The Difficulty with Becoming an #Orthodox #Christian

Couple Holding onto Each Other

(Photo from https://tinybuddha.com/blog/when-we-hold-onto-relationships-that-hurt-us/)

In the past year, my interest in the Orthodox Christian Church turned from an interest to an outright love.  Although I am just a catechumen with much more to learn and understand, it has been a blessing to me to participate in and attend the Divine Liturgies.  It has been a call to me to look into the Orthodox Church over time, since I have read about other Orthodox Christians and wanted to know more about it.

I have grown up (and still attend, to the admonishment from others, typically ‘cradle Orthodox Christians’) in Protestant Christian churches all my life.  Over the years, I have become disappointed in some things that I have seen that feels like the surrounding culture has too much influence on many churches and denominations in America.

My Bumpy Start with the Orthodox Church

Now, that is not to say that I have not seen some hurtful things within the Orthodox church.  That would be an untrue statement.  The very first Orthodox church that I visited in Atlanta was something of a disappoint to me.  Many of the members did not reach out to me with the Christian love that I had grown accustomed to in the Protestant churches that I have attended since birth.

Apparently, I was not “one of them,” therefore, they did not feel (or so it seemed) the urge to do as many Protestant Christian churches do: people greet and embrace one another, many times, while smiling and/or showing some kind of affection.  (I will not give the name of the Church, but I had noticed that another brother had a similar sentiment to my own when he made a comment on the Church’s Facebook page.  I hope they read it and took it seriously.)

Now, this welcome-people-in-the-middle-of-a-service attitude is not a part of the liturgies in the Orthodox Church from what I have seen thus far, but the overarching truth that I am really getting at is the majority of the members on that day did not make me feel welcome.  One gentleman shook my hand, told me a joke, and ushered me on into the sanctuary; another gentleman, who had grown up Methodist, came and sat beside me (I was the only African American male in the place) and would tell me what to do and when to do it in courteous manner.  But, after the service, he had to leave and no one else came up to me to tell me about or invite me to the Agape meal.  No one asked me about where I had come from, who I was, if I was a Christian, or (what may be of secondary importance to my being of the faith) am I an Orthodox Christian.  I have heard and read about some of the ethic pride that can be associated with Orthodoxy and some forms of Christianity since my initial visit though.

Nevertheless, Christians everywhere should be sure to be as our Savior – Jesus the Christ – was and is: always welcoming others in our vicinity to join in with us and making them feel comfortable and a part of us (obviously, within reason).  I believe this is vitally important as we call ourselves as having our identity in Christ.

[I am grateful to God that I have found an Orthodox Church in south Georgia that has been a blessing to me.  It is a small parish of one family, an older Greek lady, and few other people.  They accepted me and were loving right away.  They are looking for a full-time priest at the moment.]

My Wife is Not Becoming Orthodox

Although I have now found a little Orthodox church, there are still a few problems for me attend every service and to be more fully involved with its community.  One thing is I live a good bit away, which definitely puts a wrench into things.  But what has provided more difficulty is that my wife and I are members of a Protestant church where we live (in the Church of God denomination) and my wife is not all that eager in becoming an Orthodox Christian.  That is understandable and fine by me because one cannot make their spouse change their mind.  I can only show her the beauty of the Orthodox faith and she will either become Orthodox or not.

I do not believe that my wife and I are unequally yoked.  I am sure that I will take some ‘spiritual hits’ for this stance that I am about to share: I believe all of us – Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox – are all still Christians.  We just see traditions, theology, praise and worship, among other things, differently.  Now, this is not to give the idea that I believe that any- and everything can pass for Christianity.  For example, I love our Mormon brothers and sisters and our family that are Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I believe that they are heretics.  Why?  From what I have read, seen, and heard thus far, these two groups cut away from some things that Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians see as core doctrine, namely the Trinity (Jehovah’s Witnesses view rejects God as Trinity) and Jesus (Mormons view Him as having been created).

