by Janice Bidwell
Though Janice’s story isn’t really a ‘revert’ story (someone who grew up in the faith, left and re-converted), it is an excellent example of someone who has grown up as a believer!
As a cradle Orthodox Christian, for most of my life I’ve been quiet about my faith. My silence did not stem from apathy or ignorance, but rather from peace. There was never any reason to break my silence, until now when others want to listen.
In the 1980s, a small group of Evangelical Christians began their search for the New Testament Church, and they found the Orthodox Church. But the Orthodox Church was never lost, it was quiet. Hearing stories of an Orthodox Christian’s moment of revelation about the existence of the Orthodox faith puzzles me, since I never understand how our existence is a surprise. Although I’ve heard we were hidden away in ethnic communities, I never felt hidden at all. My family lived, and continues to live, an Orthodox life right out in the open world. We do live a quiet Orthodox life, and if you aren’t listening you may mistake our quiet for silence.Explaining my Orthodox faith to others was always complicated for me. My friends growing up were Roman Catholic and all attended the same church in our small town. I on the other hand, was Antiochian Orthodox and went to a church sixty miles away in Los Angeles. We were different, and few people showed interest in learning about our unfamiliar faith. We weren’t trying to convert them, and they weren’t trying to convert us.
My family has strong roots in Orthodox Christianity: three of my grandparents are from the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and my fourth grandparent is from Jordan. My parents were both born and raised in the United States as Orthodox Christians, and neither ever shopped for another faith. Now I am an adult with an impressive lack of knowledge about other Christian faiths, which never ceases to amaze my convert friends. My family never lost the Orthodox Church, and we weren’t silent, we were quiet.
The Orthodox Community
When I left my small town for college, I needed to provide others with a clear, concise explanation of my faith, a log line for Orthodox Christianity. I developed my log line after realizing I had only thirty seconds to explain my faith before a person’s eyes glazed over. And as Campus Crusade for Christ and Evangelical Christians gained ground on college campuses, I was tired of my mumbled, “I’m Eastern Orthodox,” met by a blank stare.
My new log line was for the simple:
“Eastern Orthodox. It’s like Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox, only it’s from the Middle East.”
And it saved me from the blank stare about sixty percent of the time. I admit to still using my log line, only today after years of practice my success rate is much higher, and I owe part of that success to the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (But if I include the large word Antiochian, my success rate sinks.) Then the hurried glazed eyes sometimes smile and say in response, “Jesus just wants to get to know you better.” Perhaps they even suggest He wants to be my friend. Then I politely rely on my familiar friend, not silence, but quiet. How do you explain your personal reverence for God to someone who isn’t listening?
We humans are all different, and some Christians are bigger and louder than others about their faith. I was never a big, loud Orthodox Christian. There was never a need for me to be big and loud about my faith because my family was Orthodox, my family’s friends were Orthodox and anyone I didn’t know who was Orthodox, knew my family or my family’s friends. Although I lived over sixty miles from the nearest Antiochian Orthodox Church, I was raised in an Orthodox community. A common link was our ethnicity, but we shared our Faith and lived our lives within an Orthodox community. Outside the Orthodox community, any discussion of my faith prompted a blank stare and glazed eyes. I knew other Christians didn’t understand Orthodoxy, but I was never armed to explain my faith to those who seemed disinterested.
An Orthodox Path for Life
When I was baptized as an infant in the same Orthodox Church where my parents married, my journey as an Orthodox Christian began. There was never any doubt I would be raised Orthodox, marry Orthodox, baptize my children Orthodox, and then die Orthodox. No confusion and no shopping for another faith, I was on the Orthodox Christian path for life…and I wasn’t lost. Intertwined with my Orthodox path for life was a sense of peace. I’ve never felt I needed to rush my faith, or needed to scurry around looking for others to travel with me on my journey. My fellow travelers were those in the larger Orthodox community. Christians of other faiths were on their own journey, of which I confess, I knew little.
The most difficult of these Christian journeys for me to understand was the path of Protestants. I admit my understanding of Protestants never progressed much farther than knowing their faith was a newer form of Christianity. With the concept of new (sixteenth century) and Christianity linked, I lost interest in learning more. Where was the relevance to my Orthodox faith in anything from the Protestant Reformation? I was on my journey with fellow Orthodox travelers, and the Protestants and other Christians were on their own separate paths. Or so I thought until the paths began crossing.
