Orthodoxy in the United States attracts very many converts from other backgrounds. I myself am a convert to the Orthodox faith. . . I was raised in the Anglican Church, in the Episcopal Church in the United States and I personally fell away from the Church, even from belief in God when I was very young, and then slowly I returned to the Church. My father is a scientist, so I was raised with an idea that you can either be intelligent or be religious. So I made a choice when I was very young and inexperienced: I'll be intelligent, not religious, but slowly, meeting people I realized that it is possible to be an intelligent and faithful person. I started studying more carefully the life of the Church and eventually [age 23] I discovered, mostly through people and books, the Orthodox faith and began the process of becoming Orthodox.The typical stereotype too often pits intelligence against religion. That is funny, odd funny no humorous, since many of the most intelligent people I can remember are very religious. I think here of William F. Buckley and Richard John Neuhaus, among others. Watch on Fox News when Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is on or read her in the Federalist and you will find a knowledgeable, intelligent, and articulate individual. Among my peers I note too many to list -- people who are very intelligent, accomplished, and who communicate well -- who have found the stereotype to be wrong -- there is not a choice between intelligence and religion. They go hand in hand.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to attracting converts is the myth that faith requires sacrificing your intellect. In reality it is the opposite. Intellect, if it knows anything, know its limitations. The smartest person you know is the one who knows the limitations of his or her knowledge and ability. St. Paul reminds us that it is the transformation of the mind with the eternal wisdom of the almighty Father that Christ has come to accomplish and not only the salvation of the soul. God is not looking for us to leave our minds at the door of the church but neither should we presume to think that the only things that are real are those we can understand, comprehend, and, therefore, control. It is precisely in the encounter with the mystery of God that we understand where wisdom begins. The only thing God asks us to sacrifice is the foolishness of our presumption that we are gods, that we are good enough to take care of ourselves, and that life apart from our Creator and Redeemer is sufficient, reasonable, and satisfactory.
Orthodoxy more than most confronts the curious with just such mystery, without trying to explain it or justify it or make it comprehensible. Perhaps that is the key. The convert may be looking for a rationale but we do not do service to the convert of the faith by trying to make the faith reasonable, by trying to answer every question, or by satisfying every curiosity. We speak the Word, we bring them into the presence of the Most High, and God will do the rest. It is interesting to me that the people with whom I have worked hard to explain away their objections to the faith tend not to stay. On the other hand, those to whom I speak the Word and teach the faith without apology tend to remain. Our itching ears and curious minds may be looking for some grand schema to make it all sensible, predictable, and controllable but God will not have it. He meets us in the still small voice of His Word, in the still, quiet waters of baptism, and in the humble food of bread and wine in which He has hidden His flesh and blood. To catechize means to teach the faith, not necessarily to explain it. I sometimes have trouble with that. As a parent I too often fell victim to the temptation that if I explained things in just the right way, my kids would do what I thought was right. I should have simply told them what was right and left out the sermonic rationale. Perhaps that is exactly what we ought to do with converts. Instead of trying to explain away the mystery of God or entertain them into faith or make them feel that the faith is relevant, we stick to the Word, the catechism, and the Divine Service.