Thursday, July 25, 2019

Conversions to Orthodoxy - English Orthodox Web 9


ORTHODOX WEB


Conversions to Orthodoxy

English Orthodox Web 9

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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The Path of Kyriaki-Fevronia Ka’akau

by

Kyriaki-Fevronia Ka’akau

If someone told me four years ago that I would become Orthodox I would have suggested psychological testing! Before moving to Washington in 1996, I was a Protestant for 26 years, hopping from one church to another. There was always something missing but I couldn’t identify it. My marriage of 16 years failed so I decided to “take a break” from anything church related, move to Washington with my son and start over.

After being there for nearly a year, I quit one security job and was hired for another company. My new boss, Pete, was a big bear of a man with a wonderful sense of humor and the ability to speak the language of his ancestry which I had always wanted to learn—Greek!

To a background in Hawaiian, Hebrew, Latin, French, and American Sign Language I wanted to add Greek, especially since the New Testament was written in it. When Pete suggested I call one of the Greek Orthodox churches in Tacoma I had no idea what to look for. I “let my fingers do the walking” and arbitrarily chose St. Nicholas.

I know that the Holy Spirit led me to choose that parish. I inquired about Greek lessons and the woman took my name and phone number. A few days later Despina Kipelidis called me. That was the beginning of my adventure!

During my Greek lessons, we would talk about spiritual things and she would answer my questions about Orthodoxy with as much zeal as I had as Protestant. She loaned me books like St. Seraphim of Sarov, Mother Macarius, etc. Being the “good Christian” that I was, I checked everything against scripture. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting into something strange or something that went contrary to what I knew scripture taught.

I could find nothing wrong but it took a while to get used to certain theological issues such as the rightful position of the Holy Mother, and the transformation of the break and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Once I started attending services— first at St. Nicholas and then at Holy Resurrection (OCA)—1 began finding what had been missing in all the other churches I attended—WORSHIP and REVERENCE.

I was relieved in what I found in Orthodoxy. There was no “show” or a need to “entertain” to attract new believers. I found meaning in everything that was done in the Liturgy and at home. It was comforting. I had come home.

The traditions in Orthodoxy are passed down from the Apostles themselves and there is the desire for more spiritual discipline. There is a right way and a wrong way to worship, dress, pray, fast, etc.

And I found people who wanted to do it right. I had been covering my head for 19 years and for the first time I wasn’t the only (outside a messianic congregation)! There is consistency. There is a cycle. But make no mistake about one thing; there is just as much, if not more, emotion. These traditions are in no way dead or boring! I discovered in Orthodoxy that which so many other Christians have forgotten. After several months of being a Catechumen I was baptized. My Godmother is Fevronia Prodomidou from Kavala, Greece.

I chose the name Kyriaki, after my Greek teacher’s aunt so I actually have TWO names; Kyriaki-Fevronia.

I have been Orthodox for a little over a year now and thought it would be wonderful if my family, especially my son, became Orthodox, it’s God’s job to enlighten them the same way He enlightened me. I’m just in awe of the way He blessed me and helped me find my way home!

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HAWAII OF MY HEART

ORTHODOXY HAWAII

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About Yoga

Journey to Orthodoxy

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/?s=yoga

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Saint Paisios of Holy Mount Athos 
in Greece (+1994) and the young George the Tibetan Buddhist monk

George, a young man of sixteen or seventeen, came to Mount Athos in Greece to go from one monastery to another. Though Greek by blood, he had been raised abroad from early childhood among Tibetan Buddhist monks in their monastery. He had made a great deal of progress in meditation, and he had become an accomplished sorcerer, able to summon any demon he wanted. He was also an expert in the martial arts. Using the power of Satan, he made impressive displays of his abilities: he broke hazelnuts in his palm, and tossed away the shells while the nuts remained attached to his hand. He could read closed books. He struck large rocks with his bare hand, and they shattered like walnuts.

Some monks brought George to Saint Paisios so that he could help him. George asked Saint Paisios what powers he had, what he could do, and the St Paisios answered that he himself didn’t have any power, and that all power is from God.

George, wanting to demonstrate his power, concentrated his gaze on a large rock in the distance, and it shattered. Saint Paisios took a small rock and made the sign of the Cross over it, and told him to destroy it too. He concentrated and performed his magic, but he couldn’t shatter it. Then he started trembling, and the satanic powers―which he thought he controlled―since they weren’t able to break the rock, turned against him and hurled him to the opposite bank of the river. Saint Paisios picked him up in a miserable condition.

“Another time,” recounted St Paisios, “while we were talking, he suddenly stood up, grabbed me by the arms and spun me around backward. ‘Let’s see Hadjiefendis get you lose, if he can,’ he said. I felt it was like blasphemy to say that. I moved my hands a little, like this, and he was jerked away. He jumped up in the air and tried to kick me, but his foot stopped near my face, like it had hit an invisible wall! God protected me.

“At night, I kept him there, and he slept in my cell. The demons dragged him down into the pit and thrashed him for failing. In the morning he was in a bad state, injured and covered in thorns and dirt. He confessed, ‘Satan beat me up because I couldn’t defeat you.’”

St Paisios convinced George to bring him his magical texts, and he burned them. “When he came here”, St Paisios recalled, “he had some sort of charm or amulet with him. I went to take it, but he wouldn’t give it to me. I took a candle and said, “Lift the leg of your pants up a little.” Then I put the lit candle against his leg―he yelled and jumped up. “Well,” I said, “if the flame from a little candle is for you, how are you going to endure the fire of hell that you’re going to end up in because of what you’re doing?”

St Paisios kept the young man close to him for a little while and helped him, so long as he was willing to be obedient. He felt such compassion for him that he said, “I would leave the desert and go out into the world to help this boy.” He made an effort to learn if he had been baptized and even found out the name of the church where his baptism had taken place. Shaken by the power and the grace of the Elder, George wanted to become a monk, but he wasn’t able to.

Saint Paisios would refer to George’s case to show what a delusion it is to think that all religions are the same, that everyone believes in the same God, and that there’s no difference between Tibetan Buddhist and Orthodox monks.

From the Book: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, ©2012 For the English Language by The Holy Monastery Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian

Source:

http://saintpaisios.wordpresss.com

SAINT PAISIOS OF HOLY MOUNT ATHOS, GREECE

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The Church that has it all

Fr. Nathaniel Johnson, USA


I had the great pleasure of concelebrating liturgy with Fr. Nathaniel, and his fellow clergy at St. Lawrence Orthodox Church in Felton, CA, this past weekend. What a glorious encounter!

Hear his story in his own words:


Fr. Nathaniel Johnson served the Orthodox Church as a deacon in the San Lorenzo Valley for 28 years before his ordination to the Holy Priesthood. He and his wife Presbytera Susan have 3 children; two daughters and a son. The oldest daughter is an Orthodox nun at St. John the Forerunner Monastery in Goldendale, Washington. Their son and youngest daughter and her husband live locally. Father Nathaniel was Ordained to the Priesthood in 2015. He was raised in a Black Baptist church from birth and converted to Orthodoxy in 1980’s. Father Nathaniel is an accomplished musician, playing professionally for over 55 years; has designed and built a wooden boat and enjoys wood carving as well.

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CONVERSIONS TO ORTHODOXY

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The Japanese-American actor 
Cary-Hiroyuki Tawaga of Mortal Kombat movies who lives in Hawaii baptized Eastern Orthodox Christian in Russia

The soul of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, best known for the part of evil sorcerer Shang Tsung in the Mortal Kombat movies, has been captured by Russia – he has apparently decided to be baptized into the Orthodox Church.

Tagawa, an American actor of Japanese descent, who took part in a new Russian film called The Priest-San, decided to abandon his faith and become a true follower of Jesus Christ’s orthodox teachings, Interfax reports.

The news was spread via Facebook by one of his colleagues, Ivan Okhlobystin, an actor and prominent Russian religious figure. He shared a photo of Tagawa taken with a giant cross, probably snapped during filming not far from Moscow.

“I’m happy to say that… after deep and thorough consideration Cary Tagawa, who played the part of the Japanese orthodox priest in our new film The Priest-san, will take the Sacrament of Holy Baptism,” his post goes.

“You cannot just grasp the essence of the Russian Orthodox… When I first came to Russia I had very little time to get into the character. So I visited a number of Russian cathedrals in Yaroslavl and Rostov. Simply being inside had a very powerful effect on me,” Tagawa said in an interview to Kinopoisk.ru in 2013 when the shooting in Russia was done.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa received a baptismal name of Panteleymon, Okhlobystin wrote on his Facebook page.

Tagawa also expressed his intention to become a Russian citizen at a press conference, according to Orthodox news website pravmir.ru.

“I’m not following the new trend,” he said, most likely alluding to American boxer Roy Jones Jr and French actor Gerard Depardieu. “I follow my heart. There are no easy decisions either in America, or anywhere else in the world. This will be a new challenge for me.”

The film, soon to hit screens in Russia, tells the story of a Japanese priest, who leaves Japan due to Yakuza wars and heads for a small Russian town to help its locals fight rampant corruption. The movie is the latest project from the “Orthodox” producing studio.

Source:


JAPAN OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX JAPAN

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A letter from the first Taiwanese Orthodox missionary Pelagia Yu to the Greek people

I am Chinese, born in Taiwan and my Christian name is Pelagia. I was a Protestant Christian, and it took me five years to become Orthodox. I love to read the Holy Bible and have all of its publications in the Chinese language.

I have visited Greece and discovered that it is a truly unique country. While travelling in your country, even before I arrived, on the plane I saw how different in temperament Greek people were, how cheerfully they conversed with each other, how they laughed and how they applauded the pilot after the landing, something unheard of for us Asians, who are more conservative and do not easily display emotion. I learnt after this experience that the expression of freedom requires passion and liveliness.

In Greece, I visited many churches, I participated in the Divine Liturgy, and when I received Holy Communion it reduced me to tears even though I did not understand the Greek language, because the Orthodox faith is the same, no matter what the language.

I would have liked to be born Greek, to have been born Orthodox, to have received Holy Communion and venerated holy icons from my years of infancy right up until my death.

I cry for me and my compatriots, because instead of Holy Communion, we eat and drink food sacrificed to idols.

I would have liked to be born Greek, so my ears may be filled with holy hymns.

I cry for me and my compatriots, whose ears are filled with the noise of sutras and the screeches of those who
worship the idols.

I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may smell the sweet aroma of incense.

I cry for me and my compatriots, who are constantly assaulted by the pungent smell of the smoke rising up from the sacrifices offered up to the idols.

I would have liked to be born Greek, so that my hands could touch the holy icons, the holy relics of the Saints and be filled with the love of Christ.

I cry for me and my compatriots, whose hands touch the idols and the things sacrificed to them, but who in reality are holding on to nothing.

I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may light candles to Christ – not like here, where we burn money as an offering to the spirits.

I was searching for the Truth, using more than 30 different publications of the Holy Bible, which unfortunately, were all full of errors (translated by non-Orthodox).

I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may read the Holy Bible in its original form!

I cry for me and my compatriots, because, although we have eyes, we are blind.

I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may be able to see the grace of God all around me.

I cry for me and my compatriots, who are surrounded by temples dedicated to false gods.

Yes, I am Orthodox, but living in Taiwan, I have very limited opportunities to experience the Orthodox Christian way of life.

I cry for me, because I do not have the ability to show my compatriots the greatness of our faith. The people here want to see signs and miracles.

I cry for me and my compatriots, because we do not have the gift of hearing of and seeing so many miracles, so many holy words that you have seen and heard over 2000 years in Greece, and which you still see. Taiwan is not an Orthodox country, our feast days and holy days do not look at all like yours.

I am disappointed that in Greece, although you have so many beautiful mountains, you do not look after them, you burn them down. However, I am amazed that practically every mountain in Greece has at least one monastery. We have mountains filled with Buddhist temples and monasteries.

I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may go and pray at an Orthodox monastery easily.

I cry for me and my compatriots. For the first time, I visited an Orthodox monastery dedicated to St John the Forerunner in Pelion. I travelled to Greece from Taiwan – 16 hours on the plane, a few hours on the train to Larisa and another hour with the monastery car, that was driven by one of the nuns.

I saw the ancient ruins of the Holy Monastery, I saw so many other places in Greece that have been abandoned and my heart bled. In Taiwan, we do not have such a wealth of archaeological artefacts, holy and beautiful places, but you do not appreciate them.

I cry that we do not have beautiful icons. I cry because I feel like Christ is weak and naked here.

Greeks, you think you are poor due to the economic crisis you are going through, but you do not know how truly rich you are.

Taiwan is a country with a huge amount of material development and progress, and yet it remains in the darkness of Satan and our spiritual life is empty.

In Greece, I saw a lot of people, especially on Sundays, drinking and celebrating and not going to church. But here in Taiwan our fellow citizens, mainly young people, even if they wanted to, find it impossible to come to church, because the only Orthodox church in the entire country is a small room on the 4th floor of a huge apartment building on the outskirts of Taipei. Many times, people cannot fit into the church and remain outside for the duration of the services.

My brothers and sisters in Greece, even though I am spiritually handicapped, I still have my legs active so that I can kneel before you and beg.

I pray that you consider me like the poor man Lazarus, so that you may throw to me some crumbs from the spiritual treasures you have, of the gifts you give to your churches, of the many little churches you build on all corners of your homeland.

Our Orthodox flock in Taiwan, as you know, is small – less than 100 people. We are not wealthy. We do not have the means to buy a decent place in the city that will be able to meet our needs for worship, catechism and teaching. Fr. Ionas conducts lessons on a regular basis, targeted mainly at the young people of our city and of course, open to whomever wants to come and meet us in person; those people that up until now have only had the opportunity to see the Orthodox Church in Taiwan through the Internet.

We do not ask for help to build an Orthodox church building here. It would cost millions. Please help us to buy a bigger place in the city centre, which we will convert into a church, for the sake of our nation, our brothers and sisters, who have never had the opportunity to hear about and know our Christ. We are a country of 23 million people! And yet we have need of your help.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if the need arises, I will do whatever is in my power to repay a little of your love. I will do whatever is needed with all my heart and for the duration of my life.

I thank you. Forgive me.

Pelagia Yu.

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TAIWAN AND HONG KONG OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX CHINA, TAIWAN AND HONG KONG

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Australia, December 2017: Six Adults Baptised, Received into Holy Orthodoxy

God is on the move. He is calling people from all backgrounds and walks of life into communion with His Church. And He is calling members of His Church to cooperate with Him in this saving activity (1 Corinthians 3:9).

The Good Shepherd was witness to this Divine activity on the weekend before the Nativity. Six adult catechumens were baptised on the Friday and received into communion on Christmas Eve.

The candidates for baptism were from all walks of life. One was a teenager, several in their early twenties, and some middle-aged. Some were from Protestant backgrounds, and some were previously non-believing or actively atheist. All of them have felt the call of God on their lives: to unite their lives with Christ through the waters of baptism and the communion of the Church.

Through history Christ’s Holy Church has taken seriously His command to

“go into all the world” and “teach the nations all things” (Matthew 28:18–20).

In the first century Christian missionaries spread the message of Christ far and wide. Starting in Jerusalem, they travelled as far west as Spain, and as far east as India. In the next few centuries, the Gospel of Christ would be preached in the British Isles and China.

In the 860s, the Holy Orthodox Church commenced one of the greatest and most successful missionary endeavours in the history of the Christianity. She commissioned two brothers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius to take the message of Christ to the Slavs.  

Their first task was to devise a written alphabet for the Slavic language so they could translate the Bible into Slavonic, the language best understood by the local people. They also translated the Divine Liturgy into Slavonic so the local people could fully participate in the worship.

Then as now, translating the Liturgy into the local language attracted opposition. In Sts. Cyril and 
Methodius’ case, they faced the opposition of German clerics. Nevertheless, these faithful saints pressed ahead and taught the Slavs Christ’s message of love and peace in their own language.
The approach bore much fruit, with Christianity spreading throughout Slavic lands. By 988, Vladimir of Kiev and his court were baptised. Pagan worship was rolled back as more and more Russians began converting to Christianity and following Christ.

The message of Christ spread throughout the great landmass of Russia. Bear in mind, Russia covers one eighth of the world’s landmass! 

By the 19th century, Christian missionaries were evangelising in the Russian Far East and in Alaska. Just as had been done more than a thousand years before, St. Innocent of Alaska devised a written language and grammar for the local Inuits, and translated parts of the Bible into the local language.

Presenting the Gospel of Christ in the local language and culture has been key to Orthodox Christian mission from Pentecost through to today.

Australia has been home to Orthodox people for almost 200 years. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated at Kirribilli Point in Sydney in 1820. The first pan-ethnic Orthodox parishes were established in 1898. And the first permanent Orthodox clergy arrived in Australia in 1922.

Since World War II, waves of immigration have brought vast numbers of Orthodox Christians to Australia. Today 563,000 Australians identify as Orthodox Christians. Yet very few Australians know anything about Holy Orthodoxy. One might say that Orthodoxy has been “hiding in plain sight.”

Orthodoxy’s social and cultural invisibility in Australia must be strongly linked to her worship services predominantly being conducted in Koine Greek, Slavonic and Arabic. This is an unprecedented break with the historic practice of presenting the Gospel, the Bible and the Liturgy in the language of the local people. 

Fifteen years ago, The Good Shepherd parish was tasked with the mission of bringing the Orthodox Faith to all types of Australians.

Many Orthodox Christians have benefitted, with many visiting Orthodox finding themselves for the first time able to fully comprehend the Divine Liturgy. But so too, inquirers from Roman Catholicism have been enabled to participate in the rich liturgical, ascetical, and penitential life of the Orthodox Faith.

Protestants are emerging from their sectarianism to discover the catholicity and sacramental life of the Church and a vision of the Holy Trinity as the Lover of Mankind. And a number of people without any kind of faith have been drawn to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Holy Church.

None of these movements could have occurred without the presentation of the Gospel, the Bible and liturgical life of the Church in English.

It is time for Orthodox Christians everywhere — whether you’re in an English-speaking parish, or a Greek, Russian, Arabic or any other one — to take seriously Christ’s command to cooperate with Him in “making disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 18:19, 20).

No matter what parish you’re from, Orthodox Christianity is not a cultural property, but the life-saving message of peace for the entire world. All Orthodox Christians and all Orthodox parishes in Australia need to find a way to present the Gospel and true worship to our friends, neighbours and colleagues in the most appropriate language and culture for them.

Christ promised that the field is ripe for harvest (John 4:35). The uniting of these six people with the Spirit of Christ is proof that this is true. Many more people will be drawn to the Gospel of Christ through the witness of Holy Orthodoxy in Australia.

And to these newly born Christians I would like to say, “Christ is faithful.” He has called you out of unbelief, out of legalism, out of sectarianism. He has called you to Himself. He has called you to Holy Orthodoxy so that your minds, bodies and souls may be the dwelling place of God. 

Within Holy Orthodoxy, you will now experience the fullness of the Christian Faith, which is unity with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I would like to leave you all with a thought from St. Paul and a thought from the Psalms.

I was given this verse very early in my journey of following Christ as a young adult and it has always meant a great deal to me. So I pass it on to you all in hope and trust; 

"God is the one Who began this good work in you,
and I am certain that he won’t stop
before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns".
— Philippians 1:6

And from the Psalms; 

"We don’t deserve praise! 
The Lord alone deserves all of the praise 
because of His love and faithfulness".
— Psalm 115:1

Let us be faithful, because He is — first, middle and last — faithful toward us.

Source:


AUSTRALIA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX AUSTRALIA

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Into Orthodoxy: The Long Journey Home

Fr. Lawrence Farley, Canada

In my journey home to Orthodoxy, I took the long way around.  I was born into suburban respectability in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and therefore attended Protestant Sunday School like all the other respectable kids my age.  Since Christian Faith in my home was more nominal than real, when Sunday School became boring (the ultimate indictment), I stopped attending and soon sunk into agnostic adolescent mediocrity.  I didn’t give ultimate questions much thought; I was more interested in girls.  (Sadly, they were little interested in me.)

But around midway through my teenage years I thought that life must consist of something more than a meaningless dance of atoms, and so I went back to my United Church looking for answers.  There I encountered a few people my age who introduced me to the Jesus Movement (it was 1970), and in the Jesus Movement I encountered the Lord Jesus.  It was a very high-voltage part of the Jesus Movement, replete with speaking in tongues, prophesying, and effervescent evangelism, characterized by a direct experience of the overwhelming love of God and the power of the Spirit.

One thing that was missing, however, from my United Church, was any historical memory.  The United Church of my upbringing was created in 1925 and my mom was created in 1921, and I intuited that one’s Church should at least be older than one’s mother.  I began looking for a sense of history in my church experience, along with beauty in worship, and an affirmation of the realities I had experienced in the Jesus Movement.  The liberal United Church could not supply these, so I started to look elsewhere.

Being a Protestant, I of course did not fish outside the Protestant pool.  I became an Anglican, and thereafter, an Anglican priest.

I had lousy timing.  The Anglican Church of Canada was then energetically engaged in throwing overboard just those things in her theology and liturgy that I joined her to experience.  For the longest time I tried to pretend that the Anglican church was not just another species of liberal Protestantism.  But reality is a relentless thing, and eventually I had to admit that the Anglican Church I joined was largely like the United Church I left.  So, where to go? Then, providentially, I discovered Orthodoxy.

I always considered the Fathers paradigmatic (which is why Roman Catholicism was never “on the table” for me).  Too bad the Orthodox didn’t speak English.  When I soon discovered that they did speak English, I was hooked.  I found in Orthodoxy the convergence of the two things I had come to value above all in the Church:  an experience of the Holy Spirit and of patristic continuity.  Conversion for me meant coming home and resolving the tensions between the charismatic and the historical.  In becoming Orthodox I was not conscious of renouncing any of the things I found precious in my past, but rather fulfilling them, and being able to enjoy them in their proper places.

I am grateful to God both for all the places I have been, and for where I now am.

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CANADA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX CANADA

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Essex, England: A Journey from Western Christianity via Hinduism to Orthodoxy

Fr. Nikon of New Skete [Mount Athos, Greece] remembers an Englishman who was troubled by his Church and went to India, Calcutta, in search of a genuine spiritual experience. He studied at the Hindu Faculty for four years, but still he did not find what he was looking for…

“And the principal of the Faculty of Theology, of that foreign religion in Calcutta, tells him: ‘If you want something deeper, then go to the Orthodox’. And this was told to him by one of another religion.”

And then he found that the Monastery across the street from his house is actually the Essex Monastery…

“He was excited, he was a catechumen at the time when he told us this, and now he is waiting to be baptized.”

Transcript (adapted after the Romanian version provided by Elena Dinu):

A few years ago I housed in my cell someone who lived next to an Orthodox monastery outside London, famous for its founder and its abbot, Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Essex.
An Englishman lived across the street from the monastery. But being troubled by his Mother Church, he wanted something more spiritual, deeper…

He went to India, Calcutta. He studied at this college for four years… When he finished his studies, he wanted to thank the school principal.

“Thank you! I have learned a lot. I wouldn’t believe that your religion has such a spiritual depth…”

… And the man thanked the school principal and the latter asked him: “Are you satisfied? Did you find what you were looking for?”

He answers:

“To tell you the truth, no, I’m not. I still want something more. I do not know, I have an inner dissatisfaction.”

And the principal of the Faculty of Theology, of that foreign religion in Calcutta, tells him:

“If you want something deeper, then go to” be attentive! “the Orthodox. Not to the Catholics. They are not serious. ”

And this was told to him by one of another religion. And he returns to England, to the monastery in front of his house and he says for the first time, “Let’s go to the monastery and see.”

“For so many years”, the abbot laughed when he said this, “we were across the street from his house. He saw so many people coming in and out of this place.”

He never thought to go across the street… He had to go to Calcutta and from there to send him back across the street of his house, where the monastery was… He was very excited.

“That was what I was looking for,” he said, “and I did not know where it is.”

In a monastery situated in front of him…

He was excited, he was a catechumen at the time when he told us this, and now he is waiting to be baptized.

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ENGLAND OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX ENGLAND

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Fr. Paul Sawabe of Japan, 
the former Samurai (+1913)

Paul (Pavel) Sawabe was the first Japanese student and catechumen of St. Nicholas of Japan after he had arrived in Hakodate, Japan in 1861. Paul was the first Japanese to embrace Orthodox Christianity and was an ardent disciple of the future St. Nicholas and was an active missionary. Through his efforts the Japanese mission drew many new Christians and in time he became the first Japanese to be ordained to the priesthood.

Takuma Sawabe was born in 1833 in Kochi prefecture. His original name was Yamamoto Kazuma. He was a student, with a cousin, of the samurai art of Ken-do (Japanese swordsmanship) and philosophy. In 1857, while walking off some heavy drinking, Yamamoto ended up with two watches stolen by his cousin, but which he tried to sell. Yamamoto fled to Hakodate to escape the police who had identified him as having stolen the watches. In Hakodate, Yamamoto married the daughter of a Shinto priest named Sawabe. Yamamoto, after marrying the priest's daughter, became an adopted son of the priest and changed his name. Under his new identity Takuma Sawabe did not participate in the Shinto priesthood, but led a group that reverenced the Emperor and demanded expulsion of the foreigners. The Russian Consulate in Hakodate became a target of their plan for assassinations.

One night in 1865, armed with a sword, he confronted the Hieromonk Nicholas with the intent of killing him before he did any preaching. In the exchange of words that followed, Nicholas questioned why Sawabe would kill him without hearing about what Nicholas would have to say. So, Sawabe asked Nicholas to tell him about his Christian religion. As the young missionary talked, his words softened Sawabe's heart, his interest increased, and he began to study the Christian doctrine. Soon, Sawabe was joined by a doctor friend, Sakai Tokurei, in a discussion group. They in turn were joined by two more friends, Urano and Suzuki, and so the group of catechumens grew. They themselves began teaching about Orthodox Christianity to other Japanese people. Yet at this time, the Japanese policy was still to persecute Christians and forbid conversion to Christianity.

Then in April 1868, with the Reader Bissarion Sartoff guarding the consulate office door, Nicholas baptized Sawabe, Sakai, and Urano with the baptismal names for Paul, John, and James respectively. They had become the first Japanese people to accept Orthodox Christianity. With their baptism Paul and his friends went on to preach their new religion more fervently.

As the threat of imprisonment and perhaps even execution increased in the Hakodate area, Hieromonk Nicholas sent Paul and his friends to travel else where in Japan to preach their new faith, but ultimately to gain greater safety for them. Not hearing from Paul for some months, Hieromonk Nicholas was very glad to receive news from Paul of his successes in Sendai, in northern Honshu. In time the opposition to Christianity subsided, and the now Archimandrite Nicholas began to look to expanding his missionary work to Tokyo.

It was Paul Sawabe whom Nicholas sent to Tokyo to review the situation for missionary work in the Tokyo/Yokohoma area and advise him of the potential for such work there. Paul's report was one of optimism, and Paul advised Nicholas to come to Tokyo as soon as possible. So, in late January 1871, Archimandrite Nicholas arrived in Yokohoma and proceeded to Tokyo to set up his headquarters.

Local opposition to Christianity was still present. In February 1872, Paul Sawabe and many of his co-workers in Christ were arrested by the local police in Sendai. The officials were amazed that even among the children their answers to questioning showed a deep conviction to their Christian beliefs. Even though many had not been baptized none changed their position but were strengthened in their faith.

On July 12, 1875, at the second General Council of the Japanese mission, Archimandrite Nicholas decided that there was a need for native clergy, and named Paul Sawabe to be the first priest, and that John Sakai would be a deacon. A month later Bishop Paul of East Siberia came to Hakodate for the first sacraments of the Holy Orders in Japan and ordained the new priest and deacon.

Paul Sawabe continued to service his new faith as his church grew over the following decades. He was to survive his mentor and bishop by a year, dying in 1913.

Source:


JAPAN OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX JAPAN

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Personal testimony of Fr. Seraphim Holland

by Fr. Seraphim Holland, USA

I am a convert to Orthodoxy, and the next Holy Saturday (in 1996) will be the 16th anniversary of my baptism. I am an Orthodox priest, having been ordained just before Great Lent, this year (1995) after having been a deacon for 5 years. I am married, and have four children, Genevieve:14, Christina:11, Tim:8 and Natalie:5. My Matushka is Marina. I serve in the Mission parish of St. Nicholas, a community under the omophorion of Bishop Hilarion of Washington, in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Our community is almost entirely convert in makeup, and all of our services are in English.

I was raised Roman Catholic, with an unbelieving father (who subscribed to the “Man Upstairs” kind of “God” so many Americans believe in, and just thinks you need to be “good” to go to heaven). I saw many inconsistencies and lukewarmness among the Roman Catholics, and when I was a certain age (13?), my mother did not require me to go to church.

I was not a believer, but I was searching. I went to college, studying pre-med, and later switched to chemistry. I had a great desire to “make a difference”, but had reached a crisis, because I saw how temporal life was. I was fortunate to get a summer scholarship to do chemistry research, and lived at Purdue that summer, rooming with a “Navigator”.

The Navigators are a Protestant “Para Church” organization, with “Protestant Evangelical” Theology. He was a wonderful guy, and may God have mercy on him. He was used to plant a seed. We talked a lot, I read the bible a lot. As an almost last ditch effort, the Evil One so flummoxed me that at one point I wondered if God even existed. This was just for a moment, because the thought of atheism is ludicrous, given the evidence of God, which He put within us, and everywhere.

I prayed, thought, did research, and played a lot of basketball. When I came home, I had a “Protestant” conversion experience, akin to the way Campus Crusade for Christ incorrectly presents a *small part* of the story in their “4 Spiritual Laws“. I was all by myself, in my room, late at night.

I changed, or rather, the Holy Spirit helped me to change. I cannot say what I “was” at that point. According to Evangelical thought, I was “saved”. I know now that this was the beginning of the path to Holy Orthodoxy, which I had never heard of.

I went back to school for my junior year, and went to the campus’ Roman Catholic Church. They were wonderful folks. I went on retreats, and got to know two of the priests, and other folks really well. I was unhappy though, because they did not think the same as I did. All that I was learning and feeling – it did not connect with my experiences with them. When I attended a mass in which “liturgical dance” was used to express “worship”, I knew I had to go.

I attended two campus fellowships, in an order I don’t remember. One was charismatic/Pentecostal, and was called “The Upper Room”. I loved the folks there, but never bought into the Pentecostal doctrines about tongues. They seemed willing to let their *experiences* rule in this area, even though they were insistent on using the bible as the only source of doctrine in all others.

For a long time, I puzzled over this inconsistency, and am sure that this was part of my “road to Orthodoxy”, as it helped me to formulate THE QUESTION, which I will describe soon.

I also attended and participated in another Evangelical fellowship. The most I remember about this place is that they once had a service with a rock band, and played the kinda-sorta Christian songs from the Doobie Brothers.

Contemporaneous with all this was my involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ. I owe them a great debt, although they don’t see it that way. First off, I met my wife to be there. She introduced me to the Orthodox Church, as she was nominal Orthodox, but really a “nondenominational Protestant” in her outlook. She was excited to find out that I wanted to go to church in Indianapolis with her.

I can still remember the first day that I was at an Orthodox liturgy. I was starting to feel the coldness of the Protestant belief, and was looking for the total truth that I was feeling that Protestantism was lacking. This was actually an unformed expression of THE QUESTION.

The service was different, the prayer more sober – it expressed what I was really feeling in my soul.

They understood that God should be addressed with reverence, and that we should often ask Him for mercy! I was on an *intellectual* mission, but was smitten when I heard and experienced Orthodox worship. It was so *balanced*. I was associated with a lot of very evangelical folks, and really wanted to win souls for Christ (and still do). I was upset however, that it seemed that “winning souls” was all that was important to my peer group. I was further upset that their whole intent was to get intellectual assent from people, then turn them loose.

They did not work much on themselves. They did not think very much about the passions, except in a superficial way. They all believed in “eternal security”, which seemed to me to be a foolish belief, as they expressed it. Since they were “saved”, they did not ask God for *mercy*. I was feeling at that time how merciful God really is, and how much we need his mercy.

All I heard in Protestant circles was off-the-cuff praise, hymns, and prayers used in an evangelistic context. I still needed to WORK on myself. Everyone was telling me I was SAVED, but I didn’t believe it. I felt I was BEING saved, because of God’s great mercy. I was not quite ready to ignore my own passions and fulfill the “Great Commission”. These Orthodox people seemed to have different priorities – and they matched my still forming Christian consciousness much better.

When I heard how many times the Orthodox sing “Lord have mercy”, and the other beautiful prayers, I was overwhelmed. I had come home. It took another 9 months before I was Orthodox, because I still quite foolishly tried to prove or disprove Orthodoxy by intellectual research, even though something deep within me had been touched by the Holy Spirit in a way I knew I could never explain, or understand. I embarked on a period of study (too much) and prayer (too little) to prove whether Orthodox was the one true church. This leads me to THE QUESTION.

