Thursday, July 25, 2019

Conversions to Orthodoxy - English Orthodox Web 10


Conversions to Orthodoxy

English Orthodox Web 10


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The Australian Themi Adams 
of The Flies Band became Orthodox Priest Missionary in Africa

Fr. Dr Themi Adams considers himself wilder and braver than his rock star contemporaries. Not because he bites off bat heads or taunts the media with a bad boy image—but because he delivers aid to some of Africa’s most dangerous communities.

Born to Egyptian and Greek parents, Fr. Dr Themi Adams was born as Themi Adamopulous and raised in Australia. Growing up as a staunch Marxist and atheist, Adams turned away from God and picked up a bass guitar in the 1960s. He soon started a band called The Flies.

The Flies went on to become one of the more memorable indie bands of the era. The group toured with The Beatles and gained a global following. Adams eventually found himself in the United States at Princeton and Harvard University.

“It was at this time that I suddenly became moved by the overwhelming needs of the oppressed and disadvantaged people in the Third World” says Adams, who is now a devout and radical Orthodox missionary. Adams has dedicated his life to helping the poor.

“I decided that something needed to be done—and that my current lifestyle was not the most productive in the eyes of God,” Adams continues. He spent the next decade living in the outer slum areas of Nairobi, fulfilling his calling as a devoted missionary.
After 10 years of missionary work, he felt called to address a greater need in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

“The entire world had turned its back on the country, and they were in great need of help,” Adams says. “So, I fought the impossible odds and went into the country, alone, to set up a mission and controversially deliver aid to all who needed it.”

Media around the world have been captivated by Adams’ ability to get things done in hard territories where others have failed. In fact, his authority-defying attitude has earned him many notable relationships with government officials in African countries.

Adams, for example, is a close advisor and personal friend of Ernest Bai Koroma, the fourth president of Sierra Leone. This close-knit relationship led to the formation of Paradise Kids for Africa (PK4A), an organization with a mandate to help some of the world’s poorest people.

“The secret of the mission is to respect the Africans and to understand them,” Adams says. “The war has left so many people disabled, and because of the war there was no vaccinations in the 80s, the polio cases had reached catastrophic proportions. That has contributed to the high number of disabled in the country.”




Paris, France: The conversion of a Roman Catholic French man to Orthodoxy

A miracle of Saint Xenia 
of St. Petersburg, Russia

Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg, Russia, the Fool-for-Christ and Wonderworker…

We follow with an account by a resident of France, who was benefited by the Saint in our days.

A French dentist with a private clinic in Paris was injured in a car accident and had to stay in hospital for a few days.

Roman Catholic by creed, but indifferent to the faith, he watched as the patient next to him, a Russian émigré, would pray in the evenings in the ward, and would laugh behind his back.

Since the Russian’s lengthy prayers were repeated for as many days as he remained there, the dentist saw fit to make fun of the praying man, and he joked around with those from the other rooms.

After that first evening of making fun with the others, it was impossible for him to fall sleep.

Suddenly, the door to the ward opened and a woman appeared, wearing men’s clothing and holding a cane in her hand.

She was heading towards his bed. He was startled. Unknown facial features. A sweet, strange face.

“What do you want, lady? I don’t have any change. Who let you in here?”

“I came to tell you,” she said to him, as she lifted her cane, “to stop ridiculing Yuri, who is praying, because you will remain here a long time yet, and will seek his prayers….”

And indeed. Over the following days, he was diagnosed with serious cardiac insufficiency and remained three months in the hospital.

Yuri visited him at one point, and when the Frenchman revealed his vision to him, he began to tell him about St. Xenia and Orthodoxy.

Today, the Frenchman is an active member of the French Orthodox community and Baptized his newborn baby girl with the name Xenia last December, in honor of the Saint and in memory of his miraculous conversion.





New Zealand’s Maori Convert To Orthodoxy

The indigenous Maori people in New Zealand are converting to Orthodoxy under the influence of Russian immigrants, the diocese in Russia’s Urals said on Monday, citing a Russian emigre.

According to a letter sent to relatives in the Urals by a Russian woman who married a student from New Zealand, Russian immigrants “maintain Russian traditions in every house.”

“Seeing the example of Russian immigrants, many indigenous New Zealanders convert to Orthodoxy,”

the woman wrote, as quoted by the diocese of Yekaterinburg.

“They baptize their children and give them Russian (Orthodox) names.”

The number of Russian immigrants to New Zealand increased after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to the most recent official nationwide census, carried out in 2006, a total of 4,581 residents said they were born in Russia. Unofficial figures estimate the Russian population in New Zealand has since grown to about 6,500, including first-generation children of Russian parents.





Native American Orthodox Christian Fellowship (NAOCF)



Fr. Athanasius Henein, Egypt:
A Copt-Monophysite Priest’s Conversion to Orthodoxy in Athens, Greece on 2011

Below is a translation I have done introducing the works and person of Fr. Athanasios Henein, a convert from Monophysitism. Although he spent many years in “captivity”, as he himself says, he responded to Christ when He called to him to enter into Life, Orthodoxy; he diligently sought Christ and found Him. For my part I was so impressed by his words that I had to share such a wonderful, if small, taste of his conversion story. I would translate more if I could find the whole account. Enjoy!

* * *

An Introduction to the Works and Person of Fr. Athanasios Henein:

Given such a miraculous event, instead of writing a preface ourselves, it is better for Fr. Athanasios to speak for himself, in his own words, about his blessed conversion into Life, the Truth – which exists only in the One Catholic and Apostolic Church, our Orthodox Church.

We praise God for his wonderful work and wish Fr Athanasios, through the intercessions of the Theotokos and of all the saints, the blessing and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ and His support for him and his family. We also thank him for his confidence and the texts he sends us. Eventually we will post both the Greek and Arabic versions to benefit souls and glorify the Lord.

Fr. Athanasios in his own words:

Many speak of heresy, many write about the condition, but few are those who have tasted the bitterness of heresy, and fewer still those who have lived and shed blood to free themselves from its captivity.

Heresy is a way of life, it is a great prison, it is a mental, as well as physical, illness. I, Athanasios Henein, lived these tragic events as the head of the Coptic community in Athens for fifteen years. Copts divide the person of Christ and abolish His inter-human reality and His realistic presence in the world and in the Church.

But the miracle of my healing and conversion to our Mother, the Orthodox Church, was by the grace of the Triune God and the practical love of His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, the Cretan Elder Methodius, and the fathers of the Holy Monastery of the Resurrection.

The words you will read, dear readers, are a confession of faith, and gratitude. But they are also an appeal for us to work together to help ordinary Copts (of which 15 thousand live in Athens) to experience the beauty of Orthodoxy.

(To read Fr. Athanasios’ articles in English, French, Arabic or Greek see HERE.)




The Department of Missions 
and Evangelism in USA and Canada

The Department of Missions and Evangelism was established in 1988 to “Make America Orthodox,” in the words of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip of Blessed Memory. To fulfill that dream, the department endeavors to: 1) build new missions in North American cities of over 100,000 population which have no Orthodox Church of any jurisdiction; 2) respond to invitations of lay groups of Orthodox Christians who desire an English-speaking parish; 3) cultivate relationships with independent (generally Protestant) communities which desire to become Orthodox; 4) work with non-Orthodox pastors who desire to become Orthodox; 5) cooperate with College Ministry to develop mission parishes adjacent to major college campuses with no English-speaking Orthodox Church nearby; and 6) train and encourage Antiochian Orthodox priests and lay leaders to promote Orthodox Christian evangelism in their communities and begin new missions in nearby localities.

Since Metropolitan Philip founded this department 108 missions (excluding Western Rite parishes) have been established by the Antiochian Archdiocese. Of these, fifty-five have grown to full parishes. At present the department is developing missions in seven cities across the United States and Canada, and is exploring possibilities in several more.

Becoming Truly Human: the Spirit of Orthodox Christian Evangelism

by Sdn. Adam Lowell Roberts

Many of you may be familiar with the new Antiochian Archdiocese program Becoming Truly Human. Becoming Truly Human is a new evangelism program available to every parish in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, and the ministry has been blessed to be shared with other jurisdictions.

While some may be weary of programs, this program has proven to be different. More than several priests and lay people have admitted they were wrong about their initial concerns. Others recognized right away that this program captures and shares the spirit of Orthodox evangelism. They applauded the Archdiocese for having a program which is effective, loving, Orthodox in spirit and nature, and above all helping our North American churches reconnect with our history of evangelism. We even have some overseas churches wanting to run the program.

Reflections on the Becoming Truly Human Program

“Becoming Truly Human” is an eight week outreach course offered by the Antiochian Archdiocese that uses the vehicle of small group discussions and hosted meals to share the love of Christ. The following two articles by a layman and priest, tell the story of how this program is changing lives.

~~For many years as a Protestant, I witnessed to others because I thought it was my duty. After all, we had been scripturally mandated by the Great Commission to do so, hadn’t we? Unfortunately, try though I might, I can’t remember many of the names or personal circumstances of those with whom I shared the Gospel. I mostly thought that my work was finished and the rest was up to God. (Read James Blackstock’s reflection.)

~~For many years I have felt that in my parish, and in Orthodox Christian parishes in general, there is a need for an evangelism program that is more than simply posting the time of our services and asking parishioners to invite friends to the liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is definitely very powerful and full of the Grace of God. However, I think that most of our parishioners hesitate to invite others to come to an Orthodox Liturgy without laying some ground work that they often do not feel equipped to do. (Read a reflection by Fr. Michael Byars.)

“Love for our Brethren”:

AFR Interview Introduces New Program

“Becoming Truly Human” is an eight week course offered by the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America to increase effective and relational evangelism, especially towards those who have no religion or church affiliation. The program uses the vehicle of small group discussions and shared meals to help guests to feel loved, listened to, and welcomed.

In a June 24, 2015 podcast, Ancient Faith Ministries President John Maddex interviewed Charles Ajalat, one of the program’s founding committee members, about the new outreach. Charles is an attorney, the former chancellor of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and a member of the Order of St. Ignatius. As one of the founders of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS) North America, Charles is a veteran of start-up efforts, and in the interview he expressed his hopes that this new venture will help people “discuss questions…and then want to go forward into a catechism class with a priest.”





Number of Orthodox Christians in Ireland doubled over five years

According to the latest 2011 census there are over 45 thousand Orthodox Christians in Ireland, reports Interfax-Religion.

This figure is two times larger than it was in 2006 and four times larger than in 2002. Thus according to the official data Orthodoxy is the fastest growing religion in Ireland, says the website

The largest center of Orthodoxy in the country is Swords, the county town of Fingal, where 1168 Orthodox Christians reside according to the 2011 census data.

The census also showed that the majority of the Orthodox Christians in Ireland are Romanians (26%), followed by Irish (20%) and Latvians (12.5%).

“Orthodoxy is not something new or strange In Ireland; it has always existed here. It is well-known that Irish Christianity before the 11th century was very similar to ours. But after Ireland was conquered by the British this denomination had been intentionally removed by the Pope. That is probably why many Irish perceive Orthodoxy as something special and dear”, said the Rector of the Patriarchal representation of the Russian Orthodox Church in Dublin, priest Michael Nasonov.

According to him, there are seven parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ireland already.

The most common religion in Ireland is Roman Catholicism (3.86 million people, 84.2% of the population), followed by Protestantism (over 134 thousand people) and Islam (over 49 thousand people).





Converting to Orthodoxy in Norway 
(It’s Been Done)

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 Father Johannes Johansen, an Orthodox priest in Norway.

* * *

TP: First of all, please do tell us how you discovered Orthodoxy and why have you chosen the conversion to the Orthodox Church.

Fr. Johannes Johansen: By studying the Holy Bible. The Orthodox Church is the direct contuation of the Church that Christ himself founded on his holy apostles – the only possible Christian Church.

TP: What should we know about the Orthodox heritage of Norway, about the origins of Orthodoxy in Norway? When did actually appear the first Orthodox church in Norway?

Fr. Johannes Johansen: Everybody thinks that Norway was Roman Catholic the first 500 years and then Lutheran/protestant. BUT this is a truth which has to be corrected. The Christianity started to influence “Norway” already in the 8th century, and in the 1000-c. We have the history with St. Sunniva of Selja (described in The Saga about King Olav Tryggvason) and then we have St. Olav Haraldson who eventually Christianized Norway (Stiklestad 1030), and a little later st. Hallvard in Oslo-aerea) – all of it BEFORE the schism between Rome and the other Orthodox Churches. That means the Church/Christianity in Norway in that first period was Orthodox Church/Christianity (not “roman-catholic”).

The second point is in the far north-east: In 16. century the holy missionary Trifon came from Novgorod and Christianized all the eastern “skolt” laps (saami) people. He built the chapel in Neiden in 1565 – still existing, and the tribe he Christianized are still Orthodox people and belonging to our parish.

The third point is 1920 – when a group of ablout 1000 Russian refugee came from Archangelsk/Murmansk to Norway and founded “The Orthodox Church (St. Nicholas Parish) in Norway”, still existing, my parish. The parish has after that expanded much.

TP: Can you please talk about the fullness of the Norwegian Orthodox tradition among the other orthodox traditions in Eastern and Central Europe? I don’t know if this is a right question, but I am thinking about the fact that there should be a some kind of fullness as I have mentioned above.

Fr. Johannes Johansen: In fact, we can not yet talk about a Norwegian Orthodox cultural tradition, but we can say that it is in the process of being formed. First of all the language: we are using more and more norwegian (in stead of church-slavonic) because of the international composition of members in the parishes. We are also combining Russian/slavonic music with the byzantine. We have published a great range of books, and translated most of the liturgical texts.

TP: Who are the most important saints celebrated in the Norwegian Orthodox Church?

Fr. Johannes Johansen: We do not say “The Norwegian Orthodox Church” but “The Orthodox Church in Norway” (an important difference). The most important saints for Orthodoxy in Norway are: St. Sunniva, St. Olav, St. Hallvard and St. Trifon, the apostles Peter and Paul. St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Nicholas.

TP: What can you say about the dialogue between the Norwegian Orthodox Church and the other local and traditional orthodox churches such as the Russian, the Greek or the Serbian one?

Fr. Johannes Johansen: We try to have good and friendly relations to them. But a great difference between them and us, is that they are very nationalistic, while we welcome people of all nationalities, for us the Orthodox faith and Tradition is the only thing that matters.

TP: Which are the most important Orthodox churches and monasteries in Norway?

St Nicholas Church in Oslo. St. Georges chapel in Neiden. St. Trifon monastery in Hurdal.

TP: I also wish to find out more information about the written books concerning the Orthodoxy in Norway. So, what books should we read so that we can better discover the Orthodox Church in Norway?

Fr. Johannes Johansen: In 2003 we published a book of the history of the parish of St Nicholas (the first and oldest parish in Norway) in Oslo. Now we are ready to publish a book about the monastery of St. Trifon also.

TP: Which is the main role and importance of the Orthodox Church in the Norwegian society at this moment?

Fr. Johannes Johansen: We try to defend traditional Christian dogma and moral standards againt modernism and secularisation. We are active in oecumenical movement to witness about Orthodoxy.

St Olav of Norway (+1030)
Fr. Johannes Johansen’s parish website can be found here.

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.





Orthodox Christianity: About Yoga


Fr. James Bernstein, New York, USA: Surprised By Christ

Priest’s Conversion from Judaism to Christianity Documented in New Memoir

Conciliar Press Ministries is pleased to announce the release of a new spiritual memoir of a man’s conversion from Judaism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Raised in Queens, New York by formerly Orthodox Jewish parents whose faith had been undermined by the Holocaust, Arnold Bernstein went on a quest for the God he instinctively felt was there. He was ready to accept God in whatever form He chose to reveal Himself—and that form turned out to be Christ.

But Bernstein soon perceived discrepancies in the various forms of Protestant belief that surrounded him, and so his quest continued—this time for the true Church. With his Jewish heritage as a foundation, he came to the conclusion that the faith of his forefathers was fully honored and brought to completion only in the Orthodox Christian Church.

Surprised by Christ combines an engrossing memoir of one man’s life in historic situations—from the Six-Day War to the Jesus Movement in Berkeley—with a deeply felt examination of the distinctives of Orthodox theology that make the Orthodox Church the true home not only for Christian Jews, but for all who seek to know God as fully as He may be known.

The Rev. A. James Bernstein was a teenage chess champion whose dramatic conversion experience at the age of 16 led him to Christianity. His spiritual journey has included a number of twists and turn: he was chapter president of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Queens College, helped found the Jews for Jesus ministry in San Francisco, was a staff member of the Christian World Liberation Front in Berkeley, served as a pastor of an Evangelical Orthodox Church near Silicon Valley, and later became an Eastern Orthodox convert and then priest. He lives with his wife Bonnie outside of Seattle, Washington, where he serves as pastor of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church. Father James is the author of the booklets Orthodoxy: Jewish and Christian (Conciliar Press, 1990); Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament (CP, 1994); and Communion: A Family Affair (CP, 1999). He was also a contributor to the Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms (Thomas Nelson, 1993).





Fr. Maximus Regiz Urbanowicz: The Incredible Story of a Renowned Orthodox Missionary…

The Missionary of Sri Lanka 
and other 38 Nations

Baptized Roman Catholic, later becoming an Episcopal priest and missionary (In the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church), and three years ago having been received with his family into the Holy Orthodox Church, he is a zealous Orthodox missionary and evangelist.

Maximus has been involved in various church ministries including Foundation Park –a ministry for the poor, Strike force –strength ministry for teens, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes . He served three years as head counselor at Mid-Atlantic Teen Challenge , a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program for teenagers. In addition, as part of his Masters degree at Regent University, he spent three dynamic summers ministering in Germany, the United Kingdom and Africa in connection with the evangelistic ministry of Christ for all Nations. After graduation in 1990, Maximus was invited to join the ministry of “Christ for all Nations,” (CfaN) as an associate evangelist. He moved to Kenya, East Africa, and eventually lived, traveled and ministered in nineteen African nations and eventually led evangelization efforts in various parts of the world including India, Philippines, Russia, and Madagascar.

In 1997, Maximus became part of the “Minus to Plus” evangelistic project in North America – a ministry of CfaN dedicated to placing an evangelistic booklet about the cross of Christ into every home in North America. He became Executive Director of the multi–million dollar project as well as Executive Director of the U.S. branch of the Christ for all Nations ministry, placing 10 million booklets into homes across North America, meeting and working with the top evangelical church leaders across North America.