Now I attend an Orthodox Christian Church with a mix of convert and cradle Orthodox. My view of the larger Orthodox community has broadened, and within this broader Orthodox community I meet other Christians who have found Orthodoxy after their travels along another path. I ponder their surprise at my ignorance of these other Christian paths, and it’s clear my lumbering travel along an unwavering road confuses them. The problem is, for years we all lived in the same neighborhood, but we never spoke. We each kept to ourselves and if we did speak together, our attention span was short. I wasn’t looking for those of another faith to bring with me on my journey, and I was discouraged by blank stares and glazed eyes. My faith felt personal, and sharing it beyond the Orthodox community was always awkward for me.
Now our ancient Faith is on firmer footing in America as more Christians seek the Orthodox Church. With the new converts come their friends and family, and the Orthodox community is blending into a broader community. Some converts, with a collection of souvenirs from their former Christian paths are committed to a fast paced, high energy Orthodox journey. They glance at my ease and comfort with the Orthodox faith and ponder the lumbering pace of my journey, perhaps forgetting the length of time I’ve spent traveling. Since birth, my travel has never detoured away from the Orthodox Christian path for life. I haven’t collected souvenirs from any other path, and my slow lumbering pace reflects my peace with Orthodoxy. Our journeys may have begun differently, but now our Orthodox paths have crossed.
I was never hidden, or lost. I was quiet. But when you listen closely, aren’t you surprised by what you hear?
An Orthodox Garment
Wearing the garments of the Orthodox faith which I’ve acquired over time, I lumber along the Orthodox path with this broadening mix of fellow travelers. As I glance around, I see those beside me on the path with souvenirs filling their pockets, and I watch as they ponder which souvenirs to lay aside and which to hold onto for this Orthodox journey. Choosing to lay aside familiar souvenirs is difficult and many hesitate. But the garments of the Orthodox faith are well fitting, have only limited pocket space, and are worn with a quiet sense of faith.
When the small group of Evangelical Christians found the Orthodox Church in the 1980s, the Church was here, preserved by those who brought their faith with them to the United States as immigrants. These Orthodox immigrants maintained the Church with a sense of quiet, which suited their personal reverence for God. Within the Orthodox faith quiet is a component, or a garment, of the traditions of peace and humility.
The well fitting garments of Orthodox Christianity do not change over time, even over centuries, but Orthodoxy does adapt to maintain its place within contemporary society. Our current challenge is adapting a broadening Orthodox community to the present, while preserving the quiet reverence for traditions of the ancient Orthodox Faith.
Philip Pughe-Morgan says
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your testimony. Don’t worry or apologise for your ‘quiet’ upbringing; it’s far better to belong to the one true Church and to deepen your experience of this, than like many of us, to be totally committed to another church, and then find the whole thing crumbling around you. In that respect, I envy you!
However, all things work for good for those who love the Lord, and it is our joy to find our way home to the Orthodox Church! (You can see my journey note under ‘Anglicans’ on this website.)
Papa Gigo says
Wow, very interesting article… These things do not make one Orthodox at all: quiet, loud, lost, hidden, found, on a path or off. For there will be many baptized Orthodox Christians in Hell who fall into each of these self assessments. As Orthodox we often fear the ‘influence’ of these outsiders who have come in. What we must be willing to see is that all come baring gifts, new and old.
We are by no means a gnostic faith, but so often we travel along that abyss as Orthodox in our quest for rightness of knowledge of the Faith. Danger then arises as we rest on our superior knowledge and experience gained as a saving grace. Unfortunately knowledge of God will never save us.
It is in the tension of right knowledge and relationship with God that theosis (not gnosis) occurs. The glorious part is that so many converts approach the relationship aspect first (as a child) and then add the knowledge as they grow in the faith. This tends to create an explosive experience in the life of one who has converted… so much so that it cannot be bottled up. It this not what happened in The Acts of the Apostles?
Perhaps you are not unlike Martha in the kitchen of obscurity as Mary ministers to the Lord.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Fr. John says
Interesting comments, Papa Gigo, though I’m not sure what you are trying to get at.
Papa Gigo says
Perhaps the better question is, what Janice’s is trying to get at… what is she really trying to say?
I really want to understand this article. This reader just cannot seem to grasp exactly what the author is trying to educate/communicate. The many facets of the article come across; however, they were all poorly developed. This whole thing is confusing, and ultimately casts brightly on the author’s ineptness of her version of the Orthodox faith.
Evangelizing is different from proselytizing (which would have been a great start with her Protestant friends). Then it seems, she was so quiet in her faith she missed the greatest commandment – go and preach the Gospel to every creature. Now she wants to bash the very people that are raising the standard of Worship to an All-Mighty and All-Holy God. Is there a “sour grapes” place in the Orthodox Church? Maybe she needs to darken the steps of a Protestant mega church to fully appreciate what the converts all ready know?
