New Lenox, July 15, 2015
John, 19, proceeded to tell Matt, 15, that the Eastern Orthodox Church is the original church of Christ, Matt said. And then John started building a replica of an Orthodox cathedral on Minecraft.
While the famous quote, “Go west young man,” alludes to growth and maturity, John said he found his spiritual growth and maturity by researching the Eastern expression of Christianity as found in the Orthodox churches and is now planning to become an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Not only did John and Matt convert in 2014, their faith convinced their mother, Miki Price, a non-denominational minster, to convert too. They now belong to Assumption Greek Orthodox Church of Homer Glen.
It’s all because John decided to research his faith, starting when he was about 12.
“I had never taken my faith seriously until I began questioning things, like the way people went about their faith,” John said. “I felt there were a lot of things in non-affiliated churches that were just opinions. So I put a lot of things into question, like what was the history of Christianity exactly?”
An increasing trend
John’s experience isn’t unique. A 2007 USA Today story said one-third of Orthodox priests in the United States and 43 percent of seminarians (out of four seminaries surveyed) are converts. Those numbers, the story also said, were expected to rise.
The Rev. Sam Dimitriou, pastor at Assumption since 1993, has seen a gradual increase of converts to his church and attributes that partly to the Internet, which has given the Orthodox faith – often perceived as ethnic churches – exposure.
“We’re receptive to everyone,” Dimitriou said.
It’s a mixed membership at Assumption – Greek Orthodox and converts from a variety of denominations, Dimitriou said. It’s also quite the transition for a historically Greek church that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016 and is on its fourth location.
Assumption moved to Homer Glen three years ago, Dimitriou said. Much of the services are chanted now in English instead of Greek.
There are a myriad of reasons people convert. Dimitriou listed concepts like apostolic succession, writings of the church fathers, sacraments, icons, devotion to Mary and the saints, the ecumenical councils and the “beauty and majesty” of the church buildings themselves, Dimitriou said.
“It transcends this world into the world of heaven,” Dimitriou said.
Although prospective converts must schedule time with Dimitriou to learn the tenets of the Orthodox faith, Dimitriou said that Orthodoxy is less a religion to be studied and more a religion to be experienced, through attending services and worshipping with all five senses.
Navigating unfamiliar waters
Those first services at Assumption, which the Prices said they selected because it was near their New Lenox home, were awkward, John said, especially since everything was sung in plain chant.
“You don’t see that much in non-denominational churches,” John said. “I remember just sitting there, not knowing what to do.”
Matt had it easier. He didn’t try to figure it out.
“I just followed him [John],” Matt said.
Miki, 57, mother of nine children and director of the FISH New Lenox-Manhattan food pantry, had pastored at the former Shekinah of the Lord New Testament Church in Joliet until 2010, when she stopped leading the church and home schooling her children because of her divorce.
“I had to work full time and take care of the house,” Miki said.
Although she had extensively studied the Bible and has always called God “the love of my life,” Miki is humbled that it was two of her children who led the way to a deepening of that knowledge and relationship through their enthusiasm for this ancient faith.
Furthermore, Miki said the Orthodox faith appears to be free of the judgmental attitudes she often encountered in other denominations. For the first time, Miki said she is meeting the God of love, not the “evil giant” in the sky.
“They teach you about who God is, the truth of God’s grace and that God loves you just the way you are,” Miki said. “I thank God for his grace because without it, I’m not sure how I would make it through every day. It’s nice not to be judged and to be accepted for who I am.”