I promised this post a while ago when I mentioned that I'd been reading about a number of converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, some that were quite surprising. Supposedly over 70% of priests in the Orthodox church in America today are converts, which is a pretty stunning statistic, particularly in light of the fact that that is up from 10% a few decades ago.
I've mentioned Frederica Mathewes Greene before, and I just finisher her book Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy. Greene's husband was a priest in the Episcopalian church when they converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, and their story is fascinating to me, and seems pretty classic. They are a part of the recent wave of converts from the Episcopalian/Anglican and Catholic church.Another convert from the Anglican church is Kallistos Ware, an Oxford-educated scholar who intensely encountered Orthodoxy when he traveled through Greece. He is now an Orthodox Metropolitan.
A truly watershed conversion was Jaroslav Pelikan, who was a preeminent church historian and a professor at Yale. He was born in Ohio to a strongly Lutheran family, he also became a church historian and Lutheran scholar, earning a PhD by the age of 22. He was known for the great breadth of his expertise, which included study and books on the early church, Augustine, Luther, the development of doctrine, Kierkegaard, medieval philosophy, etc. He came out with a five-volume work of church history and was the first Protestant scholar to include Eastern Orthodoxy in their work on church history.
After being such a strong scholar and Lutheran for so long, it was shocking to the Protestant world when he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy at the age of 70 years old in 1996. He didn't talk much about his conversion, but a few quotes caught my eye. He said: "I was the Lutheran with the greatest knowledge of the Orthodox Church, and now I am the Orthodox with the greatest knowledge of Luther. " He also said that he didn't so much find Orthodoxy as much as return to it, "Peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there."
Even more surprising to me than Pelikan was the discovery of the story of Peter E Gilquist, who was not so much a high church scholar as much as a low church evangelical leader. He got involved with Campus Crusade in college and became a born-again Christian. He pursued graduate studies at Wheaton and then Dallas Theological seminary (where my husband is now). He began working for Campus Crusade based in Notre Dame, and eventually became a regional director.
While with Crusades Gilquist and some co-workers began studying historical Christianity and reading the Church Fathers, and eventually became convinced that the Orthodox church was the only unchanged historical church. They initially formed house churches that intended to recapture the historical practice of the early church, but most ended up joining the Antiochian Archdiocese. When Gillquist finally converted in 1987, he led 17 parishes and 2,000 evangelicals with him. Holy cow. That story stunned me.
Another convert from low-church evangelicalism is Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer. Many don't know the name Francis Schaeffer, but for evangelicals in the 60's he was writing books like A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live?, and True Spirituality. He was a BIG name. He went to Switzerland and started L'abri, a center for discussion and debate about faith and spirituality. He was super influential. His son Frank became an artist and filmmaker. He picked up the reigns and followed his father's path, until the mid-1980's when he publicly stepped away from the Religious Right. I knew about that part of his story and have appreciated his critique of the Religious Right. I did not know, however, that he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1992. He's a bit of a controversial figure these days and I'm not sure Eastern Orthodoxy wants him representing their name!
Kallistos Ware, formerly Timothy Ware, was Anglican clergy when he traveled through Greece and deeply encountered Orthodoxy at some churches there. He is now a preeminent Orthodox theologian, author, and Metropolitan.
Peter Jackson was an evangelical and Wycliffe Bible Translators missionary to Columbia. As he dealt with translation difficulties he began to look for clarity in authorial intent by studying church history. He really took a look at the East as he searched further for rationale against Calvinism. They actually joined an Orthodox church while on the mission field, even though the Orthodox community was tiny and didn't even have a priest. The last thing I read was that he was studying at an Orthodox seminary with the intent of starting an official Orthodox church back in Columbia, but that's very outdated.
Matthew Gallatin was part of the Jesus movement. He was a singer/songwriter, youth minister, and Calvary Chapel pastor. In this position he struggled with the huge range of Protestant opinions, all brought from the same belief in the final authority of scripture. This drove him to a study of the early church, which lead him to the place that he believes still holds the beliefs and practices of the early church: Eastern Orthodoxy.
Joel Kalvesmaki was an eager young evangelical who also became a missionary with OM. When a fellow Wheaton grad and OM missionary shared his search into the Orthodox Church with Joel, Joel was skeptical. He began to read up on the Church Fathers to argue again his friend's journey, and was indeed initially very anti-Orthodox. The more he read, the more humbled and surprised he was at the lack of understanding in his own evangelical faith. He considered Anglicanism and strongly considered Roman Catholicism. He saw other history-hunting evangelicals journeying the same way and landing in a variety of places. Eventually the belief that the Orthodox best hold to the simplicity of early faith rather than adding to it led him into Orthodoxy.
John Maddex has been mentioned on my blog before. He helped run Moody Radio for years, and his daughters attended Moody and Wheaton. One daughter and her boyfriend began exploring Eastern Orthodoxy after some church history courses, and the other daughter and her boyfriend followed. John began attending with them purely to be able to argue against their journey into Orthodoxy. His wife immediately felt at home in the Orthodox church, and as he began to read the Church Fathers his arguments also melted away. After the whole family converted he ended up starting Ancient Faith radio for the Orthodox Church, and I got to hear him speak in a spiritual formation course while I was at Moody.
Fascinating, eh? The theme of nearly every conversion to Orthodoxy is a study of the Early Church. I seems to be rather earth-shattering for most Protestants.