Τετάρτη, 13 Νοεμβρίου 2019

Conversions to Orthodoxy - English Orthodox Web 7


ORTHODOX WEB


Conversions to Orthodoxy

English Orthodox Web 7

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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A very high-ranking European man 
about Protestantism, Roman Catholicism 
and Orthodoxy

Fr. Athanasios Simonopetritis (from the Monastery of Simonos Petra Monastery, Holy Mount Athos, Greece) says:

Last year came to our monastery a very high-ranking European man. We chatted with cordiality. Eventually, I asked him: “Welcome! Why did you come to us, ordinary monks, you, a famous man, at moment we are not anything great…”.

He replied disarmingly: “Father, you may not be something great, as you say. However, you live in a great space and you have a great treasure, Orthodoxy!”.

I deliberately insisted on the same pace, saying: “What can a so prominent man wait by Orthodoxy?”

In the debate were four or five fathers. He looked into our eyes one by one and said: “Listen Fathers, I will confess you something: Today both ways of expression of Christianity are in intractable, we have been tired with them. Both Roman-Catholicism with legalistic spirit and Protestantism with the hard logic crushed us. We want heart and freedom! These elements are in Orthodoxy. Perhaps you don’t understand. However, we understand very well”.

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EX 2X2 LETTERS FROM GREECE

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Vietnam, 2017: The Mother of God appears to Vietnamese woman in coma, 
who then converts to Orthodoxy

Fr. George Maximov, a Moscow priest who often serves on missionary trips throughout Asia, has posted on his Facebook page the words of a Vietnamese woman who converted to Orthodoxy after the Mother of God appeared to her.

The woman, Nguyen Thi Mai Anh, a former Buddhist living and working in Vũng Tàu, Vietnam, was baptized into Holy Orthodoxy on Holy Saturday this year [2017].

She writes of “something incredible” happening in her life about a year ago: “I was lying in a coma in the hospital. During this time I saw a radiance, a bright light, and directly in front of me appeared the Virgin Mary Theotokos. She handed me a bottle of water and gave me to drink. As soon as I drank the water, the light and the Theotokos disappeared.”

“In the morning the next day,” she continues, “I suddenly came out of the coma after being unconscious for so long.” Nguyen survived, and she began to pray to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother for a speedy recovery, and decided she would become a Christian when she returned home.

“A few days later, another vision appeared to me in a dream, that there would be a man who would lead me to the Church, and that I would eat Bread there and drink Holy Water together with everyone, and walk around the church,” she continues.

After she was released and returned home, a friend came to her, bearing an icon of the Mother of God with the Savior. “I was incredibly happy, because it was the same image I had seen in my dream. I was very happy, and I told my friend about what I had seen in the dream, and he took me to an Orthodox Church where Russians pray in the 5th district of the city of Vũng Tàu, to meet the Lord and the Theotokos there,” Nguyen recalls.

The woman was later baptized in the same church and “born again under the protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos and by the grace of the Lord.”

“I am infinitely happy!” she exclaims, continuing, “Thanks to Thee, O Lord and to thee, O Theotokos, for my ‘second birth’ and the gift of the Fountain of Life!”

Fr. George notes that she broke her leg just before her Baptism, but this did not deter her. She was baptized with the name of Anna, and now reads prayers in the Vietnamese language during the services.

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VIETNAM OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX VIETNAM

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5,000 Native Americans Baptized
Orthodox Christians in Mexico

The conversation published below took place in early December 2009, during the visit of Metropolitan Jonah (OCA) to Russia to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Moscow representation of the Orthodox Church in America, and is devoted to the activities of the Church in Latin America.

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

-The jurisdiction of our Church extends to Mexico. Previously, we also had some parishes in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. But some of them left for the Russian Church Abroad, the others were closed.

Several communities in Latin America want to join the Orthodox Church in America. We would be happy to take these believers, but there is no one to care for them, because we have very few priests who speak Spanish or Portuguese.

A priest – I hope he will soon become a bishop – began a mission in Ecuador in Guayaquil, where there settled a major Palestinian colony. Unfortunately, in recent years, his good initiative was dampened. I heard that in Central American countries, particularly in El Salvador, there are many Palestinians. Curiously, they do not go to the parishes of the Antiochian Church, and have been asking to be accepted under our omophorion.

The Ecumenical and Antiochian Patriarchates prefer to care for the Greek and Arab diaspora. We do not understand this. The Church must give pastoral care, first of all to local spiritual children. This is the principled position of the Orthodox Church in America.

-When was the Mexican Exarchate established?

-The Mexican Exarchate exists since the early 1970′s. At that time, the bishop of the Mexican National Old Catholic Jose Church, Jose (Cortes and Olmos), got in touch with our Church, and together with his community came to Orthodoxy. Because of his work, hundreds of Mexicans penetrated the Orthodox faith.

Recently, 5,000 Native Americans from 23 localities in the State of Veracruz were baptized Orthodox. However, such a huge mass of parishioners have only one priest. In the Mexican Exarchate there are in general very few clerics. All of them Mexicans, including the ruling bishop – Bishop Alejo (Pacheco-Vera).

-Have you ever been in Latin America?

-I just visited Mexico. I’m now planning to go to Guatemala. My friend, Abbess Ines (Aiai), lives there; she is Abbess of Holy Trinity Monastery which is in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

In Guatemala, my attention is drawn to a group of thousands of people wishing to convert to Orthodoxy. Most of them are Mayan people. If we accept these, my Guatemalans, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples of other countries in Latin America, the Native Americans, could become the main ethnic group in the American Orthodox Church. Personally, I would be glad.

-It is clear that you are sympathetic to the original inhabitants of the Americas …

-I feel very warm feelings for the Native Americans. At university I studied anthropology, was fond of the Mayan and Aztec cultures. They are great and wonderful civilizations.

I like Latin America as a whole – its art, music, literature, cuisine. Latinos love life, they are open and hospitable people. I grew up in California – one of the most Hispanicized states in the US. From my Mexican friends I learned a little Spanish (although I speak it badly). The priest, having united me to the Orthodox Church, was a Mexican. His name was Father Ramon Merlos.

-What are the similarities and differences in the missionary work with the Native Americans of the United States and Latin America?

-Frankly, I do not know … Our church has a missionary experience in Alaska, where a wonderful priest, Archpriest Michael Oleksa, serves; he’s an anthropologist by profession. He is Carpatho-Russian, and his wife comes from an indigenous Yupik community. Father Michael wants to hold in Alaska a conference of Orthodox Native Americans. It will be an extremely interesting event.

While serving as rector of the seminary, Father Michael invited the community from Guatemala, which is hungering for Orthodoxy, to send two of its members to obtain theological education. The idea is certainly good, but people accustomed to a tropical climate, are unlikely to bear Alaskan cold.

-Are there Hispanics among your parishioners in the U.S.?

-Of course. In California, 35% of the population is Hispanic; in Texas it’s even greater. Latins are present in both the flock and clergy of our Church. St. Tikhon Seminary has a Mexican student with Native American roots; he’s named Abraham. He is a subdeacon. One subdeacon in San Francisco is of Colombian origin. At the end of November of this year, I consecrated a new convent in honor of the Nativity of Our Lord in Dallas — where the abbess is Brazilian.

-What, in your opinion, attracts Hispanics to Orthodoxy?

-Latins love our liturgy and icons; they are captivated by a deep reverence for the Mother of God, inherent in the Orthodox Church.

I must say that the Catholic Church is rapidly losing influence in Latin America, because of her close ties with the upper classes of society. Many of the poor who are the majority of the population of the region are disappointed in the Catholic pastors and joined the Protestants, Mormons and other sectarians.

Metropolitan Andres (Giron), the head of the Order of white clergy of St. Basil the Great in Guatemala, was formerly a Catholic priest. He saw that his leaders were focused on the rich, and in the early 1990′s left the Catholic Church, because he wanted to work for the people. Recently, Metropolitan Andres told me: “I’m already old and sick. Please, take my people to your church for their salvation.” His community can hardly be called Orthodox, but gradually it will learn the faith and will be united to the traditions of the Orthodox Church. In addition to Guatemala, Bishop Andres opened parishes in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities in the United States where his countrymen settled.

-You are not afraid of a conflict with the Catholic Church? Despite everything, Latin America is still considered the “principal diocese of the Vatican.”

-There will be no conflict. The Catholic Church is loyal to Orthodoxy. Moreover, I see great potential for co-work with the Catholic Church, particularly in opposing sectarianism.

Source:

http://nativeamericansmetorthodoxy.wordpress.com

NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY

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February 2019:
Over a 50 Protestant Pastors and 2,000 others converting to Orthodoxy in India

With the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Russian Orthodox clergy and nuns from America, Canada and Russia are in India, and have begun the process of baptizing 2,000 people into Orthodoxy, including over 50-100 former Protestant Pastors.

For the past several months, extensive catechism has been taught to the local people.

This is the beginning of reception of over 100,000 people into the Holy Orthodox Church.

The Mission Team is being led by Fr. Athanasius Kone (ROCOR) and Fr. George Maximov of the Moscow Patriarchate.

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SAINT JOHN OF DAMASCUS

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Blessed Father George Paulidis Bishop of Nicea, Piraeus, Greece (+1990) and the phone of a woman who wanted to kill herself

One winter night, his phone ring around midnight. Just picked up the phone, a female voice spoke:

“I do not know whom I speak , but before committing suicide , I wanted to listen for the last time a human voice…”.

Divine providence ring the phone of Fr. George. Was there any discussion, without disclosing his status, Fr. George (it was then Bishop of Nicea, Piraeus) except that he speaks with a cleric. He never learned what happened next, but I’m sure that the Grace of God will not let a human soul disappear like that night.

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ORTHODOX WEB

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“Bible Answer Man” booted from 
Bott Radio Network after Hank Hanegraaff joins Eastern Orthodox Church

Most of us knew this sort of thing was coming. They cite concerns over ‘biblical accuracy’ without offering so much as one single example of any Biblical inaccuracy from Hank.

The “Bible Answer Man” radio show program with Hank Hanegraaff has been booted from Bott Radio Network over concerns regarding ‘biblical accuracy’, following Hanegraaff’s conversion into the Eastern Orthodox Church.

“We want to make sure that our listeners know that the programming that we have on Bott Radio Network is thoroughly biblical,” said BRN President Richard P. Bott II, a member of Lenexa Baptist Church in Lenexa, Kansas, according to Baptist Press.

BRN had reportedly been broadcasting the “Bible Answer Man” since the 1980s, even before Hanegraaff joined the show in 1989.

The Christian Post confirmed last week that Hanegraaff, who is also the president and chairman of the Christian Research Institute, was chrismated on Palm Sunday at Saint Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Some, such as Rod Dreher, an Orthodox Christian and author of the New York Times best-selling book The Benedict Option, told CP last week that the news of Hanegraaff joining the Orthodox Church is “astounding.”

“Many evangelicals seek the early church; well here it is, in Orthodoxy,” Dreher said.

“I am sure some will be scandalized by Hanegraaff’s conversion but I hope at least some will wonder how someone as knowledgeable about the Bible as Hank could convert to Orthodoxy, and go to a Divine Liturgy to taste and see what it’s like.”

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JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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A German Protestant comes to know Orthodoxy through the wireless

On Saturday 8-8-2009, at the Holy Monastery of Dohiariou at the Holy Mountain, in an atmosphere of devotion, the German Dominik Weiel 40 years old Geologist, renounced Protestantism and entered Orthodoxy, receiving the baptismal name Michael.

Michael became acquainted with Athos and Orthodoxy through his communication via the wireless with Radio-amateur brother of the Monastery Fr. Apollo SV2ASP/A, who began in 1991. The experienced German Radio-amateur DL5EBE, then as an undergraduate, when he heard for the first time the inexperienced Agiorite monk with a weak signal calling, he communicated with him and offered to help him. This was the first opportunity for him to come to Athos, meet the monk and set up the station. This visit became a landmark in his life. He met the Elder Gregory, Abbot of the Monastery and the brothers, whom he loved and continued to visit to the Monastery, always following its full daily program.

When he completed his University studies he was employed by a German petroleum products company, active throughout the world. For many years now he works in Moscow and because of this it was many years since he had visited Athos. However, despite of this, he did not cease his communication. All this period he struggled within himself on his conversion and finally decided to be baptized, thus he came to Athos. Those days it happened that we had a lot of work in which he took part. The days would pass and he was anxious to be baptized. Finally on Friday the Elder asked him “do you wish to be baptized?’ “It would be my great pleasure” he replied and immediately his face shined. Then we invited Mr. Stavro Pomaki, Officer in the Army Air Force, radio-amateur and spiritual child of the Monastery, who even though he was far from his home, he eagerly agreed to become his godparent. Very shortly later everything was ready, so the morning of Saturday after the Divine Liturgy, he received the holy baptism at the harbor of our Monastery in the presence of the whole brotherhood and pilgrims and finally very happy he returned to his work.

Let us pray that the Archangel Michael, the protector of our Monastery whose name was given by the Elder, support him on the difficult road of his life he struggles daily.

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My Journey From Witchcraft To Orthodoxy

Sara Hillis, Canada

“The Illumined Heart” podcasts from Ancient Faith Radio with host Kevin Allen, featuring Sara Hillis, a musician and English literature scholar who became a witch priestess before encountering Christ and finding the Orthodox Church! Sara is now a parishioner of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church in Hamilton, Ontario.



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ORTHODOX TORONTO

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Philippines, 2007: The conversion of the leaders of two separate Protestant Christian groups to Orthodox Christian Church

In 2007 the leaders of two separate Protestant Christian groups in the Philippines contacted His Eminence Paul in Sydney (Antiochian Patriarchate), asking to join the Orthodox Church.

Many long and fruitful discussions were held between His Eminence and the two leaders, which culminated with His Eminence inviting them to Sydney for further face-to-face discussions.

They arrived in May 2007, where they stayed as guests of His Eminence for three weeks. The teachings of the groups were considered and they also learned about Orthodoxy.

At the end of the three weeks, both leaders stood and declared:

“We accept what the Orthodox Church accepts and refuse what She refuses.”

His Eminence answered them, “Welcome home,” the phrase with which Archbishop Philip (Antiochian Patriarchate) welcomed the converts.

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ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN

ARCHDIOCESE OF NORTH AMERICA

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Philippines, 2012: 
Thousand families became 
Orthodox Christians

In December 2011, one of our Orthodox priests in Manila called His Eminence to report that he had been in contact with three different groups and some individual leaders who had all come to the conclusion that they would like to join the Orthodox Church (Antiochian Patriarchate). The Archdiocese began communications with these groups. We learnt that the larger group, consisting of some seven thousand families, knew much about Orthodoxy and that their leaders were very proud to call themselves “orthodox” with a small o.

On Saturday, January 28, His Eminence travelled to the Philippines to visit his parishes and to meet with the new groups. On Tuesday, January 31, His Eminence and seven clergymen of the two larger groups met and discussed their teachings over three full days. At the conclusion of this meeting His Eminence welcomed them to the Antiochian Orthodox Church and promised to bring some of their clergy to Sydney for training and ordination, to be followed by a trip to the Philippines by His Eminence to train and ordain the other leaders.

The groups are the “Apostolic Catholic Church”, with seven thousand families; the “Missionary Society of St. Paul”, with two thousand families; a minister with one hundred families; a bishop with a thousand families; and a leader with a large group of social workers who work with the homeless and poor.

During his visit to the Philippines, His Eminence and three of the new ministers who are already involved as hospital chaplains visited a government hospital that serves 250 poor children. They asked that the hospital directors assign one of our clergymen as a chaplain, which the directors agreed to do. The managers of the hospital asked His Eminence about arranging some donations of needed medicines and equipments. His Eminence promised to discuss the request with members of the Board of Trustees and to form a doctors’ committee to try to meet some of the needs.

The following day His Eminence and his team visited a school of a thousand students, where the administrator agreed to assign one of our clergymen as school chaplain. An e-mail was received informing the hierarch that religious services have begun and the consulting office has been opened in the school.

On Saturday, February 4, His Eminence visited another of the new churches, where hundreds of believers were waiting for him. The children and the youth presented a well planned performance, followed by a choir recital. His Eminence spent hours discussing the future of their group and their future worship with us.

His Eminence will bring the topic of assistance to the Philippines to the attention of the Board of Trustees (St. Nicholas, Melbourne, February 17–19). He is encouraging any of the faithful to participate in this very Christian endeavour and help fulfil the mission of our Archdiocese.

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).

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ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN

ARCHDIOCESE OF NORTH AMERICA


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The conversion of French Photographer 
Frère Jean (Gérard Gascuel) to Orthodoxy

Photographer Gérard Gascuel who worked with Marcel Marceau and Salvador Dali and now is Hieromonk Gerasimos says he decided to become a monk after hearing an Athonite monk singing.

«I was 33 when the editor in chief of an influential Japanese magazine sent me to Greece to make a report about the life of Athonite monks,» Father Gerasimos was quoted as saying by the Rossijskaya Gazeta daily on Tuesday.

Going around the monasteries he came upon a monastery where there is an ancient tradition to keep skulls of deceased monks.

«I went into the crypt and then life was divided: ‘before’ and ‘after’. When I was going back I met a Greek monk and we talked about the meaning of life. His English was poor… And suddenly he started singing!» Father Gerasimos recalls.

According to him, it was then that he decided to become a monk.

«I made a decision in few seconds. Having returned to France, I delivered my report to the magazine, sold my estate and became an ordinary monk on Athos. I spent many years in the Holy Land at St. Savvas Monastery in the Judean desert. I met my spiritual father there. I realized that death is not the end,» Father Gerasimos tells about his spiritual way.

He became a monk, but he is still a photographer, though he managed to found and become rector of an Orthodox monastery in the French town of Cévennes.

Frère Jean’s (or Brother John, as he is known among artists under this name) exhibition will take places in Nizhny Novgorod.

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3 Reasons to join the Eastern Orthodox Church

by

Michael Witcoff, USA

Michael Witcoff is a Christian, a copywriter, an author, and a marketing consultant. He believes the West is experiencing divine wrath for turning our backs on God, and that the only hope for salvation is to unite under one faithful banner as our enemies have under theirs.

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Friends and brothers, it’s been quite a while since I last wrote to you. Between my consulting business and my growing interest in the world of blockchain technology, I’ve had a lot on my plate lately.

But the time seems right for me to come back to Return Of Kings and share a bit more of my journey with you. The rhythm I aim for in life is to learn and grow, then share and teach.

Today’s topic, Eastern Orthodoxy, is something I’d never even heard of when my last article here was published. But since discovering what it is and delving deeper into its mysteries, it’s consumed an enormous amount of my time and attention.

So much of it, in fact, that I recently decided to leave my Wesleyan ways behind and become a full-fledged member of the Orthodox Church. Today, I’d like to share with you my top three reasons for doing so.

1.It’s The Church That Jesus Planted

During my time as a Protestant, it never even occurred to me that a denomination existed reaching all the way back to the time of the apostles.

Once I realized there was an unbroken chain of tradition reaching back nearly 2,000 years, I began to ask an entirely new kind of question. What did they teach? How did they worship? What did they believe? How did it get transmitted through time like that?

I’ve always believed that, whatever you’re trying to do in life, it’s usually better to go straight to the earliest sources than to adhere to newer interpretations. It’s as true with Christianity as it is for copywriting, and I still consider the old Schwartz and Hopkins advertising books to surpass almost everything that’s come out since.

I discovered that the students of the Biblical apostles had written down a fair amount of material regarding ancient Christian practice and belief. From that point on, I could never really look at Protestantism in the same light.

After all, why would I follow the doctrines of the 16th century when I could follow the doctrines of the 1st century instead? It simply made no sense to me that someone who didn’t personally know Christ or the apostles could have more understanding and insight than the men who did.

Christ gave the apostles pretty specific directions, and Paul taught those traditions to all the churches he planted and visited during his ministry. The students of the apostles upheld the traditions and taught them to their own students, and so on and so forth right up until the present day.

Best of all, Orthodox services feel like being transplanted directly into the ancient Christian world. That sense of reverence, holiness, and solemnity can inspire the soul in a way that electric guitar music simply cannot.

2.It’s Untainted By Cultural Marxism

It is not unusual, among Protestant churches, to hear preaching that’s fully aligned with Social Justice ideology and the Cultural Marxism that spawned it. This takes on different forms and manifests to different degrees, but it can reach levels that—at its worst—makes the preaching of a church utterly indistinguishable from what you’d hear at a typical liberal arts college.

This is not only revolting to most normal and healthy men, but also tends to result in lower church attendance. It is well-documented that “the more liberal the church, the emptier the pews.”

Between the ordination of unrepentant sinners and the preaching of the “prosperity gospel,” it is not surprising that Protestantism is losing its core male audience. This is more than a statistic; it is a tragedy.

Scripture tells us, in no uncertain terms, that men are to lead both church and home. With a lack of masculine leadership forming a new generation of young boys into developed and effective leaders, all of society suffers.

However, you will find nothing like these problems in Eastern Orthodoxy. 100% of the clergy are men, and they follow an ancient tradition of hierarchy and rank.

This tradition—for thousands of years—has naturally taught younger men the healthy dynamics of both obedience and command. The fruit of this effort is an endless chain of men who are prepared for their role as leaders in society.

Equally important, there is little to no trace of the Evangelical Zionism which I was already frustrated with before I’d discovered Orthodoxy. Unlike most Protestant denominations, Orthodoxy follows the proper Scriptural understanding that believers in Christ are the true “people of Israel.”

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells the apostle Peter that “the gates of Hell will not overcome” His Church.

You can decide for yourself whether lesbian Zionists or alpha male patriarchs better represent the Church that Jesus had in mind.

3.It Offers Deeper Theology And A Richer Experience

I am not trying to attack all of Protestantism with this article. I am still friends with the people I met there, and maintain a deep love for my pastors and their passion for God.

I’m profoundly grateful for my experience in the Wesleyan denomination, and I would never be where I am today unless I had learned the basics of Christianity there.

But that’s just it… it stops at the basics. Jesus died for your sins, now you’re saved, and that’s where it ends.

Orthodoxy, drawing on monastic wisdom going back to at least the 4th century, invites the seeker into a deep mystical understanding of God that far surpasses the typical experience.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I have any real understanding of the Orthodox mystery, because I have barely even knocked at the door. However, I can feel the power coming from the other side and greatly look forward to exploring it further.

Each day of my studies draws me in deeper and deeper, as new levels of both God’s glory—and my own sinfulness by comparison—are revealed to me. It is humbling, it is powerful, and it’s a fuller experience than I knew existed just a few short months ago.

Protestants have the appetizer; the Orthodox serve the meal.

If you are ready to deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ or even to start one…the way that all the apostles and their students did…I highly recommend you check out an Orthodox service sometime and examine it for yourself.

The priests are incredibly helpful to inquirers, and several of them have taken the time to guide me towards various resources or respond to my questions via e-mail.

Even if your nearest Orthodox Church is 20 or 30 minutes away, I think it will be worth your time and effort to make it to a Vespers (on Saturday night) or a Divine Liturgy (on Sunday morning) to see if what it offers matches what you’re looking for.

God bless and Merry Christmas.

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Heavenly Birth of Archimandrite Symeon of Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, England

Archimandrite Symeon died in the very early hours of Friday 21 August 2009 at the monastery of St John the Baptist where he lived at Tolleshunt Knights, near Maldon in Essex, as a result of lymphoma. He was fully conscious to the last and died in great peace.

His funeral was celebrated at 3pm on the Friday in the monastery church, where the brothers and sisters of the community were joined by a congregatino of nearly 500 who had come from all over Britain, various countries in Europe and Russia. The body of Father Symeon will rest from now on in the crypt of the monastery, beside that of Father Sophrony (Sakharov), of whom he has been one of the oldest disciples.

Born in 1928 in the canton of Vaux in Switzerland, René Jean Bruschweiler studied law at university and began to practise as an advocate, until he encountered the Orthodox Church, and then the monastic life, through close contact with Archimandrite Sophrony. Father Sophrony had come back from Mount Athos because of health problems and settled at the castle at Sainte Geneviève des Bois. Symeon then followed his spiritual father when he left in 1959, with five other monks who had come and enlarged the community, to found a monastery in south-east England.

Father Symeon translated the works of Archimandrite Sophrony from Russian into French, the most famous being Saint Silouan, Monk of Mount Athos, as well as several important works by Saint Ignatius Briantchaninov.

Quiet, humble, gentle, pure-hearted and good, Archimandrite Symeon attracted a great number of spiritual children, monastic and lay, after Archimandrite Sophrony died. He regularly visited France for the annual congress of the Association of Saint Silouan, of which he was president and other conferences, and was assiduous in his visits to monasteries with which he had a particular association and concern, especially as a much loved and deeply revered confessor.

May he rest in peace and may his memory be eternal.

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ENGLAND OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX ENGLAND

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Chinese man travels 
thousands of miles to be baptized

Another adult Baptism recently took place on the banks of the Haliacmon River, the longest river contained entirely in Greece, flowing 185 miles through the Greek regions of West Macedonia and Central Macedonia, reports Romfea.

This time the new convert traveled thousands of miles from far away China to be baptized at the humble Monastery of the Virgin Kallipetras, in Veria, in northern Greece. The monastery is a male coenobium, dating back to at least 1100 AD. The name of the monastery is connected with a huge rocky column nearby, known as “Kallipetra.” St. Gregory Palamas is among the many saints who have lived and struggled there.

The former Su, now Constantine, received the gifts of the Holy Spirit with exemplary devotion, fasting, and prayer, on Saturday, September 2, 2017. The Baptism was celebrated by the abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Palamas, reports inveria.gr.

Three members of his family traveled to Greece together with him.

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TAIWAN & HONG KONG OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX CHINA, TAIWAN & HONG KONG

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Digital Natives Embrace Ancient Church

Twenty-somethings 
captivated by Orthodoxy

By

Andrea Goodell

Tim Flinders will graduate from Grand Valley State University next month. Raised Lutheran, he also explored fundamentalist Baptism, Roman Catholicism and even Messianic Judaism before converting to Orthodox Christianity this year.

“Orthodoxy has completely transformed me already,” he said. “I feel like the first time in my life I’m growing spiritually.”

Flinders, 22, like many other young people converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, was looking for authenticity and historical accuracy in his Christian faith.

“I had so many different questions that needed to be answered,” said Flinders, who added he wrestled with the many divisions of the Christian church over the years.

He became Eastern Orthodox Christian at St. George Orthodox Church in Grand Rapids.

Recently he attended the second annual Encountering Orthodoxy Conference at Hope College.

The Rev. Deacon Nicholas Belcher, dean of students at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, gave the opening keynote address, using the themes of holy week to introduce Orthodoxy to the more than 50 who attended.

Eastern Orthodox Easter, Pascha in Greek — the language favored by Orthodox everywhere — fell on the same day as Western Easter this year.

Belcher described the nailing of Jesus to the cross as “one of the most cruel things human beings have ever thought of to do to other human beings.”

Eastern Orthodox Christians, he explained, experience the crucifixion and resurrection in the now during liturgy.

“There is no sense that we are just talking about something that happened a long time ago. It is today,” he said.

Dustin Miller, a Hope senior, attended the conference for extra credit in his history of Christianity class, but said,

“I’ve always been curious about Orthodoxy.”

He, too, said he was looking for the apostolic, historical roots of the Christian church. Miller considers himself non-denominational and said he didn’t know the Hope campus had Orthodox students.

“I’ve been trying to figure it out, trying to find what best fits me,” Miller said.

The Orthodox Christian Fellowship campus club, which sponsored this month’s conference, meets Thursday nights for Small Compline (a short Psalm and evening prayer service). Then the handful of Orthodox students, one seminary student and Fr. Steven VanBronkhorst discuss topics such as biblical foundations for Orthodox worship.

He would like to see more inquirers at the OCF meetings and more students at the second annual Encountering Orthodoxy Conference.

VanBronkhorst was a Reformed Church of America minister for almost two decades before coming to the Orthodox church 14 years ago. Still, VanBronkhorst said, he sees many more today looking for the historical church than when he was doing his own searching.

“I always felt that ideally there should be just one church,” he said. “The Orthodox church is by far the most historically faithful body. … Who is going to deny that the greater part of the evangelical world has the faith? They have faith. What they don’t have is the worship.”

Tyler Dykstra of Holland became Orthodox Christian this month.

He grew up Christian Reformed, but says he “wanted more.”

“Over time I started to realize there was so much history I had not known about even though I had gone to Christian schools all my life,” Dykstra, 24, said.

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JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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Episcopalian Minister and Congregation Convert in Frederick, Maryland, USA

It appears the fruits of St. John of San Francisco’s labors have paid off. After a year of instruction and a prayer, an Episcopalian clergymen and many from his congregation entered the Orthodox Church. While the members of the congregation became Orthodox Christians in April, their former minister was ordained to the Holy Priesthood a little over a week ago.

The now Fr. James Hamrick is pastor of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Frederick, MD. He was a minister in the United Methodist Church for years, but as he was looking for ancient faith, he found himself in the Charismatic Episcopal Church for a few years. At least until now. The CEC underwent a major rupture, causing the bishop who ordained Fr. Hamrick to question the notion of Protestantism altogether.

He said, he “believed that God’s authority was not only found in the Scriptures, as he felt Protestant churches emphasized, but also in the apostolic succession and sacred traditions.”

This invariably led him to Orthodoxy.

In keeping with the authentic, ancient liturgical and spiritual traditions of the Orthodox West, the new converts opted to be Western Orthodox. What does that look like? It resembles what an old Tridentine Roman Catholic Liturgy would look like, but in English. There are many variations to how Western Orthodox celebrate their liturgy (in many WO churches, they use the term ‘Mass’).For example, there is the Divine Liturgy of St. Ambrose which some use, as well as the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great (which resembles the ancient Pre-Vatican II Catholic Liturgy, but in English) and the Divine Liturgy of St. Tikhon, which is similar to the Anglican Book of Common prayer.

All of these have been slightly modified to conform to Orthodox doctrine, such as deleting the Filioque clause from the Creed and commemorating Orthodox Bishops. These Western Orthodox Christians keep to the same spiritual heritage as was seen in the West before the Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. Will his conversion influence other Protestant clergy to bring their flocks to the historic Church? Time will tell.

It will be interesting to see if disillusioned Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans convert en masse to Orthodoxy, given the fact that both denominations now support homosexual clergy (with the United Methodist Church pursuing full communion with the Episcopalians, who passed similar measures recently), after an agreement of full communion was signed between the two last week.

The parishioners of St. John the Baptist have remodeled an old church to make it acceptable for Western Orthodox worship.A total of 26 people were received into the Orthodox Church, with other Orthodox supporting them. Today, Fr. Hamrick celebrated his first liturgy as an Orthodox priest. May God grant him and his parishioners many years!

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JESUS CHRIST - ORTHODOXY

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Saint New Martyr Jose Munoz-Cortez 
from Chile and Canada who martyred in Athens, Greece (+1997) and the miracle Hawaii’s Icon of Holy Virgin Mary

From Roman Catholicism 
to Orthodoxy

Saint Jose (Joseph) Muñoz-Cortes (13 May 1948, Santiago, Chile – 30/31 October 1997, Athens, Greece) was an Orthodox man, the keeper of the Iveron Icon of Montreal (Hawaii’s miracle Icon).

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 and Canada, to 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 an hotel room in Athens, Greece on the night of October 30 or 31st, 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:


AMERICA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX AMERICA

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France currently home to 500-700,000 Orthodox Christians and growing

The Handbook of the Orthodox Church has been published in France, providing comprehensive information and practical information about Orthodox life in France. It presents a detailed map showing the location of all Orthodox parishes, monasteries, and dioceses in France by region, and provides information about Orthodox bishops (members of the Association of Orthodox Bishops), priests, and deacons, and also about clergy who have reposed in recent years. The new publication also contains information on icon workshops, Orthodox choirs, Orthodox periodicals, documentaries and art publications, candle and bookstores, and Orthodox movements in France, reports Sedmitza.

The number of Orthodox is growing steadily in France according to the Handbook, which places it at 500,000. The Catholic publication “La Croix” places the number at 700,000, with a preponderance of Russians and Romanians arriving over the past several years. This number includes the roughly 75,000 who regularly attend services, as well as those who come on major holidays, and all who are baptized into the Orthodox Church, considering themselves Orthodox.

In the late 19th century there were 20,000 Orthodox in France, and 200,000 in the late 20th. There are currently 278 parishes in France (160 in 2000; 238 in 2010), including 21 monasteries, the first of which was founded in 1934, and the majority of which have been founded since 1991.

The number of clergymen has also been steadily growing. According to 2017 information, there are 10 bishops, and 330 priests and deacons (300 in 2010), most of them married with secular professions. The largest number of parishes belongs to the Romanian Orthodox Church, with 91. There are currently three Orthodox schools of theology, including the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, founded in 1925, which was the first Orthodox institution in Western Europe.

Until the early 19th century, Orthodox services took place in France only on special occasions, such as the visit of Tsar Alexander I to Paris in 1814. Paris received its first Russian Orthodox chapel in 1816, and the first Greek Orthodox church opened in Marseilles in 1834.

The need for this publication arose from the constantly growing interest in Orthodoxy in France, which has gained more attention lately from the opening of the Russian Orthodox spiritual and cultural centers in Paris and Strasbourg, as well as other recent Orthodox events throughout the country. A considerable role has also been played by the iconography, sacred music, and the beauty of Orthodox rites.

