It is interesting that a friend could be so understanding about people being drawn to Buddhism, hinduism etc. but apprehensive about Orthodoxy which seems to testify to the lack of spirituality in much of the materialist Christianity outside the church. The icons point to paradise, the heavenly kingdom & testify to our salvation & resurrection but in their materialistic blindness see "idolatry" like a heretic in another thread keeps bantering about.
I'm not so sure, recent convert. I can actually empathise with that response. I think I have an easier time accepting the positions of people of other religions than I do with non-Orthodox Christians. With Buddhists, Muslims, and others, they are what they are and they make no claim to be anything else. It's different when people say they are what you are, and yet from what they teach, believe, and practise, you can see that this clearly isn't the case. Hindus are not Christians, but because they don't claim to be Christians, it is often easier to relate to them than it is to relate to Calvinists, for instance, who do describe themselves as Christian but whose beliefs are anything but. See what I mean? So I can sort of understand the line of reasoning of Mersch's friend is thinking, even though her conclusion is obviously wrong.
As for the rest of this thread, it has been interesting for me to read some of the reactions that people have received from their former friends in US culture, where Christianity is, in many ways, different from in the UK. We don't really have any strongly influential Christian groups along the lines of the Southern Baptists, or such like, and popular culture is anti-religion, particularly Christianity, because of its former place of privilege in our society, law, and other things. Therefore, the default setting for people is an "all-inclusive" social liberalism, which is increasingly finding its way into many Christian traditions. So it seems strange to me to read of people being rejected by protestant friends for the reasons given, because of icons and saints, and such like.
The reason I put all-inclusive
in quotation marks is that the proponents of this mindset are generally inclusive of everybody except those who disagree with them, whom they view with disdain. Their policy of affirming that people should be able to believe and practice as they wish stops short of extending to those who believe thins that aren't always in keeping with this. My former existence was as a liberal Anglican. Whenever one of the debates in the Anglican Communion came up, you could bet I would be on the liberal side of the argument. There was a culture among circles in which I moved of ridiculing other Anglicans who disagreed and the traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Conservative Protestant), to which they aspired. We didn't listen to or consider their doctrinal reasoning but dismissed it as misogyny, homophobia, and so forth. We referred to Forward in Faith
as "Backward in Bigotry". You know all those religious "light bulb" jokes with humorous answers at the expense of some group we don't like? Well, we had those for anyone who didn't follow our "enlightened" path. 'How many conservative Evangelicals does it take to change a light bulb? None: they dwell in eternal darkness.' Then we would all laugh together at the poor stupid people who weren't like us. I look back at it with shame as I realise that some of the most repulsive vitriol can ooze from liberal Christians and is directed at those who disagree with them, and that I was once part of this.
Then I stopped and realised that some of my friends, whom I knew to be good people, genuinely disagreed with me. I knew these people. They were not homophobes. They were not misogynists. So I started to take their concerns seriously. It was exploring their reasoning that led me to the scriptures, the fathers, and eventually, to Orthodoxy, having become convinced that the entire argument within the Anglican Communion was moot because it was separate from the Church. Whatever else I believed, I had to become Orthodox and allow myslef to be moulded by it, because that - being in the Church of Christ - was more important than those other things.
Of course, my liberal Christian friends just loved that, didn't they? To them, Orthodoxy was conservative, repressive, restrictive, homophobic, treated women as second-class - it was all of the things that they found disgusting and distasteful - and now, all of a sudden, I was becoming part of it. I no longer supported their dismissive attitude to those who couldn't accept the ordination of women. I believed that it was possible to be outside of the Church even if one calls oneself Christian. I no longer scoffed at heresy as some oppressive tool concocted by church authorities to make everybody conform. I believed that there was a right way to believe and to worship, and of course, therefore there was also a wrong way. I had suddenly become one with all that they despised, and had left behind what we once had in common. This was a true test of their inclusiveness - and most of them failed. Perhaps they felt that I had betrayed them. One or two were outright hostile. Most continued to be polite for a while but then gradually were in touch less and less, then not at all. Some remained faithful friends. Of my non-Christian friends, many who had tolerated my Christianity before because they saw it was liberal and, therefore, acceptable to their worldview, ceased to do so and also gradually fell away when I told them I was now Orthodox and they went away and looked it up. At no point during my conversion did my attitude to these people change. I remained their friend, shared with them, supported them and was supported by them in life. Then it just wasn't the same.
Since then, I have made some friends who are genuinely liberal Christians, through actual reasoned study of Scripture and not from the elevation of current social ideas to the level of Christian doctrine. Their attitude is very different. They understand that I have reached where I am because that is what I believe and they love and respect me. It helps that they have only ever known me as Orthodox, (although a few knew of me before that, they have only really got to know me as a friend in recent years).
As for the few protestants who hear of Orthodoxy and come out with the usual criticisms (often from a position of doctrinal ignorance - they don't even know why their churches oppose these things) about icons being idols, veneration of saints being wrong, belief in the sacramens being wrong, and that sort of thing, my usual thought is, 'Oh, dear, I'm having my beliefs condemned by somebody who believes in heresy. I'll try to pick up the pieces and move on with my life. Surely, there must be a support group for people like me.'
I just try my best to explain firmly but politely, and then leave them to do what they think best.
So yes, conversion to Orthodoxy from a different way of thinking is not just an internal thing but can so easily affect our relationships with others. Any potential converts should be aware of this and try to get support accordingly. Try to make friends in the parish, visit other parishes. If there is an Orthodox group that meets regularly, join it. If there are regular pilgrimages in your area, go to them, because you'll find it's often the same people who go to the different ones. Try to get yourself a network of friends so you won't feel isolated and be tempted to turn back because of the intense loneliness that can ensue.