Thursday, July 25, 2019

Conversions to Orthodoxy - English Orthodox Web 8


ORTHODOX WEB



Conversions to Orthodoxy

English Orthodox Web 8

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

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

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http://englishorthodoxweb3.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy
http://englishorthodoxweb7.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy
http://englishorthodoxweb8.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy
http://englishorthodoxweb9.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy
http://englishorthodoxweb10.blogspot.com - Conversions to Orthodoxy

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Russia, 1965: Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker a Archbishop of Myra (+343) appears on an atheist on the bus

In February, 1965, a bus full of people was going towards a city. Next to the driver there was sitting an old man with a white beard, tall, and full of vigor.He wore a heavy coat with a fur collar, and a fur cap with flaps. The bus was going slowly because of the snow which was falling outside. At one turn, the chains of the back wheels came off. The bus skidded and almost collided with another full bus. All these things happened very quickly. The driver lost control of the bus, and everyone’s heart jumped. Finally the two busses halted at a distance of barely three-quarters of an inch apart, without any mishap.

Then the old man made the sign of the Cross and cried out: ”Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee! Blessed be thy name, O All-holy mother of God, who has saved us . . .” In a few moments the other bus left. The driver and his assistant went out to put on the chains.

Smiling, one young man opened a conversation with the old man. “Forgive me elder,” he said, “but I could not hold back from laughing when I heard you call upon the non-existent Heavenly Powers and saw you make your Cross. Habit, of course, is second nature. I see that you wear the distinguishing mark of a scientist. But in our times, in the year 1965, it is an incongruity.”

The conversation attracted the attention of all. The old man, without becoming troubled, said, ”Gladly, My young comrade, shall I answer you. And if you want I shall make a self-criticism . . . Wherefore, do you know what I think? All of us are somewhat hypocrites. All of us pretend that we are atheists, dedicated members of the Party, with profound knowledge of Marxism and many other things. And yet there comes a moment every once in a while when the real man expresses himself. Behold, just as it happened even now! This mishap was sufficient to demonstrate it. Since you sit in that place, you of course did not see what happened behind you. I, however, who sit sideways, saw at least another eight or ten making their Cross. It is something within us which we will never be able to uproot, because it would be like uprooting our very bowels. Thus, every day all of us fall into ‘errors-—that is, we remember that there exists a certain great, unknown, and good Power Whom we pretend to ignore . . .”

“I assure you that this personally never happens with me,” said the young man.

The old man chuckled and said, “You will permit me to prove you false, beloved comrade, because just previously you said, ‘These things in our times, in the year 1965, are an incongruity.’ What was the reason for you to remember that one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five years have passed from the time when the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, was born!”

”This,” said the young man after having been taken aback a little, “is an evil remnant of an evil past, which must definitely be wiped out. The way you are speaking, you are going to convince us that even miracles take place!”
The old man was silent some moments, and afterwards said, “Yes my beloved one, there are even miracles of God which you yourself will believe, just as all that are here will also believe. When, however, you see them, you will be obliged to keep silent because, if you speak, there is danger that they will close you in some psychiatric clinic.”

The bus had come into the main artery. The heavy snow stopped and thus the driver was able to increase the speed. At one moment, all—as many as were looking at and listening to the old man—saw his place empty! Two or three that were close to his seat made the sign of the Cross, saying, “Holy, holy is God the Almighty.” One of them turned toward the back of the bus and shouted, “Do you understand now who saved us from the collision? He himself, the old man with the white beard, was the Protector of our People . . . Saint Nicholas!” “I do not know what we are going to do comrades,” said one other in the meantime, “but wherever I may be, I am going to tell of this miracle of Saint Nicholas! And let them lock me in a psychiatric ward if they can. I have you all as witnesses; and especially you, comrade . . .” The young communist covered his face with his hands for a long time.

After about two hours, the bus stopped and all got down to drink hot tea. The young communist approached several of his fellow]passengers, full of emotion. He asked for their addresses. He also gave them his. All the other others did the same among themselves. “Do you know what I purpose, comrades?” said one young woman, “Let us not lose contact with one another. This which we saw today and heard with our ears is a great thing. Very great. What can it forbode? Certainly something good, because the little old grandfather was the Protector of our People.”

The above miracle was written by an eyewitness. “I cannot write more,” he says, “because I am overcome with emotion and am weeping. I also was on the bus.”

From Contemporary Miracles in Russia by Archimandrite Haralampos Basilopoulos, 1966

Source:


ATHEISTS MET ORTHODOXY

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A modern Saint in a brother: 
Saint Porphyrios of Athens, Greece (+1991)

In the old days, during the feast of the Theophany, we used to sanctify homes. One year I also went to sanctify. I would knock on the doors of the apartments, they would open for me, and I walked in singing “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….”

As I went along  Maizonos Street in the center of Athens (Greece) I saw an iron door. I opened it, walked into the courtyard which was full of tangerine, orange and lemon trees, and proceeded to the stairs. It was an outdoor staircase that went up, and down was the basement. I climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, and a lady appeared. Since she opened I began my common practice singing, “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….” She stopped me abruptly. Meanwhile, girls began to emerge from their rooms after hearing me from the left and right of the hallway. “I see that I fell into a brothel,” I said to myself. The woman walked in front of me to stop.

“Leave”, she told me. “It is not right for them to kiss the Cross. I will kiss the Cross and then you should leave, please.”

I took seriously her disapproving attitude and said: “I cannot leave! I am a priest, I cannot go! I came here to sanctify.”

“Yes, but it is not right for them to kiss the Cross.”

“But we don’t know if it is right for them or you to kiss the Cross. Because if God asks me for whom it is more right to kiss the Cross, the girls or you, I probably would say: ‘It is right for the girls to kiss and not you. Their souls are much better than yours.'”

With that she became a bit red in the face, so I said: “Leave the girls to come kiss the Cross.” I signalled for them to come forward. I began to chant more melodically than before: “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord…” because I had such joy within me, that God had ordained things so that I may also come to these souls.

They all kissed the Cross. They were all made-up, with colorful skirts, etc. I told them: “My children, many years! God loves us all. He is very good and ‘allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt. 5:45). He is the Father of everyone and God cares for everyone. Let us make sure to come to know Him and for us to also love Him and to become good. May you love Him, and then you will see how happy you will be.”

They looked at me, wondering. Something took a hold of their tired souls.

Lastly I told them: “I rejoice that God has made me worthy to come here today to sanctify you. Many years!”

“Many years!” they also said, and I left.

From Greek book: Elder Porphyrios, Life & Words, Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi, Chania, Crete

Source:


COMING HOME - ORTHODOXY

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Western Kasai, Congo: Nina and her mother

From Protestantism to Orthodoxy

A miracle of Holy Virgin Mary, 
Mother of God

Nina, a 10-year-old girl, was the third child of a family which lived in Western Kasai (Congo). Her two previous siblings, two boys, died early, making Nina an only child.

Nina was born from a mother with strong religious interests, to such an extent that she had embraced a Protestant heresy and become a “Pastoress” (woman priest).

Nina followed her mother to Protestant gathering. However, the good reputation of the Orthodox Missionary School brought the little girl to the Orthodox school. From then on she underwent a series of internal and external changes.

As time passed, Nina began to become reluctant and unwilling to follow her mother to the Protestant gatherings. She perfectly followed—even though she wasn’t baptized—the Orthodox church gatherings. Not much time passed before the girl sought to be baptized [Orthodox]!

Her parents, and much more so her grandmother, didn’t want to hear of this. This increased Nina’s desire to receive Holy Baptism.

Her father ultimately accepted his daughter’s request, and came to the following decision: “my first two children died, one at age two and the other at age one. My little girl has turned ten. Let her be baptized, as she wants so much, because maybe she might die too!” The rest of the family complied and received his decision with sadness.

Nina thanked her heavenly and earthly father with all her heart. She went through catechism for a short time, and was found ready for baptism. She of course continues to go to her religious studies constantly, and she never missed the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion on Sundays and Feasts.

Nina’s soul felt a deep and mystical connection with the All-Holy Person of the Most-Holy Theotokos Mary, and she went around her house and placed Her holy icon on the highest cabinet of the dining room, causing several negative reactions by the rest of the family. She withstood, however, and managed to have the holy icon of the Theotokos stay where she placed it.

On Sundays, the “Pastoress” mother of Nina received many Protestants in her house. As soon as the Protestants saw the icon of the Theotokos, they protested, and sought the dethronement of the Theotokos from the place where Nina put it. Nina’s desire again proved superior to the protestants’ wishes. Her parents said that it was their daughter’s demand, and they didn’t want to upset her, though to them the paper icon was not something meaningful. The protestants left upset and troubled and asked to change the meeting house from that of the “pastoress”.

The next Sunday, a Pastor above the others, wanted to see this fact with his own eyes, and led by others, knocked on the door to Nina’s house. The “Pastoress” opened and greeted him. Then the great Pastor told her:

“I won’t go inside, because there above is a WEAPON!”

The Pastoress was troubled and replied:

“What are you saying? There is no weapon in our house!”

The Pastor continued:

“There up high, is a WEAPON!” and pointed to the cabinet with the holy icon, waiting outside the door.

The housewife told him that there is a small paper icon that her daughter got from Sunday school, but he was insistent that there was a WEAPON!

In the end their group left bitter and disparaged, taking care to hide their fear…

This confession of the Pastor and his fear before the holy icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos was a message from God to the soul of the “Pastoress”. A holy unease took root in her heart:

“How is it possible that such a small paper icon could be a ‘weapon’? Why were the pastors afraid?” Her questions which received an immediate answer.

She therefore managed to pass by the door of the Orthodox Mission that time, with a different attitude and with open eyes and ears. She had “ears to hear”, to the unspeakable joy of Nina.

In the Mission she asked many questions, received answers, experienced the environment of the holy church, was moved standing before the holy icon of the Theotokos, and sought forgiveness for the false beliefs that she had, which she many times tried to force on her Nina. She however had this complaint: “How many times you saw me come to the school with my daughter, why didn’t you say anything to me? Why are you keeping such a treasure a secret?”

The answer was simple: “You were a pastoress in a heretical group and believed that you were teaching the truth. With difficulty you accepted that your daughter would be baptized. How could we tempt you? What we couldn’t do ourselves, the Holy Spirit did, through the cooperation of the innocent and pure soul of your child! Let us glorify our Lord and Savior, and the His All-Holy Mother and our Mother for the great gift that she gave you.”

After all of this, she went to the Protestants and confessed that she no longer believed their teachings, and threw down before their feet her priest’s robe—a black dress—and ran to be enrolled with the catechumens of the Orthodox Church. One of the priests of the church mentioned in a Byzantine manner: “Strange and marvelous things are accomplished today…”

Source:

http://africaofmyheart.wordpress.com

AFRICA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX AFRICA

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Mariorie a person in Christ in Piraeus, Greece

Οur story hero, Mariorie, was an ordinary person. She walked on this Earth. Here she got tired, happy, hurt- most of all she got hurt. She died like all people on a December night. Yet in reality she was found totally different than other people. She took everyday life one step further and rose above it.

She lived simply and humbly someplace in Piraeus, Greece, working hard to bring up her two children who had been abandonned by their father when they were just toddlers. “Who knows what happened, what went wrong” ,Mariorie would say trying to find an excuse for her situation. “Τhe evil one grudged him his happiness! It doesn’t take long for any person to wither like a thunder struck tree when he’s left unprotected from the winds”.

She was careful not to belittle her children’s father and she prayed to God to enlighten him , to make him see more clearly, to repent, to come back. But, years went by, and he didn’t seem to understand. He had already settled down with Kleoniki and he had become the father of another two children.

Kleoniki always considered her marriage to Thodoris her greatest victory.
But what goes around comes around and things can turn upside down. In their prime, people build palaces in their minds and egos and they estimate that they will complete their happiness in them.

But the arrogance of one’s mind builds on the sand. When Autumn comes in their lives, hard and lonesome, then they see that the storms inside them cannot be tamed by any material pride.

So, the last winter in Thodoris’ life arrived. A sudden incurable disease dipped him in an abyss and rose like an avalanche ahead. He was walking side by side with death, and this made a feeling of justice wake up inside him. And one winter night, when winds battled with the rain and the lightning grooved the darkness of the skies, he asked Mariorie to visit him at the hospital. She did,with the discreetness and integrity needed towards a dying person. She sat next to him like Paradise with gates wide open. He lifted his tired eyes and looked at her.

-I want you to forgive me Mariorie…

-With all my heart, Thodoris, she humbly answered.

After some time Kleoniki got sick as well. Her future looked bleak. And her children were still little. When Mariorie heard the bad news, she stood by her like an angel of peace. She stayed all night awake to take care of her on her last days…

-Forgive me , Maririe, forgive me, I ruined your life, Kleoniki said kissing her hands

-I forgive you with all my heart , sister, answered Mariorie wiping her tears…

In a while Kleoniki was recalled by her Creator and passed the borders of this life.

It seemed as though grief and sorrow never ended in this world. Mariorie was left behind to take care of four children

-How can you, how could you, how could she, most people kept saying.

Where did this deep philosophical thinking, this endurance and patience, this selflessness and forgiveness come from?

“What kind of person are you?”, people asked.

-In Christ, Mariorie would answer had she not been hindered by her modesty… A person in Christ.

Sources:

http://multilingual-christianity-orthodoxy.blogspot.com

MULTILINGUAL CHRISTIANITY – ORTHODOXY

&

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqNCEoRaEGYLYyaXLyN89Jw

VASILEIA

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Korea: The touching conversion story 
of an elderly Korean woman 
from Buddhism to Orthodoxy

“This grandma case was very touching. She lives in Seoul, close to her other children. One of her sons and his family who live in the village Polang-Ree converted to Orthodoxy a long time ago. He had announced this to his mother, trying to motivate her to convert to Christianity as well. But as she was an elderly woman, she couldn’t understand much of what they were telling her. Until, one day, one of her son’s daughters, who worked in some private business doing very hard work all week, moved to Seoul. Every Saturday she would say:

-Granny, I’m going to Church after work for my singing rehearsal and the Vespers.

And on Sundays, very early in the morning:

-Granny, I have to go. I’m teaching the morning group of Sunday School. Then, there’s Holy Liturgy. Then, our youth congregation. We’re going to have lunch all together. Don’t worry that I’ll be back in the afternoon.

-Don’t you get too tired my child?

-No, granny. This relieves me from all tiredness and troubles of the week. It gives me strength, joy… It revives me. Because I find Christ in Church , granny, the real God. I receive Him in my soul.

And her granddaughter shone all over. She was so much different from all other girls her age grandma knew.

“So these were my sons words I could not understand”, she was thinking…

Months went by. Every Sunday her granddaughter looked just as happy on the outside as well as in her heart each time she returned from the Church. The same thoughts were on granny’s mind.

In the end she made her decision:

-You said that you teach children about Christ. Can you teach me as well , who is He who gives you so much happiness?

The granddaughter jumped for joy! She’d been praying all this time in secret for this blessed moment to come for her beloved granny. Little by little with patience and love she started catechizing her. What helped her most was her own life’s good example.

Granny started coming to Church. Sunday after Sunday , her adaptation to this new experience was remarkable:

-I want to be baptized before I die…

This was her desire.

She even attended some special classes.

-I believe and I love Christ.

And when the preparation for her Holy Baptism started, she timidly asked:

-Can I be given my granddaughter’s name, who led me to this Paradise?

“Come and see” is addressed to the souls of the Korean people who never got to know Christ, our Saviour, in such ways of life testimony. In the tension of their life struggles, material needs or goals of their lives, beaten by insecurities, by despair, the most convincing invitation to His Kingdom is a silent testimony of a genuinely Christian life”.

Sources:

http://orthodox-heart-sites.blogspot.com

Translation:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqNCEoRaEGYLYyaXLyN89Jw

VASILEIA

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The moving change 
of a former prostitute in Athens, Greece

The Greek Nun Porphyria when she was a taxi driver in Athens helped a prostitute woman to meet God and the Orthodox Faith

Sister Nun Porphyria (+2015) was born and raised in Piraeus, Athens, Greece. Exercise at times various professions. For ten years (1997-2007) he worked as a taxi driver in Athens and Piraeus. Meet the modern virtuous and inserts Elder Porphyrios (now he is Saint Porphyrios) of books on the life and teachings. This acquaintance brought her closer to Christ and conscious Christian life. With a strong faith and deep love to God has been working His glory and the salvation of others. So the taxi became a modern pulpit, which led many to change life, blessed lesions. In recent years she became a nun with dual purpose: to fight distractions for salvation and to minister to the modern investigational human. Nun Porphyria died in Piraeus (Athens, Greece) on 2015.

The Nun Porphyria, tells us:

“The shift is my night, eleven o’clock in the evening. I driving in the street Piraeus to Square Omonia, the center of Athens. Inside the taxi, as usual, I was talking to my sweet Jesus. Spontaneously I told myself to Christ: “The first man who would I bore signal to stop, I will go him without money, sufficient to bring him near You. Does not stop it until it reached at the streets Piraeus and Menandrou. There in the corner stood a girl. Stop and look at her. Waiting customers for payday. Without thinking, I went near her.

-Good evening!

-Good evening!, she replied.

-You know, this time, I feel a lot of pain in my soul and I with someone to share.

She looked puzzled and says:

-Well, and you found me to talk?

-Yes! My heart tells me you’d understand me.

-You know what I do for myself?

-I see.

-And you want to talk with me?

-Yes! I want to talk with you. You’re wasting both today payday? May be able to help me and be saved.

-Come, he says reluctantly.

-OK, let’s go!

Threw a glance around her and went quickly into the taxi.

Glad I did, but puzzled; what I would say? “Oh my God! Come down and help me, what do I do now? What to tell? Once properly introduced, I said:

-Difficult professions choose to do, huh?

And so begins a very nice chat.

In the beginning around the taxi and difficulties. And timidly started to fall into its own life. However, we arrived at the Kavouri. I said:

-We will come down here to drink coffee and continue our conversation.

Then she told me something that moved me:

-I am not ashamed to go through together?

As I understand, the dress was different from mine, and also the whole look. I said:

-NO! I am not ashamed! Be ashamed of what brought you to this state! For me you are a sweet and tender creature of God.

We went in; looks all fell into upon us. But that does not interest me at all, nor the bruises that had been on her feet made me ashamed and start to run. For me that time was sacred. Should, with the help of God, to resurrect pasῃ sacrifice this girl. Should, with the help of God, to resurrect this girl.

Like other times, I feel that I didn’t speak, but someone else from me; through the same thing happened in this case; someone else to help push this girls. He told me all her life from her childhood until today. And also, how they had to bore this profession.

A profession painful, not just hard. This profession thee destroys the personality, dignity, forget if you are a man, I forget you, thou livest and function with want of others. You do not exist anywhere, because, apart from your flesh, that is why he has nothing. So we’re obliged to obey them. That is, you are in obedience of the devil and not of God. The difficulty of this art to hear for the first time this evening. Believe me, a sword pierced my heart! Confession this girl with so much hurt, pain attributable not remember to have felt in my life!

Then I started to speak about God and the great happiness which we gives when we are with Him; spoke to the Virgin and our how sweet, tender and protective is for her children. Talked about the wonders of our Saints, For the Elder Porphyrios of Athens, for the miracles that lived in the taxi and many people with me. Spoke about the power of confession, Holy Communion and for a lot of issues around the God and faith. Tried to persuade her to change her life, letting my tears running then unstoppable, holding her hands tenderly.

When anymore, tired from the crying, I told her: “Time is going,” I paid and got up to leave.

When you reach the taxi and waited for the big surprise. He came close to me and says:

-Lets me hug?

-And, of course, be hugged, I told her with much joy.

Hugged me and then burst into sobs. Through sobs of them told me:

-Help me, help me, your God sent you to me, help me to change my life, I tired to make this work! I am very new, as you say and you, although I feel a hundred years old. Help me make a new start, to do a family, to have children. You are right, I can be restarted from the beginning. Your God sent you to me. Please, take me in your God and, please, tell him me and give me what I gave you. And I become happy and joyful as much as you.

I promised to help her. I host her for one month in my house. One month agonizing and dangerous to me. Because, as you know, these girls have someone who “protects”. Risked my life sometimes. But I was sure that God would not happen to me any harm; contrary would help me save this girl; because He sent me to her.

So this is happened; From that night her life changed integrator. Today she is married, happy and near to God, and she has two kids.

That night was blessed, was divine! “.

Source:

http://atheistsmetorthodoxy.wordpress.com

ATHEISTS MET ORTHODOXY

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Saint Martyr Peter the Aleut of Alaska and San Francisco, California, USA (+1815)

The holy martyr Peter the Aleut (or Cungagnaq in his native tongue) was a native aleut of Kodiak Island, Alaska.

When missionaries came from Russia, the Aleutians were baptized by the hundreds, and at baptism he was given the name Peter. St. Peter is believed to have been baptized by Saint Herman himself, since he knew the Holy Saint personally.

In 1815 a group of Aleut seal and otter hunters, including Peter, were captured by Spanish sailors while on an excursion near fort Ross. The Roman Catholics took them to Mission Dolores in San Francisco for interrogation, as they were angry with the Russians for encroaching on “their territory.” With threats of torture, the Roman Catholic priests in California attempted to force the Aleuts to deny their Orthodox faith and to convert to Roman Catholicism.

When the Aleuts refused, the priest had a toe severed from each of Peter’s feet. Peter still refused to renounce his faith and the Spanish priest ordered a group of California Native Americans to cut off each finger of Peter’s hands, one joint at a time, finally removing both his hands. They eventually disemboweled him, crowning his life with martyrdom. They were about to torture the next Aleut when orders were received to release them under escort to their monastery in Monterey.

Upon receiving the report of Peter’s death from Simeon Yanovsky, St. Herman back on Kodiak Island was moved to cry out, “Holy new-martyr Peter, pray to God for us!” Peter the Aleut was formally declared a saint as the “Martyr of San Francisco” in 1980. We have the account of St. Peter’s martyrdom from Simeon Yanovsky as related him by St. Peter’s cellmate who escaped torture. Simeon Yanovsky ended his life as the schemamonk Sergius in the St. Tikhon of Kaluga Monastery), and is the author of The Life of St. Herman of Alaska.

Source:

http://oca.org

OCA – ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA

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The conversion of a fanatical Jew woman who wanted to kill Elder Ephraim of Arizona, USA

Everyone knows the high spiritual status of Elder Ephraim of Arizona, USA. A fanatical Jew woman wanted to do evil to the Elder years ago. So, dressed as a pious Christian with long clothes and headcovering, she went to see the Elder. His subordinates told her she could not see him and tried other days. After days we allowed her to see him. She had hidden a knife in her clothes to kill him, and she was suddenly surprised when she saw him standing upright and cried Elder! She saw him flying in the air at a poached stand! She tells her, drop the knife and I’ll come down to talk. The monastery guards came in and disarmed her. Finally the woman repented and believed and was baptized. The Holiness of the Elder appeared once again.

Source:

https://www.facebook.com/Spiritual.trips.in.Holy.Mountain/?hc_ref=ARTmzzwnUt4VHf53LuxNo7AhIe4h-sJgkaTowQNyjfqlxeisjjOY5tzGERaBNICqy9s

SPIRITUAL TRIPS IN HOLY MOUNTAIN AND HOLY LAND

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Met Bloom’s conversion
from atheism to the Orthodox faith

This week’s spiritual lesson: We concluded last week our long series of excerpts from the Diocesan conference by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) at Effingham, England, in May, 1983. It occurs to me it might be useful to continue the Metropolitan’s account of his conversion from atheism to the Orthodox faith:

…Then my leader explained to me that everyone who belonged to my group had reacted in exactly the same way, and if no one came we would all be put to shame because the priest had come and we would be disgraced if no one attended his talk. My leader was a wise man. He did not try to convince me that I should listen attentively to his words so that I might perhaps find truth in them: ‘Don’t listen,’ he said. ‘I don’t care, but sit and be a physical presence’. That much loyalty I was prepared to give to my youth organization and that much indifference I was prepared to offer to God and to his minister. So I sat through the lecture, but it was with increasing indignation and distaste. The man who spoke to us, as I discovered later, was a great man, but I was then not capable of perceiving his greatness. I saw only a vision of Christ and of Christianity that was profoundly repulsive to me. When the lecture was over I hurried home in order to check the truth of what he had been saying. I asked my mother whether she had a book of the Gospel, because I wanted to know whether the Gospel would support the monstrous impression I had derived from this talk. I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.

I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone through a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark’s gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will.

This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist. I knew that he was thou, in other words that he was the Risen Christ. I met with the core of the Christian message, that message which St Paul formulated so sharply and clearly when he said, ‘If Christ is not risen we are the most miserable of all men’. Christ was the Risen Christ for me, because if the One Who had died nearly 2000 years before was there alive, he was the Risen Christ. I discovered then something absolutely essential to the Christian message — that the Resurrection is the only event of the Gospel which belongs to history not only past but also present. Christ rose again, twenty centuries ago, but he is the Risen Christ as long as history continues. Only in the light of the Resurrection did everything else make sense to me. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the Crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God’. It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history. History I had to believe, the Resurrection I knew for a fact. I did not discover, as you see, the Gospel beginning with its first message of the Annunciation, and it did not unfold for me as a story which one can believe or disbelieve. It began as an event that left all problems of disbelief because it was direct and personal experience.

Then I went on reading the Gospel and I discovered a certain number of things which I believe to be essential to the Christian faith, to the attitude of the Christian to the world and to God. The first thing that struck me is that God, as revealed to us in Christ, is everyone’s God. He is not the God of a nation, or a confession, or of a denomination, or a more or less peculiar group, he is everyone’s creator? Lord and Savior. In him I discovered that the whole world had cohesion; that mankind was one; that differences and divergences were not final and decisive, because we were loved of God; all of us equally, although we were called to serve him in a variety of ways, with a variety of gifts, and with a very different depth and width of knowledge. But the greater the knowledge, the greater the closeness, the greater the responsibility in a world that God loved so much that he gave his only begotten Son, for him to die that the world may live.…

Source:

https://stanneorthodox.org

https://stanneorthodox.org/2013/03/08/met-blooms-conversion-from-atheism-to-the-orthodox-faith/

ST ANNE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH, CALIFORNIA, USA

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Fr. Constantine Simon, USA & Italy, 2014: Vatican Ex-Advisor Converts to Orthodoxy and Becomes a Monk in Moscow Monastery

Former Jesuit professor and Vatican advisor converts to Orthodoxy.

Rector of the High Monastery of St. Peter in Moscow Hegumen Peter (Yeremeyev) headed the ceremony of taking monastic vows of priest Constantine Simon.

He adopted Orthodoxy in 2014, after 34 years of priestly ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. With Patriarch Kirill’s blessing Father Constantine joined the fraternity of the High Monastery of St. Peter and before taking monastic vows he worked in churches of the convent, the monastery press service told Interfax-Religion on Tuesday.

Father Constantine was Doctor of Philosophy and professor of Slavic and Russian History in the Pontifical Oriental Institute (Rome), he was its vice rector, member of Jesuit Order, advisor of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Hieromonk Constantine (Simon) was born in 1955 in New Jersey (the USA) to a family of Orthodox and Protestants. He dedicated his life to studying history of the Orthodox Church, constantly cooperated with Russian and other Slavic communities of Europe, and lectured Church History in various universities of the world.

Source:

http://romancatholicsmetorthodoxy.wordpress.com

ROMAN CATHOLICS MET ORTHODOXY

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The Holy Baptism of Jon Gissel in Denmark

On May 31, 2015, Pentecost Sunday, at a Romanian parish of Eastern Orthodox Church in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Danish professor of Byzantine History at the University of Copenhagen, Jon Gissel, baptized Orthodox Christian, after nearly three years of spiritual catechism. God bless him!

Source:

http://denmarkofmyheart.wordpress.com

DENMARK OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX DENMARK

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Fr. Simeon de la Jara, Peru: On a righteous path from Peru to Mount Athos, Greece

When Miguel Angel de la Jara Higgingson was seven, his mother had a vision. She sensed that her son would some day leave her for a “far away place, like an island, there where people of solitude lived who pray all the time and rarely step out into the world”. Even she, however, could probably not have imagined just how far from his native Peru, both physically and spiritually, his life’s search would take him.

Now he is Father Simeon the hermit, an Orthodox Christian monk of Eastern Orthodox Church who lives on Mount Athos, a self-administrating, all-male monastic community on the Athos peninsula – the eastern most of three jutting peninsulas in the northern Greek prefecture of Halkidiki in Greece.

However, it’s not just his Peruvian origins that make Father Simeon such a well-known figure among visitors to Mount Athos; it’s also his radiant presence as an artist, poet and painter that makes him so sought after, especially by the young.

His journey began in 1968, when at the age of 18 he left Peru to discover the world. After travelling through Europe and Asia for over two years – during which time he was exposed to eastern philosophies and religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga – he finally settled in Paris, where he lived for the next three years.

It was in Paris that he first met a GreekOrthodox monk and learned about Orthodoxy, a meeting that was to have a profound effect on him. For the next two and a half years he studied hagiography (icon painting) with Leonide Ouspensky, while his interest in Orthodoxy deepened.

He first visited Greece in 1972, where he accepted the Orthodox faith, before returning to stay in 1973, originally joining the monastery of Agios Georgios (St George) on the large Greek island of Evia. When, in 1974, the entire monastery relocated to Agios Grigorios (St Gregory) on Mount Athos, Simeon followed, living at the Agios Grigorios Monastery until 1987. He subsequently became a hermit, moving to the old hermit’s cell of Timios Stavros near the Stavronikita monastery, where he built a new dependency and formed a complex.

On first meeting Father Simeon, one is struck by his youthful passion and joy – qualities which, as he says, “one cannot hide”. A compassionate listener and gentle speaker, he responds to questions with spontaneity and rigour, without ever becoming dogmatic or distant. Behind his piercing eyes is an inquisitive mind, forever seeking ways to express the love and joy he wants to share with others.

After 24 years in Greece, Father Simeon declares a profound love and admiration for Greek culture and language, saying he prefers writing in Greek to even his native Spanish. To his extensive travels he owes a rich and varied experience, as well as a love of French Surrealism, tatami mats, Japanese food and Chinese art. And to his Peruvian family he owes his love of art.

