Concerning Converts Entering the Church

     The following is a letter written to a small number of persons who were interested in coming into the Orthodox Church:
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     I have been asked to help a small group prepare to become Orthodox.  This is missionary work, a work of which I lack experience and therefore am reluctant as this appears to be something which is beyond my capacity.  But since I fear shunning responsibility and am acquainted with so many experienced clergy to rely on for help I will continue.
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     What is the Missionary Work of the Church?
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     Protopresbyter John S. Romanides has some enlightening thoughts to share concerning contemporary missionary efforts and those of the early Church; he writes:
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     The missionary effort of the early Church was not like that of today’s Orthodox Church, which sometimes consists of advertising our beautiful beliefs and traditional form of worship as though they were nothing but products for sale.  For example we talk like this: “Take a look, folks! We have the most beautiful doctrines, the most beautiful worship, the most beautiful chanting, and the most beautiful vestments”….We try to dazzle them with our staffs, our robes, and our head coverings so that we can carry out our missionary work.  Of course, there is some sense and some success in doing missionary work this way, but it is not genuine missionary work like that of the early Church.
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     Today’s missionary work consists mainly of this: we enlighten superstitious people and make them Orthodox Christians. without trying to heal them.  By doing this, however, we are just replacing or exchanging their former beliefs with a new set of beliefs.  We are replacing one superstition with another.  And I say this because when Orthodoxy is presented in this way and is offered in this way how is it different from superstition? ( Patristic Theology, pp.34-5)
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Father John also tells us what is the true missionary work of the Church:
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The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul.  The Church has always considered the soul as a part of the human being that needs healing. (ibid., p.19)          
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This is what our Lord spoke of when He preached in the synagogue of His home town Nazareth:
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     The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. (Luke 4:18)
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     How does this healing take place?
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     This healing takes place through Orthodox Life.  In this introduction to a study of Orthodoxy I have chosen to concentrate on the subject of Orthodox Life because even if we confess proper doctrine yet do not live the faith we confess then it will avail nothing for a relationship with God in this life or salvation in that which is to come.  Therefore, when someone comes to the Orthodox Church, he must not only have the desire for the fullness of truth revealed by God but also—and more important—a commitment in his manner of life.  So what does Orthodox life consist of?  Repentance, repentance is a process of both purification and enlightenment.  Again I refer to Father John Romanides who both exposes erroneous thought on this subject and points out to us the true way of repentance:
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     For Orthodoxy today repentance is identified merely with the acceptance of Christ.  That is to say, we accept Christ.  And because we accept Him, we go to Church, we light a candle or two, and become good little boys and girls.  If we are young we go to Sunday school.  If we are adults, we go to a religious meeting now and then.  And supposedly we are living repentance; supposedly we are repentant.  Or else, if we have done something bad in our life, we show some regret and ask forgiveness and call what we are doing repentance.  However this is not repentance.  It is simply regret.  Regret is the beginning of repentance, but the human soul is not purified by mere regret.  In order for one’s soul to be purified of the passions, the fear of God and repentance must first be present and continue throughout the stage of purification until it is completed with divine illumination.  (Patristc Theology, pp. 35-6)
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This is what the holy Apostle Paul wrote of thus:
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     I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom. 12:1-2)
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And again:
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    But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (IICor. 3:18)
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     How do we repent?
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     The Greek word for repentance literally means a change of mind.  This “change” is not only a decision but is also what the Apostle Paul said in the above quote: “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind”.  The mind must be cleansed of all impure thoughts and delivered from the vanity of this world and set on God and the things of God—this is a long drawn out process accomplished by various persons in varying degrees.  In the Russian the word for repent signifies mourning, lamenting and weeping—this is not only a one time action for a sin committed in deed but also an ongoing mourning in prayer over our fallen state and separation from God.  The latter may not only be a matter of self reproach but also the desire of a loving heart for the Lord Who so greatly loves us.  This is to repent in an Orthodox manner.  It is a progression from one degree of purification to another and then continues on in a progression from one degree of illumination to another.  And this foundation of our life in Christ was pointed out by our Lord in His first recorded words of public preaching: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mat. 4:17)
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In Summary
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     Therefore if we want to become Orthodox we must first be resolved—according to the ability of each—to live a life in Christ.  And now setting this foundation we can move on to our study.
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