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Friday, May 26, 2006

Thoughts on Conversion

When people start talking about "converting" to Orthodoxy, I begin to wonder: "What does that really mean?" Most so-called "converts" to Orthodoxy are Christians, former Roman Catholics and Protestants. As such, they are merely returning to the true Church. Quite unlike pagans, Hindoos, Mohammedans, etc., who are embracing the revelation of Christ. Roman Catholics and Protestants already know Christ, even if nominally. I don't like it when all the non-Orthodox are thrown into one category: either Orthodox or not. There are degrees of Orthodoxy because the Roman Catholics and Protestants have their roots in Orthodoxy. These Christians have forgotten their roots, but the others had no Christian roots in the first place. Thus, I don't see that other Christians being received into the Orthodox Church have to undergo a process whereby they are converted to Christ (one can argue whether or not conversion in Orthodoxy is to Christ or to an idol of Orthodoxy), rather they simply come into the fullness of the Christian faith. I'm not sure that such a thing really calls for the inner change that conversion to Christ does.

Converting our hearts to Christ is, however, something which we all should be doing every moment of our lives. It is a process we go through as we recall God's love for us--all the things which He has done for us and given us because of the free gift of His love. God is the Lover of Mankind! What joy that simple thought should give us at even the darkest moments of our lives. How much sin and the fear of death cause us to forget God's love.

Joy at the rememberance of God is a choice we make. Yes, we choose to be joyful. Joy is not happiness. Happiness, as Mother Angelica says, is a happening--it comes and goes. But joy can stay with us at all times. Our joy at the rememberance of God is heaven itself, while having a lack of joy because we forget God or become bogged down in "problems"--which, like happiness, are here today and gone tomorrow--this lack of joy is an experience of hell.

So, how can you know if your heart is really "converted?" Well, do you experience joy when you call to remembrance God's existence, His creation, His work for your redemption, His promise that He would be with you always unto the end of the ages, His merciful love for you which will never end? Or have you set up idols to replace God? (Your insubstantial "problems," your passions, your "identity," or some kind of narrow relgiosity which neither saves nor brings joy to the heart?)

Any thing, material or immaterial, whether it be a burden or a blessing, an aid or a source of agony, can become an idol, something which preoccupies all our thoughts, actions, and worship instead of the living God. Idols enslave us, whereas God gives us true freedom. So, throw away the idols which keep you from choosing joy, and run to God Whose arms are open to embrace you and Whose love is freedom and everlasting life.


Blogger Meg said...

I would suggest that the true conversion process for a former Protestant or Catholic consists in converting one's mind and heart from that godawful rigid legalistic point of view, to a truly Orthodox phronema of *healing* sin, the great sickness of the soul. Replacing a false vision of Christ and His Church with the true one, is just as much about idol replacement as it is in any non-Christian religion.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Jean-Michel said...

Eric.. as usual.. wonderful posting.
Lots in Orthodoxy need as much to convert as those in Protestantism or Vaticanism.
Legalism being replaced by cultural customs so alien to Faith... it's not better...

Each day in the morning, we have to make the choice of Christ, but each day in the morning, we first look for our slippers, then our coffee, then the news, then... comes the evening and we have not yet started to convert.
One of the Desert Fathers, known as a great saint, said this to his brethren, just before dying : "but I have not yet started converting!"

Seigneur, prend pitiƩ!

10:27 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Very good point Godpappa.

Just one minor correction, the Suffi sect of Islam has its roots Orthodoxy.

Joe Zollars

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And sooner or later you have to drop the whole convert thingie. If, after xx years you're still calling yourself a convert... go think... it's not good.

5:08 PM  

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