According to Simeon, it is the need to tap into the inner joy in all things which has led him to art and prayer; that has been the predominant force in his life. Through poetry, paintings, photographs, prayers and lectures he has reached out and tried to touch people’s hearts beyond the borders of the Holy Mount.

He has several published works, including his 1985 lecture “Nifalios Methi” (Sober Drunkenness), the 1983 publication”The Holy Mountain Today” brought out by Alexandria Press in London andthe poetry collection “Simeon Mnema”, published in 1994. A new book of poetry, entitled “Me Imation Melan” (In Black Cloth), is due to be broughtout shortly by Agra Editions in Athens.

An artist in solitude as much as a solitary, a monk, in the midst of art, his poems and his paintings have both the freshness of the “here and now” and the depth of eternity, and are of a striking immediacy and poise. They make one wonder what the difference between the artist and the hermit is – or even if there is one at all.

Source:

http://symeon.eu

SYMEON UN POETA SOLITARIO

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Converting to Orthodoxy in Spain

Francisco José Pino Rodríguez

I was born in 1976 and, even though practically all the members of my family were atheists (some of them Communist, others Anarchist), thanks to my grandmother I was baptised in the Latin (Catholic) Church as a baby and took my First Communion when I was 9 or 10. As you can imagine, I did not receive any kind of religious education at home. However, when I was 16 or 17, I started asking myself questions and began a journey through different Western Christian denominations that would finally lead me to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church in the year 2005.

Some years before that, however (in 2000 or 2001, I would say), I bought a small icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a Street market. When I looked at the image of our Saviour, it seemed as if He was looking at me, and this fascination for Byzantine art led me to start studying Orthodoxy. At first the interest was purely intellectual, but gradually I started wondering whether Orthodoxy would be a valid option for me. This question grew withing me little by little. At that time, however, I was not ready to say ‘yes’ to Orthodoxy, as it seemed something completely alien to my culture, language, etc. Please bear in mind that, as I told you, I was a committed Catholic since 2005. Nontheless, I continued reading extensively about the Orthodox Church and learning more each day.

In 2011 my interest in Orthodoxy had become so pressing that I thought I had to do something about it. Even though I perceived that there were some difficulties, I decided to spend some days at an Orthodox monastery in Cantauque (France) to know Orthodoxy in action and have some time to meditate. And there I took my decision to become Orthodox. I suddenly felt that the Orthodox Church was my spiritual home, and that my conversion could wait no longer. Some months later I became Orthodox Christian in the Holy Metropolis of Spain and Portugal (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople).

My meeting with Orthodox spirituality was a liberating one: I felt free from Medieval Latin theological errors, from a purely human Philosophic approach to religion and an inhumane morality based on a juridical understanding of Soteriology, and I started having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in His Church.

I am totally convinced that Orthodox Christianity is the original faith preached by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles, codified in the Creeds and Ecumenical Councils of the Church and defended by the Holy Fathers in their writings. This by itself makes the Orthodox faith unique.

But not only this. Orthodoxy appeals to the whole human person. It is not a purely intellectual religion or a set of dry dogmas that you accept internally. It is a way of life, something that pervades every aspect of your life. We are body and soul, and Orthodoxy touches both aspects. Our faith is physical, “bodily”: we prostrate before icons and kiss them, we light candles in Church, we smell the scent of incense, etc. But it also elevates our soul to a living relationship with God in prayer. The beauty of our divine offices fulfils every aspiration and desire of our spirit. This is a big difference with other religions where, for example, images are forbidden.

Being Orthodox in Spain is not an easy thing, and I am not referring to having access to Orthodox parishes (thank God, we have parishes of the different Patriarchates in virtually every province). What I mean is that Orthodoxy in its current form (i.e. Byzantine-rite Orthodoxy) is something alien to the Spanish culture, a religion that has been “imported” by immigrants. The Orthodox Church in Spain is still a “foreign” matter. The Spanish language is very rarely used (most parishes celebrate the Liturgy in Romanian, Greek, Slavonic, etc.).

Being an Orthodox Christian of Spanish origin, then, is a continuous strife to acquire a new mindset and even new customs and traditions. It should be noted, however, that this was not always the case: I firmly believe that the old Hispanic Church of the first millennium was fully Orthodox. But that old Hispanic Orthodoxy disappeared many centuries ago, so adopting foreign habits and rituals is unfortunately the price that we have to pay in order to preserve the faith. In any case, I can assure you something: despite all these difficulties, the joy of professing the true faith really compensates for all the rest.

I am extremely happy of being an Orthodox Christian. I can feel “the joy of Salvation” (Psalm 50) every single day of my life here on Earth, and I hope that God will make me worthy to dwell with Him in Heaven after the Resurrection.

In Orthodoxy I have discovered the profound meaning of life. We are born into this world to know our Creator, and “our heart will not be still until we accept Christ”, as Blessed Augustine of Hippo used to say.

However, conversion is only the beginning of our journey. We have to become ‘deified’, i.e. through the Spirit we must devoid our lives from our selves and fill them with God, so that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). This deifying process is a life-long one. As Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, the goal of Christian life is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit”.

Being an Orthodox Christian does not mean that your problems will suddenly disppear; however, your perspective changes completely as you know that there is a provident God who will never stop loving and sustaining you, so you can face these problems under a new light. Faith takes us on, so to say: “I can do all this through Him Who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).

Francisco José Pino Rodríguez, Spain

Source:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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I knew right then, in that second…

by Trudy Ellmore, USA

My family of origin is Roman Catholic, the faith I practiced until I was 18. My love of God was deep and personal. There was never a time in my life when God was not present, even in my earliest memories. Yet, when someone witnessed to me and asked,

“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If you haven’t, you’re going to hell”

my reaction was one of panic. I turned away from my childhood church to a non-denominational fundamentalist church to allay my fear of damnation. There I met my first husband. After our marriage, we became involved in a Southern Baptist church where we both were baptized by immersion.

Following my husband’s death after 26 months of marriage, my infant son and I returned to my hometown. Thinking all Baptist churches were alike, I joined an American Baptist church, where I met my current husband, who was attending Seminary with the intention of pastoring in the Baptist denomination. We served the church for 5 years until he transitioned to higher education fundraising.

For the next 20 years, it was in the American Baptist denomination where my faith and love of God was nurtured and grew deeper and deeper, where I taught children and adult Sunday school classes, counseled children for baptism, served on Boards and committees, and volunteered for all sorts of ministries. It is also where I was challenged by a small-group Bible study leader to “be the church of the Book of Acts.”

That simple phrase started my quest to discover “where” that church was or if it “even was still around” and vibrant.

Simultaneously, I returned to college to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Majoring in history and taking every class possible that dealt with church history became the road which led me to the Orthodox Church. The reading list of one class included St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. His thesis made Jesus Christ – the Man real to me.

In each class, I dug through the past. As each subsequent piece of history was uncovered, my soul hungered for more understanding. I also found myself a little angry and betrayed. Why hadn’t any of my former pastors shared the Early Church Fathers and that there were ancient texts translated into English available to read and learn how the Early Church worshipped? Hadn’t they learned this in Seminary? The history professor mentioned previously offered a new class: The History and Theology of Eastern Orthodoxy.

The first book I read was The Way of the Pilgrim. I had found my answer to what would lead me to a deeper prayer life!

Also during this time period, unbeknownst to all those closest to me, I was falling deeper into severe depression to the extent that every night I prayed,

“God, please do not let me awaken in the morning.”

He did not answer my prayers. Each morning I opened my eyes only to sink further down into sorrow. I held on to an emotionally frayed rope as I dangled over a cliff, all the while digging through history to find the Early Church.

The professor invited our class to Midnight Paschal Divine Liturgy at his parish. When I walked into the church, illuminated only by candles surrounding Christ’s tomb, I was shocked into silence. He really died! At midnight when the priest lifted the icon of Christ in the tomb aloft and carried it into the Sanctuary, my heart skipped – He had really risen from the dead! What I had always believed seem to become alive in front of my eyes.

I knew right then, in that second, that I needed to become a part of the Orthodox Church, that the Orthodox Church contained that which would heal and save me.

Fourteen months later, on the Feast Day of the Holy Cross – September 14, 2004, I was received into the Holy Orthodox Church, receiving St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria as my patron saint.

As I look back over my entire life, I see God in the workings of my life. As I write this, five and a half years later, I remain deeply thankful to God, Who by the prayers of my Patron Saint, led me into the Holy Orthodox Church.

The Church has, in fact, saved my life.

Source:

http://walkingbytheseaorthodoxy.wordpress.com

WALKING BY THE SEA - ORTHODOXY

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Answering Main Street Canada

We offer you an article written by Fr. Geoffrey Korz, Managing Editor of Orthodox Canada and the Dean of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church in Hamilton ON, Canada.

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of dining in Toronto’s “Greek Town” with a sister in Christ, a Greek grandmother who had been around the Church all her life, and who was a true realist. As we walked through the warm summer streets, surrounded by mobs of young people – many of them Greek, and presumably Orthodox Christians – my friend let out an audible exclamation.

“Look at them, Father – they don’t even know what an Orthodox priest is! Why aren’t they at Church?! They should be ashamed of themselves!”

Of course hearing this, all these young people heard the voice of their own yia-yia, or grandmother, confronting them with their own lack of piety, spiritual observance, and care for their Faith.

About a year later, a young friend – also Greek – was confessing her frustration that the Church didn’t provide answers for her life and the lives of those she knows – answers on questions about marital life, family finances, the news we see on television, and how to answer the pointed questions of her atheist co-workers.

“But the Orthodox Church does provide those answers,” I protested.

“Then why have I never heard them?” she asked, poignantly.

She had an excellent point. Where had the breakdown occurred between the zeal of the grandmother, and the yearning for answers of the young woman?

I should note here, that both women were and are regular churchgoers, and both have family members who all but ignore their Orthodox faith. The two women are not related; I don’t believe they have ever met. Yet in a very real way, their questions reflected two sides of the same coin.

Politicians sometimes talk about the divisions that exist between “Bay Street”, the centre of economic life, and “Main Street”, the centre of real life. Perhaps it is a result of a generation gap, or growing secularism, immigration patterns or the popular media, but somewhere in the last fifty years, Canada’s “Main Street” stopped hearing the answers given by the Church. In many cases, Canadians had never heard the eternal answers offered by the Orthodox Church, of course, but they at least had some share of Christian truth from the society around them. Orthodox efforts in this area appeared to be safe to take a generation-long time out.

This is no longer the case. The issues facing “Main Street” Canadians, particularly those under 30 years of age, leave many people spinning in the storm of western relativism: many simply do not know where to find the truth, or even if truth exists.

There has never been a time when the hunger for the Truth has been stronger and more needed than it is today. The fact that this Truth is not an idea, but a Person – God Himself – makes the answers His Body the Church has to offer so much more fitting to fill the emptiness in the lives of many “Main Street” Canadians, Orthodox ones included.

The same eternal Truth, expressed in the words of the saints and the prayers of the Church, that sustained grandmothers in generations past, can and should sustain the disappointed relativists, truth-searching activists, and recovering Emo kids of our time.

Christ died and conquered Death in order to achieve the salvation of the world, including those on “Main Street”. It is to that large segment of our nation’s family that this issue, its questions, and the answers it offers, is dedicated.

May God bless us all to carry on God’s work in our own hearts, and on Main Street as well.

HT: Pravmir

Source:

http://canadaofmyheart.wordpress.com

CANADA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX CANADA

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A letter to a new convert by Mother Thekla, Abbess of  Orthodox Monastery of the Assumpion in North Yorkshire, England

Mother Thekla, who died on Aug. 7, 2011 at aged 93, was the last surviving nun to have occupied the enclosed Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption in North Yorkshire, but became better known to the wider world as the spiritual muse of the composer Sir John Tavener. Mother Thekla wrote the following letter in 2009, when she was 91 years old. You can read more about her here.

* * *

Dear “John”,

I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.

Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.

So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?

Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?

Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?

Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?

Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?

Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?

OR…..

Have you read the Gospels?

Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper – the meaning of Holy Communion?

AND….

Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.

Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship – private or public.

We know because we believe and we believe because we know.

Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?

If we are meant, always, to be “happy”, why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.

Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.

And never confuse love with sentimentality.

And never confuse worship with affectation.

Be humble – love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love – And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!

I hope that some of this makes sense,

With my best wishes,
Mother Thekla
(sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)

Source:

http://greatbritainofmyheart.wordpress.com

GREAT BRITAIN OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX UK

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I knew right then, in that second…

by Trudy Ellmore, USA

My family of origin is Roman Catholic, the faith I practiced until I was 18. My love of God was deep and personal. There was never a time in my life when God was not present, even in my earliest memories. Yet, when someone witnessed to me and asked,

“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If you haven’t, you’re going to hell”

my reaction was one of panic. I turned away from my childhood church to a non-denominational fundamentalist church to allay my fear of damnation. There I met my first husband. After our marriage, we became involved in a Southern Baptist church where we both were baptized by immersion.

Following my husband’s death after 26 months of marriage, my infant son and I returned to my hometown. Thinking all Baptist churches were alike, I joined an American Baptist church, where I met my current husband, who was attending Seminary with the intention of pastoring in the Baptist denomination. We served the church for 5 years until he transitioned to higher education fundraising.

For the next 20 years, it was in the American Baptist denomination where my faith and love of God was nurtured and grew deeper and deeper, where I taught children and adult Sunday school classes, counseled children for baptism, served on Boards and committees, and volunteered for all sorts of ministries. It is also where I was challenged by a small-group Bible study leader to “be the church of the Book of Acts.”

That simple phrase started my quest to discover “where” that church was or if it “even was still around” and vibrant.

Simultaneously, I returned to college to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Majoring in history and taking every class possible that dealt with church history became the road which led me to the Orthodox Church. The reading list of one class included St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. His thesis made Jesus Christ – the Man real to me.

In each class, I dug through the past. As each subsequent piece of history was uncovered, my soul hungered for more understanding. I also found myself a little angry and betrayed. Why hadn’t any of my former pastors shared the Early Church Fathers and that there were ancient texts translated into English available to read and learn how the Early Church worshipped? Hadn’t they learned this in Seminary? The history professor mentioned previously offered a new class: The History and Theology of Eastern Orthodoxy.

The first book I read was The Way of the Pilgrim. I had found my answer to what would lead me to a deeper prayer life!

Also during this time period, unbeknownst to all those closest to me, I was falling deeper into severe depression to the extent that every night I prayed,

“God, please do not let me awaken in the morning.”

He did not answer my prayers. Each morning I opened my eyes only to sink further down into sorrow. I held on to an emotionally frayed rope as I dangled over a cliff, all the while digging through history to find the Early Church.

The professor invited our class to Midnight Paschal Divine Liturgy at his parish. When I walked into the church, illuminated only by candles surrounding Christ’s tomb, I was shocked into silence. He really died! At midnight when the priest lifted the icon of Christ in the tomb aloft and carried it into the Sanctuary, my heart skipped – He had really risen from the dead! What I had always believed seem to become alive in front of my eyes.

I knew right then, in that second, that I needed to become a part of the Orthodox Church, that the Orthodox Church contained that which would heal and save me.

Fourteen months later, on the Feast Day of the Holy Cross – September 14, 2004, I was received into the Holy Orthodox Church, receiving St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria as my patron saint.

As I look back over my entire life, I see God in the workings of my life. As I write this, five and a half years later, I remain deeply thankful to God, Who by the prayers of my Patron Saint, led me into the Holy Orthodox Church.

The Church has, in fact, saved my life.

Source:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2010/05/i-knew-right-then-in-that-second-by-trudy-ellmore/

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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Native Americans and Orthodoxy

Frederica Mathewes-Green, USA

[Ancient Faith Radio; August 28, 2008]

Frederica Mathewes-Green: Here I am, I’m in Anchorage, Alaska. My first visit to Alaska, this completes my visiting fifty states. This is my fiftieth state, so it’s wonderful to be here at last. I am on the grounds of the Alaska Native Heritage Center, speaking to Steven Alvarez, who is- what is your role here at the center?

Steven Alvarez: I am Director of Strategic Initiatives and Media.

FMG: You were telling me you produce films sometimes for the center as well. And we were hearing the story of what brought you here, you said it was St. Herman that brought you. To begin with, your heritage goes back to New Mexico, your background is Apache. You were telling me that it’s connected with some of the peoples in Alaska, as well.

SA: Right. The Athabaskans up here share a common language (a common language base), and we’re pretty much the same people.

FMG: And, how in the world did you end up becoming Orthodox?

SA: I was part of San Jose Christian Fellowship that converted back in 1993. And I was the music director there at the church, and so that whole process brought us to Orthodoxy and…

FMG: You were swept up.

SA: Yeah, yeah.

FMG: Had you been a Christian all your life?

SA: I was raised Roman Catholic. So I had really no issues with the theology. I mean, I grew up with it. The only question that I kept asking was, once we become Orthodox, where does the band go? (laughs)

FMG: Because you were the percussionist in the worship band.

SA: I was the worship leader.

FMG: Oh, you were the worship leader.

SA: Yeah, and so we were chrismated and I was ordained a subdeacon that same weekend, and we became Orthodox. And I was there for four years before I moved up here.

FMG: And you felt like, as you said, St. Herman had engineered it— had brought you up here.

SA: Right. Well, a deacon from the church and a layperson and I came to, when we all turned forty— look, there’s a fox right there!

FMG: Oh! Look. And he sees us. I think this fox sees us. Is that a red fox?

SA: That is a red fox. He’s kinda skinny.

FMG: He’s skinny, maybe he’s a little one. He’s got a nice puffy tail, though. Wow. It’s like a little dog or a cat even, it’s so alert. Not very afraid of people, I don’t think. He’s going to try to go in that… Oh, he pounced on something. He’s got… he’s so graceful. It’s like a cat, really. Yeah. Well, we’ll keep an eye on it, and see if he shows up again. So y’all came up, you said, to pray, to ask St. Herman to make the next forty years a little bit better than the first forty years.

SA: Right, and I had over the course of the time that I was canting and studying the theology of the Church, discovered how close Orthodox theology was with Native American spirituality.

FMG: Could you tell me a little bit more about that? Because I don’t know much about Native American spirituality. What would I recognize?

SA: Well, you know, the whole liturgical cycle- how every part of the day in Orthodoxy there’s a service or a ceremony that is designed to help you- it’s the same aspect of Native American Spirituality. Every part of what we do is tied to our spiritual beliefs. Whether it’s getting up in the morning or going to bed at night. And all of our ceremonies are very liturgical. There’s a reason for everything. And we have our own form of incense, which is the burning of sage or cedar. We have, um…

FMG: The chant…

SA: Yeah, the chanting, um, you know, the belief that because God created everything, that because of that, all of his Creation is sacred. So we hold that the trees, the ground, you know, has the sacredness, the holiness of God in it because he created it.

FMG: Like Eastern Orthodoxy, with the sense that God is really filling this Earth, as opposed to a kind of spirituality that would say, the spirit is good, the body is bad; we only pay attention to the soul, we try to rise above physical reality. It’s that same treasuring and discerning the presence of God in the world.

SA: Right. And then also in the same manner in which clergy in the Orthodox Church are set apart as people who provide us with a spiritual guide. The same happens in Native American spirituality. We have certain elders, or what has become know as, the term is medicine men. People who have the ability to heal, but also provide insights that, this is what’s right and this is how you should be living your life, and this is the answer to those questions that you have.

FMG: Wisdom. Like an elder, I guess, or like a spiritual father.

SA: Right. And an elder is considered a spiritual father because everything that we do is tied to our spiritual life. And, you know, our songs and our dances, even if they are social, there is a spiritual aspect to it.

FMG: Not every old person is an elder automatically.

SA: Yeah. So, as I learned more about St. Herman, I came to revere him and love him in the same manner that the Alaskan natives did because of what he did for them. So I prayed that somehow I could find a way to… And I also felt that because of how the church handled Native Americans when they first came over, as opposed the Roman approach, which is baptize them and then enslave them, and the Protestant approach was don’t even baptize them. You know, that there was something special about the… I think it would make it easy for Native Americans to discover the Church, and I felt, well, this could be a way of me being some kind of instrument that could at least bring the Orthodox Church to the doorstep of Native American people.

FMG: Continuing the work of St. Herman.

SA: Right. So, that’s what I asked, Can I do that. And the next thing I know I’m being invited to come up and perform, the next thing I know I’m up here performing and teaching, and the next thing is I’m accepting a job and moving up here.

FMG: You found a new home.

SA: Yeah. And it’s been wonderful. I’ve been able to do just about everything I could dream and imagine of artistically, as a performing artist. I’m still waiting to find out what’s going to happen with regards to serving Native American people, but I think I’m doing that here. Everybody that knows me here is part of what I do; the Alaskan natives know that I’m part of the Orthodox Church, so I think at some point God’s plan will be revealed. We’ll see what happens.

FMG: Maybe you’re just getting filled up with more and more wisdom as time goes by, and when the right time comes, you’ll be called on to…

SA: One could hope! (laughs)

FMG: Thanks so much for speaking with me today.

SA: Sure.

Source:

http://frederica.com/writings/native-americans-and-orthodoxy.html

FREDERICA MATHEWES-GREEN

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After 87 years at the Smithsonian, bones of Alaska Natives returned and reburied

Anthropologists once excavated the graves of thousands of Native Americans. Now museums in the U.S. are slowly working to return those remains and funerary objects to tribes.

A village in southwest Alaska recently reburied 24 of their ancestors who had been excavated by a Smithsonian anthropologist in 1931.

About half of the village of Igiugig crowded into the Russian Orthodox Church in the center of town on a drizzly fall day. In the center of the nave sat three handmade, wooden coffins that held the bones from the now-abandoned settlement of Kaskanak.

The remains were unearthed by Aleš Hrdlička, who was the head of the anthropology department in what is now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The question of how people originally came to North America and from where drove Hrdlička to dig up the bones of Native Americans all around the United States. Historians estimate that he took thousands to Washington, D.C., for research.

After more than eight decades in the museum’s collection, Igiugig’s ancestors finally returned home for reburial.

Avery Lill
10/22/2017


ALASKA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX ALASKA

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The Impossibility of Aloneness: 
When Christ Found Me in the Himalayas

By Joseph Magnus Frangipani, 
Alaska, USA

Printed in Issue 24 – Death to the World

I’m an Orthodox Christian living in Homer, Alaska and experienced Jesus Christ in the Himalayas, in India.

I listen to the heartbeat of rain outside…

Cold, Alaskan fog blowing in off the bay, emerald hills now that autumn is here and summer chased away into the mountains. But a milky white fog spreads over the bay like a silken ghost. I used to visit Trappist monasteries, back when I was Catholic, at the beginning of high school, and searching for a relationship of love. I read plenty of philosophy then to know that knowing isn’t enough, that having a realization in the mind is entirely different from experiencing a revelation of the heart.

I spent two birthdays in the Himalayas…

Traveling along gravel roads that drop deep into icy gulches where the Ganges river rages below not yet packed with the filth and mud and newspapers of villages, not yet carrying remainders of Indians in her current, I found Christ found me. It’s a difficult and strangely compelling atmosphere to confront oneself, – – India, – – sandwiched with black corpses, white snow, pagan fires and virulent animals.

I took a bus north from Delhi. It was crowded, tight and cramped, flies buzzed between my face and the windows smeared with brown slime. It’s so polluted in Delhi, so much coffee-colored smoke, so much steam that you really can’t see the sun. You saw it, a rising orange-reddish ball burning over the horizon fifteen minutes in the morning, but then fifteen minutes slouching back down again, an exhausted head over the mountains.

I grew up Catholic but turned to Buddhism when introduced to a self-hypnosis class at my Catholic high school, experimenting with meditation and ‘mindfulness.’ I experienced serious symptoms of manic depression then, partially because I’d consciously turned away from the Judeo-Christian God, and also because life at home was very, very difficult for me. I grew anxious and got into extremely self-destructive habits, and so Buddhism seemed a perfect door to address – or not address – my turning from God and family, and focusing my energy toward dissolving into a Void, a dissolving bubble on an endless and personless river, Tathāgatagarbha. The element that got me is to dissolve my desire, and abandon my selfhood, in order to avoid suffering. But desire doesn’t seem so bad, especially when it is for love, which requires more than one person, and thereby voids any notion of abandoning self, – – and to love, to truly love, is to give, which may require sacrifice, and suffering – –

So Tibetan Buddhism kept coming up, because the meditation helped calm my anxieties and depression, and because the culture proved highly engaging, what with all her colorful flags, her skulls, and metaphysical explanations of things, – – but what is left, when ‘I’ disappear, and there is no one else for whom a relationship of the heart can exist? Not to mention, what did the experiences of the Gospels, the Cloud of Witnesses, the Holy Church, amount to? I knew nothing of Orthodoxy when I reached into the closet of Buddhism, but in light of it, now, what does it all add up to?

Mindfulness worked as far as cleansing the window, the mind, is concerned, which is important, but then many of its doctrines, – and I explored countless doctrines, – really stop here. Clear sky. But what it did not do, and could not, really, is orient me toward the sun, and the warmth of the sun, and the sunlight – – all religions seem to contain some seed of truth, but fail in witnessing to the Triadic God…and all my destructive habits, and relationships, and every mantra, and yoga, all of which I’ve had my fill…this is how Christ brought me to Him.

Back to the story, I’m in Delhi, on a bus. And after an hour or two of sitting in that cramped, stuffy and urine-soured air you hear the front breaks release, the bus finally stretching her arthritic joints and creak slowly forward. She rolls, head first, toward the busy main road. For fifteen minutes we cough and pop down the road, away from my filthy, but greatly lovable refuge of Manju Ka Tilla, a sort of Tibetan refugee camp criss-crossed with telephone wire, wet and narrow alleyways packed with dogs and diapered babies, and polio. Cobblestone streets and bakeries, copper trinkets and arms, this is the first place on earth I met leprosy, and her sister polio. The beginning of my spiritual warfare.

I usually saw them together, these two, – polio and leprosy – crowding in around a barrel of fiery rags, in the crayon-black darkness hands like chewed-up bread, teeth pencil yellow and cracked. I see a boy attacked by a skinny, vicious-looking dog with long, wet fur and crazy eyes – it looks like a red and yellow fox, – – a tangle of fur and blood and whimper. The taxi cab drivers, waiting on their afternoon customers near the stinking, feathered dumpsters launch after the monster in a terrible raid of madness and darkness. They chase the thing down with bricks loosened from neighboring grocery store steps leaving the boy warm and wet with his own blood, a hound’s tooth broken off inside his leg.

Here is suffering, and personhood, and sacrifice…

He looks young but his face shows no signs of innocence. His dark eyes follow me as I run a few feet away to pick up a bottle of water, then return. We look at each other. His long, dangling arms and fingers started rubbing the area of skin that have broken open and gush a strange, purple fluid.

Wet, mossy feet and the bitter odor of trash hang in the air. Cows streaked with vomit pick through spoiled food and milk cartons nearby at the dumpsters. He waits for a doctor but one never arrives. I don’t know what else to do. The boy looks through me, limping into an alley and disappearing in the terrible darkness.

I will live here a total of five and a half months. I will have arrived here practicing Buddhism and Hinduism for eleven years, and leave Christian…

I thought maybe I’d join a Buddhist monastery, or be discovered by wise sage in the mountains, spend the rest of my life in the Himalayas experiencing exotic mystery and enlightenment. I read dozens of sutras by various Buddhas, had an underlined and well-worn copy of the Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads, and was reading all the California guys, Bhagavan Das, Ram Das, Krishna Das, and even met most of them, all the 60s ‘hippy’ idols who dropped acid and flew to India to go ‘find the guru.’ I read Be Here Now and did the whole drug scene, but despite all the colorful statues and marijuana and tantra, no matter how ‘empty’ I became, there wasn’t enough and I sensed…how can I say this…something was wrong.

I worked as a wilderness guide for at-risk youth in the sage deserts of Idaho. Teaching primitive skills, meditation and mantra, and working with psychologists to develop methods of emotional and behavioral therapy – – I was chased by a wolf, I killed a rattlesnake. And while out there, – this is in the middle of my life before Christ, – – toward the end of it, actually, – – I began experiencing strange things – not only while traveling through India, but before that, and not only me, but my girlfriend. We saw, and everyone involved with this recipe of mantra, meditation, yoga, – and a lot of it sober, – – we saw shadows and demons, experienced trembling and ungodly anxiety and fear. So I knew something was strange, something was going on. It is not all opinion, all belief, for if I have freewill, and exist outside the body, – and I had plenty experiences where I knew I was more than my body, – – and this is one of the things that helped me dismiss and eventually leave the bag of eastern religions, – in addition to God’s grace, – – that if I am more than my body, and I have free will, and can choose to either accept or reject love, then others can too, and this brought up the issue of good versus evil, of right and wrong.

Was what I was doing, right? Who was I following? Are these things, these deities, just archetypes, and if not, if they are ‘real,’ are they ‘good?’ It like jumping into an ocean and realizing there are many different things floating around in there, harmless creatures, some of them beautiful, and some, in fact, that will attack you, that are poisonous, and the astral life, the spiritual life, is like that. Very quickly, once I got to India, I understood this. And was scared.

The boy with the watermelon disease, his head swollen on a piece of cloth outside my guest room door, a cloud of black flies wriggling over an empty ribcage and hollow eyes, a human Jack-O-lantern, his mother’s long brown arm rung with silver jewelry begging for rupees.

So why did I leave a supportive and beautiful girlfriend behind in Oregon to experience this? I was beginning to mend my relationship with my parents, gain more confidence, and had read Way of the Pilgrim a number of months before, but it was with all my California stuff, and I never saw any relation to that and Orthodoxy, never once asked, where is a church that deepens one’s relationship with the living, loving, Truth? Where truth is a Person, as I’d later read from Father Seraphim Rose?

I’d head up to the mouth of the Ganges River, to Gangotri, – – into a mountain. On my 28th birthday, I listened to the heartbeat of the wind on the cliffs, on the water, and experience not a realization of the mind, though that did happen, sure enough, but only once the heart was struck by a sort of cherubim’s sword in my heart, experiencing a revelation occurring in meeting the living God, Jesus Christ, and myself peeling away from itself.

What can I say?

