An old story from 4 years ago, and becoming more and more true every day!
Greg Mencotti worried he would never find a spiritual home.
The Sunday school teacher grew up Roman Catholic, lost his faith and became an atheist. Eventually, he returned to Christianity, this time as a born-again Christian, spending years worshipping in a Methodist congregation. Still, he felt his search wasn’t over.
That led him to the Holy Spirit Antiochian Orthodox Church in Huntington, W. Va., a denomination with Mideast roots that, like all Orthodox groups, traces its origins to the earliest days of Christianity.
Today, Mencotti is one of about 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide — and among a significant number of newcomers attracted to this ancient way of worship. The trend is especially notable since so few in the United States know about the Orthodox churches here.
“I was like most Americans,”
said Mencotti, who was urged by his wife to explore Orthodox worship.
“I didn’t understand anything about Orthodoxy.”
Orthodoxy was born from the Great Schism of 1054, when feuds over papal authority and differences in the liturgy split Christianity into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox halves.
In the United States, Orthodox Christians are a fraction of religious believers, numbering about 1.2 million, according to estimates by Orthodox researchers.
In the past, their growth had been largely fueled by immigration, with churches forming mainly along ethnic lines. Some converts came to Orthodoxy through marriage to a church member.
But now about one-third of all U.S. Orthodox priests are converts — and that number is likely to grow, according to Alexei D. Krindatch, research director at the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, Calif.
A 2006 survey of the four Orthodox seminaries in the country found that about 43% of seminarians are converts,
There are no exact figures on the rate of conversion across the 22 separate U.S. Orthodox jurisdictions. But when Mencotti began attending Orthodox worship, the church was packed with converts, including the church’s pastor, the Rev. John Dixon.
The Rev. John Matusiak, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Wheaton, Ill., part of the Orthodox Church in America, said his parish has grown from 20 people in the early 1990s to more than 600 today, with the overwhelming majority of new members younger than 40.
Krindatch’s research found that one-third of the more than 200 U.S. parishes in the Antiochian Orthodox Church were founded after 1990.
Matusiak said growth is especially apparent in suburbs and commuter towns.
“People in Wheaton weren’t flocking to Orthodoxy, because there was never a church here,” Matusiak said.
Many converts credit the beauty of the liturgy and the durability of the theology, which can be a comfort to those seeking shelter from divisive battles over biblical interpretation in other Christian traditions.
Dixon, who was raised an Old Regular Baptist, an austere faith of the Southern Appalachians, said his conversion grew from his studies about the origins of Christianity as an undergraduate at Marshall University. The turning point came when he first attended services at an Orthodox church.
“As soon as I came in that day,” he says, “I knew I was home.”
Convert-fueled growth, though, has its challenges.
Like converts in all faiths, the newly Orthodox bring a zeal that can be unsettling for those born into the church, who tend to be more easygoing in their religious observance. Parishes run the risk of dividing between new and lifelong parishioners,
“Converts to Orthodoxy form their own little quasi-seminary and it’s almost a closed group,”
says the Rev. Joseph Huneycutt, associate pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, who was raised Southern Baptist then became Orthodox.
And some worry about converts’ impact on the churches. They are entering the parishes at a time when many lay activists across Orthodox denominations are pushing church leaders to let go of ethnic divisions and pool resources so they can better evangelize in the United States.
Huneycutt, author of One Flew Over the Onion Dome, a book about conversion, and the editor of OrthoDixie, a blog about Orthodoxy in the South, said he was drawn to the faith by the beauty of its rituals and its teachings.
On his first visit, he said the church was filled with the smell of incense and the sound of the chanted Divine Liturgy. The altar was largely concealed by the iconostasis, a large screen or wall hung with icons of Christ, Mary, angels and Apostles. And worshippers received Communion from a chalice and spoon.
“I had become convinced that the Eucharist was the center of Christian worship — ancient Christian worship,”
“Once I had reached that point in my personal walk with Christ, there was no going back.”