THE QUESTION: Our Lord and Savior promised His Apostles, and by context, and through them, all Christians that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who would lead them (and us) into ALL TRUTH. (St. John). This promise indicates that there is a source of truth, and that the Apostles were entrusted with it. If this is the case, then one should be able to locate the descendants of those very apostles, and be assured that one is believing the TRUTH. Christendom has been shattered into so many sects and beliefs, including not a few ugly heresies.

Where is the truth? How does one find it? Some look only to the bible, and the amount of varying doctrines using that very same bible are as great as the sands of the sea. Where is the order? God is simple, and orderly. Would He not have a church that reflects this order and simplicity? If there is one true visible and invisible (of course) church, then a lot of people are wrong. It seems that the only way to find the truth is to find this church.

Where is it? Can it be found? It must be there, because Christ promised us that the Holy Spirit would lead us to ALL TRUTH. Certainly the Baptists and the Methodists, and the Pentecostals, and the nondenominational (arguably, an oxymoron), etc., all cannot have it. At least everyone save one is wrong. Where is the *one*?

I pursued the answer to this question vigorously. By the end of the second term (when I had met Marina, and THE QUESTION was formulated), I had not resolved it, and was still sufficiently entrenched in Campus Crusade to have signed up for a three month Evangelistic tour in Wildwood, NJ. I lived in a big rooming house with lots of other folks, worked all day at a campground to earn my bread, and either evangelized on the beach or boardwalk at night, or attended worship services, bible studies, and discipleship sessions. I averaged about three to four hours sleep a night.

During this time, I was plagued by THE QUESTION, and prayed much about it. I also studied, from books I had checked out of the library back home (there were big fines when I returned!). The books were mostly from Protestant authors who were giving their slant to history, or modernist Orthodox authors who did not sound any different on a fundamental level than the Protestants. I did not know enough to have access to really good quality Orthodox Literature, with one exception. I had a prayer book. This book had morning prayers and the like, and I forced myself to use them.

Although I had Roman Catholic roots, I had become rather iconoclastic and although I agreed in principle with “prayers to the saints”, I did not *really* want to do it. This was not doubt because of the misapplication of the (true) “I am the Way the Truth and the Life” doctrine. People found out about my prayers, and I became the official nut case in the house. My discipler, a wonderful man called Jim Dunn, thought I was apostatizing. We had long conversations, which seemed to me to be harangues, and I grew farther apart from my peers. I can hear his complaints even now: “But if Jesus is Your Savior, why do you need to prayer to the Saints? They can’t save you”. “Why do you want to talk about Mary so much. This is idolatry”. “Didn’t you invite Christ into your heart? What is all this talk about not being saved yet?”.

I had been to the mountain (of Protestant Evangelical doctrine and experience), and my soul KNEW there was something higher. My last month in the house was miserable, because I was no longer a believer according to my peers.

Upon returning to school, there was one last temptation to overcome. This one has a funny twist to it. Marina and I were at the “looking at china” stage, but I was adamant that I would not marry her unless I became Orthodox, and I was adamant that I would not become Orthodox to marry her! This was really a bit of sophistry on the part of the Evil One. After all, I loved her, and I loved the Orthodox church. I think I just did not want to *appear* that I converted just to marry her. Fortunately, at some point, Glory be to God, I just believed. Completely.

On Holy Saturday, 1980, I was baptized and chrismated. I had insisted upon baptism, although I was given the “option”. Shortly thereafter, we were married, the day after the end of the Spring Session.

Upon further reflection, I believe that the *beauty* of Orthodoxy is what attracted me. The discordance of competing Protestant beliefs are ugly to me, and the reliance on doctrine and de-emphasis of worship, liturgical expression, and ascetical endeavor always left me feeling a little hollow. God IS beautiful, and His church reflects Him.

There is so much *beauty* in Orthodoxy that I do not see in Protestantism, and Orthodox are also quite far away from the neo-platonist tendencies of some Protestants.

Some emphasize reason so much that they seem to forget that man has a body and a soul, and that God, who is totally free and beautiful, having made man in His image, has given man an inherent love for beauty. The Orthodox, worship God *naturally*, and not just with cold blooded reason, but also with their God given feelings and intuition.

In Orthodoxy, a man is not “saved” in an event. He is transformed, and is like a sapling that grows towards the light, and he loves God more and more, because “He first loved us”. Because of his love for God, and his ascetical struggles (to win the kingdom of Heaven by violence), God helps to change him, and his will slowly, imperceptibly conforms to the perfect will of God. He becomes like God; he shares in the energy of God. We call this process “theosis”, and this is salvation. It is not just intellectual assent, and it is not just ascetical endeavor, which some call “works”. It is a synergy of the two. The first follows the other, and the other empowers a man to do the first.

Fr. Seraphim Holland

Source:


PROTESTANTS MET ORTHODOXY

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“Japan made me Orthodox”

Eleonora Borisovna Sablina is an historian, teacher, candidate of historical sciences, researcher of Japanese Orthodoxy, and the author of a book on St. Nicholas of Japan.

* * *

—Eleonora Borisovna, you have been living and teaching in Japan for many years. Tell us, please, how you arrived in the Land of the Rising Sun? Where do you work?

—I have been teaching at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies for nineteen years. I am a candidate in historical sciences and professor. I also teach at the Tokyo Conservatory, and until March of this year I worked at the State University of Yokohama. Unfortunately, study of the humanities is being reduced in Japan today. It’s sad, but there’s nothing you can do—it’s a global trend.

I went to Japan straight from Moscow State University (MSU). I taught Japanese there. My specializations were as an historian-orientalist and as a translator. From 1978, when the world conferences of religious leaders began, I started working with the Russian Orthodox Church. I was invited as a translator. Vladyka Theodosy (Nagasima) would come to Russia and I would translate for him. I first learned about St. Nicholas when I started accompanying pilgrims. Of course, before that I had heard nothing about the saint because we lived in an atheist country; but the person of St. Nicholas interested me. In the end, I decided to go to Japan to study his activity and to introduce it to Russians. In 1992, after the fall of the USSR, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs created special educational programs, receiving students and researchers from Russia. I was there for a year on this grant, as a visiting researcher. I went around all of Japan and visited all the churches. I wrote several articles under the title “A Pilgrim from Russia.” A large compilation on St. Nicholas’ work was even published in English, including my articles and those of other scholars.

—And you have stayed working in Japan ever since?

—Yes, they kept me; because Vladyka Theodosy did not allow any Japanese into his archives, but he told me, “Do as you wish.” It was apparently also because my specialization was as a researcher in Russian-Japanese cultural relations at the end of the nineteenth century, and my main direction was the history of St. Nicholas and the Japanese Orthodox Church. In general, when you say in Russia that there’s Orthodoxy in Japan, everyone is surprised. But there is! And it’s firmly rooted. I thank the Japanese Foreign Ministry for giving me the opportunity to study Orthodoxy in Japan, because it is the basis of Russian-Japanese relations at all times, and the mutual understanding between Russia and Japan comes from the Orthodox. St. Nicholas was a great scholar and Japanologist. I thank God that I also wound up in this current of Japan specialists.

—That brings up a question. You probably didn’t come to faith immediately. It seems St. Nicholas greatly influenced your coming to the Church.

—I came to faith after I began to collaborate with the Russian Orthodox Church and I would go to the services. But I have childhood memories of faith. I remember how my nanny would take me to Rostov-on-Don to church. It was a Greek church. I remember stopping into the church sometimes and going there for Pascha with a lit lantern. And that was the end of my experience with faith. I didn’t hear anything else about faith. We even had a class at MSU on scientific atheism. But one day the Lord led me to the Committee for the Protection of Peace. My classmates were there. They called me and said, “There’s a conference, organized by priests. They need the Japanese language.” I was scared, but I went. From there a whole chain of events lined up, leading me to Japan. I believe everything was so easily managed by the prayers of St. Nicholas. I always felt he was leading me. I finally began my Church life there.

—What did you think of Japan on your first visit?

—I first went to Japan as a third-year student. The Expo 1970 world exhibition was there. The first thing I noticed was a different smell. They got us to Osaka in eight hours, and on the way I saw bananas lying out on counters, but we had a shortage of them. I was surprised by the unusual smell and the brightness of the fruit. The Japanese immediately seemed very friendly. We were working on building our Soviet pavilion, and I had to constantly translate for everyone—constantly traveling and talking. One elderly Japanese man even decided to invite us to some interesting places. He said he only had a little time left to live because he was sick, and therefore he wanted to show us young people his motherland. That’s when I first began to love the Japanese. They’re very compassionate people. I’m still friends with some of the Japanese who were at that exhibition then. The Japanese are not wasteful, but not stingy, not tight-fisted.

—How did you decide to write a book on St. Nicholas? Were there difficulties in writing it?

—No, there were no special difficulties. I first wrote a thesis on him, and I had all the documents. Besides, I wrote with my heart. Before going to Japan, I got a blessing from Vladyka Vladimir in St. Petersburg, whom I had befriended at conferences in Japan. He really loved Japan. One time, Vladyka and I went to a monastery where His Holiness (Patriarch Alexy II) was. They had trapeza in the evening, then everyone went up for a blessing. I approached the patriarch last, and he said, “And where are you, Eleonora Borisovna?” Ten years had passed and he still remembered me! I told him I’d already been in Japan for two years, and told him I was going to write a work about St. Nicholas. He wished me success. And in 2006, when my book came out, I presented it to him on the commemoration day of Holy Hierarch Alexei. He would then often ask, “How is your Japan?” and always asks me to convey his bow to Japan. I thank God that life has led such people to me, including Anthony of Sourozh. At the Local Council, when I translated for him, Vladyka was sitting on a step below us, and it was making me very uncomfortable. However, he said, “No, no, don’t interfere.” And in the end, I got a bouquet of red roses from him.

—You studied the life of St. Nicholas of Japan, went to all the churches where he served, and spoke with people connected with Vladyka in one way or another. What, in your view, led to St. Nicholas having such missionary success in Japan?

—Vladyka had a good heart, mind, and education. When he arrived in Japan in 1861, Christianity was still forbidden there. He was a regular priest at the consulate for eight years, and this whole time he attentively and heartily studied Japan—its history, literature, and most importantly, language. He studied Japanese for eight hours straight every day. He alternated with three different teachers. Just imagine, what productivity! Such a desire to get to know the country and language that many have said was created by the devil himself, since it’s so difficult. But Vladyka overcame it all.

St. Nicholas’ path to Japan was not easy, but providential. While he was still in the St. Petersburg Academy, when he went to the seminary’s evening prayers, he saw in one classroom a sheet saying that they were asking for a priest for the consulate in Japan—and not just a priest, but a missionary priest. Vladyka would later say, “I went to the service, prayed about this proposition, and by the end of the service my heart, my soul already belonged to Japan.” No one thought that he, a handsome and funny man, would wind up so far away and become a great preacher.

But the Lord judged otherwise. It’s interesting that the future holy hierarch met Metropolitan Innocent in Irkutsk, also later numbered among the saints, who was returning from America. St. Innocent sewed a velvet cassock for his young comrade, saying that he, Nicholas, should appear in all glory before the Japanese. He also gave him a pectoral cross and said, “You should come down the ladder from the boat with such a look.” Obviously, Vladyka well understood how important a missionary’s first impression is. And indeed, after the amazing conversion to Orthodoxy of a Shinto priest who had come to kill St. Nicholas, the Orthodox community began to grow by his fiery preaching in the Japanese language, and by 1880 there were more than 5,000 believers and 6 priests.

—As you know, St. Nicholas founded a seminary and theological schools. How did Vladkya prepare people for priestly service; how did he instruct and educate them?

—Yes, you’re referring to the Tokyo Seminary, which had its first graduation in 1882. Vladyka strove to give seminarians there a very good and diverse education and invited various teachers. St. Nicholas always paid attention to the seminarians’ manners and their attitudes towards people. Some were expelled because they were drunk, some for foul language. Every day, Vladyka recorded how everyone was in church, school, and at work. St. Nicholas also paid great attention to the students’ health, because they were very poor and hungry in Japan at that time. Therefore, the seminary even organized a dacha in the mountains that the seminarians regularly visited. In the summer they went to the seaside. They tried to provide them all with good food and made them play sports and keep up their personal hygiene. Vladyka also demanded that the seminarians keep a journal, talking about trips home, who they preached to, and what difficulties they experienced. Such an attentive, deeply human approach to those around him, inherent in many Japanese, of course greatly drew them to the personality of St. Nicholas.

—Since you’ve hit upon the question of mentality, I would like to ask, what would you, having lived in Japan for so long, identify as the key features of the Japanese mentality?

—They are, of course: responsibility, collectivism, and, most importantly, love for their country—the Japanese often say, “I am happy to have been born in Japan.” In terms of love for their homeland and probably collectivism too, Russians and the Japanese are very similar. The climate is rather harsh in Russia, while in Japan they have almost constant earthquakes, fires, tsunamis—how could they get by without collectivism? But the most important thing in Japan is human relations. That is, if you don’t get along well with people, you will fall out of society. Do you know who one of the most beloved fairytale characters is in Japan? You’re going to fall out of your chair. It’s our Russian Cheburashka. Why? Because he is friendly with everyone—it’s very important. Also, everything must be balanced for the Japanese—this is foundational for their worldview. There should be nothing sharp, nothing broken, and nothing destroyed at all. The Japanese, oddly enough, very rarely say the word “no” or categorically refuse anything.

—In your view, what is the most valuable thing in the Japanese educational system? How traditional is it?

—The educational system in Japan is being gradually reformed—unfortunately, often not in a positive direction. Sometimes, for example, they reduce the humanitarian subjects in favor of the technical. My co-workers with whom I worked for many years as a professor say that this used to be a good university, and now it’s more like a strong vocational school. Of course, due to the low birth rate, there are fewer students and teachers. But it’s very difficult to get a job at a university without a degree now. It’s also good that universities now have obligatory full-fledged scientific societies.

—Japan is a very high-tech country, but at the same time, tradition plays a rather strong part in Japanese life. How do modern Japanese combine tradition and modern technology? How do they support the institution of the family?

—The preserving of tradition and the institution of the family is a big problem in Japan today; although, there are Japanese who surely have positive experiences in this regard too. There are many divorces today, and people get married late or don’t start a family at all, preferring a career path. But they’ve at least started making good family films in Japan. In Russia, the films are mainly about criminals and corruption. I’m ashamed of our television, of our country, because it’s pure garbage pouring out of the TV onto people. But there they have historical dramas, and far more good family films. Perhaps many of them are naïve, but they’re a positive example for the youth.

—How do ordinary Japanese people feel about Russia and Russian culture?

—Of course, everything depends on the specific person, but overall, they have a good feeling about it. Even Russian food seems tasty to the Japanese. I went to Germany, for example, and my co-worker said, “Where are you going? They have such terrible food there!” Food is very important for the Japanese. Their favorite word is “oi si,” meaning “delicious.” Russia has the most delicious food. And most importantly, there are hospitable people there. They also love Italy—everything Italian is beautiful to them. Italian cordiality also attracts them.

—Many think that the Japanese have a closed character. Would you agree?

—No, they are not closed. They’re just shy. See, from their mother’s milk they absorb the idea that you mustn’t cause any inconvenience for anyone. Thus, the children especially do not scream. You should always behave properly. Until recently, it forbidden to keep even a dog or cat in a multi-story building. What if the cat suddenly starts meowing or the dog starts barking? The Japanese are very law-abiding, but, most importantly, they respect one another. That’s not being closed, but restraint, modesty. Sure, they don’t open up immediately before a stranger, but if they began to trust him, then they will reveal their entire soul. They’re also very trusting.

—And the last question: What is the state of the Orthodox Church in Japan today? Does it have any prospects?

—Thank God, the Church is alive and growing. Of course, we are very short of priests. There are only two or three students in seminary, and they only take people with a higher education. We need to work with the young people, to educate them and engage them in Church life. The external environment is very aggressive right now.

The Japanese Orthodox Church has many great and great-great-grandchildren of those who were baptized by St. Nicholas. In general, Vladyka’s spirit and tradition is still preserved there. There is communality everywhere. The faithful hold Bible Studies. There are active sisterhoods. For example, we collect quality items and give them to a charity or send them to countries suffering from catastrophes. Everyone goes on pilgrimages together and celebrates Old Calendar Nativity. There is always a common meal after every Liturgy, as St. Nicholas established. Therefore, despite the problems and difficulties, thank God, the spirit of a living Christian community has been largely preserved.

Source:


HAVE FAITH - ORTHODOXY

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Athanasius Yoo, M.D., B.D., Korea:

Why I became an Eastern Orthodox Christian

My long pilgrimage to the Mother Church has been completed. As I think back over the long road of this pilgrimage, I become filled with deep emotion. For by the grace of God, I, a stray sheep, have found the lovely bosom of the Good Shepherd, the true body of Christ, – the One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Therefore, it is my conviction that my humble retrospections should in nowise come to naught to those who are outside of the true Church of Christ.

I am a Korean and a medical doctor by profession. My father was an Elder of the Presbyterian Church in Korea and my mother a very devout deaconess of same. Consequently I was brought up in an unusually religious atmosphere.

My mother hoped that I would become a minister of the Presbyterian Church. But I had no interest in that profession because the example of the Protestant ministers at that time was much too superficial and did not impress me as being Christian at all. And so I entered medicine instead, finished medical school and began practicing in Seoul, Korea. I continued my medical practice until the unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire. The fall of Japanese imperialism, and the subsequent independence of Korea, impressed me greatly with the frailty of life and of the world.

After a period of sincere prayer and meditation, I decided to dedicate myself to the ministry. I entered the Presbyterian Theological School in Seoul, Korea … with deep conviction and fervent faith for my newly chosen profession. Soon after, however, I was confronted with the malignant teaching of higher biblical criticism and of rationalistic modernistic doctrine. The evil shadow of Harnack and Deissmann, the poisonous sabotage of the Tubingen School, the narcotic abomination of Schleicher­macher and Rutschul dominated the School. The revival of twentieth century Arianism and Nestorianism was promoted and the so-called “social Gospel” emphasized. Moreover, the Second Coming of Christ and the doctrine of everlasting life were counted as convictions of the ignorant. Had I not entered this Theological School, I probably would have kept my peace of mind. But once I had learned the false theology of this school, I lost my peace of mind. Indeed, I found it impossible to accept these heretical Protestant teachings without going against my conscience and good faith.

As a result, I began to look for more conservative Protestant teachings in order to find consolation . . . but I could not find any. With deep unrest and despair, I began reading some Roman Catholic theological books and my interest in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the Virginity of the Virgin Mary, the Apostolic Succession, and Transubstantiation, was greatly aroused. However, because of the lack of books, my reading in Roman Catholic doctrine was limited. In the meantime, I continued my theological studies at the Presbyterian seminary and after my graduation from there was advised to be ordained. But I refused ordination because I now felt that the ministry of the Protestant Church lacked Apostolic Succession and was therefore null and void.

After much thought and hesitation, I finally became a Roman Catholic in 1950. Up until this time I had no contact whatsoever with the Orthodox Church.

Upon studying Roman Catholic doctrine, however, I found many false teachings in it also. Those that bothered me especially were the following:

1.The withdrawal of the cup from the laity during Communion.

2.The Doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope.

3.The Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

4.The Doctrine of Purgatory.

5.The Doctrine of Indulgences.

6.The universal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome.

7.The exclusive Latinity in the Mass and in other services.

If I refused to accept the above doctrines, I would be under anathema. And so I remained in a state of confusion. In order to resolve the problems I had about the Roman doctrine, I began studying the writings of the Church Fathers. These along with scholastic theology, I read for a long time. My conclusion from all these studies was that the Roman Catholic Church, too, had gone astray as had the Protestant. In doubt, despair, and agony, I decided to go to the United States in order to escape my doctrinal troubles. I arrived in the United States in 1955.

In the United States, I studied advanced medical science and also continued my theological studies. For the first time I was given the opportunity to read into Eastern Orthodox theology. Up until this time I had had no contact with Orthodox Christians or with any Orthodox Church. Thanks be to God, however, for He led me by His Holy Spirit to the primitive, conservative, and most pure and virgin faith of Christianity! For I discovered that in the Orthodox Church, Christianity with all its richness and essence was to be found. In the bosom of the Orthodox Church, my despaired soul found a resting place, a heavenly harbor! With great joy and hope, I decided to become an Orthodox Christian about a year ago. At first I hesitated to make a hasty decision for fear of disgracing myself by frequent changes of denominations. But gradually I became convinced of the validity of Orthodoxy.

By the Grace of God, I was convinced that I must serve Him through the priesthood of the Orthodox Church. And so I began following the way of the Cross, willing to sacrifice anything. Through the kindness of His Eminence, Archbishop Michael and His Grace, Bishop Athenagoras of Elaia, I was given permission to study Orthodox theology at the Holy Cross Orthodox Theological School in Brookline, Massachusetts, in preparation for the priesthood. My desire is to return to Korea as a medical-priest missionary after my ordination into the Orthodox Church, and join the Orthodox mission which already exists in Seoul, Korea.

Source


KOREA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX KOREA


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A Journey of faith in New Zealand

by Alexandra Wood

When I was a little girl it was still possible to teach Scripture in schools and even people who did not attend church were happy for their children to be taught.

I remember as a child of eight or nine that I pictured in my mind one night the Mount of Olives with a bright full moon and a grove of trees and Jesus praying. I was very moved.

We heard “The Man Born to Be King” by Dorothy L Sayers on the radio, not the original 1940 broadcast of course! There was a very good TV series called “Jesus of Nazareth” which was repeated several times on the BBC I think. William Barclay also was a popular broadcaster later in my teens and I owe him a lot.

I was always interested in the daily life of the people in my Scripture lessons so I became interested in the daily life of the Romans in Britain, the Ancient Britons etc. as I went up through school. I had the advantage of living in the City of London where excavations were part of daily life. I left school at the age of nineteen and went to the Institute of Archaeology to learn to be a Museum Technician. So, Scripture took me to archaeology.

I realised from then on that to be Christian was not fashionable among the intelligentsia and also that those who furiously spurned religion in general did not apply the same standard of proof which they demanded in their own research.

I was not impressed by the intelligentsia. Therefore, I decided to make a hypothesis that God existed. It seemed that more learned people than I could ever be had, in the past, overcome what I could perceive as “Objections to Christianity,” therefore I would try to see if the orthodox teachings actually worked if taken as a practical blueprint for life. This seemed to me to be a more scientific method of assessment.

The book “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis, followed by most of his other religious and ethical essays formed my mind at this time When I got to University as an adult student I found that I had to study Fine Art as part of my Prehistoric Archaeology course along with Ancient History. These were fortunate aberrations for me as D. Talbot Rice was our Art History professor and we had to consider Icons and Byzantine history and we also found ourselves taking in Late Antiquity as we studied Post Roman / Early Christian Archaeology in Britain and Ireland with Charles Thomas. While studying the origins of the monastic movement for Late Roman Archaeology I read “The Desert Fathers” translated by Nora Chadwick(?) and “The Desert a City” by Derwas Chitty and so came across the hermits and St Pachomius, the early British Saints and the extent of the Church in Britain and Ireland. Edinburgh University certainly gave us a good, wide, thorough education!

When I came to New Zealand I finally found myself joining the Anglican Church in the seventies because at the time there was a very orthodox feeling to the church, at least in the parishes. I did find, though, the clergy I met strangely uneducated in early church history and about the Orthodox Church.

The New Zealand Anglican Church then went through some strange and turbulent times with the Charismatic Movement etc.etc.

I found, after a while, that it got most of my pastoral help not from sermons but from the books of John White a professor of psychiatry in Manitoba, one which I am rereading now. It is called “Flirting with the World” and is about worldliness in the church. I also found a very sobering book called “Crumbling Foundations” by Donald G Bloesch about the death of the mainline churches in North America and the opportunity for rebirth as the original faith grounded in apostolic witness. It seemed to mirror concerns I felt here, in New Zealand

I remained in the Anglican church because I found nowhere else to go.

A few years ago I found a book in the public library called “The Orthodox Way” by Timothy Ware and because I was still interested in Late Roman Antiquity I got it out

I read it from time to time and then came the Internet.

Through the Internet I found the British Antiochian Orthodox Church and I asked the priest at Colchester which is near my brother, Fr. Alexander Haig, if there was any Antiochian Orthodox church in New Zealand. He surprised me by saying there was! In the end I found out where Fr Jack Witbrock was living. I also received much help from Fr Gregory Hallam in Manchester and of course there are the plethora of sites on Orthodox topics. None of this was possible before the World Wide Web.

So now I am Orthodox Christian and my patron saint is St Alexandra, wife of Diocletian. Back to late Antiquity! My way to Orthodoxy took many turns but was aided at all times by books and broadcasting and by the Internet so it was a very personal journey, tailor-made to my circumstances. I still continue the great experiment.

The New Zealand Antiochian church is scattered through out the land now. You may visit this site where you will discover a lively community under the guidance of Metropolitan Paul in Australia.

Source:


HAVE FAITH - ORTHODOXY

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New York, USA: Journey to Orthodoxy


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Restoring English Orthodoxy: An Interview with Fr. Gregory Hallam

by Tudor Petcu

A Romanian writer, Tudor is a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, Romania. He has published a number of articles related to philosophy and theology in different cultural and academic journals. His work focuses on the evolution of Orthodox spirituality in Western societies as well and he is going to publish a book of interviews with Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. In this article, he interviews Fr. Gregory Hallam, of the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery of the United Kingdom and Ireland .

* * *

1.) First of all I would like to find out more information about the orthodox heritage of England, and of the British Isles, generally speaking. Why can we say that the true origins of England are orthodox, and not catholic, as we know from history?

This question assumes a false choice that is between “Orthodox” and “Catholic”. In the first millennium both the Christian East and the Christian West used both terms interchangeably. The West preferred the term “Catholic”, the East “Orthodox”. During the first millennium the local churches of the East and the West formed one single communion and Church. Canonically, therefore, Britain as part of the Western Patriarchate (Rome) was just as Orthodox as any territory further east. Likewise, the East was just at Catholic as anything further west. One important consequence of all this is that the Saints commemorated locally in Britain during the first millennium are all Orthodox. Some of them have even found their way into the calendars of the eastern churches.

However, unlike Rome subsequently the Christian East has retained the primitive practice of calendars being essentially local productions and not global. However, in the modern era there has been renewed interest in the Orthodox Churches of the East in the Saints of the first millennium Orthodox West. In 2014 for example, 10 of these Saints were formally included in the calendar of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The unity of the Catholic Orthodox Church in the first millennium is a very precious gift to the contemporary churches ecumenically speaking. An examination of the Saints and teachings of the Western Orthodox patrimony reveals a faith and a life, and even an iconography indistinguishable in essentials from that of the Orthodox Christian East. The Great Schism of 1054 AD did not affect us here in Britain at all. Arguably this did not affect the Christian East much either at least until the disaster of the Fourth Crusade. Far more significant for us here in Britain was the Norman Invasion in 1066 AD.

The legacy of this occupation of England by Norman forces enforced new and heterodox traditions into the English Christian mind. Nonetheless Britain’s Orthodox past was never entirely forgotten and from time to time over the following centuries there have always been British people, such as myself, who have rediscovered the authentic English and British Orthodox Tradition.

2.) I think it’s very important to discuss about what an English theologian has called the fall of Orthodox England. Why has England lost during the history its orthodox origins?

See above concerning the Norman Conquest. The Normans followed their cousins, the Franks, in pursuing and enforcing the Hildebrandine reforms of Pope Gregory VII. British Christianity gradually lost touch with its Orthodox roots and by the 13th Century became fully absorbed into the matrix of Medieval European Catholicism.

3.) As far as I know, one of the most important personalities for the English Orthodoxy was King Edward the Confessor. I would appreciate a lot if you would like to explain why is he so meaningful for the Orthodox civilisation in England and how should we understand his personality. I also know that we had some prophecies. Which of them are the most important?

To be honest he is not that important. There are some people (Orthodox and others) who obsess about him because together with St Edmund, both these saintly men were effectively the Patron Saints of 
England before the returning Crusader knights introduced the cult of St George which gradually took over here in England. Edward the Confessor was undoubtedly a very holy, if somewhat ineffectual, King.

His memory is perpetuated by those who in, frankly a romantic fantasy wish that the Norman Conquest never happened. If you have ever read the writings of the English Orthodox priest, Father Andrew Phillips, you will know what I mean! The reality is the Norman Conquest did happen and Orthodox fantasizing about undoing that legacy is absurd. Britain will only become Orthodox again when she builds something beautiful out of the whole of her history and into the present. We cannot live as if the second millennium never took place!

4.) I know that the English orthodox are related to some other local Orthodox Churches, as for example the Antiochian one where you are coming from, but I think the English Orthodoxy has on the other hand its own tradition, which as far as I know, is a very ancient one. So, do tell me please more about the English Orthodox tradition. How can be Orthodoxy adapted to the English culture?

This follows on from the previous question. I may belong to the Orthodox Church of Antioch but that is not because I have any Arab ethnic background. I am in the Church of Antioch because it is one of the few Orthodox Churches that really understands the importance of mission in the West and the need to bring into Orthodoxy those ancient and modern English Christian Traditions which have been obscured by late developments in both Catholicism (post Schism) and beyond the Reformation in Protestantism.

5.) What should we know about the English Orthodox Calendar? Who are the most important celebrated saints in the English Orthodox tradition?

This is an impossible question to answer, there are literally thousands of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Saints, all of them Orthodox. Selecting a few does a great disservice to all the others.

However, you might find these websites helpful:-



6.) Is there in England any orthodox parish only for the English communities? Accorded to this question I wish to point another very important issue: how many liturgical texts were translated in English?

To have Orthodox communities for only one ethnic background would be racist. Britain is a multi-cultural society and we rejoice that our churches are full of people from many different backgrounds, not just the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.

All see themselves as British and this is always how it has been. Many different peoples have come to Britain over the millennia. This issue has to be distinguished from that of the language which is used in the services. There are many Orthodox Churches in Britain who see themselves as only serving one particular ethnic background. Consequently these Churches rarely use English – which is a tragedy. However, all those Orthodox Churches of whatever jurisdiction or background that use English in the services maintain a great diversity of cultures and traditions which is how it should be.

Of course, the British Orthodox of whatever background do not see themselves as an outpost of Athens, Moscow, Belgrade, Bucharest, Beirut or any other place here. We British Orthodox are not a “diaspora”. Most of us are British citizens. The Orthodox Churches which are succeeding to keep their young people and grow Orthodoxy as a LOCAL Church are for the greater part all using English. ALL the services, ALL the prayers and the Orthodox Bible itself have all been in good English translations for many decades. If the British Orthodox have any frustrations, these lie with the lack of imagination and understanding that some have concerning our Churches here.

Eventually there will be by God’s will and grace a single autocephalous Orthodox Church in the British Isles. When that happens, we shall be eternally grateful to those Orthodox from other lands who REPLANTED Orthodoxy here and RECONNECTED the British to their ancient faith, albeit in modern dress.

7.) Should consider that the Russian emigration has contributed mostly to the rebirth of English Orthodoxy in the UK?

Father Andrew Phillips thinks so, but he is wrong. He is deeply in love with Moscow and cannot apparently find any good anywhere else! The Orthodox Church is ONE and we can do without this ethnic fetish, which sadly even some Englishmen practice.

8.) I think one of the main tasks of Orthodoxy in England is to help English people to get back to their origins. In that case, do you think that in the future will be a strong English Orthodox Church with a strong voice in the British society?

Yes!

Source:


ENGLAND OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX ENGLAND

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Christ won the battle 
and made my heart Orthodox

An interview with Fr. John Musther of Cumbria, England

Fr. John Musther, an Orthodox Englishman, serves in the Orthodox missionary parish of Sts. Bega, Mungo and Herbert in Keswick, Cumbria, North West England. His community, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is part of the ancient tradition of the Orthodox Church. The congregation is a living witness of the truth of Holy Orthodoxy to the people living nearby.

In the first millennium, before the Norman Conquest, Church in Britain and in Ireland was in full communion with the universal Orthodox Church, both East and West. Then the differences between Eastern and Western Church were relatively minor, most of them limited to local traditions. Yet striving for holiness was the same.

During that time the peoples of Britain and Ireland gave the world thousands of saints, men and women, kings and queens, martyrs, bishops and abbots, hermits and missionaries. The whole land of Britain retains the memory of the ancient saints of these islands. A great number of early shrines and holy sites are scattered all over Britain and Ireland.

Cumbria, where Fr. John lives, is one of the largest and least densely populated counties in England. The Lake District, part of Cumbria, is one of the most picturesque regions in England, with breath-taking views from the hills. The Lake District is justly famous for many beautiful lakes, hills and forests, and for centuries was inspiring poets and writers, musicians and painters.

In the first millennium Cumbria developed rather separately from the rest of England, and had more links with Wales than with the seven historic Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Christian life of its inhabitants had been influenced by many traditions – Roman, Celtic (Welsh, Irish and Scottish), Saxon and even Norse. Material traces of all of these can be found today.