Everything I’d learned, practiced, experienced for all of eleven years poured out from my head, in one ear and out the other, replaced by their approximate Christian terms, fulfilled, actually, and I knew reincarnation is impossible through the resurrection, because I am a self, a soul, and I knew karma is impossible because it operates independently of ‘God’ and there is Divine Intervention, I’ve witnessed it, and experienced it. In the cave, a joyous ache in my heart, and in the cave, no more aloneness, no more aloofness. In the Himalayas, and I mean immediately, like I was zapped, I really met Christ, and was dumb for a moment, and in Eternity I saw in my heart the Person of God as Christ, and I could never, ever be alone. Maybe I’d FEEL alone, sure, (doubtful) but I ought to remember, the impossibility of aloneness. Maybe that should be the title of this letter.

So what happened after? I picked up a Bible and read the thing in a guest house back in Dharamsala, over 12 hours away, and then I’d return to America, after the shaking bus trips and gargantuan ceremonies of burning bodies and yellow and black gods and goddesses, and and I’d fall into the lap of the Orthodox Church, in Eugene, and, I’m only skimming over it now, due to time constraints, and I’d visit St Anthony’s Monastery, in Arizona, and all the monasteries and churches in between, long enough to fill a book, and pray to St Herman who could, by his intercessions, bring me straight to Spruce Island, and to where, kneeling before his relics, find home. In Homer. There is more, but I’ll write later. So much has happened to my heart. Forgive me for rambling, and going on. May the Father of Lights enlighten us, and have mercy on us. Amen.

“It is one thing to believe in God, and another to know Him.” + St Silouan

Editors Note: Joseph Magnus now lives in Port Townsend, Washington. He is a writer of children’s books and helps the Father Lazarus Moore Foundation. To visit his blog and read more of his poetry, short stories, and other writings, visit here: Servant of Prayer.

Source:

http://deathtotheworld.com

http://deathtotheworld.comthe-impossibility-of-aloneness-when-christ-found-me-in-the-himalayas/

DEATH TO THE WORLD

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Finding the Faith 
of St Joseph of Arimathea: An Interview with Fr. Jonathan Hemmings, England

The tradition of faith in Great Britain goes back to the Apostolic era!

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. Jonathan Hemmings, Orthodox theologian, who is the priest of the Holy Life-Giving Cross Orthodox Church in Lancaster, UK, talks about faith and love in Christ.

* * *

1.) Before discussing your conversion to Orthodoxy, I would appreciate it a lot if you could talk about your main spiritual experiences and journies untill you have discovered the Orthodox Church.

First of all, we need to be sure of what we mean when we use the term convert or “conversion.” We all need to be converted – both those who come from different traditions and confessions and those from traditionally Orthodox countries who are referred to as “cradle Orthodox”. Christianity is not a Philosophy, it is a relationship with the All Holy Trinity. We are converted to Christ and we are received into the (Orthodox) Church through Baptism and/or Chrismation. Sometimes this happens in the other order of events. Those who are Baptised Orthodox as babies need to employ the gift of the Holy Spirit given to them; those who are called to the Orthodox Christian faith are prompted by the same All Holy Spirit. As Metropolitan Kallistos said

“We Orthodox know where the Holy Spirit is but we cannot say where He is not.”

As scripture says

“the Holy Spirit moves where He wills.”

One has to experience the Orthodox Church either through her Liturgy or through the “living signposts of the faith” whom God sets before us if we are open to the Truth. By “ living signposts” I mean men and women who possess grace and in whom we see the light of Christ. Christianity in the west tends to be analytical and logical, Eastern Christianity is synthetic and mystical and engages the whole of our being.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind with all your strength, with all your heart and with all your soul.

The fact that we do metanoias (reverences or bows) shows that even prayer is a physical as well as a mental process. I have always believed in God, from a little child. I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in God. I had the right Christ, I just needed the right Church. Of course all this was a preparation for me to discover or rather recover the Orthodox faith.

2.) How would you characterise your own spiritual road to Orthodoxy? According to this question, would it be correct to say that Orthodoxy is able to heal the wounded souls?

I am like the Prodigal son in the parable who returns to his father. The Orthodox faith according to tradition was brought to Britain by St Joseph of Arimathea. An early Archbishop of Canterbury was Greek- St Theodore of Tarsus. St Constantine the Great was made Augustus Emperor here in York when he was in charge of the sixth Legion. So did not choose to find something “foreign” I returned to the Church which was established here in Britain.

The Orthodox Church is Universal as we proclaim on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The Church is the hospital for souls. As Blessed Augustine said

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God”

Restlessness of the spirit is a characteristic of this age. So I have not discovered something new, I have recovered something authentic and original.

3.) Considering all what you have experienced over the years from the spiritual point of view, why is Orthodoxy so precious and meaningful to you?

Well, I believe Orthodoxy is not only original, unchanged and authentic but it is the teaching and preaching of Christ’s Apostles (Kerygma and Paradosi). Tradition is not simply historical, it is vital and dynamic. The Orthodox way fulfils the needs of the whole person and makes the broken person whole. It is precious because it is the

“pearl of great price.”

Once you find it, then you must share this treasure with others and not keep it to yourself.

4.) Do you think that Orthodoxy could be considered a burning bush?

I have a stone from Mount Sinai which contains the image of the bush which Moses saw burning and yet which was not consumed. If you want to forge metal, you must first heat it and out it into the fire and then you can shape it to the tool you require. When we are put into the fire of God, the same happens. It is so God can shape us into the person that He has called us to be. When we are alive in God then we become all flame. We are standing on holy ground, so when we approach God we must do so with awe before the majestic power of God.

5.) Now, I would like you to tell me what does the Orthodox monasticism mean for you and what impressed you most in your monastic pilgrimage, if I can call it like that?

Orthodox Monasteries are “LightHouses” for souls. They are often remote and inaccessible because the quietness for the soul requires asceticism . They are full of angels because the angelic life is lived there. When we say in the Lord’s Prayer

“Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”

then this is what monks are doing. The very walls of the Churches are filled with prayer and so one can feel tangibly the peace of God. It is this peace which passes all understanding that one experiences. Again I say that Orthodoxy is Life in the sense that we experience it, we live it. I have been to many Orthodox Monasteries in Romania. The most memorable moments are when I met Pr Ioanichie Balan in Sihastria Monastery and when I served the Holy Liturgy with Pr. Teofil Paraian( the blind Staretz) at Sambata de Sus. These were moments when the veil between heaven and earth was very thin.

6.) What would be the difference between you as a heterodox and you as an Orthodox?

I am complete. When Our Lord died on the Cross he said in St Johns Gospel

“It is finished”

but this also means

“It is completed”

that is, the work of salvation. In this sense “conversion” is an extension of what I once was. As C. S. Lewis ( much respected by Orthodox) once put it

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

As I have said before, I have always loved God but the depths of Orthodoxy provide me with the resources that nourish my soul.

7.) I remember some words which impressed me much while I was discussing with a Swiss writer converted to Orthodoxy. He was saying that he was born to hate but through Orthodoxy reborn to love. How would you characterise these words as a convert to Orthodoxy?

We were all born to love. Christ summarised the Commandments as Loving God and Loving your neighbour. Orthodox Christianity can be summarised in these words. But love is a verb… we must put into action those things which we believe. I am sure the prisons in Romania are full of criminals who would call themselves Orthodox and who have been baptised as such, but sin found a place in their hearts. Glory to God he is merciful and loves mankind! And so we must live out our life in peace and repentance. Being Romanian does not make you Orthodox anymore than being Greek, Russian, Serb or British. There was no ethnic identity in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve’s transgressions. May the love of God embrace us all.

* * *

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:


GREAT BRITAIN OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX GREAT BRITAIN

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Saint Nectarios and grandma Tatiana in Korea

‘Grandma Tatiana,’ as we used to call her, was one of the first women who received Holy Baptism in Korea. She was the daughter of Fr. Alexi Kim, who was captured by the North Koreans and disappeared on the 9th of July, 1950. With her death, the last representative of the ‘first generation’ of Orthodox Koreans ended its existence on earth.

During the final 10 years of her live, she lived in the Metropolis Center for the Elderly, which is affiliated with the parish of St. Boris in Chuncheon.

When the biography of St. Nectarios was published, in 2010, by the press of the Holy Metropolis of Korea, “Korean Orthodox Editions,” Grandma Tatiana Kim liked the book so much that she immediately started translating it into Japanese, without telling anyone about her project. The unforgettable Tatiana knew Japanese well because she lived during the Japanese occupation of Korea, studied Japanese in school, and even lived and worked in Japan for a while, working as a teacher.

One day, a year after the publication of the life of St. Nectarios in the Korea language, Grandma Tatiana suddenly appeared in Seoul to deliver the hand-written manuscript of her Japanese translation of the Saint’s life to His Eminence Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea. She also presented him with an icon of St. Nectarios which she had beautifully drawn in pencil based on the Korean version’s cover image.

After the initial moment of surprise and joy, a concerted effort was made to have the book published by Korean Orthodox Editions for the spiritual edification of our Japanese Orthodox brothers and sisters knowing from those who visit Korea that there are few resources available to them in Japanese.

Another beautiful feature of the book was the Prologue, in which Grandma Tatiana describes in her own words the ways that St. Nectarios’s life and struggles touched her heart and inspired her in her faith. She concludes her reflections with the following moving words, “If I had known the life of St. Nectarios in my early years, my own life would have been different.”

Grandma Tatiana had an awareness of her imminent death and she kept in close communication with those at the press who were working on publishing her translation. In fact, she was even sending them small donations from her meager pension to facilitate the book’s completion. She expressed her concern, “I will die soon, and will not see the book in its published form.”

By the grace of God, and the intercessions of St. Nectarios, the Japanese translation of the saint’s life was published in April 2015, about 1 month before the falling asleep in the Lord of Grandma Tatiana. When she received a copy in her hands she responded with the words of Symeon (Luke 2:29), “Now let your servant depart in peace, O Lord.”

Indeed, on the morning of May 6, 2015, as she walked to the local bank, Grandma Tatiana had a stroke. She was transported to the hospital and, at 10:00pm that day she gave up her spirit in peace.

During the final month of her life, she came to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Seoul in order to say goodbye to her faithful friends of many years, saying to them, “it is the last time that I will be in this Church.” She also visited the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Kapyeong to see her beloved spiritual father, Metropolitan Soterios, repeating to him the same message about her approaching death. Furthermore, she wrote a letter to His Eminence in which she explained her funeral wishes in detail, including the money with the letter that would be needed for her burial expenses.

Much to her sorrow, she became sick during Holy Week and was unable to participate in the divine services at the monastery of the Holy Transfiguration, as she had hoped. She was instead in the hospital. But on Easter night, the night of the Resurrection of our Lord, she did not go to sleep until midnight. And when the clock struck 12, she slowly got up from her hospital bed, walked quietly down the corridor (so as not to disturb the others) and chanted the Easter hymn, “Christ is Risen!” in Korean. During Bright Week, her health had improved and she returned to her room in Chuncheon, where—with profound joy—she received a copy of her newly published translation.

Up until the day before her departure for heaven, she communicated by phone with the faithful of Seoul, conversing about the flowers that she was caring for in the St. Boris gardens and, of course, about the publication of her book on her beloved St. Nectarios. It brought her special joy when she learned, in her final few days on earth, that the book had reached the hands of the Orthodox faithful in Japan. We can image her indescribable joy when, after her repose, she met St. Nectarios and witnessed his participation in the holy services at the heavenly altar of God.

May the blessings and prayers of St. Nectarios continue to flow toward the faithful of Korea, Japan and throughout the world! The book of his life has truly become a bridge of better spiritual communication and connection among us all.

Published in Light of Nations 2015
Written by Athanasia Kontogiannakopoulos

Source:


KOREA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX KOREA

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Jozef Van den Berg, actor, the Netherlands: From atheism to Orthodoxy

Jozef Van den Berg (Beers, 22 August 1949) is a Dutch puppeteer, playwright and actor, who nowadays lives as a hermit.

Biography of Joseph Van den Berg

Youth

From the age of seven, he lived most of his youth at Cuijk, where his father bought an old rectory and tended an accountancy bureau. His father was a primary school teacher, first at Beers and then Rijkevoort, and a member of the resistance during the War. The family he belonged to consisted of eleven children. On January 30th, 1962, at the age of twelve, his father died and afterwards also his best friend Fritz. Already as a child, Van den Berg wanted to become a priest. For Christmas his mother gave him a set to play a little priest. At the age of 10, he played his first theater role as a Pharisee in a Passion Play of the Welpen at the patronage building at Cuijk. At the age of 13 he got a girlfriend, because of which the priesthood disappeared into the background. During his secondary school at the Internaat Bisschoppelijk College [Boarding School Diocesan College] in Roermond he was very active in school theater. For example, he played Sisyphus in the play Sisyphus And Death, and later on, inspired by Henk van Ulsen, with a lot of success Diary Of A Madman by Gogol.

Puppetry

At the end of the 60’s, after obtaining his high school degree, he passed his entrance examination and started at the theater school in Arnhem, which he quit after the second year. He went to live with Ruth in Arnhem and later on moved to Groningen. He applied for social assistance and started playing puppet shows. He borrowed a horse and cart and wandered around puppetering. In this period he became member of the Gurdjieff movement. After a show in Groningen he got acquainted to his wife Hansje, whom he married on September 11th, 1973. They had four children: Lotte [nowadays a well-known playwriter, theater actor and director herself], Maartje, Jasmijn and Jesse Van den Berg. In Groningen he lived on a farm and rented a basement at Zwanestraat where on Wednesday afternoon he played for children, and on Friday evening for adults. He started his professional career as a puppeteer in a puppet show and there he brought numerous characters to life. Eventually he removed the curtain and by doing so became the man with the puppets, visible for the audience. His improvisations were replaced by a play with a title. With a fire department truck, he played with a wandering puppet theater. Living in a mobile home, he brought his plays to the people.

In 1980 he received the Hans Snoekprijs for Appeloog [Apple Eye], left Groningen and moved to Herwijnen in the Betuwe region. There he wrote Moeke en de Dwaas [(little) Mother and the Fool] for the Holland Festival. In 1980 and 1981 he played Moeke en de Dwaas, which was his great breakthrough. After this he played in Paris, the US and Japan. In this show he played a monk. His puppets were his family, consisting of – among others – Luke the monk, as if he had foresight, the materialistic and opportunistic Portemonnee [Wallet], the old, wise, strict Mrs. Witch, the ever rationalizing Mr. King, the melancholic Grootoog [Great Eye], the romantic neurotic Frederik the Bird, Pete the Caterpillar and Mannetje Pluim [(little) Man Feather]. In 1981 he received the CJP-Podiumprijs [Cultural Youth Passport’s Scene Price]. A number of his shows were broadcast by the VPRO TV company. In 1983 the De Dwaas Foundation was established in cooperation with the Ministery of Social Affairs. The foundaition was established by Van den Berg’s technical assistant Gerrit de Beuze, who did his Civilian Public Service in order for him to be employed by this foundation.

In 1988 and 1989, Joseph Van den Berg played his last show Genoeg Gewacht [Enough Waiting], which was a reaction to Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett. He wrote this play for his brother Aloys, who was seriously ill. He played this piece 80 times [constantly rewriting it] in the Netherlands and at a festival in New York. It was his ultimate quest and a testimony to his conversion. He drew his inspiration from the Stabat Mater by Vivaldi, sung by Aafje Heynis. Aloys Van den Berg, his brother, came to watch Genoeg Gewacht in a wheelchair. In 1988 his brother died of a brain tumor.

Turnaround

On September 12th, 1989 was the Belgian première of Genoeg Gewacht at Antwerp [Belgium is a predominantly Dutch-speaking country]. That afternoon, Van den Berg had an encounter with God, as he described it later on. Sitting in his dressing room, he wrote a letter he wanted to use that night for the first time in his play. God asked him this question by his own pen: “Why don’t you ever see that I cannot come because I’m already here.” On September 12, 1989 he still played the premiere which later turned out to be his very last show. Van den Berg was – according to his own words – being called by God, and had to answer that.

Before the evening show on September 14th, 1989 at De Singel Arts Center in Antwerp, he took his Bible and asked God what to do. He opened the Bible at the following words: “Go away from their midst and separate yourself” (II Cor. 6:17).

Before the beginning of the play he said to his audience:

“I will try to explain it to you. I hope that you have one thing for me and that is respect for my decision. I will never play again. I have approached a reality which cannot be played anymore. I have searched for a tremendously long time; have been everywhere. Eventually I came to the conclusion, and this conclusion, I have to admit, is that the seeker seeks but he is found. That’s why tonight is the last time I’m on stage. You don’t believe me, but that’s the deceitful side of theater. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, for this man, for Christ only, have I searched for this peace I wanted. And I know that it is so, and I quit this profession. For me, it’s over. I seek reality. I can’t say things that are not true for me anymore. I wish you a good day. I go. May you all go well. The money you paid can be given back at the box office.”

A deadly silence followed, and the theater audience reacted emotionally. Thus, on September 1989 at 7:55 pm, the theater career of Joseph Van den Berg came to an end.

In 1990 Van den Berg began a quest which would lead him to Maldon (Essex), Athens and the Holy Mountain of Athos, to further find out how he had to continue his road with God. His children and wife had difficulties understanding his conversion.

An important event preceeded his conversion: a woman he knew from the Gurdjieff movement died in a serious traffic accident, and she had pointed out that she wanted to be buried in the Orthodox way. This happened on August 17th at Eindhoven. There, he heard the Trisagion for the first time in Dutch. That’s where he began to see that Gurdjieff wasn’t right. At the end of September 1989 he went to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Meldon, Essex, England, where he talked with Elder Archimandrite Sophrony. At the beginning of January 1990 he had a very important meeting in Athens with the Greek Elder Porphyrios. This last one confirmed the experience God had given him in Antwerp, and he told him that he has to now to become an Actor of Christ. He was sent by Father Porphyrios to the Holy Mountain of Athos, where he had a meeting with Father Paisios.

After returning to the Netherlands, and loyal to the word of Father Porphyrios, he began to work on a new family show titled The World Turned Upside Down, where he wanted to convey his new faith. But it seemed that everything was going wrong, and he got in more and more spiritual trouble. He couldn’t sleep anymore and became over-tired. In the middle of this crisis, on June 18, 1990, he asked a priest in order to be accepted into the Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, 40,000 tickets had been sold for his new show. Notwithstanding this, nothing whatsoever came out of his hands. In August, overstressed, he was treated for five weeks at the Psychiatric Centre Nijmegen at the Heilige Land Stichting [Holy Land Foundation]. There was to be no new show. Because of this, peace slowly returned to him and thus he began to write a new piece called The Meeting, in which he wanted to share with his audience what happened to him in Antwerp.

In April 1991 he went to Athens again, to Father Porphyrios, to ask his blessing to play his piece The Meeting. However, he didn’t manage to speak to him, due to his old age and disease. After this, he went to the Holy Mountain of Athos for three weeks, to work on his theater play in the Monastery of Grigoriou.

Having returned to the Netherlands, things evolved in a different way than expected, among other things, because of a subsidy by the Ministery of Culture. At the request of the board of the Foundation De Dwaas, of which Van den Berg had become an employee, he formulated a new mission statement for this Foundation. On May 21st, 1991 he announced this new goal at a board meeting: “The support and promotion of all theatrical activity, in the broadest sense of the word, which expresses the spirit of Christ.” The board and the Ministery of Culture couldn’t reconcile themselves with this and the subsidy was revoked. But once he established it, he didn’t let go of this goal. Thus, unexpectedly, the whole project came to an end. Gradually, Van den Berg began to realize that he would never play The Meeting either. The authorities assumed that he was confused again, and he was declared incapacitated.

During the night of the 1st to the 2nd of June, he realized that he was left alone, and on June 2nd, 1991 he attended the Divine Liturgy at the [small Orthodox] Monastery of the Holy Prophet Elias at St. Hubert. That’s where he left what was left of his money on the collection plate. “Lord, from now on, You have to take care of me. I totally surrender.” There, Archimandrite Pachom read from the Gospel of that Sunday of All Saints: “He that loves father or mother more then me, is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more then me, is not worthy of me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me. He that finds his life, shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake, shall find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). Two hours later, after the Liturgy, he went straight to the Orthodox Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos near Asten, where he stayed for 19 days, and where he left his Mercedes Combi, because it didn’t want to start again. On June 21st, 1991 he put a final end to his theater career at his first try-out, never to be played again, of the show The Meeting in the Streekschouwburg at Cuijk. On June 24th, 1991 he left his home by bicycle, but his tire ran a flat near Waardenburg, so he passed the night at Juke Hudig’s, an artist at Neerijnen. On June 25, 1991, having repaired his bike, he left Juke Hudig, and cycled into the province of Noord-Brabant, to the south. He wanted to drive into the Brabantine land and the entire world. But soon enough he understood intimately that this was not God’s will, and returned to Neerijnen after one night in Eindhoven. On June 30th he collected two or so theater attributes he used in his performances from his house. After this, he returned to Juke Hudig.

Hermit

His only question was: “How does God want me to shape my calling?” Then, he intimately saw that he had to collect his puppetry box. On July 9th, 1991 he collected the box at his house at Herwijnen, and walked it 15km further to Neerijnen. Having arrived at Neerijnen with his theatre box on wheels, with a Russian cross attached to it, he understood ever more clearly that he had to stay there. During the month of July he stayed for three days on a farm at Neerijnen. On August 1st, 1991 he moved to the bicycle shed of the Neerijnen Town Hall, where he started his public calling. After fifty days, he retreated from publicity and lived nine months in seclusion at the home of an inhabitant of Neerijnen. In June 1992 Joseph returned to the bicycle shed and stayed there, even during the winter. In December 1992, he built a small chapel around his box. On November 1st, 1993, Van den Berg had to leave the bicycle shed on orders of the Neerijnen town council. Two pupils of Neerijnen Elementary School offered the mayor a petition on behalf of the townspeople who thought that he should be able to live on at the shed, but this was of no avail. The [National Public TV-Company’s] Youth News followed the youngsters’ action and was also present on Monday morning November 1st.

On Monday afternoon Joseph decided to collect his belongings, and left the bicycle shed. Co-townsman Harm Hazelhoff had previously offered him room in his garden, under the quince tree, but inwardly Van den Berg didn’t understand yet that he had to accept that invitation. On Monday evening he returned with his belongings to the bicycle shed. During the night of the 1st to 2nd of November, God showed him that he had to be humble and leave the bicycle shed after all. On Tuesday he put his suitcase and other belongings under the quince tree in Hazelhoff’s garden. That same afternoon, someone passed by and told him that De Pleisterplaats [Pull-Up] was his best show. There were four poles close to the quince tree, and Joseph understood from this that he had to build the “Pull-Up” under the quince tree. With this “messenger”, he built a small chapel of 2 by 1.5 meters, which still stands today. He still lives there, and receives people every day. He lives from whatever people bring him. He has no connection to any utility whatsoever. Since a couple of years, there is a toilet in the castle garden, which Joseph and his guests can use, and since a few years he has a mobile phone for emergencies.

In the media

Joseph Van den Berg gets a lot of attention from the media because of his extraordinary way of life. The attention of the media never wanes, even after his theater career. Since the start of his calling, the Dutch national newspapers, magazines, TV companies, radio and weblogs publish at least one article about him every year. In 1993 he was interviewed by Rik Felderhof for the NCRV TV program De Stoel, and by Fred Wittenberg for the KRO radio program Radio Ararat. In 1995 he got interviewed for the NCRV program Rondom Tien. In 2001 he was visited again for De Stoel. In 2003 Arjan Visser arranged a radio interview with him for Spiegels (RVU). In 2005 he was visited by Martin Simek for the Christmas night broadcast of Šimek’s Nachts (RVU) and in 2006 there was a radio interview by Friedl’ Lesage in Het beste moet nog komen for Radio 1 (Flanders, Belgium). Omroep Gelderland dedicated a number of programs to him. In 2007, Auke Hamers recorded the short movie Ik Speel niet meer [I don’t play anymore], about his life and religious convictions. In 2010, the TV show Man Bijt Hond made a short portrait of Joseph Van den Berg.

Note 1: During an interview with the Belgian “top” newspaper De Standaard (www.standaard.be), Jozef Van den Berg told an interesting story. A man wanted to have a date with a woman he hadn’t met or seen yet. The woman agreed on condition that the man would buy her flowers every week. This seemed strange, demanding and even somewhat arrogant to the man, but eventually he agreed. However, when they met, the man was so overwhelmed by her beauty, intelligence and character that he told her he would buy her flowers every day. To Jozef Van den Berg, the same is true for God.

Note 2: Jozef’s daughter Lotte Van den Berg, for the past couple of years a famous director and playwright herself, wrote her first major theater play “Winterverblijf” (Winter Home/Residence) about her struggle with her fathers conversion. The show played in all the great theaters in the Netherlands and Belgium.

This is how it was introduced: “She found her inspiration on a journey through Siberia and Mongolia, where it is too cold to heat the church during the winter, and the celebration of Liturgy forcibly has to be moved to the kitchen or the barn. According to Van den Berg herself: ‘The show will treat people who hope to believe. It is about people who shape their non-understanding, say a prayer or sing a song. Maybe every act is a prayer and an attempt to attach yourself to the world around you.'”

Source:


ATHEISM - ANSWERS

ORTHODOXY

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Bringing the Orthodox Faith 
to the African-American Community

From the OCA Diocese 
of New York and New Jersey

“We would love to reach out to African-Americans in our community, but we don’t know how.”

“I don’t know where to begin.”

“I’m afraid we’ll be seen as too white and too exotic.”

“How do we merge the Black church and culture with [fill in Orthodox ethnic group of choice]?”

Sound familiar? Orthodox parishes across the country struggle with outreach to various ethnic groups — wishing to expand the parish’s evangelistic efforts in bringing Holy Orthodoxy to Blacks, Latinos, and Asians — but lacking the knowledge, insights, and tools to do so. With the biggest of hearts and greatest of desires, this area of evangelism … bringing and sharing Orthodoxy with ethnic minority groups … can nevertheless seem daunting enough to persuade many to never even begin the effort.

To address these concerns and provide information, ideas, and tools to train and equip clergy and laity to begin effective outreach to African-Americans, the Diocese’s Commission on Mission and Evangelism sponsored a one-day training workshop called “Bringing the Orthodox Faith to the African-American Community.” Thanks to the gracious hosting of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Manville NJ on Saturday, 16 July 2016, the workshop brought together over 40 people from across two deaneries as well as outside of the diocese to hear and learn from two outstanding speakers on African-American outreach: Father Alexii Altschul (a founder of the Brotherhood of Saint Moses the Black), and Father Deacon Turbo Qualls (the Brotherhood’s Chapter Development coordinator).

Father Deacon Turbo spoke first in the morning, following a Molieben (prayer service) for the “Beginning of Any Good Work.” He addressed a powerful theme: Orthodoxy is not “the White Man’s Religion” and was never imposed on Africans brought to America via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (and, further, that Orthodoxy, unlike virtually all of Western Europe and Western Christianity, was never involved in the evil of such human trafficking). Rather, Orthodoxy is an historic African faith that has had roots in Africa since the time of the Apostles: the Acts of the Apostles notes the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Saint Thomas; and Church Fathers, many of whom lived and were from northern African nations like Libya, Egypt, and Carthage.

Father Alexii spoke in the afternoon about his experiences as a white man married to a black woman, raising a blended family, who ultimately found and embraced the ancient Orthodox Christian Faith. He began “Reconciliation Ministries” (now known as Reconciliation Services, it continues to serve the poor and marginalized of the Troost Avenue neighborhood of Kansas City). He, his late wife, and community started Saint Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church, now a parish of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America.

After deliberating further opportunities for mutual discussion and networking, the workshop ended with another Molieben “For the Cessation of Strife” as found in the Great Book of Needs, Volume IV.

Plans are underway for more conferences in this outreach series beginning later this year.

Source:


USA OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX USA

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Which Came First:
New Testament or the Church?

by Fr. James Bernstein, WA, USA

A convert to Christianity from Judaism, Fr. James was a teenage chess champion whose dramatic conversion experience at the age of 16 led him to Christianity, and is also one of the founders of Jews For Jesus. His journey led him directly to the Orthodox Christian faith, and his journey is recounted in his book “Surprised By Christ,” the story of a man searching for the truth and unable to rest until he finds it. He is the priest at St. Paul Church in Brier, WA.

* * *

As a Jewish convert to Christ via evangelical Protestantism, I naturally wanted to know God better through the reading of the Scriptures. In fact, it had been through reading the Gospels in the “forbidden book” called the New Testament, at age sixteen, that I had come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our promised Messiah. In my early years as a Christian, much of my religious education came from private Bible reading.

By the time I entered college, I had a pocket-sized version of the whole Bible that was my constant companion. I would commit favorite passages from the Scriptures to memory, and often quote them to myself in times of temptation-or to others as I sought to convince them of Christ. The Bible became for me-as it is to this day-the most important book in print. I can say from my heart with Saint Paul the Apostle,

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

That’s the good news!

The bad news is that often I would decide for myself what the Scriptures meant. For example, I became so enthusiastic about knowing Jesus as my close and personal friend that I thought my own awareness of Him was all I needed. So I would mark verses about Jesus with my yellow highlighter, but pass over passages concerning God the Father, or the Church, or baptism. I saw the Bible as a heavenly instruction manual. I didn’t think I needed the Church, except as a good place to make friends or to leans more about the Bible so I could be a better do-it-yourself Christian. I came to think that I could build my life, and the Church, by the Book. I mean, I took sola scriptura (“only the Bible”) seriously! Salvation history was clear to me: God sent His Son, together they sent the Holy Spirit, then came the New Testament to explain salvation, and finally the Church developed.

Close, maybe, but not close enough.

Let me hasten to say that the Bible is all God intends it to be. No problem with the Bible. The problem lay in the way I individualized it, subjecting it to my own personal interpretations-some not so bad, others not so good.

A STRUGGLE FOR UNDERSTANDING

It was not long after my conversion to Christianity that I found myself getting swept up in the tide of religious sectarianism, in which Christians would part ways over one issue after another. It seemed, for instance, that there were as many opinions on the Second Coming as there were people in the discussion. So we’d all appeal to the Scriptures.

“I believe in the Bible. If it’s not in the Bible I don’t believe it,”

became my war cry.

What I did not realize was that everyone else was saying the same thing! It was not the Bible, but each one’s private interpretation of it, that became our ultimate authority. In an age which highly exalts independence of thought and self-reliance, I was becoming my own pope! The guidelines I used in interpreting Scripture seemed simple enough: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. I believed that those who were truly faithful and honest in following this principle would achieve Christian unity.