Since 1963, the public information channel on French television has aired a monthly show called “Orthodoxy,” and the Catholic Channel WHO airs a monthly program called “Orthodoxy, Here and Now.” In 1964, a twice-monthly show called “Orthodoxy” appeared on the France-Culture radio station, and a show of the same name airs monthly on the Franco-Belgian Christian radio station RCF. Radio Notre-Dame has had a weekly broadcast “Light of Orthodoxy” since 2012, and the site orthodixie.com has been providing Orthodox news from France daily since 2005.

7/24/2017

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ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY


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Recovering the Ancient Paths

by Dennis L. Corrigan, USA

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever”

The following is a revision of a letter (article) we wrote to the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel to explain our decision to withdraw from that organization in order to pursue our being catechized unto Chrismation into the Orthodox Church. We have revised it to make it more useful for a more general distribution by members of our congregation who may want to help in explaining our decision to families and friends.

The Carpenter’s Company is in the process of becoming a part of the Orthodox Church. This obviously means that we have had to withdraw from the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel which we did in early May, 1996. All this is actually the culmination of a journey which began for us in 1987 when the Holy Spirit commanded us to ask for the “ancient paths” (Jeremiah 6:16).

A Journey Begins

Our quest for the ancient paths did not actually get underway until June 17, 1989 when we began to meet every morning at six o’clock for prayer. We soon called it Vigil, the name given to the night office of prayer for over fifteen hundred years. We could not possibly have anticipated where this path would eventually lead us. Nor could we have foreseen that Vigil would last so long or become what it has.

When we began Vigil, the Lord’s Prayer was our prayer outline. About a month later, the Holy Spirit led us to begin to celebrate the Eucharist. Later worship was added. And as this process continued, now adding a certain element, now eliminating another, Vigil gradually became a different kind of meeting. Although its form was changing, one thing remained constant: the meeting began on its first day and has continued to the present with a strong, abiding, palpable sense of the Lord’s presence concerning which every visitor has remarked. However, the longer we maintained our daily Vigil, the further our path diverged from the path we had once traveled with Foursquare. Although we recognized we were becoming somewhat unique among Foursquare churches, we have always been confident that our conduct was well within the boundaries of Foursquare’s tolerance for diversity. More recently, however, especially since our encounter with Orthodoxy, we’ve become aware that we have been straining those boundaries.

A Spiritual Focus

By the time two years had passed, we had become a people with an intense spiritual focus. I suppose that is to be expected of a people who meet every day for prayer. We were beginning to give focused attention to issues to which we had only given lip service before.

We had all become faithful in maintaining a consistent, daily quiet time with the Lord. This was the first time that any of us had experienced consistent, long-term faithfulness in this regard.
We had become the kind of community we had only dreamed of before. We were learning what it really means to be “the family of God” as a matter of daily, practical reality.
Meeting daily as a prayer community meant that we could no longer tolerate in one another the “little” sins and acts of disobedience we’d learned to ignore when we used to meet weekly. Consequently we allowed the Holy Spirit to restore church discipline among us.
We became a people who gave themselves to the discipline of Scripture memorization. We have memorized I John, Romans, John and are now memorizing Galatians.
A Liturgical Direction

Meeting every day also made impossible the kind of innovative creativity a weekly schedule allows. Consequently, our daily worship became patterned. To our amazement, however, the more we repeated the prayers and songs we were using, the more meaningful they became to us. The result was predictable: our daily Vigil gradually became liturgical.

Enter, The Church Fathers

In 1992 on a personal retreat at St. Andrew’s Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery, I bought a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict (sixth century). Upon returning home, the leadership team began to read it together. What we discovered astonished us: The Rule dealt with situations we were facing fight then, but for which we had found little if any help from contemporary authors.

In the Introduction and footnotes were references to many others of the Church Fathers, most of whom we had never heard of before. Finding and reading these Church Fathers, particularly the Apostolic, Desert and Monastic Fathers, has perhaps been our most significant discovery. Their writings, though ancient, were more relevant and immediately applicable to our experience than anything we had ever heard or read. As a church which was becoming spiritual in focus, we had found an ocean of resource.

The Carpenter’s Company had become a church whose emphases had become prayer, strong and joyful worship and a commitment to learn obedience to God’s Word. Rather than “fulfillment” and “being affirmed” we put much more stress on “putting to death the deeds of the flesh and its passions and desires,” a consistent theme of the early Church Fathers.

A Growing Discomfort Results

When we began keeping Vigil, people who heard about it seemed to be impressed and were very complimentary. Without exception, they would say “If you keep this up for a year, you are going to have revival!”

However, as we did continue, they began to question why we were apparently neglecting the programs one might find in most churches. We assured these detractors that not having these programs didn’t mean we had neglected any of the areas of need these program customarily addressed. On the contrary, we had begun to discover that these things were more effectually dealt with by the things we were doing. Nevertheless, by stressing the things we did, we found ourselves more and more at variance with the prevailing Evangelical and Charismatic/Pentecostal culture.

While we’ve been walking on this increasingly spiritual pathway, we began to observe one thing after another in what was our own Foursquare denomination that caused us growing concern: Although we noticed these things with regard to the denomination with which we were then affiliated, they were and are nonetheless true of most Evangelical groups as well. Five examples follow:

1.The “Painless” Emphasis: About a year before the L.E.A.D. Seminars (a program promoted by Dr. John Holland, the President of the Denomination, for the “enrichment” of Foursquare ministers) began, the ICFG circulated a survey on “Fulfillment in Ministry” among all Foursquare ministers in the United States. I was alarmed at its focus on academic achievement and management style and its almost total neglect of more directly spiritual/devotional matters. I wrote a letter to this effect to Dr. John Holland. He didn’t like the letter. It was “disappointment” to him, and he asked that we get together for lunch. We did. During our conversation, Dr. Holland said, “Dennis, we don’t want to cause our people pain when they come to church. They have enough pain in the world.”

I was stunned. After pondering Dr. Holland’s response for quite a while, I could no longer avoid concluding that Foursquare had embraced and now espoused the “feel-good doctrine” of the 90’s. Is not pain the result of our sin? Although confronting sin causes pain, will not such confrontation, in the long run, lead to a more godly and joyful life? Therefore, aren’t ministers supposed to cause pain by confronting sin? Didn’t Christ our God cause pain in His spiritual directive to the rich young ruler? Did not Paul cause pain in his letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians?

2.Self-Esteem: Although not Foursquare himself, Dr. James Dobson has most certainly had as significant influence on the thinking of the contemporary Foursquare denomination as he has had on any other Evangelical group. Several years ago he wrote that virtually every human problem could be solved if we could build high self-esteem in both ourselves and others.

According to Romans 6-8, our problems emerge out of our sinful, flesh nature, not out of our lack of self-esteem. Dr. Dobson’s opinion contradicts this. Yet nowhere in the Foursquare movement or Evangelicalism at large, to my knowledge, was a significant voice raised to oppose Dr. Dobson’s variance. On the contrary, as far as our pastoral counseling practices are concerned, most Evangelicals have embraced and adopted this teaching.

3.The Addiction Doctrine: At the L.E.A.D. Seminar two years ago Dr. Ted Roberts taught about “sexual addiction.” We have but to assume that became of his role as a L.E.A.D. instructor Foursquare thoroughly endorsed what he taught. According to the implications of what Dr. Roberts was teaching, sexual misconduct is to be considered a kind of disease to be dealt with therapeutically by some twelve-step type program.

Have we not missed Paul’s clear message in Romans 6:16 – “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” What Ted Roberts and others call addiction, Paul calls slavery to s/n. Those who give themselves to sexual sin, become slaves of sexual sin. Freedom isn’t restored through therapy, but through confession and repentance. That is clearly not what Ted Roberts was teaching.

Compounding his error, Dr. Roberts said that King David was a “classic sexual addict.” Though challenged from the floor, he defended and maintained his position. His statement was blasphemous. David did sin sexually, once, with Bathsheba, but ultimately repented (Psalm 51 – the Psalm most often quoted in the New Testament). He has always been known as “a man after God’s own heart,” a type of Jesus’ Kingly Ministry and Jesus Himself was called “Son of David.” Calling David a “sexual addict” (pervert) reflects blasphemously on the Father who endorsed him and the Son who came in fulfillment of his type, and on David who turned from his sin.

4.Majoring on Theological Minors: At one of the panel discussions at last year’s Southwest District Pastors’ Conference, a recently appointed pastor asked whether children should be allowed to take Communion if they haven’t yet been baptized. I was aghast at our District Supervisor, John Watson’s answer. “It’s not an issue? he said, “If you make it an issue, you’ll end up pastoring a church of twenty people. Making those things an issue will narrow your base and we are about broadening our base.” John’s meaning was clear: such secondary, non-essential issues must not get in the way of making our churches as big as we can.

Since when is either Water-Baptism or Communion, a secondary, non-essential issue? Has not, rather, church size always been considered of secondary importance, at best, until the very recent Church Growth movement?

5.Capitulation to Feminism: The more recent turn taken by Foursquare Women International away from being an auxiliary missionary service organization to being focused on the “affirmation” of women in a role of leadership and ministry, we believe is a clear capitulation to the subtleties of the spirit of feminism which is abroad in our land, a surrender to the spirit of this present age. Certainly Foursquare is not alone in this drift. Other Evangelical and Charismatic groups are years ahead. Although the languages used are the various dialects of “Evangelese,” the elements of the Feminist Agenda are clearly in place. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. historian to recognize that in this regard Evangelicalism as a whole is embracing a not too latent or embryonic feminism today just as mainline Protestantism did just twenty years ago.

A Turning Point

It has been a source of no little concern for us that although we have remained deeply confident that what we have been doing has been right and pleasing to the Lord; nevertheless, the more we pursued our course, the more estranged we became from Foursquare in particular and from Evangelicalism in general.

Recently, two things brought all of this to a head: Last year, we sent Robin and one of the wives of our Church Council to the Foursquare Women International Conference in Dallas. They returned with a video. I was stunned at the wholesale endorsement that Foursquare leadership at that conference gave to the ‘Toronto Blessing,” a movement so spurious that even John Wimber has disclaimed and dissociated himself from it. Is our anxiety for renewal so undiscerning that while we strain the gnats or by-law infractions, we are willing to swallow a camel of such an obvious spiritual deception as the “Toronto Blessing?”

The second thing happened about the same time. One of our members picked up a copy of The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It[1] by someone called Theophan the Recluse. He wrote exactly the same thing as the Church Fathers. So we were very surprised to learn that this man had lived in nineteenth century Russia.

We sent to the publisher and received a catalogue of many more writers from this tradition, all of whom wrote and taught like the Church Fathers. They were not only Russians, but Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, Arabs and Egyptians as well. Unbeknownst to us, we had discovered the spiritual writers of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Orthodoxy?

After spending several months reading these writers we came across The Orthodox Study Bible published in 1995 by Thomas Nelson. It’s not unusual to find an obscure press publishing works like these. But a major publisher like Thomas Nelson publishing a special Bible for the Orthodox is something else. Who are, these Orthodox, anyway? Having this and several other questions, we wrote to Conciliar Press[2], the people behind its publication, for answers and to open dialogue.

Five days later I received a call from Father Peter Gillquist. I knew Peter Gillquist as one of the regional directors of Campus Crusade for Christ who surrounded Bill Bright when I was on part-time staff in 1963. Now he is an Orthodox priest. Father Peter sent me a copy of his book Becoming Orthodox which tells the story about how he (and other regional directors of Campus Crusade I had known) discovered Orthodoxy and recounts their journey which resulted in their conversion to the Orthodox Church.

Although different in several of the particulars, our journeys were parallel. As we spoke further with Father Peter and read his and Jon Braun’s book, Divine Energy, we discovered that, although substantially different in liturgical form, the spirit and faith and doctrine that had developed among the Carpenter’s Company was in fact, Orthodox. As diverse from Foursquare as we had become, we had become like the Orthodox.

Our unanimous decision to become an Orthodox Church, therefore, is simply the logical conclusion of the decision we made in June, 1989. Although our pursuit of Orthodoxy is only less than five months old, we have been “becoming Orthodox” for the past seven years. We just didn’t know it until now. In finding Orthodoxy, we have found “the ancient path, where the good way is” (Jeremiah 6:16). Metropolitan Philip, a hierarch of the Orthodox Church has said that the Orthodox Church is the best kept secret in America. Our conviction is that we haven’t found just another church, we’ve found the Church, the one true Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of history. In the words of a young man who recently found salvation through Orthodoxy:

«… at last, I finally began to see how everything did fit together, how Truth was not “scattered in a thousand pieces,” but was preserved, intact and unchanging, in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church … I had finally, through all my searching, found the key, the ultimate source of Revealed Truth in pure, undistorted form. Something had always kept me looking for the “hardcore,” no-compromising Christianity, because I knew down inside that, if Jesus Christ is God, then Christianity had to be the most radical belief in the world. And it’s not surprising that the most hardcore, radical, all-or-nothing message I’ve ever heard comes not from anything “modern, new and revolutionary,” but from the “original thing” – the One Church, the only Church, the true Church the Orthodox Christian Church, the mystical Body of Christ».

Indeed, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever!

ENDNOTES

1.Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, P.O. Box 70, Platina, CA 96976

2.Conciliar Press, P.O. Box 76, Ben Lomond, CA 95005-0076

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USA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX USA

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The Life of Fr. John Maitland Moir, 
Scotland (1924-2013)

Below is his official obituary. Our prayers go to all who knew and loved him, and for the repose of his holy soul.

* * *

Father John Maitland Moir, Priest of the Orthodox Church of St Andrew in Edinburgh, founder of many smaller Orthodox communities throughout Scotland and Orthodox Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh, died peacefully in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on the 17th April 2013.

A man of profound holiness and bedazzling eccentricity, of boundless compassion and canny wisdom, utterly selfless and stubbornly self-willed, serenely prayerful and fiercely self-disciplined, Father John will surely earn a place as a unique and outstanding figure in the ecclesiastical annals of Scotland. He was born in 1924 in the village of Currie where his father was the local doctor; his fondness for his mother was always mingled with quiet pride in the fact that she was a member of the lesser aristocracy. The privileged but somewhat severe upbringing of an only child in this household together with a chronic weakness in his knees kept him apart from the hurly-burly of boyhood and directed him from an early age to more spiritual and intellectual pursuits. After his schooling at Edinburgh Academy, he went on to study Classics at Edinburgh University during the war years, his never robust health precluding any active military service. After the war, and a short spell as Classics Master at Cargilfield School in Perthshire, he moved to Oxford to continue classical studies at Christ Church and theological studies at Cuddesdon Theological College.

His interest in Eastern Christendom was awakened in Oxford and he eagerly seized the opportunity to study at the famous Halki Theological Academy in Istanbul in 1950-51. During this year he also travelled in the Holy Land and Middle East and forged friendships in the Eastern Churches which he maintained throughout his life. On his return to Scotland he was ordained in the Scottish Episcopalian Church, which he was to serve faithfully for the next thirty years. His first charge was as Curate at St Mary’s in Broughty Ferry, then for a period of six years he taught at St Chad’s College, Durham. He returned to Scotland in 1962 as Curate in Charge of the Edinburgh Parish of St Barnabas and as Honorary Chaplain at St Mary’s Cathedral, then in 1967 he moved north to the Diocese of Moray where he served as Chaplain to the Bishop of Moray and latterly as Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Inverness. His devotion to his pastoral and liturgical duties as well as his personal holiness and prayerfulness inspired a sense of awe in his loyal parishoners. Only his habit of wearing the kilt beneath his cassock provoked a reprimand from his Bishop, who was more than somewhat bewildered by Father John’s fervent and unbending Scottish patriotism. The Scottish Episcopalian Church which Father John loved and served was, he believed, a Church with special affinities with the Eastern Churches: his eyes would light up when explaining how the Liturgy of Scottish Episcopalian Church, like those of the East, contained an epiclesis. With the passing of the years, however, he became convinced that the Scottish Episcopalian Church was moving ever further away in faith and in practice from that common ground with the Orthodox Church which he had also come to know and love and whose prayer he had made his own.

In 1981, he resigned from his position in the Diocese of Moray and travelled to Mount Athos where he was received into the Orthodox Church at the Monastery of Simonopetra. He returned to Britain to serve now as an Orthodox Priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain with utter devotion for a further full thirty years.

After three years in Coventry, Father John returned to Scotland where he united the two small Orthodox communities in Edinburgh, one Slavonic and one Greek, into the single Orthodox Community of St Andrew. At the same time, he travelled tirelessly around the country by bus serving often tiny groups of Orthodox Christians in Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth, Dundee, St Andrews, Stirling and elsewhere. For Father John, the Orthodox Church was what his beloved C.S. Lewis would call ‘Mere Christianity’, transcending the bounds of nationality and language and embracing all who seek to live a Christian life – the scandal of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. It also embraced for him the most precious elements in the Christian history of Scotland, especially that vision of Christianity expressed in figures such as St Columba and St Cuthbert. An ascetic by nature, his interest was in a practical Christianity nourished by prayer and tradition, rather than in the aesthetic refinements and intellectual gymnastics that attract many Westerners to the Orthodox Church. Not without opposition from members of his flock, Father John introduced English as the common language of worship and succeeded in creating a truly international community reflecting the many nationalities of the Orthodox students studying at the Scottish Universities and of the Orthodox families living and working in Scotland. As the Orthodox Church in Scotland grew in numbers through migration from traditionally Orthodox countries, so did the proportion of Scottish members who found themselves at home in the Community.

His role as Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh was one he took very seriously. The Chapel of St Andrew, set up at first in his house in George Square and then transferred to the former Buccleuch Parish School by the Meadows, lay at the heart of the University complex; the daily services held there with unfailing regularity and its ever open door provided and continues to provide a firm point of reference for countless students. The Chapel of St Andrew, however, was also the base for his work at the other Edinburgh Universities and throughout Scotland – work now being continued with equal zeal and selflessness by two gifted Priests, Fr Avraamy and Fr Raphael.

Father John subjected himself to an almost unbelievably austere ascetic regime of fasting and prayer, while at the same making himself available to everyone who sought his assistance, spiritual or material, at all times of day and night. His care for the down-and-out in Edinburgh provoked admiration and no little concern in many parishioners who would come to the Church, which was also his home, only to find him calmly serving coffee with aristocratic gentility to a bevy of homeless alcoholics or to find a tramp asleep on his sofa. He was tireless in his efforts to help the victims of torture and persecuted Christians throughout the world. Few days would pass without him writing a letter of support for someone in prison or in mortal danger. He had inherited a comfortable fortune, he died penniless, having dispersed all his worldly assets to the deserving and undeserving in equal measure.

His habits of life would have marked him as a caricature of Scottish parsimony had they not been joined to an extraordinary generosity of spirit. All his voluminous correspondence was meticulously hand-written on scraps of recycled paper and dispatched by second-class mail in reused envelopes, whether he was writing to Dukes and Prelates or to the indigent and distressed. For many years, he was a familiar sight on the streets of Edinburgh as he passed by on his vintage electric bicycle, his black cassock and long white beard furling in the wind.

As his physical strength ebbed away, he was comforted by the love and care of those who looked to him as their spiritual father and by the ministrations and devotion of his fellow clergy. He was also tended by the medical expertise of the Greek doctors of the Community towards whom he never ceased to express his gratitude.

The last year of his remarkable life was perhaps the most remarkable of all. Completely bed-ridden, nearly blind and almost totally deaf, he devoted himself even more fully to prayer, especially to prayer for the continued unity, harmony, well-being and advancement of the Orthodox Communities in Scotland. On the day he died, an anonymous benefactor finally sealed the purchase of the former Buccleuch Parish Church for the Orthodox Community of St Andrew in Edinburgh thus securing a material basis for the realization of the spiritual vision that had inspired Fr John throughout his life.

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GREAT BRITAIN OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX GREAT BRITAIN

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My Journey Through Lutheranism and Calvary Chapel to Orthodoxy

by 

Patrick Keenan, North Dakota, USA

My parents brought me to Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church for Baptism as an infant. Somehow, someway a grace entered my life that has resided as long as I can remember. The quest as to who He is and how I should know him has been a lifelong pursuit.

It was an evening in 1966. Our modest North Dakota apartment housed my Mother, Father and myself. Dad was at the family Drive-In. Mom and I decided to watch NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies. It was a Rock Hudson Movie called ‘The Spiral Road’. Rock’s character was an Atheist Doctor in a south pacific Island who had fallen in love with a Christian nurse. She asked Rock why he didn’t believe in God, to which he replied something like:

‘because at one point I challenged God to show himself to me. I told God ‘If you are there- strike me down!’ He did nothing and that is why I do not believe.’

Well the next day, of course, was Sunday morning. Our Redeemer’s was a large Church with a huge wooden cross hanging on a rock wall behind the pulpit. As I recall, the church was full and we were sitting in the fifth row on the right side. Thoughts about the previous night’s movie were running through my mind as we were standing and singing hymns.

Looking up at the cross with great intention, I softly said,

“God, if you are there- strike me down”.

I am not sure what happened but, the next thing I was able to focus on was the faces of church ladies staring down at me as I was laying face-up on the tile floor. Then I remembered what I had said to the Lord.

That event instilled in me an unshakable knowledge that God is real and God is here. I spent the week telling a number of people that God is real. The following Sunday I sat in the back of Church with my Mother, looked up to the cross and apologized. It was a serious moment that my Mom noticed. She asked me if I was alright? I was.

It would be wonderful to say that dramatic and miraculous things like that continued to occur, but they didn’t. That event, however, began my quest for what I should do with my life.
About seven years later, while hitchhiking in Michigan and still in the pursuit of meaning, I camped next to a family from Canada. The father asked me to join them for dinner, which I did. He began to witness to me about the reality of Jesus Christ and spent many hours sharing scripture relating to humbling ourselves before the Lord and asking him to actually be both Lord and Savior. I asked a lot of questions. To which he answered each with scripture. This seemed right and that night, in my tent, I prayed unto the Lord to forgive my sins and to be the Lord of my life. That night marked the beginning of my new journey….to actually go from believing He is there to being proactive in surrendering my life to Him. It was August 3, 1973.

The Jesus People Movement was in full tilt at this time and I plugged right into it. I fellowshipped at a variety of Evangelical Churches for the next ten years.

The Lord blessed me in many ways. I met and married my beautiful wife in 1980. We have been gifted with four children. We were a Church going family, we were members of a Calvary Chapel. Our bookshelves are mostly Christian Literature, Bibles or birdwatching books. We were an Evangelical family striving to do right. However, as the years went by, I began to change.

I wish I could say it was a restlessness in my soul looking for a deeper meaning, but it wasn’t that. It really boiled down to compromise, luke-warmness and a growing belief that we are saved by grace and there is nothing we can do to improve our lot. My motto morphed over time to ‘Our righteousness is as filthy rags’ and ‘we are saved by grace and not works- lest a man boast’. Even our best efforts to change really didn’t have an effect on our salvation.

The conduct in one’s life becomes somewhat like a wild dog when your theology excuses sin.

It was in 1995 that I met Roger. He lived in our neighborhood and I sold him a car. We became casual friends and at one point he told me about a girl he engaged to. He said her religion was so very important to her. The way he portrayed it made her sound almost unbalanced but he respected her.

A year later I saw Roger again and he told me sadly that his fiance’ had died.

I never met her, but out of respect to Roger I went to the funeral being conducted at a Lutheran Church. To say it was an interesting funeral would be an understatement. Though it was in a Lutheran Church the service was being conducted by a Greek Orthodox Priest. Incense was flowing out of a censer as smoke filled the room. The chanting and words were unfamiliar to me. I was somewhere between very confused and curious.

The Priest stepped forward to share a message. He said the departed wanted him to share with those who came to her funeral what Eastern Orthodoxy was. He then began to explain the difference between western and eastern theology. Some of the points I remember regarded Communion and how the bread and wine of communion is actually Christ body and blood –a mystery the Orthodox do not try to explain. That salvation is an ongoing and dynamic work of grace in our life and not a static historical event. How Christ is seen in everyone we meet and our response to Christ in them has a bearing in our Christian journey/salvation. How the Eastern Orthodox service has followed the same format since the establishment of the Church by Jesus as he commissioned His disciples with instructions as to what to do and how to build His Church. The form of worship being virtually unchanged over 2,000 years. That every Eastern Orthodox Priest could follow the hand on head blessings, Priest by Priest all the way back to the Apostles.

It was amazing to me that I had no knowledge of this Church for my whole life. After the funeral I went back to work and tucked this knowledge away for another day. That day came 13 years later.
The years that followed saw me to be successful in a business way but arid and empty in my personal walk. The walls of integrity had fallen, the one Christian standard that supported me was my creed:

“we are saved by grace!”

The low point came in 2008. My theology led to presumptive forgiveness after any bad behavior.

We were buying a house and land in the country. A place that looked like a National Park. Beautiful riverfront property, tall trees, a stream and pond. A paradise. But, all I wanted to do was go build a hut, go inside it and pray. I was miserable.

It was during that time that I remembered the funeral. Thought more about Orthodoxy and eventually looked online for any books that may explain it further. Fortunately, I found ‘Becoming Orthodox’ by Peter Gilquist. In this book he describes how he helped establish Campus Crusade for Christ which in turn sent him looking for the original New Testament Church only to find it in Orthodoxy.

This began my journey through Orthodox books, podcasts (Ancient Faith Radio) and blogs (Journey to Orthodoxy). One day my wife noticed an article in the local newspaper about an Orthodox service that was going to be held and gave a contact number. I called the number and set up a meeting at Starbucks with a local couple who were Orthodox. They helped bring the picture into focus. I began attending the Orthodox mission. Visiting other Orthodox Churches. Studying. Listening. Praying. Accepting. Finding a Spiritual Father. The gentle love and patience all along the way ministered to me. It took awhile but…

On August 2, 2015 I became Orthodox Christian into the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I am thankful to God for giving me a good family in childhood. Parents who brought me to Baptism and surrounded me with a loving environment. For people who have been used by Him throughout the years to cocoon me in an ongoing Christian environment of love, acceptance and grace. For my wife who has proved to me that how we live is important and that pleasing the Lord should be our chief aim in life.

So thankful for all the people and events that influenced me, changed me and brought me to the point of being able to humbly recognize that I was not alone in my walk towards wholeness. To see the beauty of the Church and understand that Christ did not leave us on our own to work it out but he is physically present in our midst as we worship Him in the ageless, timeless Liturgy which culminates in partaking of His Body and Blood. That what we do matters. It is true, we are working out our own salvation but He has given us so many tools!

Life is no longer passive. Following Christ has become an adventure offering great opportunities to grow and be healed. That every moment and each encounter is precious and Christ is present.

Today, I realize my sin more than ever. But my life is fuller. Christ is present in a tangible way through the Sacraments of the Church. There are now so many ways to address those things that have haunted me in the past: the Eucharist, Confession, my Spiritual Father and a legacy of prayers from early Fathers to name just a few. The Bible says

“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”.

I can now better understand that command in context of in the Ancient Orthodox Church. Praise God!

Source:


EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH

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Is There One True Church?

An Interview with Peter Jackson, a former Protestant missionary

Peter Jackson—a former Protestant missionary and the translator of several books of Holy Scripture into the language of the Kogi people of Colombia, presently a student at Holy Trinity Spiritual Seminary—tells of his road to Orthodoxy. This is an Interview conducted with him on the pages of Pravoslavnaya Rus’ [Orthodox Rus’] by R. Sholkov.

* * *

RS: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

PJ: I was an Evangelical Protestant from birth. My family attended Baptist and Presbyterian churches, and my parents were firm believers in [the concept of] the “invisible Church,” i.e., [the belief] that there has never been a single church on earth which could call herself the one True Church; i.e., [a church] possessing the fullness of the Truth. All that was necessary was “to believe in Christ” and to attend that church which was “convenient.” But I could never understand why there were so many different so-called churches, all of which considered themselves to be Bible-based?

When I was 12 years old, our community was visited by some preachers who were doing missionary work in Colombia and translating the Bible for the Indians. Because I had always been interested in languages, I was attracted to this work. I was astonished [to learn] that there are thousands of languages in the world into which the Bible has not yet been translated.

I began to study Greek and Hebrew, in order to prepare myself for working in translating the Bible into such languages; and, at the university, I studied linguistics. Later, I joined the Protestant Mission of Bible translators (Wycliffe Bible Translators), in order to obtain a more detailed education.

When I was in training at Wycliffe, I became acquainted with my future wife, Styliana; now we have two sons, Nicholas and Benjamin. Styliana’s parents were missionaries in Colombia, when she was yet 5 years old. They preached among the semi-savage Kogi tribe. Her parents were very happy to receive our (my wife’s and mine) support in this missionary work. They had no time for translations; hence, after our arrival, I began to study both Spanish (which is spoken in Colombia) and the language of the Kogi people, and to translate the New Testament and the book of Genesis into their language. I was also forced to create an orthography for the Kogi, as they had never had a written language.

RS: How did you find out about Orthodoxy?

PJ: Being a missionary, I understood much. The Evangelicals repeat, over and over, that they all have the same identical faith; but each denomination has its own system of belief. Thus, I saw that the missionaries in Colombia pretended to sympathize with the Roman Catholics; but that behind their backs, they hated each other. Each denomination taught in accordance with its own belief-system, but would say, at the same time, that all Protestants nonetheless believe one and the same thing.

I began to think deeply about this—how could we teach the tribes a single faith? when one group would become Baptists, another—Lutherans, a third—Pentecostals. I discovered that each Bible translator, willy-nilly, would translate it in accordance with his own denomination’s world-view. They would say that this “will help the Indians to understand [the Bible] better.” But which translation of the Bible was the correct one? How could we proclaim catholicity? Where was the Church in all this?

Likewise, while I was translating the Bible from the Greek, I noticed that its meaning was distinct from the English and Spanish translations. The Western teaching concerning predestination (Calvinism), which always used to trouble me, did not exist in the Greek Bible. But the English and Spanish translators, willy-nilly, would introduce slight changes into the meaning of the text, in order to imbue the texts with a western and even a Calvinist meaning. I likewise noticed that the other major Protestant doctrines simply could not be Biblical; chiliasm, for example, or the justification of believers by faith alone, although Protestants explain that these doctrines of theirs are allegedly Bible-based!

I began to study Church history, in order to find out precisely whence these heresies originated, and what the early Church actually taught. Protestants, on the other hand, teach that, after the Apostles, God ceased all activity, as it were, for fourteen centuries.

RS: And how did your spouse, who had grown up in a family of confirmed Protestants react to the road along which you had begun to travel?

PJ: She always supported me; even, as it were, nudged me along! When we were wed, we promised each other that we would always seek accord in all controversial issues that might arise. The Truth is one, and we always discuss all questions until we reach an accord. What we cannot agree about is the teaching concerning the Church. Styliana was likewise brought up with the idea of an “invisible Church,” but rejected it. She believed firmly that the Church must be somewhere. It was precisely she who inspired me to find out whether Calvinism has any basis in the Bible. When I discovered that the distorted concept of predestination existed only in the West, and that the Holy Fathers of the East teach about synergy (i.e., the mutually-reciprocal bond between the Divine and human wills), my wife asked me:

“Well, what about the Greek Church, then? Perhaps it contains the Truth?”

My response was the following:

“Which Greek Church? Are you speaking of the Orthodox Church?”

I knew nothing about Orthodoxy, but I had been brought up with the understanding that Orthodoxy is as pernicious as [Roman] Catholicism—even worse, in fact. Thus, I expressed no further interest in the idea.

In the meantime, we were approaching ever closer to Orthodoxy! When we were invited to preach at meetings, I would speak about fasting and the doctrine of synergy. But people did not like what I had to say. I tried to be a proper Protestant and base my teachings upon the Bible, but people would say:

“We don’t care that you can support your words with the Bible, this is still not our doctrine.”

It was apparent that, despite Protestantism’s stand against Church Tradition, they had created their own tradition. We finally figured out that we were no longer Protestants. But we were also not [Roman] Catholics. So what were we? Where was our faith?

When we returned to America for vacation, my wife purchased a used book for 10 cents, entitled “The Orthodox Church.” I immediately read it and was struck by lightning, as it were. I did not know about the seven Œcumenical Councils and about former apostasies. Now, I read about theosis and hesychasm, about St. Gregory Palamas and the Venerable Serafim of Sarov.

This was a new world! But, in reality, it was not new, but distinctively unique; this was the Apostolic Faith. The Truth had turned out to be there, where we had not expected to find It—but [where] It had always waited for us. We understood that Christ had truly built His Church, having said to Peter:

“upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matt. 16: 18).

We believed in this as in a verity, even when our families and friends stood opposed to our beliefs.

RS: Now you are studying at Holy Trinity Seminary. What are your plans for the future?

PJ: Despite the fact that there have long-since been Orthodox temples in Latin America, we were amazed by the fact that there is not a single one in Colombia, although Orthodox [Christians] do live there. Likewise, many of our friends and acquaintances in Colombia are interested in Orthodoxy. This is a [Roman] Catholic country, but the Protestants have drawn many to themselves. The majority of [Roman] Catholics would never have converted to Protestantism, had they not noticed that their church is moving ever-farther-away from the Truth. People tell us that they want to find that original Faith which [once] existed among the ancient Saints. Thus, we think that Colombia, like all of Latin America, is a great harvest, which is awaiting its workers.

RS: What would you like to say to our non-Orthodox readers?

PJ: We are disappointed by the fact that at such a time as Orthodoxy is being reborn in Rus’, many false teachings are appearing and polluting Russia. God is one, the Church is one, and the Truth is one. I would advise the non-Orthodox readers to study thoroughly the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Not a single other church or faith can call itself the true Church. Do not depart from Orthodoxy because you see some people in it of little faith. You must not abandon the Truth on account of sinful man. Sinners are everywhere, but true Saints are only [to be found] in Orthodoxy. Do not be afraid to ask questions and to seek the Truth. Then you will be able to say with us:

“We see the true Light; we have found the true Faith.”