The Church tradition holds that St. Patrick, Apostle of the Irish, was born here. This region draws people by its magic beauty and tranquillity—and by its very rich early Christian heritage. Thanks be to God, that the revival of Orthodox Faith and rediscovering of nearly forgotten local saints and shrines is becoming a reality because of people like Fr. John Musther.

* * *

Fr. John, how did you become Orthodox?

I met Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov). I was a student at University College London reading for a law degree. It was early 1961 if I remember correctly. At any rate Fr. Sophrony had only recently arrived at the Old Rectory at Tolleshunt Knights, Essex. I knew just a little about Christianity through the Church of England but nothing about Orthodoxy. On Sunday afternoon after the Ninth Hour he invited me into his study while the tea was being made and asked me: what was the purpose of the Christian life? He spoke so gently and when I said that I didn’t know, he simply said, ‘the purpose of the Christian life is to ask the Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts that he may cleanse us and make us more like Christ’.

I sat there dumbfounded. My hair stood on end. I had never heard of such a thing. I had no questions. I knew that what he had told me was the truth of his own heart. The only response was to be still and receive the precious gift he was giving me.

His statement was a complete summary of the Scriptures. It was the Word of God to me. It changed the direction of my life. The power of that word still urges me on.

He told me to read, “The Undistorted Image.” Again I felt completely poleaxed. It was like death. How could a man live like this?

I struggled with the Greek culture of the churches at that time. It was also many years before I could overcome the Protestant spirit that I found in me. Then one day I woke up and felt all my objections had fallen away. Christ had won the battle and had made my heart Orthodox. I discovered I was living near the late Fr. Sergei Hackel’s parish in Lewes in Sussex. He prepared myself and my wife Jenny for Chrismation in 2003.

Please, tell us about your parish.

The two of us moved to Cumbria in 2007 but not before I had been made a deacon with the mandate to see if there were any Orthodox in the area. We had bought a small cottage in Keswick which needed a lot of refurbishment. As the daily offices had already become part of our life we had the 
attic made into a chapel frescoed from top to bottom by (prominent English Orthodox icon painter) Aidan Hart. The painting was finished before we could move in: it was as though the Saints had moved in before us. (http://www.orthodoxcumbria.org the One Way of Holiness in Christ/ The Living Tradition in the British Isles)

We hadn’t far to go before we met our first Orthodox, just 80 yards to the nearest chip shop. We discovered that Orthodox families ran fish and chip shops throughout the top of the county. We had an instant congregation. But the chapel was no longer big enough. Happily for us the local Methodist church had just closed their chapel in the village Braithwaite just two miles down the road. It was perfect for our needs. We were allowed to make it into an Orthodox church for Sunday liturgies while still using the first chapel for Vespers and Matins.

The Orthodox who first came to us were from Cyprus but soon we had English people also asking to be Chrismated. From the very beginning there was a demand to have a liturgy every Sunday celebrated in English. We have a good number of visitors from round the county but a good number more from those who come on holiday to this very popular location. The buildings include a social and kitchen area so after the liturgy we can all sit down and eat and talk. People are often reluctant to leave!

We are very fortunate in having people who are willing to do things. The ladies took in hand the refurbishing the bedrooms from what had been a youth center. So now we can have people to stay. We have been blessed by having a number of families and their children. It is so wonderful that they ask for baptism. Our numbers are 30-50 most of the year round.

The Chapel is on the village green and in summer people sit out in the open air; the children run around and enjoy the village swing. Just higher up is a splendid mountain pool. The water is cold and at Theophany there are only a few who jump in. But in summer it is a glorious spot for adult baptisms.

You wrote a unique book: The Living Tradition of the Saints and Significance of their Teaching for Us. It contains over 350 pages that reflect the wisdom of saints who lived in the Orthodox East as well as in the Orthodox West in the first centuries of Christianity. This is a fruit of labours, prayers and research of some forty-five years. Could you please tell us how this book was created?

Fr. Sophrony gave me a letter of Introduction to visit Mount Athos. I stayed eleven days, which was no mean feat when the monastic life was at such a low ebb in 1963. But I had a big gap in my knowledge of what I call the Living Tradition. I had grasped that the Desert Fathers were the bedrock of this tradition. I knew two people like them, St. Silouan and Father Sophrony. But what about the 1500 years in between? In those days (1962) there was virtually nothing in print in English about Orthodoxy. But I had regular access to the great library of Chevetogne and read everything I could, often in French. I started filling the gap. It took something like forty years to complete.

When people found out about what I was doing they were keen to hear, especially about what the Fathers taught about prayer. Then they asked me to write things down. This is how the book came about. It has proved very helpful for people to get an overview of the one way of holiness in Christ. It has to be read again and again. It has never been advertised. I prefer it that way. It is also the story of our conversion to Orthodoxy.

You have also initiated two very important projects online. One is a British Saints Synaxarion, for which you selected various kinds of information on great many saints of Britain and Ireland: lives of saints, holy sites associated with them, iconography, hymnography, with many photographs and illustrations. One can search the Synaxarion website (www.synaxarion.org.uk) using different criteria: rank, feast-day, icons, troparia and kontakia, holy places, miracles, pilgrimage sites. It is an enormous piece of work. The second project is Early Christian Ireland: here you provide information and photographs of all early Christian sites in Ireland up to 1100, including holy wells, trees and mountains linked to the memory of a saint, Celtic high crosses, round towers, tombs etc. How have you been collecting information on the saints of the British Isles?

One year we found ourselves in Ireland. We visited some of the holy sites there. I was astounded how many and how rich these places are. But it had been difficult to get information about many of them. So I started making a database so others could find their way also. (http://www.earlychristianireland.org). People have been very appreciative. Sometimes people ask me to plot for them a two week visitation of holy sites for their vacation!

We have been round Ireland ourselves twice—but there are still gaps in our knowledge. But by now we had became fervent hunters of remote islands, beehive huts and the tombs of the saints. I cannot tell you how excited we got. How close we seemed to these Desert Fathers.

People asked us to “do” Wales, Cornwall, Scotland and the rest of England. But I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. We feel we have so many friends who surround us, pray for us and encourage us every day.

When we had our chapel frescoed we had our local Cumbrian saints in large size under the central deisis, namely St. Mungo, St. Cuthbert, St. Bega and St. Herbert. We dedicated our Community to Saints Bega, Mungo and Herbert. Around the other three sides of the walls we have St. Anthony, St. Poemen, St. Macarius, St. Barsanuphius, St. John Climacus, St. Isaac the Syrian; St. Maximus, St. Hesychius, St. Gregory of Sinai, St. Simeon the New Theologian, St. Gregory Palamas and St. Silouan.

These are our “clouds of witnesses.” We sing Vespers and Matins every day. We are so happy tacked on to the “end.” Knowing where we are, we know we are truly being saved every day.

In the illustrated articles on these saints and shrines that you put on the parish website (http://www.orthodoxcumbria.org/) you mention that you and your matushka did visit most of these places yourselves. It must have brought great inspiration and comfort to your soul. Looking at these photographs alone, one can say these are truly “holy landscapes” which transform the soul of nearly each traveller… Who are your favourite saints? What are your favourite holy places?

We have already mentioned the Saints. Choosing favourite places is hard but some things stand out: the cave of St. Colman Mac Duach (Colman of Kilmacduagh) on the Burren Co Clare, the cave of St. Ninian in Galloway, and the cave of St. Columba at Ellary in Argyll; the island of Illauntannig off the north side of the Dingle Peninsula (county Kerry), the monastic island of Illaunlochan in Portmagee (Co Kerry), Church Island off Waterville (Co Kerry), St. Macdara’s Island off Galway; the seastacks of the Orkneys, the shrine of St. Issui in the Black mountains (near Abergavenny, Wales), St. Moluag’s church in remote Eynort on the Isle of Skye, St. Triduana’s chapel on Papa Westray, Orkneys. All these are an unsurpassable testimony to serious solitude and prayer. We have made 17 booklets of 40 or so pages covering the entire British Isles detailing holy sites wherever we went.

What was then needed was a Synaxarion of saints in the British Isles so that many of them could return to liturgical remembrance in our services. Of course there was already in existence the extremely important Calendar of Saints published by the Fellowship of St. John the Baptist. But the names need to be backed up by information about the saints in easy accessible form. What better to have it all together on a website devoted to this purpose. So we selected all the saints who played an important part in the history of the church in each area. The saints instead of just appearing on a list are placed in a proper historical and geographical context. Indeed by having a “next” button the whole Synaxarion can be read from beginning to end in this way. This makes not only for a beautiful read but supplies abundant information. The final coup has been to include on each entry of the saint not only an icon where available but photographs of all holy sites relevant to each saint. This in turn will stimulate more visits to more holy sites and more pilgrimages. People can download what they want or be sent a printable version of the Calendar. We realize this is not quite the same as the older Synaxarion but technology has made it possible to do something which fits the bill getting to know and appreciate saints in a way we could never do before.

Could you please talk a little about Cumbria, and offer a brief outline of the history of Orthodoxy in the county? Would you suggest pilgrimage sites the Orthodox faithful would benefit from visiting?

The church came to Cumbria early. At least two chapels have been found on Hadrian’s Wall, Vindolanda and Birdoswald, and Vindolanda may date even back into the fourth century. Just round the corner is Ardwall Island in Galloway where early Irish monks settled in the fifth century. St. Ninian worked out of Carlisle and could have founded the hermit caves of Ninekirks. St. Kentigern (St. Mungo) is said to have preached at Crosthwaite in Keswick. St. Cuthbert was a regular visitor to these western parts. St. Herbert his friend lived on his island in Derwentwater (situated on the territory of Keswick). St. Bega made her cell on the shores of Lake Bassenthwaite very near to Keswick. This is rich stuff for such a small area as Cumbria; and Keswick shows itself to have four saints! What more could we want?

Is there a growing awareness of the ancient saints and shrines of these isles among the native residents of Cumbria and all Britain? What is your heroic parish currently undertaking in order to contribute to the restoration of the rich Orthodox heritage of your country?

In 2007 we did an eight-day pilgrimage to the holy sites of Cumbria using the accommodation at Braithwaite. We hunted down holy wells and to our astonishment found seventy—a figure far higher than previous estimates though some are now lost. Astonishingly such density of wells in the northern area of Cumbria is a new revelation and makes it not far off the density of Wales or Cornwall. In 2014, we began a work of restoration and blessing of the wells. We hope to continue this in 2015 and beyond. At the moment we are writing up what is turning out be a lovely book on all the wells.

In the background here is a deeper question: if Orthodoxy is recently returning to this ancient area of Britain and reclaiming its saints and holy places, how can it be meaningful to reclaim the wells also? People can connect with saints, with (British) monastic sites (of which there are several in Cumbria), and with the great crosses (such as Bewcastle and Gosforth) But with wells? Are they not a cultural embarrassment? We have to answer that. Otherwise we are just making a romantic selection of the past which has little to do with reality. Cultural heritage in Cumbria is the county’s only remaining economic asset and here the Orthodox Church is seen to be preserving a very overlooked part of that heritage. We believe that awareness of the spiritual landscape of Cumbria will dramatically increase through pilgrimages, annual blessings of the wells, and of course through what we publish.

How do you see the future of Orthodoxy here? Do the various Orthodox jurisdictions (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Antiochian and others) work together in this country?

Did you know Cumbria was not part of England to the tenth and eleventh centuries? It was then swallowed up by the Western church just like the rest of the country. The voice of Orthodoxy has been submerged that long. People are deeply ignorant of it because they have no experience of it. It comes as something of a real shock when we came here.

The first thing has been to establish the liturgy every Sunday; the second thing is to have it in English. We must speak about our Fathers: the Greek speakers that we have saints they know nothing about; the English that they have saints they have all but forgotten about. The kingdom “works” through the prayers of the saints, the Gospel is liveable, and sanctity is possible. This is the core of Orthodoxy and it cannot ever change.

But the religious culture of England (and elsewhere) was turned away from the Mother of God, and all the Saints and the Angels. The communion of earth with heaven was met with denial as was the liturgy as a transforming reality. It lost the one way of holiness at the heart of the Living Tradition. People do not know what they have lost.

Orthodoxy must not add to this tragedy. Generations of young Orthodox have already been lost by lack of vision. Multiple jurisdictions wreak havoc with our witness. Where will we be in fifteen or twenty years time? Perhaps even slimmer than we are now, but hopefully more wise and aware.

Pray for us.

It was a real pleasure to talk to you, Fr. John! Thank you for the wonderful interview! We wish you abundant blessings from God in all your labors! May He grant you strength for many years!

Source:


ENGLAND OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX ENGLAND

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Saint Theophanes

& Saint Pansemni the former prostitute in Antiochia, Syria (+369)

June 10

The venerable Theophanes was born in Antioch, to unbelieving parents, but this did not thwart him from becoming a Christian at an early age, though he was not Baptized. When he was fifteen years old, his parents insisted he take a wife. Being married for three years, he was widowed when death intervened and took his wife.

Now unencumbered, Theophanes hastened to a Christian church, and received the Mystery of Holy Baptism. Then he built a narrow cell near Antioch, where he enclosed himself and expelled all his passions that dominated his body and soul, and excelled in the virtues.

With the passage of time, Theophanes learned that in the city dwelled a prostitute named Pansemni, who brought ruin to many men. Pricked in his heart over this calamity, both on behalf of the woman and her male admirers, Theophanes entered into deep prayer, whereupon he was enlightened to ransom Pansemni and take her as his wife. Therefore, he removed his hair shirt and donned expensive apparel. Theophanes visited his father to reveal his intentions in taking a second wife, and the father gladly gave his son ten gold coins.

Theophanes then visited Pansemni the prostitute in her home. Upon entry, he was invited to eat and drink with her. After engaging in a pleasant conversation, Theophanes bluntly asked Pansemni how long she had been involved in her indecent vocation. Unoffended, she stated she had been engaged in her occupation for twelve years. She also added that of all her admirers, Theophanes was by far the most handsome. Unaffected by the compliment, since Theophanes desired to preserve the purity of his soul and body, he told her: “I desire and intend to take you in honorable marriage.” Pansemni was quite pleased at his pleasant proposal, reasoning that it was a singular token of esteem for her, being a shameless prostitute. Accepting his proposal, Theophanes gave her his ten gold coins and told her to hasten in the preparations for the wedding.

Taking his leave, Theophanes returned to his cell outside the city. While Pansemni prepared for their marriage, Theophanes also made preparations for Pansemni by building her a cell not far from his own. Not long after, he returned to the city and visited her. However, this time he placed a condition on her. Unless she accepted the Christian faith and became a Christian, they would be unable to cohabit. Pansemni initially found this condition difficult to accept, so she requested time to consider the matter.

Seven days later Pansemni heard someone speaking about the future judgement, how the righteous would enjoy eternal life and the blessings that come from it, while the unrighteous would receive eternal condemnation. Her conscience became censured by this, and the grace of God moved her to profound contrition, allowing her heart to be transformed from impious to pious. Conscious of her sinfulness, she disowned her ancestral polytheism, and assented to the teachings of the Gospel.

Seeking the perfect path of piety, Pansemni resolved to enter the ranks of the newly-illumined, and received Holy Baptism. Her new path in life moved her to free her retinue of servants and handmaids, and she donated everything she received and acquired through her disreputable occupation to the Church of God for suitable distribution. Pansemni, therefore, bidding farewell to the pleasures of this world, devoted herself to qualities her name implied, that is, to be all-modest.

Having nothing left in the world, she hastened to Theophanes who brought her to the cell he built for her. Inflamed with divine eros, she sought to contemplate the beauty of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, the fairest among men, and sought union with Him intensely and with longing.

Pansemni kept watch over her inward thoughts and guarded her heart in this endeavor, and through asceticism of the body and soul, her labors attracted divine grace, gaining spiritual regeneration and victory. She had such an outpouring of divine grace that she was able to dispel demons and heal diverse passions and illnesses. And this was done in a very short time, since the devout and venerable Pansemni lived only fourteen months after baptism, and she was translated to the Heavenly Bridegroom on the same day the venerable and wonderworking Theophanes surrendered his soul to the Lord.

Source:


SAINTS BOOK - ORTHODOXY

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Orthodoxy In An English Village

by Fr. George Hackney

Near to the geographical centre of England you can find Rolleston, the tiny village where I was born. My family were farmers, as their ancestors had been for generations. In the heart of the village and under the jurisdiction of the Church of England stood the ancient parish church of The Holy Trinity. For centuries it had been the centre of village life. There were no other denominations in the village.

As a child I did not even know that other denominations existed. It was in the Church of England that I was baptised and taught the orthodox Christian Faith. It was in the Church of England alone that I learned and accepted the great Orthodox dogmas concerning the Holy Trinity, Creation, Incarnation, Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Salvation through Christ our God from sin, death and the devil, the necessity for sacramental incorporation by Baptism and Confirmation into the ancient Church founded by Christ and the blessings of grace through the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Absolution and also the ethical and moral demands of the Christian life.The Church of England taught me all this and much, much more, including devotion to Our Lady, both in the parishes where I worshipped and in the Theological College I attended as a young man. It was in the Church of England that I learned to accept the faith of Bible and Tradition and to revere the seven Ecumenical Councils, rather than individual interpretation, as the reliable guide to the interpretation of Scripture

In an English city

I was ordained deacon in 1968 and priest in 1969 and for 32 years I served in the Church of England as a priest, most of the time in the industrial City of Derby.

During those years I sought to pass on to the people that which I had myself received – i.e. that the Church of England was the original and ancient Catholic Church of this nation of England, as its own catechism proclaimed.

That it had survived the Reformation troubles with the apostolic succession intact and that it had no special doctrines of its own – only the agreed doctrines of the Universal Church set forth before the Great Schism of 1054; holding to the Patristic Faith and rejecting modern papal innovations. The orthodox Faith with nothing added and nothing taken away.

First doubts

All this I firmly believed until 1992. It was the unilateral decision of the Church of England to proceed with the ordination of women to the priesthood that first began to shake my confidence. I could scarcely believe that our Synod and our Bishops had decided to proceed with this unprecedented innovation – ignoring pleas from the Pope of Rome and the Patriarchs of the East that we should refrain from unilateral action on so divisive a matter.

When the General Synod of England voted to accept the doctrine and practice of female ordinations 500 or so clergy resigned almost immediately, believing that these ordinations put the validity of the eucharistic celebration in doubt. In the twelve months following the first ordinations of clergy women the Church of England lost 36,000 regular lay worshippers. This was equivalent to the total number of regular communicants in three average English dioceses. The drift from the Church has continued ever since and the number of laymen and women attending Church of England liturgy in this land continues to fall every year.

Resignation.

Eventually I resigned from my parish duties in Derby, aged 60, and went into early retirement because I was becoming very concerned at the way the Anglican Communion, not just in England but around the world, is breaking up into factions no longer in Communion with each other.

Tip of the iceberg.

This is happening over a range of matters doctrinal, ethical and canonical. It is not just about the ordination of women. That was merely the first crack in the wall and a taste of things to come. It was the first sign that those in authority in the Anglican world were willing to surrender orthodoxy and embrace novel doctrines and practices previously quite unknown or previously rejected as heretical.

There is not just one issue but many.

Fragmentation of Anglicanism.

The fragmentation of Anglicanism, which originated in the Episcopal Church of the USA, has spread deep into the heart of the mother Church of England.

I became increasingly unhappy that the Church of England today is becoming less and less like the Church as it was when I was baptised and ordained priest.

In particular the General Synod in London (consisting of Bishops, Clergymen and women and Lay men and women) and the State-appointed Bishops of today are surrendering the orthodoxy of Anglicanism and replacing it with new liberal ways on three fronts: in doctrine, discipline and ethics.

The national Church of England is becoming more and more protestant, more and more liberal, less and less orthodox.

Its Leaders in the Episcopate and its rulers in the Synod seem to be infected with secular ideas which they see as modern and compassionate and in tune with the spirit of modern man and the present age but which plainly contradict the witness of Scripture and Tradition.

This can be seen in many areas today …

in the field of the individualistic interpretations of Scripture that are accepted,

in the ordination of women to the priesthood and soon to the episcopate,

in the revocation last year of the old Convocation Regulations stating that marriage is a lifelong sacramental bond,

in the permission given by some English bishops, such as the present Bishop of Lincoln, for their clergy to give a liturgical blessing to homosexual partnerships as if these were marriages, in the permitted continuance in Office of higher and lower clergy who publicly deny in the pulpit, on television,

in the newspapers and in books and articles even most basic doctrines of the Creed, such as the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his virginal conception and birth,

in the official acceptance of the new idea of Provincial autonomy in doctrine which results in Anglican Provinces around the world deciding on their own authority to introduce new doctrines and practices, of a liberal kind, never before held in Anglicanism, and not held by other Provinces….

and many, many other things which flow from this.

From Communion to Federation.

The Anglican Churches around the world which used to be in full Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with each other are so no longer. The term Anglican Communion is still used by the State Church in England but in reality and truth it has disintegrated into a mere Federation of Churches of Anglican origin. It is no longer true that they are all in sacramental Communion with each other. There is no longer agreement in doctrine, ethics, morals or canon law.
In America already there are, I believe, over 40 Anglican jurisdictions separated and not in Communion with each other or with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here in England there are at least three different Anglican Continuing Churches not in Communion with the official State Church or with each other .

Moreover the Traditional Movement within the State Church, which began as a resistance to the innovations of 1992, and which I initially joined and took an active part in, still hoping we could reverse the tide of liberalism, is striving to form yet another totally independent Free Province as a refuge for orthodox English Anglicans.

Flying Bishops

This movement has been allowed by the General Synod to have four roving Bishops of its own to confirm and ordain members in traditional orthodox Church of England parishes, across Diocesan boundaries. This happens only where the Church Council has voted to resist liberal innovations and has petitioned the Diocesan Bishop for the extended pastoral care of an orthodox Anglican bishop.

In the Church of England now a parish can effectively choose its own bishop. This destroys the reality of the Diocesan Bishop as centre of unity in the local Church.

However these so called Flying Bishops operate only under the control and with the permission of the local Diocesan Bishop, who may be one who does not believe in the virgin birth or the Resurrection of Our Lord and may well be permitting his parish priests to have faithful homosexual relationships, despite the pleas of Lambeth Conference, and to give liturgical blessings to homosexual partnerships of both sexes and in most cases will himself be ordaining female candidates into his College of Diocesan Priests. The Flying Bishops have no jurisdiction, cannot select candidates for ordination, and must be in full Communion with the Diocesan Bishop despite the fact that the people and parishes they serve refuse to be so.

The old Faith

When I was ordained in 1968 by the Anglican Bishop of Bradford, the Rt. Revd Michael Parker, I believed that our Church of England was the ancient, original, western Orthodox and Catholic Church of this land and that despite its faults and failings (for no Church is perfect) it was the right and proper instrument for the ongoing evangelisation and pastoral care of the English people. The Bishop who ordained me encouraged me in this and held the same belief.

This is what I was taught as a young man at my Theological College. I accepted it then and was guided by it up to my last days as an Anglican.

Visit to Serbia

This faith in the orthodoxy of the old Church of England I still held strongly when, in 1983, with my family, I had the privilege of spending several weeks visiting towns, villages and monasteries throughout Serbia and adjacent Regions with Fathers Georgije, Dositej and Longin; at that time parish priests in England and now Bishops of the Serbian Church. At that time I was much encouraged by direct experience of Orthodoxy and Orthodox people in an Orthodox land. It renewed my vision of what the Church of England ought to be and had the potential to become.

The breaking of a dream

In these present times I see this understanding of the Church of England, which I was taught and received, being abandoned on all sides by those in authority. Orthodox Anglican congregations, people and priests are in despair. There is a steady trickle of people and priests leaving the Church of England every year.

Most of them seek to be received into the Roman Catholic Church simply because the liturgy of Rome is Western in form and almost identical to the Anglican Rite, so they feel at home with it and can worship without major difficulties.

This is especially the case with English lay people who initially find Eastern rites baffling.

Even now there are still some Bishops priests and people struggling on heroically to maintain orthodoxy in life and doctrine within the Church of England, but they are increasingly marginalised and ignored. In the year 2000, when I was still serving as an Anglican priest, I was able to take a coach-load of my parishioners to London for a Millennium Mass celebrated in the London Arena and organised by the orthodox resistance network, Forward in Faith.

At that Mass there were 800 concelebrating priests and over 10,000 communicants. For a long time I remained an active part of this struggle to recover orthodoxy in our beloved Church.

Sadly I think that great Liturgy in the London Arena was probably the last gasp of the orthodox constituency in the Church of England. Many of those who took part in it have now left the Church of England. For myself I cannot accept the claim of Rome to impose new doctrines on the Church without the agreement of an Ecumenical Council; doctrines such as that of Papal Infallibility and the immaculate conception of the Mother of God and therefore I could not ask to be received into the Roman Communion.

Time out to think

When you are a very busy parish priest you do not have much time to think deeply about these things, however. The immediate needs of your parishioners are paramount. The day to day demands of the ministry in a large and busy City parish simply leave you tired and exhausted.

Since Annis, my wife, and I came in 2001 to live in comparative isolation near my home village in enforced early retirement I have been able to take time to ponder and to pray.

The root of the matter

At root it is all a question of where Authority lies in matters of Doctrine, Discipline and Order in the the Church of God.

This has always been a problem in Anglicanism but in these times it becomes more and more acute as Provinces, Dioceses, individual Bishops and even Parishes and individual priests assert their right to autonomy – their right not to be bound by Scripture, Tradition, the Ecumenical Councils, the Liturgy, or anything other than their own experience and what appears to them to be the dictates of reason in the modern world.

This question of Authority lies at the root of the fragmentation of Anglicanism today.

Coming home

After much inner struggle and distress I made a clear decision to seek reception into the Orthodox Church . My sole wish is to continue to be an orthodox Christian and not to continue fighting my own denomination in endless wrangling and arguments over doctrine and discipline in a Church where I can no longer remain in full Communion with the Bishop of the Diocese… a church which with almost every meeting of its Synod strays further and further from Scripture and Tradition.

It has not been an easy decision to leave the Church of England because I have served as a priest for the past 32 years, it has been the whole of my life and I knew that if I entered the Orthodox Church it would have to be in lay Communion since I am not bringing a congregation, group or community with me.

However it is more important to me to be simply an Orthodox Christian in the genuine Orthodox Church than to serve as priest. It is a matter of priorities.

Annis, my wife, and I began to attend Divine Service at the Orthodox Parish of St Aidan and St Chad in Nottingham, England. The parish church is a converted Methodist Chapel on Carlton Hill, Nottingham. To attend liturgy we have to make a 44 mile car journey each time. This will always have been normal for many Orthodox in this country but for 32 years I was used to having the parish church right there on my doorstep!

The parish is under the Moscow Patriarchate and all services are served in the English Language, so we have no language difficulties in worship. Although I am more familiar with the Serbian Church than the Russian there is no Serbian Church accessible to where I now live. The parish priest at Nottingham is Fr David Gill and the assistant priest is Fr Peter Brameld. We have two priests and two deacons. Three of these are former Anglican clergy. About half our regular congregation are former Anglicans. The rest are East Europeans and their descendants.

On the Eve of the Theophany this year 2003, eighteen months after resigning my Anglican parish, I was received by Confession and Chrismation into the Holy Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate. At present I am attending the 2 year part-time Certificate in Orthodox Christian Studies course at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge. This is the first Pan-Orthodox Theological College in England. It is affiliated to the ancient University of Cambridge and has a web-site at http://www.iocs.cam.ac.uk

Source:


GREAT BRITAIN OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX GREAT BRITAIN

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The Orthodox William Harrington

by Tudor Petcu

A Romanian writer, Tudor is a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, Romania. He has published a number of articles related to philosophy and theology in different cultural and academic journals. His work focuses on the evolution of Orthodox spirituality in Western societies as well and he is going to publish a book of interviews with Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. In this article, he interviews William Harrington, an American Convert to Orthodoxy.

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TP: With your permission, I am interested to find out more information about your spiritual personality before becoming an Orthodox. Who were you before before discovering Orthodoxy and what was your view on life and its purpose?

William Harrington: Right now, I am teaching adults who never graduated high school and want to get their diploma. I live in Parsons, Kansas on the edge of the GreatPlains and I travel about an hour to get to a small mission in Joplin Missouri. About fifteen years ago, things were quite different. I had been married, but my wife cheated, then got a divorce. This is accurate and I don’t think there is much I could have done that would have changed what happened, but it did make me take a look at my life and see what was missing. My parents were both in the Air Force. My mother had been raised a Low Church protestant and my Father had grown up in an Irish-German Catholic family. He left Catholicism for her and I was baptized by a United Methodist Air Force chaplain.

We attended several different denominations, but by the time I was a teenager, my father had retired from the Air Force and became an Agriculture teacher. We settled in a really small town outside of the small town of DeSoto, Wisconsin. I hunted, fished, worked on farms, and we attended a Methodist church. I was deeply involved and considering becoming a minister, but after I attended college, I drifted away and became your typical secular American.

After the divorce, though, I knew something was missing. I went back to a Methodist church. The Pastor was wonderful. Korean and traditional. Then one Sunday I showed up and they had replaced my pastor with someone that I hesitate to call a Christian. This can’t be the Church, I thought. I quit going, but I had another chance to find what I needed. I have long been involved with a medieval re-creationist group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA has a huge on-line presence on the internet and I belonged to several e-mail lists devoted to the SCA. One of these groups was called PerRel for period religion.

Some people probably thought it meant peril, considering the arguments that we regularly engaged in, but we were a group that enjoyed honest, good arguments. It was on this list that I confessed that I was looking for a church but felt that most protestant churches were unreliable and changeable. One person, a member of a Greek Orthodox Church asked me if I had considered Orthodoxy. The seed was planted. At the time, I was living in Tacoma, Washington. I visited an Orthodox Church in America parish. It was intimidating, but fascinating. Shortly after this, I moved halfway across the continent, basically because I had not been able to rebuild my life after the divorce, and I found that a bachelor’s degree in History (which I had earned) had no real value.

So who was I? I was a well-educated person with a passion for history who had been broken by a failed marriage and, another relationship that had not worked out (I know, I hadn’t mentioned it before). I didn’t believe I had much value and I knew I needed Christ, but I wasn’t able to find Him in Protestant churches or by myself. I was going home to start over and figure my life out. I was in my mid-thirties and starting over, this time in Southern Illinois. I had never been there, but my family was there, so it was home. I found a job working with drug addicts and convicts getting out of prison. I was good at this job and I liked helping people. I was thinking of becoming a counselor. But I knew I still needed more. The seed had been planted.

TP: Which was the main reason why yiu have made the decision to convert to the Orthodox Church? What exactly have you discovered in Orthodox spirituality?

William Harrington: In 2003, I was researching Orthodoxy on-line when I read the difference between Protestantism’s view that God the Father has to punish us for our sins, but Christ took the father’s wrath upon himself. I discovered the Orthodox view that God loves us so much that Christ became one of us and died like us, just to conquer death so we can live. It was like such a weight was lifted off of me that I think I remember crying. I looked in the phone book, found the only Orthodox Church in southern Illinois and went the next Sunday. I didn’t have the courage to do more than stand in the back, but I watched everyone go to the front to kiss the cross at the end of the liturgy. The next Sunday I was there and at the end of liturgy I joined everyone in line and, when I stood before Father George, I introduced myself and said I had to become Orthodox. I was chrismated (I had already been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in about a month after Father got the go ahead from Bishop Job.

What I have discovered is a road that is hard to walk, but never grows boring. A well with no bottom. I found the Church that I had started looking for after the divorce. I remember the Sunday after I was Chrismated, the choir grabbed hold of me, put a book in my hands, and told me I would be singing with them. This was a small church with maybe, maybe, twenty people in it. Most of them didn’t actually sing. What I heard that Sunday was incredible. There was a glorious choir behind us but when I turned around I didn’t see one. I have never heard that again, but I believe I was allowed to hear the heavenly choir for that moment to let me know I was in the right place.

TP: Can you say that becoming Orthodox, you have lived the most important or the deepest spiritual revolution?

William Harrington: No. The problem is that past tense. It’s been twelve years, but I feel like I’m just getting started and the most important and deepest spiritual revolution is still ahead of me.

TP: How and why in your oppinion can Orthodoxy help people to gain redemption?

William Harrington: First. And I can’t stress this enough. We are the Church of Christ. This is not triumphalism, it’s just fact. I’m not interested really, in speculating whether salvation can be found outside the Church. The important thing is we have the Church. She gives us all the mysteries we need for salvation. The hard thing for Protestants to understand is the mysteries are not just symbols. Baptism is really dying and rising with Christ just as we hope to do again at the resurrection. Communion really is the body and blood of Christ and through this we become part of the body of Christ. In addition, we have the teaching and wisdom of two thousand years of saints, not to mention Christ and his Apostles, on the nitty gritty details of what we need to do to become more Christ like. How to pray, how to fast, how to feast, it’s all part of what the Church gives us. As we grow, we can enter deeper into this ocean of teaching, pray better, and become ever more like Christ.

