Thursday, July 25, 2019

Conversions to Orthodoxy - English Orthodox Web 3


ORTHODOX WEB


Conversions to Orthodoxy

English Orthodox Web 3

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY – MULTILINGUAL ORTHODOXY – EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH – ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑ – ​SIMBAHANG ORTODOKSO NG SILANGAN – 东正教在中国 – ORTODOXIA – 日本正教会 – ORTODOSSIA – อีสเทิร์นออร์ทอดอกซ์ – ORTHODOXIE – 동방 정교회 – PRAWOSŁAWIE – ORTHODOXE KERK -​​ නැගෙනහිර ඕර්තඩොක්ස් සභාව​ – ​СРЦЕ ПРАВОСЛАВНО – BISERICA ORTODOXĂ –​ ​GEREJA ORTODOKS – ORTODOKSI – ПРАВОСЛАВИЕ – ORTODOKSE KIRKE – CHÍNH THỐNG GIÁO ĐÔNG PHƯƠNG​ – ​EAGLAIS CHEARTCHREIDMHEACH​ – ​ ՈՒՂՂԱՓԱՌ ԵԿԵՂԵՑԻՆ​​

ORTHODOX WEB: http://orthodoxweb.blogspot.com - Abel-Tasos Gkiouzelis - Email: gkiouz.abel@gmail.com

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http://englishorthodoxweb3.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy
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http://englishorthodoxweb9.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy
http://englishorthodoxweb10.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy

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India: A former Brahmin converted along with his whole family to Orthodoxy after Christ miraculously appeared to him

A chapel dedicated to St. John Chrysostom in Bangalor, India, of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Among the parishioners is a former Brahmin, who converted along with his whole family to Orthodoxy after Christ miraculously appeared to him.

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ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY

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Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Greece (+1994): The false evolution, the temptation of atheism when he was 11 years old and the appearance of Jesus Christ to him

From the age of eleven [says Saint Paisios], I would read the lives of the Saints, I would fast and keep vigil. My older brother would take the books and hide them, but that didn’t stop me. I would just go into the forest and keep reading there.

Later, when I was fifteen, a friend of my brother named Costas told my brother, “I’ll make him willingly give up all this nonesense.” He came and explained to me Darwin’s theory of evolution. I was shaken by this, and I said, “I’ll go and pray, and, if Christ is God, He’ll appear to me so that I’ll believe. I’ll see a shadow, hear a voice—He will show me a sign.” That’s all I could come up with at the time.

So, I went and began to pray and make prostrations for hours; but nothing happened. Eventually I stopped in a state of exhaustion. Then something Costas had said came to mind: “I accept that Christ is an important man,” he had told me, “righteous and virtuous, Who was hated out of envy for His virtue and condemned by His countrymen.” I thought to myself, “since that’s how Christ was, even if He was only a man, He deserves my love, obedience, and self-sacrifice. I don’t want paradise; I don’t want anything. It is worth making every sacrifice for the sake of His holiness and kindness.”

God was waiting to see how I would deal with this temptation. After this, Christ Himself appeared to me in a great light. He was visible from the waist up. He looked at me with tremendous love and said, “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, even if he dies, he shall live” (Jn. 11:25). He was holding the Gospel in His left hand, open to the page where the same words were written.

With this event, the uncertainties that had troubled my soul were overcome, and in divine grace I came to know Christ as true God and Savior of the world. I was convinced of the truth of the God-man, not by men or books, but by the very Lord Himself, who revealed Himself to me even at this young age. Firmly established in faith, I thought to myself, “Come back now, Costas, if you want, and we’ll have a talk.”

Source:

http://godandscienceorthodoxy.wordpress.com

GOD AND SCIENCE - ORTHODOXY

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Reason #1: The ever-changing church

Why I have converted to 
the Eastern Orthodox Church

This series of articles are from the “Becoming Orthodox” blog.

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting reasons why I have converted to the Orthodox Church. They are listed in no particular order. Some are big, important reasons; others may be small, wonderful but non-essential reasons. I hope they offer food for thought.

A few months ago I read an article in Christianity Today that highlighted a Christian movement in Mexico. It’s been awhile since I read the article and I can no longer recall the particulars, but one line really stood out: “How will the church in Mexico continue to change?” asked the columnist.

If the church is the pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), then it should be unchanged since the day that it was founded by Jesus. Yet in any particular church group (save one) you will find numerous changes. Roman Catholics have a pretty long history, but they change the rules all the time. Protestantism is no different, being that it was borne out of a desire for change; a desire that certainly continues to this day when we have thousands of different denominations.

I’m disturbed by all of these changes. Truth doesn’t change. Neither should the Church.

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JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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Saint Jose Munoz-Cortes the Νew Μartyr of Athens in Greece, from Chile (+1997)

October 31

Saint Jose (Joseph) Muñoz-Cortes (a privately tonsure monk Ambrose; 13 May 1948, Santiago, Chile – 30/31 October 1997, Athens, Greece) was an Orthodox clergyman, the keeper of the Iveron Icon of Montreal, Canada.

Saint Jose was born in Chile into a pious Roman Catholic family of Spanish descent. He was a boy of twelve when he became acquainted with Archbishop Leontius (Filippovich), and under his influence José was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia two years later, with his mother’s consent.

A talented artist, he secured a job teaching art at the University of Montreal, and began studying iconography. In the summer of 1982, Brother Joseph went to Mount Athos with a particular interest in visiting some sketes and monasteries specializing in icon painting.

At the small skete of the Nativity of Christ, Brother Joseph felt an immediate and strong attraction for an icon of the Mother of God, a contemporary (1981) copy of the ancient and revered Iveron Icon. He was disappointed to learn that it was not for sale, but to his great joy, as he was leaving the skete, Abbot Clement, unexpectedly handed the icon to him, saying that it pleased the Mother of God to go with him to America. Back in Montreal, Brother Joseph began reading an akathist daily before the icon. A few weeks later, on November 25, he awoke and smelled a strong fragrance. The new icon was streaked with myrrh, miraculously emanating from the hands of the Mother of God.

For the next fifteen years, as myrrh continued to flow from the icon, Brother Joseph devoted himself to its care, accompanying it on numerous trips to parishes all over the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Europe. Brother Joseph was also faithful in fulfilling the countless requests for prayers that he received, daily commemorating scores of people, among whom were several dozen godchildren. Jose was tortured and murdered in a hotel room in Athens, Greece on the night of October 30 or 31, 1997, and the icon has not been seen since. He had planned to return to Canada the following day to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the appearance of the miraculous myrrh on the icon.

Source:

http://saintsbookorthodoxy.wordpress.com

SAINTS BOOK - ORTHODOXY

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Journey to Orthodoxy: New Zealand

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/?s=new+zealand

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Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia & Athens, Greece (+1991) and the hippies

Saints Porphyrios of Athens, Greece once said:

One day a hippie visited me. He was dressed in something colorful, strange clothes, and wore an amulet and jewelery, and he asked to see me. The nuns were worried, so they came and asked me, and I told them to have him enter. As soon as he sat across from me, I could see his soul. He had a good soul, but was wounded which was why he was a revolutionary.

I spoke to him with love and he was moved. “Elder”, he said, “nobody until today has ever spoken to me like this.” I had told him his name, and he was confused as if I knew him. “Well,” I told him, “God revealed your name and that you travelled as far as India where you met a guru and you followed him.” He was in even greater wonder. I told him other things about himself, and he left pleased. The next week he arrived with a group of hippies.

They all gathered together within my cell and sat around me. A girl was also with them. I liked them very much. They were good souls, but wounded. I did not speak to them about Christ, because I saw they weren’t ready to hear of it. I spoke their own language about topics that interested them. When we were finished and they got up to leave, they told me: “Elder, we would like a favor: allow us to kiss your feet.” I was embarrassed, but what could I do, I allowed them. After they gave me a blanket as a gift. I will call for it to be brought, so you can see it. It’s very nice. After a time the girl visited me, the hippie, by herself. They called her Maria.

I saw that Maria was more advanced in her soul than her friends and she was the first I spoke to about Christ. She received my words. She has come other times, and has taken a good path. Maria also told her friends: “Hey naughty children, I would never have imagined that I would come to know Christ through hippie friends.”

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EX 2X2 LETTERS FROM GREECE

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The new face of Mayan Christianity

Orthodox Holy Week and Easter 
of Mayans in Guatemala

Christianity among the Mayan Native Americans is undergoing a dramatic change in places like Guatemala and Southern Mexico. This shifting of religious identity is part of a larger trend that is enveloping much of Latin America.

According to the Pew Research Center report, published in November of 2014, “historical data suggests that for most of the 20th Century, from 1900 through the 1960′s, at least 90% of Latin America’s population was Roman Catholic.” Remarkably, however, in just one lifetime, the Pewsurvey indicates that only “69% of adults across the region identify as Roman Catholic.”

Up until recently, Orthodox Christianity did not play much of a role in this changing landscape. Most of our parishes consisted of immigrant colonies, established mainly to perpetuate the customs, languages  and traditions of their respective ethnic cultures  and mother churches in Europe.

The title of a recent article in the Huffington Post by Carol Kuruvilla, however, announces a major shift in this approach to the church’s mission: “The Greek Orthodox Church In Latin America Is Not Very Greek.” Embracing this change and adapting to this new reality, Archbishop Athenagoras, since his 1996 appointment by Patriarch Bartholomew to shepherd the Central American Church, has reached out to the indigenous people of this vast region, encompassing Mexico, Central America, Columbia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean Islands. Of his 52 active clergy, only 3 are of Greek descent. The enthusiastic reception by His Eminence Athenagoras of many thousands of Mayan Christians into the Orthodox fold has transformed his church into a unity of diverse people, sharing one faith, but speaking many native dialects, as on the day of Pentecost. On a recent visit to the village of Aguacate, he was able to begin Holy Week with the Mayan faithful, who now comprise the  vast majority of his growing flock in Central America.

Source:


THE WORD FROM GUATEMALA

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MAYAN ORTHODOXY


JESSE BRANDOW: MISSIONARY TO GUATELAMA & MEXIKO


MAYAN ORTHODOXY – YOU TUBE


NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY

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Robert Arakaki, Hawaii, USA: From Unchurched Hawaiian to Local Orthodox

I grew up unchurched. I became a Christian in high school through reading the Living Bible. I was active in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Hawaii. My home church was Kalihi Union Church (KUC), a fine evangelical congregation that was part of the United Church of Christ (UCC).

I was deeply troubled by the UCC’s liberal theology and wanted to help it return to its biblical roots. This led me to study at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for the purpose of preparing to become an evangelical seminary professor in the liberal United Church of Christ to help the UCC return to its biblical roots.

However, in a surprising turn of events, I became Orthodox!

It was my first week at seminary. As I walked down the hallway of Main Dorm I saw on the door of one of the student’s room an icon of Christ. I thought to myself,

“An icon in a Calvinist seminary!?!”

This was to be the first of many encounters with Eastern Orthodoxy.

After receiving my M.A. in Church History, I did doctoral studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. While there I attended Saints Kyril and Methodios Bulgarian Orthodox Church. I was drawn to the deep mystical worship of liturgical worship that was rooted in the historic Christian Faith. I also felt comfortable with its all-English services and a congregation that was made up mostly of converts. Orthodox worship presents a stark contrast to the emotionally driven entertainment that passes for contemporary Evangelical worship.

My journey to Orthodoxy began when little questions about Protestant theology turned into big questions, and the big questions turned into a theological crisis. Protestant theology holds up so long as one accepts certain premises but becomes problematic when considered from the standpoint of church history and the early Church Fathers. As a church history major I became painfully aware that much of what passes for Evangelicalism: the altar call, the symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper, the inductive bible study method, minimalist creed, the rapture, all have their origins in the 1800s.

This means that Evangelicalism is a modern innovation as is Liberalism.

But more troubling was my investigation of classical Reformation theology, e.g., Martin Luther and John Calvin. Two foundational tenets of Protestantism: sola fide (faith alone) and sola scriptura (Bible alone), were not part of the early Church and rely upon reading the Bible in a certain way. Moreover, these two tenets originated out of the theological debates of Medieval Scholasticism. In other words, the Protestant Reformation marks not a return to the historic Christian Faith, but rather a late innovation.

What makes Orthodoxy so daunting to an Evangelical is its understanding that to have the true Faith means belonging to the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church. If the Orthodox Church is the true Church, then that meant that I needed to resign my membership from Kalihi Union Church and become Orthodox. I was received into the Orthodox Church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1999 at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu. I am very grateful for what I have learned from Evangelicalism but there is so much more to Christianity. Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of Evangelical theology and worship.

Robert Arakaki, Hawaii, USA

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HAWAII OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX HAWAII

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New York, USA: Journey to Orthodoxy

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/?s=new+york

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Japan: Samurai’s Journey to Orthodoxy

Father Paul Sawabe
(Former Samurai Takuma Sawabe)

The son of a samurai and son-in-law of a Shinto priest, Takama Sawabe was a fierce Japanese nationalist. He hated Christianity and all foreign influences in his country. One day he angrily confronted the Orthodox Christian missionary to Japan, a Russian priest-monk named Nicholas (Nicolai). Father Nicholas spoke to him:

“Why are you angry at me?” Fr. Nicholas asked Sawabe.

“All you foreigners must die. You have come here to spy on our country and even worse, you are harming Japan with your preaching,” answered Sawabe.

“But do you know what I preach?”

“No, I don’t,” he answered.

“Then how can you judge, much less condemn something you know nothing about? Is it just to defame something you do not know? First listen to me, and then judge. If what you hear is bad, then throw us out.”

After listening to Father Nicholas and learning about the Orthodox Christian way of life, the nationalist samurai who had once endorsed Shintoism now believed in Jesus Christ and was baptized, becoming the first person to embrace Orthodox Christianity in Japan. At his baptism, he appropriately received the Christian name Paul, after St. Paul, one of the Church’s greatest Apostles who, before his conversion, had used his authority to violently persecute the Christian Church. Paul Sawabe would eventually be ordained an Orthodox Christian priest. You can read about Father Paul (pictured here) in a brief article on the Japanese National Diet Library website dedicated to Portraits of Modern Japanese Historical Figures, which includes another photo, and on Orthodoxwiki.

Father Nicholas, the missionary who taught Paul the Orthodox Christian Faith and baptized him, was later consecrated as bishop and is today known as St. Nicholas of Japan.

According to the the book, Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs, St. Nicholas worked hard to learn about Japanese language and culture:

*Along with language learning, Nicholas studied the culture and history of Japan. He read their mythology and literature, and learned about Confucianism, Shintoism, and Buddhism. He even attended the sermons of popular Buddhist preachers and public storytellers in hopes of understanding the mind of the Japanese. For close to seven years he continued this intense study. Eventually, he became one of the foremost scholars of the Japanese language and went on to translate service and prayer books, catechism books, and the Scripture, as he waited for opportunities of evangelism to open within the country.

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JAPAN OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX JAPAN

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April 24, 2015: Mass Orthodox Baptism 
in Purok Tagumpay, Poblacion Alabel, Sarangani Province, Philippines

Former “Philippine 
Independent Catholic Church” members baptized Orthodox Christians

Mass Baptism of the Catechumens of St. Isidore (of Rostov) the Wonderworker Orthodox Church: Photos taken during the Mass Baptism (April 24, 2015) of the catechumens of the newly accepted “St. Isidore the Wonderworker Orthodox Church” in Purok Tagumpay, Poblacion Alabel, Sarangani Province, Philippines. A former parish of the “Philippine Independent Catholic Church” (also known as Aglipayan Church) now embracing Orthodoxy. This is the third parish of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Philippines. Another dozens of Aglipayan parishes is set to be receive and baptize in the next few months. Many years to the newly baptized Filipino Orthodox Christians!

Source:

http://philippinesofmyheart.wordpress.com

PHILIPPINES OF MY HEART

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September 26, 2015: 
Mass Baptism in Kiamba, Philippines

187 former “Philippine Independent Catholic Church” members baptized Orthodox Christians

On Saturday, September 26, 2015, nearly two hundred formerly Catholic Filipinos were received into the Orthodox Church through the sacrament of holy baptism, as reported on the Philippine Orthodox Church—Moscow Patriarchate Facebook page and the Philippine Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROCOR) page.

Despite massive waves that repeatedly knocked them over, Frs. Silouan Thompson and Stanislav Rasputin celebrated the baptism of 187 new Orthodox Christians, lasting six hours.

The newly-baptized are parishioners of four former Philippine Independent Catholic Church parishes in the Sarangani province: St. Joseph the Worker Parish (now St. Joseph the Betrothed Orthodox Church) in Poblacion Kiamba; San Isidro Labrador parish (now St. Isidore of Chios Orthodox Church) in Salakit; Nuestra Sra. Sela Paz parish (now Holy Theophany Orthodox Church) in Kayupo; and the Mission of the Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring in the town of Maitum, Sarangani Province.
There are now nine parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Philippines in addition to another twenty still undergoing catechism. There remain around two hundred faithful to be baptized from these four parishes who were prevented from attending due to distance and bad weather, among other reasons. Their reception is yet to be scheduled.

Saturday’s mass baptism took place after almost two years of catechism and was followed by the Divine Liturgy in which the newly-baptized received Holy Communion for the first time.

Fr. Silouan writes: “Kiamba is in an area where the Moro Nationalist Liberation Front (Islamic secessionist group) is quite active, and a number of foreigners have been abducted this week by various groups of evildoers, so we were grateful for the escort the Philippine National Police provided for our sacrament and our procession from the church to the beach and back (even if their machine guns were a little strange to American eyes).”

Fr. Silouan is presently the only resident priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in Mindanao, often traveling to preach and serve the Liturgy in the various missions in addition to his own of St. John Maximovitch in Santa Maria, although there are plans to assign a second permanent priest by the end of the year.

Source:

http://philippinesofmyheart.wordpress.com

PHILIPPINES OF MY HEART

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Philippines February 3, 2016: 99 Baptized in Mass Baptism into Orthodoxy

Fr. George Maximov baptizes 99 people in a mass baptism into the Orthodox faith on February 3, 2016.

More information when we get it!

Many years to the newly illumined warriors of Christ!

Source:

http://philippinesofmyheart.wordpress.com

PHILIPPINES OF MY HEART

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Two Quechua women from Bolivia 
accept Orthodox Baptism

Here is a story of the good work of the martyred priest, Fr. Daniil Sysoyev (+2009).

Immediately following Christmas services, in one of the Orthodox churches in the southern districts of Moscow, two women of the Quechua people of South America accepted Orthodox baptism.

“We talked with them about the faith, and they read the Creed of the Orthodox Church in Spanish, which I downloaded for them from the Internet”,

said Fr Daniil Sysoyev, the rector of the parish of St Thomas the Apostle in Kantemirov, in an interview with our Interfax-Religion correspondent, describing how he served the Sacrament of Baptism for these women.

According to Fr Daniil, the two women from Bolivia, a mother and daughter, who accepted baptism, were in Moscow pursuing studies. They learned about the Orthodox faith from one of their friends, who is of the Inca people from Peru and a long-term resident of Moscow.

In baptism, the women took the names of Maria and Yelizaveta, in honour of St Mary Magdalene and Grand Princess St Yelizaveta the New Martyr.

“Quite possibly, this is the first time in history that Quechua people embraced Orthodoxy”, Fr Daniil noted.

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NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY

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Facebooks: Fr. Seraphim Rose, USA (+1982)



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The explosive growth 
of Orthodoxy in Guatemala

Whenever someone speaks of “American Orthodoxy,” there is usually an unspoken understanding that the term refers to North American Orthodoxy: the United States, Canada, and sometimes Mexico. This way of speaking is indeed convenient, considering that the majority of Orthodox parishes in the Western Hemisphere are still located in North America. However, in the past few years a great change has occurred in Latin America that makes it increasingly inaccurate to focus on North America as the western outpost of Orthodoxy. Just two years ago, in 2010, the Orthodox Church received a large group of Guatemalan converts numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Now Guatemala, and possibly all of Latin America, holds tremendous promise of becoming fertile ground for the Orthodox Christian Church.

The seed of Orthodoxy in Guatemala was planted by the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City. Many people are familiar with the incredible work of Mother Inés, Mother Ivonne, and Mother María. In fact, just this year a group of seminarians from St. Vladimir’s Seminary traveled with the seminary Chancellor/CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield to see the work of the nuns and to assist at the orphanage. It is through these nuns that the Guatemalan soil was first prepared for the Orthodox Church.

Now, with the recent chrismation of a new group of Guatemalan converts that numbers between 100,000 and 200,000, the Orthodox Church is ready to blossom in Guatemala. The magnitude of the event cannot be overstated. Almost overnight, Guatemala has become the most Orthodox country in the Western Hemisphere (by percentage of national population). Furthermore, the Orthodox communities in Guatemala continue to grow rapidly and attract attention throughout Guatemala. There is still, however, little information available to the broader Orthodox world on the history and character of these new communities. For this reason, I traveled to Guatemala this summer, spending two months visiting many of the Orthodox parishes, meeting the leaders of the communities, and accompanying the bishop of the Guatemalan Church—His Eminence, Metropolitan Athenagoras—as he made his historic first visit to the new parishes in Guatemala. I returned to the United States with the desire to share what I saw and the conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work with power in Latin America…

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LATIN AMERICA OF MY HEART

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Native American Pathways to Orthodoxy

by

Marriane Poulos

I first felt the words of Christ come to life on a Pueblo Native American reservation in New Mexico, at “Ok’Ay Oh Ween Geh,” (Place of the Strong People.) The first time I stepped into the home of my Pueblo friend I was told, “This is not just my home, it is yours, too. And know that you always have a place to come home to, no matter how long it takes you to return.” How Christ-like this Indian elder was. The more our friendship grew, the more I was able to admire his goodness. Once I even saw him give the last of his money to an enemy. I also began to learn more of his people’s history. When the Spanish first came to the Southwest they called the Native Americans pagans. By force the colonizers converted them to Catholicism. They severely beat and hung many tribal leaders unless they allowed themselves to be baptized, immediately. They were made slaves. They were given Spanish names. “The Pueblo,” as a name did not exist yet. To themselves they were simply known only as “The People”. So it was in this atmosphere of evil The People were introduced to Christ, for the very first time. Despite the surrounding cruelty in which the Word came to them, they accepted it anyway. And this is what made the Native Americans such great Christians – they forgave their enemies.

To many Native American elders, the Word and the Way of Christ seemed so much like the teachings the Great Spirit had given to them. When they heard the scriptures they were convinced of Jesus, but they wondered why these bringers of his worWord were so unlike him – searching the Southwest for the mythic “Seven Cities of Gold,” My elder friend told me, “We knew where the gold was, but, you see, in an Indian way it would be bad for the people. It might make us greedy or start fighting, so we just left it buried there. In the Indian way a person’s worth was not determined by what he could accumulate, but by how much he could give.” Another Native friend of mine once told me, “Our ancestors grew up fearing the cross.” To them it had become a symbol of violence and death, comparable to the swastika.

One can only wonder how it would have been had the Pueblo Indians been introduced to Christ through the Orthodox Christian church like the Aleutian peoples of Alaska. The Aleuts, who were not mono-theistic, were taught the Christian gospel over a period of then years, and not so much by teaching and preaching, but by personal example. The life of Orthodox Saint Hermen of Alaska was one of humble service to the Kodiak people. His miracles of healing and prophesies concerning the future confirmed the Sugpiaq faith in Orthodox Christianity.

Today Alaska has become the home of four Orthodox saints, all who have been canonized by the church. This includes the martyred Kodiak Aleut Peter who died under torture in California for refusing to renounce Orthodoxy, after being captured by the Spanish. (Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, edited by Michael Oleska) Perhaps there are many pathways to the Giver of Life, Who is Everywhere Present, Who Fills All Things.

But the question remains, can one reject Christ and still achieve spiritual wholeness? The famous medicine man Black Elk believed the Indian tradition had been given by God to prepare the Indians for the revelation of Christ. (Michael Streltenkamp’s Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala, University of Oklahoma Press.) In comparing the various Native American Traditions to the mystic heart of the ancient Orthodox Christian Tradition (the original persecuted Christian Church of Christ,) we can find several corresponding links supporting this very idea. In both traditions we begin prayers by offering sweet fragrance to our Father in Heaven, or in the Native American tradition, to “Sky Father.” The Native Americans honor The Great Mystery in all the directions, and pray facing east, just as we Orthodox face east in prayer. The Bishops of the Orthodox church face east, south, west and north – to honor the Sun, Jesus Christ, rising in all the directions.

The traditional Native American idea of the Creator is expressed as The Great Mystery, and The Great Spirit. The Orthodox Church also shares the notion of God as Mystery, expressed beautifully by Bishop Kallistos Ware in his book,The Orthodox Way. He writes how the Greek Fathers “liken man’s encounter with God to the experience of someone walking over the mountains in the mist: he takes a step forward and suddenly finds that he is on the edge of a precipice, with no solid ground beneath his foot but only a bottomless abyss…our normal assumptions are shattered… And so it proves to be for each one who follows the spiritual Way. We go out from the known to the unknown, we advance from light into darkness. We do not simply proceed from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, but we go forward into greater knowledge which is so much more profound.”

And if the Holy Spirit, as the dynamic, as opposed to the still, aspect of God, in Orthodoxy, can be equated to the Native American concept of The Great Spirit, then perhaps we have reached the point where Christianity can be presented as the fulfillment of Indian tradition – in a new aspect of God. God as Person. A God who came to us to show his humble love for us. A God who experienced manhood out of his deep sympathy. “In his ecstatic love, God unites himself to his creation in the closest of all possible unions, by himself becoming that which he has created.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware)“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) This does not mean we replace or destroy the old. Many aspects of the Orthodox tradition correspond directly to the ancient beliefs of Native Americans, and perhaps this ancient window can also provide us with a greater scope of the deep Christ Heart.

One of our old, old holy men said,“Every step you take on earth should be a prayer. The power of a pure and good soul is in every person’s heart and will grow as a seed as you walk in a sacred manner. And if every step you take is a prayer, then you will always be walking in a sacred manner” (CharmaineWhiteFaceOglala Lakota).

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ST LUKE ORTHODOX

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Jorge’s Journey from Roman Catholic Spain to Wisconsin Orthodox

by

Jorge Luque, USA

I was born in a nominally Roman Catholic family, though they did not practice their faith. I was baptised in the RC church, and some years later, about the age of nine, had my first communion. And that was all my Christian formation, those two separate instances without anything in between. My family did not go to church, except for baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

I was more or less like them until I was a teenager, when I converted, or rather came back, to the Roman Catholic faith.

I was 16 years old when, after undergoing a severe and long depression, I turned back to the faith of my “forefathers”. That was my thought back then, that is, to make a turn around, returning to my cultural and religious roots. The love for tradition was very strong in me, and was leading me step by step to the true faith, though not directly, for I had to go first through a period in my life dominated by the Roman Catholic faith.

I was sitting in a public library when, reading the first words of the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, something, finally, changed in me. That was a turning point for me, the moment in which I decided to turn to God.

Months later I went on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Apostle St. James in Spain. After reaching my destination and praying at the apostle’s tomb, I visited and then joined a nearby Roman Catholic monastery of the Trappist order.

I stayed there for a year as a postulant. I was 18 to 19 years old.

It was one of the best periods of my life, that monastery was like a school where to learn about my recently embraced faith. But I could not stay there, for I felt clearly that monasticism was not my calling, and I desired very strongly to get married and start my own family. So I decided to leave before making any vows. After that year in the monastery, my life was like walking through a wasteland, spiritually speaking. I had no contact whatsoever with other Christians. I used to go to mass every Sunday, even on a daily basis sometimes? but those churches were almost empty, except for some elderly people. After a few years I stopped going to church and abandoned all my personal devotions ( I used to pray the psalms and to say the Jesus prayer.) It was a very long and dark period of my life. Somehow, I clung to my faith, but my heart was getting colder and colder, to the point where I almost stopped feeling.

It was then, when I could not bear it any longer, and my heart was almost drained, that I finally found the Orthodox faith.

I was about to turn 35 years old, and all that I knew about the Orthodox Church I had learned in that Roman Catholic monastery in two 2 books: the Way of the Pilgrim, and the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

One day I came across a random article on the internet about the fall of the papacy into heresy, and the schism of the West from the Orthodox East. It was just a mediocre article, but for some reason it set off something within me. I began to doubt what I had been told regarding the Roman Catholic dogmas about the pope (papal supremacy, infallibility, and his primacy)

The whole building of my Roman Catholic beliefs fell apart overnight. When that happened I saw myself swimming in a rough sea without any boat, I turn to the Orthodox Church, running away from the chaos in which I was immersed.

A month later, after rejecting the pope and his lies, I embraced my Orthodox faith, though it took me longer to walk into an Orthodox church.

I found a Russian Orthodox Church in Spain, under the Patriarchate of Moscow, about 50 miles from my home, an hour and a half each way by bus. One Sunday I went to this church and spoke to the priest, after liturgy. An elderly lady translated for us because the priest, Fr. Dimitry, did not speak Spanish well.

I told him about my desire to be baptised, to which he answered, very reasonably, that I needed first to go for a while to church every Sunday before being received into the church. That same day during lunch he advised me to go back to the Roman Catholic church, for I definitely would not be able to adapt, because of the language barrier, almost no one spoke Spanish. I assured him that I would adapt and that I was firmly decided to stay in the Orthodox Church. I asked his permission to keep going to liturgy every Sunday. He was very much surprised and told me to come back and even got someone to drive me to and from church.

After a few months going there every Sunday, Fr. Dimitry offered to chrismate me. I declined explaining again that I wanted to be received into the church by baptism, for the sacrament for receiving people into the Church is baptism, not Chrismation, except by economia.

Fr Dimitry told me he did not have a place to baptise me, and that it was not the practise to receive adults through baptism outside of Russia. Then I asked his blessing to come to the USA to be baptised and to go to the seminary for I felt I was called to the priesthood. He gave me his blessing, though he was taken aback.

To make a long story short, 2 years after first going to Fr Dimitry’s church, I saved enough money to pay for a plane ticket and come to the US, to Wisconsin, where Fr Thomas and Matushka Elizabeth Kulp had offered to have me stay in their house and baptise me in their Church. I came 3 months ago now, right before the visit of the Kursk Root icon to our parish. And got baptised on
Holy Saturday of this year. Fr. Thomas and Matushka Elizabeth took me in like a member of their family and offered me a living example of how to live like a true Orthodox Christian. They have encouraged me in my desire to attend seminary and have helped me with this application.

***

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY:

I just received notice that Jorge was just accepted into the seminary program at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, NY. Congratulations, Jorge, and remember us in your holy prayers!

Source:


JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY


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Mayan Orthodoxy 
in Guatemala and South Mexico


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The Gift of Orthodoxy

by Elizabeth Huestis, USA & Australia

St. Paul speaks of being “an Apostle out of due time” in the sense that he did not know Jesus first-hand, and did not travel around with Jesus the way that the other Apostles did. Yet God chose him particularly to have a special and useful place in the Church. In the same way, converts are not natural inheritors of Orthodoxy in the same way as are those people born in traditionally Orthodox countries and cultures. But God takes us from all sorts of places, adopting us in a special way, making us a part of His Church in a way that we would have no natural inherited right to. (Someone born Greek or Serbian or Russian would normally inherit Orthodoxy.)

Because God has chosen to give us Orthodoxy outside of normal means, perhaps we tend to cherish it more and also to feel the obligation to share it with those who do not have the gift and also to help those who have inherited it to understand and appreciate it better. This becomes more true when in retrospect it is possible to see that our becoming Orthodox was not just a chance occurrence, not something that we stumbled into blindly by ourselves, but something that God planned out and manipulated starting many, many years before we had even the smallest idea anything was happening. Let me give you an example by telling a bit about what happened in my case. The part that I wrote to you before was rather the third act of the drama and the climax, but did not show all the careful and patient preparation that God did for so many years.

We had a most unusual parish priest during my teen years. He taught the high school religion class and gave us a thorough grounding in early Church history, and for a Catholic priest, gave an amazingly honest appraisal of the politics involved in creating the break between East and West. He also told us that the TRUTH was an absolute quantity which could stand any amount of searching, questioning and probing. He insisted that we should search, think, question everything. Also, he created a “model” parish.

People came from all over California to see us during Sunday Mass because the entire congregation could sing the Mass or make the responses in Latin if the Mass was being spoken instead of sung. This gave a clear sense of participation and involvement with the main worship service and pointed out clearly the position of primary importance of Holy Communion. Then, once a year, on the feast of the Ascension of our Lord, he placed an Iconostasis in the church and had the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom performed in a different language Greek, Slavonic, Syrian, Arabic and Aramaic. Some people were indifferent, some disliked it, but I positively loved the Liturgy right from the first time.

After finishing university, I had an opportunity to study abroad for a year. I wanted to go to Japan and was accepted to study there, but God intervened and I ended up in Sweden instead for a year. There I became fascinated by all the beautiful Russian icons in the museums and when an opportunity came to travel during the spring holidays, I travelled to Russia. On the way, we were taken to Vespers in a Russian Orthodox Church in Helsinki. Then, in Moscow, the leader of the tour had tried to arrange for us to go to the Pascha Liturgy. We trudged miles through the snow to get to one of the few open churches left there. It was an amazing experience.

We got there at about midnight. There were people everywhere, almost solid for about two blocks around the church. It was a real effort to make our way up to the church through this throng. Then we were confronted by mounted police guarding the area and a huge wrought – iron fence about 12 feet high. We were told that we should have had our passports with us in order to be admitted, so someone went back to the hotel to fetch them. The rest of us waited. Every so often, the gate would open and a few people, foreign visitors like ourselves, would leave.

We were fortunate that some of the students in our group could speak Russian so they talked with people standing around with and were told that the church was already full and there was no more room for anyone, that is why they were not permitted in. But one wing was reserved for foreign visitors, and that was where we waited. One girl in our group slipped in the gate as some visitors were let out. She held a rosary with a crucifix on it and gestured that she wanted to go in the church.

After much discussion by the 10 or so people who grabbed her, she was finally allowed in. I decided that if she could get in, perhaps I could too, and for some reason, I wanted very much to get into that church. There was nothing logical about it, it was a compulsion. The next time the gate opened, I slid in, and was grabbed even more roughly than my friend had been. They looked at the large silver cross that I was wearing and finally allowed me to enter. It was so beautiful. The chanting was unearthly.

We stood there for over three hours and finally about 4 am, left and made our way back to our hotel. The service was not finished but we just felt unable to keep standing anymore. Bright Monday, the “Intourist” guide collected us all after breakfast (the only day in Russia that we did not have boiled eggs for breakfast) and she told us that in Russia mistakes don’t happen, but that it was not going to be possible for us to see the factory we were scheduled to see! Instead, there was only one thing that she could arrange at such short notice, a visit to an old monastery 50 miles outside the city.

That is how we ended up at the Holy Trinity Lavra at Zagorsk. Zagorsk, the monastery established by St. Sergius and considered by many to be the holiest place in all Russia. But of course, I didn’t know that then. I only knew that it was a very beautiful, peaceful place and that the people from the town seemed extraordinarily full of faith for being in a Communist country.

A friend had picture postcards with various churches and monasteries and for some reason gave some out to the ladies standing around after the service. People seemed to materialise from everywhere and want one. In the end, she gave them all away, while the ladies stood in groups eagerly comparing and seeing which church each one had received a picture of. They seemed almost like a group of small children who had just been given lollies than ladies in their fifties and sixties. After we saw the church, a Russian lady saw that I was wearing, a cross, hurried home, and upon returning, smilingly presented me with a dark red egg.

After we returned to Sweden, my fiance and I found a small antique shop in Stockholm selling Russian icons that had been taken out of Russia by a friend of the proprietor. In this way, we acquired a beautiful 19th century icon, the “Mother of God, Joy of all who Sorrow”. We had intended the purchase as an investment to be sold when we married in order to help set up house. But somehow, we could never bring ourselves to sell it.

Much later, we were told by a Russian Orthodox friend that he knew of several cases where people had bought icons as a “piece of art” or as an investment, but after living with the icon, became Orthodox.

When we came to Australia, my husband began lecturing at the university. Years later, he had a Greek young man in one of his classes providing someone for us to talk to when Robert began to ask questions about Orthodoxy. This very serious young man was just the right person to explain things because he wanted to become a priest. Christos became the nonos (godfather) for our whole family when we became Orthodox. And even though he wanted to go to Greece to study for the priesthood, things kept happening, various papers were lost, or misplaced, red tape everywhere, so that he was able to be with us for the first year after our Chrismation.

Christos finally went to Greece, completed 3 years of study for a degree in theology and became a monk on the Holy Mountain. Last year, he became a deacon. Now he is called Fr. Theonas.

When we finally began attending the Divine Liturgy at St. George’s in spite of all the difficulties and spiritual confusion that I told you about in a previous letter, in a way it was like coming home, I remembered from my childhood the peace and beauty of the Liturgy and remembered “Kyrie Eleison” [Lord have mercy) and “Sie Kyrie” [to Thee, 0 Lord]. They stood out like bright beacons of something remembered and understood and saved as a bridge over into the fullness of Orthodoxy. Obviously, God planned everything right from the beginning, but it took about 30 years from the first experience with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom until the final conclusion of being Orthodox.

Many people might say that these were all odd, isolated, or random happenings, but I don’t think so. Behind everything always the hand of God nudges and prods, like a Fisherman slowly and carefully gathering in His net until He has each one of us precisely where He wants us. His slow, patient, careful planning, the years of inexorable, diligent pursuit are almost terrifying in their intensity. It says something to us very clear and real about His love for us and His determination to save us in spite of ourselves. No wonder that Christ is portrayed sometimes in the West as the Hound of Heaven, relentlessly pursuing souls with the same unswerving determination displayed by a bloodhound after its prey.

The amazing thing is that there are so many of us and yet God goes to such trouble over each one on a very individual basis. What incredible value He must place on each of us to go to so much trouble on our account.

