Christian TraditionsDialoguesEastern OrthodoxJourneys of Faith

Why Would a Protestant Convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity?

Why would a Protestant Christian convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity? Such a question cannot be answered through the use of dogmatic assertions or theoretical musings. For such a question presupposes a particular person’s journey of faith. And such a journey can only be spoken of from experience.* Similarly, Christianity at its core is an encounter with Christ—a relationship—not a formal set of dogmas. It is not my aim to embark on the process of comparative religion. The journey I wish to take you on is my own: how a nominal Protestant Christian, and his family, found the fulness of Christ in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

My Christian Background

I grew up as an active participant in a non-denominational Protestant church in rural Michigan.  At this same church I met a woman who would, in 2009, become my wife. My father, a music pastor and missionary, along with my mother, led their five children, of whom I am the fourth, to faith in Christ. Through the promptings of my older sister I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of six. Seeing no major reason, at the time, to be baptized right away, I waited until I was ten. At fifteen, while in Africa, God audibly spoke to me: an experience that rocked my world.

Around this time I began reading every book on theology and philosophy that I could get my hands on—beginning, of course, with C.S. Lewis. By seventeen I had delved into Plato and Aristotle and eventually wound up following the timeline of history and reading a variety of philosophers and theologians. At that point in time, my World Religion’s Professor began offering free Koine Greek lessons before class; this kick-started my interest in biblical Greek, though I am still an amateur. I can see, though only in part, that God has used all of these interests as instruments to pave the way towards union with Him through Eastern Orthodoxy.

At eighteen, as my reading list would have proclaimed, I was really into Christianity. But the reading list is pretty much where it stopped. Christianity was in my head but not my heart, and I did not even realize that this was a problem.

Between 2007 and 2009 I went through several phases. I was a professing Christian, a skeptic, agnostic, neoplatonic dualist, a priori enthusiast, a “who gives a f***ist” . . . Between what I was reading and what I was undergoing during that period of time my entire life was thrown completely out of balance.

And then I got married.

We lived together as newlyweds 2000 miles away from where we grew up . . . and we did alright. We were attending a Baptist church and it was really good for us. We got involved and I began attempting to “lead” as I perceived a godly husband should—though I didn’t really know what this should look like. When we moved back to our hometown a year later we fell back into a stupor—floating along nominally and attending the church we grew up in.

Until we found out we were pregnant.

The Beautiful Crisis

“Honey, that says positive.” She was holding out the pregnancy test. We were both in disbelief. It was summer 2011; we were in our second year of marriage. Finding out you’re going to be a dad will straighten you out really fast. I was working as a barista in a small coffee shop. My wife, a nurse, was working in home health care. The plan up to that point had been to continue the road toward my PhD in philosophy—I really liked metaphysics. But not anymore. That was the first thing that had to go, I knew it. I needed a real job, not a PhD in a field where I might not even find a job—and would most likely go crazy trying to explain sunlight to people looking at shadows. The second thing we realized was we needed to get serious about life—what were we doing? And most importantly we needed to get serious about God.

The next several months consisted of job and soul searching. For the first time as a couple, we began to wake up, sing hymns, and read scripture together. We also began praying in the evenings before bed. At that point, we were only attending church to see our old friends. That wasn’t a good reason. So we went church “shopping” and found a new, solid, Bible believing church. And it was good for us.

Around this time our son was born.

The Road from Protestantism to the Eastern Orthodox Church

When we first switched from the church we grew up in to a different—though still non-denominational—protestant church, we were really convicted by the preaching. I remember it vividly. We were laying in bed on a Sunday evening and a dread feeling of conviction came upon me. It felt like a rotting in my soul . . . like if I didn’t say something, I would slowly decompose in my own filth. I opened my mouth hesitantly and began to confess all kinds of things to my wife. And she did the same. The Spirit of God was clearly present. We wept; over our sins but also out of joy because, having confessed, we were free. But as we continued to attend the same church over the next few months we quickly realized that we needed something different. We needed more. There had to be more than appropriating, and then distributing, “get-out-of-hell-free cards”. There had to be more than “God looking down on us from above.” The question that was singeing the edges of my mind was this: How can I keep Christ in front of me every moment of every day? What I was really asking was, how do we abide in Christ?