TP: Considering that you are a convert to Orthodoxy, what would be the most important lesson that everyone of us should learn in the Orthodox Church?

William Harrington: The Church is the pearl of great price. I often envy cradle orthodox, but I also see that they often take the Church for granted. They are no different from Protestants and Roman Catholics in this. The Church has more to do with who they see themselves as and less to do with a commitment to living for Christ. I would say, take the time to look at what you have. Its been given too you. Others have had to search for it, many have died to keep it. Don’t take it for granted.

* * *

This interview is one of many that will be published in the book “The rediscovery of Orthodox heritage of the West” by Tudor Petcu, containing interviews with different Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. It will be published in two volumes and the first one will appear by the end of this year.

Source:



JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY


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The greatest gift in the world

Orthodox Korean Ksenia Kim talks about her path to the Church

Today we are publishing an English translation of Fr. George Maximov’s interview with Ksenia Kim, an Orthodox Korean missionary. She talks about her difficult personal choice of faith, the history of Orthodoxy among the Korean people as well as the life of Korean Orthodox community in Moscow and their hopes and expectations.

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Fr. George Maksimov: Hello. You are watching My Path To God, a program about people who during their journey to Orthodoxy had to give up many things and re-consider their ways. We will talk to our guests about things that motivate them and give them strength.

Today our guest is Ksenia Kim, a descendant of Korean people who settled in the Russian Empire more than 150 years ago and seamlessly integrated into the family of peoples of our country. Even before the revolution of 1917, hieromartyr John (Vostorgov) wrote that every year many Japanese, Chinese and Korean people settle in the Russian Empire. He noted that Koreans are the most open to converting to Orthodoxy. Surprisingly, the initiative to convert often came from the Koreans themselves rather than from the Russian authorities or Orthodox clergy. This was the wish of their souls, although, of course, not all the newcomers had it. The revolution of 1917 was followed by a challenging period and the Russian Koreans, just like other peoples of our country, lived through the period of atheism that was forcefully imposed upon our society. Tell me what was the situation in your family and how did you start moving toward Orthodox faith.

Ksenia Kim: I was born in a regular Korean family. Koreans have a difficult spiritual legacy—It is a mixture of Buddhism and shamanism. I remember that my grandmother followed certain rituals. For example, she used to prepare special food and go outside to feed the fallen spirits to please them or ask for help. So if I followed in the footsteps of my ancestors, I would have probably gone in the same direction. However, God gives the right of choice to every person and after comparison and analysis we can make the best decision. My journey wasn’t easy. I studied Islam and Eastern religions, even joined Protestants for a short while. I understood that the truth was in Orthodoxy. It was the only faith that truly touched my heart and I really felt the presence of God there.

Fr. George: How did you truly discover Orthodoxy? Obviously, you saw churches earlier and maybe even walked into some of them. Yet at some point, you discovered the profundity of Orthodoxy. How did it happen?

Ksenia Kim: When hieromartyr Daniel Sysoyev was murdered in 2009, many people learned about him and started studying the legacy he left behind. My Orthodox acquaintance was one of such people. She gave me the book Instructions For Immortals, or What To Do If You’re Already Dead. I would recommend everybody to read this book. It is fairly short—one can read it in one day—but it totally changes the way you see the world. This is exactly what happened to me. In this book, Father Daniel discusses the Church’s teaching about what happens to people after death. After reading the book, I understood that my prospects were poor. In other words, I was heading straight to hell. But why should I go there, if there is a way to avoid this? I understood that I had to repent. For a long time, several months, I was preparing for confession. It was difficult to remember everything that was done in my lifetime. My first confession took place before Easter. It was a long confession—I entered the church on Holy Saturday at 9 am and left around 4 pm. I still keep in touch with the priest who heard my confession and he still supports me.

Fr. George: If you went to confession, this means that you were already baptized?

Ksenia Kim: Yes, I was indeed baptized in an Orthodox Church when I was 19, but this wasn’t serious for me then. My friend told me that she was going to be baptized and I decided that I’d do this as well, to keep her company. We memorized the Lord’s Prayer and went to the baptism ceremony. There was no mandatory catechesis at that time and I knew nothing about Orthodoxy, so this did not influence my life in any way. My real conversion happened after reading Father Daniel’s book and after my confession I started leading the church-based way of life. Later, I found the address of the Church of Apostle Thomas on Kantemirovskaya street in this book, so I came to this church and became a parishioner. So Father Daniel Sysoyev through his book influenced my life and my enchurchment. The blood of martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church. My conversion was directly influenced by the death that God bestowed upon Father Daniel. During the years of my enchurchment, I met other people who came to God either after the death of Father Daniel or after listening to or reading this works. Nobody really knows the number of such people, but I’m sure that this number is high.

Fr. George: Yes, I also know such people and I think their number will be growing. How did your relatives react to such change of your life priorities? Were they sympathetic, did they follow your choice?

Ksenia Kim: Their first reaction wasn’t very positive, but now my relatives (about thirty of them in Moscow) are fairly tolerant and even sympathetic to a certain extent. That is why I’m hoping that God will gradually grant them the joy of being Orthodox. My sister who lives in Irkutsk has already been baptized. This was quite a story—we had to fight fallen spirits for her, as they didn’t want to let her go. They tempted and scared her so much, that we had to ask the priests for help. A week before her baptism demons started visiting her, she actually saw them, they seized her by the throat, attacked her in other ways, knocked on the door. She couldn’t’ sleep a wink for a week. We were afraid that she would lose her sanity, so I called some priests I knew and they said that my sister should rejoice. I was very surprised to hear that as it seemed that there was nothing to be happy about, but the priest said:

“She should rejoice, for if God allows her to see them, it logically means that the opposite is true too, in other words that means that there are good spirits too and that God exists too”.

The demons try to make people stop believing in their existence and in the existence of supernatural world altogether, and here their actions were so obvious that they couldn’t be ignored.

Fr. George: Did those attacks of evil spirits stop after the baptism?

Ksenia Kim: Pretty much. They continued for some time after that, but soon stopped completely.

Fr. George: It’s important to emphasize this, because it is not only your sister; I also know about other similar cases that happened when adult people realized that they needed to be baptized. Sometimes evil spirits try to stop them. All of a sudden people don’t feel well, some even faint right before the baptism. Evil spirits try to attack or tempt such people. However, after baptism the evil spirits lose their powers and all the attacks stop, just as happened with your sister.

Ksenia Kim: It is interesting to note that I, as a participant in those events, was also affected. Despite thousands of kilometers between us (I was in Moscow, while she was in Irkutsk), when these events occurred over there, my faith was tested too. Once I came home and saw that my place was swarming with large flies, although when I left all doors and windows were closed and everything was fine. This was very strange. Where would those files come from all of a sudden? It took me several days to get rid of them. When later I mentioned this to my Orthodox friend, he said: “Didn’t you realize what that was? Do you remember that one of Satan’s names is Beelzebub? It is translated as “lord of the flies”. So, this means that he visited my home.

Fr. George: The hagiography of one ancient hermit mentions that to distract him from praying, Satan filled the hermit’s cave with a multitude of insects. But he didn’t succeed. The event you described clearly shows that Satan has very little power over Christians. We know that evil spirits would like to destroy the human race, but because God protects Christians, all the evil one could do was this petty trick in hope to confuse the person. God’s blessing protects Orthodox Christians who lead a church life. Of course, Satan would like to harm us more, but Got won’t let him. Whenever God allows any temptations to happen to us, including those that involve direct contact with evil forces, this is never beyond our strength. Only as much as a person can withstand. And God is always nearby; He is always willing to give His help to those who ask. The experience of every believer proves that.

Ksenia Kim: There was another event with my sister. I sent her Orthodox leaflets and books about baptism, confession and communion for distribution in churches before the Epiphany. When she had to go to the airport to pick up these materials, she felt so sick that she nearly died. They managed somehow to find people who picked the materials up. Later she told me: “Can you imagine, as soon as I delivered those materials to churches, everything was back to normal”. The sickness came out of nowhere and was gone inexplicably.

Fr. George: Thank God! I know that it is not only you and your sister, other Koreans also find their path to Orthodoxy. I even know that we have a Korean Orthodox community here in Moscow and that you are an active member. Could you tell us more about it?

Ksenia Kim: Yes, there is a Korean Orthodox community in Zaikonospassky monastery in Moscow. First attempts to establish this community were made in 2001 when we organized catechesis studies for Koreans. Later we also organized some children programs, field trips and pilgrimages. The activities were on and off. Finally, God’s will was to send us a priest, Father Alexander Son, and now the community has a priest of Korean descent who takes care of us.

Fr. George: Does your community cooperate with other public organizations of Russian Koreans?

Ksenia Kim: Yes, of course. We worked with the Korean Youth Club. There is also a newspaper, Rossiyskiye Koreytsy (Russian Koreans), which has a staff employee designated for interacting with the Orthodox Church. We also actively work with the Russian Association of Koreans. With the help of Zaikonospassky monastery and this association, we organized a big conference, Koreans and Orthodoxy, in the spring of 2014. This event was dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Koreans’ settlement in Russia. We had a round table with the heads of regional branches of the Association of Koreans where we adopted a resolution on starting a project for development of regional missions in Russia. We wrote an application to His Holiness. Our hierocracy supported the project and active work to establish contact between the missionary departments of dioceses of Russian Orthodox Church and regional branches of Association of Koreans is currently under way. Three pilot projects are already in the works in Southern, Central and Far East federal districts.

Fr. George: Are there places in Russia where the Korean population is larger?

Ksenia Kim: Historically, many Koreans live in the Far East, specifically in Khabarovsk and Primorsky Krai. According to statistics, Koreans are the third largest ethnic group there. Naturally, our priority is working in those regions, but we hope that with God’s help we will expand into other cities.

Fr. George: I remember how I felt when I was reading the notes of missionaries and people who lived in Korea more than century ago. They saw that for a long time the Korean people were caught in the middle between China and Japan and were periodically subjected to oppression by their neighbours. Korean people did not benefit from it. I saw that as soon as Korea became an independent country, Korean people made a huge step in their development. It clearly shows that its potential was previously supressed. Korean people were exhausted by their long-time neighbours. At that time the Japanese and Chinese were fighting over the right to rule the Korean people. When the Koreans learned that they had a third neighbour, Russia, they were very happy. That was when the extensive immigration started. It is a known fact that the Korean Queen Min was assassinated because she was leaning toward Russia. King Gojong and royal prince were actually placed under house arrest.

They managed to escape to the Russian consulate and for more than a year the king was ruling the country from there because it was unsafe for him to leave the consulate. Everybody understood what was going on. This, basically, explains the choice the Koreans made about immigration to Russia and why the Koreans, both those who immigrated to Russia and those who stayed in Korea, began converting to Orthodoxy… It was a voluntarily decision of the people. That is why I hope that with God’s help the work that the Korean community is currently doing will be crowned with success. This would be the result of the choice many Koreans made over a hundred years ago, but that process was, one might say, frozen by the period of Soviet atheistic rule. I’d like to ask you your personal opinion: To what extent do contemporary Koreans have a need for Orthodoxy?

Ksenia Kim: Thank you for this historical side note and your question. Our current missionary activities in the region are primarily aimed at counteracting the Protestants who actively preach among the Russian Koreans, presenting Protestantism as the true Korean religion. They misguide our people, saying that it is the Korean religion, while in fact Orthodoxy is our historic legacy and spiritual tradition. When our ancestors received the citizenship of the Russian Empire, they also received baptism. It was a deliberate and voluntary action. That is why it is important to inform the people and do something lest 20 years from now all Russian Koreans are Protestants. I would not like that to happen, but risk of this happening is quite real because the Protestant missionaries are very active. First of all, we need to pray for deliverance of our people from this, dare I say it, sectarian slavery. There are many active sects in the Russian Federation and one of them has three hundred Korean members. Based on that we can estimate the size of those sects.

Fr. George: Of course, people have the right to learn the truth about Orthodoxy. They should know that Orthodoxy is not simply a part of the Russian culture, but that it is the Church founded by Jesus Christ Our Lord himself. That way rather than making their choice based on some unverified information, they can do so knowing where the truth is and where the true Church of Christ is. Naturally, this requires a lot of effort.

Ksenia Kim: Yes, the desire to find the truth is also needed. It is amazing, that despite the small number of Orthodox Koreans, God leads us to himself. Even more amazing is that people in South Korea, where the majority profess Protestantism, are also converting to Orthodoxy. We hope that God would give us a chance to build the church, because even now when we try to oppose Protestants in Moscow, we unfortunately can’t offer an alternative to people who are used to active community life. All Orthodox Koreans go to various churches and only gather in Zaikonospassky monastery for some joint events or studies. I think that for the purposes of missionary work it would be great to have a church that Koreans could visit for quiet prayer. So that there is no misunderstanding among the parishioners. If a hundred Koreans come to one church, this would probably give the Russian old ladies quite a scare (laughs).

Fr. George: By the way, how did the parishioners of Zaikonospassky monastery receive your community?

Ksenia Kim: They got used to us gradually. However we don’t go there in hundreds, usually there are about twenty of us there during the service. It’s not a large percentage of the total number of parishioners. They know that there is Father Alexander who takes care of us, so they are friendly toward us.

Fr. George: I also wanted to ask you if you had any contacts with people from Korea who temporarily or permanently reside in Moscow. Do you have a rapport with them? I once talked to an Orthodox Korean who grew up in the Far East, then moved to South Korea for some time and later came back to Russia. He told me that living in his historical homeland was difficult for him. Everything was strange and unclear. He even had some kind of culture shock. We have very few people from North Korea here, but what is your relationship with people of South Korean descent? If you had any experience, what was your impression?

Ksenia Kim: Yes, I’ve met South Koreans. As a rule, most of them are leaning toward Protestantism. Very few are Orthodox. In general, they adapt here without problems and get on well with the locals. Mostly they are businessmen from South Korea and students. We had an idea to organize Russian language lessons for these Koreans from Korea. The newly passed law requires foreign citizens intending to live in the Russian Federation to speak Russian, know Russian history and culture, and pass a special test. We would like to help people with this. And of course we wouldn’t be helping South Koreans only. For example, we recently received a letter from a priest from Siberia who baptized a North Korean. This North Korean didn’t even speak Russian, so I can’t imagine how this miracle could happen…That man was sick, and as he was in a grave condition, he stayed at a hospice. The priest asked us to send him Orthodox prayers in Korean as soon as possible. So we had to find Korean translations of Lord’s Prayer, “Theotokos and Virgin rejoice…” and Creed.

Fr. George: What else does the Moscow Korean Orthodox community do?

Ksenia Kim: With the help of Zaikonospassky monastery, our community holds theological courses for adult Koreans. The course subjects include liturgics, Church Slavonic language, catechesis, and Gospel according to the Holy Fathers. For missionary purposes, we also organized free Korean language courses in Zaikonospassky monastery. In addition, our community organizes various field trips, pilgrimages and meetings. We are also planning to cooperate with the Korean Youth Committee in social networks and websites.

Fr. George: This is a very valuable experience. I saw similar initiatives from Orthodox people of various ethnic backgrounds, for example Orthodox Kurds or Kazakhs that live in Moscow. They also wanted to get together in a single group in some parish, but unfortunately these attempts did not come to fruition even though it was a grassroots initiative that came directly from the people. Moscow Koreans, thank God, succeeded, so I think that the example of your Korean community could be useful not only for Koreans, but for other ethnic groups as well.

Ksenia Kim: God indeed is very benevolent toward us; we can feel it because we get a lot of help from everywhere. A lot of God’s grace too. Unlike Russians who have numerous saints and many people praying for them, it is very difficult for us. Every third Russian has people who served God somehow, maybe even saints, among his or her relatives. Russian people get tremendous spiritual support from this multitude of people who pray for them. We don’t have that. In many cases, we are descendants of atheists, pagans and shamans. Our people only now are gradually becoming Orthodox, and that is why God bestows us with His special grace. How Russian monks are rejoicing looking at us is particularly amazing. This is great. They are sincerely, almost child-like, happy to see that we, non-Russians, Koreans, are in fact Orthodox. It is very important to know that God is with us, that He doesn’t abandon us and gives us His support. This, of course, gives us a strong motivation to do more. We have many plans and a great desire to promote spiritual education of children, do social activities, work with youth, and many other things. We hope that God will help us and ask you to pray for the salvation of the Korean people. You know, God doesn’t differentiate between nationalities or ranks.

Fr. George: Of course, the truth is for everyone. I believe that God arranges the life of every person. It is not an accident that you and other Koreans are in Russia and that you were raised in a culture with Christian roots. This is God’s loving gift to you. I have another question for you: Can you tell us any stories about conversion of other members of Korean community? How does God lead them to Orthodoxy?

Ksenia Kim: Sure. There is a story of one woman that I remember particularly well. I won’t mention her name. She had a terrible experience—her child fell out of the window of a multi-storied building. This Korean woman was not a very religious person, but she knew about Orthodoxy and Mary the Mother of God. By some miracle, when she saw the open window and realized what happened, she threw herself down on her knees and cried:

“Mother of God, please have mercy on my son!”

When that woman came down, she saw that amazingly her child was safe and sound and didn’t even have a scratch. They called the ambulance, of course. It turned out that the child only had a broken ankle. His spine, head, arms and legs were not harmed. This made such a great impression on her husband and herself that they went to church and started living a church-based life. God moves in mysterious ways. Some people take a long journey seeking the truth, while others are converted through such incredible events.

Personally, I am eternally grateful to God for arranging things so that I was born in Russia, an Orthodox country, and making me an Orthodox Christian. I think this is the greatest gift in the world. I am even more grateful for it than I am grateful for my life. I can honestly tell you, that when I attend a service, my eyes are filled with tears, the tears of gratefulness for allowing me to be a part of this great spiritual legacy of humankind. And I am very sad when I see Russian people, people who have everything—a great number of saints and pious ancestors who pray for them—and yet these people do not participate in the Church life, do not receive Communion and do not go to church. I feel pain and sadness for such people. God led us, non-Russians, to this greatest legacy, this Noah’s Ark, this huge ship, while some people reject all this on their own accord.

Fr. George: I read hieromartyr Grigori’s (Lebedev) explanation of Jesus’s words A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. (Mark, 6:4). He said that this applies not only to Jesus Christ or a saint, but to Christianity in general. It is without honour in the community that has Christian roots and maybe even exists because in the past ancestors of these people became Christian. There is also a negative effect, when people from Orthodox ethnic backgrounds, not only Russians, are satisfied by a very superficial knowledge of Orthodoxy—they pick up holy water, bless an Easter cake, light a candle—and that is it. Even though that is all they know about Christianity, they have a false impression that since Christianity is ours anyway, it is not very interesting. When such a person starts his or her spiritual quest, he or she thinks:

“Well, Christianity is just Easter cakes and candles. This is not interesting. Spiritual things must be somewhere far way, it can’t be nearby”.

So sometimes Russian people have to make a very long journey and wander the darkest corners of the world only to discover with amazement that the Truth they were searching for is where they least expected it to be. Thank you for reminding us about this and for your story. I wish you God’s help in your spiritual journey and the activities of your community.

Ksenia Kim: Thank you.

Source:

http://cominghomeorthodoxy.wordpress.com

COMING HOME - ORTHODOXY

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New Zealand: Orthodoxy in
the Land of the Kiwi

An interview with the dean of parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in New Zealand, Archpriest Vladimir Boikov
We imagine New Zealand as a distant, fairy tale land at the end of the earth. Its landscapes have become known only recently through their depiction in the movies.

Nevertheless, few know that Orthodox parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad have existed here for a half century now. Other local Orthodox churches also serve the spiritual needs of their flocks in New Zealand. Today we are speaking with Fr. Vladimir Boikov, a recent guest of Sretensky Monastery, about the Orthodox Church today, the Russian diaspora, and the spiritual problems of New Zealand society.

—Fr. Vladimir, what is the Russian Church like in New Zealand; how is it administratively organized in that distant, seemingly exotic land?

—We are part of the diocese of Australia and New Zealand of the Russian Church Abroad. The majority of the Russian flock in our diocese lives in Australia. There are especially many people from Russia and the former USSR in Sydney.

There have always been fewer Russians in New Zealand. The main wave of Russian immigrants came after the Second World War. These were people resettling from Europe and China. Russians came from China in the 1950’s–1960’s, first to Australia, and then some families reached New Zealand. Nevertheless, with time the majority of them returned to Australia, influenced by familial ties and the particularities of life in New Zealand.

—In other words, we can say that the Russian diaspora in New Zealand appeared during the period after the Second World War?

—Yes. Especially many Russians appeared in Australia, and as I said, significantly fewer in New Zealand. The first Russians who came to that country founded three of our parishes. The problem is that there have never been sufficient resources to cover New Zealand in our diocesan center; and, as I think, also because the question of support for parishes and missionary work has never been seriously raised, even by the Russian Orthodox themselves. That is my personal opinion.

In New Zealand there was one Russian priest who came, as did many others, from Australia, from the resettlers’ camp. He himself was a very interesting man—Fr. Alexei Godyayev. If I am not mistaken, he departed to the Lord in 1989. When we travel from Auckland to Wellington, we always stop at his grave in the cemetery and serve a pannikhida. He and his matushka, Anna, are buried in the cemetery in Wanganui. In the early 1950’s, he came and established himself in this little town of Wanganui. He lived there because it was a center of the milk industry, or more precisely, the cheese industry. Fr. Alexei was a chemist, and he is now famous in New Zealand as one of the founders of our cheese-making. He studied bacteria that is used in the making of cheese, and made a great contribution to the development of the production of famous New Zealand cheeses.

He was a true scholar. I read his letters to the bishop in our diocesan archives in Sydney. He related very seriously and conscientiously to his work, and was very busy, because the cheese industry was only just beginning then. It is now an hour’s drive from Wanganui to the capital city along a good road, but the conditions were worse then. But he would travel on the weekends to serve in Wellington, where the Russian Church Abroad had a small parish. Now, just as then, the Russians are concentrated in the three largest cities. These are the capital, Wellington, the large city of Auckland on the Northern part of the island, and on the southern part, the city of Christchurch, where there was recently a strong earthquake. Three parishes were built in these cities at the initiative of Fr. Alexei and certain other people. In Auckland, we have the Resurrection parish, in Wellington is the church of Christ the Savior, and in Christchurch is the church of St. Nicholas.

These parishes are still active. We also had a small mission dedicated to the Archangel Michael in the town of Palmerston North. It was centered around a chapel built in the backyard of one of the parishioners, and certain services were held there. We served there once every few months on Saturdays, when we would go to Wellington. But we have not served there for two or three years now; we don’t have the time or the energy to do it. The Orthodox woman who owns that chapel is now in the hospital.

In the 1980’s, when Fr. Alexei Godyayev retired, a new priest from Australia was sent to us for two or three weeks every two months. This responsibility lay upon five or six priests, mainly from Sydney, and one would come from Melbourne.

Thank God, that in the 1990’s serious attention was given to services in New Zealand, and a permanent priest was sent.

The community grew during those years. At the beginning of the new century, there was a wave of immigrants, and Metropolitan Hilarion, before he became the First Hierarch of the Church, decided to send me here as rector of the parish and dean of the parishes of New Zealand. I have been serving here for six years. Parish life is steadily becoming stronger here. This can particularly be felt in Auckland, because we have a second priest. In Wellington and Christchurch it is less perceptible, but there is serious growth, nonetheless. There are people who relate seriously to parish life. These are regular parishioners, who frequently confess and receive Communion.

—Tell us more about your service there today.

—I am the rector of the Resurrection parish in Auckland, the rector of the church of Christ the Savior in Wellington, and the dean of the Russian Orthodox parishes in New Zealand. We have a second priest serving in Auckland—Fr. Evgeny Kulanov. He has been serving for four years now, and we try to serve according to our strength, more and more intensively. Usually I serve the Liturgy for three weeks in Auckland and one in Wellington.
Since Fr. Evgeny was ordained, we have services in Auckland regularly. It is very rare that we do not have services during weekdays. In Wellington, we are now serving twice monthly.

But the strongest parish we have in New Zealand is the Resurrection parish in Auckland, because most of the newly-arrived Russians live there. Auckland is the largest city in the country, and it is easiest to find work there. A third of the population of New Zealand lives in Auckland.

We have a third priest, Fr. Arkady, who serves in Christchurch. There are great problems there after the earthquake. The church, thank God, was not damaged, only some cracks, but during the earthquake some icons fell… Anyway, the services are still being conducted.

We organized a Russian school in Auckland. It is run at the church, but the classes are taught in another town, where there is space in a building. It has become very popular. It is not a Sunday school , but a Saturday school—the lessons and meeting take place on Saturdays. The difficulty lies in the fact that some people who have to spend time getting their children to school on Saturday then find it hard to get to church on Sunday for services. This is a Western illness: I came once; why should I come a second time? And the school is viewed as a participation in one’s cultural traditional life, part of which is considered also to be the Church.

Of course, we would like to have lessons after the Sunday Liturgy, but that is not possible right now. We recently had a picnic for the parents and children of our Russian school. Eighty-five people participated. That is very good for such a school. Our second priest is the school’s principal. I see that many young families have begun to associate with him more actively. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough space in the church for everyone. On Sundays, many people have to stand outside the church. Some do not want to come to church and stand outside, especially since the church is surrounded by cars. Thus, the current inconvenience prevents people from freely coming to pray. Of course, this needs to be addressed.

The land on which our Resurrection church stands was donated by the daughter of the last Tsarist governor of Tver Province, who bought a few parcels of land in the center of Auckland, and donated one of them to the Church under the condition that a church be built there. The church was built, but it is small, because there were only 20–30 families there at the time, they gathered for services about twice a month, and so a large church was not needed, although the parcel is large.
We are still serving in this small church—20–30 square feet. On Holy Saturday, we had 135 communicants. People had to stand out on the street during the services. This is very inconvenient.

<…>

—Could you tell us about the recent earthquake and its consequences? How did this affect the life of the Russian community? We know that it was a great catastrophe, with many victims.

—The city of Christchurch really did suffer much damage. Almost the entire downtown area was destroyed, and the roads were closed… People’s spirits fell. Some Orthodox families left altogether, some intend to leave forever, while others only left temporarily.

We had never experienced anything like it. The city was a closed zone for two months. Now many who have left are re-thinking their life plans. It is hard for people to stay there, where underground shockwaves are felt almost daily. From September 2010, when the earthquake happened, to February 2011, when there was another strong earthquake, there were 4,000 shockwaves. Now they are happening almost every day, several times a day.

On Bright Saturday, Metropolitan Hilarion and I served Divine Liturgy in Christchurch, to support our faithful there. Vladyka himself wanted to go to Christchurch, serve, and pray with the Orthodox of that city. There were many people at the services, and all received Communion. The service was very touching. We flew in at seven in the morning, and literally before our arrival, there were two strong 5.3 aftershocks. This is frightening, of course. People are in constant tension, waiting for the next shockwave.

During the first earthquake, in September 2010, there were no deaths; during the second, in February of this year, over 180 people died. The first earthquake happened at night, and there were few casualties, while the second happened right during the workday, and many people who were at work or in school perished. In the English language school, over 100 people died.

Incidentally, after two earthquakes in Christchurch, twenty-four Anglican churches suffered. They have about fifty or sixty parishes in that diocese. These twenty-four churches are now closed due to the damage.

—Approximately how many Russians and people from the former USSR now live in New Zealand?

.—In fact, it is hard to count them all. Almost all of the old Russian immigrants are gone—the descendants of those who came from Europe and China. Nearly all of them left for Australia, or have completely assimilated into New Zealand society. The fact that divine services were served infrequently is partly to blame. From the 1950’s to 1980’s, one priest took care of three parishes, and travelling around the country was much harder in those days. On the weekends, he served in Wellington, twice a month he went to Auckland, and he travelled to Christchurch twice a year.
In general, there has always been a tendency here to go to Australia, and this goes on today. People use their residency rights in New Zealand in order to get to Australia. They come to New Zealand, live a while, receive their residency permits, and then go to Australia.

I would say that currently in Auckland there are from seven to ten thousand Russian Orthodox people who arrived after 1990. In Wellington there are probably 1,000–2,000, in Christchurch there are much fewer—around a thousand.

—What do the Russians in New Zealand mainly do?

—That is a very interesting question. It is also one of our problems.

We won’t talk here about the immigrants from the older generation, who have completely adapted, become New Zealanders, have professions, and a stable social standing.

If we speak of the majority, then those who came in the 1990’s intended to work in their professions. These were scholars, doctors, engineers, and specialists in general. They thought that they would come to this fairy tale land, would be given jobs, and everything would be fine. I think New Zealand itself also counted on this, to a certain extent. But in the end, it turns out that there is a serious language barrier, and New Zealand did not fully recognize the soviet diplomas and degrees. They had to learn the language and pass qualification examinations.

Not many who had studied for years in their homeland and then achieved some success in their fields were ready to tackle this serious and sometimes humiliating work. These educated people would sometimes have to do menial labor: dig ditches, paint houses, make repairs, adapt and earn money in whatever way they could. This reflected itself in parish life. Many were “lost” because they had to work on Sundays.

At the beginning of this century, the situation has changed somewhat. People have arrived who already know English, although the level itself of professionalism has fallen. Many have come on student or other visas, in order to somehow catch on and remain living in New Zealand.

Many of our parishioners are preoccupied with serious life problems. Now, people often come to church and ask for molebens to Blessed Xenia of Petersburg, so that she would help them find work, or obtain their [residence] documents. And she really does help many people. I myself believe in this, and call all to pray to her, because I myself feel great help from St. Xenia.
People who have turned up here live far from our Russian culture and the traditions of our Orthodox Church. This isolated life is also one of our most serious pastoral problems. Now with all the means of mass communication and information, the world has become nearer in some respects; but even so, we feel we are far removed from everything.

Returning to what our immigrants are doing, I will say that there are those who have gone through all the necessary procedures needed to enable them to work in their professions. I know doctors who have confirmed their qualifications in New Zealand. True, there are only four. It really is a difficult path. One has to completely reorient himself and become a student again, pass exams. Then, perhaps a person was a head doctor in Russia, but here, even after having received the corresponding registration, he has to work at night, do the grunt work, work on weekends, and so on. What head doctor will want to work on Saturday night or Sunday morning when he comes to the “land of milk and honey?” So, this is also one of our pastoral problems.

Another pastoral problem is that there have been many marriages arranged over the internet. In New Zealand, agriculture is well developed. We have many large farms, located far from the cities, and sometimes it is hard for a farmer to find a wife. Many use the internet to do this. They specifically look for Russian sites, meet someone, pay a lot of money, do all the paperwork, invite their fiancés, and register their marriages. However, the women from Russia come to us without a thorough understanding of the land they are coming to, and what awaits them there.

I believe that this social phenomenon has done much harm to our Russian Orthodox society. Especially to the women. They come, for example, from Moscow or St. Petersburg, and find that they are not able to become simply wives, to live in the backwoods of New Zealand, where no one speaks Russian, and there are no women friends or acquaintances. They fall into depression, and their husbands don’t understand them. This all leads to personal tragedy.

When I came to Auckland in 2005, we opened the church twice a week: Wednesday mornings and Friday evenings. People, mainly women, came and placed candles. I specially sat near the candle table and talked with those who came in, asked their names, and where they came from. Very often, I would listen to the first twenty minutes of their ecstatic tales of how great it is in New Zealand, but when the conversation would reach the heart, the women would simply begin sobbing. They came here with their dreams about how their husbands would make their lives so special, that they would love each other, and that they would be living in an earthly paradise. But their husbands cannot relate to them normally. They don’t understand each other. Then arguments begin, and scandals.

The thing is that the Western culture of Australia and New Zealand is something quite particular. It is not even the U.S.A. I can say this quite definitely, because I myself am an Australian, and was born in Australia.

Now the wave of such people has waned. I think that there are a great deal fewer of these “internet marriages.” Their peak was in the late 1990’s, but now the New Zealand men themselves understand that this is a mistaken practice.

There are, of course, parishioners (now the majority), who work in their professions and have work where their profession was needed, and so their work is more or less pleasant to them. Most of the women are accountants, and work somewhere in accounting departments, in hotels or other companies. The men are mainly electrical, construction, or other sorts of engineers.

The majority of parishioners are still not able to buy their own homes, to fulfill their dream of having their own living space. Many rent apartments. Nevertheless, they are very conscientious about their work and their spiritual lives. This is very perceptible—a spiritual upsurge. Our church in Auckland has once more become a center of Russian life for those people who need it; and glory be to God!

—How else is the Orthodox Church represented in New Zealand? Are there other national Churches there?

—Yes. The largest in number of parishes is in the Greek Church, Constantinople Patriarchate. Greeks and Arabs were essentially the first Orthodox people in New Zealand.

