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HolyGround >> Converting to Orthodoxy


9/17/10 12:21 AM
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inlikeflynn
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This thread is open to anyone, but I know Ridgeback has specific experience in this. I came to Christ at age 22, and have attended various evangelical churches since. My wife was raised conservative Baptist, so that's what I went with, not really knowing what else was out there. As I've been searching lately, I find that Orthodox theology makes much more sense to me than does evangelical beliefs.

However, in reading about the Orthodox Church, I wonder how foreign the services would feel. So, my questions are how difficult was the transition to the worship services and did you have difficulty finding a church that was accepting of a non-Greek/Russian/Albanian etc., as I have heard that is an issue as well. Also, I live in Phoenix and was wondering if you knew of any Orhtodox Churches here that might be a good fit.
9/17/10 12:50 AM
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Ridgeback
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inlikeflynn - This thread is open to anyone, but I know Ridgeback has specific experience in this. I came to Christ at age 22, and have attended various evangelical churches since. My wife was raised conservative Baptist, so that's what I went with, not really knowing what else was out there. As I've been searching lately, I find that Orthodox theology makes much more sense to me than does evangelical beliefs.

However, in reading about the Orthodox Church, I wonder how foreign the services would feel. So, my questions are how difficult was the transition to the worship services and did you have difficulty finding a church that was accepting of a non-Greek/Russian/Albanian etc., as I have heard that is an issue as well. Also, I live in Phoenix and was wondering if you knew of any Orhtodox Churches here that might be a good fit.

 You should be in pretty good shape living in a large place like Phoenix.  I would recommend checking out either an OCA (Orthodox Church in America) or Antiochian parish, both of which tend to be most filled with American converts and the most convert friendly.  That is not to say that some of the other more ethnic parishes may not be fine, but as a general rule converts have better experiences in these two "branches."  Orthodoxy in the US is a big mess largely because of the Soviet Union or it would all be just the Orthodox Church in America.  We are all in communion and share the same faith, it is just the administrative side that is a mess right now.  

The first worship services were very bizarre to me and to my wife.  There is definitely an adjustment period, especially if you come from a non-liturgical background like we did.  The worship is very physical so a lot of making the sign of the cross, bowing, kissing icons, etc. etc.  Of course I didn't do any of that stuff for the first year at least and nobody noticed or cared.  One nice thing about Orthodoxy is that people really do tend to mind their own business as far as worship goes.  We have Romanians that do a lot more prostrations than American converts do, but nobody cares.  

Now with that said once the worship sunk in it became the kind of thing I from whence I could never go back.  My wife was not at all sympathetic to my interest in Orthodoxy and was content to remain an evangelical. She just came with me a couple times to check it out and it took off from there.  

My suggestion as a first step would be to email the priest of an OCA or Antiochian parish and tell him your situation, asking if you could meet him some time.  Then he could walk you through the basics.  I met with my priest for a question and answer session that went on about two hours the first time we met, and before I actually attended a service.  Then I started attending Saturday night vespers services, which are shorter and a good starting place.  And this is a great time if the year to start attending since it will be dark soon around the time of vespers.  I love those night services with just candle light in the sanctuary.  

I think just attending for awhile will expose you to Orthodoxy as a lived reality.  Don't worry too much about learning the service or getting all the details right.  You will absorb it over time but never reach the bottom of it for the rest of your life.  The flow of service becomes second nature though and all the things I used to fret over are just natural to me.  

You are welcome to pm me or ask more questions here if anything comes up.  I will do a little snooping and see if I can find a parish in the Phoenix area that might be a good starting point.  

You can listen to my priest's conversion story here.  He was a Baptist and young life pastor before becoming Orthodox so he went through all those stages.  Chances are an OCA or Antiochian priest in your area will be the same.  
9/17/10 1:05 AM
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inlikeflynn
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Thanks Ridge, I appreciate it. Your wife must quite the good sport. I'm not sure I could convince my wife to give it go. Is your wife a "full convert" now, or does she simply tolerate it for your sake?
9/17/10 1:12 AM
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Ridgeback
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inlikeflynn - Thanks Ridge, I appreciate it. Your wife must quite the good sport. I'm not sure I could convince my wife to give it go. Is your wife a "full convert" now, or does she simply tolerate it for your sake?

 She is more converted than me and now we have a son that was baptized Orthodox and receives communion every Sunday.  At the time she was pretty mad at me for my flights of fancy, but Orthodoxy really grew on her.  By the time we were ready for Baptism she was more anxious than me to do it.  

Things don't always go that way with couples.  Most priests would just say be very patient and don't push.  Let the spouse see the change it has on you and then they will be more apt to want to check it out.  Most of the families have these stories of one spouse not moving at the same pace.  We also have a few people whose families don't come with them (yet).  

I double checked with my priest about this parish.  He doesn't know much about the parish life, but he spoke highly of father David, so I would probably recommend this parish as a starting place.  Don't be shy about emailing him.  Priests get emails from enquirers all the time.  