After working with thousands of churches from various denominational backgrounds in the international evangelistic campaigns, Maximus eventually grew in his convictions about sacramental and liturgical traditions as he studied church history. The most helpful materials were the teachings and traditions of the Orthodox Church.

As a first step, Maximus took sacred vows as a deacon and later a priest in the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Over time, as a result of his extensive ministry in Eastern Europe , it became increasingly clear that God was calling him and his family to become members of the Orthodox Church. Since then, Maximus, his wife Susanne, and four children have been received into the Orthodox Church in America and are active members of Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Washington D.C.

Today, Maximus is the president and founder of the evangelistic mission “Gospel to all Nations” (GTAN) – an evangelistic ministry in the process of fully coming under the auspices of the Orthodox Church. GTAN is grounded in the historic faith and church of the past, but striving into the future to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It fosters unity and cooperation between various church denominations while witnessing the richness and fullness of the apostolic faith of the Fathers, and is an equipping force for the saints in regards to evangelism and missions. Lastly, it hosts Gospel campaigns to non–Christians: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and general un–evangelized people and has a particular interest in reaching the least evangelized nations of the world.

Maximus has preached Gospel campaigns in 39 nations, face to face with millions of people. Meetings have ranged from five people, to five hundred thousand people in a single service, as in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Noteworthy, is the fact that multitudes of people from the Muslim faith have converted to Christianity in both North Africa and Central Asia as a result of these numerous campaigns, held from Mali to Kyrgyzstan.

Over the past few years, the ministry has hosted campaigns and conferences in various cities in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Armenia, Pakistan and Cuba. One unique outreach was in historic Armenia, in the city of Sevan , where from a population of approximately 10,000 people, up to 7,000 people attended the largest service. In the evenings, multitudes of people, including all the local prostitutes , responded to Maximus’ words for repentance and church attendance, while during the day, a conference was hosted with up to six hundred people from local churches – attending daily teaching and discipleship.

In September 2006, Maximus completed an extremely fruitful mission trip to Sakhalin Island, preaching in churches, public meetings, orphanages, monasteries, by radio, TV, and newspaper interviews, working together with Bishop Danyyl of Sakhalin and also Archbishop Mark in the city of Khabarovsk, mainland Russia. Between the 24th of September and 2nd of October he did evangelistic work with Archbishop John, the bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in charge of missions and evangelism, and is teaching in their seminary and preaching in the city of Belgorod, Russia.

His website, The Gospel To All Nations, can be found by clicking this link.

Mission: Gospel To All Nations
Founder: Fr. Maximus Urbanowicz
Address: PO Box 4205
Tequesta, FL 33469
Phone: (561)880-0515
Denomination: Orthodox Church in America (OCA) 
Home Church: St. James Orthodox 
The Apostle Church,
Port St. Lucie, FL
Established: January 2000
Countries Served: 40 +
More about us: View Brochure





Arizona, USA – Journey to Orthodoxy


Philippines: The dawn of Orthodoxy

The Philippines is a group of coral-embroidered islands, which the Pacific Ocean stole from the land of South Asia and made its own. They form a sea carved archipelago of more than 7,000 islands with a population of 95 million people. Its people are characterized by politeness in speech and kindness. Their piety stems from as pure as crystal soul and the religious feeling permeates throughout their society.

The Grace of God, Who knows how to defy the odds, allowed our Orthodox faith, which leads to salvation, to rise in this country as well, about 30 years ago. It all began in 1983, when Vincent Escarcha, a Roman Catholic benectidine abbot from the island of Masbate in Central Philippines, made a trip to the USA. There, on Holy Saturday, he met a large crowd of worshippers outside a Greek Orthodox Church and felt the urge to participate in the Divine Liturgy of the Resurrection. He was touched by the Orthodox worship and began to attend the holy services regularly, which lasted for six months.

His quest for Orthodoxy did not stop there. After seven years of laborious research, studying and penetration into the Orthodox faith, in 1990 along with another 12 souls he accepted the pastoral visit of Metropolitan Dionysios of New Zealand and of the Bishop of Zela at that time, Fr. Sotirios Trampas. In the April of the same year, at the chapel of the Greek consulate of Manila, where missionary Fr. Athanasios Anthides had once conducted the Divine Liturgy, Fr Vincent along with a novice, four nuns and another seven women, were chrismated and formed the first nucleus of the Orthodox Church in the Philippines.
The Orthodox Missionary Fraternity has embraced the Mission in the Philippines since its establishment, supporting the erection of the Holy Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Manila and of the Holy Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos on the island of Masbate. Fr. Sotirios Trampas was the soul of the first missionary expeditions, which conveyed the Word of Orthodoxy to distant places.

Today Orthodoxy is present at 10 regions of this tropical country and numbers about 1,600 people. The distances are vast, since the length of the Philippines measures more than 1,850 km. Most of the communities are on the northern island of Luzon, where the capital city, Manila, is located. On the central islands, the Visayas, the worshippers are mainly served by the monastery of the Theotokos and some other nuclei. Lately, Orthodoxy has also spread to the southern volcanic island of Mindanao, where in December 2012 two new church communities of 70 believers were founded.

Orthodox Filipinos are characterized by their zeal, but the Mission has several problems to deal with. The clergy there has not received full training; as a result, there is only one confessor for the whole archipelago. There are still lacking in even the plainest items of worship, there are no holy churches, while the existing ones need restoration. It is characteristic the fact that the six priests of the country have no second cassock to wear, while the baptisms are performed within bins instead of fonts.

25 years ago, we, the Orthodox, transmitted the light of true faith to these people. Now, we must support them in these difficulties that they are going through. Orthodox Filipinos ask for nothing that is not really necessary. They simply ask for our help, like brothers in faith, in order to worship God properly and decently. They ask us to teach them the orthodox virtues and also to give them a tangible example of our love in Christ. They have shown admirable patience for so many years. Their heart is expecting to welcome our so valuable to them help. Let’s not turn a deaf ear.




The Vikings in Newfoundland: 
Canada’s first Orthodox parish?

by Fr. Geoffrey Korz

“Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them”
–Matthew 18:20

The tiny community of L’Anse aux Meadows at the far northern tip of Newfoundland is distinguished among Canadian heritage sites as the oldest European settlement in Canada. Scarcely a dozen buildings remain of this Viking settlement, constructed over one thousand years ago by a group of Scandinavian settlers who appeared ready to make a new home in the frigid northlands of what would later become Canada.

It is almost certain that the tiny group was led by a Viking named Karlsefni, an associate of Leif Erikson (called Leif the Lucky, for his many extraordinary successes), one of the first Norsemen to accept baptism within a largely pagan culture. By the time these settlers arrived in Canada, Christianity and paganism were living side by side in northern Europe, and had not yet had the opportunity to discover the differences which would inevitably lead to conflict. The Norse were a pragmatic lot, whose religious zeal was usually focused on doing whatever it took to survive and to win. And the Christian God was the ultimate Victor.

A delightful story is told of the curious Viking habit of seeking repeat baptisms; it seems the Norsemen were drawn to baptism, every year, at the hands of Saint Ansgar and others, enjoying the fresh white shirt and ten silver talents they customarily received at the hands of the priest, if only they would allow themselves to be submerged beneath the sacred waters (Joseph Lynch, Christianizing Kinship, p. 73). For the average pragmatic Viking, multiple baptisms simply made sense: it conferred spiritual as well as material benefits desperately needed in a seagoing culture, where life was hard, brutish, and short.

It is understandable that Orthodox clergy in the Norse lands immediately curtailed the Viking zeal for multiple baptisms, just as soon as it came to their attention. (The throngs of Norsemen must have been a bit of a blur to the average missionary priest. One can only imagine the encounters and conversations between the eager Vikings and the bewildered clerics). But just as with mission work today, only God can plumb the depths of the heart of a Christian man, and perhaps the Vikings did have their fair share of zealous converts, offering silver crosses as illustrations to the Odin worshipers of the God Who destroyed Death Itself. For a Norseman, just as for us today, one cannot do better than that.

We know that the Norse seafaring parties who traveled to North America contained mixed crews of Thor-worshipers and Christians (Erikson himself started out as the former, and ended up, rather early in life, as the latter). We also know that one of the parties of settlers his adventures produced the first Canadian-born child of European extraction, a boy named Snorri, whose grandchildren included three bishops right around the time of the Great Schism (news of which traveled very slowly to Viking lands, in any case).

Perhaps here we have a glimpse of the first Christian community in Canada: a tiny one, to be sure, and not organized as far as the Church is concerned. Their firstborn child was almost certainly baptized, although probably back in the old country, once his parents joined their companions and fled from the North American natives who never seemed to take a liking to the Norse tendency to attack on sight. Outnumbered, far from home, and cold (yes, even Vikings get cold), it was perhaps inevitable that the first Orthodox settlement in Canada was not to last. It would seem the unfortunate trend of Orthodox Canadians looking back to the old country and not putting down roots in the west was established early on.

It is almost certain that no Orthodox priest was present at the first settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. Yet archaeological digs further northwest on Baffin Island present an interesting possibility. A thirteenth-century Thule native site produced an intriguing relic: a tiny carved figure dressed in European clothing, with evidence of a cape over the shoulders, and a long cloth draped around the neck, hanging down to the feet – and marked with a cross. Robert McGhee, who specializes in Arctic archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, suggests this figure shows a crusader who served as a retainer for a viking captain. This is based on the theory that Christian clergy in northern Europe did not wear pectoral crosses until a much later period.

Yet we know both Saints Cuthbert and Adamnan, saints of the Orthodox west, both wore such crosses, as we can see today on display at the cathedral in Durham, in the north of England. It seems more difficult to believe that a crusader would have traveled thousands of miles with pagan Vikings, rather than a Christian priestmonk, seeking out mission territory, or more likely, seeking a remote monastic home, as we know the Celts did in Greenland centuries before. Whether this figure represented an Orthodox priest or a cleric of the western Latins after the Schism, we’ll likely never know.

But for Orthodox Christians in Canada, the rubble at L’Anse aux Meadows and the carving from Baffin Island remind us that a minute Orthodox presence likely existed in Canada long before two world wars, and long before the Reformation. These facts confirm that the first Christians to set foot on our soil were from what is sometimes erroneously called the “undivided Church” – the Orthodox Church before the breaking away of Rome. And our brother Leif the Lucky, along with his kinsmen at L’Anse aux Meadows – and perhaps even a lone priestmonk on Baffin island, were what one might think of as founding members of the first Orthodox community in Canada – whether they knew it, or not.





Hannah Hunt: In Search of the Bride

From New Zealand to Alaska

I was raised to love God. Throughout my entire adolescent life, I, along with my three brothers, was immersed in the protestant faith and was diligently raised to live as a godly person. I always knew that God worked directly in my life and was always there for me. Even during the tumultuous teenage years, when my actions were anything but godly, my inner heart never grew cold towards my Lord and Savior. In youth groups of varying denominations, I was taught to firmly own what I believed and equipped with the weapons necessary to defend those beliefs; however, the structure of these denominations remained a mystery to me and I simply trusted that they were all the Bride of Christ.

Born in New Zealand, my first protestant churches were Presbyterian and Anglican. My mother did a lovely job raising us with Bible study, family devotionals and sweet songs which fill my childhood memories. At some point during my pre-school years, my parents experienced the Pentecostal movement. I was around the age of five when I was led to believe that I was a gifted child, a child who was so filled with the Holy Spirit that I was able to ‘speak in tongues.’ This prayer language would remain with me for years, although I never felt comfortable praying with it in public or in church services and it always seemed just beyond my understanding or comfort level.

I was nearly seven when my parents, who were US citizens, moved the family back to the United States. My Christian experience then began to become increasingly jumbled. I attended such diverse denominations as Moravian, Mennonite, Pentecostal, House Church, Church of Christ, non-denominational, inter-denominational, etc. My father, who was raised Quaker, seemed to drift into the background; leaving our spiritual upbringing in the hands of my mother.

At the age of ten, my belief in God being able to work directly through me was awakened while attending an Assemblies of God church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One Sunday, a missionary from Haiti came to speak at our church. Her name was Eleanor Workman and she awoke within me an awareness of poverty and global responsibility which shook my young soul. Determined to do something, I ran door to door in my neighborhood requesting donations of clothing and toys. With the assistance of a friend and my mother, I collected enough donations to fill our VW Van. The joy that my small efforts would so greatly benefit the orphans in Mrs. Workman’s orphanage changed my outlook on my relationship with God. I became more and more determined that, with the help from God, I could achieve anything and do great things for His glory, and told anyone who would listen that I would personally go to Haiti before I was thirteen.

At the age of twelve, my mother joined Youth with a Mission and went through their Discipleship Training School and School of Evangelism in Tyler, Texas. It was listening to the conversations carried on by the adults around me that I began to formulate some rather strong opinions about denominations. I was accustomed to pouring through the pages of the Strong’s Concordance so I looked up denominations, learned that it meant divided in Greek, and read the related verses. Romans 16:17-18…

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people”

Thus was the beginning of my mistrust of any denominations and my clinging to non-denominational groups.

It was during this time in Youth with a Mission that I was blessed to be part of two missionary endeavors. The first was into the interior of Mexico with a drama team. The second was to Haiti and came about in a rather interesting manner. The team my mother was assigned to was originally destined for Aruba; however, due to political upheavals, the team had to find a new destination. I, only twelve, approached one of the YWAM leaders, Jeff Johnson, and told him all about the missionary from Haiti and her orphanage that needed help. He presented the idea to the other leaders and we became the first YWAM team to visit Haiti. We returned to the States just prior to my thirteenth birthday, fulfilling what I had firmly believed since the age of ten. My mother returned to Haiti as an unaffiliated missionary and we remained in Port-Au-Prince for nearly a year.

My teenage years were a bit tumultuous. After a year and a half in a High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I moved to Australia to live with some family friends. I attended much of tenth grade in an Australian high school but returned to Florida before completing it. I dropped out of high school and was living on my own at the age of sixteen. In 1989, at the age of seventeen, I took my GED and married the love of my life, Daniel Hunt. His father was a Presbyterian minister and it was at this point that I really began to learn more about doctrinal ideas that went beyond the mere knowledge of Scripture.

Staunchly I would keep my mouth closed and refuse to pray their creed or any prayers that I considered contrived. I lacked the maturity to give credence to my convictions but knew only that Christ died for His Bride and, not being able to find the Bride, I rejected all organized denominations and the membership that ensued.

Thus, I badgered my husband into attending Assemblies of God with me as they claimed to be non-denominational.

We faithfully attended Assemblies of God communities for the next seven years. My husband being active duty in the United States Air Force, we were stationed in Nebraska and then Alaska. It was during our stay in Alaska that I began to gain a deep enough understanding of various protestant doctrines to start developing the questions that had always evaded me leaving only echoes of doubt in my heart. Two venues led to my awakening doubt; the Women’s Ministries of Assemblies of God, and the Protestant Women of the Chapel, PWOC, a military wide Bible-study organization. With the Women’s Ministries, I was asked to become a leader. In order to do this I had to officially become a member of their denomination which is not a denomination.

I was horrified to realize that they, too, had a doctrine of faith; however, I agreed to prayerfully read it and consider. I was in true spiritual torment when faced with the twists of Scripture and doctrine that I could clearly see was not founded in God’s Word but rather another man’s attempt to prove their beliefs. I stopped attending AOG and began attending the generic military chapel which was both a doctrinal void as well as a hodgepodge of Calvinists, Baptists, Methodists, etc. I had already been faithfully attending the PWOC Bible Studies which were hosted by the chapel.

However, the more we studied Scripture and the more I heard the interpretations tainted by doctrinal views, the more I realized that each denomination was twisting and manipulating Scripture in order to further their own propaganda. I became an outcast in the PWOC, the annoying member who always halted their smooth lesson plans by asking questions they could not answer and arguing points they were comfortably solid on. This was my first open exposure to the numerous protestant doctrines and the first time the blinders were ripped off my face. I became increasingly restless and despondent proclaiming to all,

“Christ is returning for His Bride, not His harem; and all of your denominations act like jealous harem girls fighting for the Master’s attentions.”

I knew that Christ could not have intended this and my heart ached for truth.

Ironically it was during the most intense times of my distress that my mother began to tell me about a strange Christian group she was researching. When she first named them Orthodox, I thought she was converting to Judaism. She corrected that misunderstanding and began referring me to the internet. Being 1997, the internet was still a new concept to me and, following the Heaven’s Gate cult tragedy, I was skeptical and concerned. My mother had always been our spiritual beacon and now she was taking a sudden and unexpected turn. Soon, my older brother, Cameron Thorp, and his wife were of like mind with my mother. Out of need to understand what they were buying into and in order to debate them, I began to study the Orthodox Church. I remember the moment clearly when my husband walked into our bathroom holding my religions textbook from college.

“You’re not going to like this,” he said, “this Church actually seems to agree with everything you have always believed.”

In disbelief, we read and reread the chapter on Greek Orthodox. Next, my husband looked up Greek Orthodox on the internet. Our eyes almost popped out when the first web site we found was the Church of Cyprus, founded in the New Testament. Having been raised in the belief that the Early Church had vanished and that Christianity had reemerged in a tainted form in the renaissance, this confrontation with the idea that the Early Church survived, and was functioning in a capacity to be on the internet, truly took our breath away and awoke a thirst for more knowledge.

My mother began to send us literature on the Orthodox Church. The first book I read was Dancing Alone and confirmed my belief that I could no longer be a protestant. Desperate to find an Orthodox Church for us to visit, my mother searched and found a parish in our town, Fairbanks. I called to ask for information and was dissuaded from attending. I was told that my children would be bored and that the priest was moving. Discouraged, I resolved to keep reading and wait until we were re-stationed before attending an Orthodox service. About a month later, a casual friend, Kealani Smith, was visiting and began talking about the religious symbolism in one of my quilts. We began discussing our Christian beliefs and I opened up to her about my search. She was Episcopalian, and the first person I met who had any prior knowledge of the Orthodox Church; we decided to look into this religion together.

A short time following our conversation, Kealani was at her apartment building’s playground with her son. Another little boy was being bullied so she stepped in and offered to escort the little boy home. She immediately noticed the little religious painting hanging on the boy’s apartment door. When she knocked, the door was opened by a man with a long beard who was wearing a black robe and a cross. This demure, proper woman of German descent cocked her head to the side, looked him up and down and asked,

“What are you?”

“I am the area’s new Orthodox priest,” he replied.

Imagine his surprise when this strange woman threw her hands into the air and began to excitedly proclaim,

“My friend’s been waiting for you!”