At first, I thought she had a spat with a convert at church. Then I thought that she was angry, even quite hurt (and yes, all of this comes across as anger, and a lot of pain). The converts are being catered to in the sense that they wish to worship in the One True Church in the manner that is becoming to the One True Church proper. Then I begin to think that since she has four grandparents from the Middle East and over the past decades they have adopted their own ways of worship – well, how dare those converts want the REAL DEAL! I (and my family) were here first! We are quite happy being quiet – none of you would listen before (and it hurt me) – and now that you want to listen – it just is not fair. Without our quietness, none of this would remain in existence, i.e. – you would not have the opportunity to think that this church is yours too!
She then talks about trinkets. I am not sure as to what trinkets she refers, but she may want to expand on that. I want to understand, but I just don’t.
Then she talks about garments. My question to the author is which ‘garments’ is she currently wearing? Maybe it is time to take off the garment of pride, recognize the garment of conviction, and ask God to make her a garment of forgiveness.
Fr. Hans Jacobse says
I think you may have misread it. She is actually very kind and is expressing the view of someone with a concrete and living faith in Christ who was always in the Orthodox Church and thus had a different journey (although the same in the sense that it led to a deeper communion with Christ) than, say, a convert to Orthodox would have. These differences are real simply because the journeys were different.
She’s not angry. What she is expressing is that her Church is changing and that she is changing with it. She loves her Church, but it is somewhat different than the Church she knew as a child, yet at the same time it is still the same Church.
The value of “quiet” or “silence” is true. There is a confidence that I think can be gained where you simply trust Christ more to do what He promises He will do. The faithful Orthodox (and I have met many) intuitively know this. We who come from other traditions long for it but don’t know it as well, not at first anyway. It can be ours too and it will be in due course. This is what I think the author was saying, and frankly, I agree with her.
Just yesterday I was talking to a man, a very serious Christian even before he joined the Orthodox Church, and he mentioned the first thing he said he noticed was that there wasn’t that striving, that anxious sense of displeasing God that was so strong in the Evangelical Protestantism that he knew. What he was saying, to use the words of the author above, was that the “garments” were different. The Orthodox he saw wore theirs differently than he did.
The “souvenirs” are also a metaphor. She means the things we hang onto because they are valuable in some way, but sometimes we have to let go of them.
I don’t think the author meant to be offensive. I think she is describing another way of looking at the same thing. And, being Orthodox for 25 years now, I think she is right.
Adam Lamar says
I listened to the interview on The Illumined Heart.
I guess my 2 or 3 cents are..
* Cradle or Convert, everyone needs to be convert!
* I share Bidwell’s distaste for an article titled “What Converts Want” I don’t care. I don’t care what Cradles want either. I joined Orthodoxy because I wanted a church centered truly around Christ – not around me as a seeker or newcomer – or around people who have been raised for generations in Orthodox tradition.
* Agree that the Father who coined “Don’t play monk” should repeat it – and delve a bit more into what that means? I know complacent cradles who think me even reading the bible on my own is “too monastic” – curious where Bidwell draws the line – or the Father for that matter? I guess as a single Christian with a lot of alone time, in resisting personal sin, my prayer life is going to look far different than someone with a spouse or a spouse and children. Doesn’t make any of us better than the other, but there have to be different approaches. Just because generations have worshipped a certain way, is that 100% right? Some Orthodox churches don’t offer Vespers the day before liturgy – is having Saturday Vespers “too monastic”?
I have heard that Orthodox differentiate themselves by going back to the bible and church fathers and then proceeding forward in time to answer questions – but now it’s wrong for people coming into the church to adopt the same? Does Bidwell suggest we put the last 100 yrs of Orthodox practice above the ancient? (sounds a bit like Protestant thinking)
I agreed with Bidwell about the arrogance that evangelicals come into the church with – I’ve sadly carried my share and am trying to learn! But I think some of her thinking carries different type of arrogance that can be just as harmful. I am 100% in agreement that emphasis should be on the heart and not the form, but some forms are still very helpful to those of us like me who need a serious heart and worldview change. So are we welcome, or are we supposed to go elsewhere because cradles don’t want us to be too monastic? To the extent it’s done in Liturgy is tricky. I think that depends on the congregation. I think both have something to offer.
* Bidwell might be interested in Fr. Damick’s take on evangelism – but instead of the “e” word, why don’t we get rid of it and the baggage the word brings replacing simply with “how do we bring Jesus Christ to those lost in their sins?”
Damick never mentioned going out and knocking on doors. He was talking about having someone always answer the phone; having a known and visible address. Having office hours obvious and public for those visiting – and having an attractive and up to date website – ie – get rid of barriers preventing people from visiting much less finding where to visit.
I have welcomed the change from proselytizing to theosis and love of neighbor – but backed with knowledge of what I believe and how to communicate that when approached.