Until that point, if you would have walked into our apartment off the street, you wouldn’t have seen any indication that we believed . . . anything. Except maybe the Bible on the nightstand . . . maybe. But there was no physical evidence that we were Christians. Growing up, we weren’t explicitly taught that the physical was bad but the mindset we were grafted into took on a form of dualism. “The body and the material universe is bad. Earth isn’t our home.** The spiritual is good.” And so, in our formative years we naturally misunderstood, and poked fun at,—Lord, have mercy—any kind of Christianity that incorporated the physical world. (In retrospect, I can see how it was so easy for me, upon reading Plato, to accept the theory of forms and a dualistic view of the world.)

But not any more.

I had two thoughts. The first was to get a picture of Christ to hang in my living room as a visible representation of His presence. I didn’t want one of those soft, happy-go-lucky pictures of a hipster-model-looking shepherd, I wanted something real. The style I had in mind turned out to be that of iconography—this is before I even knew what an icon was. The second thought was to get a cross to put around my neck. These two thoughts thrust me into a third: Christianity has been around for a really long time surely someone has already thought of this. And so I began searching to find out what early Christians did to abide in Christ.

This catapulted me into a study of the history of Christianity—something I’d never ventured to read into before. I was shocked. Why hadn’t I read the history of my own faith before now?  For being somewhat well read, I was caught with my pants down when it came to Christian history and the Church Fathers. Up to that point, I had always naively thought that after the apostles died the church fell into serious disarray until Luther. What I found, however, was astounding, encouraging, and eye-opening. There were schisms and heresies circulating in the early church for sure, but the Church was never overcome by the gates of hades.1

Why hasn’t anyone told me about the history of Christianity? I asked myself. Why hasn’t anyone told me about the Church Fathers? What amazed me even more was how little I really knew about my own faith. And so I read. And kept reading. And then I read some more. It wasn’t dry facts about dead bishops that captivated me. On the contrary, as I began reading the lives of the saints and how they lived, worshiped, and prayed, I felt the presence of the very saints, about whom I was reading, pulling me closer to Christ.

It became readily apparent, from the historical point of view, that there were only two options: the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. So I began learning as much as I could about the two Churches. What captivated me about the Eastern Church was the balance between the rational and the experiential. Around this time, my wife, son, and I were invited to dinner with an Orthodox priest and his wife. I’d seen Fr. Gregory a few times before. My parents were really good friends with him—my father met him on a missions trip about a year prior to my interest in Church history—and we all went to dinner together. I wasn’t planning on saying anything, but about three-quarters of the way through the meal my mom turned to Fr. Gregory and said, “I think Ben has a question for you about the Orthodox Church.” I am eternally grateful that she said this because it sparked a conversation with Fr. Gregory that would continue, through email and regular meetings, for over a year.

Fr. Gregory responded to my questions and suggested books about the Orthodox faith. Our email correspondence spans over a hundred printed pages—in the future I hope to publish these emails on Conciliar Post under the title “Conversations with an Orthodox Priest.” The Orthodox Faith was vibrant and had a lot to offer. The fact that it has withstood the test of time really spoke to me. The Orthodox Church still worships and encourages parishioners to live, with minor adjustments of course, as it did 2000 years ago.

And this is where it began to get real.

As I looked at how a Christian should live in order to keep Christ the focus of their life, I realized I needed to begin practicing what I read instead of merely ruminating on it. So I began waking up to say morning prayers and in the evening Mallory and I would stand together for evening prayers. Fr. Gregory had given me a prayer rope—black wool with 100 knots—and told me about the Jesus Prayer: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner. And I began practicing it as well. This affected a major change in me. We began attending the Orthodox Church where Fr. Gregory was priest—which at that point was an hour away—as we continued to read about Orthodoxy.

As I continued to participate in daily prayers throughout the week and in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays—though at that point not being able to go forward for to participate in the Eucharist—the doctrines I once mocked became clearer and clearer. It wasn’t as much a rational explication of the doctrines that convinced me of their truth but rather an experience of them. (Though I didn’t neglect the rational by any means—a healthy balance of both is necessary.) It was the fact that I was changing, by God’s grace, through the practice of daily prayers, participation in the Liturgy, reverencing the icons, and fasting. There was something very real happening to me. I later found out that I was—and by God’s grace still am—being healed.

