Mariya’s Letter to Converts
Posted October 14, 2018
Our treasurer, Mariya Petrenko, has written a most beautiful and profound letter, addressed to an Orthodox convert, from a cradle Orthodox Christian. With Mariya's permission, we are sharing it with you, here below.
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Dear convert to Orthodoxy,
Thank you! If no one has thanked you before for becoming Orthodox and telling your story, then I’ll be the first, and you may want to read this letter.
I grew up in Ukraine, a predominantly Orthodox country, in the 80s and 90s - the times when the country was transitioning from its communist past to its new reality. While habitually baptized as an infant, I didn’t grow up going to church regularly. We would stop by to light a candle occasionally, pick up blessed willows, or bless our baskets in the early morning hours of Paskhal night. But church traditions and stories were tightly woven over centuries into the common culture, folklore, literature, architecture, and life stories around us. I was aware of the existence of other Christian and non-Christian denominations, but never really gave a serious thought to the differences, or to the need to choose. Being serious about being with God for me always amounted to being in the Orthodox church. I know there is a whole array of thoughts on this matter, but this is my story.
I started to develop a deeper interest in my faith while being a student at the university in Kiev, surrounded by old and newly (re)built churches, faithful classmates, centuries-old monasteries, and relics of the saints within walking distance in any direction. But, oddly, the Orthodoxy really “grew in” when I moved to the US for graduate studies. The first church I started attending regularly was a beautiful small Orthodox mission parish in Lafayette, Indiana. And this is where “the convert effect”, as I call it, happened.
Saint Alexis Orthodox church was, and still is, as their web-site calls it “a uniquely "American" melting-pot parish, where "Cradle" Orthodox from the Greek, Syrian, Russian, Romanian, Ukranian and Carpatho-Russian traditions worship along with converts from a number of Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism”. It was the first time I’ve met so many people, who deliberately and willingly chose to become Orthodox. I was used to people being baptized in their infancy and not going to church, or various paths of returning, or being at different distances from the church they already belonged to by virtue of being baptized there.
But people who made a conscious educated choice to come here? – this was new. And it raised many questions for me. I started wondering about the real differences between various Christian denominations. I wanted to understand what it was, that Orthodoxy had, and that I took for granted, that these people were searching for. And what they were finding here, that made it worth for them to change their names, sometimes go against their families, endure being misunderstood and losing friends. This encounter with the determined, burning, sober love for my faith in these people, opened one after another, many powerful and beautiful sides and depths of Orthodoxy, which I never paid attention to before. Yes, the problems of the rich! Taking for granted the treasures, I never realized I had.
I devoured the stories of Mathew Gallatin, Peter Gillquist, Father Seraphim Rose, and many of my convert friends. I started noticing recurring themes: the Width, the Depth, the Beauty, and most of all - the Truth, which people found in Orthodoxy. The stories of “finally feeling at Home”.
After moving to Maryland over 10 years ago, God has placed me in yet another “melting pot” mission parish. In all these years at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Beltsville, I continue meeting converts, hearing their stories, which never cease to inspire in me the awe for the many ways God brings people to Him, for the Beauty, the Depth and the Truth of the faith. In watching new people convert to Orthodoxy, I started paying more attention to the stories of cradle Orthodox as well. And really, the “personal conversion” of every “cradle Orthodox” or convert, who makes this conscious choice to follow Christ. Witnessing the miracle of the change of heart is a constant reminder to me about the treasure, which can so easily be taken for granted. Every conversion story to me is a powerful reminder, inspiration, and encouragement!
For a few years I had in mind to write this letter, but it has always been lost among the more important things to do. It seems the time has come. As Holy Apostles is beginning its capital campaign to give yet another (much beloved) mission parish it permanent church home, I’ve been thinking about all the people who hear about Orthodoxy through the infinitely important mission parishes. The people who change their names, their lives, their habits… and amazingly, teach life-long Orthodox about their faith. Yes, I am very excited about our new parish hall design, about the dream coming true, and the vision for the beautifully restored church for the Holy Apostles parish. Of course, here the link to our building project page for you to come and watch and participate in our progress:
So if you ever wondered about the need to tell your story or possible interest to it, I can guarantee you at least one very grateful reader/listener! Please tell your story, live your story, and keep up the good fight. You never know who you inspire!
With much Love in Christ,