To my surprise, this “common sense” approach led not to increased Christian clarity and unity, but rather to a spiritual free-for-all!

Those who most strongly adhered to believing “only the Bible” tended to become the, most factious, divisive, and combative of Christians-perhaps unintentionally. In fact, it seemed to me that the more one held to the Bible as the only source of spiritual authority, the more factious and sectarian one became. We would even argue heatedly over verses on love! Within my circle of Bible-believing friends, I witnessed a mini-explosion of sects and schismatic movements, each claiming to be “true to the Bible” and each in bitter conflict with the others. Serious conflict arose over every issue imaginable: charismatic gifts, interpretation of prophecy, the proper way to worship, communion, Church government, discipleship, discipline in the Church, morality, accountability, evangelism, social action, the relationship of faith and works, the role of women, and ecumenism. The list is endless. In fact any issue at all could-and often did-cause Christians to part ways.

The fruit of this sectarian spirit has been the creation of literally thousands of independent churches and denominations. As I myself became increasingly sectarian, my radicalism intensified, and I came to believe that all churches were unbiblical: to become a member of any church was to compromise the Faith. For me, “church” meant “the Bible, God, and me.” This hostility towards the churches fit in well with my Jewish background.

I naturally distrusted all churches because I felt they had betrayed the teachings of Christ by having participated in or passively ignored the persecution of the Jews throughout history. But the more sectarian I became-to the point of being obnoxious and antisocial-the more I began to realize that something was seriously wrong with my approach to Christianity. My spiritual life wasn’t working. Clearly, my privately held beliefs in the Bible and what it taught were leading me away from love and community with my fellow Christians, and therefore away from Christ. As Saint John the Evangelist wrote,

“He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).

This division and hostility were not what had drawn me to Christ. And I knew the answer was not to deny the Faith or reject the Scriptures. Something had to change. Maybe it was me. I turned to a study of the history of the Church and the New Testament, hoping to shed some light on what my attitude toward the Church and the Bible should be. The results were not at all what I expected.

THE BIBLE OF THE APOSTLES

My initial attitude was that whatever was good enough for the Apostles would be good enough for me. This is where I got my first surprise. As I mentioned previously, I knew that the Apostle Paul regarded Scripture as being inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). But I had always assumed that the “Scripture” spoken of in this passage was the whole Bible-both the Old and New Testaments. In reality, there was no “New Testament” when this statement was made. Even the Old Testament was still in the process of formulation, for the Jews did not decide upon a definitive list or canon of Old Testament books until after the rise of Christianity. As I studied further, I discovered that the early Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.

This translation, which was begun in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century B.C., contained an expanded canon which included a number of the so-called “deuterocanonical” (or “apocryphal”) books. Although there was some initial debate over these books, they were eventually received by Christians into the Old Testament canon. In reaction to the rise of Christianity, the Jews narrowed their canons and eventually excluded the deuterocanonical books-although they still regarded them as sacred. The modern Jewish canon was not rigidly fixed until the third century A.D.

Interestingly, it is this later version of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, rather than the canon of early Christianity, that is followed by most modern Protestants today. When the Apostles lived and wrote, there was no New Testament and no finalized Old Testament.

The concept of “Scripture” was much less well-defined than I had envisioned.

EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITINGS

The second big surprise came when I realized that the first complete listing of New Testament books as we have them today did not appear until over 300 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. (The first complete listing was given by St. Athanasius in his Paschal Letter in A.D. 367.) Imagine it! If the writing of the New Testament had been begun at the same time as the U.S. Constitution, we wouldn’t see a final product until the year 2076! The four Gospels were written from thirty to sixty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the interim, the Church relied on oral tradition-the accounts of eyewitnesses-as well as scattered pre-gospel documents (such as those quoted in 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13) and written tradition.

Most churches only had parts of what was to become the New Testament.

As the eyewitnesses of Christ’s life and teachings began to die, the Apostles wrote as they were guided by the Holy Spirit, in order to preserve and solidify the scattered written and oral tradition. Because the Apostles expected Christ to return soon, it seems they did not have in mind that these gospel accounts and apostolic letters would in time be collected into a new Bible. During the first four centuries A.D. there was substantial disagreement over which books should be included in the canon of Scripture. The first person on record who tried to establish a New Testament canon was the second-century heretic, Marcion. He wanted the Church to reject its Jewish heritage, and therefore he dispensed with the Old Testament entirely. Marcion’s canon included only one gospel, which he himself edited, and ten of Paul’s epistles.

Sad but true, the first attempted New Testament was heretical. Many scholars believe that it was partly in reaction to this distorted canon of Marcion that the early Church determined to create a clearly defined canon of its own. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the breakup of the Jewish-Christian community there, and the threatened loss of continuity in the oral tradition probably also contributed to the sense of the urgent need for the Church to standardize the list of books Christians could rely on. During this period of the canon’s evolution, as previously noted, most churches had only a few, if any, of the apostolic writings available to them. The books of the Bible had to be painstakingly copied by hand, at great expense of time and effort. Also, because most people were illiterate, they could only be read by a privileged few. The exposure of most Christians to the Scriptures was confined to what they heard in the churches-the Law and Prophets, the Psalms, and some of the Apostles’ memoirs.

The persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire and the existence of many documents of non-apostolic origin further complicated the matter. This was my third surprise. Somehow I had naively envisioned every home and parish having a complete Old and New Testament from the very inception of the Church! It was difficult for me to imagine a church surviving and prospering without a complete New Testament. Yet unquestionably they did. This may have been my first clue that there was more to the total life of the Church than just the written Word.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO WHOM?

Next, I was surprised to discover that many “gospels” besides those of the New Testament canon were circulating in the first and second centuries. These included the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel according to the Egyptians, and the Gospel according to Peter, to name just a few. The New Testament itself speaks of the existence of such accounts. Saint Luke’s Gospel begins by saying,

“Inasmuch as many [italics added] have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us … it seemed good to me also … to write to you an orderly account” (Luke 1:1, 3).

At the time Luke wrote, Matthew and Mark were the only two canonical Gospels that had been written. In time, all but four Gospels were excluded from the New Testament canon. Yet in the early years of Christianity there was even a controversy over which of these four Gospels to use. Most of the Christians of Asia Minor used the Gospel of John rather than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Based upon the Passion account contained in John, most Christians in Asia Minor celebrated Easter on a different day from those in Rome. Roman Christians resisted the Gospel of John and instead used the other Gospels. The Western Church for a time hesitated to use the Gospel of John because the Gnostic heretics made use of it along with their own “secret gospels.” Another debate arose over the issue of whether there should be separate gospels or one single composite gospel account. In the second century, Tatian, who was Justin Martyr’s student, published a single composite “harmonized” gospel called the Diatessaron. The Syrian Church used this composite gospel in the second, third, and fourth centuries; they did not accept all four Gospels until the fifth century. They also ignored for a time the Epistles of John, 2 Peter, and the Book of Revelation. To further complicate matters, the Church of Egypt, as reflected in the second-century New Testament canon of Clement of Alexandria, included the “gospels” of the Hebrews, the Egyptians, and Mattathias. In addition they held to be of apostolic origin the First Epistle of Clement (Bishop of Rome), the Epistle of Barnabas, the Preaching of Peter, the Revelation of Peter, the Didache, the Protevangelium of James, the Acts of John, the Acts of Paul, and The Shepherd of Hermas (which they held to be especially inspired). Irenaeus (second century), martyred Bishop of Lyons in Gaul, included the Revelation of Peter in his canon.

OTHER CONTROVERSIAL BOOKS

My favorite New Testament book, the Epistle to the Hebrews, was clearly excluded in the Western Church in a number of listings from the second, third, and fourth centuries. Primarily due to the influence of Augustine upon certain North African councils, the Epistle to the Hebrews was finally accepted in the West by the end of the fourth century. On the other hand, the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, written by the Apostle John, was not accepted in the Eastern Church for several centuries. Among Eastern authorities who rejected this book were Dionysius of Alexandria (third century), Eusebius (third century), Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century), the Council of Laodicea (fourth century), John Chrysostom (fourth century), Theodore of Mopsuesta (fourth century), and Theodoret (fifth century). In addition, the original Syriac and Armenian versions of the New Testament omitted this book.

Many Greek New Testament manuscripts written before the ninth century do not contain the Apocalypse, and it is not used liturgically in the Eastern Church to this day. Athanasius supported the inclusion of the Apocalypse, and it is due primarily to his influence that it was eventually received into the New Testament canon in the East. The early Church actually seems to have made an internal compromise on the Apocalypse and Hebrews. The East would have excluded the Apocalypse from the canon, while the West would have done without Hebrews.

Simply put, each side agreed to accept the disputed book of the other. Interestingly, the sixteenth-century father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, held that the New Testament books should be “graded” and that some were more inspired than others (that there is a canon within the canon). Luther gave secondary rank to Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, placing them at the end of his translation of the New Testament. Imagine-the man who gave us sola scriptura assumed the authority to edit the written Word of God!

THE NEW TESTAMENT MATURES

I was particularly interested in finding the oldest legitimate list of New Testament books. Some believe that the Muratorian Canon is the oldest, dating from the late second century. This canon excludes Hebrews, James, and the two Epistles of Peter, but includes the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon. It is not until A.D. 200-about 170 years after the death and resurrection of Christ-that we first see the term “New Testament” used, by Tertullian. Origen, who lived in the third century, is often considered to be the first systematic theologian (though he was often systematically wrong).

He questioned the authenticity of 2 Peter and 2 John. He also tells us, based on his extensive travels, that there were churches which refused to use 2 Timothy because the epistle speaks of a “secret” writing-the Book of Jannes and Jambres, derived from Jewish oral tradition (see 2 Timothy 3:8). The Book of Jude was also considered suspect by some because it includes a quotation from the apocryphal book, The Assumption of Moses, also derived from Jewish oral tradition (see Jude 9).

Moving into the fourth century, I discovered that Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and the “Father of Church History,” lists as disputed books James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John. The Revelation of John he totally rejects. Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete New Testament manuscript we have today, was discovered in the Orthodox Christian monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. It is dated as being from the fourth century and it contains all of the books we have in the modern New Testament, but also includes Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas.

During the fourth century, Emperor Constantine was frustrated by the controversy between Christians and Arians concerning the divinity of Christ. Because the New Testament had not yet been clearly defined, he pressed for a clearer defining and closing of the New Testament canon, in order to help resolve the conflict and bring religious unity to his divided Empire. However, as late as the fifth century the Codex Alexandrinus included 1 and 2 Clement, indicating that the disputes over the canon were still not everywhere firmly resolved.

WHO DECIDED?

With the passage of time the Church discerned which writings were truly apostolic and which were not. It was a prolonged struggle, taking place over several centuries. As part of the process of discernment, the Church met together several times in council. These various Church councils confronted a variety of issues, among which was the canon of Scripture. It is important to note that the purpose of these councils was to discern and confirm what was already generally accepted within the Church at large. The councils did not legislate the canon so much as set forth what had become self-evident truth and practice within the churches of God.

The councils sought to proclaim the common mind of the Church and to reflect the unanimity of faith, practice, and tradition as it already existed in the local churches represented. The councils provide us with specific records in which the Church spoke clearly and in unison as to what constitutes Scripture. Among the many councils that met during the first four centuries, two are particularly important in this context:

(1) The Council of Laodicea met in Asia Minor about A.D. 363. This is the first council which clearly listed the canonical books of the present Old and New Testaments, with the exception of the Apocalypse of Saint John. The Laodicean council stated that only the canonical books it listed should be read in church. Its decisions were widely accepted in the Eastern Church.

(2) The third Council of Carthage met in North Africa about A.D. 397. This council, attended by Augustine, provided a full list of the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments. The twenty-seven books of the present-day New Testament were accepted as canonical. The council also held that these books should be read in the church as Divine Scripture to the exclusion of all others.

This Council was widely accepted as authoritative in the West.

THE BUBBLE BURSTS

As I delved deeper into my study of the history of the New Testament, I saw my previous misconceptions being demolished one by one. I understood now what should have been obvious all along: that the New Testament consisted of twenty-seven separate documents which, while certainly inspired by God nothing could shake me in that conviction-had been written and compiled by human beings. It was also clear that this work had not been accomplished by individuals working in isolation, but by the collective effort of all Christians everywhere-the Body of Christ, the Church. This realization forced me to deal with two more issues that my earlier prejudices had led me to avoid:

(1) the propriety and necessity of human involvement in the writing of Scripture; and

(2) the authority of the Church.

HUMAN AND DIVINE

Deeply committed, like many evangelicals, to belief in the inspiration of Scripture, I had understood the New Testament to be God’s Word only, and not man’s. I supposed the Apostles were told by God exactly what to write, much as a secretary takes down what is being dictated, without providing any personal contribution. Ultimately, my understanding of the inspiration of Scripture was clarified by the teaching of the Church regarding the Person of Christ. The Incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is not only God but also man.

Christ is a single Person with two natures-divine and human. To de-emphasize Christ’s humanity leads to heresy. The ancient Church taught that the Incarnate Word was fully human-in fact, as human as it is possible to be-and yet without sin. In His humanity, the Incarnate Word was born, grew, and matured into manhood. I came to realize that this view of the Incarnate Word of God, the Logos, Jesus Christ, paralleled the early Christian view of the written Word of God, the Bible. The written Word of God reflects not only the divine thought, but a human contribution as well.

The Word of God conveys truth to us as written by men, conveying the thoughts, personalities, and even limitations and weaknesses of the writers-inspired by God, to be sure. This means that the human element in the Bible is not overwhelmed so as to be lost in the ocean of the divine. It became clearer to me that as Christ Himself was born, grew, and matured, so also did the written Word of God, the Bible. It did not come down whole-plop-from heaven, but was of human origin as well as divine. The Apostles did not merely inscribe the Scriptures as would a robot or a zombie, but freely cooperated with the will of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

A QUESTION OF AUTHORITY

The second issue I had to grapple with was even more difficult for me-the issue of Church authority. It was clear from my study that the Church had, in fact, determined which books composed the Scriptures; but still I wrestled mightily with the thought that the Church had been given this authority. Ultimately, it came down to a single issue. I already believed with all my heart that God spoke authoritatively through His written Word.

The written Word of God is concrete and tangible. I can touch the Bible and read it. But for some strange reason, I was reluctant to believe the same things about the Body of Christ, the Church-that she was visible and tangible, located physically on earth in history. The Church to me was essentially “mystical” and intangible, not identifiable with any specific earthly assembly. This view permitted me to see each Christian as being a church unto himself. How convenient this is, especially when doctrinal or personal problems arise!

Yet this view did not agree with the reality of what the Church was understood to be in the apostolic era. The New Testament is about real churches, not ethereal ones. Could I now accept the fact that God spoke authoritatively, not only through the Bible, but through His Church as well-the very Church which had produced, protected, and actively preserved the Scriptures I held so dear?

THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

In the view of the earliest Christians, God spoke His Word not only to but through His Body, the Church. It was within His Body, the Church, that the Word was confirmed and established. Without question, the Scriptures were looked upon by early Christians as God’s active revelation of Himself to the world. At the same time, the Church was understood as the household of God,

“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20, 21).

God has His Word, but He also has His Body. The New Testament says:

(1) “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27; compare Romans 12:5).

(2)”He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18).

(3) ” And He [the Father] put all things under His [the Son’s] feet, and gave Him to be head overall things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22, 23).

In early times there was no organic separation between Bible and Church, as we so often find today. The Body without the Word is without message, but the Word without the Body is without foundation. As Paul writes, the Body is

“the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

The Church is the Living Body of the Incarnate Lord. The Apostle does not say that the New Testament is the pillar and ground of the truth. The Church is

the pillar and foundation of the truth

because the New Testament was built upon her life in God. In short, she wrote it! She is an integral part of the gospel message, and it is within the Church that the New Testament was written and preserved.

THE WORD OF GOD IN ORAL TRADITION

The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). This verse was one that I had not highlighted because it used two phrases I didn’t like: “hold the traditions” and “by word [of mouth].” These two phrases conflicted with my understanding of biblical authority. But then I began to understand: the same God who speaks to us through His written Word, the Bible, spoke also through the Apostles of Christ as they taught and preached in person. The Scriptures themselves teach in this passage (and others) that this oral tradition is what we are to keep! Written and oral tradition are not in conflict, but are parts of one whole. This explains why the Fathers teach that he who does not have the Church as his Mother does not have God as his Father. In coming to this realization, I concluded that I had grossly overreacted in rejecting oral Holy Tradition. In my hostility toward Jewish oral tradition, which rejected Christ, I had rejected Christian oral Holy Tradition, which expresses the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. And I had rejected the idea that this Tradition enables us properly and fully to understand the Bible. Let me illustrate this point with an experience I had recently. I decided to build a shed behind my house. In preparation, I studied a book on carpentry that has “everything” in it. It’s full of pictures and diagrams, enough so that “even a kid could follow its instructions.” It explains itself, I was told. But, simple as it claimed to be, the more I read it, the more questions I had and the more confused I became. Disgusted at not being able to understand something that seemed so simple, I came to the conclusion that the book needed interpretation. Without help, I just couldn’t put it into practice. What I needed was someone with expertise who could explain the manual to me. Fortunately, I had a friend who was able to show me how the project should be completed. He knows because of oral tradition. An experienced carpenter taught him, and he in turn taught me. Written and oral tradition together got the job done.

WHICH CAME FIRST?

What confronted me at this point was the bottom line question: Which came first, the Church or the New Testament? I knew that the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, had called the Apostles, who in turn formed the nucleus of the Christian Church. I knew that the Eternal Word of God therefore preceded the Church and gave birth to the Church. When the Church heard the Incarnate Word of God and committed His Word to writing, she thereby participated with God in giving birth to the written Word, the New Testament. Thus it was the Church which gave birth to and preceded the New Testament. To the question, “Which came first, the Church or the New Testament?” the answer, both biblically and historically, is crystal clear.

Someone might protest,

“Does it really make any difference which came first? After all, the Bible contains everything that we need for salvation.”

The Bible is adequate for salvation in the sense that it contains the foundational material needed to establish us on the correct path. On the other hand, it is wrong to consider the Bible as being self-sufficient and self-interpreting. The Bible is meant to be read and understood by the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit within the life of the Church. Did not the Lord Himself tell His disciples, just prior to His crucifixion,

“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13)?

He also said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Our Lord did not leave us with only a book to guide us. He left us with His Church. The Holy Spirit within the Church teaches us, and His teaching complements Scripture. How foolish to believe that God’s full illumination ceased after the New Testament books were written and did not resume until the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, or-to take this argument to its logical conclusion-until the very moment when 1, myself, started reading the Bible. Either the Holy Spirit was in the Church throughout the centuries following the New Testament period, leading, teaching, and illuminating her in her understanding of the gospel message, or the Church has been left a spiritual orphan, with individual Christians independently interpreting-and often “authoritatively” teaching the same Scripture in radically different ways. Such chaos cannot be the will of God,

“for God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

A TIME TO DECIDE

At this point in my studies, I felt I had to make a decision. If the Church was not just a tangent or a sidelight to the Scripture, but rather an active participant in its development and preservation, then it was time to reconcile my differences with her and abandon my prejudices. Rather than trying to judge the Church according to my modern preconceptions about what the Bible was saying, I needed to humble myself and come into union with the Church that produced the New Testament, and let her guide me into a proper understanding of Holy Scripture.

After carefully exploring various church bodies, I finally realized that, contrary to the beliefs of many modern Christians, the Church which produced the Bible is not dead. The Orthodox Church today has direct and clear historical continuity with the Church of the Apostles, and it preserves intact both the Scriptures and the Holy Tradition which enables us to interpret them properly. Once I understood this, I converted to Orthodoxy and began to experience the fullness of Christianity in a way I never had before.

Though he may have coined the slogan, the fact is that Luther himself did not practice sola scriptura. If he had, he’d have tossed out the Creeds and spent less time writing commentaries. The phrase came about as a result of the reformers’ struggles against the added human traditions of Romanism. Understandably, they wanted to be sure their faith was accurate according to New Testament standards. But to isolate the Scriptures from the Church, to deny 1500 years of history, is something the slogan sola scriptura and the Protestant Reformers-Luther, Calvin, and later Wesley-never intended to do.

To those who try to stand dogmatically on sola scriptura, in the process rejecting the Church which not only produced the New Testament, but also, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, identified those books which compose the New Testament, I would say this: Study the history of the early Church and the development of the New Testament canon. Use source documents where possible. (It is amazing how some of the most “conservative” Bible scholars of the evangelical community turn into cynical and rationalistic liberals when discussing early Church history!)

Examine for yourself what happened to God’s people after the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Acts. You will find a list of helpful sources at the end of this booklet. If you examine the data and look with objectivity at what occurred in those early days, I think you will discover what I discovered. The life and work of God’s Church did not grind to a halt after the first century and start up again in the sixteenth. If it had, we would not possess the New Testament books which are so dear to every Christian believer.

The separation of Church and Bible which is so prevalent in much of today’s Christian world is a modern phenomenon. Early Christians made no such artificial distinctions. Once you have examined the data, I would encourage you to find out more about the historic Church which produced the New Testament, preserved it, and selected those books which would be part of its canon. Every Christian owes it to himself or herself to discover the Orthodox Christian Church and to understand its vital role in proclaiming God’s Word to our own generation.

SUGGESTED READING

Bruce, F.F., The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990.

Farmer, William R. & Farkasfalvy, Denis, The Formation of the New Testament Canon: An Ecumenical Approach, New York: Paulist Press, 1983.

Gamble, Harry Y., The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

Kesich, Veselin, The Gospel Image of Christ, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992.

Metzger, Bruce Manning, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Meyendorff, John, Living Tradition, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978. Histories of Christianity generally give some information on the formation of the Canon, although they are not likely to discuss its relevance to the authority and interpretation of Scripture

Source:


WASHINGTON OF MY HEART

ORTHODOX WASHINGTON

<>

On how former Krishnaite Ananda Rupa became Olga again

Peter Davydov, Olga Gagushicheva

One day the following notice appeared on the door of the Krishnaite Ananda Rupa’s astrology office: “The office is closed because of my return to Orthodoxy. I sincerely wish you the same. May Christ save you. Olga.” This talk is about how Olga Gagushicheva, who had been baptized yet was absolutely unenlightened, became a Krishna worshipper and practicing astrologer, why she returned to her paternal home and Christ, and what came of it.

* * *

The days are evil (Eph. 5:15), or an unorthodox “Orthodox life”

—Olga, Did you know anything about Christ before completely falling into the grip of astrology and other spiritual delusions?

—When I was one year old, my parents wanted to have me baptized. According to my mother, on the appointed day the weather was sunny and dry, so the family decided to go and gather berries instead of going to church. During that berry-picking hike I fell seriously ill and the illness lasted three years. I learned this from my mother when I was sixteen. I naturally drew a conclusion that I must go and receive Baptism. You see, I was empty-headed. Many of my relatives joined me. And that was the end of my “Christian living”. Though I also got the “knowledge” of the Church and God in the Soviet school. It was a real mishmash. Of course, I was a Komsomol member. We were warned that in no case should we, Komsomol members, attend any church services on Pascha. But we were curious to see what would happen during the church service, all the more so because we were told: “It is not allowed!” So we forced our way through all the police cordons and Komsomol activists who were wearing their bands. On the following day we were summoned to our director of studies who gave us a good dressing-down and promised to expel all of us from school. Of course, he didn’t keep his promise. I don’t remember how my Baptism took place as it was not a result of my conscious decision. I did it “for no particular reason”. Later, when I got married, it was fashionable to marry in Church, so we did it as well… Our wedding ceremony was arranged for us in a village church near the city of Cherepovets which was opened especially for us. And afterwards we baptized our children. That was all. You see, it was our unorthodox “Orthodox life”.

A big thank you to the press

—How did you develop an interest in astrology? How was it manifested? When did it happen?

—During my school years. I think it was 1985 or 1986.

—The time when the “gates to the West” opened wide…

—Or yawned open, to be more precise.

—And when all those individuals appeared on TV.

—Yes! Now general secretaries were replaced with sorcerers, psychics and other “enlightened” individuals who were goggling their eyes and moving their hands on TV. And not only TV. The most popular magazines, such as Rabotnitsa and Krestianka, began to run horoscopes, not to mention newspapers.

—These low-grade magazines deem it necessary to powder our brains by their “forecasts” in our days just as they did it back then.

—That is why I read neither national nor local newspapers.

—So you first encountered this phenomenon as a high school student and, in your view, the mass media contributed to the enormous popularity of horoscopes, psychic practice, and other diabolic things, right?

—Exactly! A big thank you to the press. Then the captivating, enigmatic Book of Changes appeared, teaching fortune-telling, star predictions, numerology, etc. It was just enthralling! It seemed that that “secret knowledge” would enable you to unveil the mystery of your own and somebody else’s lives.

—Didn’t you feel that it was like peeping through the peephole?

—I felt as if I were touching something great. It was a matter of taking a wrong path: the fact is that everybody is thirsty for God, yet it is extremely difficult to move in the right direction. It is much easier to “perform an act” (without any effort and patience)—and many secrets will automatically be revealed to you. But we didn’t care! Firstly, we were ignorant of genuine spiritual life. Secondly, “Why should we go to benighted old women and priests in order to find God?” Soviet Komsomol members thought. Thirdly, we naively believed that since we already had spiritual books and horoscopes, they wouldn’t tell lies. Fourthly, we were sure that it was only “for fun”, that we would play with this a little and give it up without any consequences.

—Do I understand correctly that “going with the stream”, you resorted to the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony, while being engrossed in astrology?

—Yes, you are quite right. Though the most important thing was our work and daily routine. We lived well and were not in need. And, you know, one day I began to understand that we came to this world not only for these “daily chores”. I wanted more. Wanted to know who am I? What am I? What is the purpose of my life? Is it limited to having children and building a home? It was in the early 2000s. It was then that my real search began. I remember dropping in at a church during the service to have my cross blessed. And I was not impressed and didn’t notice anything inside or around me; besides, the service was hard to understand. And what was I offered at that time “from outside”? Astrology, “mysteries about you will be revealed”, “you will discover your true mission”, “you will know who you are and what you are”. I naturally wanted all of that! Thus I became utterly absorbed in this. Astrology was followed by Osho [the Indian guru Rajneesh], Blavatsky, the Rerikhs… Alas, I would read and practice all of this…

“A nice bit of catechism”

—Did you come to that life yourself or did you follow some “well-wisher’s” advice?

—Hold on tight! It was a cathedral chorister that advised me to get into astrology. Her husband then worked with us. We used to share our female problems with each other. She said to me: “Go there! They will tell you everything!” Even now there are some church-goers who have been muddled by this nonsense. And I got carried away! “Energies”, “kundalini rising” – it was like walking in the air. I awfully wanted to get into it.

You see, it was an “initiation into the mystery” which allowed me “to see”, “to learn”. I learned “how to see human auras”. During school meetings I could see that some people had “horns” and so on… It may not be true that I saw this myself, now I realize that. But then I believed that I saw it myself. “Oh, how wonderful! Now I can see energies in the air!”

—Wasn’t it autosuggestion?

—I didn’t believe it was autosuggestion. Even today I still see some energy in the air willy-nilly. I seem to have retained this ability. After immersing myself in astrology, I discovered Krishnaism and other cults.

—Yes, you went too far!

—I made the acquaintance of Krishna worshippers and was initiated by them. I sincerely believed that I was serving God. My teachers were Torsunov, Gadetsky, and Rami Blekt.

—Who are they?

—All of them are leaders of destructive sects. And I sincerely believed that all people around were living wrong and must be given Vedic knowledge. I became a vegetarian. If you look at the surface only, it is “scent-smelling”: all these “kind smiles”, “love”, and “care”. “Read Hare Krishna and you will be happy, and all of your problems will be solved!” And you think: “That’s true. We have a lot of trouble. The kids disobey us, we have problems with business and some have health issues. All want to be happy and so they come running and read Hare Krishna.”

—You’ve said you sincerely believed that you were serving the Lord.

—Yes, I did.

—But Krishna worshippers don’t believe in the Lord, do they?

—Krishnaites and adherents of similar cults taught that Krishna (or some other deity) was the only true god, whereas Christ was demigod. This idea is still being actively disseminated in India. You see, when I came to church, I was one hundred percent sure of this. I believed in reincarnation. It was a shock. I had known nothing about Christ or the Gospel before then. Before my initiation into Krishnaism I had visited Jerusalem. I didn’t feel anything special there; as I walked along the holy city I sensed that it was a pure, light-radiating place, that Christ indeed was a great preacher, a strong “mystic” and “yogi”. Only now do I understand that by those signs the Lord was trying to warn me: “Think! Be cautious!” We visited Jerusalem in August, and in September I was initiated.

—And I am still trying to come to my senses, slowly repeating your words: It was an Orthodox chorister that advised you to turn to an astrologer, right?

—That’s true.

—In response to your spiritual search?

—Just wait! You will hear more. We still communicate much and are on very friendly terms. We often recall how we “gorged ourselves on piles of this muck”. It sounds rude, but, believe me, it is the truth. It was a real nightmare, and it is a miracle that God saved us from that.

Faced with a choice

—And how did He save you from the nightmare?

—Just imagine: I was a leading Krishnaite, a practicing astrologer, president of a women’s club and a yoga teacher. In 2011 my mother-in-law died in Cherepovets. So we went there to organize a funeral service at church. I knew that she was baptized; therefore, we were to observe this tradition. In the morning we dressed ourselves appropriately and went to church for the funeral service. I entered the church where I had once been baptized and everything began to turn upside down inside me. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me: it seemed as if I were in heaven and on earth at the same time and was unable to leave the church! Everybody was saying: “Let us go outside! It’s time to drive back!” I heard nothing, weeping and shivering all over, and everything inside me was clearly and kindly calling on me to return to Christ Whom I had betrayed… And now I returned home. While walking around the church, I wanted to touch all the items… I was walking and crying.

—Thus, your Baptism was not in vain. It had its effect.

—Indeed it had. So we buried my mother-in-law and came back home. It was during the winter holidays. And then I went to my first confession. To be more exact, I didn’t fully understand what a confession was like. I just knew I must go there. So I woke up in the morning, had my breakfast, took a shower, came to church, confessed my sins and received Communion for the first time in my life. And before then I had read my mantras…

—I won’t comment on food and drink before Communion. But why on earth did you read mantras?!