A few weeks later, Kealani and I visited Saint Herman Orthodox Church in Fairbanks, Alaska. The little building sat several miles outside of the city in the rugged hills. It had no electricity and no heat, yet, I was spell bound. I was so confused by what was going on in the service but something resonated deep within my soul. The beauty took my breath away, the reverence touched me, and the magnificence of the worship of God rather than the focus on me and my entertainment awed me. This was real. Approached by the Matushka and Priest, Father John Peck, following the service we said,

“We know this is the truth, but what is it?”

They kindly invited us to return and begin learning more. I wept the entire drive home. My husband, who had remained at home with the children, asked what I thought. I told him that while I had no idea what I had just witnessed, I knew that I would never go to church anywhere else.

I had found the Bride.

The most humbling moment of my life was the acceptance that my lifetime of knowledge; my training as an instructor of AOG Missionettes, Sunday School, Children’s church, and VBS; my position as a Christian leader in my community; my incorrect Pentecostal beliefs, including my so called gift of tongues; my Scriptural knowledge… everything that had defined my respect and standing within the protestant community had to be stripped away. I told Father John that I was coming to him in humility and willingly setting aside all my preconceived ideas and ideologies. I came to him as an empty cup.

“Just teach me the Truth,” I asked him, “show me the Bride.”

My husband, Kealani, my three children and I were baptized on Theophany in 1998, along with two other women and Kealani’s son who were chrismated. My mother, brother, and brother’s family had been baptized in 1997. My eldest brother along with his wife and children, and many of his extended family were baptized in 1999. My youngest brother and his fiancé were baptized in 2000. The last in my immediate family to convert to the Orthodox Faith was my father, at the age of 87, in 2008. Thus began a love affair that only strengthens with each passing year.

Holy Saint Herman of Alaska, Pray to God for us sinners.





On Christianity and Yoga from a former adherent of the latter

Dmitry Druzhinin

Walking along the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Kaluga or any other large city will be enough to get added evidence that today yoga is a popular and widespread phenomenon. Yoga advertising posters, if not signboards of yoga centers, will inevitably catch your eye. Or you can get on the internet instead of going outside. For instance, the Yandex Russian top search engine has as many as 850 million search results for the query “yoga” compared to only 474 million results for the query “Orthodoxy” (that is, half as many results).

As we know, the Soviet Union collapsed, and its godless ideology wasn’t replaced with a new one. On the contrary, the state declared that it wouldn’t support any ideology thenceforth. But that’s not how life works. For the absence of ideology is a kind of an ideology in itself and it has contributed to the unprecedented propagation of the ideas that had been banned and oppressed by the atheist state for decades. The Church came out from the underground too. However, the minds and hearts of the overwhelming majority of the former Soviet citizens were captivated by other phenomena and teachings the representatives of which emerged, made themselves known, and immediately began to “preach” on TV, the internet, in the press and other mass media. These were psychics, sorcerers, astrologers, fortune-tellers, adherents of alternative medicine, and, of course, yogis…

What are the similarities between yoga and materialism?

What attracts people to yoga? In my case, it was a thirst for something mysterious, some teaching that would allow me to develop some superpowers, such as telepathy, breath-holding, etc. I discovered yoga as a primary school student back in the early 1980s thanks to my elder cousin. I would sit in the lotus position at the lessons, and the teacher would rebuke me, telling me “to sit like a human”. And my last mentor was a yoga fitness instructor, under whose guidance between 2008 and 2009 I refreshed my skills in the fundamentals of Ashtanga yoga that I had largely forgotten over the years of my office work. And there were a great number of books, groups, seminars, and teachers between these two “mentors”.

When I was in my thirties, I wanted to comprehend the essence of yoga, and I was more interested in meditative practices than in physical exercises (asanas). The fact is that if someone starts yoga and doesn’t quit it, sooner or later he will find that it is boring to sit in the same positions and do the same exercises day in and day out. One day he will inevitably ask himself: “Why do I need all of this”? And this is precisely what happened to me: I wanted to find the meaning. And at last I discovered the concept of pralaya in Hinduism which (to put it simply) means “cyclical destruction of the universe”. No matter what you did (whether you practiced yoga or something else), what you strove for, how many times you were born, which class or caste you belonged to, all the souls (whether they like it or not) will ultimately unite into one “golden egg”, into which the whole universe will contract, once one “day of Brahma” has changed into a “night of Brahma” next time. It will be the end of the universe, and all will disappear. From the yogis’ point of view, there is no such thing as immortality of an individual soul because with the beginning of a “new day of Brahma” the souls will come into being again, but these will be absolutely different souls (not those destroyed). Only Brahman, the impersonal absolute, is immortal.

There are many similarities between all of this and the materialist conception of the world, the “pulsating universe theory”, and so forth. However, there are quite a few tendencies in Hinduism (of which yoga is a part), from atheistic and agnostic to pantheistic, those recognizing many deities and close to paganism.

Then what is the object pursued by a yogi? He seeks to attain the state of Moksha, or Samadhi, approximately meaning “being released”. This is the “liberation” from the cyclic existence, this suffering-laden cycle of life. A yogi believes in reincarnation, in the rebirth cycle, but he tries his best to avoid this continued suffering.

When I came to realize that, according to yoga, death awaits you in any case (both the physical death and the death of your soul, once it has escaped the vicious birth-death-rebirth cycle and united with the indifferent absolute), I lost interest in this teaching. Later, in the summer of 2010, I ended up at the Monastery of St. Paphnutius in Borovsk [in the Kaluga region south of the Moscow region] completely “by chance” (in fact, providentially), and my life was gradually transformed.

Why is yoga inescapably religious?

But why not practice yoga as we do gymnastics, without becoming absorbed in its mysterious and occult depths? I am quite sure that this is impossible (except when someone is fortunate enough in having a transient passion for yoga). Yoga is part of the Hindu religion, and there’s no getting away from it. The very word “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit root word “yuj”, meaning “to yoke”, “to unite”, “to join”. Meanwhile the word “religion” derives from the Latin verb “religare”, meaning “to tie”, “to bind together”. In both cases you connect to God or some other invisible forces that interact with you. So at very least it would be illogical to state that yoga is not religious as the words “religion” and “yoga” are almost synonyms. The problem is that people seldom take the trouble to grasp the hidden meaning of words.

Websites dedicated to yoga often contain quotations from the Gospel and portray Christ as a yogi. This “message” is addressed to the nominal, unchurched “Orthodox” who make up the vast majority in Russia. According to the statistics, between seventy and eighty percent of Russian residents call themselves Orthodox; those who take Communion at least once a year make up less than thirty per cent; and the true children of the Church, who know the Creed by heart, are fully integrated into Church life, and regularly take Communion make up less than five per cent. Of course, yogis make use of some similar element in Christian teaching and the teaching of yoga to attract these “liberal faithful” who consider themselves Christians and may sincerely want to be followers of Christ, wear crosses on their necks, but know virtually nothing about Christ and His Church.

The question of the key difference between Orthodoxy and yoga really concerned me after my visit to the Monastery of St. Paphnutius in Borovsk. I kept asking the spiritual fathers there: “May I practice yoga? Why is it a bad idea?” While they answered the first question with confidence, they skirted the second one. So I wanted to find out the truth for myself. It eventually became the subject of my seminary thesis and even developed into the book, An Orthodox Perspective on Yoga, which was published by the Simvolik publishing house not long ago.

On superpowers and humility

On the face of it, yoga’s ethical principles are very similar to the commandments of the Bible. Thus, the principle of Ahimsa (“not to injure”, “nonviolence”) seems to be equivalent to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”. Brahmacharya (“continence”) is consonant with the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Asteya (“non-stealing”) is in harmony with the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”. But this is what the Holy Hierarch Gregory Palamas said about similarities like these: “A lie that is not far from the truth gives rise to a double delusion. Since a tiny difference escapes the majority’s notice, they either take the lie for the truth or, on account of its closeness to the lie, take the truth for the lie, in both cases completely falling away from the truth.” These words are true about Christianity and yoga: The difference becomes manifest when you make it as simple and clear as you can.

Yoga has no principle of humility at all, though this fact is often overlooked. Yogis will argue with this statement, but the collections of Yoga Sutras, the main sources of yoga, don’t say a single word about humility, whereas in Christianity the commandment of humility is the greatest one. Blessed are the poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3) – the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount begins with these words. No virtue has any value without humility.

From personal communication with adherents of yoga whom I held in respect I was convinced that the absence of pride is fine for yogis, but they won’t need it until they reach the “spiritual heights”. While they are on their way “to the top”, they need to be motivated by pride (among other things) to speed up their progress. Thus ego becomes an “engine of progress”. Although humility is essential, they will first “achieve holiness” and then get rid of their pride. But will they succeed?

That is why Christians start with humility, relying on the will of God and not their own will.

However, someone can argue and say that while pride moves you to pursue new goals over and over again, traditional yogis aim to reach nothingness—a goal that seemingly has nothing to do with pride. It should be stressed that classical yoga no longer exists—one won’t find it, not only in Europe, but also in India, the motherland of this teaching. I concede that there may be two or three gurus in the Himalayas preaching “true yoga”, though that is very unlikely. As a matter of fact, yoga is a motley collection of various schools and tendencies. Some of them do understand that gaining supernatural powers feeds your pride and hinders your spiritual growth. Then the question arises: when do the Yoga Sutras devote so much attention (a special section) to these supernatural abilities?

And not only “Yoga Sutras”

Back in the 1960s, the documentary, “Indian Yogis, Who Are They?” was released in the USSR. Its authors presented yoga as a philosophy, a moral teaching, and health and fitness gymnastics. This film contributed to the popularization of yoga in the Soviet society, as did some publications in Soviet popular science magazines, The Razor’s Edge science fiction novel by the Soviet writer Ivan Yefremov (1907-1972), along with a number of other arts and cultural events in the Soviet Union. And what is interesting is that the modern sequel of that film, “Indian Yogis, Who Are They? Forty Years Later”, tells the viewers plainly that yoga “is a tool for awakening of your energy potential and obtaining supernormal powers”. Formerly this side of yoga was not emphasized, but it is obvious that today this way of advertising yoga works.

Man wants to become like God. It is a matter of the path he chooses. If Adam had obeyed the commandment of God, he would have remained immortal and with time could have become like God, cultivating and caring for the Garden of Eden with which God had entrusted him and growing in love. But Adam preferred the easy path, namely “to become like gods”, by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was “magic”, something that was not blessed by God and “outside” God. Many people see yoga precisely as entering the spiritual world “from the backdoor”. They think: “In Christianity I am obliged to obey the moral commandments, keep the fasts, go to church and so on. But why? I would rather go to a yoga center, perform asanas and pranayamas, and will get what I need!”

Nevertheless, I do hope that one way or another the Lord will bring the yogis who sincerely seek Him to His Church, the only ark of salvation. I believe that even committed adherents of yoga have simply strayed from the right path while searching for the true God. I have a feeling that many of them may become devout members of the Holy Church. After all, they are seekers of God and are not lukewarm (cf. Rev. 3:15-16).

The main area of divergence between Christianity and yoga is dogmas. What is a dogma for the majority? It is something the Church calls on them to believe in, while giving no proof of it. But yogis have their own dogmas, something they unconditionally believe in, too. And their basic tenets are very different from Christian ones.

Christians believe in a personal God

Though it is hard to perceive it, Christians confess the faith in the God Who is one in essence and three in personhood: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity. He is the Triune, One, Personal God. It is extremely difficult for Christians to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, to say nothing of yogis and Hindus, for many of whom the Supreme Being cannot be personal. Hindus recognize the existence of rational spiritual beings and even refer to some of them as to “gods”, yet they see the absolute, Brahman, as impersonal.

Christians act on the premise that there is only one life

The concept of reincarnation that is prevalent among yogis contradicts all the Christological dogmas and is in opposition to the Christian doctrine that life is given to us only once, and it will be followed by death, resurrection, and judgment (cf. Heb. 9:27).

The Holy Church has never raised this very important idea to a dogma because there has never been a slightest doubt about this in the minds of Christians. The first argument that proponents of reincarnation usually put forward is that the belief in metempsychosis is widely spread and its origins allegedly date back to ancient times. They contend that “Christianity appeared only 2,000 years ago, whereas people had believed in transmigration of the soul for thousands of years before Christ was born.”

However, insofar as we can judge from surviving monuments, neither (traditional) ancient Greeks nor ancient Romans believed in reincarnation. We can trace back their beliefs concerning afterlife from their mythology, the earliest monuments of which go back to the time of Homer and Hesiod [c. 750 B.C.]. According to them, after death people descend to the underground kingdom—a dark place known as Hades, Erebus, and Tartarus in different traditions—where they drag out a “shadowy”, joyless, miserable existence. In fact the idea of metempsychosis didn’t appear until the time of Pythagoras and Plato (that is, the sixth to fourth centuries B.C.) and it was adopted only by some representatives of a number of schools of philosophy.

Ancient Egyptians mummified the corpses of dead people, hoping that in the future their souls would be reunited to their bodies. Ancient Hebrews believed in the resurrection of physical bodies as well, as evidenced by the famous prophecies of Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones, which will be joined together and come to life again (see Ezek. 37:1-14); the prophecy of Isaiah about the rising of dead bodies (Is. 26:19); and the prophecy in the Book of Job about the restoration of bodies from dust (Job 19:25-27). Thus, neither ancient Egyptian books nor the books of the Old Testament mention transmigration of the soul.

We can judge the Christian attitude towards incarnation by the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus: And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom (Lk. 16:22-23). The narrator, our Lord Jesus Christ, made it clear that after death human souls don’t transmigrate from one body to another; rather, as St. Nicholas (Velimirovich) of Serbia said, “They proceed to the abodes that they have deserved by their deeds on earth.”

Interestingly, the notion of metempsychosis didn’t exist among the ancestors of Aryan people either. At least Rig-Veda [the oldest and principal of the Vedas, composed in the second millennium B.C. and containing a collection of hymns in early Sanskrit] has no mention of rebirth.

Christians strive towards eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom

Let us once again return to the question of the purpose of life. The ultimate goal of Hinduism is to stop suffering, while Christians aspire to everlasting and happy life with God. The idea of theosis (union with God) which is central in Orthodox Christianity is based on awareness that both God and man are persons. Given this, our union with the Creator by no means implies that we are becoming a part of His body or a cell in His organism. Rather, we can potentially contemplate God and be in communion with Him.

Yoga “without intricacies”

But someone will surely exclaim: “I don’t care about philosophy, religious systems and other intricacies! I am interested in yoga solely as a set of physical exercises and a fitness training system which give a practical result! Can I practice yoga as mere exercises?”

The point is that yoga is not limited to only physical exercises. The fact is that when you come to a yoga center, you not only begin to train your body and practice yoga poses, but you also should be prepared for “expanding your consciousness” through special exercises, breathing exercises and meditation. Yoga practice presupposes mandatory meditation.

Can we practice yoga without all this “spirituality”? Yes, we can, but it won’t be yoga in this case. There are numerous similar types of exercises directed towards increased flexibility, muscular strength, and organism’s resistance to pathogens—in a word, towards health improvement. What about Pilates, stretching, and so on? If you are interested exclusively in physical training, you’d better opt for one of these instead of falling for yoga with its “spirituality”, which smells like sulfur…

Dmitry Druzhinin
Translation by Dmitry Lapa




Orthodoxy on the Hawaiian Islands

Orthodox churches can be found in all corners of the globe—even in far-flung Hawaii. This tropical paradise in the Pacific Ocean consisting of eight large islands and many more small ones is named after its largest island. It has a population is over one million, 60 percent of whom are Christian, including Orthodox Christian. Rector of the St. Juvenaly Orthodox Mission, Fr. John Schroedel, tells us about Orthodox life on the U.S.’s fiftieth state.

* * *

—Fr. John, please tell us about the history of Orthodox Christianity on the Hawaiian islands.

—Right now we have three churches and three priests. This one, the St. Juvenaly Mission on the big island of Hawaii, has only mission status. I have been here since December 4, 2007—not very long. This mission was formally started in 2004. There was a priest here, Fr. Sergius, who served for 18 months. After he left, there was no priest here for another 18 months, but the core community held on very stubbornly and kept meeting, having reader’s services and trying to obtain a priest. God bless them for their faith! When I came I could really feel that faith. They were hungry for Orthodoxy. Many of them had never regularly attended an Orthodox church before, so they wanted to gain experience and deepen their knowledge of Orthodoxy. As a young priest it is wonderful to be appreciated—just because you are a priest. They were eager to make up for their lack of experience, and worked hard to learn more. This was a great joy for me.

The other two Orthodox churches are located in Honolulu. One of them, a large Greek church dedicated to Sts. Constantine and Helen, is known as the Cathedral church of the Pacific. It is the oldest continuing church in the islands. There has been a Russian community here for a long time which has waxed and waned. The Greek parish community has been here since the 1950’s, and their current church building was consecrated in 1988. The current priest of that church, Fr. John Kuehnle, has been there for less than a few years.

Then there is the old Russian Synodal church. I say “old” in reference to the community; the building they use is just a strip-mall, office-style building, to which they only recently moved. But they have made it very cozy—it feels like a church in Russia, you can feel the ambiance. Father Anatoly Lyovin was a linguistics professor in the University of Hawaii, with a doctorate in Chinese and Japanese languages, and his wife is Japanese. He speaks I don’t know how many languages. That church, which is dedicated to the Iveron Mother of God, is also known for the myrrh-streaming icon of the Iveron Mother of God, about which you can find ample information on their website That icon was certified as miraculous by their ruling bishop, Archbishop Cyril of San Francisco, and travels around to other parishes of the world. It started streaming myrrh just after the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate.

—Where there others missions on the islands?

Occasionally Fr. Anatoly would visit the big island of Hawaii, or the Greek community, who had a priest on Maui for a while. I think there was recently a service on Maui from the Greek church. Concerning Orthodox missions: the Greek church in Honolulu is called the Cathedral of the Pacific. We need a cathedral, because there are no Orthodox churches between here and New Zealand, and there is a need for a church in Polynesia. There are a lot of different sects that are very strong throughout the area—the Mormons and others. It seems to be a good time for real missionary work.

