'Liberal' Churches, Love For Russian Culture Drive US Conversions To Orthodoxy

'Liberal' Churches, Love for Russian Culture Drive US Conversions to Orthodoxy

Americans who convert to Russian Orthodoxy typically cite their disillusionment with "liberal" churches and admiration for Russian culture as their reasons for doing so. Several people shared their personal experiences with Sputnik

WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 06th June, 2023) Americans who convert to Russian Orthodoxy typically cite their disillusionment with "liberal" churches and admiration for Russian culture as their reasons for doing so. Several people shared their personal experiences with Sputnik.


Bishop Jerome (Shaw), who joined the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) six decades ago at the age of 16, said that his bishop at the Episcopal Church who denied the Divine Sonship of Christ led him to that decision.

"The Episcopalian bishops held a heresy trial but were unable to agree whether or not a denial of the Trinity was a heresy," he said.

Changing the denomination was not a problem for him, as young people are more flexible and can adopt new things easily, the bishop continued.

He also noted that many people are frustrated with what is happening in their churches and are trying to find something more stable.

"The reason is an increasing disappointment with 'liberal' churches. The Orthodox Church, and especially the Russian Church, is committed to the Christian tradition handed down to us," the bishop said.

Initially, the future Bishop Jerome, whose secular name is John Robert Shaw, was exposed to the Greek Church but eventually chose the Russian Orthodox Church because he thinks it includes many different nationalities and is much friendlier to newcomers.

"The Greeks tend to think of Orthodoxy as a part of their ethnicity, while the Russians are more given to seeing Orthodoxy as an ideology," he explained.

Another American who became a Russian Orthodox Church priest, Michael van Opstall, said that people convert to Orthodoxy for many reasons, but agreed with Bishop Jerome that this is mostly due to their dissatisfaction with current trends in modern society.

"That's a good start, but after that, we all need to learn that the faith is about Christ first -- love of God and neighbor and no ideology," van Opstall said, adding that many young American converts are seeking greater discipline in their daily lives.

Another factor drawing Americans to Orthodoxy is their love for Russian culture, particularly literature.

Bishop Jerome is a great-nephew of the famous British writer Bernard Shaw. The author of Pygmalion and other masterpieces passed away in 1950, when Jerome was a small child. So, communication with his famous relative did not influence the formation of his worldview.

However, as a child he read The Chronicles of Narnia and other works by Clive Staples Lewis, as well as Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. The bishop also discovered recently that he is indirectly related to Tolstoy on his mother's side.

Speaking of those who have influenced his Orthodox beliefs, Bishop Jerome mentioned several ROCOR bishops.

"I learned much from Metropolitan Lavr (Shkurla), from Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), and from many others, who have since gone to their rest," he said.

Father Michael van Opstall, who is currently serving as a ROCOR priest in Utah, also came to Orthodoxy through Russian culture.

"My love for Russian literature, especially Dostoevsky, led me to choose the Russian flavor of Orthodoxy, which I am not ashamed of to this day," Father Michael said.

Literature also gave an impulse to Orthodoxy for Julian Henry Lowenfeld, an American poet who translates Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, and other Russian authors into English. However, his path to Orthodoxy was shaped not by these classic works of arts, but a contemporary bestseller that he translated for Americans - "Everyday Saints and Other Stories," written by then-abbot and now Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov).

Lowenfeld said he had difficulties understanding the terminology and asked permission to spend a couple of months at Sretensky Monastery in Moscow.

"I do not know what happened to me at the end of my time there, but it was a kind of feeling drawn to this. And I converted on the Great Saturday, a Day before Easter," he said.

An American nun from Sretensky Monastery, mother Kornilia, who also converted to Orthodoxy, became a godmother for Lowenfeld, he added.

Many people turn to Orthodoxy while seeking answers to their questions or facing various challenges in their lives.

For instance, Archimandrite Tryphon (Parsons), the abbot of the Russian All-Merciful Saviour Monastery in Seattle, said that he found the way to Orthodoxy in the 1980s after identifying as an atheist and a Marxist for a long time.

"After many years in a career as a psychologist, while working for the Socialist Workers Party, a Marxist organization, I came to a dead end. My life seemed to be leading nowhere, and I was increasingly becoming aware that I needed a spiritual foundation for my life," he said.

Father Tryphon thanks God that at that time he was able to attend his first Orthodox liturgy, which turned his life in the direction of faith.

"Once I'd experienced the beauty and mystery of the Orthodox Liturgy, I knew I had to embrace the Orthodox Faith," he said.

US businessman Bernard Casey, in his turn, recalled that he was born into a Catholic family but became a Protestant at 16. Casey said he converted to Orthodoxy 17 years ago.

"Eventually, I was led to Orthodoxy by God during a difficult time in my life when I was seeking firm answers to my questions about Christian doctrine," he said.

After getting very different answers from various Protestant churches, Casey said he came to the Orthodox Church and found God there. "I saw God being worshipped with reverence and awe," he explained.

Bishop Jerome (Shaw) pointed out that Americans coming to Orthodoxy are usually already committed to the faith.

"Therefore, all we need to do is help and guide them. For the most part, that means simply trying to give clear and honest answers to the questions they ask," he said.

Abbot Tryphon (Parsons) said that he is happy to see a growing number of young Americans who want to embrace Orthodoxy.

"I tell them that only in Orthodoxy will they find fulfillment of spirit. Only within the Orthodox Church will they find the fullness of Absolute Truth," he said.