Recently I had my fifth anniversary of my reception into the Orthodox Church (plus almost a year of catechism, for better or worse). Some people didn’t think I would make it this far. I am officially no longer a “new convert” and am now allowed to use that term as an insult.
Now that I’m old and wise, what advice would I give to a new convert?
1. The best jurisdiction is whichever one whose glaring flaws are most easy to ignore. That will vary with each person and in each reason.
2. Yes, Orthodoxy is racial and kind of anti-semitic, and no, that doesn’t mean we’re about to torch a synagogue. If you wanted something to fit your modern western sensibilities, you wouldn’t have joined the Eastern Cult. Beware of any priest who tries to deny the glaring obvious.
3. Some racial things within Orthodoxy will automatically bump you the Anglo convert to second class. Most of these are easy to ignore, so it’s best to just accept it. If you wanted something to fit your modern western sensibilities, you wouldn’t have joined the Eastern Cult. We’re not socialists, so everything doesn’t have to be perfectly fair.
4. Don’t demand everything change immediately after you join. Most likely, you shouldn’t demand that anything change until you’ve been there for a few years.
5. If you must complain, then at least complain about things that matter. The priest truncating services or skipping Saturday vespers is a decent thing to complain about. The sign saying “Greek Orthodox” or the liturgy being in 5% dead language is not a good thing to complain about.
6. Cradle and converts are not inherently better than one another. Each have good tendencies and bad tendencies. Don’t get too caught up in these distinctions. It really doesn’t matter. And be cautious about anyone who does care.
7. Most healthy parishes in 21st century America will have a mix of both converts and cradle, and the difference between the two won’t be easy to tell. Be extremely suspicious of any church that is entirely convert or entirely cradle, though there are definite exceptions.
8. Most stereotypes about converts are really about the Episcopal Orthodox, and the cradle Orthodox will assume all converts act like these washed-up hippies. Avoid the Episcopal Orthodox with extreme prejudice, especially if they didn’t bother to leave the sinking ship of the Anglican Communion until the 1980s even though bishops began openly preaching heresy in the 1960s. They bring with them the same progressive ideological garbage that ruined Anglicanism and demand everyone to accept it as Holy Tradition. The Episcopal Orthodox will stab you in the back at the first sign of refusing to validate their ego and then expect you to thank them for it. There are almost no exceptions to this. Former Lutherans are probably the same way.
9. A close cousin of the Episcopal Orthodox is the “Geek Orthodox”. These are losers who became Orthodox so that they could find an identity to live vicariously through. They have the emotional development of an eight-year-old, and they will pitch an absolute fit if you upset them on any issue ever, especially if you insult their favorite tv show. It’s best to leave them alone in their misery. There are a fair amount of exceptions to this stereotype, but it applies some 90% of the time. Common signs are a Facebook profile picture of a saint, making everyone call them by their saint name, and male soft feminism.
10. Everything you hated about protestantism will be found in Orthodoxy. So you’re not getting as much of an upgrade as you thought. The reality is that we humans are all petty selfish people.
11. Your priest is probably a talentless hack who just wants an easy job that doesn’t have any real work but carries a lot of social status. In this sense the priesthood is a lot like the legal profession. This is especially true if he doesn’t have a full M.Div or a B.Th from an actual Orthodox seminary.
12. Any priest or monk who craves your admiration or obedience is worthy of neither. This is true whether on internet radio or at your local parish or monastery. The difficulty in finding a real-life saint is that a saint, by definition, tries to avoid attention.
13. Be cautious of a priest who insisted on having his own parish in his own hometown, especially if there is another Orthodox parish nearby. This kind of priest is playing dress-up. He values the laity for the affirmation they can provide him and will throw napalm on anyone who is a threat to the narcissistic narrative he has carefully crafted. Daydreaming is a poisonous vice. (see #9 and #11 above)
14. The role of the priest is — or at least should be — only that of a guy who reads prayers. If he’s a gifted Bible teacher or pastoral counselor, that is just gravy. In America we expect our priests to act like Baptist pastors. In general it does not matter who your priest is, so long as you don’t expect too much from him and he doesn’t expect too much from you.
15. Never trust a man who does not have enemies.
16. Don’t make an enemy of your priest if you can avoid it, anymore than you would make an enemy of your real father. It’s generally best to side with him and support him. I know of a small mission parish where the diocese subsidized a full-time priest. The people didn’t like him because he was socially awkward, so they waged a vendetta and had him removed. And they never got a replacement priest and have been on a rotating cast of substitutes for the last several years and probably will for many more.
