Converts’ thought baggage.

Converting to Orthodoxy is not an instantaneous process, especially in regards to ones thinking and way of mind. We all have developed certain ideas, principles and perspectives from our mental journey through life which are influenced by parents, teachers, ministers, media, reading etc. When one converts to another faith then he is changing some or all of these developed thoughts, whereas one who is reared in a faith from childhood tends to have these thoughts instilled from an early age, although he too is influenced by outside thoughts at school, by media or from reading. The advantage that one has growing up in a faith and staying within it is that he is more likely to have thought development in context of that faith which is consistent with that faith. A danger for someone in this situation is that he may not be able to distinguish some foreign thoughts that have entered his thinking from those that are genuine to the faith. Someone converting may radically change particular elements of his thought development and in these elements often has a better understanding than one reared in the faith and also a better of awareness of genuine thoughts of that faith. However, the adult convert has a huge range of developed and interrelated thought processes and often it can take a number of years, if ever, of regular learning and contemplation to realign all his way of thinking to be consistent with that of the new faith. In context of the Orthodox/Catholic Church this time taken to rethink must be recognised and addressed before a person converts because for a convert to turn his back on the Church once entering it is a spiritual tragedy and it would be much better if he had not entered at all. This is particularly true regarding Protestant converts for whom it is more acceptable to move from one denomination to another to find one that better matches one’s way of thinking. Becoming Orthodox/Catholic is not such a denomination shift and requires a stabilised conversion. Hence, the wisdom of the ancient practice of a slow catechism over a year or three to ensure that the convert is open to accept all orthodox teachings. It would not be appropriate nor any benefit to his soul for someone to convert only to discover that they need to accept that Mary is the Mother of God and, refusing this, to leave again. The Bishop/Priest permitting this conversion also shares responsibility for the fall, which is mitigated by the due care that they had in the conversion.

Is, then, a complete reorientation of the every thought required before one is permitted to convert? The early practice of the hierarchy of the Church was not to teach catechumens all aspects of the faith but only enough so that they understood to what they were converting. This is because certain teachings are such that they are more easily misunderstood and blasphemed against than others. What is important for conversion was not a fixed amount of knowledge that one has but the willingness that one has to accept the teachings of Christ. A good period being catechised should expose the catechumen to sufficient teaching to help him develop a model of orthodox thinking within which ‘higher’ teachings would naturally fit. The Eucharist is an example of such a ‘higher’ teaching because in a Protestant framework of thinking the full reality of this doctrine is unacceptable but once an orthodox framework of thinking is developed then the doctrine becomes most acceptable and even recognised as a necessity. So, what is important for the point of being received into the Church is not a reorientation of every thought but the establishment of a framework of orthodox thinking, that is the orthodox Gospel teaching, and the willingness of the convert to be open to accept all orthodox ways of thought, even if they cannot immediately understand them at the time of reception. Nevertheless, for one to become a Presbyter in the Orthodox community then a number of years should pass after reception so that the candidate can both be tested regarding his stability in the faith and also to allow a much wider and deeper reorientation of his thoughts to within the Orthodox framework, i.e. Tradition. This is not to mention the other major reasons for this patience in the spiritual struggles with pride and vain glory. A convert who has received advanced theological training outside the faith may even have more difficultly in readjusting his way of thinking than one with only limited training because the foreign model is more deeply embedded within his way of thinking, although sometimes this can allow a very quick and thorough reorientation of thought by applying a new key to understanding the collected knowledge.

It is difficult at times to know how well one has developed in Orthodox thoughts and how much of one’s thinking may still be ‘baggage’. Perhaps, a useful barometer of an Orthodox way of thinking is ones reaction when reading the works of recognised Orthodox Fathers. If one can read for example St Gregory Palamas and find his teachings expressing in clarity what is consistent with one’s own thinking then one’s way of thinking is likely to be orthodox. Apart from misunderstanding what he is saying, if St Gregory’s teachings seem contradictory and inconsistent to one’s way of thinking then one is likely not to have an orthodox way of thinking. This applies to the other Fathers particularly the Ecumenical teachers St Basil the Great, St John Chrysostom, and St Gregory the Theologian. Also, when reading through the Sacred Canons or the Anathemas, if one sees them all as true and wise then one is likely to have an orthodox way of thinking, if one finds them contradictory and frivolous then one is likely not to have an orthodox way of thinking.

Having said all the above, the best barometer of Orthodox way of thinking is a holy life. A humble and quiet life of prayer and repentance that exhibits the fruits of the spirit. The man who being pure in heart gains the Spirit is guided into all truth and develops a strong instinct about what is right and wrong, true and false. One’s connection to traditional Orthodox worship is also a barometer of one’s deeper Orthodox way of thinking. If one sees in ‘byzantine’ icons a deep spiritual beauty and peace and hears the choirs of monks from Mt Athos as resounding forth heavenly angelic praise then one is likely to have an Orthodox mind and heart. If one finds these icons flat and lifeless or the chanting only dull and monotonous then one is likely not yet to have developed an Orthodox mind and heart.

