Why people convert, chapter XVII
Another entry in the ongoing series, this one from an Orthodox Christian who ecame Catholic. She posted overnight in a combox from a long-forgotten thread. Notice a couple of key things in her story that prompted her move: 1) a sense that her Orthodox faith was a mechanical thing with little relevance to her daily life ("What was difficult for us it was that all the books were for the monks, they told you how to pray, how to defense yourself of the sinful thoughts, but not how to live with your husband, or what to tell to your child when ask 'Why not to go to the bed with all my classmates?' or more simple, 'Why to attend the whole mass?' (2:30 hours!)"); and 2) the simple offer of friendship and community in the Catholic lay movement Communion & Liberation.
She says she decided for "truth," but observe how her discovery of what she believes is the truth was influenced by experiencing it as truth, not primarily by cogitation. I think this is really important, and helps us understand why Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism are so appealing.
Now, her experience in Orthodoxy is not my experience, and some of the difficulties she found in Orthodoxy I found in parish Catholicism. But that's not the point (and let's not get into nitpicking her testimony to death in the comboxes). This is the point: People need to believe that God cares about them personally, and that the faith has something important to say about how to live as Christians in the world, instead of rote answers or useless generalities. People need friendship and community, especially in a world as mobile and rootless as our own. It is not enough for a religion to make a theological case for itself. Christ was not a syllogism; he was a living, breathing human being. Our faith -- Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant -- has to be incarnate to live and to save. If any of us forget that, we should not be surprised to lose people to other churches who understand this.
Here's the writer, Adelaida Ioachim:
Dear Mr. Dreher, I'm also a newly converted, but in the opposite direction. I'll tell you my story. I'm born in an Orthodox country, a communist country at that time. When the communism is gone, the church become to refill (during the communism it was difficult to go to church... and the propaganda made that people was afraid to go). I become to go to the mass, every Sunday, and to pray every day the morning and evening prayers.
Then I felt the need for more, I couldn’t imagine that praying, communicating and confessing it is all that a Christian life means. Because if it was so, a BIG part of my life would have had no relationship with my faith (except if it was not a sin that I made and I had to confess). I begun to study the Theology Faculty, but how the Catholic one it was free meanwhile the Orthodox I had to pay for it, I study, with my confessor benediction, in the Catholic Institute. This was not something that made me think to become a catholic. I was thinking always, if the Church is the place where you receive the sacraments, the sacraments are the same, so is the same if I remain Orthodox, and I remained so.
The faculty gave my something more, but not what I desired so much, the answer to the question: "What has to do my life with Christ? What has to do my work with Him? My friendships? My study? My day form the start to the end with all its details?" And I new it has to be an answer, if He is my savior He should save all my life in all its particulars.
With my friends I become to meet once a week to read from the Bible, to pray and to talk about different books of the orthodox spirituality. What was difficult for us it was that all the books were for the monks, they told you how to pray, how to defense yourself of the sinful thoughts, but not how to live with your husband, or what to tell to your child when ask "Why not to go to the bed with all my classmates?" or more simple, "Why to attend the whole mass?"(2:30 hours!). All the answers for this type of questions could be "it's a sin" if was something wrong, or "it's your tradition" if was something good.
Two years ago I arrived in Italy for work. The providence made have one workmate that made part form a catholic movement, Communion and Liberation. It was not the first person I met that made part form a Catholic movement, I already had friends home that made part from different movements. But this person, even if he didn't speak a lot, behaved different. I was curious to meet the movement. He invited me (after a month of waiting!) to a meeting where they talked about a book of a theologian I haven't know about: Luigi Giussani "Why the Church?". In that evening I knew that I found what I was searching for, a community that had the same questions as I had, and more, tried together to answer to them. They were answering not only verbally, but also with a different life.
So, at the second meeting I went, a friend of my mate invited my to diner, because I asked her to talked me more about the movement (I was astonished!! no one invite a stranger to diner at my home). Then I become to pass the time in different occasions with them. After 3 month I knew them I had to turn home, with the sadness that I will not be able to continue to see/to understand why and how there Christ was so present (they didn't pray together as my friends, and I have not meet Christ otherwise than in praying). But they give me a phone number form someone at home, and arrived there I found the same thing, the same face of Christ in a carnal presence. After 1 month I had to turn in Italy, but in another town, and they gave my other phone numbers. And I found myself home there as I felt in my country. It was incredible, as I would have gained an international family, a huge family, a warm family, persons that were searching as me Christ in all occasions of their life, Christ that gave meaning to their lives, to all the moments of their lives.
I still remained orthodox, because I found that there were orthodox in the movement and I thought the maybe making this reality known to my own people home will arrive to live that life so reach and beautiful. Till one year ago I went to the meeting of the pope with all the movements. It was incredible, I saw there what I haven't saw anywhere else in my church. Very different persons, form different countries, with different vocations, but all united, all one church, all one family. And I understood for the first time what is the sense of Universality and Unity of the Church (things that home I could not see, because the Romanian Orthodox Church is one, and the Russian Orthodox Church is another, the Greek one something different again (as opinions, relationship with the Catholic Church for example... and other aspects), even if the mass is the same, the faith is the same, the tradition the same, but is no unity in thought and action, in the way of seeing/judging the reality). At that moment I new that the truth was on that part, on the Catholic part, and after months of torment, between my friends home, my own history, my idea that I would have make known the movements to my own people... I decided for the truth, and for the liberty that I found in the Catholic Church.
I think we both have to learn and to do something, maybe our destiny brought us there to bring unity between the two sister Churches. Anyway I will never forget the beauty of the orthodox mass, and I do not forget my people and the fact that I need to make them known this type of life I met here.
I'll pray for you. And please pray for me and for the unity between our Churches.
With respect and all the friendship in Christ our Lord,