There are a lot of interesting stories connected with this; the first story is about the queen of Ahubanu, after whom a highway is named. She basically renounced her worship of the volcano goddess. She did something very bad to the volcano goddess, spitting into the crater or something like that, saying “forget you”, and then she had some pagan priests killed. One week after she had renounced the volcano goddess, Protestant missionaries landed here, and she immediately converted to Christianity. It’s a beautiful story. The missionaries came from Boston, Massachusetts; they had gone around the tip of South America and all the way up to our islands. There was a Hawaiian who had a passion for bringing Christ to his people.

The history of the Russian community is really interesting too. The writings of an Episcopal bishop 1920’s say that the first Eucharist on Hawaii was Russian Orthodox Eucharist, if I remember correctly, on Pascha. A ship was sailing by the island just before Pascha, sometime between 1750 and 1793. The sailors said, “Let’s have Pascha on land, not on the ship”, and there was a bishop with them. Later on they had an alliance with the chief, King Kaumualii of Kaua’i. The king was fighting King Kamehemeha, whose name you can see all over the islands. King Kamehameha is famous here because he is the one who united all the Hawaiian islands. This island is called Hawaii; the whole state has the name Hawaii because of this island, since king Kamehameha conquered all the others. There was a Russian fort on Kaua’i—Fort Elisabeth, which is now a historical park. It was built during the time of this alliance, and the first Orthodox church in Hawaii was built there in 1815. The chief on Kaua’i was allied with this Russian leader who was probably with the Russian-American company. But the Russian government did not back him. He had plans to take all Hawaii, but because he had no backing and met no interest from the Russian government, he gave up, and Fort Elizabeth passed into the hands of the local authorities. Of course we can only speculate what would have happened if he had realized his plans! Perhaps Russians instead of Americans would be vacationing on Hawaii!

Later, in 1910, Vasily Pasderin renewed Orthodox life there by starting reader’s services, and in 1915 the Russian community sent a request to Petersburg for a priest to serve the Russian Orthodox flock in Hawaii. A year later, on Christmas, Archpriest Yakov Korchinksy began regular services in the Episcopalian church of the Apostle Andrew in Honolulu. He was a well known missionary, who opened a number of churches in America, Alaska, Canada, Australia, and on the Philippines. But after the October Revolution he was shot by the Bolsheviks in Odessa. In later years the Russian Orthodox Church sent other priests to serve the growing Orthodox flock on the islands, which became part of the Russian Church Abroad.

The last of these was Archimandrite Innocent (Dronoff), who travelled all around South America and the islands in the 1930’s and 40’s looking for those Russians who were dispersed after the revolution. He was based in the town of Hilo, located on this island. There was a small church there in the 1930’s, mostly attended by Japanese people. He is buried somewhere near there, but no one knows where the church was or where his grave is. It would be interesting to find out. He is not a canonized saint, but we consider him the protector of our island, even though this mission is dedicated to St. Juvenaly of Alaska—the only canonical church dedicated to that saint, as far as I know. St. Juvenaly was one of the missionary monks who came to Alaska. Incidentally, St. Juvenaly used maps charted by Captain Cook!

—Tell us please about your path to Orthodoxy.

—I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. My mother is Jewish but I grew up Lutheran; however I was not very active in the church. The cultural environment around me was very materialistic. People mainly thought about money, or earthly things. As a child I felt the emptiness of all this, and so I went on a spiritual quest. I looked into all kinds of different religions. I really explored. First I investigated existentialist philosophy, and then I got into Buddhism, New Age religions—I even worked in a New Age bookstore for a while—and then I got to occultism. God had mercy on me; He knew I was looking for Him, only I didn’t know it! He took me to the right place and showed me the Truth. I had a Bible. I just started reading the Bible, and then started looking for a church. I went to all kinds of different churches. I would look them up in the phonebook. I would call and say “What you believe? What makes you different? I am so new to this, I have no idea.” The Jehovah’s witnesses gave me some books, and the Seventh Day Adventists said we worship on Saturday not Sunday, and so on. I went to all kinds of churches.

At that time, I didn’t go to an Orthodox Church. There weren’t any in my area—the closest, a Greek Church, was about a half an hour away. Anyway, within that context I ended up as a Protestant missionary in Jerusalem. We had an idea to build a relationship with the Orthodox Churches, especially because we wanted to reach into the Moslem countries. We knew that there are many Orthodox populations in those countries that have been there for centuries. We were not so much targeting the Orthodox, but we wanted to build those connections to gain access to the Moslem countries. It was crazy of us of course, but that is what we were doing, and we were very zealous. Anyway, as part of our plan we worked in the monastery of the Holy Cross, where I believe the Holy Scripture was first translated into Georgian. This monastery was built by St. Helen, and was also once a Georgian monastery. It is located outside the old city. Well, we became acquainted with the monks of that monastery. Much of it was quite confusing for a non-Orthodox person—the relics, the legends of the monastery, and what I call the harshness and graciousness of monastic practice. Both harsh and gracious at the same time. I found that very striking.

One of the monks there really made an impression me. He was a Greek monk. His English was rough, but understandable. He didn’t talk much though, he simply showed his life. His humility was tangible. When I was around him I felt convicted of my sins just because of his presence. We would ask him questions, such as how do you pray, how are you saved, and why did you become a monk? I remember his answers were so simple, very clear and deep. He spoke right from the heart. When we asked him why he became a monk he just said, “When you love somebody you want to be with him all the time.” That’s all he said! I think that experience raised my interest more than anything else. We as Protestants would come, not so much targeting the Orthodox, but wanting to bring life to what we thought was a “dead church”. We thought it was bereft of spiritual life, and we just didn’t understand the reality. In the end, we encountered the rich depth of tradition that Orthodoxy has, and which we hadn’t known. It was a challenge.

Now, we always hesitate to speak about spiritual experiences or things like that, but I just want to say that a year later I had a dream that these monks were praying for me, right in my dream. It was at the beginning of my path to Orthodoxy. I think that they were in fact praying for me. I am sure that things happen in our lives because of the prayers of others, even when we do not know that they are praying. For example, when I was sixteen and just becoming a Christian, there was a student in my high school who I didn’t even know very well—an immigrant from Korea. He said that he prayed for me every day for years. I met him years later and he said, “I was praying for you every day.”
Anyway, I had a sense that that monk from Holy Cross Monastery is still praying for me, and I’m grateful. Now he is an archimandrite and the chief confessor for the church of the Holy Sepulcher. He is now a well-known spiritual father, Fr. Dionysios. I haven’t had any other contact with him, but I have seen a picture of him.

So, I went to Thailand, also as a Protestant missionary, and then came back to United States. My wife and I met in Hawaii with this missionary organization right before I left for Thailand, and in Honolulu we got engaged very quickly. Within a day we knew that were going to get married, but it took two months for us to become engaged, then it took another six months for us to get married. After our wedding we moved to Oregon to attend a Protestant Bible College. We were there for a year, but we almost immediately started going to the Orthodox Church. There was Greek Orthodox bookstore on the road where we lived, and we would go there even when it was closed. We would just look through the windows.

—Were you both interested in Orthodoxy?

—Yes. She came from an Episcopalian church. We went there just after we arrived, first just looking through the windows. We went back, and there was an icon of St. George slaying the dragon. We had no idea who this was. We were talking to each other, asking, “Who is this? What is this icon with a dragon?” A short man turned around and said, “I know who it is—it’s saint George. Who are you?” He was a priest, and he invited us to his church. He drew us a map and told us how to get there. It was couple weeks before we actually went. We felt very much at home. He invited himself over for coffee or tea, and also to bless our home. All our things were still in boxes, and I remember how he said, “If Jesus can walk through walls, then I can bless your home through boxes!” We argued for eight months, and finally I became Orthodox. For my wife it was much more intuitive; for me it was also intuitive, but I still wanted to work out all the intellectual details, even up until just before my entry into the Church. Now I know that over the years, Orthodoxy is something that grows within you. I think it’s important to work these things out beforehand, but when your heart is inside the Church, your faith grows in a way that is somehow different. That’s my journey to Orthodoxy. We were nourished in that particular church for about four years, and then I went to St. Vladimir’s seminary.

—Was it was your own decision, or did someone suggest that you to go to seminary and become a priest? Maybe you felt something?

It is complicated. I think ideally, seminary should not just be the individual’s own desire. He needs to talk with his pastor or spiritual father, at least to ask for permission. I think it should also be a process of community discernment. It wasn’t just that I desired to be a priest, I had a calling… When I was a Protestant I was planning for full time ministry, so it was very natural for me to think about seminary, and not even necessarily to become a priest. The seminary just seemed like the natural place, and I thought, we would see after that… I went to increase my education, and because I had so much to learn. We all have so much to learn. But the priest in my home church was very encouraging, and the community was very encouraging. In fact, the priest was not only encouraging; he took me on, he got me involved, he was training me, involving me in parish ministry in many different ways. So those four years of mentoring were a key formation for me. I think I carried that with me. You see, the seminary doesn’t solve everything; it mainly provides the academic study. One valuable thing about seminary is that it gives one a sense of the breadth of the Church, because people are coming from all over the world to that place to study, and therefore you see Orthodoxy from very broad perspective. You encounter so much more than you would in one local church. But often people come to seminary hoping for that kind of mentoring, and it’s a very hard environment for that to really happen. Maybe it depends on the person. I think that the teachers would like to provide more of it, but there is something about the structure, the demands placed on them that doesn’t allow for it. But I would say that besides the presence of everyone, the teaching, and of course the relationships one forms in seminary, the most formative thing is the liturgical cycle.

—It seems to me that seminary is kind of trial, a place where you can test yourself to see if you are ready to become a priest, or a monk.

Well, a lot comes out at seminary. I remember at my orientation there, Fr. Thomas Hopko said that they don’t do this to us on purpose. But there is something about the experience of seminary that is a testing and a trial. It really brings things to the surface. They don’t deliberately try to provoke us; it is perhaps God working through them.

—Tell us about your journey here, to Hawaii!

Well, after seminary I thought a long time about working on a Ph.D. I wanted to study bioethics, because I had been studying theology for about ten years by then, and I considered that bioethics would be a wonderful pastoral way to engage the world, to serve the communities. I also would have a chance to study medicine, science, culture, and do all those other things that I hadn’t done for ten years. I loved studying theology but I was ready to put my feet into some other disciplines again. So, with that in mind I applied to the University of Chicago. I wasn’t a pure student there—that is, I took on a campus ministry, and served as a campus chaplain for five years. I had been ordained to the priesthood in my last semester at seminary. I served as assistant of Archbishop Job of Chicago. Mainly I was campus chaplain. In the United States, Canada, and Mexico, we have a robust campus ministry as part of our Orthodox Christians fellowship, which is under the organization called SCOBA, or the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America. SCOBA itself doesn’t actually do very much; it serves as a good umbrella for these organizations which by their nature are pan-Orthodox—the IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities), the OMC (Orthodox Mission Conference), and the OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) are prime ministries under the sponsorships of SCOBA. If you have a fellowship on a college campus you don’t need to have Greek fellowship, or Russian fellowship, you only need an Orthodox students’ group. We have Romanians, Serbs, Americans, and simply everybody who is interested.

The OCF was really a tremendous joy to me. We would usually meet once a week, sometimes more than that. At one time we were studying the church fathers on Monday, holding Vespers on Tuesday, and noonday prayers on Wednesday with study and a meal. It was really too much, but I was very zealous. But that remains a joy, and the student there were wonderful. I think that just having a group meant so much to the college students. College years are such an important time, because the students are now out of their families, they are beginning to make their own decisions about their life and faith, about how important their faith is to them. For many of them it is the first time they have had this experience of Orthodox difference. If they are Russians they never knew the Greeks, if they are Greeks they never knew about the Russians, Antiochians, or whomever. When you have people coming from different local Orthodox traditions, you see that the place of unity is Christ, and this strengthens one’s faith. There are various differences in cultural practices, but the thing binding people together is the faith. Some people wouldn’t come because of that; it was not what they are interested in. But I think that it brought many people to life in a richer way. Many of them were already quite alive, and it was amazing to see how the formation they had received from their church communities or from the parents came out at college. I would see students come in who were already set in their faith, while others were really seeking. I really value that time, and I think that campus ministry is very important. I hope and pray for more full time staff members to reach out to our college campuses.

—That is an important thing, and I feel that we should organize the same thing in Russia.

I don’t know the situation in Russia with the colleges. Many of our colleges are far away from any churches, which is probably not the case in Russia. But college is such an important time, when people looking for reality. Where do they find reality? In the Church! That is all we have to offer. Their faith was always a joy that strengthened me.

Then there came a time when I was finished with coursework, and the people here had been without priest for 18 months, but they were looking and looking and looking. My wife and I had met in this Protestant missionary organization called YOM in Honolulu, so we already had experience in Hawaii. But also, about half of the core of group of people in this mission had been involved at some point with YOM, whose international headquarters is here in Kona. My godfather was overseeing the mission here temporarily. He would come and visit few times a year to keep the community on track and watch over them. He knew that I was at this place in my life where I could make such a transition. He also knew about my former connection with YOM, which is significant if only because I can speak their language, I can translate. Many of the people here are very new to Orthodoxy; they have never been through a full liturgical year. I think it’s been a helpful connection.

—And what is the schedule of services in your church?

There are always people who think we should do more, and people who think we should do less. Right now our regular schedule is Vespers on Saturday evenings, with Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, and we have the feast days throughout the year. Of course, the Holy week schedule is different from everything, with many services throughout the week. We have some challenges here. I would love at some point to have a real community here, for people to be closer, and to have our own church. It would be nice to have more regular services other than just the Vespers and Liturgy. We do have classes on Thursdays or Saturdays. People come, and I encourage honest questions. We have a meal after the services.

—It is unusual in Russia to have a parish meal after services.

Yes; I heard a story about the visit of Patriarch Alexey II to America. He said that he was so impressed by the American coffee hour!

I think that this is important as a sort of agape meal, a continuation of the Eucharist. It is an extension of our liturgical fellowship, when we can spend time with each other. If we are going to love each other and live the Christian life together, we have to get to know each other. It also provides a time for the priest to talk with his people, outside of confession. It is also for the sake of visitors. An important part of our ministry here is hospitality, just welcoming the travelers here in Hawaii—people from any background. People need to have the space to feel invited, the space to explore, to look around; because Orthodoxy is so strange to many of them. It takes courage for people who are not Orthodox just to come in, because it is so different from what they know.

—How often do your parishioners go to confession?

It varies. The older practice was: confession and communion once a year—it’s in the bylaws! The norm for the OCA was four times a year, during the fast periods, but now I think there is a trend to make it a norm at once a month. Some people come more than once a month, perhaps every couple of weeks, while others come less frequently. I tend to give people space as long as I know that they can have some space. There are times when I say: I want you to come to confession, if you are coming to Communion. But there are times when I don’t say that. Fr. Alexander Elchaninov said that pastoral work is always individual and creative. Also, there is a challenge with our island—it is the largest island in United States. People come to church from all over the island. Today we have a family from Hilo, on the other side of the island, and we always have people from Wimea and Haudansaa; people really drive far. But we have a gift here: the people that are here really want to be here. We don’t have cultural Orthodoxy. People who are seeking cultural Orthodoxy do not need to come here anyway, because we are not good cultural center. But if they come, it is because they want the church. The character of the church is a little bit different. When you see someone who has driven three hours in the morning to get here, you can see the strength of their faith, and that is a gift for the pastor.

—Do you have any services outside of the church?

On the feast of Theophany we bless the ocean. Normally the Great Blessing of the Waters is done in fresh water, but we have no fresh water, no streams, or lakes—so we bless the ocean. One might say that it is rather ambitious of us to bless the Pacific Ocean, but our God is Great God, and He can do it! Once when we were saying the prayers before blessing, there was a Hawaiian man nearby catching fish. He kept catching more and more fish, and finally said “Thank you!”

We have house blessings, and because we don’t have our own church here, we have had services in peoples’ homes.

—I understand that you originally came here for two months?

When I first came here it was on a temporary basis, on loan from the diocese, just to fill in. But right away I saw the faith of the people here. I love Hawaii, it is beautiful; but when I saw the faith of the people here, I thought, I can’t leave, I’m not allowed to leave. It seems to be the right thing. I also love the local culture. It is close to Asia, and makes me think a lot about Asian missions. I think there are challenges in Polynesia and throughout Asia similar to what we have in America—various debates over canons and things. The debate sometimes comes up over ecumenism, but I can only answer that in America we by necessity live and breathe in that water. In our environment, we are constantly dealing with other churches—Protestant and Catholic especially. In this context, we have something wonderful to offer: Orthodox mission doesn’t happen by condemning all that others have ever known as good. I think we must start by affirming anything good we can, and then show the richness of our faith, our heritage, and our spiritual tradition. The Orthodox Faith offers things that are psychologically and spiritually healing for America.

Vasily Tomachinsky spoke with Fr. John Schroedel






The Uncreated Map: 
Christ as the Light of Yoga

By Fr. Joseph Magnus Frangipani, 
Alaska, USA

I’m reminded of pilgrims at the Himalayan foothills seeking passage around the icy mouth of the Ganges River. Among these hikers were two very different men, one an intelligent geologist and the other a simple backpacker.

The geologist put every trust in his mind.

As he told others, “I know all there is about the composition of mountains and valleys. I know how they’re formed and why they’re here. Look, I understand everything and really don’t need backcountry camping lessons, nor do I have time to get in shape for this journey.”

So, he left unprepared, but very confident for the hard journey ahead.

Meanwhile, the simple backpacker didn’t count on his intelligence alone. Rather, he worked out every day, getting his body into good health, also while getting to know the locals who passed through these mountains. He learned where to find shelter, what places and people to avoid, and knew precisely where he was going. He was very humble about this undertaking.

At the first snowstorm the first man panicked. He forgot all about geology and his journey grew difficult and painful. The simpler man, however, brought to mind what he learned from those before him, drawing on ancient wisdom and, remembering his maps, actually wound around these mountains with much effort but safely.

One man arrived from his journey to new land.

The proud man was never found.

The secret closet, man’s heart, is the starting place where we embark on this journey. It is concealed by many thorns and bushes, within the folds of our passions, thoughts and ego. Our life, then, may seem a Russian nesting doll. When Christ comes like a gardener, we may not recognize Him. Sometimes it is only when we don’t experience Him, though, that like the Prodigal Son we remember His bread and turn to face Him, which is what repentance is all about.

When we taste life apart from Him, which is not truly life but pigs and husks, we experience a foretaste of hell. This often has profound effects upon a person. One may experience a fear of God, depending of course to the degree they are oriented toward the spiritual life, and this fear encourages us to depend on His will, on His love and grace, developing humility so that entrust our minds and hearts once more to the Holy Trinity. Each time we reorient ourselves, we experience a minor death, where we can rightfully say with St. Paul, that I die daily, and that to die is to gain, for when the hour of death comes to us, we will not die, but live eternally within the Lord.

