I have a question for converts to Orthodoxy. My questions are more social and cultural but I am interested in how the converts feel about such things. I was wondering if after you converted, you felt that the culture of the Church you became a member of or the church that you attend (with the congregation perhaps having a different culture than your culture) was somewhat foreign e.g. perhaps you are American and you became Greek or Russian Orthodox?
I'm in the process of converting (baptism on Palm Sunday, by the grace of God) at an OCA parish that came out of the EOC (Evangelical Orthodox). We're mostly (around 93%) white former Protestants. Only a handful of cradles, all of whom come from a Slavic tradition. Our parish itself is quite proud of its Slavic heritage, although it is quite thoroughly Americanized.
Because I've got to come to the faith in a culture mostly my own and look at Orthodox cultures as Orthodox and yet remaining outside of those cultures, I think I've got a different perspective than both those cradle, ethnic Orthodox and those who converted in ethnic parishes. Please, permit me to comment about the cultures in the Church at large, and the ethnicity of Orthodoxy in America in general from an "outside Orthodox" perspective. So...with that...let me dig into the questions!
Did you feel like an outsider because of this or were you comfortable with the culture and felt like there was no difference between you and the rest of the congregation? Do you think you were treated the same as everyone else?
I've heard from many that did convert in more ethnic parishes that they felt as outsiders. They aren't Greek, Arabic or Russian...yet they're thrown into the culture as if it's part of the Orthodox faith and they should also celebrate. I think those cultural celebrates are
part of the faith...for those groups...and it should be. Converts, like myself, need to be accepting of cultural Orthodoxy. These are the peoples, the cultures, they have kept the Faith and given it to us. We should, at the very least, be happy with them in their cultural displays and celebrations. I feel quite connected to Slavic (particularly Russian) cultural displays, traditions and celebrations...since I have immediately received the faith through them. It's important to me. Yet, I'm also happy to hear about the Greek or Arabic festivals and want to celebrate their culture as well...it's all Orthodox!
The only problem is when converts are treated as second-class Orthodox because they aren't ethnically whatever-the-parish-is, and therefore aren't quite as entitled as the others. That is not, that cannot, be the case. Orthodox of traditional cultures must realize that we are baptized and chrimated just like they are...we receive the Eucharist, go to confession, etc. just like they do. We are all equally Orthodox, and entitled equally to the fatih. At the same time, converts must respect and, I think, even co-celebrate and enjoy the culture of our brothers that has played such an important part in their faith...and their given of the faith to us.
Do you think you think people would prefer their daughter (if you are male, or son if your are female) to marry someone who was born in the church rather than a convert with a different ethnic background etc or do you think they wouldn't care as long as the person is Orthodox? Does this bother you?My Big Fat Greek Wedding
comes to mind! I've met those who would be somehwat uneasy if their child married outside of their ethnicity, even if the other person is Orthodox. I can understand that, because they want to ensure a continuity of not just their faith, but their national custom. That doesn't bother me. As a convert, I think we should pass those traditions down if we marry into an ethnic family. It's part of the family's Orthodox heritage...we should respect that.
Do you worry about how you will get married to an Orthodox girl etc? I know I asked quite a bit but I would appreciate converts' thoughts on these issues
No, I don't. I would just as readily marry a girl who is a faithful Orthodox that is Greek, Russian, etc. than I would one that is a faithful American convert. It's far more important to me that she is faithfully Orthodox than if she is part of any given culture. Her traditional Orthodox ethnicity, or lack thereof, doesn't concern me at all. If she's a convert like me, great! I look forward to raising American Orthodox children (of a Slavic bent, of course!
). If not, great! I look forward to learning about how her family has maintained and celebrates their Orthodox culture, and would look forward to handing that down to our children.