The Orthodox Church views Christianity and the gospel, not as a courtroom but, as a hospital. I would like to talk about this view more in a later article but for now it will suffice to say that through participation in the life of the Church and reading, I underwent a significant change in how I viewed the world. Suddenly, everything began to be an opportunity to give thanks to God. The presence of Christ pervaded everything. The world took on a different meaning; I began,—I say began and I am still beginning—for the first time in my life, to love other people. I wasn’t as angry all the time. My wife and I began to resolve conflict much faster. Overall, it was incredibly encouraging to see that what the Church was offering to me was working.

Our Conversion

We were participating in the Church as much as we could. But that wasn’t enough. It was necessary, in my mind, that we convert so that we could participate fully in the life of the Church. I expressed this desire to Mallory and she too felt like it was the right thing to do—although she didn’t feel the imperative as much as I.

From what I’ve read, and from people I’ve spoken to, it is typically much more difficult for women to convert from protestantism to Orthodoxy than men. When asked, Mallory responded, “Well at first I just thought this was another phase. But when he began praying and participating in the Church and he stopped swearing and punching holes in the wall, I thought there may be something to this Orthodox thing.” She also mentioned that it was encouraging to see that worship wasn’t based on stylistic preference (strange fire, maybe?). When we enter the Church and participate in the liturgy we are stepping out of time and into the kingdom where the king is being worshiped 24/7. We step into this worship, together with the saints and the angels who are always worshipping, as often as we can. The Liturgical calendar has been set up to help us participate in this manner, in the kingdom. By participating in the Liturgical cycle the Church takes us on a journey. This journey is a rhythmic pattern of daily prayers, the iconic significance of sleeping (death) rising from sleep (resurrection), weekly fasting, the Eucharist on Sunday (the 8th day), and extended periods of fasting throughout the year—as a preparation for the feasts (Nativity, Pascha, etc.).

A Few Other Things that Struck Us About Orthodoxy

Even though we didn’t know it before our journey to Orthodoxy, we both had a very impoverished Christianity—and an impoverished view of the world. Unbeknownst to myself, I was a deist (God created and then walked away from the world). I regarded God to be “the man upstairs” and humans to be “downstairs.” Fr. Stephen Freeman talks about this misunderstanding of Christianity in his book Everywhere Present where he calls it a “two-story universe.” One result of this way of thinking—even if it’s not cognizant—is banishing God from the world (in a very physical sense). When we do this what is left are “four walls and a sermon.” The reality is, however, that the whole world is held together by God, and God works through the created world to affect our salvation. Any decent theology about the incarnation will recognize this—although the natural implications of this aren’t always accepted.

Orthodox worship was formed (after the resurrection of Christ) based on these implications: on the fact that we are physical and spiritual beings. It is the soul and the body that compose the human, not one or the other but both together. This being so, it’s important that we use both in worship. In the Eastern Church we use candles, icons, and incense. We bow, prostrate, and kiss. We baptize our children and allow them to take the Eucharist—because rational understanding is not necessary for salvation but participation in Christ is. All of these things are based on the reality that Christianity is an experiential reality and, as human beings, the gospel is not merely an ethereal, rational truth. All of these things bound up together affected a major paradigm shift in our Western mind. All of these things were contributing factors in our conversion.

On Sunday, September 15, 2013, two years after we began searching, we were brought into full communion with the Orthodox Church. The story has many other facets to it as well—at the beginning of those two years unbeknownst to us Fr. Gregory, feeling called by God to our area, sent a letter to His Bishop requesting to start a mission (Orthodox term for a church plant) in Southwest Michigan. Two years later, alongside us being brought into the Church, on September 15, 2013 we held our first Divine Liturgy, which was served by Fr. Gregory, at the Orthodox Mission in Southwestern Michigan currently known as Holy Resurrection.

In summation there are a few things I’d like to say. This account of our conversion from protestantism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity is just one of many. As others have said, I feel like the journey is just now beginning. I do not want to give you the impression that we are perfect little Christians now that we have converted. Far from it. In fact, things actually got much harder after our conversion. But healing is possible; and it is Christ, the healer, whom we seek.

I would like to highlight again that I am not trying to set forward a systematic defense of the dogmas of the Orthodox Church. This being the case I would also like to affirm that doctrine is very important and, having also looked at things rationally, Orthodoxy not only works it also holds up under scrutiny. I affirm and accept the Orthodox faith and doctrine in its entirety—and where doctrines of other traditions vary, I believe it is an aberration from the truth revealed through the Church. For there are beliefs I now hold that, when I was a protestant, I once mocked—and at this I am ashamed. So what convinced me otherwise? It was participation in the life of the Church and experience of these things—tied tandem, of course, with a healthy and balanced intellectual search as well. For Christianity is something you must experience and participate in, not something you can speak about from a distance.