I did LOVE Bidwell’s idea of multiple smaller churches where the pastor is truly a spiritual director – even in the medium size church where I go, it’s a challenge for the clergy.
Thanks for the responses.
To clear (or perhaps in this case ‘clean’) things up a bit – I am a cradle Orthodox –sort of. I was baptized into the Orthodox Church (infant), and went to the Orthodox Church at Christmas and Pascha, when my grandparents (Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants) took me. My Mom and Dad did not attend church. My Mom was a Protestant. Her grandfather was Hebrew. I would go to the Protestant church when I spent the night at my cousin’s home. I have attended both churches growing up. When I married, my husband and I settled into the PCUSA. One year later, my grandmother died, and of course, she was buried according to Orthodox burial customs. The second my husband stepped inside of my Orthodox home church, he fell in love. He kept questioning me (literally badgering) as to why I had not told him of this “Orthodox religion.” Oh, but I had – and like Janice Bidwell’s experiences, his eyes would just glaze over. I guess that he needed to just, well, – come and see. We are now entirely an Orthodox family – cat and all (big grins)! Therefore, what does that ‘make’ me (cradle, convert, revert)? It makes me the same thing I was before, and still am today– a SINNER!!
Janice must remember the workers in the grape vineyard (Matthew20). Whether they had worked one hour, or the whole day, each was paid one denarius. Was it fair? No. However, we do not serve a FAIR Most High God. We serve a JUST Most High God. I certainly will not question such generosity.
Papa Gigo –I couldn’t agree with you more! Mary chose wisely. Although, as a woman, I can CERTAINLY understand Martha’s discourse. That would be a great blog!
Adam – you are certainly a sharp tool in the shed! Why? The course of events to my post went like this: I first read the article here on Journey To Orthodoxy – and was refreshingly intrigued; I then searched for the author’s name, and then came across and then listened to the AFR interview. That may have been a series of unfortunate events. Why? Well, as Fr Jacobse pointed out, in this article, she is merely communicating her ‘insider’s view’ of her journey – and yes, in agreement with him, while this article does not display vehement disdain against converts, the AFR interview certainly sheds light on her attitude (should I dare use the word heart?). Keep the Faith Adam, it can be hard – be still and know that God listens.
Fr Jacobse – Thank you for the enlightenment. Yes, quite admittedly, I failed to ‘clean my palette’ before my posted response on Journey To Orthodoxy. I also interpreted her use of the words garments and souvenirs as metaphors – in THIS article. However, by the time I was finished listening to the AFR interview, it was glaringly clear that she was not using these terms in a metaphorical light. They were words of pain, disdain, and confusion as to what is happening to Christ’s Bride – and she is Antiochian. Does that matter? Well, when my husband and I decided to make our whole family Orthodox, we were directed to an Antiochian Orthodox church. The response for almost two years straight? Where did all of these blond haired, blue-eyed boys come from? Do you realize that there is a Ukrainian Orthodox Church just down the road? This church was built by Syrians, for Syrians why are you here? Blah, blah blah….
I just pushed all of the rhetoric aside. I was content (and VERY quiet) to be the dog under the table, waiting for a morsel to fall from his Master’s plate. The question then became – how long could I endure? I all ready knew what to expect. I had also tried to prepare my husband for the phyletism that would greet us. I do not think that he understood exactly what that meant until he experienced it first-hand. We went there because they offered the Fullness of Christ – Divine Liturgy every Sunday, Vespers every Saturday, Church School every Sunday, Choir, Book Club, Women’s groups, and SOYO. There was something for everyone in our family (well, except Ivan our cat, of course). After a year or so, I attended sporadically, and kept praying. My husband took the boys for another year and a half. I longed for Church. I missed Worship. I wanted to ‘fit in’. I wanted my family to ‘fit in’. After I married, I was a solid hour and a half away from my childhood Orthodox Church. My husband and I have four boys to raise – should we just go to the Protestants again? Finally, in desperation, I had to remember that God made us. My family cannot change our skin color, hair color, or eye color. Man looks at the outward appearance – God looks at the heart. Then it dawned on me. I can be VERY stupid (that must be the natural blonde coming out). I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Why am I sitting here wallowing in self-pity? We found a former Russian Orthodox Church (now OCA) that offered the same things. AAAHHhhh – peace. Quiet. Humble. Delicious, fragrant, well-fitting peace!
I completely understand Janice Bidwell’s journey. I have been witness to it – on both sides of the fence. She can teach me to be a more faithful Orthodox, and I can teach her just how deep is the unquenched thirst, and long is the rocky road for Protestants that wake up to the Most High God that gently calls them back once they are ready for a full meal. Perhaps she and I can walk on top of the edge of the fence together, with Christ as our Leader and yield the double-edged sword of God’s Omnipotent Word, tending and cultivating the path to protect the beautiful quietness of Christ’s long-suffering, preserved Bride…
Adam Lamar says
SteelCity Mom – Great insight on this – thanks!!
