Letter to a New Convert

Mother TheklaDear “John”,

I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.

Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.

So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?

Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?

Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?

Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?

Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?

Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?


Have you read the Gospels?

Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper – the meaning of Holy Communion?


Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.

Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship – private or public.

We know because we believe and we believe because we know.

Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?

If we are meant, always, to be “happy”, why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.

Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.

And never confuse love with sentimentality.

And never confuse worship with affectation.

Be humble – love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love – And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!

I hope that some of this makes sense,

With my best wishes,
Mother Thekla
(sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)

Mother Thekla wrote the above in 2009 when she was 91 years old.

(via The Orthodox Parish of St Aidan & St Chad, Nottingham)

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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  1. Why?? I remember how depressing it was the first time I read through western church history. Then I discovered Orthodoxy and read some of it’s history. Very little difference :( If Orthodoxy is the true literal church on earth shouldn’t it be different than the other organization of the world? If they partake of the true body and blood of Christ shouldn’t they be different kind of people? I know it’s not everyone one, or even most. I guess I had just hoped it might be different. And I also realize this is probably naive. This is just something I’ve struggled with.

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    • As evangelicals, we were used to people only joining or remaining part of Christianity because they chose it. To some extent people self-select for membership in a godly community. But when people are born into a culturally Christian society (Byzantium or America or whatever) they’re presumed to be believers – regardless whether they personally are lovers of God or not. Here in 21st-century America it’s common for people to call themselves Christians and be loyal to the Jesus brand, but to look askance at “religious fanatics” who put the will of God ahead of being a regular person (i.e. a functional atheist.)

      Rome, Christian Ireland, or historical Russia is the same way – we only read the accounts of the saints and heroes and the worst villains, because nobody records the lives of ordinary people in history books or hymns. So there can be a kind of cognitive dissonance when we believe in Holy Russia or a Christian golden age, but we also see that “religious” people are often a minority. Certainly that’s the case in the Old Testament, where the worship of YHWH is supposed to be the normative religion of Israel, but in Kings and Chronicles and in the prophets we see that it was only one of the religions and cults in Israel – and sometimes it as a very small minority indeed.

      The most powerful and effective Gospel only affects societies that embrace and act on it. We need to look at the saints to see Christianity done right.

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  2. I appreciate your response. Something to chew on. Thanks

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