In closing I ask that you pray to God for me, His servant, that he may have mercy on me and my family and remember us in His kingdom. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to whom be all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

  • When this experience is communicated, however, the listener (or reader in this case) can participate in that person’s journey.

** The Orthodox affirm that human beings were made for earth and so the earth is our home; it will be restored at the end of all things.

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Benjamin Cabe

Benjamin Cabe

Benjamin Cabe is an Eastern Orthodox Christian who aspires to learn from, and write within the framework of, the teachings of the Church Fathers. He is an artist, writer, animator, husband, and father. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, writing, and composing music.

  • William Isles

    You can call me Michael. Here is what GOD told me. (Matthew 8:11-12) There are two kingdoms; GOD’s Kingdom, and Satan’s kingdom such as America. This land was stolen by bloodshed and deception. They have a false Trinity of Executive, Legislative and Judicial. These are as the three bands that the Chaldeans formed in the book of Job, and took everything. (Job 1:17) The churches are so blind that Jesus is no longer their Shepherd, the military and police are. Police and military are not even a tiny bit acceptable to GOD, no matter what anyone says. That is the Devil and Satan, and anyone who follows or agrees with them is a goat. The flag being in churches is a sin. When we see that one third of the Angels were cast out of heaven, one third of the world’s population claim to be Christian, and this of the Christians who even so much as honor the governments of these people will be cast out with them. They are so blind that they think the Devil is a real angel of light. Satan transformed himself into an Angel of light and put his flag in the churches. When Jesus enters a church, they don’t recognize his real voice for they are not his sheep, they became the Bride of the military. In the beginning here were two sons. One son said give me my honor and I will force them to return. Those who followed the armed forces and those who honored the metal of honor fell with them. The leaders of the world that GOD accepts are those who do not become goats by following them. They live by the sword, and they die by the sword, and that is their end. GOD bless all products on Earth that open their eyes and see this. There is no; “but this or but that, or but not all of them are bad, or but we need some of them.” They claim separation of Church and state. If you educate on Jesus in schools, you get fired. GOD has been taken out of the pledge of allegiance. And do we pledge allegiance to a flag or to GOD with Jesus? Some people say; “both.” There is not both, and I don’t cover my heart and pledge to a piece of Satan’s cloth. There is no argument; there is no reasoning against this fact. We cannot serve two masters. (Matthew 6:24) (Luke 16:13) They are the goats, and we are not to follow them or we are goats. I speak of anyone who wears a badge. GOD says they are all cast out, and not one is acceptable to ME. Pure love casts out all ungodliness, that all may be turned from their mistakes. I love you. GOD bless you.

  • Brad Harris

    Catholic here. Benjamin, I was deeply moved reading about your journey to Orthodoxy and the love of the Liturgy – particularly the Liturgical calendar when incorporated into our days. I think it was Thomas Aquinas that likened it to a staircase – our circular, yet spiraled ascent to the Most High God. Recently I have noticed a revival among young adults for beauty in the worship of God, and have even started attending a Tridentine Mass on Wednesdays. I am curious if there was/is a particular saint you feel drawn to? May God bless you and your family.

    • Hi Brad, thanks for your comment! Christ is Risen!

      There were certainly many saints praying for us on our journey (and still praying for us). Interestingly, Moses the Prophet in the O.T. became very special to me (I hadn’t paid too much attention to him prior to our search). In addition, the early writers of Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr were helpful. Modern Orthodox Saints such as the recently canonized Paisios of the Holy Mountain and Porphyrous. In addition, other special elders that have not been canonized, particularly Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  • Joy

    Genuine Question: Why is it that most of the conversion stories I hear of Protestants becoming Orthodox are so academic and intellectual? As a Protestant, I am very, very tired of how academic my faith is. I’d like to hear of people coming to the faith without reading a bunch of books or having theology discussions. Myself, I’m feeling drawn to the unchanging nature of the Orthodox church and the support it provides for a Christian to actually grow toward Christ–confession, fasting, etc. I don’t feel like I have that kind of structure or support in my faith right now–there’s a lot of “mercy, love and grace” that actually just leaves me hanging.

    • Hi Joy — your question sparked my interest, and I hope Mr. Cabe will not mind if I chime in before he gets the chance. I resonate with what you are saying here.