—I was absolutely ignorant in this field at that time. But after confession strange things began to happen, although I don’t know how to describe this properly. I could no longer recite the mantras or hold those awful prayer beads in my hands… Some force began to “cut me on the raw” and cut off all these things…

—It means you were faced with a choice: you are either with Christ or against Christ.

—Yes, and this time I was more conscious of that. I had close relations with Krishnaites who with one voice asserted that Krishnaism and Christianity offered the same faith in one God, albeit at different levels. In fact it was faith in ignorance. With karma and incarnations in my mind, I was terribly confused and had no idea what I should do next, what existed and what didn’t exist in reality, and what I should do with my life. At once I noticed that the Orthodox don’t accept astrology and astrologers, so I was afraid even to breathe a word of it.

Vologda Sanskrit against Vologda’s kindness

—You remained a practicing astrologer, didn’t you?

—Of course. I did a great deal of thinking over those days. I think I turned on the waterworks through the holidays. I went to church and repented of the sins that I was aware of and remembered committing from my childhood and youth. I took Communion three times. Since my astrology office and St. Nicholas Church were situated in the same street, I would look in at this church. I wanted to talk with somebody, but there was nobody to speak to and I didn’t know how to address people properly. Besides, when you study several faiths and cultures simultaneously, it is very complicated. I came to church and began to speak in a mixture of Russian and Sanskrit. But then it came home to me that I should “watch the language”.

—And it was the Vologda Krishnaites’ variation of Sanskrit. A Krishnaite retaining the unstressed “o” very prominent in speech [instead of pronouncing it as “a”; it is characteristic of Russian dialects] is so lovely!

—You are right. A woman on duty was speaking with me at church, but I could hear only letters and couldn’t join them to form words. Then I heard very clearly: “Would you like to go to confession and take Communion?” I answered: “I have already done it.” And she asked: “Did you prepare for these sacraments?” “No, I haven’t. How should I prepare myself?” And it turned out that I must fast and read special prayers before confession and Communion. But why fast if I am a vegetarian?

—She was kind to you, wasn’t she?

—Yes, may God save her for this. I bought my first Orthodox prayer book right away and wrote down the numbers of the pages I ought to read on certain days… I came home, opened my prayer-book… and indescribable things began to occur: on the one hand, there were mantras in Sanskrit; and, on the other hand, there were unfamiliar yet native speech sounds with which we have prayed to God for 1,000 years. As I started reciting mantras, I felt aversion; as I started reading Orthodox prayers, almost all became clear and the light was being poured into my soul.

—Did you have difficulties with Church Slavonic?

—It was almost perfectly clear. And I think that then it was even clearer than now, when I read from memory, less attentively and with less love. At that time I would read carefully each word, which would begin to sound in my very heart. I recall with dread how at one time I changed my name “Olga” to “Ananda Rupa”, which approximately means “wharf of everlasting peace”. This name was written in my passport. I came to the passport office and asked the staff to give me my normal Russian name back. Those ladies who were accustomed to all sorts of names and tried to look serious, were shaking their shoulders and sniffling with laughter. So we laughed together a little. And they issued a new passport to me.

“Run back, girl! There is no life without God!”

—What can you compare your return to God with?

—No need to look far afield. Take the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In my case it was the prodigal daughter. Once I read the Orthodox prayers with my heart, it marked the end of my wanderings “to a faraway land”. Thenceforth all the mantras were forgotten. Only Christ, only the paternal home remained. You feel genuine love and warmth there.

—What sort of impression did you get of contacts with the powers that “inspire” astrologers and their like-minded colleagues?

— When I was giving advice to people, I didn’t necessarily tell them exactly what I saw in a horoscope. Thoughts and ideas occurred to me themselves, and afterwards people confirmed those things. Subsequently, looking back, I came to understand that it was not angels or the Almighty that had been “whispering” these things to me. These most probably were absolutely different powers that wanted me to believe firmly that I was a figure of importance. A person involved in such practices feels superior to others and is full of pride. Though I tried to be humble, it was not humility. Now I understand that.

—Did many people come to you?

—Yes, indeed. Even people from the Church and choir directors would come. I would laugh and say: “Girls, what under the sun are you doing here? You must have no problems!” But they kept coming. And in effect I helped one woman return to the Church. She sings in the choir and everything is all right with her.

—Was it the same lady who had once advised you to take up astrology?

—Yes, it was she.

—And she came to you?

—Yes, to consult with me as an astrologer.

—And you helped her return to the Church?

—Yes, I did. I said to her: “Run back! There is no life without God!”

—Right during the appointment?

—Oh yes. You see, unlike many sectarians, I didn’t try to “recruit” as many new members as possible. I just thought: “Well, let them go to church and worship God at this level.” I sincerely believed that I was serving God and showing people the right path. I had a desire to serve Him; I think that is why He has led me here [to the Orthodox Church], seeing the desire of my heart. I read about the conversion of Saul, the future Apostle Paul, of Prince Vladimir, and I had a similar experience myself.

—And then you “caught it”.

—I had a lot to bear indeed. There were many phone calls, they would come and demand: “Do return! You are betraying the guru!” But why didn’t they say that I was betraying Christ during the initiation?! All the lectures of these preachers “on pure living”, “, “on yoga”, etc. are downright falsehood, and there they do not at all preach about what is said in words. So my astrology was a kind of a protest, though it may sound silly.

—What made you give up these practices?

—First and foremost, I felt I was a traitor. I clearly imagine the third rooster crow at that night in Jerusalem; people are warming themselves by fire, waiting for the end of the conversation in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house. On the one hand, there was this feeling; on the other hand, at last I felt at home in the Church of God. There were karma and incarnation in my mind, yet inwardly I sensed God’s presence here. I ran a women’s club where we discussed Bhagavad-Gita. When I returned to the Church I realized that I couldn’t speak about this any more. And the club members proved to be understanding: “All right! We will join you and go to church with you!” they said. It was a great joy. There was something intrinsically Russian in this: “Let us stop wasting our time! We are with you!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry… But it was the deliverance from sin.

Feng Shui money toads not roses

—Were there any other barriers on your path towards Christ?

—Evil spirits threw obstacles in my way. That is why I wanted to talk with you about this at or near the church. I lost all the material wealth that I had acquired; in my former life I was guided by the principle: if you are spiritually rich, you will be materially rich. And I lost everything. It was very tough on me and I became absolutely penniless. To put it simpler, a day came when I had no money to pay for bus fare to get to the monastery I attended.

—How did you overcome that?

—God never leaves us! One story particularly frightened me. A woman who would recite mantras got such a big sum of money within one year that she bought a property by a faraway warm sea. She became very rich. But this woman had an abortion at eight months, perhaps refusing “to bear beggars”, as the saying goes. That story convinced me that money is not the most important thing in life. I keep in mind the following words by St. Nicholas (Velimirovich): “Never fear! A few have been driven insane by their poverty; there are more who have gone crazy from their riches.” If you have a lot of money, will you ever think about God?

A sense of humor and irony help a great deal as well. Now I find all these horoscopes bizarre and ridiculous. For instance, today many study crystal healing on the internet. Once I believed in that nonsense too, but now it makes me laugh: “Put a sapphire at the head of the bed of an alcoholic, and he will stop drinking”, “A Feng Shui toad will attract the energy of wealth to your home”…

Of course, poverty doesn’t mean that you should sit idle doing nothing. Now we have undertaken the manufacture of organic make-up. True, it is neither petroleum nor diamonds, but we have managed to extricate ourselves from poverty with the help of God. So there’s nothing to grumble about.

Such different successors of the apostles

—That is a material aspect of your difficult journey home. But was there the spiritual aspect?

—I became a church-goer in 2012, but I didn’t give up astrology completely until the end of 2014. One priest said to me: “You make a living by this. So carry on.”

—Well I never!

—I warned you that there would be many “surprises”.

—It is not so much interesting as sad.

—Oh yes! Then I learned to be a catechist. I ended up in the “professional environment” of the Church, and not all of its representatives matched up to the Christian ideals as I (and others) see them… In a nutshell, temptations on my path to God abounded. I thought: “Why do I see all of this?” With the help of God and some true pastors I managed to overcome those nasty things.

—I am not sure that many people, when faced with some of the material and spiritual trials that you encountered, would have remained in the Church and would have been so persistent. How did you overcome the horror of seeing outrageous things in the Church?

—Not only Peter, who was warming himself by fire in the courtyard of the house of Caiaphas, betrayed Christ. There was also Judas. The former became a great apostle, while the latter became the most miserable man. The conviction that all of us can follow the path of Apostle Peter really helps me. Those who follow the path of Judas will be judged by God.

—How did your family react to your conversion to Christ?

—It was very hard. My husband, son and daughter supported astrology and related practices. “How will I say to my husband and others that I cannot endure this any more, that these practices are now alien to me?” I thought. And my husband recited mantras. It was just a disaster. The awareness of my return to the Heavenly Father was so strong that it ultimately prevailed.

My daughter never set foot in church after her confession to one priest. My son who found many alcoholics among the clergy is no longer a church-goer and discourages me from going to church. I don’t see everything through rose-colored glasses any more. I tell my son to go and earn his living, but he is not pleased with this. My husband seldom goes to church (mostly on Pascha) and prefers to pray at home.

People, read classical literature!

—What kind of books do you read?

—I read a lot and listen to various lectures; I found debates between such fathers as Archpriest Oleg Stenyayev and Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev and Krishnaites and other sects, which proved very useful. I have immersed myself in Russian classical literature. I am truly amazed: it gives answers to almost all the questions that have been asked by men since time immemorial! Why in the world did we drag ourselves into astrology and sects? And if we read the Psalter or the Proverbs attentively, we will find that it is a fountain of the purest water! People, we have this wealth under our very noses, but instead we often hunt for a plugged nickel in dung.

—As far as I understand, now you are not against drawing people’s attention to the need of exercising extreme caution during spiritual search?

—Definitely! I want to address myself to people and say: begin to live your lives consciously! Don’t go to astrologers to solve all your minor problems! For we don’t want to take on responsibility and are prone to shift it onto somebody else. It is easier to go and ask somebody: “What should I do? Should I marry or not? Should I have children or not?” Or we begin to look for signs everywhere. This is a leaning towards paganism! Instead we must rely wholeheartedly on God, entrust ourselves to His care—and then nobody and nothing will separate us from His love, neither outward difficulties nor the sins of Judas. I sincerely wish for the salvation of all of us.

Peter Davydov
spoke with Olga Gagushicheva
Translation by Dmitry Lapa

Pravoslavie.ru

9/26/2018

Source:

http://whataboutyoga.wordpress.com

WHAT ABOUT YOGA?

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Through The Eastern Gate

Nilus Stryker, San Francisco, California, USA

From Buddhism to Orthodoxy

Nilus Stryker, San Francisco, California, USA:

I had been a Buddhist for ten years. I was ordained after seven years of study with my teacher in a small family line of the Nyingma Lineage of Vajarayana (Tibetan ) Buddhism. I had a Spiritual Master in that lineage whom I loved and still love. He was, and continues to be an example of kindness in my life. It was through his instruction that I began to see the world with wider eyes and heart. I was ordained as a Ngakpa in the Nyingma Lineage. A Ngakpa is a tantric (priest) ordination that, though there are vows (damsig), those vows are not based on celibacy nor abstention from meat and alcohol. Our sangha were not renunciates but followed basic instruction in tantra and dzogchen; both based on transformation rather than renunciation and sudden moments of insight that flicker in duration and intensity leading to rigpa (a state of mind and perception based on relaxing into the natural state of enlightenment). Those moments were engendered by the energetic intervention of our teacher or our ability to “relax” into the fabric and texture of our experience of being and non being brought about by the practices we were taught. Over the years those moments seem to manifest in seeing the world more and more in kindness, gratitude and compassion. My teacher used to say that Buddhism was ninety nine per cent method and one percent truth. The practices in Buddhism are used to develop a clarity and sense of awareness that enable you to discern a reality not skewed by neurotic mind and habits of response.

We were a non liturgical lineage and had silent sitting and yogic song, mantra, and sets of psycho-spiritual physical exercises as the core of our practice. I made pilgrimages to sacred sites in Nepal and attended retreats with my teacher and vajra sisters and brothers both in the United States and in Wales. Those retreats, both joint and individual, were very meaningful in my life. And, I can definitely say that I had some “openings” of view, widenings of perspective and experience that I attribute to my teacher and the practices I was given.

One afternoon in late January of l999 I went to my altar for my regular daily practice. Usually I began with yogic song and mantra and then did silent sitting. I lit the candles on my altar and after finishing my song and mantras began my silent practice. I cant say exactly how long I had been sitting when I hear my voice say in my own words aloud, “I miss Jesus.” I said this aloud. It seemed like it came through me rather than me saying it but there were no external voices. Clearly I was saying it.

When I said “I miss Jesus” I filled with this longing. I don’t know what else to call it. I ached. I hurt inside. I felt this absolute longing and I couldn’t believe it. I tried to regroup my attention and awareness to continue my meditation. Often in meditation one experiences extra ordinary perceptions, smells, visual illusions, sounds perhaps, psycho-spiritual anomalies that throw one off the track and distract you from the coming and going of thoughts which one is trained to let rise and fall without attachment.

Thoughts come and go but the method I was using tried not to attach to any thought so that one avoid following a thought into an internal narrative or story. . So I tried to see this experience as a nyam (meditational experience) and not put much stock in it. I could not regroup, nor relax and got up. I thought , well that’s early childhood stuff I’m projecting onto my mediation. It’s mommy-daddy stuff about love I didn’t get and wanted and must be about my early childhood Christianity. Though my parents were nominal Christians I had been raised as a Presbyterian mainly because that was the church close to our house. My parents certainly were not Bible Thumpers.

I ended my practice session and went to the kitchen and began doing dishes. I did my household chores and didn’t think about it very much except for the continued sense of longing which did not seem to dissipate. I couldn’t seem to shake the experience no matter how I tried. There was this terrible longing in me that I couldn’t ignore nor explain. I didn’t mention it to my wife yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it nor find relief from the ache and hurt. We had an ordinary evening, watched television for awhile, chatted and then I went into my studio to paint. I am an artist and my studio is attached to our cottage and I sleep there most nights if painting late. After a few restless attempts at working on a canvas I had started I went to sleep.

That night at three in the morning I was awakened by a “presence” in my room . It was a Longing. I don’t know what else to call it. I felt a “presence of Longing” in the room. I was worried that someone had broken into the house. I got out of bed and checked all the rooms.. There was no one (other than my wife) in the house and she was still sound asleep. I decided since I was awake to do some practice and went to my altar in my studio. I mediated for probably thirty to forty five minutes and returned to sleep. The next morning I made sure all the doors were locked and kind of looked around the house uneasily to see if I could find anything that would explain the “presence.” We have no pets and I asked Diane if she had gotten up during the night for any reason. She had slept soundly and asked if there was anything wrong. I told her I had gotten up and couldn’t sleep for awhile. I hesitated to say anything about a sense of a “presence”. I didn’t want to scare her and I didn’t want her to think I was crazy.

The next night I was again “called” awake. I cant tell you exactly what it felt like other than this “presence” was in the room. No lights, no hallucinations, no sounds, no fanfare, no schizo stuff (as far as I understand it), yet most certainly a feeling that I was being called awake by a presence. I can only say in was a “presence of Longing.” I ached inside and hurt and longed for something I couldn’t express. . I felt a million miles from home.

You must understand that my life was pretty happy. My wife, of twenty five years, and I loved each other. We are both artists and had a good business in that field. We had a small cottage and garden in a small Northern California coastal town near San Francisco which we loved. I had a wonderful spiritual teacher and I had taken vows and was committed to my Buddhist Lineage and path. And I was pretty healthy for a fifty some year old fat man. Everything was generally ok. No major crisis. Nothing that seemed to speak to the experiences that I was having nor the incredible sense of longing that I was feeling. I felt like I was in love but I didn’t know with whom or what. I was like a teenage boy in love. I couldn’t stop feeling this ache and longing and confusion. It had all begun when I said “I miss Jesus” yet I couldn’t believe that was really the source of this hurting. It had to be something else. But I didn’t know what. I had tried to sort it out rationally, making an inventory of possible sources, motives, events, that would engender this longing. I was stuck. Nothing I listed seemed to be a reason for the experience of longing, and not certainly the feeling of a presence in my room at night.

Every night for a week I was called awake at three o’clock. I was beginning to get a bit scared. I had no explanation of what was happening nor any idea how I should deal with it. I realized it was beyond anything I had ever experienced and hoped my teacher could help me both to understand and cope with the experiences. If anyone knew what was happening it was him. I finally contacted my teacher in Wales and explained the entire sequence of experiences.. He gave me the name of a Tibetan “deity” to call upon and a mantra associated with that “Awareness Being” ( our sangha used the term Awareness Being as opposed to the traditional term deity). He said if the experiences continued do the practice and recite the mantra he had given me.

That night I was awakened again by the sense of a “presence”., I went to my altar and lit the candles. I sat in silent mediation for a while before using the mantra and calling on the Buddhist deity that I had been instructed to use. It was a powerful mediation. There was a deep quiet and I felt a calm and stillness that seemed to penetrate the room. I called out the name of the Awareness Being as instructed by Rinpoche (an honorific term for a Vajrayana teacher which literally means Precious Jewel). To my surprise I heard a voice say “I am not that.” I can’t tell you where the voice came from. It sounded like my voice even though I have no recollection of actually speaking the words. I cannot tell you exactly if the voice was interior or exterior but it was a voice which clearly and distinctively said, “I am not that.”

I was completely shaken. I sat dumbfounded and in silence. I got up and went out side. It was probably three thirty in the morning and there was a pale moon just visible over the ocean. I sat on our front steps and began to cry. The longing and ache inside had not lessened but seemed to have increased. I was at my wits end and knew something was happening. I just didn’t know what. I cried my heart out. I sobbed . Finally I lifted my head and asked, “Who are you?”
When I said those words something incredible happened. Please understand I have no sense of appropriateness about this. I have no way to even explain how or why it happened. I am the stupidest one. I have no right to even attempt to explain what happened nor to try and say , I, in anyway, comprehend nor deserve what happened. But when I spoke those words, I filled with a soft Light. I know that is hard to understand but I filled with this Light. It wasn’t visible in the ordinary sense. It was a luminosity that filled me . I cannot describe the Light nor describe how light could bring a “knowing.” But I knew that a Light had come inside me and knew me personally. I know that seems impossible but it happened. The Light not only knew me , Miles, a screw up and quick tempered crumudgen, but loved me, actually loved me. Forgive my presumption but it is what I felt. I have no way to tell you how I knew that but I did. I didn’t know what to call it. I felt awkward trying to say God or Christ, yet I felt it had something to do with God and The Christ Logos. I couldn’t bring myself to say that ,however. It seemed too impossible and so loaded with everything I had rejected in Christianity (the Protestant Christianity of my childhood). It was impossible to say the words though I felt like a piece of God had broken off in me and that it was Love. I felt Love. I felt a Divine Love. I felt a Love that came to me personally, like it had called my name as it came inside me. Yet it seemed to be always inside me but I had not known it. It came inside and burst forth at the same time. I know that is hard to even imagine and I have no other words that I can use to try and explain that. If there were any way for me to tell you this in a clearer way I would.

I got on my knees and prostrated myself on the ground. I can’t tell how long I was there but I eventually sat back up on the stairs and again cried. I have no way to explain what I felt. It may be wrong to say but I felt words fall away as the Light entered and I felt a “knowing” in me that seemed to be born with Love. I knew that God loved me yet I couldn’t say the word God. I knew that Christ called me though I couldn’t say the word Christ.

I had come to some realizations in my Buddhism, some small flickers of understanding the Big Picture, through my teacher and my practice but nothing like this.. I was glowing inside with Love and a knowing of Light. It wasn’t a real glow, visible, nor tangible yet I felt like I was shinning inside. I couldn’t tell if God was longing for me or I was longing for God. It seemed almost like we met in the longing. For the first time the Longing seemed to be the experience of the presence of God and my relation to Him. In Buddhism we often talked about finding the presence of our awareness in a life circumstance. In tantra all that is experienced presents the possibility of experiencing enlightenment in that moment. Our practices were often based on finding the presence of awareness in the emotion or life situations we were experiencing. I seem to have found the presence of my awareness in the longing of and by God as Light and Love.

For the first time in my life there was Divine Love, a Love that knew my name. I don’t know how long I sat on the steps. The sky seemed to lighten but I cant say when I went inside. I’m sure I eventually went to sleep but I don’t remember exactly when that was even though I woke up in bed with my clothes on.

The next morning when I told my wife what had happened I said that A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name had come inside me. I didn’t know what else to call it. I described the experience but I still couldn’t bring myself to say the word God nor could I use the name Christ.

I called it a Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name.

Of course my wife, being a good Californian , asked if I was stoned. We both laughed. It had been a long time since that had been a possibility (no smoking of anything allowed in our sangha) but she listened and I told her the details. I knew at that point that everything was different. Somehow Love had entered the picture and life as I knew it had come crashing down. My teacher was an atheist and the Buddhism that I had learned certainly did not present the idea of a creator God nor a divinity that was a source of Love. We spoke of compassion and wisdom, kindness and awareness but rarely was the word love ever mentioned, and certainly not within the context of a Divine Love. My wife was scared I could tell. No matter how much we joked about it she felt that everything was up for grabs. She didn’t know where it would lead me. I didn’t know either. Everything had become pretty stable in our lives. That night everything was shaken to the core and my wife sensed it.

When The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name infused me with itself I knew things I could not explain. I experienced a personal Love from a Source that was beyond anything I had experienced before. It was wonderful and terrible at the same time.

Why couldn’t I use the word God nor Christ? What held me back.? It seemed too chilling to even think that this was either, yet for the first time it seemed possible. It was possible that his was God’s Love. It was possible that this was an experience of The Christ. I guess in some ways that was too uncool to say. I certainly didn’t want to be a Christian. I had castigated Christians as hypocrites and idiots for years. As a Buddhist I was a bit kinder in that regard but I still had no intention of being a Christian nor any desire to explore that path. I never really could get rid of a concept of a God even though Rinpoche said I had to deal with my idea of God in relationship to blame. I blamed God for a lot of stuff in my life and he said to grow spiritually I had to let go of the concept of blame. He was right.

One world was opening and another was falling away. The vows I had made in becoming a Ngakpa were taken as lifelong vows. The commitment I had made were seen as “lives long” commitments both to my teacher and my lineage. Now I faced the fact that there was a Creator of Love, a Source of Love and a Spirit of Love that was unexplainable in my Buddhism, and from my experience, a reality that could not be denied. I struggled with what to do. I had no context to help sort out the experience. My teacher’s atheism seemed to preclude the possibility of him understanding the reality that had just come alive in my life. I had had an experience that seemed to turn my Buddhism inside out. The structure of our practice and the instruction of my teacher seemed limited and I must admit incomplete. I knew my teacher was wrong about God. What was I going to do?

Pantelemon David Walker is my acupuncturist and a member of the Orthodox Church in America . We had discussed Buddhism and Christianity for months as he treated me. The next week I had an appointment with him. After we greeted each other he said, ” I have a book for you I think you will enjoy.” It was Christ The Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene. That night I poured through the book. I have no idea when I went to sleep but I read for days and it gave me a base for sorting out the experiences that I had been having in relation to The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name.

I knew there was a Source of Love and an Energy of Love yet I hesitated to call it The Holy Spirit. I had left my childhood Christianity far behind. The words still stuck in my throat.

David suggested I try and attend an Orthodox church and mentioned an OCA Church in San Francisco. Yet that seemed too weird, too much of a commitment to a religion I had left. I wanted something that wasn’t based on an institutional setting. The last thing I wanted to do was get involved in a church. After all I was a Buddhist. Why was I being drawn into another religion, especially Christianity.? I had made a commitment to my teacher and lineage. I shouldn’t be exploring at this late date any other form of worship. But my Buddhism didn’t address or acknowledge the experiences I had just had in relation to the Divine. I knew as certainly as I knew anything else that the experiences I had of A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name were real and true. My teacher said there was no God and I knew that I had experienced Divine Love personally.

I resisted the idea of a church yet Orthodoxy had an ancient contemplative tradition and a way of working in deepening and widening a personal sense of transformation of self in relation to the Divine. Fr. Damascene’s book opened me to the possibility of at least exploring (without) commitment a tradition in Christianity that was far beyond any Christian tradition I had ever heard of. I called the Holy Trinity Cathedral (an OCA church in San Francisco.) A man answered the phone and I asked if the services were in English. He said in a thick Russian accent “broken.” I cracked up laughing. I already liked his deadpan sense of humor. I got times for Liturgy and thanked him,
On Sunday February the seventh I woke and dressed and told my wife I was going to find a church. She was shocked. What? she shouted.

“I know, don’t ask. I’ll be back in awhile.”

It was pouring down rain and the streets were pretty empty. I drove into San Francisco and had a vague notion of a Russian church with blue domes downtown. The listing for Holy Trinity Cathedral was on Green street and I thought I was headed in that direction. I finally saw the dome and cross. There is never any parking around that area so as I approached I said to myself. “If there’s parking I’ll stop, if not I’ll go to Burger King.” The minute I said it a person pulls out of a space across from the church. “Ok, ok I’ll go.” I walked into the church on February the seventh, l999. I didn’t know it at that time but it was Prodigal Son Sunday.

In Tantra all the sense fields are used in one’s practice. The senses are not denied but used to both open and relax into the natural state of one’s own enlightenment. When I walked into the church I felt this vast display of light and fragrance. I was met at the door and welcomed. When asked if I was Orthodoxy I responded quickly ( and probably brusquely) I wasn’t a Christian I was Buddhist. I stood in the rear and watched . As the Liturgy began the music and cant and readings seemed to fill the room as much as the light and fragrances. The whole service seemed to become this elaborate ritual of the senses. It was wonderful and it scared me to death. There was something that felt right. If only it didn’t have to be so Christian. After services I was asked to join folks for lunch. I did. There was good conversation and even an interest in my Buddhism. I left feeling like I had found a new kind of Christianity. Definitely not the Christianity of my childhood. I returned the following Sunday.

I began to listen to the words in the Liturgy. Soon I began to come to some of the evening services and was amazed at what was being recited. I had never heard of a theology that was sung and canted along with the readings. More and more I began to realize that there was a Christianity in Orthodoxy that was vaster and deeper then I knew. And I began to hear references to the Light , a Light which seemed to have a lot in common with my experience of A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name. There was even a theology that acknowledged the Light and used that Light as a description of how God, Logos, and The Holy Spirit call and love.. I began to feel more comfortable with the words God and Christ. Of course my wife and friends felt very uncomfortable hearing me begin to use those dreaded words. Most folks became silent when they heard I was attending a Christian church, much less an Orthodox Christian church. I still was attending my Buddhist group and knew that when my teacher arrived in March that we had to talk. I felt like I was sneaking around in away going to a Christian church and I didn’t want to do that. But I had to try and sort out my experiences and felt like the church offered some possibility for answers that neither my teacher nor my Buddhist lineage seemed to be able to explain..

Fr. Damascene’s book had been the catalyst for that exploration and the unfolding of the church in my life seems an almost natural progression from that initial reading of his book. The more I attended the services the more I felt like this was a place I could be comfortable as a Christian. Though you must realize I never used that word. I still resisted. I still hung back. I lurked on the edges of Christianity, in the shadows of the candles as much as in the light. I resisted and resisted prostrating and crossing myself. That was just going too far. I was still a Buddhist. I was just visiting Christianity. That way I could still attend and explore but not make a commitment.. One night Matushka Barbara came over and asked if I wanted to learn how to cross myself. When I said yes, I surprised myself.
I know it seems odd but crossing myself made a difference in how I saw myself and how I begin to worship. It was the first sign I would make publicly that acknowledged that I trusted Christianity and had begun to see myself within the Christian frame. It’s hard to explain. It’s such a simple act but in many ways it became my first act of Christian acknowledgement. It became the first sign that I was “putting on Christ.”. I had been raised to hate Papist. My father was raised German Luthern and he hated the Catholic church. I still had that in me. But I crossed myself that night and other nights as I began to more and more attend services and look to Orthodoxy for answers and a new form of devotion.

In Vajrayana Buddhism you view your teacher as an enlightened being who represents fully your path toward that goal. One prostrates to their teacher as a sign of complete respect and as a sign of dependence upon them for your spiritual advancement and realization. I would prostrate to my teacher without any reservation (except for my fat and my knees). In the Orthodox church one prostrates before God, before, Christ, before the Holy Spirit. One Prostrates before images of saints as an act of devotion and respect. I still would not do the prostrations. There was something in my stubbornness that didn’t even make sense to me. I knew it was weird to be able to prostrate before a teacher and still not do it toward God. Somehow it seemed easier to trust a man rather than the Divine. I would cross myself but I wouldn’t prostrate. Here I was literally pulled from bed, called in a away that even I seemed to hear, and have this incredible experience of Light and Love in a personal way, and yet my pride and stubbornness still resisted a richer and fuller expression of devotion. I would not bend. I wouldn’t bow down before God. Something was still strongly resisting the call Christ and the Orthodoxy church. Though I knew I couldn’t turn back.

Great Lent is a time of intense spiritual evaluation. The whole church collectively begins a journey toward Jerusalem with Christ. The entire forty days becomes a cosmic drama suspended in a time I had rarely experienced in Buddhism. Time seems to drop away almost in relation to how the services lengthen. Somehow time was being used to destroy time.

I had attended long rituals in Buddhism. I had on occasion felt that they had going quicker than I had expected. But I had never experienced time in an “eternal” way. I know again how difficult that is to understand but the increased length of the services and Liturgies actually seemed to collapse into a timelessness that I had never felt so intently. Every word of the hymn or service seemed to be directed at me. Every verse about being lost and confused and put upon by life’s circumstances was read for me. I was found by Love but still lost. I left every evening feeling that everything that had been sung, or canted was what I would have said, if I could have said anything as beautiful and true. I let the choir sing my praises and the reader cant my love. More and more as Lent deepened and became vaster and wider and, I must say, more sorrowful. I began to experience time in the church like no other time.
Even though spending hours in mediation and weeks in solitary retreat, time had never become so still. The services of Great Lent began to change me. One night during the Great Compline (I think). My knees bent. I felt myself kneeling before God and I felt so terrible about holding back. I felt like such a fool and prideful idiot. Everything in me had told me of Christ’s Great Good Heart and I had refused His embrace. When my head touched the floor, God broke my heart. I sobbed. As Fr. Victor came cense the Icon near me I knew he heard me crying. I couldn’t stop. I was so embarrassed. I felt so exposed. There were folks I had been with on a regular bases for weeks who stood near me in the church. They had seem me arrogant in My Buddhism, They had seem stand back. They had seem me cross myself and still hold back. And now they saw my knees bend and my head touch the wooden floor and me cry when God broke my heart.

