Word Magazine May 1967 Page 6
CONVERTS AND CONVERSIONS
By The Very Rev. Fr. Vasile Hategan,
Pastor, St. Mary’s Roumanian Orthodox Church,
Cleveland, Ohio, and Editor of SOL1A, The Herald.
The Orthodox Church is not a proselytizing Church. In other words, its members do not stand out on street corners promoting the Church, do not invite inquiries through the press, mail or other means of communications, nor make any concerted or deliberate effort to win over converts from other Christian bodies.
This does not mean that the Orthodox Church is not a missionary Church. It has converted a great number of non-Christians throughout its long history. It continues its missionary efforts in Japan, Alaska, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. This important activity should not only continue, but must be greatly expanded and strengthened.
Though we are not a proselytizing Church in the accepted sense of the word, we do have many converts come to us mostly of their own initiative and with not great persuasion on our part. You hear the most unOrthodox sounding names in the Orthodox Church today because of the increasing number of mixed marriages. Whereas in the not-too-distant past, we were not able to win over the non-Orthodox spouse in a mixed marriage, but often lost the Orthodox spouse, we are happy to note that the trend has been reversed. In most cases of mixed marriages today, the non-Orthodox spouse becomes Orthodox. This is due largely to the fact that our young people know more about their Church because of the religious educational program in most of our parishes and that many not only are not ashamed of their national origin, but rather proud of it.
Statistics show that the Orthodox Church increased its membership more than any other Christian body in America during the last decade. This was not because we made converts, but rather that we had a great influx of immigrants after World War II and through the relatively high natality of our Orthodox couples. Immigration has decreased considerably and Orthodox births accordingly. If we are to increase, we must not only hold our own and continue to accept the non-Orthodox spouses of mixed marriages, but also literally get out on the street corners and propagate our Faith. If we are the True Church, it is our bounden duty to try to make others see the truth and join the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church is coming into its own. It is losing the stigma of an immigrant Church, tied down with varying languages, customs and usages foreign to the mentality of our American neighbors. Slowly, but surely, we are becoming “Americanized,” reflecting even in our Church, without sacrificing any truths, rituals or essentials.
We do have an increasing number of converts who come into the Church because “they have seen the true light.” They come mostly on their own, having studied religion objectively and concluding that the Orthodox Church has been the true Christian Church throughout the ages. Many are disappointed when they do come into the Church. It looks much better in books than in reality. We should try to live up to the ideal of the Church in its historic concept.
Theologians, priests, scholars, historians and other intellectuals of other Churches are particularly attracted to the Orthodox Church, but do not take the final step of accepting it because we do not have the vehicle by which we can make it easy for them to do so. They are still appalled by the jurisdictional frictions, by the emphasis on ethnic culture and “politics,” by the lack of dedication of its members, by the disparity of what the Church should be and what it is. As we overcome these negative factors, we will attract more non-Orthodox into our fold and keep them there.
We should not wait for non-Orthodox to come to us; we should go out after them. We should start special Inquiry classes, especially in the large metropolitan areas where there are a number of Orthodox Churches, which could stand together in this endeavor. The time has come when we should have a national body to initiate, direct and sponsor such a program of winning souls for the Church. We are living in a time when there is a great thirst and desire for what we have to offer. Many Churches are seeking and groping for what we have, and we just take it for granted and do not capitalize on it. With all the talk of union of Church bodies towards a lower common denominator, there will be many who want to cling to the Faith of the Undivided Church. We must be ready to find a place for them. We already have the Western Rite under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Archdioceses, who profess the Orthodox teachings.
As always, the field is great and the workers are few. Each Orthodox, lay and clergy, should consider himself a “worker in the Lord’s vineyard” and do his share to attract others to Orthodoxy. We must create this consciousness, then prepare the vehicle through which it will be carried out and finally be ready to absorb these hungry souls and nourish them with the true Faith. If so, we can have a bright future in America and throughout the world.