Orthodoxy, Ethnicism, and Conversion

Posted on March 3, 2011

Question

I was raised in a Catholic/Protestant family. Lately, I have been drawn to Orthodox Christianity, but I am worried that there will be a language barrier. Do Orthodox churches worship only in Greek or Russian or other ethnic languages? Also is it possible for someone outside these ethnic groups to convert to Orthodox Christianity? I have seen things in the newspaper that talk about “Greek Easter” and “Ukrainian Christmas,” and I get the impression that only members of certain ethnic groups are welcome in the Orthodox Church. And how do they do this?


Answer


YOU WRITE: I was raised in a Catholic/Protestant family. Lately, I have been drawn to Orthodox Christianity, but I am worried that there will be a language barrier. Do Orthodox churches worship only in Greek or Russian or other ethnic languages?

RESPONSE: Orthodox Christianity is not limited to any particular ethnic or language group, just as Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism are not limited to any particular ethnic group. One will find Greek Orthodox parishes, Russian Orthodox parishes, and “generic” Orthodox parishes, just as one will find Polish and Italian Catholic parishes as well as “generic” Catholic parishes, and German and Swedish Lutheran congregations as well as “generic” Lutheran parishes.

If a parish has no “ethnic adjective” in its title, chances are that the parish worships in English. However, many of the “ethnic” parishes also use a good percentage of English, just as a Slovak Catholic parish, while offering some services in Slovak, generally would offer others in English.

YOU WRITE: Also is it possible for someone outside these ethnic groups to convert to Orthodox Christianity? I have seen things in the newspaper that talk about “Greek Easter” and “Ukrainian Christmas,” and I get the impression that only members of certain ethnic groups are welcome in the Orthodox Church.

RESPONSE: Just as being Irish or Hispanic is not a prerequisite for conversion to Catholicism, and just as being Finnish or Danish as a prerequisite for conversion to Lutheranism, so too one need not be Serbian or Lebanese to convert to Orthodox Christianity. The Church embraces everyone, regardless of their ethnic background, culture, or language, in fulfillment of Christ’s command to “teach all nations.”

YOU WRITE: And how do they do this?

RESPONSE: The first step, in addition to reading and studying about the faith—and praying to discern the Lord’s will for your life—is to begin participating in the worship and fellowship of an Orthodox parish. Once you are convinced that you wish to convert to Orthodox Christianity, make your wish known to the parish priest, who will be more than happy to guide you through the program of instruction and length of time it will take and explain the other expectations leading to your reception into the Church.