So it is perhaps helpful here to remember our soul as depicted in Church iconography, if you remember, in iconography, the soul is often portrayed as a swaddled infant held in the arms of our Father in Christ. In this way, we remember our dependence upon God and cling to our Father, leaping into His arms and carried away by His love.

In these ways, we continue uniting ourselves to Christ.

– – –

Now, during the service of Baptism and Chrismation, we see our union with Christ expressed in no uncertain terms. For instance, after renouncing and spitting on Satan, we announce three times we’ve united ourselves to Christ. It is Orthodox baptism – and Orthodox baptism alone – which begins to fulfill the saving work of our Lord in the human person. Here, we begin restoration of the true self and recovery from a state of corruption – perhaps, we might say the ’embryo’ sparks to life.

Contrast all this against the phenomenon coined as yoga.

Whereas in the Orthodox Church we’re called to and affirm ongoing union with Christ, yoga – which means ‘yoke,’ to bind or harness yourself to something, to establish an intricate union with – is explicitly union with someone or something other than Christ.

In learned and devoted practitioner of yoga understands techniques often involve incantations to Hindu deities, physical postures named after and dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses, and the awakening of Kundalini Shakti – a created energy represented by a coiled serpent dormant in the spine. The creator of yoga, according to yoga, is Shiva the god of destruction.

Nevertheless, in America yoga is likened to stretching but yoga is not stretching. Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline rooted in Vedic philosophy and Hindu religion. It provides tools to unlock, or rather unblock, mysterious energies very foreign to the Orthodox Christian. Stretching is merely the physical relaxation of a muscle and little, or nothing else.

In yoga, many poses have names of gods and goddesses. For example, the pose called Viranchyasana – after the Hindu deity Viranchya – is dedicated to Brahma. Vishnua is a popular god mentioned in the Vedas and there are several poses dedicated to his avatars, to his human and animal incarnations. Then there’s Ananta, a god who even took the form of a snake, and we have the Anantasana pose named after him. The snake then reincarnated into a human, into Patanjali, author of the yogic bible, the Yogic Sutras of Pantanjali.

– – –

Many yogic body positions also directly correspond to chakras. A chakra is what we might refer to as an invisible, spiritual pressure point. In the same way we might rub a pressure point on the physical body increasing blood or lymphatic flow, yoga contends we have a subtle body, too. Yogic postures sort of massages these points, encouraging particular channels to open up thereby attracting ‘spiritual energy.’

A lot of yogis talk about how the universe, and everything within it, is in fact musical, vibratory, and relates to frequency. For example, saying a mantra gets you in touch with some beings, a guru, a god or goddess, on one frequency, in one dimension. Putting yourself into a particular asana will also put out a vibration, a calling card, attracting energy – various subtle energies, – the way we might put a light in the window attracting someone’s attention. It doesn’t matter whether we realize this or not, believe it or not, the reality is the soul and body are intricately linked.

Yogic poses, rooted in the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddess, with names of gods and goddesses, working on subtle areas of your body and mind, are dangerous. You know, perhaps we can look at yogic poses as a sort of combination to a lock. Each asana or pattern of asanas, certainly over time, are supposed may unlock various energies.

Now this is very important: in the vast world of yoga, we find many methods of ‘picking’ these locks, many back doors corresponding to varieties of hidden powers. These powers influence ourselves and others, and are known even in yoga as white magic and black magic. I was personally initiated into these arts, in the Yoga Capital of the World.

One goal within this discipline of yoga is unlocking these chakras, these gates, within the body and soul, inviting energy to climb within you. This energy is often depicted and described as a coiled snake, known as Shakti, or kundalini, and the purpose here as most everywhere in yoga is to raise this energy into the mind so we attain the realization we are identical tGod.

So what are we yoking ourselves to during yoga?

Asanas, and really all signs and patterns within yoga – especially mantras – are false lights, like those of deep sea angler fish. This reminds me. In a yoga class, it’s not unusual to hear Sanskrit mantras and sometimes be invited by instructors to chant them, especially in the beginning and at the end of the session. These mantras might not be spoken by you, but rather to you, played through music played in the background, or depicted on clothing and on temple, ashram and yoga studio walls.

Just as the sign of the Cross corresponds to the Giver of Life, Jesus Christ, signs prevalent throughout yoga correspond to the influence of Shiva, Lord of Death. These signs and patterns include diagrams and amulets supposedly possessing occult powers in astrological and magical forms, and are known as mantras, mandalas, and yantras.

As Orthodox Christians, we should never attend schools grounded in satanic philosophy. We certainly shouldn’t twist our bodies and minds into postures dedicated to satan, even if we don’t worship him. The devil himself appears as an angel of light.

Like moths, we are often attracted to false, created lights. When Christ comes like a gardener, will we recognize Him? There is only one pattern of life, one Uncreated Map for mankind, Who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. He is the Incarnate Logos, the Christ the God-Man.




Anna Dao Bin, Vietnam

We continue to publish the materials of Spas TV program My Path To God where Fr. George Maximov interviews people who converted to Orthodoxy. Vietnamese Orthodox Anna Dao Bin was a member of a Protestant community for a long time and did not even know that there were other Christian denominations. God led her to Russia where she discovered the truth of Orthodoxy. She will tell us about what she was looking for in Protestantism and found in Orthodoxy. We will also discuss the importance of the Holy Tradition and the significance of not only knowing but also understanding the Bible correctly, especially for missionaries.

Priest George Maximov: Hello! You are watching My Path To God. Today we will talk to Anna, our guest from Vietnam. I am very pleased to see an Orthodox Vietnamese, as I think that Vietnamese people are very interested in Christ. That is why there are so many Catholics among Vietnamese, almost 7 million, I think. Unfortunately, Orthodoxy has not reached them yet, although in the neighboring countries, Thailand and Cambodia, Orthodox communities are starting to appear.

Anna, could you tell us about your spiritual journey. How did it start?

Anna: I became Orthodox only few months ago. Before that, I considered myself Protestant. To tell the truth, many Protestants do not refer to themselves as Protestants, preferring to be called Christian, and often do not understand the difference between various denominations. How it all started… I was born in a family where faith was not part of my upbringing. My mother raised me on her own. I was born in Kiev as she was studying there during the Soviet Union times. She was always either travelling abroad or busy with work. So, nobody told me anything about faith. I spent the first five years of my life in Ukraine. After that, we moved to Moscow for a short time. Then we went to Vietnam and later moved to Australia. We moved frequently when I was a child. I stayed with different people, including babysitters, relatives, and grandparents. When I was little, I did not think about God.

But everything changed when six years ago I came to Seoul, South Korea. I went to a Protestant school there. Protestantism is very popular in South Korea and their churches are almost on every corner. Before that, I didn’t know anything about Christianity and didn’t understand all this. But I went to that school and I think it was no coincidence.

In that school, they gave me the Bible as a present. I was 14 then. Bible study was a school lesson. We read the Bible, but they didn’t explain the meaning to us. We just read and learned many verses by heart.

Father George: Did this include both Old and New Testament?

Anna: Yes. I started reading from the first book, the Book of Genesis. I read a lot. I memorized many verses and got good grades. I really liked that environment, because there was a very close communication between people and that was very unusual for me. I probably chose this faith not based on facts, but because I simply loved the people who surrounded me there very much. They were kind and gave me answers to questions that I had never even though about. I spent a year in South Korea. It wasn’t long, but this was how my spiritual quest began.

Father George: And then you moved to another country?

Anna: Yes, my mother and I returned to Vietnam. I appreciated my newly found faith and was afraid to lose it. In Korea I lived among Protestants; we went to church regularly, talked about God and read the Bible. However, Vietnam is a non-Christian country. There are few Protestants and Catholics there. Well… there are more of them than in some other Asian countries, but still they are few. That is why I tried to stick to what I learned. It was very important for me.

Father George: Did you find a local Protestant community in Vietnam?

Anna: Yes, of course. When I left Korea, I already considered myself Christian. The world was already divided into Christians and non-Christians for me. So when I came to Vietnam, I immediately started looking for a church I could go to.

Father George: There are more Catholics than Protestants in Vietnam.

Anna: Yes. However, as I wasn’t familiar with Catholicism, I didn’t look for Catholic communities. At that time, I didn’t even know about other Christians. For me the world consisted of Protestant Christians and non-Christians. During the tenth grade at school, I met an American girl. She was the only believer in the school. Her parents were Protestant missionaries in Vietnam. Their family had been doing missionary work for a long time. They lived in Kyrgyzstan for 10 years, building churches and preaching. She became my best friend, and as I never kept close contact with my relatives, I became a part of her family. These Protestant missionaries came as a team consisting of several families; they learned the local language, got to know the locals and told them about faith and God. They gave away Bibles. I helped them.

Father George: How successful is the Protestant mission in Vietnam? Are people interested in their teachings?

Anna: When I met them, they were just starting, so I don’t know what they have achieved at this point. These people do their missionary work very quietly and secretly…

Father George: …not to attract attention?

Anna: Yes, not to attract attention of the government agencies. First, the missionaries meet you. Then they continue preaching in their homes. They do not preach in the streets and don’t hand out flyers, because in Vietnam such things are not welcome.

Father George: Not only in Vietnam—the situation is the same in many Asian countries. It is believed that foreigners cannot be involved in missionary work without official permits. However, such official permits are issued to very few people. In Vietnam, they probably don’t ever issue them to foreigners. So any missionary work by foreigners is in fact illegal. Naturally, these precautions taken by American missionaries are understandable.

You mentioned that most of your fellow students in Vietnam were atheists. Did you experience any pressure from them? Did they know that you were Christian?

Anna: Yes. However, I grew up in a family without any boundaries and discipline; you can even say that there was no upbringing. My mother is a very religious Buddhist. She strictly observes various rituals, makes sacrifices, observes Buddhist Lents, reads prayers, etc. When I became Christian, she at first thought, “It is strange, of course, but that is okay.” In Vietnam, I mostly communicated and socialized with believers. As my contacts with other people were few, I did not feel any pressure. After few years, I was used to the Protestant environment, these people and their belief system.

I visited various Protestant churches in Vietnam. There are Korean, Vietnamese and international communities there. I did not go regularly to any of them. For some reason, I didn’t always like it in these churches. I went there mostly to socialize with people. I liked the fact that these people have some principles. I probably liked the people in the church rather than the Church itself.

That was my life before Orthodoxy, before I came to Russia.

Father George: Did you come to Russia to continue your studies?

Anna: I wasn’t going to study in Russia. It happened unexpectedly. I graduated from an American school and thought that I would continue studying in USA or another English-speaking country. This would be much easier for me. But one of my friends suggested that I should come to Russia—just come there for few months, look around and take some Russian language courses. So by some kind of miracle, after 4 years in Vietnam I found myself in Ryazan. I didn’t even know about this city. I came there last year.

In Ryazan, I continued going to Protestant churches at first. I was very surprised to see how many churches there are in Russia. In my view, Russia was a non-Christian country where there were not any Christians. For some reason, I had this stereotype. I knew that my friends were missionaries in Kirghizia, in the Soviet Union, and probably because of that, I thought that Russia was a non-Christian country.

Father George: Of course, if missionaries are coming here to tell us about Christ, this means that from their point of view we don’t know about Christ here. Indeed, many Protestant missionaries from the U.S. and even Korea came to Russia in the 1990-ies, trying to preach Christ to us as if we were some wild tribes that never heard of Him. Well, every other church here is more ancient that the denomination that sent those missionaries!

Anna: I didn’t know that, of course. I always thought that I should look for good people and friends in the church. So when I came and was quartered in a hostel, I immediately started looking for a Protestant community to find somebody to talk to. It was God’s will that in the hostel I shared the room with a Catholic from Italy. I didn’t even know what Catholicism was. I kept on going to Protestant churches, but because I lived with a girl who seemingly was a Christian, but somehow different, I started thinking about the reasons why. Why is she a little different? We believe in Christ and go to church too, but I saw that there were differences. However, I didn’t know what the differences were and I was curious. So I started going with her to their small home-based Catholic community. The priest was from Slovakia and the parishioners were mostly from Africa. It was very odd. I came to Russia, but here I am sitting with a Slovakian priest and people from Italy and Africa and singing in French. It felt very strange.

I learned about Orthodoxy when I was living in Ryazan. I went to the Orthodox church for the first time. I started to understand some things and read some literature. At first, I thought that the denomination was not important. This is very typical for Protestants to think that all Christians will be saved and that if you have faith in Christ you are already saved. So I didn’t think anything bad about Catholics or Orthodox. I thought, “They are somewhat strange, but if they believe in Christ, they will probably be saved. So what’s the difference? It doesn’t matter.” I went to different churches in Ryazan, including Baptist and Mormon churches, although I knew that most Protestants do not consider Mormons to be Christians.

Father George: Yes, they have their own “holy scripture” and their own American prophets.

Anna: There was a moment when I started to doubt the integrity of the Protestant denomination. The thing is that I didn’t limit myself to going to one Baptist church only. I went to almost all churches in Ryazan. I wanted to see everything. There were quite a few Baptist churches, but as I learned later, they belonged to different unions. There is a Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists of Russia and an International Union. Both are Baptists, but I understood that even two Baptist churches in one city couldn’t agree on what they believe in and how to understand the Holy Scripture. From that moment on, I started thinking, “Something is wrong here. Why can’t we agree? Why is everybody thinking in their own way?”

Father George: Our Lord Jesus Christ said about His disciples,

“That they all may be one” (John, 17:21).

And the situation you describe is obviously lacking this oneness.

Anna: Yes. This was one of the main aspects that helped me figure everything out.

Figuring Things Out

An Interview with Vietnamese Orthodox Anna Dao Bin, Part 2

Father George: How did you start to figure things out?

Anna: I talked to friends who were also interested in these matters. We watched lectures and read books. Found some Orthodox literature. At first, I was very cautious, because my understanding of Orthodoxy was wrong. I thought that the Orthodox added something. Baptists say that the Orthodox added something to the Holy Scripture and that is why they misunderstand and do everything wrong. However, when I read the Orthodox books and watched lectures, I saw that everything was according to the Bible and that there were no contradictions. I even thought that, perhaps, the Biblical teachings are better followed in Orthodoxy. It was very important for me because Protestants believe that the Bible is the foundation of everything. So it was very important for me to understand that if Orthodoxy didn’t contradict the Bible, then maybe the truth was there and it was worth investigating.

Father George: When you started going to Orthodox churches you probably noticed that they look very different.

Anna: Yes, they did. At first, everything was very complicated and unclear – I didn’t understand what was happening in the church. The impression I got wasn’t very good because I got used to what happened in Protestant churches – when you go there, even for the first time, somebody usually approaches you, everybody greet you..

Father George: …smile and say hello…

Anna: …yes, they welcome you. When I came to the Orthodox church, nobody talked to me or said anything. Nobody even paid any attention to me. I really appreciate communication so I didn’t understand that attitude. Of course, I don’t know Russian so well, let alone Church Slavonic. And the service itself was not clear to me. I remember that when I came to the Church of Christ the Savior for the first time with my friend, we watched the communion and didn’t understand what was happening.

Father George: How did you make the decision to convert to Orthodoxy?

Anna: All summer I’d been reading various Orthodox books and articles and discussing them with my friends from Baptist churches. They, of course, weren’t very happy about that. I think it wasn’t so difficult for me to accept the Orthodox teachings because I didn’t come from a Protestant family, but made my own choice. So it was up to me to decide whether or not I should stay in the Protestant community. In Ryazan, even when I became very interested in Orthodoxy, I kept on going to the Baptist church because all the people I knew and socialized with were there. I am thankful to God for making it possible for me to stay and study in Russia.

When I came to Moscow, I decided that I will no longer go to Baptist churches, but will learn more about the Orthodox teaching instead. It was easier for me in Moscow, because I didn’t know anybody there and could start from scratch. I attended a Bible Study club in an Orthodox church where their deacon explained everything to us. For me it was a new approach – learning that you must understand the Holly Scripture correctly. Protestants use a different approach: You understand the Bible any way you want it. Bible Studies were held as follows: a group of people would gather and they would be asked, “What emotions or thoughts do you have when you read this?” Naturally, it is an easy way to fall into error.

Father George: Of course. I remember that St. Nicholas of Japan wrote, “Japanese Protestants came to me and asked, ‘What does this verse mean in the Holy Scripture?’ I told them, ‘You have your own teachers. Why don’t you ask them?’ They said, ‘We did ask them and they told us to understand it the way we like it, but we want to know what God had in mind when He said that’.’’ Thanks to the Holy Tradition, we in Orthodox Church can know what God Himself meant by any word. That is why the Orthodox Church remains true to itself for two millennia after its creation.

Anna: Yes. Then I thought about the origins of the Bible for the first time. It didn’t simply appear, somebody compiled it. Someone had to choose which books to include and which to exclude. I learned that it was done by the early Church and that the early Christians didn’t even have the Bible. So if we trust the Church that established the composition of the Bible and believe that it correctly chose the books to include, why can’t we trust its guidelines about the way we need to understand the Bible?

Father George: Indeed, this is the question that Protestants usually disregard. When you tell them that since ancient times the Church had a teaching about the importance of the Holy Tradition, veneration of saints and icons, that is all the things that they reject, they say that it was because the Church has already fallen into error. But it was that very Church at that specific time that compiled the biblical canon that Protestants accept! The bishops of this Church at the Councils held in the fourth and fifth centuries determined which books were included in the Bible. So if Protestants (based on their understanding of the Bible) say that the Church was in error at that time, this means that they should reject the Bible too.

And the second aspect that you mentioned that is also ignored by Protestants is that the Apostolic Church lived without the New Testament. It lived through Tradition only that was passed by word of mouth. The books of the New Testament appeared throughout the first century, but they were not available to everybody. That is, the true Church appeared before the Bible. So when Protestants try to create their communities on the basis of the Bible, they go in a completely opposite direction.

Anna: Yes, after I got a better understanding of the differences between various denominations and learned how these denominations were created, I couldn’t simply brush it aside and continue my journey in Protestantism. I had to reconsider many things that I previously believed in. People I met helped me with this. These people were wonderful! I got acquainted with a deacon who was interested in Vietnam. He prepared me for the Baptism, explained the Orthodox teachings to me in detail, corrected the things that I got wrong and eventually became my godfather. I am very thankful to him. These teachers were God-sent to me.