Source:


AUSTRALIA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX AUSTRALIA

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CANADA: THE PASSING OF THE 
NATIVE AMERICAN MOHAWK’S CHIEF 
FRANK NATAWE (1927-2000)

The path of the Native American 
Mohawk’s Chief Frank Natawe led him to the bosom of Orthodoxy

by

Dr. John (Yanni) Hadjinikolaou,
Rate Professor of  McGill University in Montreal, Canada in the magazine Synaxis “The passing of a Mohawk Native American”

Here is the story of Frank Natawe an American Native Mohawk’s Chief (1927-2000) who lived and died as an Orthodox Christian (Eastern Orthodox Church), at the same time defending his tribe’s tradition. He even began translating the words of the most holy ceremony of Orthodoxy into his own people’s language.

* * *

Saturday night. Very few lights were on.  In the Russian Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Vespers have just started. The shadowy silhouettes of the few faithful who were attending the service became more defined, as the candles were lit, one by one, in the candle stand. The iconostasis of the altar was very imposing; it was something that was carved by experienced craftsmen at the beginning of the century…….

It was my second time at Vespers, years ago… The words of the prayer “mirthful light” in Slavonic gave one a sense of inner peace and relaxation.  Everything seemed to be in prayer at that moment; for the day that passed and the day that was to come. After the madness of the day, this refuge of thankfulness actually calmed the wild beasts of the mind….

In the dim, half-light I could discern a few of the profiles there: an old Russian lady with her grandchild, a tall, skinny, middle-aged man, a young girl around fifteen, a young family with their two children… and suddenly, my attention was caught by a figure near the large window.  Directly below it, I made out a silhouette that was completely different to all the others.  It was a fifty-year old Native American with vivid, characteristic features, and his long hair tied back in a ponytail that reached his waist. My gaze stopped upon him… What a strange figure in here…  I imagined he was just a visitor.

At the end of the service, I couldn’t fight the urge.  I approached him, eager to meet him.

–Yannis, I said to him in English. Welcome..

– Vladimir, he replied.

– I’m Greek. And you? I asked him.

– So am I, he replied.

I was stunned…. That was the last thing I expected to hear!

– Do you speak Greek? I asked.

He paused to think for a moment, then quoted in Greek:

– «In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God, and God was the Logos».

Just as he finished saying this phrase, he burst into laughter. I was lost for words…

– I am Mohawk Native American, he said sharply. But somehow, I also feel Russian and Greek and Serbian and Romanian, because…. I’m Orthodox…..

A glimmer appeared in his eye, as it did in my heart…

This was how Vladimir and I met. His real name was Frank Natawe, before becoming Orthodox and being baptized as Vladimir. I so craved to hear his life story – both out of curiosity as well as genuine interest..

Much later, we became friends. We shared many conversations and walks together, especially in his Mohawk village. He showed me paths and manners totally unknown to us white folks. And always simply and unpretentiously.  With no trace of arrogance. When I was with him, I always had a strong sensation of tuition, and whenever I admitted this to him, he always said that all beautiful things are mutual….

That first period has become unforgettable, when I was swept away by my youthful enthusiasm and kept asking him difficult questions.  He would always calmly reply:

– I don’t know – will you tell me?

Once, when I was fed up with hearing “I don’t know”, I begged him to tell me something, so, he showed some pity and said:

– Well, if you insist, I will tell you, after I ask my friend first.

He sprang up and then lay down on the ground, placing his ear to the earth.

– What are you doing? I asked.

– I am asking the earth, he said, and before I could recover from my surprise, he added somewhat hesitantly:

– Like Aliosha Karamazov.

I never again insisted on replies. I guess that with him, I was just living the surprise of a sudden lightning bolt that gives birth to gentle rain that nourishes the earth…

It has been some time now, that Vladimir has left us.  His passing away – along with his will and testament – overwhelmed me.  Now that the feeling of his presence – instead of fading into oblivion – appears before me every now and then, I thought I should record on paper all of his incidents, images, memories, words and expressions, in order to sketch a portrait of his presence amongst us… hopefully so that my ear will also perceive… the tumultuous silence of the mother earth of Vladimir – Karamazov to me…

He was born in the Native American reservation of Caughnawaga, just outside Montreal, where he lived all his life, to the day he died.  His village numbers 5.000 Native Americans today. It was built by the government, next to the river, and houses the greater part of the Native Americans of that area.  The Native Americans, as the only true indigenous people of America, along with the Eskimos, enjoy special privileges and treatment, due to the fact that they had ceded vast areas of their “mother earth” -as they call it- to their white brothers.

These privileges – such as not needing a passport yet enjoying state welfare – are sometimes interpreted as an intentional attempt by whites to keep the Native Americans uneducated – something that is observed extensively. The percentage of alcoholism is very high. The struggle for survival –as a group- is their daily concern, along with the preservation of their traditions, which they are very proud of. They are governed in a unique way, which however may have much to teach “civilized” politics and social structures.

The supreme authority is the Confederation of all the Native Americans tribes. There is a respect towards all of the Native Americans tribes. There is a respect towards the chiefs and the elders, and the elderly women of each tribe, from generation to generation.  Their love and respect for each other is the foundation of the Confederation.

In the village Caughnawaga there are basically three Native Americans tribes. The majority however are Mohawk. The village has existed since about 1600 and comprises the main center of the Mohawk tribe.  The last generations are mostly involved with steel construction and building.

«Our village», Vladimir told me, «along with other Native Americans reservations was turned basically into a Roman Catholic protectorate in the 18th century. The Catholic missionaries had actually tried in every way to forcefully convert our entire community. Not with love, but with a noose around the neck. They trampled on centuries-old traditions and they used other ones as springboards for their own designs. Myself, to the age of 32, had kept to the trodden path. As my mother used to say – who was an elderly tribal leader of our tribe – “By day a roman catholic for the eyes of the world and by night a Native American, for the eyes of the soul.”  But at that age of 32, I couldn’t tolerate that kind of restriction, that noose that I was wearing, so I revolted in my own way…  I researched our roots, I learnt all of our native tongues, I studied at white men’s universities – which, for a Native American of my generation, was a very unusual thing.  For years, they had me as a traveling lecturer of comparative linguistics. Quite often, I would dishonestly play the clown at their academic games, since to them I was a rare, exotic species of bird, with a different kind of plumage. I used to compare our words with their French or English equivalents; our habits with theirs.  There were times that I felt as though they were observing me like archaeologists observe fossils. To me however, those meetings alone – those cultural meetings – regardless of the response, contained joy and grief together. My revolution was still thundering, because it was muted, like the tread of a rabbit… My mother – the pillar of our community – was to me a source of wisdom and immense pain.  She was my…. Native American Zosimas….”

(He took a deep breath and continued …..)

«My path to the Orthodox Church was a “secret path”, as we say in our tongue. There came a time, that I became caught in her net, and ever since then, I have been treading very discreetly, carrying a very heavy crucifix. It happened to me through linguistics. It was always the subject that impressed me most. By taking linguistics courses, I became impressed when I happened to read the lives of saints Cyril and Methodius, who are known as the Apostles of the Slavs. I was especially intrigued by the Cyrillic alphabet and the pursuant Slavonic tongue. I asked my professor if there was any chance I could listen to Slavonc being spoken. He suggested that I should visit one of the Russian churches. I rang one of them, but I heard only the answering machine. I rang the next day, and a friendly voice informed me that Vespers were held at 7in the evening, and that Sunday Service was held at 10 in the morning. I asked if I could attend. He replied of course I could. I told him I wasn’t Russian, or Orthodox. He responded that the Orthodox Liturgy was not only for the Russians or only for the Orthodox, but for all people. So, I mustered some courage and went on a Saturday evening to listen to spoken Slavonic and to meet the priest, who had spoken so pleasantly. He was a priest-monk from Mavrovouni of Serbia.  His name was father Anthony… He too has passed away now…. Well, anyway, the first Saturday that I attended Orthodox Vespers in the cathedral of saints Peter and Paul, I experienced something unprecedented. Looking at the icons, listening to the melodies, observing the penance bows and the prostrations, the fragrance of the incense wafting in the atmosphere, were all reminiscent of my having discovered the “secret path”…”

«You won’t believe it, but, every now and then, I can discern parallels between the Native American  traditions and Orthodox tradition. Somewhere inside me, this discovery fulfilled my Native American ethos and supplemented it. At first, I felt I was floating among the clouds.  During my first liturgy, I asked if I could stay on, after the benedictions for the catechumens… They said: you may.  So I sat down, like a Native American dog!  Ever since then, I began to go more frequently.  At first, on Sundays only, then on Saturdays, and later on, during weekdays, whenever there were important feasts. It wasn’t much later, that I noticed confession was taking place in the evening, after Vespers. It was the period of Lent. At the end, they all asked for forgiveness from the priest. He placed his stole over their head and blessed them with the sign of the cross.  I stood in line, but they said:

-You can’t, you’re not Orthodox.  This is a holy Sacrament.  

– But our entire life is a sacrament, I said.

I pondered again, and asked them:

– So, how can I become Orthodox?

– Talk it over with the priest, they suggested.  

Not much time had passed by, when I decided I wanted to become Orthodox. On the day that it was to take place, there was a snowstorm that didn’t allow me to leave the village. It was postponed, for the feast of the Induction of the Theotokos. And that’s how it finally happened…. I was given the name Vladimir.

Much later, when reminiscing over my induction into the Orthodox Church, I drew out of my memories the imposing figure of a Serb priest, who had visited our village when I was young.  His appearance and his manner had left a deep impression inside me.   I remember my mother having commented that:

-Now there’s someone who isn’t making propaganda with his truth…”.

Quite some time had passed, when I decided to visit him again.  This time, I went with two of my friends and a little car, equipped with tape recorders and microphones, and we departed one sunny morning for his village, Caughnawaga.  He had suggested that we meet at the Native American’s radio station since he had been the radio commentator for several years, and had promised us walks and conversations in their territory.

We did find him at the radio station in the village, with headphones over his ears, reading the morning prayer in each and every Native American tongue. Then in French and English. Naturally his audience did not…detect him making the orthodox sign of the cross.

We waited respectfully until he had finished…. He removed the headphones and approached us… He was more talkative than usual, and somewhat cheerier.

– What would you like me to tell you? He asked warm-heartedly. And what could you ever want to learn from me?

– Tell us whatever you want, Gregory replied. Say, for instance, something about your people, your celebrations, your mission…. 

– You’re going too fast, he interrupted. One thing at a time.

– Well, my people…

It took him some time to formulate his reply.  He was seated in an armchair, but found it was not comfortable for him… he abandoned it and sat down on the porch with us… he preferred to be on the same level with us…

«My people are simple, just like their food. The chief of the tribe is a man, but he is elected by the council of woman-elders of the tribe.  All of our group rituals take place in the “long house”. This has two doors. The men enter through the eastern door and the women from the western one. It is a simple edifice, just like  most of our rituals are. In our marriages, an integral part of the ritual is the blessing of the elders. During our funerals, for both men and women, when they are carried into the long house they enter through their separate doors, but the head of the deceased always faces the east. After nine days, we prepare the funeral meal, but without salt…”

He suddenly jumped up, because the record he had selected to be played over the radio had stuck.  He put on another record, made an announcement, and came back to us…

«What were we talking about?  Ah, yes! The rituals. I will show you the long house, before it gets too dark… Now, about our celebrations. The entire year is a celebration (he burst out laughing). We have the mid-winter festival (four days long); we have the snow festival, the first bloom festival, the first crop – which is the berry; the festival of plenteous harvest (thanksgiving), the threshing festival (4 days), the festival of surplus, of rain and of sowing, and the cycle starts all over again.. Something like an ecclesiastic calendar of our holy earth…”

He took another deep breath and continued:

«We don’t say much, nor do we eat much; We don’t get angry often, we love what was given to us and we continuously give thanks for the bounteous gifts…»

– Do you happen to have any tobacco? He asked me.

– No, I said.

– You know, we chew our tobacco – in other words, we eat it. We don’t smoke it.  When you smoke it, it turns into air, whereas if you eat it, it becomes one with you, and you bless the earth that gave it to you… Now, what else did you ask me?  Ah, yes!  About my mission…..

«What can I say?  My people got tired of the missionaries. They have been coming here for years, mostly to take rather than to give.. They never showed any interest in what we have. They just brought on the steamroller, they flattened everything, and then they embarked on their…. evangelical sowing.

But that Serb was different. He actually gave something, with his presence…he took nothing from us, except a piece of our heart. That was what I loved, when I later read about saint Herman of Alaska and the Orthodox missionaries amongst the Eskimos… it is impossible for the mind not to make comparisons…as hard as it may try…

I still remember that Jesuit, who told me to my face that he was instructed to teach spirituality.  When he left our home, my mother shook her head in disapproval, saying: “we, my child are a spiritual people, while he, even if his Christ came to him, he would sit him down to preach at Him…”.

– Are there any other orthodox amongst the Native Americans? Gregory asked again.

– I have met an Orthodox Eskimo in Plattsburg and one more – a very tall Mis Mac. There may be others, who I’m not aware of.  But in the Native American hospital we do have a couple of Serb doctors, the Moscovitches. Real gems of people; they have a special love for our world, and they offer all their assistance.”

Lesley looked him directly in the eyes.

– Tell us if you want about that story with the Native American masks [note: For the reader’s information, I will briefly report the events.  The Canadian government decided to open a new museum in Western Canada, in the city of Calgary, where it would put on display amongst other exhibits a number of Native American masks, which it had borrowed in an ‘unorthodox’ manner from a long house, as folklore artifacts… This provoked the indignation of the Native Americans.]. It was in all the newspapers and they all mentioned your name.  What happened exactly ?

Vladimir sat down, cross-legged, and after taking a few minutes to think, replied:

«To us, those masks are sacred.  We always keep them in the dark, and we protect them with silk material. They represent the…holy personage that we are in search of. We find it in silence, in darkness, where we also find the light of our soul.  Our soul is never displayed in exhibitions, or in artificial lighting… Those who organized the exhibition have lost every sense of what is sacred, and that is why they strive to “gently” remove it from our souls also…. We love the earth, because it knows how to keep silent and be fruitful. We have learnt to humbly love it and to honor it.. It is something like Orthodoxy’s Holy Mother….since you like parallels.  But, I have said too much… Let’s get up now, and I will show you my village…”

We got into the little car, and I sat in the driver’s seat.  Vladimir was the co-driver. He began to show us all the landmarks:

«Here in the center of the village you can see the catholic church.  It is dedicated to saint Kateri Tekekwitha, an Native American woman whom the priest proclaimed a saint. We keep her bones in this church, which perform miracles. This is a pilgrimage for the laity. Her life is as beautiful as a fairytale… To me, she was a fool in Christ… She was a grace-filled fool.. She would roll over in the snow, to purify her heart… My fellow villagers –who became Catholics- are not particularly fond of catholic propaganda, but they do show reverence to their saint; it was their pressure on the Vatican that brought on her beatification… Next to the church, there is a small museum. In there, you will find a map of the confederation, that describes in detail all of the Native American tribes, the symbols, the numbers, the places they originated from, their historical course, their languages…. Everything has become a part of the….. museum… Now turn right, here…. This is our Cultural Center. Above it, is the radio station where we met…. That is where I broadcast from… Now, during the Triodion, and afterwards, during Lent, I play a lot of western spiritual music and little by little, I include some Orthodox innuendos, but only just enough as to not be provocative. Native American spiritual music is not permitted over the radio. It is only for the “long house”.  The cultural center is financially supported by the white government. The powers outside, of the “civilized” world, want to help us, but only on paper; in actual fact, they want to drown us, to humiliate us, to exhaust us – not so much us, as our souls and whatever we carry. They want to turn us into masks for museums, clowns at parties, research for archaeologists… They haven’t taken a whiff of, nor do they suspect what kind of….tobacco we prefer.”

He burst into laughter.  I nearly lost control of the steering wheel…I continued to drive on, following his instructions – left- right – straight ahead etc….Until, at a bend in the road, we saw a modern but very unusually shaped structure..

«This is our school, Grade School and High School. It has a good program, I like it. It is truly Native American. Apart from the classic subjects of “white” education, we have many other lessons that are most probably unfamiliar to the whites. We don’t call them “customs” or “culture”, but “Native American ways”, “Native American paths” (the sounds of the earth), Native American dances, Native American songs and cries (like an ancient drama), Native American law, and other things. The grounds surrounding the school are sacred.  We also have a “dark room”, but not for photographs… it is for the making of the….mask inside us”

– Now go straight ahead, eastward.  Continue, until you find the highway.  Two-three kilometers from there…

«This here is our Hospital. It is a new building and is a new idea for us. A beneficial one, I hope. It was built in 1985. Before that, we had our own medicine men, or we resorted to the white man’s hospitals.  But.. they were difficult..  Most of their staff was unaccustomed to our way; it was difficult for them to look after our old folk. They have to be in our shoes, in order to understand…  Many try. Besides, you can tell apart those who truly love and who can be discerned from the usual professionals….”

Vladimir N. was the chief of his tribe; he was their spiritual leader. It was he who recited at their funerals and their weddings – he was something like a priest for them.  In the evening, he would sit cross-legged in the “long house”, listening to his people’s problems and solving them with the advice he offered. He had a judge’s role, which was one of their most powerful traditions. He was a poet and a translator, and also a philosopher.  He knew their problems better than anyone else; he also knew the strict laws that governed their tribes. Those who denied their ancestral principles and became Christians were allowed to remain in the village, but were not given any office. They would have to leave the council of the wise, the elders; they would “lose their destiny” as they described it … in their own special kind of way, they would be disowned.  All of this may not be of much significance for an ordinary Native American, but for a chief……

No-one in the village ever found out –until the day he died- that their chief was an Orthodox Christian. And Vladimir –who was F. to them- lived and worked with them, for them, with the ever-present fear that they might find out. He had to be perpetually moderate, careful, flexible, otherwise his image would have been smashed inside them. He was in charge of the radio station for years, and he also worked at their cultural Center. He was considered an authority on subjects of tradition, and was unimaginably touched, whenever he found “parallels” –as he called them-  in Orthodox tradition. He shared many of his experiences with us, because he couldn’t share them with his own people. What a heavy crucifix to bear….

Whenever I would see him coming out of the inner sanctum of the little orthodox church of the Sign of the Theotokos –which held services in English and French- dressed as an altar-boy and holding the candle in front of priests and bishops, I couldn’t help wondering what kind of heart that old Native American wolf had inside him, who persistently said “God knows”.  And he would forever be prostrating himself on the ground, so that God would give him enlightenment to govern his people through tempests and ordeals, and to give him the strength to hold up the heavy load that was given to him, right to the end.

The years passed.  Every friend that visited us in Montreal had to make the imperative trip to the Native American village and to meet Vladimir. And many of them told me that they had recorded their own experiences there.

One morning, I received a phone call in Montreal, telling me that Vladimir had passed away in his village. The question that arose in my mind was: who was going to bury him, what was to become of him?  He had however left a specific, written instruction for all the rituals to be done in the Native American tradition in the “long house” and for an Orthodox priest to read benedictions over him. Naturally, the Native Americans had no idea what he meant by “an Orthodox priest”, but he had left a few telephone numbers too.

They did actually phone, and an Orthodox priest went and recited the funeral service before they carried Vladimir into the long house.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to attend the ritual in the long house, but a mutual friend who attended the funeral conveyed the details to me.

Two days after the funeral, that same friend, Michael, brought me the news, together with a package. He told me that he had attended the entire ritual. It was truly impressive.  When they go to the long house, the Native Americans put on the outfits that befit their rank in the village. The ritual –which was of course in their own languages- had a particular form, much like the old, Byzantine type. At the end, the tribal chief’s testament was read out aloud, before all the tribe.   In his will and testament, he mentioned where he left each of his belongings. Vladimir was 75 years old at the most. He had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He left something to every single member of his family. At one point, the Native American who was reading the will found some difficulty in reading a name – a non- Native American name- and, after grimacing a bit, he put on his glasses and pronounced the name, in a distorted kind of way: “Ya-nis Ha-ji-ni-ko-la-ou”. My friend Michael raised his hand and they gave him the package, which he in turn gave to me.

When I opened the package, I saw what was inside: it was a book, “The Divine Liturgy”, in Greek and in English, which I had given to him many years ago. Inside, on the first page, it said: “To Yanni”, and below that, in Greek: “Until we meet again – Vladimir N.”.  I took this to be a very kind gesture on his behalf; he had in fact inserted those words before his final departure; perhaps because he had sensed that his death was near.  He had written the words “Until we meet again” in Greek.  Of course, the surprise did not end there; there was more to come. When I leafed through the book, I was astounded, my mouth gaping… He had translated the entire text of the liturgy into the Mohawk tongue, above the lines of the English text!  Of course I can’t read Mohawk, but I am holding on to the book as a memento – this orthodox liturgy by Vladimir in Mohawk language – the entire Liturgy of Saint John the Chrysostom… If God bestows me the honor, I may publish it one day…

Contemporary stories like this one may sound like a fairytale, because our life seems equally fleeting. And yet, these stories are filled with a never-setting light; they are modern-day testimonies of that blessed “lunacy” – that yeast, which leavens all of the dough, from the tiny church atop an Aegean islet, to the distant Native American reservations of Canada.

Until we meet again, Vladimir….Karamazov….

Source:



ORTHODOX TORONTO

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Saint Paul Ballester-Convolier, Orthodox Bishop Martyr in Mexico (+1984), former Roman Catholic monk from Spain

My conversion from 
Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy

This article of the then Hierodeacon Fr. Paul Ballester-Convollier was published in two follow up articles by the “Kivotos” Magazine, July 1953, p. 285-291 and December 1953 p. 483- 485. The previous Franciscan monk who had turned to Orthodoxy was made titlebearing bishop Nanzizian of the Holy Hierobishopric of North and South America with its seat in Mexico. There he was met with a martyric death, the confessor of the Orthodox faith. The news of his murder was reported on the first page of the newspaper “Kathemerini” (Saturday 4 February 1984) thus: “THE GREEK ORTHODOX BISHOP PAUL WAS MURDERED IN MEXICO. As it became known from the city of Mexico, before yesterday the bishop Nianzizian Paul Di Ballester of the Greek archbishopric of North and South America died. He was murdered by a 70 year old Mexican, previous military and suffering from psychiatric illness. The funeral was attended by the Archbishop Jacob who was aware of the work of the active bishop. It should be pointed out that Bishop Paul was of Spanish origin, was received into Orthodoxy as an adult and excelled as a shepherd and author. The Mexican authorities do not exclude the possibility that his murderer was driven to his act through some sort of fanaticism.

* * *

A horrible dilemma.

My conversion to Orthodoxy began one day while I was reordering the Library catalogues of the monastery I belong to. This monastery belonged to the Franciscan order, founded in my country of Spain. While I was classifying different old articles concerning the Holy Inquisition, I happened to come across an article that was truly impressive, dating back to 1647. This article described a decision of the Holy Inquisition that anathematized as heretic any Christian who dared believe, accept or preach to others that he supported the apostolic validity of the Apostle Paul.

It was about a horrible finding that my mind could not comprehend. I immediately thought to calm my soul that perhaps it was due to a typographical error or due to some forgery, which was not so uncommon in the western Church of that time when the articles were written. However, my disturbance and my surprise became greater after researching and confirming that the decision of the Holy Inquisition that was referred to in the article was authentic. In fact already during two earlier occasions, namely in 1327 and 1331, the Popes John 22nd and Clemens 6th had condemned and anathematized any one who dared deny that the Apostle Paul during his entire apostolic life, was totally subordinate to the ecclesiastic monarchal authority of the first Pope and king of the Church, namely the Apostle Peter. And a lot later Pope Pius 10th, in 1907 and Benedict 15th, in 1920, had repeated the same anathemas and the same condemnations.

I had therefore to dismiss any possibility of it being due to an inadvertent misquoting or forgery. So I was thus confronted with a serious problem of conscience.

Personally it was impossible for me to accept that the Apostle Paul was disposed off under whatever Papal command. The independence of his apostolic work among nations, against that which characterized the apostolic work of Peter among the circumcised, for me was the unshakeable event that shouted from the Holy Bible.

The thing was totally clear to me who he was, as the explaining works of the Fathers on this issue do not leave the slightest doubt. “Paul- writes St Chrysostom- declares his equality with the rest of the apostles and should be compared not only with all the others but with the first one of them, to prove that each one had the same authority”. Truly, together all the Fathers agree that “all the rest of the apostles were the same like Peter, namely they were endowed with the same honour and authority”. It was impossible for who ever of them, to exercise higher authority from the rest, for the apostolic title that each had was the “highest authority, the peak of authorities”. They were all shepherds, while the flock was one. And the flock was shepherded by the apostles in conformity by all”.

The matter was therefore crystal clear. Despite this, the Roman teaching was against the situation. This way for the first time in my life, I experienced a frightful dilemma. What could I say? On one side the Bible and the Holy Tradition and on the other side the teaching of the Church? According to the Roman theology it is essential for our salvation to believe that the Church is a pure monarchy, whose monarch is the Pope. This way, the synod of the Vatican, voting together all the earlier convictions, it declared officially that “if any one says ……. that Peter (who is assumed to be the first Pope) was not ordained by Christ as the leader of the Apostles and visible Head of all the Church ………. is under anathema”.

I am addressing my confessor.

Within this psychological disturbance I addressed my confessor and naively described the situation. He was one of the most famous priests of the monastery. He heard me with sadness, aware that it involved a very difficult problem. Having thought for a few minutes while looking in vain for an acceptable resolution, he finally told me the following that I confess I did not expect.

The Bible and the Fathers have harmed you, my child. Set it and them aside and confine yourself to following the infallible teachings of the Church and do not let yourself become victim of such thoughts. Never allow creatures of God whoever they may be, to scandalize your faith in God and the Church.

This answer he gave very explicitly, caused my confusion to grow. I always held that especially the Word of God is the only thing that one cannot set aside.

Without allowing me any time to respond, my confessor added: “In exchange, I shall give you a list of prominent authors in whose works your faith will relax and be supported”. And asking me if I had something else “more interesting” to ask, he terminated our conversation.

Few days later, my confessor departed from the monastery for a preaching tour of Churches of the monastic order. He left me the list of authors, recommending that I read them. And he asked me to inform him of my progress in this reading by writing him.

Even though his words did not convince me in the least, I collected these books and started to read them as objectively and attentively as possible.

The majority of the books were theological texts and manuals of papal decisions as well as of ecumenical synods. I threw myself to the study with genuine interest, having only the Bible as my guide, “Thy law is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my paths”. (Ps 118:105).

As I progressed in my study of those books, I would understand more and more, that I was unaware of the nature of my Church. Having been proselytized in Christianity and baptized as soon as I completed my encyclical studies, I continued with philosophical studies and then as I speak to you I was just at the beginning of the theological studies. It concerned of a science totally new to me. Until then Christianity and the Roman Church was for me an amalgam, something absolutely indivisible. In my monastic life I was only concerned with their exterior view and I was given no reason to examine in depth the bases and reasons of the organic structure of my Church.

The preposterous Teaching about the Pope

Exactly then, within the bouquet of articles, that wisely my spiritual leader had put together, the true nature of this monarchal system, known as the Roman Church, started to unravel. I suppose a summary of her characteristics would not be superfluous.

First of all, to the Roman Catholics, the Christian Church “is nothing more than an absolute monarchy” whose monarch is the Pope who functions in all her facets as such. On this papist monarchy “all the power and stability of the Church is found” which otherwise “would not have been possible”. The same Christianity is supported completely by Papism. And still some more, “Papism is the most significant agent of Christianity”, “it is its zenith and its essence”.

The monarchic authority of the Pope as supreme leader and the visible head of the Church, cornerstone, Universal Infallible Teacher of the Faith, Representative (Vicar) of God on earth, shepherd of shepherds and Supreme Hierarch, `is totally dynamic and dominant and embraces all the teachings and legal rights that the Church has. “Divine right ” is extended on all and individually on each baptized man across the whole world. This dictatorial authority can be exercised at any time, over anything and on any Christian across the world, whether lay or clergy, and in any church of any denomination and language it may be, in consideration of the Pope being the supreme bishop of every ecclesiastical diocese in the world.

People who refuse to recognize all this authority and do not submit blindly, are schismatic, heretic, impious and sacrilegious and their souls are already destined to eternal damnation, for it is essential for our salvation that we believe in the institution of Papism and submit to it and its representatives. This way the Pope incarnates that imaginary Leader, prophesied by Cicero, writing that all must recognize him to be holy.

Always in the roman teaching, “accepting that the Pope has the right to intervene and judge all spiritual issues of everyone and each Christian separately, that much more does he have the right to do the same in their worldly affairs. He cannot be limited to judging only through spiritual penalties, denying the eternal salvation to those who do not submit to him, but also he has the right to exercise authority over the faithful. For the Church has two knives, symbol of her spiritual and worldly power. The first of these is in the hands of the clergy, the other in the hands of Kings and soldiers, who though they too are under the will and service of the clergy”.

The Pope, maintaining that he is the representative of Him whose “kingdom is not of this world”, of Him who forbade the Apostles to imitate the kings of the world who “conquer the nations” and nominates himself as a worldly king, thus continuing the imperialism of Rome. At different periods he in fact had become lord over great expanses, he declared bloody wars against other Christian kings, to acquire other land expanses, or even to satisfy his thirst for more wealth and power. He owned a great number of slaves. He played a central role and many times a decisive role in political history. The duty of the Christian lords is to retreat in the face “of the divine right king” surrendering to him their kingdom and their politico-ecclesiastic throne, “that was created to ennoble and anchor all the other thrones of the world”. To day the worldly capital of the pope is confined to the Vatican City. It concerns an autonomous nation with diplomatic representations in the governments of both hemispheres, with army, weapons police, jails, currency etc.

And as crown and peak of the almightiness of the Pope, he has one more faithful privilege that even the most ignoble idolaters could not even imagine- the infallible divine right, according to the dogmatic rule of the Vatican Synod that took place on 1870. Since then on “humanity ought to address to him whatever it addresses to the Lord: you have words of eternal life”. From now on, there is no need of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church “to all the truth”. There is no more need of the Holy Bible nor of the Sacred Tradition for thus there is a god on earth, based on the infallible, the Pope is the only canon of Truth who can even express things contrary to the judgment of all the Church, declare new dogmas, which the faithful ought to accept if they do not wish to be cut off from their salvation. “It depends only on his will and intention to deem whatever he wishes, as sacred and holy within the Church” and the decratalian letters must be deemed, believed and obeyed “as canonical epistles”. Since he is an infallible Pope, he must receive blind obedience. Cardinal Bellarmine, who was declared saint by the Roman Church, says this simply: “If the Pope some day imposed sins and forbade virtues, the Church is obliged to believe that these sins are good and these virtues are bad”.

The answer of my confessor

Having read all those books, I felt myself as a stranger within my Church, whose organizational composition has no relation to the Church that the Lord built and organized by the Apostles and their disciples and as intended by the Holy Fathers. Under this belief I wrote my first letter to my superior- “I read your books. I shall not contravene the divine warrants so that I may follow the human teachings that have no basis at all in the Holy Bible. Such teachings are a string of foolishness by Papism. From the provisions of the Holy Bible we can understand the nature of the Church and not through human decisions and theories. The truth of faith does not spring but from the Holy Bible and from the Tradition of the whole Church”.

The reply came fast- You have not followed my advice- complained my elder- and exposed your soul to the dangerous impact of the Holy Bible, which, like fire burns and blackens when it does not shine. In such situations like yours, the Popes have pronounced that it “is a scandalous error for one to believe that all the Christians could read the Holy Bible”, and the theologians assure us that the Holy Bible “is a dark cloud”. “For one to believe in the enlightenment and clarity of the Bible is a heterodox dogma” so claim our infallible leaders. “As far as the Tradition, I do not consider it necessary to remind you that we should primarily follow the Pope on matters of faith. The Pope is worth in this case thousands of Augustinians, Jeronymuses, Gregories, Chrysostoms………..”.This letter accomplished to strengthen my opinion rather than demolish it. It was impossible for me to place the Holy Bible below the Pope. By attacking the Holy Bible, my Church was losing every worthy belief ahead of me, and was becoming one with the heretics who “being elected by the Bible turn against it”. This was the last contact I had with my elder.

The Pope is everything and the Church is nothing

However I did not stop there. I had already started to “skid due to the skid” of my Church. I had taken a road that I was not allowed to stop until I found a positive solution. The drama of those days was that I had estranged myself from Papism, but I did not accost any other ecclesiastical reality. Orthodoxy and Protestantism then were for me vague ideas and I had not reached the time and opportunity to ascertain that they could offer something to soothe my agony. Despite all this I continued to love my Church that made me a Christian and I bore her symbol. I still needed more profound thinking to reach slowly, with trouble and grief to the conclusion that the Church I loved was not part of the papist system.

Truly, against the monocracy of the Pope, the authority of the Church and of the bishopric body, is not intrinsically subordinate. Because according to the Roman theology “the authority of the Church exists only when it is characterized and harmonized by the Pope. In all other cases it is nullified”. This way it is the same thing whether the Pope is with the Church or the Pope is without the Church, in other words, the Pope is everything and the Church is nothing. Very correctly did the bishop Maren write, “It would have been more accurate if the Roman Catholics when they recite the “I believe” would say “And in one Pope” instead of “And in one …….Church”.

The importance and function of the bishops in the Roman Church is no more than that of representatives of the papist authority to which the bishops submit like the lay faithful. This regime they try to uphold under the 22nd chapter of St John’s gospel, which according to the Roman interpretation “the Lord entrusts the Apostle Peter, the first Pope, the shepherding of His lambs and of His sheep”, namely, He bestows on him the job of the Chief Shepherd with exclusive rights on all the faithful, who are the lambs and all the others, Apostles and Bishops, namely, the sheep.

However, the bishops in the Roman Church, are not even successors to the Apostles, for as it dogmatizes, this Church “the apostolic authority was lacking with the Apostles and was not passed down her successors, the bishops. Only the Papist authority of Peter, namely the Popes. The bishops then, having not inherited any apostolic authority, have no other authority but the one given to them, not directly from God but by the Extreme Pontiff of Rome.

And the Ecumenical synods also have no other value than the one given to them by the Bishop of Rome, “for they cannot be anything else except conferences of Christianity that are called under the authenticity and authority of the Pope”. Suffice the Pope to exit the hall of the Synod saying “I am not in there anymore” to stop from that moment on the Ecumenical Synod from having any validity, if it is not authorized and validated by the Pope, who could impose through his authority on the faithful.

The frightful answer of a Jesuit

I almost gave up on my studies during that period, taking advantage of the hours that my order allowed me to retire to my cell, to think of nothing else but my big problem. For whole months I would study the structure and organization of the early Church, straight from the apostolic and patristic sources. However, all this work could not be done totally in secrecy. It looked obvious that my exterior life was greatly affected by this great concern which had overwhelmed all my interest and sapped all my strength. I never lost an opportunity to enquire from outside the monastery whatever could contribute towards shedding light to my problem. This way I started to discuss the topic with known ecclesiastical acquaintances in relation to the trust I had in their frankness and their heart. This way I would receive continuously impressions and opinions on the topic which were for me always interesting and significant.

I found most of these clerics more fanatical than I expected. Even though they were deeply aware of the absurdity of the teaching on the Pope, being stuck to the idea that “the required submission to the Pope demands a blind consent of our views” and in the other maxim by the founder of Jesuits by which “That we may possess the truth and not fall in fallacy, we owe it to always depend on the basic and immovable axiom that what we see as white in reality it is black, if that is what the hierarchy of the Church tells us”. With this fantastic bias a priest of the order of Jesus, entrusted me with the following thought:-

“What you tell me I acknowledge that they are most logical and very clear and true. However, for us Jesuits, apart from the usual three vows, we give a fourth one during the day of our tonsure. This fourth vow is more important than the vow of purity, obedience and poverty. It is the vow that we must totally submit to the Pope. This way, I prefer to go to hell with the Pope than to Paradise with all your truths.

A few centuries ago they would have burnt you in the fires of Holy Inquisition

According to the opinion of most of them, I was a heretic. Here’s what a bishop wrote to me, “A few centuries ago, the ideas you have, would have been enough to bring you to the fires of Holy Inquisition”.

However, despite all this I intended to stay in the monastery and give myself to the purely spiritual life, leaving the responsibility to the hierarchy for the deceit and its correction. But could the important things of the soul be safe on a road of super physical life, where the arbitrariness of the Pope could pile up new dogmas and false teachings concerning the pious life of the Church? Moreover, since the purity of teaching was built with falsehoods about the pope, who could reassure me that this stain would not spread into the other parts of the evangelical faith?

It is therefore not strange if the holy men within the Roman Church started to sound the alarm by saying such as: “Who knows if the minor means of salvation that flood us, do not cause us to forget our only Saviour, Jesus….”? “Today our spiritual life appears like a multi-branch and multi-leaf tree, where the souls do no more know where the trunk is, that everything rests on, and where the roots are that feed it”.

“With such a manner we have decorated and overloaded our religiocity, so that the face of Him who is the “focus of the issue” is lost inside the decorations” Being therefore convinced that the spiritual life within the bosom of the papist Church will expose me to dangers, I ended up taking the decisive step. I abandoned the monastery and after a little while I declared I did not belong to the Roman Church. Some others seemed prepared until then to follow me, but at the last moment no one proved prepared to sacrifice so radically his position within the Church, with the honour and consideration he enjoyed.

This way I abandoned the Roman Church, whose leader, forgetting that the Kingdom of the Son of God “is not of this world” and that “he who is called to the bishopric is not called to any high position or authority but to the diaconate of all the Church”, but imitating him who “wishing in his pride to be like god, he lost the true glory, put on the false one” and “sat in the temple of God as god”. Rightly did Bernard De Klaraval write about the Pope: “There is no more horrible poison for you, no sword more dangerous, than the thirst and passion of domination”. Coming out of Papism, I followed my voice of conscience that was the voice of God. And this voice was telling me, “Leave her ……. So you may not partake of her sins and that you may not receive of her wounds”. How after my departure I fell in the embrace of Orthodoxy, in the light of the absolute and spotless Truth, this I will describe at a later opportunity.