He broke my heart right there. I can point to the spot. He had called me in the night. He had entered me as Light. He now broke my heart. I can’t explain it any clearer. God broke my heart and my arrogance and my aloneness and had made loneliness impossible. He held me suspended in time and Love and I was not worthy of one iota of it.
Now I was broken with Love. I was a beggar. I am a beggar.

The evening services became more frequent and intense. My wife was angry that I was away so much and we disagreed often. I wasn’t getting a lot of personal support for continuing this move toward the Christian Path. My friends thought I was crazy. My Buddhist sangha members didn’t even know of my parallel church attendance. The more I was drawn toward the church the greater the forces seemed to be pulling me back. The contradictions and hypocrisy of my own participation as a Buddhist in a Christian church was obvious even to me.

It wasn’t until that night that I realized there was no turning back. I was in Love and I had to get as close as I could to that Source of Love. I think I went a little bit crazy for awhile . The longing didn’t stop. It seemed to get deeper as Great Lent progressed. I cried at the drop of a hat. I’d walk down the street and see an old couple holding hands and I’d brim over with tears. I was lost at services and Liturgy. I’d hear the bells ring with the beginning of the recitation of the Creed and I have to turn away with tears. My nose running was bad enough. . I tried to tell Diane that I could bring a thousand editions of great books to back up each sentence of the Creed and they would collapse before a handful of tears. I begin standing in the corner because I was so embarrassed. I missed being up front hearing the choir more fully but I stood in my corner and felt like this beggar getting warmed by a hobo fire.
I wrote to both Fr. Damascene, who was in Alaska, and to the rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Fr. Victor Sokolov, to tell them of what was happening to me and my growing need to address the possibility of exploring Orthodoxy more seriously. Fr. Damascene responded with a wonderful letter and encouragement. I was very moved by his kindness. I asked to meet with Fr. Victor.

I knew that my teacher was soon to arrive and I called and asked to schedule some time together. I had broken my vows to him not because I was beginning to embrace Christianity but because I didn’t trust him enough to understand the experience of the light that is not light that knows my name. I felt since he took an atheist position he would not understand a priori the essence of the experience of the Light. That was actually when I broke my vows. I violated that teacher student trust. then not by asking to leave my vows. It was in that breach that I was actually able to open to the fuller expression of the Holy Spirit/ I had committed part of myself to not open because of my vows. Those Buddhist Vows were at one time the center of my identity and life. I tried to take the vows seriouslu. I loved Rinpoche . I still do. I felt this incredible responsibility to mystically continue a train of thought and method that helped people see the patterns which hold them back from relaxing into the natural goodness of being and non-being. I had made a commitment to that and I still hope there is a part of that commitment toward goodness and liberation in me.

I met with Rinpoche and we began to talk. I asked if we could move from the living room into his private room for some privacy. I know he sensed an uneasiness. I told him what had happened, tried to explain The Light That Is Not Light experience fully . I think he saw in me that the experience was real. Maybe it was reflected in the tears. Again I was lost in these tears of joy and terror. I was afraid I had cut a cord that nourished me spiritually. I had asked to be taken out of the line of energy that moves through the cosmos like a rive. I had been taken out of the stream. I was this former Buddhist. All my gods had been taken away; my images of consciousness, the way the world was becoming reflected. The Yidams and Protectors that I shared a world with were no longer there for me. It was a strange loss. but it was a powerful one.

Rather suddenly I asked to be released from my vows. It kind of exploded out of my mouth,. I felt terrible. I heard my own words ask to be released from my vows and I felt I had betrayed a man that I loved and who loved me dearly. He was my Spiritual Father for almost eight years. I knew I was hurting him . I was hurting him because he loved me and I knew it and I had made a commitment to add to this stream of lineage until all beings had been liberated. It was more than a personal vow to him alone. I knew that. Those methods of viewing and identifying in the vast scope of beings and worlds and energies was the central reference points of my life. There are streams of liberation in Buddhism that have specific cosmologies and ways of seeing the world. They are all refer to the base of their religion on compassion and awareness. I was asking not to be apart of more than a sangha.

Everything was etched in sadness. Rinpoche said he would release me from my vows. He said for me to explore the Christian Path for a year and within that year if I wished to return to my vows He saw that I had gone through some transformation but I have no idea what he saw. He as always opted for kindness and created the possibility of a spaciousness in a terrible moment. He always could turn a moment of flux in beingness upside down. That’s why he was such a good teacher for me. He turned my patterns of reaction to the world inside out. But it was through the experience of God’s Light that everything seemed to be over ridden I told him I wasn’t going to hold back that I was going to go into this as deeply as I could.

He said my only responsibility to him was to be a good Christian.

I think we cried together. That’s the way I remember it . But it could have been just me. I left kind of in shock. I felt like someone had died. I felt this terrible feeling like there has been an accident and everything changes in a second. That terrible moment where the fifteen year old kid is holding a gun and touches the trigger. There is that tearing moment of certainty and dread where something is born and something fades into the last moment. Rinpoche had always tried to show us how to transform those moments into points of awareness.

I was driving over the Bay Bridge and it suddenly struck me that beyond the sorrow was a sense of certainty the decision was right. It was a strange bitter sweet memory of The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name. Even in all the distress there it was. I begin to remember and recall everything from the call in the night and looking for burglars. I forget God all the time. That’s my problem. I forgot God for twenty years.

I had been called awake literally and taken to the gate and asked in. I tried to remember the first time I crossed myself and the place where God broke my heart.

Sometimes God has to hit us idiots over the head with a 2 X 4 before we get it. My stomach was in knots yet there was some sense of a point that was ok. There was this small point of calm. There was an eye in the storm. Doubt and sorrow were an atmosphere surrounding this small bead of the certainty of God’s Love. It was a matter of remembering and remembering throughout the day, somehow, that it was there.

One time in the television show X Files Files, Scully ends the show by saying something like, “suppose He’s calling all the time and no one is listening.” Years ago I would have said it was a matter of frequency. Now I think it’s a matter of Grace. Finally there was a destination in this strange confluence of time, circumstance and Mysterion. There seems to be in this great drama and economy of the being an emptiness a center Source of Love that become The Word (Logos) and Spirit to sweep through all that is and is not calling everyone and thing back to Divine Love.That’s as close as I can get to it. But there seems to be a possibility that I am absolutely right. I e-mailed Fr. Victor that I had been released from my Buddhist vows. I asked to meet so I could find out how one continues from here. I continued to attend services during Great Lent. By the time Pascha arrived I was tired. In fact I was worn out. I was drained and empty accept for this little Light that stood somewhere in the back. Everything had been turned upside down. At least I think this is the chronology. Yet the whole flow and confluence of circumstance seemed to ebb and flow a tad faster than I could follow. It all was turned inside out in a few months. “Busted in the Blinding Light,” I think the song goes.

I met with Fr. Victor and we talked. He suggested a few books and encouraged me to continue to attend services . He reminded me that there was a study group every few weeks after Vespers. It was a very congenial meeting He didn’t know when he said it But it was probably one of the most important pieces of advice anyone could give to a Buddhist who was looking toward Christ. He said it quickly and in kind of an off hand way. He stopped and turned and said. “Even if you have nothing , you offer nothing. It was at that moment God made the world seem abundant and Fr. Victor helped. I realized that I could offer God anything. I could give him my sadness and depression, my anger and distrust. In fact on a good day he could get some joy and a cluster of happiness. It was a very important thing for me to hear. Whether it is a paraphrase of someone else or not I don’t care. At that moment those words were Fr. Victor’s . and they have been with me ever since. Never has there been one moment since then that I didn’t have something to offer to God.

The closer I moved to the church the more tense it became at home. Diane missed me and wasn’t real subtle about letting me know it. Of course after twenty three years (at that time) she knew subtle didn’t work with me. I’m too stupid. . The most difficult personal breaks were with dear friends in my Buddhist group. I asked my teacher’s permission to tell my vajra sister and brother (my closest relations in the group) the entire tale so they would know exactly what happened. I’m afraid we didn’t seem to share a base of experience nor language. No matter what I said had happened they saw that I had broken my vows. It was very hurtful and difficult for folks to hear. As I said more was at stake than just a small group of people. We were talking about the continuation of a Lineage and those vows were part of that commitment. Their anger was actually a sign of their devotion to Rinpoche. They felt betrayed and hurt and angry. I was breaking a spiritual bond between us . They were right. But I still had a very hard time trying to understand what seemed to me a lack of love. There has been a long silence.

On May twenty third of l999 I was Baptized into the Orthodox Church in America. The following copy of a letter I sent my priest may convey some of what the Sacrament meant to me.

«Dear Father Victor- Tonight please let me talk about Mystery… Today was magic and somehow consummated four months of trying to accept the MYSTERY of God’s Being and deep Longing for each of us. I know this is just the beginning. I know I am so new and young in this that there is a danger that the power of this joy will make me think I know things I do not. But today was wonderful- wonder filled- full of wonder.

The incredible gratitude I felt yesterday was incomplete, faint, stupid. I was not complete in gratitude-empty in gratitude. I am not now, nor ever will be able to fill myself with God’s gratitude in the way that could be of any use to Him. I am a poor example of devotion but for me this day is a measure of brimming over-spilling on the floor-ruining the carpets with gratitude- filling the basement with gratitude-How can I possibly give back to God? What could I even conceive of that could be an offering? I can’t imagine ever being able to express this springtime in me- these flowers in my veins- this garden that has worms and slugs and bird shit on the roses. But If I could it would be today. I would go to God and offer him this day as what I could give. I would empty my pockets with this day. I would turn myself inside out with this day and say, “Please, Lord it is the best I have. Please take this from me- This Day.”

I am like a song leaping into the cold sea-salt tears and Grace run down my cheeks- My wife stands watching just a heartbeat away. I hear the choir. I catch her eye . I watch you move toward me. It’s in slow motion- some film shot out of time. There is breath. There is your breath- there is God’s breath -there is my breath -the church breathes with this light. I know it sounds like I’m talking magic here. Yes! God’s magic- God’s moment gift to me this day and mine to Him. Please cut my hair take what you think He’ll like-I don’t care what Fr. Schmemann might say about magic. Its not your magic, though you are part of it. Its not my magic, though I am part of it. But this wonderful day is God’s ordinary magic. Each leaf-each day- each ten thousand ants that crawl in this day shimmer in magic. Because we are blind and turn away we don’t see it in God’s magical way. But when you begin to see- it seems like Grace is everywhere. God’s ordinary magic breaking through my blindness and shallowness and myopia.

I watch your cross in front of me-the gold and the diffuse sun-the white material of your vestment-the words calling me to ring like bells. I am only standing there. I am only this still person standing in this beautiful place. There is a fullness I have never known-a sense of being known by God deep inside me. I am sure in this. His music sends shivers through me- coral blue violins and cello, oboe and flute-good dark beer that tastes like wheat- Liturgy and sweat and inside me laughter mixing with reunion dance at an airport. My heart’s deep crevices, those dark hidden sad places-those places that I have closed to Love for all my life seem touched by a Great Kindness. The snow is melting. I feel it inside me. The glaciers are turning into lakes. The bears move south and the birds fly inside me to the warm forest just over the last ridge. The doors are open and the wind is blowing the curtains. There is a patch of warm sunlight on the floor and specks of dust shine in the air, swirling as the patterns of a dancer’s skirt brush the floor.

Dear Father Victor this is not a second chance it’s a first chance. I am new to life. I really am. I am new to this world. I have never felt like this newness. I feel clean. I really do-I feel clean inside. I feel like menthol everywhere. I feel like I’ve never seen sunlight before. I am amazed by people’s eyes. The small wrinkles around their mouths when they smile. The way the morning shines through them and not just on them. They look so wonderful- they still look wonderful.

The water washed me. Please believe me. I never thought I could understand this nor even say this.

The oil blessed me. Sealed me in the Body of a timeless Church. That is true.- It is timeless and has always existed in God (before words).

Please understand that this is real. This isn’t some archetype-nor symbol- nor ritual trapped in a small church in San Francisco. It is real and it is Wonderous and it is from God to us all. Everything in me says that that is true. I remember Johann’s hand on my arm helping me as I stepped into the Jordan River. I remember the sun and Christ through the Royal Doors. I remember Diane crying on the banks. I remember your voice and I remember how God spread the constellations through the night sky and held me under the water and took me up and washed me and lifted me up to show the world that a new child had been born.

As a friend of mine used to say “pulled kicking and screaming into Glory.”

You lead me from the river, my clothes sticking to me, gripping your hand wrapped in vestments-the desert sand burning my feet-joy mesmerized in my heart-watching each step and the smiles and eyes of the church living in the morning. On the banks the people waited. My wife watched and those wonderful folks who have encouraged me since Prodigal Son Sunday to come back- always come back. That formula for repentance- to come back- to always come back-that course of freedom to return-that freeway that FREE WAY of return and repentance- when God broke my heart. I can show you the place where God broke my heart in your church- in our church. I can show you where I wiped the floor with my sleeve after prostrating finally to Him and called out to Him and answered Him. How could I go anywhere else? What place could be more home? I want to be in the place where God broke my heart.

When I approached the chalice I returned home. I am home.

I grew up taking communion but I have never really taken part in the Eucharist. Today I was given through Grace the opportunity to eat of The Body and drink of the Blood of Christ. I never had experienced that before though I have often taken communion. There are no real words for that- That is a Mystery I can not even begin to speak of. I am dumb before this. I am only grateful beyond measure and blessed into silence.

And I am finally home. Can you believe these words? I am finally home. God loves me. Me! I think this is true. I know this is true. God, for some unknown reason- loves me. He loves me as me- with a name, my name. God knows my name! And He loves me! God knows my heart and brain and fat and muscle and He loves me. God knows my every thought and fear and pain and He still accepts me. That is the most incredible reality possible. Oh Father, Today was God’s great gift to me and mine to Him. I am empty before this. I am poor and empty before this.

Yet in that emptiness of mine I am full of Him. Do you see that? My words are so limited. But today I was emptied and today I was filled. You held the cup for God. That is what He has given you to do. You breathed on me as a representative of the Body of Christ and washed and anointed me with His oil. That is what He has given you to do. You gave me drink and you gave me eat. That is what He has given you to do. But +He+ emptied me today and +He+ filled me today with His Grace.

That is the Mystery we shared today. You and I and the great goodhearts that make up The Body of The Church. It was my journey-mine- with a name ( in the emptiness and fullness of Grace) and ours as a Church.

I have been shaken awake by water and Grace and God’s Love. I have been anointed with oil in this time and forever in God’s Being. I have been renewed, found and called forth, forgiven and forgiven and forgiven. I have been infused with an understanding of a Mystery that is beyond my understanding. I am an idiot in Love. A beggar and fool and sinner. I have been embraced in Holy Spirit and named before a Church that has existed forever. Today was wonderous and beyond measure. I am dumb before this-numb with gratitude and thanksgiving-tired and happy- and ready to rest in God’s comfortable night.

Please know I offer today to God. You’re part of that. Barbara and Johann and Ann and Anna and Elaine and everyone are part of That. My Beloved wife Diane is part of that . And me. I am part of that too. No words remain tonight, Father. Just Thank-fullness and prayer and silence and sleep.- Goodnight, Love in Christ (that is also true isn’t it? Isn’t that absolutely incredible!)- Nilus».

Source:

http://www.sfaturiortodoxe.ro/en/index.htm

http://www.sfaturiortodoxe.ro/orthodox/orthodox_advices_yoga.htm

ORTHODOX ADVICES

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Arrowhead Springs To Antioch

Odyssey To Orthodoxy

by

Fr. Peter Gillquist &
 Fr. Gordon Thomas Walker, USA

By the summer of 1966, our bubble was starting to burst. As staff members of Campus Crusade for Christ (headquartered at Arrowhead Springs in California) and men in key roles of leadership, we were intent on bringing America’s college students to faith in Christ. And we were further committed to Christ’s Great Commission: bringing the Gospel to the whole world. But that summer, we realized we would have to change our strategy. For we had become convinced from the Scriptures that the Church was the means to fulfilling that Great Commission.

The question was, of course, what is the Church?

By 1968, our National Field Coordinator — Jon Braun, Canadian Director — Ken Berven, African Director — Gordon Walker, Asian Director — Ray Nethery, Regional Directors — Richard Ballew and Peter Gillquist — and a host of others — resigned from Campus Crusade to pursue evangelism through the Church.

We did not want to build and maintain another new organization, at least not right away. Most of us struck out on our own, building house-churches in different parts of the country fashioned after what we saw as the New Testament model. We kept in touch with each other and exchanged ideas and encouragement from our successes and failures. Many of us had taken outside jobs to support ourselves and our families.

By 1973 all of us were expressing a desire to labor more closely together again. Working on our own was frustrating, and we sensed a need for mutual support and accountability. Consequently we decided to meet together in Dallas, Texas in July, 1973. Out of that meeting of about 70 people came a group of men who continued to meet every three months for theological study and to seek the Lord’s guidance in the development of various works and churches which we had started since leaving the staff of Campus Crusade. After we had had about three of these quarterly meetings, the leadership of the group settled down to seven men, and ultimately Peter Gillquist was chosen to preside.

THE SEARCH FOR THE CHURCH

At our meeting in November of 1973, the Church question emerged again. We wanted to express the New Testament Church.

“But everybody’s the New Testament Church,”

complained Jack Sparks, one of us who had left the Crusade staff.

“The Catholics say they are, the Baptists say they are, the Church of Christ says they are. Who’s right?”

Our background as evangelical Protestants meant that we somewhat knew our way backward to the Protestant Reformation, and that we knew our way forward to A.D. 95, the end of the New Testament era.

“My feeling is that we need to start right at the end of the New Testament and find out precisely where the New Testament Church went,” Sparks insisted.

Ultimately we decided to approach our studies methodically. Jon Braun would take Church history and look for continuity and polity. Jack Sparks would study early Church worship. Richard Ballew chose Christology.

“I’ll take the Bible and check out everything you brothers find with the Scriptures,”

said Gordon Walker a bit skeptically. We agreed we would plod through, century by century, at least through the Reformation, to find how and where the New Testament faith was or was not maintained in the Church. Every one of these quarterly meetings was electrifying. At each one new insights would come — we felt from the Holy Spirit. And they all ultimately directed us more and more toward the Orthodox faith, though in the early days we would have recoiled in shock had we known this was happening.

There was one other crucial element to the story. We had told our people, first, that we as a body of Churches would land somewhere in the historic Christian faith; we would not be forever independent. The world did not need yet another denomination. Secondly, we agreed on the front end that we would study the ancient truths that were universally believed and practiced; if they differed from what we held, yet squared with the Scriptures — we would change.

Here we were: anti-established Church, anti-liturgical, anti-sacramental, congregational in polity. We represented people who ranged from hyper-dispensationalists to signs and wonders charismatics, reading publications as diverse as Ramparts and the Jesus People Survival Guide. With all this, we were making ourselves open and vulnerable to the Fathers and Councils of the early Church!

In the early ’70’s, we experienced what some of us believed to be a supernatural word from God which defined our vision and calling for us. A passage which we believe the Holy Spirit directed us to consider in our quarterly meeting in May of 1974 helped us to understand our direction. It was centered in Isaiah 58:12:

“Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restored of Streets to Dwell In.” (NKJV)

We interpreted this passage to confirm what we sensed was an apostolic calling to go back to the Ancient Church for the patterns of the Churches we were planting. At this juncture we called ourselves the New Covenant Apostolic Order.

As we progressed along our journey, we saw the “foundations of many generations” to be the Biblical foundations of the Christian faith as interpreted through the ancient Creeds and conciliar formulations of the Orthodox Church. We became convinced that of all the expressions of Christendom, Orthodoxy had most faithfully preserved the foundations of the City of God. But through the centuries heretics, like bandits and marauders, had ravaged and pillaged the City — the Church. Thus it is no longer safe for the people of God to walk the streets unprotected by a shepherd. There are still wolves and demonic beasts and zealous, though benighted, men seeking to proselytize and divide and destroy the flock of God.

We believe God supernaturally called us to give our lives and talents to

“build the old waste places; … and raise up the foundations of many generations”.

We would count ourselves greatly blessed if it could be said of us

“you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to dwell in.”

As already stated, every three months we dutifully met together to share what we had discovered from our study in the interim. Massive changes were made necessary as our understanding grew. We found that from the start the Church of Christ and His Apostles was liturgical and sacramental, with a clearly-defined laity, governed by bishops, presbyters, deacons. We discovered Bishop Ignatius of Antioch overseeing Saint Paul’s “home Church” well before the close of the New Testament years. Here was Saint Justin Martyr sketching the shape of the liturgy of the Church and its biblical basis in the liturgy of the Tabernacle and later the Synagogue. All this was far from what we had assumed were the facts. We had to eat a lot of crow — banquets of it!

Along the way, several others joined with the NCAO — some from well beyond Campus Crusade ranks. These included Harold Dunaway of Alaska, Melvin Gimmaka and Joseph Copeland of Washington State, Timothy McCoy of Nevada, Weldon Hardenbrook of Northern California, Wayne Wilson of Orange County, California, Dale Autrey of Jackson, Mississippi, and Frederick Rogers of Gary, Indiana. Besides these there were a number of others under the leadership of Kenneth Jensen of Indianapolis, Indiana who made significant contributions to our development and understanding of Orthodoxy, but decided not to enter canonical Orthodoxy with us.

As we continued to study and debate (and did we debate!), we got to St. Athanasius and the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. If anyone could be credited with our conversion to Orthodoxy, it would have to be St. Athanasius and St. Ignatius. These men have become great heroes of ours along with many others of the ancient Church.

As a result of studying the life of St. Athanasius and the Council, our Christology was wonderfully sharpened. We discovered not just Nicea, but a total of seven Ecumenical Councils all dealing with the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Navigating through the first six took a mammoth amount of concentration and study. We were basically fine-tuning our Athanasius with an accompanying dramatic impact on our faith and practice.

But this did not come without many struggles. As we taught these things to our people, some reacted quite strongly and were convinced we were headed in the wrong direction. Thus, quite a number left us and have since become outspoken critics. But our commitment to our growing understanding of Orthodoxy and to the catholicity of the Church drove us to continue on, no matter what the cost.

THE E.O.C. IS BORN

By February of 1979 we had grown into a very close-knit and highly committed body of workers and churches. We knew that the Lord was leading us to take another step toward unity with Orthodox bodies in the United States, and we felt that the best way to do that was to declare ourselves to be a denomination or jurisdiction of Orthodox Churches.

In doing this, we did a very uncanonical thing — though we were not aware of how uncanonical it was at the time. We were already teaching our people about and functioning as bishops on the Ignatian model in our churches. Because of this, the six of us who originated the movement (Ray Nethery, one of the original seven, dropped out in 1978) secured a liturgy for the consecration of Bishops, formed a circle and consecrated one another. Then we went to our first official council and consecrated thirteen other men. That day, February 15,1979, the Evangelical Orthodox Church was officially born.

As the EOC entered into Orthodox theology and worship, the Eucharist became the center of our life in Christ. By it we began to feel that we entered into the heavenly Holy of Holies week by week. Previously our emphasis had been primarily on mission and service. It’s not that we abandoned those two very important aspects of Church life — we now see them coming more and more into focus — but we placed our emphasis on a more correct and complete worship.

THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF THEOLOGICAL AND LITURGICAL CHANGE

For those of us who came from a background of emphasis on mission and service, it has been a great change to make worship the center of our lives. From our past the very word “Eucharist” evoked images of a dead Church bound by dead tradition and a theology of salvation by works instead of grace. We had no concept of grace actually flowing through the physical means of Baptism or the Eucharist. In fact, most of us were anti-sacramental, being certain that those who believed in sacramental theology denied the grace of God and Holy Scripture.

Not realizing it, we had held a very cerebral and rationalistic view of faith and grace. We perceived that primarily through the preaching of the Word of God (the Bible) God’s grace was somehow beamed into our hearts and lives. Thus, our soteriology — doctrine of salvation — had depended largely on a person’s ability to read, or listen, and understand. If he didn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand and believe then his only hope (which we believed was assured) was that God’s grace covered him anyway.

We believed that to be saved each Christian had to have a private conversion experience. We further believed that one should not be baptized until he could bear clear testimony to such an experience. In fact, most of us held the Zwinglian view that if one had not had such an experience, then any baptism prior to it was invalid.

Thus, infant baptism was held to be invalid. One must wait until he reached “the age of accountability” (a totally non-Biblical term) to be saved.

We sincerely believed our views conformed to Holy Scripture which is why early in our odyssey we held no place in our thinking for Tradition, Creeds, or Councils. All these we believed to be dangerous additions to the pure and simple faith of the Bible.

To anyone who is remotely familiar with Orthodoxy, it should be readily apparent what a tremendous trauma was in store for us once we began this odyssey. After seeing in the writings of Ignatius (A.D. 67-107) that the Apostles appointed bishops in every place and realizing that congregational polity was not indeed the Biblical polity, our theological dominoes began to fall.

Early on we had to face the reality that Ignatius and all the earliest Post-Apostolic writers held to a clearly sacramental and not a symbolic view of what we had called “ordinances”, but which the ancient Church called sacraments. The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin equivalent of the Greek word “mysterion” from whence we derive “mystery”.

Our studies of the New Testament and all of the early Christian writings forced us to see what the truly Biblical view was, that in a mystery, grace is actually conferred in the sacraments. Now those verses that we had never underlined began to make sense! And a whole new world of grace began to open to us. Instead of losing grace, we began to discover new dimensions of it. And furthermore, we found clearly that the ancients had developed a healthy synergism between grace and works instead of the unhealthy post-reformation dichotomy between the two.

IS LITURGY BIBLICAL?

Then came liturgy! Surely it didn’t matter what order of worship one followed as long as he believed the right things — or did it? The more we studied the more we realized that the worship of the ancient Church was structured on two Jewish institutions, not just one as we had previously held. The Synaxis of public worship (Liturgy of the Catechumens) was modeled upon the Synagogue worship, but the Eucharistic Liturgy (Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper) was modeled after the Temple worship.

Our studies brought us to see that there was liturgy in worship from the very beginning of church life. Then we saw it in the New Testament.

In Acts 13:2 we find

“as they ministered to the Lord and fasted . . .”,

the word “ministered” is “leitourgounton“. The root of this word is the one from which our word “liturgy” comes. It literally means “work of the people” but from the beginning has referred to the worship of the Church — especially that worship centered around the Eucharist or Holy Communion.

Then in Acts 3:1 and 10:9 we found the Apostles Peter and John observing the Jewish hours of prayer. These were liturgical prayers prayed at the same hour each day, and had come from ancient Jewish practice. To this day the Orthodox Church uses basically the same Scriptures and prayers except with Christian adoption and meanings included. Once we began to pray and worship liturgically we found a whole new dimension to the Christian life. There is something tremendously comforting and enriching when one regularly uses prayers and worship that have been used by the faithful in some instances for over 3,000 years!

We found that liturgy isn’t dead; it’s people who are “dead” or “alive” to the Lord.

With such developments some of our people began to complain of “Future Shock”. We had moved from free-wheeling spontaneity to liturgy and sacrament in our worship in the space of a couple of years. The ancient liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom slowly but surely found a new home in our midst.

WHAT ABOUT VESTMENTS?

Along with the issue of liturgy came the question of vestments. Though we were well aware vestments were used under the Old Covenant, and robes of white adorn the saints of heaven as told in Revelation, we were accustomed to clergy in the ordinary street wear of the laity. Now, however, we learned as the Church matured in the early centuries of Her history, Her clergy made use of vestments both to demonstrate the other-worldliness of God’s anointed and to underscore their role as part of the visible government of God. So we moved to clerical garb. But for some of us this was a very humbling experience as we had often spoken out against vestments in the past. However, our attitude came to be: if we’re going to be ministers of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, we had best dress as ordained servants dress.

WHY THE CREEDS?

A careful study of the early Church history revealed the essential role played by the Creeds. We first observed that there are several obviously creedal passages in the New Testament. Two obvious ones are as follows:

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory,” (I Timothy 3:16)

Another passage reads:

“Therefore He says: `Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light,”‘ (Ephesians 5:14.).

These passages (and a number of others as well) were probably used in the early worship liturgy of the Church. Then as heresies continued to increase and plague the Church, the need grew especially for succinct Christological Creeds. Most likely the Apostles’ Creed was prepared by the Apostles, and it set the pattern for the later and essential Nicene Creed.

After all, only a few people had portions of Scripture, and furthermore those who had direct access to Scripture needed a proper hermeneutical standard by which to interpret Scripture. The Creeds have always served to provide that standard. The modern rationalistic idea that anyone and everyone is qualified to interpret Scripture was never a part of the Faith of the Ancient Church. Today we have every kind of sect and denomination in the world claiming the New Testament for their authority. But many reject the ancient creeds of the Church.

Those who claim to have no creed but the Bible are less than honest. They inevitably look to a teacher or certain books or to the founders of their church to provide the principles by which they will interpret Scripture. Why not stick with those standards which were formulated by holy men of old and which have stood the test of time?

THE GREATEST OF OUR STRUGGLES

Perhaps our greatest struggles came in the area of the use of icons and the Orthodox doctrines concerning Mary. Concerning the icons, we had been certain they represented serious violations of the commandment “Thou shalt make no graven images …” Was there not a danger of worshipping idols? Some of us came from such iconoclastic backgrounds that we wouldn’t even allow a cross to be worn or used in worship.

What we failed to see was the radical difference the Incarnation makes. Once God took on humanity then it became possible, even essential, to use matter to depict the significance of that event. St. John of Damascus in his very readable treatise On the Divine Images excellently explains and defends the use of icons. With fear and trembling, we confessed with the Fathers that if God the Son could inhabit human flesh, He and His saints could be imaged. Starting at first with small icons in our Churches, we soon came to boldly display our Lord and His faithful ones. After we began using icons in our worship services, we needed no further defense. They have been a phenomenal aid to realizing we worship in the presence of the saints and heavenly hosts.