      I wonder if the reason why so many conversion stories are heavily “theological” is simply because those who convert *without extended reference to theological/intellectual frameworks* feel they are unqualified to write at length about the process.

      Of course, I believe that the conversion story of such a person can (and likely would!) be even more convicting and relatable than conversion stories of the sort you mention in your comment.

      Nonetheless, whenever I personally sit down and try to write something that I know will reach a broad audience, I do find myself constantly over-intellectualizing things. It’s just the way my brain works, and I suspect that many others find this to be the case as well.

      Few people can write effectively from the heart — which is why texts like “The Way of a Pilgrim” (from the Orthodox standpoint) and biographies like Thérèse of Lisieux’s “Story of a Soul” (from the Catholic standpoint) are so effective. Thoughts?

      • Joy

        Thanks for the response! I really appreciate the interest! I know that there are a lot of people who really like or even need the intellectual information in their faith and that it is a valid way to approach spirituality. On a personal note, I have really scaled back my involvement in the evangelical faith specifically because intellectual pursuits are not where I meet God. Once I know enough, I want to start doing. I don’t want to sit, think, debate, and “discover” the minutiae of the faith. This takes away a lot of motivation to read stuff beyond the Bible, though as I look into Orthodoxy there a little of that will have to take place. My brother is currently in his last year of seminary, and he and his friends are so involved in nitpicking the faith that it makes me not want to be a part of it! (PS: I am a former science teacher, so I’m not all air in the head! Just been over served at church.)

        I started here: We moved to a new town, and there is a Greek Orthodox church near our house. Before we moved, I had befriended someone who had married in to the faith. They were unable to go to Divine Liturgy much because there was not one near where they lived/health issues for long travel, but she would make mention of aspects of the faith when asked. This caught my interest, especially since I have been searching for a fuller way to know God for years now. I’ve been hanging out on the fringes of the evangelical church–church hopping, infrequent attendance, weekly mom groups, odd service projects–but haven’t become a member of anywhere, joined a couple’s small group, or attended regularly on Sunday mornings. None of it really draws me close to God–I just get bombarded with factoids and “cool” music that no one sings to.

        As of now: I’ve specifically been searching out what Orthodox life is like. Confession, fasting, the Eucharist, etc. While I have grown tired of approaching my faith in an intellectual manner, I was in that for so many years that I have a pretty solid knowledge of the Bible. While I could get in to several small examples, basically what I have found as I read about the Orthodox faith is that it’s really the big picture of Christianity. There is a humility in it, a willingness to acknowledge readily that they are not perfect, that I definitely have not found when looking in to the Catholic faith. It has been on my heart for about four months now, and the more I see the fullness of the Christian faith being represented the stronger my heart is called. I am married, though, and my husband is not really a church (or even a large group) person. At all. If it goes any farther it will be fun to see how God gets him to attend a Divine Liturgy with two preschoolers in tow!

        • Very well put and beautifully written. I liked it all, up to the point where you had a go at Catholics. 🙂 I’m a Catholic convert myself, having grown up LCMS Lutheran. You can find my story on this site. Given what you said above, I think you may also enjoy this article:

          Blessings to you on your journey, and do let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. If you are interested, we are always looking for more people to participate on our site and share their stories — just contact us via

          • Joy

            Thanks for the resources! I’ll have to wait and see if I actually become Orthodox before sharing a story, but it’s nice to know it’s there. And no offense intended–it was actually Catholic radio that got me thinking about joining a liturgical church. I started listening to it during a very low year of my life and have been doing so for three years–it’s pretty good programming! I found that most of what evangelicals think about the true nature of Catholicism isn’t true, and the parts that are shouldn’t really be big deal between Christians. The show “Catholic Answers” was particularly helpful. I even tried giving up something for Lent, and it was a blessing! It would be nice to celebrate Lent fully and in community. While I am happy to have developed a greater respect for Catholicism, and it would certainly be more convenient to become Catholic due to the ease of finding parishes throughout the country (that has crossed my mind), the more I learn the more barriers I find to potentially converting. I’m really enjoying getting to know the ancient faith especially since in the West it’s always been all about the Catholic/Protestant “issues.” Another thought I’ve had is that the Orthodox church has endured much of the persecution and martyrdom in today’s world which seems to go hand in hand with being a Christian throughout the Bible. I want to know more about that.

