Dear Mom and Dad,
It isn't what you wanted. It is not what you expected. I have joined the Orthodox Christian Church. Long ago when I first made my profession of faith, and later, on the day when I was baptized, you could not have imagined this. Like all parents, you were afraid of my leaving the faith as I grew up. Would atheism overwhelm my beliefs in college? What about the first job? Could I withstand the pressures of a world that hates God? You prayed. I know you prayed. The pain of parenting is plain to me now as my own children grow. Just now, when growing up seemed safely over, your child appears to be making a wrong choice. It must seem unfair to you.
Despite my fumbling, sinful, stumbling ways, it must have appeared that your child was going to make it - against all odds. I am more sure than ever that the Bible is a true and precious gift of God, without error. I know that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God. His atoning work on the Cross is the most important fact of my spiritual life. There is all of that, yet in some areas, we no longer agree. Some of our theological disagreements are very serious. Have you lost me? Am I still a Christian? There is, it seems, a gulf that has grown between us. Why did it have to happen? What made me become Orthodox?
I am not writing to "convert" you. This is not a theological argument. We have had those, of course, and probably will have them again. This is not the time for that. This is a "cry from the heart." Remain my father and mother, not just in flesh, but in spiritual things. Do not cut me off. If I have said foolish and arrogant things while becoming Orthodox, forgive me for them. You taught me better than I have been able to act.
But you also taught me--and I thank God for it--to follow Jesus with all my heart, mind, and body. You told me that to take a stand for Him was worth any cost. This is a lesson that you burned into me, which all those Sunday School classes, every youth group meeting, and every Christian song reinforced. Follow Jesus. That is all that matters.
Becoming Orthodox is my best attempt to do that very thing. This is the Church where I see Him most clearly. In the chanting of the liturgy, in the prayers, in the icons, in the incense, and in the bells, I hear His Voice and see His Face. It is the same Jesus that was so dear to me and so clearly seen in the church of my childhood. It is not a different God, it is not a new Christ. It is the same Jesus, the same God. If it were a different gospel from the precious one of my conversion and baptism, then I would reject it. I know it is not. It is, for me at least, simply a deeper, older, fuller expression of the Old Story. You gave me the Faith, you taught it to me, prayed over it, nurtured it.
The Orthodox Christian Church is bringing all of your work to full blossom. If some of my views have changed, it is only because the deepest things you taught me are bearing fruit. You taught me to love the fellowship of Believers. Is it any wonder that the schisms and divisions of our own tradition would begin to disturb me? You taught me to love the Book and not to measure an idea by where it occurs in history. How could I fail to find the Church Fathers? You taught me that ideas matter, that right doctrine is important. What could keep me back from reading about the Creeds and the Councils for myself? You stood at every major turning point of my spiritual life, urging me on to pursue Jesus and His Truth. God help me, I did my best to follow His Spirit. If we do not always agree, at least see that my quest is part of the heritage you gave me.
How painful to you even this must be! Saying all of this amounts to an insult, at least by implication. I am "in the Church." You are not. But if that is what you hear, then I have messed up our conversation again. The cradle Orthodox, so wise and patient with the immaturity you sometimes have seen in me, have taught me a saying: "We know where God is, but we do not know where he isn't." There is nothing in the teachings of the Orthodox Church which changes my love for you or my admiration of your faith. I am often more sure of your standing before God than my own!
God is so clearly at work in your lives. He has brought you so far even in my living memory. His work has been good and continues to be good. Your faith in His mercy and trust in His atonement for salvation are so Orthodox! On the big issues of life, my priest would probably find you better "spiritual children" than he finds me. He may have gotten the bad end of the bargain by getting me in his Church rather than you! You have so much to teach me in so many ways. My duty to listen, to honor, and when possible, to obey has not been lessened by my "conversion." To the contrary, my patriarchal Orthodox Faith demands that I honor my father and mother for their great gifts to me. I need you more than ever!
Of course, there can be none of the silly, half-sincere, "Can't we all just get along" kind of compromise between us. Our relationship as a parent and child goes too deep for that. You may think that I am in serious error about many things: Icons. Asking for the prayers of the Saints. Formal liturgy. It may all seem rot to you. At leastyou have done me the dignity of listening to my views, and I have tried to do you the same honor. Your concerns about Orthodoxy are serious, but after examining my views your course has not changed. Of course, the disagreement goes both ways. You believe some things that I cannot now accept. The truth of Orthodoxy seems so obvious to me from the "inside." It was hard for me to become Orthodox, but now here I can not leave it for anything. Truly, it is the Church that Christ left on Earth to carry out His work.
How I long to kneel beside you in morning prayers! How much it would mean to me to see your at our Vesper service. Mom and Dad, it would be sweet to hear your voices chanting the liturgy with your grandchildren! It is my deepest abiding belief and conviction that coming into fellowship inside the Church would deepen your spiritual life and fire your already profound passion for those outside the Faith. But even though that does not seem likely at this point, I will never give up praying for you. I hope you will never stop praying for me.
