May 2015 – OCA
For the past year or so I have been considering conversion to Orthodox Christianity. I have read many things on the internet, as well as a number of books about the Church’s faith, worship and history. What steps would I take to become an Orthodox Christian?
While reading about the Orthodox Christian tradition is certainly important, it is crucial to step—literally—into an Orthodox Christian parish church near you to witness/experience the Church’s worship and fellowship. Doing so will make much of what you have read “come alive,” in the sense of seeing how that about which you have read is actually “lived.” Think of it in the following way. A person can read a dozen books on swimming, but that which he or she has read will not “come alive” until he or she actually gets into a pool. Similarly, a person can read a dozen books on Orthodox Christianity, but that which he or she has read will not “come alive” until he or she actually encounters the Church as the worshipping People of God.
So it would be wise to visit a parish near you, perhaps for the celebration of Vespers on a Saturday evening or the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. You may wish to call the parish priest in advance to introduce yourself and explain that you will be joining him and the faithful of his parish for the first time, although this is not absolutely essential. In any event, feel free to introduce yourself to and speak with the priest and his parishioners. Your first—and subsequent visits—will help you to discern that to which the Lord is calling you. As Philip said to Nathaniel, “Come and see” [John 1:46].
Assuming that, after subsequent visits, you grow into the conviction that Orthodox Christianity is the fullness of Truth as revealed by Jesus Christ and discern your desire to embrace faith in Our Lord in its fullness, make your desire known to the parish priest, who will initiate the period of instruction and spiritual formation that eventually would lead to your reception into the Church. This could take some time—perhaps a year or more, depending on a variety of circumstances—and should not be “rushed.” Just as we pray that God’s will, not our own, be done, so too we pray that we might embrace the faith in God’s time, not our own. Conversion involves a change or transformation in vision, direction and heart, one rooted in repentance and the acknowledgement of Our Lord as the One Who is “truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners.”
This period of instruction, discernment and spiritual formation also affords you with the opportunity to develop and strengthen your relationship with the parish’s clergy and faithful—those with whom you will worship “in Spirit and truth” and with whom you will share in fellowship as a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. Naturally, it is crucial to “know” what the Church teaches and acquire an “Orthodox mindset” on the intellectual level, so to speak, but it is equally crucial to grow in identifying with the People of God, the worshipping community, through fellowship. One who would claim that he or she “wishes to embrace the faith but doesn’t want to get involved with other people and their lives” falls short in his or her understanding of the Church as the People of God and, as such, has yet to make that internal conversion that must take place before one is received into the Church. As Saint Paul reminds us, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” [Romans 12:5; see also Ephesians 4:25]. In other words, one cannot embrace Orthodox Christianity without embracing Orthodox Christians.
It also must be noted that embracing the faith involves a “running to” Christ and His Church as the “Ark of Salvation,” rather than a “running away” from something—other than sin. Those who will guide you through your period of instruction and formation surely will help you in this regard.
In time, you will be welcomed sacramentally into the Church and continue your ongoing path to the Kingdom of God.
Hope this helps, and hope that your “journey to Orthodoxy” is filled with every blessing.