How a Christian Writer and Her Husband, a Protestant Pastor, Converted to Orthodoxy (Frederica Matthews-Green)

As time went by, we began to be concerned about the theological drift in that church. It wan't the liberalizing that they're talking about now of the social and cultural issues. It was bishops denying the Resurrection and denying the Virgin Birth and things like that.

In the summer of 2010, I bought a bunch of video production equipment. I jumped in my car, and I went on a month-long road trip throughout the Midwest and up and down the East Coast interviewing interesting Orthodox people. The last person that I interviewed was Khoria Frederica Matthewes-Green, who probably doesn't need much of an introduction. Khouria Frederica has written many books on topics such as the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, the Theotokos, the Jesus Prayer to name just a few. She's also written many, many articles on cultural topics, topics related to marriage and the family, as well as countless movie reviews. (Here are a few great articles)

Hi there. My name is Herman Middleton, and welcome to the Protecting Veil YouTube Channel, which is all about understanding our Orthodox Christian faith better so we can live it more deeply. In order to do this, I started something called the Collective Wisdom Project. And this interview with Khouria Frederica Matthewes-Green is one of the interviews in that project. So without further ado, I hope you'll enjoy this episode from my interview with Khouris Frederica. 


I became Orthodox somewhat reluctantly. How it came about was: my husband and I were both in a mainline Protestant church. He was a priest. I had also been to seminary. And, for a time, I was wanting to be a priest too. After I got to see what it's like on a daily basis, I decided that's not the job for me. That's a very hard job, being a priest. 

But as time went by, we began to be concerned about the theological drift in that church. It wan't the liberalizing that they're talking about now of the social and cultural issues. It was bishops denying the Resurrection and denying the Virgin Birth and things like that. So, about the early 90's, we started thinking, "We're going to need to go somewhere else. We're going to need to find another church." And, initially we thought it would have to be the Catholic Church. We never had really heard of Orthodoxy, but as we looked at that, we had some theological problems, and we saw that, no matter what the Vatican was teaching, there was some funny teaching in America, and we'd be kind of in the same situation. 

We looked around around a little bit. What really turned the tide was: my husband was invited to go over to another pastor's house one evening. Our friend had invited a lot of pastors over just for an informal evening talking to Fr. Peter Gilquist, and, you can kind of write the rest of the story from that point, I think. 

Actually, Fr. Peter later said my husband was the one person in the room he thought would never become Orthodox. That was because he was asking really tough questions, sort of the questions we had honed with investigating Catholicism. Fr. Peter was able to give some really good answers, and what particularly impressed my husband was that he wouldn't say, "This is what I think," he would say, "Well, St. Athanasius says this. St. John Chrysostom says this. Why don't you look up the commentary by St. Basil?" He kept referring him back to the Fathers instead of giving his own point of view, and that was impressive to my husband. 

The thing that really hooked him, though, was Fr. Peter said, "You need to go to a service. Pick a service. Usually there's a vespers on Saturday nights." So my husband went to the vespers service at a church downtown in Baltimore, came home, and he kept saying, "This is it! This is so wonderful! This is beautiful! I have to be a member of this church. This is the true Church. This is the church where I have to be." So I said, "Fine. Sure, if you like it that much, I'll go with you." So I went with him the next week, and I didn't like it at all. I did not know what he saw in this. To me, it was strange, it was foreign. It wasn't lively like I was used to Evangelical worship being. There were a number of things that really bugged me about it, and that contrast between how it seemed to him and how it seemed to me became the first two paragraphs of my book Facing East. 

I still remember driving home that night, and it was like we had been to two different movies. You know, he just kept on saying, "Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it beautiful? This is the true Church!" And I was like, "Eh, you know, it was boring. It was dark. You know, it was just weird." So we had to go through a period of time where he fell more and more in love with Orthodoxy, and I continued to not really get it. But we reached a point where I said, "You know, I'm willing to follow you. I can see that you see something even if I don't see it. It's not like I have objections to becoming Orthodox, I just don't get the appeal." 

So we went ahead, we set the date for our chrismation. We had thought that, from our high liturgical Protestant church, we might bring, really, a number of people with us. And we didn't. We found that there weren't that many who wanted to come. I had said to the Lord, "I'm not going to worry about income as long as you give me ten tithers." Because ten tithers makes one income. And the day we were chrismated, we had five. So, God was testing us right up to that moment. 

We came into Orthodoxy with just five other families. There were nineteen of us that day. My husband always tells this story. The Bishop, Antoun, looked around and said, "Where's the rest of them?" We were a small group starting out in Holy Cross Church. 

But chrismation really is a sacrament, because that day, it hit me how beautiful it is; that it is the True Church; that the Lord is here, and that I can get closer and closer to him through this beautiful church. Both my daughter and I were hesitant on the way to our chrismation, but my husband and our two sons were, "Let's go!" They were gung ho. After our chrismation, my daughter and I were both fully on board. So, as I say, it really is a sacrament. 

I have to say that most of the conversion stories that I hear, if it's a married couple, most of the time, the husband was ready to go and the wife was reluctant. And I think this is unusual. I know there have been studies done on Christianity all over the world and all different denominations, and in Western cultures, most of the time, it's more women than men. Almost any Christian church you walk into, more women are there. Women are running things. Women are at every level. They're taking charge of things. I was talking to a man about this once who worked at churches, and he said the first thing he does is go into the church and see what the curtains look like. He said, "That tells me who's really in charge in this church." It becomes a place that men don't feel too comfortable with those frilly pink curtains, and it becomes a self-confirming process. More women come; less men come. 

Totally the opposite in Orthodoxy. Not too long ago, a priest said to me, "If a couple comes to me that are interested in Orthodoxy, but one of them really wants to be chrismated, and the other one kind of has cold feet, 80% of the time, it's the husband who wants to be Orthodox and the wife who is hesitant." There are exceptions. I've seen the reverse, but this is a very, very strong pattern. And it certainly was true of us and of my conversion. And I think there is something about Orthodoxy that is just manly. It is demanding, and it is challenging, and men just respond to that faster than women do. 

Once we get into it, we start to get it. We start to see why we need to be challenged, why we need ascesis, why we need the fasts, why we need the services the way they are. To focus on God instead of self is such a liberation; it's such freedom. And in my Evangelical experience, it was so much the reverse. It was "Jesus is doting on you" and "Jesus is looking at you with such fondness" and "Jesus cares about all your little hurts and booboos" and "Jesus wants you to feel really wonderful." It was so oriented toward the customer, you could say. That was not uncomfortable to me as an Evangelical woman. Now, as an Orthodox woman, I feel allergic to it. I really don't like that kind of stuff anymore. And I think that's why Orthodoxy seems unusual to women at first. Once you get into it, though, it's pretty wonderful. 

Transcript provided by Dormition Professional Services.

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