Secondly, as my departure from Papism became more broadly known within the ecclesiastical circles and was receiving more enthusiastic response in the Spanish and French protestant circles, so was my position becoming more precarious.

In the correspondence I received, the threatening and anonymous abusive letters were plentiful. They would accuse me that I was creating an anti-papist wave around me and I was leading by my example into “apostasy” Roman Catholic clerics “who were dogmatically sick” and who had publicly expressed a sympathetic feeling for my case.

This fact forced me to leave Barcelona, and settle in Madrid where I was put up – without my seeking – by Anglicans and through them I came in contact with the Ecumenical Council of Churches.

Not even there did I manage to remain inconspicuous. After every sermon at different Anglican Churches, a steadily increasing number of listeners sought to know me and to confidently discuss with me some ecclesiological topics.

Without therefore wishing it, a steadily increasing circle of people started forming around me, with most being anti-papists. This situation was exposing me to the authorities, because in the confidential meetings I had agreed to attend, some Roman Catholic clerics started to appear, who were generally known “for their lacking and weakening faith, regarding the primacy and infallibility of the Highest Hierarch of Rome”.

The fanatical vindictiveness that some papists bore against my person, I saw it fully expressed and hit its zenith the day I replied publicly to a detailed ecclesiological dissertation, which they had sent to me as an ultimate step to remove me from the “trap of heresy” that I had fallen in. That work of apologetic character had the expressive title: “The Pope vicar of our Lord on earth” and the slogan that the arguments in the book ended up with, was the following: “Due to the infallibility of the Pope, the Roman Catholics are today the only Christians who could be certain for what they believe”.

In the columns of a Portuguese book review, I replied: “The reality is that due to this infallibility you are the only Christians who cannot be certain about what they will demand that you believe tomorrow”. My article ended with the following sentence: “Soon on the road you walk, you will name the Lord, vicar of the Pope in heaven”.

Soon after I published in Buenos Aires my three volume study, I put an end to the skirmishes with the papists. In that study I had collected all the clauses in the patristic literature of the first four centuries, which directly or indirectly refer to the “primacy clauses” (Matt 16 :18-19; John21: 15-17; Luke 22: 31-32). I proved that the teachings about the Pope were absolutely foreign and contrary to the interpretation given by the Fathers on the issue. And the interpretation of the Fathers is exactly the rule on which we understand the Holy Bible.

During that period, even though from unrelated situations, for the first time I came in contact with Orthodoxy. Before I continue to recount the events, I owe it to confess here that my ideas about Orthodoxy had suffered an important development from the beginning of my spiritual odyssey. Certain discussions I had on ecclesiological topics with a group of Orthodox Polish, who passed through my country and the information I received from the Ecumenical Council regarding the existence and life in Orthodox circles in the West, had caused me a real interest. Furthermore, I started to get different Russian and Greek books and magazines from London and Berlin, as well as some of the prized books that were provided by archimandrite Benedict Katsenavakis in Napoli, Italy. Thus my interest in Orthodoxy would continue to grow.

Slowly, slowly in this way I started losing my inner biases against the Orthodox Church. These biases present Orthodoxy as schismatic, without spiritual life, drained group of small churches that do not have the characteristics of the true Church of Christ. And the schism that had cut her off, “had the devil for father and the pride of the patriarch Photios for mother”.

So when I started to correspond with a respected member of the Orthodox hierarchy in the West- whose name I do not believe I am permitted to publish due to my personal criterion that was based on those original informations, I was thus totally free from every bias against Orthodoxy and I could spiritually gaze objectively. I soon realized and even with a pleasant surprise that my negative stance I had against Papism was conforming completely to the ecclesiological teaching of Orthodoxy. The respectable hierarch agreed to this coincidence in his letters but refrained from expressing himself more broadly because he was aware that I lived in a protestant surrounding.

The Orthodox in the West are not at all susceptible to proselytism. Only when our correspondence continued enough, the Orthodox bishop showed me to read the superb book by Sergei Boulgakov, “Orthodoxy” and the not less in depth dissertation, under the same title by metropolitan Seraphim. In the mean time I had also written specifically to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In those books I found myself. There was not even a single paragraph that did not meet completely the agreement of my conscience. So much in these works as in others, that they would send to me with encouraging letters -now even from Greece- I clearly saw how the Orthodox teaching is profound and purely evangelical and that the Orthodox are the only Christians who believe like the Christians of the catacombs and of the Fathers of the Church of the golden age, the only ones who can repeat with holy boasting the patristic saying, “We believe in whatever we received from the Apostles”.

That period I wrote two books, one with the title “The concept of Church according to the Western Fathers” and the other with the title “Your God, our God and God”. These books were to be published in South America, but I did not proceed with their release, so that I may not give an easy and dangerous hold to the protestant propaganda.

From the Orthodox side they advised me to let go my simply negative position against Papism, in which I was dirtied and to shape my personal “I believe” from which they could judge how far I was from the Anglican Church as well as the Orthodox.

It was a hard task that I summarized with the following sentences: “I believe in everything that are included in the Canonic books of the Old and New Testament, according to the interpretation of the ecclesiastical Tradition, namely the Ecumenical Synods that were truly ecumenical and to the unanimous teaching of the Holy Fathers that are acknowledged catholically as such”.

From then on I began to understand that the sympathy of the Protestants towards me was cooling down, except of the Anglicans who were governed by some meaningful support. And it is only now that the Orthodox interest, despite being late, as always, started to manifest itself and to attract me to Orthodoxy as one “possibly Catechumen”.

The undertakings of a polish university professor, whom I knew, cemented my conviction that Orthodoxy is supported by the meaningful truths of Christianity. I understood that every Christian of the other confessions, is required to sacrifice some significant part of the faith to arrive at the complete dogmatic purity and only an Orthodox Christian is not so required. For only he lives and remains in the substance of Christianity and the revealed and unaltered truth.

So, I did no more feel myself alone against the almighty Roman Catholicism and the coolness that the Protestants displayed against me. There were in the East and scattered around the world, 280 million Christians who belonged to the Orthodox Church and with whom I felt in communion of faith.

The accusation of the theological mummification of Orthodoxy had for me no value, because I had now understood that this fixed and stable perseverance of the Orthodox teaching of truth, was not a spiritual solidified rock, but an everlasting flow, like the current of the waterfall that seems to remain always the same yet the waters always change.

Slowly, slowly the Orthodox started to consider me as one of their own. “That we speak to this Spaniard about Orthodoxy- wrote a famous archimandrite- is not proselytism”. They and I perceived that I was already berthed in the port of Orthodoxy, that I was finally breathing freely in the bosom of the Mother Church. In this period I was finally Orthodox without realizing it, and like the disciples that walked towards Emmaus close to the Divine Teacher, I had covered a stretch close to Orthodoxy without conclusively recognizing the Truth but at the end.

When I was assured of this reality, I wrote a long dissertation on my case, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to the Archbishop of Athens through the Apostolic Diaconate of the Church of Greece. And having no more to do with Spain – where today there does not exist an Orthodox community – I left my country and went to France where I asked to become a member of the Orthodox Church, having earlier let some more time for the fruit of my change to ripen. During this period I further deepened my knowledge of Orthodoxy and strengthened my relationship with her hierarchy. When I became fully confident of myself, I took the decisive step and officially became received in the true Church of Christ as her member. I wished to realize this great event in Greece, the recognized country of Orthodoxy, where I came to study theology. The blessed Archbishop of Athens received me patristically. His love and interest were beyond my expectations. I should say the same for the then chancellor of the Sacred Archbishopric and presently bishop Dionysus of Rogon who showed me patristic love. It is needless to add that in such an atmosphere of love and warmth, the Holy Synod did not take long to decide my canonical acceptance in the bosom of the Orthodox Church. During that all night sacred ceremony I was honoured with the name of the Apostle of Nations and following that, I became received as a monk in the Holy Penteli Monastery. Soon after, I was tonsured deacon by the Holy Bishop of Rogon.

Since then I live within the love, sympathy and understanding of the Greek Church and all her members. I ask from all, their prayers and their spiritual support that I may always stand worthy of the Grace that was given me by the Lord.

From: “Theodromia” greek magazine, Issue 1, January-March 2006

Source:


LATIN AMERICA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX LATIN AMERICA

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“NATIVE AMERICANS MAY BECOME
THE LARGEST ETHNIC GROUP IN THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH”

An interview with His Beatitude Jonah, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada

In early December of 2009, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah of All America and Canada (Orthodox Church of America) visited Russia to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the OCA’s representation in Moscow. Correspondent Miguel Palacio took the opportunity to talk with Metropolitan Jonah about the OCA’s presence in Latin America.

– Your Beatitude, in which Latin America countries is the Orthodox Church in America represented?

– Our jurisdiction extends to Mexico. We used to have parishes in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela as well, but one of them joined the Russian Church Abroad, while others simply closed.

Several communities in Latin America want to join the American Orthodox Church. We would be happy to receive these faithful people, but there would be no one to take care of them because we have very few clergymen who speak Spanish or Portuguese.

One priest, who I hope will soon become a bishop, began a mission in Ecuador, in the city of Guayaquil, where there is a large Palestinian colony. Unfortunately, his good initiative has fizzled out. I have heard that many Palestinians also live in Central American countries, one of which is El Salvador. It is curious, but they do not go to the Antiochian parishes, and are requesting to be received under our omophorion.

The Constantinople and Antiochian Patriarchates prefer to pastor the Greek and Arab diasporas. We do not understand this. The Church should give pastoral care first of all to its local spiritual children. This is our principle in the Orthodox Church in America.

– When was the Mexican exarchate organized?

– The Mexican exarchate has existed since the 1970’s. At that time, the Bishop of the Mexican national Old Catholic Church, Jose (Cortez-y-Olmos), strengthened contact with our Church and became Orthodox, together with his entire community. Thanks to his labors, hundreds of Mexicans have become immersed in the Orthodox Faith.

Not long ago, five thousand Native Americans from twenty-three areas in the state of Veracruz were baptized into Orthodoxy. However, there is only one priest to serve that entire mass of people. In general, the Mexican exarchate has very few clergymen. They are all Mexican, including the ruling hierarch, Bishop Alejo (Pacheco-Vera).

– Have you ever been to Latin America?

– I have only visited Mexico. Now I am getting ready to visit Guatemala. A friend of mine lives there — Abbess Ines (Ayau Garcia), the superior of the Holy Trinity Convent, which is under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Patriarchate.

In Guatemala, a group of thousands of people who would like to become Orthodox have attracted my attention. Most of them are Mayan. If we take these Guatemalans in, as well as other members of the native Latin American population, then Native Americans may become the largest ethnic group in the American Orthodox Church. I, personally, would be very happy about that.

– I see that you sympathize with the original inhabitants of the American continent…

– I have the warmest feelings for Native Americans. I studied anthropology in the university, and was drawn to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. These were enormous, amazing civilizations.

I like Latin America as a whole — its art, music, literature, and cuisine. Latin Americans love life; they are open and hospitable people. I grew up in California — one of the most Hispanic states in the U.S. I was able to learn some Spanish from my Mexican friends (although I speak Spanish poorly). The priest who united me to the Orthodox Church was a Mexican. His name was Fr. Ramon Merlos.

– What does missionary work amongst Native Americans in the U.S. have in common with that amongst those of Latin America?

– To be honest, I do not yet know… Our Church has missionary experience in Alaska, where one remarkable priest serves — Archpriest Michael Oleksa, an anthropologist. He is a Carpatho-Russian; his wife comes from the indigenous Yupiks. Fr. Michael wants to conduct a conference of Orthodox Native Americans of America. This would be an extremely interesting event.

When Fr. Michael was rector of the seminary, he invited the Guatemalan community that was thirsting for Orthodoxy to send two members to receive a theological education. The idea was, of course, a good one. But people who are accustomed to a tropical climate are not likely to endure the freezing temperatures of Alaska.

– Are there Latin Americans amongst your parishioners in the U.S.?

– Of course there are. In California, thirty-five percent of the population is Latin American, and the percentage is even larger in Texas. There are Latinos both amongst the flock and the clergy in our Church. Studying in St. Tikhon Seminary is a Mexican with Native Americans roots, named Abraham. He has the obedience of sub-deacon. One sub-deacon in San Francisco is Colombian. At the end of November, I blessed a new convent dedicated to the Nativity of Christ in Dallas, the superior of which is Brazilian.

– What, do you suppose, attracts Latin Americans to Orthodoxy?

– Latinos love our Liturgy and icons; they are captivated by the deep veneration of the Mother of God within the Orthodox Church.

I have to say that the Catholic Church is quickly losing its influence in Latin America, and the reason for this is its close association with the upper social classes. A significant portion of the poorer classes, which make up the majority of the region, have become disillusioned with the Catholic pastors, and have aligned themselves with protestants, Mormons, and other sectarians.

Metropolitan Andres (Giron), the head of the St. Basil the Great Order of White Clergy in Guatemala, used to be a Catholic priest. He saw that his Church leaders were oriented towards the wealthy; in the 1990’s he left the Catholic Church, because he wanted to work for the people. Not long ago, Fr. Andres said to me, “I am old and ailing. Please take my people into your Church for the sake of their salvation.” It would be hard to call his community Orthodox, but it is gradually coming to know Orthodox teachings, and partaking of the traditions of the Orthodox Church. Besides those in Guatemala, Bishop Andres has opened parishes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other U.S. cities where his countrymen have settled.

– Are you not afraid of some conflict with the Catholic Church? After all, Latin America is still considered the “largest diocese of the Vatican.”

– There will not be any conflict. The Catholic Church relates to Orthodoxy with loyalty. Furthermore, I see no little potential for collaboration with the Catholic Church, first of all in the struggle against sectarianism.

Interview by Miguel Palacio

21 / 12 / 2009

Source:


NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY

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A different light: Youthfull travellers in contemporary America

by

Nun Nectaria McLees

Twentieth-century readers knew Kerouac’s On the Road and Jack London’s earlier hobo classic, The Road, but how many of us know what the 21st-century counter-culture is up to, their life-styles and aspirations? We see the tattoos, nose-rings, attitudes, but do we hear the cries of the heart from young people searching for truth? In the following interview Rainbow (Xenia) Lundeen and Seth (John) Haskins, both baptized Orthodox after this conversation, share the by-ways they’ve taken in trying to live out the Gospel in their lives.

RTE: Rainbow and Seth, what are your backgrounds and how did you become travelers?

RAINBOW: When I was very young, my parents were dedicated Seventh Day Adventists, but after bad experiences with the church they left Christianity, and my brother and I were raised pretty much as agnostics. When I was twelve, I had some Christian classmates who tried to convince me that Christ was God, but it seemed so superficial that when they said things like, “Jesus loves you,” I put my fingers in my ears. Not long after, though, while listening to Christmas music alone in my room, I suddenly experienced not just a heavenly feeling, but the presence of Someone who I knew was Jesus Christ Himself. I accepted Christianity then, but it wasn’t until ninth grade when I began hanging out with Christian friends that it became part of my life. Galatians says, “If we live in the Spirit then we should walk in the Spirit,” and it struck me that Christianity wasn’t just a list of rules of things I shouldn’t do. If I believed in God, I should follow Him. In high school I’d gotten into punk rock culture, and at seventeen I moved to Washington to study commercial photography at the Art Institute of Seattle. After a few semesters I was tired of hearing how to make money with my art. I didn’t want to sell myself or my photography. I was sick of society, of the pursuit of money, of rent, of meaningless jobs, and of my own vanity, but I didn’t know what I was looking for.

Then I made a new friend, Learning, who’d just gotten back from his first train-riding trip. It was perfect timing. Learning began to tell me about owning nothing, about riding freight trains and sleeping in forests, bushes, and alleyways, and all of a sudden I thought, “I’m ready for that.” I was all set to leave with a Bible and a backpack, but it was already late fall, a bad time to start travelling. So I stayed in school, but now I had friends who thought as I did and we began to live together and play music.

RTE: What kind of music did you play?

RAINBOW: We called  it Anarcho-Folk. I wasn’t really much of a musician— I played a little auto-harp, guitar, tambourine, harmonica… wherever I could fit in. I’m not very good at anything.

SETH: She plays a mean trumpet.

RAINBOW: Mean to the ears. Music was a way of feeling free. I also started sewing, and even my photography began taking a more creative turn. I was trying to live these things, not just use them, and life took on a different light. Our band was called Compost, and the next summer we went on a twomonth tour around the U.S. with fourteen of us in two vans, camping out as much as we could. We also played at Cornerstone, a Protestant music festival that’s been put on by Jesus People, USA, for almost thirty years. Cornerstone is one of the main gatherings for Christian travelers, especially at “Hobo Jungle” where folks camp out. There are a lot of young travelers in the country, 18-25 years-old, but only a small number are Christian, so most of us know each other and we try to stay connected.

That year we also started something that we jokingly called “Christian Summer Camp.” It was a bunch of Christian punks who decided to go on a campout, but it ended up becoming a country-wide gathering as people brought their traveling friends.

After the tour a friend and I started hitchhiking and we did the whole country: Chicago, Michigan, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City. Our final destination was Oklahoma, but the further south you go, the less likely people are to pick you up, even a couple of harmless-looking girls. Finally, one trucker said, “I’d take you, but I’m going to California.” We said, “We’ll go,” and so we ended up in Southern California, and made our way back up the coast.

I soon took off again with my friends Learning and Jacob and we started riding freight trains as our main means of transport.

RTE: How did you manage that? Aren’t there still train guards, like in old movies, who watch for hobos?

RAINBOW: There are still train-cops and they’re still called bulls, like in the old days. Pretty much all yards have bulls, but you know what cars they drive and you avoid the watch-towers. You stay in the dark or the trees and once you’ve spotted your train, you go for it. We would pretty much always get on the trains while they were stopped in a train yard, or during a crew change. Other riders might jump on once they’ve started.

RTE: Did you take food?

RAINBOW: Yes… a can of beans or a can of tuna, an apple. Most of the time you weren’t on a train for more than twelve hours. The longest I was on was 24 hours, and that was longer than we’d expected, so we didn’t have food with us. But realistically, a day without food isn’t a big deal.

RTE: Especially once you’re Orthodox. Seth, what about you, what’s your story?

SETH: I was born and raised in Mustang, Oklahoma. My family is from southeastern Oklahoma; my grandfather was the vice-president of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, so I grew up in the church. My dad is a cop and when I was about nine years old, my folks split up. My mom, older brother and sister and I lived pretty poor on a dirt road outside of town in the middle of nowhere. Some of our neighbors lived in trailers, others had houses; one family had a herd of buffalo and horses and cattle. We had a lot of room to roam and I grew up loving nature and animals. As a teenager I started hanging out with skateboarders, the kids about whom everyone said, “They’ll all be in prison in fifteen years.” (None of them are yet).

Yet, I was a believer and continued to play in the worship band at church because the spiritual side of things was always on my mind. I’d started making some bad decisions until one day I heard about fasting and decided to try it. I began to fast, pray, and read my Bible, and something clicked—things started making sense. From that point on, I tried to live what I knew about Christianity in a real way. The Baptists I grew up with are moral people, but often pretty rational. Church centers around discussion and debates about belief, whereas I was looking for something that I could use in life.

I was still active in church, but I could feel myself growing apart and folks thought I was losing it. Baptists have a very clear idea of how one should live—the need to make money was emphasized as was “how everyone does things.” Homelessness and a lack of money were bad. You could help people out, but the attitude towards someone in need was, “Pitiful you…”—the stray-cat mentality of “Don’t make eye-contact or they’ll want you to take them home.”

At some point in high school I began looking at poverty with romanticized affection. I wore ripped up flannel shirts, jeans, and an old trucker hat that had belonged to my grandpa. I was happy to be at the bottom of the barrel and to be alright with it. In spite of that everyone still liked me at school, though they were on a different track.

Around this time I also rediscovered the spiritual aspects of my Native American ancestry and met a medicine man who taught me some spiritual principles that I tried out on my own. It seemed a long way from my Protestant background, but later when I discovered that Orthodoxy also had a tradition of healing the soul, it all synced up. Orthodoxy was the fulfillment.

After high school, I played spaghetti western music in a band in Oklahoma City and worked at UPS. My first real crisis was over an old Mexican-American guy named Danny who’d been hitchhiking from southern Texas to a job in the north. On his way through Oklahoma, he was attacked and had a huge axe gash in his leg. He was discovered by a highway patrolman, who gave him $10 and found a trucker to give him a ride into Oklahoma City. The trucker took him to the Mercy Hospital emergency room where they gave him some painkillers, took him in an ambulance to downtown Oklahoma City, put him out and told him not to come back. When we found him, his leg was already turning black. He was in terrible pain and we took him to the state hospital where they told us that we couldn’t stay with him. The hospital wouldn’t ever tell us what had happened to him, and I don’t know if he lived or died. That was when I really began thinking about how I wanted to live, and soon after, my friend Darren and I moved to the Commonwealth in Bartletsville, Oklahoma, an unofficial community of kids thinking about the same things we were. Commonwealth was where I met Rainbow, and where I first met the traveling kids.

Most of the travelers I know came from the punk scene. I’m not punk at all. Each to his own, but it’s not my thing, and I’m not worried about impressing a competitive crowd. I was just a hick from the sticks, but I was interested. After my experience with Danny, I understood that I had to make a choice: to ignore what I’d seen and get on with a comfortable life, or to consciously join the other side and take it with everyone else who was poor. I figured I’d rather take the insults and everything else that was heaped on the homeless than turn my back.

As it turned out, I didn’t learn much from the Commonwealth Community, but one important thing did happen there: our friend Rachel took us to Holy Apostles Church in Tulsa, my first experience of an Orthodox church. The parishioners were nice and didn’t care that we weren’t well-dressed. You could tell, too, that they were family. Later at a Greek festival I met a welleducated monk from Constantinople named Fr. Victor. He talked to me for a long time about church history, languages, everything. It was all new to me and I was blown away. I thought, “This guy knows more about what I think and about the Protestant church than I do.” When I told him, “I don’t have a denomination, I’m just a Christian,” he asked, “So, what do you think?” He made it clear that even our ideas about what the Bible means have to come from somewhere, and you want it to be the right place.

The most amazing thing about meeting Fr. Victor was that when he began talking about the apostolic lineage I realized that there was not only wisdom here, but real authority that wasn’t just made up as you went along. This was something I’d never seen before, and later I saw it in other Orthodox people. They aren’t trying to convince themselves with scripture as they convince you. They’re just in it. From that moment, I wanted to learn more about Orthodoxy.

Another friend I’d made at Commonwealth, Michael Perkins, had already been Orthodox for a few years. He’d read quite a bit and said, “I’ll try to answer your questions, but I don’t know a whole lot. What I do know, I’ll tell you.” I was surprised because he wasn’t using the pious tone that I was used to, that I’d acquired myself because it seemed to be the right way to talk about God. Michael was just open. I was also impressed because neither he nor Rachel put a spin on Orthodox things to make them seem better than they were. They were real and down to earth.

At the end of ‘07, my friend Christian and I left Oklahoma to travel: Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Charlotte, Nashville …. Our first train trip was in the middle of January in a thunderstorm that followed us for sixteen hours. We were in empty freight container cars, which don’t have a floor or a roof, just an open frame with a space along the edge that you can sit on. You sit holding onto air hoses in the wall, but you can’t fall asleep or you’ll fall off. Most of what should be the floor is completely open to the tracks.

RAINBOW: (smiling) Most people don’t actually ride in those.

SETH: We were in a hurry; later we’d know better. So we were sitting on the train on a cold metal ledge in a thunderstorm with wind and lightning all around us. My poncho had gotten sucked under the train when I’d tried to put it on, so I was soaked to the skin. In the middle of the night when the train stopped, we got off to look for a car that had a floor, but couldn’t find one and ended up in the same car crouched over so that we wouldn’t be seen for the last two or three hours after dawn. That was my first train ride and although it was so hard, the idea of being free was great. Nothing else seemed to matter. On the road, you’re free to think as you like. Being poor and Orthodox, you aren’t tied down to money or possessions, or even to false ideas about yourself that you have to preserve. I had begun to admit I wasn’t the greatest guy, because with Orthodoxy I was free to do something about it. You really do want to be holy, you want to be right, to be close to God, and it’s a relief to realize that you’re just lying to yourself and to other people if you pretend you’re already there.

RTE: How many young Christian travelers are there and how do you keep in touch?

RAINBOW: About fifty to a hundred that are well-connected to our community. A lot of people stay in contact through the computer, although I don’t use computers. We’re all pretty close, so if you talk to one or two of your friends, you find out what everyone is doing.

SETH: There’s an even bigger community of Christians who used to travel, or who want to travel and haven’t been able to yet, or people who are simply friends with travelers. When you go to their town, you know you can stay with them. Once you start traveling, you learn to spot other travelers immediately, even in a big city. They’ll have coveralls or patched-up clothes with neutral colors of green and brown. You’re already friends at the first meeting; you share your squat, your food, and help each other out any way you can. There’s a camaraderie here that you don’t have with most people, which was something I began to find with some Orthodox folks as well. You can’t fake that and you can’t buy it. I have to say though, that I’ve pretty much stopped traveling with the Protestant Christian travelers, because they tend to have a mistaken, negative view of Orthodoxy.

RTE: When you talk about travelers are you talking about folks who don’t fit into society, and so travel like Depression-era hobos, or are these mostly young people who have adopted values similar to your own?

RAINBOW: Mostly they’re intentional travelers, young people who choose to be homeless and to travel—usually by train-riding and hitch-hiking, squatting in towns, camping in the forest. Of course, there are the other kinds of travelers too, and sometimes the lines cross.

RTE: Do you feel an affinity with the Depression-era travelers like Woody Guthrie?

SETH: Yes. Not to say that Woody Guthrie and others like him were Orthodox, but there were many things they wrote and sang that Orthodox would agree with. He once wrote a song that if Christ was to come back, we would probably treat Him like the Jews did. The world hasn’t changed much, and I agree with that.

RTE: You are both musicians. What songs inspired you along the way? seth: For me it’s Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ” and “Hard Traveling” And another, called “Waiting for a Train” by Jimmie Rodgers. rainbow: “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds. It was a good reminder of what we were leaving behind. And “Blackbird” by the Beatles… “Take your broken wings and learn to fly…”

Most of us feel that traveling is one of the few truly American heritages. There are similarities with gypsies, pilgrims and so on, but the hobo culture with trains and hitching is uniquely ours. Most travelers hate mainstream capitalism, greed, unjust wars, suburban life—the little boxes on the hill-side—but traveling is something we can embrace and we’re happy there are American things we can embrace.

RTE: America is one of the only countries large enough to have long-distance trains and enough space to be able to travel extensively. Weather usually isn’t too extreme, and today’s culture is accepting enough that you won’t starve. It’s also a freer time for women. It would have been much harder a century ago.

RAINBOW: That’s true, although around the turn of the century, my greatgrandfather’s second wife traveled with the hobos before she married. For me, a lot of the draw of traveling is the history. I’ve always felt I was born too late and the eras in which I feel most comfortable are increasingly distant. In high school I thought that I should have been born in the ‘60’s; later I started wearing ‘40’s and ‘50’s clothes, and once I started reading classic literature, I felt sure that I belonged to the 19th century. Going forward didn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. Of course, my dreams were romantic, but the thrust was that I was going backwards, I was going old-fashioned.

RTE: Was your train riding as uncomfortable as Seth’s?

SETH: Her experience wasn’t uncomfortable, it was tragic.

RTE: Do you want to tell us about it?

RAINBOW: In the winter of 2007 I spent a month in Tucson, working at the big international Gem and Mineral Show. A lot of travelers stay there for the winter, because the climate is good and the show hires temporary labor. I needed to work because I had school loans to pay off.

RTE: You were working to pay your debts?

RAINBOW: Yes, I knew that the loans were my responsibility. I’d worked at the show selling fossils for Moroccans, and squatted with other travelers. Learning was there too, and after the show we decided to head to L.A. on a hotshot— a fast, high-priority train that has fewer stops. On the way we wanted to get off early to meet some friends near Niland, California. We were watching the road for traffic to see if we could hitchhike back from the next stop, but there weren’t any cars at all. We were thinking, “Oh man, hitch-hiking’s going to be so bad. We’ll end up walking thirty miles.” But when we saw the sign that said Niland, the train started slowing down. We got excited thinking it might stop, but when it got down to walking speed, it started speeding up. We thought, “Oh no, we’d better go now while we can,” but we took too long to get ready. Because I had a mandolin and a dog, I couldn’t just jump and roll. I had to climb down the ladder, jump off running and grab the dog from the door. I knew the train was going too fast, but I’d only ridden about a dozen times, and I didn’t yet know that if you get off with your trailing foot, the one behind you, you spin out away from the train. If you put down your leading foot, you spin towards the train. It’s natural momentum.

So, the train was going too fast and I got off with the leading foot and was instantly on the ground. As I was going down, I thought, “This is how people die on trains, this is how it happens.” It happened too fast to be scared, but I also knew it was too late. I didn’t die, of course, but I’d broken my back and my pelvis. Learning saw me go down and jumped off behind me with the dog and the mandolin. He helped take my pack off, then picked me up and tried to help me to the road. I couldn’t walk all the way, so he ran into town and got an ambulance. I had surgery, of course, and now I have a whopping hospital bill.

So riding trains is largely over-romanticized and I want to make sure that our lifestyle doesn’t come across like that in this article. It is a wonderfully freeing way to live, but it’s a dangerous way to live. It’s not for everyone and it’s not just a cool thing to do. Riding trains can be a status thing for some people. They think, “I’m cool because I ride trains, but you only hitch-hike. You’re not a real traveler.” I once met a kid who boasted of having ridden fifty trains in the past month. That’s like twice a day of doing nothing but riding trains for the sake of riding trains. For us it was a way to get somewhere. seth: If anyone reading this wants to be free, we’re telling them right now that they don’t have to go out and ride trains. In fact, if they feel drawn to it, I’d say “Don’t.” That’s not how it works. It’s too dangerous.

RAINBOW: The traveler community was amazing though. I was in the hospital for nine days (the first four waiting for surgery) and thirteen travelers came from five different states when they heard I’d been hurt, to see what they could do. They read to me and took me outside as soon as I was allowed.

RTE: How long before you could walk?

RAINBOW: I walked ten feet the day after surgery, and was out of the hospital three days later.

RTE: Have you jumped a train since?

RAINBOW: I didn’t for almost three years. Mostly because my focus had changed to learning about Orthodoxy and paying off my debt. At first my pride told me that I had to ride again to prove that I hadn’t been conquered by fear, but I had to accept that it was alright if I didn’t ride trains anymore; I had to let my heart and motives shift. By the time I did start riding trains again I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I was just riding the rails with good friends, trying to get around.

RTE: Rainbow, when did you start feeling a mesh between Orthodoxy and your personal values of voluntary poverty, of helping others out?

RAINBOW: Mine was definitely a process. After I’d broken my back and begun traveling again, it was spiritually a really uncomfortable time for me. I felt as if I was losing my grasp on everything I’d believed in. I’d been to so many churches and seen so many Christians, all of whom believed something different. I thought, “If everyone’s just making this up for themselves, then I don’t really care to follow it. I don’t want something I make up for myself.”

So, I didn’t know what to do, or if I could even call myself a Christian. All I had was that deep desire to seek God. I was pretty sure I still believed in Jesus Christ, but I didn’t know where to go with it, and this was when I first went to Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Tulsa. I was sure I’d hate it because I was an anarchist, and this was hierarchy, structure, tradition, dogma… everything I looked down on. Later, I figured out that when these things are acted out in worldly forms they usually fail, but when it’s God’s hierarchy, it’s different. This was exactly the foundation to the faith that I’d been missing.

The first thing that struck me was the beauty and the reverence: “Of course we should be honoring God and not treating Him like He’s our ‘surfer bro’.” Some things were strange at first. I remember noticing in the liturgy that we kept saying, “Lord have mercy” and I wondered, “How many times have we said this?” but at the same time I thought, “What else do we have to say to God?” Then when I started reading about the saints, and that these people were being praised for their humility, meekness, for giving away their wealth, about the Fools for Christ, it all felt so right. I had often talked to traveler friends about how we wanted to spend our lives in lowliness. We had no idea how to do that, or even what it meant, but here the saints were showing the way. This was the ideal, and it fit in with my desire to be oldfashioned, to go backwards. It was so pure and simple.

RTE: How about you Seth?

SETH: For me, every first impression of the Orthodox Church was golden. I had just discovered Fr. Seraphim Rose’s book, God’s Revelation to the Human Heart, and everything he said made a lot of sense to me. It all began to mesh when I stayed with a Nashville friend in an old bus that had been transformed to run on vegetable oil. He’d rigged up a wood stove and we lived there through the winter, going to a Greek Orthodox mission dedicated to St. John Chrysostom.

Fr. Parthenios Turner and Presbytera Marion also run a bookstore and a coffee shop. When I first went in, I said, “Father, bless,” and told him that I wanted learn about Orthodoxy. He had me put my bag down, asked if I was hungry, and then said, “OK, here’s a rag and some soap. I need you to clean some tables and when you’re done, vacuum the floor.” I was kind of glad because I’d always just made my way doing what I wanted, but he immediately made me feel a part of things. I knew then that his strictness was good, and that I needed it. When I finished he said, “Seth, are you done?” “Yeah.” “Then please come here.” He took me to an icon of the Resurrection and said, “This is what we strive for,” and explained everything on it. Over the next few days, I’d come in, do some work, and little by little he did the same with all of the icons in the store.

One day he said, “While you’re doing the dishes, don’t just do the dishes. Pray.” I said, “OK,” and he said, “Not just any prayer, say the Jesus Prayer. Do you know it?” I said “Yes,” because I’d already realized that the way I’d been talking to God was too familiar, that there wasn’t a sense of God as God and that I’m his creature. So I started saying the Jesus prayer on the train and remembering my sins. I understood that this was prayer and life.

Earlier I’d read that St. Francis of Assisi had said: “Go dig a hole and pray at the same time, and then go dig another hole.” I may not be remembering it right, but it was the idea of work and prayer together that stuck with me, and that was what Fr. Parthenius taught us. He was like a father. We left town, though, very quickly when someone in my family died. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.

RTE: He’s a subscriber. He’ll read this.

SETH: Good. This was January of ‘08, and after going home for the funeral, I got a job on a ranch in southern Oklahoma. We were working ten-, twelve-, thirteen-hour days. We were cleaning out stalls, grooming the horses, and working rodeos with all of the manual labor that goes with it. We were also learning how to train horses. That was our life. We still felt free, but we were working with horses. I love animals and each of the horses had different personalities.

Some would nuzzle you, others would play with you by grabbing your hat and holding it up so you couldn’t get it. This was Lent and I spent my free time reading and praying. My friend Hanna (Rachel) had sent me a lot of books, and this was the first time I read The Way of a Pilgrim.

Around this time, I came to St. Mary of Egypt Serbian parish here in Kansas City. Rainbow [Xenia] was here and another friend, and this was my first meeting with Fr. Paisius Altschul, who has always made me feel like I belong. It gave me time to contemplate what I’d seen. Afterwards I went to Tulsa then and met Turbo Qualls, who has been like a godfather to me.

He’s in his thirties, comes from the same subculture, and is married with children. He really understands that the spiritual is attached to the physical, and after he explained this, liturgy became something really important to me because it lifts us up to heaven; we’re worshipping with angels.

The other thing that was really important to me at this time was the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina.

RTE: What was your experience of the monastery?

SETH: Except for Fr. Victor, the monk in Oklahoma, I hadn’t seen monasticism before and didn’t know what to expect. When we pulled up, the monks were all sitting at the gate. Abbot Gerasim wasn’t there yet, but Fr. Damascene was there and Fr. Gabriel, who I immediately felt comfortable with.

He’s got a big red beard and walked over with a walkman playing Greek chant and two dogs trailing him. I didn’t know what to do, but he just came over and said, “Hey, how are you doing?” It was so normal. I was thinking we’d sleep for two hours, then pray for ten, and not eat; and though we did pray a lot, it wasn’t quite like that. Abbot Gerasim is so kind and smart, and he and Fr. Damascene answered a lot of questions. They are two of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and they blew my mind.

RTE: Did you also get to St. Herman’s, Xenia?

RAINBOW: Yes, my heart is always in Platina. It has been a great source of instruction and inspiration to me. I also got to Alaska. When I decided I wanted to go to Alaska, to Spruce Island and to St. Nilus Island where the nuns live, I planned to hitch up the Al-Can Highway, but by the time I got to Seattle, I was tired of hitching, so I decided to try something new, and went to the fishermen’s terminal to ask if anyone would give me a ride to Alaska.

I found a charter boat that was going home empty, so I got all the way to Homer (in luxury) and then took the ferry to Kodiak. I loved St. Nilus Skete and the sisters. It was so extreme: no roads, incredible peace, and the services at 4:00 in the morning. Since I’ve met Orthodoxy, travelling is totally different. Now I’m a pilgrim, rather than a hobo.

RTE: It’s fitting that you hope to be baptized with the name of St. Xenia of Petersburg, the original homeless wanderer. Seth, has Orthodoxy also changed traveling for you?

SETH: After you travel for awhile, although it’s wonderful, you miss stability and community. When you travel, you need that stability, the inner discipline that I lacked. Without a sense of purpose, you travel with highs and lows. You think, “What am I doing?” Well, I’m traveling, and if I don’t travel, who am I? I’m nothing.” It’s a big adventure, it makes a great story, beautiful sunsets and landscapes make you peaceful, but when you have the teachings of the Church in your mind and feel yourself to be part of the cycle of the Church year, those deep services give a stability and community outside of yourself.

When I first got here to Kansas City I stayed with Rainbow, got a day job, and settled down to be a catechumen. At first the stability and the routine were frightening, but I’ve found over the months that the need to repent has come more clearly to me, and I’ve realized that whether I’m on a sweet, awesome, gnarly trip or I’m just hanging out here in the city, it’s all on the way to heaven.