Father George: Now that you started your life in Orthodoxy, do you still feel lonely when you go to church?

Anna: No, I don’t feel lonely. I was surprised that many Orthodox people know the Scripture very well. For example, the deacon who is my godfather… I had a very good impression of him after our first talk specifically because he knew the Scripture very well and used quotes from it to answer my questions. Since I always appreciated the Bible and believed that it was the foundation of faith, it was very important for me. When I talk to my Protestant friends, I understand how important it is to base your arguments on the Bible.

Father George: What are your impressions of living in the Orthodoxy? Do you feel anything new, something that wasn’t there before?

Anna: Yes, of course! When I started going to the Orthodox church, the path I should take became clearer for me. I wasn’t alone with the Bible that I somehow had to understand on my own. Protestants want to live according to the Bible, but it is not possible without teachers or without the Church.

Father George: Did such things as, for example, icons make you uncomfortable?

Anna: Of course, at first it was very uncomfortable. It was difficult for me to accept such things as icons, confession, communion, fasting, monasticism, etc. All these were new to me. But I remembered that at the time of early Church there were many people who couldn’t read, so I think that icons helped them learn about God. Now I no longer feel uncomfortable.

Father George: Indeed, looking at the icons and paintings in the church, we can see, for example, all main events in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I used to bring a Muslim to a church, and just by looking at the icons we could briefly review the main events of the Gospel, Old Testament, and even our future that is described in the Apocalypse: usually the image of the Judgement Day is placed in the western part of the church. Of course, the icons help to tell the story, but besides they also help us in prayer. If I’m travelling and have no icon and have to pray just looking at a blank wall, my prayer seems somewhat flawed. When we see an image – and as we know veneration of the image means veneration of the original – this helps us in prayer. Did you feel that?

Anna: Yes, of course. In Protestant churches, it is a common practice to pray with your eyes closed. And often it seemed that I was simply falling asleep during prayer. You are right, the icons help you to stay focused.

Father George: How do you see your future? Are you planning to return to Vietnam or to stay in Russia? Or maybe go somewhere else?

Anna: I don’t have finalized plans yet, since I came to Russia not so long ago, so for now I’m planning to study here. I’m studying at the faculty of international relations. I believe that it was God who gave me this opportunity and I’m very happy about it. The educational establishment that I’m studying in prepares diplomats, but I did not have any desire to become one. Gradually, after talking with my godfather who knows a lot about missionary work and wants to be engaged in missionary work among Vietnamese, I realized how providentially God arranged all this. My university teaches us languages and people skills. The same qualities are needed in missionary work. That is why I’m very happy that I’m studying these subjects.

Father George: Yes, of course, because God gives us the Truth not only for our own sake but also so that we could share it with others.

Anna: God is immeasurably generous and He gave me so much! I’m very happy that I’m here in Russia and that I found Orthodoxy. I know that if God gives many things to us, He expects that we would share them with others.

Father George: Thank you very much for your story. God help you in your chosen path. I hope to God that other people of Vietnam would find their path to Orthodoxy.





Saint John (Ivan) Smirennikov the Aleut of Alaska (+19th ce.)

This Aleut Orthodox tribal elder was known as a local ‘shaman’ who cured illness and told fishermen where to find large catches, just as shaman had done throughout the Arctic since time immemorial.

St. Innocent arrived at Akun Island on June 12, 1828 (O.S.), on a trip from Unalaska to Unimak Island, some 400 miles to the east. This was nearly four years after St. Innocent had first arrived in Alaska. St. Innocent was surprised to note that the people of the island were waiting for him at the shore, dressed in their finest clothing. The islanders greeted him by name, even before he introduced himself to them. When he asked them why they were waiting for him and how they knew his name, he was told that their shaman had informed them of his coming. St. Innocent thought this strange, but as he went about his work on the island, he put the incident out of his mind. However, as the days progressed, it came to his attention that one of the elders of the island, who had diligently come to services, and had prepared for and received Holy Communion, was unhappy with him. St. Innocent, wishing to avoid all misunderstandings, called to meet the man, known as Ivan Smirennikov.

The meeting took place, and Smirennikov expressed dissatisfaction that St. Innocent hadn’t asked why the islanders called him a shaman, even though the title bothered Smirennikov. As it turns out, Smirennikov had been baptized by Hieromonk Makary, and after his departure, he told St. Innocent, he had continually been visited almost daily for thirty years by two bright figures, who taught him in the ways of the faith. He, in turn, shared this with the rest of the village. These figures would also sometimes tell him things that were going to happen, which is how the islanders knew that St. Innocent would be arriving and his name. St. Innocent was first curious to meet these two, and he asked Smirennikov if he could meet them as well, and while Smirennikov went to ask if this was permissable, St. Innocent thought the better of it, reasoning that there was no way that demons would spend thirty years instructing someone on matters of the Faith. Furthermore, he considered himself unworthy to come into the presence of these spirits, and that Smirennikov had demonstrated enough to him for him alone that he did not need to meet these spirits to believe.

Before leaving Akun, St. Innocent wrote all these things down, and had them attested to, in writing, by Smirennikov and by his translator, a man by the name of Ivan Pankov. Also, he instructed the Akun islanders to no longer call Smirennikov a shaman. He then sent a copy of his experiences and Smirennikov’s testimony to his bishop, Bishop Michael (Byrudov) of Irkutsk. A reply was eventually received; blessing St. Innocent to go and meet the spirits, should they still be appearing to Ivan Smirennikov on St. Innocent’s next visit to Akun. Unfortunately, by the time St. Innocent visited Akun again, the elder Smirennikov had reposed, and the Angels of Akun appeared to no one else.





The Shaman and the Saint

St. Innocent, Equal to the Apostles had an illustrious career – he began as a simple missionary priest to the Aleut people of Alaska, and wound up as Metropolitan of Moscow. But even though he was an important and influential man, he was humble and unassuming, very aware of his failings and his temptations. Because of this, St. Innocent managed to miss meeting angels.

St. Innocent’s first parish was a series of islands spread over 1700 miles of the Bering Sea. He and his family settled on Unalaska Island, and he made a point of traveling by kayak and ship to as many islands and villages as he could during the year to attend to the needs of his parishioners.

In April of 1828, some people from Unimak Island arrived in Dutch Harbour. They had come to ask him if he would visit them. Unimak is about four hundred miles north east (as the crow flies) from Unalaska. He told the delegation that he’d be happy to come with them, but on the way, he wanted to stop at Akun Island, which lies halfway between Unalaska and Unimak.

We have to remember that in 1828, the telephone hadn’t been invented yet. Mail service was nonexistent, except when the company ships brought parcels and letters from Russia or Sitka, and in any case, the Aleut people, until St. Innocent arrived, hadn’t needed a written language, so they didn’t read or write. St. Innocent’s visit to Akun would be a complete (although welcome and happy) surprise to the villagers there.

Innocent and his escorts arrived at Akun Island on a bright sunny day. On the beach, to their surprise, was a group of people dressed in their best clothing and welcoming their new priest by name.

St. Innocent was more than surprised, since there was no normal way the people could have known he was coming. So he asked them. They replied that their shaman had told them of St. Innocent’s arrival: the time, the day and the exact location of his landfall. The Shaman, they said, also described his appearance and his clothing.

Naturally, St. Innocent wanted to meet this person. He was told that John Smirennikov (which was the shaman’s name) would be happy to meet the priest, just as soon as he returned to the village.

Mentally shrugging, St. Innocent put the incident out of his mind. He had a lot to do. The people needed to be taught. Many of them had been baptized, but as there hadn’t been a priest on the island for many years, they needed to be chrismated. Several couples wanted to have an Orthodox wedding. St. Innocent wanted to celebrate a liturgy, and for that, the people needed to confess. After vigil on Saturday evening, he heard confessions. What he didn’t realize at the time was that one of the parishioners was John Smirenikov, the shaman. St. Innocent didn’t notice him among all the other people there.

It wasn’t until the chieftain came up to him after Liturgy on Sunday that St. Innocent remembered the unusual arrival. Apparently, Mr. Smirenikov was upset that the priest had called him a shaman, and he wanted to make sure that St. Innocent knew he was a good Orthodox Christian!

St. Innocent and John Smirennikov sat down to talk. The Aleut elder knew an amazing amount of the Gospel and many of the prayers, but couldn’t read Russian. The Aleuts didn’t have a written language, and John had never been educated in the faith. St. Innocent was the first priest to visit these islands who had an interpreter and the time to teach the people.

How did he know all these things, St. Innocent asked. John replied that his two companions had told him.

What companions? St. Innocent wanted to know.

John said, “White men. And they told me that soon you’re going to see your family off on shore and sail away to see some great man, and you’ll talk to him.”

“What do they look like? What kind of people are they?”

The men he described looked very much the way angels are portrayed on icons: white robes and rose-colored bands across their shoulders, like a deacon’s vestments and stichars.

The men, John went on to say, had appeared to him shortly after he had been baptized by Heiromonk Macarius, and came to him almost every day. They taught him the Christian faith, they brought help to him and sometimes to others during times of sickness and famine. But, said John, whenever he asked for their help for other people, they always said they had to ask for God’s permission. Sometimes these men would tell him about things that were going to happen, like St. Innocent’s arrival at Akun Island.

St. Innocent tested John’s knowledge of the faith and of doctrine and found it sound and true. John told the saint about the instructions the men had given him – to pray not to them, but to God, and to live a pure and faithful life, to listen only to his priest, and not to traders when talking about the faith.

St. Innocent asked if he could meet them, and John replied that he’d have to ask them if it was all right. A few days later, he came back to the village and said yes, that they would meet him. But St. Innocent had a change of mind, and decided, as he wrote to his bishop, that he was “a sinful man, unworthy of talking to them. If I were to decide to see them it would be nothing but pride and presumption on my part. If I were to meet real angels, I might exalt myself for having such great faith, or start thinking too highly of myself . . . No, I’m unworthy, I’d best not go.”

He sent his letter about the men to his bishop, back in Irkutsk in Siberia. Three years later, (remember – sailing ships and bad weather for half the year and slow, slow mail delivery) he received a letter back from the archbishop, requesting St. Innocent to visit these beings “for the greater glorification of our pious faith.” Unfortunately, by the time St. Innocent received the request, John Smirennikov had died, and the angels hadn’t appeared to anyone else.




Yoga and Orthodox Christianity:
Are They Compatible?

Dr. Christine Mangala, India

Dr. Christine Mangala was raised in India and brought up a devout Hindu. Her family was close to one of India’s leading Hindu gurus and teachers. Now an Orthodox Christian writer and teacher, she and Illumined Heart host Kevin Allen speak about whether various aspects of Hindu Yoga are compatible with Christian faith and practice, or whether Yoga should be shunned entirely.

The interview video of Dr. Christine Mangala & Kevin Allen

* * *

Mr. Allen: Welcome to The Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio. As many of you know, we have spoken often on this program about the influence of eastern, non-Christian, spiritual ideas, metaphysics, and worldviews on our culture. And this is the spiritual background I came out of, one which continues to be a subject of interest to me, and, I hope, for some of you as well.

Recently, my parish in southern California has begun to see a trickle of enquirers coming from various eastern traditions, especially those of Hinduism. So I hope our conversation today—Yoga and Orthodox Christianity: Are They Compatible?—will bring light to the subject.  In addition to enquirers from eastern spiritual traditions, many Christian believers also practice yoga asanas, physical postures which have become virtually mainstream in North American and European life, and even some forms of Hindu-influenced meditation. So the question of the compatibility of yoga in its various meditative and especially the physical postures forms with Eastern Orthodox Christianity is one that we’ll attempt to address on the program today.

My guest, whom I’m very very enthused to be speaking with, was born a Hindu, a Brahmin, the highest and priestly caste in India. She was brought up on yoga. Her grandfather, in fact, was a personal friend of one of the expounders of modern yoga and Vedanta philosophy, the well-known Swami Sivananda, who is the founder of the Divine Life Society. And Dr. Christine Mangala became a Christian at age 22, and later converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. She received her doctorate in English literature from Cambridge University, and has authored articles on literature and books of fiction, of which she has written several, as well as various spiritual subjects, including yoga and Christianity. She is married to Dr. David Frost, the director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, England—a fine program, by the way—with whom she has four children, and she attends St. Ephraim’s Russian Orthodox Church in Cambridge, UK, England.

Her excellent article, “Yoga and the Christian Faith,” provided the impetus for this program, and I’m speaking with my guest today by telephone in Cambridge, England. Dr. Christine Mangala, welcome to The Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio. It’s great to have you as my guest.

Dr. Mangala: Thank you very much, Kevin. It’s a great pleasure and privilege to be on this program.

Mr. Allen: Thank you so much. It’s good to have you as my guest. I’m going to enjoy this; I can tell already. Let’s begin with this first question, Christine, if I might. Speaking of yoga, not in its modern and popularized context, but in its classic context, as you were probably taught the yogas, is yoga understood as spiritual practice in its native Indian tradition, or is it thought of merely as some form of relaxation or physical exercise or both?

Dr. Mangala: Well, I have to say yoga in its classical context is a manifold discipline. At the core of it is a spiritual goal, and, therefore, it would be very fair to say that [in] the classical context it was understood as a spiritual practice, but by the time the late 19th century reformers got to work, and on, even in the early 20th century, the relaxation aspect of it also had started to dominate. But the Indian teachers of yoga, from Sivananda onwards, always have reiterated that the spiritual goal is the primary aim of yoga, and the postures and exercises and other things are an aid to it. If you read teachers like Ashok Kumar Malhotra, and even the most popular of yoga writers, like B.K.S. Iyengar, emphasize this.

Mr. Allen: Yes, and the point I’m trying to get to is—and we’re going to be talking about this rather continually throughout and building up towards it—is can these yogas be somehow separated from their spiritual context, so that’s why I wanted to start there. Now most of us, Dr. Christine Mangala, in Britain and in Europe and North America, are most familiar with the physical postures yoga, which is called Hatha Yoga, but it’s merely one of several classic yoga disciplines. Could you briefly summarize for our listeners the five—as I know them—classic yogas, the spiritual disciplines of Hinduism?

Dr. Mangala: Yes. In fact, you mentioned five—it’s a bit like the sacraments in the West: some say seven and some say countless, and so on. In fact, if you look at the Bhagavad Gita, every chapter is headed “Yoga of Something-or-other”; it’s a bit confusing, but we’ll stick to the five. And the five are: the Karma Yoga, which is the yoga through work to cultivating detachment and achieving a state of dispassion state, in which you do the work, and there’s a wonderful phrase in the Bhagavad Gitawhich talks about “work in worklessness” and “worklessness in work” and its paradox is to be realized in our everyday life; that is the Karma Yoga. Now, Jnâna Yoga is the yoga of true knowledge, true discrimination, and this is the exercise of the intellect in various forms, to discriminate truth from falsehood, ignorance from enlightenment, and so on. Now Bhakti Yoga, which is in fact the most popular one in India, I would say, widely practiced, simply recommends simple devotion and love to our chosen deity or to god in general. Then you have Raja Yoga which is a much more advanced form of mental and psychosomatic control. Now, Hatha Yoga, the one that is very popular in the West, focuses on getting fit, really, tuning the body up, if you like; that is to do with all the physical postures.

Mr. Allen: Thank you for that summary; I think it’s an excellent summary. So, Christine, in the context of classic yoga, as we’ve been speaking, how are these physical postures, the asanas, the Hatha Yoga, seen as being related to the other yogas? I mean, are they a spiritual partner, equally; a lower form; a prelude to the others; you know, can one be liberated in the Hindu context exclusively through the use of yoga postures or asanas, etc.?

Dr. Mangala: Yes, well, I would say that in the classical yoga, you can look at it in two ways: one is to see it in terms of a gradual ascent; perhaps that’s a bit misleading. I would see it much more like spokes in a wheel: there are various aspects, and the idea is to get to the center, and the physical postures are to be practiced along with all the other things as well, so that you actually do a simultaneous practice of several aspects of the yoga discipline. It is a manifold discipline, and I think in ancient—definitely in the ancient days, there was no question of achieving liberation—spiritual liberation—through just practicing the postures alone. The idea wouldn’t even have entered the minds of these ancientrishis—the yogis who practiced them—because they were fully aware of the whole range of psychosomatic problems that had to be overcome in any spiritual journey.

And even then, the yogi who just sits under a tree simply impressing people with postures or lying on a bed of nails was always slightly, I would say, regarded as a spectacle, a butt of ridicule. Even now there are people who do this at pilgrim centers, and I call them the “bizarre bazaars,” you know, just like a spectacle. And this definitely was not encouraged at all: just focusing on the physical aspect of the postures to expect somehow for you to take that into any spiritual state often leads into byways and dead ends, like some psychic feats become possible, but it doesn’t necessarily mean spiritual liberation. This is recognized by the Indian teachers in the classical context.

Mr. Allen: Speaking of yoga and its practice, in an organic sense, what is the ultimate goal of yoga, Christine, as defined by Patañjali and his classic Yoga Sutras and other writings like that?

Dr. Mangala: Well, Patañjali, in fact, speaks of Yoga as “eight-limbed” (ashtanga): eight-limbed postures, an eight-limbed discipline, and, in fact, postures—the practicing of postures, asanas—figures third in the list. It actually begins with moral and psychological preparation. And it starts with the five restraints, you know, you have to control your senses.; and five disciplines, this is the obverse side of it: you have to be trained to do the right things. And then you have third is physical postures. And then you go on to regulation of vital force and withdrawing of the sense organs (pratyahara), and then concentration and meditation, and, finally, you have the word “samadhi”—“absorption.” Now this is usually regarded as the ultimate goal: samadhi or absorption.

Now it becomes a tricky question as to what exactly are you absorbing into? And I’m afraid there are different answers to this question given by different schools of Indian/Hindu traditions. Some would say it is absorption into a kind of impersonal Brahman—that’s where the individual becomes identical with the universal; and some would say it’s absorption into a trans-personal, a godhead; and, of course, if you are in the Buddhist tradition, there’s no question of any godhead whatsoever, in the original Buddhist teaching: and so you enter Nirvana, which is blowing out. Absorption or samadhi, this is the key phrase which describes the Yogi Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Mr. Allen: So it would be fair to say that sticking with the classic understanding of the yogic disciplines, the ultimate goal of which would be this samadhi. So I think we need to drill down a bit, then, and talk a little bit about that. And samadhi is often described in terms ofsaccidananda, pure consciousness, bliss, and so on. How does that compare, and is it compatible with our views within Christianity, of the kingdom of God and so on?