The first parish was founded by Orthodox Lebanese and Arabs at around the beginning of the 20th century, in the town of Daniden, on the very southern tip of the island. Then the Greeks began actively immigrating after the Second World War, like our Russians, and settled mainly in Wellington. The Constantinople Patriarchate is the only national Church that has its own bishop in New Zealand. This is Metropolitan Amphilocheos of New Zealand and the Pacific islands. He is an active missionary. He has been laboring for the second or third year on Fiji Island, where he has built a church, and already has several priests from amongst the local population. He spends the greater part of the year there. Vladyka Amphilocheos was earlier the archimandrite and abbot of monasteries on Rhodes. After becoming the bishop of New Zealand, he also retained the abbacy of the Rhodes monasteries, and he goes there periodically to spend some time.

The Greeks have established four or five missionary parishes over the past two years in New Zealand, and in one place, they have even purchased an old Anglican church, where one hieromonk now serves. Vladyka Amphilocheos has five or six clergymen. They have a small monastery, in which they recently constructed a church. Vladyka is a strong, experienced spiritual father, he has spiritual children all over the world, who actively help him in all his missionary endeavors.

You rarely meet such a selfless attraction to missionary work in our Western world. Vladyka labors on Fiji Island, where it is hard for a Westerner just to live because of the climatic conditions. There, it is not only hot; it is very humid and stifling. The ordinary clothing of a Fiji Islander is a tee shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. But Vladyka Amphilocheos always wears a Greek ryassa and klobuk, and serves in full hierarchical vestments.

There are also three parishes of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The strongest parish today is in Auckland. They recently purchased an old Presbyterian church. We had our Paschal services there with their permission, because we don’t have enough space. Those living in Auckland are almost all refugees from Kosovo. The SOC has also established itself in Wellington. They have the largest church there, but there are few older Serbian immigrants, while the majority of new ones live in Auckland. They have the same problem as we have with the newly-arrived: difficulty with the language, and the lack of acceptance of their degrees and qualifications.

The Serbs also have a small community in Christchurch. They live together, side-by-side with Russians, serve in the same church, and this is very pleasant. Fr. Liubomir comes to them from Wellington and serves with our priest on Sundays, they are friends, and it is very nice to see how we, who are living far away from our homeland, help and support each other. Some Romanians come to us in Oakland (fewer now that they have been sent their own priest), Bulgarians come (they do not have their own church or priest), as well as Macedonians.

In connection with the Serbian Church, I would like to recall one born New Zealander who converted to Orthodoxy and a became monk in the monastery of Kovil. He labored in monasticism in Serbia and was a brother in this monastery, located not far from Novi Sad. He departed to the Lord not long ago. This Fr. Savva was from Hamilton, and he used to come to our services. He was a very kind man.

There is also the Romanian Orthodox Church. The new Romanian bishop of Australia and New Zealand, Michael, is young, very energetic, and of a missionary spirit. He has already established four priests in New Zealand. There are fewer of them than there are of us, but they relate very seriously to themselves. I very much like the spirit of the Orthodox Romanians. They have services in Auckland, in the small town of Hamilton, in Wellington, and in Christchurch. The Romanian government helped them purchase an old Anglican church in Christchurch. It was in poor shape, but they serve in it nonetheless. During the first earthquake, some bricks fell, and the church was closed; during the second earthquake, two-thirds of the church collapsed. Thank God, they were serving in their hall at the time and no one was inside the church. We concelebrate with them when there is a feast, inviting invite each other.

There is also the Antiochian Church here; it has several parishes, which serve mainly in English. They also conduct missionary work amongst the New Zealanders.

—What is unique about missionary work in New Zealand?

—It is very hard to do missionary work with the New Zealanders, just as it is in Australia. They are absolutely different people from, let’s say, Americans, never mind Russians. An American, for example, seeks something. That is why they have so many sects, protestant [denominations], and churches are founded by the thousands—they are always seeking something. Australia, however, and even more so in New Zealand, there is a completely different situation.

—They are not seeking anything?

—No, they are seeking, but what are they seeking? They are seeking the beach, soccer, beer, and television. In New Zealand, on Saturday evening everyone should be at a rugby game, or watching the match on television. If it is not rugby season, then cricket, or some other sport. Sport is a very strong thing, and everything is based upon it. Drinking beer is also nearly a religious act. The beach and vacationing are also. Every New Zealander tries to have his own dacha. This is often a small hut somewhere by a beach so that he can go there on weekends, forget his cares, shut himself up in it, swim, lie around, read the paper, and then return to the everyday world late Sunday evening.

—Apparently the climate, conditions, and standard of living have such a relaxing effect?

—I would say that this relaxation, worldliness in spirituality is especially felt amongst the Catholics and Anglicans. Perhaps they themselves do not understand this, but certain older, more conservative Catholics and Anglicans do understand why there are so few people in their churches.

How to they adapt to life, if that is how it is? How do their parishes continue to live? Every parish opens its door to other religious groups. For example, next to our parish is a very beautiful church dedicated to the martyr Alban. It has one of the oldest and largest organs in New Zealand, but they do not use it, because there are only about fifteen traditional Anglicans left in the parish. On Sundays the church fills up five different times—after the Anglicans come some island Christians, then once or twice a month come some Indian Thomasite Christians, then someone else. Thus, from eight in the morning to six in the evening, their church is busy, but not only with Anglicans. Those who use the church pay the Anglicans some rent. They are in a pitiful condition, they have no money to repair the churches, because there are no parishioners. They often rent their buildings.

Our Serbs who bought the church served very often in the hall of the Anglican church. At that time, they had six groups who used this church and its property on Sundays. This is something very widespread now, due to the decline in faith and religious life. Every church is used for some other, even non-religious, purpose. Either bingo, or dance, karate, or something like that—just in order to support that church.

—How does the institution of the traditional family stand in Russia?

—I would say that the immigrants play an important role in this. Indians, for example, have a very strong family institution, as do the Chinese and Moslems. Our Cook Islanders also have strong families. (They once lived under the government of New Zealand, and so now easily receive residency permits, and are preferred ahead of other emigrants.) These are very religious people and very traditional. When you drive past their churches on Sunday, everyone is dressed in white suits. They have very open souls, are simple, and very pure. My matushka worked with sick children in a school where they teach children with cerebral palsy, and there were very many aides from amongst the Islanders, because they have soft hearts. In every class there are several children and several aide. The majority of these aides were these Cook Islanders.

The Maori also have a strong traditional family institution. This is called in Maori, “faneo.” This means not only your own personal family, but also your common family; the concept extends even to the tribe. Everyone is obligated to help each other. The problem lies in something else. It is hard to talk about this because of political correctness, but the Maori and certain other islanders have a problem with crime. They themselves war with this, but because their young people rarely finish school, these problems arise. They work at the most simple jobs, have too much spare time, and, of course, they have an inclination, like other natives (American Indians, Australian Aborigines) toward alcohol and drugs. This is something that happens all over the world: natives always suffer more from these Western illnesses than the Westerners themselves.

—Do you know at least one Maori in New Zealand who converted to Orthodoxy? Are there any plans for missionary work amongst them?

—I have not yet heard of a single Maori who has become Orthodox, but the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom exists in the Maori language. We have not celebrated it because none of us know this language. The translation was made by a priest in the Antiochian Church, but he is now serving in Alaska, if I am not mistaken, in the OCA. I do not know how complete it is.

—Thank you, Fr. Vladimir.

Interviewed by Hieromonk Ignaty (Shestakov)

Translation by OrthoChristian.com

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The Kemper Family Journey

Don, Jacque and Ron’s beginnings into Orthodox Christianity started 38 years ago when we first discovered Christ…

by Don & Jacque Kemper

Don’s Story

We were living in Reno, Nevada and through our neighbors we began going to an Evangelical Free Church. It was a great Bible teaching church, very small but with 5 gifted Bible teachers, one had worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls before his retirement.

After leaving Reno for Kennewick, Washington we attended the Christian Reformed Church. Again a very conservative Bible teaching church, with a pastor who was very involved in Campus Crusade ministries and especially a prison ministry. For most of our 27 years in Kennewick our home (which was close to our church) became an auxiliary Sunday school room and a Wednesday evening bible study.

Don was actively involved in the church as an elder and a Sunday school teacher. My interest was in Bible Study Fellowship, a non-denominational 7 year Bible study that has over 900 classes world-wide. In BSF I had various roles and several years later Don helped start a men’s BSF class, where he was a Teaching Leader for 17 years. This was a ministry he loved and regretfully left when we moved from Kennewick to Colorado to be near family.

Besides our church involvement we helped a local Young Life program get started in Kennewick. Added to this involvement Jacque was invited to speak at various women’s retreats and was surprised to find out that instead of being a nervous wreck, that it was very satisfying and lots of fun.

Ron in the meantime graduated from our local community college and before going on to Washington State University to study nursing, he decided to take a year off and attended Ecola Bible college at Cannon Beach Oregon. This was an incredible experience and he was able to study and learn from some great teachers. After graduating from the Inter-collegiate School of Nursing at Washington State, Ron had lots of experience in Home Health, Hospice, and as an Oncology nurse. He took a brief respite from nursing and studied a second love of his, computers. But he decided his heart was in nursing and he now works at Sky Ridge Hospital in Lonetree, Colorado.

After Don retired we moved near to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. While there our introduction to Orthodox Christianity began with a visit from our youngest son Chris, who is part of an Orthodox Church in Post Falls, Idaho. We have to admit, when he first visited us 6 years ago we were intrigued by what he shared about Orthodoxy, but with our protestant outlook we found it all very strange and confusing. We wrote off his involvement as something for him but definitely not for us. Crossing yourself, candles, icons and incense were way beyond our grasp.

After some harrowing trips over the mountains to visit our daughter Rebecca and family, we decided we wanted to live closer to them, and moved to the Denver area. We were surprised and amazed to discover that she was also involved in the Orthodox Church.

In order to understand the reasons for Chris and Rebecca’s transformed lives we began reading the reams of material that they gave us on Orthodoxy and asked to go with her to church. She kindly took us to Saturday evening vespers, knowing that this was a less overwhelming introduction to a church that was so different than anything we had ever experienced. A church where the able-bodied stood for a 2-3 hour liturgy, where there was chanting, incense and icons everywhere. Fortunately what she had given us to read, her own personal experiences and observations really paved the way for our entering into a new way of worshipping.

One of Don’s greatest hungers was to find a church where worship of Christ our Lord was primary. Over the years we all had become dismayed how even the more conservative denominations were becoming more worldly and seemed to be focused more on the congregation and its needs rather than worship of the Lord.

The evening the three of us walked that into that Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs we were overwhelmed by the whole experience; the liturgy and the attitude of worship convinced us that we had come home. We are awed by the fact that we have been so blessed by God to be led to this church, where we are experiencing what our hearts have for so many years been yearning. On the eve of Pentecost, 2007, we we received into the Orthodox Church, and our journey that started 38 years ago in Reno took on a whole new and wondrous beginning. Our only regret it that it took so many years in coming.

Ron Kemper

Jacque’s Story

The emphasis of my testimony is slightly different then that of my parents in the aspect that I was raised in a non-Christian home for the first thirteen years of my life. My mother became a Christian and soon afterwards in February 1969, my mother showed me a Campus Crusade Four Law book to me and I prayed the prayer in it, to receive Jesus as my lord. Shortly afterwards also our family began to attend the Evangelical Free Church in Reno, and later the Christian Reformed Church in Washington state, when we moved there in 1973.

I guess my experience with Protestantism is similar to that of many other Protestant Christians in the aspect that the emphasis was in praying the salvation prayer, and then try to live the Spirit filled life by being obedient to God’s word in the Bible. I knew we were supposed to worship the Lord, pray to Him, study His word, and somehow be obedient to Him; but there seemed to be no systematic way in doing these tasks. In my Protestant life worship ended up being a secondary activity, occurring only on Sunday morning services—usually consisting of reading the Ten Commandments, or of the Golden Rule, singing five or six hymns, praying four or five times (one usually silently for about twenty seconds to privately confess ones sins).

After about ten years in the faith, I heard a pastor mention that we should have five minutes a day for a quiet time of devotion in the Bible, so I added that too—to my life. I would drop my Bible, read whatever it fell open to and then pray a simple short prayer—‘Lord get me through this day without any close calls or flat tires’ (I had a pre-occupation with my driving in high school and college!). However apart from the time I spent attending church, and with my time in the word… I spent little time thinking of God… assigning my time with Him to a brief moment in the mornings, and an hour and a half on Sundays.

I went on with my life—in 1978 I attended nursing school, graduated in 1980 and began work on a poorly-staffed cardiac floor in Phoenix, Arizona. I got so depressed with the poor working conditions, and despaired over my lonely single existence that I took a year off to attend a small Bible college in Cannon Beach, Oregon. After rededicating my life there, I then had considered Christian ministry such as one on a Christian-run hospital ship. That opportunity fell through, but shortly afterwards, I then found a rewarding job as a cancer nurse in a large hospital in Tacoma, Washington; and considered that as a form of service to God.

Not finding any church completely satisfactory in fellowship, worship, or in Christian service—I began attending Bible Study Fellowship, a non-denominational Protestant Bible study, on a regular basis.

Eventually I was baptized in a relatively minor (and private) ceremony, in a mainline Protestant church where I was trying to find worship that made sense. What I ended up finding instead was the same old problem of token attention to worship, a ‘what’s in it for me attitude’ present in the church I went to—and more disturbingly I found that also to be in my own thinking. In the churches I attended, I also felt that no one seemed to care concerning my own personal walk with the Lord, or with where I stood with the Lord… there was no accountability to the Lord, to anyone.

After many years of emptiness, frustration and personal apathy over my walk with the Lord… my sister Rebecca suggested that I try the Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs where she was attending. I first went on a Wednesday evening to Vespers with some slight apprehension as a Protestant, not knowing what to expect.

But the very moment I walked into the building, I saw the iconography, smelled the incense, heard the gentle voice of the choir and saw the Priest, Father Anthony facing east. It became apparent that all of the attention was in worshiping the Lord God almighty.

It immediately became apparent to me that I was with the saints in heaven as much as with fellow believers in worship. Such wholeness, in worship I never had ever experienced in my life as a believer—this is the Church, the body of Christ. And refreshingly absent was the ‘me’ attitude, substituted instead by humility in worship.

Being an Orthodox Christian is being whole. I see the way we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—acknowledges the whole Trinity.

The way we venerate icons I see includes the whole body of Christ, including the saints who have run the good race before us. Now gone from my thinking is the agnostic way of neglecting the whole God-head in prayer. Gone also is my unbelieving ignorance of my spiritual forefathers and mothers—they are not dead but alive in Christ, able to hear, see in the present.

Being whole also includes the confession of sin, being accountable to Christ, with the help/guidance of His priest—this now allows me to turnover the full burden of my life all to Jesus—rather than trying to self diagnose myself during a token quiet time. Bible study, prayer and fasting in the Orthodox faith also is becoming apparent to me as being a 24/7process that doesn’t occur just on Sunday’s, or during a weekly Bible study—but as a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment process.

I still have so very much to learn concerning Orthodoxy. It is not an easy way to go. But as I see it, it is the only way to experience the fullness of walking with Christ.

Source:


WASHINGTON OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX WASHINGTON

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Reformed Calvinist Converts To Orthodoxy

by Alison Sailer Bennett

I grew up in a fundamentalist “Bible church” that loved God and had a clear desire to serve him, but I questioned why my church was so isolated from other Christians. By the time I graduated from high school I found something in the more historical faith of Reformed Presbyterianism but still wondered what exactly transpired between the first century A.D. and 1517. During my first year of college, I attended a Reformed Church on Sunday mornings and a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday evenings. My theology was still Reformed, but I longed for rich, liturgical worship saturated in Scripture.

A year later, I encountered Eastern Orthodoxy and knew immediately that this was where I belonged. General dissatisfaction with evangelicalism led me to search for the historic church of liturgy and sacraments. And while Reformed Christianity sometimes has these elements, I found the fullness of them only within the Orthodox Church.

Protestantism’s narrative of church history left me dissatisfied. In particular, what happened between the first century church and the dawn of the Reformation? Evangelicals essentially told me that the Christian church fell into heresy right away and did not recover until years later when Martin Luther rescued the faith from the hands of Roman Catholicism. Reformed thinking is more generous to the early church, but still takes significant pause at what transpired between Jerusalem and Geneva.

Orthodoxy claims that the church has been here all along, unchanged, and still relevant. Orthodoxy is both “right belief” and “right worship” in the context of apostolic succession. In other words, someone has to preserve the faith (duly ordained bishops), and the right faith must be preserved (Orthodoxy). Christ promised to build his church (singular),

“and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Evangelical and Reformed Christianity left me dissatisfied by their liturgy. All churches inescapably have a liturgy, but many evangelicals say that formal liturgical worship is “canned,” “dry,” or pharisaical. The Orthodox Church worships together in beauty and holiness, and I was drawn to it. Because liturgy is rooted in the Incarnation, we worship God with our whole being: body, mind, and soul. Anyone who has attended an Orthodox service can speak of the holistic worship: incense, icons, vestments, chants, and prostrations.

Finally, evangelicalism left me dissatisfied by its sacraments where there is little to no recognition of the elements as physical vehicles of grace, and Communion is celebrated more as a memorial service than as the life-giving bread and wine. Orthodoxy understands that all of life is a sacrament in Christ who fills life itself with the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy is centered on one sacrament – the Eucharist – which is the

“sacrament of sacraments”

and the heavenly banquet of the kingdom of God. In Holy Communion we partake of the body and blood of Christ, the Eternal Passover Lamb, who makes us alive and holy with himself. This is why we worship, and this is why I transitioned from evangelicalism into the fullness of the faith – Christian Orthodoxy.

Source:



JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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Fr. Meletios Weber, England: 
Through Oxford to Orthodoxy

England, USA & the Netherlands

Archimandrite Meletios Webber, of Scottish background, was born in London, and received his Masters degree in Theology from Oxford University, England and the Thessalonica School of Theology, Greece. He also holds an E.D.D. (doctorate) in Psychotherapy from the University of Montana, Missoula. He is the author of two published books: Steps of Transformation; an Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (Conciliar Press, 2003); and Bread and Water, Wine and Oil; an Orthodox Christian Experience of God (Conciliar Press, 2007).

This interview was originally published in Pravoslavnie.ru.

* * *

Fr. Meletios, could you tell us a little about your journey to Orthodoxy in Oxford, and how you became a priest?

I went to Oxford as a theology student in 1968, and very quickly found an Orthodox Church there. The parish priest at the time was Fr. Kallistos Ware, who is now Metropolitan of Diokleia, and the deacon at the time was Fr. Basil Osborne, who is now Bishop of Amphipolis. The parish in Oxford was both a Russian and a Greek one, coexisting in a small room in what had once been the house of the famous Dr. Spooner. I was immediately attracted to the quality of the stillness that I found in that small room. That has been something that I have consistently valued in the Orthodox Church ever since. It is a quality which is difficult to talk about, but it happens when one goes into a space which is so obviously God-filled. That is something that I found very important and very attractive at that time. Under the tutelage of Fr. Kallistos I became Orthodox three years later, and I was ordained a priest some three years after that in January of 1976, by the Greek Archbishop of Thyateira in Great Britain, and served with that bishop as his chaplain for a number of years. My first parish in Britain after I returned from my studies in Greece was in an area of London called Harrow. From Harrow I went to the United States and spent 22 years there, before returning to Europe to live in the Netherlands in 2005.

In which parishes did you serve in the U.S.?

In the beginning, in 1984, I served as the parish priest in the churches of the state of Montana. There were three active parishes, two missions, and several other groups. This was with the Greek Archdiocese. I used to travel a very great deal throughout the year, which was at times a little more exciting than I wanted it to be. The people were very scattered, but very few in number. A trickle of converts started toward the end of my time there, but for the most part I was serving Greek Americans.

Were there any converts at all while you were there?

In Great Falls, Montana there was an air force base, and we had a number of very fine converts coming to us from that direction. We baptized a few families who were attracted to the Church from that place. It would be difficult to say that the Greek community found it easy to accept non-Greeks, because they saw themselves as a sort of bastion of Greekness. They were very friendly on the whole, but they simply did not know how to react to people who wanted to join the Church who were not Greek, who didn’t speak Greek, and so on. They also found it difficult at that time (and I think this is still the case), to keep their children in Montana. Almost everyone would leave the state as soon as they were able, in search of employment or education.

Because Montana simply does not have very much to offer in the way of employment or education?

Certainly in Great Falls there wasn’t. In Missoula and Billings there are universities; in Missoula there was quite a thriving Orthodox community. But even then, with the exception of two or three of my former altar boys, who went to get their law degrees and then returned to practice in Montana, most people found it difficult to find professional development in Montana. It is a problem in a state which has a huge surface area and a relatively small population.

Where did you serve after Montana?

I went to what is known in America as “The Bay Area,” meaning the area around San Francisco, and became the chancellor of what was then the Greek diocese of San Francisco, with Bishop Anthony. I served with him as chancellor for two years, during which time I served as parish priest in Santa Cruz. After I ceased being chancellor, I was then full-time parish priest in Santa Cruz, for another nine years.

Is that the same parish in which the murdered Fr. John Karastamatis served?

Yes. He was not my immediate predecessor; there had been three other priests in between. I knew his presbytera quite well, and his children. He was murdered on the premises of the church, in very unpleasant circumstances, some years before I arrived, but it was still a very dominant factor in the life of parish while I was there—something they couldn’t forget.

In your experience as a pastor in America, with the Greek population and later with a slightly more diverse group, what would you say is the most challenging aspect of being a pastor there?

I think that there are many problems, but none of them is insurmountable, so long as the focus of parish life always centers upon the words of Jesus and the Gospel. It is easy to become distracted into the realms of, for example, Greek culture and cooking, or folk dance, all of which are wonderful activities in themselves, but can never be the backbone of parish life. The backbone of parish life has to be spiritual in nature, and based very firmly upon the Gospel. So, the interests of parishioners can be in one direction, and those of the pastor in another, and it is up to the pastor to help the people whom he is serving stay focused on what is important; encouraging them, of course, in all these other areas as well, but making sure that the spiritual core is always present in everything that they do.

Did you ever find that it was a challenge for your Greek parishioners to have a pastor, even a chancellor, who was not at all Greek?

Yes, well, you would have thought so. But when I was in London I was serving a community that was almost entirely Cypriot, and also Greek- speaking. I survived that experience reasonably well. They used to call me in the Cypriot dialect “O kochenos,” which means “The red-haired one,” since I had red hair in those days. I have always found that although I am not Greek, I speak Greek reasonably well, and I can feel Greek enough to participate in Greek parish life—sometimes perhaps too much so. (Perhaps a little stoic reserve would be more applicable.) But because I speak the language, with very few exceptions (and there have been some), I have never been made to feel an outsider.

Bishop Anthony (whom I mentioned earlier, and who went on to become Metropolitan Anthony, reposing in 2004, on Christmas day), was not an easy man to work with in many ways. But the one thing that always surprised me about him was that with regard to ethnicity, he was sort of color blind. He actually forgot that the people around him were Greek, or not Greek. It simply was not important to him. This was one of his great strengths, actually, in bringing the metropolis together.

Now that you have come to Holland, you are entering into a new realm—the Russians, the Dutch, and other Europeans who are living in Amsterdam, a cosmopolitan city. Could you describe what the parish life is like in the Russian Church in Amsterdam?

First of all, the parish itself is a great deal larger than any other parish I have served in before. Apart from those two years when I was Chancellor and had oversight over a number of parishes, all of the parishes in which I worked personally had around fifty to a hundred families. Suddenly, when I come to Amsterdam, there is a huge parish with a very flexible congregation—new people seem to turn up every week The number of languages flying around is just something that you just have to get used to. In the altar four languages certainly are quite common amongst the clergy themselves.

Those being…

French, Dutch, Russian, and English; occasionally there are other languages, too. This being only us communicating amongst ourselves, in order to know what we are supposed to do.

French being a sort of lingua franca?

Yes. I don’t think there is actually a French person there. But we do have some people who are very, very qualified in language skills. One of our deacons is an international translator who works for President Putin and other people of that ilk, as the need arises.

Is he Russian?

No, he is actually Dutch. He speaks four languages fluently. He occasionally translates my sermons, which I enjoy immensely. I deliver them in Dutch, and he translates them into Russian. He catches nuances in what I am saying that I’ve missed. I am just amazed at his skill. He is a very young man. It is quite exciting.

Parish council meetings (which I don’t attend) are entirely bilingual, so everything has to be said in Dutch and Russian, and I should imagine that that becomes at times something less than a pleasure.

Twice as long?

Twice as long; and the subject matter at parish meetings is at times not so interesting, or not so important to the central interest of the parish. But I suppose that is just parish life.

Which is the dominant nationality there now?

I would have to say that the dominant group would be the Russians, most of whom have come to Europe fairly recently. There are very, very few old Russians left from previous immigrations, the notable exception being Matushka Tatiana, the wife of the reposed Fr. Alexei (who was Dutch). There are very few, if any, of that generation. There are some older women—particularly women—from a new generation; but that’s another matter—they came over as old ladies.

Is this mixture of Russian and Dutch harmonious?

I would say that it really is. I have been in parishes in England and in the U.S., where people tended to get very defensive about languages. In Holland that is not the case, and in Amsterdam, certainly not. We have a system of trying to balance the languages which seems to work very well. And I don’t think I have ever heard a complaint that we were using one language more than another. Occasionally I have to break into English or Greek during the services, bearing in mind that I know most of the services by heart in Greek, not even as well in English. People will sometimes comment on that, mostly not in too brusque a manner, but it is often the best I can do, if I am in a situation wherein I can’t find the book I need, or if I am in a hurry.

Do you know any Russian?

Yes, I also use Church Slavonic in the Services.

Can you speak to the Russians in their own language?

To a certain extent. I need some help to learn a bit more Russian. I do hear confessions in Russian, but that is more instinctive than linguistic, and normally I reply either in English or Dutch, depending upon what the person’s language skills happens to be.

I understand that the difficulties that occurred in the London Moscow Patriarchate parish have been more or less smoothed out by this time. But in your opinion, what could have been the underlying problem which could have made it so difficult for the new Russian immigrants to coexist with the local converts—a problem which does not seem to exist here in Amsterdam?

I have never been a member of the parish in London, although I have known about it for forty years or so. I could be quite wrong in what I am about to say, and I certainly do not want to offend anyone. I, like many, many other people, regard Metropolitan Anthony Bloom as a very important part of my Orthodox formation, and I venerate his memory as do many, many others. I think what we saw there—somewhat encouraged by Metropolitan Anthony—was a very high level of expectation as to how the diocese would develop as he got older, and eventually what would happen after he died. But the circumstances in Russia were such, that by the time that happened, the reality was altogether different from any possible dream that anyone might have had. And I think that the reality and the dream simply didn’t mix.

I don’t necessarily think that anyone is to blame for this. I know that many feelings were hurt, but I don’t see any wrong-doing on anyone’s part; I think it was simply people doing their best to fight for what they thought was right and just—on both sides. But it is a situation with which Vladyka Anthony himself never really came to grips; and by the time the Soviet Union dissolved, he was already a very old man. Whilst he was mentally very strong right to the end, coping with the sort of ecclesiastical needs of the new Russians was something he had never had to do. He was ministering mainly to English people in very small, rural communities. There were a couple of exceptions, but on the whole, that was where his main influence seemed to lie.

Then, all of a sudden he was confronted with the huge ecclesiastical needs of a lot of Russians in cities, which was not where he was actually comfortable. That is a bit of a guess. I may be entirely wrong on that, but this seems to be part of it.

This is a point of view of someone who was not in the thick of it, an objective observer.

How would you, in a few words, characterize this new burst of immigration coming from Russia and Eastern Europe in general? Is the majority or only a small percentage coming to the Church? How does this big wave of immigration affect the Church?

I think that several things happened relatively quickly when the Soviet Union dissolved. One comment that was made to me by a Russian, which I find quite interesting, was that for a lot of people, once the Communist Party was, as it were, no more, they latched onto the Church as being a point of stability in social life. And it was as if the Communist Party were replaced by the Church. We are not talking here about matters of faith, but simply about social structure, how people live their lives, what they do when they get up in the morning, and how they see the world when they look out the window. If that is true, then the Church obviously has a huge burden of evangelizing, bringing the Gospel to these people. I think that is what we see happening.

Typically the Orthodox method of doing such a thing isn’t by making church life attractive, by trying to “sell” an idea, or imposing an ideology upon people, but rather to open the doors of the parishes, to welcome people when they arrive, to make them feel at home, and gradually to educate them in the prayer life, which is after all, what the Church really has to offer. Of course, it is not an activity where efficiency counts for much. You’re looking for quality rather than quantity.

I would say that the Russian population in Amsterdam is something in the region of six or seven thousand people, which in comparison with the total population isn’t that large. Nevertheless, the congregation on Sunday morning is only, say, 350 people, including the non-Russians. So, yes, there is a great deal more that can be done.

The outreach has to be for Orthodoxy on a personal level. The era for the conversion of Russia was already a thousand years ago, and I don’t think those tactics would work on a modern group—the baptism by sword-point is no longer even desirable. The long term answer is for the Orthodox in Amsterdam to live lives which are attractive enough to people who are potentially Orthodox, so that they can be attracted to what the Church has to offer. We are greatly blessed—we have a wonderful bishop, we have fine clergy, and although they are all human beings, there are very human aspects of Church life as well. The very heart of what is going on is the proclamation of the Gospel.

What is your ministry like to the youth, and how do you bring young people into the Church? How do you feel about rock concerts, and Orthodox priests entering into such realms that are not Christian in nature in order to reach out to the youth?

The teenage years are years of rebellion. Teenagers have been rebelling in one way or another since the dawn of time. So, making teenagers conform to anything has been a heavy task for parents and educators for as long as men and women have been around.

Ultimately, teenagers on the whole—although of course there are exceptions—tend to be driven by peer pressure, and if peer pressure includes a spiritual dimension, then there will tend to be a spiritual dimension to their existence, although it may not be recognizable to anyone else. But if spirituality is entirely lacking—as it tends to be so in the Western world, even amongst fairly religious groups in the United States—you find that teenagers tend to spend time in rebellion. This means that ultimately you pray for the teenagers, and hope that they are going to come through those years without too many scars. The churches tend to pick them up once again when they become young parents. There is nothing wrong with that pattern, it just happens to be the one that seems to be in place.

Now, I know so little about rock music and things of that nature that anything I say is likely to be very doubtful, but let me put it in another context: I can’t say that I have ever met anybody who has been converted to Christianity by attending a symphony concert. Now, if that is true of symphony concerts, I think that that is also true of rock concerts. So rock music is an end in itself—I really can’t say if it is good or bad. But it is unlikely to provide much of a spiritual dimension for most people. It is a diversion, a distraction; it is away from the spiritual quest, rather than on the path. Therefore, I would say that it is somewhat irrelevant; I don’t think that having priests dress as rock stars is going to fill the churches.

What about priests attending rock concerts in order to reach out to the youth?

As I say, putting the same thing in the context of a symphony hall, having a priest sitting in the front row will not drive those people into the Church. The Church is good at being the Church. When the Church tries to be something else—and in the past it has tried to be all sorts of things, including government or administrator, sometimes because it had to, sometimes because it chose to—it is not at its best. The Church is essentially to do with living, and proclaiming the Gospel. The moment you start moving away from that occupation, then there is trouble.

Viewing the youth of Europe, do you see any hope? Does materialism totally prevail, or is there any yearning for traditional spirituality amongst the young people of Europe?

I think the Church has failed to make faith a living issue for a lot of people. I am not here talking necessarily about the Orthodox Church, although I have lived in Greece, and I have seen how the Church there has fallen short of bringing the Christian life to people living in that country.

Here in Holland the churches are almost a dead issue, they are almost irrelevant to the life of the country. When youngsters come in contact with the Church—and now I am talking about the Orthodox Church—they tend to be quite taken aback by not only the spiritual strength which they encounter, but also the depth of experience which the Orthodox Church has. (I am talking about very small numbers of people.) That is because our favorite missionary method is simply to open a church door, and that is pretty much the extent of it. So if people choose to come inside, then we have a lot to share with them. But that is the limit of our activity in that direction.

Nevertheless, I also have a tremendous optimism. First of all, God is in charge, and no matter how badly we are doing, God is still God, and He is very good at being God. He has been doing it for a long time. In the end, God’s will will prevail, no matter how many obstacles we put in His path—or other people do.

This may be very wrong of me, but I see both in Europe and in the United States a quest on the part of young people towards what I suppose I could characterize as a quest for “goodness” as opposed to “rightness.” In the 1930’s and 40’s, certainly during the Second World War, Europe like most of the world was torn apart over questions of “rightness.” Goodness was not the issue at all—there was no goodness. Everything was bad. But the fascists thought they were right, and the communists thought they were right, and they tore each others’ throats out to settle it. What I do see amongst young people is a desire to pursue goodness for its own sake. This isn’t any big movement or anything of that nature.

I was a high school teacher for many years, so I have had much contact with teenagers. But simply from talking with teenagers, I would say that if there has been a trend at all, this is what it is.

