2412 Things I Wish I'd Known as a Convert
- Feb 28, 2007Guidelines for Conversion to the Orthodox Faith
by Reader Christopher Orr
1. Take a Long Time.
St. Basil the Great mandated a 3 year catechumenate prior to Baptism,
and this at a time when people had an inner life and faith in either
God or gods. This should be considered the rule, even if it is relaxed
to 2 years. The life of an Orthodox Christian is a race: a marathon,
not a sprint.
Conversion is like rehab. You can't skip to Step 12. Take your time
and do it right, step by step.
However, remember that while you need to take your time, it is also
'later than you think'. Don't let patience become an excuse for sloth
and light-mindedness. Move at a pace that is just a little bit
uncomfortable for you; whether more/less slowly or more/less quickly,
depends on the person. I have a proclivity to zealotry, so I needed to
slow down. The 10-year, veteran catechumen could probably pick up the
pace. God's time is not our time.
2. Catechumens are Expected to Learn.
Learning the Orthodox faith takes many forms:
- a private prayer rule (morning and evening, minimally),
- fasting (to some degree, per your confessor),
- public prayer (Sunday morning, the Great Feasts, a few extra during
the week, Lent, Holy Week, as you can),
- reading (everything with a grain of salt, not one author over all
others, per your priest),
- the Beatitudes (be a nice, good, honest, patient person, i.e., a
- give alms (give to the church and charities just a little beyond
what you feel comfortable with).
Ask your parish priest/confessor what the right amount of each is for
you: do no more and no less than what he gives you. If you want more,
or are unable to do what he's given you, tell him.
3. After your Baptism/Chrismation, Add Regular Confession and
Communion to Rule #2.
4. The Grass is Never Greener; or, Never Know Too Many Priests.
Stay put. Stability is not just for monks. Stay put in your
jurisdiction, in your parish, with your confessor, with your
wife/husband, in your profession and job, in your city except for real
cause. Talk over any changes you think you might make with your
wife/husband, parents, and priest and get their advice.
If your parish priest does not give you some guidelines (i.e.,
catechizes you) regarding prayer, fasting, the Sacraments, etc. on his
own, ask for some. If he still doesn't give you any, you may choose
another parish. You may make one move only, so make it count. If you
start jumping around now, you'll never stop until you jump yourself
right out of Orthodoxy, religion and/or sanity altogether.
In general, God gave you the priest and the parish you need. Other
parishes and priests are good, too, but those parishes and priests are
for other people. Your parish and your priest is right here. With your
priest's blessing you can go to a monastery for a visit, one monastery
and perhaps one convent - no more.
5. Don't be a weirdo.
Those who grow long hair and a beard, start dressing like a babushka
or a peasant, take 'Orthodox names' like Gleb, Panagiotis, Theophano,
Despina or Barsanufius are more likely to leave Orthodoxy. If your
parents gave you a name at birth which also happens to be a saint's
name, then that is your patron saint and that is your name - keep it
when you become Orthodox.
Hold conversations on topics other than the Orthodox Church, other
churches, Byzantium, Russia, Islam, or liturgics - philosophy and
politics should also rarely be discussed unless you happen to be a
philosophy professor or political office holder.
See movies, go out to eat, have a girlfriend/boyfriend, enjoy your
wife/husband and kids, have hobbies, go to the gym and/or play a sport.
6. Worry About Yourself
This is a colloquial, American version of the Russian proverb, "Don't
take your Typikon (rule) to another monastery". A similar, practical
tip is "Keep your eyes on your own plate". Or, as the late convert Fr.
Seraphim Rose said regarding fasting: you can read ingredients labels
for yourself, but not for your neighbor.
The same can be said for the whole of Orthodox life.
Orthodox Christians in America come from widely different backgrounds,
and there are enough variations in the application of Tradition that
you are bound to run into what you 'judge' as inconsistencies. If this
is true in Old World countries with centuries of Christian history
(which it is), it is even more true for Orthodox immigrants and
converts trying to create an Orthodox life in what has often been
un-Orthodox and/or un-Christian circumstances here in the US.
Listen to your priest in your parish and do what he says you should
do. At the end of the day, the rule for all of us is "Don't ever sin.
Practice all the virtues. Pray every service." Everything else is
economia - a condescension to our weakness. Worry about yourself.