17. They lied to you in catechism in order to get you to convert. They says things like, “We have a bottom-up power structure where the hierarchy is accountable to the people,” and, “Orthodox Christians agree on all the essentials and only disagree on a few minor issues.” In actuality, your opinion doesn’t matter at all to the organization you are now supposed to support financially, and the only things the Orthodox agree on is the Creed and the Octoechos. Whatever your priest tells you beyond the Creed, you can be sure that there’s another priest teaching the opposite. And it doesn’t matter what language the liturgy is in, because it’s the same every week and it’s your responsibility to educate yourself.
18. The longer you’re Orthodox, the more you will realize you don’t know anything about Orthodoxy. And hopefully you’ll realize how much most of the knowledge doesn’t matter. A lot of converts spend a lifetime collecting bits of knowledge like an old spinster collects cookie jars.
19. There are eight (or perhaps nine) ecumenical councils, not seven. Kallistos Ware is an idiot (for several reasons). He’s revered because he was a first but not because he actually has anything of value to say.
20. If someone claims that Augustine is not a saint or that perhaps we should consider re-instating woman deaconesses or that Genesis must be just an allegory or that female saints are somehow feminist career girls or that we should re-write the anti-semitic hymns or that Fr Seraphim Rose was a heretic, then you should ignore anything they say on any topic ever. These people are at worst innovators, trying to remake the church back into their own image, and at best just speaking out of ignorance.
21. Ignore anything that comes out of Fordham University’s Eastern Christian Studies department. Really, you should ignore anything anyone outside the Orthodox Church has to say about the Orthodox Church. It is as impossible for an outsider to understand Orthodoxy, even when trying their best, as it is for an ethnic cradle Orthodox to understand how evangelical protestantism works. Even if the author is Orthodox, you should be extremely hesitant about anything published by the Catholics. They are sodomites and liberals. Ancient Faith Radio and Publishing isn’t much better
22. You may have a natural curiosity about this new ideology you have come to believe in, and you will go to various authority figures asking difficult questions. Instead of admitting they don’t know the answers, they will throw insults at you like, “You’re a new convert and don’t know what you’re talking about,” or, “You are not really Orthodox.” They are projecting their own insecurities onto you.
23. Eventually you will want to leave or just became a “Christmas and Easter only Christian.” If you tough it out, it will be worth it in later years. Whenever someone in the church stabs you in the back, view it as an opportunity to learn patience and silently thank them for it.
24. You will be tempted to care about the various jurisdictional politics. But none of this matters. Power is spread so thin that very few if any bishops actually have any. Most bishops are glorified office workers who secretly hate their lives.
25. Greek girls are sluts. There’s a reason for the phrase “doing it Greek.” You’ve been warned.
26. You will go back to your protestant friends and mentors and share the good news that you’ve finally found the New Testament Church, like Philip telling Nathanael that he’s finally found the Messiah. And they won’t care. You can give them all the reasons in the world and expose their double standards, and it will just make them hate you more. This will make you deeply disappointed and hurt, but if you thought protestantism actually worked, then you wouldn’t have joined the Eastern Cult. The reality is that your protestant friends have always sucked, and now the light and truth is being shone on them.
27. Even if you are not the argumentative type, you will still lose your protestant friends. Every friendship has some kind of foundation. For your protestant friends, it’s certain core beliefs that you no longer believe in. Even if they are totally accepting of Orthodoxy, you will no longer be able to take them seriously as Christians, and they will notice and resent you for it. This will be slow and painful, but if you thought protestantism actually worked, you wouldn’t have joined the Eastern Cult. Your protestant friends have always sucked, and you’ve always known it.
28. You will have some somewhat embarrassing stories from the first few years. Don’t let it weigh you down. Daydreaming, whether forward or in reverse, is a poisonous vice.
29. External things like icons and prayer rules and prayer ropes and fasting and bows and kissing each other on the cheek are all just useful tools and a means to the end. None of them are essential. Frankly, I almost never kiss icons anymore. These things are good to do, but they shouldn’t be obsessed over.
30. The fullness of the Church is in each local parish altar. You don’t have to go on a grand pilgrimage to Moscow or a monastery to find full Orthodoxy, and you don’t have to read deep theological works. It already exists in Your Town, USA. Token gestures of pan-Orthodoxy are over-rated.