And as for the danger of worshipping the images, they are no more mistaken for the ones they picture than a man may mistake the pictures in his wallet for his wife and other loved ones. He may kiss the picture of his wife if he is lonely, but that is a far cry from kissing her. The Church has long taught the difference between venerating an icon and worshipping the Holy Trinity. Veneration is comprised of honor, or devotion, to the person depicted by the icon.

St. John the Damascene points out that the devotion expressed before the icon passes on to the prototype (the one pictured in the icon). Worship is reserved for the Holy Trinity alone. worship certainly includes devotion and honor but also includes bowing before and submitting to the sovereign authority of the Holy Trinity. But rather than debate the issue, the best argument is to experience the blessings the icons can be when they are properly used.

Icons add depth and dimension to the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints. This has been perhaps one of the most blessed and comforting of Orthodox doctrines for us. Slowly we have come to really experience the presence of the saints in our worship service and in certain instances of daily life. We believe wholeheartedly that their prayers are powerful before God’s throne of grace. And now that they are enjoying His presence in a more full and direct way than when they lived on earth, it stands to reason that their prayers are more effectual than ever!

A number of months ago Father Richard Ballew was called by Father Joseph Copeland to come and help him with a particularly difficult problem with his people adjusting to liturgy. As Father Richard flew from Santa Barbara, California, to Yakima, Washington, he was overwhelmed with the sense that our dear friend, the departed Father Alexander Schmemann, was praying for him and that situation. Upon arriving at the airport, Father Copeland immediately reassured Father Richard, saying

“I’m no longer worried about the outcome of this problem. I’ve had the strongest sense that Father Alexander is praying for us!”

Talk about goosebumps!

This is a whole new realm for us. A few years ago we would have taken a skeptical, faithless approach toward the subject. Now we take great comfort and joy in it.

DO WE WORSHIP MARY?

Regarding Mary, we wanted to carefully avoid worshipping her or elevating her to the level of the Holy Trinity. We all had previously feared that was the case for those who honor Mary. But true Orthodox veneration of Mary is grounded in Scripture. Remember the declaration of Elizabeth,

“But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43 NKJV).

Indeed, the babe in Mary’s womb was God from the moment of His conception. There never was a time when He wasn’t God. And in order to be our Savior, it was absolutely essential chat the Second Person of the Godhead take upon Himself true humanity.

Thus, Mary is rightly called “Theotokos” or “God-bearer”. She was the mother of God. He joined Himself to her, humanity for our sakes!

And just imagine the effects of having such an intimate relationship with the Son of God! It isn’t possible to have God living within you as Mary did without it changing you forever. The Church has held from earliest times that Mary was fully sanctified (deified) as a result of this relationship with Jesus.

Furthermore, she became the perfect example of what all Christians should be and do — one who completely and willingly receives Christ in both His natures, Divine and human. We are all called upon to emulate the Holy Virgin by coming in complete humility and obedience to Christ, receiving Him by faith into our hearts and lives.

This is what Orthodox Christians believe takes place in Baptism and the Eucharist. In Baptism we ace joined into union with Christ. In the Eucharist we are nourished every cell of our bodies and every part of our souls and spirits — by eating of His Body and Blood. We partake of His life in faith week by week as He Himself instructed us to in John 6:32-58. And without this sacrament we cannot effectively and consistently abide in Christ as every sincere Christian eagerly desires to do. Jesus declared:

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (Also in this context please see John 15: 1-12.)

Now back again to Mary — by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Mary herself declared,

“Behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” (Luke 1:48).

As we studied why the Ancient Church placed such a great emphasis on Mary it dawned on us that we had not faithfully “called her blessed.” Rather, because of our anti-Catholic bias and because of our reaction to what we perceived to be an improper worship of Mary, we had argued against venerating her and calling her blessed. At the time we didn’t see that the Church was saying that what Mary has become by sanctification/deification we all have the privilege of becoming.

We too should aspire to the holy standing which the Church declares the beloved Virgin has achieved; “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim.” As Hebrews, chapter two indicates, we human beings presently occupy a place lower than the angels, but one day, through our union with Christ we shall be exalted far above them. The Church holds that beloved Mary has already achieved chat exalted state.

A LIFE CHANGING CHOICE

Our journey through Church history had now brought us to an eleventh century crisis, and we were faced with a choice we hated to make. By 1054, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church had reached an impasse. The East went east and remained the Orthodox Church, and the West went west as today’s Roman Catholic Church and ultimately the countless varieties of Protestantism. We were forced to make a decision.

The issues that split the Church were fundamentally two. The disagreement between East and West focused first on the papacy. Anciently, the Church had seen the ministry of the apostles continuing on in the office of bishop. Even the Twelve had said concerning Judas,

“Let his bishopric another take” (Acts 1:20).

Peter was viewed as first among equals in the Twelve. As the years passed there came to be bishops over bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs — a sign of healthy growth — with care taken to preserve the first-among equals principle. Soon five patriarchates emerged in five important cities of the world: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. While granting the Roman bishop primacy of honor among the five, the four patriarchs of the Eastern Church rejected Rome’s eventual claim of universal supremacy: a bishopric over all of Christendom.

The second long-range disagreement centered in a late addition to the Nicene Creed in the West. The original Creed had read,

“I believe. . . in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father… ” This confession was consistent with the teaching of Christ in the New Testament, “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father … (John 15:26, italics mine).

A Spanish council in the 6th century changed the Creed to read, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son ” (Latin: filioque), and the alteration was gradually adopted in the West. By the eleventh century, these two impasses added to other problems to cause a permanent breach.

We studied the issues through in both the Scriptures and in history and faced up to the overwhelming evidence. The East was correct on both counts. It was they who maintained the apostolic faith.

THE ORTHODOX: GETTING TO KNOW YOU

Up until this time, we had no contact at all with the Orthodox Church. We had come to Orthodox Christianity “out of the books.” In 1977, a relationship with the contemporary Church was begun. This happened through a most amazing set of Divine circumstances.

On February 8th, 1977, Fr. Jack Sparks instructed his young assistant, Marc Dunaway (now Fr. Marc Dunaway of Alaska) to mail 3 papers Fr. Jack had written on Orthodoxy to a St. Vladimir’s seminarian, informing him that the papers were still in a rough form and not ready for publication. But since the young seminarian had known Fr. Jack since he was a high school student, and the seminarian had even attended Bible studies led by Fr. Jack as both a high school and college student, he felt the liberty to go ahead and share the papers with Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

Fr. Schmemann was so impressed that he shared with Fr. Meyendorff and others at the Seminary. He then called Bp. Dimitri, who was in charge of missionary outreach for the OCA, and urged him to send someone to Santa Barbara to meet Fr. Jack and the others of our leadership who lived in Santa Barbara. Bp. Dimitri then called Fr. Thaddeus Wojcik, OCA pastor in Tarzanna, a suburb of Los Angeles, requesting him to follow up on this matter.

It was early fall of 1977 when Fr. Wojcik was finally able to make the trip to Santa Barbara. This was our first time to actually meet an Orthodox clergyman. This resulted in further dialog with the clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church in America, with roots in the historic Russian Orthodox Church.

Incidentally, the “young seminarian” mentioned above was Karl Bartke, later to become Fr. John Bartke, pastor of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Van Nuys, CA. It was in his Church on February 8, 1987 (exactly 10 years after the 3 papers were mailed) that the first 400 of our people were chrismated and approximately 40 deacons ordained.

To continue with the chronology, in 1981, we were invited to dialog with the faculty at Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, which introduced us more fully to the faithful of the Greek Orthodox Church. There was opportunity to meet with both clergy and laity of other Orthodox jurisdictions as well, including the Serbians, Carpatho-Russians, and Antiochians.

Because of the number of Orthodox jurisdictions in America, we decided in Synod in June 1984 to initially pursue the Church through the Patriarchate of Constantinople. If that door was not open, we would continue to look until we found a doom that was open.

At our January 1985 Synod we agreed the time was right to present ourselves to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople the following June, and the representatives appointed by the Greek Archdiocese to dialog with us agreed to that decision. The trip the following summed by nearly our entire Synod was a highlight of our lives, providing an incredible opportunity to visit three centers of ancient Christianity: Constantinople, Athens, and Thessoloniki. But the trip failed to provide the concrete spiritual direction and support we had looked for.

We returned home in time for a delegation of our Synod to meet with the Patriarch of Antioch, IGNATIUS IV, who was in North America on a pastoral visit. This had been arranged by Fr. Bartke before we traveled to Istanbul. Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba, primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in North America, had accompanied him to Los Angeles. Originally, the meeting had been scheduled as an informal visit to give us the privilege of meeting these two Christian hierarchs. But with our pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate two weeks earlier coming up short, could this be the Holy Spirit opening the door we had looked for?

Out of an extremely cordial and inspiring meeting with the Patriarch and the Metropolitan came their request for a complete profile report on the EOC, and an offer to help us in any way possible. The report was sent in September 1985, and other contacts were expanded or established between ourselves and Antiochian Churches in the weeks that followed. In January 1986, the EOC Synod drafted a proposal to Metropolitan PHILIP outlining our desire to be considered for entrance into the Orthodox Church through his Archdiocese.

At a meeting between Peter Gillquist and the Metropolitan in March of 1986, we emerged with some proposed guidelines for the possible reception of the EOC into the Antiochian Church. We suggested these details be fully discussed at a meeting between the Metropolitan and the Holy Synod of the EOC. That meeting was held on September 5 and 6,1986, at the Antiochian headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey. On September 8, in a meeting of the EOC Synod, the decision was made to say yes to the Metropolitan’s invitation.

We would enter the canonical Orthodox Church in and through the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

ENTERING THE GATES

We were brought into the Orthodox Church parish by parish, person by person, beginning on February 8, 1987 as previously stated. All of us were chrismated, that is, received by the anointing with holy chrism (oil) as a sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our clergy were ordained — deacons to the deaconate, bishops and presbyters to the priesthood in some of the most spiritually and emotionally moving services of our lifetimes.

Our desire is to serve the Church through the preaching of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the building of new mission Churches across the country, communicating the Orthodox faith on our nation’s campuses, through literature, and through education. We have been designated by Metropolitan PHILIP as the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission (AEOM). Our desire is to make North America Orthodox!

However, to make North America Orthodox we must learn how to capture the minds and hearts of a great host of her people. We have found that a growing number of Evangelical pastors are beginning to give serious attention to Orthodoxy. But this is a new phenomenon and presently is limited to only those who are more prone to a studious and serious study of the Church’s early history. It is essential that we get beyond this circle and make Orthodox theology the topic of discussion among the common people as was once the case. Church historians tell us there was a time when the nuances of the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ were discussed in the market place. We are dedicated to making this happen again if God so wills!

In terms of sheer numbers, what we’ve done isn’t that substantial. Some of you pastors have more members in your local parish than we had in all of the EOC combined. Perhaps the thing that makes our conversion to Orthodoxy significant is that we represent a thoroughly pluralistic, heterodox, entirely Americanized body of people. In other words, if we can become Orthodox, then anyone in North America can!

Also, we come from a particularly, evangelistic background — which means we know well the arguments on the heterodox side of the fence. If somehow we can devise succinct answers to the questions non-Orthodox have and then work our acceptable ways to proclaim those answers, we represent a strong force for Orthodox evangelization. And we know there are many, others just like us who if given the time and persuasion will join the Orthodox ranks just as we have

We feel there are some things crucial to the evangelization of non-Orthodox Christians and to prevent our own Orthodox people from being proselytized by the Protestant sects and para-Church groups. One of these things is to teach our people to understand the terms and methods of witnessing which those other groups seem to use so effectively. The following are examples of these terms along with brief answers that Orthodox people need to know when confronted with them.

1.“Have you been born again?” The simple answer to this question is “Yes!” All Orthodox Christians who have been properly baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity have been born again. It may well be that they need to renew their love for and commitment to Christ. Or if they are lapsed Orthodox, they may need a conversion experience. Most Christians need to experience a number of “conversions” in their lifetimes. I am using the word “conversion” somewhat like “repentance”. In fact, conversion is the turn about that should follow any deeply felt repentance.

Most Evangelicals use the terms “Have you been born again?”, “Have you been saved?”, and “Have you been converted?” in a synonymous manner. Obviously this is not a precise use of terms. But properly understood and used, all of them are Biblical terms that can be meaningful to Orthodox Christians.

2.“Have you accepted Christ?” Again the answer is “Yes!” We accept Him or receive Him every time we receive the Holy Eucharist. It may be that some Orthodox Christians need to rededicate their hearts and lives to Christ. Or they may need to become more lovingly aware of the presence of Christ as they receive His Body and Blood. But they have “received Christ”.

3.“Have you made your decision for Christ?” This gets into a more ambiguous and subjective type of question that is sometimes used by Evangelicals. If you’re talking to a lapsed Orthodox, perhaps you do need to confront him with the need to make a fresh “decision to follow Christ”, but we know our Christian lives are continuous walks, not a one-time decision.

4.“Church membership and baptism aren’t really, important. Accepting Christ is what’s important.” Often Evangelists will make a statement like this. If so, they need to be lovingly but firmly informed that they are dead wrong. A proper view of the Church teaches that our baptism into Christ (in the name of the Holy Trinity) makes us members of His Body the Church. It’s not possible to be saved without this taking place. It is wrong and un-Biblical to separate personal salvation from baptism and Church membership.

5.“Come to our revival (renewal) meetings. You will really be blessed and helped.” Often an Orthodox could be helped. But what some Evangelicals are interested in is proselytizing the Orthodox. To win Orthodox and Catholics is viewed as being super special in some Evangelical circles. Our answer should be to start having our own renewal or “revival” meetings. They, can be planned around special feasts and holy seasons, bur should definitely focus on St. John Chrysostom-type Biblical preaching and not liturgy alone.

Much more could and should be said along these lines, but it is time to bring this paper to a close. Obviously the theological milestones which we have passed have been revolutionary for us. We are aware that for many in the Evangelical world, this does not represent progress but devolution. Our only reply is that once one has tasted these blessed truths and the comfort they bring, he loses his fear of them and begins to see why so many have fought and died for them throughout Church history.

So ends a journey of some 15 years. We have been borne along by the Holy Spirit from being a scattered, independent people to becoming a part of the visible people of God. We are beginning a journey of living out the rest of our lives in peace and repentance, and encouraging as many others as we can to join with us in doing so within the family and friends of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Source:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2010/05/arrowhead-springs-to-antioch-odyssey-to-orthodoxy/

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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“They must learn, for they do not know”

The conversion of French George Lesier from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy

With this title we publish the letter of Mrs. Catherine Lesier, by which she expresses her thanks for the contribution of our Holy Monastery for the conversion of her reposed husband to the One, Catholic and Apostolic Church, our Orthodox Church.

We used the above title, because it consists of the saying of George Lesier himself, while expressing his pain for his countrymen, himself being French, and because we believe this publication would also help those who have yet to know and taste the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The conversion of George, of course is by nature the work of the Divine Grace. It is the response of God to his innocent intention, in his personal spiritual struggle which was but an expression of his anticipation for his union with the Holy Church. It is without doubt the fruit of love and of the hearty prayers of his pious wife and of the spiritual fathers and brothers, who anonymously or otherwise, they are referred to in the letter of Mrs. Lesier.

The contribution of our Holy Monastery lies in the divine functioning providence of its New Marmara Metohion at Halkidiki. of the last few years.
We believe that George, as he requested, kept clean the robe of holy baptism and now he reposes in the glory of the Lord. He intercedes for his family, his spiritual brothers but also for his, of the flesh countrymen. “They must learn, because they do not know” he would say when he referred to them. He wished that they all knew, if possible, the Grace of the Holy Spirit which he intensely lived with his holy baptism. Finally George was speaking from experience. For this he was very convincing and he became greatly accepted within his narrow family circle and by his countrymen that came to know him.

We pray that God rest his spirit with the Just and we ask him to pray to God for us who came to love him.

* * *

N. Marmaras 15-3-1993.

My honourable elder George, bless.

I know your time is precious, for this I beg you to forgive me that I make you spend a little time reading my letter.

Personally I thank you for the contribution of your spiritual work at the New Marmara Metohion. I especially thank you and all the fathers of the Monastery, for helping my husband George to come to Orthodoxy and be baptized at 65 years of age. I truly believe I have lived a miracle, because in my twenty years of married life, I had to deal with a very difficult man, especially in religious matters.

When after our wedding – fortunately we married in the Orthodox Church – I learned from someone spiritual that it is a heavy misdemeanour that I had married a heterodox and even as he called him a heretic. I was shaken and I started to feel the weight of my responsibility and guilt. That Spiritual one suggested to me that I should help him get to know Orthodoxy and perhaps if he became Orthodox, that would settle the matter.

I tried as much as I could but it proved impossible. Our visit to the village Church failed and he did not wish that I talk again on such matters.
I stopped trying and I started praying for God to enlighten him, because I could see he was pious, he would pray and he would read the Bible, use the prayer rope, he had a spiritual father in Thessaloniki who used to visit him often and would receive Holy Communion.

When our children came to this world, hope was also born in me that if we baptized our children Orthodox, something would have happened in him too. Unfortunately, he not only did not think something like what I hoped but in the contrary he did not wish to baptize the kids. He insisted that they follow the Roman Catholic faith and threatened that he would take one of the kids and separate. I almost went crazy from sadness and the calamity he threatened of scuttling our family. No one knew or suspected anything. My only refuge was the Lady Theotokos. I would pray with fervour and beg her to help us out of the impasse. I would pray, beg and wait full of anguish and pain for the Sweet Mother of our Lord to show her miracle.

And the answer did not tarry. She enlightened my husband to visit his spiritual father and be advised. It was a very difficult day that would remain unforgettable. The return of my husband filled me with joy. He had decided to baptize the children Orthodox. Everything disappeared as a bad dream and my heart overflowed with giving glory and thanks to our All-Holy Theotokos for her help.

Little by little we began by visiting the Metohion of your monastery. My husband’s heart had softened. He would relax and wish to go there more often. He would visit the neighbouring monasteries and went often to the Holy Mountain. He always returned very happy and he would tell us of everything he heard from the fathers. He was greatly impressed by the miraculous icons and would be tearful when he described something about them.

I understood that the Divine Grace started visiting him. He had a great wish to learn as much as he could. He struggled greatly. He would seldom sleep, would pray a lot, fasted and he would almost eat nothing and at night he would do the prayer rope.

I begged the Theotokos to give him patience, to strengthen his faith and to help him to the end, to his baptism.

When he decided to be baptized, our happiness was indescribable. However the temptations and obstacles would fight us day and night without ceasing. Here I must thank warmly the fathers who at that time were at Metohion, and to ask their forgiveness because we had burdened them very much. He felt a great respect for the Agiorite fathers and the Orthodox monastics.

He would discover a lot of things that as a Roman Catholic he never felt. For this when two young children who came from France, visited him shortly after his baptism, he told them: “Don’t ask too much about Orthodoxy. Only hurry up and get baptized, because I committed a mistake by waiting so long to do so. Those youths today dressed in the monastic schema, serve the Lord somewhere at the Holy Mountain.

After many obstacles and continuous postponements it should be noted during the day set for the baptism, the weather was foul, it snowed a lot, and for this it was suggested that it be postponed – the much awaited day for George’s day when he would finally become Orthodox Christian, had arrived. His yierning was so great that when the Abbess of the Holy Annunciation of the Theotokos Monastery at Ormylia suggested that he be baptized on Pascha when the weather would be warmer George answered: “I cannot wait any longer. If you refuse to baptize me I shall remain here until you will baptize me.

Thus, with the help of God, the prayers of the fathers and the love of all his people, George entered the Holy Mystery, at the dawn of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The morning the temperature was quite a few degrees below zero. The baptism was outdoors and the water was icy. We asked him how he felt and he said wonderful and that the water was warm. His face shone at that moment. He would laugh happily and was as happy as a child. Many of us present had tears in the eyes at that time being flooded by a different, heavenly joy. My lips were heartily glorifying and warmly thanking God and our beloved Theotokos for their blessings they bestowed on us and to this day I have not ceased to glorify Them.

George changed the following days. He was happy and peaceful, in good mood, a total opposite person with whom I had lived so far, totally renewed. This greatly impressed me and I would ask him what he felt after baptism, what changed, what was the difference. And he would answer by moving his head and saying: “I am sad that I cannot explain so that you could understand. I cannot say it with words, I cannot describe it. I just wish to say one thing now: that Christ take me now. I wish to die, for if I remain I shall lose what I have inside me, the Divine Grace will leave me”.

The good Lord heard him. After a few months he became very sick with lung cancer of the malignant type, and the doctors gave him about two months to live. We hurriedly departed for France and we did not succeed even though we tried to ask for your blessings Father George, and Father Gregory who was also our confessor. My blessed husband had a great love and respect towards you as well as the reverend fathers of your Holy Monastery. The last and precious supply from Greece was the Holy Communion which he received at the Metohion.

Our days in France were bitter and difficult. Our doctors prepared us that to the end we should expect more difficult days. Soon the cancer metastasized to the head and George was paralyzed in half. Despite of his difficult state, he did not cease to preach Orthodoxy. When I would advise him not to speak he would answer: “They must learn, because they do not know”. People would surround his bed and would listen with awe that the icons are miraculous and how a vigil at the Holy Mountain could last ten to twelve hours. And they would ask me to confirm what he was saying. Strange and newly heard things for them. They were amazed by the fact that you were praying for us at the Monastery. He would calm his sister by telling her that many pray for him in Greece and that God is with him.

To one of his doctors, who was very educated and a great scientist, he told him that since he did not visit the Holy Mountain and has not known Orthodoxy, then he has not accomplished anything in his life.

They were also greatly impressed by the visits of Father Elijah, who would come despite we were about two hundred kilometers apart, to help us by confessing and communing him and keep him company. Father Elijah helped us very much as did the sisters of the local Monastery.

With the help of Father Elijah, we told George’s sister that he was baptized Orthodox and while we expected a bad reaction from her, she hugged him and told him he did well. He would then cry with joy. The same day he confessed and received communion and after Father Elijah left, I sat alone in the room, close to him. George was sleeping peacefully. Suddenly I felt a great fragrance begin to fill the room like censing and while I was wondering where it came from, I turned and saw the face of George shine with a sweet smile. Shortly the fragrance disappeared.

Another day, tired, sad and perhaps may I dare say feeling hopeless, I sat on the armchair close to the sick one to relax. No sooner did I close my eyelids, I saw a little girl opening the door and entering and coming close to me, touching me on the shoulder and telling me not to be sad because she would stay with us to the end. She was a girl of medium height, brunette, with an open dress and a monastic belt. She was very pretty, and sweet and around eighteen years old. I woke up and looked for her and felt that I should not be overcome by hopelessness. This happened on the 10th or 11th November (feast day of Saint Virgin Martyr Anastasia the Roman in the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory, namely, 29 October according to the old calendar).

George was approaching his end and was in great pain. The days flowed martyrically but he did not moan. He would just say, praying “My Christ I am tired, only You know how much”. His weight dropped to 35 kilos. On December 25, on the day of Christmas, the Lord called George close to Him, a day when 66 years before he saw the light for the first time. I hope and pray that the Most Good God rest the soul of my blessed husband and I beg you my reverend Father George, pray also for him, for his children and finally for me the weak one, who used to lose my patience. Pray for God to have mercy on me and forgive me.

It is worth noting that on the 40th day commemoration of my husband repose, that took place at the Monastery of Ormylia, where George was baptized, many nuns saw him between us shining and smiling.

We thank you one more time, you and the fathers who put up and shared with us our problems.

We pray that the Most Good God strengthen, protect and enlighten you always.

With respect and esteem,
Catherine Lesier.

Source:

https://www.impantokratoros.gr/root.en.aspx

https://www.impantokratoros.gr/Conversion-Orthodoxy.en.aspx

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The Lure of the Mystical Path

By

Alice Tallmadge, Correspondent

Originally published in The Oregonian, Sunday, April 9, 2000

From Ashland to Portland, the Orthodox tradition is drawing Oregonians to its ancient depths

EUGENE — The Saturday night buzz is revving outside the doors of St. Eugene Orthodox Church in the Whiteaker neighborhood. Motors race. Doors slam. Nearby taverns begin to fill with eager revelers. But inside the walls of the humble, dome-topped church, an otherworldly peace reigns. Pungent incense hangs in the air. Gold-flecked icons, lit by flickering tapers, line the dark red walls. Women, their long hair covered with scarves, stand on one side of the small nave, men on the other.

They take turns filling the room with plaintive, old-world chants. Other worshippers stand quietly, hands to their sides, heads bowed.

“This is how we worship, to stay concentrated in prayer,” said St. Eugene member Sarah Cowie.

“We believe that, during the service, God pours himself out. If you get quiet enough in your mind, you can feel, palpably, his presence.”

The 70 or so members of St. Eugene aren’t immigrants from Russia, Eastern Europe or Greece. They are Eugene-area residents, most of them converts from Protestant sects, who have found solace and sustenance in a tradition that dates back 2,000 years to the early Christian church. Cowie and other St. Eugene members are among the growing numbers of Oregonians who are converting to Orthodoxy.

For years, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Portland, established in 1895, was one of few Orthodox churches in the state. In the past 15 years, churches or missions have sprung up in Albany, Ashland, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Eugene and in several Portland neighborhoods. According to the Orthodox Church of America, an umbrella organization for certain Orthodox jurisdictions, at least 150 new parishes in the United States have sprung up in the past 20 years. Nationally, they estimate there are now 2 million to 3 million Orthodox believers.

Faith trumps understanding in the ancient, mystical tradition, which is steeped in rituals such as a sung liturgy, reverence for icons, fasting, sacraments and daily dedication to the spiritual life.

Something more real

One of the tradition’s most powerful attractions to Westerners is its rejection of immediate gratification and living only for the self, said Cowie. She converted 14 years ago after spending years seeking a tradition that would satisfy a spiritual longing she herself could not describe. Orthodoxy offered something different, she said. Something bigger. Something more real.

“It’s very, very deep,” she said. “The people who are attracted to Orthodoxy are people… who are looking for something more, who see the shallowness of our materialistic society.”

Orthodoxy doesn’t ignore the mind and the intellect, Cowie said, but sees the intellect as being seated in the heart.

“There is a mystical presence that actually draws us on.”

A hunger for meaning

Youths seem to be drawn to the ancient tradition. When Cowie’s daughter was a teen-ager, Cowie gave her free rein to decide for herself which religious tradition spoke to her. Her daughter, now 21, is an Orthodox nun in a California monastery.

“Our children are staying with the church,” said Cowie, who teaches parenting classes at a Eugene nonprofit agency.

The Rev. Michael Boyle, a priest at St. Eugene, said that for some youths the church fills a void that entertainment and other social institutions do not.

“Younger people are hungry for authentic Christianity. They are dying inside for something that is real, authentic and that challenges them to have a spiritual life as a Christian,” he said. “Orthodoxy has not lost the mystery. It does not try to answer every question that comes up. It’s real. People feel God.”

The tradition’s emphasis on ritual, prayer and self-examination spoke to an unmet spiritual hunger Rebecca Jaquette and her husband had both felt for years. Like Cowie, Jaquette had experimented with different Christian approaches to worship before she found Orthodoxy. Brought up Presbyterian,

“I felt like I didn’t have any tradition,” Jacquette said. “My husband and I knew how to speak ‘Christian-ese,’ but inwardly we felt we were just going through the motions. We didn’t know what we were really doing with our lives.”

From the moment they began attending Orthodox services in Portland, something felt right, Jaquette said.

“And as we continued in it, we felt we were worshipping more fully, that we found a place where there was a rhythm to life that was really important.”

Now members of St. Eugene, the couple is happy to have rituals and traditions to pass on to their two children, ages 5 and 6 months.

“This is what they will know,” Jaquette said.

A split at the beginning

The Eastern and Western Christian traditions split apart in what is known as the Great Schism of 1054. The two branches took very different routes. Whereas the Roman Catholic tradition adhered to a strict hierarchy headed by the pope, the Orthodox Church stayed away from placing one individual at its head. Over the centuries, a host of Orthodox jurisdictions developed. Different ethnic groups, including Greeks, Serbians, Albanians and Russians, added their own customs to the traditional rituals. Still, at the core,

“we are all of the same faith,” Evangelatos said.

Michael Spezio, a UO graduate student and a Presbyterian minister, has studied Orthodoxy and has traveled to Mount Athos, a Greek peninsula populated only by monks living in centuries-old monasteries. Spezio said he has come to understand what Orthodoxy contributes to the broad spectrum of Christianity.

“I have an appreciation for the mystery that moves through the tradition,” he said. “They don’t seek to intellectualize every last thing. The seek to experience, but not to dissect that experience.

Incorporating the senses

Despite its focus on spirituality, Orthodoxy doesn’t reject the physical realm, said St. Eugene member Catherine Larson. During services the five senses are nourished and purified: candles for sight, incense for smell, bread and wine for taste, kissing of icons for touch, chanting for sound. Church members often fast, but they also join for feasts and communal meals.

“The beauty and theology of Orthodoxy seems more elemental, more practical,” she said. Unlike Catholicism, Orthodox priests who intend to serve parishes must be married before they are ordained.

St. Eugene, said the head priest, the Rev. David Lubliner, is named after a 4th-century Egyptian saint who is celebrated for his selfless hospitality and kindness.

“Emperor Constantine called him one of the three great lights of the world,” he said. The church, which also houses a small bookstore, plans to continue its patron saint’s hospitality. It will open a drop-in tea house and plans to help cook for the group Food Not Bombs, which prepares meals for the homeless several times a week.

Coincidentally, the church is situated at the site of another establishment that served wayward pilgrims on the path of life. The former Icky’s Teahouse welcomed social outcasts, runaway youth, substance abusers and anarchists, once even holding a benefit concert for Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Today the just-completed stucco church, which took church members two years and hundreds of hours of mostly volunteer labor to build, nuzzles up close to Whiteaker’s social diversity. To the south is an AA social club. To the north a dance studio thuds with flamenco initiates. Nearby is a row of artists’ studios, a Mission homeless shelter, local railroad yards and a notorious drug and skin market strip. St. Eugene will be a place of peace in the center of that swirl, Boyle said, both for its members and anyone on the street looking for a place of rest.

“I know that, through prayer, grace is sent, and that grace resides in the physical building itself,” he said.

