Why People Become Orthodox

Photo by Ken Jarecke

Photo by Ken Jarecke

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Now this is indeed a presumptious title for a post – as if there were only one reason that people convert to the Orthodox faith. There are certainly many reasons, nuanced by the various personalities that come. And do they ever come!

I was asked in Minneapolis,

“What sort of Evangelism Events do you have at St. Anne?”

I had to confess that other than making ourselves accessible and somewhat “convert friendly” our only method is,

“We answer the phone.” (And without a secretary that is not always certain.)

I could also say in a manner that avoids the topic, that people come for a variety of reasons. This is true but indeed avoids much of the obvious.

Several things of note among the many converts we have at St. Anne:

1. They believe the Orthodox faith to be the truth.

This is the reason I have stated for my own conversion. After every conversation, argument, etc. After every article and book, the simple fact is that I believe the Orthodox faith, including its ecclesiology to be the truth. I am willing to defend my acceptance of that, but the only defence that matters is the one I shall have to give on Judgement Day, and I believe that I will sit before a judge who Himself is the head of the Orthodox Church. The serious question will be: “What have you done with the faith I gave you?”

2. We looked at the other “options” and found them wanting.

Many Orthodox converts have looked elsewhere first. Perhaps even hoping that elsewhere would answer their questions and supercede the necessity of becoming Orthodox. But I think for those who become Orthodox, elsewhere just did not do the trick. There is a neatness and tidiness, for instance, about Roman Catholic ecclesiology. In fact, I think it’s so tidy that it is man’s invention and not God’s. But you can argue with me about that some other time. I can hardly think of a situation in which God has been so tidy elsewhere. Why should it only be ecclesiology?

3. “Deep calls unto deep” (Psalm 42:7)

There is an indescribable element of the heart in Orthodoxy. Despite many of its obstacles, individuals find themselves drawn here as the only answer to the depths of their heart. Everything else is rationalized, modernized, clinicalized. Orthodoxy, almost because of its strange rationality is the only thing that answers that deeper call. This has certainly been true of my own journey.

4. The tidiness and the untidiness.

There is a “tidiness” in Orthodox faith and belief, and yet that same security and assurance is coupled with an untidy approach (we call it “economia”) without which it would be impossible to know salvation (other than in a highly sterilized world of annulments and legal dispensations).

5. The saints.

There are marvelous saints in many places and yet the lives and teachings of many of the Orthodox saints, including the ones of the past century, seem to say, “This is home, come here.”

6. God told me to do this.

(No comment needed)

7. Are there other reasons?

Tell us!



Leave a Reply

  1. Thank you Father. I suspect it’s often complicated for some yet simple for others. I’ve had a host of reasons I’ve call “Body-Blows” to my impregnable Reformed edifice — per the logic & historicity of Holy-Spirit-Tradition — promised & delivered. I first admired (via J-Pelikan then the Fathers) the beauty of it all from a distance, then at arms-length. Finally it dawned on me that Holy Tradition was personal (C-Carlton)…and had a claim on Me. Thanks be to God.

  2. Reality- IT gives you a real view of yourself in relation to an Almighty Creator and teaches you how to act appropriately

  3. For the first twenty years or so of my adult life I went back and forth between several different Western Christian denominations and several different eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism) and an new age group. I found no spiritual depth in the Western denominations and no Christ in the eastern religions and new age group. Almost 22 years ago I met an Orthodox priest and told him I really wanted to be Christian, but I found no spiritual depth in the churches I had attended. He told me to try the Orthodox Church. I did and have been Orthodox ever since.