Adam Lamar says
PS: I guess I just didn’t like the attitude she conveyed in the AFR interview.. but like you said, when you look closely at the content of her thoughts, there is some great stuff there.
Janice Bidwell says
Nice article, hopefully I’ll see you in another Theology class some time soon. I still go to St. George Serbian, come by and visit some time
I am actually writing in response, not to the above article, but to your interview with Kevin Allen on the “Illumined Heart Podcast” episode entitled “The Quiet Cradle” from 21 January 2011.
I hope you will forgive me for offering just a few criticisms about this interview.
For starters, I object to this idea of a division (what you call a “gap” and a “disconnect”) between “converts” and “cradle” Orthodox. (We are all converts; no one is born Orthodox) Never in my life–the first 35 years of which I spent among Protestants–did I ever hear anyone categorize Christians as “converts” and “cradles.” Why is this unique to Orthodox Christians? It’s pointless and unhealthy and dangerous and needs to stop! Please do your part to put an end to this poisonous notion rather than helping perpetuate it.
(There are, of course, real divisions that we all need to work hard to eliminate, such as the one that exists between ethnicities, jurisdictions, and calendars.)
It appears to me that most of what you seem to regard as problems aren’t problems at all, but rather expressions of your distaste for converts. For example, the heritage of Orthodoxy is not “missing” as you think it is. In fact, it is because of this heritage that people are coming into the Orthodox Church. People aren’t coming into the Church and inventing a new heritage. They are adopting what they have received, not “losing” it, like you seem to think. If the Orthodoxy of “converts” is not one that “reflects [your] experience,” then why do you insist that the problem is with the “converts”? You also criticized what Kevin called “an intellectual approach versus a heart approach” by stating again that it is “not the reflection of what I was raised with in terms of the Eastern spirit…how you live your faith.” You provide no examples and your suggestion for overcoming this intellectualization is to look at what the grandmothers are doing. That’s fine, but not all–or even most–“converts” to the Faith are intellectualizing it. My wife, for example, doesn’t even know who Vladimir Lossky is! Nor does she care. But she’s faithful, attends church and confession regularly, and receives the Eucharist every chance she gets. My parents are the same way. It is a mistake to depict all–or most–“converts” as intellectuals with no heart for the Faith.
After fretting over the loss of Orthodox heritage, you then, inexplicably, complain about the “imbalance” that results from the introduction of “ancient traditions and customs, which feel new and strange to those with deep Orthodox Christian roots.” Okay, so where’s the problem? If these are, in fact, “ancient traditions and customs” that you and others like you with “deep Orthodox Christian roots” have abandoned somewhere along the line, why, instead of complaining, are you not expressing your gratitude to those who have reintroduced these practices, and seeing this as an opportunity to rejuvenate your parish? Oh…right…because they are “externals” that are “not as important.” You don’t like head coverings, long beards, gowns, and robes, not because they are wrong, but because they remind you of “Dumbledore,” and you don’t understand how that is a part of “Americanizing the Orthodox Faith.” Am I wrong to think that the last thing we need is another “Americanized” faith? Rather, we need to Orthodoxify America!!!!!
But this idea leaves you “confused” because you never saw “deep prostrations” growing up. “Deep prostrations” (btw, is there another kind?) and head coverings are a problem for you, again, not because they’re wrong, but because your grandparents are unfamiliar with them? Your suggestion that people who perform “deep prostrations” are “masquerading” is profoundly insulting. The sincerity of anyone else’s repentance is, quite frankly, none of your business. Kevin started to challenge you on this (but I think he gave up too easily), and your response, again, was that you are “confused” because your grandparents and great aunts and uncles know nothing of these practices, even though you claim that these are the people who “preserved the traditions and practices” that they brought from the Holy Land. Ms Bidwell, if there is a disconnect, it lies here, because if you have ever been you the Holy Land, you will know that the Christians there–whose traditions and practices you claim your forebears brought with them to the New World–are wearing head coverings and beards and performing prostrations and standing in church even to this day! So, why aren’t you?
I also object to your characterization of the way “converts” approach the Faith as being “legalistic.” You again give no examples whatsoever, but rather use this as an opportunity to blast people who practice asceticism (“play monk”). Since when is denying oneself merely playing? Again, how dare you judge the sincerity of another’s repentance?!