* * *

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (St. Paul [The Epistle to the Galatians, Ch. I, vv. 8-9])

Source:



JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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My great adventure in search of the Truth

November 2008

Sister Matthaia Osswald , Germany 

A Roman Catholic nun discovered the fullness of the Truth in the Orthodox Church.

Childhood and adolescence.   

I was born in 1961 from Protestant parents, in a town in South Germany. We lived in a suburb which had earlier been a separate village and later was integrated into a municipality. There was only one Roman Catholic family, the rest of the inhabitants being Protestants. The daughter of this family, whom I used to like very much, was in my class at the elementary school. I still remember very well that I was strictly forbidden to visit her, because they told me that it would be embarrassing for our family if anybody learned about such a thing. During the following years there was a growing tolerance on this topic. Even though the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, with the passage of time the “Catholic” population increased and more Roman Catholic communities were created in the town.

My parents did believe in God but they would not practice their faith, for example they would never go  to church on Sundays, we would not pray, at least not together or before the meals and the topic of “God” was not discussed in our home.
However, in my grand parents’ house lived an elderly Evangelical deaconess, who earlier had been a kindergarten teacher. She was like a light for me. Every time I would visit my grand parents I would use the occasion to “disappear” and visit this nun. She would always talk about Jesus; about His miracles; how repeatedly and in different ways He had helped her; about paradise, heaven and the angels. And she would pray with me. Time with her seemed to flow very fast! I was always sad, every time I would hear a voice telling me: “Where are you again? Come quick”! My grand parents did not take kindly to the fact that I would be so long with the “pious aunt”.

One evening when I was four or five years old, I was lying in my bed thinking how terribly tiring it must be for Father God that He cannot take time off to relax. He must always stay up worrying about the people and be careful that nothing bad happens to them. I made all kinds of suggestions to Him such as for example, if He could alternate with His Son, or with the angels. Finally, I told Him, that I wished so much to help Him and that it would not bother me at all, if every now and then I stayed up all night, but neither would this help the people. On one hand these were very childish, all these thoughts of mine, but on the other hand I meant them and me never forgot, even though in the following years they faded entirely into the background. Afterward my schooling started. I became busy with other things.

Of course I never doubted the existence of God, but His existence had no importance for me and my life. It was as if they were two separate things that had no relationship with each other. All my adolescence was influenced by the fact that I always wished to be like the others (Something that I never succeeded in as I was always marginalized, which possibly was due to my exterior unpleasant appearance.) I tried everything the others did, smoke, go in the evenings to the bars, smoke marijuana, listen to rock music etc. I was then part of a group but it goes without saying, that most of the time I would be sitting alone in a corner and I never fit in even though I tried so much.

Enraptured by divine love 

When I was seventeen a significant change happened in my life. I always had a great love for music. I played certain musical instruments and later I wished to study music.
Someone gave my mother two concert tickets. They were for the “St. Matthew Passion” of Johann  Seb. Bach, which is about the Passion of Christ according to the gospel of St. Matthew in the Bible. The concert was scheduled for Holy Friday.
The Protestants do not have any particular divine liturgy for the Holy Week, that is why the so called “religious concerts” take place, so somebody could visit them for contemplation and interior peace. The concert lasted three and a half hours. Basically I cannot explain what happened inside me. The Holy Gospel in combination with the gripping music touched me deeply and moved my heart. (I read about something similar, incidentally, in the biography of Father Seraphim Rose). I was touched, impressed and overwhelmed by the love of Jesus Christ who died sacrificing himself on the Cross for us and for our sins. This love became at that moment a reality for me and filled me totally. I do not know how long I stayed at the church crying. I knew one thing however; I wanted to become an answer to this love. It was very clear in my heart. Later I would ask myself why I said “I want to become an answer to this love” and not “I want to give an answer to this love”. I did not understand it but it appeared to have some significance. From that day on my life changed. The following day I bought a Bible. I hung a cross in my room and instead of going in the evenings to the pubs I would read the Holy Bible and pray. Later I decided to study ecclesiastical music. I was thinking that since God touched me in such a way and granted me a talent, then I want to help other people to be able to acquire a similar experience. I became a member of the church choir of our city and began following a course of ecclesiastical music and taking lessons on the church organ. This way my friends changed also. The following three years I dedicated myself totally to church music, to new acquaintances, to the Holy Bible and besides these, also to school.

Protestantism or the Roman Catholic “Church” 

A girlfriend of mine temporarily played the church organ at a “Catholic” church community in our city. One Saturday evening, we agreed that I should wait for her outside the church so that we might go out together. By mistake I arrived an hour early, so I decided to go with her on the balcony and follow the Liturgy “from on high” instead of waiting outside the church. Somehow it was different from the Liturgy I knew at the Evangelical Church. It was somehow more transcendent and it impressed me. Since then I could not rest and wished to discover what the different thing that moved me was. For a long period I visited the Holy Mass of the Catholics at the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday evenings and on Sunday mornings, the Liturgy of the Evangelical “Church”. The former began to attract me even more. At the Evangelical “Church” I missed the transcendence; it appeared to me to be a matter of a human format that brings together people with a common interest, namely God. At the Roman Catholic “Church” I felt something like transcendence. Something higher seemed to unite the people, different than what happens in a club or in a community of merely common human interests. I particularly enjoyed the Holy Eucharist as opposed to the holy communion of the Evangelical Church which never had any particular significance for me. I would often speak with the priest of the community who held contemporary views. As a Protestant I naturally had serious concerns with Papist! But for the priest this seemed to be no problem. Or better said, it was a problem, but he had resolved it in his way, namely in the way he had learned from the lectures of a university professor (in later years this professor’s teaching license in Rome was revoked). The priest would say: “The Pope is in Rome and we are here. What does he know about us? Let him concern himself with the Church of Rome and us here with ours”. (This view was naturally everything but Roman Catholic and it began to spread ever more during the 80’s decade). The thing that finally pushed me to become Roman Catholic was the experience of this transcendence and above all the Eucharist, namely, the belief that during the Divine Liturgy the bread and wine truly transformed into the body and blood of Christ; that is; that all this was a reality and not  only symbolic. Another reason was the liturgy itself, because in the Evangelical “Church” there was no liturgy with this meaning. The Liturgy consisted only in the reading of the Holy Bible, a long preaching and lots of songs and about once a month the so-called “divine communion” right after the liturgy. In October 1982 I became a Roman Catholic.
Contemplating today on the way all this happened, I can only shake my head for I was blind. We had decided to celebrate with a “liturgy” at the house (Hausmesse) in a family atmosphere. The celebration did not take place at the church but in the living room of the priest’s house. The reading from the Gospel I could select myself and instead of a sermon we would together exchange our thoughts corresponding to the areas of the Bible we had chosen while we were sitting on the sofa. This was called liturgy of the word. For the celebration of the Eucharist we would all sit together around the dining room table which also served as a Holy Altar. Although I had to recite together with the rest the creed of faith, no one asked me to confess the following:  I believe and confess whatever the Holy, Catholic Church believes, teaches and declares”. (This I realized only 24 years later, when someone told me: “You cannot abandon our Church just like that, since you made this confession”).
This was the way I became a Roman Catholic. So now what? The Church music played a significant role in the Evangelical church, but in the Roman Catholic Church it was secondary. Moreover, the church music here did not appear very attractive to me. It was created through quick processes following the Second Vatican Council, when the liturgy was changed by allowing it to be performed from then on in the language of each country, and so it had no tradition. Apart from this I was thinking that I should somehow become involved in some community and since as a woman I could not become a priest, I decided to study theology, and become a pastoral assistant. I continued studying the Holy Bible and above everything else I was touched deeply by the spoken parables. It always touched me when Jesus would say to the rich young man:

“Go sell your belongings and come and follow Me” (Matt 19:21). To someone else He said: “Follow Me and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt 8:22) or “no man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). It would touch and hurt me. I wanted to make my faith a profession and the most basic thing in my life. But how? Should I leave from my house without a penny? without a second overcoat? without anything? Just simply leave, just as the Bible says? But then where?

In search of my own monastery 

Before the start of my basic studies I had to first follow for one year pre-seminary studies to learn Biblical Latin and Greek. During this period a pivotal event happened to me. One day in a doctor’s waiting room as I was leafing through a journal, I landed on an article about a Benedictine monastery. That interested me! Perhaps that was the answer to my doubts about my existence. I had believed that monasteries existed only during the middle ages. As I already said, I lived in an Evangelical area where there were no monasteries. The following day I phoned to enquire if it would be possible for me to visit them. Their answer was positive and for weeks I was happy in expectation of the coming holidays that I would spend there. I was deeply impressed by the silence, the services of the hours, during which the nuns would gather every three hours in the church, the manual labour, and the repeated daily rhythms during which one’s soul could find rest. Despite that I liked all this, yet something was lacking even there.
I learned there were different orders, each with different rules and different spirit.  I came to know the Franciscan nuns, Carmelites and some others. I liked something everywhere but always something was missing for me, but what? (The answer to this question I would receive many years later). However I had finally realized that on every occasion I wished to dedicate my life to God and become a nun. In my prayer I would ask God continuously where He wanted me, in which out of all these orders and communities? During my search I also came in touch with what is called Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

However, I never felt quite comfortable with that. Everybody would sing in “tongues”, some would speak prophesies, everything was totally emotional and yet one more time I felt that I was a stranger. Of course I could not show this, for it would have meant that I was not enlightened by the Holy Spirit and that I held my heart closed.
During that period I also visited one of the new spiritual communities. It had been founded in the beginning of the 80’s and consisted of unmarried men and women who after a long period of testing (Noviziat); would take an oath and promise destitution, virginity and obedience. Within the membership however, also belonged families with children. The couples promised destitution, obedience and spousal purity. Seeing it superficially during my first visit nothing moved me at all, it was rather the opposite. Some visitor asked during the discussion of different topics, what were the conditions for entrance into the community; whence the founder, the one responsible for the community replied thus: “Conditions? One and only one exists. Whoever wishes to enter in here, has to give away his “own” life at the entrance door “. That was it!

In the evening when I returned to my house I did not know more than before. Only that one phrase would not leave my mind!
That summer a good friend invited me to accompany him to a large meeting   of different new Catholic spiritual communities in France. The diversity, songs,   traditional dances of Israel, the services of the hours, the Eucharistic worship in quietness, touched me and I believed that finally I had arrived at my destination. I wished to join this community and become a nun. I returned to Germany, and during the fall I sat for my final examinations on the theological pre-seminary course which I had followed and bought a ticket for France with my last 300 marks which a friend had given me, planning never again to return. Man plans but God destines.  After two weeks I learned that all the houses of the community would stay closed to visitors. How terrible! And now what? No money, no prospects, what shall I do? Glory be to God; in the last moment there was a change. One of the houses of the community was staying open, for the period of Christmas, offering a program of spiritual exercises. My money was just enough   for this.   A week later I found myself again in the same condition. However a woman, who had also taken part in the program of spiritual exercises, invited me to go on a pilgrimage. Immediately after the pilgrimage she gave me some money and paid for my train ticket to what is called Mutterhaus (the main monastery of the community) in a different part of France. There I spent one more week always hoping finally to speak with the founder of the community and to get him to allow me to enter it. I remained there for a week, but at the end it was not that clear to him that entering this community was what God had destined for me. During one of the vespers he laid his hands on my head and having prayed for me revealed the inner word he had received: “My ways are not also yours. I shall show you another way which you cannot yet understand. But I demand from you absolute availability”.
With these words, therefore, I was sent away one more time. And now where to? I was truly desperate. No one could explain these words to me or give me a perspective. However I only wanted one thing: To follow Jesus Christ and dedicate my life to him. It was terrible. Apart from my disappointment, it created in me an inner doubt, that perhaps God either did not want me, or else I was too stupid to find the place for which He had destined me. Again someone felt sorry for me and gave me money to return home. I had left my house with the intention never to return, yet now, a few weeks later I found myself unannounced in front of my parents’ house. (Before this I had stayed for a week at a monastery in France to remain in silence and calm my soul. I had achieved the first but not the second). My parents naturally were happy I returned, but I was totally disoriented. The following two weeks I passed living almost totally secluded praying in my room. At the same time within me continuously sounded the phrase: “Whoever wishes to enter in here has to give away his “own” life at the entrance door”. A battle was being waged inside me. On the one hand nothing attracted me there, the destitution, strange bearded faces with old rasa, no electricity, no running water, a primitive toilet, no private space and many other things.Yet that phrase would not leave me in peace. All this was basically what I wished for, what I searched for within me from the moment of my conversion, this total dedication to Christ without seeking anything for myself any more and abandoning everything worldly. Well, I decided to take a chance; I immediately decided to phone, it was Friday afternoon, and ask if I could spend the weekend. If the answer was negative then I would close that chapter and would never open it again (secretly inside me in some way I hoped for it). The answer was positive. All right then. The next day I went there and this time it was different. The exterior things did not repel me that much anymore and I had a long conversation with the founder that concerned my interior search over the past months. He proposed that I stay with the community for four months, until the 15th August, to enable myself with calmness and prayer to ask God for my destiny.

After three weeks there I had the impression that I had found my place. Above everything else I loved the silence and the noetic prayer but I also learned to love more and more the simplicity and immediacy of life and did not wish to exchange it for a more comfortable life. Here also I experienced the Roman Catholic Church from a totally different side. Even though I had become a Catholic at a parish which was much oriented towards modernism, now I was in a community where the love for the Pope and obedience to him were written in capital letters.

One would follow with zeal and direct oneself according to what he said and did. I found that quite difficult and I always felt like a rebel who participated with grinding teeth or with extreme reluctance in it. Many years were necessary until my disposition in this matter would change!

A year later I began my noviciate (noviziat). One year after this, I made the first vows for three years. Afterwards followed again the so- called temporary vows (For another three years) and then the vows of dedication for my entire life. However, at that time I found that I was absolutely not in the state to give such so co-called eternal vows; yet I was in a great internal crisis and was wavering, full of uncertainty. I thought that all these were an interior assault, bad thoughts and emotions that one must not allow, thus I turned away from all the “inner chaos” and I made the vows. The wind storm lightened up a bit but I could not truly calm down. This could also be symptomatic of my journey. As I already noted, many things would attract me in the various orders and communities, yet always something was missing which at that time I could not name. In this community, everything was more refined, and though nothing was missing, I could not find even here the true inner calmness, that deep inner certainty that here I had finally arrived at my final destination. Those thoughts and the vague feeling of nostalgia that would continuously come out from deep inside me, I believed came from the evil one and that I should struggle spiritually against them and for this reason should not allow under any circumstances such thoughts and emotions. I believed that  true peace and the certainty  that someone  had arrived at his final destination, was to be found only in heaven, and that in life everyone remains “on the way” and in the earthly life remains always in an inner  restlessness and silent melancholy.

It never crossed my mind that I would ever leave this community. With the exception of a few crises, which anyone who follows this road would anyway surely experience, I was glad and happy there. I loved my spiritual father; the founder of the community, and the brothers and sisters. Also, I gladly did the various duties they placed on me. I don’t wish to be misunderstood: even today I do not  have any  hostility toward them, rather I respect their good will,  zeal, and eagerness for total dedication and I learned  many things there  for which today I am grateful. Despite all this I left the community after 21 years. Why?
While in the beginning I was orientated very much towards modernism,   developments in the Roman Catholic Church of all probable sorts of theories; new theological currents, which were justified by the theory that the Holy Spirit guides us continuously deeper into the truth; the many departures from the Church; the lack of priests and the lack of new monastics, put me, with the passing of time, to progressively deeper thought.  Because the youth would not go to church anymore, they would try with different ways of liturgical experimenting to win them back; for example rock music during liturgy, disco, use of SMS for intercessions, liturgies which the youth attended by going to the church on skateboards and skates and other similar things. I had the impression that everything sacred was being sold and adapted only so as to present it to the people in the most attractive way. I fell into an ever growing dilemma. On one side I would become progressively more conservative, because I was convinced that whatever is sacred must be kept sacred. On the other hand our community was ecumenical. Inspired by Pope John Paul 2nd, who started to pray together with the representatives of different religions, dialogue with other religions was also written in our community with capital letters. We were open to other denominations, other religions and spiritual currents – naturally with the hope to   win them over to the Roman Catholic Church. One manner of expressing this was music. As an example, we were singing certain songs that resembled Hindu mantras (Hindu prayers) except we would sing the name “Jeschuah” for example to come to an internal concentration and peace. During our prayers we embodied also Orthodox elements; for example we would sing on Saturday evenings sections of the Orthodox Vespers in the German language with Russian melodies and other Orthodox psalms. One of my main responsibilities in the community was liturgy.

The meeting with Orthodoxy – my way home.

In 2005 the community celebrated 25 years of existence. Taking advantage of this occasion it was allowed to all the members of the community, who had never yet visited Jerusalem, to go there on a pilgrimage tour. We arrived in Jerusalem three weeks before the Orthodox Pascha (Easter). Since dialogue was a significant element in our community, we took part in the liturgies of the different denominations. We went to the Armenian Church, the Copts, Franciscans, to the Russian Orthodox nuns at the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene, to the Mount of Olives and to the Greek Orthodox liturgy at the Church of the Resurrection. The variety of denominations in Jerusalem was impressive and one could discover something everywhere. The first Greek Orthodox liturgy I experienced was on Pascha at the Church of the Resurrection. This was the decisive experience. It is difficult for me to describe what I experienced there. I felt I was in heaven or that heaven had descended to earth. At that time I did not know what the Cherubic Hymn was, however, when I heard it for the first time, I felt such a deep self-concentration   and I thought that at that moment the angels were chanting with the people. (Later I learned that two emissaries of the Russian Tsar had felt the same when they experienced the liturgy in Constantinople for the first time). My deepest experience was the certainty of an inner knowledge; NOW I HAVE ARRIVED HOME!  This was as if an answer to my interior uneasiness. This was what I had lacked, as I said earlier, it was this interior experience. Then I did not know much of the history of the Church, about the Filioque, the schism etc.

At that time I could not, nor did I want to, discuss it with the founder of our community. First I wanted to get to know the Orthodox Church more deeply. This   could happen at the beginning only during liturgy. However, how could I follow this up? After the celebration of Pentecost we had to return. And then what?

Glory be to God, for divine providence guided my path.
As I said earlier, my responsibility was the liturgy. Thus on the feast of the Holy Spirit, I received from the founder of our community the order to remain with another sister, for one year in Jerusalem and to study the various liturgies. I had to move like the bees to gather the honey, namely, every Sunday I had to visit a different liturgy, learn psalms, take notes and see what from these we could embody in our liturgy. It was a duty toward the union of the Churches. This way I would visit sometimes the Armenians, at others the Russian Orthodox nuns on the Mount of Olives or the Greek Orthodox liturgy at the Church of the Resurrection. Apart from all this, we had to celebrate once every week the Divine Liturgy according to the Orthodox Typicon with a Catholic priest, with the intention to pray for the union.
During this period of the cycle of liturgies I would always wait for the next Greek liturgy. Glory be to God; at that time there was a young Orthodox deacon, a guardian of Golgotha, who could speak English very well and was very open. I could ask him about the liturgy, learn some psalms and exchange views on the differences between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. I truly owe him a lot! He would answer all my questions with infinite patience and above all, he never tried to influence me, something that was very significant for me. For later, in comparison with “my” community, they would say that I was influenced by the Orthodox. However,   I experienced exactly the opposite; I was pressured by the Roman Catholics. They would always try to convince me that here was the fullness of the truth, and that no one could dispute the superiority of the Pope etc. From the Orthodox side I would only receive answers to my questions and information. Naturally everyone would confess that they were certain that the Orthodox Church is the true Church of Christ, but no one ever pushed me to become Orthodox!

Three months passed in this way, with the liturgies, the study and the exchange of views. It was a beautiful, intensive but also a very difficult period for me, because I could not show that inside me the attraction for Orthodoxy was growing all the more,  otherwise, it was certain that they would demand that I return immediately to Germany! After these three months another problem appeared. Our visas had expired and we had   either to try to renew them or return to Germany and then come back. I was afraid of the latter because I was sure, that my spiritual father would have realized that something was not going well with me. An Orthodox priest I knew, advised me to turn to an Orthodox bishop. Probably he could help me on the matter of the visa. I went and met with him, and explained everything. I also explained about my experience during that liturgy at the Church of the Resurrection during Pascha and that I was questioning myself more and more   whether I should become Orthodox. If however I had to return to Germany, it would spell the “end” for me.
The bishop gave me the wise advice to confess the truth to the spiritual father of my community and ask to be released for a year from the community with the purpose of reading, studying and continuing to visit the liturgy, so as to come to know the beauty and the depth of Orthodoxy but also the human weaknesses and errors, so that after this one year I would be able to make a wise decision. I liked this advice; so I wrote a letter to my spiritual father to request this release. I clearly wrote to him that I did not wish to make a decision from a first impression of love and enthusiasm but that I needed the time for study and investigation. This request was decisively declined as may be seen from this excerpt from his letter to me:”……
To set the matter of one’s conversion after a four month residence shows more the lack of one’s conviction in Catholic beliefs than to the guidance of God. From the Catholic point of view the proof that the Orthodox Church represents more the truth of God than the Catholic Church cannot be accepted.” Apart from this they emphasized that since I was sent with a mission to Jerusalem and for this reason only; I could not be released so as to research my own case.

Below is an excerpt from my letter of response. 

“I can no longer return! It is about a matter of conscience which I must and wish to place in front of everyone. These past days I read your letter truly many times and I studied it with prayers and what became most clear was “I am already on the other side”. At this time there is no longer a possibility of return. However, this does not mean that I already decided to change my faith.

…. I wish to ask you to release me from the community so that I will be able to study the case of my eventual conversion as a lay person. Concerning Orthodoxy, you had written to me that “one should be able to experience a love without seizing it”. I don’t want to seize her; I want to surrender to her completely. Orthodoxy for me is a whole world, in which I would like to enter fully, if this is true. In the mean time it is not fit for me to break off single small pebbles and transplant them to the Catholic spirit and Catholic liturgy.

In another letter of reply to me I was ordered to return immediately to Germany to clear the situation in situ. I basically did not want this, as I was afraid of my weakness, that perhaps they could influence me again and make me retreat. Unfortunately there was no possibility to renew my visa and at the same time I learned that my spiritual guide had already booked a flight to Jerusalem in order to speak to me, in case I refused to return to Germany. In this way I returned to Germany to “my” community and had many discussions with my spiritual guide. During one of these discussions he showed me that I had, as a Catholic, to study my doubt of whether the Orthodox Church is the true Church of Christ and that “it could not be that I was already on the other side, namely that I am already Orthodox” and investigate from that side if the Catholic Church is the true one. That would be dishonest. As a Catholic I should investigate from the Catholic side. That had convinced me somehow and since my spiritual guide assured me that at the end of the year when I would complete my mission, I could investigate the case about Orthodoxy, I returned to obedience and his spiritual guidance. Even so I confess no more than one hour later I was standing, crying and I would continuously repeat the following: “Now I have lost everything!” My spiritual guide would assure me continuously that I had not lost anything, that I could involve myself with the matter that continuously occupied me but, not now. Since I had returned to obedience and spiritual guidance, three weeks later they sent me back to Jerusalem to continue my mission until Pentecost. The first three weeks went well; I was determined to deliver on my mission and above all to investigate the matter of the Orthodox Church as a Catholic later. However, my heart would not go back! Metaphorically, I felt as if pregnant, with the child ready to be born- and I had to set it completely aside. This for me, from the religious point of view, seemed like an abortion. If only I had at least permission to be able to read or to exchange views; however, all this was denied to me and the only thing they allowed to me was to visit the liturgy once a month. Within a few weeks,   I had become a total wreck internally. I would sit crying at Golgotha and I didn’t know   what to do any more. An Orthodox monk had once told me: “Just follow the voice of your heart.” Basically, my heart was already Orthodox.

During Christmas I had again to return to Germany due to the expiration of my visa. I found myself confronting the same problem. My heart was already “on the other side”, but this time I did not want to show my feelings, for otherwise there would be no return to Jerusalem. Even so, in a conversation I had with my spiritual guide I told him that I was impatient to finally investigate the matter of my conversion. He became surprised and he confessed that he basically did not believe that this matter could still be current with me and that with time it would become superfluous. Then he announced to the whole community that I was still aiming to investigate the matter.

I therefore returned to Jerusalem. It was a terrible period for me! Inside me I felt like a wreck and I had a dilemma. On the one side my heart and conscience would tell me that the fullness of the truth exists in the Orthodox Church and that she is the true Church. It was not only that first experience: Here whatever was holy was still kept holy, the liturgy was directed to God and was not sold to the people nor was she presented to them in an alternative way in order to make it more palatable to them; she was always the same just as she was taught by our fathers. The faith was maintained, just as she was delivered by the fathers and defined by the first seven ecumenical synods; not the continuously new theological theories and liturgical experiments. Here was the fullness of the truth and the one and authentic Church of Christ. This assurance would continuously grow ever more inside me, after many discussions with the deacon and with some other monks and with my visits to the Divine Liturgy. On the other side I felt tied by my obedience not to investigate this question at present (which was no longer Within a few weeksa question to me) or to exchange views with any members of the Orthodox Church. So, where should I turn for this internal need?

God again sent me a helper. He was a friend, a Roman Catholic theologian and deacon, of whose love for Orthodoxy I was well aware. When I revealed my internal struggle between my conscience and my spiritual obedience, he replied, “It is a Roman Catholic dogma that personal conscience is placed above obedience on matters of faith and of the Church”.

This was like liberation for me! My decision was made. The next day I went and met the Patriarch, I told him of my history and I revealed my wish to become Orthodox. He took my intention seriously and sent me to a monk to catechize me. This happened one week ahead of the fasting period, namely about one year after my arrival in Jerusalem.

In a subsequent letter of mine, I announced my decision to my spiritual guide and community. Naturally they did not accept it. My spiritual guide demanded my immediate return to total obedience, since it was not a matter of conscience; nor to attempt any further steps; and from this moment to sever immediately every contact and catechism that was initiated by the Orthodox side, until he himself arrived in Jerusalem. Even so, this time my decision was final and I did not want to recheck it. I wrote a final letter to my spiritual guide and I abandoned my community a few days later, before his arrival. At that time I had no intention of coming to one more duel with my spiritual guide, neither did I  see any prospect in this; the community wanted to serve the Oecumene; nor could I foresee any possibility for the union of the so- called “sister churches”. OR PERHAPS BETTER TO SAY THAT IT IS MY CONVICTION THAT FOR THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY FOR THE UNION, THE WAY OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH. Everything else constitutes an artificial, human scheme. How liberating it is for someone to take part in an Orthodox liturgy and to know that she is unchanging and not like with the Catholic liturgy, to have to be afraid of what to expect next. A few times I have thought that even many Orthodox people do not know how much spiritual wealth and what treasure has been given to them, how grateful to God we should be for this  and how responsible we should be in guarding it!

I therefore abandoned the community. And now what? Neither money nor home. Where could I go? It was amazing how much help I received, both spiritually and financially. As my visa expired once more, they suggested that I go to a large monastery in Greece for three weeks, to get to know more intimately the monastic life and then I could return. When I returned a week after Pascha, unfortunately no house was found for me in Jerusalem, although I was given an opportunity to stay at the monastery of St. Gerasimos in the Jordanian desert. However, I did not want to go there under any circumstances! I wished to stay in Jerusalem, now that at last I was free and I could exchange views with anyone I wished to! Luckily, I finally agreed – but only for one week until they could find a house in Jerusalem. After a week I liked it there in the desert so much that I asked if I could stay for one more week. They approved. After my departure from the community, I had suffered every night with horrible nightmares. In my dreams I would always find myself confronting the community. They foretold to me what would happen to me if I abandoned the community and “changed faith”. Those words followed me like dark prophesies, usually at night, so that I would wake up drenched in sweat and crying. After this spiritual battle, the monastery of St. Gerasimos was the first place where my soul found calmness and peace. After one more week, my heart became heavy while thinking that I would have to leave, so I asked to remain another week. At this the Elder Chrysostomos, the abbot, told me that I could stay as long as I wished. It was my heart’s wish and prayer to be baptized and Elder Chrysostomos agreed with this gladly. On the eve of the feast of the Holy Apostle Judas /Thaddeus, he baptized me and gave me the name Matthea, after the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew. (He had wanted to baptize me with the name Mariam, but just before the baptism, he heard within himself clearly a voice telling him: “not Mariam, Matthea”). After the baptism the elder asked me if Saint Matthew had somehow a special significance for me and I explained to him my experience on that Great Friday when I had heard the Gospel According to Saint Matthew and I had said that I wanted to become an answer to the love of Christ.
I passed the night praying in the Church and the following day during Divine Liturgy I received the monastic tonsure from the elder. Those two days were the happiest days of my life. “Finally I had arrived home”.

This monastery has become my home and so now not only do I serve at the Patriarchate, but I return here every weekend.

In the mean time, three years have passed and like then so also now, I thank God every day that He guided me to His Church and granted me the blessing of Baptism.

Nun Matthaia Osswald, Germany

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Fr. Pierre Haab, Switzerland: His long journey from Roman Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism to Orthodoxy

Aviv Saliu-Diallo, Pierre Haab

Fr. Pierre Haab, a Swiss former Roman Catholic who was disappointed with his religion and was carried away by Buddhism, Hinduism and other screamingly “fashionable” Eastern teachings and who is now a subdeacon of the Orthodox Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Cross in Geneva, speaks about his conversion to Orthodoxy.

* * *

—Can you tell us a few words about your family, education and the story of your conversion to the Orthodox faith?

I was born in an under-developed, impoverished, hungry country where the sky is permanently overcast with dark clouds—of course, in the spiritual sense. I am speaking of Switzerland, and especially of the city of Geneva—the center of world freemasonry and finances, the stronghold of obscurantist heresy, and a materialistic megalopolis that is enjoying the lulling, stable comfort that easily protects it from the numerous everyday tragedies of humanity.

My parents raised me in the Roman Catholic faith that they had inherited from their ancestors, for which I am extremely grateful to them; they implanted the fundamentals of Christian Revelation in me from childhood—namely faith in God, the doctrine and the necessity of prayer.

We were a practicing Catholic family. We attended Mass on Sundays and major Church feasts, and prayer was a part of our daily life (at least it was so for the first ten years of my childhood). My father, a journalist, devoted his professional life to the protection of the oppressed and justice. As far as my parents are concerned, they did their best to provide the continuity of religious education in our family.

As for the Church, though in my case the more precise name was “Papism”, the situation was different. As a child (in the 1950s) I felt comfortable in that religious environment; for example, I had no problem with prayers in Latin. Although for me faith was “the faith in obedience,” I used to ask many questions, and the adults—my parents and priests—were unable to answer them. And if they did answer me, they did it with a smile and condescendingly, thinking that I was trying to get to the core of the matter too seriously. They gave me to understand that performing the morally required duties was enough for me. And I decided that I would get the answers to my questions later through my independent, in-depth research and analysis of the primary sources, where the morals come from. Judging by my childhood memories, I always had a thirst for truth.

So I was waiting for some changes, when, at the very dawn of my youth, a crucial event happened in the West—a real revolution in Papism (which is still going on today). I mean the Second Vatican Council of 1962. Over a short span of several months (or, in some cases, two to three years) a whole set of rules which had been shaped in the living daily reality of Western Christianity for many centuries, were abolished, declared invalid and obsolete and even partly prohibited; in the twinkling of an eye this heritage was declared the lifeless and dusty relics of archeology. For example, thenceforth during the Mass the officiating priest and the altar were “turned around” and must face toward the congregation; the use of Latin—the centuries-old language of Western liturgies—was banned; the Sunday Mass was moved to Saturday evening—in order to give believers the opportunity to go skiing or sleep more on Sunday morning; the cassock (or soutane)—a non-liturgical garment traditionally worn by Catholic clergy—was declared “unnecessary”; all fasts (the Eucharistic fast, Lent and fasting on Fridays) were abolished; the sacramental wafers are distributed among the faithful by lay people (of both sexes) to “assist” the priest in his “work” and so on.

On the whole, it was an unhealthy thirst for changes. Continuity was no longer supported—it was seen as a sign of death. Instability became the norm, coupled with its main and inevitable consequence—the complacent confidence that thanks to our modern civilization we infinitely surpass all that came to us from the past. In ancient times people were “ignorant churls”, weren’t they? While we are at the forefront of evolution… Or, according to Nietzsche, “‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men and blink.” The slogan of that revolution was l’aggiornamento, that is, “a bringing up to date”—bringing the Church into compliance with the ever changing world, which presupposes that the Church is condemned to run unendingly after the world.

In this context, I got no answer to the questions I had asked, nor found I any inner guidance.

Thus, little by little, I began to distance myself from the “Catholic” Church. By the way, it coincided with the overall weakening of religious life; before the Second Vatican Council most people (including the most inactive ones), except for inveterate atheists, were involved in the social life of the Church and certainly attended Sunday services. But after the Council the new standard of permissiveness and personal comfort “cleansed” the Churches from the majority of believers.

So a long, very long period of search began for me. Roman Catholicism couldn’t offer me anything essential and it was reduced to vulgar, outward morality, while I blindly kept seeking for answers to my questions.

At the age of seventeen I discovered the book which was like a glimmer seen from the darkness I was in. Entitled The Spirituality of Hinduism and written by a first-rate orientalist, it showed me the existence of a language that expresses the realm of man’s inner reality. Before that time, my experience of spirituality or mysticism had been limited to Papism and my only impressions of it were sentimentalism and outward, superficial morality. This discovery aroused my interest in Eastern religions—firstly, in Hinduism (yoga and metaphysics); and, secondly, in Buddhism, Sufism and esoterics in general.