  4. I’m still a catechumen in the Orthodox Church. I went from growing up in a broken home with many problems and living in the secular world and liking it. Yet always feeling dead inside or searching for something to fill that empty void. I always knew there was something out there that we couldn’t explain. How can we create something from nothing? I was still very skeptical and still am. You could say I’m a lot like how Thomas used to be. I found Protestant Christianity about 6 years ago. I’ve been to many different churches. From assembly Of God, Baptist, Anglican, non-denominational, Methodist, etc. Nothing did it for me! I felt like I had to force myself to go every Sunday. From the services being loud like a rock concert, to weird people who would yell out random giberish. It was just plain weird and extremely uncomfortable. It was like being on a constant emotional roller coaster. Kind of like my life growing up. I got into Christian apologetics and l liked it. It used logic and rationalism and seemed to have structure. It made you feel in control, yet over time it still didn’t satisfy my hunger or answer all of my questions. So anyway, my Father in law was going to Asbury university and studying the early church fathers in one of his classes. So he was telling me about the Orthodox Church and all the history. At this point my wife and I where very discouraged! We decided to go to the Orthodox Church. I can understand why so many people say it was like being in Heaven on earth. Our priest was so loving and the people where as well. I never felt so calm and peaceful in my life. I knew God was present in that place. We started coming back and I felt myself wanting to come back! I would even catch myself saying to my wife as we would leave Divine Liturgy,” Im glad we got to go home”.
    This is all still very new to me and Im learning so much.

  5. I’m not even a catechumen yet, but I Identify with all the points that Fr. Stephen offered and with Kathy (as well as Josh). It feels to me like the Orthodox Church gives the whole story of Christianity beginning to present day, and then ties the individual believer to it. I also am drawn to the way the Orthodox address suffering.

  6. Myranda, Orthodox Christianity has had a lot of experience with suffering. In the last century, over 100 million Christians died for their faith. Over 99% of them were Orthodox.

  7. I came into the Orthodox Church at Pascha in 2013. The journey was one of gentle calling by the Lord, and no matter how many times I tested Him and questioned Him about it, He just kept calling and leading me home to His original church. As others have written in their posts, there is something mystical and unexplainable about the call to Orthodoxy, and at some point a person just has to answer Yes to Jesus when He says “Come and see”. A very blessed and wonderful welcome to all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters!

  8. Beauty of worship. Whether it be a humble storefront church or a majestic cathedral with several side chapels, One cannot deny the otherworldliness of the services that gives one a glimpse of what it must be like in heaven.

  9. There are a lot stories on the internet of people who convert to Orthodoxy, so many converts and from so many different backgrounds that I think it really proves the authenticity of the Orthodox Church and is a sign that the Lord himself calls these people into His Church. I myself was raised an Orthodox christian but believe me when I say that from the moment I discovered this site, till now, the posts that I have read here, have really helped me too.
    Reading stories from people across the world discovering and converting to Orthodoxy after years of searching for the truth, motivates me in my struggle to grow closer to God and I try even harder now to become a proper example of an Orthodox christian.

    Thank you Fr. John for all the work you have put into this site.

  10. Thank you Jim.

    Please support our work HERE if it is meaningful to you. We get no help from any bishop, parish or institution – only readers.

  11. @Lola J. Lee Beno Beauty of worship indeed! I have also found that Orthodox hymnology retains its beauty even if it is not in its original language. The sound of the words may change but the beauty is still there!

  12. But seriously. I especially appreciated point 4. What an interesting way to put it, and so true.

  13. Accessibility and convert friendliness are as much as is needed. Active evangelism might not work all that well at best and at worst might be counterproductive; throwing good resources after bad. As long as everyone knows you’re there, that’s enough.

  14. Why? Because ten years I moved for a job, and I was too historical / liturgical to go back with the Evangelicals, too Protestant to go with Rome, and too Christian to stay with the Episcopalians. There was an Orthodox Church down the block, so one Sunday morning, I got off work (night shift) and instead of going to bed “Went to Church”. Stood in the back, thinking “I’m home.” The rest was – well, a lot of “rewind the mind, rethread my head” as I reorganized my understanding. I was getting answers to questions I didn’t fully know I had. Who set the fundementals of the faith – Trinity the canon – and what else did they say.
    I also recognized that Orthodoxy is “holistic and organic” – which means as I come to a better understanding of A, that impacts B, which in turn changes C, which eventually leads me back to a ‘deeper’ (I would like to think) understanding of A. I’m still asking the same questons, just at a higher level.

