In recent months, I have been receiving more and more inquiries from friends expressing interest in joining the Orthodox Church. One factor drawing them is increased exposure to the way Orthodox theology represents God as more compassionate and restorative than they had previously understood. So too, they find the Orthodox account of the Cross to be very healing, especially seeing how the God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself through self-giving love. Further, they've grown interested in the openness of some of the early church fathers to alternative interpretations of divine judgment such that eternal conscious torment is not a required dogma. Some find the combination of mysterious and tactile worship aesthetically alluring. The cool beards also contribute. And of course, when a credible witness seems to be flourishing in that context, post-evangelicals think of Orthodoxy as a potential option. Hence the interest among those who've watched my journey. I'm glad for this.
Before you join
So if you're thinking of joining the Orthodox Church, here are some suggestions that others gave me which may help you avoid wasted time, frustration or disappointment. These are gleaned from hierarchs, priests, teachers and lay people who've guided others along. There's a healthy order that benefited me greatly.
1. Don't join the Orthodox Church until you 'can't not'
That's right. We're not in a rush to sign up members (especially from other churches) or join the church growth movement. There is no rush. There is no pressure. If you're meant to become part of the Orthodox Church, God will draw you along. It's better to let God ripen you for the move until you feel you'll 'go to seed' if you wait any longer. But many stages precede that decision.
2. Get to know a priest and ask a million questions
If you've visited an Orthodox service, that's excellent. But it's more important initially to befriend an Orthodox priest who is willing to walk you through the endless 'what about this?' questions that you certainly should have. This relationship will be vital because by the time you're chrismated, you'll want to love and trust this person as your spiritual father and shepherd. If your priest is hospitable to you, patient with you and can provide answers to your questions that satisfy, then you're on your way. From his point of view, this may be the beginning of your catechism ... not in some stiff kind of discipleship course, but over coffee chats and prayer retreats and through whatever reading he recommends.
This period of investigation is not the time to set aside your struggles with elements of Orthodoxy you resist.