Author’s note: I have been a long time reader of 1P5 and agree with Steve’s attempt to reorient the site and its content toward more optimistic, wholesome Catholic content. Today I want to offer up my own story in contribution toward that goal. I am also aware that many traditional Catholics are experiencing struggles with their faith due to the crisis, and I hope that my own story can help in some small way.
By Nicholas Cole
Why would anyone convert to Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy? Prior to Vatican II, when Catholicism was seemingly at its zenith and Mount Athos contained just a few hundred ageing monks, and Orthodoxy in the West was a barely felt presence of a handful of ethnic migrant communities, perhaps turning from the East to Rome was more understandable. But today? Pachamama, Pope Francis, “clown masses”, Cardinal “nighty night baby” Tobin, clerical sex abuse… there is no end to the scandal if one is paying attention. So why convert? Why give up Orthodoxy, with its beautiful Divine Liturgies, saintly elders, healthy monastic tradition, great priests, and rich spiritual life? It is something that took me a long time to reconcile, and the following is my best explanation as to why.
My only disclaimer is that I am a simple, average, 31-year-old male. I am not university educated, I haven’t studied Latin or Greek, I didn’t spend years in the archives poring over Church documents in their original languages, or write doctoral dissertations on any related topic. I am just a layman, trying his best to live out his faith in day to day life. So, with that in mind, here goes…
I was born and raised in a nominally Catholic family, from Baptism to Confirmation. I grew up in a semi-rural market gardening town in Australia. The demographics leaned heavily Italian, although I was an Anglo-Australian. My only recollections of going to church featured our much-loved ageing Irish priest, Fr. Patrick, the occasional Rosary, and awful hymns that none of us liked even at that age. (“Peter built the Church on the rock of our faith, his banner over me is love….”)
By high school, I was a lost soul. Drinking, drugs, and black metal were my vices. My downward spiral lasted well in to my twenties. When I left high school, though, I met a series of Pentecostal preachers who softened me towards Christianity. I attended their churches but quickly dismissed them. I was a seeker, but I knew the answer to what I was seeking wasn’t there.
Most of my twenties were spent studying European history. In terms of religion, I was torn between an attraction to Norse paganism and traditional Catholicism. By age 25 I discovered Eastern Orthodoxy, and the stalemate was broken by the unexpected third choice. I saw in Orthodoxy a pure form of Christianity; mystical as opposed to rational, a living tradition with a rich spirituality and holy priests and monks.
I was “Re-Baptised” at age 26. Re-Baptism was not forced on me, but I was received by a Greek priest under the influence of a Greek monastery nearby that was founded by Athonite monks. The Elder of the Monastery became my spiritual father, and he assured me this was the correct thing to do — it was how they did it on Mount Athos. I willingly accepted this in my zeal.
The first few years of my life as an Orthodox Christian, despite my enthusiasm, were far from ideal. If anyone thinks that Catholicism is the only church with bad priests and bishops, they are very wrong. I met my share in Orthodoxy. After negative experiences with a particularly emotionally and spiritually abusive Greek priest, I grew close to the monastery, and kept my focus on monasticism. But I faced another challenge that was difficult for me to put my finger on. Outside of some grace-filled moments, I felt an inner lack of peace. I couldn’t identify the reason, but something wasn’t right. I had everything a convert could possibly want — even the “street cred” of an Athonite monk for a spiritual father.
In hindsight, I came to realise that what Greek Orthodoxy lacked was the universality of the Creed; “I believe in ONE, holy, CATHOLIC and Apostolic Church…”. I experienced holiness and Apostolic succession, but didn’t feel the oneness in the increasingly splintering Orthodox churches nor any sense of universality. I felt cut off from my family and peers, because the Greeks showed no interest in my desire to evangelize the Australian people. I was told sternly, “That’s not our way, not our spirit. No one will listen to you because you are not Greek. Besides, you joined a Greek church, why do you want to change us? We are Greek, that’s who we are.” I couldn’t reconcile this attitude with Christ’s solemn command to baptise the nations, nor the actions of the Apostles in the Book of Acts.
I didn’t grasp the nature of schism between East and West, but I felt it intuitively. It would take me years to understand it rationally. Nevertheless, my commitment to Orthodoxy was unravelling, and I was unable to reconcile the high claims Greek Orthodoxy made about itself with the reality I saw. It was seemingly more about ethnic folk festivals, the preservation of Hellenism, and the maintenance of its purity from the wider Australian community, which seemed to be perceived as unclean.