  15. Fr. I am an Anglican. very disappointed in that church . I have adopted most of the orthodox views.. I would become orthodox but I have yet to find an orthodox church that dose not spend most of its time in a holy huddle or defending its self.. YES.. i AM A SINNER..

  16. Your Blessing Fr. John!!!

    I’m Abel Gkiouzelis from Greece!

    I’m happy that you are an Orthodox priest in USA!!!! I love USA and St John Maximovitch so much!!

    I like very much your sites and I have a link of your site in my site. Thanks!

  17. Although hinted at the ultimate reason is not explicitly mentioned: the intimate and ongoing encounter with Jesus Christ.

  18. I converted to the orthodox faith because of my belief in the death and resurrection of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.That would be my starting point.After being raised in the Catholic Church I felt that it had started to lose some of its tradition.So I started to look into conservative Protestant denominations.I had brought into the idea that the catholic and orthodox churches worshipped idols.Fin@ally after attending prayer meetings the thought occurred to me if humans can intercede in prayer to our Lord and savior couldn’t the saints and the Holy Virgin mother of God alsintercede ???There was a news item about patriarch Kirill of the ROC who lovingly but firmly and intelligently stood up to the militant gay agenda.It was at that point that I started to look into orthodoxy.Afterwards I started attending the divine liturgy at first at st Michaels and then at the assumption of the Holy Virgin both on Phila Pa.I learned that icons were examples and intercessors and to be revered.On August the 15th I was Chris mated and the next day received holy communion.Those 2 days gave me a sense of peace that I never felt in my life.I would like to thank Father Mathew and the congregation for making me feel completely welcomed.(williamscanlon@outlook.com)

  19. Until 1066 England was Orthodox Christian country with saints acceptable by the Patriarchate Konstantinopoleos. But Normandy with William I, conquered England (battle of Hasting) since the English church was led into heresy and the loss!

  20. I’m 60 years old. I grew up in a primarily Catholic family. My Father, and his family were Russian immigrants in 1926, and brought with them their Russian Orthodoxy, but the one church was many miles away. When my father and mother married in 1939 my father was baptized into my mother’s religion of Catholicism. Therefore, I grew up Catholic, though many times we went to the Orthodox service many miles away. By the time I had been married for about 6 years, I like many in the 70’s was disillusioned with the Catholic faith, and even God, and wandered away from my faith. That is until one day we accepted a, “Bible Study” from Jehovah’s Witnesses. We became them and spent the next 15 years of our lives in that “organization” but never really, settled in. When our two children were 15 and 17, I had decided through much research that after all those years, the “Organization” (as it is called) is not “The Truth”, and in fact was far from it. My family too saw and realized this truth. We all left the JW Organization. So, from 1997 until this year, we have been adrift all by our lonesome not congregating anywhere.
    That is until we both started praying (unbeknownst to each other) for guidance in where we should go to express our faith with others. All we can now say is that, “God Told Us Where To Go…”
    It’s been interesting indeed to come to the Ancient Faith where literal worship takes place.
    In Christ.
    Michael G.

  21. Dear Frs. Stephan and John, Thank you for this! So many wonderful points…and the humor is great! All good reasons for finding a home in the Orthodox Church. In my case, I decided to convert for a number of reasons. The defining moment for me was during a discussion with a wonderful Russian doctor who had built a beautiful Orthodox shrine in his basement, glorifying Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… and of course, the Mother of God. It is breathtaking…so much love went into his work. He told me, very simply, that “In the Russian Orthodox Church we concentrate on God’s love for his children. It’s really that simple.” This message was so wonderful…it was just so simple…I feel closer to God in Orthodoxy…I can’t explain it any other way, and I was very much raised in the Western tradition, believe me! I just felt blessed, loved, and closer to God by communing with his glory through Holy Mother Church…it’s so beautiful…Thank you for reading this…

  22. In my case it was all about russian religious philosophers. I very much thank Solovyov, Berdyaev, Kireevsky, Khomiakov and Leontiev for my conversion.