Should our faith be “comfortable”?! I think not! I share your concern about an overemphasis on correctness, particularly (although you didn’t say this) when it is at the expense of charity and compassion. So, what is your solution? To have a grandmother or great aunt available to give people a “verbal lashing” or a “wacking over the head” for doing what? Talking in church? Falling asleep during the service? Not paying attention to the sermon? No…for being too zealous in their worship! Honestly, is that the problem with the youth of today?! Their overzealousness?! Ms Bidwell, if there is a problem that we as Americans need more of, it is zealous Orthodox Christians!!!
I wish Kevin had thought to ask you whether saying morning and evening prayers every day is the sort of overzealousness that would earn someone a “verbal lashing” or a “wacking over the head.” How about displaying iconography in the home? How about attending church more than once per week, or going to confession on a regular basis?
(Incredibly, you go on to say that we need “courtesy” in church! It’s a problem when people stand in front of you while you’re sitting in church, but not a problem to have old women whacking youngsters over the head for their overzealousness?)
You claim that there needs to be a “balance” between “inreach” and “outreach.” I agree with you on this, but I have yet to see–and you fail yet again to give an example of–an instance where the former has suffered because of an excess of the latter. We live in a country in which very aggressive outreach efforts are sweeping people into Evangelical communities by the thousands. Orthodox outreach efforts need to be every bit (or more, I think) as aggressive just to make our existence known. It is no longer acceptable (if indeed it ever was acceptable) for the Orthodox Church to be “the best-kept secret in North America.” The word needs to get out! This can happen without giving up on “inreach,” i.e. the growth and nurturing of the spiritual lives of Orthodox Christians. One of the many beautiful aspects of the Orthodox faith is that it is built for such nurturing; all the tools are right there! (incl. the Sacraments, prayers, services, feasts, lives of the Saints, etc) Increasing our efforts to bring others into the fold will not compromise or diminish those tools; Poor pastorship and a lack of commitment on the part of the laity will (as illustrated in Terry Mattingly’s shocking and heartbreaking recount of the “ethnic” priest who told him that “‘Most of the members of my congregation have never been to confession in their lives. They have no idea that this even exists as a part of our church. They see no connection between confession and the life of our parish and the sacramental reality of our parish.'”). Perhaps those suffering from lack of “inreach” should be performing more “deep prostrations.”
You take exception to the statement that “the Orthodox…have chosen to be invisible.” In fact they have. I lived out 35 years of my life before I even knew what Orthodox Christianity was. I will not allow it to be said when I reach the end of my life that I did not do everything within my power to make the Orthodox Faith known. Have you made such a commitment?
You bemoan the loss of Orthodox heritage and yet you fear the reintroduction of “ancient traditions and customs” that may hinder the Americanization of Orthodoxy; you insist that our Faith must be participatory (rather than intellectual), but not too participatory (as when someone performs a “deep prostration”); You want more inreach, but you disdain the practices that facilitate it (prostrations, etc); You want to Americanize the Church, but caution against too much outeach.
It seems to me that the most accurate and sensible thing you said during the interview was when you described yourself as “confused.”
Ms Bidwell, I ask your forgiveness for anything I have written that is uncharitable or offensive. I assure you it is not meant to be.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Hans Jacobse says
Lot’s of fuel pumping your engine! The zeal is good, but you need to step back a bit and really comprehend what Janice Bidwell is saying. There’s a whole lot there.
I’m a convert too, around 25 years or so ago, 20 years as a priest mostly in the GOA. So I have some experience under my belt. What needs some deeper analysis in your presentation is the idea that we must “Orthodoxify America.” Read David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions. Grasp how the pagan world was really transformed into a Christian one. It’s a good lesson for us, especially as the nation moves away from Christianity.
The Christian success wasn’t due primarily to polemics (although there is room in Orthodoxy for polemics, and sometimes it is even necessary). The primary factor was the internalization of Christ deep into the heart and mind — the characteristic that I think Janice knows and is trying to contrast to the often frenetic but sometimes fruitless energy that we converts bring to the table.
It’s not that this energy is unimportant. We former Protestants are pretty good at organizing things and so forth. But Orthodoxy is ultimately about finding that inner quietude, learning how to stand alongside Christ even as the world howls outside of us. That’s the point I think Janice is trying to make, and she is correct in making it. And the fact that some “cradle” Orthodox fail at this does not diminish its verity or power. Converts will fail at it too. Just watch.
Met. Jonah, another convert, makes the same point in the essay: Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness.
Thank you, Father, for your thoughtful reply. I have not read the two pieces you suggested, but I will.
Are you suggesting that the reintroduction/adoption of “ancient traditions and customs,” the performance of certain acts of piety–like “deep prostrations,” etc– standing in church, wearing beards or head coverings, practicing self denial and other things that would get someone accused of “playing monk’ (all things that Ms Bidwell decries in her interview) are hinderances to finding “inner quietude”? Are these part of the “fruitless energy” to which you refer? Are you suggesting that we do need to “Americanize the Orthodox Faith”?
