That said, conversion stories can be a bit tricky, and should come with lots of cautionary admonitions. Even the word convert comes with some baggage, but until someone comes up with a better descriptor, it will have to suffice. First, each account is obviously particular to the person affected, and their reaction will not be exactly replicated by anyone else. In 2003, I walked into a Bulgarian Orthodox church with my good friend and travelling companion. When I walked out, the course of my life had changed (though I didn't realize it at that moment). My friend was right beside me the entire time, but walked out thinking it merely quaint and colorful. That is how it works--our life-changing experience will go unnoticed by our neighbor.
Second, we are often too quick to broadcast our experiences, either out of genuine excitement about the course we have embarked upon, or perhaps exhibiting some need to validate our decision. When I first started blogging, I posted some accounts of my experience. Today, I would probably leave them unwritten. And while I have often alluded to what happened in my case, I have never given a full-throated, complete account of what actually transpired. I can tell my story--but even after 6 years, am reluctant to pontificate upon Orthodoxy itself, and am careful to steer the narrative away from that angle.
And finally, a bit of perspective often changes our narrative somewhat. As we are first constructing the story, it is hard to resist the temptation to portray ourselves always as "Noble Truth-seekers," and those from whom we come out from amongst as "hidebound and pig-headed traditionalists." In time, we come to better appreciate the foundations we received in our former communions, and the part it played in our becoming Orthodox. In time, we realize that our conversion was probably messier and less noble than our telling of it suggests. In time, we can see the part that pride played in our actions, often even to a greater degree than in the church we left behind.
But these "convert stories" are part and parcel of the American Orthodox landscape, perhaps as in no where else. Maybe this is because the change is or should be so removed from what is normative for our culture. What I have noticed is that while each story is unique, one aspect holds true for most: namely, the catalyst for pursuing Orthodoxy is some exposure to and/or experience of Orthodox worship. That is certainly the case with the story I have linked, my story, and most others I can recall. Those conversions based solely on intellectual inquiry, be it theological or historical, do not seem to hold, in my experience. Clearly this is not due to any deficiency within Orthodoxy itself, but lies rather in the motives and approach of the convert. When someone becomes Orthodox as a mere intellectual choice, one made between competing ideologies and based on their own understanding, then they are free to choose something else later on. And they often do. Simply put, the Orthodox faith is infinitely bigger than that, and choices made under those assumptions may fail to account for the cosmic dimensions of what is actually happening.
Another reason this particular story resonates with me is the fact that this couple came out of the Church of Christ, my former religious affiliation. The young man was a missionary to Estonia, where he bumped-up into Orthodoxy. Leaving the Church of Christ can be traumatic, and not at all the same as switching say from Baptist to Methodist to Assembly of God, etc. For the Church of Christ is a restorationist sect, as are the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Unlike the other two, the Church of Christ has mainstream Protestant Trinitarian beliefs (though they wouldn't use the word), but they believe that they "restored" the New Testament church in the early years of the 19th century. For them, church history begins at Pentecost and then stops cold at the end of the 1st Century, going underground (I suppose) until the early 1500s when the Reformation started out right but just didn't go far enough, and then picks back up in the early 1800s with Alexander Campbell finally figured out the correct interpretation of Scripture, thus "restoring" the church. [The irony is that the Church of Christ is distinctly ahistorical in tone, and has failed to instruct its members in even its own particular history. Consequently, modern members are uninformed, unconcerned and/or dismissive of their heritage, causing something of an existential crisis within the church. For without adherence to this narrative, the "distinctive plea," as they used to say, of the Churches of Christ becomes meaningless.] So, when one leaves the Church of Christ, the thinking is (or used to be) that one is not merely going from one Christian denomination to another, but one has in fact left the church. This understanding is not nearly as universal as it was a generation or two ago, but the thinking does persist. When one becomes Orthodox from this kind of background, it can become messy. Such was the case with me. So, this couple's story is of particular interest to me.
I now have very few remaining associations with my old Church of Christ friends (and family). Undoubtedly, there is enough blame to go around on both sides. But I do know some of them used to check out this blog to see just how far I had fallen. Perhaps some still do. It is my prayer that they read this couple's story.