Most of us have heard the expression “cradle orthodox”, referring to those who are born into Orthodoxy. The phrase may be compared to being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, and in a way we are.
I was baptized at two years old, along with my sister. And though I grew up in a Greek Orthodox home, I guess you could say that the emphasis was probably placed more on being Greek than being Orthodox.
Being Greek Orthodox was just who we were; it was not something we intentionally put on. It was rooted in everyday life: the cross at bedtime, the prayers of my Yia Yia during the day, with the icons in the corner of all the bedrooms. It was more a state of being, than knowing or understanding.
In fact, growing up in Detroit in the mid 1960s, my mother went to a neighborhood Catholic school and enrolled my sister and I as students. I learned a lot from the nuns, and felt the presence of Christ every day in the school. Raised in a matriarchal family, the Virgin Mary was also very important to me.
As I grew into adulthood and moved away, I began to gravitate even more toward the Church of my birth. When I married in the church, it began a searching process.
Starting an interfaith marriage and deciding how our children would be raised was a very difficult time. In our new parish during the 1980s and 1990s, even many of the sermons were delivered in Greek. For me, it was beautiful, and touched the earliest memories of my life; but my worry and concern for my American husband and children who did not speak Greek overwhelmed the peace that the liturgy should have brought me
So we would go and visit many other kinds of churches. Each of these had their own unique aspects, but our roots were in the Orthodox Church. I discovered that even non-Orthodox who experience the church for the first time, like my husband, realize that these roots are deep and stirring. And so my family naturally found our way back to Orthodoxy.
You could say I really did not know the uniqueness of the gift of Orthodoxy, until I was in my 40s, when it became important for me to understand the church: her liturgy and her Word in an adult way, instead of simply through the heart of the little girl who only knows that she loves her mama, her family, and her God.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explains to them that as they are still “infants in Christ”, the words he gives them are like milk, not the solid food of meat. This seems to me how many cradle-born Orthodox experience the church: as a place of comfort, because we know it from our Yia Yia and Papou.
This isn’t to say that God does not want us to be comforted, but compare this mindset to those who convert to Orthodoxy. Most converts don’t have the luxury of being fed the milk of “it’s always been this way.” Instead they must dive into serious study, to grasp “the meat”, which many cradle-born take for granted.
For so many of our parishes founded by immigrants, questions of culture and language will continue to be important. But if we are to mindful and present in our understanding of what it means to be Orthodox, perhaps we cradle-born should borrow a page from those who have converted, and seek God’s solid food.