A Letter on the issue of converts
Fr. Paul Tarazi, a professor at St. Vladimir's Seminary, during a recent session of the Adult Institute held at Holy Transfiguration Church in New Haven, gave this succinct description of the Church: "The Church is holified, not holy; sanctified, not saintly; constantly cleansed by God."
His words came to mind when I read the article by Mitchell R. Bright in the November issue of O.N.E., in which he was replying to someone who said that the Orthodox Church was being "infiltrated by fundamentalists." Mr. Bright's response mixed both criticism and defense of the Orthodox Church as she exists.
As to the claim of infiltration or takeover, we are assured by Christ that even the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18); that is, the Church holding to and espousing true Christian teachings and the fullness of the faith. There is always a danger that some or many can cease to belong to that true Orthodox Catholic Church, or belong in words alone. No one is immune from this possibility, not "cradle-born" Orthodox, not converts from whatever belief system, not lukewarm adherents. We guard against this best by always returning to the teachings of the Church, embracing her wisdom with love, the true Church to which we remain united through our hierarchs and our Sacramental life. To return to her, of course, we must know her, and any meaningful or fruitful discussion of what is the true Church serves only this purpose, not as the article suggests.
Yes, everything needs to be kept in perspective including our worship and our acts, something which Mr. Bright seems to suggest too many Orthodox do not do. We must keep in mind the dictum that in our worship is our beliefs and in our beliefs is our worship. This should keep those in check who discount or minimalize the worship of the Church, through which we are joined and saved through the Eucharist, and through which we experience God in the fullest way possible on this earth. Yet, we would be remiss if we did not remember our Lord's words quoting from Isaiah (29:13): "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." We need to struggle always to have our actions match our words and beliefs. The key word is struggle, for none of us is perfect and all of us sin and make mistakes. It is easy to criticize others and much more difficult to love them, yet we profess that our God is one of love and we are called to participate with Him in that love for all whom we meet, and this extends to priests. I have never had the misfortune of meeting a priest who did not challenge, in his own way, his people to acquire the Holy Spirit, although Mr. Bright suggests that they do exist.
Finally, as one of those "cradle-born" Orthodox and a priest, I would say what most other Orthodox would say, and what most, if not all, priests would say: All are welcome to embrace and to enter the true Church, all are invited to profess her true teachings, and to any who have not felt this when they encountered Orthodox, remember Fr. Tarazi's comments, and accept our sorrow if you, for whatever reason, were discouraged. We love you as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Fr. William DuBovik
Related articles in ONE:
Cradle-born Thoughts, by Fr. John Dresko
A Typology of Converts, by Fr. John Garvey
If the shoe fits..., by Mitchell Bright