However, in those same years the Lord vouchsafed me to experience the invaluable gift of providence—the presence of the Russian Orthodox church, the golden domes of which, by the mercy of God, have dominated the city for 150 years. They gave me a sign from my childhood, but I had not been inside it before.

For instance, as a college student I ended up at Saturday Vigil there on several occasions. The deep calm of this place, the semidarkness, lit only by candles with the aroma of frankincense and wrapped in the beauty of psalmody—for me, it was an oasis in the desert of this world. The only problem was that I did not understand a single word of what was uttered and sung, so I remained outside the reality of the service, with no means to connect me with it. One time I even attempted to stay at the Divine Liturgy, but, having opened the door, I found myself in front of a throng of people who crowded the whole nave, coupled with choir singers with their loud voices… All of this was so different from the atmosphere at the Vigil that I got frightened, closed the door and left (smiles). Thus, at that period I still was unprepared for my first real meeting with the Orthodox Church.

However, I nevertheless kept searching throughout my studies at university and afterwards. I spent a total of over fifteen years in my quest for the answers to my questions.

Meanwhile, I got married and my wife and I continued this search together. It should be said that several years later, remaining open and receptive to any kinds of faiths, we (out of spiritual honesty and a deep willingness to find the truth) resolved to start studying Christianity more thoroughly. But this time we decided to come nearer to the original sources, which automatically meant the traditions of the Holy Fathers and, therefore, Orthodoxy. And we discovered the language that really blew us away and met our inner expectations.

However, as we had been in delusion for many years, we still regarded non-Christian Eastern traditions as the basis of all spiritual systems, seeing spiritual life through the eyes of a Western consumer at a supermarket, who puts into his basket whatever attracts and interests him in one or another department.

It should also be mentioned that in the 1970s and 1980s a new “spiritualist” tendency was gaining popularity, which seemed to combine the grace of various religions and which can be referred to using the modern term—the transcendent unity of religions. To put it simply, all religions are different only in their outward forms, but they are all the same in their esoteric essence—they have the similar, unique inner spiritual reality, Divine reality. Therefore, all religions are equal. This idea is still popular today, but at that time for young seekers of the truth it was a revelation—an extraordinary and decisive revelation that made things clear, and it was so important for the spiritual development of humanity.

If we consider the esoteric teachings of all faiths as manifestations of the same metaphysical reality, it allows us to change religions depending on the mood or time of day without any contradictions. And if any aspect—moral or practical—seems unacceptable or incomprehensible for your personal vision, then you can label it as “esoteric”; that is, an idea with restrictions intended to respond to the needs of “unenlightened” peoples, which can easily be disregarded. It was very “suitable” and comfortable for an intellectual like me… However, although the wealth of these Eastern teachings allured me, I couldn’t find my place in any of them; they could be attractive, but I did not feel like myself in them.

An opportunity to go to Greece that presented itself right after our wedding played a decisive role in my life. All of a sudden I felt like myself as never before—I felt as if I were in a spiritual family or in my motherland (the things I had always dreamed of), in an emotional and sincere contact with people, in accordance with my principal personal aspirations. It did not take me long to realize that it happened to me because I was in an Orthodox country and the attitude and behavior of people were determined by this reality. We attended the Liturgy where we felt at home—for us, French-speaking people, Greek proved to be more understandable than Russian. After that first meeting we were able to come back there more often, at summer season, and with great joy found the same warm family atmosphere there.

Wishing to find our place in a religion in which we could live to the very roots of our being, not just intellectually, we made an attempt to “return” to Christianity, but in its local, Western form, instead of Orthodoxy (although it does exist in Geneva). Questioning its “honesty” and “truth”, we presumed that not turning to what I then considered to be “the exotics” was more in line with the “obedience”. But it proved absolutely impossible for me to return to the official Papism, notwithstanding my voluntary attempt (due to the reasons stated above).

It was at that same moment of our deep spiritual crisis that my uncle and aunt (who suffered from the extinction of Catholicism themselves) offered us their support—just by their intimate, familial presence in our protracted state of perplexity. Thus, they introduced us to “Catholic traditionalists”—those who did not accept the reforms of the Vatican II and continued to practice the older form of this religion. There, we found the environment that was more focused on spirituality, which created the conditions for practicing piety. But we felt uneasy theologically, having previously opened our hearts to the Orthodox tradition (to say nothing of our inclination for Eastern religions). We got into a situation that could be characterized as “juggling”; we followed Catholic rituals in practice, thought (as we believed) within the framework of the Orthodox theology (we read the Creed without Filioque) and even accepted non-Christian traditions. Though there was no equilibrium in it, the situation full of compromises did not discomfort me, an intellectual. And it could last very long, but at a certain moment the grace of God suddenly intervened in order to make me pass from the realm of ideas to reality, to real life, which was not only a choice of mind but a concrete direction of all my being.

Then I was thirty-two, my wife was expecting our first baby, and we had to make a decision that would determine the entire life of this new little being.

We decided to baptize our daughter. But in which Church? In Papism? It was inconceivable. To traditional Catholicism we were in the status of “recreants”, “protectionists”, “fighting a rearguard action”, who defended the values of the past and were seen as a sect for an outsider. An adult could take it upon himself to belong to that status, but for the harmonious spiritual development of a child it would have been unfavorable and harmful.

So only Orthodoxy was left for us. Inwardly we agreed with it, but we were still separated by the barrier of the language. With the help of two French-speaking parishioners of the Russian church we succeeded in familiarizing ourselves with and going into the heart of the fundamental practical aspects of Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, the sacrament of Baptism was drawing nearer. And, while all was supposed to go easy and without problems, I felt as if paralyzed. Ironically enough, despite my theoretical oneness and harmony with the Orthodox teaching, the power of this action (or, rather, the fear of my losing this comfort of religiosity with “multiple choices”) prevented me from making a concrete step. It was like a situation when somebody walks around a swimming pool again and again and dares not jump in. It was another proof of the fact that the true religion is not about choosing one of many intellectual positions, but choosing life in all its fullness.

The birth of our child impelled us to pass from theory to reality, so we made this step and “jumped” together with our daughter by entering into the family of the Church—and glory be to God for all things! The door to real life has been opened to us ever since.

—What brought you to the Orthodox faith?

I have largely answered this question above, but I can supplement my story and specify some moments.

We were received into the Orthodox Church on Bright Saturday and on the following day, St. Thomas Sunday, we took Holy Communion for the first time. After the Liturgy our friends (a married couple), who had been with us through the whole period of trials, invited us for a cup of coffee. And there, in the quiet of that peaceful place, half seriously and half jokingly they asked us, “What has inspired you to embrace Orthodoxy?” And it was then, when I had just taken Communion—the highest of the Church Sacraments, that I realized the fundamental changes that began to occur inside me. For the entire long period of over fifteen years, when I was wandering in search of answers to my questions, clarity and the place where I could find a spiritual haven, I was permanently under influence of the “centrifugal forces” that distracted me, demoralized me, prevented me from developing and substantially and steadily growing. It seemed that my wanderings and turmoil were endless; I was “carried by all kinds of winds” which gave rise to the sense of instability, anxiety, and nervousness along with vulnerability that left me at the mercy of external influences of all sorts. And it was the extremely abundant grace of God that helped me realize this at the very moment when I was answering their question. “We feel that now we are at the center!”

It is a priceless gift and the answer to my long and painful expectation that God granted me in all its fullness. The stable and sudden grace worked in me very simply yet at full power.

One more change: Before becoming Orthodox I was wary of the veneration of icons. I thought that this action was too concentrated on sensual experience. My approach to acquiring the knowledge of God was based on intellectual activity, and there was almost no space left for sensual experience—I perceived it as a deviation from the purity of the doctrine and “the heaviness of flesh”. As soon as I was received into the Orthodox Church I kissed icons “in obedience”. I came up to the Kazan icon of the Mother of God, which earlier had seemed “unfit” for veneration—Her veil had seemed too “heavy” and “Baroque”, and had provoked a restrained reaction inside me. And now, as I was approaching this icon in order to venerate it, I once again felt a stream of love flowing toward me directly from Holy Theotokos—it was filling my heart and thus it made that barrier disappear forever, just as ice melts because of the presence of a source of heat, or a closed window opens; since then I have perceived all icons as doors to the invisible.

It was accompanied by the sense of centrality that I described above. Indeed my entry into the Orthodox Church opened my heart so that it could be the way the Lord created it: the center of man and the organ through which God and creation become known (and not only the “hotbed” of our emotions to which we often reduce it in our secular life). Of course, my heart “opened” and “grew” gradually, in accordance with the pedagogy of the Church that guides Her children throughout their lives—by the breath of the Holy Spirit, the liturgical teaching and the life of love shared by all Her members.

And in this respect I experienced a significant phenomenon in the first year of my life in the Church: I found “the foundation in Orthodoxy”, but, involuntarily, began to feel not completely united with it, as if a part of me that had been formed in Papism was still lagging behind and observing how my other part conformed to Orthodox rites. This situation of incompleteness vanished a year later by the mercy of God, and at that moment one intensive and living image was sent to me: I felt as if I were a plant which was being grown in a small pot, separately from real soil, while its roots developed and twisted together as they grew, resting against the pot’s sides (it symbolized my position in Papism with its limited doctrine, which was cut off from the fullness of the Church). And then the plant was bedded out and I began to feel earth, that is—the reality of life that is granted abundantly in Orthodox Revelation. However, as is common in the practice of gardening, a plant taken out of the pot retains its “root-knot” unchanged for one full year after that (even if it is transplanted), before taking root, so that they might become stronger and feed in the ground. And, indeed, a year later I felt that I was deeply rooted in eternal life, from which I had previously been separated by numerous obstacles. Thus, I had to live through one full liturgical cycle in order to feel one hundred per cent Orthodox!

Summing it up, I can say that God, through His inexpressible liberality, has given me and continues to give me every day the things I longed and thirsted for—namely the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

—What similarities and differences between Orthodoxy and other religions do you see?

“What concord hath Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:15)!

God Himself, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate—the true God and the true Man—in order to save mankind after our fall, and He gave us His Body, the Church, whose Head He is. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And you can really experience these three realities, which form one reality, only in the Church.

Beyond all argument, in other religions you can find outward forms of piety, mysticism and examples of faith that are worthy of admiration and praise. (As for heterodox heresies—those of Papism and various branches of Protestantism—they are distortions of the truth, which sadly often look like caricatures of the truth or even blasphemies). Similarly, you can find tenets and rules in them that comfort your intellect, regulate your everyday behavior existentially, and introduce balance into your daily routine.

Although in non-Christian religions you can find wisdom, peace and compassion, they are only relative wisdom, peace and compassion—everywhere you feel lack and even absence… And, first of all, the absence of Christ, for only His fullness can fill all—earth, heaven and hell.

For example, love for your enemies in Christianity is more than just a moral directive or a commandment. Within any religious teaching one can develop the ideas of compassion towards your neighbors or rejection of egotism or hatred—but all of these are only moral norms or standards of conduct. In Orthodoxy, it is a commandment of God and a Revelation of Christ Himself, which you need to cultivate unceasingly and make an effort, and which may become a reality only because it is an implication of the Divine Revelation, of which it was said: God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), and because God gives us His grace.

Likewise, it applies to forgiveness (which is inseparably linked to love for enemies) as well: this distinguishing characteristic of Christianity becomes possible and real only because the True Living God is a Person. Only a person can forgive another person, while a principle or a cosmic law are incapable of doing that. And this mystery reveals our true nature to us—the nature of a person, not just “an individual”, or a mere “set of biological parameters and impulses”; the nature of a living creature that acquires its reality in the fullness and its identity in the relationship with the only True and Living Man, Who out of His love gave us life.

Of course, we could discuss this theme for ages. But in order to summarize the results it is sufficient to state that the specificity of the Christian Revelation, compared with all other “religions”, is that it has as its cornerstone the mystery of the person (to which one of our contemporary saints, Father Justin Popovic, referred as to deserving of the highest esteem and admiration).

Dwelling on this principle, it would be edifying to point out that “Knowledge”, or gnosis (the foundation and nature of all Eastern teachings and basic ideologies that appear under the guise of all sorts of “spiritualities” and claim to have originated from the most ancient “mysteries” of the past—philosophical teachings under the aegis of a “teacher”, theosophy, freemasonry, neo-paganism and other kinds of esoteric and “primordial traditions,” all of which are related to “Hellenic wisdom”), becomes the basis for a contradiction of the position of “modern man”. In fact it is one of the worst paradoxes, which makes you believe in the possibility of “gaining freedom” through the knowledge of “the secret doctrine”—listening to the hissing of the serpent from the tree with the same name, saying,

“Ye shall be as gods” (Gen. 3:5)

—which returns again in the determinism of the same “cosmic laws” and aerial powers that Christ came to free us from.

This myth of gnosis is in fact as old as the serpent itself; the “Knowledge” will bring you “complete liberty” (even from the Creator!), and man will become his own master. Among other names, this tree with the serpent on it, in many Eastern teachings has the name “kundalini”; a climb on this tree will involve the “initiation” by “secret spirits” and “enlightenment”, that is—acquiring absolute and ultimate knowledge. The satan’s hook today is as poisonous as it was in the Garden of Eden. It must be said that, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” introduces you to two concepts belonging to the realm of abstract ideas and leads you to the world of dualism, while relations with the Living God and the Truth preserve your integrity—you remain interconnected both with the world and with Him Who can say:

“I am that I am” (Exod. 3:14).

Nevertheless, as knowledge is good, for it is the foundation of Christian Revelation, so ignorance is described by many Church Fathers as “the cause of all vices”, “the mother of all evils”, “the worst of the mental diseases” and so on, because, according to Christ, And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent (Jn. 17:3). These words mean getting to know the existing relations between man and his Creator, not imagining yourself independent from all and your own “god”. But this knowledge can be acquired only through the Church sacraments and personal asceticism, and, as St. Justin Popovic rightly put it,

“the Word of God contains the dynamic and metaphysical principle of knowledge”.

We could meditate on this theme at least in order to remember how Western man was driven by the unhealthy, insatiable lust for knowledge over many centuries—from the “Renaissance” of paganism to “Enlightenment” and positivism; this reached such an extent that even an ordinary, incontrovertible, absolute truth inevitably boils down to the following expression: “It is a scientifically substantiated fact.” In other words, it is “the truth”, “absolute and incontestable”, which reduces to a ‘subjective impression” all that is disclosed by God in Revelation (although science regularly reconsiders its own findings and admits itself that absolute objectivity does not exist, that impartiality depends on an experimenter’s position—but that’s a whole different story).

Let us remind the readers that man existentially needs faith, faith in something or somebody as the last refuge that allows him to find a reference point. Thus, so-called “science” offers him a favorable advantage by providing a false “truth” that is “ready for use” and freeing him from the need for reflection; that is—a personal experiment, unlike Christian Revelation, which demands ascetic life from each one of us. In other words, we have to change of our way of life, without which the truth that is given to us can be neither ours nor real.

In Orthodoxy, the Revelation of the mystery of our salvation is given us in theanthropic form—by God Who became a Man—not by an avatar of the Hindu or Monophysitic type where a god only takes a human-like form; nor is it through “spiritual exercise” when someone through his own efforts achieves “enlightenment”, which sets him free from the cosmic laws of cause and effect.

The reality of Christian truth in the etymological sense of the word, namely what is beyond the human speech, what cannot be adequately explained and expressed with human words—is that God is no cosmic principle (transpersonal and anonymous), but is a “Philanthropos” (Who loves mankind), that He is essentially the Friend of humanity, and that He proved to be True God and True Man (the only True Man) Who is unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). This kenosis—the self-deprecation and self-humiliation of God Who became Man—is absurd for the Creator, while taking on human flesh (which is like a prison) and glorifying it through the Resurrection is nonsense for a spirit that was “freed”.

Orthodoxy is the divine life into which Christ, the God-Man, enters in His Body, that is—the Church.

There is no other place where you can find this life.

Orthodoxy is not a religion. Orthodoxy is divine life.

—Can you tell us about religious life in Switzerland?

There is still an extremely high level of religious tolerance in Switzerland, and I don’t think I have a right to say more about it. As for Orthodoxy, over the past thirty years by the mercy of God several new churches have appeared to serve the needs of immigrants and converts. However, all immigrants and converts are just a small minority and they don’t warrant opening new churches.

If Geneva, Vevey, Bern, Zürich or the Holy Trinity Monastery in Dompierre have their own churches with a possibility of holding regular services, other places can neither hold regular services nor acquire ownership of a place for public worship, and so they have to lease their premises or partake of the hospitality of some non-Orthodox parishes.

It is obvious that in Western countries like Switzerland, Orthodoxy is seen as a “foreign” religion and something exotic. For example, in Geneva (in view of the fact that Switzerland is a confederation) public religious events, such as processions or ringing of bells on the Holy Paschal night according to the Julian calendar, are banned. All in all, against the background of a still rather restrained religiosity in secularized Western countries like Switzerland, and the increasing de-Christianization of modern European societies, Orthodoxy is treated with relative tolerance, as long as it is not involved in current political events… It is still so.

—Can you share information on the Orthodox church in Geneva where you now serve?

The Russian Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is the first Orthodox church in Geneva, and has existed there by the grace of God already for 150 years. Thus, till the second half of the twentieth century it played a key, uniting role for Orthodox believers and immigrants of various jurisdictions represented in Geneva. In 1946, the Patriarchate of Moscow built the Church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God (despite the strained relations with ROCOR at that time), and in the early 1970s the Greek Church of St. Paul of the Patriarchate of Constantinople was built. Then it was continued by the establishment of two Romanian parishes.

However, today, in spite of the use of Church Slavonic as the major liturgical language, our church is continuing its mission of receiving foreign newcomers of different nationalities along with immigrants from Russia, whose number has been increasing for twenty years. Our parish life is very active (for children and lay adults alike, including the organization of pilgrimage trips to local holy sites).

I am greatly indebted to this church for receiving me into Orthodoxy and I am eternally grateful to the Lord for granting me the opportunity to serve as a subdeacon despite my unworthiness. I pray that He will send this church His abundant blessings in the future as well.

—What would you like to say to our readers in conclusion?

Orthodoxy is the Church, the most precious gift of God to mankind—a priceless pearl, a hidden treasure given to the human race so that we could enter the Kingdom, that is—life eternal, through communion with the Body of Christ and the knowledge of God.

Saints can achieve this already during their life on earth; but in any case this infinite knowledge and Revelation of God can have no end, and only eternity can be their measure.

If it were necessary to prove again that Orthodoxy is the life that opens up through the True Life, and not one of numerous teachings belonging to the realm of archeology, then the holy fathers would instruct us today with the same sermons as in the first centuries of Christianity. Words of the holy fathers of our times bear the same witness as the words of their predecessors; miracles continue to occur nowadays just as they did in ancient times; and the previous century, among the other martyrs and confessors, produced holy doctors and elders, “fools for Christ” and wonderworkers, who are continually helping us through their intercessions.

From the perspective of our time, the Church has been subjected to specific attacks of the enemy at each period of Her life, and today Orthodoxy (which has always been the target of the evil one) is experiencing attacks from the world—implicit and unceasing. It partly occurs through force, as in the deployment of the largest American overseas military base in Kosovo, which became the culmination of the demonization of Serbia during the war there, orchestrated not only by armies but also by the Western media (this is precisely what Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are experiencing now). The economic war that is aimed at depriving Greece of its national identity and using it only for the needs of a neo-liberal economy has been orchestrated the same way as well.

The persistent struggle aimed at destroying the values of Orthodox organizations under the mask of “progress”, “evolution”, and “westernization/globalization” is even more sophisticated and crafty by nature. Anyway, whether it be visible or invisible violence, from time immemorial Orthodoxy has been regarded by the West as its enemy that must be destroyed; it is no coincidence that during the war in former Yugoslavia a senior politician in Austria openly declared in Brussels,

“Europe ends where Orthodoxy begins.”

The most insidious and destructive strategy is being pursued within the Church Hierarchy, through those of whom it was written in the Bible: the builders that rejected the cornerstone (see Ps. 118, 22), in order to sow (under the mask of development and openness) ideas and views that are inconsistent with Revelation.

All the saints of our times have warned us against this danger, and condemned the most pernicious “pan-heresy” [an allusion to ecumenism—ed.]—the failure to remain faithful to the teaching of the Fathers in order to follow “the wisdom of this world” and “the spirit of the age”.

However, modern man, even an Orthodox Christian, thinks that he is spiritually “more developed” than people of the previous epochs. In his view, the fact that Sts. Mark of Ephesus, Cosmas of Aetolia, Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Seraphim (Sobolev), Paisios of Mt. Athos, Gabriel of Georgia and many others described ecumenism as the most dangerous heresy stems from their “too narrow view” of Orthodoxy; or maybe these people were “not developed enough” intellectually and socially—for we have made a great progress since that time, haven’t we?

In order to attain his object, the father of lies stoops to distorting the greatest truths. Hiding behind the mask of “charity” and love for one’s neighbor, he wants the Church to “be opened up”, in other words, to become “relativistic” and be reduced to “one of the denominations”. However, the Church Fathers were unanimous in their teaching: we must love the sinner and hate sin. Let us not be mistaken: Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever (Heb. 13:8), His teaching is living and has nothing to do with archeology, nor is it dependent on the environment of the past century. True, we have lived in the situation described by Apostle Paul for a long time: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3).

Orthodoxy is a Revelation that every human life is a gift from God. It is a mystery beyond our comprehension, and it is in love that it finds the answer. It is a mystery, and not a dangerous product of Darwinian biological “evolution” (continually “groping its way”), which allegedly took us on a very long journey from one-celled protozoa to apes that became our supposed “ancestors”; nor is it a “meaningless blind chance” that is moving towards its end (the end of human life) at a fast pace, which is no less absurd in its total nonexistence; nor is it just one in a long line of rebirths (reincarnations)—a “convenient” idea for explaining (and very primitively) the causes of misfortunes and injustices that we encounter in our life in the world based on the laws of mechanics, thus moving us further away from the real cause.

God gave us life. It means that the Almighty gave each of us our beginning, birth from nonexistence, and this life will have no end. And indeed we will need eternity in order to give Him praise and thanks for this priceless, immeasurable gift.

Glory to God for all things!

Aviv Saliu-Diallo
spoke with Pierre Haab
Translation from the Russian version of the French original by Dmitry Lapa
Pravoslavie.ru
7/13/2017

Source:



ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY

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Father Moses Berry, Missouri, USA: From Hippie Bad-Boy Cool-Cat to Orthodox Priest

by Irene Archos

You wouldn’t suspect that the jovial Orthodox priest who carries the gold chalise with such reverence from behind the iconostasis of “Mother of Unexpected Joy” church was once a drug dealing, rambling hippie and coffee-house owner with his own underground band, not to mention an illegitimate descendent of Nathaniel Boone, the son of the legendary American hero Daniel Boone. Father Moses Berry, who is by now in his 60s, is still a rolling ball of fire, overflowing with spontaneous exuberance. He bounces from one story to another as he moves from one section of the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum he founded in his native town of Ash Grove. He is a man who unravels a ball of tightly-wound stories, one knotted to another and yet another.

Father Berry’s story, in fact his entire existence, is rooted in the dark history of American slavery. The three-room museum he opened is jam-packed with heirlooms, objects and artifacts culled entirely from his family’s possession. Two faded sepia prints in oval frame reveal pictures of his great-grandmother, Maria Boone, mistress to Nathaniel, and her daughter, Caroline Boone Berry, his grandmother. They are wearing stiff, laced-up dresses with matching bonnets fashionable for ladies in the 19th century. He says that the child of a slave mistress is born between the dark and the daylight, raised in the shadowland, not of this world. They are children whose existence is denied, whose marked absence in the American consciousness is a mark of their presence.

A collage of black-and-white photos, yellowed historical documents, tools, and everyday objects align the walls of Father Berry’s personal museum revealing how the intimate personal facts of a family’s life create the historical impersonal account in a textbook. He points to a faded photo of a young Black girl in a white dress. “This is Fanny Murray at age 13 in 1866,” Berry explains. “Fanny saved a young man’s life just by doing his laundry for 10 cents a week. This is why every little thing you do is important. A simple act of loving kindness, a seemingly insignificant gesture can have an incredible impact.” The young man, who had gotten in trouble and whose family had consequently disowned him, eventually became a history professor. Underneath is another photo, color this time, of an old woman in a pink dress and a wide, flamboyant Sunday hat. “This is Ms. Olivia Murray, Fanny’s daughter, who died at 93 in 1991. She would walk down these streets in long dresses with a bonnet even after the 60s. She was an Aunt Jemmima figure and quite an embarrassment to the young people in the town. ‘Check her out,’ they would point and stare, but I would tell them you can’t dismiss people at a glance. We don’t know who the person is, who s/he really is.”

Through the personalized tour of his family’s history, Father Berry spins his own story.

Over forty years ago, an African-American teenager, Karl, leaves home at 15 after hearing that in California young people were shooting flowers instead of bullets. “California, man,” he recalls in his black rassa, blacker than his glistening skin in the hot May sun, “Once I heard about California, about flower power, and how people were living together in love, I had to go.” He hitched his way west from his native town of Ash Grove, Mo. In California, he lived in a commune, learned how to roll hashish, and to tie-dye t-shirts. He returned to his native state of Missouri where he settled in Columbia, Mo. There he “hustled” by selling leather goods, Latigo of London in particular, out of a small store front on the corner of 8th Street and Broadway, “The Strow Away.” At night he jammed jazz rock with his group “Honey Chile,” which even had a hit single in the area. He was active in the Stony Brook commune that convened by a creek in the granite hills of the area. His fortune changed when he opened an underground coffee shop, the Rainbow Bread Company. While it fronted as a “coffee shop,” as was the case with most coffee shops of the period, it made a bigger profit selling hashish and marijuana. It would have continued as a lucrative underground establishment had the Columbia police department not set it on fire. As it could not secure a search warrant, the police forced a raid. During that forced break in by the police, which resulted in almost total devastation of the coffee house, Karl and his partners were forcibly arrested and taken into custody.

Without representation, Karl was placed in solitary confinement.

“It was a cell literally 5 feet by 3 feet by 7 feet. No windows. Just a chink where they could throw you a piece of stale bread.”

Karl could not say for how long he was confined in the dark pit. But he feared the worst. Under the statutes, his sentence could stretch for up to 15 years in a penitentiary.

“I had hit a low point. This was the end,”

Father Berry remembers puncturing the somberness of the event with his full, guttural laugh that reaches down through his heart and soul to the bottom of his shoe soles.

“I remember the day before I was supposed to get my sentence. I got down on my knees in that dark, narrow cell and prayed for the first time in my life. I prayed and called out to God as I had never done before. I said, ‘Lord, get me out of this one, and if you do, I promise to serve you.’”

The next morning Moses heard a key turn in the cell door. At first he did not want to come out. He had heard how the guards would periodically beat prisoners and then return them to their cells. Haunted by the visions of the brutal beatings the prisoners received at the hands of the guards he witnessed before he was placed in solitary confinement, he refused to exit. The guards had to drag him out into the light while they shouted,

“You’ve been released! Get out!”

“He repented,” Father Berry muses. “The police officer who had pressed charges against me had repented. He had come to the precinct before midnight and dropped all charges. He must have come just about the same time as my prayer.”

From that day forth, Moses Berry’s life changed completely. His soul had heard the call of the divine.

It would be several years, however, before Moses’s course led him to Orthodoxy. Upon his release, Moses traveled to New York City, where he became a teacher in Harlem. It was there where he met his wife, a liberal, Jewish teacher.

“I remember walking down the streets of Harlem, arm in arm, singing Beatles’ songs. People must have thought we were crazy,”

Father Berry reminisces. On a spontaneous whim they accepted an invitation of a friend to visit in Richmond, Virginia. After driving eight hours, they were prodded by this same friend who was Orthodox to visit an Orthodox chapel another two hours away. While the reluctance was strong, they did find the chapel; it was on the second floor of someone’s Colonial house.

“This wasn’t a church; this was somebody’s living room,”

Berry says. But upon entering, even with the makeshift choir of three or four women, never had he heard a service like this.

“I heard things like ‘Rejoice, Laver purifying conscience. Rejoice, Wine-bowl over-filled with joy. Rejoice, sweet-scented Fragrance of Christ. Rejoice, Life of mystic festival.’ This was poetry. This was beauty and peace and love. There was incense. There was reverence. Nowhere had I heard liturgy like this. I became Orthodox from that point on.”

Since that time, Berry has striven to live out his promise to God. He has worked with at-risk youth, prisoners, and drug addicts. One of his many accomplishments included starting up a 7-step drug rehabilitation program in Detroit based on the principles of salvation in Orthodox theology.

His two most recent achievements include founding a museum and church in Ash Grove, MO. Father Berry and his family have returned to his roots. They moved out of a comfortable three-story Victorian house in suburban St. Louis into a 150-year old unmarked farmhouse, the same farmhouse in which his great-grandmother was born.

“Most of the Blacks moved out of Ash Grove. My family stayed. When they heard I was going to open up a museum in that little town, ‘Be careful’ they told me, white people are not going to like it.”

The museum, however, has been successful and has become a point of pride for the town.

The Ozark African-American museum houses a uniquely personal assortment of historical objects tied intimately to the “dark side” of the Boone family. Some are quilts his great-grandmother and grandmother collaborated on. One quilt, a 1790 piece, featured prominently in the Underground Railroad. The quilt in triangular green, brown, and yellow patterns would be draped over the porches of “safe houses” a signal that welcomed entry for runaway slaves. Over the doorway to the second room is a “two-lady saw,” another object the two women would use. It is smaller, thinner, and shorter, at least by a foot, than a regular saw.

Among the other objects on display is a minted coin commemorating the lynching of three Black men on Good Friday 1906 in the Ozarks and an authentic 1858 AG Brock slave tag that was used during slave auctions at the houses of that company around the South. Father demonstrates a “screw lock” which looks like a menacing wrought-iron horseshoe with a long screw transversing it at the edge of which a bolt slowly tightens over a slave’s ankles. According to Berry, it is the origin of our slang expression for “screw” as slaves would report among themselves “so-and-so got screwed.” A leather-bound, yellowing volume of The Remarkable Advancement of the Afro-American by Lancaster Water, 1898 edition, and behind that, in a glass case, the same title but the original binding from 1852. The painting and photos in the museum tell the stories of slaves who fought in the Union army and were later freed for their service, of 12-year-old runaways who were frozen to death, married couples who started churches, of rebel slaves who saw visions and organized services in the forest eventually founding the African Methodist Episcopalian church.

Another curiosity is the hand-crocheted African Mammy doll, a caricature of the Caribbean slave trade figure. The doll stands alone on a green draped coffee table at the exit of the museum. Hand-made with double lacing, the doll’s woolen face exaggerates lips nose and eyes. She is wearing a green and yellow headdress from under which protrudes black woolen cornrows.

“Mammie is a West African matriarch,”

Father Berry explains the subtle shadings of cultural history in everyday objects as he turns the doll upside down.

“She is a Josephine Baker fruit dancer underneath,”

he says as the doll transforms into a bare-bellied, buxomous exotic dancer bearing the typical platter of bananas and pineapples on her head. The doll provides a casual metaphor for the transformation of a people, a subtle symbolism for the complexities of the soul at its surface and at its depths.

Father Berry ends with one final story that underlines the importance of relationship, the one thing that can transcend the impersonality of history, the division of race, the misunderstanding of class. Several yards from the Berry-Boone farmhouse is the family cemetery. Gray stones mark the resting place of slaves who never reached their final destination on the Underground Railroad. One of Harriet Tubman’s porters is there. So are the graves of Maria Boone and Caroline Boone Berry. “It was maybe three months after we had moved into the farmhouse, so things were still messy. I drive back from the church and all of a sudden, I see this red Corvette with California plates parked by the gate blocking the way to the cemetery. I see these three blonde kids in the back. ‘What are you doing here?’ I ask them. ‘Well, I’m sorry,’ they say all polite and all. ‘We didn’t know anyone lived here.’ (He puts on a high-pitched voice mimicking all too many “white boys”). Now, I call back to them all gruff and all, ‘I am here to tell you I live here, and you are on my property. What are you doing here?’ It turns out these kids had been raised by a Black nanny who was buried in this field. ‘Mammie raised us from when we were seven years old when our own mother died,’ they said. So, these kids had been coming to her grave every year on the anniversary of her death to put flowers on her grave.’” He ends his story like a sermon. “A simple act of kindness can reach into eternity; it can save your soul besides another’s.”

“Orthodoxy is the truth. It is the one true path to salvation,” Father Berry confesses. “Once you understand what it is all about, there is no hiding from the truth.” Once Orthodox, he confesses the greatest challenge for staying Orthodox is hopelessness. “The hardest thing to do in Orthodoxy is to learn how to have hope.”

Father Moses Berry now serves hope from a golden chalise every Sunday at 10 a.m. in a small, white and red barn church with a golden onion dome in the middle of a cornfield in rural Missouri.

“There is no other hope than in our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ,” he smiles. “I am a living example of the immanent love of God for His children, even those who have gone far astray, of despair turning into hope. We must never lose hope.”

* * *

Learn more about the African tradition in Orthodox Christianity (for example the life of the Holy Saint Moses the Black, Father Berry’s namesake) and Father Berry’s books at: http://www.mosestheblack.org

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HIPPIES MET ORTHODOXY

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Deep roots in fresh soil - Orthodox Christianity comes to Erie, Colorado, USA

250-member St. Luke grew from tiny Lafayette church established nearly two decades ago

By John Aguilar

The building is brand-new, the land never before scraped, but the site in Erie where St. Luke Orthodox Christian Church now sits has roots going back nearly two millennia.