I noticed they are having Fr. Meletios Webber come speak.  He has been a big help to me with his talks and writings.  I know it is this Saturday, but if you could sit in on any of his talks (we always have non-Orthodox guests for these types of speakers) I would highly recommend it.  

http://sspeterpaulaz.org/index.html
9/17/10 1:14 AM
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Ridgeback
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 I should mention too that my wife was raised by a very staunch independent fundamentalist Bible believing Baptist father so if she can become Orthodox anybody can.  He is still that way, but has kind of made his peace with her being Orthodox.  
9/17/10 1:36 AM
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inlikeflynn
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Ridgeback -  I should mention too that my wife was raised by a very staunch independent fundamentalist Bible believing Baptist father so if she can become Orthodox anybody can.  He is still that way, but has kind of made his peace with her being Orthodox.  


Sounds like my wife's father, except that one wouldn't be able to recognize even a glimpse of Christ in him. My wife turned out quite well in spite of that. That being said, she went to private, evangelical schools from kindergarten through undergrad college. She sings in our church choir and our kids go to a private, evangelical school. One of the requirements to go there is that the family attend a "bible believing church". I wonder if an Orthodox church would qualify in their eyes. Much to think about. Thanks for the info. I feel very unsettled, to say the least.
9/17/10 1:39 AM
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inlikeflynn
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I forgot to ask, why is the Church a mess because of the Soviet Union?
9/17/10 2:46 AM
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Ridgeback
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Edited: 09/17/10 2:46 AM
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inlikeflynn - 
Ridgeback -  I should mention too that my wife was raised by a very staunch independent fundamentalist Bible believing Baptist father so if she can become Orthodox anybody can.  He is still that way, but has kind of made his peace with her being Orthodox.  


Sounds like my wife's father, except that one wouldn't be able to recognize even a glimpse of Christ in him. My wife turned out quite well in spite of that. That being said, she went to private, evangelical schools from kindergarten through undergrad college. She sings in our church choir and our kids go to a private, evangelical school. One of the requirements to go there is that the family attend a "bible believing church". I wonder if an Orthodox church would qualify in their eyes. Much to think about. Thanks for the info. I feel very unsettled, to say the least.

We definitely felt unsettled for awhile, but it was worth it.  

The mess in the US would take a small book to explain.  Keep in mind, however, that it has nothing to do with a disagreement over the faith.  It is all tied to administrative questions.  Eventually all the different jurisdictions will be one as is the norm in other countries.  

If you want a good history of Orthodoxy and and explanation for how it all works, Timothy Ware's book The Orthodox Church is a good starting place.  

You can get most of it free as a pdf here: http://www.holytrinitymission.org/index.php

If you would like my email feel free to PM me and I will send it to you.  That way if questions arise you can always reach me.  I am happy to share our experience or point you to particular readings if anything comes up.  


 
9/17/10 12:42 PM
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inlikeflynn
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Cool, thanks again. I'll send you a PM.
10/5/10 2:10 AM
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Grakman
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I was talking to someone tonight about the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, with a bit of Protestant doctrinal history thrown in. By the time I was done describing the differences, I was wishing I was Orthodox lol.
10/7/10 8:06 PM
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gord96
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I attended an orthodox church for a while. An awesome experience. This thread makes me want to go back and check it out again. I would recommend emailing a local priest. My first visit the usher saw I was new and sat with me during the service and explained the liturgy to me. Phone Post
10/7/10 11:05 PM
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Ridgeback
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Grakman - I was talking to someone tonight about the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, with a bit of Protestant doctrinal history thrown in. By the time I was done describing the differences, I was wishing I was Orthodox lol.

 I know that feeling.  It got the best of me. ;-)
10/9/10 3:21 PM
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Grakman
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One of the things that really caught the ear of my partner in the conversation was the fact there is no 'Pope' in Orthodoxy; that issues are resolved collectively rather than by dictate from a ruler per se.

Ridge, have you ever heard of any abuse by priests in the Orthodox church like the scandal in the Catholic church? I would think not because of the acceptance of married clergy, but is this really the reason for lack of scandal if there is none?
10/9/10 3:56 PM
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Grakman
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Edited: 10/09/10 3:56 PM
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 Ridge, can you give a break down of the non-self-explanatory portions of this schedule at our local Orthodox church? Is it customary for people to go to choir practice if they're not in the choir? What is 'Hours,' which oddly enough is only 30 minutes long?

The remarks about the liturgy are cut off; does a newcomer go to the liturgy but just not partake in the Eucharist?

And finally, for Catholics I know they have a catechism course that lasts months, is there a similar process one goes through in Orthodoxy ?


9:00am  - Choir Practice - Weekly Choir Practice in St. George's Hall from Sept.-late May. Please join us!
9:30am  - Hours - To prepare ourselves for the Divine Liturgy which follows, the ancient prayers for the Hours are Read, while we pray and prepare for what is to follow. Please join us during this important time as we switch gears and enter into God's kingdom!
10:00am  - Divine Liturgy - Divine Liturgy (normally, that of St. John Chrysostom) follows Hours.  Visitors & Children are Always Welcome! However, only Orthodox Christians who
11:45am  - Coffee Hour - Please to join us after Divine Liturgy for our weekly Coffee Hour. One person/family brings the main item and "Hosts" the day's sharing; others who wish to bring supplemental food to share.
 
