Family Concerns and Converting to Orthodoxy

 

Making the transition to Orthodoxy is often far from easy.  Even if the inquirer comes to the conclusion that Orthodoxy is the true Faith, they may have family concerns that hold them back from taking the final step of converting to Orthodoxy.

I have included an excerpt from ‘C’ who expressed his concerns for his family spiritual wellbeing and Fr. Isaiah Gillette’s response to these concerns.

Orthodox Mission in West Feliciana, Louisiana

St. John Orthodox Mission in Starhill – West Feliciana parish, Louisiana   Source: The Advocate

‘C’ wrote:

You asked what would I miss if I were to leave an evangelical church for Orthodoxy. The main thing is this.

A.     Family focused ministry
B.     Feeling welcomed and pushed to love others
C.     Feeling challenged in growth by the pastor

 

Even with all this I would probably be joining a Orthodox church because I do believe they hold the truth. The main reason I have not done so is due to my family. My wife has pretty much followed me on my journey intellectually in accepting the truth that the Orthodox church teaches. However, neither of us feels that the Orthodox church is the best place to raise our children in teaching them to love Christ and love others. This has been the biggest concern for first my wife and then me as she has spoken to me about it.

 

Fr.  Isaiah’s reponse:

A. Family focused ministry

I hear this phrase often used about evangelical churches. Too often what it means is that they split the family up for almost every activity, especially the most important activity, the Sunday morning worship service. I am a firm believer in the importance of Christian education: Sunday School, yes. Youth group, yes. Adult Bible study, yes. But it should not come as a substitute for attending worship together as a family. Here’s why:

1. The Divine Liturgy is by far the most important teaching tool for our faith. Even without a sermon, every vital truth of the Christian faith is there: the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s eternal presence with us in the sacrament of Holy Communion. A good sermon is frosting on the cake.

2. Modeling. Children will never grow properly to a strong adult faith without seeing their parents pray and worship God. When children see and hear parents proclaiming the faith through the Nicene Creed, or singing “Lord, have mercy” sincerely, or going to the priest for confession, or making the sign of the Cross, they learn that this is important.

3. Simply put, even very young children know when there is something exciting going on, and they are being shuffled off to the nursery, “children’s church,” or whatever. “Let the children come to Him,” learn the hymns, smell the incense, cross themselves, help Mama bake communion bread. And don’t forget that your home is a “little church,” the place where children learn to bring the faith home and practice the lessons they learn at Church.

Do young children get antsy in worship? Of course! Take a book or a doll, or, better yet, help them get interested in what’s going on: “Look, here comes Father with the incense… Now we are going to stand up to hear the Gospel, because it is very important.” Etc.

If you still think your local Orthodox Church needs to do more for children, talk to your priest, and volunteer to get involved. There may already be more going on than you know. Most Orthodox Churches in the U.S. have a link to a Church-sponsored summer camp. Many of my fellow priests are the products of such camping ministries.

See: Antiochian Village (near Pittsburgh, PA) & Saint Nicholas Ranch (near Fresno, CA)

 

B. Feeling welcomed and pushed to love others 

I have never attended an Orthodox Church where I did not feel welcomed. OK, maybe there have been a few people who were put off that I did not speak Greek, or Russian, or Arabic, or Serbian. But a smile and handshake usually breaks the ice. And showing a sincere interest in the Orthodox faith usually results in meeting people who are happy to share their traditions. There may be a few parishes where people are not used to others converting to the Orthodox faith, and wonder why you would go to all the effort. But most Orthodox in this country know people in their own parish who have made the leap – they are likely to be the first ones you meet.

Having said that, I can also say that I have never attended an Orthodox Church (or any other kind) where there was not someone who I did not get along with. There are just some personalities that are so different from mine that it is much more work to love them as I should. That’s where the “push” comes in; worshiping alongside “difficult” people (like me!) is our opportunity to lay down our own will out of love for our neighbor.

In any Orthodox Church, you will have plenty of opportunities to feel welcomed, and to be pushed to love others.

 

C. Feeling challenged in growth by the pastor 

Here is another opportunity to talk with the local priest about your needs and hopes. Try to be open to the many ways that growth can take place. If you are coming from an evangelical background, you probably have a good exposure to the Bible. That’s great, bring it with you and let it grow, now fertilized by the Spirit-inspired teaching of the Church fathers. Listen to the words of the Divine Liturgy and other services of the Church. They are completely filled with Scripture.