Some of your friends may indeed feel that your child has entered a "cult." You might wonder, with all our disagreements, what remains that we have in common. We share so much! Believing evangelicals and practicing Orthodox share the same passion for the Lord who is Truth. Orthodoxy is the faith of the Creeds. Every word of Holy Scripture is upheld within the liturgy. I hear more Bible in church than ever before! I believe every Word to be God-breathed. There is no creeping liberalism in Orthodoxy. We have no half-measures, no women priests, no homosexuals demanding marriage, and no doctrinal wavering. Christ is risen! We proclaim that joyful news in every service. The incarnate Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, is coming again. Jesus is Lord! Orthodoxy is Christ centered, Bible based, and honors the Holy Spirit. It is not so "rational" that it forgets that theology is best seen in a life of prayer and in service to Christ. In short, it is in many ways just like our home church.
The Orthodox are not Protestants, of course. The Orthodox also are not Roman Catholics. We have no infallible pope as a vicar of Christ on Earth. We are simply Christians, followers of the ancient and honored ways. If we honor tradition, it is only because Holy Tradition was delivered to us by the same Holy Spirit that gave us the canon of the Holy Bible. Nothing contrary to Scripture can be contemplated within Orthodoxy. If the Orthodox Church is wrong, she does not wish to be. She earnestly listens to her Lord for correction and diligently searches Scripture for the proper way. The Orthodox Church is the Church of millions of martyrs, from the Roman persecutions and Islamic conquests to facing down Communism. It is the Church that gave the world the Creeds that every Protestant believes.
Of course, there are nominal Orthodox. You send me newspaper clippings of the foolish actions of patriarchs and bishops in our midst. Too often in the United States, the Church is seen as an ethnic enclave. You might believe, by looking at us, that the goal of going to Church is to eat exotic food and celebrate the ways of the old country. There is truth to many of these complaints. The Orthodox themselves are aware of this and thunder against it.
It is not "news" when the Orthodox quietly keep the Faith. You won't hear about it when a bishop retires, having faithfully served his flock for decades. The evening news will not report the quiet service of Orthodox charitable organizations. Evangelicals face the same sort of problem, don't they? The only religious news worth reporting, it seems, is bad news. Please remember this the next time you hear negative media on us.
Orthodoxy is old. From the day of Pentecost to the present, it has attracted many types of people. She has had her own shameful moments. On the other hand, that very history teaches me caution in judgement. Many so-called "nominal" Orthodox Christians of Russia died rather than renounce the name of Christ. Twenty million Orthodox believers refused compromise to the point of death. Millions, perhaps a billion more, have lost careers, family ties, and all earthly glory for the Gospel. Who are we to judge such faith? Communists made it a great goal to infiltrate the Church, to break and sully her. Yet she came through the fire! It was Orthodoxy that checked the ravages of Islam. It is the Orthodox that have borne one thousand years of martyrdom at the hands of the fanatical servants of the Prophet. The black smudges you and I can see on her white robes are not always the signs of sin; sometimes they are the marks of the stake. If we look up, we shall see that the Orthodox Church wears the crown of martyrdom. Nominalism? Surely for some, but this is the Church of missionaries who converted one third of the world. This is the Church that created order and culture wherever she went. Be careful about listening to her detractors. How many of the critics' own churches have endured such persecution?
You know all of this, of course. I appreciate the way you have studied Orthodoxy. So many parents would fly off in all directions, being critical without reflection or investigation. It is your careful, Godly, and thoughtful spirit that gives me hope. As my parents, you remain my first and greatest teachers. I need and want to keep fellowship with you. It will not be Orthodoxy that comes between us. May we walk in the agreement that our common faith gives us? May each of us be open to the appeals of the other. May we never cut off communication. In talking, may we respect but never paper over or compromise our important differences.
I honor you, Mom and Dad. Your faith and the splendor of your radical commitment to Jesus Christ are your greatest gifts to me. It was that which drove me into the Orthodox Church. If God does not call you to Orthodoxy, then I trust His Spirit and your discernment. You have raised me. You know me. I ask that you trust what Christ through you has placed in my life. Rejoice with me in the pearl of great price that I have found: The One Holy, Apostolic, and Universal Church.
I have been and always will be your child. Orthodoxy is the place where God wants me to serve Him and His Church. Can you see our common goal? We shall together bow before the Lord of the Church on that last and final Day when all Truth will be revealed. Then we shall know. Until then, pray for me.
About the Author: As the son of an Evangelical pastor, the author was especially concerned about how his family's conversion to the Orthodox Christian Church would affect his parents. He soon found this issue to be common among converts and decided to share the above letter with all interested parties. He has chosen to remain anonymous for personal reasons.