What draws people to Orthodox Christianity?
If we are to look at the usual makeup of the congregations in the Greek Orthodox Church in Sydney, most of the worshippers are ‘cradle Orthodox’, ie. worshippers who are Orthodox because they were born into the faith. Converts are a small minority. However, that is not the case everywhere. There are pockets of Orthodox missions in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia, which are blossoming. There are also pockets of Orthodox Churches in the United States whose congregations have a significant proportion of converts to Orthodoxy. Books written by converts, such as Living in a Land of Shallow Wells by Matthew Gallatin and Dancing Alone by Frank Schaeffer, very captivatingly describe their journey to Orthodoxy.
There is a common theme in many of these accounts. On the whole, the converts grew up in Protestant or other Christian denominations. They were bothered by the possibility that their church did not believe and worship in the way that the early Church did. They went on a mission to find whether there are any remnants of the early Church surviving today, and they came across Orthodox Christianity. They discovered that the Orthodox Church was the truly apostolic Church, that has kept faith and worship unadulterated since apostolic times. One such convert, Fr Andrew Stephen Damick, puts it this way:
“I examined both the Scriptures and the early history of Christianity, and I became convinced that the only church that matches them both is Orthodoxy. Particularly formative for me were the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John. The church life he described was definitely not what I saw in Evangelicalism. Since he was someone who learned how to be a Christian from the Apostles themselves, I wanted to be in his church. Orthodoxy takes history seriously and doesn’t gloss over the hard stuff. It also doesn’t pick and choose from early Christian witness to develop a streamlined “system” of theology that is easy to swallow. Rather, because Orthodoxy is truly the community descended from the Apostles, within its theological memory are centuries of dogma, doctrine and theological reflection. Not all of it is totally consistent or easy to sort out, but it is nevertheless one great river of truth with an overall unified direction.”
These accounts ought not make us complacent or boastful. After all, all missionary work is a response to Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). It is a serious and essential part of Church life. Church without mission is lifeless. And perhaps we have not done enough in proclaiming the message of the Scriptures to the nations. Upon His Eminence Archbishop Makarios’ arrival in Australia on 18th June 2019, he stated at his airport address that now is perhaps the right time for our Church to provide its witness to wider Australian society; to share its gifts and its treasures.
In essence, what draws receptive people to Orthodox Christianity is the Holy Spirit. And when people are illumined in such a way, it is a prerogative for the Church and for each of its living members to receive them with love, and to guide and support them appropriately. Then through a genuine life in Christ, and with bold and discerning witness, we are called to continue to inspire others in Christ, into the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is Orthodox Christianity.
† Fr G. L.
Source: Lychnos October-November 2019