The total burden for spiritual growth cannot rest on any one person, not even the most gifted and devout priest. He’s not going to preach for 30-40 minutes like your evangelical pastor (even though St. John Chrysostom and other early priests and bishops certainly did!). Keep reading! Get suggestions from your priest and fellow Orthodox Christians. Find out where the nearest monastery is, and visit as often as you can. This gives your children exposure to some real heroes of our faith.

I’m sorry to go on so long. I feel passionately about growing faith in families of our Orthodox Churches. This can be a most exciting and enriching environment in which to teach children to love Christ and others. Please let me know if there is any way I can be helpful to you on your journey. May God bless and lead you.

In Christ our Savior,
Fr. Isaiah Gillette

Childrens' Church

Protestant Childrens’ Church – Notice the difference?

 

 

 

m4s0n501
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31 Responses to Family Concerns and Converting to Orthodoxy

  1. Charlie says:

    Oh yes! I converted about a year ago into a Mission Church in Vancouver in which 50% of the congregation is under the age of 15, or so. No ‘staid’, ‘proper’ people here; just the most loving group of people you’ve ever met ( about 95% ‘converts’.) The toddlers do just that; Mums and Dads just smile, because we’re all Mums and Dads, (except me – at 71 I’m a sort of Granpa!)
    The little ones are brought in and shown how to make the Sign of the Cross at the Icons,
    I certainly don’t miss my former Anglican (Episcopal) parish at all. All I wonder is what took me so long to convert.
    Our email address is family@ … and that sums it up perfectly because that’s what we are; spiritually – but with terrific pot-luck lunches that we all chip in for – family. Prayer, Communion (and food and fun too!)
    The second week I was there I was made a catechumen, and asked what did I think? ” home at last” I said! I still think so and always will
    Yes, it was an effort to switch from the ‘known’ to the ‘hazily known’ – but give it a try, I promise that after just a couple of Liturgies you’ll be in love with it. (take some hay-fever pills for the incense – just to begin…!)

  2. David says:

    Nice quick response Robert from the Priest. I suspect that most evangelicals
    have a far more narrow view of what “discipleship” looks like…than a Tradition
    dominated by Liturgical and Sacramental services like Orthodoxy. They usually
    are looking for bible/book studies…corporate (“worship”) and small group. Yet
    Orthodoxy is different and I’d guess takes most people a while to adjust…especially
    IF their expectations are evangelical. Learning, reading and talking to the Priest
    pointedly about the Orthodox method/mode of ‘discipleship’ should also be very
    helpful.
    david

    • robertar says:

      Thanks David. I really appreciate Father Isaiah’s quick response. And I agree your observation about how many Evangelicals understand discipleship. You can find my response to your comment and Mark Williams’ in my response to Mark below.

      Robert

  3. Kiki Ka'akau-Delizo says:

    Like always, Fr. Gillette gets to the heart of the matter in a very thorough and concise way. My mother was very skeptical and was worried I was “worshipping Mary”, of course ignorant of the difference between veneration and worship. Also, protestants use the word “worship” differently than Orthodox. After a while, she came to realize I wasn’t in some sort of cult and was able to relax. I shared with her as much as I could but never tried to shove it down her throat. We offer and plant the seeds then God makes a way for someone else to water those seeds. Now my sister and her husband are Orthodox converts. Perhaps my brother and sister-in-law will be next. Only God knows. They’re believers in Christ and love Him and do all they can to serve and glorify Him so who am I to push. If they’re interested in Orthodoxy, they know where to get the info. Perhaps, like me, they’ll realize something very important is missing and will find it, like I did, in the Orthodox Church!

    • Charlie says:

      Worshipping the Theotokos??? I get dissed for worshipping wood and paint – by relatives whose last appearance in (any) church was 5 years ago at my mother’s funeral.
      Incense??? Holy smoke!!! -sorry, couldn’t resist… ever hear of ‘fire by night and smoke by day…?’ Huh? it’s in the Bible… Oh well, that’s not Relevant today. (so irrelevant they haven’t one in the house)
      What really gives me a pain is ‘you’re intelligent, how can you believe the the bread and wine …’ and ‘why do you waste all day (travel/Liturgy/travel) for ch-uur-ch’ when you could be skiing/sailing &c’
      . I’m sure they don’t pray for me when they’re sailing. And they’d be very
      offended if they knew — oh well.
      In fact the only ‘God’ they know about is ‘God save the Queen’, and even that is somehow offensive.
      And I’m expected to ‘unconvert’ to fit into family Christmas plans … sigh.

