When asked now why I converted to Orthodox Christianity, I’m not the best at giving a clear answer. Fifteen years ago, I had a fairly detailed response I handed out to those interested. It involved theology, Tradition, church history, a lot of comparing and contrasting between my old faith and new one. Over time, however, as Orthodoxy began to take root in my heart and soul, I lost myself in the all-consuming journey of salvation as a mysterious process. Defending my decision ceased to matter to me much anymore, quite frankly. I had way bigger fish to fry, like chipping away at my pride, selfishness and impulsivity every minute of every day – like falling down and getting up again, every minute of every day. Somewhere along the line, Eastern Orthodox Christianity ceased being something I had done and evolved into everything I was/am.
I am Orthodox because Orthodoxy is bigger, vaster, deeper, wider, more beautiful than anything else I’ve ever experienced in this world. I am Orthodox because Orthodoxy is mystical, beyond reason, uncontainable. I am Orthodox because I believe whole-heartedly it contains the fullness of the faith, the fullness of Truth. Orthodoxy is hard, demanding, liberating, enlightening, mind-blowing, timeless, unearthly, indefinable. As an Orthodox Christian, I’m concerned primarily with dying to my self-centered desires and urges, and serving, loving, never judging my neighbor. Orthodoxy is so, so…so humbling. Orthodoxy contains every tool I need to run this race with perseverance until I die.
Do you see how that’s kind of a wordy and unwieldy elucidation to lay on an inquirer? How does one enthusiastically recommend travelling a path fraught with endless opportunities to become purified via suffering and self-denial? How does one explain the unexplainable: that through that suffering and self-denying comes irrational peace and fulfillment?
Well recently, I came across a letter written to a new convert by the late Mother Thekla of the Monastary of Assumption in Yorkshire that communicates succinctly what I so struggle to express about the Orthodox Faith to those curious about my reasons for embracing it. I found the letter to be profoundly accurate, and convicting to me as an Orthodox Christian who is often guilty of slipping precariously close into lukewarmness. I will refer to this letter from now on when approached by anyone seriously considering grafting themselves into the solidity and antiquity of the Orthodox Christian Church.
When asked, “Should I too convert?” I’ll point to this:
I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.
Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.
So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?
Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?
Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?
Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?
Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?
Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?
Have you read the Gospels?
Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper – the meaning of Holy Communion?
Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.
Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship – private or public.
We know because we believe and we believe because we know.
Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?
If we are meant, always, to be “happy”, why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.
Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.
And never confuse love with sentimentality.
And never confuse worship with affectation.
Be humble – love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love – And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!
I hope that some of this makes sense,
With my best wishes,
(sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)
My dear friends, forgive me my lack of clarity and far from perfect example of Orthodox Christianity lived out in the everyday. I am weak and forgetful, for sure, but nonetheless Christ and His Church is where I’m at, who I am, what I live for, love for, die for, create for, strive for and depend on. Orthodox Christianity cannot be mastered or dissected, only experienced. Far be it from me to try and convince anyone of anything; I am not the Holy Spirit. All that to say, I have not much else to say but, “Lord have mercy on us all!”, and if you want to find out more than “Come and See!”