“As people enter from the street, they sense it. They sense holiness, something different than anything they’ve sensed before. And that is part of our purpose, to bring down that grace from heaven.”

Source:

http://heavenonearthorthodoxy.wordpress.com

HEAVEN ON EARTH - ORTHODOXY

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Latin America: 
Peoples in search of Orthodoxy

by

Metropolitan Athenagoras of Mexico

Thirteen years ago, when I undertook the (then newly-established) Holy Metropolis of Mexico with only three priests and three mainly Greek-speaking communities, in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela, I would never have expected, let alone conceive the miracle that is unfolding today for our Orthodox Church in Latin America. We all lived the miracle of Cuba, when Fidel Castro’s government undertook the construction of the Sacred Temple of Saint Nicholas in Havana and officially received Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who officiated the inauguration of that Holy shrine in January of 2004.  In the decade that passed, we experienced the propagating of our faith in the states of Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, etc… just as we experienced – and continue to experience – the continuing drama of the people of Haiti, after the catastrophic earthquake of last January.  A drama which unfortunately will heal, only after several years have passed.

Greece became acquainted with Christianity and lived its own Pentecost around two thousand years ago, through the Apostle Paul and the other Apostles.  Greece is the most blessed country in the world. And this is because – as I point out to our priests – whichever stone you lift, underneath it you will find the relics of a Saint, a Martyr, a holy man, a fighter for the Orthodox faith…  We, however, in Latin America are living our Pentecost today.  For us – with the exception of the few Greek Orthodox Communities – Orthodoxy has only just arrived in Latin America. I recall six years ago, when our Ecumenical Patriarch visited Cuba to officiate in the inauguration of the Holy Temple of Saint Nicholas, there were only four Orthodox Cubans, whereas now, more than one thousand Cuban families have been baptized and have embraced Orthodoxy.  And every day, there are more – many more – who seek to acquaint themselves with the Faith of our Fathers.  Six years ago, with the inauguration of Saint Nicholas’ church, the first Orthodox Community in the land began to function. Now, with the grace of God and the untiring labours of our five priests (one Colombian and four Cuban), some very significant and impressive missionary work is under way in three other cities of this Land. And this, in spite of unfavourable and financially difficult conditions. At this very moment that I am writing, the Hierarchal Commissioner of Cuba, fr. Athenagoras, is in Greece trying to secure vestments and cassocks and chalices for our needs there.  Even though the Cubans have given us the exceptional privilege of acquiring our own property (something that is not permitted by their Constitution),  unfortunately, there are no funds for us to purchase a suitable building with the necessary thirty-five thousand Euros, to convert it into a Temple for the worshipping needs of the neophytes.  We are hoping for God’s grace and are praying for a donor to be found.

When I visited President Fidel Castro seven years ago, to obtain the official invitation with which he was inviting the Ecumenical Patriarch to visit Cuba, I thanked him for that courteous and hospitable gesture of his.  I will never forget his response: “No, Your Eminence, the people of Cuba thank you and the Ecumenical Patriarch, for bringing Orthodoxy to our country.” Cuba, indeed, is “ours”. Haiti is “ours”, Mexico, Costa Rica, Santo Domingo and Colombia, where now, thanks to a lady donor of the Missionary Association “Saint Kosmas the Aetolian”, the first Holy Temple is being erected in the city of Cúcuta of Colombia, in honour of the Supreme Archangels.  And now, another miracle: Guatemala...

As in the eras of persecutions, when Christians used to live in catacombs in anticipation of the day they could freely worship the Triadic God, so it is with us here, in all of the countries of Central and South America; for entire decades, innumerable groups of people – who had abandoned the Roman Catholic church – were waiting for the embrace of Orthodoxy.  One such large group in Guatemala knocked on the door of our Metropolis several months ago, asking us to accept them in the bosom of the true Church. I didn’t know them. I didn’t even know they existed. And indeed, in this vast region of the twenty states under the jurisdiction of the Holy Metropolis of Mexico it is impossible to know everyone.  However, twenty years ago, they had established their own (anti-canonical) Orthodox Church, naturally without knowing full well what they had done, and had endeavoured to survive. They lived incorrectly, in their own particular manner, an “orthodox” worshipping life.  They knew and they desired Orthodoxy.  They knew that our Church has the true faith – that they had a right to Orthodox teaching and its way of life.  They believed that only there would they find the Saviour and Redeemer Christ. So, for twenty years. they walked along a path with the hope that they would eventually reach the truth. Knowing also that it was imperative to commemorate a Bishop in all of their liturgies, during the last ten years they would commemorate our Ecumenical Patriarch.

Twenty years later came the “fullness of time”. After searching, they learnt a few months ago that in Mexico there is a canonical Metropolitan and a Metropolis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. They found me, and they knocked on my door, asking me to receive them. I sent two priests to go and meet them so that we could determine who they are and if their request is serious and valid.  I was stunned. It was a “group” of more than 500.000 people, with 338 churches and chapels, most of whom were natives of Guatemala – and in fact of the ancient race of Mayans!  They live in the mountains and the vast plains of the land and even in the southern cities of Mexico.  I crossed myself and gave thanks to the Holy Mother for that miracle.  I fully understood now what the great byzantinologist and historian of the previous century – Steven Runciman – meant, when he wrote that “the third millennium belongs to Orthodoxy“.  Now I also understand the words of a noble Mexican, a University Professor and a faithful member of our Church, when he said to me:  “Your Eminence, Orthodoxy is like a shoe that fits us Latin Americans, provided you know how to put it on us.” So I accepted that group and as a first step, I ordained the two leaders of the group. Now begins the long road of catechism for the hundreds of thousands of those people. It will require several years and a lot of hard work – but a blessed work – to teach those new faithful of ours what the Orthodox way of life involves, and how each of us experiences his own path towards Calgary, which leads to one’s personal Resurrection.  By training suitable indigenous clergymen, they will learn to live the worshipful life of the Orthodox Church and, after being baptized and receiving Holy Chrismation, to receive the Immaculate and Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments) – the Body and Blood of our Lord and Redeemer Christ. You must realize however, that for all this project that is now unfolding before us, we need your help.  We need the necessary financial means to send our own priests to Guatemala, to instruct the catechist teachers there how to catechize the faithful.  The financial means are necessary, in order to print hundreds of thousands of catechist texts, for children and for adults.  In the meantime, many of those people are illiterate. Money is also needed, to prepare videotapes in Spanish, and even in the local dialect of the Mayans, so that they might familiarize themselves with the Divine Liturgy, the Baptism, the Chrismation and all the Services of our Church.

Can you imagine what this means for Orthodoxy?  And this is just the beginning.  The struggle has only just begun. We truly “own” Latin America.  The third millennium truly belongs to Orthodoxy. With the meagre means at our disposal, but with the wide-open, vast and endless Grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, we will continue with our endeavours. We do however ask for your support. As I outlined above, we need a donation of thirty-five thousand Euros for the purchase of the property in Cuba, where we will establish a Temple and areas for the congregating and the catechizing of the faithful.  We will also need another donation of twenty-five thousand Euros, in order to begin catechizing the new faithful of Guatemala: to print catechism texts, prepare videotapes of Divine Services and to send suitable priests of ours to that Land, in order to undertake this very important work. It is our belief that the Missionary Association “Saint Kosmas of Aetolia”, which has been the main support of our labours and our endeavours all these years, as well as all you pious donors and the members of the Association, will support us in this new venture that God has placed before us. The Lord God lives, for all eternity!

With wishes and infinite thanks

Athenagoras of Mexico

Source:

http://orthodox-culture.blogspot.com

ORTHODOX CULTURE

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James Evans, England: His conversion from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy

“RUSSIA IS A SACRED 
COUNTRY FOR ME”

Interview with James Evans, 
an Orthodox Briton

Priest George Maximov, James Evans

We continue to publish the materials of Spas TV program “My Path To God”, where Priest George Maximov interviews people who converted to Orthodoxy. The guest of today’s program is James Evans, an Orthodox Englishman. He will tell us why he prefers to live in Russia rather than in England, what he gets from singing in the Orthodox church and how his journey to Orthodoxy began.

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Priest George Maximov: Hello. You’re watching My Path To God. Today we have a guest from England. James, please tell us about yourself.

James Evans: I was born in a Catholic family in London. Later we moved to Salisbury, 3 hours away from London. I went to an Anglican school, because education there was better than in Catholic schools. The Anglican service doesn’t differ much from the Catholic service. It was quite beautiful and I sang in the school choir during the services. However, I went to a Catholic church for communion.

All my grandparents are from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and so I am of a Celtic origin.

I grew up in Salisbury and went to Oxford after graduation. When I was still in school in Salisbury, I passed the Latin exam one year earlier and was offered to select an additional subject. I chose Informatics, but they assigned me to a Russian language course instead. I was upset, but started reluctantly studying it. A few months later, I was told that this year they were organizing a student exchange program and I had a chance of going to Russia. I travelled to Russia for my summer vacation in 1989, when I was 16. This changed everything for me and set the course for my future life. When I got back to England, I understood that I couldn’t live without Russia. I talked the principal into giving me an opportunity to study Russian language and literature individually. He made an exception and assigned personal tutors to me. In the University of Oxford, I continued my Russian studies. Not because I wanted to become a linguist, but because I felt that Russia was calling me. I don’t know why, but I had a feeling that there would be no life for me without Russia. That was how it all started.

Father George: So, thanks to the Russian language studies, you learned about the Russian culture. You also visited Russia when it was still a part of the Soviet Union and saw its everyday life and people. Were you particularly impressed by anything?

I wasn’t impressed by the Russian culture as much as I was impressed by a totally different view on life.

James Evans: My first encounter with the Russian culture started with Lermontov. After studying Russian for about a year and knowing no more than a hundred words, I started reading his Hero of Our Times. What impressed me when I visited Russia? I wasn’t impressed by the culture, the museums and art, etc. as much as I was impressed by a totally different view on life.

As part of that student exchange program, a group from the Soviet Union came to Great Brittan. My school has a five-century long history. It was founded by King Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII. A group of kids from Soviet Union came and broke all the rules. We drank Sovetskoye champagne in my room. One of the guests was a very good guitarist and he played a mix of Russian songs and the Beatles’ songs. I think they even smoked. It was shocking. After that, the boys in my school looked at me differently. They knew that it was something beyond their understanding.

For me, being in Russia is like breathing different air. The relationships between people here are different. I don’t know why, but I didn’t quite get along with kids in England. However, for some reason I felt that I belonged with these Russian kids. It was so easy. The communication was totally different and pleasant. It is difficult to explain. It was a different feeling, a different way of life. Something changed in me after my first visit to Russia. However, at that time I had no interest in Orthodoxy.

Father George: How did you learn about Orthodoxy?

James Evans: I participated in a second student exchange program. My friend Phillip was in that program too. Eventually, with the blessing of bishop Anthony of Sourozh, Philipp became Father Phillip. Once Philip and I went to an Orthodox church in London. We didn’t even know that bishop Anthony was there. He was walking in the church so quietly and then came up and talked to us. In about a minute, Phillip realized who was talking to him and he couldn’t believe it. I didn’t quite understand who was talking to us. When I came to Russia, Phillip, who was already a reader in the church, always invited me to the services. I stood there with a straight back, as I felt awkward and didn’t want to bow. People in Russia probably won’t understand it, but in England and generally in the West people are very afraid to show that they are religious. They don’t want to make the sign of the cross not because they don’t worship the cross, but because they don’t want to draw attention to their inner feelings. They are too shy to show them. As I came from such a background, I felt awkward in an Orthodox church, but since Phillip kept on inviting me, I didn’t refuse. I would come and stand there for about 2 hours; my back would be stiff and sore. The service was very impressive and beautiful, but it was tough for me because standing like that was difficult and I had a feeling that this was not my world, and many things seemed strange. Still, this was my first step.
Once a priest invited me into the altar. It was a great honor. I stood there in awe with eyes wide open, feeling that it was very important. The priest probably foresaw that in the future I would convert to Orthodoxy and maybe that was why he invited me. It was unforgettable.

Father George: How did you convert to Orthodoxy? Were you moved by your heart or by your reason? What played the major role?

My spiritual journey is associated with singing.

James Evans: My spiritual journey is associated with singing. As I mentioned, I used to sing when I was child, but I stopped singing when I grew up. I still don’t sing much when I’m in England. I feel that there is no need for me to sing there. On the other hand, I started singing here in Russia, I don’t know why. As if here I am a totally different person.

Olya, the wife of my friend from the first student exchange program, was teaching me singing in the opera school. There were some guests at the exam and among them was Vasily Petrovich, the choirmaster of the church I now go to. At the end of the exam, he came up to me and invited me to sing in his St. Trinity Church in Lysty district. I remember that it felt as if my heart were softly smiling. Very softly, but it was a definite smile. As if my heart was telling me to say, “Yes”. I don’t remember what exactly I answered to the choirmaster; probably I said that I would come. However, I knew for sure that I’d come to the service. So next Sunday I went there and started singing. It happened some time in early Great Lent, 12 years ago. People in the choir gallery knew that I was a Catholic, but let me sing anyway. I didn’t think about anything specific then, I simply knew that singing during the service was beautiful. I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but by the end of Great Lent, Vasily Petrovich and I were already discussing my conversion to Orthodoxy. Father Ambrose anointed me with chrism on Great Saturday and on Easter Day I was already an Orthodox Christian. This was just the beginning, of course. Some people come to religion through reason, but for me it happened through singing. I can’t explain why, but singing was important for me.

I remember thinking, “Singing here is great, but it is only twice a week, three times a week maximum.” It was not enough for me, so on other days I went to another church where they had early services. A few months later, a new priest was assigned to our church and he decided to have services every day. I smiled inside again, as if I knew that this would happen. So as soon as they started having services every day, I started singing at the church every morning. This was how my day started: I would get up with difficulty, but if it wasn’t for singing I wouldn’t get up at all. Singing was what made me get up and go to the service. So, my spiritual development was closely related to my singing every day at the church. Gradually, I started immersing myself in the atmosphere of divine services.

People are hustling and bustling around, while in the church everything is serene and we are singing. That was how the services were performed throughout Russia for hundreds of years. And I am a part of it.

I think that this is the important difference between Protestants and Orthodox. Protestants are completely committed to reason. They seem to study a lot and they can tell you many interesting things. While in Orthodoxy, I can simply go to a service, partake in the sacrament and be totally immersed it in. It is immersing into warm water. It is something that I do not fully understand, but although I don’t understand what is happening here, I participate in it in my own small way. And I know that it counts, and I can say why it is so meaningful. I’m singing in the church, and even though I am no one important and not much of a singer, I am a part of this worship service in downtown Moscow. People are hustling and bustling around, hurrying to work, cars rushing by, while we sing here quietly and peacefully. That was how the services were performed throughout Russia for hundreds of years. And I am a part of it. It is beautiful and this is what I need, because without it, I would be stuck in all that hustle and bustle.

Father George: When I spoke with converts from various Western countries, some of them mentioned a special phase of their journey. Initially, they felt that by becoming Orthodox they were accepting a beautiful tradition where many things seemed somewhat strange and unusual to them. Secondly, many of them noted that later they realized that it wasn’t something completely strange to them, that it was the same faith that their ancestors professed a long time ago when we were members of the same Church before Rome’s rejection of Orthodoxy. They realized that the ancient saints from their home countries and the ancient history of their people are actually a part of the history of the Orthodox church. Did you feel something like that? Or do you primarily associate Orthodoxy with the Russian world?

In Catholic churches, everybody is sitting when the service starts, then you have to stand up for a while, then you have to sit down again and later you have to stand up and sit down again…

James Evans: In my case it was the other way around. I felt alienated from the things I knew from my childhood in England, because there were significant changes in the Catholic worship services. You probably know about it better that I do—it happened around 1960s, when the worship service was changed from Latin to English. On one hand, it was the right decision as it probably helped many people by making the services more accessible. On the other hand, the services became shorter and stripped down. There are benches in the churches, everybody is sitting at first, then you have to stand up for a while, then you have to sit down again and later you have to stand up and sit down again. Then you have to kneel. All this happens during a short service that lasts for about 40 minutes… If you want to talk to God quietly, this makes it is difficult, because all these movements are distracting. It could even be annoying. I wasn’t really annoyed, but inside I probably was already prepared for a more tranquil and profound service, the way it is done in Orthodox churches here in Russia.

For me, living in Russia is already a first step to salvation.

Since I came to Orthodoxy through Russia, the first phase for me was getting to know Russia. I felt that something physically changed inside of me. This was my initial phase only. The second phase started when Vasily Petrovich invited me to go further. That was when I got that inner smile in response to his words, that “Wow” feeling, knowing that I am about to enter the inner circle of Russia. For me, Orthodoxy is connected to Russia. Maybe somebody might find this wrong, but for me Russia is a sacred country. I have a feeling that living in Russia is already my first step to salvation. I can’t speak for other people, but this is what it is for me. That was why when I converted to Orthodoxy, I didn’t feel like a stranger, I already felt that Russia was like a mother to me. This doesn’t mean that I like everything I see in Russia, but… It is as if she is telling me, “Ok, James, come to me.” So when I started attending services, it felt natural to me. Later, when I started working in the children’s camp in Optina Monastery (I sing there in the choir), it was as if I made another step inside, got to the next level. Just like a nesting doll, you get more with every step.

Father George: How did your relatives take your moving to Russia and becoming Orthodox?

James Evans: It is difficult for parents when their child moves to another country, but my parents are open-minded. They understand that if I’m doing anything, I’m not doing it thoughtlessly.

And another thing—here’s what Catholics don’t really understand. They believe that the Orthodox are like brothers to them, while all Protestants are heretics. Catholics are more accepting of Orthodoxy, than Orthodoxy is accepting of Catholics. I’m talking about regular people. I am not saying that they understand the situation correctly, but this is what they think. The priests’ opinions are a whole other matter.

So, in this respect, my mother is fine with it. Moreover, she knows that I’m singing. Of course, she feels better knowing that her son is closer to God. This was what she always wanted. Somehow, it didn’t happen in England, but it happened when I converted to Orthodoxy. This feeling of being closer to God is getting stronger when I live here in Russia and sing in the church.

Father George: Has your mother come to visit you in Russia? Has she attended the services you sang at?

James Evans: No, she visited me only once and it was before I converted to Orthodoxy. It seems that my parents didn’t feel comfortable in Russia. It is strange because I did. But Russia is not for everybody. Once I invited my mother to attend a Greek Orthodox service in England in a church that was close to her house. It was a small community, not too many people. However, she feels comfortable in her Catholic church and that is why she prefers to stay there. I think that she respects my decision. Perhaps, she has some minor negative feelings because I quit Catholicism, but we have never quarreled because of it.

Father George: James, a lot of people emigrated from Russia to the West, and to England in particular, especially in 1990s when there was an economic crisis. Many people were going there with wide-open eyes expecting to see some advanced civilization, especially developed culture. Some found what they were looking for, some were disappointed and some even returned home. But there was definitely a flow of people from Russia to the West. Since you were moving in the opposite direction, I’d like to ask you: What is the greatest difference in mentality between people in England and Russia?

You start to see things in different light and think, “Something feels wrong with the West”.

James Evans: I remember what happened in 1989 when that group of students from the Soviet Union came to visit us. They were looking in awe at the shelves full of audio equipment in a small suburban English town. When I came to Russia the same year, I saw empty shelves in the stores. That’s why I felt like coming I was from a world that seemed to have everything. We thought that we were doing everything right and that we had an advantage, not only in terms of economics but in terms of something bigger. It is difficult not to succumb to this fallacy, when you seem to be getting everything right. On top of that, in the 1990s corruption in Russia was rampant. Therefore, at first I felt that I come from a democratic country where we do everything right, while here they have corruption… Then I started seeing things in a different light and thinking, “Something feels wrong with the West. Something is a little bit off with England and the USA. Although something is off here in Russia too, but there is something extremely beautiful. It is very difficult to define what it is.”

I’ll tell you about my most vivid impression. I’ve been working at the children’s camp and singing in the choir in Optina Monastery. And there I could clearly see the difference: In England, the monasteries that in 1540s were shut down under some false pretences by Henry VIII who killed everyone, the abbots and priors of monasteries who didn’t want to bow down to him, are still deserted. In Russia, the process of spiritual revival began as soon as the epoch of Communism was over. I can’t say, if it is right or correct, but I see that the process is going on, I see the revival. I feel the spirit of medieval times, not in a bad sense, but in the sense of continued tradition. This is what is happening in Russia, in Optina Monastery. What’s happening in England? Well, they have some sites, some small communities and monasteries, but in general there is no spiritual revival in England. Napoleon used to call the English people “the nation of shopkeepers”. Something seems to be missing in England, and you really feel it. Why is it that England still cannot restore its inherent spiritual life? Not all people should live in a secular way. I’m not a monk and even though I lead a simple life, I live in a secular way, but it seems strange to me that nobody in England every restored those monasteries. England has not yet come to terms with its past, while Russia, despite many problems, managed to re-connect those torn threads. This means that we are doing something right in Russia.

Father George: You remind me of what happened when I first visited a Catholic country. I was invited to participate in a small conference in Austria where the Orthodox would present the Orthodox views while Catholics presented Catholic views. On the very first day, our hosts took us to a restaurant that was set up in a former monastery building. I was shocked. This was more than ten years ago, and at that time we too still had some churches and monasteries that had not been returned to the Church. We had just a few of those left and they were perceived as our pain, as sacred places that were desecrated, the sites we could not yet manage to return and restore. If I had some Catholic guests, I wouldn’t even think about taking them to a former church to eat. These former churches that stopped being churches, those former monasteries that are lifeless now, they are a symbol of demise, a symbol of the nation’s mistake. While for Catholics it was perfectly normal. This is one of the things that I have difficulty understanding in the Western way of thinking. Even though they didn’t have that painful experience we had here in Russia, when all the ties with the past were forcefully cut off, people in the West have lost their past on their own volition and don’t even worry about it.

In Oxford where I studied, a church was turned into a bar. England has lost its ties with holiness.

James Evans: That’s right, in Oxford where I studied, a church was turned into a bar. Some small village churches were turned into residential houses. England has lost its ties with holiness. Only Orthodoxy is maintaining these ties in England. It represents a small part of the spiritual life in England; I’m not sure, maybe 1% in terms of number of people. But they worship the English saints. There are thousands of saints. These sacred sites, places where the saints lived and sites of pilgrimage are most of all worshiped by the Orthodox. The others, both Protestants and Catholics, chose a different path. They chose a totally different world, a totally different world view. It is very difficult for them to understand how we live in Russia. When I’m in England, I have difficulty with that, because they are so sure that their materialistic reality is an objective reality and that is all there is. Well, they know that God exists, but that is basically it.

There is no past or future in Orthodoxy, during the worship service there is only present. And Jesus Christ Himself is standing next to us.

Russia never lost the understanding that during the worship service, all the saints and martyrs of Russia participate in the service with us. During the service, there is no past or future, there is only present. And Jesus Christ Himself is standing next to us. If you were to start rationalizing it, you’d be on the wrong path. You need to understand that it is a Sacrament. I think that in Russia this Sacrament is accepted quite naturally. I no longer understand how people can live the way they live in the West. I think they have some kind of illness. I hope it will be cured. Here, Russia probably helps. It maintains that connection with the past that the West has lost.

Father George: I hope to God that spiritual revival would begin in the West too. I believe that God has plans for all nations and I hope that people in the West would discover the treasury of Orthodoxy for themselves, because this treasure is not only for Russia, Greece or Serbia, it is available to anybody who is looking for the Truth.

James Evans

was interviewed by Priest George Maximov

Translation by Talyb Samedov

6/30/2017

Source:

http://orthochristian.com

http://orthochristian.com/104762.html


ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY

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Letter To A Roman Catholic Friend

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Can one be Roman Catholic and Orthodox? I would like to share with you a brief letter that was published some time ago in an Italian Orthodox parish newsletter. Its author, Archpriest Gregorio Cognetti, is the Dean of the Italian parishes under the Moscow Patriarchate. This letter was generally liked by the Italian Orthodox converts, and also received a high degree of appreciation among some cradle-born Orthodox (it was, for instance, translated into Romanian); I hope it may be prove an interesting reading and a source of inspiration for all of you.

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Chapel Hill (U.S.), March 1982

Dear Bill,

Even though you never asked it directly, I feel from your words that you do not yet understand why I left the Roman Church to become Orthodox.

You were even a member of one of the least latinized Byzantine parishes, you seem to say, why, then?…

I guess I owe you an explanation, since, a long time ago, when we were both members of the Latin church, we shared the same feelings. These same feelings brought both of us to a Byzantine rite parish, and then myself to Orthodoxy. You could not have forgotten the criticisms that we moved to the Romans: the continual insertion of new traditions in place of the old ones, Scholasticism, the legalistic approach to spiritual life, the dogma of papal infallibility. At the same time we both reckoned the legitimacy and correctness of the Orthodox Church. A Uniate parish seemed the optimal solution. I remember what I was saying in that period:

I think like an Orthodox, I believe like an Orthodox, therefore I am Orthodox.

Entering officially into the Orthodox Church seemed to me just a useless formality. I even thought that remaining in communion with the Roman Church might be a positive fact, in view of the goal of a possible reunification of the Churches.

Well, Bill, I was wrong.

I believed I knew the Orthodox Faith, but it was just a smattering, and quite shallow for that. Otherwise I would not have failed to know the intrinsic contradiction between feeling Orthodox and not being reckoned as such by the very same Church whose faith I stated I was sharing. Only a non-Orthodox may conceive an absurdity like being Orthodox outside of Orthodoxy. Individual salvation does not only concern the single person, as many Westerners believe, but it must be seen in the wider frame of the whole Church Communion.

Each Orthodox Christian is like a leaf: how could he receive the life-giving sap if he is not connected to the vine? (John 15:5)

Orthodoxy is a way of life, not a rite. The beauty of the rite derives from the inner reality of the Orthodox Faith, and not from a search for forms. The Divine Liturgy is not a more picturesque way of saying Mass: it comes forth from, and strengthens, a theological reality that becomes void and inconsistent if excised from Orthodoxy.

When the spirit of the Orthodox Faith is present, even the most miserable service, done in a shack, with two paper icons placed on a couple of chairs to serve as the iconostasis, and a bunch of faithful out of tune as the choir, is incomparably higher than the services in my former Uniate parish, in the midst of magnificent 12th century Byzantine mosaics, and a well-instructed choir (when there was one).The almost paranoid observance of the ritual forms is the useless attempt to make up for the lack of a true Orthodox ethos. I was deluding myself when I believed I was able to be an Orthodox in the Roman communion.

It was a delusion because it is impossible.

The continual interference of Rome in the ecclesiatical life reminds you in due course who is in command. To pretend to ignore this is self-delusion. I tried to avoid the problem, feigning to be deaf and dumb, and repeating to myself that I belonged to the ideal “undivided Church”. My position was quite sinful. First of all, because the undivided Church still exists: it is the Church that never broke with Her past, and that is always identical to Herself: in other words, the Orthodox Church.

Then, because that feeling of being a member of the Undivided Church, which I considered so Christian and irenical, was instead a grave sin of pride. I was practically putting myself above Patriarchs and Popes. I believed I was one of the few who really understood the Truth, beyond old and sterile polemics.

I felt I had the right to ask the Eucharist both from the Romans and the Orthodox, and I felt unfairly treated when the latter denied it to me. I have a great debt of gratitude towards a priest who, in that time, refused to give me Communion. Instead of softly speaking of canonical impediments, as if the matter were a merely bureaucratic problem, he said me bare-facedly:

If it is true that you consider yourself an Orthodox, why is it that you keep belonging to heresy?

I was deeply shocked by those words, and for a long time I did not return to that Church. But he was right. I had understood what Saints, Fathers, Bishops and Priests had not understood for centuries.

According to me, the schism between East and West was a tragic misunderstanding based merely on political problems and the ponderings of the theologians. And in doing so I indirectly accused many holy people of calculation, superficiality and bigotry. And I was mistaking all of this for Christian charity…

No, Bill, it is impossible to be both Roman Catholic and Orthodox at the same time.

The rite is not all that important. After all, the Latins were Western Rite Orthodox for many centuries. I agree with you that, after the separation, the Romans and the Orthodox have still much in common, but this is not enough to consider both of them part of the same Church. Beyond the well-known doctrinal differences, there is the approach to the Supernatural, the same life of the Church that makes impossible to live the two religious realities at the same time.

We state in the Creed:

“and (I believe) in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

Until a unity of faith comes, they will be two churches.

The theory (also affirmed by John Paul II) that the Romans and the Orthodox are still the same one Church (despite the schism, and in a mysterious way) sounds well, but it doesn’t hold. It is based only on beautiful words. The differences of faith, on the other hand, do exist, and they are not a mere word-play.

Yes, I know that theological dialogue has been started, and it is even possible (everything is possible to the Lord) that eventually the unity will be reached. But beware! Many good Romans believe that the differences might be resolved by means of a clever statement that, owing to its genericness may sound acceptable by both parties. Having reached an agreement on this statement, both would interpret it according to their understanding, in fact keeping their opinions. Worse still, some propose a unity in diversity, without a formal commitment of faith from any part, but under the universal co-ordination of the Pope of Rome.

Well, all of this is impossible. The Fathers taught us that the the agreement on common faith must be univocal and unequivocal.

Orthodoxy follows the spirit of the Law, rather than the letter. And since it is impossible for the Orthodox Church to introduce new doctrines, it falls on the Romans to abandon a millennium of innovations, and unreservedly return to the faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Church.

This is the only possible platform for an agreement.

History has shown the fallacy of otherwise based unions. And now let me ask you a trivial question: Bill, is the Pope infallible (on his own and not by virtue of Church consensus, as specified in the 1870 dogma) or not? He may not be fallible and infallible at the same time, as it would happen if the two churches were still part of the same Church. One of the two must be wrong.

But Vatican II allowed a great freedom of opinions…

you may answer. Yet this is a sophism. The true Church may not fall in error. If you believe that your Church has erred, or that She is actually erring, you deny that She is the true Church.

I embrace you with unchanged friendship and love in Christ.

Gregorio.

(PS. For the record, Father Gregorio Cognetti told me that the recipient of this letter, soon afterwards, converted himself to Orthodoxy — he is now a tonsured reader of the O.C.A. in Florida — and that this letter was a major factor in his conversion)

Source:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2010/05/letter-to-a-roman-catholic-friend-by-fr-gregorio-cognetti/

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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