  4. Mark Williams says:

    As an Evangelical Anglican from Wales looking at the future possibility of converting I was impressed with the response by Fr Gillette especially in relation to the fact that one man cannot grow each member of the congregation in one weekly 30-35 minute sermon. And yet this is what we try to do….and fail. The Orthodox Church seems to have the emphasis is the right place, learning through encountering God in the biblically grounded Liturgy. Reading etc surely underlines a person’s seriousness about their need to grow in the faith.

    • robertar says:

      Mark,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I appreciate what you said about Evangelicals’ expectation that a pastor can grow each member through a weekly sermon. As I thought about ‘C’ wanting to be “pushed to love others” and “feeling challenged to grow by the pastor” I got the sense of little child who wanted to be told what to do. In Orthodoxy the responsibility for spiritual growth lies more with the Christian than with the priest. You’re expected to take responsibility for your spiritual growth.

      My experience of Orthodoxy is that no one is going to make you do things. The priest can tell you what the Church expects of its members and give you guidance, but he’s not going to enforce it. Also absent is the sense of the priest giving motivational pep talks about living the Christian life. There’s a reticence in the pastoral style in Orthodoxy that I think may be misunderstood by non-Orthodox.

      I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). The son had to come to his senses and make his way home. The father didn’t rush off and drag the boy home. The prodigal son had to take responsibility for his lifestyle choices and for his journey home. But the father was there to welcome him home.

      Robert

      • Charlie says:

        Just like the priest just before absolution: did you think of?, was there some reason? anyway, it’s all over with now…. Medicine, not a ‘sentence’. Home at last, truly!

      • Calvin says:

        You wrote: “…In Orthodoxy the responsibility for spiritual growth lies more with the Christian than with the priest. You’re expected to take responsibility for your spiritual growth…
        I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). The son had to come to his senses and make his way home. The father didn’t rush off and drag the boy home. The prodigal son had to take responsibility for his lifestyle choices and for his journey home. But the father was there to welcome him.”

        Very well said. Being a church of Christ preacher for 10 years, I was always surprised at how LITTLE long time members knew or remembered what I had preached about. Now that my wife and I are attending and thinking about covering to Orthodox, this is a subject we both are adjusting to. In fact, my wife said she “missed getting a lesson.” I asked her, “Why are you at the worship service? Are you there for “you” or are you there to worship God?” We can do our “lesson” or study on our own time, not the Lords time. And as one poster has already replied here, there is a WEALTH of lessons and information on the web site “Ancient Faith Radio. And of course, I’m sure the local priest will help as well.

        • robertar says:

          Calvin,

          Thanks for sharing this with us. I find the Liturgy quite instructive. Oftentimes I’ll be wondering what the Church has to say about a particular topic and during the service I’ll be on the lookout for it. I pray that you and your wife will discover the wealth of lessons in the Liturgy. It’s a matter of being attentive!

          Robert

        • Karen says:

          Calvin, not to mention a host of lessons in the Orthodox Liturgy itself (as well as her prayer services) if we have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see”! God bless your exploration into Orthodoxy. (My brother spent over a decade in the Boston Movement, the so-called “Restoration” movement in the Churches of Christ.)

  5. Chris says:

    I’ve been joined the Orthodox Church last Pascha after attending for a year. The only thing I really miss about my former evangelical church is being in a home group. However the church has other avenues to cultivate relationships.

    • Chris says:

      Pardon my grammar . It’s this iphone keypad!!

    • Nancy says:

      Chris: I was a life-long evangelical (Moody Bible Institute, Moody Church…) and was chrismated in 2007, after a long time of searching for what I saw as missing in the evangelical church. I, too, have greatly missed being in a small group.

    • Aaron says:

      Make sure to share what you miss with your priest. At the Orthodox church I attend we have a group that meets monthly. We share a meal, usually have a short reading about the life of a saint, and just enjoy time with each other. This group was started at the suggestion of one of our priests.