I’m not defending the rash and polemical things that “converts” do and say. I am saying that Orthodox Christians who try to be Orthodox Christians should do so without the criticism or contempt of their fellow believers. And I reject the idea that the Orthodox Church needs to be “Americanized” in any way that softens or dilutes the Faith or abandons any of the practices that go along with it. Is it possible to be “all things to all men” without “conforming to the pattern of this world”? Yes, I believe it is. The Christian success certainly wasn’t due to eliminating or watering down the things that made it uniquely Christian. Nor, I think will Christian (i.e. Orthodox) success in the U.S. be due to casting off the “ancient traditions and customs,” or giving up prostrations, or shaving beards or… I think you get the idea.
Anyway, I stand by my statement that we need to “Orthodoxify America.”
Fr. Hans Jacobse says
The internalization of Christ, the learning of how He stands beside us not in a formal but experiential and existential way, takes time. And it is out of this struggle that the patterns and habits that both and preserve and actualize the Gospel of Jesus Christ, takes shape. That’s what the Tradition does. It draws from the Gospel because it was shaped by those who stood in that Gospel. And if we stand in that Tradition, it points us back to the Gospel. And if we hear the words of that Gospel and let it grow in the good soil of our heart, we too can share in the fellowship with the apostles who gave that Gospel to us and can partake of the Communion with our Savior whom their words reveals. St. John lays this all out in his First Epistle.
If the elements of the Tradition however are advanced in a critical spirit, the law of love is violated and Christ flees. He cannot live in places where rancor and dissension prevail. That’s why true communion with Jesus Christ takes place only where the Great Commandment is observed: love God and neighbor. Sometimes we convert Orthodox, in the perhaps well intentioned attempt to restore and practice the ancient ways, violate this law of love. We chase Christ away while thinking we are serving Him better. Here the perfect becomes the enemy of the good.
So no, I am not suggesting that we “Americanize the Orthodox faith.” I am saying that Orthodoxy will, in the end, find an expression that draws from the ancient practices but also speaks in an American voice. This is the way it happens in all Orthodox countries. Russian Orthodoxy and Greek Orthodoxy are the same but also different. One is Russian, one is Greek. Russians don’t have pews, but Greeks (in Greece) have chairs, although there are never enough chairs for everyone and many people still stand. Are the Greeks less Orthodox than the Russians? No, of course not. But planting Orthodoxy in America and the development of a uniquely American Orthodox voice will take time.
Orthodoxy in America will grow to become what our Lord and Savior desires it to be but only if we are faithful, if we strive to live by the Great Commandment. Be patient.
Frankly, I am grateful for the “cradles” who brought the faith to America. If it were not for them, I would not have a church to go to. Is it perfect? No. But neither am I.
Father, I agree with everything in your last comment. Particularly this:
“If the elements of the Tradition however are advanced in a critical spirit, the law of love is violated and Christ flees. He cannot live in places where rancor and dissension prevail.”
That was the whole point of my first comment.
Prudence True says
For those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear it’s less confusing than you may believe. Open your heart, close the door on your anger . . . and see what happens!
I’m sorry you think I am angry. I assure you I am not. And I’m really not sure what you think I’m confused about.
Perhaps you can explain to me what it is you feel that someone with ‘the eyes to see and the ears to hear” is seeing and hearing that I am missing.
Prudence True says
With eyes that see and ears that hear, God is everywhere . . . He is in the heart and resonates through the soul. God radiates outward from deep inside. I agree with everything Fr. Jacobse says above; his soul resonates outward through his words. Can you hear it?
No, the interview with Kevin Allen was not the best . . . rather petty if you want my true opinion. But the viewpoint is valid; there are many who agree with all that was said during that interview, but they are not loitering around Orthodox cyberland, and you won’t hear their voices on Ancient Faith Radio. But these voices know the Orthodox faith and can guide you toward your heart.
Please accept my apologies for any offense I’ve given.
Dear Lord Jesus The Christ have mercy on me a sinner, guide me, Dear Lord, wherein I should walk, for I lift my soul unto Thee… AMEN
Oh, OH – so MUCH to comment, oh SUCH the wrong venue. Sigh.
Matt — It is one thing to show a man that he is in an error, and another to put him in possession of the truth. I cannot remember who said that – I do know that it was not me. Keep steady on course in the Faith, it can be hard but the reward is oh so worth it!
