As of this writing, summer 2007, these Pilgrim essays, this account of my search for and entry into the New Testament Church, are ended. Having described, perhaps in more detail than is warranted, my journey from the Restoration Movement churches of my upbringing and early adulthood, into and through the Anglican churches, and finally, at last, to the Orthodox Church, there is nothing more to say. The point for which these essays were initially composed has now been made. It is as accurate an account as I can make. Though I have revised it twice (in 2004 and in 2007) since it’s initial drafting in 2002, the substance of what has been written has not changed. The revision this year of the first two essays merely took into account my entry into the Orthodox Church. My revision of the third essay, on my entry into the Orthodox Church, added substance (an account of the years from September 2003 to Pentecost 2007), but not a change in perspective. As early as 2002, I had come to view my journey into Orthodoxy as a search for the New Testament Church I had been taught to
seek and to work for from my earliest years. It is still my understanding five years later.
It is probably important to say something about being a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy. It is sometimes alleged, not infrequently by Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism, that we former Protestants who’ve converted to Orthodoxy would otherwise have converted to Rome were it not for our ingrained anti-pope, anti-Roman Catholic views. That is to say, it is often asserted that we converted to Orthodoxy because it was not Rome. I think my account shows something of how that view is innaccurate. For while I freely admit that I retained enough of my Protestant views to find Roman claims about the pope to be non-persuasive, it is not the case that I converted to Orthodoxy because it wasn’t Rome. After all, my first stop after considering Rome was Anglicanism, not Orthodoxy. It also assumes that Rome’s claims are self-evident if only one loses the Protestant polemic. I do not think that is true. It is certainly not true for me. I never much had an anti-Catholic polemic. If there was any sort of “failure” in my not becoming Roman Catholic it may well be a failure of the arguments to persuade rather than that I was not persuadable.
But more importantly, in converting to Orthodoxy I was not running from anything–whether my former Protestantism or Roman Catholicism (whether real or caricatured)–rather I was running to something: what I believed, and still believe, to be the New Testament Church in all its fullness. I was given a paradigm in my youth which I have followed out of the Restoration Movement churches, into and back out of Anglicanism, to at last find myself within the New Testament Church which Orthodoxy is.
All that said, then, I believe that for the thoughtful and reflective Protestant who senses the substantive lack his own churches leave him when it comes to the life of Christ in his Body, the Church, there are only two possible choices: Rome or Orthodoxy. While it is important to have solid rational reflection for one’s choice of one or the other, ultimately it is not reason that will–or even should–win the day. Such a choice is a choice of faith, from the heart. One must be drawn to one’s choice, with all the best historical, rational evidence and reflection one can muster, to be sure, but ultimately one must be drawn in by the life and worship of that church one is choosing. It will do no good, when reason fails, to fall back on reason. One will only have left one’s heart, and if there is nothing there, what is one to do?
For me, there was only one possible choice. In the midst of all my rational, historical, and evidenciary seeking, I worshipped regularly in an Orthodox parish, and prayed, in my own personal prayers, the prayers of the Orthodox Church. The reasons for becoming Orthodox were rational, coherent, and justified. But the motivation was the draw of the worship and the life I could see lived before me. I prayed my wayy into Orthodoxy. My becoming Orthodox has, since my chrismation, been further experiential testimony upholding and further justifying my choice. But my choice was ultimately made from the heart, not the mind. For God lives in and works from the heart, first and foremost. Our minds must descend to the heart and there partake of the truth. For the God who is truth dwells there first. It was Orthodoxy that so led me first from the mind, but ultimately from the heart. And it is from the heart that I know my decision was right and true.
May you the reader, also find in the Orthodox Church that which I have found. And of your charity, pray for me a sinner.
© 2004, 2007 Clifton D. Healy