Conversions gradually transforming Orthodox Christianity

Jonathan M. Pitts

Source: The Baltimore Sun

August 14, 2017

    

Growing up a Southern Baptist in eastern Tennessee, Brent Gilbert says, he never realized there were other ways to worship.

He figured everyone knew the best church music was contemporary.

He was sure there was a 45-minute pastor's sermon at the heart of every Sunday service.

And didn't all Christians agree that religious art, symbols and rituals were relics of a less desirable past?

Then he encountered the ancient faith that would change his life.

In the formal liturgy, rituals and language of the Greek Orthodox Church, he found a worship tradition so enriched by its direct link to lives of Christ's original followers that it turns faith into an "all-encompassing phenomenon."

Gilbert is neither ethnically nor culturally Greek — his forebears came to America from the British Isles. But after discernment and years of study, he's now the Rev. Gregory Gilbert, the presiding priest of Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Darlington — and a prominent example of the gradual but insistent wave of conversion that is turning a tradition long rooted in ethnic heritage into a more varied and, some say, more American movement.

Almost half the nearly 1 million Orthodox Christians in the United States today are converts, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America reported in 2015. The majority of these married into the church. But a growing number are joining simply out of an affinity for the faith.

"We can still say that it's not the majority of the laity — at this stage, most have been raised in the church — but there's a lot of them," says the Very Rev. Archpriest Andrew Damick, pastor of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pa., and the author of several books on Orthodox Christianity. "Conversion has already had a pretty big impact."

Converts to Orthodoxy come from many backgrounds: former Evangelicals in search of historicity, analytical Christians seeking something more hands-on, weekend churchgoers in search of fuller, more regular engagement.

Gilbert says he has found a way of life that can be judged by its fruits.

...Read the rest at The Baltimore Sun

Jonathan M. Pitts

8/14/2017

Comments
gunnar8/16/2017 11:54 am
One critique, maybe we should have 45 minute sermons... HELLO SAINT CHRYSOSTOM?
Foma8/15/2017 2:18 pm
Its ok Anthony, you don't need to worry. You are still better than all of us converts and we know it. We can't quote Elder Sophrony about how converts are 2nd class citizens because we're too busy having barbecues and trying to figure out if Jesus used the King James version of the Bible or the Catholic version. And don't worry about those Toll Houses. We won't charge any Orthodox a toll or a fee to come to our barbecues. We're all Christians so its free! And life after death, too, we will ask you all about what it really means because we are just too plain too understand anything. Thank you for your inspirational advice. It's sure nice of you to extend your loving hand to us convert sinners. I just feel so much a part of one big Orthodox family with such sincere gestures of the Spirit such as yours. Foma, a dumb convert
Anthony8/14/2017 8:30 pm
Conversion is only really a good thing if the incomers: (a) conform themselves to the Faith; not expect it to become a ''belief system'' that fits their self-centred lifestyles (b) don't try and become our (cradle Orthodox) teachers, when it is clear that a lot of these western theologians can only offer cheap candyfloss ''christianity'' masquerading as Orthodoxy - one such writer appears or used to appear very often on these pages (c) don't try and pervert our Faith ''telling'' us what Orthodox believe and don't - what our Traditions are etc. The issue of life after death and the Toll Houses in particular springs to mind. As Elder Sofrony of Essex rightly said: A westerner who is baptised Orthodox will for many years be under the guidance of an experienced spiritual elder. Until then he cannot and must not try and teach Orthodox who have Orthodoxy in their bones.
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