Do you have any young people in Amsterdam who have just “wandered in?”

There are some. We also encourage teachers to bring classes. That is beginning to happen.

As a cultural experience?

Yes, because the Church has something very different to offer. The Dutch are living in a post-Calvinist society, where the Church has a rather dour, cold, forbidding aura about it. To come into the middle of a celebrating Orthodox community is actually quite an important event for them, even if it has no spiritual dimension at all.

The search for “goodness?”

Yes.

Is it difficult for the Russians and Eastern Europeans who immigrate here to adjust to Western European life? Do they go through a period of shock? What words of encouragement would you give to those who find themselves in Holland as their new home? How can they adapt themselves without losing what is best about their own culture and personalities?

I am never quiet clear as to why people come to Holland in the first place, unless they have a specific job offer in this country. Of all the countries in Europe, it is one of the most difficult for an Eastern European to apply to live in. Holland has its own language which is only shared with half of Belgium, and that’s that. So language tends to be something of an issue. Housing is expensive, and social services are no longer as generous as they have been in the past. Having said that, I can also say that many people, although not everybody, find Holland to be home quite quickly.

When I was little, I was intensely aware of the differences between Scotland and England. Most people, for instance, from North America, wouldn’t even be aware that there were such differences. Whenever you move from country to country, or indeed within a country, you are likely to come across some difficulties. Holland has a bureaucracy, which goes at it own pace. Holland has its own educational system, which is different from other people’s. Holland has its own medical services, which tend to have a different slant on things. You can go to a store in Amsterdam and buy marijuana, but you can’t go and buy penicillin. Things are just different.

Do you have any comment on the decision by the European Union to deny the Christian origin of European culture? And in contrast, on the recent attempt in the United States Congress to affirm and value this origin, and the essential role Christianity has played in the development of Western Civilization? What is the portent of this statement for the European Community?

I think that one of the most important factors in the modern world is that perhaps for the first time, the Church has become free to criticize any political leader. I think that the Gospel is, and always will be, at odds with most of the social systems we have developed, at least so far. And it is the Church’s task to call government to account whenever political governments are behaving in ways that are at odds with the Gospel. So, I think that it is interesting that America, in which the notion of the separation of Church and State really originated, or partially originated, is now wanting to affirm some Christian roots; whereas, in Europe, where Christianity is so much part of the life blood that it hardly needs to be talked about, such a statement is deemed to be unnecessary.

The high points in the life of the Church, spiritually speaking, have usually been the times when the Church has been heavily persecuted, and the low points, spiritually speaking, have been times when the Church has been allied with political power. Not always, but sometimes. So, I think it is largely irrelevant as to whether political powers seek to have their roots in Christianity or in any other religion, if they use that religion to justify whatever it is they are doing. So, the freer the Church is to comment on political life in the light of the Gospel, the better the situation is, everything else notwithstanding.

The experience of the Byzantine Empire, which remains somewhere in the consciousness of Christian society, has as its symbol the double-headed eagle signifying the harmonious functions of two heads in one body—the Church as the conscience of the Government, and the Government as the protector of the Church. Does this have any meaning for Europeans today?

Of course, the Byzantine ideal depends upon Christian emperors. That is a great deal more than emperors who happen to be Christian. In the good examples which Byzantium gives us, we see people who are of great spiritual depth, and under those circumstances it is possible for such a thing to exist. I don’t see that the way modern democracy works is likely to bring people who are more than nominally Christian into positions of leadership.

People who are too demonstratively Christian are going to be wiped out in the primaries. That is the nature of the modern political machine. People with strong views about anything are likely to be wiped out. The people you are left with are those who are good at balancing, pleasing all sides. The Church is not like that. The Church should not be like that. The Church has a mission which hasn’t changed from the day that Jesus was physically amongst us on Earth.

It is the call to repentance, the call to bring people back to God. Very few states can be seen to have been successful in doing that same thing.

You are speaking of states in the Western world, or states in general?

In general. I know that Byzantium is a beautiful idea for many, many people. Holy Russia is a beautiful idea for many other people. Yet both the Russian political system and the Byzantine political system fell short of the Gospel in many ways, at least during certain periods of history, and sometimes markedly so. Neither one was of the mold of modern democracy. Unless things change dramatically in the future, I don’t see that the sort of government that existed in Russia, and in Byzantium, is going to be a possibility at all. So I would see the future being where the Church and the State might be amicable, but the Church always needs to reserve the right to criticize. And many governments don’t particularly care for that particular part of the Church’s mission.

Do you think that this might be the underlying cause for this statement by the European Union?

To be honest, the people who seem to be making the rules in Europe at the moment baffle me entirely. I have no idea why they say anything. Or even who they are.

But you do not see this as setting the stage for more strictures on Church activities?

No, absolutely not.

They have fallen away from the Church, so they assume that all of Europe has fallen away from the Church?

Pretty much. In some ways, that is good for the Church. Wherever, for example, Catholicism has been hand in hand with a particular government in a particular country, you haven’t always seen Catholicism at its finest.

Being hand in hand with the government did not bring out its finest?

Precisely. On the contrary.

It brings out its worst?

Well, the Spanish Inquisition leaps to one’s mind, but there are other examples.

So, do you think that this decision could also have sprung from the Western European historical consciousness of abuses springing from a unity between Church and State?

The Christian background of Western Europe is so vast, and so omnipresent, that nobody could actually eradicate it. It is an historical fact, there to stay. That is the basis of what’s going on. Given the arrival of Islam into Spain and parts of Eastern Europe, it has always been one variety of Christianity or another which has dominated this area for 1200 years, in some places even longer.

And the new wave of Moslem immigration—are you feeling any pressure from this in Amsterdam?

I am almost certain that there is a solution waiting to be found to what appears to be a problem. Most Moslem people here in Holland are very happy to lead there own lives, doing what they usually do peacefully with what are usually post-Christian neighbors. There will always be layers of fanaticism in every society, but on the whole, the Moslem presence in Holland is something that most people can live with.

However, when people turn to religion to provide themselves with what one might want to call “ego identity,” simply because that identity is not present anywhere else, it transforms the religion into something which is rather distasteful, and also makes their own psychological make-up somewhat suspect. This isn’t the best way of finding an identity. That is the problem. If people only find some sort of living identity in their religious affiliation, then we’ve got a lot of work to do. Because in the end, religions aren’t made to coexist. Religions, by definition, tend to be at odds, and this has always been historically true for Christianity as well as Islam, there has always been a tendency for one to want to wipe out the other. They don’t live side by side naturally. Quite how we can get them to live side by side with some sort of friendliness, I am not quite sure, but that is the work that needs to be done.

Finally, do you have any words for the readers of Pravoslavie.ru.? Some wishes for the people of Russia, and her relationship to Europe?

I suppose my view is that the communists who took over Russian society at the time of the revolution were (and I think this is true), genuinely trying to improve society. But I also believe that the way they went about it, particularly becoming adversarial towards Orthodoxy, meant that their labors were, as it were, in vain. Russia is Orthodox to the marrow. I see it in the people who come to Church, who have no real academic or book knowledge of what Orthodoxy is all about, but who have a deep, deep reverence for Orthodoxy, and the life of Christ that Orthodoxy exhibits. Russia without Orthodoxy is, and has been, impoverished. It might be splendid in some ways, but there is something desperately lacking. And I am fairly certain that in God’s time the roots will be connected with the leaves. Then, what is in the depths of Russian history—what you might want to call the depths of the Russian soul (but perhaps that’s a little more dangerous)—will begin to manifest itself once again in positive ways, through growth, outreach, and commitment to the words of Jesus. That future is very bright indeed.

Nun Cornelia (Rees)

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On Spiritual Deception

by Fr. Dcn. Charles Joiner

Deacon at Saint George 
Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Greenville, South Carolina Area, USA

The author of the Orthodox Way of Life blog, Fr. Dcn. Charles tells it like it is.

Having recently discovered that throughout much of my Christian life I was involved with “spiritual deception,” I find it necessary now to seek ways to fully understand and totally reject this error.

My deception began with a well meaning pastor at the United Methodist Church where I grew up. I asked him,

“Why are there so many different religions? How can we say that the Christian way the the best way?”

His answer was,

“There are many paths to God. Ours is the most direct and easiest path.”

He did not know how to answer this question from a true Christian perspective and advise me of the struggle that I would necessarily face. I now know that what he taught me was a serious deception. It is very clear now that the other paths will not lead to a God-oriented spiritual life and union with God. They only lead one to a life of self-satisfaction and greater pride.

Jesus Christ came after these early attempts to reach God which were inadequate and showed all mankind how to gain union with God. He showed us the need for extreme humility in our relationship with God. He showed us a path that involves purifying ourselves and continually struggling against many things, yet relying on God’s will. I discovered that the path He opened for us is not an easy path.

It is a difficult one along which we are easily deceived by seeking pleasures though various forms of meditation, yoga and others activities, taught by well meaning teachers from other eastern religions who have not discovered for themselves the way of Jesus Christ.

I now know this from experience, having experimented with Vedanta, a Hindu religion, Buddhism, and Eastern forms of meditation. Regrettably, I even led an effort to find the “universal principles” of all religions and then set up a organization (formally organized as a church under IRS rules, no less) to teach this to others. Oh, how easily we are deceived by psychic level religious experiences which only serve to boost our pride and our sense of self-sufficiency.

Through this experience, I learned that it is essential to recognize that we are engaged in spiritual warfare as Saint Paul so clearly tells us. In my youth I was never prepared for this battle by being properly instructed in the spiritual disciplines.

I didn’t appreciate the power of the Sacraments that Christ initiated for us to help us in this battle. Growing up Methodist, communion was symbolic. It was grape juice and a wafer symbolizing the blood and body of Jesus Christ. Powerless when compared to the actual Blood an Body of Jesus Christ that is offered in the Orthodox Church for remission of sins and eternal life in union with Him. I faced many such deceptions along the path. Fortunately, I have a very strong guardian angel that kept me on a path seeking God and who taught me the Jesus Prayer in the midst of these deceptions.

It was this prayer that protected me and led me back to Orthodoxy.

Seraphim Rose saw this attitude I experienced as one that permeates much of Christianity today. He wrote on this sad condition of “Christians” in his book, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. Here is an excerpt.

“The life of self-centeredness and self-satisfaction lived by most of today’s “Christians” is so all-pervading that it effectively seals them off from any understanding at all of spiritual life; and when such people do undertake “spiritual life,” it is only as another form of self-satisfaction. This can be seen quite clearly in the totally false religious ideal both of the “charismatic” movement and the various forms of “Christian meditation”: all of them promise (and give very quickly) an experience of “contentment” and “peace.” But this is not the Christian ideal at all, which if anything may be summed up as a fierce battle and struggle. The “contentment” and “peace” described in these contemporary “spiritual” movements are quite manifestly the product of spiritual deception, of spiritual self-satisfaction––which is the absolute death of the God-oriented spiritual life. All these forms of “Christian meditation” operate solely on the psychic level and have nothing whatever in common with Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom of Heaven, which fully begins only with the dissolution of this temporal world, and the true Christian struggler never finds repose even in the foretastes of eternal blessedness which might be vouchsafed to him in this life; but the Eastern religions, to which the Kingdom of Heaven has not been revealed, strive only to acquire psychic states which begin and end in this life” (From Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future by Seraphim Rose, pp 187-188).

Some of my friends will think this is a bit harsh and it is not my intent to condemn those who sincerely seek union with Jesus Christ no matter what their form of Christianity is. But I can say without a doubt, that we can be deceived as I know I was.

For me, I found the fulness of the Truth in the Orthodox Church where the sacramental life is emphasized and practiced with regularity. It was in the context of the Orthodox Church that I found I could surrender and then seek, not my own way, but instead follow the way the Church sets out for all of us.

Source:



JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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Fr. Philip Silouan Thompson, USA: 
Moving East

From Roman Catholicism 
and Protestantism to Orthodoxy


Fr. Phil Thompson is the author of the Silouan blog, an excellent site for information. He is also a well known iconographer in North American Orthodoxy, and this, his story, was taken from his own website http://silouanthompson.net

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon every soul, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common… Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

When I became a Christian in 1980, I was living with a Roman Catholic family and attending a Jesuit high school.

I attended Mass and religion classes, but on the whole I was underwhelmed by Christianity as it was presented.

I was growing more and more hungry for God, but the religion I saw seemed more irrelevant and sentimental than genuine or powerful.

So when I came to faith in Christ, I didn’t join any church at all.

I’d seen church.

Not interested.

It was over a year later that I was invited to a friend’s Evangelical church, and began attending regularly. Unlike the bored crowds I’d seen at Mass, these Pentecostals knew how to celebrate! I already knew how to enjoy a concert – dance to the music, wave your arms in the air, sing along, get lost in the good feeling – so I already knew how to join in a Pentecostal worship service. I loved it; here was a community characterized by enthusiasm and love for Christ, and motivated by concern for the souls of the world.

I worked with evangelistic teams in jails and street ministry, and later I moved to Washington State with the goal of training for overseas missionary work. That goal was never fulfilled, but I continued to be involved in ministry, visiting nursing homes, preaching and volunteering at the local rescue mission, and later teaching Sunday school and serving on the worship team. When I had the opportunity to attend Bible school, it seemed a natural next step.

In school we were encouraged to search the Scriptures and question everything until we found it in the Bible. Some of what I was taught I rejected; most I accepted. Every Protestant has to judge for himself what he will believe. If you’d asked, I’d have said my acceptance or rejection of any doctrine or practice was always based on the text of Scripture. What I would have meant was: based on the norms of evangelical interpretation of Scripture. After all, nobody can read without interpreting. The text of Scripture doesn’t interpret itself without our involvement. Otherwise no one would ever disagree on the meaning of

“Eat My body, drink My blood”

or

“you must be born again.”

So I rejected notions like the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and baptism as a sacrament — and for that matter the very idea of sacraments. I was taught that since the New Testament doesn’t specify the office of the episcopate as separate from the presbytery, then there’s no warrant for any kind of authority structure besides a board of elders or pastors. (The earliest Christians were all democratic, of course.)

While studying the history of Christianity, we examined the history recounted in the book of Acts and then spent a very brief time reading excerpts from the “Early Fathers” — the Christian writers from the first, second and third centuries. The brief passages we read were selected and presented without context, to convince us that the worship and beliefs of the earliest Christians were just like ours. After our quick visit with the early Fathers we fast-forwarded over the “dark ages” so as to concentrate on the Protestant Reformation.

I couldn’t have told you in detail what those early Fathers taught, but I could pin them down by name and century. The “To The Reader” preface in the 1611 King James Bible was full of quotes labeled “Irenaeus”, “Tertullian”, “Cyril of Jerusalem” – and now I had a little historical data to attach to each of those names. Sadly, though, we never spent much time reading those Fathers’ writings in context. What did stick with me from those summaries of the Fathers was the emphasis on being in Christ. The idea was planted in me that, if Christ united creation to Himself in His Incarnation, then our life’s goal must be to participate in His Life, like branches in the Vine, partaking of the divine nature, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. I was sure that Christ must be able not only to save us from hell (sin’s consequence) but actually to save us from sin.

In Evangelical Protestantism there was certainly room for that belief — but there was no concrete “therefore do this” to work out that kind of a vision of salvation. Instead, we taught people to pray a prayer, “get saved”, and then go get other sinners saved.

Over time I saw churches buy into one program after another, designed to mobilize believers to share their faith, and to “disciple” the people who responded. But while I participated in many evangelistic events over the years — rallies, revivals, concerts, street evangelism — and saw a lot of genuine desire to bring people to Christ, I became dissatisfied with the proportionately small amount of time and effort that went into what was called “follow-up.” Even the name “follow-up” reveals the underlying assumption that the primary task has been accomplished when a nonbeliever makes a confession of faith in Christ.

All that’s left (all!) is the lifetime task of uniting him to the people of God, teaching him who his Savior is, and instilling in him a whole new lifestyle. We believed the Great Commission was addressed to us, but all our effort seemed to be going into helping people start their Christian walk; we were much less successful in teaching Christians concrete, realistic ways to live out a life that increases in grace, wisdom, and holiness. I rarely ever heard any practical, useful teaching on just how to make war on the desires of the flesh so as not to be dragged away by lustful greed and crass American consumerism. Too often, new Christians were told little more than to “read your Bible and pray.” Hardly what Christ meant by “Go make disciples”!

When emphasis was given to accountability or concrete disciplines that might help a Christian persevere to the end and so be saved, there were often complaints that we were majoring on minors, getting distracted from evangelism, engaging in manipulation — and above all, that we were doing something different from standard Pentecostal practice.

Particularly frustrating was the fact that we had to invent or try out discipleship programs, since our independent-minded Protestant history had not provided us with any kind of historical disciplines. How, exactly, do we teach our new believers even basic disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, almsgiving, fasting, accountability or self-denial? What concrete, specific steps have been proven over time to develop these very basic disciplines? We hadn’t received anything like that from the early Church; outside of the Scriptures themselves, we lived as though nothing of the early Christian life had survived from those long-ago saints until today.

Our ideas of how to accomplish discipleship were all only decades old, because we really had no history. We zealously defended the faith of our fathers as we understood it, but our vision of “normal Christianity” really stretched back only about a hundred years.

In the mid 1990’s our church started a Vietnamese mission congregation. When they invited me to be their pastor, I took very seriously the responsibility to present the word of God as it is, not merely my beliefs about it; and I knew that God’s people need to worship Him acceptably. Beginning to realize the lack of historical depth or context to my Christianity, I began reading more widely, looking for wisdom and inspiration in the writings of the people who were the ancestors of our Pentecostal tradition: the great American and Welsh revivalists, the Salvation Army, the Keswick “deeper life” writers, the Pietists, the Puritans.

I visited friends’ churches — Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopal, and others. Those visits impressed me with how many very different things are called “worship”. This is when I began the study that I had no idea would eventually lead me to Orthodoxy — a study to answer the question: What exactly is worship? In the Reformation, the altar was moved from the center of attention and the pulpit took first place, reflecting a fundamental shift in the definition of worship – from personal participation in Christ, to hearing a preached sermon. And in our modern Pentecostal tradition, the pulpit could be dispensed with entirely, as the guitars and drums took center stage and music became the defining feature of what we called worship.

Amid all those changes of focus and shifting meanings of the word “worship”, I had to wonder how much of what we do in church today is just a reflection of our transient culture? How much is authentic? What is common to the church’s experience of worship through history? I didn’t want to invest time and prayer into something that would be meaningless in a generation, or irrelevant outside my cultural context.

One week, in a home study group, as we were reading through Acts, I taught on Acts 2:42-47. That passage affected me deeply — the church was just being the church and the Lord was adding to their numbers those who were being saved. People were encountering Christian fellowship and being drawn into it — and in that environment they were meeting Christ. Communal worship, prayer, and mutual submission were the methods they used to make disciples. And when they expanded outside Judea, they continued to make disciples, with this same culturally-alien, ethnic Jewish variety of synagogue liturgy. (This was not a user-friendly, seeker-sensitive church!)

As we studied the end of Acts chapter 2, I grew increasingly frustrated. I knew this kind of congregational life and devotion must be key to establishing authentic Christian fellowship — but the New Testament just does not give a divine blueprint for building the Church! Paul and Peter, James and Jude assume the Church is already established and needs only their specific corrections. I could see that we modern folks were missing the mark; I decided I had to go back and re-read the documents of the early church. I still remembered the names of those early Christian Fathers of the first and second century — surely in their writings I’d find insights I could apply to our congregation. Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple.

Like most Protestants I knew, I had been taught that the early Church was just like us …but then after the first few centuries, the church began to go all weird and liturgical and hierarchical. And then when Constantine legalized Christianity, that was the last nail in the coffin: The church became virtually extinct for the next 1200 years, till the Protestant Reformation. I figured that if my reading stayed way back in the Church’s first century or two, before the time serious corruption could set in, I should be able to read the comments of men who had been taught by the Apostles, who wrote to churches the Apostles had pastored.

They should shed some light on how our democratic, charismatic, nonsacramental congregation could live out the kind of life described in the book of Acts.

Right?

To put it mildly, these writers shocked me. After only a little reading — Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and the Didache, for starters — it was evident that the early church, even in the late first century, practiced liturgical worship. To them this was the normal Christian life. I was unprepared for these second- and first-century writers to be discussing bishops and liturgy, and calling the “Eucharist” the body of Christ.

They didn’t just sit in a circle in their bluejeans and talk about Jesus; they practiced a liturgy they’d inherited from the synagogue, and they celebrated Communion – the Eucharist – gathered around a bishop and presbyters and deacons. By 150AD, Justin Martyr could describe the outline of the liturgy in order; and by the early 200’s Hippolytus wrote out the texts of the prayers everyone used.

And the rest of the Christians around them thought this was nothing out of the ordinary!

What these “early Christian Fathers” wrote was not refuted or destroyed, but rather preserved, copied, and distributed to the churches during the lifetime of the Apostles. Heretical writings were denounced and destroyed, but these writings were considered normal by Christians in John’s or Paul’s churches.

What did these early Christian Fathers have to say? Within a decade of John’s death, his disciple Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Church of Philadelphia:

If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God… Be eager, therefore, to keep one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for union with His blood; one sanctuary; as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow servants. So that, whatever you do, you do it in according to the will of God.

And a few years later, the Christian apologist Justin (later known as Justin Martyr) wrote regarding Christian worship:

And this food is called among us Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto new birth, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but… we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

In fact, without exception, all the first- and second-century writers were starting to sound like they held an awfully “catholic” view of baptism, communion, and the church. Yet no one, even n the Protestant world, ever questioned the historicity of these ancient documents.

I read on from the earliest Fathers into the third and fourth centuries — Irenaeus, Athanasius, Basil. Where was the break I was expecting? Where was the change from congregational democracy and unstructured charismatic worship, to liturgical, hierarchical religion? That change was nowhere to be found; instead, it looked more like the writers of the first and fourth centuries were all on the same page, all in the same Church.

Of course there were variations of opinion, but all these ancient writers, from across the civilized world, shared the beliefs of those first-century teachers who’d written with the words of the Apostles still ringing in their ears.

The writers after Constantine didn’t differ materially from those before; instead there was a real sense of harmony among all the ancient writers I read; and an increasing dissonance as I compared their ancient beliefs to what I was accustomed to preaching.

Virtually all my concepts of worship and church government were turning out to be modern innovations. Before 1500, who had ever heard of democratic church government? Symbolic crackers and grape juice? An invisible church independent of the original apostles? Baptism that doesn’t really do anything? Thousands of years and thousands of miles removed from the apostles who wrote Scripture, with Greek a foreign language at best, by the dim light of archaeology, speculation, and changing winds of scholarship, I was in no position to judge the interpretations and teachings of these earliest Christians, who had learned their doctrine directly from the apostles. I had to start letting them judge me.

I experimented with adding liturgical elements in our services; but the results were unsatisfying to say the least. The Vietnamese Christians knew how they were used to doing church, and while they’d humor me in my liturgical notions, they were not about to significantly change their practices at this late date. As I realized the centrality of the Eucharist in early Christianity, we emphasized Communion more, and I found myself preaching against doctrines I had taught not too many months before — and in increasing disagreement with the other teachers in the congregation.

I had always believed my job as a mission pastor was to work myself out of a job. I had already been working toward turning the Vietnamese mission over to Vietnamese leaders. So I was glad to hand over most of the task of preaching to the Vietnamese leaders. I didn’t have much choice; preaching had become terribly difficult. My “Thus Saith The Lord” had gone away, and I felt like a fraud. The doctrines I’d taught were internally consistent — but not faithful to what the earliest Christians believed.

It was especially disturbing, in attempting to preach the Gospel as the early Christians did, that the early Christians didn’t seem to believe that a “decision for Christ” was the same thing as “salvation.” They all taught that salvation was a lifelong process, not a transaction or a legal fiction, and “he who perseveres to the end will be saved.” I had long believed I had a message that would save the world; now after seeing the sadly temporary results of much of evangelical preaching and discipleship, I couldn’t preach a simplistic “Get saved” gospel any more.

What was I supposed to invite people into? Ancient Christianity was all about the relationship of the member of the Church to Christ and His body; not about anybody’s “personal Savior.” Outsiders were invited to join the people of God, get aboard the ark, become a part of the body — not to individually “accept Christ” but to come and be accepted, healed, and sanctified in the community of believers.

Was there a place in the Assemblies of God for this kind of grace community to be found — or created? Could our congregation become a community I could invite someone to be immersed in and find the healing they need? I doubted it. Our modern Christianity was starting to look like something consisting primarily of words and ideas and unreal things that happen in a person’s head: Intellectual things like those derived from Bible study and sermon listening, or emotional things like born again experiences and charismatic events. Wasn’t there anything real, effectual, and tangible? Were justification, sanctification, and participation in the divine nature just concepts or “spiritual realities” unrelated to life as we live it, here and now? Nobody seemed to have an answer that they hadn’t just invented, or reconstructed out of Scriptural proof-texts pulled together in an attempt to guess what the apostles had meant. Unfortunately, the apostles were long dead and all we evangelicals had to work with was their letters.

About this time, I ran across a reference to “The Carpenter’s Company”, a Foursquare congregation that had converted en masse and become — get this — Eastern Orthodox. How bizarre! Aren’t the Orthodox just ethnic Catholics? What could possibly be attractive about that? I’d seen Catholicism, gone to Catholic school, lived with Catholic families… they may have started out with the Fathers, and kept some of the trappings of the original worship of the early Church, but their ever-evolving doctrines, military-style chain of command, and weird sentimental devotions didn’t look anything like the community Ignatius or Basil wrote about. Could these Foursquare folks have bought into a form of Catholicism? Following up on this incomprehensible conversion story provided a welcome distraction.

After reading a bit about Orthodoxy, I discovered that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are vastly different … and that these Orthodox people were way ahead of me! They had not only already thought of the ancient ideas I was trying on for size — they’d been working them out in detail, with all their implications, for a very long time. Suddenly my thinking didn’t seem so very “out there” at all; and evidently there were plenty of other Evangelicals coming to the same conclusions that Foursquare congregation did — and converting to Orthodoxy. As it turns out, it’s not uncommon lately for entire congregations to join the Orthodox Church. Congregations convert from a variety of backgrounds: Foursquare, Episcopal, Vineyard, and others.

I even read about the “Evangelical Orthodox”, an entire Protestant denomination that joined the Orthodox Church in 1987.

These converts claimed they were finding in Orthodoxy a community devoted to the disciplines and worship of ancient Christianity — not by restoring or reinventing it, but by receiving it as it had been practiced since the days of Peter and Paul. (Quite a claim, if they could back it up!) As it turned out, outside of the Western Roman Empire, there were no “dark ages”, but an unbroken chain of literate, articulate theologians who never forgot their roots.

As I read the Orthodox writers of the fifth, eighth, or twelfth centuries, I thought that they might be right — this was the same stream I’d been wading in while reading the early Fathers.

Discovering twentieth-century Orthodoxy was not entirely welcome. For all its warts I liked my denomination — there are some good men and women there, who sincerely love the Lord — and I loved the people I went to church with. I didn’t want to leave the church family I’d been part of for most of my Christian life. I made up my mind to incorporate the good parts of Orthodox spirituality into my life and stay what and where I was. Meanwhile, my curiosity got the best of me, I looked up an Orthodox church near me in Yakima, and took a Sunday off to go visit.

What can I say about Orthodox worship? It was reverent, intimate, repentant… alive with faith, strange yet oddly familiar. The liturgy had elements I recognized from the Catholic Mass and from popular “chant” CD’s, and it consisted mostly of praying a lot of Scripture. In fact they read and prayed more complete chapters of the Bible in a single service than I’d ever heard before in a church service. But what really struck me was how Jewish it was. The words of the prayers, the melodies the cantor used while chanting, the menorah up front — so many things reminded me of a synagogue service. (I already knew that Christian liturgy was adapted from first-century Jewish synagogue liturgy, but I hadn’t thought it would still be that way.) They hadn’t stopped offering prayers with incense; “Bow down” wasn’t a song lyric but a practical physical act; the women still wore head coverings; they still celebrated the body and blood of Christ — it seemed like they were out to practice all the verses I’d never highlighted in my Bible. This was very much not a modern American invention! I was hooked, and returned to visit Orthodox worship services again and again over the following months.

By contrast with the charismatic services I led every week, the Orthodox liturgies I attended were such a relief! There was no pressure to make every week fresh, unique and exciting. There’s not a lot of performance pressure on the cantor or clergy, because the whole church is the worship team. Personalities don’t affect the worship, and the prayers don’t depend on anyone’s subjective eloquence or how their week has gone. In the set form of the Liturgy was also, paradoxically, a sense of freedom I’d not experienced before: Because there are boundaries and the worshipers know what to expect, they are free to concentrate wholly on their common prayers. There’s no wondering what new thing the worship leader will ask us to do this week!

More important to me than the worship services was the fact that among Orthodox Christians, I’d found people who still practiced the same worship and disciplines described by Justin Martyr or Irenaeus or Hippolytus in the first or second century. They didn’t read a lot of Max Lucado or Dr. Dobson; instead they spent most of their time putting the earliest Christian writers’ advice into action. And I was vastly relieved to find out that they didn’t believe in purgatory, Mary as “co-redeemer”, indulgences, or infallible popes!

In mid 1998 I was introduced to an Orthodox church-planting team that had moved up from California to start an Orthodox community in Walla Walla. (These people were from the church that started out as the San Jose Vineyard and in the early 90’s wound up becoming St Stephen Orthodox Church.) They were doing all the things I promised myself I’d do if I ever was involved in starting another church. At the Vietnamese mission, we had started having services, and a church slowly coalesced and filled in the framework — but too many relationships were centered on the leaders.

Before you start having services, you need to already be a church!

There’s got to be a network of relationships and a common worship experience, a community, an environment where outsiders can come and encounter authentic fellowship and community. That’s what these church planters were doing. I began attending inquirers’ meetings in Walla Walla.

At the end of the year I found that I couldn’t remain in both worlds; I had to make a decision. As G.K. Chesterton wrote,

“I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy.”

With mixed emotions, I resigned from ministry and membership in Calvary Assembly of God. It was painful to leave behind friends and family in Christ; but it was also a relief to at last be free to wholeheartedly participate in the historic faith and worship I’d been dabbling in for the previous two years. I moved to Walla Walla to join in the life of the Orthodox community there, and on August 14, 1999 I was received into the Orthodox Church.

When a person enters the Church, they often are given the name of some hero of the faith who has finished the race triumphantly. I’ve always been inordinately proud of my knowledge, so it’s appropriate that for a patron saint I felt moved to choose Silouan of Mt Athos. St Silouan, a simple monk and all but illiterate, was consulted by pilgrims who sought out his wisdom and teaching on humility, obedience, and love. His life challenged me so much that I specifically wanted him praying for me today.

So I became Orthodox. And lived happily ever after? Well. The jury’s still out on that. A few years isn’t long enough to make a serious dent in a lifetime’s immersion in Western thought and independent self-inventing religion. I do know that, for the first time in my life, I’ve experienced long-term consistency in prayer, and personal accountability on a deeper level than I’ve ever known.

And, incidentally, far from relaxing carefree in a new level of freedom from sin, I’ve become much more conscious of the rebellion, selfishness, and pride that underlie so much of my way of living and thinking. But (our culture’s pop psychology to the contrary) guilt is not a burden to be rolled away and ignored; guilt means we’ve sinned and have the opportunity to repent. Compunction is good news! The practical how-to of repentance and humility is the place where Orthodoxy begins to show up as something different from every religion I know.

It’s after having been exposed to Orthodox preaching and teaching for a little while that I’ve begin to realize that in my life I have heard (and preached!) far more sermons on what the text of Scripture meant, than on how, practically and concretely, to live a life that leads to experiencing salvation from sin here and now. It’s much more common in many churches to hear exposition on the Sermon on the Mount than to hear usable, practical counsel from that Sermon on how to live, now, in the Kingdom. I can’t count how many vague sermons I’ve heard on “living in the Spirit” which never included a shred of practical instruction on what to do. In two thousand years the Orthodox have had time to prove what works for training the spiritual athlete to run the race to win.

Asceticism for me has quit being a word to describe crazed masochists, and has become part of my personal vocabulary. In Greek, askesis refers to athletic disciplines — and that’s a very apt metaphor for a Christian life that denies our nation’s cult of immediate gratification and materialism. Instead of seeing fasting as a heroic way to impress God when I want something from Him, fasting has become a regular part of the normal Christian life.

After all, Christ did say

“They shall fast”

and

“When you fast”

so self-denial is meant to be common to all Christians. When disciplines are received and obeyed they can lead to humility. Otherwise it’s just an exercise in self-will, where we independently decide what cross to carry, and we just feed our pride. It’s a challenge for me to submit to the wisdom of two millennia of Christians who Know What Works, instead of developing my own personal rule of prayer or devotion.