Dr. Mangala: Well, the notion, the concept of saccidananda, which is sort of truth, knowledge, bliss—it’s a tripartite description of this ultimate experience—to my mind it sounds wonderful but it’s a static concept, and it’s also an abstract concept. Now, when Jesus speaks of the spiritual goal of human beings, as the kingdom of God, to me it’s an incredibly rich, exciting, dynamic, inspiring vision. For, it’s not only internal, but also external; it’s not only personal, but it’s also corporate: it involves other human beings. And, besides, the kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of encompasses not only human beings, but all of Creation. We human beings are to be transfigured, but also Creation along with us. What’s more, it’s not a static goal, it is rooted in the Christian notion of Godhead, which is “life-creating Trinity,” we sing in the Liturgy, which means it’s a very dynamic, active force of love and of relationship.

And therefore you have an incredible vision here, a vision of faith, and it’s also, to me, even greater because it doesn’t end; it’s not a goal that you score and that there is an end to it, but it continues. It’s a continuing transformation from glory to glory as St. Paul talks about. I can go on talking about this, but too many words perhaps are not a good idea. But there is one very important reminder about the kingdom of God which I would like to just conclude with: the kingdom of God is achieved onlythrough the cross of Christ, only by following Christ. What that means is suffering alongside with Him.

This is the other thing that excites me as a Hindu, a Hindu convert from Hinduism, one of the reasons I became Christian, was that I found the Hindu answers to evil and suffering extremely inadequate and even pathetic; simply to postpone the problem to karma or some life in the past was not good enough. Whereas, through embracing suffering wholeheartedly, and, conquering it, through love, through faith, we heal our own wounded self, also the wounded world. And now this is concurrent with the kingdom of God. And so all this just to suggest that the Christian idea of the kingdom of God is a far cry from what I would call—I expect I will offend people if I say it, but I will say it anyway—it’s a kind of “do-it-yourself kit” idea of samadhi. And also, samadhi, inevitably, becomes self-centered. Even if people talk about community work and so on, ultimately it does leave the world behind, it leaves the other people behind, and it leaves the Creation behind.

Mr. Allen: Do you think that—I’ve always been confused about this idea of samadhi, especially within the context of Bhakti Yoga which I practice, which, as you pointed out earlier, is devotion to a personal deity—and here is my confusion; maybe you could shed some light on it. And we’re talking about people like Vaishnavites who worship Krishna, and in my case it was Ramakrishna, and there are others that worship Holy Mother and Kali and so on and so forth. My question is: Is samadhi always, Christine, a losing of self? Of course, in Christianity, our personhood in the image of God is key. Is it always a losing of self or is it not always a losing of self or a “blowing out of self” as the Buddhists might say?

Dr. Mangala: Well, I think the “self” that is spoken of in Hindu traditions is not the same as the Christian understanding of a human person; the whole human anthropology is understood differently, and this creates a lot of problems, because when you talk about— when you look at the Bhagavad Gita, it’s one of the classic examples of the way the human being is looked upon as a kind of— the soul indwelling the body. The body-soul division is extremely strong, so what really matters is the soul; the body is just an aggregate of various elements. You have a very similar idea in other Hindu schools of philosophy, even in Buddhism, and Buddhism goes even further by demolishing the very notion of self as well. So when you ask, “What is it that absorbs?” Any illusory sense of self is what most Hindus would say. In other words, there is no sense of the value of a distinctly created human person to start with.

Now this is where I find Christianity so liberating, because we talk about— we have a clear idea and a cogent idea in Christian theology of God is love and God is a creator-God and the lover of mankind. Now, these two things matter immensely when you think about what human beings are, because if human beings are made in the image of God, they also have these personal qualities, if you like. And that is incredibly important, and when you talk about the kingdom of God or theosis and other notions that come with it, because human beings are intrinsically valuable, because they’re made in the image of God. Now, I don’t have anywhere in the Hindu thinking a parallel notion. And so samadhi, naturally, it’s confusing, because there are different ways of defining the human being, but mostly you will find they have a Gnostic undercurrent: the soul becomes important, but the body does not.

Mr. Allen: I’ve spoken though with some in this country who are in the Hare Krishna movement. We have folks that have started to become inquirers into our church—thank God—and they argue that we’re not talking about absorption into an impersonal deity, we’re talking about living forever as a unique being in a “loca” with Krishna, with their deity. So I was confused about whether we’re talking about loss of self in all cases or just in some of the Vedantic schools.

Dr. Mangala: One problem with so many manifestations of Hinduism of late is that it’s rather difficult to track cross-currents that are going on. You would find a lot of Christian terminology taken over and what I call these actually “leavening the lump” from within, meaning that so much of Christian thinking and Christian terminology and Christian notions have been absorbed into Hinduism and regurgitated as Hinduism back to the West. And this idea of living in a loca—it’s a wonderful fantasy. I met a Hare Krishna in the street some years ago, and he was trying to sell me aBhagavad Gita, and I felt sympathetic and I said to him, “Okay, I’ll buy a copy”—I mean, I was working on translations of the Bhagavad Gita at the time—and I said to him, “You know, all you are dreaming of is a poetic fantasy. What is real is Jesus Christ, who has actually come as a human being. God has actually come at a historical point in time to this, to us, to offer all this that you’re dreaming about.” And that is where I would put the Hare Krishna movement.

Mr. Allen: That is such a brilliant way to put it, because, for myself, Christine, when I was meditating in the ashram and had my experience of Christ, as a prelude to that, I started to come to believe that my projections and my visualizations and my meditations as I was taught by my guru, were, in fact, poetic fantasies; they were my desires for something versus anything actually happening inside of me, if you know what I mean. So that’s a well-done, well-done overview. Did you have anything you wanted to add to that?

Dr. Mangala: I was going to say that I would extend the— you know the word “type” that is used in the Church Fathers and others, they use in their commentaries that there are certain types and images of what we expect, and Christ is the reality. And once you have the reality, the types are no longer needed. And there is a sense in which you do have a lot of types imaged in other religions. Some of them, at best, induce people to look in the right direction; at worst they can be demonic, that’s the difference. There’s no way of telling, and you need the spiritual discernment to find out which is which. Actually, the predictions can be so strong that you can actually hallucinate these images, too. Agehananda Bharati, who is an Austrian convert and a monk in the Hare Krishna order, talks about how he actually saw his goddess, and he’s very clear about what had happened, how it had happened to him, too.

Mr. Allen: Yes, and, of course, Rama Krishna had visions all the time with Kali and so on and so forth in some very, frightening to me, frightening ways and aspects. You wrote in your article on yoga and Christianity, Christine Mangala, that a key problem with yoga is that itencourages people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through the use of human techniques, that is, yoga, without grace and faith in salvation through Jesus Christ. Yet here’s a kind of a paradox I want to throw at you. The Orthodox, as you probably know, are sometimes accused, especially by Protestant Evangelicals, because of our emphasis on theosis and synergy with God, as advocating some form of the same sorts of things you accuse yoga of, you know, spiritual effort, works of righteousness. So can you help us understand how you make the distinction between yoga as false spiritual effort if you like, and theosisand synergy as appropriate or effective spiritual effort?

Dr. Mangala: I have to admit, first of all, I love the concept, the Orthodox concept of synergy. It’s the most beautiful and inspiring way of recognizing human freedom. Now, Orthodox writers emphasize synergy because they recognize this as part of being made in the image of God, the freedom that we have. God hasn’t stinted anything; He’s given us this freedom. And, of course, the idea of effort is something that can be easily misrepresented. It’s not a case of us pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but it’s much more the case of exercising this God-given energy and directing our energies—physical, mental, spiritual—towards God, towards Christ, through the Spirit.

Let me give you an example; it’s not a very brilliant example, but a crude example. Let’s say someone is driving headlong with all his passion and eagerness to achieve something, except he doesn’t know quite where he’s going and perhaps he’s even on the wrong road, maybe the SatNav has let him down. But the moment that he realizes he’s not getting anywhere, he has to turn back. Now, that is what most of us are like, that in our fallen condition we are misled by our sins, by our passions, by the distractions of the world and confusion, and we seek our solace at first in all sorts of things which the world—what the Bible calls “the world” or “the flesh”—offers, but when we realize that none of this is working, weliterally turn back, that is, we repent. Now if this action of turning back, the redirection of our energies, towards our proper human goal, which is to seek and find God and worship and glorify Him, once this turning back takes place in all sincerity, we are infused by the Holy Spirit. In other words, God’s energies start to flow into us. This is why I love the word “synergy,” because it recognizes two aspects of the spiritual life. So when we pray, when we struggle, it is the Holy Spirit which is praying through us. This is the answer I would give to the Protestant Evangelical suspicions of this so-called “synergy” being some kind of effort.

I will actually give you another of my favorite examples, which is taken from the saint of our parish, St. Ephraim the Syrian. He has a beautiful image which tells us what kind of effort we are to make. St. Ephraim sees the human person as the “harp of the Spirit,” this lovely musical instrument. To play well the music of the Holy Spirit, we need to be clean: the harp needs to be clean and well-tuned, and its strings neither too tight nor too slack. That is our spiritual effort, the ascesis, all the things that are recommended in the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox tradition of fasting, almsgiving, repentance, thanksgiving, prayer: all these are means to achieve the tuning. That is what I see synergy is: a redirection of energies God-wards so that God’s energies can flow into us and transform us. I hope that answers some of the criticism.

Now, similarly with theosis; it’s a bit of a daring and a frightening word for some people;  they feel it’s presuming too much, but it isn’t at all if you look at the Bible, because what are we told there? We are commanded by God, we are told “to be holy even as God is holy.” How can we ignore this command? And it’s not as if He is asking us to do it by ourselves, not at all; He’s pulling us up, if you like. It’s not a military order, but it’s a command of love. God is willing. He is the great Lover. We keep singing “the Lover of mankind” in all our services. We mean what we say: “God is the Lover of mankind.” He is eager to share His life, and He seeks us first. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a classic instance of telling us how He seeks us first. And when we are still far away, He still comes running to us.

Now all this is very difficult for a modern sensibility to register because they haven’t even begun to think of God as love. They are still trapped in the old-style ideas of God as the punisher, God as the sin-picker, and God as the law, and all these false gods have to be got rid of first. And when you read the Bible and pray, you discover the God of love, which is where you have to start. But what happens when love is offered? Many people these days—and they’ve done it in the past and they do it still—saying, “No, thank you. I am sufficient unto myself.” But the moment you shut, you close the door, God is not going to force himself. So I like to think of theosis as being transfigured by God’s love. The more we open the windows, which is [what] I would call our effort, the more the light of God streams in, and the light of the— we have to remember it’s not a static light, it’s the dynamic light of the Trinity—is allowed to penetrate and illuminate us and transform us. This is what theosis is, in my limited understanding.

And that it is possible in this life, we get a glimpse of in the life of the saints. They have shown us, down the centuries, that this kind of transformation is possible, to become transparent to God in this life is possible right in this life and it will be more fully realized in the life to come.

Mr. Allen: And thank God for that. Absolutely. And that’s one of the reasons I think that Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Orthodox tradition, and I’m assuming you agree, have so much, you know, when you say “to offer” it somewhat sublimates the great Hindu tradition as well, but we have things in common that we can share, I think. Eastern Orthodox Christianity, of all the forms of Christianity, would be very attractive to Hindus. Do you agree?

Dr. Mangala: I think so, because of the Hindu’s natural sense of the sacrament, of the mysterious and mystical dimension of life. And in Orthodox Christianity they will find a home. I remember I was with my family, my husband, and we were traveling in India, and we were went to Haridwar up in the north and watched the evening lamp-lighting ceremony there. You know, hundreds and hundreds of people were lighting lamps, and at a certain time they were saying prayers and floating them down the River Ganges as the mother of all life and life-giver and so on. And I couldn’t help thinking how easily this could be transformed into a Christian service of thanksgiving, and the Orthodox would be capable of doing it, because, you know, we approach everything in a mystical, in a sacramental way, and the Hindus naturally would find that compatible with what they grew up with.

Mr. Allen: And Hinduism is so physical, even with the duality of soul and body, there are so many physical aspects to it, and, of course, we— the physical aspect within Orthodox Christianity has been sanctified through the Incarnation, so I agree with you. How and when, Christine, did modern postural yoga and modern meditation yoga become, as you wrote in your article, “remolded in the idiom of American schools of self-help and positive thinking and become marketed as a safe and easy pathway to bliss within the grasp of all”? Was this Vivekananda in the 1800s or was it Maharishi before that or after that or who?

Dr. Mangala: Actually, it goes way back, believe it or not, and I don’t want to sound as if I’m putting it all squarely in America, but what happened was in the early 19th century, there were certain literary figures, like Emerson and Thoreau, who were the beginning of this movement. And Emerson, of course, was a total Transcendentalist and a Unitarian, and he found the concept of the Over-soul and he wrote poems on Brahman and so on. But did you know Thoreau, the Boston Brahmin, was the first to practice yoga?

Mr. Allen: No, I did not know that. Really?

Dr. Mangala: Yes, I believe he was. And then these people actually probably were reacting against their excessive Calvinistic Puritanism, I don’t know, but that’s the background. And they reintroduced a more idealistic notion of human beings. I always feel whenever in history, this is the way the Holy Spirit works, whenever in history, something gets forgotten or not recognized sufficiently, someone comes along and it gets overemphasized, you know, and you have to recover the balance somewhere or other. And then the waters get slurred and muddied because of other people coming in and having their input. I mean, there were people who are flirting with Swedenborgian ideas and Madame Blavatsky and her Theosophists and all these people—the details are difficult to go into now, but I have a book to recommend on that, I will do that in a minute—but they created an ethos, this is the important thing; they created an ethos of psychologized psychic religion.

Now, interestingly, when Vivekananda got to his parliament of religion, this was the air he breathed, and he very quickly saw the potential, and it was an extraordinary criss-crossing of the East and West once again. And he changed, he reformulated classical Hindu metaphysics, and he produced something called “practical Vedanta,” which is in fact far from what Shankara, the original Vedantan philosopher, taught. With his “practical Vedanta,” even for Vivekananda it was a bit too abstract, so then he produced his manual on Raja Yoga, and this is what was highly influ— this was a— the language of this manual is incredibly very like [that] of the self-help books and taking charge of oneself. He says bluntly that the whole aim is to take control of oneself and to control nature.

And in his writings there’s sometimes, what I feel is preposterous, and sometimes very brusque promises of instant results, and this appeals to the emerging consumerist mentality. Now after him this kind of approach, of “instant results” and “quick fixes,” if you like, “do it yourself,” all this “here and now” and “in your own home and in your own self, don’t bother going anywhere else,” you know. This developed further with people like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Rajneesh and whole peoples any number of swamis and matajis and whatever.

I did mention this book, and I think your readers might be interested. It’s called A History of Modern Yoga: Patañjali and Western Esotericismwritten by Elizabeth [de] Michelis and she has some very useful information about this extraordinary cross-fertilization of Eastern and Western ideas in the late 19th century and how it eventually produced these two forms of yoga: postural yoga and meditative yoga.

Mr. Allen: Give for our listeners again— could you give us the title and the author; spell the author’s last name?

Dr. Mangala: Yes, the author is Elizabeth [de] Michelis: M-I-C-H-E-L-I-S, and her book is called A History of Modern Yoga: Patañjali and Western Esotericism. It was published by Continuum Books in 2004.

Mr. Allen: Carrying along on this line that we’ve been on—we’re starting to descend a bit—is there anything wrong, in your opinion, with using yoga as a form of relaxation or physical exercise? And as a follow-up to that, should Christians be aware of or troubled by any spiritual baggage that often goes along with yoga? And do you think yoga can be a completely non-religious activity?

Dr. Mangala: Paradoxically, the movement which started then and has now resulted in—let’s give an example—the department of health and sports in England recommends yoga for its footballers and athletes. The National Health Service here recommends yoga for people with medical problems and so on. It’s become very much used as a form of physical exercise and relaxation, alongside physiotherapy and other such things. And, in a way, I think this is a good thing because what they have done is to dissociate it, and, definitely, a few stretches or proper breathing does help the posture and realign and calm the mind.

Here there has to be a word of warning. Exercise in moderation is a fine thing, and yoga exercises can be, in moderation, a fine thing. But, I would have also noticed this, is with some people—someone I know, this has happened—is that some of these people get bored with the simple ones and then they go on to the more complex ones, and then it becomes an addiction. When I say “addiction”—because the good hormones it produces , it gives you a high and you become dependent on it—the same way runners get addicted to running, and other such things. And that is the time to stop and consider what exactly is going on, you know, whether you are just relaxing or actually binging on it, if you like. And that’s a danger point.

And the second thing I would say about the spiritual baggage is: Christians definitely—I’m speaking for Christians here—definitely need to be careful what they receive by way of spiritual baggage whether they are reading books or whether they are going to yoga classes. First of all—there are two things to do—first of all, they have to be, Christians have to be fully grounded, and properly grounded in their Christian faith and prayer and worship. Only then we Christians will have the light, the proper light of Christ, to discern the good and take it and leave the bad. Now I have this rather simple image Christ is like— People ask me, “How do you deal with your past, your Hindu past?” I say, “Well, there are some good things in the attic and some rubbish, and Christ is the magnet.” I’m using metaphors here. Christ acts like a magnet. He will attract to himself the good things and the rest will fall away.

Now we need that light, otherwise we will not be able to tell what’s right and wrong. The second thing is to watch out if these yoga teachers, whether they stay with the postures alone or whether, by implicitly or explicitly, they go on to other things which take you into the Hindu spiritual ethos which is alien in its goal of samadhi and self-realization and all those other things, and that is, as I have said, incompatible with Christianity, where we are to look for the kingdom of God. And to go along with those things, I would even say, is a form of apostasy at its worst. And so, and I’m quite clear: there are two things needed. You have to be grounded in good Christian faith and worship and prayer, and also therefore to be able to discern. And also watch out when these exercises are— just stay as exercises or whether they subtly morph into something else.

A friend of mine here, who is doing research, went to these classes to keep fit, and after a while she found that the teacher was giving them mantras, and she started entering into strange mental states— and she was already doing her Ph.D. research which is enough to send anybody into a strange mental state anyway, and that didn’t help—and she got rather alarmed and then retreated very fast, because she is an Orthodox girl and so she knew there was something wrong here, and she stopped. So I’m talking—we do have to exercise discernment, and that’s very important.