Of course, this part is not true: “Orthodoxy was born from the Great Schism of 1054, when feuds over papal authority and differences in the liturgy split Christianity into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox halves.” I thank God, though, that the truth of the Orthodox Church is being revealed here in America. Glory to God!
Interesting newsletter. I’m not at all religious (raised Methodist but was put off by their neo Marxist views) but I think when enough Americans join the Orthodox Church in the US it will become as shallow and empty as the politically correct Protestant denominations most of them leave. Might be wrong, of course, but that’s my take on it.
Fr. John says
Perhaps – no one can know for certain, but I think this will not happen by and large for three reasons:
1 – the flood of Americans into Orthodoxy has been partly because of the moral relativism exemplified by politically correct ‘churches’ – and they fought the good fight. They smell crap like that and know what to do about it.
2 – there is already a group of clergy and laity trying to drag the culture wars into the Church. They are failing to do it, and without a doubt failing their duties as Christians.
3 – Persecution is already at the door. The Church will be purged and cleansed of ‘convenient members,’ who are trying to remake it in their own bizarre image. They’ll flee fast, leaving the Church to be what it always has been. The pure, unadulterated Church of Christ.
I agree Father, The church has welcomed many converts over its 2000 years of growth and has never wavered. Unlike the individual denominations Orthodoxy has all the sister churches to weigh in when change tries to sneak in. The Orthodox church will all ways reflect on what has been taught for all times and in all places. If it does not meet this then a true Orthodox will reject it.
Asked to be the catechist at our Orthodox Church, I become close friends with virtually every person I help to embrace Orthodoxy. Most people have already done their homework, and are well aware of what it means to be a practicing Orthodox. They already embrace prayer, fasting comes to them naturally, if it hasn’t already grown in their hearts, and many are vegan. The know there is more to learn, and their hearts are open to all aspects of the faith. I find them to be the most Orthodox, defenders of the faith, not innovators, because unlike the majority of ethnic Orthodox, they actually fervently practice their faith. They fast, they pray several times a day, they practice unceasing prayer, they organize, volunteer, and give alms, they attend Orthros and Vespers, they confess regularly. I believe that the numbers of non-ethnic Orthodox will continue to grow in parishes, and those who fervently practice their faith will out number those who come for the social/ethnic ascpects. Already, the traditions of the old world are fading from lack of interest by children, grand children, and great-grandchildren; the faithful families will endure.
I am a returning Orthodox Christian (Caucasian American) who grew up in a Greek Orthodox Church. I am now coming back to Orthodoxy 23 years later. Why? God call me to the church. That’s right. He told me to return. Christ is Risen within me! My heart rejoices! My wife, who grew up in a Lutheran Church has embraced Orthodoxy with open arms and our marriage has blossomed into something neither one of us could have expected. Only the One true Catholic and Apostolic Church could have led us down this path. Our Church is also very diverse and open to all. We are so very grateful have them. This fear of losing the Church within American society is unfounded. The church is the way it is because it has not changed. The people will only continue to come and be faithful as they see the truth of the Orthodox Way.
I am only an enquirer, but I am certainly fascinated by the uncompromising essence of Orthodox Christanity. However I also know that many of the The Lord’s early disciples were Jews who believed in Him as YESHUA t’ADONAI. i.e JESUS, The LORD. Since they still went to the synagogues and kept the Jewish holy days (as prescribed in their religious tradition of Judaism), while believing in Yeshua, some would refer to these early disciples as Messianic Jews.
Could any one explain to me please, What is the position of the Orthodox Faith and Clergy in regard to Messianic Judaism ?
Fr. John says
“Messianic Judaism” is a modern invention. In the days of the Apostles, gentiles and new converts did not ‘celebrate’ Jewish feasts, following the Apostolic instructions of the Council of Jerusalem. Orthodoxy IS what Messianic Judaism is trying to duplicate. It is not a necessarily bad thing, but if you have a home of your own, you don’t live in a tent, just as the Hebrews stopped worshipping in the Tabernacle once they built a Temple.
Also, for example, the three major Jewish Feasts are simply antecedents and types of the Christians feasts.