There’s nothing more important to me now than serving God and being part of the Church. Coming from no bosses and living off the seat of your pants to a serious obedience is different. I want to trust the Church and Fr. Paisius helps me with that. I realize that if I’m going to be Orthodox, I have to be fully Orthodox, not lukewarm and taking part in the way the world operates. Orthodox translates into right belief and right practice, and I know I have to have both. I’ve settled down as a catechumen, but I don’t think I’ll ever leave the traveling culture. If it wasn’t for the travelers, I probably wouldn’t be Orthodox.

RTE: Hopefully, there are many parishes open to welcoming travelers. The first hermits retreated from the world for some of the same reasons you have, a protest against society and a longing to live for Christ, but they still needed help, even if it was just someone to buy their palm mats. They rarely lived in splendid isolation.

RAINBOW: I’ve been reading bits of St. Maximus the Confessor, and there’s one part I keep coming back to: “He who does not count equally as nothing honor and dishonor, riches and poverty, pleasure and affections, has not yet obtained perfect love. Perfect love counts as nothing not only these things, but temporal life and death.” So, it’s not the riches or poverty that makes someone good or bad.

Of course, we were also told by the Lord to give away our riches to the poor, to become lowly, but things in themselves aren’t good or bad. It’s just hard to have a lot and stay straight. Through traveling, I learned to trust the Lord’s provision like I couldn’t have in any other way. We made ourselves completely helpless. We had no idea of how we would eat the next day or if we would have somewhere dry to sleep that night, but we were always taken care of.

Even though we are against worldliness, there are lots of good people living in the midst of the world. One of the amazing things about traveling is everyone you meet. For example, a middle-class soccer Mom might pick you up on the road and feed you and take care of you—almost always it was lower- and middle-class folks. You saw the best of people and the worst of people. I never flew a sign asking for money, but I was never without it. Some police officers might treat you like trash, but there were others who would stop to be sure you weren’t runaways and then give you $10 and tell you to be safe. Also, among the travelers you saw the worst and the best. You saw kids who were just interested in drink, drugs, and sex, but others who were staying clean from all that because they were looking for something better.

For now, I’m living in Kansas City as part of St. Mary’s parish, holding a job in a tiny café and paying bills. I’m amply provided for, but because I’m the one punching the time-clock it’s more of a struggle to feel that these things are from God and to remember my dependence on Him. Anyhow now I have something to give; it all goes around.

RTE: You’ve reminded me of a great Thoreau quote on voluntary poverty, that “life near the bone is the sweetest”. What would you say to kids, especially in other countries, who have similar feelings but whose situations wouldn’t allow this lifestyle; they don’t have the luxury of just taking off or not working. A desire for spiritual freedom doesn’t always go hand in hand with physical freedom.

RAINBOW: First of all, it’s not for everyone to go traveling in the way we do. It isn’t safe, and it’s not a universal answer. But to keep the spirit of it, I’d say first, “Stop caring so much about how you look. You can stay clean, but stop caring about make-up, about nice clothes, about having money and being comfortable and cool.” Then, I’d say, “Start giving away as much as you can. Try not to own any more than can fit in a backpack, or at the most, in the trunk of a car, because the things you own, own you.” To break out of that box, try to make your own clothes, to grow some of your own food, try to learn to take care of yourself as simply as possible.

We waste so much food in America and I often dumpster dive behind natural foods shops. I know it sounds awful, but it’s not. They’ll throw away an apple with a little spot or bananas beginning to turn brown. Or they will accidentally nick a box of pasta with a knife when they’re restocking, and out it goes. This makes it possible for a whole subculture of people to live off of the throwaways of everyone else. We’d find boxes and boxes of juice that were still good, but because they would be out of date in a week, they couldn’t be shipped.

RTE: A couple of weeks ago I saw you stop on the street to check out a pile of clothes that someone had left for taking on their front lawn. You took a few wool and cotton pieces, and a few days later appeared with a new skirt that you’d made from the cuttings.

RAINBOW: People don’t need a different outfit for every day of the week, or even every day of the month, and it’s interesting to make your own clothes. Also, I have to say that if dumpster diving becomes cool, as it did in Seattle when college kids who were perfectly able to buy food did it for fun, there won’t be enough for the people who really need it. It’s the same with thrift stores. They got cool, and they got expensive. Then people who really needed dollar-clothes couldn’t afford them anymore.

I’d also say, If you can’t strip down to nothing, at least strip away the excess. I’ve got a job and a small apartment now, and it’s open to travelers coming through. This is the other end of travelling. Also, I found that 75% of the people who pick you up have hitched themselves at some point in their life. They’re giving back those rides. Now I’m the one who can say, “People have helped me, now I can help others.”

RTE: How would you contrast the Christian traveler scene with that of the American Christian world in general?

RAINBOW: We need instruction as much as anyone; we all fall into the same passions though in different ways. We travelers are quick to see the problems in society, but we still have a million problems inside ourselves that we haven’t seen; we are self-willed, rebellious and undisciplined. I believe that we all need each other and that the Orthodox Church in the U.S. needs the travelers, because comfortable Orthodox Americans need to see that they can and should live on less, especially with so many other people around the world suffering. But we travelers also need to see good examples of family (which many of us didn’t have), stability, and people who use things well. We’re all one body.

RTE: Seth, do you have anything to add?

SETH: I think the Church is complete on its own, and it’s important that people look beyond outer appearances and realize that folks who wander like this are often searching. We need to be open, to welcome everyone. Just as native Americans saw their cultures eradicated and the land despoiled by “Christians”, travelers have often seen the negative side of “Christian culture”. Orthodoxy can repair and mend these broken views of Christ and Christianity. As Orthodox we have an opportunity to show the broken people of this land that Christ loves all and wants everyone to find relief in these dark times. Truly Christ is the great Friend of Man. There are many lost and indigenous people who have had their dignity ripped out by those calling themselves Christian. This is not how it was meant to be, but we can look to the example of St. Herman of Alaska, who defended the weak and wronged. And I don’t mean just soup kitchens—we have to help restore their dignity. I hope I can one day do half as much as people like Fr. Paisius and Mother Nicole at St. Mary’s in Kansas City, both of whom are helping me heal my own soul.

RAINBOW: Yes. When I was in Alaska, I met Fr. Paisius DeLucia, a priest in the Bulgarian Church who runs an Orthodox school in Kodiak. We were so much on the same page. I was talking to him about how the punks need the Orthodox Church because it fulfills their ideals and longings, but the Orthodox Church also needs the punks: it needs to be awake and aware of the dangers of worldliness.

RTE: Do you still call yourself a punk?

RAINBOW: I think I’d rather just call myself a Christian, if I can even say that, but the punk scene really is going strong. For some it’s just music, but it’s also a do-it-yourself attitude. Make your own clothes, grow your own food, build your own house, fix your own car—or get rid of your car and build a bicycle. Stop depending on the government and on other people. Do as much as you can yourself. A lot of it is just rejecting pretty, happy, fake culture. If everyone was really joyful and content it would be great, but there’s a lot of emptiness behind modern life.

The punks are so ready for Jesus Christ and Orthodoxy. They’ve rejected this world and even if they’re drunk and angry and loose, they’re looking for something more and they won’t accept fake comfort—they’ve got to find what fills that empty space. Father Paisius said that the Christian punks are the society of St. John the Forerunner; they have left the world and are crying in the wilderness. The challenge is to do it in the right spirit, for God.

If anyone reading this would like to write us, we’d both love to hear from you.

Rainbow (Xenia) Lundeen and Seth (John) Haskins
c/o Rev. Deacon Michael Wilson
837 E 800 Rd.
Lawrence, KS 66047
orthodoxlove@yahoo.com

From: Road to Emmaus Vol. XII, No. 4 (#47).

Nun Nectaria (McLees)


28 / 04 / 2014

Source:



ROAD TO EMMAUS

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“Orthodoxy has a great future in Guatemala”

A conversation with Abbess Ines, head of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Guatemala

Abbess Ines (Ayau Garcia) – Abbess Ines is the head of the only Orthodox parish in Guatemala – the Monastery of the Holy and Life-Giving Trinity, the “Lavra of Mambre”, under the Patriarchate of Antioch. She comes from an influential and well known family in Guatemala which has produced many outstanding individuals. When [then Catholic] Sister Ines was 36 years old, she made an extreme change in her life, leaving a Catholic monastic order and becoming an Orthodox nun.

Holy Trinity Monastery was founded by Mother Ines and Sister Maria Amistoso in April of 1986. In 1989, the engineer Federico Bauer donated a piece of land on the shores of Lake Amatitlan, not far from Guatemala City, to the monastery. The land is 1188 meters [about 3900 feet] above sea level and is located near Pacaya, one of the most active volcanoes in Central America.

On the day of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in 1995, the “Act of Creating an Orthodox Church in Guatemala” was signed by Bishop (now Metropolitan) Antonio Chedraoui of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean (of the Antiochian Patriarchate), and also by the head of the monastery, Mother Ines and her nuns, and 25 parishioners.

Buildings rose on the site donated by Federico Bauer and the consecration of the monastery took place in November, 2007, with 18 participating clerics, who came to Guatemala especially for this occasion.

The iconography in the Monastery church is being done by Russian masters from the International School of Icon Painting, based both in the town of Kostroma in Russia and in the USA.

In 1996, the government of Guatemala gave the monastery control of an orphanage built to house 800 children, the “House of Rafael Ayau” in the country’s capital, Guatemala City. At present they have just over 100 boys and girls – from newborn babies to 16 year old adolescents. The workers at the orphanage give the children a high-school education and familiarize them with basic Orthodox concepts. They also give them professional skills. Soon, the orphanage will be moved to the monastery.

In February of 1997, the church of the Transfiguration of the Lord was blessed in the orphanage building. In the absence of a priest, the services are led by a reader [called Reader’s Services]. Two children’s choirs sing antiphonally, where one choir sings one stanza, and then the other choir sings the next stanza. The exclamations and the dismissal are read by Mother Ines. The parish is made up of Guatemalans, Arabs, Greeks, Russians, and Ukrainians.

Holy Trinity Monastery has fairly large agricultural holdings, where rabbits and fish are raised and vegetables are grown. All that they produce goes to the orphanage.

In July of 2009, Mother Ines came to Russia to visit the holy places and to broaden her ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Abbess was accompanied Sister Maria and two teenagers from the orphanage.

This conversation with Mother Ines took place during that visit, on a trip from Sretensky Monastery to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. [lavra: a large monastery]

– Mother Ines, how did you become acquainted with the Orthodox faith?

– When I was 20 years old, I became a Catholic nun, and entered a monastery under the order of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. They gave me to read the conversations of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Nicholas Motovilov, and the texts of the Orthodox Liturgy. What I read astonished me to the depths of my soul. One of the nuns showed me several Orthodox icons, including a reproduction of Andrei Rublev’s “Holy Trinity.” I was interested, and I burned with a desire to find the roots of all of this. From that time, I began saying the “Jesus Prayer” [“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”].

I studied theology for ten years – with the Salezians in Guatemala, with the monks of the Holy Spirit in Mexico, with the famous theologian Jean Daniélou in France, and with the Jesuits in Belgium and El Salvador. I continued to be bothered by one question: where are the treasures to be found that I came across at the beginning of my Monastic life? Once, in Brussels, the nun who was in charge of my spiritual growth brought me to a Russian Paschal [Easter] service. It was held in a chapel on the second floor of a private home, but even then, I did not find an answer to my question.

I did not want to serve in Latin America: in those years, because of the spread of “liberation theology”, Church-government relations had become seriously strained. I received permission to go to the Philippines. There, to my amazement, I met more Sisters of the Dormition, who were seeking the same thing I was. We found out about Eastern Rite Catholics, and considered reforming our community to use the Eastern Rite. Unfortunately, most of the Sisters left, and several got married. Only the native-Philippine Sister Maria and I remained. The nuns of my order, which has great influence in the Philippines, asked me to leave the country, because they thought I was spreading revolutionary sentiments.

I went to Jerusalem, where I finally came into contact with real Orthodoxy. Sister Maria came to me from the Philippines, and together we traveled across the Holy Land, started to learn different liturgical services, and talked to priests.

– How did your family take your conversion to Orthodoxy?

– My father is a very educated person, but when I told him that I want to join Orthodoxy, he said “What do you mean? This does not exist in nature!” Nevertheless, our conversation intrigued him. In a few weeks, Dad went to Turkey. When he got there, he hailed a cab, and told the taxi to take him to an Orthodox church where he could see an Orthodox service. After that, he went by ship to the Holy Land, where he did the same thing. From that time, Orthodoxy became for him a reality.

My mother supported my decision right away. She was interested in Russia, and read a lot about it. She read a book about the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska with great interest. When the Antiochian Bishop Antonio Chedraoui, during his first visit to Guatemala, received some Arabs into Orthodoxy, my mother also went forward and was received into the Orthodox Church through chrismation. Later, my father also became Orthodox.

– How did you join the Antiochian Church?

– Sister Mary and I decided to form an Orthodox monastery in Guatemala. On our way from Israel, we stopped in the Swiss town of Chambésy [not far from Geneva], where we visited Metropolitan Damaskenos Papandreu of Switzerland (Patriarchate of Constantinople). He blessed the opening of our Monastery, and said that we had to join a jurisdiction of one of the Orthodox patriarchates. To do this was not easy. The Orthodox Churches that had a presence in Latin America then did not have a particular interest in the local population. The Patriarchate of Constantinople served the Greeks, the Patriarchate of Antioch – Arabs, the Russian Patriarchate – Russians. Only after asking for ten years did we get accepted by the Antiochian Church’s Metropolitan Antonio (Cherdaoui).

For the registration of a parish, we needed 25 signatures of Guatemalan citizens. We did not have that many parishioners. So my relatives, the relatives of another nun, Sister Ivonne, and our friends also signed the petition.

– Why did your community choose the ancient Russian style when building your church?

– We sincerely love Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. The crosses on our cupolas are Byzantine, but everything else is Russian: the architecture, the icons, and the frescos. People, when they see the Russian cupolas, understand right away that there is an Orthodox church before them. Our parish keeps to Russian traditions in the services, keeps to the Julian calendar; and the nuns wear the Russian monastic habit.

– Where is the monastery?

– We built the monastery 20 kilometers [about 12½ miles] from Guatemala City, on the top of a hill. Around us there are woods, and not far away, Lake Amatitlan. It is a very beautiful place, although it’s true that it is not entirely fitting for a holy monastery because we are so close to the city and come across the problems that exist in any suburb of a large Latin American city–overpopulation and the drug trade.

–How large is the Sisterhood?

– Three nuns live in the monastery. Besides me, there is Sister Maria Amistoso, who is a native of the Philippines, and Sister Ivonne Sommerkramp who came to the monastery five years after it was founded. She is a Guatemalan with German roots. Earlier, we had more nuns.

– Who performs services?

– We do not have a permanent priest yet. Two times a month, groups of missionaries and volunteers come from places such as the USA, Norway, Japan and other countries; and those groups always have a priest. Russian priests have also been with us: Protopriest Basil Movchanuk – head of the church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Yartsevo, in the Smolensk region; and Protopriest Igor Kropochev – a helper for the missionary department of the Kemerovo diocese.

–Tell us about the monastery’s orphanage please.

– Our orphanage, the oldest and largest in our country, is located right in the heart of Guatemala City. My ancestor, Rafael Ayau, organized it in 1857. He was a philanthropist, and a very pious person. Monks from the charity organization “Caridad” took control of the orphanage from [my ancestor] don Rafael when he, from France, invited them to do so. In 1960, the government deported the members of “Caridad”, and the government itself took over the care of the orphanage. After 40 years, President Alvaro Arsu handed over control of the orphanage, which was in terrible shape, to our monastery. It is unlikely that any other politician would have done that; they are afraid of Orthodox people. Arsu was not afraid, because there were some Orthodox people in his family.

Because of changes in the social laws, our orphanage began to look more like a boarding school. In twelve years, over 1000 children from poor and underprivileged families have gone through our orphanage. All of them are raised in the Orthodox spirit. Many of them return to their parents, but do not break their ties to the monastery, and continue to go to liturgy on Sundays. Over 300 of our orphans have been adopted by Orthodox families, mostly in the USA.

The Russian ambassador to Guatemala, Nicholas Vladimir, had told me that the Russian government grants stipends for higher education in Russia to young people from other countries, and we have taken advantage of that opportunity. Two of our children, Reina and Edgar Rolando, have come with us to Moscow. They will start studying Information [Computer] Science and Engineering at a Russian university in September.

– How are your monastery’s relations with the Catholic Church?

– We have a warm, friendly attitude towards them, but the Catholic Church has been quietly waging war against us, warily, secretly. For example, after we sent our petition to register the parish with the [Guatemalan] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we did not know what happened to it for several years. When President Arsu asked the monastery to take the orphanage under its wing, I said that we could not do it, because we did not officially exist. The President entrusted his lawyer with solving the problem. As it turned out, our documents had been located in the curia the entire time; Catholics had spirited them away. Fortunately, President Arsu then gave the Holy Trinity Parish the status of a jurisdictional body by special decree.

Protestant denominations, of which there are hundreds now, do not worry the Catholics. Orthodoxy puts fear into them. There are several reasons for this, but, the biggest reason is that the Catholic hierarchy fears that the Orthodox Church will convert some of their flock. The Cardinal of Guatemala admitted this to the Russian ambassador.

Nonetheless, it is impossible to escape contact with the Catholic Church. Catholicism dominates Guatemala. My father is a public person; I was a Catholic nun for 16 years; the Cardinal is the cousin of my godfather, and has known me since childhood.

–What are Orthodoxy’s prospects in Guatemala, in your opinion?

– I am convinced that Orthodoxy has a great future in our country. Two priests, one 20 years ago, and another recently, [unofficially] converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism, and brought their flocks with them. In total, that is over 100,000 people. They consider themselves Orthodox, though they have not been officially joined to the Orthodox Church, and, from my observations, know very little of Eastern Christianity. Among them are Ladinos (descendants of the Spanish) and Indians. Both groups intend to ask for entrance into the Russian Orthodox Church.

– What are your impressions of Russia from your visit?

– I have no words to describe the feelings that I have when I am here. I am astonished by everything: the architecture, and the interior decoration of the churches and monasteries, the architecture of the cities and towns, the nature [flora and fauna]… I especially notice the piety of the people, their deep faith, which they have preserved through decades of the godless Communist regime.

Interview conducted by Miguel Palacio.

Translated into English by Adrian Fekula. Translation edited by Br. James Hazen  

Source:



ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY

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Called To Orthodoxy

A former Pentecostal minister and Independent Old Catholic Priest’s conversion story to the Orthodox faith

by

Sherie Mercier, Michigan, USA

Where do I begin? I was born and raised in St. Joseph, Michigan, on the shores of SW Lake Michigan – across the lake from Chicago, 61 years ago. My parents were not very religious, in fact, they attended a Methodist church in my hometown. The pastor was a medical doctor and eventually left the active ministry and set up shop as a General Family practitioner. My parents stopped attending church and after that I never remember them ever stepping into a church at all, even to this day. My mother is deceased but my father is still alive and I have never seen him enter a church.

So, eventually, around the age of 7 or so, I went to a Baptist church with my neighbors and continued to do so until my teenage years. I then set out to check different denominations, usually joining them, then leaving because something didn’t “feel right”. Of course, our home town had a huge Roman Catholic following, plus my maternal grandmother had been Roman Catholic herself.

I remember seeing statues of Mary and crucifixes. Our public school in that day followed the Roman Catholic system of meatless Fridays, usually fish sticks or mac and cheese. So, I became interested in the Roman Catholic faith. But it was not to be at all until years later.

I graduated high school, enlisted in the US Army, did a short stint and then married my first husband in Scotland. We settled back in Michigan but only for the summer of 1974, then moved to Arizona. I again, searched and wanted to be Roman Catholic, but my husband was adamant against it. So, I chose the next best thing, the Episcopal church, back then it wasn’t as liberal as it is now. It was the Liturgy that always attracted me to these types of churches. Protestant churches lack any “real” liturgy, rather their services are typified by an opening song(s), prayer, more songs, another prayer, offering and finally – “drum roll please” – the sermon, the main stay.

Of course, we are to learn and be taught but these churches continue to make the “sermon” the most important part of the service each Sunday. Yet, to keep the peace, I did exactly that, attending one Protestant church after another. I was lacking though on the inside, my heart longed for the proper worship to be given to God. Another caveat to all of this is that I am a musician, I play multiple instruments and sing, so churches would ask me to help lead music on Sundays.
After jumping from church to church, I would sneak occasionally during the week to the local Roman Catholic parish near where we lived. My husband was at work and didn’t know. I longed to be Roman Catholic and felt one day this would happen.

In 1983, after the birth of my youngest child, I was attending an Assembly of God church in Phoenix. I loved the people there and the worship was good. One Sunday, the regular pianist was not in attendance and I knew the piece the choir was going to “perform”, so I stepped in and led at the piano. The church eventually asked me to do the music regularly. Then one Sunday, I was supposed to do a special number for the evening service but was pulled aside by the music director and told in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t graduate from the AG college in Springfield, Missouri, I couldn’t even sing on a Sunday evening. My feelings were greatly hurt and I said that’s it. I left that church, then started sneaking to Mass on Sunday mornings behind my husband’s back for a while. Then one day I found a position working at a Bible Christian church, playing the piano again. I loved this church also and the people but disappointment struck in that the pastor left his wife and 3 children for another woman.

That did it!! I called a parish that was on my way to work (by this time, I was working full time) and spoke to the associate priest there. We met once a week for 5 months and at Easter in 1986, I was received into the Roman Catholic church. Again, because of musical background, I was soon cantoring at the parish weekly. I loved the liturgy and asked to help different parishes in the diocese. At one point, I was asked to assist with a Byzantine Uniate parish. This was it! The beauty of the Divine Liturgy had captured me. It was totally different than what I was seeing in the Western Rite. But things did not let me stay there as I ended up with other obligations at other parishes in the diocese.

In 1989, after 15 years of marriage, my ex-husband left the country and moved back to Scotland with our 2 sons and I was left to raise my 3 girls. I remained a Roman Catholic and continued to work in several parishes over the years. Then in 1997, while my husband, Mark (a cradle Catholic) and I were at a parish, I made an abrupt decision after something a priest had said. I left the RC church for the next 9 years. I began studying and eventually became a licensed Pentecostal Church of God out of Joplin, Missouri minister. I left that denomination as the rules were too stringent and it cost too much money. Besides your regular tithes and offerings to the church, you also had to “pay” for your credentials, which became costly. I applied for independent credentials from a non-denominational ministry and became a pastor for a small local congregation. After a few years, I was called back to the Roman Catholic church, but not for long. Yet, it was when I was called back to the RC church, I began to truly study the early Church Fathers, the Eucharist and other “Catholic” teachings.

I would discover the “Independent Old Catholic Movement” in 2008. The beauty of Roman Catholicism without having to answer to Rome. In fact, one of the things that drew me to this movement was that a lot of them ordained women. I always had felt a calling on my life and thought I had fulfilled it in being a Pentecostal/non-denominational minister. In 2009, I joined a group called, O.SS.T. – the Order of the most Holy Mother Theotokos. I had never really heard Mary addressed as the Theotokos except in the council of Ephesus when this was declared. Eventually the archbishop of the group asked me to take seminary studies and in August of 2011, I was ordained a deacon and on June 1, 2012, ordained a priest.

In my studies, I had to write a paper on the differences and similarities between the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches. Our liturgies did not follow the RC but rather were a mixture of all 4 of the above. When I was ordained, someone gave me a beautiful icon of the Theotokos, which I still have. I also had purchased a couple of icons and a pocket icon of Christ the Pantocrator and Our Lady of Kazan. I still have those also after all these years. One of the people who helped concelebrate my ordination gave me a book on the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, New Martyr of the Communist Yoke. I read the book and then put it aside for a long time.

Over the next several years, I served on and off as a supply priest, tried to have a local parish to work at but with no success. In hindsight, I know I should have never been a priest and that is probably why I failed to fulfill my calling. At one point, I was working as supply priest for an Episcopal congregation in Northern Arizona but then the proverbial “rug” was pulled out from underneath me. I know why, I wasn’t “liberal” enough for them and that’s all good and well. I made some very nice friends there and stay in touch with them.

Fast forward to July 2016 and I am at a crossroad. I was doing some cleaning and came across the book I mentioned above regarding St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. I was led to read it and I had “liked” several Facebook pages on the Orthodox faith and teachings. One I tuned into was from St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Geneva, New York and a man named Steve Tobey. He does a daily video called, “The Gospel Minute” and I was hooked. I had looked up several Orthodox parishes and one was in Prescott – St. George’s – but I could not get a response.

I need to digress here for a moment, due to some medical issues, I lost my foot and ankle back in 2011 and wear a prosthesis. The problem is that they tear up your pants and skirts terribly. So, I was looking to see if it would be okay if I attended Great Vespers or Divine Liturgy in slacks – I always wear black and dress very modestly.

I kept trying St. George’s to no avail and then in August, someone gave me the email address to Fr. Thomas Frisby from Exaltation of the Holy Cross parish in Phoenix, Arizona. I contacted him and then we set up a dinner with him and his wife, Laurel with my husband and me. We did so and I gave Father Thomas some background of above and asked plenty of questions. Due to my schedule at the time, it was several more weeks before I began to attend Divine Liturgy. My first service was on Sunday, September 25, 2016 and all I can say was, “This is where God wants me to be for the rest of my life.” At the end of coffee hour and a wonderful book study, “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius, I asked Fr. Thomas if I could become a catechumen. He did not hesitate and so I did the following Sunday before Divine Liturgy. BTW, my birthday is the feast day of St. Athanasius (May 2).

I also told all my friends via Facebook that this was what I was doing. Some were shocked, I told them if they wanted to, they could unfriend me. I had a lot of Protestant friends at the time and wasn’t sure how they would react. Some have stayed my friend, some haven’t.

Finally, in November, Fr. Thomas said I would be received into the Church on the forefeast of the Theophany, January 5, 2017. My husband Mark came with me and I can’t say how moved I was to be brought into the Orthodox faith. I wrote of my experience in four blogs that were published to Facebook also. Even though my husband for now has no desire to convert, he supports me in being Orthodox and he does attend Divine Liturgy with me on occasion. My parish family is very welcoming to him as well as they were to and still are to me.

A side note – as a veteran, I currently belong to the American Legion, a veteran’s service organization. I was considered for Department Commander for the 2017-2018 year. I was handed a month ago, the schedule I would have to adhere to for that year. What I discovered was that I would be gone too many Sundays, away from Divine Liturgy and the Eucharist. This was an easy choice as there was no way I would miss intentionally almost 1/3 of the year to be the commander. I posted on Facebook as well as an email went out to all the posts in the Department (over 130) and the reason why I would not be running. The overwhelming responses (all positive) that I was taking a stand for my Faith proves to me that this is where God wanted me to be.

It also has been a witnessing tool to the Orthodox Faith and people are now asking me about what we believe and there is even interest in some of them coming to my parish.

For those of you women who think that you have a calling on your life to be a minister, priest, or other clergy, it isn’t necessary. I wish I would have found the Orthodox Faith – the TRUE faith – years ago. I probably would have never been a minister or priest. Do I miss what I did? No! I am fulfilled as a woman in the Orthodox faith. We have a place in the Church that is rich and Christ truly loves each of us.

I am writing this just days before the start of Great Lent and praying that I will continue to draw closer to Jesus Christ in the time. My journey is continuing and I thank God for the Orthodox Church and for my parish, Exaltation of the Holy Cross as well as Fr. Thomas and Laurel Frisby.

Source:


USA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX USA

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From Peruvian Paradise To Orthodox Priest

by

Fr. Peter Smith, Georgia, USA

Perhaps this journey to Orthodoxy really starts for me as a Roman Catholic college student.

The Newman Club was an interesting way to meet “people” [from a college student, you need to read “girls!”] and so I “joined” the Club. Soon, however, there was an instant shock wave through the Newman Club as the priest who was the coordinator and facilitator of the Club, came onto me and tried to “hook up” one evening in the rectory.

Well, that hastened a totally unceremonious departure and immediate exit from that entire scene and – believe it or not – started me on the road to the Orthodox Church.

As a direct result of that dark and traumatic evening the night before I left college I returned home. That summer, a wonderful British family was visiting my folks. They lived in Peru and were on holiday in New York. My father knew them through his position of Vice President of an international import/export firm dealing with companies in South America. After hearing about the recent happenings in my life, they invited my dad to let me spend a year with them in Peru!!

An intriguing and incredibly exciting doorway and escape was all set for me to walk through on my way to the Orthodox Church…though I had no idea of just how that would happen, since the Lord kept it completely hidden from me. At this point, I was really “far away” from God! After the Newman Club and college, I truly embraced the proposition of a year far away from the chaos of my life as it was. Ever since the disastrous and indelible exit from “the college that will live in infamy,” there was an abiding and almost gnawing sense that there indeed was a God… and He must be somewhere!!

My world totally and graphically changed during that exhilerating flight from New York City to Miami to Panama City, Panama to Quito, Ecuador to Lima, Peru. With the exception of that gnawing sense of the Lord’s presence somewhere within me, I spent quite a carefree and ‘bon-vivant’ life in and around Peru for about 6 months. The caring and incredibly generous British family with whom I lived in a wonderful penthouse apartment in Miraflores, Peru [a rather affluent and “international” section of suburban Lima] helped me acquire a teaching position, allowed me to almost exclusively use one of their several cars, subsidized a club membership to a magnificent private golf course, introduced me to several “unattached” and truly vivacious daughters of foreign dignitaries and brought me along on many of their day-long sailing ventures.

In brief, at 20 tender and inexperienced years of age, I was tending to believe that Paradise was my immediate neighborhood.

Life was sweet, available, enticing, totally satisfying and completely at my beck and call. Seemingly, the Lord merely decided not to warn me to get ready to duck!!

In celebration of the ’78’ that I shot in my latest round of golf, the sister of one of my co-teachers at the Instituto Cultural and I double dated at a local beach with another couple – her other sister and her fiance. So the fiance Antonio and I decided with great gusto to go body surfing in the 6 foot surf at the beach that day. Beautiful weather…, delightful beach and surf…, lovely company…; it just couldn’t get any better than that! That gnawing sense of His presence now rose up to meet me …head on!

As I ran from the beach and dove into one of those enticing, beckoning waves, the Lord drew His two iron from His golf bag… and WHAM!!…He knocked me into the next week. Right through the top of the wave I flew!! A cartoon from the ’50’s comes to mind… a young, careless boy dives from a dock and gets stuck headfirst in the sand below; the caption reads, “LOOK MOM!! NO HANDS!!” Sooo, I went through that wave just like a knife…and smashed onto the hardened sand behind it…CRASH!!!

Totally stunned and unable to move, my mouth finally came to the surface…

“HELP ME!” I yelled as loud as I could!!

And then I immediately thought, “You clown! Nobody understands English at this beach!” So in Spanish, I again yelled

“AYUDEME!!”

Finally, Antonio came and dragged me to shore…somewhat lifeless.

“O GOD, PLEASE LET ME LIVE!!”

is the prayer that came to me just then!!

Well, He indeed let me live…but not very comfortably it must be said.

After 10 days of an agonizing uncertainty and a more agonizing pain; it was finally discovered that my vault into hard sand left two cervical bones broken into about 26 pieces as it showed on the X-rays. It took my dad flying to Lima, rallying a couple of his friends and associates to arrange a Panagra flight to New York and convince the pilot to land on a most inclement and stormy night in Lima and fly me back to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.

The Lord had emphatically put my raucous life to a complete stop and began drawing me into the life He set for me. After a lengthy surgery where I was put into skeletal traction with 40 pounds of weight pulling 180 degrees from my neck, I began a rehab that would not only put my neck into better shape…but would alter the entire life I had led and would live from now onward. On a Wednesday evening, the phone near my bed rang.

My ’24-7′ nurse handed it to me, and my girlfriend said quietly,

“Hi Gary, how are you?”

Within the next 10 minutes, my then girlfriend quickly became my ex-girlfriend. While I was living “the high life” in Peru, she had become enamored with another guy. But…the Lord had a plan…I was introduced to another young woman who was babysitting along with my now ex-girlfriend.

After a rather contentious and “sparring” conversation, the young woman told me that she’d try to get by to see me on Saturday. IT WAS STILL TIME FOR THE LORD TO KEEP ACTING!!

Saturday came, as did my dad. He visited on Saturdays and my mom on Sundays. Somewhere in the mid-morning, a most attractive and vivacious young woman showed up at my bedside!! Her name was Terri, and she decided to make good on her statement about trying to get to see me that weekend. Now we know the entire plot of this “conversion” journey… recently high living, young and ‘reckless’ young man, a lapsed Roman Catholic with a need for God; meets a “cradle” Orthodox young nursing student with a great sense of caring for and ‘healing’ people.

Our courtship began that day!! We spent the entire day getting to know Terri and liking everything we learned…both my dad and me, of course. What wasn’t there to like?…friendly, jocular, bright…[Oh, did I mention looooonnngg blonde hair and rather undulating curves?] Well, I told my dad after Terri left that I would marry her in a not too distant time of my life. He was amused!

The next day, my mom was to meet Terri. After a lovely and consuming day, I told my mom just what I told my dad the day before. She, however, was NOT amused. Well, none of us yet realized that the Lord was playing out this story. As I mentioned, Terri was a ‘cradle’ Orthodox Christian in the Russian Orthodox Church. I was still a curious and thirsty pilgrim in search of Christ…I seemed to have lost Him a little while ago! It was an encounter – you will pardon the expression – “made in Heaven.” Terri and I spent the next two months in the hospital – as I recouped from the broken neck – in regular conversation about God, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and salvation. I learned a great deal. Finally, I was able to go home for another two-months of recuperation…this time in a leather collar that closely resembled “Ming the Merciless” from Flash Gordon [my, my, I AM dating myself!] We continued my education…actually, my “catechesis.”

We spoke of marriage for a while, and I finally had an opportunity to meet Terri’s folks. Her dad could have been a priest…or at least a catechist! I learned sooo much from him about my future “home.” Terri and I married in September of 1969. After the birth of our daughter [our second child], it was just the right time for me to enter the Orthodox Church and make our family wholly one!! Studying and training with

A) the Irish-Catholic convert priest in their home church;

B) the Romanian-American priest who succeeded the Irish/Catholic priest; and

C) my father-in-law; allotted me every twist and turn necessary to negotiate this journey. Hence, by the time our family was ready for one church and one chalice, I was convinced and anxious for the service of Chrismation to receive the blessing of the fullness of Christ.

Chronologically, I was “introduced” to Orthodoxy [and my future wife!] in 1968 while in the hospital. Our marriage in 1969 took place in East Meadow, Long Island, NY. Fr. Daniel Hubiak was the priest who celebrated our wedding. I was Chrismated in 1975 in Niagara Falls, NY. We moved to Charlotte, NC in 1979 and were members of the Nativity of the Theotokos Mission until we moved to SVS in 1984. It was during our time in Charlotte while we were pastored by then Father Seraphim Storeheim – now Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and all Canada [who was on loan from Canada] when all ahead became clear.

One day in the midst of weeks of unemployment, I asked him,

“Father, after all this stuff that has been my life…do you think God might be calling me to the Priesthood?”

His response was so ‘totally Orthodox,’

“Well…could be!”

Well, we were on our way to SVS 4 months later!! I was ordained to the diaconate in 1986 in Charlotte and to the Holy Priesthood in 1987 at SVS. I guess my life has always been in God’s Hands…I just didn’t realize it until that violent encounter in 1968.

Essentially, any “conversion” truly affected a real change in the manner and intensity of life in the world for me. Yes…the swimming accident was central to any “conversion;” but it is a great mystery as to how much of “an accident” the episode really was.

Fr. Peter Smith is the Priest of St. Mary of Egypt Church in Norcross (Atlanta), Georgia, USA

Source:


HEAVEN ON EARTH - ORTHODOXY

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The Incredible Tale 
of Klaus Kenneth, Germany

After an incredible, almost unbelievable life, one man tells Theo Panayides how his search for love was finally successful.

Klaus Kenneth is God’s gift to newspapers. His life, as he tells it, has been so full of incident and adventure that the only problem for a journalist is how to fit it all in. He was a gang leader at 12, a terrorist at 22 and a junkie at 25. He’s been a Buddhist monk, a Hindu mystic and an occultist in Central America. He’s known Andreas Baader (of Baader-Meinhof fame) and Mother Teresa. The biography on his website (www.klauskenneth.com) offers more talking-points than could ever be encompassed in a single interview. Here, for instance, is the entry for the year 1980:

“Fribourg, Switzerland; Professor in Gruyeres (private school); demon attacks; destruction of all relationships; isolation accentuated; refuge in alcohol; ecstasy through dance; first letters about Jesus from Ursula.”

You don’t write a Profile about Klaus; the Profile writes itself.

Klaus Kenneth is also God’s gift to churches – especially the Orthodox Church, which is where he turned after decades of spiritual wandering, a meeting with Father Sophrony of Essex (a man whom he describes as “Love incarnate”) leading to a full Orthodox baptism in 1986. Klaus was in Cyprus for a few days, speaking – mainly in churches – about his turbulent life and recently-published autobiography Born to Hate, Reborn to Love (the better German title translates as ‘Two Million Kilometres of Searching’). We speak at the Church of Apostolos Andreas in Aglandjia, just before his lecture – and, just as I turn on my tape recorder and start to ask the first question, the church bells start to peal loudly, making him smile. Back in Mexico, muses Klaus, when he was summoning spirits, such a coincidence would be seen as “a sign from the spiritual world”. What kind of sign? A good sign?

Probably, he shrugs. After all, the bells are a way of summoning believers to the church, and

“the church is life-giving. But the church is also death-giving sometimes, when the priests are not good.”

Has he had that kind of bad experience?

