Why do People Convert to Orthodox Christianity?
by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis on January 19, 2013
Why do people convert to Orthodoxy? Why have so many Evangelical ministers embraced the Orthodox faith? What do they find so attractive? It is not always easy to advance strong “arguments” for these conversions. Can we attempt to put into words why a host of people have converted and continue to convert to the Orthodox faith?
Conversion is not only a matter of the intellect, but also of the heart. One is attracted to Orthodoxy in the same way one falls in love. There is a certain “chemistry” involved, which one cannot so easily verbalize. To the extent, however, one could “intellectualize” the reasons for converting, he or she would probably summarize them along these lines:
1. Orthodoxy provides stability
In our ever-changing world, in the constant re-design of services and re-evaluation of beliefs, Orthodoxy stands as a mountain of granite, unshakable by fads and movements and political correctness. Orthodoxy insists tenaciously on the role of tradition which is her very life and builds upon its past, without revisions. Orthodoxy knows where she stands, and she is in no need to re-define herself. People are attracted by the permanence of Orthodoxy.
Clearly this stability is found in no other church. This statement cannot be challenged. In the security of the Orthodox Church one finds peace, reassurance. In Orthodoxy one encounters the eternal, unchangeable God.
2. Orthodoxy is true
The reason Orthodoxy is stable is because she is grounded in the truth. One finds that the Orthodox Church is indeed “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). She rightly claims the wholeness of the truth. Her name is “right belief”. She is conscious of being the true Church founded by Christ. She stands firm on her dogmatic and moral teachings. She is committed to the same, unchanging, absolute truth. Orthodoxy is true to the Lord, to herself and to her past.
Any objective historian can discover that the permanence of Orthodoxy is due to the preservation and the passing on of the apostolic faith unadulterated, pure. No new dogmas of faith spring out of the blue in her life. Her allegiance to the perennial truths of Christianity is appreciated by sincere seekers.
3. The other-worldliness of Orthodoxy
Orthodoxy attracts seekers with her “other-worldliness,” with her holiness, with her worship, with her services and sacraments, with the form and content of her religious expression, with her iconography, with her chanting, with her mysticism, with her monasticism, with her life “between heaven and earth.” One “feels” that the Church is not “just” a worldly organization, but a divine-human organism. Orthodoxy appeals to the soul–not just to the intellect or the senses.
Other religions and faiths occupy themselves with this life, with this world. Orthodoxy looks forward, to the age to come. She is not the end—she is “the way.” Although she is in this world, she is not of this world (cf. John 17:14.16).
4. The beauty of Her services
“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty” (Envoys of the Russian Prince Vladimir, after experiencing the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople in the year 987).
The beauty and majesty of her liturgical services celebrating the majesty and mystery of God continue to be a major “attraction” to many seekers of a religious experience that transcends the mundane reality and elevates the spirit to the divine realm.
5. Her crucified life
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:18. 20). The Orthodox Church has suffered throughout her history. She has offered more martyrs in the twentieth century under communism than most churches have members. She is the Church of martyrs. This gives strength and spiritual joy to her members, true to the Lord’s words, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:12).
Her “admirable heritage of perseverance amid terrible fires of persecution” has been noted even by non-Orthodox admirers, as one of her strongest attractions and sources of strength.
These “arguments” won’t convert anyone. As we said, conversion is a love affair. Who can explain why one has fallen in love with a given person? The sum of all parts won’t add to the total. The stability that the Orthodox Church provides for the seeker consists in the assurance of the truth she possesses, her “other-worldly” and mysterious character, the beauty of her liturgical celebrations and her crucified life—they all attest to what she is for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear: the unique, beloved Bride of Christ.