Tabernacles => Nativity
Passover => Pascha
Pentecost (Jewish) => Pentecost (Christian)
St. Paul has alot to say about this in his epistles to the Galatians and Ephesians. Those who ignore him, do so at their peril!
Messianic Judaism isn’t a bad thing, but it is entirely incomplete without THE CHURCH.
I find this very interesting. I’ve been raised a Protestant, but lately I’ve been intrigued by Orthodoxy. I haven’t been to an Orthodox service (yet?) but I have been reading a little about it. Perhaps this is because in my school’s theology classes, all we learn about Orthodoxy tends to be as a side-note (I attend a Christian university). I don’t know if learning journey will eventually lead me to convert, but I’m beginning to understand why many are converting. I don’t feel at home at the churches I’ve attended…maybe I should try Orthodoxy?
Fr. John says
Clare, thanks for posting.
A few suggestions:
First – look around on JTO to see some of the stories of other Christians who have made the journey. Their journeys are often well thought out, gut-wrenching searches for the Truth. They tell much of their struggles and what compelled them on.
Second – consider a book like “Becoming Orthodox,” or “Light from the Christian East.” Both are very good books. The first by a former Campus Crusade leader who became Orthodox with about 2,000 others on the same day. The second book is an excellent treatment of Orthodoxy written by a protestant who has really done his homework – a highly recommended book!
Finally – don’t be afraid to contact us. We can direct you to a good parish and a good clergyman nearby who can answer questions and help you on your journey.
Remember, the Christian faith is a LIVING faith, and it must be received from living persons. That is the Christian way!
Thank you for the book recommendations!! When I go home for the summer, I plan on exploring it a little more. While I love reading and thinking about these issues, I know that there is no substitute for real-life experience of the church 🙂
I came across this journal thank’s to a youtube video on early Christianism.It was to say the least very interesting and enlightening.I was born into the roman catholic church and served for almost a year as a novice to become a nun.God took me elsewhere but with the same faith inside of me.With time I found many things lacking in my church stated in the bible such as preaching on sunday.We did not follow the sabbath of the lord which is one of the commandements.How important!To adore saints and images was another.This greatly disturbed me in my venture that I cannot follow man but God himself.The only church I found that preached on Saturday was the SDA church.They follow the sabbath,are mostly vegetarians and follow strict giudelines on health habits as stated in the bible.Something yet bothers me inside…Helen G.Whte a profet? her books although great and leading to a serious Christian lifestyle,still brings questions…Can you please tell me about the Sabbath and do you wroship on Sunday?I am compelled to learn about your faith because it brings me to the past origins I have for a lifetime been searching for.Have a blessed day.
Fr. John says
We worship on Saturday (the Sabbath) and on Sunday (the Lord’s Day) – just like the Apostles and all Orthodox Christians throughout history.
In fact, we are the only Christian body that celebrates “the Great Sabbath” – Holy Saturday, the day Christ rested from His earthly labors and conquered the powers of death and hell.
We do what Christians have always done, from the beginning!
Thank you so much for your reply Fr.Frank.Your reply brings great comfort to my heart,knowing that the sabbath of the lord,one of our comandments is being celebrated!I has no knowledge of it.I think there is no greater joy or peace than that the one we recieve when wholeheartedly and truly in the presence of the lord at church with our brothers and sisters.Sabbath is a day I look forward to and anticipate every week along with the gospel,we have healthy meals together,the children learn about the bible,sing,and we discuss about current events on matters that affect us as christians and civil beings be it of political matters,diet and nutrition,marriage matters,our behavior as a role model for others,health amongs so many others that affects us today.We not only read the bible but study it together so that people can make sense of their decisions to become christians and baptize convinced that it is the only way to salvation is to be born again in the spirit.A good shephard teaches the way with humility and always will give god the credit and glory.Learning that materials things will stay,but our soul will remain in jesus.I will continue developing further my research on orthodox christianity.I am lucky to have a few churches near and further explore.I trust that Jesus will show me the way…God Bless.
I was a former protestant minister, now Orthodox, and I always get a big smile on my face when I see someone come home. There are literally people all over the world who will be Orthodox soon and don’t know it.