  6. Hinterlander says:

    I appreciate this article but I have to say that the person originally asking for advice has the benefit of a spouse who is willing to convert and seems intellectually convinced. This seems like a foundation that many inquirers may not enjoy. Due to many reasons, not least of which is the tepid response of my wife and family, I have indefinitely suspended a more seriously inquiry into Orthodoxy. Geography is probably the biggest barrier right now.

    • robertar says:

      Hinterlander,

      Your comment reminded me of Acts 16:9 where the Apostle Paul in the middle of the night had a vision of a man who said: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The book of Acts tells of Paul’s journeys not only to major cities but also to out of the way places like Lystra (Acts 14:8-18). Keep praying! I’m hoping God will answer your prayers soon. Don’t give up on becoming Orthodox.

      When you have the chance to travel, be sure get in touch with an Orthodox priest. As a matter of fact I recommend you find a priest or perhaps a monk as a spiritual father to guide you. The treasures of Orthodoxy are available to you even if you are not yet formally a member of the Orthodox Church. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And don’t feel you have to do it all on your own. God is working these days in surprising ways!

      Robert

    • Olaf's Axe says:

      ***I appreciate this article but I have to say that the person originally asking for advice has the benefit of a spouse who is willing to convert and seems intellectually convinced. This seems like a foundation that many inquirers may not enjoy. ***

      Bingo. This if anything is likely the key barrier. Even assuming one does “convert” and the spouse/family does not, and everyone remains civil, this will lead to a divided family with regard to church. Complicating it is the question, especially if there are young kids, of which church will the kids be reared in?

      While I found significant intellectual reasons for not converting to Orthodoxy, the above is a powerful logistical and psychological reason for many, many people

      • Karen says:

        Yes, it certainly is, but even that is not necessarily insurmountable. How many early converts to the faith had supportive families and ideal circumstances? Surely not many–though, of course, “household” conversions are recorded for us in the NT.

        My husband has remained a member of the Evangelical church where we met and where our children (now teenagers) have been raised. It was not an easy transition, for many reasons (though not what might be the more typical theological or intellectual ones for my husband, who is more relationally and practically inclined–he tends to judge the sincerity and truth of someone’s “faith” in Christ by criteria more in line with Christ’s teaching in Matthew 25 than Evangelical formal, doctrinal “litmus” tests. He was mainly concerned to satisfy himself Orthodoxy was not a “cult” before he was willing to allow me to join the Church). The Orthodox priest who received me said, of course, the Church prefers to accept whole families (which agreed with the perspective of my former Evangelical pastor as well), but as long as my husband was supportive, would receive me alone if that was what I wanted. I was torn, but in the end for myself, I could not have retained emotional stability at that point in my life and continued to bear the various spiritual temptations and stresses I was confronting if I had not been received into the Church. It was too important to me that my place of Communion match the deepest convictions of my heart about what that means.

        It is God’s mercy that I have a husband who was able to hear and honor that. We are also very blessed in my town to have an Orthodox parish welcoming to mixed families like ours, where my husband feels as at home and welcomed as he can in a church where he cannot take Communion. He likes and respects all the parishes’ priests, which is very helpful.

        We take turns attending each other’s churches, which is not ideal, but has worked nonetheless. My son, now in the process of discovering and growing his own faith in Christ, attends youth groups at the Evangelical churches of two of his friends because my husband’s church has no other students from the schools he attends, so he hasn’t felt connected there. I see evidence in too many ways to number that the Lord is answering my prayers for our family and my and my husband’s prayers for our children that their faith in the truth of Christ might be nurtured–however it is that the Lord, in His providence, makes that happen. That is not to say our situation has no challenges–but in His great faithfulness and grace, the Lord tends to keep turning those challenges into blessing and spiritual growth for all of us. For that, I give glory and thanks to Him.

        • Becca says:

          Thanks for sharing, Karen. I’m in a similar situation. I’ve been looking into the Orthodox Church for a couple years now and was recently baptized. I hoped to join together with my husband, but he has not been ready and it is not right to push, nag, and prod him. We don’t have any kids, so that has not been a concern yet, though my husband has been very supportive and encouraging of my journey and the Church. We came from evangelical and non-denominational backgrounds, so we’re walking through the theological differences and worldview shifts similarly.

