal, nor apostolic. Why did Paul confront Peter rather than James in his righteous objection to the Judeaising members. The disciples who came to Antioch from Jerusalem were from James. Not that James was a Judeaiser, but he apparently did tolerate it when it came to Jews eating with Gentiles. Paul confronted Peter, who was given the vision of the “meats”, because Peter was the chief apostle, the one specifically given the universal sheepfold by the Resurrected Christ. You may not think this is an important issue, but it is essential for unity. Schism is a sin. Your Catholic cloak is not seamless, it is rent by your schism. If your Church is universal then who is its universal visible head? The holy orthodox patriarchs who fought the heretical patriarchs of the fourth and fifth century certainly held the bishop of Rome not only in primacy of honor but as the highest visible authority on earth in the divine commission to safeguard the deposit of Faith. “Peter has spoken through Leo” acclaimed the bishops at the Council of Chalcedon. Would your patriarch have said the same with them if he were at the Council when the Church, east and west, was one?

    1. Not that I wanna get too into this, but the Fathers at the 4th Ecumenical Council most certainly did NOT hold the bishop of Rome as the highest visible authority. You take that one quote out of context, and horribly. If one reads the ENTIRE acts (and not just extracts to take out of even that weak context), the only thing one can conclude is that the Tome of St. Leo was, in fact, JUDGED by whether or not it could be reconciled with St. Cyril of Alexandria. In other words, what can only be considered (even if anachronistically) an “ex cathedra” pronouncement, the Tome, was JUDGED. Not only that, but the actual, final horos of the Council did not simply “cut and paste” the Tome, but *corrected* it because it was, though correct, rather poorly written (crudely written) and open to heretical interpretation.

      You can read the first modern translation of the entire Acts of the Council of Chalcedon here:

      http://www.amazon.com/Council-Chalcedon-Liverpool-University-Press/dp/1846311004/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391197453&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=acts+of+the+council+of+chacledo

      1. This is not a reply to only one person, I address it to anyone who feels the Orthodox church is a failure. or think you can’t live up to it. The point is to try and God wants those who are serious and truly remorseful for their sins. Those who are grateful with this wonderful church and doesn’t find excuses with it because it sounds too strict. If your not truly sorry for your sins and not truly understanding of the faith, you can let yourself go astray with all other denominations and go have fun singing , shouting and jump up and down and think you will be happy. You know what???? I think everyone here needs to go to Mount Athos. Although I can’t go because I am a woman I go on the internet and watch it. It made me more serious of my faith and gave me such security and I’m not afraid of the devil’s challenges. What upsets me here is that it seems some strangers appreciate Orthodoxy more than some of its own people. Wake up asses and don’t worry about it being hard or not, The point is Orthodoxy is a church that is with no heresies, It is ORTHODOX its named that way because we followed it the way the fathers of the church did until the Roman wanted to make changes and we did not accept those unorthodox changes for it took the true living essence of the church Orthodox only accepted Jesus to always be the leader of the church, not a Pope. and especially that he turned out to be a Masono Its the first Ancient that withstood against war and violence, against mockery from other churches because we didn’t join them and they think who the hell they are. They are far from the truth.!!! Also every Christian should establish a personal relationship and work with God. Just as you do a job. If you don’t w
        ork you have no money you can’t buy anything or do anything. Just as with everything you start to feel worthless and can’t fight if your life depended on it so if you work hard and pray, you get an immune system to work with against all disease ( the devil ) He is the disease that makes you sick and angry and fills you with hate and envy and he just loves it now that you dare to post an article with a title like that!!!!! It makes me angry, Imagine how God feels !!!! The Anti Christ want so bad for Orthodoxy to fall and because you can’t follow some decent rules you say its the church that is at fault for your mis guidance!!!!!! No its your stubborn mind that the devil played with. Get on your knees and pray for you have disappointed God very much. The Orthodox church especially the Greek Orthodox church is the only one that receives the light at Easter in Jerusalem. We are chosen because we are blessed. The Paisios prophesies also will show you that we will get Constantinople back. Without God and our Virgin Mary We are nothing!!!!!

