Monday, March 24, 2014

Turning to Tradition (Oxford University Press)

As a convert to Roman Catholicism, I have grown to understand both the positives and negatives that conversions can bring into a church. The primary positive (as I see it) revolves around the fire accompanying a convert or group of converts. Very few people convert in an apathetic manner. Instead, these people have actively made a decision to join something bigger than themselves and they view to be right and true. This period varies in length depending on the person, but if channelled properly can be very valuable for reaching others. The primary negative (as I see it) associated with converts can be a stubborn hanging on to their former denomination or religion. Converts will either try to shape their new faith with their old faith, which can pose problems both for the convert and others. The book I am reviewing today involves the story of four converts to the Orthodox Church. This is not a subject I am an expert on by any means, but it sounded interesting to me.

Turning to Tradition is a brief history of American Orthodoxy and how it was shaped by converts. It covers the conversion stories of St. Alexis Toth, Fr. Raphael Morgan, Fr. Moses Berry, and Fr. Peter Gillquist. Despite each of these men belonging to different religious backgrounds, each of them had the same longing - a return to the Early Church. For example, St. Alexis Toth was an Eastern Catholic (Carpatho-Rusyn to be precise) who experienced prejudice and rejection from a Roman Catholic bishop in the U.S. for being from an Eastern Rite. Fr. Peter Gillquist was a member of the Protestant movement known as Campus Crusade.

Each of their journeys provided a fascinating and sometimes depressing read. The overt prejudice that Eastern Catholics received from their Western counterparts in St. Alexis Toth's day is truly disheartening. While, I have confidence that this overt discrimination is gone, I do question if the covertness is still there among some Western Catholics. As a former Protestant, the section I was most excited to read (Fr. Peter Gillquist and the Evangelical Orthodox Church) also proved to be a bit disheartening. I am aware of what I thought was the story regarding their conversion. However, the author, Fr. Herbel, lets us know that if you are only aware of Fr. Gillquist's work "Becoming Orthodox," like myself, then you received a whitewashed version of history. It was sad to read how much heartburn could have been avoided in this conversion process had the Evangelical Orthodox Church taken different steps. Hindsight is 20-20 though., but it was refreshing that the author did not hold back in truth in the matter, and presented you the people as they were - warts and all.

If you are looking for a brief history of conversion and the shaping of the American Orthodox Church, Turning to Tradition will fit the bill. What I found most refreshing was that the author did not hold back the truth when it came to writing his book. He present you the people and their conversions as they happened - warts and all. What I didn't like about the book was how many pages were notes and indices. The book is 244 pages. The notes for the book start on page 159. That's 2/3 text and 1/3 notes. Overall, this is a solid book, but one that might have a limited audience of those interested in Orthodox American history.

This book was provided to me by Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found it helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

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