Fr Hans — Please use caution and much constraint at using the word existentialism anywhere within the realm of Chrisitianity. So very few people actually know the beauty of its original design via Soren Kierkegaard (my fave!), and generally tend to muster with the athiest Friedrich Nietzsche. ’nuff said. I am not sure if you are aware of it or not, but you are using a simplified version of the manipulation tactic known as the Alinsky method. Please stop. I am beginning to think, that – you Sir – are a bully!! Now – I’ll stop.
Dear Janice — I did not read Matthew’s comment as anger. But, I wasn’t angry when I read this, either. Tut, tut, young woman – A wise woman builds up her house, a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. As American Orthodox woman, we hold SO MUCH POWER! As my immigrant Orthodox grandfather would tell me (i can’t spell it in Carp) checki (pronounced checkeye). It can mean anything from gentle, gentle, quiet, patience, soft – it all depends on the scenario…Matthew has every right to express his thoughts here. Let us remember too that this IS Journey To Orthodoxy – THE place for convert testimonies. I feel comfortable here because in any venue – I am a plain-out sinner…may it be neither to my judgement nor my condemnation…I listened to the AFR interview again, found some articles on antiochian.org (which I did not know was there), and perused your blog. I must say – everything – with the exception of your blog, point to the bigger, macro-problem – lack of vision (which perishes peoples), and poor leadership in the Orthodox Churches in the last 100 years in the U.S. There IS a reason that I attended the Protestant chruch all those years and attended the ACROD Church ON OCCASION. Things are picking up though.
Which brings me as to why your article was posted here in the first place. I have been thinking about this on occasion since my last post (and I neither like nor want to accept the conclusions that I draw). If the reason it is on this website is to collect the spillage of comments that should otherwise appear on AFR (which you are not able to leave comments there), then SHAME SHAME on the admin/moderator who posted this. Lest otherwise I think, there was, in fact, intent of malice and/or dissent? What say you admin/moderator? Janice, your testimony deserves a better arena than this. Obviously the passion of each voice displayed here draws out relevance to both OUR faith of Orthodoxy and the TRUTH of Christ and HIS Bride.
I have so much to comment – I could go on , and on, and on, – and I will – but not here.
God Bless us ALL! – Jnut
Fr. John says
Steel City Mom,
I don’t run AFR. I do run JTO. I put her story here because I get constant requests for ‘revert’ testimonies, but no one will write them. There are many believers who wander away from Orthodoxy and then return, but they usually don’t share their stories with me.
If you have one, let me know and I will publish it. We are always trying to give readers what they want, what will inspire and help them along.
Without a doubt, the Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere has suffered from a lack of vision and teaching. Again, that is why we do this. We get no help from anyone except loyal and supportive readers.
I’m sorry you seem to think there was something sinister about posting Janice’s story. You don’t seem very familiar with our site, or it’s mission.
Prudence True says
For more fodder you can also search the Russian Orthodox Church site, pravmir.com.
My hope is others born and raised as Orthodox Christians in this country will trample over me and share their perspectives on Orthodoxy. I agree with you, my expression is inadequate. . . .
SteelCityMom aka Janet Brunermer says
To my sister in Christ – I love you, Janice – may the Theotokos pray for us continually, and may Father God bless us (all of us)…From me to you….
Wow. Just … wow.
I have listened to Janice’s interview with Kevin Allen as well as read her testimony here. During much of both, I was moved to cheer. As a convert it felt like a privilege to hear another side of the story, one I didn’t have the opportunity to hear often. To see the mature wood rather than the green.
Reading these comments made me understand why cradle Orthodox might hold themselves aloof, even sharply query newcomers’ intentions. No wonder they’re leery of converts! I, too, would steer clear of what I see displayed here.
I would advise all these holier-than-thou “Church Ladies” (of both genders) to try listening and learning from Janice rather than instructing her from on high.
Whether we come into the Church as an infant or a 50 yr-old, Orthodoxy is a lifelong conversion. Part of the struggle of true conversion is discovering that today (every day) is the day of salvation.
Ioannis Constantinou says
I don’t really know what this lady is trying to get at in this article but what l do know is that she sure is mixed up about the name of the Orthodox Church she belongs to. For one thing “Eastern Orthodox” does not mean that one is Orthodox from the Middle East. This is really ludicrous to say the least. The Eastern Orthodox Church is one Church and it’s made up of different Orthodox autocephalous churches who recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as first among equals among all the Orthodox bishops. The Eastern Orthodox Church bases it’s theology on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as opposed to Oriental Orthodox Churches. Therefore the Russian Orthodox Church and all the other Slavic Orthodox Churches are Eastern and so are all the Greek Orthodox Churches. In the Middle East itself we find the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem which are both Greek Orthodox and follow the Byzantine Tradition. My advice to the lady is to learn first what the Eastern Orthodox Church is before she tries to teach us about Orthodoxy whiteout knowing what she is talking about .