            • Thanks for your charitable clarification. When my wife and I became Catholic, we decided to do so specifically with eyes and hearts turned toward the eventual unity of the Eastern and Western Apostolic Churches, which have sadly been in schism for over 1,000 years. I have every hope that people like you — regardless where you “land” — will be instrumental in healing these age-old wounds.

              • Joy

                That would be great! Unity is really what Christ wants for His Church, and it’s good to know that Christians from many backgrounds are opening themselves to honoring Him in that way.

    • Hi Joy, thank you for your question – it’s a good one!

      From my experience, this “over-intellectualizing” is generally a Western tendency – and, generally, a number of converts to the Orthodox faith are coming to the Faith from this background. These sorts of converts are often young, tech-savy, and interested in propelling the faith forward via blogs, etc. However, that is not to say that everyone who converts is led to by the pathway of an intellectual search. In fact, the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I find that it’s quite the opposite. But in order to get these kinds of stories, you usually have to hear them firsthand, via a conversation. And Ben Winter is right, a lot of these people (whose conversion stories are often way more interesting) don’t tend to write down their stories.

      I’m not sure if that helps, but I hope it does. You’re right, though, that the academic and intellectual is all very tiring – exhausting, in fact. That’s why the Orthodox Church is so refreshing. It’s tangible. Come and see!

      Here is a website where you may find something:

  • Wang Shengwei

    Anyway congrats for you have found the true path

  • Wang Shengwei

    “Growing up, we weren’t explicitly taught that the physical was bad but the mindset we were grafted into took on a form of dualism. ‘The body and the material universe is bad. Earth isn’t our home.** The spiritual is good.’ And so, in our formative years we naturally misunderstood, and poked fun at,—Lord, have mercy—any kind of Christianity that incorporated the physical world. (In retrospect, I can see how it was so easy for me, upon reading Plato, to accept the theory of forms and a dualistic view of the world.)”

    This sounds very much like Gnostic…

  • Jorge Ostos

    Beautiful Ben… I’m in the same path!

  • Tom Levidiotis

    “When we enter the Church and participate in the liturgy we are stepping out of time and into the kingdom where the king is being worshiped 24/7. We step into this worship, together with the saints and the angels who are always worshipping, as often as we can.” Beautifully well-put. In my opinion you might have stopped with that explanation — which says it all about orthodox (small “o”) liturgy/ritual of whatever rite.

  • RageHard84

    I’ve not read all the reading materials you’ve read, but I do have questions. Why do you feel as though historically the only options are Orthodoxy and Catholicism? Catholicism has some doctrines and practices I find questionable…

  • Benjamin Winter

    Adding to the general tenor, I highly enjoyed this post. I like how clearly you explain your thought process throughout the account, and do hope you publish “Conversations with an Orthodox Priest.” I could do something similar (albeit much less lengthy) on emails I’ve exchanged with a Catholic Priest. The feelings of being “in the dark” about huge portions of Church History, of not knowing the earliest Christians by name or by their writings, etc. etc. were also catalysts for my wife and I in our journey to Catholicism. I agree with Laura that incarnational or sacramental theology/awareness was also a huge part, which fits with your insightful comments on deism. Your quote “there was no physical evidence we were Christians” is very telling on this topic. The mystery of Christ’s presence in the world is certainly tied to his manifestation in his bride, the Church. Orthodoxy, as you articulate, has a beautiful liturgy and it does indeed feel like stepping outside of time! So much so that, at a relative’s Orthodox Baptism, I heard talk of “the four elements” and of angels moving the heavenly spheres. Today, humans no longer describe the universe in these terms. This does not (in my opinion) invalidate them, but does leave a case open for change (developmental, not super-sessive) in liturgy. Your thoughts? =)
    Certainly the interplay between faith and reason is relevant here, which is a hallmark goal for Catholics and something you also hint at when you speak of “a healthy balance,” above!

  • Romans6_11

    Thank you! My research has cast the ecumenical councils as more political than authentically ecumenical with Constantine and Cyril more at fault than Nestorius or Theodora whom I see as misunderstood. I appreciate your feedback as there many things about Eastern Orthodoxy I find intriguing.

    • It is fascinating that you would say that. I would concede that many of these churches today hold a Christology that is, more or less, in line with the Orthodox Christology propounded at Chalcedon. The articulation, however, is different.

      But I would not go so far as to say that Constantine and Cyril were “more at fault”.

      • Romans6_11

        Understood, thank you.