All that discipline, submission, and obedience is not the result of any desire to measure up to a standard that will make me acceptable to God. The fact is, we don’t need to measure up at all. God loves us as we are. Period. A friend of mine wrote in a recent letter:

Do we love Him? Fine, then: True Love doesn’t ask “what I need to do and how much I need to measure up.” True love simply does as much as it can, the max, and prays for the ability to do yet more. (“More Love to Thee, O Christ, More love to Thee!”)

What has surprised me in speaking with my Evangelical friends has been that often the Orthodox emphasis on active faith — obedience — comes across either as an attempt to earn God’s favor through works, or as “something extra”, something above and beyond what is needed for salvation. And that’s the biggest difference between the gospel I used to preach and the one I’m trying to live today. I’m not interested in identifying the minimum that’s “needed for salvation.” Given an infinite goal – transforming union with God – and given the foolishness, pride, and sin that still characterize me, I’m motivated to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

And what ever happened to that vision of an Acts 2:42 church?

It might be surprising when you look at the surface of incense and icons and ancient melodies, but the kind of community described in Acts is happening here. The Lord is adding continually those who are being saved.

People encounter members of our community socially, get exposed to our way of life and of relating to one another (humility, mutual submission, prayer) and they are drawn by God to join us. Some of us are former Evangelicals, pastors, elders, what-have-you. But a number of our inquirers and catechumens are post-Christians who got burned out on church a long time ago, or normal people who have little church background at all.

Many of them have never before seen an atmosphere where absolutes are proclaimed, yet nobody points a finger — instead, we confess that we’re a bunch of hypocrites and sinners and we pray constantly for mercy and the grace of repentance.

I lean toward this vision not of evangelism but of community even more strongly as I’m painfully aware that I’m far from the godly example I’d like an unbeliever or non-Orthodox inquirer to encounter. No message is more credible than the messenger. I have a little credibility with the few people who know me well; they may or may not trust me when I tell them about the claims of Christ. But when they encounter a healthy community of faith, they see proof that Christ is among us.

Maybe it’s fitting that I started this piece speaking of my own individual experience but ended up talking about the Church. The promises and commands of Christ and the apostles are almost always in the plural. And while we can sin as individuals, we will be saved as members of Christ or not at all.

Fr. Philip Silouan Thompson



SILOUAN

“We, unwise and with the meagerness of our intelligence, with God’s help have written this as a reminder to myself and to others of similar mind… If there is anything found here not pleasing to God and not helpful to souls because of my foolishness and ignorance, let it be not so, but may the will of God perfect it and make it well-pleasing. I ask pardon or beg that, if anyone should find anything else more practical and useful, then let him do it and we shall be glad and rewarded. If anyone should find from these writings some help, let him pray for me a sinner that I may obtain mercy before God.” — St. Nil Sorsky

Source:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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Liturgy, Sacraments, and all that jazz: Ten reasons I joined the Orthodox Church

by

Jamey Bennett, Hawaii, USA

I am asked fairly regularly to share my conversion story. I haven’t really written out my journey into the Orthodox Church in a full narrative. I hinted at some things related to my Mormon heritage here, but even that doesn’t quite tell the story. Honestly, I’m not sure I am interesting enough to put my story down on paper, so for now, we’ll settle for some glimpses into the journey. I leave this unedited and unvarnished.

I was received into the Orthodox Church at Pascha (Easter) of 2009. This doesn’t come as a shock to most who know me, but definitely has ruffled some feathers of a few people I love and respect. I want to set out ten (of many) reasons I became Orthodox. (In what follows, I assume a basic understanding of Christianity and Protestantism.)

1. Liturgy, Sacraments, and All That Jazz

I have personally been on a liturgical-sacramental trajectory for a long time. I fell in love with the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) years ago, as well as a liturgical approach to prayer. As a Presbyterian, I began using prayer ropes, praying the hours, and even included an icon in my private devotions. This led me out of Presbyterianism and into five wonderful years as an Anglican, and I acquired the conviction that whatever church I was to join in the future needed to be under the oversight of a bishop in Apostolic Succession.1

Somewhere along the way I encountered Orthodoxy. Every chance I got while travelling, I would visit Orthodox churches. It didn’t matter if I was in a Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, or American Orthodox church, I felt comfortable and at home. To me, it felt like the fullness of all that I was looking for in Anglicanism.

As I have now immersed myself in the Sacramental life of the Orthodox Church, I am ever more convinced that it is my home.

2. Beauty

One time I was visiting a friend’s church, and the pastor was pounding the pulpit, “Don’t you dare imagine anything when you’re praying! That’s idolatry!”2 I never really bought that line. I never understood why Old Testament worship utilized all the senses, and then suddenly we get a new and better covenant (Heb. 8:6) and switch to plain white walls free of any symbolism. Orthodox people taste, touch, see, hear, and smell virtually everything!

Orthodoxy is exceedingly beautiful. The Psalmist exults,

“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth stand in awe of him” (96:9).

Worship is beautiful in Orthodoxy, as it should be. And every detail of worship is carefully designed for the honor and glory of God – from the way we sing to the images that adorn our walls to the vestments of the clergy.

3. Mystery

Part of what attracts many people to Orthodoxy is the love of mystery. Now, this is counter-intuitive to me. I want to figure it all out. When I began studying theology in high school and college, I was always asking people,

“What’s your position on _______?”

My first impulse is not in praise of mystery, but in solving mystery. I am by nature a rationalist.

But the truth is, we live a mystery-filled existence. I currently live in Hawaii, and I sit here at my desk at night and watch geckos run across my window with their “magic” toes to catch and munch on moths. This “mystery” is something held together by an incredibly imaginative God who called all things into being – and it just so happens that none of us were there when he did it.

Evagrios of Pontus has famously said,

“God cannot be grasped by the mind. If He could be grasped, he would not be God.”

Orthodoxy is not irrational. However, we believe that mystery is fundamental to Christianity, and should be embraced and celebrated. Evangelical theologian Daniel Clendenin writes, “The great mysteries of the faith are for the East matters of adoration rather than analysis.” I think that’s right. And so I rest in mystery.

4. Systematic, Bah!

Which brings me to systematic theology. I’ve never been satisfied with systematic theology. One summer I took evangelical family writer Nancy Wilson’s challenge to read 10 chapters of the New Testament a day, making it possible to read the whole New Testament in a month. Each day I watched my systematic theology “systematically” dismantled. My tight categories had previously made sense when I assembled Bible verses in a logical construct. But when I just read the Bible in large helpings, I began to see my thinking reshaped. And it was a bit messy!

If we must categorize “types” of theology, I’d say we have four main categories: Systematic, Biblical, Conciliar, and Liturgical. In Systematic theology one tries to carefully line up all the “data” and harmonize it. In Biblical theology, one teases out the text and takes it wherever it goes – keeping in mind its flow in historical context. Conciliar theology is what is worked out in the great Councils of the Church in response to various attacks on truth (this, in concert with the creedal statements growing out of those councils). Liturgical theology (at its best) is the developed and mature use of Conciliar and Biblical theology in the context of prayer.

There is plenty of room for Systematics in Orthodoxy. However, it’s not a particular interest of most of the Orthodox world. We’d rather pray our theology. I’d say that Orthodoxy beautifully harmonizes Biblical, Conciliar, and Liturgical theology.

5. Unwavering Theology

I was talking to my good friend Ken Petty, a Calvinist, who related a conversation to me that he had with an evangelical leader. This leader described Eastern theology as having been

“stagnant for the last thousand years.”

I laughed and asked him,

“And this is a problem, how?”

We don’t believe in doctrinal development. Sure, the way we articulate our theology has been historically shaped over-and-against creeping errors, but the essence of the faith has been fiercely defended.

It is the position of the Orthodox Church that we are preserving the faith of the Apostles, not re-inventing or re-discovering their faith. In 2004, I read through much of The Seven Ecumenical Councils and was continually struck by the minutes of the Councils. Repeatedly, you find the bishops shouting out things like,

“This is the Orthodox faith! This is the faith of the Fathers! Into this faith we were baptized!”

Orthodoxy is not blown about by every wind of doctrine, but has ferociously preserved, defended, and died for the faith

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

6. I Don’t Trust Myself

I stopped trusting myself a couple of years ago. I used to think that I am always right, and I’m still fighting that deception inside of me. One day many aspects of my world came crashing down – and I realized that I don’t know everything, I don’t have it all together, and I am a participant in broken humanity.

I find the remedy for this in Orthodoxy. For one thing, the Orthodox Church doesn’t rest on one man, whether he is a pastor or a Pope. The Orthodox Church is conciliar, and depends on the totality of the Church across national, cultural, and ethnic lines. It is faithful to the Fathers of the past, and the Brothers of the present.

The second way Orthodoxy provides the remedy for my self-mistrust is in confession. In Orthodoxy, we confess face-to-face with a priest, and he brings the comfort of the Gospel to us, personally. At the end of a confession, I kneel and my priest covers me with his robe, places his hands on me, and proclaims to me that God has forgiven my sins. What a picture of Jesus!

“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:12).

7. Corporate or Individual?

One day it occurred to me that corporate worship and private devotions are threads in a tapestry woven together. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.

In Orthodoxy, we bring our individual petitions into a larger corporate context – and we do this for the life of the world. “My needs” join in harmony with other individual needs and broader needs of all the world. The individual finds fulfillment in the corporate setting.

8. Historical “Accidents”

My move to a more liturgical way of praying happened on “accident” – as did my ultimate destination in Orthodoxy. My life was badly shaken around 2003. I didn’t have the words to pray anymore, and I didn’t really like God that much. Then I picked up a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It gave me the words to pray that I didn’t have on my own, and it strengthened my weakened faith. I have described it on many occasions as the anchor that held me through the storm. And it did.

So I joined an Anglican church. Over the next five years, living in Tennessee, I felt the strong pull to Orthodoxy several times. But my involvement at that wonderful “continuing Anglican” church, and the relationships that I had developed there, really made joining the Orthodox Church rather difficult to do. I felt that if I were to join an Orthodox Church, that move would have to coincide with another move – to a new city.

In 2008, I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii to live with my sister. Before I got here, I knew I had three possibilities for a church home: Lutheran (LCMS), Anglican/Episcopal (TEC), or Orthodox (OCA). In my mind, those were my only three options. I attended the Lutheran church a bit, but was turned off by a few of the local practices (plus, well, no bishop). The Episcopal option was nearly bearable, but I wouldn’t have truly participated in the life of the community. We were just on different pages.

At first, the Orthodox Church did not seem a real option for me, despite its attractiveness. It was over 100 miles away, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to part with some lingering Protestant impulses. But I got word that the bishop was coming for a visit, and I didn’t want to miss that. So I spent the weekend in a hostel near the church. Before the Divine Liturgy was over, I knew I was home.

9. Healing

One thing I have heard time and again from converts to Orthodoxy is that the services and Sacraments are healing. In fact, our liturgy describes Christ as the physician and healer of our souls and bodies. This is definitely true in my case.

I once met a guy in Tennessee who had been a member of a Presbyterian church before becoming Orthodox. His wife had left him, and he was devastated. He got invited to an Orthodox service, and was drawn in by the constant refrain of

“Lord have mercy.”

He told me that six months of immersing himself in that liturgical context absolutely healed him.

I’ve had a similar experience. My life was rocked in late 2007, and it made the ‘03 rocking look like a gentle back and forth of a cradle. When I began regularly attending Orthodox services, I could feel that very same healing taking place in my heart. Honoring the majesty of God and getting down on your face before him (sometimes literally) to ask for his help, his grace, his mercy, and his strength, has quite a healing effect.

10. Jesus Called Me to It

I have been in love with Jesus since my earliest memories. In fact, my mom will tell you that I spoke with angels as a toddler. I’m not sure how objectively true that is, but I do know that I have had faith in the Triune God for as long as I can remember. And for all of my doubts over the years, I have never let go of Christ.

This is really the only reason that matters. When I came to believe that I was being called by Jesus Christ into fuller fellowship in him and with his Bride, the Holy Orthodox Church, I couldn’t help but become Orthodox. At that point, all the beauty, mystery, liturgy, and theology did not matter in comparison to the joy of fuller fellowship with Jesus.

I think it was Frederica Mathewes-Green who advised Anglicans not to come to Orthodoxy because it seems attractive or because a person is disillusioned with the state of their current church. Come to Orthodoxy, she beckoned, because you’re in love with Jesus and you see him there.

Notes

If you’re interested in exploring Orthodoxy, Frederica’s books Facing East and At the Corner of East and Now are a great place to start. For something more academic, check out Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church. For sympathetic treatments of Orthodoxy from Protestants, see Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective by Daniel Clendenin or, my favorite, Through Western Eyes; Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective by Robert Letham.

1.In Orthodoxy, however, we insist in a continuity of credal faith and communion for a proper Apostolic Succession.

2.This is actually a decent warning in an Orthodox context. We do use icons, but icons reflect a very real and incarnational existence, and are not simply imagined. However, in the bleak context in which this was spoken (with not so much as a cross on the wall), it seems pretty funny that picturing Jesus is idolatry when he had corporeal existence.

Source:


HAWAII OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX HAWAII

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Yoga and Christian Faith

Dr. Christine Mangala Frost, India

I was born a Hindu, became a Christian at the age of 22 and have been an Orthodox Christian for ten years. I was brought up with yoga. My grandfather was a friend of one of the founders of modern yoga, Swami Sivananda, who used to send his books on yoga to my grandfather along with a vitamin-rich sweet herbal concoction we loved to eat. As children we were encouraged to do certain postures and breathing exercises, always with a clear warning that there are different ways of breathing for men and women as their bodies are differently shaped. When I got married and had children, I passed on to them some of the ideas I had found useful from my childhood yoga lessons. We lived on top of a hill, and as the children walked daily to school (we did not have a car), they had to climb up a steep incline. At times, they would complain about how their legs hurt. I would say, without thinking for one moment how odd it might sound, “breathe through your knees.” Somehow they seemed to understand what that meant and did as told, and soon found it less of an effort to climb. Later on, as they grew up, they learnt to do postures from modern western manuals and benefit from the exercises. They were brought up in a Christian home and were in no danger of being led astray by esoteric Hindu spiritual ideas,   such   as   “self-realization”,   which   often accompany modern yoga. On a visit to India, when they met such ideas in an ashram, they were rather repelled by them as they were by the idolatrous, cultic atmosphere that prevailed in that ashram.

I recount this chiefly to emphasize that there is more to yoga than mere exercise and that we need, more than ever, the gift of discernment when we attend yoga classes or read about it in books. We need to have a clear idea of what we are dealing with if we want to use it without compromising our Christian faith.

Yoga was once regarded with awe in India as an esoteric branch of Hindu spiritual discipline that required great physical and psychological daring. It was sought by the solitary spiritual seeker eager to ascend the higher rungs of a Hindu ideal of spiritual perfection. Such a seeker would undertake an austere regimen of physical and mental discipline strictly under the guidance of a revered master, a guru of spiritual discernment who would monitor his disciple’s progress vigilantly. The ultimate goal of yoga was nothing short of experiencing the divine within oneself.

Since the nineteenth century, largely due to the relentless propaganda efforts of Hindu missionary gurus such as Swami Vivekananda, yoga has been stripped of its mystique and complexity. It has been remoulded in the idiom of American schools of self-help and positive thinking and marketed as a safe and easy pathway to bliss within the grasp of all. Both in the East and West, yoga is now a household word; a highly popular keep-fit routine taught and practiced by large numbers in church or school halls and sports-venues. While some yoga teachers promote it as a mere technique for ensuring one’s wellbeing, others advocate it as an all-purpose answer to not only the ills of modern life but to the ultimate questions of life itself. Some yoga teachers and students play down the importance of the Hindu ethos in which the psycho-spiritual jargon of yoga is anchored, others eagerly embrace that very ethos, especially those who find the creeds, rituals and demands of institutional Christianity irksome. Many Christians practice yoga untroubled by its spiritual baggage while others feel some unease, and often meet with disapproval from their priests and bishops.

As Orthodox Christians, what are we to make of modern yoga?

Is yoga safe for Christians to practice? Or, is it so counter to the Christian faith as to be shunned totally? The conundrum posed by modern yoga was brought into sharp focus by a report in The Times (Friday, 31 August, 2007) which caused a stir. “Vicars ban unchristian yoga for toddlers” so ran the headline: “A children’s exercise class has been banned from two church-halls because it is teaching yoga. The group has been turned away by vicars who described yoga as a sham and unchristian.” The slant given in the report seemed to suggest that the vicars were being unreasonable, bigoted and unduly alarmist. The yoga teacher Miss Woodcock is said to have been “outraged” by their ban on her “Yum-Yum Yoga class for toddlers and mums”. She claims that she explained to the church that her “yoga is a completely non-religious activity.” She does, however, concede that “some types of adult-yoga are based on Hindu and Buddhist meditation but it is not part of the religion and there is no dogma involved.”

“Exercise”, not “meditation”: in saying this, this yoga teacher is drawing our attention to the two major types of yoga prevalent today: Modern Postural Yoga and Modern Meditational Yoga. Realizing that meditational yoga often takes one deep into spiritual realms and goals incompatible with Christianity, Miss Woodcock is eager to keep “exercise” apart from “meditation.” Is such a defusing of yoga to make it “safe” possible?

The vicars disagree: ” The philosophy of yoga cannot be separated from the practice of it, and any teacher of yoga (even to toddlers) must subscribe to the philosophy. Yoga may appear harmless or even beneficial, but it is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques—whereas the only true way to wholeness is by faith in God through Jesus Christ.”

Any reliance solely on “human techniques” for achieving wholeness divorced from faith in Jesus Christ is understandably castigated by the vicars, one an Anglican and the other, a Baptist. Their rejection stems from a fear of nullifying the role of faith and grace in salvation and of falling into the heresy of Pelagianism. Protestant tradition in general tends to be nervous of any suggestion of “spiritual effort” despite the fact that St. Paul admonishes us to “work out our salvation with diligence”.

The concept of synergy

In the Orthodox tradition the role of human freewill in responding to the divine call to “wholeness” or “holiness” is beautifully encapsulated in the concept of synergy. The Incarnation of Christ as fully human and fully God means that we now have a way through Him for what St. Maximus calls divine-human “reciprocity”. God becoming human makes possible our participation in His life, a lifelong process which is described as theosis (deification). Our salvation is not an automatic result of an initial assent, or a legal status of being redeemed from our “slavery” to sin but an “active perfection” in love to be realized in the body of Christ, in his Church.

Therefore baptized Christians are urged to fast, pray, give alms, repent, confess, participate in the life and liturgy of the Church; all these require an initiative on our part, a willingness to prepare ourselves to receive and respond to the grace of God. Like the Prodigal Son, remembering God, “Our Father,” means setting our heart towards our journey home back to Him. There is a subtle symbiosis between human readiness or willingness and the work of the Holy Spirit. To adopt a telling image from St. Ephraim, the human person is a “harp of the Spirit.” To play well the music of the Holy Spirit our harp needs to be well tuned, its strings neither too tight nor too slack. Yoga techniques are primarily aimed at achieving a psychosomatic equilibrium or poise. So we may well ask, without falling into any heresy, is it not possible to treat yoga-techniques as means “to tune up” our body and mind so that we become better receptors of God’s grace? Can Hindu yoga help a Christian to fulfil the command heard by the psalmist “Be still and know that I am God?” What role, if any, can yoga postures and meditation play in fulfilling the commands of Christ : “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mathew 22: 37-39)?

The Hindu-Buddhist Ethos of Modern Yoga

Before I attempt to answer these questions I need to sketch in brief the types of yoga one encounters today and the Hindu-Buddhist ethos they are steeped in. One writer cites four types: Hollywood Yoga, Harvard Yoga, Himalayan Yoga and Cultic Yoga.[1]

Hollywood Yoga , as the name implies, aims at beauty, fitness and longevity.
Harvard Yoga sets its sights on mental clarity, concentration and psychic calm.
Himalayan Yoga goes way beyond the other two and aims at a mystical state known as samadhi (absorption).
Cultic Yoga centres round a charismatic guru.Enlightenment is said to be imparted by the mere touch of a guru to a disciple who worships him or her as God.
Purist Hindu practitioners claim to follow the guidelines provided in the original Sanskrit text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; their teaching follows the “eight-limbed” (ashtanga) yoga. Doing postural exercises is a relatively minor matter in an agenda that lays stress on mental and moral purification and a harnessing of psychic powers for spiritual perfection. The “eight-limbs” consist of :
“five restraints” (yamas) “five disciplines” (niyamas) “physical postures” (asanas) “regulation of vital force” (pranayama) “sense organ withdrawal” (pratyahara), “concentration” (dharana), “meditation” (dhyana) “absorption” (samadhi).

The first two “limbs” aim at cultivating virtues such as truthfulness, selflessness and non-violence. Some Hindu teachers of yoga regret that the third, “physical postures”, is now widely taught without any reference to moral perfection. They insist that the poise attained by the practice of postures is meant to set the yogi on a journey whose ultimate goal is spiritual, a state of permanent bliss known as samadhi or “absorption”.

Absorption into what?

This meets with different answers depending on what you believe.

If you are a Hindu who believes that there is no difference between his Self (atma) and the Supreme Self (brahman), “absorption” means arriving at an experience of undifferentiated oneness with brahman. Such a Hindu sees the ultimate spiritual reality as Impersonal and strongly contends that belief in the Impersonal is superior to any belief in a Personal God.

If you are a Hindu who worships God as a deity, a theist who cultivates a personal relationship of love with his or her god or goddess, and seeks liberation by the deity’s grace, “absorption” means a drowning of self in the Godhead.

If you are a Buddhist and do not believe in a Creator-God (as the Dalai Lama reiterates often) “absorption”, means entering nirvana, a “blowing out”, an ultimate extinction of self.

Though the ambitious spiritual program of Patanjali’s Yoga morphed into keep-fit routines in Western Yoga classes and manuals, one still meets some mutation or other of the complex, inter-dependent psycho-spiritual concepts from the original author. Underlying them all is the view derived from a system of philosophy known as samkhya. According to samkhya, our ordinary psychosomatic self is a by-product of biophysical processes and that by the disciplines of yoga, one peels oneself like an onion to reach the core where one finds “pure consciousness.” As one yoga teacher explains: ‘once the individual grasps that he is essentially pure consciousness different from and separate from psychophysical processes, he is disunited from his false notions. At the same time the individual is also united in his thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions to his real self.'[2]

“Pure Consciousness” or Kingdom of God?

It seems a questionable claim that a systematic severing of contact with the external world creates an integrated human being. On the contrary, as R.D. Laing has shown in his The Divided Self, embarking on a radical withdrawal from external reality may well render one schizoid. Not only does the yogic inward journey run the risk of mental illness, but the goal of such yoga raises some serious problems for a Christian. Jesus admonishes us to seek the Kingdom of God within, not “pure consciousness.” When a Christian prays, “Thy Kingdom come,” he is paradoxically envisaging the reign of God as an external as well as an internal happening. Even in the Christian monastic traditions, which recommend withdrawal from the world, from the objects of sensual experience, the monk is in search of an “inner kingdom” (cf. Metropolitan Kallistos’ choice title for his writings). In this “inner kingdom”, God the Holy Trinity, our God who has “revealed” Himself to us in Jesus Christ reigns supreme. We recognize Him and commune with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit and by the power of the same Spirit we call upon God as “Our Father.” In countless parables, Jesus describes what that phrase, the “Kingdom of God” means. Among other things it stands for a “life abundant” here and hereafter; and it encompasses the whole of creation. As Patriarch Ignatius IV reminds us, ‘The Kingdom of God is nothing other than the glorified Body of the risen Christ, in which each day humanity enters into communion.'[3] The Christian goal of “the Kingdom of God” is a far cry from whatever one understands by “pure consciousness.”

Influential Hindu missionaries like Vivekananda and his followers deploy certain yoga techniques to promote a pop-mysticism based on the notion of “Self-realization.” which has become a yoga buzz-word. The path to “Self-realization” through yoga is presented as of universal appeal, free from dogma and strictly non-denominational. However, a close scrutiny of Vivekananda’s writings reveals a strong bias in favour of one specific Hindu tradition, that of the non-dualist, (advaitin) Vivekananda bowdlerized the subtle metaphysics of Hindu non-dualism (advaita) and championed its cause in the marketplace with the ardour of a philosophical imperialist. Random quotes from his writings illustrate his reckless syncretism and the audacious, often preposterous claims he made for his mode of “Self-realization.”[4]

“All is my Self. Say this unceasingly. “

“Go into your own room and get the Upanishads out of your own Self. You are the greatest book that ever was or ever will be, the infinite depository of all that is.”

“I am the essence of bliss. ” “Follow no ideal, you are all that is. ” “Christs and Buddhas are simply occasions upon which to objectify your inner powers. We really answer our own prayers. “

” We may call it Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Jehovah, Allah, Agni, but it is only the Self, the ‘I’.”

“The universe is thought, and the Vedas are the words of this thought. We can create and uncreate the whole universe. “[5]

When Vivekananda realized that he needed something more than loose philosophical talk for his brand of “Self-realization,” he wrote his seminal work, Raja Yoga, which is a practical manual for those seeking the so-called “Self-realization.”

“Know thyself”: in Yoga and Christianity

There are many reasons why the spiritual ethos underpinning modern yoga is incompatible with Christianity, chief among them being the inordinate focus on self. Self-deification, from a Christian point of view, is at the very root of evil. In Christian understanding, the very Fall of Man is a turning away from God towards a misguided, rebellious reliance on self. This rupture of communion with God results in sin and death. Commenting on the Socratic dictum, “Know Thyself,” (which is also a message of modern yoga), Orthodox theologian Mantzaridis writes: ‘If there exists something that man can and must seek and find within himself, it is not the self which deviated but the new man in Christ, born through baptismal grace and the other Church sacraments. Man’s return to himself can only truly exalt him provided it takes place within the life in Christ.'[6] The Christian goal and the means to that goal are succinctly put by the same author in his explication of St. Gregory Palamas: ‘Direct and personal knowledge of God is achieved through a mystical communion with Him. Man gains true knowledge of Him once he is visited by deifying grace and united through it with God. The more man accepts the divinizing transformation worked within him by the Holy Spirit, the more perfect and full is his knowledge of God.'[7]

St. Paul reminds us, to know God is to be known by him, that is, to be loved by Him. Love implies a relationship, a communion, not annihilation nor “absorption”, least of all “self-absorption”.

Christian Yoga?

Given that the spiritual ambience and goals of yoga, by and large, are incompatible with Christianity is there any way a Christian can disengage it from its Hindu ethos, use its techniques and still remain a committed Christian?

Some Christians believe that this is possible. A notable example is the Benedictine monk, Dechanet, who argues that yoga can do a great deal for Christians, well beyond improving our physical wellbeing. He believes that yoga can help us to be better Christians, provided we practice it within a framework of Christian prayer. In his book Christian Yoga Dechanet takes up the challenge of Christianizing yoga. This he does, with an acute awareness of the counter-Christian ethos of traditional yoga. He states emphatically how the two are dissimilar: ‘The Christian starts from faith, and reaches a certain experience, in divine charity, of the God of Revelation, experiencing “Emmanuel”, God with us, God with me. The Hindu has only empirical data to guide him and at the end of his road discovers a sublime but almost savage isolation.'[8]

Dechanet gives careful guidelines as to how one can do yoga to be a better Christian: in prayer, worship, in one’s love of God and love of one’s neighbour. He presents a set of yoga exercises and advice on breathing as ways of presenting ourselves to God with integrity and sincerity: ‘Our whole aim is to bring calm and peace to the whole being; to make a good and faithful servant of the body; to free the soul from anxieties and problems that are all too common; and to finally to arouse the spirit.’ [9]

A Critique of Dechanet

I must confess to being somewhat troubled by that last phrase, “arouse the spirit”. This is the language of a Hindu yogi who believes in “arousing” dormant powers by masterful self-effort; and therefore it is not suitable to describe a Christian experience of the Spirit. Our Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit, “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth . .’ makes it very clear that, as fallen creatures, what we need most urgently is an infusion of new life. So we ask to be cleansed and purified by Him who is “everywhere present and fills all things.” This prayer clearly positions us as supplicants seeking the Spirit’s abiding presence within us.

When I started work on this essay, I decided to test out Dechanet’s recommendations, and practiced some basic yoga postures during my morning prayers; and I found that with some conscious effort and concentration it was possible to synchronize my petitions, praise and thanks with the postures. It certainly curbed the level of anxiety, and I could tell myself that I was able to “consider the lilies of the field”, as our Lord commanded us to do, a little better than I normally do. The breathing exercises infused a sense of wellbeing and increased my ability to deal with the turmoil of the day.

However, there was one thing that troubled me somewhat in combining yoga with prayers. I found myself much more aware of myself praying. There was a degree of self- consciousness I felt uncomfortable with: I would rather have forgotten myself while saying the words of prayer or entering silence. Instead, I seemed to be watching myself praying. I decided that the sense of well being I had experienced was genuine enough but it was the result of the exercises, which were clearly beneficial. I decided to revert to my old habit of keeping the exercises separate from prayers.

My conclusion:

Incompatibility.
Christians undertaking yoga should be fully aware that its Hindu-Buddhist spiritual ethos is incompatible with the Christian faith. For example: even the Dalai Lama’s commendable guidelines on cultivating compassion focus on “self-effort,” for he frankly admits that he does not believe in a Creator God. For a Christian, love of one’s neighbour (compassion) is inseparable from love of God, and, both are kindled in the human heart by the Holy Spirit.

If a yoga teacher introduces concepts and goals incompatible with being a Christian, one needs to resist them. For this one needs to have a good and clear grasp of what it means to be a Christian. If you are well grounded in Christian thinking, prayer and Christian living, it should be possible, by the grace of God to take what is good in yoga and discard its alien ethos. Attempts to Christianize yoga are commendable but may prove distracting.

Yoga to keep fit
It is perfectly feasible to use yoga as a keep-fit routine to tune the body, and make it a fit instrument for Christian prayer. We should be grateful that the modern teachers of yoga have reduced it to a gentle form of exercise.

Caution
I would, however, sound a note of caution. It is important to make sure that you are in normal health before you undertake postural yoga. A medical check-up is a good idea. For example, if you have blood-pressure problems certain postures should be avoided. Some postures stimulate the thyroid, and if you have any problems relating to that gland, again, you need to be careful. Some difficult postures like the headstand should be done only for short spells. One Indian guru, who rejects yoga, mocks its claim to enlightenment with the remark that too many headstands damage the finer blood vessels in the brain, even cause partial brain damage, and the consequent stupor is hailed by some Hindus as a state of enlightenment!

Even greater caution is necessary with what is taught as “meditation.” Some advanced forms of meditation-exercises change one’s brain rhythms and lead to a sense of euphoria, which can be addictive. As with other addictions, when the effect wears off, one may end up in depression.

Psychic Danger
Breathing techniques aimed at rousing what is called kundalini, dormant sexual energy, which is sublimated into spiritual energy, are particularly dangerous, as they expose one to psychic forces beyond one’s control. Here it is well to remember Jesus’ parable about the unclean spirit (Matthew 12: 43-45). A purified, heightened consciousness without the presence of God is a dangerous state to be in.

Mantras and Jesus Prayer
Some yoga teachers encourage chanting of mantras as a means of eliminating disturbance. Mantras are abbreviated invocation of Hindu deities; a mantra’s sound vibrations are said to activate unexplored levels of consciousness. Christians need no such mantras. Rather than enter unknown and potentially dangerous psychic realms through such chanting, we can stabilize ourselves by saying the Jesus Prayer. We have in the Jesus Prayer the most perfect invocation of the Divine Name, which we are called to “hallow,” that is hold holy. Moreover, our cry is grounded in a sober awareness of our own spiritual poverty as sin-prone creatures; hence, like the blind beggar we say, “Lord Jesus, Have mercy!”

Vocal or silent repetition of the name of Jesus acts like a mantra yet the Jesus Prayer is not a mantra. The Jesus prayer, unlike a mantra, contains in a nutshell the basics of the Christian faith. Unlike a mantra, which works more like self-hypnotism, the Jesus prayer marks a movement to and from God as it embodies a relationship in faith and love. Unlike Hindu mantras, whose ambit is what Christians would see as the “old Adam”, the ultimate aim of the Jesus Prayer is, to quote St. Paul ,”to put on the new man.” In the writings of the Desert Fathers, of St. John of Damascus, especially in the hesychast tradition so soundly defended by St. Gregory Palamas, and in the works of modern commentators like Bishop Brianchaninov, Metropolitan Kallistos, monk Porphyrios, we have invaluable guidelines for the practice of the Jesus Prayer. As Bishop Brianchaninov puts it, “In the name of the Lord Jesus quickening is given to the soul deadened by sin. The Lord Jesus Christ is life. And His name is living; it revives and quickens those who cry by it to the source of life.'[10]

Having sounded these warnings, I still believe that a modest yoga regimen can help us to stay supple in body and mind, spiritually alert and vigilant and ultimately live a Christian life with greater zest and joy. We can take our cue from the early Church Fathers. The Cappadocian Fathers were trained in pagan schools of rhetoric and logic but discarded the pagan ethos and deployed the techniques of their learning to brilliant effect in their Christian spiritual theology. Similarly, we too can deal with yoga without being swamped or led astray by its alien ethos, provided we entrust ourselves to Christ our Lord, and our God.