Now, my beloved is not a deep person in the sense that she likes tackling the deeper issues of our faith that are addressed in theology, philosophy, Christian apologetics, and historical texts.  That is my bag!  So, I cannot completely encourage her thinking differently by argumentation, but by conversing with her over time about why I believe in making this change for my life.

Plus, the little Church of God family that we have has also been a blessing to us.  The pastor, our pastor, was there for my son’s birth, encouraged me through some tough days of my marriage, and still takes time out of his schedule to see how I am doing and embrace me in his humorous way.  How could I just leave him?  This may not be the kind of thinking for my Orthodox brothers and sisters, but remember that I grew up Protestant first and you should know that I, Jerome, am fiercely loyal to people who have been supportive of me.  I love old Britt (my pastor’s first name) too much to just jump ship, although the Divine Liturgies and my Orthodox brothers and sisters have given me love too.  It is possible that if we lived closer, then I would be there more.  Either way, it is not an easy thing.

But no one shakes my faith by thinking that I am wrong or giving me their unsolicited thoughts on what I should do about my walk with the Lord.  Constructive criticism and helpful words of wisdom and direction can be useful for my journey obviously.

I just remembered something that my wife said to me the other night about her not liking the idea of us going to separate churches.  I respect where she is coming from and I understand it.  Though I still attend our Protestant (Church of God) church with her regularly, I still try to make it a point to go back to the little Orthodox church for the liturgies.  They have blessed my soul more and more.  I remember an individual off of a social media site told me that the more they went to Orthodox services, the more they would miss them when they were not there.  I get it now.

Whenever I am not at the Orthodox services, I think about it on the regular.  I go to YouTube to play recordings of Divine Liturgies in the background; this is kind of like a way of taking me home.  The beauty of being in God’s Presence in the midst of the icons and hearing the Words of God being spoken and sung in the manner that they are in at the Orthodox church has really filled me in a way that I am not quite sure that I can completely put into words at this moment.

I love becoming an Orthodox Christian, but it is going to take continued work on my part to keep my wife encouraged when I go to services and she is not interested.  Well, at least, she loves the people and have gotten to interact with them.  I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds the future.

For now, I will just live in that: God has it and He will work it out in the end.

  Christ is in our midst!  He is and ever shall be!  

 

For more of my writing on politics and culture, please check out The Daily Nerv.  Then, follow me on Twitter and/or like my Facebook page.  My Project 21 Black Leadership Network National Advisory Council member page is here.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for sharing. I too come from a protestant background – in this case I married an orthodox woman and while I love visiting her home church my family has been very slow to warm up to the idea. But I love the unity all Christians share (or should share), and the Orthodox have some very beautiful things to share with those who are willing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting, Stephen!

      Like

  2. Burgess Andrea says:

    I know what you mean some get caught up with the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. So busy being orthodox they forget hospitality and humility. The foundation of orthodoxy. Our liturgy states that all are good and none should be rejected. Just do unto others as you would like them do unto you. Protestant or not our duty is to love everyone. We must be blameless and spotless in our interactions with people. The Holy Spirit as our guide. Jesus did not come to save those who were doing right. People become orthodox by God’s will and how we live may have some influence on that as well. As you rightfully said our identity is in Christ, we ought to obey God rather than men.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautiful! Thank you for your wonderful thoughts.

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  3. Hi, Jerome, I found your blog post very interesting, but also I felt a bit saddened by how our Orthodox congregations sometimes treat visitors or inquirers. Having listened recently to a podcast series by Fr. Tom Hopko (memory eternal), I know that a lot of the closed in and club mentality comes from past persecutions from their ancestral lineages whether Greek or Russian or Serbian. It will probably take another generation of American Orthodox for that to change all together. I was baptized at age 1 into the Greek Orthodox Church because my mom is from Greece, but I didn’t grow up going to church, because my dad was a military officer and wasn’t a practicing Christian (I believe his Christian background was Presbyterian, though, but he didn’t practice any faith), and we moved every 2-4 years. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I decided to “go back to church” — to the only church I knew–through a handful of times going to liturgy in Greece for the three summers we visited my yiayia while my dad was stationed in Germany. Anyway, I empathize with you and may God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautiful story and testimony! Thank you so much for writing it out to me. May God bless and keep you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you and you’re welcome!