“Well,” he shrugs again, “I was violated by a homosexual priest for seven years every night, so…”

That’s the thing about talking with Klaus: he’s ventured down so many extreme paths in his life that one often struggles to keep up. What might be a shocking revelation for most people is, for him, just a throwaway.

“Have you ever driven 1,500 kilometres, without any sleep, in the desert?”

he asks at one point. (No, Klaus, I can’t say I ever have.) “I’ve been clinically dead for six hours,” he mentions later, almost in passing. What? Really? And he’s seen a brilliant light, and all the other things we hear about?

“Life after death? Of course, I describe that in my book.”

His life is so crowded that some things don’t even rate a mention.

“I’ve survived so many times,” he says at one point. “The war in Israel, and I was going between the tanks, and…”

he flaps a hand dismissively, not wishing to bore me with trifles:

“These are other stories.”

He was born in 1945, just after the fall of Berlin (his birthday is actually today, May 15), and grew up in Germany, though he’s currently based in French Switzerland. His mother “gave me away” to the evil priest when he was 15, by which time he’d become unmanageable.

“I was revolting against her, because my mother didn’t have love,” he explains. “I had a gang – I mean a robber gang – and we were breaking shops and stuff like that, and made gang wars between each other. I was un-educatable”.

His father left the family when Klaus was a baby, leaving Mum to take care of him and his two brothers – but his mother, he recalls,

“just could not stand me, and I could not stand her… I never had a family. I don’t know what it is to have a family, even nowadays.”

One brother left to join his father; the other stuck it out till adulthood, then fled to America and started a new life. Klaus lost touch with both of them, though he tracked down his dad in Stuttgart years later and was reunited with his brothers.

“I forgave them later,” he asserts. “In the name of Christ it’s possible – otherwise I would kill them”.

And what about his mother? Did he forgive her too?

“I forgave her, but she was so possessed with demons. She was all the time full of demons.”

Real demons, or metaphorical?

“No, no, real demons. She called them, and she was influenced by them. And she was like crazy sometimes, it was terrible living with her.” Violent too? He nods: “She could beat me half to death sometimes. With a metal stick.”

All this rage came out in his gang of teenage hoodlums: they threw rocks, robbed people, even burned a man’s house down.

“I was suffering,” he says now. “I just knew ‘do them bad’, because they did bad to me”.

This was also when Klaus first realised he had power over people.

“I found very quickly that I’m a leader… I just knew when I spoke to people, I was somehow convincing, and they followed me. So [I’d say] ‘Beat this guy up’ and they beat the guy up, you know?”

In his early 20s, having finally escaped the clutches of the priest, he was studying Languages at the University of Tubingen – but was soon seduced by Andreas Baader, who was recruiting students for his “violent movement” aimed at the wholesale destruction of German society. Klaus, full of hatred, was ripe for the picking:

“Police was enemy. Teachers were enemy. Priests were enemy. My mother was enemy. Everybody was enemy”. He pauses: “Because there was no love”.

It wasn’t just violence, he points out; there was idealism there too. “We really believed that we could change the world” – forgetting, he adds, that you first have to change yourself.

“We thought we could do it by drugs and making love, free sex. [But] we ended up in passion instead of in freedom.” In any case, he soon discovered that “violence is not my way” –

and also discovered that drugs only made things worse, amplifying his feelings of alienation instead of resolving them. At one point, he recalls, when he looked around at people

“all their faces became skulls… I projected Death in everybody”.

In any case, by the early 70s he’d “found a better drug: it was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Transcendental meditation.”

Thus began his years of spiritual wandering.

“I was an earnest seeker,”

he tells me, though he must’ve seemed like a spiritual tourist, this half-crazy German plunging into one Eastern religion after another. Islam never appealed to him:

“This is law, law and law. It didn’t give me love” – but he spent seven years exploring Hinduism, visiting all the great gurus in India (“I found very quickly they were often fakes,”

he scoffs, “full of pride”), then three more years in Tibet as a Buddhist.

This is also where Klaus’ account of his life veers into claims that some will find incredible, like his description of the powers he wielded during those years – an extension of his old power as a gang leader, honed and perfected by years of meditation.

“I could see people’s thoughts, what people think about”

– not the precise thoughts but the “direction”, which he then manipulated. “I could make myself invisible. I started to hear voices from the beyond. I was a medium”. He had frequent out-of-body experiences. Dead gurus spoke to him, giving audible messages in English.

“I had power. I was in New York and six gangsters wanted to kill me. And when I looked in their eyes, I could bind them. I had the power. When I had eye contact, I could just paralyse them”.

Like hypnosis? It wasn’t hypnosis, he demurs, it was the power of the spirits.

“I looked at people in the eyes, and when they were somehow not sure of themselves, I just got them somehow, I had power over them. Especially, in my case, for girls, of course – because you want to make sex. It’s not love, but it’s a substitute. Better to have substitute than to kill yourself.”

It’s not entirely implausible. Even now, at 66, Klaus cuts a striking figure: thin-faced, dressed in black, with close-cropped silver hair and narrow, unblinking eyes. There’s something compelling in those eyes, even if it’s just a hardness and lack of humour. Didn’t he ever have fun in those decades of wandering? Didn’t he ever just relax, maybe crack a joke? But he shakes his head:

“No, it was lonely, it was very lonely. I was lonely all the time.”

Oddly enough, the person who impressed him most in India was a Christian – a religion he’d definitively abandoned after his years of abuse. That was Mother Teresa, whom he met in Calcutta:

“She was my first mother,”

he says poignantly.

“The first person who had love for me, unlimited love. I thought such a person can not be a Christian – I even tried to convert her to Hinduism!”

Mother Teresa was the first step on the second part of Klaus’ journey – the journey back to Christianity, which of course is why churches invite him to share his experiences. It’s a journey that’s impossible to describe in detail without writing a book about it (as Klaus did), but it does include two crucial events which demand to be mentioned. The first was a miraculous escape in South America, when Klaus was abducted by Colombian rebels – who, realising they could get no ransom for him, decided to shoot him. Lying naked in a muddy ditch with seven rifles pointed at him, Klaus cried:

“God, if You exist, save me now!”

– and, right on cue, another rebel group emerged from the jungle, prompting a shoot-out with the first group and allowing him to flee in the confusion.

That was in 1981, just a few months before the second great miracle – when Jesus actually spoke to him, in a church in Lausanne. “Jesus,” asked despondent Klaus out loud,

“do you want me to come to you or not?”

– and Jesus,

“as clear as you hear me now,” speaking French “in a sweet, indescribable voice”, replied:

“Yes, come. I have forgiven you everything”. “And I was never touched so deeply,” he says quietly, “in my heart, in my being, as in that moment.”

There’s more, of course – much more. That communion with Our Lord was preceded by not one but two exorcisms (the priest in Lausanne insisted) and followed by what he calls a “counter-attack of Satan”. And I haven’t even mentioned all the other things, the miracle in the Syrian desert circa 1971, the George McGovern story, the levitation… I look at Klaus, unsure what to say. You do realise, I ask finally, that when I write this stuff in the paper, people will read it and say –

“Crazy man,” he agrees.

They won’t believe you.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

So what do you say to those people?

“Well, you are right not to believe it,” he replies, “because it sounds incredible. But I can not lie in the name of Christ – because I would condemn myself to Hell. And I lived in Hell. I don’t want to go back there.”

Maybe that’s the crux of it, when it comes to Klaus Kenneth. Mystics will say he found God, psychologists will say he found closure, but the story’s much the same whichever way you want to tell it: the story of a man who was raised without love, coldly and abusively – who “lived in Hell,” as he puts it – wandered for years trying to find inner peace, and finally found it.

It’s a quest for love, as he says again and again. It’s a quest for comradeship, which is doubtless what he found with Father Sophrony. ‘Why not just accept your life?’ I ask. Why even bring religion into it? Why not just accept human nature and say ‘This is life’?

“Because you feel that is not life,” he replies. “It’s a wrong life. That is what society calls life. But inside my heart, when I went to bed after my stories with alcohol, sex and whatever – I felt alone. And that is not life.”

Source:


HIPPIES MET ORTHODOXY

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The Journey to Antioch

My Discoveries in the Orthodox Church

by Clifton D. Healy

Introduction

In two previous essays (“Starting from Cane Ridge” and “The Road to Canterbury”), I described these two early periods of my faith journey in largely chronological order. For these two periods of my life there have been relatively clear and distinct time markers. I grew up in and trained for ministry among the Restoration Movement churches. Toward the end of that training, while still at college, I began to investigate the Anglican tradition. And though for a time these two faith traditions overlapped, still the pathways are fairly clear.

The road markers for my journey to Antioch, my inquiry into the Orthodox Church, however, are much more muddled, scattered here and there along previous roadways, seen now as portents of things to come, but known then as only so much new experience, as simple signposts which I was then unable to read. The relating of my investigations into Orthodoxy, then, runs scattershot at first through the stages of my experience in the Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement churches just prior to becoming acquainted with Anglicanism, then through my initial searching in the Anglican tradition, and finally to the culmination of my experience in that tradition as I turned away from the Episcopal Church to finally look with focused attention at the Orthodox Church.

My experience of Orthodoxy can therefore be roughly charted along five time markers: the years prior to the summer of 2000, the months from June 2000 to January 2002, from June 2002 to September 2003 (the “gap” from January to June 2002 will be addressed in due course), from September 2003 to the Sunday of Orthodoxy and our entry into the Cathecumenate, the Catechumenate from the Sunday of Orthodoxy to Pentecost, and our entry into the Church on Pentecost.

1.Encounters with Orthodoxy prior to June 2000

As has been told elsewhere, by the summer of 2000 I had looked outside my own heritage churches to find that longed-for connection to the historic Church and had made my way to Anglicanism in the belief that I had found it there.

But the search had antecedents that predated my Anglican investigations. The first event in which I can recall this longing began to manifest itself with the purchase, in January 1987 between semesters of my freshman at Ozark Christian College, at the college bookstore of the Lightfoot and Harmer Greek and English single volume edition of The Apostolic Fathers. Here was my first attempt to find out what the early Church taught and believed. A seed had been planted as I spent the next semester reading through the Apostolic Fathers. I had no real understanding of what I was reading, but it both satisfied and intensified my longing for a connection to the New Testament Church.

The next event occurred about four years later. In the spring of 1991, just prior to my graduation from college, I prepared for a conditional baptism. I was seeking some certainty and authenticity about my baptism at age seven, especially in light of the fact that my life as an adolescent was godless and immoral. The preparation brought to my attention, for the first time, the Jesus Prayer, and aside from the Lord’s Prayer, was my first experience with an ancient prayer of the Church. All my experience to this point had been oriented solely around extemporaneous praying.

In the summer of that year (1991) I read the first edition of Peter Gilquist’s Becoming Orthodox. This was my first real and formal introduction to the Orthodox Church. During this time I had been investigating Anglicanism (and later that autumn, I would seriously consider, if only briefly, the Roman Catholic Church), so I cannot say how or why I chose to buy the book. Perhaps it was knowing that one of the persons noted in the book, now Fr. Gregory Rogers, was an alumnus of Lincoln Christian Seminary, where I later earned my M. A. in contemporary theology and philosophy. In any case, though it did allay my concerns related to Mary and the Tradition, it still seemed to me that Orthodoxy was too foreign, too ethnic for me. Which is ironic, considering that Gilquist’s book recounts the journey of a couple of thousand of evangelicals to Orthodoxy. But there you have it. To me Orthodoxy was foreign.

A few months later, in the autumn, I read The Way of a Pilgrim and was reintroduced to the Jesus Prayer. But by this time I was more intent on assimilating ancient Christian spiritual disciplines in my life than in understanding Orthodoxy any further.

After that, my encounters with Orthodoxy were infrequent, though they continued to be bookish. I read Timothy Ware’s The Orthodoxy Church in the autumn of 1992 and his The Orthodoxy Way in the summer of 1996. Daniel Clendenin’s two books, from an evangelical Protestant perspective, helped to further clarify some points of concern in the spring of 1995. But although in the spring of 1993 I did purchase a few Orthodox prayer books and a small laminated icon, I was still very much the intellectual tourist. And these items were being used to deepen my exploration and experience of, ironically enough, Anglicanism. I made no real use of these things, at least not on their own terms. I merely knew about them.

2.Orthodox Encounters June 2000 through January 2002

From my last couple of years Ozark Christian College (1990-1991) till my decision to leave the priestly vocation discernment process in ECUSA in January 2002, I was moving into, then back out of, Anglicanism. Although in those years
I acquired icons and prayer ropes, there was no real assimilation of Orthodox worship and prayer, and only infrequent reading of Orthodox books. Indeed, my first visit to the Divine Liturgy took place in October 1998, at St. Mary’s in Omaha, Nebraska, during a three-week stay while I was training with a company for which I had just been hired. I had already been an Episcopalian for two years, and so I went mostly out of curiosity. It was a beautiful and moving experience, but it still felt too foreign to me, especially now with my developing Anglo-Catholic ethos. I would not visit another Divine Liturgy until July 2000.

In the spring of 2000, I had begun attending an Episcopal seminary as part of a discernment process for a priestly vocation in the Episcopal Church. After a scant three months, I was shocked and angered. I had seen the Gospel mocked, godly Christian men and women ridiculed, and the Scriptures dismissed with a wave of the hand–all because these things spoke against, or these persons by their lives revealed the futility of, the majority’s political agenda. I very nearly decided not to go back once the term ended. And in time I would come to the conclusion that the forms and structures of the national Episcopal Church, as well as a plurality of dioceses, had been so corrupted by heresy and the grab for power, had been so wed to a singular political agenda, that no reform was forthcoming. I would risk the spiritual well-being of my family to have stayed. And in my mind I was called first to be a priest in my family, not to the institution that is the Episcopal Church.

But as it turned out, at the end of that first term, a serendipitous receipt of a postcard from Frank Schaeffer’s Regina Orthodox Press, advertising a videotape of an interview on the program “Calvin Forum” (hosted by Bob Meyering) with Frank Schaeffer, son of the famous Presbyterian theologian Francis Schaeffer, led to what became a six-year inquiry into Orthodoxy.

I purchased and watched the video. I recalled the Gilquist book I had read some nine years ago. And that old longing for the historic Church and its real presence was reawakened after the disillusionment I had recently experienced.

After watching the video, a chain of connections unrolled in the space of about a month which would put in place two very important factors: a disciplined study of Orthodoxy and a parish in which to experience the Orthodox faith and life. It was that latter reality that has made all the difference.

Having watched the Schaeffer video, I did some searching and found his book Dancing Alone at a local library, and checked it out and read it. More research led to two of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s books, Facing East and At the Corner of East and Now. A few weeks later, on a trip home to Wichita, Kansas, over the Fourth of July, I visited my favorite bookstore, Eighth Day Books, and purchased the revised edition of Peter Gilquist’s Becoming Orthodox as well as the book he edited, Coming Home of personal accounts of how men from various Protestant backgrounds had become Orthodox priests. There would be many more like this.

This initial interest and burst of reading generated many sessions of surfing the web, looking for information on the Orthodox Church. From the books that I’d read, as well as many web links, I found the website of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and through it’s parish directory search got the information for All Saints Orthodox Church. I contacted the parish pastor, Archpriest Patrick Reardon, and was warmly invited to come worship at the Divine Liturgy.

At this point I had almost decided not to return to seminary, and, in fact, to leave the Episcopal Church altogether. I had discovered Orthodoxy, and in the space of about a month and a half had been so drawn to what I had learned of the Orthodox Church that I was now wondering if I shouldn’t continue my Christian pilgrimage, leave Canterbury, as it were, and continue on to Antioch. In fact, I made a list of resolutions in which I began to attempt to appropriate the life of the faith of the Ancient Church. As far as I could then tell, it wasn’t Anglicanism that had that life, but Orthodoxy. And so the last resolution was that if I ever left ECUSA, I would become Orthodox.

Of course, the question is properly raised: How could I so suddenly, having just started at seminary to discern a vocation to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church–and having uprooted my family and limited our employment and educational choices–even think of abandoning the Episcopal Church? Hadn’t I spent about five years investigating Anglicanism before my confirmation? Hadn’t I spent four years trying to further assimilate Anglo-Catholic traditions into my faith practice? Hadn’t Anna and I worked hard to come to some compromise about the Episcopal Church, my confirmation being something she had been opposed to? Was I ready to throw all that away?

Not yet. My journal entries at the time were full of ambivalence. My initial picture of the Episcopal Church had been fueled and fed by Robert Webber’s, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. But the picture that book had presented was now a decade and more out of date. In fact, one may well question whether Webber’s optimism of the place of evangelicals in ECUSA was either unfounded or misplaced. I now had a more realistic understanding of where the national church was and where it was headed. My questions now had less to do with whether or not I was called to the priesthood, but whether, if so called, I could serve without compromising my faith or putting my family at spiritual risk. Still, my parish priest was a significant influence through his friendship and pastoral mentoring. And my bishop was an example of godly leadership against the tide of rejection of biblical and traditional norms of faith and life.

And, given my experience of judging a church on the basis of reading alone, I was much less sanguine that reading a handful of books and surfing the internet was a solid basis for making a change that would involve scrapping the hard work and planning that had brought us to Chicago in the first place.

Still and all, Orthodoxy beckoned, so on 23 July 2000, I worshipped for the second time at an Orthodox Church. I went to the Divine Liturgy at All Saints.

I was absolutely blown away. Since Fr. Patrick was out of town that weekend, a deacon from another parish served the typika liturgy. The service was still foreign to me. And the differences in pious practices was evident. I genuflected whereas everyone else bowed. I crossed myself backwards (or was it the parishioners who were crossing themselves the “wrong” way?). I bowed at the Gloria Patri, whereas everyone else crossed themselves (though many also bowed). The singing was a capella, which would have called to mind some worship experiences in some of my heritage churches, except that the hymns sung were all unfamiliar to me. I recognized, of course, the Pater Noster, the Sursum Corda, the Nicene Creed (sans filioque) and a few other pieces of the Liturgy, but the rest of it was a jumble, despite the copies of the Liturgy (with explanation) in the pew.

But what wasn’t foreign to me was the content of what I was hearing. At the seminary I had already been subjected to liturgies that eliminated the Fatherhood of God, that struck out the human maleness of Jesus, that replaced robust Trinitarianism with bland Sabellianist notions of a monochrome God, that nixed confession of my personal acts of sin, and that offered a running critique of the Tradition as patriarchal, oppressive, and, well, outdated. Here, however, all of that which had been denied me at the seminary liturgies was present in all its fullness. Here the Trinity was confessed in full, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here Jesus’ two natures, united in one Person, was confessed and expressly linked to the cause of our salvation. Here God was Father, fully and completely. Here our sins were confessed in a variety of ways. Here the Tradition was alive, fully vibrant, and salvific.

If I could have, I would have become Orthodox right then.

But, in God’s wisdom, he has blessed me with a wife that frequently intervenes to bring me to a more level-headed and realistic path of action. Some time after worshipping at All Saints, I was still enthusiastic about the Orthodox Church, and in a conversation my wife and I were having, that intensity shone through. But she bluntly and firmly drew the conversation to a close by saying, “We’re not changing churches again.”

That accomplished God’s purpose, which was to give me pause and to deeply consider the claims of Orthodoxy. It is not a coincidence, then, that I did not return to worship at All Saints for some six months. Nor is it a coincidence that I decided to return, after all, to seminary. I determined that I should try to enter more deeply into the Anglo-Catholic traditions I had known as a way of surviving the seminary experience.

But I did not stop my pursuit of and inquiry into the Orthodox Church.

After a couple of months actively engaging with Orthodoxy, I returned to my Anglican ethos and tried to find within it resources to overcome what I took to be its weaknesses and failure. I sought this mainly in traditional liturgical forms and pieties. I tried to use the 1928 prayer book and the Anglican Service Book. I read some of the Carolinian divines. But I found that this retreat into the Anglican past, good and holy though it was, did little more than emphasize that the Episcopal Church was, in my view, going further and further down a road I not only did not want to go, but one I was certain would end in destruction.

In January 2001 I began more fully to realize these things, so I took a very conscious step back toward Orthodoxy by purchasing an Orthodox prayer book and a translation of the Septuagint psalter. These soon became my sole means of personal prayer. I gave up the Anglican prayer book for good. Also that month, I again visited All Saints Orthodox Church.

During the next few months, my life was incarnate ambivalence. I had one foot pointing to the world of Orthodoxy, and one toward the Episcopal Church. I had grown increasingly unclear as to my diocesan status as an aspirant, and was coming to the conclusion that my search for holy orders was effectively over. I talked with my parish priest and he contacted the bishop. The three of us arranged a lunch meeting in May. That meeting even more firmly solidified the backing of my bishop, especially given we were of like mind on many current matters in ECUSA.

Still, despite being in limbo for some months, yet now having a clear green light, I was disappointed. Had the bishop cut me loose, my decision would have been clear and relatively easy. Now I was forced to do ever more thinking. ECUSA or Orthodoxy?

For Mother’s Day, May 2001, and again in June, my wife graciously accompanied me to two Orthodox Liturgies. The first was at Sts Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Glenview, the second was her first visit to All Saints. She was curious and asked some questions, but ultimately unimpressed. Eventually, she would become deeply resistant to our being received into the Orthodox Church.

In the autumn of that year, I began my doctoral program in philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago. During that semester my own sense of vocation and the status of the Episcopal Church became clear to me. On Christmas Eve, I prayed and wrote a list of issues I had with the Episcopal Church. After two weeks of reflection and further prayer, I decided to stop the process of discernment to a vocation to the priesthood. On the Feast of Epiphany 2002, I emailed my priest, and later contacted the bishop and my parish discernment committee. When I told Anna, there was visible and verbal relief. She summed it up in her response to me: “Good.”

A week later I returned again to All Saints. I had lunch with Fr. Patrick and Khouria Denise. He answered a lot of my questions and gave me a prayer rule. I continued to study further about Orthodoxy. But the toll of the previous year and a half worked itself out in me. I soon went into a state of numbness and apathy. I stopped attending worship altogether. I rarely prayed. I felt stuck between. I had given up on the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism. There was no evangelical church that appealed to me. And with Anna’s growing resistance to a new church journey, let alone the strange world of Orthodoxy. So for six months, from January to June 2002, I was nowhere in terms of a church home. Orthodoxy still beckoned, and I knew my heart lay there. But I was out in the wilderness. Something eventually would have to give way.

And as you may suppose, it started with repentance.

3.Orthodox Encounters June 2002 to September 2003

On 9 June 2002, I returned to All Saints Orthodox Church after a six-month absence.

The week before, through a serendipitous reference in my reading to the passage in Ephesians 5 on the relations of husbands and wives, I contemplated my responsibilities as a husband. According to the Scriptures, and my own conscience, I came up far short. Especially in the critical role of my obligations of leadership in my home in matters of faith.

As I’ve described, my first reactions to the new realities confronting me in the Episcopal Church and in seminary, as the 90s drew to a close and the new century and millennium began, were largely ones of anger and repulsion. I was angry that the church I thought I had joined had, in effect, ceased to exist more than two and a half decades before. I was angry that I had not seen the truth when I was being confirmed, and angry at those changes which had manifested themselves after my confirmation. I was also repulsed by the approval of immoral behavior and the ever-growing influence of heresy in the communications of the church, heresy which was never seriously or prominently addressed, let alone disciplined. No bishops or priests were brought up on presentments for preaching that which contradicted the explicit Faith of the historic Church. It seemed it was more important to uphold institutional unity, to hold on to property and endowments, to earn the esteem and approval of those outside the Church, than it was to stand firm in the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Clearly, then, my turn to Orthodoxy at first was more about greener pastures than about embracing Orthodoxy for what it was. But from the time I acquired an Orthodox prayerbook and the Septuagint psalter in January 2001, I began to relate to Orthodoxy on a deeper, more serious level. My exploration of the life and doctrine of the Church began to lay a solid foundation for change, so that by the time June 2002 came ‘round, I was in a state in which I no longer evaluated the Orthodox Church on my terms and preferences. I was now prepared to listen to the Orthodox Church and, importantly, to begin to allow Orthodoxy to evaluate me.

It was fitting, then, that the Sunday of my return, 9 June, was the Sunday of the Blind Man (the Gospel reading being John 9:1-38), and that Epistle reading was Acts 16:16-34, and the conversion of the Philippian jailer. This was my first of a handful of “St. Anthony moments.” As you remember, St. Anthony had gone to worship, heard the Gospel text to sell all he had and give it to the poor, and soon went into the desert to pray and wage spiritual warfare. Though certainly with more humble implications, nonetheless, the significance of these passages were not lost on me. Clearly I was blind, and in need of the illumination of God’s Spirit. But I took the promise of St. Paul to the Philippian jailer as my own: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” As completely unrealizable as it seemed, I began to hope that one day I and my entire household would be Orthodox.

For I had come to believe, though I did not yet understand, that the Orthodox Church is the Church of the New Testament. If this were true, then not only by virtue of my growing up in the Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement churches, but also on its own terms, I needed to lead my family into that Church, and to do so by way of example.

In July 2002, I began six months of reading and study, reflection and writing on the key questions to which I needed answers. Answers that would address not merely intellectual matters, but the issues of the life of faith. This project, though it did not begin quite so large as it ended, was much less about an academic study of, say, whether or not the Church had always believed that the elements of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, but rather, if this is indeed the case, what am I then to do about it? So, what began as an anticipated handful of questions I might answer in a paper grew to eight related essays (three on the nature of the Church alone), totaling some ninety-two typescript pages and more than thirty thousand nine hundred words. I started the first essay on 31 July, and began the last essay on Christmas Eve (finishing it the day after New Year’s Day).

The first two essays were intended to clear the ground and note the boundaries. In the first I noted that the competing and contradictory beliefs of the various Protestant bodies pointed out both the weaknesses of the Protestant paradigm and that the Truth had to be there amidst all the antagonistic notions. In the second essay I established the Protestant problem: that the New Testament clearly points to the visible unity of the Church, and that Protestantism has not only created more than twenty thousand schisms, but continues to add to them each week.

From there I could only resort to one sure thing: the Tradition of the Church, so the third essay highlighted how it is that the Tradition is essential to Christian belief. It is that Tradition which reveals both the antiquity of the office of the Bishop, but also underscores the New Testament teaching that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Church’s Eucharist. The last three essays deal with the reality of the unity of the Church, that the Church is both the Body of Christ and by that, then, is the locus of our salvation, and finally that the criteria of the true Church would have to be both historical and doctrinal continuity with the Church of the New Testament.

But the months from July to the Christmas season were not merely about study, however, “real life” that study was. In mid-July, Anna and I worshipped for the first time at Northside Christian Church. This was a Disciples of Christ congregation just about a mile from our home. The Disciples churches had the same historical pedigree of the churches of which Anna and I had been members (and had served as ministers early on in our marriage), so there was some familiar ground. Plus Northside had one of the most well-done contemporary praise-band worship services I’d ever seen done, which was a key factor for my wife.

Anna and I worshipped there a few times a month for a couple of months. Both of us met with the husband-wife ministry team, and I myself met with the pastor a couple of times. But though one would think we had found our “compromise parish,” early on even Anna had misgivings. In our first meeting with the pastors over lunch, we asked some direct questions about doctrine, morality and church discipline. We did not receive direct answers. And the answers that were finally forthcoming seemed to us to display a willingness to dilute the tougher teachings of the Church for the sake of something like “church growth.”

By the first of October, the congregation had relocated to a rented movie theater in Bucktown and changed its name. We went once after the move, but the atmosphere felt to us less like worship and more like the sort of spectating one does in a theater, complete with snacks, soda and cupholders in the arms of the theater seats. We did not return. I took the move as a sign from God that this was not what he wanted for us.

The first Sunday in October, as it would turn out, was my last visit to the Divine Liturgy at All Saints until December. The following weekend I went to the Benedictine monastery of St. Gregory’s Abbey, in Three Rivers, Michigan. It was to be, in a most significant way, an unlooked-for transformation.

I arrived a few minutes late for dinner at St. Gregory’s Abbey on that October Friday, the eleventh. Arriving late is not a good thing at a monastery, but being Benedictines they were unfailingly gracious and served me a heaping plate of food nonetheless. St. Gregory’s observes the canonical offices of Matins (4:00 am), Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. So after a brief opportunity to unload the car and unpack, it was time to head to the abbey church for Compline. I wandered around a bit in the monastery library, then headed back to the guest house, did some journaling and headed to bed.

The weekend was the wonderful Benedictine dance between work, study and prayer, though as a guest I was left to my own devices during the community work hours. I did some reading and journaling between offices. I ate with the brothers and other guests. I rested.

I came to the abbey with no real agenda, other than knowing I needed to go there. I’d been to the abbey on a couple of other occasions (though the last visit had been four years before), each visit of which was an intense time of prayerful consideration of a vocation and the seeking of some confirmation of its certainty. On the drive over to the abbey this time, however, I simply told God I had no agenda other than the one he had for me. If “nothing happened” that would be fine. I would just trust in him.

But as it turned out, one of the books I’d checked out was a service of the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos. I had not developed any sort of “devotion to the Virgin,” and, indeed, other than the prescribed instances in the Divine Liturgy and the service of Morning Prayers, I’d never really sought her intercessions. But I remembered that in the West, Saturdays were uniquely devoted to the Blessed Virgin, so, on Saturday afternoon, I developed the idea that in the meditation time after Compline, I would pray the Akathist hymn in one of the chapels running along the side of the monastery church.

It was an experience of prayer that was more about the distraction of standing and attending to only about ten percent of the words than about anything else. From the paradigm of spiritual experience I’d gained from my heritage churches, the prayer was a “non-experience.” No feelings of piety. No mystical flights of fancy. But, strangely enough, it was a prayer about which I suddenly wanted to develop a routine of praying.

The weekend ended Sunday after lunch. I headed back to the abbey church to spend a few moments in prayer in one of the side chapels. I prayed, as I’d done from several months, for the unity of our family and home in spiritual matters. I began to pray for Anna. Then, quite unexpectedly, I was overcome with sobbing. I had a glimpse of my own unworthiness before God, of my sinfulness. In the prayers that came forth, I asked the intercessions of the Theotokos with regard to our family and the Orthodox Church.

As quickly as it came on me, the crying left. I prayed a bit longer and then left. Soon I headed home.

Through the next month at home life was just as it had always been. I was doing more serious reading in Orthodoxy, particularly Panayiotis Nellas’ Deification in Christ. In my daily prayers, however, I soon took on the practice of asking the intercessions of the Theotokos for me and my household. I began specifically to ask the prayers of our Lady for my wife.

On Monday, 2 December, my wife went to the doctor. She’d been feeling ill for a week and just wasn’t shaking it. I touched base briefly with Anna prior to my evening class. Then, class over, I headed home in a Chicago snowfall. But oddly enough, for me, my thoughts were not on class or some theological idea, which was usually the case. I often reflected on such things on the walk home. No, this night, my thoughts were daydreams about the future, and the children we hoped to have and raise.

Which was interesting, because I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, an “intuitive” person. But when I walked in the door, Anna had news for me.

Anna was pregnant. This was joyous news. Though at first, the transition in our lives from ten years of family as couple to family as mommy, daddy and child, was emotionally tough, especially for Anna. She was smack-dab in the midst of rapid career development, and looking forward to continuing her education either in writing or in studying children’s literature. Now she was a momma. For my part, all I could see at first was the economic need to suspend, if not cancel altogether, the doctoral program I was so close to finishing.

As it turned out, those first misgivings, natural as they were, soon gave way to undiluted joy, acceptance and anticipation. Sofie took us out of ourselves and gave us a greater love to share.

I got the news on Monday, 2 December. The next Sunday I was back at All Saints to offer my thanksgiving to God, and to seek his strength. It was clear to me, almost from the beginning, that Sofie’s advent was in part, an answer to the prayers of the Theotokos for us which I’d been praying now for a couple of months. At first I had to take this somewhat on faith, though the conviction was strong. But as the months have unfolded since then, events have seemed to bear this out.

By the end of the month, I was finalizing the several essays I’d been working on about Orthodoxy. I also read Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion. This, in conjunction with Nellas’ Deification in Christ, served to further fundamentally shape my understanding of the Church, the Trinity and salvation. These books drove me back to the New Testament to confirm and reason out what it was they were saying. I began to understand that the individualistic faith I’d been reared with and trained in as an adult was antithetical to the prima facie text of the New Testament. If I gained nothing else, I learned that almost always, when Paul uses “you” in his letters to the churches, it is collective. We are saved together. And that has far-reaching implications.

While all this was going on, about the middle of the month, I had my second “St. Anthony moment.” That is to say, while worshipping and hearing the lections for the day, the word of God hit me right between the eyes. In June I was the blind man whose sight had been restored and the jailer who had received the promise of the salvation of his entire household. This time, God was much more direct. The Gospel reading was from Luke 14:16-24, the parable of the wedding supper and those who refuse to come.

Advent that year was extremely meaningful. I came to sense more deeply what it meant for the Lord to take on Mary’s humanity, to become a man and live as one of us. I was joyous at the thought of becoming a new father. Anna was much more ambivalent, and this, augmented by the newly surging hormones of pregnancy, made for an emotional time as she worked through her anxieties and embraced her joys.

I did not return to All Saints till the following February. I have, to this point, lingered quite a bit over the half-year period from June to December 2002. This has mainly been because this was perhaps the most important several months yet in my inquiry about Orthodoxy. During this time I had settled important questions in my mind regarding the biblical nature of the place of Tradition, of bishops, of the transformation of the Eucharistic elements, and of the implications in terms of salvation and sanctification, of visible unity and historic continuity, resulting from the Church’s being the Body of Christ. I had “discovered” the reality and aid of the intercessions of the saints on our behalf, particularly of the Theotokos. And I had become a father. Mind, worship, heart and family had been radically re-formed in just over two hundred days.

The living into that reality, however, even now has only barely just begun.

Despite my best efforts to care for my wife’s spiritual needs as well as to heed the very clear call from God to prioritize faith and discipleship, I frequently failed to accomplish much of either. On 9 February 2003, I was back at All Saints again. And once again, I was confronted with another “St. Anthony moment.” This time it was the Matins Gospel, John 21:15-25. Here I was Peter, being asked of Christ, “Do you love me more than these?”

The start of Great Lent, in March 2003, was extremely powerful for me. I participated in my first Forgiveness Vespers. I prayed, for the first time, the Great Canon of St. Andrew. And I experienced my first Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. In fact, it was at that last that I also for the first time had both the understanding as well as something of the experience of the presence of the saints with us as we worship God.

But with Anna’s brother, Delane, in the hospital, and our visits there to see him, with the demands of being a full-time student, teaching two classes at two different colleges, and working half-time, the rest of Lent quickly passed. I was busy, distracted and torn in many directions.

Pascha came, and one other first was added to my experience of Orthodoxy. Cognizant of my Lenten failures, when St. John Chrysostom called even me, one who had not kept the fast, who had not lived faithfully, to the Feast, I nearly wept. It was, by far, the single most powerful worship service in which I had ever participated.

The summer of 2003 was marked by one thing and one thing alone: the anticipation of Sofie’s birth, followed by its fulfillment. Of course, I still attended All Saints, this time more faithfully and regularly than before. Anna’s protests were much more muted and infrequent. Our discussions about Orthodoxy, and All Saints, were much more open and honest. They were discussions, rather than the repetition of entrenched positions.

Though unsurprising, the actions of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention–the ratification of the election of a divorced man in an open homosexual relationship, and the official permission to conduct same sex unions–brought into sharp focus the distinctions which the Orthodox Church offered. This was especially vital in relation to not merely the Episcopal Church but nearly all of the churches about which we had inquired or had visited.

Finally, 14 August came and Sofie was born. It was among the two or three most transformative experiences I’d been through in my entire life. Anna graciously acquiesced to my request for Father Patrick to come and say a prayer of blessing over Sofie. So, the next day, before Sofie was a full twenty-four hours old, Father Patrick and Khouria Denise arrived, with a beautiful gift of a pink dress, to pray over Sofie and share our joy.

The Saturday before my birthday, the three of us had been running errands and were on the way back home. Out of nowhere, and a propos of nothing, Anna said, “We should make All Saints our regular church home.” I voiced a humble agreement, but wisely refrained from saying much else.

Sunday morning came, my thirty-sixth birthday, and, silently rejoicing within, the Healy’s got ready for worship, piled into the car and headed to All Saints.

I wrote about it at the time:

Today, my wife, Anna, and our daughter, Sofie, worshipped together at All Saints Orthodox Church. For Anna, it was her third worship at All Saints (her fourth Divine Liturgy all told). For Sofie, it was the first time she worshipped with her mommy and daddy at the Divine Liturgy. It was positively the best birthday present I could have ever received.

Sofie slept peacefully through the first part of the service. Then during the Litany prayed with the Procession of the Bread and the Wine, she took part in the blessing of the children. It is the custom at All Saints for Father Patrick to place the Chalice over the heads of all the children, one at a time, and pray “May the Lord our God remember you in His Kingdom, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” Sofie woke then, as we took her slumbering self from the car seat, so that I could hold her for Father Patrick’s blessing. Anna then took her down to the nursery to feed her. Sofie continued to sleep through the rest of the service.

Then, when the parishioners went to commune the Holy Gifts, I took Sofie from Anna and headed forward to receive the blessing. It wasn’t until just before I stood in front of Father Patrick that I realized Anna had slipped
out of the pew and followed behind me. Anna’s never done that before. So there we were, a family, each one at a time receiving from God’s priest the merciful blessings of our Lord.

From that first Sunday worshipping together as a family, Anna and I began to settle, as best we could, into the parish life of All Saints, though we were still inquirers, and no immediate intentions as a family to become Orthodox. It is a great testimony to the parish itself that we were never made to feel second-class, or somehow less Christian than anyone else there. We could not, obviously, partake of the Sacraments, but we joined in as many of the services as we could. The young women and mothers of the parish enfolded Anna into their circle and became a very important support group.

The next three years would be a mix of drawing ever closer to Orthodoxy as well as experiencing some of the most severe forms of testing we could have imagined.