          It’s nice to find another wife who wanted to convert. Often times I hear of husbands initiating the investigation. There were even a few instances when people were surprised that I was the one looking, and not my husband.

          You and your family will be in my prayers. :)

          • Karen says:

            Thanks, Becca. Yes, I, too, have heard we are in the minority (as formerly Evangelical wives initiating the search into Orthodoxy). Welcome home! God bless your and your husband’s continuing journey.

      • Daniel says:

        I can empathize with these two commentators and their comments (Hinterlander’s and Olaf’s)–but only to a point. I find it the acme of irony that from amongst the conservative presbyterian/eight kids/homeschool/”submissive wife” crowd there are so many wives who will flat out NOT submit when their husband says: “Honey, I’m interested in the Orthodox Church and we’re going to start attending services.” I actually know three men who are in varying stages of EXACTLY that unfortunate position (one of which is my sister’s husband). I would bet large amounts of money that none of them convert–due in large part to their “submissive wives.” But, from one perspective I suppose, those wives are simply being good protestants. That is, they submit when they agree.

        • David says:

          Right Daniel…there is indeed plenty of irony here. But look closer and you might also find:

          1) The husband’s Priest strongly discourages him pressing his wife via any sort of argument…but counsels waiting on God to move her…and openly granting her the right to stay Protestant until she’s ready. This is a new “family dynamic” outside the let’s buy this house, car, new job, even new school…

          2) If they’ve been at one Conservative/Ref Church for years/decades, with their children, there are long familial and social connections a husband would be foolish to demand she bluntly cut off. Such things take time…& his Priest knows this too.

          3) Grown kids and Grandkids still in the home Church they grew up in? This is an added ‘emotional/familial issue’ for the nurturing wife/mother to work through.

          There are other possible issues of course. But what could from the outside appear to be a sudden “obstinate non-submissive wife”…might instead be a season made possible by a sensitive husband/Priest who realizes a move to Orthodoxy involves more big emotional issues to work thru, than other husband-wife decisions. I know of a husband in just such a situation, who prays fervently for his wife, while allowing her the liberty of conscience to follow him to Orthodoxy…if and when she is ready. She just might dearly appreciate that one day?

          • Daniel says:

            David,

            I agree with your post in the main. Those are the things I empathize with–having dealt with many of them myself. I think players in this debate are also the individualistic American ethos, the hyper-sensitivity of westerners (which is a result of egocentrism), the propensity of serious-minded protestants, particularly of the Reformed stripe, to hold their own theological opinions in high regard (the highest, actually), and whatever items are unique to the individuals involved. Also, there is also the tendency of these same hesitant inquirers to never commit themselves to entering into the life of Orthodoxy. They generally stay on the periphery (which is to say in books) and even if they attend a few services, they go with the intent to sit in judgement–not out of humble and sincere interest. I say all of this from direct experience–both my own as well as those I mentioned in my earlier comment.

            I do not discount the fact that conversion can be difficult or even painful. But as Fr. Seraphim said (I’m paraphrasing here): “if it’s not a struggle, it’s not Orthodox.” Soft, lazy Americans who live luxurious lives of constant comfort and entertainment are simply not well-suited to become Orthodox. The world tells us that life should be easy and fun. Orthodoxy tells us that that attitude is of the devil and that we must force ourselves in order to become like Christ–which is not easy and it is not “fun.” Nor is it convenient for us or for our families and friends.

            And for the record, pertaining to my first comment, I support homeschooling and large families.

        • Olaf's Axe says:

          Given the recent Vision Forum debacle, I could only chuckle. Well-said, well-said! (though my family is not the 8 kid, prairie-muffin type)

  7. Eric says:

    As a former Evangelical Anglican, these concerns expressed here are certainly familiar to me. Whilst I sometimes miss those longer, in-depth Evangelical sermons (though after two hours of standing at Divine Liturgy, shorter sermons are usually appreciated), I can get great Orthodox sermons on-line at Ancient Faith Radio and Patristic Nectar. I receive daily Scripture podcasts from The Path, a broadcast of Ancient Faith Radio, that include commentary on Scripture from the Fathers. With these sources, Orthodoxy has much better Bible teaching available for me than I ever had as an Evangelical.

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