07 January 2018


There’s a reason why I distrust conversion stories and ‘personal journeys’. The dirty secret is that I don’t really have one, though writing one has always been something of a temptation. It’s a strong temptation, this narrative-building. It’s not like I can point to Dante’s Inferno or anything as a catalyst for conversion. Every time I attempt it, in fact, it often feels like I’m being interrogated at a trial. Why should my story be of any interest? Isn’t there a bit of falseness, of self-display, of navel-gazing about the whole damn thing? Of course there is. Even my post attempting to delve into these neuroses of mine was a grand display of self-indulgence pretending not to be (which, of course, is the point).

The truth is this. I could point to long-standing childhood friendships I have with (now-lapsed) Greek Orthodox Christians. I could point to readings I’ve done, with Berdyaev, Bulgakov and Bede being most prominent among them. I could point to places I’ve been. I could point to wise and patient priests who influenced me. I could point to the crucified peoples, the downtrodden poor whom God loves. I could point to my own tenuous family connexions with places important to Orthodoxy. I could point, then, to an Eastern European-ness that might shade into Eurasian-ness. I could point to the Yugoslavia or to the Czechoslovakia in some peripheral degree, and to the ‘Byzantine’ nature of those projects.

And look: all of the foregoing is true, each for a certain valence of ‘true’. But, as you will note, it’s pretty much also all fragmentary. There’s not much of a ‘story’ there that wouldn’t be, at some level, a lie if I tried to tell it in a linear fashion, to make a ‘journey’ out of it, or to interpolate my own will within it. If you asked me to, I probably could pick up each fragment, examine it, and then show how it might have contributed to my catechumenate and chrismation. Retrospection can and will lend new shades of meaning to events and experiences previously ignored. But any attempt to cobble those fragments together on my part into any kind of ‘spiritual journey’ would have a ring of untruth even to my own ear, unless it looked like James Burke’s Connections.

We do live in an age where grand narratives are suspect, sure. But it also happens to be an age of Tumblr, Snapchat and Facebook. By this point, we’re used to carefully curating, arranging and massaging our selves into tailor-made identities that are more or less consumer fashions. And one of the things that has struck me about the Internet-driven market in Orthodox conversion stories seems to be that many of them – not all, but enough to blip on my BS-o-metre – are a shade too sentimental, a hair too Hallmark, a jot too just-so. As it turns out, I haven’t had such neat straight lines to draw even on this blog; and I actually have to wonder if that isn’t for the best. Note that I’m not saying that the people who write such literature aren’t sincere, at a certain valence of ‘sincerity’, or that they aren’t committed Orthodox Christians. But at some level, trying to learn from experience (our own or others’) and make sense of it all is really what we’re all doing anyway, and – pardon the Lewis paraphrase, it comes with the territory – if truth was something easy then it wouldn’t really be true.

One of the things I learned, then unlearned, and continually try to relearn is: it’s okay to show up at church broken – in a literal sense, fragmented – because ultimately that’s how we are. That’s how I first darkened the door of an Orthodox church. That’s how Fr. Valery at the Saint Alexander Nevsky chapel found me. That’s how Jesus Christ knows I still am, and from which I trust He will fix me with whatever small aid I can render Him. And the same applies to whatever story we tell ourselves about ourselves. How did I convert to Orthodoxy? Pfff. Beats me. I’ll let you know when I figure it out. But the answer’s ultimately likely to be Forever Storm or something.


  1. I share your dislike of personal testimonies. They are especially irritating when the teller elaborates with unnecessary details.

  2. Indeed! Though it's really more the ego trip thing that gets to me. I understand it, and I can see that temptation within myself, so I'm not condemning the people who do it.

  3. People need to appear important. Most normal people know they are broken.God knows how it was too as He became human exactly like us though without sin.
    " What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us?".
    DreRod and Fredericka Mathewes Green are just too precious.