  • Romans6_11

    I very much appreciated your article, Ben. I’m curious why Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East were not options for you? You mention in the article, “It became readily apparent, from the historical point of view, that there were only two options: the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.”

    • The split at the council of Chalcedon was never really an issue for me. It also seemed “readily apparent” that the Christology of Chalcedon was articulated fairly well. The Eutychian and Nestorian Christology—monophysitism and miaphysitism—that were held by the Oriental and Assyrian churches, and their refusal to affirm the Chalcedon definition (two natures in one person, Jesus Christ) made it fairly easy to rule them out.

  • Benjamin Cyrus

    Welcome home. I was only a few months behind you.

    • Thank you! And might I say the same to you.

  • Laura Ehlen

    Ben, thank you for the wonderful article that invites all of us to walk with you on your journey! You portray the messiness, the complexity, and the ups and downs of conversion so well. Your emphasis on the physicality of Orthodoxy particularly struck me; the sense of embodiment in the Catholic tradition definitely attracted me to the faith. There is something both physically and spiritually powerful about icons, rosaries, prayer belts, candles, and other items.
    I appreciate how you do not treat Protestantism with disdain. So often, conversion stories disparage one’s previous tradition. In my journey from Lutheranism to Catholicism, I converted not with a contempt towards Lutheranism, but with a greater love for Catholicism. Even as wholly as I am Catholic, Lutheranism still holds a special part of my heart, as it was so formative in the journey that brought me to Catholicism.
    Finally, if you have not yet, I think you should read a very similar story from First Things: It is actually written by the brother of a close friend of mine, and it speaks of so much that you do.

    • Thank you, Laura. I have read that article. He did a very good job articulating his “journey home.” I must confess though that occasionally I still have a tendency to look at certain doctrines (often protestant doctrines) and shake my head. I pray God will have mercy on me because of my tendency to judgement. “Who am I to judge?”

      • Laura Ehlen

        I think that judgment is a very easy tendency for all Christians when viewing different denominations (Lord have mercy on us) – even as an LCMS Lutheran, I was quick to judge the beliefs of ELCA Lutherans. However, none of this judgment comes through in your article.

        • Benjamin Winter

          As a former LCMS Lutheran, I too was no foreigner to such judging!

  • Micah Carlson

    Thanks, Ben. Great article, and what a beautiful story. May the God who is everywhere present and filling all things come, abide in us, and cleanse us all from every stain. What a gracious Lord we have!

  • Chris Cam Smith

    Thanks for this post! I will definitely utilize many of the resources you posted. So far I’ve read The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware, Encountering the Mystery by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (probably my favorite Christian leader in the world today!), and Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. From these works, along with everything else I’ve read and watched online, I get a strong sense of balance and fullness from Orthodoxy. I’ve seen it argued that some churches give you Jesus, some the Holy Spirit, and some the Father, but Orthodox gives you the Trinity. I also deeply appreciate the love for this world and the rejection of strong dualistic philosophies. I’ve been convinced by the theology of the Orthodox Church for some time now, but it’s the liturgical side that I’ve had trouble with, along with my wife especially (she grew up in Pentecostal settings).

    A book I read this week, Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation by J. Nelson Kraybill, has helped me with that side tremendously. That book shows how the earliest Christians took many of the methods and symbols used to worship the emperors of the Roman Empire and turned them on their head, directing them towards the One True God. This comes through fully in his treatment of St. John’s Apocalypse. Kraybill actually got me excited about Revelation for the first time ever. When the Roman citizens venerated images of emperors, the Christians made icons of their fallen brothers and sisters in Christ and honored them. When the Romans burned incense and chanted to worship pagan leaders, the Christians burned incense and chanted hymns to honor Christ. The worship traditions of the earliest Christians were both deeply spiritual and political – pretty much one huge F U to everything wrong with the Roman Empire. It makes so much sense why God acted through Jesus Christ in the way He did at that particular place and time in history. This has helped me understand the brilliance of the way in which the Orthodox worship since they have maintained those traditions since that time.

    • Glory be to God! The Liturgical setting is quite different from the world we live in; in fact, it’s “otherworldly.” To me, it is through the movement of the Liturgy, and subsequently through eucharist in our daily lives (eucharist meaning thanksgiving), that whole world will be reordered and transformed. May I inquire about the nature of your trouble with the liturgy?