  23. Thankyou for your invite.. God Bless.. what caught my attention was the phrase “journey to otthodoxy” which is what it has been. Through many of the protestant churches.. I am not sure why but I feel continually compelled to move closer to orthodoxy.. .. I understand some orthodox teachings.. and I am confused by others..

  24. Lol! Ok.. I am just curious.. how does orthodoxy define “The Church”.. what are its boundries?

  25. Your blessing dear Fr. John and your prayers dear friends!!!!!

    My name is Abel Gkiouzelis. I was born (1981) and I raised in a protestantic sect (“Worker Sect” / “No Name Church”) and after I was an atheist and I had a flirting with the life of hippies…!!!

    So after much pray and soul searching I find the really Truth in the Christian Orthodox Church! And in 2001, I baptized Orthodox Christian!

    How I left from the Worker Sect and how I desided to be baptized in the Christian Orthodox Church! It was very difficult for me because I was born in the Worker Sect and I really hated the Christian Orthodox Church…

    There was a need Jesus Christ did a small miracle so as to believe in the Christian Orthodox Church. I said to Jesus Chirst «If You exist really and if You tell in Holy Bible “If someone knocks Me I will open him” give me an answer where is the Truth. It is in the “Workers” or in the Christian Orthodox Church? And if You give me an answer I will not deny You!».

    And really He open me the door and now I am to His Home, in Orthodoxy!!

  26. The reason for my question is I have been in discussion through out my walk.. most believe that to be a christian is invisible, it a question of your heart.. I do not buy that.. if that was true who would they feed to the lions..

  27. I would say another reason people convert to Orthodoxy is the ‘problem with the Pope’. The Bishops of Rome, for several decades, have very publicly confessed a Faith utterly un-Christian. They have confessed that contemporary Rabbinical Jews are our ‘elder Brothers in the Faith’ (which Faith? the Faith that denies the Son?). They have confessed that Jews and Moslems worship the True God. Which one would that be? The God whom Islam emphatically proclaims has ‘no Son’ and never could, or the God whom Jews emphatically proclaim was not found in Jesus Christ? Such ‘confessions’, therefore, completely deny the Holy Trinity, the True God.

    While Orthodoxy, no doubt, has those here and there in authority making equally false confessions in the name of satanic ‘ecumenism’, the ‘problem of the Pope’ is absent. Such a Bishop is simply a liar and not to be followed or held in reverence by those who confess the True Faith. Yet the ‘Roman Pontiff’ who proclaims falsehoods, denies the Son of God by witnessing to the ‘truth’ of the Koran and Talmud, is a stumbling block, not only to a diocese or an archdiocese, but to the entire Roman Catholic Church, since he is viewed uniquely and singularly as its appointed ‘Vicar’, reigning over all others and to be obeyed likewise by all others, much as Ceasar. And, as such, (putting the modification of the Creed aside), accepted ‘Popes’ of the Roman Church have confessed anathemas as truths to be held up for example for many decades – blatant Christ-denying anathemas.

    Another reason for converting to Orthodoxy is the surety of Apostolic Succession, which the Church of England has not had for centuries and now the Official Roman Church has lost since the 70s with its ‘new rites’ of Episcopal and priestly ordination.

    As an aside, the current Archbishop of Cantebury (the Anglican ‘pope’) is advising that, in the event of Prince Charles coronation, the Koran should be read during the ceremony.

    What has happened to ‘Christendom’? It has become a whore to falsehoods.