A vivid, larger than life-size image of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by a young Jesus, stretches her arms out above the altar. The Messiah — surrounded by painted prophets — gazes down from the dome inside the church’s temple, which is adorned with Byzantine arches and columns.

There’s no organ here — all music is chanted or sung a cappella. There are no statues — warm-hued iconography is the rule.

Standing inside St. Luke evokes a different time, a different era.

”It’s the one that was established by the Lord and the apostles,” said the Rev. David Mustian, pastor at St. Luke. ”When people look at the Orthodox Church, it feels new to them, but when they start digging, they see it has old roots.”

Those roots go back to the Roman empire and the earliest church established by Christ, St. Paul and the apostles. The faith has developed multiple permutations depending on where its adherents have called home — Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox — but Orthodox Christianity is bound by one dogma worldwide, Mustian said.

”There’s a deep seeking for God in this life and the truth about God,” he said. ”And maybe there’s a humility on your spiritual journey, a sense of ‘I can’t figure it out on my own.’”

 A rich tradition

Mustian sees nothing odd about choosing a burgeoning town like Erie — peppered with new housing developments and buildings under construction — as a place to set down an ancient tradition. The town, while appearing to be in its infancy, is actually a place with more than 100 years of mining history, he said.

And more important than the church’s physical location — on Austin Avenue just inside the Boulder County line — are the families St. Luke attracts, Mustian said. The families, he said, are looking for constancy in an ever-changing world.

Christi Ghiz, 40, has been an Orthodox Christian for 15 years. The Lafayette woman started off as a Baptist, but saw in her new faith a rich history that seemed to be fading from the Protestant services she attended.

Ghiz said that sense of tradition is ”comforting.” More than half of St. Luke’s 250 members are converts from other faiths.

That includes Mustian, who converted to Orthodox Christianity from the Episcopal Church nearly 20 years ago.

”I was looking for a church that would stay the same in terms of its doctrinal beliefs, which go back to the early centuries,” said the 56-year-old Yale Divinity School graduate. ”The problem with always trying to appeal to the right now means you’re quickly out of date.”

Denise McIntyre, an adherent from Broomfield, sees St. Luke as a mission church — attracting worshipers from Brighton, Boulder, Denver or Fort Collins. Prominently visible for miles from several directions, the church’s striking architectural style draws people’s eyes.

Inside the building it’s no different.

Holy paintings

”Iconography is a holy tradition,” said Archbishop Gregory, an Orthodox monk from the Dormition Skete monastery outside Buena Vista. ”When a person looks at an icon, their eyes want to stay on it.”

Archbishop Gregory and three of his colleagues created all of the icons for St. Luke, painting the images on canvas and then gluing them to the walls and ceiling of the temple.

He said it took about six months to do the work.

As vivid as the imagery inside the temple is, it’s hard to hide the fact that there are still wide swaths of a blank space on the cream-colored walls.

Mustian said they will eventually be painted too, most likely with illustrations showing the story of Christ’s life.

But he said there is no rush to get it completed.

”The church won’t be finished until the next generation,” Mustian said.

Archbishop Gregory said his own temple, which has been around since 1978, still needs some iconographic work done to it.

”You don’t need to have all the walls and ceilings frescoed to be a church,” he said.

Steady growth

Mustian is just happy with what he’s been able to accomplish in the nearly two decades St. Luke has been around, starting out in 1991 with 40 congregants meeting in Lafayette’s former city hall building.

After moving to a new location in the city, which it eventually outgrew, the church bought nine acres in Erie and broke ground a couple of years ago on a new 15,000-square-foot building.

The massive door handles on the entrance to the church were installed just a couple of weeks ago and the floor inside the temple is still concrete.

But Mustian said his congregation is patient and is happy to take things a step at a time, knowing they’ve finally found a permanent home.

”It’s nice to feel that you’ve got the foundation laid and have the space, so that the next generation can enjoy what has been given to them,” he said.

Source:



JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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The Personal Story of Fr. George Johnson, Washington, USA

From Protestantism to Orthodoxy

by

Fr. George Johnson

I am a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, serving in the cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington, D.C. There are some almost uncanny parallels between our lives, even down to the grumpy choir directors. I was (and sometimes still am) the grumpy choir director, however.

I became interested and involved in Anglicanism through a singing job in a “high” church in 1968. At the time, my focus was primarily musical. My parents were devout Southern Baptists, and, while I now appreciate their humility and devotion, in my youth I did not so much. The Episcopal Church offered an escape from the music and worship of the Baptists, which, shall we say, were not to my taste.

The Western liturgical tradition as carried on by the high-church Anglicans seemed to me to be just the right combination of grandness and sobriety justly suited to worship. Having just come from the Baptists, the intellectual and spiritual confusion which at length gave rise to tradition-destroying innovations did not concern me for a long time. I chalked it up to our fallen state, for which God was making accommodations which I did not understand. I thought I could press on for the sake of art and faith, and pray that everything would come out alright. It was going to take a great deal to make me want to throw away Tallis, Byrd, Weelkes, Purcell, …, RVW, Walton, Britten, … , not to mention all the great hymns and tunes, and the gorgeous language of the (old) Prayer Book and Psalter.

A great many things happened, but I’ll cut to the chase. In 1984 or 5, a lesbian member of our parish who sang in my choir asked me to be a member of a committee to help her explore a calling to the priesthood. Needless to say, I begged off. But I did not have the courage to tell her that the thought of her as a priest made me sick. You may be familiar with the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. From time to time, Tevier has to accommodate himself to faits accomplis, and he gives voice to his process, alternating his objection with:”But, on the other hand…”. Finally, he is forced by his convictions to say:

“There IS no other hand!”

I came face to face with something that could not be integrated with my convictions, nor could it be subsumed under any idea of divine economy. If the Scriptures meant anything, then her “calling” could be nothing but an abomination. I still said nothing, however, even to my wife. We did not talk about it. We just knew I couldn’t have anything to do with it.

From around the same time, in reaction to some dramatic personal events, we gradually became more devout. Our faith in God became more precious to us. We began to devour spiritual literature. In the course of our reading, we came upon a speech delivered by Alexander Solzhenitsyn when he was given the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. His theme and tone spoke to us like one of the prophets. The fact of his Orthodoxy did not impress itself greatly upon us then. His faith did.

Solzhenitsyn said that our terrible spiritual condition was because

“men have forgotten God.”

He said that the fiercest attacks of the communist revolution had not managed to uproot Christianity from the Russian people. Again, at the time, this seemed to be attributable to fervour of faith stimulated by persecution and in no way connected in our minds to any idea of Orthodoxy being especially distinct among the “parts” of the Christian Church.

We came upon another book called “Russia’s Catacomb Saints”. The experience was overwhelming. We thought we knew what devotion was, but came to know that we had not even begun. We realized that our faith was virtually non-existent compared with that of the numberless crowd of those who in Russia had cheerfully given their lives, blessing their tormentors the while. What was this fountain that gave them strength to “endure to the end”?

We looked around at our church situation. Would the agenda of the leadership of the Episcopal Church, which seemed to consume the hearts of clergy with whom we were acquainted, be worth dying for? Where did it come from? The newspaper? In our church context, we were viewed as near-fanatics, cases to be “handled”. Please understand. We were not lifting our hands in church and saying “Praise Jesus”; we weren’t speaking in tongues, we weren’t transcendentally meditating or anything weird.

We simply took seriously what was said in the Bible, Prayer Book and hymns.

We heard a chord resound in our hearts with the faith of the Russians, and we wanted to find that faith in the flesh.

Right about this same time, I was having a casual after-rehearsal conversation with one of my choir members who was interested in things Russian, in fact, he spoke Russian. (He taught me how to say “Ya ni gavariu pa Russki“) I had commiserated with him before about “difficulties” I was having, which he and I shared to some extent. In the course of the talk, I mentioned the book that we had read. In that book, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia was mentioned as having retained the traditional Orthodox faith and carried it throughout the world since the time of the revolution. He said that he had once gone to a church made up entirely of those who had not bowed the knee to the Bolsheviks. His expression to describe their worship:

“a bunch of little old men standing around in the dark”.

I know that doesn’t sound very appealing, but something leaped inside me which said “check this out!”

ASAP, my wife and I attended a Saturday night vigil service at St John’s. Within 10 minutes, we knew we were home. Everything about the situation cried out: “

This is what the Church is all about! This answers our need!”

Our impression was solidified by two people who talked to us for an hour and a half after a long (3-hour) vigil service. These two, Father Leonid Mickle and Tatiana Vsyevolodna Prujan, became our Godparents.

After that, conversion was a matter of time. We never looked back. My wife, my son and I were baptized on August 24th, 1986. Our first communion was on the Dormition of the Mother of God.

This description is obviously greatly foreshortened. I wish to emphasize that we were more drawn into Orthodoxy than we were repulsed by the confusion and corruption which we left. And I don’t want to convey that it has all been peaches and cream since then. No. But, God’s grace has been sufficient for us, just as it was for Saint Paul, just as it suffices for the life of the Church for ever. This awareness lightens and enlightens difficulties. The spiritual struggle begins to take on the quality of an adventure to be entered into with gusto, rather than a great burden to be borne.

Beside the richness which is in traditional Orthodox Christianity, the difficulties pale. The ethnic component? Sure, it’s there. We have been in this parish, of which I am now the assistant pastor, for 9 years. I still haven’t learned Russian. By the grace of God, I can serve tolerably well in Slavonic. We have services in English 2 or 3 times a month. I serve all of those. My wife directs the (English) choir. (Poor dear has to put up with my grumpiness even now.)

I can (and would) go on and on. I think there is a conventional limit on windiness which I’m sure I’ve over-topped. Please forgive me. I imagine that I’m one of those blind men with the elephant who suddenly regains his sight and sees the enormity of the whole. But no amount of talk can convey what it’s like to be in the Church. I look forward to talking to you, but even more I look for the day when you make the step to become part of that One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The thing described in that formidable phrase contains wealth untold and endless, or as the Lord says:

“pressed down, shaken together and running over”.

Anything that would keep you out of the Body of Christ is from the deceiver.

Pray fervently. Pray for us.

In Christ, unworthy Priest George

Source:


PROTESTANTS MET ORTHODOXY

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How an Icon brought a Calvinist to Orthodoxy

By Robert K. Arakaki, 
Hawaii, USA

A Journey to Orthodoxy

It was my first week at seminary. Walking down the hallway of the main dorm, I saw an icon of Christ on a student’s door. I thought:

“An icon in an evangelical seminary?! What’s going on here?”

Even more amazing was the fact that Jim’s background was the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination. When I left Hawaii in 1990 to study at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I went with the purpose of preparing to become an evangelical seminary professor in a liberal United Church of Christ seminary. The UCC is one of the most liberal denominations, and I wanted to help bring the denomination back to its biblical roots. The last thing I expected was that I would become Orthodox.

Called by an Icon

After my first semester, I flew back to Hawaii for the winter break. While there, I was invited to a Bible study at Ss. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. At the Bible study I kept looking across the table to the icons that were for sale. My eyes kept going back to this one particular icon of Christ holding the Bible in His hand. For the next several days I could not get that icon out of my mind.

I went back and bought the icon. When I bought it, I wasn’t thinking of becoming Orthodox. I bought it because I thought it was cool, and as a little gesture of rebellion against the heavily Reformed stance at Gordon-Conwell. However, I also felt a spiritual power in the icon that made me more aware of Christ’s presence in my life.

In my third year at seminary, I wrote a paper entitled, “The Icon and Evangelical Spirituality.” In the paper I explored how the visual beauty of icons could enrich evangelical spirituality, which is often quite intellectual and austere. As I did my research, I knew that it was important that I understand the icon from the Orthodox standpoint and not impose a Protestant bias on my subject. Although I remained a Protestant evangelical after I had finished the paper, I now began to comprehend the Orthodox sacramental understanding of reality.

After I graduated from seminary, I went to Berkeley and began doctoral studies in comparative religion. While there, I attended Ss. Kyril and Methodios Bulgarian Orthodox Church, a small parish made up mostly of American converts. It was there that I saw Orthodoxy in action. I was deeply touched by the sight of fathers carrying their babies in their arms to take Holy Communion and fathers holding their children up so they could kiss the icons.

The Biblical Basis for Icons

After several years in Berkeley, I found myself back in Hawaii. Although I was quite interested in Orthodoxy, I also had some major reservations. One was the question: Is there a biblical basis for icons? And doesn’t the Orthodox practice of venerating icons violate the Ten Commandments, which forbid the worship of graven images? The other issue was John Calvin’s opposition to icons. I considered myself to be a Calvinist, and I had a very high regard for Calvin as a theologian and a Bible scholar. I tackled these two problems in the typical fashion of a graduate student: I wrote research papers.

In my research I found that there is indeed a biblical basis for icons. In the Book of Exodus, we find God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, which contain the prohibition against graven images (Exodus 20:4). In that same book, we also find God instructing Moses on the construction of the Tabernacle, including placing the golden cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:17–22). Furthermore, we find God instructing Moses to make images of the cherubim on the outer curtains of the Tabernacle and on the inner curtain leading into the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:1, 31–33).

I found similar biblical precedents for icons in Solomon’s Temple. Images of the cherubim were worked into the Holy of Holies, carved on the two doors leading into the Holy of Holies, as well as on the outer walls around Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 3:14; 1 Kings 6:29, 30, 31–35). What we see here stands in sharp contrast to the stark austerity of many Protestant churches today. Where many Protestant churches have four bare walls, the Old Testament place of worship was full of lavish visual details.

Toward the end of the Book of Ezekiel is a long, elaborate description of the new Temple. Like the Tabernacle of Moses and Solomon’s Temple, the new Temple has wall carvings of cherubim (Ezekiel 41:15–26). More specifically, the carvings of the cherubim had either human faces or the faces of lions. The description of human faces on the temple walls bears a striking resemblance to the icons in Orthodox churches today.

Recent archaeological excavations uncovered a first-century Jewish synagogue with pictures of biblical scenes on its walls. This means that when Jesus and His disciples attended the synagogue on the Sabbath, they did not see four bare walls, but visual reminders of biblical truths.

I was also struck by the fact that the concept of the image of God is crucial for theology. It is important to the Creation account and critical in understanding human nature (Genesis 1:27). This concept is also critical for the understanding of salvation. God saves us by the restoration of His image within us (Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:49). These are just a few mentions of the image of God in the Bible. All this led me to the conclusion that there is indeed a biblical basis for icons!

What About Calvin?

But what about John Calvin? I had the greatest respect for Calvin, who is highly regarded among Protestants for his Bible commentaries and is one of the foundational theologians of the Protestant Reformation. I couldn’t lightly dismiss Calvin’s iconoclasm. I needed good reasons, biblical and theological, for rejecting Calvin’s opposition to icons.

My research yielded several surprises. One was the astonishing discovery that nowhere in his Institutes did Calvin deal with verses that describe the use of images in the Old Testament Tabernacle and the new Temple. This is a very significant omission.

Another significant weakness is Calvin’s understanding of church history. Calvin assumed that for the first five hundred years of Christianity, the churches were devoid of images, and that it was only with the decline of doctrinal purity that images began to appear in churches. However, Calvin ignored Eusebius’s History of the Church, written in the fourth century, which mentions colored portraits of Christ and the Apostles (7:18). This, despite the fact that Calvin knew of and even cited Eusebius in his Institutes!

Another weakness is the fact that Calvin nowhere countered the classic theological defense put forward by John of Damascus: The biblical injunction against images was based on the fact that God the Father cannot be depicted in visual form. However, because God the Son took on human nature in His Incarnation, it is possible to depict the Son in icons.

I was surprised to find that Calvin’s arguments were nowhere as strong as I had thought. Calvin did not take into account all the biblical evidence, he got his church history wrong, and he failed to respond to the classical theological defense. In other words, Calvin’s iconoclasm was flawed on biblical, theological, and historical grounds.

In my journey to Orthodoxy, there were other issues I needed to address, but the issue of the icon was the tip of the iceberg. I focused on the icon because I thought that it was the most vulnerable point of Orthodoxy. To my surprise, it was much stronger than I had ever anticipated. My questions about icons were like the Titanic hitting the iceberg. What looked like a tiny piece of ice was much bigger under the surface and quite capable of sinking the big ship. In time my Protestant theology fell apart and I became convinced that the Orthodox Church was right when it claimed to have the fullness of the Faith.

I was received into the Orthodox Church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1999. On this Sunday the Orthodox Church celebrates the restoration of the icons and the defeat of the iconoclasts at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in AD 787. On this day, the faithful proclaim,

“This is the faith that has established the universe.”

It certainly established the faith of this Calvinist, as the result of the powerful witness of one small icon!

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HAWAII OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX HAWAII

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An Interview with Troy Polamalu

The Mane Man

By

Gina Mazza

Pittsburgh Magazine, August 2009

Football is a given: How was this year’s Super Bowl experience versus XL? Tomlin versus Cowher? Goals for the coming season?

Fatherhood is new in Polamalu’s life since the birth of his son, Paisios, named after a beloved contemporary Greek Orthodox monastic, Elder Paisios, on Oct. 31, 2008. Has daddy-dom been life-changing? Will he encourage his son to play professional sports? How’s that beautiful new mom doing?

And last but not least: Faith. In order to properly meet Polamalu where he lives, this is the requisite, the grounding force that gives meaning to everything he does, every play he makes. Polamalu’s evident gratitude to the one who made him is marbled throughout our talk – from his training regime to his travels to Mount Athos, a monastic site in Greece, a place he calls “heaven on earth.”

While he has a reputation for being one of the NFL’s fiercest players, Polamalu would prefer “Tasmanian angel” over “Tasmanian devil” because his ball game is about glorifying God. “Football is part of my life but not life itself,” he says. “Football doesn’t define me. It’s what I do [and] how I carry out my faith.”

Whether shooting a Coke Zero commercial or running up the sand hills on Manhattan Beach to train – which he’s probably off to do after this interview – Polamalu, 27, is refreshingly modest and introspective, choosing his words as precisely as he picks his spots on the gridiron. He’s intense when the occasion calls for it, and reveals with ease the depth of his character while philosophizing about matters outside the huddle. At the same time, there’s a lightness about Polamalu that gives you the impression that he’s not taking himself or his high-profile lifestyle too seriously.

Even after the Steelers gave him the biggest contract in team history, more than $30 million, extending him through 2011, nothing major has changed in the Polamalus’ lives. They’re still in the same house. He still trains with the same trainer. The number of commercial endorsements has increased as his popularity has soared, but Polamalu is cautious not to let this encroach on family time. The Polamalus live simply and quietly.

On Fatherhood

Has becoming a father changed your life?

I think becoming a parent encourages people to change their lives, but even before I was a father, I had an interest in bettering myself as a husband and as a person. The intensity is greater when you have a child, but I’ve always tried to be conscious of myself. In that sense, not much has changed in how I view my life. Obviously there’s another member of our family. The cool thing is that I’m able to bring my son when I work out, so training takes a lot longer!

Eight months old and already training?

Yeah, he sits and watches me. I think it’s important for a child to see his parents work. One day, God willing, he’ll be able to see a nice house, a nice car, good food – things that I didn’t have growing up. It’s important for him to realize that these things are obtained first of all through the grace of God but also through hard work. I come from [a childhood] where I would put every condiment imaginable on my cheeseburger just so I could feel more full. There’s value in that struggle. Parents don’t want their kids to experience that, but honestly I want my kid to experience that. I think parents have a tendency to give their kids everything they didn’t have. In turn, they grow up lacking important qualities – like courage and perseverance. If you grow up with any type of wealth or anything that is just given to you, you [may] lack these qualities. But first of all, it’s most important for Paisios to have a spiritual foundation.

You view your parental role as being a role model spiritually as well?

As a parent, I don’t want to talk out of both sides of my mouth; I don’t want to act a certain way and be another way. Not everybody has a material struggle, but everyone has a spiritual struggle. So with my son, it’s important for him to first understand the spiritual struggle and, as a result of that, know how to [deal with] the physical struggles that he has in his life – whether it’s dealing with not enough or too much of something.

So it’s a matter of being an example?

I think talking is overrated. Anybody in the world can talk about doing anything. The hardest thing is to do it. It’s important for my son to understand, for example, why we pray, why we go to church. It’s important for him to grow up in an atmosphere of watching us do it, to understand that nothing is given to you in life. Everything must be worked at in order to be obtained – whether it’s something material or it’s salvation.

If Paisios had the calling to become an Orthodox priest and not a fullback, you’d be elated?

Of course. Obviously the [athletic] pedigree is there in my family and my wife’s [and] people give me a hard time: “Troy, man, what if your son’s not a good athlete, or he grows up and he’s not big?” But I say, “How big do you need to be in order to be a priest?”
You’re not saying, “I want my son to grow up and be an athlete.”

No, not at all. I would like him to play sports because there are important lessons to be learned through sports – those qualities of perseverance, courage, hard work and ethics.

How is your wife, Theodora, adjusting to being a mom?

Oh, she’s the best. It’s given me a whole new perspective on my wife. Obviously, she’s had a lot of responsibility in dealing with me and my inadequacies. But now, to watch her wake up every night and feed him . . . you know, as a mother, you kind of give up your whole life. Obviously, I’m able to still do what I do. I play football. I do things that surround football. I get to train.

Some dads are naturals and others don’t know how to react once the baby is home. Do you feel comfortable in this role?

Oh yeah. I want to feed him, play with him, do all those fun dad things. We go swimming in the ocean. He’s crawling, but he’s not surfing yet.

Do you do diapers?

Oh, I hand him off to Grandma for that.

What is your greatest wish for your child?

Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That’s what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that’s one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he’s able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid – to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that.

Do you and Theodora still find time to garden, even with your new addition?

Yes, we’re growing tomatoes, broccoli, sunflower seeds, oregano, basil, sage, peppermint.

Still growing orchids?

I’ve tried but I don’t have enough patience for orchids. They’re so sensitive. Here’s what happened recently: It’s funny, I spent all last year trying to nurse this orchid to health. Finally spring comes along and I thought, I give up, I’m putting it outside. A month later, I come back to Pittsburgh and guess what? I look outside and it’s blooming like crazy! I can’t do what only God can do.

On Faith

How would you define the spiritual struggle you referred to earlier?

It’s the struggle of good and evil, and with that comes the struggle with greed, jealousy, materialism, sexual morality, pride, all these types of struggles that we face every day, in every second of the day.

Your faith continues to evolve. In the past few years, you formally converted to Greek Orthodox. Where do you worship?

My wife and I go often to a Greek Orthodox monastery in Saxonburg [Nativity of the Theotokos], a monastery in Arizona, and several parishes in Pittsburgh. We like the monastery because it’s most serene there and we can talk to the monastics. To see their daily struggles really fascinates me.

What intrigues you about the monastic life?

For me, faith is to be simple in this way. If anybody believes in God and believes in the Holy Bible, how can you be in any grey area? I’m talking about myself here, how can “I” think one way and do another way? To me, Christianity is very black and white. Either you take it serious or you don’t take it serious at all. The monks’ example to me is that they take salvation seriously in every facet of their lives. This is a model for me as a Christian and for my family on how to live our lives.

Can you give an example of what inspires you?

There are so many, and I don’t mean to imply that everybody needs to live like a monk in order to be saved. For the Greek Orthodox monks, examples would be: they wear beards to cover their face so they’re not vain; they don’t have mirrors because they don’t want to look at themselves from being vain; they wear black because black is humility; they seldom talk because they don’t want to be proud or arrogant; they keep their eyes down because they don’t want their eyes to wander; they pray constantly.

The struggle between good and evil is very materialized with them. A lot of people have an understanding of this but it’s really just an oral proclamation that there is good and evil. To the monks, it’s hard as rock. It’s something they grasp daily. This is what I see in them and it amazes me: they’ve taken their struggle so seriously and in turn there’s so much grace in it. When you sit down with these monks, so much peace and love exudes from them.

Their faith is their passion. It makes me wonder if some day you might have that same calling.

I don’t think that everyone is meant to be a monastic. There are people who are meant to be married and those who are meant to be monastics. However, they are examples to us of how to live a pious life.

On my own spiritual path, I’ve felt at times that there’s a certain allure to that serene, sequestered lifestyle.

Yes, but I think it’s an understatement to say that their struggle is more intensified because their path is more intensified. There are tons of stories about these monks who have physical battles with these demons that fight them. It’s like, oh my goodness. In turn, they live in God’s grace so much that you think, no way, how can they have such angelic lives? Like the monks on Mt. Athos in Greece – this place is heaven on earth, there’s so much grace there. For 1,500 years, this place has been devoted solely to Christian spirituality. It’s untouched. Not even women are allowed there.

This is the place you visited two summers ago while on a pilgrimage?

Yes. There’s an amazing monk who lives in Arizona – Abbot Ephraim, my spiritual father. He’s the epitome of Mt. Athos brought to America.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from him so far?

That you cannot have an experience of God without humility.

Source:


COMING HOME - ORTHODOXY

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A life changed by Icons

by

Vasily Tomachinsky, USA & Germany

—Please tell us about your background and your journey to the Orthodox Church.

My name is Cliff (Isaac in Orthodox Baptism) Gardner, and this is my background. I was raised in a Protestant Southern Baptist family. We were in the military; my father was in the U.S. Air Force. I have four brothers, a family of five boys, and we moved all over the world. We lived most our lives in America and then in Germany, where I was as a teenager. No matter where my parents moved, they always found a Southern Baptist church, including in Puerto Rico, where I was born, and Germany, where our German pastor was Southern Baptist!

I grew up in Miami, Florida where my mother was from, so we moved back to Miami after my father retired from the Air Force. Miami is where I went to high school. It was when I was in the high school that I felt called to be a missionary. I wanted to be a Protestant missionary/Bible translator in Indonesia. So I went to a Bible school in Chicago called the Moody Bible Institute—a famous Bible school. I studied Bible-Theology/Greek; it was at Moody where I first started to interact with people from the Muslim world. I was very attracted to working with Muslims. I ended up going to the University of Illinois at Chicago where I studied linguistics, Middle East studies and Arabic. This is how I met my wife Marilyn.

She was raised in Pakistan, as her parents were Baptist missionaries for over thirty-five years there. She went to nursing school in Chicago. She was a nurse and I was a linguist, and we met back to back in an Indian restaurant.

“I was amazed by the worship, the liturgy, and the icons.”

We first moved to Pakistan in 1986 where I taught English to Pakistani government employees. Pakistan was Marilyn’s home, and we were involved in a Protestant church there. Then we moved to Egypt in 1989, where we lived for seven years; this is where I first encountered Orthodoxy. I don’t think I ever met anyone who was Orthodox before I moved to Egypt. I had an Egyptian friend in Chicago, so I had met one Oriental Orthodox person before. But when I moved to Egypt, I was an English teacher and I started to meet Coptic Orthodox Christians, who were very amazing and very faithful. One of my colleagues, an English teacher, was Orthodox. She was always fasting and I didn’t understand why. She said that she fasted over two hundred days of theyear. And I was so surprised. I was amazed at the Coptic Orthodox faith. They are minority religion in Egypt but they have amazingly strong faith. I used to take trips to visit the monks of Wadi Natrun in the Scetis desert of Egypt. I was even able to take my students to meet with the former Pope Shenouda III.

Every time I would go to the monasteries I could not believe their deep faith. All of the people in Egyptians churches go out to the monasteries for instruction, learning, prayer, spiritual information and guidance. I remember one monk from Deir al-Surian, a Syrian monastery, who said to me: “You don’t know it but you are really Orthodox.” I was sure that this was what he would say to the Protestants he liked.

I remember that I was amazed by the worship, the liturgy, and the icons. The icons are very interesting in Egypt—they believe that holiness shines through the eyes of a saint, thus their saints in icons have wide, large eyes. Many times I visited a very old church called Abu Serga. It is a first century church built over the cave where the Holy Family hid from the authorities. It is still an active Orthodox church. During my last three years in Egypt, I set up a study-abroad program for American Christian Protestant students. I would take them to meet Coptic Orthodox priests and monks, who would challenge their faith. As the priests interacted with their great faith, the Protestants often found it difficult to fit this faith into their Evangelical Protestant boxes. This often created a crisis of faith.

I also took my students to Israel/Palestine where I met more Orthodox—Greeks, Armenians, and Russians. I thought to myself that they were Orthodox because they were Greek, Russian, and Egyptian. I’m from the American South, so I’m Southern Baptist. I didn’t think you could become Orthodox—I thought you had to be born into it.

In 1996 we moved to Boston, Massachusetts where my wife’s family was from. I worked at Harvard University for ten years. During my last four years there I was the Program Officer for the Prince Alawleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program.

“In writing this icon I entered into the window of Theotokos, and my wife saw this change in my life, in my heart.”

Earlier in 2000, my wife and I were going through a crisis of faith, with many challenges in our marriage and raising five children. My wife knew that I was interested in icons. She introduced me to an iconographer, who was not Orthodox but who painted Orthodox icons. I took a class for ten weeks and learned to paint, or as we say, wrote icons. My first icon was of the Yaroslavl Mother of God from the fourteenth century. This experience changed my life. As you can tell, I am talkative person, but icons are to be written in silence. My instructor would give instructions, but we were not allowed to talk. My first icon was written with over fifty hours of silence. As I wrote I got to know Mary, the Theotokos.

For Protestants Mary is a bit of a mystery, and we often just think of her as a very nice person without really grasping the depths of Orthodox teaching about her. As I wrote this icon in silence, I got to know Mary. I started to read everything about Mary in the New Testament, and from the Church Fathers. I felt like I was getting to know her personally.

As I wrote this icon, I entered into the timelessness of God and eternity. It is hard to explain, but time is a construct and God is not limited to human time. I wouldn’t be able to explain this experience to anyone, but I remember that I would drive two to three hours after writing this icon and when I drove home, I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t turn on the radio, as the noises were too loud. In writing this icon I entered into the window of Theotokos, and my wife saw this change in my life, in my heart.

My heart had been softened; Mary is the softener of hearts. My heart has been so hard, and she saw this, and I was entering into this. All I wanted to do was to write icons. The Yaroslavl Mother of God icon had a seemingly simple design, but my second icon was from the School of Crete sixteenth century. It was much more complex. It was of Jesus appearing before Mary Magdalene by the tomb. Mary greets Jesus with the phrase, “Rabboni”, which means Teacher, and he greets her with her name.

This icon has a lot of mountains and vegetation. In the icon, Mary’s hair is uncovered, as only married women have veils in icons. As I wrote this icon I got to know Mary Magdalene and Jesus. I remember that in that icon, there was a cave that needed to be painted black. It was called “thanatos” which in Greek means “death”. I must have painted one hundred layers of black and it couldn’t get black enough. I wanted it to be very black, and I just kept applying layers.

The way icons are written is different from traditional painting. When you paint, you first paint light and then you add dark highlights. But with icons you always paint from God’s perspective; it had the perspective of, say, a railroad track going out from the viewer in a picture, only it goes the opposite direction. You also paint first the darkest shades, so Mary’s face is sankir green, and then you paint layers and layers of light—it’s amazing.

Icons really brought me to the Church, as I loved them even more. As I worshipped, I wanted to worship in an Orthodox setting.

My third icon was of the Prophet Elijah at the Cherith Ravine, but I only partially finished it. In 2003 we moved from Massachusets to Arizona for my job. When we moved to Arizona it reminded me a lot of Egypt, and I love the desert. It was in February 2006 that I attended my twenty-fifth reunion with the Moody Bible Institute. At the time, I had been struggling with worship and involvement in my Evangelical church.

“They wanted the Gospel, and not comfort.”

The church we went to Arizona was fashioned like a movie theater, where in summers the ushers would go down the aisles and hand out lemonade and coffee. It was just too casual for me. The intention of “seeker churches” is to have people feel comfortable, but it seemed so irrelevant to a lot of people—they wanted the Gospel, and not comfort.

Both my wife and I were feeling these same feelings. When I went to Chicago for this reunion I stayed with an old MBI classmate who was also a professor at MBI. He lived across the street from MBI and right next to an Orthodox church. When I was a student in Moody it had been an Armenian Apostolic Church, but was always shut. I found out that the Armenians had sold it to the Orthodox Church of America under the leadership of Bishop Job and Fr. John Baker.

The name of this church was Christ the Savior Orthodox Church. So, in 2006 I was with my friend and I asked him what church was next door. When he said that it was Orthodox, I was so surprised. I looked at the front of the building, and there was a sign about Orthodoxy, detailing the historical and theological line of Orthodoxy and how Catholicism had added to Orthodoxy and Protestants had subtracted from Orthodoxy. I found this very interesting, as I had never heard this concept.

As we walked by the church I looked down at the fence, and there were little children’s hands coming out the fence. They turned out to be the children of the priest, Fr. John Baker. We talked with Fr. John and he invited us to attend the Divine Liturgy the next day.

I had been to over fifty Orthodox churches and monasteries in the Middle East: Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, but I had never heard the liturgy in English. It had been in Coptic, Church Slavonic, Greek, and Armenian.

"This was Isaiah’s vision of Heaven!"

I went to the service, and it was Russian style with almost no furniture or pews, just beautiful carpets where everyone stood. As they started the chanting in English, I felt like a veil had been lifted from my eyes! This was Worship. This was Isaiah’s vision of Heaven! There was the altar, the incense, the smoke, the angels and the choir singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”. I realized that after all these years I had found true worship!

It was as if I were in Heaven. I felt like I had come home. After the service we went out to lunch with an MBI student but I could barely talk, as all sounds seemed so intense after that time of worship during the Divine Liturgy.

