Lutheran Pastor to Convert to Orthodoxy

Pastor John Fenton, of Allen Park, MI, announced to his parish his resignation and intention to seek reception into the Orthodox Church along with his family. The text is found on his blog: Conversi ad Domini.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





27 responses to “Lutheran Pastor to Convert to Orthodoxy”

  1. dpc+ Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for posting this. John is a friend and colleague in an academic program. We’ve been discussing this for a long, long time. The integrity of his resignation letter is abundant. I am keeping him in prayer: for his own sake, that of his (what a tribe!) family, and those under his spiritual care.

    God’s richest blessings on you John!
    (oh, and the anti-Orthodox comments he’s receiving at his website are a hoot…)

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    May God reward him richly for any suffering he bears in this part of his life. May Christ receive these painful words as words directed at Him (even though I’m sure none of those writing would dream of saying harsh things to Christ). On the other hand, at the last day we will ask, “When did we ever see you naked, or hungry, in prison, etc.”

    Though I’ve heard Orthodox be far less than kind to others in various circumstances. We all need to remember that we are all responsible for the sins of everyone and to speak kindness to all. It’s the Orthodox Way.

  3. irishanglican Avatar

    This would be a good place to thank you again for the long dialog that I had with you and many of your people. (Over the Blog on Hell, etc.) I must confess that I have a love for certain things in Orthodoxy…The clear doctrine of the Trinity, the love of The Virgin Mary (and I believe profoundly in her mystery and her Theotokos!), the historical development of Orthodox spirituality, and the contemplative of Orthodox Icons (The Savior, Andrei Rublev…so profound: The Image of the Father!)…and many more for me – The Trinity, Andrei Rublev; The Crucifixion…the Byzantine cross; indeed my list is long!
    So even though I perhaps struggle with my own dimension and nature of the supremacy of the Word, in “Biblicism”. I do have a special place for Orthodoxy! And I love to read Georges Florovsky and Alexander Schmemann!

    Pray for me!

    Fr. Robert

  4. FrGregACCA Avatar

    Fr. Robert:

    There is nothing in Orthodoxy, Byzantine or Oriental, which contradicts the Bible.

  5. irishanglican Avatar

    Fr. Greg,
    I wrote my few lines for Fr. Steven and his people mostly. But among the Orthodox, there would be serious differences between them and the Oriental or Old Oriental Orthodox. I was just sent something from some Orthodox, and they told me the Miaphysite position puts them outside of Orthodoxy. And they were quite emphatic!

  6. irishanglican Avatar

    Sorry that is Fr. Stephan

  7. FrGregACCA Avatar

    Fr. Robert:

    There are some, perhaps many, Eastern Orthodox who feel that way. (There are also many, in both camps, who don’t like my jurisdiction very much because of our “vagante” status). However, all of that aside, I stand by my previous statement.

    If you will click on “FrGregACCA” above, you will be taken to my blog where I have posted a link, primarily for you, to two “agreed statements” on Christology between representatives of the “canonical” Oriental Orthodox and the Byzantine Orthodox communion.

  8. irishanglican Avatar

    Fr. Greg,
    Thanks for the sites. I have wriiten some blogs on this subject, mainly for some Reformed people. Who think I am not hard enough on this subject. They maintain that because I see the Jewish people as still under covenant, that I am dividing God’s people by grace dispensationally. Go figure? I do see a historical premillennial position for national Israel. Thus I am somewhat and something pro-Israel. Not popular with very many, save some conservative evangelicals today. I guess that puts me there? Oh well, that is my conviction!

  9. Ryan Close Avatar
    Ryan Close

    Fr Stephen,

    I am trying to leave a Reformed Church, very serious and conservative and thus hostile to Orthodoxy. What should I do? How should I handle it? I cannot just leave with my family. We will have to meet the elders.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    We had a family come to our parish through similar circumstances. I would be respectful, meet the elders, but do not argue or try to convince them of the truth of things. Be honest about what you’re doing and why. They’ll excommunicate you for it, but, if you’re becoming Orthodox, you’ll be breaking communion with them anyway.

    Endure their persecution (from what I’ve been told such a session is pretty much persecution) and count it all joy. Christ will take care of you and see you safely home.

    I told the family that was coming to us that if they would like me to go with them to meet with the elders I’d be glad to. Perhaps an Orthodox priest in your acquaintance would be willing to do the same.

    Reform churches can be almost cult-like in the control they seek to have over their families. May God protect you and bring you safely home. Send me another note if there is any thing I can do. I’ll be glad to help in any way, and if you’ll let me know when you are meeting, I’ll be in prayer for you.

  11. Lucian Avatar

    Dear Father,

    the poor man simply said that he wanted to leave a Reformed Church … not that he wanted to “join us” … what are You trying to do, poach him? 🙂 And they say we Orthodox don’t do propselytism … sheesh! That again, what do ‘they’ know anyway? 😉

    Ryan Close,

    RUN, FORREST, RUN !! :))

  12. Lucian Avatar

    Reform churches can be almost cult-like in the control they seek to have over their families.