NOTES

[1] Ashok Kumar Malhotra, An Introduction to Yoga Philosophy: an annotated translation of the Yoga Sutras, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2001, p. 15

[2] Ibid., p.4

[3] Ignatius IV , Patriarch of Antioch, The Resurrection and the Modern Man, translated by Stephen Bingham, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York 1985, p. 71

[4] For a informative and penetrating analysis of the hybrid origins of modern yoga see, Elizabeth DeMichelis, A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism Continuum , London, 2004.

[5] All these quotations from Vivekananda’s Complete Works cited above are from DeMichelis, A History of Modern Yoga , pages 121-122.

[6] George I Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man: St. Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition, translated by Laidain Sherrard, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York, 1984. pp 82-83. Italics mine.

[7] Ibid.,p.114

[8] Dechanet, Christian Yoga, London, Burns & Oates, 1956,1964, p.121

[9] Ibid., p.85.

[10] On the Prayer of Jesus, translated by Father Lazarus, London: John M. Watkins, 1965, p.27.

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WHAT ABOUT YOGA

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Finally Oriented

by Fr. Barnabas Powell

The Pentecostal church I grew up in had a profound impact on my life. The lively services, the thundering sermons, and the emotional altar calls gripped my young heart and fed my hunger for an intimate encounter with God.

As a young man growing up in a Pentecostal church, I always knew I wanted to be a preacher because all the powerful men I had ever known had been men in the pulpit, and I wanted to be just like them.

In my Pentecostal church I was told that a stream is purest at its source, so what we had to do was to be like the Church in the Book of Acts. If we were going to affect our world for Jesus then we needed the same power the Early Church had, and that meant being Pentecostal.

The whole purpose for our emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, lively, emotional worship services, and powerful, motivating, sermons, was to keep us motivated to win lost souls. If you weren’t witnessing, you weren’t on fire for the Lord.

I was the youth choir director and our youth group traveled around the Southeast singing and preaching the Good News. Sometimes I would give the sermon, but that had been a honor earned on the streets, since none of the young preachers were allowed to speak at church until they’d proved their metal by preaching on the street corners. It was there that we got our first speaking experience.

Every Saturday we’d gather at the church and get our sound system and go street preaching. We’d set up usually across from a strip shopping center near a traffic light so we could witness to the shoppers and the folks in their cars. Only one at a time could speak so the rest of the group fanned out in the shopping center with Gospel tracts in hand, ready to lead lost people to the Lord. One of the greatest badges of honor was if you were preaching and someone in one of the cars stopped at the red-light heckled you. That was suffering persecution for the Gospel.

Over the years, I began having difficulty dealing with those times when the level of religious excitement wasn’t at a fevered pitch. I knew I was excited about Jesus, but I began questioning whether I knew Him or not. I knew I didn’t want to go to hell. I knew I wanted to go to heaven (after all, if you’re in heaven, then you’re not in hell, right?). I knew I wanted to be a preacher, because everybody listened to the preacher. I knew I wanted to have a successful ministry (meaning a large church), but what I didn’t know is what to do when the emotions died down. All my quick and simple answers weren’t working for me so why would I think that they’d work for others. I was missing something.

It was then that I received the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do: go to college for a theological education. So, off I went to Toccoa, Georgia, where I attended a small, conservative, Evangelical, college. While at school, I was exposed to a depth of theology I had never imagined. Wow, this was it! Deep theology! But a lot of this theology was causing me to question my Pentecostal upbringing. I could no longer see the Christian life as one of constant emotional excitement, or ecstatic religious experiences. I had to admit that some of the doctrinal positions I once held were not entirely accurate.

I Became an Evangelical

Gradually, I became an Evangelical, committed to the classic theology of the Protestant Reformation. At least our goal was still to win the world for Christ. My time at school was wonderful. The classes were, for the most part, challenging and enlightening. I was being taught to be a scholar, to ask the right questions, and to discover the right answers. But the longer I studied the more I became convinced that something was missing! It was then that I discovered an interest in church history.

Every graduate of a Pastoral theology course of study at Toccoa Falls College had to have what was called an internship at a church. So, the last summer of my senior year I had scheduled my internship at one of the most successful churches in the Southeast, Christ Church, in Nashville, Tennessee. This church was well known for being a Pentecostal church that had successfully married Evangelical theology with Pentecostal worship.

Some of the questions I was asking were also being asked by the assistant pastor of Christ Church, Dan Scott, Jr. He and I had long discussions about this. Dan was a scholar with a Master’s degree in sociology from the University of Southern California. We would talk for hours about theology and church history.

A Dream About Orthodoxy

Dan told me about a dream he had while he was a missionary in Canada. In the dream, he was walking inside this very old church building, with marble floors and high ceilings. Inside there were pictures all over the walls and candles burning everywhere. Several old men with long white beards and dressed in black robes, were praying standing up, and he sensed, stronger than he had ever sensed, the presence of God in the place. The men were actually glowing with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and Dan said he was speechless.

All of a sudden, one of the old, bearded, men turned to him and asked: “Where have you been?”

One day Dan advised me to read The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. I started reading this book and was captured by the history of the Orthodox Church. Here was the story of what happened to the missions of St Peter and St Paul in the New Testament; the continued story of the missions to Greece, Ephesus, Antioch, Asia Minor and Jerusalem.

It was eye opening to say the least. I had been trained to see all of Christianity as a question of either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism and now I was being confronted with a third Way.

Much to my surprise, I learned that not only were there still Orthodox Christians, but that there was even a group of former Evangelicals and Charismatics who had become Orthodox. I got in touch with them and two of their leaders journeyed to Georgia to visit with me.

By the fall of 1989, I was pastoring a growing Evangelical congregation in Woodstock, Georgia called Church of the Firstborn. I was also working as a Promotions Manager at In Touch Ministries in Atlanta.

This placed me deep in the Evangelical world of media and ministry.

Every week my best friend, Rod Loudermilk (a former Pentecostal pastor himself), and I would meet to discuss theology and the books we were reading and invariably we would turn to the church history books we both found so interesting. In these books we discovered the Church fathers, the witness of the Holy Spirit in every age of the Church and the heroes of the Faith we began to identify as true and genuine followers of our lord Jesus. We began to be convinced that there were treasures here for us today that we desperately needed to reclaim.

I was also trying to incorporate what I was learning about the early Church into our local congregation: things like a weekly Lord’s Supper, and the weekly recitation of the Apostle’s Creed. Also, I began involving the congregation in regular responses:

“Peace be with you,”

“And also with you.”

I imagine our Pentecostal church was the only Pentecostal church in the area with icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary behind the pulpit! As a Pentecostal, I had been taught that worship wasn’t a spectator sport. I didn’t realize till it was too late that the underlying theology behind historical Christian worship wasn’t compatible with my current theology.

It was like trying to mix oil and water. It didn’t work.

Discovering the Orthodox Church

In 1992 I began to have regular discussions with those who had become Orthodox. I found myself drawn to these men and their journey. They didn’t try to persuade me they were right. They just told me about their own story.

After an invitation from one of these men, I visited an Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, Indiana to experience what we had been reading about. What we both experienced there was both overwhelming in an emotional and experiential aspect and exciting in that here was the historical perspectives I had been searching for in a modern setting.

After the service, we said our good-byes and headed back to Atlanta. For a long time neither of us said a word. There were no words. I was convinced that I had to have the theology behind the beauty that I had just experienced.

I eventually had to come to grips with my own spiritual journey and my pastorate at our church in Atlanta. The breaking point came when an evangelist I had invited to our church for a series of meetings (we still called it a “revival” at that time) began praying for my folks in a prayer line and I was there praying that his prayers wouldn’t harm or deceive these dear people.

That was it! I had to make a choice. I approach our church elders and spoke frankly with them about my own journey to Orthodoxy, and we agreed to make a clear message to our church about my own choices. At the end of those days of talking and praying 20 families from our church had decided to enter the Orthodox Church with me. We went through a year’s worth of catechism and were all chrismated into the Church at St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church in America) in Atlanta in November of 2001. Our journey to Orthodoxy took almost nine years, but we were finally home.

Orthodoxy attracts me precisely because of my background as a Pentecostal. Worship is very important to Pentecostals. And in Orthodoxy I have found a depth of worship that doesn’t deny my emotions, but doesn’t depend on them as well. Orthodox worship takes into account the whole person. It was said by the great Russian writer, Dostoevsky, that “beauty will save the world,” and I have found a beauty in Orthodox worship that draws me to God.

A former professor and Evangelical (now a Roman Catholic) once said that the theology he read that had been written by Christian writers in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries (times that were suppose to be gripped in the darkness of ritualism and false teachings) were more awesome and more powerful than most of all the conservative Protestant writers of his own day. In effect, he said that their “error” was more beautiful and more powerful than my “truth.”

Richness and Fullness

My journey has led me into Orthodox worship and belief. This should not lead others to think I have abandoned my desire to find the fullness of Christian faith and worship. It simply means that I no longer feel the need to reconstruct a pure church in the image of the early church. I am not certain I would be able to recognize such a Church if I encountered it. If those folks mocking Christ failed to recognize the scourged, beaten, bleeding, and crucified person hanging on the cross as the Lord of glory, would I recognize his body today? My only recourse is to trust the Holy Spirit has preserved His Church and ask that same Spirit to form me within the Church that exists today.

Nonetheless, for me, Orthodoxy offers a richness and a fullness that is timeless and yet refreshingly new. It is so vast and wide-reaching and so full of mystery that it will take more than a lifetime to fully examine it. While I am not competent to judge the hearts of others, I am convinced that there is preserved within Orthodox Christianity a foundational core of worship and faith that is fundamentally true to the Spirit and life of the New Testament. This is the faith “once, for all, delivered to the saints.”

For those who wonder whether this can be true, I refer them to the words of St. Philip the apostle:

Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathaniel said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”- John 1:45-46

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HAVE FAITH - ORTHODOXY

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Father Nikolai Ono

A Monk from a Samurai Family

Hierodeacon Nikolai Ono comes from an old family of priests of the Japanese Orthodox Church. His great-great grandfather’s name—Priest John Ono—is often mentioned in the diaries of St. [1] Nicholas of Japan. We talk with Fr. Nikolai about his family and Orthodox churches of Japan and Russia.

* * *

Fr. Nikolai, please tell us about your family.

On my father’s side, my family was Samurai. They lived in the city of Sendai in northeast Japan. My great-great grandfather, Ono Syogoro Sigenobu, was the last Samurai in our family. He was baptized with the name of John by St. Nicholas of Japan in 1871 and became one of the first Christians in the Japanese land. Later, John Ono was ordained a priest, was engaged in missionary work, and was the dean of the church in the city of Osaka. My great grandfather and grandfather likewise received baptism and were parishioners of the church in Kyoto.

My father is also called John. Since there are no Orthodox educational institutions with government licensing, he studied in the theological department of a Protestant university in Kyoto, and after graduating he entered the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Seminary in Tokyo. After graduating from the seminary my father was ordained a deacon, then in 1990 to the rank of priest, and served in the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Tokyo, which is known as “Nikolai-do.” After that he was sent to the Church of the Annunciation in Kyoto (the cathedral of the Western Japan Eparchy), where he served as dean for about 20 years. After Kyoto, my father was once again summoned to serve in the Tokyo cathedral, where he carries out his obedience to this day.

Have any old Orthodox holy items been preserved in your family?

We have a photograph of St. Nicholas of Japan with his autograph, which the holy bishop himself gave to my great-great grandfather as a present.

Tell us about your life in Tokyo and Kyoto.

I was born in Tokyo in 1989, and lived on the property of the Tokyo Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ. The residence of the Primate of the Japanese Orthodox Church is located in that same place. I often had occasion to see the reposed Metropolitan Theodosius (Nagasima), who would sometimes treat me to sweets.

When I was 3 years old, my whole family moved to Kyoto, as they assigned my father to be dean of the cathedral of this historical capital of Japan.

After we moved we lived there permanently, and I went to school and university there. It was only in the fall of 2011 that I moved again to Tokyo, where my father was assigned in 2010.

The Orthodox church in Kyoto is one of the oldest in Japan. Could you tell us about the history of this parish and contemporary parish life?

The majority of the parishioners of the Annunciation Church in Kyoto are third-, fourth-, or even fifth-generation Orthodox. The church choir is also made up of parishioners. They have choir rehearsals once a month. We have a parish council and sisterhood, and we publish a newspaper.

The parish began with lectures about Orthodoxy held in one of the buildings in the center of the city. At first these lectures were temporarily led by my great-great grandfather, Fr. John Ono, then by Hieromonk Sergius (Stragorodsky), the future Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. Then the Church of the Annunciation was built—in a different place but likewise in the city center—and was consecrated in 1903 by St. Nicholas of Japan. In 1986 the Kyoto city government recognized the church as part of the city’s cultural heritage.

Russian parishioners also attend the church, and foreign students from other Orthodox countries. Sometimes non-Orthodox Japanese also come, including young people. Most of them are simply interested in the unusual architecture in the center of Japan’s historical center, but some of them begin to come to church regularly and are baptized. Approximately once a year students from a Protestant university come on an excursion.

Do you remember His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II’s visit to Kyoto?

At that time, in May of 2000, when I was 10 years old, His Holiness Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, accompanied by the Chairman of DECR [2], Metropolitan Kirill—now His Holiness the Patriarch—made the first Patriarchal visit in the history of the Japanese Orthodox Church. He headed the liturgy and enthronement of Daniel, Archbishop of Tokyo and Metropolitan of All Japan, in the “Nikolai-do” Cathedral in Tokyo.

His Holiness the Patriarch also visited the Annunciation Cathedral in Kyoto, where my father was serving then. The (now) reposed Patriarch served a moleben, took a tour of the church and its revered sacred object—an altar Gospel given by St. John of Kronstadt with the inscription of St. Nicholas of Japan—and talked with the parishioners. The church was full of priests and parishioners—not only from our parish, but also from other churches in the Western Japan Eparchy.

Do Japanese young people know about Orthodoxy? Are the fundamentals of the Christian Faith taught within the scope of academic subjects in schools and universities?

I graduated from the law department at Kyoto State University. It seems to me that—at least at the baccalaureate level—they don’t offer subjects in Christian theology. There is only “History of Western Philosophy,” and, within the framework of this subject it talks mainly about Catholic or Protestant thinkers. Young Japanese know that Catholicism and Protestantism exist; a few know that Orthodoxy also exists, or—in literal translation from the Japanese—“the Eastern Orthodox Church.” Orthodoxy is written about in the high school world history textbook, but this is a very short description, and the narration is written from the point of view of the West.

Unfortunately, few people know St. Nicholas of Japan. But the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Tokyo is known to all as “Nikolai-do,” that is, Nicholas’s Church. The old church in Hakokate is also quite a famous landmark.

Have you been able to see many of the Orthodox churches in Japan?

I lived in the churches of Tokyo and Kyoto. We used to visit the churches in Osaka and Kobe, since they were close to our church in Kyoto. I have been to the church in Sendai three times: once, I accompanied a delegation headed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, who visitied Japan in 2012 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the repose of St. Nicholas of Japan, Equal-to-the-Apostles.

It was the second Patriarchal visit in the history of the Japanese Church.

How long have you been in Russia?

I’ve been living in Moscow for two years now. I’m in the second year of the Master’s program of SS. Cyril and Methodius General Church Postgraduate and Doctoral Studies, created in 2009 by the decision of the Holy Synod and on the initative of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. The rector of this school is Metr. Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. The program we have is substantial and intensive. Special attention is paid in our courses to the study of foreign languages, in particular, English. The professors of General Church Postgraduate Studies work at the Department of External Church Relations. The subject Inter-Orthodox Relations especially interests me. The professors of this discipline are people working in DECR, who are acquainted with the most pressing issues in this area.

Besides the study of the required subjects, I am writing my Master’s thesis on Vladimir Lossky’s book Outline of the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.” In my work I wanted to show to what extent this book has interest and is topical for the Orthodox faithful of Japan.

Where do you serve?

Being a hierodeacon, I serve in the Moscow church named after the icon of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” on (Great) Ordynka (Street). [3] After my arrival in Russia I became the subdeacon of the dean of this church, Vladyka Hilarion. And there, on April 30, 2013, I was tonsured a monk by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill; and on May 5, 2013, on the day of Holy Pascha, I was also ordained by him to the rank of hierodeacon. The priests, helpers, and parishioners of this church are good, kind people. The Synodal Choir sings splendidly. For me, this church in honor of the icon of the Mother of God is beloved and dear, and holds a most important place in my heart.

I also like the Novospassky Stauropegial [4] Monastery, whose vicar is Vladyka Savva. I live in this monastery. There—as in the church on Ordynka—they received me very well. There they sing beautifully. I like the frescoes in the monastery churches very much.

I have been in many other monasteries and churches in Moscow; I have visited St. Petersburg, Diveyevo, Rostov-on-the-Don, and other Russian cities. I especially liked St. Petersburg and Diveyevo.

* * *

Notes:

1. The original Russian has sviatitel’, which is used as the title of a saint-hierarch.

2. DECR – Department of External Church Relations

3. Great Ordynka Street—one of the main streets across the Moscow River from the Kremlin, named after the Great Horde. In addition to the Church of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow,” the Martha-Mary Convent of Mercy, founded by New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth, is there, open and working, and the Tretyakov Gallery is nearby.—Trans.

4. A stauropegial monastery or church is independent of the local bishop; it is directly under the Patriarch or Synod.

Hierodeacon Nikolai (Ono)
in conversation with Galina Besstremyannaya
Translated by Dimitra Dwelley

17 / 03 / 2014


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Orthodox Monk Adrian, USA:
The Himalayan Ascent To Christ


When we come to know God as Person, we begin to see His hand at work not only in the circumstances of our daily lives, but also in the events of our past which have led us to the present moment. We see how from partial truths He has led us to the fullness of Truth, and how He continues to lead us into a more profound realization of that Truth. As Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote, when we come to Christ

“no real truth we have ever known will ever be lost.”

Surrounded by five of the highest peaks in the Himalayas, I was standing at 14,000 feet gazing at the Annapurna mountains as the sun rose. My trek in Nepal had begun a few weeks previously and this was its culmination. As I stood staring at the pristine beauty soaring above me, a thought entered my mind and refused to budge:

“What’s the point?”

My ego immediately retorted to this random thought, “What’s the point! What do you mean, ‘What’s the point?’ The point is you hiked all this distance to see these mountains, now enjoy it!” Still the thought plagued my mind. Yes, it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and I was joyful at the moment, but where would those feelings be tomorrow when I was no longer so greatly inspired? The happiness of this world could never bring me satisfaction. It should have been apparent throughout my life, but it took my climbing to the top of the world for me to finally accept it. And that was my first step toward Christ and Orthodoxy.

Until that point my entire adult life had been a secular one devoted to satisfying sundry passions. I had finished University at the age of 21 with plans of going into business while at the same time pursuing a career in art. Within a year I seemed well on the way to reaching my goal. I was then living in London, employed by IBM. My position was secure and a promotion was imminent. My private life was similar to that of many of my generation: casual relationships, pursuit of comfort, and constant diversions to preserve myself from any self-reflection.

At about the same time my older sister became an Orthodox nun in Alaska. Whether it’s a coincidence or not I’m not sure, but from that time on my passion for worldly pursuits began to wane. Surveying my co-workers, no one seemed to be truly happy or content. That elusive quality of satisfaction was never present but always tantalizingly just around the corner. Travelling, sports, drinking with the “lads” all became more and more mundane. Every Monday the same question: “How was your weekend?” Every Friday again: “Any plans this weekend?” London became greyer and greyer and the steady drizzle never managed to wash away the grime.

Instead of looking deeper into the causes of my boredom, I placed the blame firmly on the shoulders of corporate culture. I assumed that my disdain for the world was due to the pursuit of monetary gain. So I quit IBM, packed my bags and returned to America. Cherishing my disdain for prosperity and social acceptance, I began my descent into Bohemia. Oddly enough, I failed to notice that the same rules that govern acceptability in corporate life were applicable to the alternative scene. Substitute a leather jacket for a suit, a tatoo for a rolex, and a pierced eyebrow for cufflink and you still have the same man.

I began the pursuit of a Masters degree in art and found a job at the Museum of Modern Art. My artwork consisted of large custom-made canvases covered in thick layers of tar. Tar had not been used as an artistic medium before, so my work was instantly popular. I strove to be passionate about obscure modern philosophers, post-punk shows and late-night parting, but it all wearied me. I assumed that something was wrong with me. Why did I find it impossible to seriously discuss a gallery exhibit featuring a basket of crushed aluminum cans and underwear stretched on pieces of wire? Why did I find no joy in watching a performance artist squawk like a chicken for fifteen minutes? Fortunately, I quickly wearied of my “alternative life-style,” and right then a friend phoned me asking if I wanted to go to Japan. I had always had an interest in Asian cultures, and I esteemed myself a floater par excellence, so within a month I found myself in Kyoto, Japan.

I quickly acclimated to my new surroundings. Within two weeks I was enrolled in a language course and had found a position teaching English. It was peculiar to be in a country where one could leave their car running while they went into a store and not worry about it being stolen. Honesty was the norm and it initiated a change in me. My conscience began to return to life. I felt an immense relief, when I began to do simple things like paying the proper toll on the subway. It was a mere adherence to the law without any deeper understanding, but it was the catalyst for subtle changes, and I began to breathe more easily.

Living in the ancient capital of Japan exposed me to two thousand years of tradition on a daily basis. I had grown up in the suburbs of southern California (the oldest building in my neighborhood being ten years old); here I was living next to a thousand year-old temple which had served countless emperors. The temples, gardens, and customs began to feed a soul that had consumed far too much tar. Naturally attracted to the beauty of the traditions, I commenced upon a phase of dabbling in Zen Buddhism. For my easily distracted and impatient mind it was too much. In a Zen temple there is only one correct way of performing any action and it must be done precisely. My bows were too violent, my posture never erect, and my socks never clean enough. The priest shuddered at my appearance. Perfection was demanded and I came up far short. I finally stopped not because of my inadequacy, but because of the utter lack of joy I felt there. It was all too mechanical: push the right buttons and attain enlightenment. There was a calmness I felt after meditating, but did this really help anyone else? I supposed I could attain this state with much less effort through a tranquilizer.

Three years passed, my Japanese was adequate, and I felt I had gleaned everything useful from the culture. The challenge of surviving in a foreign culture had disappeared, my salary was high, my job easy, I could see myself becoming complacent. It would be very easy to pass the next forty years in this very warm niche that I had carved out. I quit my job, gave up my house and began my slow journey back to America.

I travelled all over Asia from Vietnam down to Singapore with no clear destination in mind. The excitement of new places and travelling companions kept me distracted most of the time, but before bed the dull pain of emptiness would return. I was still desperately searching for that element that was missing in my life. I travelled to the remote sacred places of the Buddhists and the Hindus; by the time I reached them I was already planning the next stage in my trip. During my travels through Burma, I visited a temple on the edge of Mandalay. Thousands of steps led up the side of a mountain to the temple which overlooked the entire city. As I made my ascent, I perceived a Buddhist monk next to me matching my stride. He was in his fifties, short, slightly plump, with a ruddy cheerful countenance.

He introduced himself and we continued our climb. Arriving at the summit we sat on a wall of the temple talking as the sun set over Mandalay. After some introductory pleasantries, I turned the subject to the political situation in Burma (Burma is presently under a harsh military dictatorship) which murdered a large segment of the population after riots against corrupt policies in the late eighties). He sighed and looked upon me with a disappointed gaze,

“Why do you want to talk about that?”

I mumbled an excuse to cover the true reason, which was to display my knowledge of serious subjects. He steered the conversation in a completely different direction.

“Last week I saw a movie called ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ What a wonderful life!”

For the next ten minutes he extolled the virtues of Christ.

I was being proselytized by a Buddhist monk, not to convert me to his religion but to Christianity. I was dumbfounded. I had thought myself far above Christianity since I was in high school, and here was a pagan giving me back what I had rejected. Because of the words of a simple Burmese monk, I was awakened to the fact that perhaps there was something more to Christianity than the veneer I had rejected. I still was not compelled at that point to make a serious investigation into Christianity, but the seed-bed was being prepared.

A short time passed and I travelled on to Nepal, where I was to meet some friends for a trek in the Himalayas. I arrived some time before them, and decided to spend the interim in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. I found one a short distance from Katmandu, which offered courses in English. I went as a cultural tourist, sampling the next dish at the smorgasbord of world religions.

I arrived skeptical of everything, expecting to find lots of spaced out new-agers. After the first few days my opinions were completely altered. This wasn’t a feel-good chiliastic religion; these were people honestly struggling to attain the truth. I was astonished to learn that they believed in hell. Who in this modern age believes in hell? But for them it was the natural outcome of a wasted life. I was intrigued. I began to listen more carefully as further doctrines were disseminated. The core of the religion is the idea that all beings live in a transitory realm of desire and suffering. All suffering is created by chasing after that which is impermanent; instead one must look toward that which is permanent: the truth. The only way to attain this is to cease clinging to ones ego, and instead to live for others. Only when we put others’ happiness above our own can we have happiness ourselves. I was stunned: after 27 years of being told, “Do whatever feels good,” the Tibetans were telling me that whatever feels good will probably make you miserable in this life or the next.

This was a revolutionary idea to me, but at the same time I had a vague feeling I had heard it somewhere before.

After a few weeks at the monastery, I left to go trekking with my friends who had now arrived in Nepal. We took a bus across country and began our trek into the Annapurna mountain range. With full packs we ascended to 14,000 feet over the next two weeks. The scenery was stunning, the terrain changing from fertile valleys to dense forests, to snow covered summits. The hiking was drudgery at times, as we would ascend 1,000 feet and then enter a valley where we would descend the same amount. The beauty of creation was astonishing, but every night as I lay down to sleep that old feeling of missing something reappeared; I assumed this would vanish once I arrived at the base of the Annapurnas.

We reached our destination one afternoon, breathless and more than a bit disappointed. The entire area was swallowed by a huge cloud bank which we were inside. We explored the glaciers and spent time huddled next to a stove in a small tea hut. By night there was no sign of a cloud break. We went to sleep and were awakened just before dawn with the news char the weather had cleared. I came outside and one of the most astonishing sights in the world greeted my eyes. The sun slowly rose over the top of the world, which I felt I could reach out and touch. Then that dastardly thought arose in my mind, “What’s the point?” Then it dawned on me: this whole trip had been done for my own gratification. As soon as the momentary high was gone, I would be back in my own normal state. I had struggled with blisters, bad knees and giardia, and for what? To see an exalted, but in the end just another pretty view. Had this improved me as a person or helped anyone else? No, it had merely fed my ego; I had acquired excellent fodder for conversation at parties. Where had all my high Buddhist ideals gone? At that moment I realized my life had to be dedicated to some higher principle than earthly pleasure. I decided to return to the monastery.

I spent the next few months studying Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and meditation techniques. Still there were certain elements I had trouble accepting. The doctrine of Karma seemed to allow for no free will in man; ones decisions to do good or evil were always controlled by previous actions. How would it be possible to break free, if every decision was predetermined? If one had sinned since beginningless time as they believed, how could one ever purify oneself in such a short life? In some ways, what was so difficult was that it was so logical; it seemed devised by a human mind. Still the philosophy of self-sacrifice had rooted itself in me, even if I had failed to act upon it; I knew I could no longer live the life I had.

While at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, I began reading The Way of a Pilgrim. I saw in the pilgrim the manifestation of self-abnegation and compassion that I had found in Tibetan Buddhism, yet it came from the Christian tradition I had been raised with. Why had I never heard about this in my Catholic church growing up? Stranger still was the fact that my sister was a Russian Orthodox nun and yet I knew nothing of the religions mystical qualities. I decided that perhaps I was not ready to become a Buddhist and that I should inquire further into my own heritage.

After being hit on the head enough times, I finally came to the conclusion that all of my travels were rather pointless and that I needed to return home and anchor myself. I had plans to meet friends in Egypt for Christmas, but I found a cheaper flight to Istanbul and thought that would be a good departure point for Western Europe and the U.S. The carrier was Aeroflot. A few days later it registered in my mind that Aeroflot was the Russian airline and my sister was living in Moscow. I thought perhaps they might have a stop-over in Moscow. It turned out they did. Within a few days I had a three-week stopover and a visa for Russia. I flew into Moscow on St. Herman’s day.

My sister greeted me at the airport and thus began my three-week crash course in Orthodoxy. A new world began to open to me. I was in a land where people died for Christ, and the intersession of the saints was a normal event. This was not an empty Christianity viewed as a social obligation. These were people who had endured incredible hardships in suffering for the truth.

I began reading volumes on Orthodoxy, visiting churches, and civilly discussing with my sister the differences in Orthodox and Buddhist tenets. She kept on coming back to the same point: Christianity has the truth in the form of a person. I failed to understand the importance. Force or person, I could not see the difference.

Then I met Fr. Artemy, a well-known Moscow priest with a huge congregation. He is a self-sacrificing man, whose entire life is dedicated to Christ and the spreading of the Gospel. We arrived at his church during the Saturday-night vigil. We found him hearing confessions surrounded by a crowd of fifty to a hundred people waiting to confess. I stood at the edge of the circle and before much time had passed I was pulled into its center by Fr. Artemy. With eyes closed, hands on my shoulders he began speaking to me. When he wished to emphasize a point, he would ram his forehead into mine. As he spoke to me in a highly florid English, I had the overwhelming impression that this priest, whom I had never met, knew much more about me than he should. What truly shook me was the feeling that he was urgently concerned with my soul, as though he had a personal stake in it. He spoke to me for ten minutes while the babushkas impatiently began tightening in on us. He continued talking, telling me that my experience in Nepal had been given me by God to pull me out of materialism. Then he told me why Christianity was the true faith: only it had a personal God. I still failed to understand the importance of this fact, but I left feeling lighter, although I had said almost nothing.

In the barren sepulchre of Moscow a new world began to open to me. The oppression of the city weighed little on me, as I realized that the heavenly realm of God and His saints was actually closer than the gray slab buildings dominating the city. I visited the St. Sergius Lavra and for the first time was able to venerate the relics of a saint. In those “dead bones” there seemed to be more life than in all of southern California. My stay culminated with Nativity at the Valaam Metochion. I felt as though I was surrounded by what appeared to be ordinary people, yet they remained with one foot in heaven. Christianity may be a religion of intangible faith, but I seemed to be receiving tangible verification everywhere I turned.

A few days later I left Moscow. Before my departure, my sister chastised me, saying, “My dear, if you can spend three months sitting with the Buddhists, you can at least spend one standing with the Orthodox.” Which is exactly what I did. Increasing the pace of my return, I arrived in California two months later. On the eve of Annunciation I travelled up the rough dirt road to the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery. The first thing that struck me, having just come up from San Diego, was the fact that these monks were anachronisms in the twentieth century. Who heard of giving up comfort and possessions in these times? It was the middle of Lent and it was clearly visible that these men were in the midst of spiritual warfare. Sobriety permeated the monastery. They seemed ready to die for the truth, and that was not something I had seen at IBM, Art School or in Japan. There was suffering in those places, but were they willing to give everything for the one thing needful? After all I had seen, I still did not have a firm belief in God, but I knew these monks saw something and I wanted it.

Lazarus Saturday arrived. On this day the Church commemorates Christ raising Lazarus from the dead after four days. I was awakened early to attend Liturgy at a nearby convent, followed by a meal there. After I awoke, I immediately fell back asleep. When I finally did rise from my bed, I found the entire monastery empty. Not a soul remained. As I wandered through the monastery, the verse, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is that servant whom he shall find watching,” ran through my head. And chat was exactly what had occurred both physically and spiritually. God had knocked and offered me a feast, but I had remained reticent. Had God finally closed the door on me? I began the descent down the mountain, hoping to hitch-hike to the convent. As I walked I contemplated the events of the morning, and it seemed obvious that God had allowed me to be left behind to rouse me from my indecision. Then it finally hit me, what was meant by a personal God. Why would an impersonal force send me such a clear message for the salvation of my soul? If it was impersonal, why should it care what happened to me? Love cannot exist except between people. A force cannot love (and I challenge you to try to love an impersonal force). Therefore I came to the conclusion that God had to be a Person. As I arrived at this deduction, I heard a car approaching me from behind: it was our only neighbor on the mountain. I flagged him down and by a strange “coincidence” it happened that he was making his once-a-week trip to the store which neighbored the convent. I arrived in time for Liturgy.


Two years have passed and I am now a ryassophore monk, an anachronism if you will. My struggles have not ceased) but my days of wandering are at an end. I sometimes mourn over my wasted past, but when I look more closely I see God’s hand guiding me through even the most barren of times. Now He has brought me here for a reason, but that must still be revealed.

Source:

http://walkingbytheseaorthodoxy.wordpress.com

WALKING BY THE SEA - ORTHODOXY

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