No one asks babies their opinion on international policy,
astrophysics, etc. You were born on the day you were
baptized/chrismated into the Orthodox faith. You grow at a spiritual
rate similar to the physical growth a person from infant to toddler to
child to teenager, etc. Keep your thoughts on liturgical rubrics,
fasting, prayer, bishops, etc. to yourself until you're older.
7. You Aren't a Monk, You Aren't a Priest, Don't Plan on Being One.
The canons state that one newly received into the Church should not be
quickly ordained. 6 months to a year is not a long time. 3 years isn't
a long time. Never plan on becoming a priest or a monk. If God wants
you He, He'll let you know. Your spiritual father (and your wife,
girlfriend or lack of either) will help you recognize when God's
letting you know He wants you. You will not recognize the signs on
Do not 'suddenly' come back in a riassa after visiting a monastery.
Monasticism, like marriage, is for life. If you are planning on dying
as a monk, there is plenty of time between now and then to become one.
The same is true for visiting a seminary - don't 'suddenly' enroll.
The immature, ungrounded faith of a new convert quickly turns the
priesthood, diaconate and monasticism into just a job - or worse, a
[If you are a minister in another church body, do not expect to be
ordained and do not make this a condition of your conversion. If you
believe the Orthodox Church is the Church, then you will join Her. If
you believe the Orthodox Church is the Church and do not convert
because you want or need to be a priest/minister, are only trained to
be a priest/minister as a profession and don't know how you'll pay the
bills, or because your wife and/or children will not convert and you
"can't lead them spiritually as a father/husband", then you either
don't really believe the Orthodox Church is the Church or you think
you know better than God Who needs you to get it done, anyway.
Convert. I f God needs you, He'll ordain you. If He doesn't need you,
He'll help you get a regular job like the rest of us. (Most people
don't 'use' their undergraduate or graduate degrees, so the fact that
you have an MDiv or DD is no excuse. I have a BFA in Acting and work
as a corporate consultant along with a host of others who are over- or
wrongly-educated. Why are you so special? pride?...).]
8. No One has Screwed Your Life up More Than You: Listen to Others First.
The common denominator in all the bad and painful situations in your
life is you. You wouldn't buy a used car with as bad a record as you,
you wouldn't vote for a politician with as bad a record of choices and
accomplishments as you, so if (when) you find yourself saying, "I
think..." know you are wrong and check with someone else before
9. Don't Play House.
In the 6 months to a year after converting to Orthodoxy, do not date
that cute boy/girl in the parish, do not date every cute or semi-cute
boy/girl in the parish, do not get into a serious relationship. These
relationships are nothing more than 'playing house'. It is like living
together or having sex outside of marriage - it's fake. You will
almost assuredly not stay together. You will then be tempted to leave
the parish or Orthodoxy because you feel uncomfortable seeing them
every Sunday, Great Feast, etc. You will also have ruined the
possibility of a real relationship with that person at some point in
the future once you are prepared for it.
On the upshot, if you disregard this rule and stay in the Church, you
will have the opportunity to lament and repent of the silliness and
sins you committed with that person. You will also be able to repent
of the sins you led that person into during your 'passionate' and
likely sinful romance.
10. Don't Look Back; Don't Look Back in Anger.
Your reception into the Orthodox Church is a mystical marriage: don't
cheat on your wife.
Do not go back to the church you grew up in or later joined. Do not be
like Lot's wife in the Old Testament who looked back at her life in
Sodom after she was saved. Do not receive the sacraments in other
You cannot hate what brought you to the Church or you will hate
yourself right out of the Church. Convert to Orthodoxy, do not convert
from something else. Be thankful for all the good you had, and for the
fullness of good you have found. Leave the critique and analysis of
'heterodox' churches to others - your supposed expertise is not needed
and offering your two cents will do nothing but hurt you.
11. Don't Write or Speak About Your Conversion Publicly.
After 3 years you may consider sharing your conversion story in a
public way. Get permission from your priest first. There is nothing
especially special about your conversion except that it happened to
you. There is nothing more special about you than any other person.
God brought you to the Church without your conversion story, He can
bring others to the Church without your conversion story, too.
12. Whether Cradle or Convert, We Must All Convert Everyday.
You have to choose to be an Orthodox Christian every moment, every
day. Choose to pray in the morning and evening, choose to fast, choose
to be kind and loving and patient, choose to return good for evil,
choose to attend services, choose to be diligent at work, choose to be
a good and loving husband/wife, mother/father, sibling/child.
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