Converts, Retreads & Reverts

Converts, Retreads & Reverts May 24, 2006

In truth, we’re all converts. We are called to convert to Christ daily: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Thus we know that there’s no such thing as being “born Orthodox.” But when people use that term, or Cradles, we know what they mean. Hopefully the same may be said of these labels: Converts, Reverts, and Retreads. Convert refers to those of us who have come home to Holy Orthodoxy, having been reared outside the Church. Reverts were reared in the Church only to leave the fold, usually for some other Christian group, and return later. Retreads are those men who were ordained elsewhere, only to later be ordained in the Orthodox Church. Converts, Reverts, and Retreads thought they understood the Truth, only to find out differently through Faith. By hook or crook, usually with great stumbling, they have found the Orthodox Church. All are Orthodox, nonetheless.

Whatever our backgrounds, there’s much that we understand about each other. However there’s a lot that gets lost in translation. It’s one thing for American Converts to adopt new recipes, foreign phrases, and customs; it’s another for Cradles to understand where the Converts are coming from and why. It’s another thing entirely when Converts start speaking with a foreign accent! And the clergy who must shepherd this colorful flock? God help them!

For those of us who have found Orthodox Christianity after much struggle, there’s an initial period of euphoria that just plain knocks us off our feet. It is a time of new discovery, fresh insight, and incredible buoyancy. This may be hard for our Cradle brothers and sisters to fully appreciate. It can be a fun, exciting, and exasperating time for everyone.

As with all things outside of Paradise this initial phase of conversion doesn’t last. And it is the crucial “next phase” of the journey that can get a little nutty. More than one Convert has experienced the “two year itch” (or 3, 4, or 5-year itch). During this phase, some time after being received into the Church, the incense, chanting, vestments, and icons just don’t sustain one’s enthusiasm as they once did.

This sort of struggle is foreign to most Cradles. Sure, they may fall away from the Faith or their church community. But, due to family, ethnic, and old-country ties, most stay the course through thick and thin, feast and famine, no matter how low their spiritual zeal. Not so, the American Convert. Having struggled toward Orthodoxy valiantly and having been buoyed by the experience temporarily, this new and harder struggle can be severely underwhelming. This phase may prove too difficult for some and, unfortunately, they may end up leaving the Church. For those who make it over this hump, the fullness of the Orthodox Faith is often appreciated in a new and unshakeable light.

In the midst of this, there are personal stories to be told. It is my hope that in publishing some of these tales and pastoral issues we might all, Cradles and Converts alike, better understand each other, even share a laugh or two, as we struggle toward the Kingdom together.

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Signed copies available via email request. 🙂

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