Recently, I received a question through the e-mail from one who had become Orthodox. I have made sure that neither his name nor his place of residence is mentioned. My answer to him is below. I have edited it mildly to make it read better.
It took me longer than I thought to answer you. It turned out that I had a significantly busier week (into the weekend) than I thought.
I was raised Roman Catholic, but left it during my teenage years, got into trouble, and was eventually reached for Christ through an Evangelical/Charismatic group. Eventually, I was encouraged to go to seminary, and that began the downfall for my beliefs. Unfortunately, Church History did not match what I had been taught prior to that. I realized that if I were to be honest to my mind, I had to admit that the Primitive Christianity that I had been fed did not match the scholarly studies current even back then. I either had to believe that the Early Church Fathers had gotten it wrong, or I had to change my mind and believe that if they had anything near correct, then the Church had always been liturgical, always had Apostolic leadership, and always was sacramental.
This does not mean that I believe that the worship today, and the vestments today, and the episcopacy today are exact copies of what the Twelve Apostles would have seen. However, I also now knew enough Old Testament history to know that the Temple that Solomon saw was not the traveling Tabernacle that Moses saw. I also knew enough to know that the Temple that Jesus saw was not the Temple that Solomon saw. And, yet, Jesus saw that Temple and defended it from merchants with a whip. In other words, the development of the Temple throughout the Old Testament was appropriate. This let me see that the development of the Church was also appropriate. The Church hiding in the catacombs does not look the same as the Church which is free to worship anymore than the Tabernacle looks like the Temple. And, yet, they are both the same.
I, too, had some of the same questions you did about expressing the charismatic gifts. When I first became Orthodox, I called a priest whom I had known as a Charismatic. He said that after a while I would no longer miss it. I thought that he was kidding, but now, years later, I know that he was correct. But, part of the reason is that there is a presence of the Holy Spirit in Orthodoxy that it took me a while to discern. It also took me a while to realize that the old Greek grandmother who spoke with an accent, and keeps the fasts, and celebrates the feasts, has built a pattern of life that is as natural to her as breathing, while I still have to remind myself to live the fast and to live the feasts. I also have seen miracles, and people changed, but not in the almost too outward way that we used to do as Charismatics. We all too often made outward noise the hallmark of true spirituality. Meanwhile, the writings of the Desert Fathers have taught me that change and miracles often come in quietude, service, and love.
The last three years I have been in a Greek Orthodox parish with first generation Greeks, their children and grandchildren, and also with converts. And, here is the funny thing. In some ways I have learned more by hanging around with those yia yias and pappous than by reading theology books, monastic books, etc. Though some are admittedly nominal, and others are still getting used to the fact that there are converts around, yet they know how to live Orthodoxy in a very natural way. The ultimate evidence is that those Greeks are the great great great … grandchildren of Greek Orthodox forbears. That is, what they have done is to successfully pass on the faith for centuries. Meantime, many Protestants count themselves fortunate if their children are practicing Christians, let alone members of the same denomination of which they are members.
So, instead of looking for a culturally appropriate Orthodox parish, it may be just as well first to spend at least two years of “apprenticeship” at a large Greek Orthodox parish or a large Antiochian parish with a significant Middle Eastern membership. In this way you can experience a couple of rounds of what it means to celebrate an Orthodox year within a community that has known how to celebrate that for centuries. The apprenticeship will be worth it because when you go to a culturally appropriate Orthodox parish, you will be able to be of support to those who are coming into Orthodoxy because you will have experienced an “older” Orthodoxy.
I will not say that this “older” Orthodoxy is perfect. But, I will say that it is experienced. And that is what us converts need.