    2. In my fallible opinion, Mr. Kelly, that chair is vacant. Although that’s not a good reason for converting to Orthodoxy, it’s a compelling reason to look somewhere other than Rome for the continuing church.

  3. Much of this could be said of those who become Catholic. Being a convert I find the article makes good points. Ultimately you should be a member of a Church only if you believe it to be true and that you will follow the truth where ever it leads you. It led me to the Catholic Church.

  4. Excellent article. Thanks for posting. I am a convert, 6 yrs+ since my baptism. My husband is Catechumen for 5 yrs now. Our children are baptized Orthodox. My husband is more “Orthodox” in heart than many that are actually baptized! Only you and your father confessor can make the decision for your own baptism. Personal experience: it is great test of our relationship with one being baptized and another not. A test for our children too. Often it is more difficult to get through fasting periods bc I forget that we are NOT unified in Christ [yet] and our struggles are not the same because of that. Simple personal struggles become more paramount once baptized. The Cross we bear as baptized Orthodox Christians, is much more cumbersome than anything I have ever ever experienced in the evangelical church…and it is not a journey for everyone. May the Lord guide you in your quest for the Truth! **p.s. pray to the Saints, ask for guidance and help to understand the Lord’s Will for you. Amin!

  5. Are you saying, Patrick that the fathers did not say “Peter has spoken through Leo”? Why did Saint Cyril appeal to Rome? I suspect that Pope Leo wrote the Tome in Latin, so, naturally, the bishops would have put it in Greek. If you are right about some editing being done to it, that does not mean that Pope Leo was just one episcopal voice among the many. If he was, then why did they bring up Saint Peter in praise of his Tome? As I said, you prefer a Church without one visible head but rather a Church with many heads, I suppose one for each patriarchate. That is a novel doctrine. The Church has its collegiality among bishops, but it is not run by episcopal democracy. It never was.

    1. Brian Kelley – you are wrong. The Church has always been a conciliar body attempting to move to the fullness of truth in history – viewing its doctrine as an essential guideline to how to view Christ, the Trinity, the Church, Salvation etc. in order to be able to make its members perfect as Christ was – to act as a roadmap, as it were. Heresies developed in all parts of both the Eastern and Western Roman empire. Sometimes these heresies were adopted by huge swathes of the church for a number of years but later rejected.

      The real fundamental problem with your perspective is that you focus too little on the reality of how the Church comes to Truth and too much on who or where you think it abides in. That’s the real crux of the issue. The fullness of the Church’s truth doesn’t abide in Peter – who argued with Paul about how gentiles into the fold any more than it lies in the pope. It’s this attitude, focusing on the who rather than on the how truth arises in the Church that has led the Roman Catholic church to aberrations like papal infallibility, to the filioque and to all forms of deviation in even social structures developed in its history (its inability to act as a institutional voice for the poor with its deep connection with temporal power for example)

      Your focus is all wrong.

  6. I am a convert from the Cathoilc faith. I can say that our family was,disheartened by all the scandal in the church. We did not find Orthodoxy it found us and at the time we were looking for change.

    I can say at first I was not sure about the change. The first time I attended a liturgy, I felt the grace of God. Sure There is scandal and the human condition in the Orthodox Church. I continue to be a part of the faith because God is present. Anytime I walk into an Orthodox church(anywhere) I feel that presence.

    There is also so much wealth and knowledge,in spiritual reading with the Elders. I realized with all of this I had found home. Regardless of what is happening in the human condition. When I walk into church it is about me and God…

  7. I’m a recent convert (1 years now ) from the lutheran church. I converted after 3 years of praying and studying the writings early apostolic christian fathers (such as Ignatius of Antioch, Ireneus of Lyon, Polycarp of Smyrn, Clemens of Rome, John the Chrysostomos, etc.) I became aware that the keydoctrines of protestant theology (the 4 solas) didn’t excist before they were crafted during the reformation.