4.Encountering Living Orthodoxy, September 2003 to the Sunday of Orthodoxy (25 February 2007)

Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) of Platina

Three days after our first Sunday worshiping at All Saints together as a family, I received in the mail, my copy of the revised and updated Father Seraphim Rose biography: Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, by Hieromonk Damascene and published by St. Herman Press. I had already, by then, read twelve books written by, translated by or about Hieromonk Seraphim: The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church (January 03), [Tr] St. Seraphim of Sarov (Little Russian Philokalia v. 1) (January 03), Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future (February 03), [Tr] Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers (February 03), [Tr] On the Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God (February 03), [Bio] Not of This World (October 02-March 03), [Tr] The Apocalypse in the Ancient Teachings of Christianity (May 03), Nihilism (July 03), [Tr] Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (July 03), [Tr] First-Created Man (July 03), Genesis, Creation and Early Man (August 03), and [Tr] Guidance Toward the Spiritual Life (September 03). Over the next few months I read the new biography ([Bio] Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works [September-December 03]), as well as a book of his letters (Letters from Father Seraphim [December 03]).

As I have indicated elsewhere, Father Seraphim has become a significant influence in the shaping of my faith and the practice of prayer and disciplines which I pursue. Indeed, about a year after I set my face toward Orthodoxy, I had come under the conviction that Father Seraphim had become one of my patron saints, in ways strikingly like St. Benedict had done some dozen or so years earlier. As the Lord has mercy, and my priest blesses, I will take the name Benedict Seraphim at my chrismation.

What is it about Father Seraphim that so strikes me and serves as an inspiration to my faith and life? It is difficult to articulate. I have, every years since the autumn of 2002, read his biography, either in the first version (Not of This World) or in the current edition. And every year, I devour it. It is not something I intentionally set out to do: Saying to myself, “Oh, it’s nearing September, I should begin reading Father Seraphim’s biography.” And yet, like some internal magnet, as his feast day approaches, I begin to turn my attention toward reading his life. This is not true of all of his writings. While I have read most of what has been published, and several of those items twice or more, I have not come back to everything again and again. But the account of his life speaks to me again and again.

There are superficial similarities between us: he was, in his academic career, a student of ancient philosophy (in his case Chinese philosophy, whereas my focus is Hellenistic). He chafed under the superficiality and vacuity that is ubiquitous within academia. He experienced the pain of the schism between the mind and the heart. In a much lesser way, I, too, have known these things. And I think, then, what he demonstrates to me is the integration of one’s person that Orthodoxy makes possible in a way I have found nowhere else. His were no superhuman ascetic feats. It was enough for him to simply follow the way of the life of the Church, fasting when she requires a fast, and fasting according to the guidelines she provides; praying as she requires us to pray, with the prayers she has given to us; giving to the poor as one poor himself. His life, though a monastic one, was an ordinary monastic one. And it speaks, in that ordinariness, of the normalcy that Orthodoxy establishes for a soul. Surely Fr Seraphim was a thinker and a writer. And he certainly has had a very wide, multi-national influence. But his heart’s desire was simply to struggle, to work and to pray, in one place, his beloved mountain. And it is his influence, coupled with St. Benedict’s moderate Rule for laymen, which has probably shaped me the most, outside the worship of the Orthodox Church.

But Father Seraphim’s influence was a necessary foundation for the significant personal developments in my understanding, and more importantly practice, of the Orthodox Faith and way of life. In spring and summer 2005 I would experience some blessed formation and change in these things.

St. Maximus and Soteriology

Having completed the Father Seraphim biography and the collection of his letters over the Christmas 2003 holidays, 2004 opened with some light popular reading, and soon my family’s first solid exposure to Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. I worshiped at my first Bridegroom Matins service, and experienced some of the most profound and moving services during the Triduum. Although I had attended my first Pascha service the previous year, 2004 was the first for us as a family. It was an amazing and wonderful experience.

Spring gave way to summer, and in June of that year we totaled our car. But the Lord watched over us, and kept us all safe. One of our parishioners, Patricia, helped us get back home that day. A generous gift, our insurance settlement, and a most blessed timing, meant we were without a vehicle of our own only for a couple of brief weeks. We were able to get a good, safe and dependable vehicle.

The rest of 2004 was pretty mundane, in terms of Orthodoxy and our home. Which was good for us. We began to see how normal life as an Orthodox looked, and I was given yet more time to ensure that my conversion to Orthodoxy was genuine and without romanticism.

The year 2005, however, brought for me a new set of important theological developments. Perhaps one of the best things, in terms of my growth in understanding of Orthodoxy, to come out of the beginning of the year, was a post on the Church’s Tradition. That led to a series of exchanges between me and Kevin on the Tradition of the Church (the links to all of the posts are summarized in this final post). And that set of exchanges led then to a later series of posts, which, after the exchanges got underway, I called a soteriology diablog between various interblogolocutors.

The reason why this exchange was so transformative for me is that it led, through a personal recommendation from Perry Robinson, to a reading of Joseph Farrell’s Free Choice in Saint Maximos the Confessor, as well as Farrell’s translation of St. Maximos’ dialogue with Pyrrhus. In fact, I was so taken with Farrell’s book, I read it twice, once in April and then again in September.

It was the examination of the gnomic will of the human person that really opened up soteriology for me. I’d been working on an incomplete seminar paper on free will, and so this issue was fresh in my mind. Too, I was wrestling with the tension between “working out your salvation” and “saved by grace.” This was not a new struggle. I had faced it in my fourth year of Bible college. I had been raised with an almost semi-Pelagian understanding of salvation, that at times bordered on legalism. In college I grew to better understand grace. But this led, for a time, to a bit of antinomianism. The pendulum swung back to a more moderate spot, but encountering the Orthodox notion of struggle reawakened the tension and how to understand it.

St. Maximos gave me a mechanism and a schema by which I could understand the libertarian nature of human free will, and its ascetical nature of struggle and virtue. (Not all libertarian accounts of free will understand, let alone try to incorporate, the askesis of struggle and virtue in the deliberative will—Robert Kane is a notable and welcome exception.) It was that conceptual change that helped me to better grasp the Orthodox understanding of salvation, and St. Paul’s admonition to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

It became clear to me that it was the habitual action, the continuous struggle, the life of the repentance that was, indeed, the point. It wasn’t a juridical declaration from God on high. It was, rather, the union with God that God fashions from our freely willed ascetical struggles in choosing that union, that love. It wasn’t that my struggle somehow earned God’s favor. It wasn’t that my efforts somehow merited grace. It was, rather, that in the struggle, in the effort, God in love freely energizes in me the infinite goods of his grace to not only do but become by his grace that which he is by his nature.

Gone was my semi-Pelagian, Restoration Movement understanding. It now made sense to me how it is that the Orthodox Church is, in some ways, the most ascetically demanding of Christian bodies, and the one place where I have come to know grace, to come finally to realize that God is, indeed, the lover of mankind. Not a God of wrath and judgment, but the God who is love, and who in love, extends his divine goods toward me that I might not merely know about him, but know him in my very being, insofar as my being can contain the tiniest sliver of that sort of knowing.

And once this development had worked its wonder and grace in me, the second major development was on its way.

The Summer of True Philosophia

The highlight of the year came at the midpoint of the summer, on 3 July: Delaina’s birth. Born on the birthday of her late uncle, Delane, her birth was a truly wonderful experience. Anna had chosen to have a drug-free birth and a water birth. The experience was, for me, amazing, blessed, joyous, wonderful and soul-shaking all at once. It was unencumbered by all but the most essential medical technology: just my wife and our baby girl working together. (Oh, sure, the midwife was there to help things along!) Sofie’s birth was just as amazingly wonderful and beautiful in its own particular way, but I definitely prefer the more “natural” way in which Delaina’s birth happened.

I attempted to make sure that I had completed the four incomplete papers and one incomplete master’s thesis by late June (Delaina’s original birth date), and was successful in that. Along the way, as a reward to myself, I engaged in some “free” reading, and so in May I checked out a couple of works of Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life and What is Ancient Philosophy? These two works could not have come at a better time, following as they did, so closely on the heals of my encounter with St. Maximos and the transformation of my understanding of Orthodox soteriology, that mix of demanding ascetical struggle with a more robust understanding of grace than any other Christian group I’ve encountered.

The encounter with Hadot led, beginning on the first of June and running through almost the middle of July, to a series of reflections on true philosophia. That is to say, the understanding of philosophy not as an academic discipline but as a way of living.

I had been heading in this direction for a couple of months prior to my Hadot reading. I had sat in on a philosophy department colloquium in which one of my revered professors, Dr. Peperzak, lamented the disconnect of the academic study of philosophy with a whole way of living. At the time I was both attracted to Dr. Peperzak’s protest but also explained it away as that “social justice” thing, and to a “European activist” viewpoint. But it nonetheless stayed with me, stuck in my craw as it were, waiting for Hadot to irritate it a bit more, and to lead to some further reflection.

Just as St. Maximos’ conception of the gnomic will opened to me a better understanding of Orthodox askesis and the volitional struggle for virtue, encompassed by and suffused with an energetic divine grace, philosophia, or a way of life, opened to me an understanding of Christian Faith as just that: a peculiar way of living.

As a Protestant, when I encountered Orthodoxy, I did what any good Protestant does: I read about it and studied it. This is how a Protestant enacts his faith: through intellectual study. After all, in the churches in which I was raised, when we wanted to find answers for our questions, we studied the Bible. The Bible was, for us a textbook of sorts, a treasure trove of information from God’s mind to ours, which we were to mine for information on what to believe, on what ethical principles to hold–but rarely, if ever, on how to live the sort of life Christ lives. So, for the first two years of my investigations of Orthodoxy, I read and studied. Oh, sure, I went to a handful of Divine Liturgies, and I adopted an Orthodox prayerbook and Psalter. But nearly all my engagement with Orthodoxy was in the head. Even when I first decided to worship regularly at All Saints, I spent the next six months studying and writing essays related to the questions in my mind regarding the Orthodox Faith. None of those essays dealt with worship or the Orthodox way of living.

But when encountering philosophia and its distinction from philosophy, and especially noting how some of the Church Fathers, such as St. Justin the Philosopher, characterized Christianity as “true philosophia,” that really opened up to me that Orthodoxy is not just a set of doctrines, as was my Protestant experience, but a way of life. A way of life characterized by the ascetical struggle of the libertarian, gnomic will toward the establishment of virtue in the soul, always and ever energized by divine grace in such a struggle.

These were the keys that opened up for me what Orthodoxy was all about. It wasn’t just a neater, more “high liturgy” way of doing Sunday worship. It wasn’t just a greater devotion and connection to the historic Church. It wasn’t “Catholicism without the Pope.” It was, rather, a very real and peculiar way of living, a way of living that has been held and maintained in unbroken continuity and consistency with the Church of the Apostles. It was, in fact, not just a different way of living. It was, to be brutally blunt: life itself.

From that life sprang genuine, cosmic worship. From that life sprang an organic connection to the historic Church. From that life sprang Truth, and thus true doctrine, dogma and discipline. From that life sprang a particular way of living. But beneath it all was life: the life of Christ as given to his Church by way of his hypostatic union with his Body. The sacraments are not “genuine” simply because one can trace a tactile succession of the episcopate. The Orthodox Mysteries are “genuine” because they spring from the life of Christ himself, the life he gives to his Body the Church, and which the Church, then, may, as a living organism, give to the various members which that Body is.

I do not think I could have come to this realization, if I had not gone through these two fundamental and seismic shifts in my thinking during 2005. They were, quite literally for me, the keys of comprehension unlocking to me the truth and beauty and goodness and grace that is the Orthodox Church, Christ’s Body.

But this, of course, was just the beginning. The testing of the genuineness of this renewal of mind was to come.

A Year of Testing and Struggle

Last year, 2006, was the most difficult year I’ve ever faced. We began the year with significant financial struggles. By God’s grace those had eased by mid-year. As part of those struggles, we were without a home of our own for about two and a half months; and as a result of that state, my family and I were separated from one another during that time, while I continued to work and earn an income, staying with friends, and my wife and daughters stayed with her family in Oklahoma. And, finally, as the year wound down with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, I experienced the severe turmoil with my mom and sisters, and we lost our baby in utero, and as a result of the miscarriage, I almost lost my wife. I can’t imagine very many scenarios that would have been so difficult as this past year was for us.

Although our struggles began prior to Lent, they really began to come to a point as Lent was getting underway. That, coupled with my wife and daughters temporarily relocating to Oklahoma in April, made for a Lenten desolation I had never before known. While things eventually improved, including my landing of a job that is both challenging and rewarding—though it is not the academic job I envisioned myself in about this point in my life—new challenges ended the year. As with all sorts of things like these, some of our struggles were a mix of the consequences of our own failings, as well as the happenstance of hurtful things that happen in a fallen world. Others, of course, were simply the sorrow that a bent and twisted world brings as we all await the cosmic redemption.

While I might say that I learned a deeper faith from enduring these things, I’m not certain my life has the sort of faithful constancy to back such a claim. I did learn something about the seldom-early, never-late merciful compassion of God, and was once again given the indisputable evidence that he is a God to be trusted. But again, these things are not for me to teach, inconstant as I am. And with regard to the pain of the struggle of those months, that is such an inwardly private thing, I’m not sure it can be communicated without stumbling over one’s pride. So it is best to pass over much of the year in silence.

Finally, into the Catechumenate

One thing that did happen this past autumn was our second “false-start” into the catechumenate. We’d had our first such “false-start” a year before in the autumn of 2005. During Autumn 2005, Anna and I had gone to meet a friend for dinner up in Guerney, and on the way home, with the girls asleep in the car as we drove down the interstate, I broached the subject of my desire to become Orthodox, but also affirmed my desire to do so as a family. I tried to express my willingness to wait a bit longer, but at the same time tried to communicate that I did not feel I could wait for forever. Surprisingly, Anna indicated that she would be willing to become Orthodox. We talked to Father Pat, a few weeks later, but as it turned out, we didn’t then make it into the catechumenate. Looking back, last year would doubtless have been a difficult year to meaningfully grow through the catechumenate amid such significant life traumas.

A similar scenario played itself out this past autumn. Our life circumstances had begun to improve on many fronts, and I expressed again my desire to be Orthodox and my desire that we do so as a family. Anna reiterated her own
willingness to become Orthodox, and once again, we tried to get a meeting with Father. This time Father’s travel schedule and our own holiday travels failed to mesh. Then the miscarriage focused our energies and resources. But we renewed our query shortly after the new year began and life had once again settled down for us.

This time, we finally were blessed to enter the catechumenate. Though, I must admit, it did not unfold in quite the way I though it would. Whereas I thought we’d have a face-to-face with Father Pat, and that we would formally enter the catechumenate in time for the start of Great and Holy Lent, instead, it was a lot less formal, even sort of anti-climactic. On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, after Lent had been underway for a week, and after trying without success for a couple of weeks to get with Father, we finally tried to get with Father Pat immediately after services (he was going out of town over the following days), but he was busy and deferred us via a phone call later toward mid-afternoon. Father and Anna spoke for less than fifteen minutes on the phone, and that was that. We were catechumens.

As it happened, our “enrollment” in the cathechumenate was a portent of the low-key way the catechumenate period would unfold for us.

5.The Catechumentate, the Sunday of Orthodoxy (25 February 2007) to Pentecost Sunday (27 May 2007)

Our catechumenate was fairly informal. First of all, as I understand it, the catechumenate at All Saints itself is itself fairly informal: one worships and attends Sunday School, and works out the rest of the details with the priest. Some catechumens may need more reading, others less. Others may need one or another pastoral counsel. Everyone is a unique person. The catechumenate is not a production line. Another part of the reason, perhaps, that our cathechumenate was a lot less formalized is that we’d been coming to All Saints as a family for more than three years already (and I’d been coming regularly for about four and a half years). If I recall correctly, our archdiocesan policy is that someone worship for a year in an Orthodox parish before being accepted into the Church. We’d definitely met that standard.

Even so, the beginning plan, remarkably, was that our household would enter the Church at Pascha. But Anna had made plans to visit her family during Lent, and so would miss about two weeks of the Fast. Father unhesitatingly decided to have us wait till Pentecost. And even that date was not set in stone at first. Father was careful to articulate that there was no pressure in this—Orthodox, after all, believe in libertarian free will—and wanted to ensure Anna herself felt no such pressure, but could focus on preparing for becoming Orthodox.

Our preparations, Anna’s and mine, were, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite different. While I set myself, with Father’s blessing, to read St. Nicholas Cabasilas’ The Life in Christ and to really set my mind and heart on what it meant to be Orthodox, Anna made certain of the preparations of the girls’ baptismal gowns, and looked for white dresses for them to wear. While I was ruminating over at last being able to receive the Sacraments after so long, Anna was thinking about saints’ names. I don’t mean to stereotype and it certainly wasn’t quite so hard and fast a distinction as presented here, but I was still entering Orthodoxy with my mind and working on the idea of the thing, while Anna was pursuing it with, well, a momma’s heart. She is more like Our Lady in that respect than me. I was lost in the clouds, while Anna was making sure the girls would have something nice to wear after their baptisms.

My patrons, of course, have been settled for me long ago: St. Benedict of Nursia (14 March) and Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina (2 September). Even our family patron made himself known about three years ago: St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (2 July). As we prepared for the baptisms of our daughters and Anna’s and my chrismations, we also settled on patron saints for Anna and the girls. Anna, unsurprisingly, given her love of things French, chose St. Genevieve of Paris (3 January). Given our Irish heritage, I thought St. Brigid of Kildare (1 February) would be a good patron for Delaina, and Anna agreed. Sofie, on the other hand, rather characteristically chose her own. We had made our decisions for Anna and Delaina based in part of a children’s book of saints that we had purchased at Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas, during our last Thanksgiving trip home. As we flipped through the book, the icon-like pictures provided colorful images of the saints, and Sofie pointed determinedly at the one of St. Nina, Enlightener of Georgia (14 January): “That one!” she said. And remarked on the cross in St. Nina’s hand. “She has a cross.” And so it was settled.

The preparations I’d given to the day earlier in the week were not what I had imagined they would be, nor what I intended them to be, but they were the best preparations I could do. I had a good long talk with our Father Deacon Theophan Friday afternoon over “pints” at The Celtic Knot. That was a good time. I spent way too much time struggling over trying to get past the anticipation of the experience and not enough time focusing on the Persons at the center of the experience. But thank God, that was finally, in his mercy, conquered through much prayer and wrestling.

Making confession was different. I’d confessed before as an Anglican–rather regularly–and as an Anglican made a life confession. But the life confession I gave Saturday was, well, not what I imagined it would be. Father Patrick helped to focus by some pointed and distinguishing questions. But, again, not as I’d thought it would be. Unlike much of my previous spiritual life, I had to learn to trust the Church, in the wise counsel of her man, my parish priest, and had to continue my lessons in grace versus human merit. Clearly, my previous Restoration Movement Christian upbringing was having significant influence.

Unfortunately, our daughters were very anxious about their baptisms. And though we had practiced several times in the tub in the weeks prior to Pentecost, when we did a little practice with Father Patrick after Vespers the night before, the girls were anxious and crying. Father wisely and rightly I think called off the girls’ baptisms for later when they were less anxious and the experience would not be a traumatic one for them.

6.Into the Church, Our Chrismations on Pentecost Sunday (27 May 2007)

And then the day came: Pentecost, and our chrismations. The service for our chrismations started pretty much the second we walked in the door. We weren’t late, though we were not as early as I would have liked to have been on that day of all days, but we walked in the door and there was Father standing at the top of the stairs leading into the nave. We walked up the stairs and he said, “Take off your shoes and socks,” and away we went.

The chrismation ceremony was a bit of a blur. I’d read over the service in Hapgood a handful of times, but there I was in the midst of the rite and simply standing in the moment. We renounced some heresies, I know. We expressed our desire to be in the Church. We said the Creed. We vowed life obedience. We kissed the Gospel and the Cross.

The moment of absolution was upon me before I knew it. But you can rest assured that at that point my mind was focused. The declaration of forgiveness brought tears to my eyes. But not in an overly emotional sort of way.

The anointing took enough time that I could slow down and take things in. We were anointed on forehead, eyes, nose, lips, ear lobes, chest (or, rather, where neck and collarbone meet), hands (palms and top of the hand), and feet–signifying, if I understand correctly, the mind, the heart, the will and all the senses.

At the end of the rite we were introduced as the newest members of the holy Orthodox Church. There was polite clapping and then Father explained why it was that our daughters were not going to be baptized that day. Then the Divine Liturgy proper was under way and I was praying in the Liturgy for the first time as an Orthodox Christian.

For me at least, right or wrong, having been without the Eucharist for five years, the rest of the service was focused on being ready to receive God into my body and soul in my first Holy Communion. Due both to my new understanding of Communion and my experience of it, I will not say much about the Communion, but, rather, simply draw a veil over it. But I will say this: For the first time in my life I understand why all but the faithful were, historically, dismissed at the beginning of the transition to the Communion rite.

I know there are some misgivings about the use of the terms “conversion” and “converts” with reference to the experience of us who come to Orthodoxy as already in some sense Christian. Believe me, this side of chrismation, with the oil still wet, as it were, I see no problem with those terms whatsoever. I do have a sense of being “newly illumined.” The day’s Liturgy and many aspects of it, particularly Holy Communion, just really make sense to me in ways they did not before.

I do not speak of conversion in the popular evangelical sense where this is some marked point of transition with with some strong emotive content, or certain ecstatic experiences. I know I certainly had none of that. There were some tears, to be sure. There was a greater sense of reverence and holy dread than I’ve ever known before as I approached the Chalice. But there was no “ecstasy,” no “warm fuzzies,” no swirling emotions at all, really. But there was a very real sense of finally “getting it” about certain aspects of the Orthodox Faith and life. Things clicked because of the experience. And I have a sense that my troublesome mind-heart split, my “life of the mind” reclusion, is beginning now to be healed.

There is a greater sense of belonging, as well. This, of course, was bound to happen. But it’s not a though now we’re on the parish social committee’s speed dial (do we have a parish social committee?). Rather, it is a sense of really and truly belonging to the same Church, now, that all our parish friends belong to. All Saints has never ever done anything but made us feel most welcome and included, from the moment I first stepped through the doors, and from the moment Anna visited on the Mother’s Day when she was still pregnant with Sofie, we have felt nothing but welcome. And even, to some degree, part of a family. But that sense became even stronger after our chrismations. More to the point, these patron saints who have been praying for me–well, now I am part of their Church, part of the Body, and a la John 17, I am now united to them in a way I have not been before. As I have invoked their prayers this side of the chrism, that kinship has been felt most strongly.

But one of the sweetest aspects of this unity is that between Anna and I. Anna and I have always had fundamental and deep agreement on the most central and basic questions of the Faith. But even though when she and I met we were both Restoration Movement Christians, she was more strongly identifying with her Nazarene background while I had moved on to Anglicanism. And she has always preferred “contemporary” styles of worship, whereas I wanted Liturgy. But now we are part of the same Church, the same Body of Christ and there is a new unity of Faith and life that God has given us in our common sacrament of chrismation.

All the above notwithstanding, one of the most glaring realities I now understand is my ignorance of Orthodoxy. What I know is not a little, but what I know is so very much less than I will come to know. As I said to Father Pat in answer to his question about how my first two hours as an Orthodox had been, “I have some questions.” He smiled and said, “I’ll bet you do.”

© 2004, 2007 Clifton D. Healy

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My journey into the True Church

by Timothy Copple

Each story I’ve heard of how people have come into the Orthodox Church has been different. Sometimes there are some general similarities, but each one has specific issues, specific circumstances and specific problems that they deal with. While I recognize that my own circumstances are not, and in some cases should not be, how others come into Orthodoxy, I do feel there were some key elements that moved me in this direction. Most inquirers/converts to Orthodoxy will deal with these key elements at some point.

So allow me to tell you a little of my own journey.

I was born and raised in Texas. We moved a lot, so over my growing up years I’ve lived in several different cities around south-central Texas. The city that I did a majority of my growing up, mostly during my teen years, was Austin, TX. So I tend to think of that as “home”. Ironically, it was in moving back to Austin after having lived in other places for around 16 years that I became Orthodox.

As I was growing up, my Father, Dalton Copple, was a part-time Baptist preacher while he worked for the local electric company around the Uvalde area. Some of my earliest memories as a kid are from those days. I recall a couple of questions I had back then, which I addressed to my Mom, Alice Fay Kiker.

One time I recall, as we were getting dressed for church, asking Mom why we had to go to church. As many people know, kids are often not really excited about going to church. You want to move, you want to play, you want to do anything but sit in a pew and listen for over an hour to people saying words and singing music. For me, however, that was not the full motivation behind my question. It was those blasted black leather shoes.

We were pretty poor people, but of course being the pastor’s family, the kids had to have decent looking shoes for church. Only problem was that our feet were constantly growing and Mom knew that we would hardly get a pair broke in before we would need a new pair. So, like any Mom aware that she had to make every dollar stretch, she would buy us shoes which were just a bit big for us, so that we would have some growing room.

The only problem with this was my ankles. As long as I had those shoes on, the edges of those hard leather shoes rubbed my ankles constantly and it would take no time begin getting sore and hurt. For me, it was bad enough that we had to go through a church service sitting still in the pew next to Mom, but I had to endure literal pain as well! Thus, early in life, I associated pain with Church. Early in life I was experiencing the ascetic life, or so it seemed at the time.

My Mom’s answer to my question, which was always in the sense of “this is just the way it is” answers, was because I was the pastor’s son. Well, that didn’t seem at all fair. You mean other kids don’t have to come to church? They can stay home if they want? I don’t recall getting any more clarification on that one.

The second time I distinctly recall asking a question of Mom about church was while I was listening to my Father preach at the pulpit. My Father was a fairly quiet man, rarely raised his voice, usually didn’t talk real fast and was basically very reserved in manner. Yet, when he got into the pulpit, he would sometimes yell at the top of his lungs as he was preaching. On one such occasion, it just struck me how odd this was, and I asked Mom, “Why is Dad yelling?” Her reply, “Because he is preaching.” Well, that didn’t seem to get to the heart of the matter, but who was I to question my all-knowing Mom?

My goal on this site is that you will find more complete answers than these. However, it is also critical to note that even kids have questions. I have found that kids in general take to the Orthodox Church fairly well, teens seem to have more problems due to the social factors they face, and adults have the added questions about many other issues thrown in. Be that as it may, we should not forget that kids have questions too, sometimes very good ones that we should not ignore. So don’t forget to sit down and find out where your kids are on the Orthodox Church if one comes to that stage in one’s journey. I’m sure it will be helpful too if your answers go beyond the “that’s just the way it is” variety.

At one point in the middle of my second grade year we moved away from the Uvalde area to Corpus Christi. At that point we stopped going to church at all. At the time I didn’t mind that one bit and didn’t ask too many questions, but just counted my blessings. But it was to be several years before I would attend church services regularly. Later I found out that my Mom simply had too many problems with being a pastor’s wife. Apparently it was of the nature that she wanted to totally get away from the hypocrisy she experienced there, and so church at that point was totally out.

Back to my journey. When I was in fourth grade, my Mom and Dad ended up divorcing and my Mom married my Step-Father, Andrew Majek. After summer arrived we moved to Austin, where I was to spend the rest of my school years until leaving for college. There are many stories that could be told, but I don’t want to over do it here. I’m predominately going to focus on my spiritual journey, throwing in other relevant information as I go.

Toward the end of my ninth grade year in high school, a fairly insignificant event took place that would forever alter the course of my life. I say insignificant because the event itself was nothing that one would take note of. As a matter of fact, the person involved did not even know I was listening.

It was the beginning of English class, and the students were all doing this and that waiting for the bell to ring and class to begin. I was reading, as I tended to do a lot of, when I over heard a person behind me talking to a small group of other students. What he was saying was a little jarring to me. He told those he was speaking to, “Did you know that the Bible says in the end times that giant scorpions are going to be flying around stinging everyone who is not of God?”

I’m sure he said other things, but that was what stuck in my mind. Having grown up in south Texas, I knew what scorpions were and I had been stung by them many times. It was not a pleasant experience. I couldn’t image what a “giant” one would feel like. Horrible I’m sure. But that is not so much what got to me. It was the fact that the Bible had something so weird in it. I remember from my early Sunday School years “Jesus Loves Me” and things of that nature, but God sending down giant scorpions to torture people?

I overheard the reference and wrote it down. As soon as I got home that afternoon I found an old Bible my Grandmother had given me, dusted it off, found the reference, and read about the giant scorpions in the book of Revelation. I was really surprised to find that in there. Then my curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to know what else was in this book that I had only vague memories of as a kid. So I opened the Bible to the beginning and began reading.

Now, I liked to read, but this thee and thou stuff was like wading through mud. Occasionally I would run into a word I didn’t know, and the strange sentence constructions at times was really odd. Somehow I made it to the begats. It was at that point that I really got bogged down, as if I were trying to swim in mud. I finally put the book down. I had no idea that there were any “modern” translations. This was the only Bible I knew existed. I couldn’t handle this stuff, at least at that time.

We later went to my Grandmother’s house that summer. Sometime she would have gifts for us, and I distinctly recall when I walked in the door that time spotting a stack of books, four of them, that looked exactly alike on a table. I put two and two together, being that there were four of us and four books. I went over and looked at them, and they were nothing less than the New Testament in modern English. I was shocked. One because I didn’t know such a thing existed and two because this was like an answer to my previous frustration of not being able to stick with the King James English Bible. It was almost as if God was moving me along. So I asked Grandmother if these were for us, and she said they were, and I immediately began to sit down and read.

Usually we stayed at Grandmother’s for about a week. As we were on our way home, I was still reading. I had spent most of my time reading the Bible. Every time I put it down for a while to eat or do something a little different, it was not long before I was reading it again. Even as we were going home and night had fallen, I would read every time we went through a city, and every car that passed us I would hold it up in their headlights and read what I could. Before we reached Austin I had finished the New Testament.

The whole thing was very intriguing to me. I picked up a lot of things that I knew were just a completely different way of thinking. For instance, at one point on our journey home, I told my brother, “Did you know that Jesus said if you loan something to someone not to expect it back?” He simply said, “Really? Hey, can I borrow your watch?” “No!” I said, and quickly went back to reading.

However, I also realized that there were some things that I didn’t understand and I knew that I was not even getting the full message. I knew I need to do something, but exactly what I wasn’t sure. I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to go to a church. There were just a few problems with that need, however.

First, there was just the logical problem of how to get to a church. I was not old enough to drive and no one in my family went to church. It seemed I would first have to see what churches were available and then visit as many of them as I could. That would take some wheels.

But I also recognized another problem that was more difficult.

How will I pick a church?

I didn’t even have the beginnings of a measuring stick that I could use to know whether a particular church was good, bad or just there. I knew that I could not walk into a church and figure out whether it was an OK church or not. In looking back, it is a good thing I didn’t try. It is a good thing I didn’t even open up the phone book and look to see all the various types of churches that I could have visited. I could have spent years visiting churches trying to look for the one that was right, and then it would all be based upon my own criteria, how that church fits into my understanding of what is right and wrong, good or bad.

It is very interesting that this same question would again be posed to me many years later, on a much more abstract basis, as a problem and evidence that what we had in the Protestant movement was contradictory to how the Early Church saw the Church. I will be expanding on that later, but at this point I was faced with that reality, the reality that I in my own ability and reasoning could not figure out which one was right and which one was wrong.

I was afraid if I just started going out to visit churches I could end up falling into a cult of some kind and get really messed up. Many Protestants don’t really deal with this problem because they just grew up in their faith and have never existentially had to deal with how to figure out who is right and who is wrong. On top of that, many people don’t even chose a church based upon what it believes, but the surveys show that the biggest percentage come to a church because it is friendly or they have some relationships established there. Those who do go to a different denomination or “non-denominational” church usually restrict their search for one that fits their understanding of theology.

But I did the only think I could think to do at that time. I placed it in God’s hands and told Him that if He wanted me in a church, He was going to have to choose one and bring them to me. A few weeks later, this is exactly what happened.

The pastor of the local Nazarene Church, Rev. Roger Wilson, came down my street and stopped. He got out and was inviting us to Vacation Bible School. We agreed to come, we came, and that Friday night I went down to the “altar”, or more appropriately called the “mourner’s bench” and gave my heart to Jesus Christ, repented of my sins and asked forgiveness. I knew something had happened that was special. How did I know? Well, I was crying. When I cry, my nose always over runs with liquid from the nasal passages. This time, however, despite all my crying at the altar I got up and my nose was clear as a bell. I was simply amazed! That had never happened before, nor since. I know for many this will seem silly, but I took that as a sign from God that He had indeed heard my prayers and answered them.

In Nazarene theology, I was now saved. Basically what that meant was that now I was not on my way to hell, whereas before I was. I had no grasp on all the theology at that point. I just took it as that. At the core, that was indeed what had taken place. I had made a turn in my life that was to head me in a completely different direction. Before I was headed to the second death, now I was headed towards the Life. What all that meant, I was to learn over several years, and in many ways am still learning. On that day I turned around, God forgave me and I began my journey towards Him. A new relationship had been forged. I’ll go into more of what all that means in relation to Orthodoxy in some of the questions we will look at. However, it is enough to know here that God was definitely working in my life and I am eternally grateful for the Nazarene Church being there at that time, and for Rev. Roger Wilson’s sensitivity to God’s leading and guiding during those formative years as a new follower of Christ.

I began my journey in the Nazarene Church. Like any church, it has its strong points and its weak ones. Overall, I can see why God led me there. Where I was at and what it had to give in the way of spiritual development were complimentary. Rev. Roger Wilson was a great pastor with a big heart, whose main goal so it seemed was to love people as best he could. He would often get a little angry when his superiors didn’t take the same attitude in their administrative decisions.

The Nazarene Church, for those unfamiliar with it, basically grew out of the holiness revivals of the second half of the 1800’s. By the turn of the century several “holiness” groups had evolved around the country who, in contrast to some of the more charismatic groups, did not believe in the “tongues speaking” teaching, though there were plenty of “slain in the Spirit” and running the aisles and pew hopping activities, especially in its early days. The emphasis, however, was upon holiness of life and upon the particular emphasis of the Nazarene Church, the second work of grace, “entire sanctification.”

These were emphasis’ derived from Wesleyan Theology, being that a majority of the pioneer Nazarenes came from Methodist backgrounds. However, in reaction to what was perceived as “dead formalism” in the churches they came out of, the Nazarene Church also adopted a decidedly Zwinglian view of worship and sacraments. Because of this, there is a certain tension between Wesleyan and Zwinglian theology that has created a unique mixture of the two.

For those not familiar with these two people’s theologies, allow me to briefly summarize them in an admittedly simplistic fashion. John Wesley was a member of the Church of England, and was deeply involved with a great revival of religion in his day. He lived what could very well be called an ascetic life, read the Church Fathers, and was a committed Christian. He derived from these things an awareness of holiness and God’s enlightening of the heart to bring this about. His preaching often centered on holiness of life and living out the Christian faith. He is also the “founder” of the Methodist Church, though inadvertently.

He refused to separate from the Church of England, having read from the Church Fathers what a great sin this was. However, no sooner had he died than many of his followers left the Church of England and began the Methodist Church.

Wesley believed that man had a free will, was able to reject God’s grace and could experience sanctification by the Holy Spirit in order to live a life pleasing to God. His theology was derived to a large extent from Armenius’ teachings on man’s free will, but also from the Church Fathers who taught this as well.

Zwingli, who lived much earlier than Wesley, was one of the original Reformers along with Luther and Calvin. Zwingli is most noted for his view of the sacraments and church worship. He was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, but later left when his views departed significantly from that body. He took John 6:33 “…the flesh profits nothing, it is the Spirit which gives life…” to mean that the Eucharist was not meant by Christ to be taken in a literal sense as the Catholic Church had done. The bread remained just bread and the wine just wine. They were simply symbols pointing back to Christ’s death on the cross to serve as a “memorial”, that is, to keep it before our mind and allow us through symbols to actively participate in that event. He believed that the bread and wine are not literally changed into Christ’s body and blood. It was interpreted that Christ was only speaking symbolically.

This new focus reduced the importance of the communion meal in Zwingli’s mind, and what became central and of most significance was the sermon. The worship service was transformed to be primarily a place we come and learn about God in order to know him better. The communion meal was no longer the focus of the service, rather it was not even done in most services. Rather, the highlight of the service became the sermon and instruction from the Bible.

Thus, while Nazarene theology was on the whole Wesleyan, it was also Zwinglian. Most Nazarene services would resemble a Baptist service as far as look and feel than they would a Methodist. This is not exclusively so by any means. Despite the fact that the “Articles of Faith” for the Nazarene’s refers to the Lord’s Supper and baptism as signs of grace in us but not necessarily the grace themselves, there also have been movements to a more liturgical worship in some places. However, by and large in most Nazarene Churches you will not encounter a highly liturgical setting and view of the sacraments, and definitely not through its historical life.

This was the church that God lead me to at this time. Actually, you could say that God lead the pastor to my front door in answer to my inner prayers. God obviously was at work and I soaked up my new faith. It was not long before I ran into the teaching on the second work of grace, “entire sanctification.” Following traditional evangelical theology, they believed that there was a definite moment of being “saved” from hell by repenting of one’s sins. At that point, one was saved. Unlike Calvinistic teaching, it is taught that one can “backslide” and loose their salvation. Regardless, the moment of spiritual birth was considered a first work of grace.

Strictly speaking, that is a simplistic way of looking at it. This did not mean in Nazarene theology that this was the very first time any grace had ever touched this person. Rather that this was a milestone of sorts. Unlike a lot of evangelical traditions, however, the Nazarene Church made an emphasis on teaching the second work of grace. This was a teaching that after one was saved, whether it be seconds or years, there was a decidedly second activity of God’s grace. It went by many names, most notably the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I won’t go into a detailed explanation here, but the term entire sanctification was preferred officially because it denoted that one’s heart and life was totally cleansed and healed by the giving of the Holy Spirit to a heart totally committed to Him. After this experience, one’s heart was perfected in holiness entirely, original sin was eradicated, and the barriers to following righteousness were removed.