  28. Although not Orthodox yet – I am an Anglican looking in – I would add “grind”, a persistent niggling away and nibbling away at my previously held beliefs, as God slowly dismantles them in order to rebuild them into something else. Orthodoxy. The poem “Hound of Heaven” so beloved bt C.S.Lewis comes to mind.

  29. Re: comment above; the ‘niggling’ is something C.S.Lewis exploited, but not towards a solid truth. He was a slippery character able to ‘get in the mind’ of a demon with great literary aplomb; but as for being a voice of the Spirit of Truth? Lewis, as a literary/theological personality, is better put on the bottom of the shelf. The Church has 2000 years of authentic voices, tributaries of the True Voice – One, Catholic and Apostolic. No need to bother with the likes of Lewis and his gnostic ‘legacy’.

  30. I respectfully disagree. As an educated man, but not theologically educated man, Lewis has a lot to offer the reader. Not to mention, he was buried with a three barred cross on his casket.

  31. I googled “deep calls unto deep” this morning because it seems to be my inner life’s relationship with God right now. Always, actually.
    Just last Saturday evening after my first vigil I became a catechumen. Ever since it’s been a tumultuous battle inside. Thank you and Thank God for this post. May He continue to call us Home.

  32. I sense that omnipotent “Holy Spirit” ebbing and flowing as it anguishes and works in me also. LORD HAVE MERCY ON THE FAITHFUL

  33. 1. I was fed up with the blatant witchcraft in protestant churches.
    2. Fed up with the greed.
    3. Everything the bible says NOT to do, protestants do.
    4. Everything the bible say TO do, protestants do not do.
    5. Protestants have removed the mystery of God from their churches and replaced Him with humanism.
    6. Fed up with tithing being talked about as if we are to pay protection money to God so He will leave us alone.
    7. If you go through trials and tribulations of any sort in a protestant church, people aks you what sins you have committed to bring upon you the wrath of God. No one understands suffering.
    8. Very Pharisaical mindset within protestantism.
    9. True worship of God has turned into ‘worshiptainment’ in protestant churches.
    10. Sermons sound more like sales/motivational meetings.
    11. too much emphasis on the kingdom of earth and little to none on the Kingdom of heaven or what it takes to build your character and to become a fragrant offering.
    12. Walking into my Orthodox temple feels like coming home. I greet the saints and I have a peace within that I’ve never had before.
    13. I love the unity/community within the Orthodox Church. We are all celebrating, fasting or feasting at the same time, globally. I feel as though I’ve joined a huge family with relations everywhere.
    14. I’ve learned things about the history of Christianity I never learned in protestant church. I never would have learned it had I stayed in the protestant circles.
    15. Studying the saints has greatly changed me. They have given me strength and a depth of fortitude previously lacking within myself. When having a bad day, I will say to myself, ‘well, at least lions are not chewing on my bones!’. (St. Ignatius) Studying the saints helps to put life into perspective. It grows one up in more ways than one.
    16. God is truly worshipped in Orthodox churches and not the pastor. Many protestants lose their faith in God when their church is touched by scandals form the pulpit. (Ted Haggard)
    17. Heterodoxy is carefully kept out of the Orhtodox church where as protestants seem to embrace every weird thing that comes along. Perhaps in an attempt to reconnect with the very thing they have removed from their spiritual lives? The wonderment and mystery of God? (Books such as; The Shack, The Circle Maker, Your Best Life Now, etc.)
    18. Dogma vs. ‘I’m spiritual’. There is more legalism in protestant churches than in the Orthodox Church. Not being legalistic has become the religion of protestants and they are VERY legalistic about not being legalistic.
    19. The kindness of the Orthodox Church is amazing. The romance of God toward us staggers me and it is not seen much within protestant churches. The teachings of the ancient fathers reveals God’s kindness to His people and enhances what scripture teaches us.
    20. The teachings of the ancient fathers is beautiful wisdom but also amusing. Their wit and humor shine through. They say what they need to with love. Yes, it can sometimes be a stern love because they do not waiver on biblical truth, but the love is still there.

