Converts and such...

From time to time one hears in Orthodox circles that dreaded word "convert". Usually its used an adjective to describe a person in the Church for example "So and so is a convert Priest..."

In some ways its sad the whole idea of people coming in to Orthodoxy by conversion is still so unusual in many places that a term has come to be used to describe those who do. It's not unlike a scientist naming a new species. Yet I've never heard, for example, someone described as a "convert" to the Assembly of God, or a Baptist Church. While people in those communities and others like them are sometimes referred to as a "former" this or that I believe the lack of the word "convert" comes from the understanding that someone coming from the outside into a community of faith is normal operating procedure and so there is no need to use a special adjective to describe them.

Regardless, two things need to be said.

First, all Orthodox are converts. Having generations of family within the Church is a blessing but it means nothing for salvation if the person does not themselves embrace the faith. There are no grandparents in Orthodoxy, no special privileges based on heritage, and no guarantees that come with simply being part of a family or culture with a long history in Orthodoxy. Each person must believe. Each person must work out their salvation. No extra credit is given for simply being born into an Orthodox family whether that family has been Orthodox for centuries or months.

Second, when people come in to Orthodoxy from wherever they originate they are real Orthodox, as Orthodox as anyone who's family has been in the faith for centuries. There is no two tiered system based on longevity or ethnicity. Faithfulness matters. Longevity helps because it gives time to develop faithfulness, but it carries no value in itself and ethnicity can be valuable in the sense that a person lives with the advantages of Orthodox culture but without true faith it means nothing.

Some day, I hope, the word "convert" to describe certain people coming into Orthodoxy will simply fade away. One day we'll realize that Orthodoxy is a faith, a way of life and transcends all cultures, a universal thing possessed by all who embrace it and not limited to any group or nation, in fact it is the one lasting nation and people, the Kingdom of God. One day we'll return to our original missionary vision and see people coming into the Faith as the most normal of things, as normal as a tin of warm baklava. Some day no one will stare when new people walk in our door or find their way home in our parishes.

Until then we have this teaching moment, a window into the truth of our Faith in these matters thrown open by those who come in to our Parishes seeking that very faith and by doing so help us to grow in ours as well.

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