When I went to my MBI reunion it was wonderful to see old classmates, but especially to meet two who had become Orthodox. One was Lynette Holm Hoppe. She and her husband Nathan had become Orthodox in graduate school and were some of the first missionaries sent to Albania by the Orthodox Christian Missions of America. Lynette wrote a history of the resurrection of the Albanian Church in Albania, post-communism. Unfortunately she had cancer and six month later she reposed. What a gift it was to learn more about her journey to Orthodoxy!

When I visited Christ the Savior Orthodox Church I was able to receive some free icons and a book by an Orthodox convert, Fr. Peter Gillquist entitled, “Becoming Orthodox’. I read it on the plane home, and for the first time I realized that Protestants could become Orthodox. I didn’t know that it was possible. Fr. Peter had been with an Evangelical Protestant parachurch organization called Campus Crusade for Christ, who I was very familiar with. He shared the journey of a few families who sought to return to the first century Church, and ended up becoming Orthodox. What a journey!
When I got back to Arizona and I shared with my wife that I had had this spiritual awakening, and that when I was at the Orthodox service I felt as though I had come home, she said: “Well good for you! But I am not interested.”

So I went online and I wanted to find an Orthodox church in the Phoenix area. I ended up finding an Antiochian Orthodox mission called St. Ignatius in Mesa, Arizona. I thought that the Antiochian church would have some Arabs that I could speak to. I was welcomed whole-heartedly by Fr. James Coles and his wife, Khouria Karen and their family. He and his wife were converts from the Episcopal Protestant faith. I started to attend classes about Orthodoxy and would attend the services I could.

I continued to attend my Protestant church, but invited my wife to attend St. Ignatius. She came a few times to Vespers and even part of a Pascha service but she said that they were too long and the services were so foreign. We had visited Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt, where men sit on the left and women on the right. It seemed to fit in ancient Egypt, but not in modern day America. The first Pascha service I attended went into the early morning, and when I got home, my wife asked what had taken me so long. She also said that her feet hurt standing for so long in a service.

“I wanted to die Orthodox.”

In 2007 I was recruited to work back at Harvard University for their Islamic Studies Program. It was a gift to me as it combined my love of higher education and my passion for the people of the Middle East.

When we moved to Boston I didn’t want to go to work by train, so we moved to Cambridge. We started to attend a Protestant Church in Cambridge, but I found St. Marys, an Antiochian Orthodox Church, just a few blocks away. I would go to the Antiochian service and sneak back into my Protestant church for Sunday services. I did this for about a year and a half.

At this point we had a problem in our faith journeys. I wanted to become Orthodox, but my wife was not interested. I was less and less satisfied with the Protestant church. My son, Jonathan (now Ignatius) describes it well. He says: “Protestants have a strong aversion to the Pope, but every Christian in the Protestant church is a pope, a little pope, because we make our own decisions by reading the Bible.” There is little spiritual accountability in the church. The way to describe it is like wading in shallow waters instead of deep sea-diving. In Egypt, there are two large bodies of water. There is the Suez Canal that is around 400 feet deep, and on the other side of Sinai is the Gulf of Aqaba that is around 4,000 feet deep. It is part of the Great Rift Valley. On the surface they both appear the same but the depths are vastly different. As I started reading more Orthodox books, I felt like I was diving deeper and deeper into faith.

—How did you become parishioner of the Holy Resurrection Church in Allston?

—I learned about another Orthodox church in an area of Boston called Allston. It is called Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, a parish of the Bulgarian diocese in America. My oldest daughter Annie lived a few blocks away and told me about it. Once a year this parish would have a large yard sale and many students would come and buy clothing and furniture.

One Saturday I was walking down the street, when I saw two men struggling to carry a large couch that they had just bought. I offered to help them and they told me where they had bought it. I then went to the church where I met Fr. Patrick Tishel, the archpriest of this parish. When I met him he had been in conversation with a young hipster about faith. I thought to myself, “Who is this priest and how is this church interacting with those around them?”

After that I started to attend Holy Resurrection and I loved it. Father Patrick and the people of the parish were very welcoming. The parish is half American & European converts as well as cradle Russians, Romanians, Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians and Serbs. At one point my wife said: “We can’t be going two separate ways with me as a Protestant and you as Orthodox.” I was still reading Orthodox books and had icons in our bedroom. She commented that one can have too many icons!

So I made the decision to stop going to the Orthodox church as it was creating a rift in our marriage. For two years I stopped attending any Orthodox churches. We have five children born on three continents. When our middle son Micah got married in Chicago, we were so happy for him and his new bride, Lauren. Unfortunately, after their wedding her father learned that he had various cancers in his body and would die within five months. During this time my wife and I had a serious talk and asked each other what we would do differently if we only had a few months to live. She said she’d move to the Middle East and I said that I’d become Orthodox. She was surprised that that was my last wish. I told her that I wanted to finish my life journey Orthodox. We continued going to our Protestant church but felt progressively dissatisfied with the structure and casualness of it.

She told me one day that she thought we need to go to Holy Resurrection and see where God would lead us. I was so surprised and happy.

She had come to Holy Resurrection a few times and had met Fr. Patrick, but all of this was so new to her. It was like visiting a foreign country. We started to attend while our youngest son Jonathan was studying at Oxford. As we attended, people were very welcoming from the parish. We began to attend the weekly Orthodox 100 class for those interested in Orthodoxy. My wife had a lot of questions! My wife is a very brilliant person and has written a book called “Between Worlds” about cross-cultural communication and challenges for those people living in third world cultures. She has a blog called “Communicating Across Boundaries” that has had almost one million hits.

She has been writing since 2011 and has readers from all over the world. She started to write every Sunday on her blog a series entitled, “The Reluctant Orthodox.” Through this series she has been able to articulate her ideas, skepticism and questions about Orthodoxy, especially from a Protestant perspective. She had questions like: Why are we always standing? Why does the priest say, “Let us depart in peace,” and yet twenty minutes later we are still in the service? Why are people kissing everything? Why is Mary, the Theotokos so revered? She was able to process many of these questions with Fr. Patrick, who answered them with grace and wisdom.

“He came to the icons in my bedroom and surrendered is heart and mind to God…”

—Has your coming to the Orthodox Church had an affect on your children?

—Our youngest son came back from Oxford where he was studying Philosophy in Literature. He has a brilliant and searching mind. We invited him to Holy Resurrection. He really enjoyed the a cappella chanting and became mesmerized by it as a musician. Later that month he had a radical conversion; he came to the icons in my bedroom and surrendered is heart and mind to God. And he was converted. He came to us and said that he too wanted to become Orthodox with us. So the three of us became catechumens around Pascha of 2013. We experienced a whole year of an amazing catechumenate as people spoke into our lives. We got more involved in our parish and drew deeper and deeper. So on Great and Holy Saturday in 2014 we were baptized and chrismated, and became Orthodox. Our son actually did this before us, on Lazarus Saturday. My sponsor was Aaron Friar, who was in our parish; he and I had very deep conversation for many years and Paula, Fr. Patrick’s wife was my wife’s sponsor.

When it was time to take Christian names—I love the Middle East, and I love the saints of the Middle East—I took the name Isaac named after St. Isaac the Syrian. His life and writings are so amazing. I’ve been able to visit northern Iraq and was about two miles from ancient Nineveh (and ISIS) where St. Isaac was Bishop. I sensed his presence there. I took his name because his writings are so humbling, honest and compassionate. I need more compassion in my heart.

And my wife loved the story of St. Mary of Egypt, so she took the name Maria, but she also loved the story of St. Sophia an her daughters. So she asked Paula if she could have two names: Sophia Maria, and she said, “At your age you can easily have two Christian names!” Our son took the name Ignatius after St. Ignatius the Great of Antioch.

Ignatius started to study at Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts majoring in Religious Studies and Classics. He is surrounded by amazing men and women at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek School of Theology.

It has been an amazing journey! It has also been amazing for our other four children to watch this journey. We continue to pray that God would draw them to Himself, and we have prayed to various saints on their behalf.

After being baptized and ?hrismated, we were also given an Orthodox wedding. When my wife’s brother heard about this he said that he had married us, but we were married again? His father had baptized my wife, but she was baptized again? Her mother had named her, but she now had a new name? What was he to make of all this? We asked Fr. Patrick, our spiritual father, and he said to tell them that these were all sufficient to get us to where we were now.

We are thankful to God for this journey, and we remind ethnic Orthodox friends and neighbors about the gift of Orthodoxy that they have brought to American shores!

Source:


EDELWEISS OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX SWITZERLAND, AUSTRIA & GERMANY

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The Father of Lights

By Constantine Georgiades, England

Journey to Orthodoxy

A team of 120 members of the London Robbery Squad arrested me, my builder and electrician in Devon on 17th April 1991. I had to strip, put on white paper suit and wait in a cold empty cell for 3 days and then I was charged with various conspiracy offenses and remanded in custody at Exeter Prison. I had often driven past the prison and had never considered that one day I might be a guest of Her Majesty!

As an ex-policeman, I was warned to ask for the ’43’s’ by the escorting officer, but I really hadn’t understood what that meant. A mistake had been made and I felt sure that it was only a matter of time before I would be released, so I insisted on going on the main wing with all the other men and refused ‘Rule 43’ protection.

News of my arrival travelled fast and I soon had hundreds of men wanting to vent their anger out on me, due solely to the fact that I had once been a policeman. It didn’t matter that I had left some years earlier. As far as they were concerned, I was still a policeman and ‘the enemy’.

Escorted to ‘B’ wing with 2 other inmates I was locked in a cell the size of a bus shelter. After having lived my life in relative luxury up until that moment, it came as quite a shock to have to share a cell with 2 total strangers! It was filthy, no toilet and only the use of a bucket, no sink, little ventilation and poor lighting and the stench of urine and excrement was overpowering.

As he closed the door I heard the Prison Officer grunt “Three more pieces of s*** off the street”. I knew that I had done some bad things in my time, but I never thought that I had deserved to be treated or spoken to in this manner. The three of us remained in these conditions for periods of up to 23 hours a day and trying to cope with the monotony and violence of prison life was difficult.

At first ‘bang up’ seemed like a lifeline to me as it was difficult to kill a man whilst he was locked away in a cell! Although I had a strong physical presence, I knew that I couldn’t defend myself against 600 men and I was gripped with terror. I ate very little for the first three weeks and my weight dropped by nearly 4 stone. The food repulsed me and I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, but my fellow inmate said “If you don’t eat you will die in here”. He was right of course and I had already considered that as one of my options for early release.

I spent the first 14 months on remand walking in my own strength, unable to see my children and being systematically stripped of all my worldly possessions. You can’t keep up your mortgage payments when you are in prison.

Daily I sifted through my food searching for pieces of broken glass and slivers of razor blades and smelling it for traces of chemicals. There are more ways of getting to someone that you hate in prison than you can imagine! I grew more angry by the day at the injustice done to me and I wanted revenge against those who had put me there. I scoured my life searching for answers. Every day I mourned for my son Peter who had died as a baby whilst the family were out shopping and for the welfare of my sons and I kept raking through the ashes of my broken marriage trying to make sense of my life.

The police were able to convince a jury that 2 out of the 3 of us were guilty of at least thinking about committing a crime together and we were convicted and the electrician was acquitted. I received 12 years for conspiring to kidnap and 12 years for conspiring to blackmail with a further 3 years for not having a firearms certificate to run concurrently.

Now being a convicted criminal with a lengthy sentence meant that I qualified for a single cell. I could now use a toilet without being in the company of my cellmates and on the Wednesday following my conviction I went to listen to a visiting speaker from an outside church. The room was packed with prisoners and as I entered they jeered at me. The visitor was a Bishop from Africa and he told us that he had the responsibility for overseeing hundreds of churches. No one thought to ask him what denomination he was and it seemed hardly relevant at that time. “Today I have not come for all of you; just one man and when he hears what I have to say he will know who he is and he will know that I am speaking the truth.” The Bishop went on to describe me exactly. So much so that I immediately jumped to my feet saying “It’s me! I’m the man that you’re looking for!” I went forward and prayed with him and reaffirmed my faith, which, to be quite honest, had been pushed back to the furthest recesses of my mind. I hadn’t even considered that ‘God’ could help me with these problems.

Walking back to my cell that night I had hoped for a bolt of lightning to strike me or to hear the sound of God’s voice giving me instructions, but ‘Nothing! Absolutely nothing!’ An inmate said “Well, what did God do to help you then?” and he laughed. All I could think of saying was “Nothing yet, but I have made a promise to God and I’m going to keep it”. After all, what had I got to lose? I suppose that was the moment when I had made a conscious effort to stop walking and trusting in my own strength and knowledge and I had started my early steps of walking in faith, trusting in God. It was scary and at that point I had no idea how of quickly my faith was about to be tested.

The following day, Gary, a huge drug-crazed Rastafarian called to me: “Copper! Come out here and die!” It was ‘slop out’, a time when the doors open for a few minutes in order for us to empty the toilet buckets. Gary wanted to kill me and he kept calling to me. So I walked out of my cell, looked at him and said “Don’t be stupid, you can’t kill me out here, the ‘Screws’ will see you. Come into my cell and you can kill me in here without any witnesses.” I turned and went back inside and he followed. There were 2 chairs either side of a small table pushed against the wall and I sat furthest from the door and invited Gary to sit opposite me.

He said “But I’m going to kill you!” I said “In a minute, there’s plenty of time. You can do it when we’ve finished our game of backgammon.” We both sat and played and the prison staff, who were having difficulty controlling him, locked us in together.

I told Gary all about my promise to God.

He asked me about my cross that I wore and I told him how I was baptised ‘Constantine’ in the Greek Orthodox Church in Malta when I was 5 years old and showed him my baby teeth marks on the back. I can’t remember who won the game of backgammon but Gary and I shared several hours together. Eventually the doors opened and as he got up to leave he said “I don’t want to kill you no more, man. Pray for me, eh?”

Just before I was transferred to Wandsworth Prison, I was in the Gym and I could hear both volley ball teams plotting to do me serious harm in the changing rooms at the end of the session. I recognised the signs as all the prison staff normally disappear when a planned violent attack is about to happen. Not wanting to wet myself, I went to the toilet. I looked up and said “Listen God, I know that I’m one of your children and if you want me to receive this beating I will, but, I thought that you were going to protect me?” No immediate answer… I shrugged my shoulders and walked back into the changing area where a gang of predominantly black men confronted me.

The ring leader said “Listen ‘copper’ this is not personal, okay. You have to be dealt with before you go to Wandsworth, that’s all. If we don’t do it the ‘Brothers’ in Wandsworth are going to ask why we didn’t. Do you understand?” I said “Yes, of course; get on with it then. But remember this, it’s not me that you are attacking, it’s God. I am one of his children and His Spirit lives in me. If you harm me you are going to have to answer to Him.”

A look of incredulous disbelief and fear shot across their faces and they immediately started to argue amongst themselves about ‘the brotherhood’. Using a ‘shocked’ voice, I said “Are you guys black?” There was a pause “Are you taking the p***?” I said “No, of course not. I don’t see colour, so it isn’t relevant to me, but it’s obviously important to you. If you are black, you must know what it’s like to be victimised because you have been victimised for centuries and it’s cruel. Isn’t it strange that you are now doing that same thing to me! How do you feel about that?” More arguing. “Who are you, cool hand Luke! Why aren’t you afraid of us?”

Gary suddenly appeared from nowhere and stood in between me and the ring leader. He spoke very calmly and to the point. “This is a good man. He believes in God!” He turned to look at me and said “If you gona hurt him, you gotta do me first.”

The ring leaders response spewed out of his mouth “You a f****** brother or what?”

“Of course I’m a brother! He’s a good man. Leave him alone…”

Gary had turned into an angel and I left the Gym unharmed praising the Lord! Gary told me later “You know what they wanted? They wanted your gold cross to sell for drugs on the wing!”

Shortly after that incident I was transferred to Wandsworth Prison and placed on ‘E’ Wing. I shared my cell with a man who had been convicted of murdering 2 people over a drugs debt. I couldn’t lie on my bed as it had been urinated on, so I rolled out my bedroll and lay on top. When he woke up I told him that I was an ex policeman and that I had made a promise to God and I was going to serve Him. He was shocked and said “You’re going to die in here, brother.”

I said “If that’s His will. But I don’t think so. He’s going to protect me”. I could hardly see him in the badly lit cell, but he said “Yeah, right.” During my time at Wandsworth I lived amongst nearly 1,000 convicted criminals and remained unharmed. I wrote to Gary and thanked him for helping me and he wrote me a lovely letter back.

When I was transferred to Maidstone Prison I was put on the long term lifers’ wing. On the same coach were 2 Christian inmates, one was serving life and the other 8 years for multiple bank robbery. I was put in a single cell next to ‘Wolf’y’ another Christian who played guitar and we sang lots of Christian songs together. The men knew who I was before I had got onto the wing, so I thought it best to approach them with honesty. I approached the Probation Officer who had an office on the wing.

“Please can you tell me who runs the wing?”

“Why?”

“I’ve seen it on telly, there’s always a ‘Main Man’ who runs things in these sorts of places”.

“Yes there is. Why do you want to know who he is?”

“I’m an ex policeman and I just want to introduce myself to him”.

The colour fell from his face instantaneously.

“The Governor needs to know about this right away. You are going to die in here! There are men in here who are NEVER going to be released and they have nothing to lose by killing you”.

“That’s OK I’ll be fine”.

“No! They are going to kill you! You MUST get out of here!”

He left quickly and indicated to a man called Terry who was wearing a green and blue track suit top. I approached Terry and I introduced myself to him and we walked to my cell for a chat. I explained my situation and he said “Yeah, I know you’re a ‘copper’. As you’ve been straight with me you won’t have any problems with ‘my men’. The odds of you getting plunged are very high though, so watch your back.”

I knew that there was a swimming pool at this prison, so I said “That’s OK, I’m a good swimmer,” He smiled and said “No stupid, plunged with a knife! You don’t have a clue, do you?” I said “Not really, but I have God on my side.” His smile turned to a grin and he said “You’re going to need Him big time in here, the last guy they didn’t like was disembowelled on the landing in front of everyone last week and 2 others were torched in their cells before him. Good luck!” I was intrigued and asked “How were they torched?” He replied “Petrol, from the lads on the gardens”.

Over the next 3 weeks I sank into the deepest parts of hell and the men tormented me every day with threats and verbal jibes. The Principal Officer on the wing took me into his office and said “I can’t help you if you need help. These are dangerous men. I can’t make you go on Rule 43 but my advice is to transfer wings immediately. The men all know who you are and they are making plans to hurt you”. I said “That’s OK, they don’t mean it and they won’t harm me because God is looking after me”.

I was eventually confronted by 6 angry men on the landing outside my cell. All I could think of saying was “May God bless you and protect you. He loves you all and so do I.” I kept walking. They were so shocked that they were unable to speak or lay a hand on me. However, a few days later one of them threw a bucket of human excrement over me and my cell. I had to throw everything out because the smell was unbearable!

The prison staff, who I think were more afraid of them than me, refused to give me a clean mattress or linen and in front of the other men said “Fresh linen is only issued once a week and that was yesterday. Why do you need fresh things?” They had seen what had happened and the big rule in prison is not to be a ‘grass’ so I said “I have wet my bed”. He said “Well, put it all back in your cell and wait till then”. I refused and spent hours cleaning my cell but I was still unable to get rid of the stench and I ended up sleeping on the steel straps on my metal bed, with no covers, no coat, no mattress and with the window open wide. I was frozen!

Later that week another group of 5 men charged into my classroom on the Education Block. The tutor, Ian, who was running a business studies course was caught in the onslaught. Petrified and shaking he froze to his seat. I stood up and said: “Are all you guys stupid? You can’t kill me in front of a member of staff. Let Ian leave”. I pointed to Ian and said “Look at him, for goodness sake let him go and then you can kill me without any witnesses”.

The ringleader shouted “No, we want him to stay so that he can see what we are going to do to you!” I raised both arms and shouted “Ok! In the name of Jesus Christ, I will take you all on!” He shouted back “We’re Muslims and don’t believe in Jesus as God, only as a prophet.” I said “I know the president of SUFI, he’s a friend and he would not be very happy with you behaving like this. Islam is about unity, love and wisdom, not hatred!” They looked shocked and were unable to lay a hand on me. The alarm bells started to ring and I was detained for disturbing the prison and taken to the Segregation Block for my own protection.

Now segregated from the whole prison, I was only allowed out of my cell when all the other prisoners were locked away in theirs. It was for my protection I was told, but I kept insisting that I didn’t need protection.

During my 1 hour a day legal break from my cell, I chose to take a shower instead of going to the exercise yard. On some days a prison visitor would visit me in my cell. He was locked in with me and we prayed together for my family. I don’t remember his name but God will know who he is for sure.

One evening I stepped out of my cell and the staff vanished. I believe that I was given another spiritual warning of danger. I turned the shower on and pulled the nylon curtain closed and quickly tucked myself away in the sink area. Two men, who I recognised from my wing burst into the shower with knives to attack me but I wasn’t in there. I ran at them from the side and shouted “come on then, in Jesus name!”

They fled in panic running down the stairs and I watched as the Prison Officer let them out.

After refusing continuously to go on ‘Rule 43’ for protection, I was finally spoken to by the No1 Governor.

“What’s all this about. You are causing havoc in my prison and you have to go on Rule 43!” I said “There really isn’t a problem. The men are just a bit unsettled and once they get used to me they will be fine”. He snapped back: “They want to kill you and your problem is that you are just a proud man and won’t go on ‘The Rule’”

I said:

“It isn’t pride, it’s faith. God’s watching over me and everything will be fine, you see”.

He said: “I’m going to have to speak to the Home Office as you are going to die in this prison”. I was told that I was being moved to Channing’s Wood Prison so I made a poster with a large cross on it and wrote my cell number and “I forgive you”. I asked the Prison Officer if I could go to my cell to collect some letters, which were in a plastic bag under my bed and I insisted that I went to collect them personally.

We walked from the Segregation Unit to the wing and all the men were moving about on the landing. When they saw me they all stopped and watched me walk to my cell to collect my letters and on the way out I put up my poster on their notice board. I wanted them to see that I wasn’t afraid of them. When I arrived at Channing’s Wood Prison I had no personal possession at all, only prison property, letters and my cross. I really believed that I was going to die in prison and I had sent all my property out. The only shoes that I had were a pair of old fabric slippers. I was exhausted both mentally and physically and at the lowest point in my life.

Simon, whom I had met in Exeter, was waiting for me outside Reception. He was a Muslim and as I had read his depositions previously, I believe his account of what had happened to him. I said “God has sent me here, Simon!” He looked a bit surprised and said “Why?” I said “I don’t know”. He said “You have to find out why!” and he encouraged me and joined me in my search for the truth and he later became a Christian at Channing’s Wood.

He asked to be baptised, so I referred him to the Chaplain who refused and told him to wait until he was released. So he asked me to baptise him on the wing, which I did according to canon of the true Church. I told the Chaplain what I was going to do and asked him to join us, but he refused saying: “If I start baptising the men in the bath on the wing, people are going to think that I’m insane!” So I carried on baptising the men on the wing according to the canon of the Church.

At this time I had no contact with an Orthodox Priest and I acted in faith according to the Great Commission. On some weekends we baptised between eight And twelve men at a time. We fasted and prayed regularly together and our group grew and we met in an area behind the gym, a place we named ‘Apostles Corner’. Men were surrendering needles used for drugs and handing in satanic material used for witchcraft, which I destroyed by fire in the Chapel and prayed with the men for forgiveness of sins.

Simon and I joined a Business Studies Course and we were asked to speak on any topic of our choice. I chose ‘Life’ and when I had finished talking the whole class clapped loudly. From that moment on members of the class asked for help and more and more inmates approached me asking for prayer and help to find God. The Chaplain allowed me to use one of their offices to talk to the men and to pray with them.

They gave me a job as a ‘Chaplain Orderly’ and I believe that God used me to talk to the men and minister to their needs. Although the men would come and speak to me they were not prepared to go to the normal western church services, which frustrated ‘The Team’.

Whilst praying in my cell one night, I pleaded with God to show me what He wanted me to do.

“Make it simple,” I said, “because I am not that bright and I just don’t understand what You want me to do.”

When I finished praying, I looked at my watch and it was 11.00pm. I turned the light off by pressing on a calendar which covered the light switch and climbed into bed. As I pulled the covers up to my chin I heard an audible voice say “Open your eyes!” I opened my eyes immediately because I was on my own and no one was supposed to be in my cell. I saw a hole appear in the air above my bedroom cabinet. It looked like electricity, bright and it shone brighter than diamonds. A rush of electricity came into my body through my feet and I was paralysed from head to toe. The only thing working in my body was what seemed to be a tiny area at the back of my skull, which only allowed me only to ‘think’ the name “Jesus” and even that was difficult.

I was unable to speak or call out and this sparkling hole started to get bigger and ended up about the size of about 1/2 meter wide. I could see through the hole into what looked like outer space and there were stars.

I was lifted off the bed in my body and moved into the centre of the cell. I knew that I was in my body because the bed was empty and I was suspended for a brief moment and then my body moved through the bars so that half of it was in the cell and the other half was outside and I was looking down my body into the hole. Then my whole body started to move towards the hole until it reached the opening.

I thought that I was going to go through the hole, which was still arcing with light; bright light and I then saw the form of a man with a beard arked in electricity moving through space. My body stopped moving forward and then moved back over my bed and it was then lowered. I didn’t wake up because I was already awake and when I tried to lift myself of the bed I was aware of a whirl of a holy presence around my pillow. This presence remained for what seemed like 5 minutes and then it gently subsided.

When I checked my watch it was 11.07pm.

In the morning I went with another inmate to the Chapel to run morning prayer, as the Chaplain was on sick leave and he had asked me to carry on with the prayers and the prison staff opened the doors for us. When I touched the light switch there was a loud bang and the switching unit caught fire with flames about 6″ to 7″ long covering my hand and all the lights tripped. The light switch was still smoking when the electricians arrived and they examined the whole system and were mystified as they were unable to explain the reason for such an occurrence. The system was protected from any power surge on the mains side and all that they could say was that some external power source seems to have entered the unit from the outside.

In my work at the Chapel I was exposed to all the western religions including the various mainstream Christian denominations and ministers, they came and went as the budget allowed and I served refreshments to them and the inmates after their services. I had to do that even for the Pagans who also used the Chapel for their meeting! Upon my request the Chaplain asked the Pagans to use the Multi Faith Room on the main wing as I didn’t feel that their presence was appropriate.

God used me and the men to make many spiritual things happen in the prison Chapel and on the wing. I have not written about these things before because God has already written about this through His Prophets and Scripture. Anyway, who would believe a wicked sinner like me, a convicted criminal, who only a few years ago would have been hung for the crimes for which he was convicted? Whilst in the prison and after coming out into the world I have been declared a fraud and the work that God did has been

dismissed by those who do not believe in my witness. The western Christianity refuses to believe that they have anything missing from their teaching, referring to Orthodoxy, even by some of the clergy, as Greek Mythology, Greek superstition, contrary to scripture, dogmatic and legalistic and hardly relevant for society today.

My mother died in Greece whilst I was ‘inside’ and I was told at 11.00pm by 2 prison officers who came into my cell. They confirmed my name and then said:

“Your mother’s dead!”

they turned on their heels and locked me away again, leaving me to cope with my grief on my own. I prayed all this up to God and he brought me a blessed peace, which allowed me to accept that she had fallen asleep. A year later my father died also. I was praying at the time he passed and I was aware of his passing. When the prison officer came to tell me the following morning, I said:”You have come to tell me that my father died last night, haven’t you?” He looked surprised and said “Who told you? I said “God.” I truly believe that they are both now with my son, Peter.

I asked all the ministers at the prison to explain what was happening to me in order to help me understand and not one of them had any idea of what I was talking about. A Catholic Bishop said: “I am Scientist and the brain generates electricity, so maybe that’s what happened?”

When my parole came up for review after 4 years I refused it, saying: “Parole is for rehabilitated offenders and I am innocent of the crimes that I was charged with. You may have my body but you don’t have my soul, so when you have finished playing silly games with my body just let me know”. I was consequently refused parole and sent for a Psychiatric and Spiritual Examination. When I met with the Psychiatrist she said “Are you homosexual?” I said “I have had lots of offers of homosexual relationships whilst I have been inside, but I have thanked them for the compliment and graciously declined as I have no doubt over my sexuality; I’m straight.” She looked surprised and said “Are you sure?” I said “Yes!” So she went on: “Well, you must be a woman then!” Stunned by her remarks I said “Are you serious?” and she replied: “You have the complete profile of a woman.” So I said: “Well, if I’m a woman you had better send me to Pucklechurch.” which is a prison for women.

Her austere response was:

“Don’t get smart with me!”

A member from the choir at Bath Orthodox Church came to see me after this as he had been asked to find out who I was and through him I was introduced to the Church in Bath and Father Yves came to visit me in Leyhill Prison and Father Luke from Wales also wrote to me. I asked Father Yves the same questions that I had asked the Bishop. He gave me a little book called ‘Orthodox Spirituality’ by Father Thomas Hopko, which I devoured.

It was to reveal to me the answers to so many of my questions that I so desperately wanted answer to and I went on to read other Orthodox books.

I spent over 5 years locked away from the world and during that time I missed the second stage of my sons’ lives. I met a lot of men who were struggling to find answers to the purpose of their lives and I felt compelled to help them. Men who did not know what it is like to have a father or how to be a father and are destined to continually drift in and out of the prison system. How we have failed them! I have lived with them, cried with them, listened to how they have been abused as children and loved them wherever they were spiritually and every night, in my dreams, I am reminded of them and I share their pain.

I have learned that if we commune with God, He uses us to plant and water the seed of His Holy Spirit in our brothers and sisters and it is God who makes that seed grow.

Since leaving prison in 1996 I have not always got things right, I know, but I have never lost my faith. My mother told me before she fell asleep: “If you lose your money you have lost nothing. If you lose your self respect you have lost something and if you lose your faith, you have lost everything!” I have struggled with illness and pain and still do today. I have made many mistakes and I am still a wretched sinner, but I have been blessed in so many different ways.

My gift from God has been my wife, Maria, who has since meeting me silently endured the persecutions of those that hate us.

We married in the Orthodox Church in Colchester in 2000 and through that blessing God has used Maria and the children to heal so many of the wounds that I received prior to and during my incarceration. I have been told to move on with my life, but after having known and felt some of the pain of the victims and prisoners, I am unable to stop myself revisiting them every night in

my dreams. I have tried to live my life in the world by being open and honest about my past. I have to declare my convictions to prospective employers for the rest of my life, so moving on has been made extremely difficult. God will show us as a family how we can do this in time. There are many people who are imprisoned in this world, who are confined by invisible bars in their lives and I pray for them also.

My many sins are always before me and through many tears I am assured that He has forgiven me them all and they have been forgotten, but many of those who live in the world seem unable to do the same.

So, how did I find Orthodoxy?

All I can say is that the seed of the Holy Spirit was sown in me when I was 5 years old, but, it has taken a lot of watering by many people to help me to finally commune with God. The brothers and sisters that helped me were not all Orthodox Christians, I hasten to add. God didn’t say in His ‘Great Commission’ that we should exclude any particular race or religion. Learning to live a non materialistic life has been one of my greatest blessings and learning the depth of prayer that can be achieved by moving beyond praying with the voice, mouth, lips and tongue and of course fasting, forgiveness of sins and love.

In order for me to move forward with God by living in the western world of Christianity, having an Anglican father and an Orthodox mother, was to find the root of our Christian faith and after tirelessly examining all the faiths, I came home and found true communion with God in Orthodoxy.

All glory to God!

Source:


ENGLAND OF MY HEART

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“I was amazed by the holiness of Christians”

Interview with Anton Gotman, 
former Buddhist

 Priest George Maximov, Anton Gotman

We continue to publish the texts of Spas TV program My Path to God, where Priest George Maximov interviews people who converted to Orthodoxy. The guest of today’s program is Anton Gotman, who had been practicing Buddhism for a long time. In this interview, he will tell us what he was looking for but couldn’t find in Buddhism and how Christ touched his heart. We will also discuss the personal and impersonal aspects of faith as well as the artificiality of “Russian Buddhism”.

* * *

Priest George Maximov: Hello, you are watching My Path To God. The guest of today’s program is Anton Gotman, a man who has a firsthand knowledge of the Buddhist tradition. Anton Sergeyevich, here’s my first question: What did you think of God before you became a Buddhist?

Anton Gotman: I didn’t have a true faith in God. I was baptized when I was eight. Occasionally, I would go to church with my parents. Basically, they were believers, but I didn’t see any purpose behind their faith. Every now and then I’d come across some books but that was it… I didn’t have an in-depth understanding of the Christian tradition. Once in a while I’d go to church and meet the priest. I really liked him as a person, but I didn’t appreciate Christianity. Later, I got interested in rock music and martial arts and started to distance myself from religion, so that at some point I even began to think that Christianity was an utter nonsense. After a while, when I got into college, I got interested in the Orient. I tried to study the Roerichs’1 teachings, but they didn’t impress me at all and neither did other theosophical ideas. Then a difficult period of my life followed, and I was very depressed. By chance, I came across a Soviet book on religious studies that described Buddhism, and it became an eye opener for me. I learned about “the four noble truths”2 and became interested, so I started studying Buddhism with some people who practiced it. After a while, I decided that I wanted to be taught by a teacher of the true Buddhist tradition.

Father George: What did you find attractive in Buddhism?