    The one thing I wish for our Orthodox Church is a more extrovert attitude towards people, reaching out for the countless orthodox christians who are orthodox merely by name and have given up the Church and life in Christ. This is saddening me that it many times seems that the proclaiming, profetic voice of the Church can be crippled because of too much clericalism and lack of interest to go out our comfort zone and the golden chapels to where the people are in need of both spiritual and physical nutrition.

    1. I think that’s all a matter of perspective and personal experience. With a Protestant background (like myself), it can be easy to mistake Protestant methods of evangelism as normative or even preferable to the way other areas of Christianity do things.

      The fact of the matter is, there is no Church historically that has done more to spread the Gospel and the Church than the Orthodox churches. Alaska, Central and South America, and now the Far East are great examples in our own recent history.

      If we desire to see people converted to Christ, that takes place in the mysteries of the Church, not “where the people are,” as is popularly disseminated among evangelicalism today. Salvation is in Christ alone, and the Church is his Body. If people are to be healed and fed, they can only find such nourishment in those ‘golden chapels’ and the mystery of mysteries.

      1. Thank you for your quick response Gabe and forgive me for making my comment a bit misleading. I totally agree in everything that you said in your comment and with my words “more extrovert attitude” I didn’t mean this kind of reformed style mass evangelism and converting people on the street. We should witness of Christ with our lives and love towards our neighbours.

        What was in my mind is simply that parishes could become more interested about the people who don’t for one reason or another attend the services, especially youth and young adults. In my parish there are 3000 members from which around 100 attend Sunday liturgy on a weekly basis.

        I know our faith is not based on numbers but it does show something about the level of commitment to the life in Christ. I just think that we could do more to reach the people who have forgotten about the Church.

        Forgive me for any strong or insulting words!

        1. Basil,

          I totally agree with you. I think one of the big problems our church has (I’m a member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese) is that they’ve forgotten what the Gospel is – specifically to Christ – the proclamation of the Kingdom on earth – not the Jewish one expected – but rather what Christ offers – a family in Him – all connected – all important members – all rejoiced in – all realized every week by receiving His blood and body.

          It’s a strange phenomenon – Greeks are generally good at being family – even in our dysfunction we still love each other – the opposite of love being apathy – but when someone walks through the door of our churches, often they don’t get treated even close to that – the very person in the narthex that, at most, smiles at you and says good morning – to forget you in the church hall, visits and chats with you more in his diner!

          So we need to be intentional in this – as you are suggesting.

  8. I’m grateful for your article but only partially agree with it.

    The Church is meant to be Theanthropic as Christ was, perfect man and perfect God, not made ofa humans – imperfect man – with Christ as the head of a sort of diseased body. As members of the Body of Christ, our imperfections are seen as a form of illness in it. Christ Himself, as the Head of the Body, comes to heal our illnesses with the help of the other members of the Body.

    That’s really what makes the Church most special. It preaches and is meant to act out the carrying of weaknesses of the weak and fallen by the strong and healthy in Christ in order to make a more perfect union.

    This is why, the mystery of the Cross, that you mention, is the mystery of completely redemptive, kenotic (self-emptying) love that carries even the worst of what humankind offers, in the belief that it can change it, transform it, overcome the evil and death that it brings.

    That’s a miracle – and a paradox – and, in my opinion, the real reason of why one should become Orthodox.

    The faster we cradle Orthodox embrace this, the quicker our Christian family will grow.

  9. Being a Roman Catholic attending a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church in my area (actually, it’s a Cathedral with the Bishop and all), I have been discerning transferring my Ritual tradition, as to eventually find a clergy vocation down the road. However, I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to convert to Orthodoxy than it is to go through the Canonical Transfer paperwork, which might or might not be true, but… That got me thinking between the two. Even though the Byzantine Catholic Church has a very similar Liturgical structure of the Orthodox Church, it’s all of the matter of one from the West wondering if they should be received into full Orthodoxy, or whether one fills out the paperwork with the Vatican and have your Ritual tradition transferred to the East while remaining in Rome’s Communion. That might be another good topic to bring up. Still trying to consider my options. 🙂

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