  34. Longer than our normal limit for comments, but this time, I’ll allow it. Thanks MelissaBishop.

  35. I liked all, but most this phrase of you: “but the only defence that matters is the one I shall have to give on Judgement Day, and I believe that I will sit before a judge who Himself is the head of the Orthodox Church. The serious question will be: “What have you done with the faith I gave you?” God bless you, Father.

  36. As a Protestant looking into Orthodoxy I find it a little disingenuous to construct a straw man in order to knock him down to argue the case for Orthodoxy. There are many good Protestant churches, with many dedicated saints serving their Lord and Saviour to the best of their ability. Of course there are examples of the kind of bad practice that you point to, but your generalisation is not helpful to people like myself who are looking into Orthodoxy not because Protestantism is so terrible, but because we think Orthodoxy is so good.

  37. Once again, let me in love remind readers that this is one person’s experience, and is echoed by a multitude. It’s not saying there are no good heterodox Churches, only that experience often drives a soul into the arms of Orthodoxy. And let’s face it, it is only getting worse outside the Church right now.

    Again, you cannot become Orthodox because you think it is the best choice; you can only become Orthodox when you realize it is the only choice.

  38. this is a great way to discuss issues off line.. I am not an orthodox church member.. though.. I would like to be.. however.. there are many issues around the orthodox faith I do not get.. I am an older guy who met God in a Baptist church.. over the course of my life I have ventured through many protestant churches.. United Methodist, Pentecostal, finally to Anglican.. with the move of Anglicanism away from the faith, I find myself estranged.. and have been that way for many years.. I found it odd that most of my beliefs (not all) are orthodox..

    What led me to orthodoxy was when our priest made a statement, regarding God as trinity.. then followed it up with.. “That is Orthodox” as a sign of authority and truth.. It caused me to slowly look into the Orthodox faith.. What I found was that many of my beliefs were the same as orthodoxy.. they rang true in my heart and understanding.

  39. Sorry Fr. John. I’ll read the guidelines and post accordingly next time. Thank you for allowing them!

  40. Melissa, not to work, it isn’t posted, as it is more of a convention, and a preventative to keep threads from being hijacked, or from just too much in a single comment. As you can see, I make reasonable exceptions (it’s not a law, but a guideline).

  41. Mark, I was not constructing a straw man or trying to be disingenuous. I wrote about MY personal reasons for leaving Protestantism. Very real reasons in many, many churches across America. When comparing two things, it is relevant to look at the good as well as the not-so-good in order to make a well informed decision.

  42. Hi Melissa. My apologies, I was too quick to react by not making allowances for your personal experience. I am perhaps far too overly sensitive to such things as someone currently serving as an Anglican priest in Britain (Wales) and who has tried to maintain the faith for 30 years. I am very attracted to Easten Orthodoxh especially as the church collapses here, but personally I did not recognise the picture you painted. But as you have said I respect that that is your experience and I should not have reacted so quickly. My apologies.

  43. No need to apologize, Mark. I am concerned about coming across angry and bitter after what I’ve gone through. In my heart, it is more of a warning for others than anything else but as it comes through my filters and I begin to type, it is hard to keep it from transforming into something else. I used to love the church I went to but there were some issues I was talking about to the Lord. Suddenly, one day after much prayer, the Lord said to stop attending. Piff… just like that. The ladies I had grown to love (from our small group) are no longer a part of my life. It was very sad but I am getting to know my new Orthodox family. The mercy within the Orthodox church, especially from out head priest, is just amazing to me. When I walk into the church to venerate the icons, it’s as if I’m greeting old friends with whom I’m reconnecting. Learning about the saints and ancient fathers has been a huge blessing to me. Look how even Fr. John here on this site is loving and patient with us! I cannot begin to pretend to know what you’re going through from a leadership position. I’m not holding grudges or taking on offense. I’m praying for you and I hope you’ll pray for me. Lord have mercy.