Anton Gotman: I did not believe in God, and for people who do not believe in God but wish to live righteous lives or have something spiritual in their lives, Buddhism can show a certain way. In fact, Buddha taught many things that were right. For example, just like Christianity, Buddhism teaches that we must not kill. On the one hand, it is the same, but there is a significant difference. We can’t say that Buddhists follow God’s commandment, “Thou shall not kill”, because it is not God’s commandment for them. You can say that people follow God’s commandments only when they believe in God.

Father George: Yes, motivation is important.

—I saw Buddhism as an opportunity for developing certain qualities. My interest in martial arts was an influence too.—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: Even though there is no faith in God in Buddhism, it offers a certain spiritual way and a system of meditation that at some point attracts people and allows them to relax and experience certain positive feelings. In Tibetan Buddhism, where I was a member of the community of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, everything was much more interesting, with more mystic experiences and opportunities to do yoga, etc… I’ll try not to overuse the Buddhist terminology and explain everything in understandable terms. I saw vast opportunities for self-realization and developing certain qualities—this was what made Buddhism attractive to me. My interest in the Orient and martial arts in particular was an influence too. I was simply curious at first, but after a while I became a very dedicated Buddhist.

Father George: You turned to Tibetan Buddhism because you were searching for a traditional Buddhism, so that it would be more than just reading books?

Anton Gotman: Yes, I was searching for tradition.

Father George: How did that happen? Did you take refuge3?

Anton Gotman: Initially, I was given a book by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. I read it and liked it very much. Then I found a community in our city that practiced this version of Buddhism. There were just a few people there at the time, now they have more. After that, I went to a retreat and that was where I took refuge.

Father George: What is a retreat?

Anton Gotman: In a way, it is a workshop where an instructor explains teachings, initiates people, transfers knowledge, etc. Naturally, because many people attend such retreats, there are instructors that have more advanced sessions with small groups of people.

Father George: You probably made some acquaintances and friends there?

Anton Gotman: Of course. I made acquaintances and met new friends. Ultimately, my wife got interested in Buddhism too. In fact, at the time when I converted to Christianity, all my friends were Buddhists.

Father George: As far as I know, this Buddhist period of your life lasted for about ten years. It is a long time. Moreover, you had a traditional Buddhist teacher and all your friends and acquaintances had similar interests. What motivated you to turn to Christ?

—What motivated me to turn to Christ? God led me. He simply made me do it. This was how it happened—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: To make a long story short, God led me. He simply made me do it. This was how it happened. In 2008, the rock groups “DDT” and the “Brothers Karamazov” participated in a concert dedicated to the 1020th anniversary of Christianization of Russia. As part of the show, Deacon Andrei Kurayev delivered sermons. Of course, I didn’t convert right away after listening to his sermon during the show, but I thought, “This is the Deacon Andrei Kurayev who wrote some bad things about Buddhism, as I was told. I should read his books.” So I did. I should say that I was not impressed by what he wrote about Buddhism.

Father George: Why?

—Reading about Christianity, I understood that it gave more food for thought and offered a more profound understanding of many issues—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: Well, when Buddhists talk about Christianity, it often seems simply ridiculous to Christians, because outsiders do not understand many things as profoundly as Christians who study Christianity. Christians talking about Buddhism are perceived by Buddhists in the same way, simply because Christians cannot know Buddhism as well as people who studied and practiced it for a long time. Father Andrei relied on the works of Orientalist scholars and admitted that he didn’t study Buddhism in-depth. Actually, his book Satanism for Intellectuals focuses on the teachings of theosophists and the Roerichs, and only one section of it is dedicated to Buddhism. I read this section first. It didn’t impress me, but I got intrigued by what he wrote about Christianity. I used to think that Christianity was a good, albeit not very clever tradition, but then I understood that contrary to what I believed earlier this was a tradition that gave more food for thought and offered a more profound understanding of many issues. I started reading the book from the beginning but stopped because it dealt with theosophy and the Roerichs and this didn’t interest me. So, I decided to read Father Andrei’s books about Christianity. I downloaded all available materials from Deacon Andrei Kurayev’s site as well as some books by other Orthodox authors and started reading. For about three weeks, I dedicated my all my spare time to reading these books. I would finish reading one book in a day or two. After that, I started having a “withdrawal”, and sometimes my head even ached.

Father George: How would you explain it?

Anton Gotman: It wasn’t anything psychological, I simply was under great stress because I began to realize that I was standing in front of certain doors, standing before Christ. I knew that I could turn away and continue my usual way, but I also knew that if I turn away from Christ now, I would lose something that I would never find anywhere else. I was having really serious withdrawal symptoms, because as you understand, I spent ten years in Buddhism, my wife and friends were Buddhists and practically my entire life was devoted to it. Now suddenly, I had to choose between Christ and going my old way.

Father George: What were your impressions when reading Christian literature?

—I found that according to Christian hermits many states achieved in Buddhism were a deception. This got me thinking—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: Actually, reading these books, I was amazed by the profundity of Christianity. I was amazed by a holiness of Christian people that I never saw in Buddhism. I do not mean to be disrespectful to Buddhists, but I started comparing and realized that I didn’t see anything like that around me in Buddhism. Here’s another interesting thing: Many Buddhist practices and states (for example, the observation of inner light, etc.) are described by Christian hermits as mistakes, fallacies and delusion. I thought, “These are the people who achieved these states, saw and learned the same things, but they turned away from them, saying that this path was wrong, and went a different way.” This got me thinking also.

I didn’t have any visions or anything like that. I simply understood that Christ was with me. And that He was always there for me.

So, I got back to Satanism for Intellectuals, thinking that I had to finish the book since I had already started reading it. At the end of the book, Father Andrei placed a trap—in the good sense of the word—and I’m very grateful to him for it. He wrote basically, “God gives you freedom and you can choose an occult or theosophical way. Alternatively, you can turn to Christ and go the Christian way. But before you make your final choice, right now after you finish reading this book, appeal to Christ in prayer.” And there was the text of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When I said this prayer, I understood that I was Christian. That was it. I didn’t have any visions or anything like that. I simply understood that Christ was here, that He was alive and beside me. He has always been there for me. Now He revealed himself to me and I was standing beside Him. It can’t be described in words, but the realization that Christianity can immediately take people beyond the cycle of samsara (which they have been inventing for themselves for a long time) came almost right away… I don’t know how to describe it. Before that I saw a clear distinction: this is one feeling and that is another feeling, but at that moment there was nothing—no bliss, no visions, etc. I simply felt that I woke up from a long lethargic sleep and began to live.

On that very day, my friends were going to meet at my place for some Buddhist practices. However, I understood that I had absolutely no desire to do that. Since I couldn’t just kick my friends out, I said, “I have some business to attend to, you proceed without me.” Next time, I skipped the practice too. Later, when I told everything to my wife and she told the others, they decided to practice somewhere else. We remained friends, there were no problems. I’m grateful to them all, but…

Father George: They were probably surprised, weren’t they?

Anton Gotman: They were. They were asking me why. I explained as best as I could.

Father George: Did they understand?

Anton Gotman: I don’t know. I hope to God that all my friends would come to Christ. Naturally, people still have their free will. In addition, everybody has their own beliefs and views on life. It is difficult to change them all.

Father George: What do you think is the main difference between Christianity and Buddhism?

Anton Gotman: Buddhism and Christianity offer two absolutely different outlooks. In the beginning of this interview, we said that Buddhism is a good way for atheists. To be more specific, it offers an attractive path for those who don’t believe in God the Creator. It is not for total atheists, for in Buddhism people believe in many various deities. However, these deities in Buddhism are perceived as entities of samsara that need to be liberated. In addition to deities, there are enlightened entities and in Tibetan Buddhism; as they say, there are thousands of thousands of buddhas, that is a countless number of buddhas and bodhisattvas for Buddhists to appeal to… But there is purposefully no believing in God the Creator.

—It is axiomatic for Buddhists that the Absolute is impersonal. However, what is the most interesting thing for us? What are we looking for? It isn’t impersonality, is it?—(Anton Gotman)

Another axiom for Buddhists is that the Absolute is impersonal. I ask, “Why? Why do you think that the Absolute is impersonal?” They say, “Because personality is a limiting quality.” I say, “Let’s have a look. If I have a personality and the Absolute doesn’t, it means that it can’t be called the Absolute at all because it doesn’t include me or my personality. This makes me more perfect than the Absolute.” It turns out that the Absolute is similar to a rock or electricity. Or any impersonal thing for that matter! For example, this table and tea in these teacups are impersonal. However, what is the most interesting thing for us in life? What are we looking for? We’re having this discussion now because personality is interesting for us. We are not communicating with this tea or this table. Take this program – people watch it because they are interested in communication between personalities. The same goes for movies: What will happen if you shoot a ten-part series without any personalities, just two birch trees and a rock? Well, a rain may fall, and that’s it (laughs).

Father George: This won’t a blockbuster for sure (laughs).

—We are looking for ideal relationships with an ideal person. God is the ideal Person—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: I don’t think anybody would want to watch that. Let’s take cartoons for children. They draw a little train engine. It is an impersonal subject, but they draw eyes and show that he can smile or be sad… That is, they give the engine some personal qualities, making it closer to people so that it is interesting to watch. It’s because personality is interesting for us, we are not interested in anything else. In general, in this world we look for personalities only. We are looking for ideal relationships with personalities. As children, we develop relationships with parents and friends. When we grow up we want to find our true love. One would say, “I want to find the love of my life.” That is, to find a more profound relationship with another person. All people are looking for better relationships. When people get married, if they are a normal husband and wife, they make their love grow stronger and stronger. Why? Because everybody is looking for ideal relationship with an ideal person. And there is God, Who is the ideal person and with Whom we establish the absolute relationship.

By the way, Christ reveals even more. All theistic religions say that God is one and that He is a personality, but Christ reveals the truth that God is the Trinity, Who on the one hand has the same personal qualities we discussed earlier, and on the other hand the Trinity is open to love and to the world. So, in this respect Christianity is a more profound revelation than the teachings of all other theistic religions. While Buddhism postulates that the Absolute is impersonal, it still acknowledges that we have sufferings, and as they are meaningless torments we need to get rid of them and help others to do so too. This is the motivation offered by Buddhism, the seed that is the origin of everything.

However, if we assume that we have a Divine Personality, a loving Father Who created the world and all people because of His love for us, then when we start, or rather resume, our relationship with God, what does suffering become for us? We believe that our suffering and all our troubles are our punishment. This punishment provides guidelines telling us where we should be going. That is, a kind and loving Father uses this event to tell you: instead of going this way, go that way. He shows us something good. As such, suffering becomes meaningful.

Father George: Basically, if we believe in a Divine Personality that we can relate to, then not only suffering, but everything in our lives becomes meaningful. All our lives become a dialogue with God. We do not have any baggage or any “unnecessary” events in our lives. Every event in our lives is meaningful. God wants to tell us something through these events, so the sufferings become meaningful. God uses them to tell us something, help us and make us pure. This is very different from what people see when they turn to Buddhism, which just like other Indian religions was born out of the horror of meaningless suffering that people needed to escape at any cost. Even if the price was as high as…

Anton Gotman: …losing your personality. Yes! Let’s take for example the Book of Job. Job lost everything, his possessions, children and health. He experienced immense suffering, yet he said, “the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job, 1:21). This is the man who understands the Truth on some higher level than Buddha offers. Job understands that God took it all away for his own good, and this is exactly why it happened. He says, I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. (Job 42:5). In other words, he reached a new level of knowledge of God.

—How do you know what is in fact better for a certain person? Should this person suffer or not?—(Anton Gotman)

When we talk about suffering in the world, people often ask, “Why did your good God let this happen?” But how do you know what is in fact better for a certain person? Should this person suffer or not? When is it better for him or her to die—now or in five years? Maybe in these five years this person will become a monster or succumb to alcoholism. We don’t know that, but God does. If we just look around, we will see that a single cell of a human body is much more complex than anything that people can create. The human body is a great array of cells and every one of them acts differently. What about the Earth? The Universe? Everything is set up to maintain life and help people live in this world. In addition to the unimaginable complexity, we also see the great beauty of the Universe, even when we simply look up to see the starry sky. God’s mind embraces the things that we cannot even begin to fathom. That is why all complaints to God, like “Why did you do this instead of what we wanted?” are absurd and preposterous.

Father George: What difficulties did you face? What was the most difficult for you when you went from inner understanding of the truth of Christianity to leading the Christian life? Was there anything you had to overcome in yourself?

Anton Gotman: I don’t know if I should discuss my inner emotions. To make a long story short, there were problems. So, I would advise people who are making the choice now whether to go there or here—you’d better not go there. There are things that are better left alone. People shouldn’t know or try them. Ever.

Father George: Do you mean Buddhism?

—When Buddhism was established in some region, it would even incorporate some of the demons that locals believed in. And Buddhists appeal to them and worship them—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: I mean many Buddhist practices. How can we say anything about Buddhism in general?! Buddha offered a certain teaching 500 years before Christ. Maybe for an atheist, who doesn’t believe in anything and is devoid of any morals, adopting Buddhism would be a step forward. At least such a person would start to follow some moral guidelines and understand that life doesn’t end with death and that he or she would be held accountable in the afterlife. Buddhism teaches that after death people will answer for everything they did in their lives. This was the step that I made. Naturally, it would have been better for me to come to Christ directly, without making this unnecessary step. The danger of unnecessary steps is that a person may get stuck on the way and not go any further. This is the problem. God is a Personality and relationship with God is the main thing in life. Obviously, Buddhism cannot give it to us. Buddhism can offer some moral guidelines, but there are many side effects. Buddha’s original teaching is different from all other teachings that Buddhism adopted in various regions in the course of history. It adopted some deities, guardians, even demons… When Buddhism was established in a certain region, it would incorporate demons, not from our Christian point of view, but from the point of view of locals, and these demons would be considered enlightened entities, guardians of the doctrine, etc. In some practices, Buddhists appeal to them and worship them.

Father George: Yes, Jamsaran4 and others… all those pictures with entities covered in blood, holding weapons and “decorated” with human skulls…
Anton Gotman: Buddhists will say that it is in fact an enlightened entity that came to demons to bring them teachings and cure them from their demonic state. However, even this argument begs a question, “If it came to the demons, let it stay in that form for the demons; but why do we need to talk to it in its demonic form?” People could talk to enlightened entities in human form, but no, they prefer to talk to demons. There is a price to pay for that. Practices that involve appealing to demons create problems that may have serious consequences.

Father George: I saw you talking online with people who call themselves Russian Buddhists. What do you think of these discussions and how does these people’s vision compare to the Buddhism you knew?

—Russian Buddhists are still people of Russian culture—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: Well, we grew up in a certain environment. This culture was formed on the basis of Orthodoxy some time ago and then it was subjected to atheism for a long time. Most of the Buddhists of my age or older are people who were born in the Soviet Union. In those days the Orient became fashionable and it was very popular for some time. Against this background, many people became interested in Buddhism. And in the end a lot of people developed their own understanding about it. Of course, there are also traditional schools, and there are people who want to understand this religion properly, study Tibetan language and Sanskrit and delve into various texts, but still they remain the people of our culture. Even the Dalai Lama mentioned it in one of his interviews. I read it a long time ago, when I was still Buddhist and wondered, “What is he talking about?” He meant that it was better for a person who grew up in a Christian environment to remain Christian rather than convert to Buddhism, because such a person would cease to be Christian but wouldn’t understand Buddhism properly. This is happening quite often—people begin to adapt Buddhism to match some of their personal preferences.

Father George: People who live here and wish to learn about Christian culture can find a living tradition, while people living in Central Russia, Ukraine or Belorussia who wish to learn about the Buddhist culture would have a hard time finding a living tradition in our country. They could, of course, go to Kalmykia, Buryatia or Tyva, but these regions were also affected by the Soviet period and it is doubtful whether uninterrupted Buddhist tradition has been fully preserved there. So what is happening in reality? Our people who are interested in Buddhism usually find knowledge in the books adapted for people of Christian culture, and then they adapt them once again to match their personal preferences. As a result, every “Russian Buddhist” has his or her own Buddhism, while still believing that their Buddhism is the most accurate.

—When they experience the living tradition, “Russian Buddhists” say, “This is absolutely not what we had in mind!”—(Anton Gotman)

Anton Gotman: There is another aspect: Some of our Buddhists first study Buddhism in Russia and then go to experience the living tradition, say, in the north of India where they have a lot of Tibetan monasteries. So, when they experience the living tradition, “Russian Buddhists” say, “This is absolutely not what we had in mind! How is it different from the things we didn’t like in Orthodoxy, like ritualism? These traditional Buddhists have the same thing.” Our people who try to understand Buddhism often imagine the Orient in a certain romantic aura, but quite often this aura disappears after a trip to India or other traditionally Buddhist countries.

The problem of any religion traditionally practiced in a certain region is that there are a lot of people who are only formal followers. They are not interested in the doctrine and care only about solving some of their earthly problems. In Russia, such people would go to an Orthodox church to bless their new cars, baptize their children so they don’t get sick, and that’s it. Buddhists in Russia are the people who made a conscientious choice, the people who are searching, studying and practicing. If you compare nominally Orthodox people with conscientious Buddhists, the latter may seem to be more attractive. But if you go to a Buddhist country or a region, you’ll see that most of the believers there also limit their religious lives to rituals that are used to drive evil spirits from their homes or cars, help their children to stay healthy, and that’s all. They are simply not interested in any “noble truths” of Buddhism. On the contrary, Orthodox communities in such non-Orthodox environments often consist of deeply religious Christians, the people who made a conscientious choice. Many of our people who are into Buddhism do not understand that, but when they get to the actual environment where traditional Buddhism is practiced by most people, they are surprized and disappointed.

Father George: We should note that our neophytes often produce quite a peculiar impression on people of traditionally Buddhist countries. Several years ago, I lived in Thailand for some time. There was a Russian language TV channel owned by a Russian businessman who considered himself Buddhist. There was a program on this channel where he very seriously preached Buddhism to the Russian viewers. Interestingly, Thai people who knew Russian watched this program as a comedy show: the things that this foreigner was telling them about the religion that they were practicing since childhood seemed funny to them. In fact, the words of Dalai Lama you mentioned earlier relate to the same problem.

Anton Sergeyevich, thank you very much for your story. I hope to God that everyone would find their path to God.

Anton Gotman
was interviewed by Priest George Maximov
Translation by Talyb Samedov

Pravoslavie.ru

2/2/2018

Notes:

1.This refers to the teaching of Nicholai and Elena Reorich. Professor Nicholai Reorich (October 9, 1874 – December 13, 1947) was a Tsarist Russian artist and archeologist, who along with his wife wrote books containing a blend of Eastern religions and theosophy.

2.“Four noble truths” – the traditional form of describing the principles of the Buddhist doctrine.

3.“Taking refuge” is the Buddhist initiation after which the person becomes the member of sangha (Buddhist community).

4.Jamsaran is one of so-called “defenders of the faith” worshipped in Tibetan Buddhism. Services are held in his honour and his image is used in special meditations.


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Fr. David, New York, USA:
From Protestant to Orthodox

This will be the only post on this blog, and it’s for the sole purpose of sharing my testimony of how I converted from Evangelical Protestantism to the Eastern Orthodox Church. After the text of the testimony, there are two appendices: the first is a breakdown of the earliest bishops in the Christian Church and their beliefs, and the second is a brief defense addressing from Scripture certain issues Evangelicals have with Orthodoxy. Enjoy.

”If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” II Cor. 5:17

BEGINNINGS

When I talk with people “who knew me when”—during my first twenty years of life as an Evangelical Protestant—I usually am met with a variety of reactions when I tell them that, in the middle of my time at one of the nation’s foremost charismatic universities, I decided to convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some are offended, as though I were rejecting everything I’d been taught to believe as a good Protestant; others react with genuine, open curiosity, since the Orthodox Church is still relatively unknown to many Americans; still others react with dismay, convinced that I’ve traded in biblical, relationship-based Christianity for the rules and regulations of the Pharisees, the exotic “smells and bells” of Orthodoxy’s “foreignness,” and the off-base traditions of men that only serve to take a soul away from a true, unadulterated relationship with Jesus Christ. It is my hope that this essay will help to shed light on the issues that were central to my conversion, as well as provide insight both to those who are thinking about converting to Orthodoxy and to those who have a loved one on the way into (or already in) the Orthodox Church and are concerned for their spiritual well-being. The Orthodox Church has been, for me, the ultimate revelation of what it means to be “in Christ”; my upbringing in Evangelical Protestantism has not only helped me appreciate this now, but was very much preparing me for this all along [1].

My childhood was one of sharp contrasts between my mother’s and father’s homes—they divorced when I was an infant—for while my mother (with whom I spent most of my time growing up) was devoutly religious and marked the week with several outings to Church, my weekends spent with my father were quite devoid of any religious observance. This is not to say that my mother was a saint and my father a horrible person; I thank God for both of the loving, morally sound parents He gave me, and I feel the debt of gratitude that any child raised by good parents (even separately) feels upon reaching adulthood. Since, however, my religious environment was shaped almost completely by my mother’s influence, we’ll begin there.

My mother became a Christian around the time I was born, and was extremely devout and passionate about knowing God through reading the Scriptures. From the time I could understand what was going on, my mother and I read a chapter out of the Bible each night, almost without fail. My mother made it clear to me that this Bible was “God’s book,” and that in it He told us the story of His Son, Jesus, and how we could be forgiven of all our sins. It’s perhaps not surprising that a small child would believe all this unquestioningly. What was surprising was how naturally I took to Scripture memorization and things having to do with Church, worship, etc. From the most impressionable years onward, I was given the steady example of a person who knew that, if God had really come down to Earth to live with us, then it was the greatest thing that had ever happened in history, and everything else should be seen in the light of this magnificent event, of this glorious Person. I thank God for my mother’s influence, for the love of Scripture He instilled in me through her, and the desire to proclaim truth that she always lived out in front of me.

We attended a Bible Church, as Mom assumed that a denomination who named themselves after the Word of God itself would be unashamed to preach directly from it. Sadly, though, when I was in third grade, Tulsa Bible Church underwent a “split”—I don’t remember what over—but I knew that many people were leaving, and that my mother had decided that we should, too. This was seen as an unfortunate event, but the reactions of the congregation were ones of recognition: These things just happen, unfortunately. We spent a few months looking around until we happened upon a Baptist Church and were pleased with how Scripture was taught, explained, defended and cherished. I stayed there for six years, during which time I attended a Christian summer camp where I heard that Christ had gone to the Cross for my sins. It was there that I had my first personal encounter with Jesus Christ. In high school I moved to another Baptist Church that had a more active youth ministry, since I was, by this time, what we called a “sold out and radical” Christian: the kind of Christian who believed wholeheartedly in the gospel, who desired to live according to the teachings of Christ and the rest of the Bible, and who was ready to share his faith with anyone who would listen. The experience of sharing my faith boldly both with people in this country as well as with those in other countries who had never heard of Jesus Christ, while perhaps something that needed to be tempered with wisdom and tact at the time, is something I will never forget and for which I will always be grateful, for it forced me to know why I believed what I believed, and showed me that my faith, if true, was something of which I should never be ashamed to defend or proclaim.

QUESTIONS

Nevertheless, some issues came to the forefront of my mind during these zealous high school years. As a Baptist, I had been taught that Scripture alone must be our guide in telling us what we believed. This was usually contrasted with the Roman Catholic Church, whose unbiblical teachings (so I was told) were simply man-made traditions used to tear people away from the gospel message. And what was that gospel message? Simply this: God created Man, who then sinned by disobeying God, thus separating himself from God. Man now owed a debt of sin to God, but since God was eternal, no human payment would be sufficient. Yet God loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us, so that our debt of sin would be paid by Christ’s blood, and simply by placing our trust in Christ’s work on the Cross we would be restored to a perfect, immediate, and unbreakable union with God. Any of these other “traditions” of the Catholics—prayers to Mary and the Saints, Purgatory, the Pope, confession to a priest, infant baptism, the rosary, statues, communion really being the Body and Blood of Christ, ritualistic worship, works being necessary for salvation—that were not explicitly found in the Bible were seen as “traditions of men” that were tacked on later, when the Church slid into error. This, I was told, happened when the Catholic Church was made the religion of the Roman Empire and the leftover pagan influences crept in, thus corrupting the Church. By God’s providence, however, the Protestant Reformation occurred, and the gospel of grace was “re-discovered” when people let the Scriptures—and only the Scriptures—be their guide. Our calling, as I heard it Sunday after Sunday, was “to get back to the New Testament Church” in all its purity, unified by the simple, biblical gospel message. It was with this mindset that I went to Latin America during the first three summers of high school with Teen Mania Ministries[2]; so many people in predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America were misguided (although, I was convinced, well-meaning) individuals that simply had no idea what a true, living relationship with Christ was about. It was our job to go and give them what the Bible clearly taught.

Yet, this very idea—“what the Bible clearly taught”—proved to be a difficult issue once I went on these trips. In my Baptist churches, the issue was fairly easy—Man chose at one point in time to place his trust in Christ, and was at that moment eternally saved. Baptism then followed, but was only done out of obedience to Christ’s command. Water baptism played no actual role in our salvation; it was merely a sign of what had already happened in our hearts through faith. Once Christ saved a man, it was impossible for said man to truly fall away. No deed of man was seen to be more powerful than the grace of God, and no God of love would ever leave us wondering if we were truly saved. This idea of “Once Saved, Always Saved,” seemed to me to be a self-evident teaching of Scripture. Yet others in my missions group seemed to question this. They believed—and defended from Scripture—that if man could choose to accept Christ, he could choose to reject Him later. And one other fellow missionary—a Calvinist, the first one I ever met—believed something yet different: that man did not, in fact, choose to follow Christ in the first place, as that would be seen as man saving himself and having something to boast about. He, too, defended this from Scripture! This was very strange to me, and there were many long discussions—never arguments, thankfully—late into the night about these and other issues (such as speaking in tongues, the end times and the “rapture,” worship style, etc.) but in the end our leaders told us that these teachings were all “non-essentials” to our salvation, and that we could safely believe in either position and still work together as brothers and sisters in Christ. This satisfied me at the time, but I still remember the lingering thought that I came back from my trips with: Is there any way to know what the Bible really says about any of this?

Added to this diversity of opinion was the even greater diversity seen in my high school’s pan-denominational Bible Study, where everyone from Catholics to Baptists to Presbyterians to Methodists to Charismatics, as well as many others, came together to discuss the faith. The meetings themselves were orderly enough, with a leadership delivering sermons and a brief time of worship choruses. But the conversations I got involved with outside the meetings got me wondering about even more issues:

Baptism—whether it “saved” you or was just a symbol;
whether or not infants should be baptized;
communion—whether it was just a symbol or something more significant;
faith and works—whether St. Paul and St. James were opposed to each other, or talking about different things, or talking about the same thing from different angles, as well as what qualified as “faith” and what qualified as “works”;
church government—whether it was congregational or episcopal or presbyterian or something else entirely…
All of these issues seemed to have support in the Scriptures, but no one could prove conclusively that this is what the “original Church” believed, as we all seemed to be coming from the same source: the New Testament. My assurance that these were all “non-essentials” was still there, but it was wavering. Several questions loomed large in my mind by the end of my senior year: How could I say that ALL of this was truly “non-essential”? How much do we have to assign to the realm of “non-essentials” in order to be unified? If we have no way of knowing how we “enter in” to Christ—baptism? communion? faith alone? once saved always saved, or not?—or what role the Church is supposed to play in our walk with Christ, do we really know how to live in the life Christ gave us?

By the end of high school, however, I had come to a tacit acceptance of the idea that, truly, no one group could be expected to “have it all right,” and therefore no one denomination could be, by itself, the only Church of Christ. In spite of our differences in doctrine and practice, I reasoned, all denominations who confessed Christ as Lord, believed in Him as God, and placed their trust in His death, burial and resurrection somehow comprised “the Church,” with each different denomination bringing something unique to the table, each playing a different role in the Body of Christ. I therefore felt free to embrace certain aspects of the “charismatic movement,” a movement within Protestantism characterized by loud, passionate praise and worship services and an expectation of the Holy Spirit’s powerful movement on a regular basis. Because I now stood somewhere in the middle of “Baptist” and “Pentecostal”—I jokingly called myself a “Bapticostal”—I felt no qualms but rather a calling to go to Oral Roberts University, one of the most prominent charismatic universities in the world. It was here that my questions about coming to a consensus about the Bible and the traditions of the Catholic Church would finally find their answers, but not at all in the way I expected.

WINDS OF CHANGE, BREAD OF HEAVEN

Oral Roberts University, as I’ve said, is one of the most well-known—and, in charismatic circles, well-respected—institutions in charismatic Christianity. Their school of education was quite rigorous (I studied to be and later became a teacher), and I’m very satisfied with the preparation I received academically. Furthermore, ORU was where I met some of the nicest, warmest, most sincere, well-meaning followers of Christ I’ve ever met–one of whom was the beautiful woman who was to become my wife and fellow Orthodox Christian! Unfortunately, in spite of all the good things that can and should be said about Oral Roberts U, the particular religious worldview that permeated most aspects of the university was inescapable, and I quickly began to shed the “-costal” part of “Bapticostal.” By the end of my first semester, I was willing just to be a good Baptist and involve myself as much as I could in my home church (at that time I was involved in the Spanish-speaking congregation as a hymn leader and Sunday School director).

Without going into too many particulars or naming names, suffice it to say that, at ORU, there were constant repetitions of three ideas:

God wanted to “prosper” believers financially and materially
Believers could take physical healing as something they were entitled to by virtue of their being Christians
The Holy Spirit was meant to be manifested in a believer’s life by means of “speaking in tongues” and could even be seen in strange cries and moans, falling on the ground and laughing, shaking, etc.
These ideas, which I had heard mentioned in charismatic church services, were expressed much more often and with much more insistence at ORU. This bizarre spiritual environment helped me (and many others, who left their charismatic upbringings in droves and went to everything from Orthodoxy to agnosticism) see the logical conclusion of emphasizing such “signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit” in churches instead of the virtues of humility, patience, service and love (which, by the way, my Baptist church taught very well).

It was at this Baptist Church—Parkview Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK—where I believe I had the encounter with Christ that opened the next door of my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy. Following the end of my first semester at ORU, I was seated in the darkened sanctuary of the Anglo congregation for a Christmas Eve communion service. Now, the Southern Baptist Church firmly believes that communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is an observance that our Lord initiated and commanded us to have: “Do this in remembrance of Me,” He said. Yet Southern Baptists also firmly believe that the bread and the wine are only bread and wine when we eat them as an assembly. It is merely a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood, they insist; no “special presence of the Holy Spirit” accompanies it, as Methodists and other more “sacramental” Protestants believe, and it certainly did not become the actual Body and Blood of Christ the way the Roman Catholics believe—even though our Lord said (and we repeated!) “This [bread] is My Body; this [wine] is My Blood.”

Regardless, there I sat, with quarter-inch-squared piece of bread in one hand and small, plastic cup of grape juice in the other, and for some reason, I looked at those two elements and a thought paralyzed me: This is my entry into the very Kingdom of Heaven. This is the passage into salvation, the actual, physical flesh of my Lord, the spilled, red blood of my Lord. I swallowed the bread and wine with more reverence than I ever had before, and began to sob silently there in my seat. I had touched something that had taken me to a different place, and it had happened through the bread and wine. My fellow Baptists would say later that I had merely done what our Lord had asked—namely, I had just remembered Him—and He had blessed me for my obedience with the warmth of His presence. Yet, I longed for that closeness again; I was convinced that something happened through the bread and wine, that God had used those physical elements to change me. I took to having my own, private communion services in my dorm room—with Welch’s grape juice and pita bread—by reading Christ’s words of institution over my “elements.” The Baptists only held communion once a quarter, but I needed to taste the Body and Blood of my Lord more often than that now, and I was determined to do so. I also was now intrigued by the existence of confessions that, I knew, partook of communion every Sunday—the DOC[3], the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and, yes, even the Roman Catholics, among others—and though I wasn’t quite ready to break ties with my Baptist congregation, I was fascinated that so many Christian confessions saw the same need as I did to approach the Table as often as possible.

Imagine my delight, then, when, after a mandatory chapel service at ORU (we met twice a week for a praise and worship session and a sermon from a faculty member or guest speaker), I heard the words, “Noon Communion will be held in the small chapel alongside our main chapel.” I had never had any reason to pay attention to this little advertisement before, but I was listening with new, hungry ears now. I went, and participated in a very nice, although truncated, communion service from the Anglican tradition. It was led by faculty, and sometimes a charismatic Roman Catholic professor would deliver a homily. I sat there and soaked up this, my first exposure to liturgy. I absolutely loved the reverence with which the elements were handled, the shared solemnity of the small, intimate group who gathered every Wednesday and Friday (this became a regular practice for me, as well) and, most of all, the words uttered by those administering the wafers and cups of wine—“The Body of Christ…the Blood of Christ…”—all of this served to feed my hunger for the contact with the Lord through His Meal that I had been experiencing. The quietness and somberness of the liturgy, though I “knew” it to be something imposed by the Roman Catholic Church later on down the line in Christian history, was much more a fitting tribute to the holiness of God than the “entitlement attitude” and “rock concert choruses” with shallow, often self-serving lyrics that I heard in the main chapel services each week or the bare, stark minimalism of a quarterly Baptist memorial meal. There’s no way, I thought one day after comparing Noon Communion to these two traditions, that what goes on in either one of those places can be the “New Testament Church” I hear about at Parkview Baptist. It was then that I realized something significant: I, as an Evangelical Protestant, had no idea what the original believers actually looked like in worship, how the Church originally operated, what the Church’s role was, or what the role of the Eucharist was in the Church. All my questions from my dialogues in high school came back, and I knew I needed to do some research to see what the Church of the New Testament looked like from other documents of that era.