11 Responses to Converts’ thought baggage.

  1. Darlene says:

    On a more serious note, I think this article is spot on. Protestants have a lot of baggage and the more low church they come, the more baggage they bring (imo). I read about the faith that existed prior to 1517 for a few years before I ever walked into an Orthodox Church. Thus, I wasn’t shocked upon entering the Church for the first time during Divine Liturgy.

    It is a very serious matter to receive a person into the Orthodox (Catholic) Church before they are ready. I’m witnessing just such a phenomenon in our parish. A particular woman from a Protestant background in our parish has been Orthodox for about 3 years. However, her Orthodoxy is questionable. Some time last year she began to attend various Protestant services to the point where she was warned that she would not be able to take the Eucharist if she continued. Her attitude was very much of a Protestant mindset in which she thought she could attend our parish one week and a Protestant service another. She stopped for awhile, but now is reverting back to the same kind of behavior. She regularly attends a Pentecostal Bible study & prayer meeting and now is starting up a Bible study in her home. She has informed me on various occasions that she doesn’t accept all Orthodox teaching, such as the intercession of the saints & Orthodox mariology. She was very troubled after the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy recently and has been increasingly negative about the Orthodox faith in various comments she makes.

    In her defense, I don’t think she ever quite knew all that she was getting into when she converted to Orthodoxy. She has complained (rightly I think) that she was not properly catechised. It wouldn’t surprise me if she went back to Protestant Evangelicalism eventually. All of this could have been prevented if she had been rightly instructed in the Church’s doctrines and practices.

  2. Darlene says:

    I “dig” that 80’s kind of music. For a minute I thought the Eurythmics were gonna appear in that video. Bring back the 80’s!

  3. Knowing that the Germans kept the 80’s alive in the 90’s is more like a stroke than a heart-attack.

  4. Lucian says:

    Here’s a music-video espousing a dialectic of opposition and division: it’s guaranteed to give Perry a heart-attack! 8)

  5. David LIndblom says:

    As a rather new convert, 2.5 years, I can certainly appreciate the approach that lays an Orthodox world view down first. One that, say, shows how Christ-o-centric we are. How Christ, His deity and His humanity, is at the heart of all the commonly scandalous teachings like Mary and icons. Then move on to teach at a greater depth concerning these things. Problem is, is that there is so much access to information out there that most people already have a good deal of knowledge of what we believe, although it’s often partial or even somewhat inaccurate. So Priest’s job is all the more complicated. They not only have previous notions to deal w/ but they often have to correct a lot of misinformation and defend certain more advanced teachings before a foundation has been laid. Another reason to hold these men up in prayer.

  6. Lucian says:

    DAVID is right on the money!

    Judaizers over-valued the OT, Gnostics donwplayed it until there was nothing left of it.

    Sabellius over-emphasized divine unity and the similarities between the three divine Persons, Arius their distinctions.

    Pellagius stressed human freedom, Augustine God’s grace.

    Nestorius emphasized Christ’s duality, Monophysites, His unity.

    Iconoclasts obsessed with being anti-idolatrous, that they became anti-Orthodox.

    Protestants and intellectuals fear superstition to the extent of denying God’s miracles through His Saints, and their sacred relics and icons; while more simple-minded superstitious people tend to see the miraculous and super-natural in every down-to-earth-natural aspect of life.

    Etc.

  7. David says:

    I would also add that an under-appreciated tendency is for converts to “over-convert”. That is, in reaction to their earlier error to “over-shoot” the Orthodox consensus on some matter into some extreme variation. A very interesting chart I saw once depicted the seven great councils as a sort of narrowing tennis court. A council would make a statement someone would over-correct with a new heresy and then a council would correct and then the next heresy would over shoot in another direction and so on.

    There are certainly forms of hyper-orthodoxy which can be laid at the feet of certain converts.

  8. Bryan,

    Thanks for the comment, although it would be helpful if you could more explicitly connect your thoughts with the conversion and culture(s) expressed in the post with examples, particularly of losing the true value or bypassing the ‘Most Esteemed’. Also, how can one truly make use of ‘advances beyond the culture’ for a culture and be truly converted as a member of that culture if one does not think in the thought framework of that culture? ‘Advances beyond the culture’ introduced otherwise would arguably be some form of cultural imperialism brought in by one who is really imposing his own cultural framework on the new culture to which he is converting or, perhaps, rather converting to himself. What type of other conversion do you think may be better than expressed in the post?

  9. Bryan Lee Martin says:

    Culture, which was invented by people and sustained by people for the benefit of a some, changes slowly, is acculturated into a more dominate one, or dies. Therefore, systems, like gnosticism and exclusivity, are used to perpetuate the chosen culture. What is lost in the process is the object or the true value of the culture. Ironically the pursuit the “pure culture” within a culture will often miss the advances that exist beyond the culture and completely bypass that which is Most Esteemed. Perhaps another type of conversion is called for.

  10. Canadian says:

    monkpatrick,
    Good words, thanks for this.

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