At this point, 2 years in, I was reconsidering my decision to become Orthodox, and I turned once again to the traditional Latin Mass. But then something unexpected happened. I met a Coptic Christian at a Greek bible study, and discovered that there was a Coptic church only a few hundred metres from my house. They had English liturgies, a thriving and committed group of young people, outreach efforts to the local community, and a warm and open spirit. I immediately clicked with them, and within three months I had left the Greek church for the Coptic. This is a time in my journey I am not proud of. Being Re-Baptised was difficult enough to accept; being Re-Confirmed in Oriental Orthodoxy was even harder. I was hoping that this time, things would be different. But after the honeymoon period, I realised the Copts had the same problem the Greeks did.
Once again, I was faced with the same dilemma. The Coptic community was wonderful, the Sacraments were valid and rich, they had Apostolic succession and called themselves Orthodox, the Christology made sense, and the tradition was ancient and living. Yet I still felt an inner emptiness. I couldn’t shake the feeling that despite the beauty of Orthodoxy, it was only a part of the Church, not the whole. The Copts themselves even seem to recognise this, inasmuch as they believe Eastern Orthodoxy is a sister church, and most say the same about Catholicism. They very rarely made any exclusivist claims about themselves, recognising they can’t claim to be “THE Church.” They knew they were only one part of it.
Once again, the issue of schism came to the fore. I began to re-evaluate Catholicism with fresh eyes. I read Rome and the Eastern Churches by Fr. Aidan Nichols, and then I stumbled upon Russia and the Universal Church by Vladmir Soloviev. I felt as though scales were lifted from my eyes. The thoughts and feelings I had harboured but not understood for years were put in to words in a way I could never have articulated. (For anyone struggling with the issue of the schism of Eastern Orthodoxy, Soloviev’s book is indispensable and life changing.)
Even still, it took me a while to get to a point where I was finally ready to be received back in to Catholicism. That happened in February of this year, at my local diocesan traditional Latin Mass community.
Not long after I started going back to the TLM, I met a beautiful Croatian Catholic girl online. She lived in Sydney, on the other side of Australia. We met some months later, and are now engaged. In meeting my now-fiancée, I have seen another side of Catholicism for which I am eternally grateful. My fiancée does not know who Cardinal McCarrick is, nor Cardinal Dolan. She is largely unaware of the infiltration of the church by communists, or any of the other filth in the Church. Her family just live their lives as Catholics the best they can. They go to daily Mass when they can (just the Novus Ordo…), they pray the Rosary daily, they have holy water at the front door to bless themselves whenever they leave the house, and they go to adoration often. Their Catholicism is so natural, lived, and organic. It’s refreshing.
Upon re-entering the Church, my anxiety about Catholicism has melted away. I have reconciled the Papacy and the filioque. With the help of a number of Catholic commentators, I’ve learned to deal with clown Masses and Pope Francis and the all the other hot button topics that others have more ably analyzed than I could. But most importantly, I have become enamoured with just simply living a Catholic life. My fiancée bought me a copy of Divine Intimacy (a must have devotional). I got myself a Combat Rosary (another must have) with which I have fallen in love with praying the Rosary. I have a 1950’s version of the Imitation of Christ which I read every day. In addition to these things, we go to daily Mass (another blessing of being Catholic), adoration, read our bibles, say grace before meals, and do our best to live as the Church calls us to live.
So why would an Eastern Orthodox Christian become Catholic? Because living a traditional Catholic life is so rich and rewarding, so spiritually uplifting, and so natural. But most importantly, it is universal. I never rejected all the good things about Orthodoxy, only the schism. I could no longer in good conscience remain separated from Catholic communion, and my life has only been blessed in setting this right. And I look forward to exploring the riches of the Coptic Catholic church nearby and the wider Eastern Catholic communion, all while remaining a Latin Rite Catholic.
For anyone who is downtrodden and ready to give up due to the scandals of the church, here’s my advice: put down your phone and laptop and get involved in a wholesome Catholic community. Live your life as an intentional Catholic, and to the extent possible, ignore the scandal. We will only overcome this crisis when the Pope Francis generation has passed away and all the young men and women raised in big, traditional Catholic families start to fill the ranks of the Church once again. In the mean time, we must pray and offer up our pain with love. We should go to Confession and Holy Communion often, adoration weekly, pray our rosaries daily, and raise our children the best we can. We need to once again look at the Church with the eyes of a convert, and have a love affair with it. Christ is in our midst! Once again we must become joyful, happy Catholics. I LOVE being Catholic!
“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
― Hilaire Belloc
“Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.”
― St. Augustine of Hippo
OnePeterFive offers Catholic news, commentary, and information. We are dedicated to rebuilding Catholic culture and restoring Catholic tradition.