Such information comes, at times, from places and in ways which one least expects. Being a college student in a dorm room with a high-speed Internet connection can be a dangerous thing! For me, it was the true start of my way out of Protestantism and into the Church of the first centuries. In particular, it was a website put out by a Roman Catholic gentleman that got me thinking[4]. He had taken certain tract booklets put out by a Mr. Jack T. Chick, a notoriously anti-Catholic fundamentalist Protestant, and dissected them page by page using Scripture and—to my surprise—the writings of the Christian bishops of the first, second, and third centuries—the era when the Church was still under Roman persecutions. His treatment of the “Chick Tract” entitled, Are Roman Catholics Christian? truly was thought-provoking. Many institutions claimed by the Catholics as original Christian teaching and decried by Evangelicals as man-made, anti-biblical traditions seemed to be supported, according to this gentlemen, by Christian leaders who either were themselves trained by the writers of the New Testament, or from those leaders the Apostles trained—we’re talking one or two generations away from the Apostles. This was a serious issue to me, for, if they all said the same thing so early on, it would be hard to refute the idea that their ideas truly were from the Apostles themselves! Most disturbing (and yet, in a way, comforting, even at that time) were the quotations about the Eucharist (the word used for communion, meaning thanksgiving) from St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 90-120) and St. Justin Martyr (AD 120-150), among others, who seemed to state (according to this website) that the Eucharist was the true Body and the true Blood of Christ—the doctrine known as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. To say it was not truly such, they said, meant to deny that Christ had come in the flesh, as some heretical groups were doing at the time. They believed that Christ had come in the flesh to live among men, and now gave us his true Flesh and Blood to eat and drink in the Eucharist; those who denied the transformation of the bread and wine did so because they did not believe there was any Flesh or Blood to begin with in the life of Christ. To these early Christian Fathers, the Eucharist was of primary importance in the life of a Christian, for it was in reality—and not just in symbol, as I had been taught—an encounter with Christ Himself. The creator of the website pointed to a verse in 1 Corinthians that, when I looked at it on the screen, I thought, that can’t actually be in the Bible, can it?! It was 1 Corinthians 10:16, and it read as follows: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” Now this, admittedly, is not exactly the same as saying, “The bread really does become the Body, and the wine really does become the Blood,” but the word “communion”—κοινωνια or koinonia in the Greek—means “a participation in, a fellowship with, a union with.” Here was Scripture, telling me that the bread was the means of union with the Body, and the wine with the Blood. While I wasn’t about to convert to Catholicism then and there, my world was forever changed. I knew I had to investigate this issue further.

SCRIPTURE ALONE?

Further issues followed, however, through the website, such as the claim that “the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, gave us the Bible in it’s current form.[5]” According to the website’s claims, one of Protestantism’s faults lay in the way in which it tried to find truth: through an individual’s reading of Scripture alone, or the idea called sola scriptura (“Scripture alone,” in latin). The fact that sola scriptura was ineffective could be seen, said the website, through the many different doctrinal positions that contradicted each other in all the denominations that claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit in their reading of Scripture. The remedy, said this gentleman along with other Catholic apologetics (both online and on campus), was to hear the uninterrupted, ancient tradition of the Catholic Church—which, far from being inventions that showed up centuries later, reached all the way back to the spiritual children and grandchildren of the Apostles who were cited in his arguments—and allow that tradition to guide us in our understanding of Scripture. For one man can say, “Scripture says ‘X,’” and another, “Scripture says ‘Y,’” which is oftentimes the direct opposite, and both are left with merely their own takes on the issue (or, usually, their own respective traditions’ interpretations of Scripture, as no one interprets Scripture apart from a traditional method), throwing proof text verses back and forth at each other and going nowhere. Rather, the Christian should realize that the New Testament as we know it did not exist as one, whole volume until well into the fourth century; until that time, there was no one, authoritative list of books one could point to as “the Bible.” Each group had its own original letters sent to them by an Apostle (or copies thereof forwarded to other churches, if possible), and the rest was transmitted orally to the churches.

This concept—that the Apostles trained their converts in person, orally, and thoroughly—seemed obvious to me, yet I had never thought about the ramifications of in-depth discipleship apart from the only materials I had at my disposal: the writings of the Apostles and the New Testament gospels. It did, however, shed new light on yet another Scripture that, though I’m sure I’d read it before, was most definitely not one an Evangelical is known to underline: 2 Thessalonians 2:15. This verse is a command by Paul for believers to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (emph. mine). In other words, there were things that were taught to the churches by the Apostles that were never written down in the Bible, and this very fact is attested to in the Bible itself! This came as a total shock to me, for, as an Evangelical Protestant, I most certainly believed that the Bible contained everything that we needed to run the Church, to find salvation, and to live the Christian life. Yet I couldn’t deny these claims I was hearing from devout Roman Catholics I corresponded with via email and spoke with on campus, as I myself had seen the confusion and disunity within the Protestant world among those who claimed to use Scripture alone as their guide.

With these two gauntlets thrown down at my feet—that the first Christians to hear and proclaim the Gospel believed in a sacramental view of the Eucharist and that they did so authoritatively without a concrete Bible in hand—flew in the face of my Evangelical preconceived ideas that the New Testament documents “founded” the Church, “clearly taught” symbolic views of communion, and were absolutely (and solely) necessary for knowing how to live the Christian life. However, not one to be content with merely taking “some guy’s website’s” word for it, I decided to devote my spare time to the reading of the “source documents”—those documents written by the men themselves—of the trainees of the Apostles, as well as those of the trainees’ trainees, and so on, through the years wherein the Church suffered persecution for and was under the constant threat of martyrdom for her beliefs. If I was to ascertain the truth as to what Christians believed and were willing to die for in those early years, I thought, I’d have a much better grasp of the issues these websites and colleagues were making claims about. Over the next nine months or so, I did just that, and more, even to the detriment of my English Ed and Spanish studies (and sleep!) for a while. I became known as “That guy who’s always reading those Greek guys I can’t pronounce” around campus, but I didn’t care. I was determined to see if the claims the Catholics were making were true, or even partially true, concerning the beliefs of Christianity as received by the original hearers. As it turns out, I didn’t have far to go before I would leave Evangelicalism as a whole for good.

THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS

I found the first group of documents I’d need, conveniently, in one little volume. The title of this quick, easy read is usually just The Apostolic Fathers and is available through many bookstores (or online here). The book gets its name—“Apostolic”—because the men who wrote the epistles that comprise the book were men who were trained personally by one (or more) of the original apostles. Here I read to my heart’s content the beliefs of the immediately post-apostolic Church in their own words and, while certain things like free will vs. predestination were settled according to “my liking”—the Church declared with one voice that it was very much up to man to respond to the calling and grace of God—I have to say, what I read concerning other issues troubled me quite a bit. There were several things that any good Baptist would take issue with within these men’s writings:

Baptism was seen as the moment when a believer is fully and truly born again
Infants were admitted to baptism
Worship was seen as liturgical and directly connected to Jewish ritual worship; spontaneous worship was nowhere to be seen
Obedience to one’s bishop and/or priest was seen as a direct measure of whether one was an obedient Christian
Salvation was seen as something that was a process and which the believer could, after having started it, forfeit through later unbelief
Fasting was outlined specifically before the end of the first century, and the way it was to be done was expected churchwide, not individually
The departed saints, as well as the angels, were seen as and sought as intercessors in prayer for those still in the flesh
The Church was seen as a single, visible body of believers that was guided by the Holy Spirit and protected from error; one of its chief characteristics was that its bishops (and, by extension, priests) could trace their ordination through the laying on of hands back to one of the apostles themselves
Salvation was never discussed in terms of Christ paying a debt to God the Father, but rather in terms of His defeating death by His Incarnation, transfiguration, death, and resurrection
The Eucharist was, time and again, referred to as the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ Himself[6]
My journey into the first century and a half of Christianity had left me, then, not with comforting answers of Evangelicalism’s fidelity to the New Testament Church, but with many more issues to confront. The second century, with the insistence of Irenaeus and others on an intermediate state of the dead between the end of this life and the final Judgement, along with affirmation of the beliefs of the Fathers of the first century, offered little promise to aligning itself with my current beliefs. Either the Church had slipped dangerously “off the rails” immediately after the death of the last apostle, or my reading of Scripture—and that of Evangelicals everywhere—was dangerously off-base! Still, like any good Evangelical, my first retort to all this was…

BUT… THAT’S NOT IN THE BIBLE!

I quickly realized, however, that what I was really saying was, “That’s not the way I read the Bible.” I had already established to my own satisfaction that prefacing my beliefs with the phrase, “The Bible says,” while being a recognition of Scripture’s trustworthiness, was rather futile, as I could “make the Bible say” whatever I wanted it to say 2,000 years later, depending on my denomination’s tradition. This was when what should have been obvious all along really hit home: All denominations, even if they say they’re just reading Scripture, are filtering it through a tradition of some sort. Many Protestants will admit this readily, merely saying that their particular tradition is the most faithful to the authors’ original intent. However, how will one prove this? By appealing to the Scripture? Other groups claiming as much do the same. The issue then becomes this: who do we choose to tell us how to read Scripture? If, therefore, we go to the ones who first received the Scriptures (and had the added bonus of being trained by the very authors of the New Testament), we perhaps will receive some insight into those issues that divide us and resolve the difficulty. Indeed, on many issues that divide Protestants today, the early Church was united. Giving those bishops a voice in telling us how to interpret Scripture seemed only fair, since they were infinitely closer in time, language and culture to the actual writers of the documents.

Now, this is not to say that I just gave up reading Scripture and blindly “took these ancient guys’ words for it.” After reading the Apostolic Fathers, I went back and re-read the Scriptures I had always used to combat Roman Catholics (and others) concerning these issues, as well as ones that the Fathers themselves had made reference to. Almost without exception, the verses the Apostolic Fathers referenced were ones I had either “skipped over” unconsciously or had never been instructed on in detail by Protestant pastors or teachers. The joke among us former-Protestants-turned-Orthodox is that Orthodoxy is biblical; it’s just found in everything we didn’t underline in our Bibles as Protestants! I slowly began to see that the very doctrines I had fought so hard against as being “inventions of men” had, in reality, their roots in Scripture itself, and were elaborated on in the beginning by those who sat at the feet of the writers of Scripture themselves.[7] All of these issues, however, began to pale in the face of one new question that, though both my newfound reading of Scripture and the insight from the Fathers, threatened to trump all other issues I might have…

“WHAT IS THE CHURCH?”

The Church, St. Paul says, is the “pillar and ground of the truth,” and the “household of God.” Christ said that the Holy Spirit would “guide [the Church] into all truth” and that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against Her. He also gave the apostles—the leaders of the Church—the power to forgive or retain the sins of other men: “If you forgive the sins of men, they are forgiven…whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” There was an authority given to this Church that was founded on the apostles by Christ and that was directly related to heavenly grace being given to men. It was this Church, this community of faith, that wrote the Scriptures of the New Testament and eventually compiled them under this same claim of Holy Spirit inspiration. I began to realize that the reason I could trust the Holy Bible was because it had been compiled by a specific group, a certain assembly of clergy and laity that had as their promise from Christ Himself that they would be led into all truth and kept from error. If I trusted this Church to hear clearly enough from God to compile the Scriptures correctly, then I needed, at the very least, to give them a serious benefit of a doubt concerning the interpretation of said Scriptures. This was not, obviously, the first issue I investigated upon looking into the Fathers, but it was, quite possibly, the most significant question to face. The Church was seen, not as an “invisible” entity whose members were only known to God and who were all members of different and separate denominations who differed between themselves on major matters of doctrine. Rather, the Church was one, visible group of people one could definitively point out and who were unified in all matters of doctrine and practice, who took the Apostle Paul at his word when he proclaimed that there was “one Lord, one Faith, one baptism,” not several faiths or several dramatic variations on one faith who could be “separate but still one.” What this meant for me was that I couldn’t just be content to be a part of a denomination (or several ones at once) that held to doctrines that not only contradicted each other but (more importantly) the beliefs of the initial and singular Christian Church and say that I was still, somehow, in that Church that Christ founded. If these were the beliefs of the one, authoritative, original Church, I needed to find out if this Church was still around. To summarize about a nine-month period of time in a half of a paragraph, I looked in the Episcopalian Church (as well as a couple of “offshoot,” non-mainstream Episcopal denominations), but many issues such as homosexuality and female clergy led me to search in Roman Catholicism for a time. I loved the (high) mass, as it was an extended version of the reverence I had seen in the ORU Noon Communion services. I had some issues, however, with the idea that one bishop—the Pope of Rome—held the authority of supreme bishop over all other bishops, as well as with the idea that Christians whose sins were forgiven in confession still had to go to Purgatory because they didn’t have enough “merit” to satisfy the justice of God the Father and enter heaven yet[8]. It was there, however, where I first heard about Orthodoxy. I knew almost nothing about the Orthodox Church at the time, but I looked a local parish up on the Internet and, on the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple[9] of 1999 (Fall of my sophomore year), I attended my first Orthodox service in Tulsa, OK at a mostly-Lebanese parish.

I absolutely couldn’t stand it.

The worship was so foreign and repetitive, the chant so Middle Eastern, the saints so unknown—in spite of the fact that there were certain resemblances to Hebrew worship, I was wanting to go back to the familiar, more western services I found so beautiful. Nevertheless, I stayed and told the parish priest afterwards about some of the things I’d been wrestling with. To my surprise, he was quite knowledgeable about the very documents I had been reading. After a few more visits to the parish and a few more talks with the priest (as well as a lot of prayer), I began to get a feeling that, in this Church of supposedly “strange” worship and “foreign” practice there just might be all the things I had read about in the Apostolic Fathers and beyond. By the end of that school year, it was clear to me: here is a Church where the doctrines and spiritual disciplines of true prayer and fasting of the early Church are all accepted and practiced, a Church which could trace its origins directly back to the apostles themselves, and who saw themselves as the “one, holy catholic and apostolic Church” that they confessed in their creed every Sunday, a Church who worshipped the King of Glory as a great God who is greatly to be praised, in a manner worthy of all of His might and holiness–the one Church which was founded by Christ. After approximately another year and a half of further questions, more regular attendance (I had to eventually give up my post at my Baptist Church, obviously), and much more prayer and fasting according to the ancient and glorious rule of these Middle Eastern Christians, I was received into the Holy Orthodox Church by chrismation[10] on Orthodox Holy Saturday[11], 2001. I was blessed, then, to have my first taste of the true Body and Blood of my Lord on Pascha (or Easter) night. It has been a long journey, but I feel as if I have truly arrived at the “ground zero” of Christianity, to the simple faith of our Incarnate Lord and His twelve Apostles. My discovery has led to the most intimate of ways of being “in Christ” that I’ve ever known: baptized into His very death and brought out of the water as from a womb (or tomb) into His life, anointed with oil and given His Holy Spirit, nourished in body and spirit by feeding on and merging with His very Body and Blood, and taught by the direct spiritual descendants of the New Testament writers—all this, in order to acquire the Holy Spirit and to be changed into Christ’s image and likeness–a life-long process called theosis[12]. It’s my hope that Evangelicals everywhere will discover how the “New Testament Church” truly was and come home to the mother of all Churches: holy Orthodoxy.

She’s waiting, and so is her Lord.

APPENDIX A: THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS ON SEVERAL ORTHODOX DOCTRINES

The Didache: Meaning “the teaching of the Twelve,” it was written during the heart of the New Testament era. Clear instructions for baptism were given, and it was to be done by triple immersion, not single as had been done to me. Fasting rules were also given, which was something I had not had exposure to as a church-wide expectation but only as an individual prompting. Most interesting were the instructions for the Eucharist; the service had prayers prescribed for it, and the service was seen as a sacrifice akin to the Old Testament tabernacle service, with the bread being the “Lamb,” that was slain—again another reference paralleling Christ to the bread—and the means by which we were all united to each other.

I and II Clement: Here things got a bit hairier. One of the first bishops of Rome—not the first, but still trained by an apostle— made clear distinctions between clergy and laity in terms of spiritual authority—submission to the bishop in all things being one of the points alluded to—and an interesting phrase: “Preserve your baptismal garment” until the last day. Not only did Clement seem to attach some significance to baptism that Baptists, themselves named after the institution, did not, he also seemed to say that one needed to work to preserve one’s salvation instead of believing in “once saved, always saved.”

Ignatius of Antioch and The Martyrdom of Ignatius: If I had been concerned about issues of the authority of (and our submission to) a bishop or priest posed by Clement, I was about to get those concerns pushed to new levels with Ignatius. Placed in Antioch by either Peter or Paul (probably both had something to do with it), he was ordained a bishop in the heart of the New Testament era by two very reliable sources. Yet here he was, saying things like, “Where the bishop is, there is the catholic Church” and “It is clear, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.” Most interestingly, though, was the realization that I could not refute the Roman Catholics’ claims of Ignatius’ support for the Real Presence in the Eucharist; the quotes they took from him were most definitely in context. Ignatius was a bishop at the beginning of the second century (right after the apostle John died in exile on Patmos) and he was martyred during the first half of that century. After his martyrdom, the faithful who were under his care were praying together, no doubt to console themselves, when Ignatius himself appeared in their midst, and he appeared to be dripping with sweat, as if he had undergone a great trial (which, obviously, he had just done). More than that, he was praying for them. This idea—that departed Christians could pray for us—was one of the main objections we Evangelicals had against Rome, yet here it was, in the first/second century AD, attested to by a beloved presbyter of the Church. So now, not only did I have a sacramentally-minded Father on my hands, but one who, in unison with his Christian brother in Rome, insisted on submission to a hierarchical system of “bishops, priests and deacons” and who revealed to his flock–after his own departing from this life, no less!–that the Christians in the next life pray for those in this one. More questions loomed…

Polycarp of Smyrna: Polycarp of Smyrna was also a bishop in the late first and early second century, the direct appointee of John the Apostle. He, too, was martyred by being burned at the stake, and when asked to renounce Christ, said that he had been a Christian for all his 86 years–not just after he had grown to the age where he could decide for himself to become a Christian–and since Christ had never denied him, he would not deny Him. Along with being an amazing story of committment of Christ even to the point of death, this also attested to the practice of infant baptism within the infant Church.

Justin Martyr: Justin was a learned Greek philosopher who converted to Christianity and wrote several defenses of the faith in response to pagan misunderstandings. Within his writings we once again find an insistence—spelled out correctly in the quotes by the Roman Catholics—that the Church insisted on the change of the bread and the wine into the true Body and Blood of our Lord, “who was crucified for us.” More than that, however, Justin elaborated on the set prayers found in the Didache. He had a set order of worship that mirrored first the Jewish synagogue service with the reading of the Old Testament, plus whichever New Testament epistles a congregation happened to have (if they had any at all), then the Jewish Temple sacrifice (which was no longer done by that time, as the Temple had been destroyed) through the offering of the sacrifice of the Eucharist, with the consecration of the elements of bread and wine being prayed over by the “president” of the congregation and afterwards being consumed as the Body and Blood of Christ, and no longer as mere bread and wine. I was to read later a third-century bishop, Hippolytus, repeat this same exact order of service, only to follow it with the claim that “all Christians, in all places, worship in this manner.”

The Shepherd of Hermas: This was an epistle written in the first, perhaps early second century. Notable here is the continued emphasis of salvation at the moment of baptism, and the intercession for the living by heavenly beings (in this case, an angel).

The Fragments of Papias: “Fragments” because much of the original manuscripts have been lost. Nevertheless, he sat at the feet of one “who sat at the feet of John, who sat at the feet of Christ” and not only records sayings of the Lord that were not recorded in the gospel, but holds the oral passing down of information to be more reliable than “even the written word.”

APPENDIX B: SCRIPTURAL DISCUSSION OF CATHOLIC DOCTRINES: PRO AND CONTRA

Since attempting to state both sides of the debates on each of these points would be, not only time-consuming, but also unfair to Protestants (as would an attempt by Protestants to depict Orthodox belief), I’ll just state some common objections many Evangelicals have to the teachings of the Orthodox Church (and which I have heard myself) on the basis of their reading of Scripture and how, from Scripture alone, the Orthodox Church can answer them (though is not limited to doing so).

The Orthodox Church believes that you are saved through works like baptism and frequent communion, as well as church attendance and confession to a priest, whereas the Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith alone. It is true that, in Ephesians 2:8-10, St. Paul says we’re saved by grace through faith, and not by works. Yet he was speaking to Jews about the works of the Old Testament, apart from Christ. The phrase “the works of the law” is key to understanding this, as in Romans 9:32 and Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 5 and 10. St. Paul never said that nothing that was an effort of any kind on the part of man would be required for salvation, only that such works would only have meaning if they were accompanied by faith in Christ. This was his point, not a “just believe in your heart and you’re saved” sort of salvation.

When the Lord said, “This is My body,” He was speaking symbolically, like when He said, “I am the Door.” Well, apart from the fact that He really is the door to eternal life, spiritually (not just symbolically—the difference is important!) speaking, you’re right about the door comment: He’s not a six-foot plank with a knob. He did, however, say that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man you have no life in you” in John 6. The phrase “eat the flesh,” if taken metaphorically, means “revile and put down.” Surely Christ was not saying that unless we insult Him we have no life in us! Rather, His use of language was so readily understood as literal by the hearers that it was too much for many of them, and the Bible says they “walked with Him no more.” The next time eating the Body and Blood of Christ is mentioned is at the Last Supper, when all Christ says is “this is my Body.” Surely, even if one is unwilling to admit even the possibility of Christ’s speaking literally here, we can see that this is where He puts the passage in John 6 to work and that, if we do not partake of communion (at the very least), we have no life in us—this is another example of something we do—yet do in faith—in cooperation with God and for our own salvation. Nevertheless, to further the point of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, in 1 Corinthians 10:16-7, St. Paul describes the bread as being the “communion of the Body of Christ” and the wine as the “communion of the Blood of Christ”—a word meaning “participation in and with”—and says that men have grown sick and died from partaking unworthily of it—something like that doesn’t happen if it’s just a symbol.

The Orthodox submit to bishops and priests as teaching authorities, whereas Christ said to go by the Scripture. Actually, Christ, a teacher of Israel Himself, corrected the Pharisees on their doctrine, but told those under the spiritual authority of the Pharisees that, “whatever they [the Pharisees] tell you to observe, that observe and do,” because “[t]he scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.” So submission to authority is expected from Christ, as well as from the Apostles (Hebrews 13:7, 17). The catch, however, is that, even though the faithful need to obey those in authority over them, they must not “do not do according to [the leaders own] works” if those leaders “say, and do not do” what they themselves teach. The question now is this: which authoritative body should we as Christians trust to teach us about the Scriptures and the Christian life? A body that follows what was believed even in the very beginning of Christendom? Or one that follows ideas only a few centuries old?

The Orthodox Church believes in “baptismal regeneration,” or the idea that a man is saved by being baptized, but the Scripture says we’re saved by grace through faith, not baptism. St. Peter says that there is a type of water “which now saves us,” and that water is baptism (1 Pet. 3:21). Like he says in the last part of the verse, though, the Orthodox Church recognizes that there’s nothing magical about just getting wet, but rather obeying Christ in faith in this manner that prompts the new birth of a man. As St. Paul says, “as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus” have both “put on Christ” Himself (Galatians 3:27) and “were baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3). In the Bible, then, this is all connected to responding in faith, yes, but it is accomplished when we do so in a specific way: by being baptized. To say that baptism plays no role in our salvation, we believe, goes against Holy Scripture.

The Bible says that the death of Christ on the Cross was a payment to satisfy the justice of a Holy God, Whom our sins had offended. The Orthodox Church ignores the Cross’ purpose and serves instead to emphasize only the resurrection and other parts of Christ’s life. The Orthodox most certainly do not ignore the Cross. Our differences lie, rather, in what we believe was done on the Cross. Christ said He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45), but it does not say that this ransom was paid to God the Father—how could we ever make our Creator our Captor from whom we’d need to be delivered?—rather, the ransom was “paid” to hell and death (Heb. 2:15). Yet we don’t see this as Christ “giving in” to death or being under the power of death (even though He did make Himself subject to death before the Father exalted Him (Phil. 2:8)). Rather, when Christ “paid the ransom,” he led death captive (Ps. 68:18; cf. Eph. 4:8) and indeed is now in the process of destroying death as “the last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26). He takes on our corrupt human flesh, and redeems it with His divine nature, since He is God, and thus reconciles all things, including human nature, to himself (Col. 1:20). We then unite to His flesh through baptism, then commune with His flesh and blood through the Eucharist (thus partaking of His divine nature as St. Peter wrote in 2 Pet. 1:4), and are ultimately saved at the end of time—soul and body—from death’s finality, not from the offended vengeance of the Father.

The Orthodox Church baptizes infants, a practice which is found nowhere in Scripture. Rather, the Scripture shows adults making the decision for themselves to be baptized and exercising their own faith in the process. While it is true that there are many instances of adults making the decision to be baptized in the Scriptures, this is to be expected, as Christianity was a brand-new religion at the time, and most of the converts would be adults. But we do not limit baptism to adults, and neither do the Scriptures, we believe. Peter says in Acts 2 that the baptism for the remission of sins is for “you and your children” (vv. 38:39)—and the Greek word used is not for youths who can choose, but for small children still under the care of their parents. Again, salvation is included for all within a household in Acts 16:31, and this would presumably include small children. For a clear injunction to see baptism as appropriate for children, however, see St. Paul’s comments in Col. 2:11-12. Baptism in this passage is seen as the new circumcision for Christians; if God had no qualms about circumcising a boy at eight days of age to bring him into the people of Israel, it stands to reason that, since baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision, He would accept the bringing of an infant to the baptismal font to become a part of His Church.

Orthodox Christians ask departed Christians to pray for them, but the Bible says that it is appointed for men to die once, then after that, the Judgement occurs. The Bible also says that there is one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus. Why do you then set up other mediators to pray to Jesus for you? Actually, the verse in Hebrews that you quote, along with the one after it (9:27-28) say this: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” There is no mention of what happens between death and the Judgement, and from the wording of the verse, it could be construed that the dead are “eagerly waiting” for the Second Coming of the Lord, even as we are. Recall that Jesus said that the departed are not really dead, but alive, as God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, and all live in Him (Matt. 22:32; Mk. 12:27; Luke 20:38). Revelation 5:1-14 and 8:3-4 show what goes on in heaven before that Judgement: the elders and angels carry the incense—which is the prayers of the saints on earth—before the Throne of God. Clearly they are playing a part in our prayers’ reaching God. As for the “one mediator” passage, we do not see any difference between asking a departed saint to pray for us and asking a Christian here on earth to pray for us, since neither person is separated from Christ’s Body–the Church–and both are therefore still alive in Him. We wouldn’t call the Christian we ask to pray for us a “mediator” in place of Christ; why should we do so with a departed Christian who has lived faithfully for Him in this life and now stands before Him directly?

The Orthodox Church has highly ritualistic liturgy as its method of worship, a pattern which is found nowhere in Scripture and which keeps the individual from expressing himself or herself to God through its dead, stifled forms. Worship in the Orthodox Church is meant to pattern itself after the worship of heaven, as seen in Isaiah 6 and Revelation, wherein the same thing is sung again and again because the worshippers can never do the holiness of God justice. The Jewish tabernacle was also patterned—and very specifically so in the Old Testament—after this heavenly worship, and it is this pattern that is continued on in the Orthodox Church. Liturgical worship is not only biblically based, but revealed as the worship before the very Throne of God! This doesn’t have to stifle us, as it’s been said that liturgy is not dead or alive, but rather either true or false. It’s people who are either dead or alive. What needs to happen is for Christians who truly long for God to pray true prayer, and this happens in vibrant Orthodox churches through the liturgical life of 2,000 years. At the start of those 2,000 years, in Acts 2:42, we read that, as good Israelites, the first Christians devoted themselves to fellowship, the breaking of bread (which we see as communion) and “the prayers,” as it reads in Greek (but is translated as just “prayer” in many English Bibles). This acknowledgement of “the prayers” shows that, from the beginning, Christian worship came from set prayers.

II Tim. 3:16-17 says that the Bible is all that is needed for a Christian to be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Orthodox Church, however, teaches that a Christian needs the tradition of the Church to interpret Scripture, thus making Tradition equal to Scripture, which Christ condemns in Matt. 15. This verse doesn’t specifically say that Scripture is all we need; it’s simply all that’s mentioned in that particular verse. To say that nothing else is needed is too much. To use a parallel example, in Ephesians 4:13-15 we read that God gave us teachers, apostles, and all kinds of ministers so that we all can “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…[and] grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” Nowhere in all of that call to perfection is Scripture mentioned as a part of that process, but we would not therefore exclude Scripture from that process because of this one passage. Rather, we understand that, just as St. Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, the apostles taught some things through their writings, but there were many things (such as teachings on how to worship, for example) that were taught orally and never written down in canonical Scripture that are key to understanding things that were written down. Christ’s rejection of certain anti-biblical traditions, by the way, was not a condemnation of all things not found in Scripture, but rather only of things that go against the Scriptures. While Christ condemned the Corban rule as going against the Fifth Commandment (Mk. 7:11), He supported the tradition of “Moses’ seat,” mentioned by Christ in Matt. 23:2, which is not found anywhere in the Old Testament but rather in extra-biblical Jewish tradition.

The Orthodox kiss icons of Christ, Mary and the saints. These are graven images, and the Orthodox therefore practice idolatry, which is condemned by the Second Commandment. If one reads just a bit further in Scripture after the Ten Commandments are given, we find God Himself giving instructions for images of angels to be woven into the cloths of the Tabernacle, and for two large statues of angels to be made and placed on either side of the Ark of the Covenant. Obviously, the commandment does not prohibit all images, only those of the invisible true God or those of a false God. Yet God is no longer invisible and unable to be depicted as He was in the Old Testament. Colossians 1:15 says that Christ “is the image of the invisible God”; if God prohibited depictions of Himself in the Old Testament because He had not yet made Himself visible, then now, since He has made Himself visible in Christ, an image of Him is not only therefore honorable, but necessary to proclaim that God truly has come in the flesh. Regarding honoring and kissing icons: the instructions for the Old Testament Temple also include instructions for honoring the Ark with incense, which is akin to our censing and kissing His image and those of His holy ones, who are themselves “arks” that contain His Holy Spirit.

The Bible in John 10:28 says that Christ’s sheep are His, and that no man shall take them out of His hand. It also says in Romans 8:31 that those whom He justified, He will also glorify. This shows that salvation can never be lost, while the Orthodox Church teaches that man can lose his salvation. While it could be stated that Protestants as a whole are not in agreement about this teaching of the Bible, suffice it to say that, if it were the understanding that a believer, once secured in the salvation of Christ, could never and would never fall away, the numerous warnings by the apostles of the possibility of falling away or believing in vain, and the understanding that our enduring to the end was an “if” that we had to ensure the completion of (1 Cor 10:12; Rom. 8:17; Col. 1:23; 1 Thess. 3:5; 1 Tim. 2:11-12; 2 Pet. 2:20-22), would be out of place, at best. Rather, we are “God’s co-laborers” in all things; He initiates, guides, and completes our salvation, but He will not force us at any moment to continue with Him. Rather, we must cooperate with Him at all times. If we cease to do this along the way, God will not force salvation upon us, as we clearly no longer want it.

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[1] It should be stated at the outset that this essay is not meant to be a justification of every single doctrine of the Orthodox Church, nor is it meant to reflect every struggle or issue I encountered on my way to the Church. Rather, it will merely summarize the main problems I found within Protestantism, and the main points that convinced me of the Orthodox Church’s faithfulness to original Christianity.

[2] Teen Mania Ministries is a non-denominational ministry, taking in Christians from very different confessions, though the ministry itself is defined as “charismatic.”

[3] The DOC, or “Disciples of Christ” (also known simply as “The Christian Church”)

[4] This website was entitled “Don’t Be Fooled By Jack T. Chick Tracts” and, at the time of the first draft of this essay, could and perhaps still may be found at http://mafg.home.isp-direct.com/jtchick/jtc02r.html.

[5] http://mafg.home.isp-direct.com/jtchick/rcathf00.htm

[6] See Appendix A for a more detailed summation of each of the Apostolic Fathers’ treatments of these issues.

[7] See Appendix B for a more detailed (though not exhaustive) treatment of the Scriptures concerning these issues.

[8] Neither of these issues, as far as I’ve read, are mentioned anywhere in Scripture or the Apostolic Fathers, though the Fathers do stress that there is a state of the dead souls in between this life an the judgement wherein they feel a taste of either the coming glory or the coming judgement of when they are reunited with their bodies at the Resurrection.

[9] According to the extra-biblical (and, therefore, originally unwritten) tradition of the Church, Mary (who is called “Theotokos,” or “God-bearer” in Greek) was a miracle pregnancy for her parents, Joachim and Anna, and, in gratitude to God for taking away their shame of childlessness, they dedicated her to help serve in the Jewish Temple. Here she stayed until her betrothal to Joseph and the Annunciation.

[10] Chrismation is the sacrament of anointing with oil wherein the believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit.

[11] Holy Saturday, as well as all of Lent and Easter (which the Orthodox call “Pascha”) is often on different dates from the Lent and Easter of the western churches.

[12] This process of living one’s entire life “in Christ” is called theosis, or deification, is referenced in many of the Early Fathers. By coming in contact with the Holy Spirit through the sacraments, prayer, and fasting, we are truly made (and not merely declared) righteous by God in His Son through His Holy Spirit, we are illumined with the grace of God to do and be what Christ called us to be as humans, and we are brought into union with God.


FROM PROTESTANT TO ORTHODOX

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