      • Chris Cam Smith

        I don’t think I have problems with it now. I think before I had an idea in my head that high church practices were just unnecessary and too formal. I thought I would be bored and that it would be “dead ritual.” But conversely, the mainline churches I’ve attended seem somewhat dead to me and the few non-denominational charismatic services I’ve attended seem either cheesy or phony to me. After attending the liturgy last week, it seemed more alive than many other services I’ve been to. The more I learn about church history, the more I realize that these practices are how the first Christians worshipped. I’m starting to understand how keeping these traditions alive connect us to the earliest Christians and connect us to the entire Church and all its members past and present. I’m starting to appreciate the concept of communion and how it plays out in the life of the Church.

        • Chris Cam Smith

          My wife is troubled by a few practices in particular – kissing icons, kissing the hand of the priest, asking a priest for blessings, going to confession. We both had sanitary concerns about the Orthodox Churches communion practices since we’re both germaphobes. But the Church I attended pours the wine in your mouth with a spoon so no one’s mouth actually touches.

          • I understand! Coming form a Protestant background it is difficult to comprehend (much less accept) these kind of things. This is where the dualistic notions surreptitiously sneak in. It comes down to a worldview change. What follows is not a systematic discourse on the theology of such things—neither is it meant to convince you of anything—but rather a few initial thoughts based on my what helped me along my journey.

            Consider how we treat the American flag. When the National anthem is played we stand and put our hand over our heart. If the flag hits the ground we burn it out of respect. If someone puts a video online of them tearing / stepping on the American flag this is automatically considered a threat and the American people take extreme offense at this. Now what about images of Christ? Consider if someone spit on a picture of Christ? Would this offend us? Certainly it would! So why do we not all reverence these pictures? (These illustrations are my own paraphrase of what Frederica Mathewews-Green says in her book, The Open Door).

            “. . .the essence of man is not found in matter from which he was created but in the archetype on the basis of which he was formed and towards which he tends. It is precisely for this reason that the patristic treatment of the theme of the origin of man, the theory of evolution does not create a problem—just as for the believer the form of the wood from which an icon has been made does not create a problem . . . As the truth of an icon lies in the person it represents, so the truth of man lies in his archetype.”
            (Panayiotis Nellas’, Deification in Christ: Orthodox Perspectives on the Nature of the Human Person, page 33).

            Part of the Western reticence to accept icons in worship (even though they were decreed to be necessary by the seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 787) is due to our loss of a true understanding of the symbol and the image or icon (eikon in Greek). Now there are false icons and symbols—think what pornography or orgies are to divine love or properly practiced erotic love within marriage. They are false representations of the archetype and ultimately collapse because of their (lack of) substance.

            The same idea goes with kissing the priests hand / asking for a blessing. He blesses in the name of the Holy Trinity. Traditionally (as is proclaimed by Ignatius in the early 100’s) the Bishop has stood in as the living icon of Christ . . . As the Church expanded and Bishops presided over a single church in a larger area where more churches were founded, the presbyter (or priest) became (technically) the icon of the bishop who is the icon of Christ—although this is sometimes just shortened by saying the Priest is an icon of Christ. So when we kiss the Priests hand we are reverencing Christ 🙂

            Anyway, this is probably already way too long but I would recommend Frederica’s book for your wife (if she’s interested) and On The Holy Icons or On The Holy Images for you by St. John of Damascus—and then, if you want, you could switch 😛

            • Chris Cam Smith

              Thank you very much for that great explanation! I will check those works out.

              • David Brown

                Ben, thanks for this site and this post. What a blessing it is to me and my family to join you and your family at the Chalice every week. May God bless your work here. + Lord Have Mercy +

                • Dave, we are so blessed to be a part of the community at Holy Resurrection. You and your family, alongside Fr, were instrumental in our conversion—we cannot thank you enough.

          • Ah forgot one thing. I was going to mention that we can curse with our hands (middle finger) but why do we so often think it doesn’t work in the reverse? For some reason I used to accept the negative (middle fingers are condemning and really affect something / spitting on an image of Christ) but fail to realize the positive aspect (blessing with the sign of the cross—crossing ourselves and receiving the blessing from a priest—and reverencing the icons).

          • Bonnie Johnstone

            I’ve heard several comments on kissing the Priests hand. The first reason is the Priest prepares the Eucharist and second, the Priest stands at the alter on earth as Christ also is in Heaven. When we kiss his hand we honor Christ. He is an Icon of Christ.