One of the first questions that we really need to think about before we go anywhere is why. Why would someone convert to Orthodoxy or want to live in this world as an Orthodox Christian? We are not asking this question to convince someone to be Orthodox, but for each of us to ask ourselves why we have been given a life to live in this world.
The first question to ask is: What is conversion? What does that mean? There are people who call themselves Christians or Orthodox Christians for a variety of reasons. For some it is merely something that has always been part of their culture. For some they were born in it but have never thought much of it. For some it might be out of a sense of guilt and obligation. For some it might be because of some moral or cultural teaching they believe it offers.
It is essential to understand that none of these things is truly what conversion is about. None of them begin to touch the essence of Orthodox Christianity. For us, to convert means not to adopt a religion but to be changed inwardly and outwardly by knowing Jesus Christ our God. It is about a person, not a teaching or a set of moral principles. The teaching is a result of knowing the person. So that means the reason someone genuinely converts is that they desire to know God. They come to believe that is more important than anything they have known in this life. And they believe that the Orthodox Church provides the way to enter into that relationship deeply.
It may not be evident at all to an outsider that this is what we believe, and very, very often, Orthodox Christians do not live up to that standard. But this teaching about conversion and knowing Jesus has been demonstrated century after century, decade after decade, in people whom we call “Saints” who demonstrated in their lives an unearthly love for mankind and for God that was rooted in their desire to know God, and they lived fully within the life and teaching of the Orthodox Church. To name a handful, I am speaking of people in our tradition such as St. Paul and St. John from the first century, St. Anthony the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian from the 3rd and 4th centuries. St. Cyril and Methodios from the 10th century. Even in our day, St. Silouan the Athonite who died in 1938, and St. Porphrios who died in 1991.
In short, I say these things because our faith is human. It is about people and relationships. It about a love between people that is manifested in the life of the Church that can only come from God.
The only way to know these things is to experience them. The does not mean at all that our faith is irrational or anti-rational. It does mean that theology only properly flows from an encounter with the living God. People are only truly changed when they experience love from another person that makes he or she experience what we call “eternal life”, which is not so much an undetermined length of time as it is a perfect joy. “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)