    Nice touch, Father. 😉


    Here’s a nice little book for You …

  13. Lisa Buck Avatar
    Lisa Buck

    For the Refomed family, there is a lovely book “Through Western Eyes” by Robert Latham, a Reform professor and lecturer at several prestigious seminaries and also a Reformed pastor. He writes on a low college level, and does a lovely job (i think!) of dispelling misunderstandings Reform folks have about their own tradition as well as about the Tradition. No Reform person can doubt his background and so must take his message seriously. I think it is kind and gentle (while strong and truthful) so is a great book to hand to others who are truly concerned.

    NOTE: I am not Orthodox; I am only in the middle of my journey of reading and considering conversion. I come from a Reform background so can speak to that, but have no real authority to speak of things Orthodox. Perhaps Fr. Stephen can best comment on the book, and correct me if it is not appropriate re: Orthodoxy. Blessings to you all!

  14. Lucian Avatar


    I recommend You the same book I’ve just recommended Ryan. (see my previous comment)

  15. fatherstephen Avatar


    I sorry if I misunderstood his “interest” in Orthodoxy. No proslelytism intended.

    It is also true that the Reform Churches cover a broad spectrum. Some, as he described, can have a controlling use of authority, an interpretation of Calvin’s use of elders.

    When someone posts that they are somewhat afraid of leaving somewhere, or it sounds like their intimidated about it, that sets off alarm bells for me.

    I would gladly help anyone face such a fear, whether they were intending to become Orthodox or not. I do not think it is possible to become Orthodox except God draw you. I just let down the nets, God sends the fish. The nets are not “traps” just Divine hospitality. How else do you get in the boat?

  16. Lucian Avatar

    … just teasing You, Father … 🙂 — I’m curious, though: what exactly did You mean by “Calvin’s use of elders”?

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Calvin’s church elders in Geneva were responsible for strict discipline within the Church and governed very dominantly in spiritual matters – not that Orthodoxy doesn’t hold its Orthodoxy dear. In our contemporary setting it is easy to abuse Church authority (I suppose it’s always been easy to abuse it). I know of contemporary examples from all corners, including cases within Orthodoxy.

  18. Ryan Close Avatar
    Ryan Close

    I cannot read all that has gone on above very carefuly, but let me assure you all, that we have been on a six year journey out of self-absorbtion and back in time so to speak. Looking for something deeper and more rooted than the lowest common denomenator ordinary Christianity, we left the Pentecostalism for a very nuanced Refomred Church which believed in sacraments and liturgy, the pastor wore robes, energetic psalm singing, and had Peado-Communion. After a while my trip to Greece in 2002 and my introduction to the One Holy Church caught up to me. I realized that the reformed church we were at was considered heretical by nearly every other reformed church in the world, that there was no future in it. I also did not want to go to any of the other “Trilateral Western Orthodox” parishes in our area, because I realized that this was just an intelectual construct that I had made in my mind (Presbyterian, Anglican, & Lutheran). It did not exist. I wanted it to be Western Orthodoxy but I was the only one. So I found an Orthodox Church and started to get my questions answered. Thank God he gave me two absolutely wonderful preists and some great online pen pals. I became convinced that the Church was the Church and decided in advance to accept what ever she taught. Anything else seemed crazy. I took it slow reintroducing Orthodoxy to my wife, who had also been to Greece with me for school in 2002. She met Fr Moses Berry and fell in love with him and his humble quiet self-emptied love and wisdom. She came around in about 12 months and now we are ready. We love the people, but they are overly patriarchal and cult like. I am afraid because I don’t want to loose friends but I know we will and because we cannot just leave. When we last left a church we didn’t so much as say good buy. We were not sacramentaly connected nor under any real pastoral care. The church we left did not really care. The Reformed church is different, serious, and Calvinism is, ironically, very opposed to Orthodoxy. This promts many to ask us either if Orthodoxy is right for us or if our time at the Reformed church was a waste? No. We both see the shape the journey took and why we had to go through these steps. As it is right now, we cannot even split our time between two churches as some have. Our friends notice when we are gone and ask questions, and Tami does not feel good about lieing. Our church did not have Wednesday services, so we have been going to Vespers and catachism classes as Tami became comfortable and more accepting. She loves it now, where as she says she was only really “tolerating” the other church, from which she felt a lot of pressure to make babies and such. She liked it for me because when we first arived there were men my age who had read all the same books and we got to sit around after Liturgy and discus theology, something we never had at the Pentecostal church. Now we have found the right ballence. Liturgical and Charismatic (though it looks different), not feminist but also not masoginist. I believe that priests have a charismatic gift of decernment for pastoral care. So please excuse Father. He was only doing his job very well. So we should meet with the elders sometime at the end of the month. I will inform you Father Stephen about the day.