Jon Boatwright says
I am one of the converts. I grew up as and met Christ as a Baptist then became a Methodist. The more I studied about church history the more I was hungering for the ancient church. I became smitten with Orthodoxy. Still am. There are many many others out there who long for a deeper relationship with Christ. Once they get a bead on Orthodoxy they’ll be sold. The Orthodox Church needs to prepare for these conversions. My Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters look at me as if they don’t quite know what to think when I tell them this. Get ready, Orthodoxy. More are coming.
Fr. John says
Amen, Jon, and why is it that we have not received your own journey story?!!
Jon Boatwright says
Fr. John, thank you and perhaps I will submit my own story. Thank you for asking. I enjoy reading the variety of experiences even after conversion. Great website and a very helpful aide.
rev. radu says
prais be the LORD!
i am an orthodox prist from romania, and i am glad that the americans, like others come to the aincent original church.
after revolution from 1989, in romanian, and faling the comunist block, a lots of newprotestants liders come to romania (like other eastern europe countries…) th make us chrsitians.
we were evangelised 2000 years agou by apostol andrew, his cave from dobrogea regions is stil a proof of his messianic activiti on my land. we have an apostolic pathon.
many of this protestants pastors and others who come in romania, who try to make us christians, when they descovered the orthodoxy, they turn to the original church. perhaps u know the stories of few like them: fr. David Hudson, of fr. Charless Bell from San Jose and others.
FR. RADU FROM CLUJ, ROMANIA
I have started my journey about three months ago quite honestly by reading a Catholic author who quoted so many Church Fathers and Orthdox saints that I had to investigate. Now I can’t stop reading any and everything Orthodox and I’m looking for a Church to attend soon. What has attracted me to the faith is a Church that has not added to or taken away from the liturgy. As a once Protestant and now Roman Catholic I’ve experienced both and am ready to come home to the Orthodox faith. Pray for my journey I know that will be many loses on the way but the gains will surley out weigh all.
Fr. John says
It is not just the liturgy which has not substantially changed, but the theology as well – and therein lies the pearl of great price.
Welcome home, and do let us know how we can help.
Thanks Father Radu for the lead -in.
Indeed, many solid Orthodox Christians from the Dobrogea area of Romania, including my own patron St. John Cassian (360-435). There were not many protestants in the chuches back then.
I was raised Roman Catholic (from the cradle, as they say). Originally formed at a time when the Tridentine Mass was the norm, the modern liturgy of the Post V2 era did not speak for me. After many years as a lapsed Catholic, I discovered that the traditional Mass of my youth was again being offered. I returned to the Church with an enthusiasm for the “ancient” liturgy. My interest in historic liturgy led me to reciting the (6th century) Benedictine Office as a private devotion. From there, the path lead me East, to the Desert Fathers, and Holy Orthodoxy.
I attended my first Orthodox service, the liturgy of St. Lazarus in 2011 and became a catechumen on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt in 2012. God willing, I will be received into Orthodoxy on Great & Holy Saturday 2013.
I´m very late to the discussion, but the messianic jewish comments above stirred in me something I have been wanting to ask about Orthodoxy. I read recently that some of the Orthodox liturgy contains some very anti-jewish, anti-semitic language. Is this true? If so, is there a move within the church to change the language? As someone coming from an evangelical tradition that is very loving toward the Jewish people, I am concerned about this criticism (if it is in fact true).
Fr. John says
My wife is Jewish, and she says no. My OT professor at seminary was Jewish also. Fr. James Bernstein, Fr. Paul Jaroslaw, and more. There are some anti-semites here and there, but the so called ‘anti-jewish’ language is directed specifically to the Jews who rejected Christ. Remember, we do know our Lord, our Lady, and most of our early Christian brethren, were Jews. And we aren’t changing the language because we know what context is, though many of our detractors apparently do not.
Thanks Fr. John. I have been wrestling with this because of some scholars who are teaching and saying that John´s Gospel, for example, is anti-jewish in tone as well as those who accuse the Orthodox Church of being anti-jewish. Context is everything of course.