10/9/10 4:53 PM
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Ridgeback
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Grakman -  Ridge, can you give a break down of the non-self-explanatory portions of this schedule at our local Orthodox church? Is it customary for people to go to choir practice if they're not in the choir? What is 'Hours,' which oddly enough is only 30 minutes long?

The remarks about the liturgy are cut off; does a newcomer go to the liturgy but just not partake in the Eucharist?

And finally, for Catholics I know they have a catechism course that lasts months, is there a similar process one goes through in Orthodoxy ?


9:00am  - Choir Practice - Weekly Choir Practice in St. George's Hall from Sept.-late May. Please join us!
9:30am  - Hours - To prepare ourselves for the Divine Liturgy which follows, the ancient prayers for the Hours are Read, while we pray and prepare for what is to follow. Please join us during this important time as we switch gears and enter into God's kingdom!
10:00am  - Divine Liturgy - Divine Liturgy (normally, that of St. John Chrysostom) follows Hours.  Visitors & Children are Always Welcome! However, only Orthodox Christians who
11:45am  - Coffee Hour - Please to join us after Divine Liturgy for our weekly Coffee Hour. One person/family brings the main item and "Hosts" the day's sharing; others who wish to bring supplemental food to share.
 

 An Orthodox service is very long usually.  The hours are basically the priest saying the prayers as he prepares the communion elements.  The bread is cut up in very specific ways and prayers are said for the standard people (clergy, leaders, people in the military, sick and suffering, poor, widows, etc. etc.) as well as the people who have a prayer request.  So we can fill out a card with people both living and dead and the altar boys carry them up for the priest to read a prayer for them.  

Most people at our parish are not present for the hours, but some people show up to start making that mental adjustment.  When you enter an Orthodox church there is really not a clear starting time for a service so it feels like you are interrupting something in the middle.  Sometimes there is a prayer service for children before the main service and that will be going on in one corner while people come in and venerate icons.  It is all a kind of organized chaos.  

My suggestion as a starting point for a visitor is to either attend a Saturday night vespers or show up for the Divine Liturgy a bit before 10.  If the church has no pews (ours has only chairs around the sides for older people and pregnant ladies) then it will be a plenty long service to get started (not that there is anything wrong with sitting if you need to, just follow what the old people do in terms of when they stand).  

Coffee hour is good to stay for to get a chance to meet people.  We have a full meal after our services.  A lot of times my wife and me don't stay because our young son needs a nap and he refuses to sleep in church or in large crowds so he just gets more and more crazy like a drunk baby. 

---


As far as corruption yes Orthodoxy has everything under the sun like any other church.  There is certainly not the same kind of sexual scandal as the Catholics, but there have been cases of abuse here and there.  I don't know if having married clergy is a safeguard.  I think Catholicism suffered from having a lot of homosexuals trying to hide out.  Many of these homosexuals were attracted to teenage boys and took advantage (just like straight youth pastors take advantage of young teen girls frequently).  As a general rule, however, an unmarried priest will be a monk and not be a pastor for a parish (although there are exceptions, including older widowers).   To me it is more helpful to have a married priest with five kids just because he has been through it himself and can give useful advice.

And yes the way to settle disputes has always been collegial just like it was when St. James brought together bishops in Jerusalem to figure out the Judaizing issue.  Even though there are different titles for bishops, all bishops in the OC are equal.  And even if a council declares something the clergy and people of the Church may reject it.  Purgatory was almost accepted by some Orthodoxy clergy at one time, but the Church as a whole shot it down.  The idea is that the Holy Spirit guides the Church as a whole body rather than individuals, who can err.  That is why the bishop of Rome was dumped in the 11th century.  He wanted to lord it over the other bishops and this simply had never been the norm.  Rome certainly had a leadership role and it is probably even truth that the bishop of Rome was the "first among equals" meaning he was uniquely situated to call councils together. That is why many Popes before the great schism are saints of the EO.  We also have many British saints like St. Patrick of Ireland and St. Edward the Confessor of England.  

10/9/10 4:57 PM
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Ridgeback
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 Oh and yes visitors do not receive communion.  A lot of people seem to take offense at this but I don't get it.  The eucharist was always for baptized Christians and was protected in the catacomb days.  Part of the liturgy goes "the doors, the doors" which would  be the point in the service the doors were closed to outsiders and catechumens (those preparing for conversion) since it was a mystery for those in the body of Christ alone.   These days visitors and catechumens don't leave, but they don't receive.

And it depends on the parish, but yes many parishes have catechesis classes.  We attended them weekly over the course of months before converting.  I already knew a lot of the stuff from reading on my own, but it was good for clarification and asking specific questions.  
10/10/10 12:44 AM
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Ridgeback
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 Here is a link for a 4 part series on the history of Orthodoxy.  This is the link to video one and the others can be found on the right:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkJ0n_dkx-8

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