Interestingly enough, these teachings can also be found in the Church Fathers though using different terminology. This should not be surprising since John Wesley read them extensively. Yet there was also a great confusion about this doctrine. This was brought in part by the way it had been taught in the early years of the Nazarene Church and the reaction against it in later years. What was taught for quite some time was that after this experience one simply did not sin anymore. Thus, those who felt they had been “entirely sanctified” testified to quitting all sorts of sins and claimed to not sin again. The implications were that if one did then they had gone back to step one.

This created all sorts of problems in that people would claim to have been entirely sanctified and to avoid not looking unholy and unsanctified would not label some things as sins that should have been. For those all too aware of their shortcomings and continued sinful habits after this experience, they saw the doctrine itself as flawed, began to interpret it differently, or doubt their own spiritual experience. Having some of the teachings of the Fathers through Wesley, filtered down through various people and traditional ways of looking at things, they lacked the proper context that the Fathers spoke of these things in. Thus these problems arose.

At any rate, I myself felt a need to experience this. While I realize now that there is a simplistic manner that this was understood in the Nazarene Church, I am thankful that it was an emphasis for I think it lead me to where I am now. After two years of trying to understand this teaching and attempting to acquire it, I finally found myself one August night in 1978 at a teen camp meeting. The preacher preaching that night seemed to clarify several things for me and it seemed I knew what I needed to do. I went forward that night and prayed with much tears of repentance asking God to make my whole life His, giving God a “blank check” as the preacher had described.

This time there was not a clear nose. As a matter of fact it was so over running that I did not even want to lift my head because I didn’t want to gross people out. However, there was a different clearing going on. After I got up I had a real sense of peace in my heart. It was a different type of peace than I had experienced before that. I felt as if everything was in God’s hands and there was no concern on my part for anything other than to follow Him. Even though it was dark, things seemed bright and a wonderful contentment settled on my heart that night. I can say unreservedly that God did something in me that night. Whatever term one might want to put on it, I don’t care. All I knew then was before I was blind and now I could see. Not that there was not further blindness to be cured or that I never sinned again. There was, however, a definite opening of the eyes of my heart and God came to dwell there in a new manner than I had experienced before.

From the first moments that I had begun reading the Bible, even before being “saved” I had the sense that God was right there with me and I could talk to Him. There was always the sense of His presence with me. I freely talked with Him as if He were right next to me, because I really believed He was. Now it seemed more real than ever.

It was one such conversation that I had on my way back to Austin from that teen camp meeting that I began to sense that God was wanting me to preach for Him. I had never really seriously considered such a thing because of my shyness, and I was about to offer that up to God when I recalled that this almost brought Moses to the point of death. So I made a “deal” with God that if this is what he wanted me to do, He would open the doors to do that. To make a long story shorter, He did and I began preaching at a nursing home in town on a regular basis. The following year, 1979, after graduating from high school, I made plans to attend our denomination’s college, then called Bethany Nazarene College in Bethany, Oklahoma.

During those years a lot of things took place, which I won’t go into all of them here. Critical highlights, however, are a few. Meeting the girl who would eventually become my wife. Lenita Eby became Lenita Copple in May 15, 1982. Since then we have, as of this date, brought three children into the world; Kalee Ann, Nathaniel Scott, and Jeremiah Lee. Worked various jobs as I worked my way through college, finally graduating in the Spring of 1984 with a BA in religion. I hung around five years there before finally moving to Kansas City, MO to attend seminary. After gaining a year’s worth of credits going part time, the price went up so much that I could not feasibly continue without taking out a loan. Our finances were not all that good and I was not sure I wanted to be in hock for a lot anyway. It so happened that a mission church opened up at that time and I ended up as their pastor.

So I pastored my first church in 1992 in Noel, MO. It is a town tucked into the southwest corner of Missouri, south of Joplin. Spent two years there and was formally ordained as a minister of the Nazarene Church. After that I went to pastor a church in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Weslaco Church of the Nazarene in 1994. It is really during this time that my interest in Orthodoxy was aroused and I began investigating it.

While in Weslaco, for the first time I made my entrance onto the internet via America OnLine in May of 1995. It was not long before I found the theology boards and began discussing various theological issues with various people from all sorts of backgrounds. I really enjoyed it because for the first time in my life I had found a medium that I could effectively speak on. In face to face conversations, I am somewhat shy and so do not always have a whole lot to say immediately. In group conversations, I am easily interrupted, have a hard time interrupting others, and tend to think a little slower so that by the time I do have something worthwhile to add, often the conversation has moved beyond the topic. Now, I could clearly state my whole thought without fear of getting interrupted and not getting back to finish my thoughts, I could take my time to compose a message that was more than just off the top of my head stuff, and I did not feel like I was interrupting anyone to do it.

I spoke with atheist and pagans as well as various other Christians “listening” and offering my own perspectives on various issues. Most of the people I talked with were fairly kind. I actually made some friends out of some atheist and such, simply because I seemed to have a knack for coming across non-threatening to people and not easily angered. Unfortunately, many only see the screen name and forget that there is a real person on the other end of that screen and tend to say things they would never say to someone’s face. However, it was really interesting to see how other people thought, which has always been of interest to me. Being in these discussions groups was a great way to interact with various philosophies and theologies, to discover the manner in which people viewed things.

I should probably back up a bit. Many people, when I tell them that at the beginning of 1996 I had hardly any knowledge of the Orthodoxy Church, and by the end of 1996 I was being baptized into the Orthodox Church, are amazed at how quickly it took place. They are not the only ones. Still, when I look back at that year, I wonder how such massive changes in my life could have come about that quickly. I know part of the answer, but it still amazes me. I would also caution people that if at all possible, it is best to not take it as quickly as I did. The more changes one takes into a shorter period of time, the greater the confusion and disconnectedness that can come from it. One’s identity goes through some major shifts in such times. The slower one can take that, the less chance there is for Satan to send one down the wrong path.

Be that as it may, part of the reason that I converted so quickly was because I had simply been prepared for it by God over the preceding years. I will point this out as we go along, but suffice it to say that when I was hit with this, it was like a lot of things I had been working towards began to fall into place and I was practically forced into the road I ended up taking. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Before encountering Orthodoxy, I only knew a little bit about it, and half of what I did know was wrong.

Back in high school, I had taken a class on world religions. We basically used a PBS series that had an agnostic travel the globe investigating various religions in the hopes to see if he could find one that was especially compelling for him. Of course, in the end, he was still an agnostic, though one with an appreciation for the various religions of the world. One of the programs was on the Eastern Orthodox Church. He observed some services and interviewed some priest. Two main points I recall from that was that their worship was like a “drama” in acting out the gospel and that there was not a sermon.

In my survey of worship class in college, I also had some notes on Orthodox worship, which basically said the same thing, but with a little more words. Of course, I found out later that it is traditional for Orthodox to have a sermon. The reason they didn’t when that guy was visiting was because of communism. The communist would not allow them to preach. If a priest did preach, there was a good likelihood that one would not see him again. The concept that the liturgy is like a “drama” is also a little too simplistic. It does “preach” the gospel in action, but not like it is a play acted out. On top of this knowledge, I knew that it was in the Eastern countries and was once part of the Roman Catholic Church as one church in the early years of Christianity. I also knew that there were some Orthodox churches in the US, but I had never noticed one. Not that many in Texas and Oklahoma.

It was upon entering a discussion on biblical interpretation that I first ran into an actual “live” Orthodox Christian. Participating In this discussion was a “fundamentalist” Protestant, a Roman Catholic layman, an Orthodox priest and I. At the time I didn’t know he was a priest, but found that out later. We spent about two months discussing this issue of how the three different traditions approach biblical interpretation. It was quite interesting and beneficial. However, the Catholic kept making various remarks about all our various Protestant denominations as being evidence of our dividedness and how unlike the concept of the Church that the early Church had. It seemed like this theme was to pop up quite often. I didn’t necessarily get mad at him, but it did tend to get on one’s nerves at times. The Orthodox seemed to agree with him, though he didn’t come across as “pushy” on it.

At one point the Catholic guy asked me to give one good purpose to have so many different denominations. The reason I gave him, now looking back on it, was really quite silly and only demonstrates the Protestant mentality. What I said, however, was that it kept things honest and from locking one into being a part of a heretical church. If my pastor, or my denomination began preaching something not Biblical, I could get up and leave for another communion that did. I also said, to really make my point, that if that was not an option, I could even start my own church!

As you can imagine, that didn’t convince the Catholic or the Orthodox one bit. I guess the Catholic guy sensed that I was on the ropes a bit, if that was the best reason I could give him, and kept pressing the issue home that one only had to go back to the foundation. Realizing my situation, I decided to pull one of St. Paul’s tricks from the book of Acts. So I said something to the effect of,

“Now look, if I were to convert, which of you would I convert to since you both claim to have Apostolic foundation and to be the true Church? See, I’m no better off than I am now!”

Naturally, this started the Catholic and the Orthodox into their own discussion of who had held onto the real Tradition of the Apostles, and I was able to get off the ropes and watch for a while.

I had some further discussions with the Catholic guy on into January of 1996, primarily over sacraments. I had over the years moved away from a purely Zwinglian view of them and adopted a more Calvinistic view that believed there was something there, but it was “spiritual”. In my mind, that meant that the bread and wine themselves never changed, but that by faith one could partake of Christ’s “presence” in one’s heart and that was the extent of the “real presence” of Christ in the elements. In those discussions, I had also come to see that baptism had to be more than just a testimony to an already present grace, but began to think of it at a minimum of entering into something like one would enter into a marriage via a marriage ceremony.

I will explain these things more fully in later chapters. Here it is enough to know that I was definitely moving towards a more sacramental view of God’s grace. I, however, could see no reason to say that the bread and wine were anything more than bread and wine. I could see no reason why Christ would want to make a change there, since the flesh didn’t matter, just the spirit. I looked at the terminology as metaphorical of what we were to be doing in our heart when Christ said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”. Whether the Catholic correspondent realized it or not, I had moved a little closer his way.

Finally, he grew tired of the discussion, and school was starting for him and thus our discussion died down. Well, I had explored the atheist’s beliefs, the agnostics’, the pagan’s, various Christians including the Catholics. Who was left? I recalled the discussion on biblical interpretation, that one of them was an Orthodox, and I wondered what Orthodoxy believed about things. So I found a folder titled “Protestant/Orthodox discussion” and jumped in with both feet.

This was around the beginning of February 1996. We discussed various things like infant baptism, the Filioque, veneration of icons, original sin and other related concepts. It was original sin that really perked up my interest. For reasons that I will explain later, I had already rejected to a degree the general “Western” teaching on this subject. As I was taught, original sin was described as

“a tendency towards sin that we have inherited from our parents.”

It was often discussed as some foreign substance within us that was moving us towards sin. There was some truth to this, yet the whole concept was so abstract to me. Through reading Genesis 1-3, I had come to the conclusion that the essence of the fall was not a substance, but a condition of death of spirit. I felt that most of the Western concepts were based upon Augustine’s neo-platonic foundation rather than the biblical model.

Yet this was such a widely held belief in all the Christianity I knew, that I pretty much had kept it to myself. I kept exploring and trying to relate it to the whole of salvation, and had felt that someday I might write this great new innovative systematic theology based upon the constructs of relationships and call it “relational theology.” I had no idea that anyone had ever even looked at it this way.

That is, until I began talking with the Orthodox in that discussion folder. When I started asking questions about original sin, and they started defining it in terms of the spirit’s death, my jaw dropped. Here all the time I felt like I was this lone little Christian in all the world who saw it this way, and suddenly I ran into people who were telling me that this is the way the Orthodox Church had viewed things since the Apostles.

A whole tradition that has been going for hundreds of years agrees with me! I jokingly say every once in a while when I run across a saint who teaches something I had come to believe before Orthodoxy that I’m glad the saints agree with me.

With this discovery, now I was really interested in what Orthodoxy believed about a lot of other things. The guys who were feeding me answers to my questions would send me whole chapters of stuff dealing with my questions. I was soaking this stuff in and was explaining it to other Protestants in the folder. They were surprised at how fast I was taking all this in. Aside from the fact that I am just a person who thinks theologically, a lot of what they were giving me was making so much sense, and confirming many things I had felt in my heart but had not put into words. For me it was like a bunch of previously missing puzzle pieces falling into place and seeing a bigger picture for the first time. It was great.

I also attended my first Orthodox liturgy during that time. Several had indicated that I should go to one, but being a pastor made it difficult. However, the local Orthodox Church was holding Saturday morning liturgies during Lent, so that gave me an opportunity to see one for myself. It was definitely different than what we were use to, and we left that service with the only comment being “interesting”. It did make an impression on me, however. One aspect that I distinctly recall was the smell of incense that stayed with me throughout the day.

By middle of March, I had pretty much come to a definite conclusion. If the Nazarene Church ever went apostate, this would be a good place to fall back on. That’s right, despite all the great theology and historical ties, I felt that God had me where He wanted me, sort of, and I had no intention and desire to leave the Nazarene Church. I was quite happy with where I was at, thank you. Besides, I was an ordained minister and my pastorate was my income as well. Not something one considers leaving behind just because one likes the theology in another church.

The truth is, I still understood the Church itself as a Protestant. All the questions that had been put to me by the Catholic, though I had not really had any good responses to them, I had brushed off as basically things which I didn’t understand yet. What I did know, or felt I knew, was that I was a Christian and God had me where He wanted me. The various groups were just there because that was the way things were, and it would be rectified when sin would no longer reign. Thus, I could appreciate the value and theology of Orthodoxy without ever feeling a need to actually move in that direction.

There were two aspects to all this, however that changed this. The primary one is that I had adopted a more sacramental outlook than I had before. I knew that while the Nazarene Church basically held a Zwinglian view of them, yet there seemed to be room for those who were more sacramental as well. That year, even, one of our seminary professors had come out with a book on the sacraments that took a decidedly more sacramental view, that actual grace was communicated by the sacraments.

If I continued down this path I seemed to be on, to become more sacramental, I could see that at some point I might be forced to leave the Nazarene Church. That was if I went that way. That may or may not happen, and if it did I felt it was a few years down the line. However, I knew that if my theology ever changed significantly enough to where I no longer could accept any of the articles of faith, according to my pledge given at my ordination, I would hand in my ministerial papers and resign.

The other issue I was dealing with concerned my position as a pastor. I had felt that I might not be meant to pastor. After all, I had felt a call to “preach” and there were any number of ways a person might fulfill that. One avenue that was of interest to me was to be an “evangelist”. These were people licensed by the Nazarene Church to travel from church to church and hold revival meetings. This seemed more of a fit for what I and my wife did best. We both enjoyed singing, and many had told us how good we sounded together. Part of the reason I also felt this was because I had at that point a very good church to pastor.

There was not any big problems, the people were very nice and supportive and criticism was at a minimum. Yet, despite all that, I kept feeling like there were areas that I could not adequately fill as a pastor due to my personality. They were areas that I felt were important, but I constantly had the sense that I was failing in these areas. It seemed logical that I should be doing something different if I was having these feelings while pastoring a “good” church. How would I feel if I ended up some day in a church that was difficult?

In reality, the only reason I was still there at that point was because I had felt that God had not released me from that pastorate. I had sort of a crisis the previous summer, and despite my prayers and pleas that God would resolve these feelings and questions where I was suppose to be, I felt God had told me that it was not time yet to move, that I should continue where I was. So I stayed. However, the fall of 1996 my pastoral review would be coming up, and I felt that I would need to make a decision one way or the other by then. I didn’t want to tell them I would stick around for two more years only to leave a few months after that.

These issues were things that I didn’t feel free to bring up to anyone. However, I had developed an on-line relationship with a Catholic friend who lived up around Detroit. Mostly we had discussed the differences in weather, he had told me some of his old war stories, and talked about this and that. We had a nice relationship built up over almost a year, as he was one of the first friends I had made on-line. One day as I was writing to him towards the end of March, I decided that he might make a good safe prayer partner for some of these issues I was dealing with. So I told him a little about what I was going through and that I would appreciate prayer.

He e-mailed me back, indicating that he would definitely pray, and thought I might appreciate a book that dealt with ministers who were going through what I was. What pastor turns down a gift of a book? Not I, so I e-mailed him back and said sure, giving him the address to send it to.

It just so happened that there were about three more Sundays before Palm Sunday that year, and I had decided to do a sermon series leading into the Easter week on the three times Jesus predicted His death. The first one happened to be when Jesus ask them “Who do men say that I am?” and they all respond back with their answers, but only Peter says, “You are the Christ.” After Jesus gives Peter a blessing, he goes on to discuss the death He will experience in Jerusalem. Peter tells Him that this will never happen to Him, and Jesus responds with the all too familiar words, “Get thee behind me Satan.”

My main point in that message was the paradigm shift that Peter had to go through because his concept of what the Messiah was coming to do was not what Christ had in mind. Dying wasn’t part of Peter’s plan. I titled the sermon “The Shock of the Cross.” I left the congregation with the challenge that if God placed a “cross” before them this week that they didn’t understand, would they be willing to pick it up? What I didn’t realize was that God had set me up big time.

Monday morning came, basically my day off, and in the mail came the book my Catholic friend had promised. So I opened the package and pulled out a book titled “Surprised by the Truth”. As I began to look at it, I realized that this was a book about Protestant clergy who had converted to Catholicism. I was a little taken aback, thinking my friend must have misunderstood my message. I certainly was not looking to convert to anything or leave the Nazarene Church. I was happy for the time with the Nazarene Church and felt no need to leave it until the day it might go off the deep end as other groups had done.

However, I didn’t want to say that I had not read it after he had gone to all the trouble to send me the book. So I opened it up and began reading. Most of the stories started out much like this one did. They told of their conversion to Christianity and then of their conversions to Catholicism. They were interesting stories, alright. However, for most of them when they got to explaining why they became Catholic, they didn’t resonate with me, or make any compelling argument for me. I just sort of felt like, “OK, glad it works for you but I’m not convinced.”

That was my attitude until the last two or three stories. They were making a case that the Early Church saw things such as schism and division as sins and of the worst kind. Unity was the prevailing theme, and the Church had always been viewed as one Body visibly on earth until the Protestant Reformation began to break things up so much that a new view of the Church had to be formed within these groups over a period of time. If the Holy Spirit was really going to lead us into all truth, and the very first disciples of the Apostles clearly taught that schism is a great sin, that the Church was unified around a bishop, that the Eucharist was indeed really the body and Blood of the risen Christ; if these were wrong, did the Holy Spirit lose control so quickly that so many and so great heresies would come about before the last of the Apostles had died? They pointed to St. Ignatius and St. Clement, both who lived around the turn of that first century and where taught directly by the Apostles.

That thought struck me, and I happened to have a history book with some of their writings in it on my shelf, so I pulled it down to check out what they were saying. As I read their works, I began to realize that what these guys were saying was correct. These people really believed this stuff. Some of it opposed to what I held. One in particular that caught my attention was the statement St. Ignatius makes in reference to those who “hold themselves aloof because they don’t believe that the Eucharist is really the body and blood of Christ.”

I suddenly began to dawn on me, that if I could not trust these guys to have it right, who were taught by the Apostles, then I had practically no chance to get it right having been removed almost two thousand years from them. Yet, if they were right, then the Catholics and Orthodox were right on this issue, because it was forcefully obvious that unity was everything and schism was a great sin. Here I was, pastoring a church that was a schism from a schism from a schism. It came down to either admitting that what I had always thought the Church was, is not the Church, but at best only a reflection of it. The Eucharist’s “real presence” issue made this abundantly clear. For while I knew that the Nazarenes had a lot of things right, even by Orthodox standards, they also had some things considered very important by the early church very wrong.

The clincher for me, however, was that St. Ignatius had basically said that the Eucharist was really the body and blood of Christ, for real! This is the one thing I had consistently denied as needed theologically. Yet, here was a disciple of St. Paul teaching this clearly and plainly as if it was established fact. It wasn’t a thought that was created during the middle ages, but could be demonstrated as having a consistent history from the very beginning. How could he and the subsequent generations of Christians in the Church be wrong without denying that the Holy Spirit was at work in the Church from the beginning. Would the Holy Spirit have allowed generations of Christians to be deceived about something like this for 1500 years until Zwingli and Calvin came on the scene?

Yet, to accept this as true would definitely put me beyond what the Nazarene Church believes. While some had moved to a more sacramental view, I had heard no one make the claim that the Lord’s Supper was actually the very body and blood of Christ in a real sense. I knew a belief of that nature would not be accepted in the church I was pastoring, nor by my District Superintendent, nor by the denomination as a whole. Nor would the view that there is only one visible Church Body, and all others are not fully within that Body.

What was I to do? I didn’t want to accept that these guys were right, because that would necessitate not only leaving my pastorate, but also handing in my ordination and leaving the Nazarene Church. On the other hand, unless I could find a way to see this differently in an honest manner, to not say they were right was to deny the Holy Spirit and lose all sense of trust that the Holy Spirit was guiding me, the Nazarene Church and all of Christendom. There would be no basis of hope any longer and continued pastoring would only be the height of hypocrisy. I was trapped, and the more I struggled in prayer to get out, it seemed the deeper the conviction settled in me that this was reality.

This revelation came to me on the Wednesday of that week. A cross had been laid before me, one that threatened my understandings of what reality was for a Christian. I went through a whole paradigm change that day concerning the Church. I couldn’t reconcile what St. Ignatius and St. Clement were saying with what I believed up to that point and with what the Nazarene Church believed. I cried long and hard that day in great anguish, because I knew the difficult path this was leading me to and I didn’t want to go that route. Yet, it became a firm conviction in me that I had no other choice unless I was willing to totally throw the faith out.

Some people might marvel at the great “sacrifices” someone like me had to make to convert to Orthodoxy. Yes, there were and are sacrifices, but relatively speaking to not go this route would have been a greater sacrifice for me, for I would have given up the faith and any sense of purpose in life.

There is more of this story I could tell, but I think I’ve hit the key point here. One, in looking at Orthodoxy, might really admire the theology, the historical connection with the past that seems to emanate in the worship, the beauty of the liturgy or the reverence we pay to God as especially things missing in so many other places. However, coming to the point where one begins to see the Church as the early Church saw it is something altogether different. At some point, most true converts will need to deal with this issue, because it is in a context unfamiliar to us. Keep in mind, however, that coming into Orthodoxy is not just a checking out to see if you like the fit and the color. It is a marriage, a marriage to Christ and His Body from beginning to end.

Yes, you will need to investigate, at least gain a sense that the Orthodox Church does not deny Biblical concepts, that it even holds them better than most and in ways you never dreamed. You will need to ask questions and learn and test the spirits. You will need to experience the liturgy and services to really learn the theology. It does take time, and you should. There is no need to rush into this as some may feel that I did. I hope that on this web site we can cover most of the major questions that an inquirer might have when they look into the Orthodox Church.

I also gave you a complete journey here, so that you will know that I am not saying that one does not have a relationship with God and Christ unless they are an Orthodox Christian. The fact is, all of us are on a journey and we are hopefully moving towards God.

I’m still on my journey as well, and relatively speaking I’ve not even been Orthodox all that long. My only excuse for even attempting to write this is because I’ve been on that side of the fence, so I have a sense of where most inquirers are at, and while I’m no saint, I’ve learned and come to answers on a lot of the questions that are asked.

Not answers necessarily in the definitive sense, but answers that will at least, I pray, provide some context that will make the Orthodox Church’s position on various items not so foreign and more understandable to Western minds. My hope is not so much to convince as in a debate, but to help see the Orthodox perspective on these issues in order that particular stumbling blocks might be removed, or at least point one in the right direction for that. This is not a pushy sales job to convert you to our view, but to give you what helped me in learning about these things in hopes that it will of help to others.

I’ll do my best to give real “Orthodox” concepts from the Church Fathers and what I’ve learned as an Orthodox Christian. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to check out anything I have written here, especially if it sounds of doubtful quality. I’ve been wrong before and harbor no pretense of infallibility. Knowing that I am still seeking myself to attain to the likeness, all I can give you is what God has given me in my journey so far that it might help those coming behind me. Consequently, this is not meant to be a catechism, but only an aid to introduce one to Orthodoxy and give some context for the questions commonly asked of the Orthodox.

To the degree that this serves that purpose and furthers anyone on in their journey towards full union with God, may God be glorified accordingly.

Source:



JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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Lance Goldsberry, USA: 
Why I Became Orthodox

A Personal Story and Testimony

From Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy

On January 31st, 2010, one day after my 50th birthday, I was received into the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of the East at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I became Orthodox Christian after 20 years journey of studying Orthodoxy. I was raised Roman Catholic, and went to parochial school for 12 years. I am grateful for my Roman Catholic upbringing; I learned who Jesus was, I believe I knew the Christ, but I did not always follow Him in my life.

After wasting a few years in adolescence and young adulthood smoking marijuanna and living a generally aimless life, I had a “born again” experience through the Catholic Charismatic movement. It was real in the sense that I repented of my sins and re-directed my life to Christ, and gave up drinking and drug use.

Shortly thereafter, I began attending independent charismatic churches, and left the Catholic faith. The churches I went to were very fundamentalistic. I got burned out after spending a few years in one fellowship in particular, where the leadership of untrained ”elders” exercised a very authoritarian and spiritually abusive kind of authority. After a failed marriage, I tried a number of evangelical churches, but did not find a home.

I am grateful for both my Catholic upbringing and my evangelical experience. My Catholic background instilled in me a knowledge of Jesus as my Lord, God, and Savior, and of wholesome morality. My evangelical experience taught me to be Christ-centered and to have a love of the Holy Scriptures.

After having been burned out from the fundamentalist sect, I began to do some reading. In fact, I already had been reading since the mid-1980s early Church fathers such as Polycarp of Smyrna, Ireneaos, and Ignatios of Antioch, and I was stuck by how “catholic” the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament itself were. I was especially struck by their belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For them, the Eucharist was the very Body and Blood of Christ our God. These early Christians had liturgy, sacraments, bishops; they did not seem like the fundamentalist churches I had been attending.

In the early 1990s I met a Greek Orthodox priest who would plant the seeds of my eventual conversion. Through a mutual friend, United Methodist Pastor Bob Stamps, I met Father Hans Jabobse. We all attended a bible study or sharing at lunch time once a week. Because Fr. Hans lived close to me, he often would give me a ride home. There was something compelling about Fr. Hans. I began asking him questions about Orthodoxy, the Eucharist, the Theotokos, and I always found his answers intriguing. He answered my questions with authority, humble but firm and certain.

I remember one day after Fr. Hans dropped me off at my home, I went upstairs and knelt by my bed, and said a Hail Mary for the first time in probably 10 years. A tear came to my eye. It was almost as if the Mother of God bent down and kissed me on the forehead.

I attended the parish he served at the time, my future parish, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church. I found the liturgy very uplifting and inspiring. I thought the chant sounded beautiful.

I began to attend inquirer’s classes at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis (St. Alexis Toth’s Church). For some reason, shortly after starting, my interest began to wane somewhat. I found Orthodoxy too conservative, and I quit going to the classes.

In the 1990s, I attend St. Mary’s Catholic Basilica on and off. I thought “Orthodoxy seems so similar to my Catholic faith, I might as well return to that.” At times I was devoted to my Catholic faith, and at other times, I was not. During the mid 1990s I actually began to lose my faith altogether, and started looking into Buddhism. But I never completely lost sight of Christ. I still read the New Testament every day, even during my short inquiry into Buddhism.

My return to Christ was inspired in part by watching the movie about Dorothy Day, called Entertaining Angels. There was a scene from the movie, when she was on the cusp of her conversion, where Dorothy is in Church, and look up at a crucifix and says,

“You really have a way of getting to people, don’t you?”.

It was a very moving scene, and I shed some tears.

Around 2000, I began attending a Byzantine Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis. I never completely lost my interest in the Christian East although it had waned at one time. As I re-committed my life to Christ, I began to think more about how to live out my Christian life, and how I would practice. I began to feel the hunger again for the Eastern Liturgy.

But since I was Catholic, I thought I would attend a Byzantine Catholic Church rather than an Orthodox one. I had read that the Byzantine Catholics shared the heritage of Eastern Orthodoxy, for they were Orthodox Churches that accepted union with Rome. My Church, the Byzantine Ruthenian Church, accepted union with Rome at Uzhorod in 1646.

I attended St. John’s for approximately 10 years. Overall, my experience at St. John’s was a very good one. All three priests that served our parish while I was there were very good men, very Eastern in their spirituality, and very trustworthy.

But during those years, I became increasingly Orthodox in my outlook. There are some very stark differences in Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spirituality and teaching. I found that on all of the issues that divide the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church, I came down in every instance on the side of the Orthodox- whether the issue was Papal Primacy, the Immaculate Conception, the Filioque, Purgatory, Indulgences, and a host of other issues.

I felt by far more attracted to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church. I began to feel disenchanted with the rationalist and legal framework of the Roman Church. It is my perception that the Roman Magisterium functionally supersedes Holy Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church.

As an Eastern Catholic, I had an identity crisis. Was I an Eastern Orthodox in communion with Rome, as many of the more Orthodox Eastern Catholics like to say? Or was I a Roman Catholic with Eastern Liturgics, as some Eastern Catholics in fact seem to be?

When people would ask me about my religion, I distanced myself from Roman Catholicism, and tried to explain what an Eastern Catholic was, and that I was really an Orthodox Christian “who accepted the authority of the Pope.” But in fact, I didn’t; I began to believe, as an Eastern Catholic, that the Pope could be seen as having a primacy of love and honor, as the eldest among co-equal brother bishops, but I could not accept that he had supreme jurisdiction over the entire Church Catholic.

I aligned myself with the Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Elias Zoghby, who proclaimed himself in duo communion with both Rome and Orthodoxy. Bishop Zoghby considered himself an Eastern Orthodox Christian, holding to everything Eastern Orthodoxy teaches, but in communion with the Bishop of Rome, according to the limits recognized by the Eastern Fathers of the first millennium. But the problem with this is obvious: how can I be in communion with the Pope of Rome, if I do not have the same view of his office as he does, and as the Roman Catholic Church requires of all her members?

I began to  be dissatisfied with certain limitations placed on the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States, such as not having married clergy. The authentic tradition of the Eastern Church is to have married clergy, but for most of the time Eastern Catholics have been in Western Europe and in the United States, they have not been allowed to have married clergy. Although my bishop in fact was willing to ordain married men, and in fact had done so, most of our bishops were not courageous enough to do so.

I also questioned how I could belong to an autonomous Church, when Rome in fact chooses our Metropolitan? Or when Pope John Paul II in fact promulgated our Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Catholic Churches? And why in fact was there only one Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, when in fact, there are 21 divergent Eastern Catholic Churches, with very different heritages and theological traditions? With the exception of the Maronites, all the Eastern Catholic Churches have an analog in the Orthodox world- there are Catholic Russians, Greeks, Copts, Ethiopians, Syro-Indians, etc.

I decided I wanted the Orthodox identity. I believe in my heart that the Orthodox Church is the true Church, the Church founded by Christ and his apostles.  I believe that Catholics and Protestants are Christians too, I am not an exclusivist in the sense of asserting that only Orthodox are Christians and go to heaven. But the Orthodox Church has preserved in purity the faith

“You really have a way of getting to people, don’t you?”

It was a very moving scene, and I shed some tears.

Around 2000, I began attending a Byzantine Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis. I never completely lost my interest in the Christian East although it had waned at one time. As I re-committed my life to Christ, I began to think more about how to live out my Christian life, and how I would practice. I began to feel the hunger again for the Eastern Liturgy.

But since I was Catholic, I thought I would attend a Byzantine Catholic Church rather than an Orthodox one. I had read that the Byzantine Catholics shared the heritage of Eastern Orthodoxy, for they were Orthodox Churches that accepted union with Rome. My Church, the Byzantine Ruthenian Church, accepted union with Rome at Uzhorod in 1646.

I attended St. John’s for approximately 10 years. Overall, my experience at St. John’s was a very good one. All three priests that served our parish while I was there were very good men, very Eastern in their spirituality, and very trustworthy.

But during those years, I became increasingly Orthodox in my outlook. There are some very stark differences in Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spirituality and teaching. I found that on all of the issues that divide the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church, I came down in every instance on the side of the Orthodox- whether the issue was Papal Primacy, the Immaculate Conception, the Filioque, Purgatory, Indulgences, and a host of other issues.

I felt by far more attracted to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church. I began to feel disenchanted with the rationalist and legal framework of the Roman Church. It is my perception that the Roman Magisterium functionally supersedes Holy Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church.

As an Eastern Catholic, I had an identity crisis. Was I an Eastern Orthodox in communion with Rome, as many of the more Orthodox Eastern Catholics like to say? Or was I a Roman Catholic with Eastern Liturgics, as some Eastern Catholics in fact seem to be?

When people would ask me about my religion, I distanced myself from Roman Catholicism, and tried to explain what an Eastern Catholic was, and that I was really an Orthodox Christian “who accepted the authority of the Pope.” But in fact, I didn’t; I began to believe, as an Eastern Catholic, that the Pope could be seen as having a primacy of love and honor, as the eldest among co-equal brother bishops, but I could not accept that he had supreme jurisdiction over the entire Church Catholic.

I aligned myself with the Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Elias Zoghby, who proclaimed himself in duo communion with both Rome and Orthodoxy. Bishop Zoghby considered himself an Eastern Orthodox Christian, holding to everything Eastern Orthodoxy teaches, but in communion with the Bishop of Rome, according to the limits recognized by the Eastern Fathers of the first millennium. But the problem with this is obvious: how can I be in communion with the Pope of Rome, if I do not have the same view of his office as he does, and as the Roman Catholic Church requires of all her members?

I began to  be dissatisfied with certain limitations placed on the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States, such as not having married clergy. The authentic tradition of the Eastern Church is to have married clergy, but for most of the time Eastern Catholics have been in Western Europe and in the United States, they have not been allowed to have married clergy. Although my bishop in fact was willing to ordain married men, and in fact had done so, most of our bishops were not courageous enough to do so.

I also questioned how I could belong to an autonomous Church, when Rome in fact chooses our Metropolitan? Or when Pope John Paul II in fact promulgated our Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Catholic Churches? And why in fact was there only one Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, when in fact, there are 21 divergent Eastern Catholic Churches, with very different heritages and theological traditions? With the exception of the Maronites, all the Eastern Catholic Churches have an analog in the Orthodox world- there are Catholic Russians, Greeks, Copts, Ethiopians, Syro-Indians, etc.

I decided I wanted the Orthodox identity. I believe in my heart that the Orthodox Church is the true Church, the Church founded by Christ and his apostles.  I believe that Catholics and Protestants are Christians too, I am not an exclusivist in the sense of asserting that only Orthodox are Christians and go to heaven. But the Orthodox Church has preserved in purity the faith

“once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

The Orthodox Church has continuity through episcopal apostolic succession with the Churches originally found by the Apostles in Europe in Asia in the first century.

The Orthodox Church is not a monarchial Church, it is a conciliar Church. The doctrine of the Christ, His Divine-Humanity, was enunciated by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church from years 325 A.D. to 787 A.D. The Bishops, throughout the world, came together at these councils and proclaimed the doctrine of the Church. There is no one Bishop who defines dogma for the Church, as Roman Catholics claim for the Pope.

Besides embracing with my heart everything Holy Orthodoxy teaches, I love the spirituality and aesthetics of the Orthodox Church.

For Orthodox, God is not angry, rather He is the lover of mankind. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not to placate a vengeful God, but to liberate us from sin and death, and to defeat our adversary, the devil. For Orthodox Christians, there is no “sinners in the hands of an angry god.”

Orthodox spirituality is apophatic; that is, we cannot know him through discursive thought. We cannot know God by our ideas about God.

One of the things that attracted me to Orthodoxy originally was its liturgy. The Russian Primary Chronicle relates the story of St. Vladimir’s emissaries who were sent out to various nations to discover the true faith. Here is what they wrote back to Vladimir after visiting the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople:

Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here.

 This is how I feel about Orthodox worship. It is beautiful, it is the liturgy of heaven.

I am now a very contented Orthodox Christian. I believe that the Orthodox faith is the true faith.

“This is the Faith of the Apostles. This is the Faith of the Fathers. This is the Faith of the Orthodox. This is the Faith that has established the universe.” – from The Synodikon of Orthodoxy.

Source:


ROMAN CATHOLICS MET ORTHODOXY

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From the “Church of Christ” 
to the Eastern Orthodox Church

by David Scott Klajic

Part 1-5

Scott’s journey took him from Orthodoxy to the Church of Christ, to Presbyterianism, to Eastern (Byzantine) Catholicism, to Roman Catholicism right back into the arms of the Orthodox Church.

David Scott Klajic, USA:

In 2015, I “converted” to Orthodoxy, at 43 years old.

At the time, I had recently returned from my second deployment (I am an army officer) and had reached the final step in a journey that took, I guess, the entire previous 43 years. I was married, had 4 children, and a basically stable life. How did I get here?

Background

My father was a Yugoslavian national of Serbian descent who defected from the Tito regime in 1958. He was Serbian Orthodox, but by the time I was born, his association with the church was nominal at best. I never had the opportunity to speak with him about that, because he died before I started turning towards Orthodoxy. In fact, his death had quite a bit to do with it.

In the United States, he married another Serb, and they had 2 boys—my half-brothers. They eventually divorced and my father was then remarried to my mom, an Arkansas native. They were living in California at the time. My mother was raised in the distinctly American faith tradition known as the Church of Christ, which is an offshoot of the Stone-Campbell or “restoration” movement of the early 18th century. At the time, my father apparently did not want to push the issue of Orthodoxy, and deferred to my mother on the issue of what form of Christians we would “be.” He insisted that I be baptized/chrismated in the Serbian Orthodox church to “get my name on the rolls” and then we worshipped where my mom wanted to.

