Orthodox America


  A Convert’s Journey


    What are the things which bring a person to Orthodoxy? First and always there is, of course, the grace of God. But there are also those who come in order to escape something --viz., modernism and renovationism in today's Christian sects. Some come for aesthetic reasons--because the Liturgy, temples, vestments, etc., appeal to their artistic senses. Others are fascinated by the romance of ethnic customs. Few have the purest of motives; few come with a full understanding of the truth of Orthodoxy and the responsibilities of a believer. Most realize only some time after their conversion that a true Orthodox Christian must spend his whole life glorifying God in a certain way which is neither comfortable nor easy. As Blessed Archbishop John once said: "True glorification of God is possible only if one rightly believes and expresses his right belief in words and deeds ."

    In a recent issue of "Tidings,'' Fr. John Shaw wrote an interesting article on the subject of conversion, calling for a book telling of people's paths to Orthodoxy. It very nearly coincided with the request we printed in our Readers' Survey for accounts of how people were led to the Orthodox Church. Not only are such accounts highly edifying, they also serve to illustrate the mysterious workings of God's Providence: sometimes it is precisely those whom we rationally dismiss as "hopeless" who are drawn into the fold of the Church; and, conversely, those whom we mark as “ideal candidates”, often wet their toes but never take the plunge. What is it that inspires people to come to Orthodoxy? Fr. John writes:

    "For most people who have come to the Orthodox faith, it is not a question of some one reason or cause, but rather of the whole weight of evidence on all sides becoming so great that nothing is left to hold us back from joining the Church.

     "Over twenty years ago, Timothy Ware(now Bishop Kallistos) wrote that 'a small but steady stream' of converts had been entering the Church in this country. Since that time the stream has become a river. Movements --spontaneous movements--toward Orthodoxy can now be seen all over the free world: in places as diverse as Italy, Sweden, Kenya and the Philippines. The reasons are not hard to fathom: an unmet spiritual hunger on the one hand, and increasing encounters with Orthodoxy on the other. Without missionaries, without street evangelists, without television crusades and publicity apparatus, Orthodoxy is 'now within the reach of most people, and when they make the encounter a great many realize they are not dealing with ' just another church', People who never had been interested in history or theology can walk into an Orthodox church and feel at once that something momentous has come into their lives. Those who had lost interest in religion often sense that Orthodoxy is genuinely spiritual, unlike any denomination in their experience. These contacts lead to questions and a desire for more. Orthodoxy, when it is not hidden, is an almost irresistible spiritual force, as it was in the books of Acts. For it is the same Church."

("Tidings," October, 1984)

 

     Below is an account sent in by on. of our readers, the first response to our request. May it encourage others to contribute their own "conversion stories," to the glory of God


 

Mrs. Elizabeth Huestis 

     The process of becoming Orthodox is not simple. Perhaps it is not possible for people who are born into Orthodoxy to understand the struggle and anguish that a person growing up within the Western confessions must go through in order to first find, and then be able to embrace, Orthodoxy. 

"I believe...in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" 

      I was raised Roman Catholic and was serious about trying to lead a spiritual life. I went to Mass and Communion daily, fully believing that I was a part of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed. My husband left the Anglican Church and became Catholic because he, too, believed that the Catholic Church .was the fullest expression of Christianity. Then came Vatican II and everything within the Catholic Church began to change--radically and rapidly. Under the pretext of translating the Mass, they simply rewrote it to a rather protestant model. Hymns teaching theology were replaced by Folk Songs and even non-Christian songs such as "Lord of the Dance" and "Hymn of Joy". Sermons ceased talking about how to lead a spiritual life, and instead presented "issues". Every Sunday we heard about the media or aboriginal rights, land mining or vocations. The small amount of fasting for lent was abolished, and people were permitted to receive Communion as long as they abstained from food an hour before receiving the Sacrament. Holy Communion was "plonked" into the hands of the faithful, often being distributed by a layman or woman. One priest went so far as to bring his dog which lay next to the altar while he said Mass,

     It seemed as if the whole Church were coming apart at the seams, yet, how could the one true Church go to pieces? Early saints, such as St. George, were removed from the liturgical calendar and declared by the Catholic Church not to have ever existed; We were told not to pray to the Theotokos because we should only pray to Christ--and-then the priest tore a rosary (the Catholic equivalent of a prayer rope) to pieces and flung them across the sanctuary. Everything seemed to be wrong, but always in the back of our mind was the Catholic indoctrination that the Catholic Church was the true Church, and if a person left it they were damned. It was agony to have to participate in such unworthy practices, especially in the Mass, and yet impossible not to. Reason demanded an intelligent analysis and conclusion that the Catholic Church has to be wrong, but the emotions were blocked and strangled.

     What can you do when it is impossible to stay where you are and equally impossible to go? Emotionally and spiritually you simply disintegrate. The torment is so great that the pain causes the mind to become irrational. In my case, I concluded that if the one true Church could self-destruct, then it could not harbor the Truth. Since there were to my knowledge no viable alternatives, I decided that God did not exist, and then found that I did not have too much interest in living in a world without God. Each day was worse than the last. I went through the motions of living and caring for the children (seven of them) rather like a zombie.

    My husband began to research the history of the whole Christian Church to see what had happened. After searching through many history, art and music books, he concluded that the original Church was Orthodox, and that the Catholic Church had broken away from the Orthodox Church, not the other way around as we had been taught. But I was by then such a spiritual wreck that I could neither see nor comprehend this. Since my husband had to work on Sundays, he insisted that I begin to take the children to an Orthodox church. That was another emotional shock--a new language and a new culture, new customs and new everything. Every week I put the children in Sunday School and then sat in the church listening to the Divine Liturgy. The priest had given us a book and rather than just listen, it made the time go faster to try to follow. Out of sheer stubbornness, I resolved to be able to follow the service "if it killed me". Besides, listening to the chanting and focusing on following the Liturgy blocked out some of the pain of the spiritual confusion and loss of God that were fracturing my soul.

      After many weeks, following the Liturgy became easier and I made an amazing discovery. I wasn't just following the words of the Liturgy as some kind of time-passing game, I was praying again and believing again. The words of the Divine Liturgy had penetrated through the terrible pain and had begun the healing process without any awareness on my part. Over the weeks, there developed within me an intense desire to receive the Holy Gifts, and at that point I went to the priest and asked to become Orthodox.

      That wasn't the end, though. The fear instilled by my Catholic upbringing was still there, and the devil used it very effectively. Even though I began to understand some of the historical research that showed clearly that the Orthodox Church was indeed the Bride of Christ, and even though I desired the Holy Gifts, the Catholic indoctrination was strong enough on a subconscious level that I was physically ill when we were received into the Orthodox Church. However, after we had become Orthodox and had received the Holy Mysteries, this fear lost its hold and did not bother either of us again.

     The end of the story? Not really. Rather it is the beginning--the beginning of the long and difficult task of becoming truly Orthodox, of truly understanding the differences between East and West, of truly living the Orthodox life. The new language and culture, difficult, yes, but enriching and satisfying because that is the way that Orthodoxy is packaged, and only the truth and wholeness of Orthodoxy can satisfy the spiritual needs of the soul.

     Thanks be to God for the precious gift of the Faith. Perhaps it is not possible to express how it feels to come out of the darkness and depths of despair, out of what the Roman Church would call the “dark night of the soul,” into the light of Christ conveyed to us through the Orthodox Church. Why were we chosen for this great gift, God alone knows. But I mourn for all those many millions of Catholics, restlessly searching for the truth, and for the lost and wandering former Catholics who have not yet found the way which God gave us for our salvation – the Orthodox way.


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