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  4. Jordan says:

    Hi Jerome, stumbled across your blog post 🙂

    Wonderful essay, and not too much unlike my own experience! I have been interested in the Orthodox church for a couple of years. For one, yeah — Orthodox churches in America have a long ways to go to get away from their ethnic boundaries. It’s been the main reason why I have not visited churches really close to me and instead drive 45 mins to an Antiochian parish that I love (the first I ever went to). I’m sorry that your first experience was not as welcoming as it should have been! The OC prides itself on loving our neighbours but the cradle parishioners have a lot to learn, hah. I think they also tend pride themselves on being outsiders, anyway, and some parishes don’t welcome converts. I’m glad you have found a parish you like, despite the distance. I relate.

    Despite being raised in Fundamentalist/Pentecostal churches, the first time I ever sincerely felt the presence of God was the first time I visited an Orthodox church. I knew then that that was where I belonged. I love the Theotokos. I love the icons. I love the traditions, the history, and referring back to Men of God who have been vetted over generations instead of new, fan-dangled voices advertising the latest fad.

    I was also raised Protestant and my husband (who I met after becoming interested in the OC) was as well. He is much more attached to the trappings of a Protestant church – the hymns, the traditions, some of the secondary theology like Mary vs Theotokos, etc – and has come a long way in appreciating the OC. He feels that the OC can be a bit impersonal with how they approach an individual’s theology and prefers the Protestant attitude. That doesn’t bother me as much but he does have a point. I guess we find our own paths through the global theology of the OC. He has become disillusioned with a lot of what the Protestant church has become and looks at Orthodoxy as the only way forward – but he is frustrated, not experiencing a insight of love for the OC. He does agree with them on most things, but not in how they approach it. He is slowly learning to love the litrugy and the music through exposure. So! All that to say, I pray your wife will come around to it as well! It will take time, but yes – our example is the best. Between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox – we are all Christian.

    I wish you well on your journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jordan, my sister,
      Thank you for this encouraging word from your story and testimony. I really appreciate the honesty from your view of things and your husband’s view of Orthodoxy.
      May God bless and keep you both as you are obedient to Him!
      Jerome

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  5. Dear Jerome, thank you for sharing. I wish you lived closer and could visit our Pan-Orthodox parish to see how our priest and community embraces newcomers, catechumens, Protestants, everybody, in the name of Christ. Have a look at it: https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2016/03/21/holy-and-life-giving-cross-orthodox-parish-lancaster/ May the Lord strengthen you and unite you soon to His Uncreated Church.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, and thank you for leaving a comment! I wish I could live closer and see your community. Thank you for sharing the website. I loved the pictures on it too. Thank you for the encouraging words too.

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      1. Dear Jerome, I would also like to add here that becoming and … remaining an Orthodox poses lots of, albeit different, challenges for both “cradle” and “convert” Christians. Although I can certainly see the point of so many complaints raised here, and elsewhere, against “ethnic” churches, and I wholeheartedly agree with them that an ethnic, “ghetto” mentality runs blatantly against Christ’s love for all mankind, still people entering the Church from a “Western”, Protestant background need also to become aware of certain limitations on their mindset and try to overcome them to fully integrate within Orthodoxy. Please forgive my language errors as English is not my mother tongue. I could further explain my point if you would be interested. May the Lord offer us His Wisdom.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for your comment. I understand what you’re writing. Please feel free to continue. May God bless and keep you!

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