  19. Patty Joanna Avatar
    Patty Joanna

    We have had friends who had a very tough “break” from their Reformed Church, for the reasons you mention, Ryan. Our friends were truly persecuted, and when their to-be priest (a very well spoken and loving and reasonable man) worked with the other church, HE was treated with even less respect. But I will tell you this: my friends do not regret their move, and draw a distinction between what they had and what they have, which may not make much sense, but I hope offers you comfort in what might be a difficult time.

    They were “shunned” by all their old friends and cut off from “fellowship”. But what they found was *communion*–communion with the Body of Christ within the Body of Christ. It is much deeper than fellowship and it is not in subjection to one another but in mutual submission to Christ Himself, in us, and among us. It is centered in the chalice not in the rules of men. It is found in love, even more than in “fellowship” or “relationship”.

    There is a BIG difference.

    If your journey *out* is painful, that is short lived. What you are coming to is so much larger and deeper that it will swallow up the sorrow you experience along the way.

    Kind regards,
    Patty Joanna

  20. Raphael Avatar


    What you are saying is of great significance, particularly to those who know that their “needs” can only be met by God, in Christ.

    Fellowship and communion are not the same thing.

    Kyrie eleison.

  21. Yannis Avatar

    I have left Jehovah’s Witnesses last year and my wife and i are attending a Greek parish and LOVE it but it is bittersweet for we have been disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and have lost some family and life long friends in the process.

    Our journey out of the Witnesses has been joyful but wrought with pain and loss for Christ. Sometimes i wonder if we are doing the right thing as my parents are elderly and this is killing them. Interestingly, I am Greek and both my parents were raised Orthodox and converted to Jehovah’s Witnesses in their 30’s.

    I agree with Father Stephen when he said “I do not think it is possible to become Orthodox except God draw you” for that is what happened to me.

    Orthodoxy was furthest from my mind but i was introduced to it as i read about the Early Church, the Didache, Justin Martyr’s description of church services and Wikipedia. Through my stuidies and prayer I feel that God has drawn me.

  22. Ryan Close Avatar
    Ryan Close

    I am very thankful for all the responses I have received on this thread which is over two years old!. I chose this thread because it dealt with a Lutheran pastor becoming Orthodox, a conversion which was very inspiring for me.

    I don’t think that inviting our priest along would help at all. I have the feeling they would become very defensive. The irony is that I have received more personal pastoral care from Fr Andrew (St Thomas the Apostle) & Fr Moses (Theotokos Unexpected Joy) in the last six months than I ever had from our elders at the Reformed Church. Though let me reiterate that the Reformed church was a stepping stone for us.

    Some practical questions: How and where should we meet the elders? Public? Privet? Our house? The pastor’s house? I have never seen them yell but I have no way to gauge this. They are very segregated along gender lines so that Tami feels uncomfortable speaking to men at the church. This is one of the reasons we are leaving. But we are meeting them together. What should I say?

    I think there are a few friends we can count on, but we have moved beyond really worrying. We trust Christ and he has already given us great Orthodox friends. But we have been taking these last few weeks since Tami has become ready and when we meet the elders to show Christ to everyone at our church with love. Some people have allegedly left other parishes in our “confederation” for Orthodoxy demonstrating rebellion and disrespect. They may have been just as humble as we are and simply slandered. They may have been rude and divisive. We hope to show Christ to everyone in humility not to be coldly correct.

  23. Patty Joanna Avatar
    Patty Joanna

    Dear Ryan,

    I don’t have personal knowledge to speak from as to how you should do this regarding elders, but I had a “messy situation” a few years ago and ws advised to have the meeting in a neutral place–not in a home where hospitality can be offended and memories cannot be escaped.

    We, too, received more pastoral care from our to-be Orthodox priest than in our Presbyterian church of 17 years…but that Presbyterian church was a blessing to us all that time, just the same. Our “parting” was peaceful–in large part because of the hugeness of the church; no one even knew we left! (Well, I did send a letter, and got a very kind response back.)

    I don’t think you will err in being humble and kind to all. You may or may not receive the same back, but that will pass, and you will have done the right thing in the meantime. Many were converted by the peace and kindness of the martyrs! But I don’t think many martyrs tried to argue with their tormenters, either. It seems like they spoke the truth and let the truth do the speaking. If it gets into a “fight” or “apologetics war”, no one will be better off.

    If you will post the day of your meeting with the elders, I will pray for you on that day. And for your wife. I have great sympathy for her, again, not through my previous *church* situation, but a private Reformed school situation. It was vfery difficult. I will look for your post on this thread.

    Kind regards,
    Patty Joanna

  24. Michael Avatar

    Why “fight” in a battle that has already been won? Pax vobsicum.

  25. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    Good evening! Just wondered what the procedure is for one leaving a denomination to enter into Orthodox. Do they renounce their former faith in writing or verbal – or is it understood at the time of Chrismation? Tks! God bless…..

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is a renunciation of specific false doctrines associated with certain things, and an acceptance of Orthodox teaching. It is verbal. Sometimes done publicly, sometimes privately.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast