Conversion without conversion?
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the thread on the Western Rite use, Steve mentioned the notion that there are those who want to keep a Western Rite as part of being 'Orthodox but not too Orthodox' - a kind of 'conversion without conversion'.
That sparked off some thoughts I have been working on for a while about what happens following conversion, and I should like to make a few preliminary comments here, and see whether there is any interest in discussing this further.
Most of those reading on this site are not Orthodox, but, as I was when I came here, seekers - people wanting to know more about Orthodoxy. Back then I was so focused on the journey, and the wonderful feeling of 'coming home', when I found the BOC, that I cannot say that I had thought much about 'what next'? I trusted in the Lord to take care of that - but, of course, we are His tools, and after the conversion there is the long process of living the Christian life within the Orthodox Church.
I had read much about 'acquiring an Orthodox mindset', but what would that mean in practice? Was this simply a way of saying that I had to be brainwashed into Orthodoxy? Some of the things I read made it seem almost as though that was what some Orthodox were demanding; forget everything that went before and, being born anew, acquire an Orthodox phronema.
The notion of a theory divorced from practice seemed a great danger, not least for one of my temperament. I am a scholar, and I had spent many years reading the Church Fathers as an Anglican, so I had a head full of patristic quotations; but not too much idea of what Orthodox practice might be.
Here the BOC booklet, Our Daily Life was invaluable. It contained much basic information, but it also provided daily readings, advice about building up one's prayer life, fasting, and reading. The BOC website, and this forum, also proved excellent aids. But there was, as I knew there would be, one huge - and negative - difference.
As an Anglican there is a Church within ten minutes' walk from where I live. As an Orthodox the nearest British Orthodox Church is 65 miles away, which, on Norfolk roads, means a drive of an hour and a half each way; whichever way you cut it, that meant that the parish life I had been able to enjoy so easily, was no longer on offer.
Sunday had been the one day I could guarantee myself a break from the pressure of work, a pressure that often takes over the week day evening; now it was really consecrated to the Lord. The CD player was duly loaded up with Orthodox material, and so I could have an extra 3 hours devoting myself solely to Him. It meant that by the time I got to Church I was prepared - and the warm welcome from those in Babingley was always a joy.
My wife, who is not Orthodox, tolerates (most of the time) my absence on Sundays (I leave at 8.15 and get back at 2), but I am aware of her forbearance - which then makes the time I spent with her doubly special for us both.
There was nothing about this sort of thing in the material I read on Orthodox mindsets, and there still isn't. Indeed there may be some reading this who wonder what sort of convert I am? But I suspect it may be a part of the process; submitting my own desires to the service and worship of the Lord, but trying to remember others; that is trying, as best I can, to live a Christian life in the Orthodox tradition.
Between times, though, there is no point disguising the problems. One can feel isolated; or one can decide to dedicate that isolation to Christ by reading, praying, and by focusing on Him in one's everyday life. Driving to work offers an opportunity to listen to something more edifying than the 'Today' programme! Being at work offers countless opportunities to witness to the Lord by the way one simply is with others. I'd make the world's lousiest evangelist, but one can try to live the Faith in the small detail of one's life.
Isolated? What, from God? I can always stand before my little icon corner in prayer. For more interaction, one can always come here, or visit other Christian websites. There is one I go to which is not solely Orthodox, but where one can stimulate one's mind to more Orthodox reading and praying by conversing, on line, with other Christians; it is, to be honest, more Christian dialogue than I would have after the service in my old Anglican Church.
That's enough for now - and perhaps shows nothing more than how far I am from acquiring an Orthodox mindset; but it may illustrate what life after conversion can be like. What no words can illustrate, however, is the sheer joy of the encounter with the Risen Lord at the Eucharistic Feast. He is Risen! Yes, but He suffered and He was nailed to the tree for a sinner like me. That puts the thing into perspective - every time.
There is more to say, not least about the ways in which the Babingley congregation, Peter Farrington, Fr. Simon - and above all Abba Seraphim, all add a joy to my life which was not here before. But this is sufficient for now.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)