For many people, converting to the Orthodox Christian Church is a tough process. Whether coming from a secular background and having to deal with basic questions of faith, or coming from a Western Christian background and having to give up previous ways of thinking and familiar hymns and practices, the transition is often difficult. Add to that the rather uneven quality of experiences one finds in Orthodox parish life in the Western world, and it is remarkable when someone “crosses the finish line” and is received into the Church finally.
There exists a schism in the modern Orthodox world between those who belong to Churches which follow the New Calendar and/or practice Ecumenism with other Christian denominations and religions, and those who belong to Churches which follow the Old Calendar and do not participate in the Ecumenical Movement. These latter are often referred to as Traditionalists, Old Calendarists, or True/Genuine Orthodox, while the Churches which are involved in the Ecumenical movement together with those who switched to the New Calendar often refer to themselves as the “Canonical” Orthodox, while being referred to as New Calendarists, Ecumenists, or “World Orthodoxy” by the other party. It must be noted that there is not a schism “in” the Church, as the Church cannot be divided, but as the two Churches both consider themselves Orthodox and have a shared history and culture, it is therefore possible to speak of a schism or division within the Orthodox world. This division often is painfully felt within families and in local communities.
I became somewhat well-known in Orthodox circles on the Internet due to my participation in various forums and blogs, and also my YouTube channel where I produced missionary content while I served as an Orthodox priest (2008-2013). Because of this, numerous people contacted me weekly, and while the flow has decreased now, it still continues to do so today. Many of these are people who have converted from Protestantism or Roman Catholicism to one of the so-called Canonical Orthodox Churches, and who have now discovered the Orthodox Traditionalists and their positions. Others are still going through the conversion process, and are now rethinking their ultimate affiliation.
In both cases, there is often a shell-shock. People have assumed that they knew what they were getting into, that they had found the True Church, that they were home, and then they realize that there is “something else out there” making claims which contradict what they’ve already learned and experienced. For many, it’s just too much emotionally for them to confront, and they shut these thoughts down before they have time to develop. Such people often remark that, “there’s just no way God cares about a calendar!” and imagine they have just stated something profound and previously unconsidered.
However, there are those who take it a step further, and actually make contact with members and clergy of the Traditionalist Orthodox Church. They usually have great questions, are fair-minded, and are rigorous in their approach. After some back-and-forth, sometimes they decide to come over to the Traditionalist Church, based on principle. Yet other times, seemingly with one foot out of the door of the New Calendar Church, they turn back. Their reasons are often disappointing to hear, and not as much based on a sober analysis of the facts, but on other factors.
Some common non-theological reasons I often heard for not joining the Traditionalist Orthodox Church are:
1) There is no parish close to me, so I will have to travel, and won’t have a regular parish life.
2) My wife had a hard enough time coming to the New Calendar; I can’t ask her to make another move.
3) It’s just too small of a Church.
4) They’re just too strict.
5) I don’t want to celebrate Christmas on a different day.
6) People will think I am weird/crazy.
7) God wouldn’t let His Church get so small.
8) My kids won’t have any friends at the Church.
What perplexes me is this: oftentimes, the same people who make such excuses for not joining the Orthodox Traditionalists have already make great sacrifices to join the New Calendar Church. Some of these people moved to be closer to a parish, or travel by car once a month to the nearest parish. Some gave up family relationships, jobs, and completely re-oriented their lives in order to accept what they thought was the Orthodox faith in its pureness. The myriad practical reasons one would have for not leaving a Protestant Church did not impede them from joining the New Calendarists, but suddenly, the thought of joining the Traditionalist Orthodox produces a slew of practical objections.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, there is a sign which states that Barstow, California is 2,554 miles away—at the other end of Interstate 40. It must be an exciting thing to drive from one coast to another, and I am sure that every year, there are more than a few people who do it. Imagine, though, that one were to drive 2,550 miles, and simply stop, before seeing the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps the car broke down, and one would have to get a rental car, or walk, or take a bus, to go those extra four miles. No matter what reason there might be, it seems to me that any excuse not to figure out a way to go those extra four miles would be met with disbelief by friends and family inquiring about the trip afterward.
It would be as if the whole trip were a waste, if one did not make it to the ultimate destination. So with the conversion to Orthodoxy: why stop at the compromised Church, when the fullness of Orthodoxy is just a few steps further? Could any further obstacle be too much to surmount, after having traveled so far? Will people really think one is “more weird”? Does the relative size of the Church really matter? Does God not bless the effort that those who commute long distances to a parish put in to reaching it?
All of these “practical considerations” are temptations from the Evil One to keep us out of the Truth. Perhaps it’s easier to psychologically dodge this fact by assuring oneself that the differences between the two Churches are not that great, in reality. Having all the trappings of Orthodoxy such as nice liturgy, pretty icons, well-produced Patristic works, and Ancient Faith Radio assuage a troubled conscience into compromising and staying with the New Calendar Church. It was such a disappointment to me to see so many people wake up to the problems of the New Calendar and Ecumenism, only to later rationalize staying in or joining this body for reasons other than principle.
The purpose of this article is not to judge the hearts of those who have had trouble joining the Traditionalist Orthodox Church, but to encourage and exhort the many people who have contacted me over the years about joining us, and who then backed out, to rethink their decision. It is also to provide a warning to those who are at present pondering what to do, that they not compromise at the last step. Recall the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent—at the top of the ladder, monks are still falling off! They went so far, but didn’t make it. Don’t become one of those who fell at the top, but complete the journey.
Even if some of the objections were to come true, we must follow the Truth wherever it leads, and accept it with no regard for the consequences. I did it, and I never looked back. When I first converted, I had to fly to New York four times a year for the Holy Mysteries! But eventually God provided an opportunity for me locally, and I believe He will for you, too. If Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, then He can build up healthy, vibrant, traditional parishes in the Western world. If the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and filleth all things” then that includes your home if you live far from a parish. The ball is in your court. Follow through on your instinct and don’t sell yourself and your faith short. We are waiting to welcome you!