My Big Fat Greek Anointing
Sam Torode on Convert Idealism
Evangelical converts to Catholicism and Orthodoxy tend to be a bit, well, evangelical. They often describe their new church homes in a way that makes longtime residents look around, scratch their heads, and ask for a glass of “whatever he’s drinking.”
Having recently been received into the Orthodox Church, I know the temptation. While I’m very grateful for my Baptist upbringing, I’m also aware of its shortcomings. I’m embarrassed to remember how, in high school, I confidently declared that Catholicism was a cult because they added the Apocrypha to the Bible. And I’m embarrassed to remember how, a week after arriving at college, I loaned a book defending the literal, six-day creation of the universe to a girl in my English class. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t seem to appreciate the book—or me.
My simplistic faith couldn’t withstand a liberal arts education. After a time of spiritual drifting in college, I started reading Catholic and Orthodox authors who eventually led me back to the truth of Christ. Still, it took several more years before I finally made the leap to Orthodoxy, along with my wife and our two young boys (who had little say in the matter beyond screaming during their baptisms).
Along the way, an Orthodox priest offered me some good advice: Don’t look for the Perfect Church. “Even if you found such a church, it would cease to be perfect the moment you joined it—because you’re not perfect.”
Still, most of us naturally want our church to be the perfect one. Especially if we’ve just joined it and we’re facing criticism and misunderstanding from family and friends. “If only I can lure a few of them to come in with me,” the convert thinks, “my choice will be justified.” So converts tend to make bold pronouncements: My church is the only one that’s never split—those other churches split off from us. And my church is the only one that has preserved the exact beliefs and practices of the apostles, right down to the direction we make the sign of the cross. And my church has the most beautiful worship, the best government, and the holiest bishops.
Though we knew in our heads that these things weren’t necessarily true, my wife and I still harbored some illusions about the Orthodox Church at the time we became catechumens. Then our priest encouraged us to visit other Orthodox parishes to experience more of the panorama of what’s really out there.
During Holy Week, we decided to visit a Greek Orthodox parish for the Wednesday night service of Holy Unction—a healing service, in which the members are anointed with holy oil. We had never attended a Greek service, and since most of the Orthodox in America belong to the Greek archdiocese, it seemed like an important prerequisite. We had tried visiting this same church a half-year earlier, on Thanksgiving weekend. But when we arrived, it was all locked up. No cars, no people, just a sign out front announcing Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
This time, Bethany made sure she called ahead to confirm that the service was indeed scheduled. We pulled into the church parking lot ten minutes late, as we are prone to do after wrestling our kids into their diapers and clothes. The sight was encouraging—a surprisingly large number of cars for a weekday service.
After prying open the tall, heavy wooden door and peering inside, we were welcomed by a friendly woman. In the foyer, candles were stacked near a cash box. We thought about lighting one, until we saw the price list. Various Orthodox books and artifacts were on display in a glass case. Looking closer, we saw a DVD of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Even more strangely, we heard a steady stream of loud, cheery voices wafting up from the basement—though the service was well in progress.
Sam Torode is a freelance writer and artist who lives in rural Wisconsin with his wife Bethany and their two young sons. A former designer of Touchstone, he and Bethany are the authors of Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception (Eerdmans).
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