So it came that I was raised in the “mainline” Church of Christ, where I remained a faithful member and held various leadership roles, later as an adult. We attended twice every Sunday and Wednesday nights. We never missed—even when we were on vacation. My mom taught Sunday school. My Dad became a deacon. My parents ran the “joy bus” ministry at our church growing up.
In my late 20’s, I attended a Baptist seminary an obtained a Master’s Degree in Christian Counseling because I Intended to enter the ministry as a church counselor. There is more to that part of the story later.

Restoration Theology

It is relevant to understand a bit of what the Church of Christ teaches about itself. At its core and early history, the restoration was a unity movement. The founders of this movement from the very beginning attempted to discern from scripture what the essentials of the faith were. Part of this meant stripping away all of what they considered to be tradition, culture and therefore not essential to salvation. Without getting into a huge discussion of how they arrived there, or discussing the history and who the key players were, what they came up with was very short list of things one needed to do to be saved. Or in another way of understanding the framework—how to identify a Christian. To wit, they decided that you needed to hear the word, respond to it, repent, be baptized and then put on the new man – that is, work out your salvation every day until you die.

In the earliest days of the movement, literally everything else was considered to be matters of personal choice. They rejected all creeds, and were specifically hostile to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is probably related to the fact that most of its original founders were former Presbyterians.

They appealed to Christians by asking “what did the very first Christians do?”

They gleaned the answers to this question from the New Testament, which like most protestants they regarded as the only source of information needed to learn this from. It would not be until much later that I wondered,

“if the New Testament was produced by the earliest Christians and then canonized by later Christians, why isn’t what those later Christians did also important?”

In the end, as the Church of Christ developed into a denomination (they do not consider themselves one, but they have all the features) the folklore became

“we are the original, New Testament church. The one true church that Christ established. We have always been around, underground while those pagan Catholics went around worshipping Mary and twisting the faith for their own purposes.”

Regardless, they are well versed in the Holy Scripture. They know what it says, and to be honest, in most cases, they know what it means. Of course, in my opinion, they are moving blindly around in the dark trying to find Jesus without the benefit of everything else the church did after the first century. But you may notice something. The thread that runs through both the Church of Christ and Orthodoxy is “originality and authenticity.” One desires it, the other is it. This is not unimportant in my own personal journey. It lead me back and further and further until I found the source.

There will always be a special place in my heart for this honest attempt to “restore” the original church. I pray that every one of them will realize it never left. It is manifest in those guys speaking the super old languages, swinging the censers and such. The members of the Church of Christ are unapologetic zealots for the truth and would make powerful assets to Orthodoxy.

In all, I spent about 30 years in the Church of Christ.

Divorce, the Army and a Decade in the Spiritual Wilderness

As mentioned earlier, I spent two years in graduate school, learning Christian counseling. I was married to my first wife at the time, another lifelong Church of Christ member.

Toward the end of my time in the seminary, I had approached the elders of our congregation about turning my internship (which I was doing there) into a full-time counseling ministry. This meant I was making my unpaid work into a full time job with the church. I had pitched it to them and they agreed. So I spent the next 6 months or so drumming up and securing the funding that would eventually be my paycheck. It was an exciting time, as I was finally going to leave the family business working with my dad and do what I really wanted to do.

Unfortunately, at that same time, my wife hit me the news that she was leaving me and wanted a divorce. This was a shock to me, and sparing the details of it, reverberated into other areas of my life—including the job I was about to start.

The elders decided that I was not qualified to be a church counselor, in light of the fact that I was going through a divorce. This is debatable, but the bottom line is, they were the ones writing the check. I was divorc(ing), and had a masters degree that was pretty much useless outside of the pastoral context—with a student loan price tag in the stratosphere.

So, I joined the Army!

At 29 years old, I left everything I cared about (I grew up, went to college and graduate school and all my loved ones lived in Southern California) for a change of scenery. The army would pay my student loans and I could see the world. I ended up seeing North Carolina.

It was during those first few years that I, for the most part abandoned the Church of Christ, because I was angry, and what the Hell? I felt they abandoned me by not pressuring my wife to stay with me. After all, I had not cheated, I was not abusive, etc. I had devoted 30 years of my life to the church and that was what I got.

It didn’t have to make sense, but it worked as a way for me enter a very dark time. I started smoking, drinking, and engaging 100% in the life of a single enlisted soldier. The reader may infer what they want from that.

Over the next four years, I would occasionally slip in to the back pews of a Church of Christ, and even led singing from time to time, but I did not belong there anymore.

I cannot say there was a moment when the fog lifted and I decided to snap out of it. It was more gradual than that. My initial time in the army was coming to an end, I wanted to go back to graduate school to get my PhD in psychology. So I applied and got in. In the fall of 2004, I entered a PhD program in the northern California bay area. Again, I would occasionally go to church, but for the most part, I just did the serial monogamy, “girlfriend” thing, which I knew was not compatible with any sort of Christian life. So rather than being a hypocrite I just did what I wanted to do. My conscience always bothered me, but clearly not enough yet to do anything about it.

In my 4th year of the program, I met my current wife. She was nominally Catholic, and a single mom. We did the usual, socially normative euphemistic routine of “dating” just like everyone else does. We were married about a year later, and then I was headed back to active duty—this time as an officer and psychology intern. We packed up our stuff and moved to Georgia.
By this time, I was beginning to feel the sting of missing a serious, stable church family. My wife would never be comfortable in the Church of Christ. This discussion was gone over several time. The Catholic Church made me feel like I was worshipping idols and Mary and calling another man “father!” Yikes!

So the compromise ended up being a Presbyterian church. They had a “high church” feel (it was for the most part liturgical) but I recognized enough of the theology and practice to be comfortable. In all we spent 2 years there, and I was even elected to the elder board. Our daughter, who was born while we were there was baptized in that church.

We moved to Texas and started worshipping at another Presbyterian church, and had our next one, a boy, baptized there. It seemed this was going to be our newly formed faith tradition. It was during this time I went on my first deployment to Afghanistan. When I returned, my father’s health was failing and we were not talking much. He was angry with me because I did not call him/write him much while I was deployed. We had one final skype conversation and he blew up at me. We stopped communicating at that point. My parents had divorced right after I graduated from high school, so I didn’t get to do much third party communication with my mom. It was a rough time. He died about a year later, with that angry skype conversation being the last time we ever spoke.

Readers should not be too heartbroken at this point. The previous 42 years of my life and relationship with him were fantastic. It ended on a down note, but we were very close my whole life. That is the part I choose to remember and dwell on. His cloak and dagger story of intrigue, bravery and escape from totalitarianism makes him a bit of an archetype/hero for me.

And the best part is, the story is true.

Get an Annulment?

The Presbyterian Church we had been attending proved to be too far for us and our little growing family. So, although it freaked me out, my wife asked me if I was OK with attending at the local Catholic Church. I was in another faith waning slump, so I figured it would be fine.

It is important to understand that I was married to a real-life woman who had her own spiritual journey to go through. You cannot be in a serious marriage and live your inner life in a vacuum. She was seeking something too, and we were both broken up about my dad. She asked me if I would be willing to speak to the priest there about an annulment (from my first marriage) for her sake. I figured

“I don’t believe in them anyway, so why not?”

It was during those conversations with the priest that 3 related things came up:

1.The Catholic Church acknowledges the apostolic succession of the Orthodox Church,
2.This meant my baptism and chrismation as an infant made me Orthodox, and
3.There was no need for an annulment because no Orthodox can marry a heterodox outside the church and especially without dispensation.

A technicality? Sure. But what did it mean for me, personally?

For the first time in my life, I felt that what might have seemed like a series of quirky coincidences to any rational, scientific minded guy like me was no coincidence at all. Those that know me as almost Spock-like in my approach to understanding phenomenon will know how out of character it is for me to write—I believe having me baptized and chrismated as an infant was my father’s gift to me from beyond the grave. I cannot prove it, so don’t ask me to.

For a brief moment, I was considering converting to the Eastern Catholic church, so I could practice the rite given to me at birth, while remaining in communion with my wife. In fact, I attended RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) for a bit and my wife and I even had our marriage “convalidated” by the Catholic priest. I attended a liturgy at a Ruthenian Catholic Church. I was under the impression after going to confession with the priest there that I was now, Eastern Catholic.

One More Deployment

Shortly after, I was deployed again for six months. I attended Catholic mass (they had no Eastern Catholic presence there) and tried my best to be a part of the congregation. During Pascha, a navy Orthodox chaplain came to visit and I asked the Catholic priest there if it was OK for me to attend the liturgy on Pascha. He said it was fine, and in fact appeared to know nothing about the Eastern Church. The navy chaplain (Antiochian) gave me a chotki that he told me was very special to him. It was hand made by monks in a Serbian monastery.

I started reading voracious amounts of church history. The canons, the encyclicals, the arguments leading to the great schism. It seemed, in the context of what I wrote earlier about “originality and authenticity” that becoming Catholic was simply not going back far enough.

The Eastern Catholic Church is broken down into Sui iuris churches which are aligned to an Eastern Orthodox counterpart. When an EO converts to Catholicism, they are, by canon law supposed to be enrolled into that corresponding church. In my case, this would have been the Greek Catholic Church of the Former Yugoslavia. The Ruthenian Priest who took my confession did not perform the rite properly, nor did he make any record of it, and therefore the diocese of my assigned jurisdiction did not recognize the conversion. I was still ‘Orthodox by rite.’

The entire time I was deployed, worshipping at the Roman Catholic church, I felt something was off. As if this was not the end of the story, and clearly it wasn’t. Again—I cannot explain any of this other than through my faith–that I was being pulled toward Orthodoxy and my interest in the Eastern Catholic church was my own clouded diversion. The truth is, I did not trust in Him enough to ask my wife “would you be interested in becoming Orthodox?” so I used the “I want to be in communion with my wife” excuse to convert to a facsimile of Orthodoxy to keep the peace. I should have just asked her.

There is some back story on the way things were handled in the case of my misguided attempt to convert to Eastern Catholicism. While I was deployed, my wife was in contact with the Eastern Catholic priest and was trying to arrange for things like the chrismation of our children. She kept trying to engage with him, sending him polite, serious questions about the conversion. He would never get back to her.

We did not wish to be a ‘bi-ritual’ family, so she was diligently trying to learn about the Byzantine rite. Canonically, it is appropriate for the home to be primarily identified with the rite of the husband, (it he wants it that way) and she wanted to help me raise our kids with just one ritual. The priest was a very political/social justice minded fellow and my wife and I are very traditionalist or “conservative” for lack of a better term. It was starting to become clear that he didn’t really want us in his congregation because he thought we were “mean right-wingers.” There were a few conversations on social media that made it sound like there was a requirement for us to hold certain political views in order to be in his grace.

Those issues were weighing heavily on my wife’s heart and she agreed to start looking at some Orthodox Churches in the area. And wouldn’t you know it, there was a Serbian congregation within an hour of us—in Texas of all places.

Searching for Orthodoxy

After I got back from my second deployment, we had a series of awkward conversations with the RC priest where were worshipping. When he informed me that I needed to “re-do” my conversion, I think he expected me to jump right on it. Instead, I basically said

“um, no thanks. I think this happened for a reason.”

Very shortly after that, I did an internet search for Orthodox churches in the Austin area. I found a Russian one (Fr. Aidan Kellers parish in Pflugerville), a ROCOR church, an Antiocian one and a few others.

But Holy Apostle and Evangelist St Lukes Serbian Parish, for some reason did not come up on those initial searches. We visited the Russian church where Fr Aidan is the priest and they were lovely. But several of them noticed I was Serbian and said straight out

“if you are interested in the Serbian Cultural aspects of it, why not go to Fr. Dragos church?”

So I found it and called the number, and he answered.

Right away, it was like talking to my dad. The accent was spot on. There is a lot more to that, but it is why I get a little frustrated when people accuse me “phyletism” and such. Being culturally Christian (as opposed to being a cultural Christian) is important to me, and I don’t feel like a racist for saying it. I love my Greek, Russian, etc brothers and sisters. But I wanted to celebrate Christ the way my ancestors did as well. The stories of the Turkish occupation and near annihilation of the Serbs, the Slavas, and all the rest of it actually means something to me now.

Blood and Faith

Orthodox church modelIt turned out they were having their church Slava the very next week. We went to church that Sunday and it was like the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Big tent, lamb on the spit, lots of food, music, etc. It was quite overwhelming. They were thrilled that a 1st generation Serb brought his family to start this journey. They were all open arms and smiles.

My wife and I had a series of conversations with Fr. Drago. He came to our home and blessed it. Sometimes we would talk for hours after everyone else left church. I watched my wife go through her process as I did mine. Within 3 months, I was convinced to come “back home.” Our priest took me through the steps to restore me after such complicated canonical impediments as to make your head spin. He brought my wife and children in as well.

My understanding is that Orthodoxy recognizes the right of nations and ethnicities to exist, and to celebrate Christ within those cultural contexts while remaining in full communion with each other. What is wrong with that, I have no idea. It has been like putting on a comfy old baseball cap. Hearing the language, smelling the food. It has made me deeply sad that my father was not more insistent about it, but also truly grateful for how gracious St. Luke’s has been. I think my dad had a very bad taste in his mouth from the persecution he suffered in Yugoslavia, and this may explain why he did what he did.

Scott KlajicAnd now, when Fr. Drago reads the list of all the departed during the litany before communion and I hear my fathers name “Ljubivoje” read (actually sung) amongst all the others, I become tearful–every time. It is hard to explain all of this. But blood and faith have come together for me in a way that is too deep for words.

Our third child (together) is 7 months old now and will be baptized and chrismated in May.

David Scott Klajic, Ph.D. is a major in the U.S. Army.


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“We have to return to our Roots”

A conversation with Fr. Gabriel Bunge from Switzerland and Nun Cornelia Rees

About fifteen years ago, I had a unique opportunity to visit the hermitage of a Catholic priest-monk and theologian in the mountains of Switzerland. He was well known for his writings on the holy fathers of the early Christian Church, and no less well known for his unusual—from the modern, Western point of view—monastic lifestyle. Somewhat familiar with how Catholic monasteries generally look today, I was not expecting to feel so at home as an Orthodox monastic in his Catholic hermitage.

After ascending a wooded mountain path to a small dwelling among the trees, we were greeted by an austere looking, elderly man, his gray beard flowing over black robes. His head was covered by a hood bearing a red cross embroidered over the forehead. It was as if we had been transported to the Egyptian desert, to behold St. Anthony the Great. As he and his co-struggler Fr. Raphael treated us to tea, we talked about the Church, East and West, and about the Russian Orthodox Church. But there was no talk of them joining that Church—it would have been uncomfortable to even mention it.

We felt that we had come into brief contact with a monk who was one with us in spirit, although he was not in our Church, and we parted with joy at this pleasant revelation while Fr. Gabriel made the sign of the cross over us in the Orthodox manner.

Fr. Gabriel never had and still does not have electronic communication with the outside world, and we heard very little from or about him after our visit. Nevertheless we did not forget him, and in the intervening time we never ceased to think how good it would be if he were in communion with us, the Orthodox. But never would we have tried to approach this subject with him—we somehow felt that God was guiding him as He sees fit.

Fr. Raphael, a Swiss, has since passed away, and Fr. Gabriel is the abbot and sole monk of what is now the Monastery of the Holy Cross, part of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was baptized Orthodox on the eve of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Moscow, August 2010. He is now Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel.

Recently in Moscow on a very demanding schedule, Fr. Gabriel still took the time to talk with us.

***

—Fr. Gabriel, although you have talked about your life in other interviews, tell us again a little about yourself.

—In live in Roveredo, a tiny village of about 100 inhabitants. My monastery is above the village in the woods, in the mountains of the Lugano region, the Italian part of Switzerland.

—You had been Catholic from childhood?

—Yes, but not a practicing Catholic all my life. My father was Lutheran, and my mother Catholic, and I was baptized Catholic. But as it often happens in these cases, neither of my parents practiced their religions. Neither my father nor mother went to church. And so neither did I. But as young people always go their own way, I rediscovered the faith of my Baptism. At first I went to the Catholic Church, by myself. My parents did not encourage me, they only tolerated this.

—Even your mother?

—She was a believing Catholic, but because of her marriage to a Lutheran, she lost her practice. Only much later, when I was already a monk, she went back to church and began to practice her Catholic faith. My father grudgingly went with her, at least on Easter or Christmas, because he did not want to spend the holidays alone.

—Where were you born?

—I was born in Köln, but we left that city when I was two years old because of the war. That town, almost 2,000 years old, was almost razed to the ground. It was like Hiroshima. About eighty percent was destroyed, and the Americans even suggested that it be reconstructed elsewhere—it seemed to be useless to try and reconstruct those ashes. But people were extremely attached to their town; the great cathedral was still standing, although greatly damaged. The twelve Romanesque churches[1] were terribly damaged also. For ten years we did not live in Köln, but in a little town in the countryside. Only in 1953 was it possible for us to return. So, I spent my youth in Köln, and went to gymnasium there. I still love that town very much.

The Gothic cathedral, a wonder of Gothic architecture, was built on the place where all the cathedrals had been from early Christian times. One of the first bishops of Köln was a close collaborator of Emperor Constantine. Under the north tower is a baptistery from the fourth century. There is a church of St. Gereon in Köln, where the octagon is up to five or six meters. It is a Romanesque church, from the fourth century, and has relics of the Roman martyrs. There are so many traces of the undivided Church, the beginnings of Christianity, and by these very archeological facts, I was “pushed” to dig deeper into the foundations of the Church. I am a historian by formation, a numismatic.

—Did these memories make you feel the desire to “fuse” Europe back together with Church of early Christianity?

—Of course, I did not know about the Orthodox Church for a long time. I only discovered the existence of Orthodoxy little-by-little. Some of my Orthodox friends of today have told me that Catholics know that we “exist”, and nothing more. Simple people even ask, “Do you venerate the Mother of God, too?” This is even fifty years after Vatican II, which seemed to “open the windows” of what was the very closed Catholic Church, and their knowledge of Orthodoxy is still very poor. I had to discover this little-by-little for myself. I did not know about any Orthodox communities; there were no Orthodox churches in the cities, because the Russians, at least, celebrated in Protestant churches given them to use for a couple of hours on Sunday, as is often the case even today. In Lugano, the Russian Orthodox have bought a small Protestant church that was empty and unused. All the other Orthodox communities, such as the Romanians, celebrate in Catholic churches given them to use. But now we have a little church, which must be paid for. It is gradually being transformed into an Orthodox church, with an iconostasis and everything.

So, I had to discover Orthodoxy little-by-little. When I was about nineteen years old, after gymnasium,[2] I went with a friend to Rome, and there I discovered the early Christian period: the catacombs, the old churches, those founded by Sts. Constantine and Helen, and so on. It was very impressive. I must confess that this strengthened my consciousness of myself as a Catholic. Rome is apostolic ground—here is the tomb of St. Peter, there of St. Paul, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Croce, San Giovanni Laterana … all these paleo-Christian churches, this incredible archeological continuity. But it was much later that I discovered that although there is continuity on the level of architecture, there was no continuity on the level of the Apostolic Church, the foundation.

I discovered only later that Santa Maria Maggiore and the other churches have always been the same, but this continuity does not exist on other levels, the more essential levels. It is the same with the Anglicans. They have the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Canterbury on one level, but on the theological level there is no continuity, there is a break. However, at the time I was too young to be aware that there are so many breaks and interruptions in the history of the Western Church. I had to discover this for myself, gradually.

People often ask me why I became Orthodox, and whether there was a crucial moment or event in this evolution. There was a crucial moment, and though I have said this before, I will repeat it. I had to discover it—first on the literary level, through books, music, etc. It is same for monasticism—I had to discover its spirit through the writings of the desert fathers. But I discovered real, living Orthodoxy at the age of twenty-one, when I was in Greece. I was a student, not yet a monk. I could not yet enter the monastery because my father wouldn’t allow it. I was too young. I thank heaven that he did not allow it, because that way I had an opportunity to travel to Greece with other students, and to discover living Orthodoxy there. I saw holy monasteries, and even met a holy monk. I went to the Liturgy. This was before Vatican II. The Greeks were extremely kind and friendly to me as a Catholic. Today that would probably be different, because the Catholics have changed completely towards the Orthodox.

—For the better, or for the worse?

—From the worst to the best. But now the Orthodox keep their distance because they feel invaded.

I visited the seminaries and monasteries in Greece, and at one time said to the monks and students, “Everything is fine here, and I like it, but… it is a pity that you are separated from us.” The immediate reply was, “You are wrong, it is you who separated from us.” And so I was confronted for the first time (I was only twenty-one years old) with this fundamental problem of separation which is seen in a different way in the East and West. Who is right? At twenty-one I didn’t have the means to check the answer. Only little-by-little did I obtain them, and so discovered that in fact it is the West that separated from the common foundation. There is the archeological continuity, in the famous churches from the time of Constantine and Helena for example, but at the essential level— theology, Liturgics, and everything else—there is not. My little book, Earthen Vessels,[3] speaks about one little aspect that is very essential: that there was an interruption.

—You mentioned before that you have read the book by the German historian Johannes Haller[4] about the history of the Church up to the 1500s, as well as other books about the papacy, such as the one by Abbe Guettée.[5]

—Yes, in fact I am reading the book by Haller now. It is purely a history book, while the book by Guettée is polemics. You see, Haller was impartial, very quiet, and he had free access to the Vatican library. It is an objective history book, has very quiet spirit, but is very powerful. The facts are overwhelming.

—You have said that you are glad you are reading about Church history now, and not earlier, because it could have caused you to lose your faith. Could you elaborate on that? You think you needed to be stronger in order to face the facts. Is that correct?

—I feel that faith in young people needs to be preserved, protected. When you have a solid foundation, sufficient criteria in your mind, and stronger faith, you will be able to judge.

—You mean a strong foundation in the Christian faith, and not necessarily in the Roman Catholic faith?

—Yes, then you can confront yourself with this mass of historical facts.

—Because you feel that these facts taken by themselves may be too devastating or scandalous for people?

—Yes, of course. You see, history is not theology. History is just the facts—what happened. Haller’s work describes all the ups and downs… it is fascinating, but it is true history. It makes you wonder…

—History, warts and all?

—Yes, with all the warts; and the Pope’s claim of priority, of being the head of the Church. It is very odd. In as early as the fourth century, Pope Damasus claimed that the Roman Church (not the Pope—yet) has primacy over all the other Churches, because of what Jesus Christ said to Peter: “You are a rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (cf. Mt. 16:8) So they, Rome, have very much identified this rock with an institution, with something visible—the Roman Church. Although very many fathers of the Church, both East and West, identify this rock, as St. Ambrose of Milan did in the year 382, with the faith of the people. It is the confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God. It was not Peter’s personal faith; he was not a better theologian or apostle than the other Apostles. It was revealed to him by the Father. This is the rock which cannot be destroyed. Peter shortly afterwards proves that he did not understand anything of this confession. He is called a “devil”. The Lord says, “Get thee behind me, satan” (cf. Mt. 16:23), and so on. Not only St. Ambrose, but the most important fathers of both the East and West also say the same thing. For the Roman Catholic, it is absolutely obvious that this rock is the person of Peter. And Peter according to tradition died in Rome, and therefore it must be the Roman Church, and his successor, the bishop of Rome, who is this rock. But Peter was in many places. Why does it only have to be the place where he died? Many people could claim to have his tomb… but he died in Rome, as did St. Paul. But is this sufficient reason for this city, which was the capital of the Roman Empire at the time, to become the head of all the Churches, too? If there is any city that could lay claim to that title it would be Jerusalem, the city where our Lord died, and not Peter. In Jerusalem is the tomb of our Lord, and there He resurrected. The head of the Church is in any case our Lord.

—This always seemed to me to be a devastating example of what is called in Russian плотское мудрование[6]—fleshly mindedness, a purely earthly way of thinking.

—Yes, and it immediately took hold. And what is so shocking in this history of the papacy by Haller is precisely this worldly aspect—how the spiritual means, such as excommunication and interdict, have been used continuously, for hundreds of years, just for political reasons. And what is even more shocking is that people didn’t even bother to obey these interdicts. Whole countries were under interdict; that means no Mass, no Sacraments, no bells—nothing.

—Why?

—Why? Because the king would not give in to the Pope’s territorial pretenses. The Pope was always fighting for his own state, which became larger and larger, then smaller and smaller, and still exists, as is the function in the Vatican City. It was always for these political, territorial reasons. But most of these countries, hundreds of kings, even bishops, simply didn’t bother. They continued to celebrate mass, dispense the Sacraments, and so on.

—So they were technically in “disobedience” to the Pope?

—Perfectly. To me, this was shocking. Even today it is shocking. It is shocking that these spiritual means are used for purely material, political reasons, and those who were hit by these interdicts did not bother. So, you can imagine that this would gradually destroy the Church from within. You understand much better why Western Christianity destroyed and continues to destroy itself from within. Not from outside. It is horrible, I must say. It is what I call “secularization”. There are Popes who themselves fought in battles. In was an ordinary thing for Cardinals to have armies, and so on. This is secularization. It means that the Church was closing its own horizon in on itself to include increasingly secular interests. The Popes were defending (understandably) their own independency—from the Emperor, who they in fact needed, because without the Emperor they would have no longer been independent of the dukes, the king of Sicily, etc., whatsoever. You begin to understand a lot of things.

—I assume you are reading this book in the original German. Are there translations?

—This is a classic, but I don’t know—there are dozens of books of this kind. I only quoted this book to tell you that even now, afterwards, I am still interested in these questions, in reading books that during my time of searching I was forbidden to read. I don’t think that it would have been very useful to me then anyway, because I would have completely lost my faith.

—Forbidden by whom?

—By my professors in the Catholic faculty in the university. In Germany theology is taught by the state, and so I received my theological education from a state university.

So, I continue to study just to deepen my understanding of the reasons for the separation between East and West. Of course, you can understand quite a lot from this, but there is still one big mystery that I am still unable to understand: Why did God allow this?

You can say that it was all the mistake of the Pope, but the faithful had no choice. That is what I say to my friends now. I say, “Look, you shouldn’t criticize or condemn Catholics. They are just born on the wrong side of the street. It is not their mistake. They have no choice. They never had any choice. The whole West belonged to the Roman Patriarchate, which gradually became larger and larger; they were not part of other patriarchates. In any case, they are not today. That is their mistake—they were just born there.

—This, however, brings to mind a question I always have. I myself am a Westerner, a convert to Orthodoxy, I have no Eastern Orthodox roots, and so my question is not intended to be anti-Western. However, why are we apparently so prone to earthly, secular thinking in the realm of religion—more than the Christian East? Theoretically, the same process could have happened anywhere.

—Theoretically, yes, but in practice, it did not. I think it is because secularization is a very long process, and its clearest expression is Protestantism, which is an inner-Catholic phenomenon. It is an inner-Catholic phenomenon in the Western Church which occurred after its separation from the Eastern part of the Church. It could not develop before. I will tell you about a most terrible experience. I am speaking about history, but perhaps it is better to speak about my own “little history” of seventy-three years. I entered the monastery at age twenty-two in exactly the year that the Second Vatican Council was opened. With my Greek Orthodox experience and so on, I became a monk at Chevetogne,[7] and we were really full of hope that now the Roman Church would turn back on its path, and there were many signs that this is how it would happen. Paul VI had a very strong and deep desire for reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. He was the incarnation of this Janus-face (double-face) of the Western Church. On one side, he wanted to concelebrate the Liturgy with Patriarch Athenagoros when they met in Jerusalem, and he brought a golden chalice to do so. But the ecumenists (thank God) separated these two old men, because after such an act it would have become worse than it was before. So, they did not serve together. He offered to give the Patriarch that chalice. But it is well proved that he wanted, through Liturgical reforms, to make the Latin mass become acceptable to Protestants, not thinking, not aware that it would in the same moment become completely unacceptable to the Orthodox. You can see that the Catholic Church is between these opposite positions—the Orthodox East and the Protestant West. But then the general evolution did not go towards the east, but towards the west. It became a slow self-Protestantization of the Roman Church—a self-secularization, with all the destruction, both physical and spiritual, that we have seen.

This was a real historical disaster of unseen dimensions. You see, Protestantism is an inner-Catholic virus. And the Roman Catholic Church has no antibody against that virus. The antibody is Orthodoxy, which has never been, for five hundred years, tempted by Protestantism. Even if there be an Ecumenical Patriarch who has sympathies with Calvinism (as there once was), this is local. It has no influence on the Orthodox consciousness. It is just limited, and that is all. The Orthodox Church had plenty of opportunities to be infected with Protestantism and secularism, but they did not succumb—only on the surface.

—A cold, rather than a cancer?

—Yes, a cold, not a cancer. This is really a tragedy of historical dimensions.

Many Catholics are aware of this now, because they no longer consider the Orthodox Church to be a competitor or adversary. That is why they help them in any way to establish their parishes in the West. They give them their churches so that they can serve the Liturgies on Catholic altars, which would have been unimaginable before.

—Just as an aside, last spring there was a delegation from Russia present at a celebration in Sicily commemorating the aid given by Russian soldiers to victims of the great Messina earthquake in 1908. The Russian clergy present were invited to serve the Liturgy for the local Orthodox congregation in the Capella Palatina in Palermo.

—Ah, beautiful. The Russians continually celebrate solemn Liturgies in the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Bari. I have seen one Liturgy there celebrated by a Russian Metropolitan, about 20 priests, with a large choir. And I thought, “That is the Liturgy required by this beautiful cathedral. But when it was over, the Latin mass started… and you want to cry. You want to ask, “What are you doing here?”

In a way, this is something out of the ordinary, but it shows that many Catholics are not sure any more that they are right.

—Of those who are wavering—do you think they could go in the direction of Orthodoxy, or might they instead give up everything?

—The only way I see it happening is if they turn to their own Orthodoxy, because unless God works an unprecedented miracle that turns everyone to Byzantine Orthodoxy, there is a whole culture at work to prevent it. It is not just a matter of texts, or formulas. But they must turn back to their own Orthodoxy, their own traditions. For all these years, when I wrote my little books, my aim was this: as a monk, to help people have a spiritual life, to rediscover, reintegrate their own spiritual heritage, which is of course the same as ours; because we have the same roots. But the success of my endeavor, at least among monks, is close to zero. Especially among monks. The books are read mostly by laypeople, not by priests and monks. The monks are the ones who practice yoga, Zen, reiki, and so on. When you tell this to Russian monks they are shocked, they can’t imagine this is happening. I do not judge them; thank God, it is our Lord Who will judge the world and not me. But it means that people are not looking for a solution, an answer within their own tradition. They are looking outside of it, in non-Christian religions. To me, Catholic monks practicing Zen meditation is like Zen monks praying the Stations of the Cross. It is completely absurd. In Buddhism, suffering has a different origin; it is overcome in a different way from in Christianity. There is no crucified Savior. Why should they meditate on the Stations of the Cross? Of course, they do not.

—And how could a Christian monk, who believes in a personal God, pray to the impersonal universe of Zen?

—In those monasteries they have Zen gardens… But could you imagine the Stations of the Cross in a Zen monastery? Buddhist monks kneeling before the Stations? It’s unimaginable.

—They have as if lost their self-identity.

—But what is so striking is they do not even try to dig in their own ground, to find their own roots—the source, which has been filled up by trash. They seem to be convinced that there is nothing there, and never has been.

So we have to look for this source as well. I remember quite well my monastic youth—there were those in the monastery who felt that there was nothing there, that everything was dry. Then came a Zen master, a Jesuit (very well-known; he died a long time ago), and it was a revelation. At least it was something spiritual… They had only seen formalism. Thanks to God, I had discovered the holy fathers and the primitive monastic literature before I came to the monastery. It was not the monastery that taught me. I continued my search in the monastery.

—In Chevetogne?

—Yes. I went there because it seemed closer to what I discovered in Greece. To tell the truth, I was sent there. I had entered a Benedictine Abbey in Germany. My novice master, the abbot, a holy man, loved me very much, and he could see that I was not in the right place. He sacrificed his promising novice and sent him to Chevetogne, to see if this was more fitting. When I made my monastic profession he came himself to visit me. He was a holy man. My confessor, a Trappist monk, was also a holy man. I had the chance to meet more than one holy man, even in the West. They still exist.

I feel that my own path is to prove, even to the Orthodox, that it is possible, even within the Western tradition, to rediscover the common ground, and to live out of this. You can do this—not by yourself, of course, but only with God’s grace. But then I reached a point where I could no longer support being in only spiritual communion with the Orthodox Church so close to my heart. I wanted real, sacramental communion. Therefore, I asked for it.

—Do you believe that on this path of digging down to the roots of one’s own Western tradition, some would inevitably feel compelled to take the step that you took?

—It is difficult to say, because it may not be technically possible for everyone to do so. In the West, the Orthodox Church had not been so well represented. Now it is changing. I have a lot of friends who are following the same path, they are “orthodox” but not in a confessional way. I do not know whether they ever will become Orthodox. My own experience teaches me that you will not always find help from the Orthodox side. Proselytism is not normally Orthodox, and you will at times not even find concrete help. I was even discouraged. There was a well-known theologian (I will not say who)… I was a young student, and he literally prohibited me and other monks from Chevetogne to become Orthodox. He said, no! You shall not become Orthodox! You must suffer in your flesh the tragedy of separation. I did, because I had no other way. I addressed another Russian Orthodox Metropolitan for help—he did not help me. He just turned me away. And this was God’s will. In the right moment, it truly went smoothly. Really. Like a letter in the Swiss Post. But before, it seemed impossible.

—I am sure that everything happens according to God’s will and plan, but do you feel that perhaps Orthodox people should provide more encouragement to those people who are searching, wavering? Who are digging deeply but not getting to the roots?

—They should know their own faith better, and be capable of answering questions. They should not criticize everything and everybody.

—As many converts are prone to do.

—Yes, the converts are the most severe judges. But, yes, they should be able to answer essential questions. However, I am speaking of my own experience, in Switzerland. I would suppose that it is different in America, where there are hundreds of different churches, Protestant denominations, and they are all equal, so to say. There are dozens, unfortunately, of Orthodox Churches also.

—Yes, America has the opposite problem: too much to choose from.

—It is confusing.

—Even so, it is still hard for some Orthodox Americans to come forth and say, “This is the true Church.”

—Nevertheless, it is easier in America because there is no “dominant” Church. It is not as in Italy, Spain, or even in Germany, where there are two dominant Churches, the Catholic and the Protestant. Side-by-side, or one over the other, depending upon how you see it, the Catholic Church is a dominant confession. Any Orthodox activity would be received badly, I suppose—all the more since they depend upon the good will of the Catholic Church. To get a church, to celebrate, when you are too poor to build your own church, you need the good will of the Catholic bishops. But I think the situation in American is different.

—Of course the Catholic Church is powerful in America, but in North America they were initially entering into a Protestant, Anglo-Saxon milieu. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church brought many charitable works, hospitals, and schools to America, although many people forget about this.

—Yes, but they should not.

Anyway, I am against any kind of proselytism, but we have to answer questions, to say how things are, if people want to know. God calls everybody to this, let’s say, “right place”.

—One last question. Do the local people who are not Orthodox ever wander into your monastery and ask you about it?

—The local population has known me for thirty years, but mine was always a very specific monastic life; and because they do not know monks, there are no monks (there were Franciscan brothers there, who are not monks), they always wondered what sort of brothers we were. We wore black, we had beards, we used to wear hoods, and looked quite old fashioned. Their own local saint from the fifth century also dressed just as we did, but they do not know this anymore. They knew that we were very close to the Christian Orient, the holy fathers, and that what I am saying today is no different from what I have always said. That is one thing that people noticed when I became Orthodox. One lady, a simple housewife with no university education, who knew that we became Orthodox, said, “I just want you to know that you will always be our Father Gabriel, and you are doing what you have always taught us to do—to go back to our roots. The Orthodox Church is just as it was in the beginning.” So, a simple person without any theological studies can catch the sense of it. They were not shocked. There was no opposition against us. It sometimes happens, as we are walking in the streets, people will say, “Father, may I ask you a question?” I say, okay. “Are you an Orthodox monk?” I say, yes. “Bravo!”

They are not used to seeing monks anymore. The only monks they see are Orthodox monks. The Franciscan friars wore lay clothing, so unless you knew them personally, you would not know that they were friars. But Orthodox monks are always to be identified as such. And for these people, it isn’t a provocation. They feel strengthened. They say, fine! Bravo!

I must say, I didn’t expect that reaction. When I was enthroned as abbot of my monastery (a big word for a small reality), there were several Catholics present, many of them Benedictine monks. They asked if they could come; they wanted to be there. They were present at the Orthodox Liturgy, and I presented them to the Bishop, who received them amiably. It was not perceived as a hostile act against them or against the Catholic Church, but rather as the final consequence of what I had always taught.

—They could see your integrity in this.

—Many of them would even like to do the same thing, but they are too bound to the world in which they live; or, their knowledge of Orthodoxy, of the Apostolic tradition, is too poor.

So, we have to return to our roots.

Nun Cornelia (Rees) spoke with Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel Bunge

23 / 10 / 2013

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Notes:

1 The twelve Romanesque churches in the old town of Köln date between the fourth and thirteenth centuries. The Romanesque style combines features of Roman and Byzantine buildings.

2 Gymnasium was what they called the school for children who would eventually go to universities. It went from age eight to eighteen.

3 Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition (Ignatius Press, 2002)

4 October 16, 1865 – December 24, 1947.

5 Réné-Francois Guettée (December 1, 1816 – March 10, 1892), The Papacy. After his thorough study of Church history, the Roman Catholic priest Guettée became increasingly disillusioned his native Church and was eventually received into The Russian Orthodox Church, with the name Vladimir.

6 Azbuka.ru, an online encyclopedia of Orthodox Christianity, defines плотское мудрование (plotskoe mudrovanie) as “the way of thinking of fallen man.”

7 Chevetogne Abbey, also known as the Monastery of the Holy Cross, is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery located in the Belgian village of Chevetogne in the municipality of Ciney, province of Namur, halfway between Brussels and Luxembourg. It was founded in 1939. The monastery two churches—one Latin rite and the other Byzantine rite.

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