Mr. Allen: Yeah, you know, as an aside to that, when I went through the transcendental meditation class, many many many years ago, before I became a Christian, they tried to take it outside of Hindu religious ethos, however, you are told you have to bring a piece of fruit and you have to bring something else, and then when you go there, the American instructor places it before a photograph of Maharishi and his guru, some Sanskrit words are given, and then you are given a Sanskrit mantra to repeat, so this is very much transcendental meditation within the context of Hinduism. So your point’s very well taken. What do you make of the attempts—as we’re coming to a close, Christine—of the attempts to “Christianize” yoga techniques, you’ve written about Déchanet and some of the others. Can there be a true, Christian yoga?

Dr. Mangala: Déchanet is a very interesting case. He’s a very clear-minded writer. Do you know his work?

Mr. Allen: I don’t. I was, frankly, introduced to him through your article, and I’m going to read him now that I’ve learned about him.

Dr. Mangala: He’s very thorough, and he’s very careful also to distinguish the yoga’s spiritual ethos from Christian beliefs and he’s made it very clear that they are incompatible. He’s very clear-headed and very sound. Then in the second part of the book he makes some very specific recommendations about how to use the postures to glorify God and to sing His praises and to express our contrition and so on. It’s a kind of a synchronizing of Christian— phases of Christian prayer and worship withyoga postures.

Now I thought this sounded exciting, so I spent some more time when I was writing this article practicing it, doing what he recommended. Then, after a while, I had this uneasy feeling that I was terribly self-conscious in my prayer. I wasn’t forgetting myself; I became excessively conscious of myself. I didn’t like that at all. I wanted to focus on God, not on how I was performing. And this distracted me too much. So my personal experience was that I would rather simply do the exercise and then pray without thinking about my postures in that sense.

Mr. Allen: Interesting. As we’re coming to a close, if there are listeners that are listening today, Christian or not—but I think I’m going to ask you to really focus on this as we conclude, for the Christian listeners—what have you concluded about the practice of yoga as an Eastern Orthodox Christian? Do it, don’t do it, with limitations, etc., etc., etc.?

Dr. Mangala: Well, I think I— people, provided they know what they’re doing… If, for instance, some of the asanas in the early stages are okay to do them, if you take them as a form of relaxing and as a form of tuning up the body and of learning to breathe properly—most of us don’t know how to breathe properly—but that is as far as I would go. Anything more complicated becomes a challenge anyway because you have to be in a fit medical condition. For instance, if you suffer from high blood pressure, you shouldn’t do the sirsasana pose. You know, that’s bad for you, and you have to know these things.

Mr. Allen: The headstands.

Dr. Mangala: Yes. If you have a thyroid condition, you have to be careful about what asanas you do and not. So you do need more knowledge than most people have who go to these classes. So already the trouble starts there. And then as for meditative practices and chant and mantras and so on, definitely no, because they take you into psychic states and that sometimes can become very dangerous. So I would say a very minimal use. Minimal in the sense in— and one doesn’t even have tothink of it as yoga if you like.

Mr. Allen: Well, I just want to add one thing. I knew a woman who was 42 years old, and she took up Hatha Yoga; she became a practitioner, maybe an addict. She did not know she had high blood pressure. She did these headstand postures regularly and during one of them—she’s a very close friend of my mother’s—during one of them she suffered a brain aneurism and died on the spot.

Dr. Mangala: Well, that’s an extreme instance. In fact, one of our more, I would say humorous gurus in India, regards some of these yogic practices— he pokes fun at them, saying these postures actually damage the capillaries of the brain, and people— you suffer from some kind of a mental damage, and they think you enter this state of bliss because you simply no longer know what’s what.

That’s an extreme criticism, but there is a danger, and even doctors, when they recommend, they have to be careful as to what they are recommending people. I hope they do know. Otherwise, I myself find every time I forget, every time I’m stooping in front of the computer too much, if I sit back and breathe a bit, more slowly and so on, I feel better. That’s about as much as it comes to, and, similarly, when the limbs get stiff, you do some of the basic postures and it helps. I’m not a very good practitioner, so I’m not one to talk. I go from doing nothing to doing something. Yes, I’m glad you mentioned that story because the medical condition is an extremely important one when people start doing these things.

Mr. Allen: Yes, as with any physical exercise. Well, my guest on the program today has been Christine Mangala, Ph.D. Christine, thank you so much for being my guest on The Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio. It’s been a lot of fun and very fascinating.

Dr. Mangala: Thank you very much. It’s been a great pleasure talking to you.




Becoming Orthodox


Jim Forest, USA & the Netherlands

I am sometimes asked how the son of atheist parents ended up not only a Christian but a member of the Orthodox Church.

In fact it wasn’t so big a leap as it sounds. For starters my parents weren’t people for whom atheism was a religion unto itself. Their atheism seemed to mainly to do with being on the Left. Their real interest was in the down-and-out — people who were being treated like beasts, underpaid or jobless, trapped in slums, without health care, etc. When I was growing up, they were both Communists. It was part of Marxist dogma that there was no god. For them it was not so much a question of agreeing with that tenet of Marxism as not disagreeing. In fact both of them had been shaped and inspired by their religious roots. Mother was a Methodist Communist, my father a Catholic Communist. Mother’s parents, both devout Methodists, raised their children to take Christianity seriously, and with an eye to its social implications. Dad, a fervent Catholic in his youth, had once looked forward to becoming a priest.

I was born in November 1941 in the Vatican of Mormonism, Salt Lake City, Utah. At the time my Father was working as regional organizer for the Communist Party and my Mother was a social worker. When I asked about Mormons later in life, Mother spoke with respect of the ways Mormons helped each other when anyone was out of work or facing other troubles. However, she tended to judge religion by how attentive its members were not just to each other but to the woes of the world. On that score, the Mormons didn’t impress her.

During the several years that followed, I have only splinters of memory. There is a photo of me when I was about a year old, standing upright while my mother, wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette, is sitting on a park bench in a Chicago park. Later we lived in Denver, where my brother, Richard, was born in 1943. Dad was in the Army part of the Second World War, stationed in Hawaii. In 1944 Dad fell in love with a Communist Party co-worker and filed for divorce. During the next decade, he was an occasional visitor whose home was far away. Remarkably, divorce didn’t seem to embitter Mother. I cannot recall her ever speaking ill of Dad.

Following the divorce, my mother, brother and I moved to Red Bank, New Jersey. This was the town where Mother had grown up in. While her parents by then had both died, her sister and brother-in-law were living there. It took some good will and squeezing, but we lived with them until we had a house of our own. Mother’s identification with people on the other side of the tracks brought us to buy a bungalow on the other side of the tracks, a small house in a mainly black neighborhood where indoor plumbing, such as we had, was still the exception. Many local roads were unpaved. One neighbor, Libby, nearly a century old and black as coal, had been born in slavery days in Tennessee, where my grandmother had been raised. Earlier in Libby’s life she had worked in my grandparents’ house.

Radical music was part of our upbringing. Mother hadn’t much of a voice, but from time to time sang such songs as “This Land is Your Land,” “Joe Hill” and “The Internationale” with its line, “Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the earth, for justice thunders condemnation, a better’s world’s in birth.” These were, for Mother, not so much songs as hymns to be sung with Methodist enthusiasm. On our wind-up 78 rpm record player, we played records of Paul Robeson, the Weavers, Burl Ives and Pete Seeger, all singers whose voices tilted to the Left. From these I learned a number of spirituals — songs about baptism, salvation, laying down my sword and shield, crossing the River Jordan with angelic chariots swinging low. The music of the black Christianity was the one of the few acceptable sources of religion for American radicals. I also sometimes heard spirituals being sung when I walked past the nearby African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In her youth, while a student at Smith College, Mother had reached the conclusion that religion was mythology, yet I doubt she ever fully abandoned belief in God. She never said a critical word about religious faith. When I was eight or so, I asked her if there was a God and was impressed by the regret in her voice when she said she didn’t think so. Even more than her answer, her sadness remained with me. Why such sorrow? Clearly she missed the Methodist Church she had grown up in. Especially at Easter and Christmas, religious homesickness got the better of her and so we attended Methodist services, sitting up in the balcony. One year she sent my brother and me to the church’s summer school. While this was a help for her as a working mother (she was a psychiatric social worker on the staff of a state mental hospital in Marlboro), I have no doubt she hoped my brother and I would soak up the kind of information about the deeper meaning of life that she had received as a child.

The minister of the church, Roger Squire, was an exceptional man whose qualities included a gift for noticing people in balconies and connecting with children. His occasional visits to our house were delightful events for my brother and me. Only as an adult did it cross my mind how remarkable it was, with the Cold War in full swing, that he would make it a point to come into our unglamourous neighborhood to knock on the kitchen door of a home that contained a Communist and her two sons.

One of the incidents that marked me as a child was the hospitality of the Squire family to two young women from Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had survived the nuclear bombing but were badly scarred. American religious peace groups had brought them and others to the United States for plastic surgery and found them temporary homes in and near New York City — not an easy undertaking for hosts in the fifties when the word “peace” was regarded by many as a synonym for Communist sympathies and when many people had no desire to think about, not to say see with their own eyes, what American nuclear bombs had done to actual people. In fact, I could only guess at the results myself, as the faces of the two women were draped with veils of silk. Through them, I learned about the human cost of war and the effects of nuclear weapons, and through the Squire family I had a sturdy idea of what it meant to conform one’s life to the Gospel rather than to politics and the opinions of neighbors.

Yet the Methodist Church as such didn’t excite me. While I was always glad to see Rev. Squire and enjoyed the stories and jokes he sprinkled in sermons to underline his points, long-time sitting is hard work for a child. I felt no urge to be baptized. Neither was I won over by the nearby Dutch Reformed Church which, due to a neighbor’s invitation, I attended for a few weeks and which I remember best for its unsuccessful attempt to get me to memorize the Ten Commandments.

The big event in my religious development as a child was thanks to a school friend inviting me Christ Episcopal Church in nearby Shrewsbury. It was among the oldest buildings in our region, its white clapboard scarred with musket balls fired in the Revolutionary war. The blood of dying soldiers had stained the church’s pews and floor, and though the stains could no longer be seen, it stirred me to think about what had happened there.

What engaged me still more was the form of worship, which was altar- rather than pulpit-centered. It was an Episcopal parish in which sacraments and ritual activity were the main events. (Being a parent has helped me realize that ritual is something that children naturally like. For all the experiments we make as children, we are born conservatives who want our parents to operate in predictable, patterned, reliable ways. We want meals to be on the table at a certain time and in a specific way, and in general like to know what to expect. We want the ordinary events of life to have what now I think of as a liturgical shape.)

I didn’t know it at the time, but the parish would have been described by many Episcopalians as “high church” — vestments, acolytes, candles, processions, incense, liturgical seasons with their special colors, much of the service in plain chant, communion every Sunday. The result was that I got a taste of a more ancient form of Christianity than I had found among Methodists or other Protestants. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be part of it. It was in this church that, age ten, I was baptized. I became an acolyte (thus getting to wear a bright red robe with crisp white surplice) and learned to assist the pastor, Father Theodore La Van, at the altar. His baptismal gift to me was an ancient Byzantine coin that bore a relief image of Christ on one side.

I learned much of the Book of Common Prayer by heart and rang a bell when the bread and wine were being consecrated. In Sunday school after the service I learned something of the history of Christianity, its sources and traditions, with much attention to Greek words. I remember Father La Van writing “Eucharist” on the blackboard in both English and Greek, explaining it meant thanksgiving, and that it was made up of smaller Greek words that meant “well” and “grace.” The Eucharist was a well of grace. Such lessons put the ancient world in reaching distance.

But the friendship which had brought me to the church in the first place fell apart later that year and Father La Van was dismissed. Years later I was told some in the parish thought he drank too much. I found other things to do with my Sundays than go to church. My religious interest went into recess. Within a year or two I was trying to make up my mind whether I was an atheist or an agnostic. I decided on the latter, because I couldn’t dismiss the sense I often had of God being real. Like my parents, I loved nature and wilderness, and these suggested to me the existence of God. Wherever I looked, whether at ants with a magnifying glass or at the moon with a telescope, everything in the natural order was awe-inspiring, and awe is a religious state of mind. Creation made it impossible for me to dismiss God, even if it was a rather impersonal God — God as prime mover rather than God among us.

It wasn’t until 1959, when I was turning 18, that I began to think more deeply about religion and what God might mean in my life. By then I had dropped out of high school and joined the Navy. Lately out of boot camp, I was studying meteorology at the Navy Weather School at the Naval Air Base in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

At the turning point in his life, St. Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus. The equivalent moment in my own life is linked to a more prosaic setting: Saturday night at the movies. The film at the base theater that night happened to be “The Nun’s Story,” based on the autobiography of a Belgian woman who entered a convent and later worked at a missionary hospital in the African Congo. In the end, the nun (played by Audrey Hepburn) became an ex-nun. Conscience was at the heart of the story: conscience leading a young woman into the convent and eventually leading her elsewhere, but never away from her faith. I later discovered the film was much criticized in the Catholic press for its portrayal both of loneliness and of the abuse of authority in religious community.

If it had been Hollywood’s usual religious movie of “The Bells of St. Mary’s” variety, it would have had no impact on my life. But this was a true story, well-acted and honestly told, and without a happy ending, though in the woman’s apparent failure as a nun one found both integrity and faith. Against the rough surface of the story, I had a compelling glimpse of the Catholic Church with its rich and complex structures of worship, community and service.

After the film I went for a walk, heading away from the buildings and sidewalks. It was a clear August evening. Gazing at the stars, I felt an overwhelming happiness such as I had never known. This seemed to rise up through the grass and to shower down on me in the starlight. I felt I was floating on God’s love like a leaf on water. I was deeply aware that everything that is or was or ever will be is joined together in God. For the first time in my life, the blackness beyond the stars wasn’t terrifying.

I didn’t think much about the film itself that night, except for a few words of Jesus that had been read to the novices during their first period of formation and which seemed to recite themselves within me as I walked: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have great treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” I had nothing to sell but the words “follow me” landed in the core of my being.

I went to sleep that night eager to go to Mass. I knew I wanted to return to Christianity and was strongly drawn to Catholicism.

The next morning I went to a nearby Catholic church but found the Mass disappointing. I felt like an anthropologist observing a strange tribal rite. I had only a vague idea what was happening. There seemed little connection between the priest and the congregation. Most of the worship was in mumbled, hurried, often inaudible Latin. As for the sermon, probably I would have preferred it had it been in Latin. People in the pews seemed either bored or were concentrating on their rosaries. At least they knew when to sit, stand, and kneel. I struggled awkwardly to keep up with them. At the end of Mass, there was no exchange of greetings or further contact between people who had been praying together. Catholic worship seemed to have all the intimacy of people waiting in a bus station.

I started looking for a church where there was engagement and beauty and at least something of what I had hoped to find in Catholicism. The Anglo-Catholic segment of the Episcopal Church, which I had begun to know as a child, seemed the obvious choice, and it happened that another sailor at the Weather School had grown up in such a parish. He shared his Book of Common Prayer with me and, in the weeks that followed, we occasionally read its services of morning and evening prayer together.

After graduating, I spent a two-week Christmas leave in an Episcopal monastery — Holy Cross — on the Hudson River not far from West Point, a joyous experience in which I thought I had found everything I was hoping for in the Catholic Church: liturgy, the sacraments, and a religious community that combined prayer, study and service to others. Having been assigned to a Navy unit at the Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C., I joined a local Episcopal parish, St. Paul’s, which the monks at Holy Cross had told me about.

Those months were full of grace. So why am I not writing an essay on “Why I am an Episcopalian”? Perhaps the main item was that I had never quite let go of the Catholic Church. I could never walk past a Catholic church without stopping in to pray. A hallmark of the Catholic Church was that the Blessed Sacrament was reserved on or near the altar awaiting anyone who came in. Its presence meant this wasn’t just a room that came to life from time to time when Mass was being celebrated, but a place where many of the curtains that usually hide God were lifted, even if you were the only person present. In those days, the doors of Catholic churches always seemed open.

Another factor were many excellent books that found their way into my hands — among these, Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

There were negative elements as well. One of these was an experience at the Episcopal monastery I had first visited at Christmas. Back in the Spring for Easter, on the last day of my stay one of the monks asked to see me in the visitors’ room. Once there, he embraced and kissed me. With some difficulty, I struggled free and later that day returned by bus to Washington. From there I wrote to the prior of the community, telling him what had happened. His reply wasn’t helpful. He might have pointed out that monks, like everyone else, sometimes suffer loneliness and may sexual longings of one sort or another and sometimes don’t manage them very well. Rather he said that homosexuality was often an indication of a monastic vocation. As my own sexual orientation was of the more common variety, I wondered if the prior meant I wasn’t the right sort of person to be visiting. After his letter, I had no desire to return. The experience added to my growing doubts about remaining in the Episcopal Church, uncomfortably divided as it was into high, low and middle liturgical strata.

Yet I still had reservations about becoming Catholic and so began to explore the varieties of Christianity in Washington, visiting every sort of church, black and white, high and low. Among them was a Greek Orthodox cathedral, but I sensed one had to be Greek to be a part of it. I returned several times to the black church on the campus of Howard University, a friendly place with wonderful singing, but felt that, as a white person, I would always be an outsider. If I could have changed skin color by wishing, I would have been tempted to turn black in the Howard chapel.

As the weeks went by I came to realize that the Catholic churches I so often stopped in to pray were places in which I felt an at-homeness I hadn’t found anywhere else. On November 26,1960, after several months of instruction, I was received into the Catholic Church.

What had most attracted me to Catholicism was the Liturgy, in its basics the same no matter where one was. Though in some parishes it was a dry, mechanical affair, there were other parishes where the care taken in every aspect of worship was profound. While for some people, worship in an ancient language is a barrier, in my own case I came to love the Latin. Luckily I had studied Latin in high school. I was happy to be participating in a language of worship that was being used simultaneously in every part of the world and which also was a bridge of connection with past generations. I learned many Latin prayers by heart, especially anything that could be sung. “To sing is to pray twice,” one of the Church Fathers says. How true!

In the mid-sixties, in the early stages of liturgical change following the Second Vatican Council, I felt a complex mixture of expectation, gratitude and anxiety. Despite my private love of Latin, I could hardly disagree with the compelling arguments put forward for scrapping it. I didn’t want to hang onto what clearly got in the way for others. Unfortunately, the Englishing of the Liturgy was not carried out by poets. We ended up with the English language in its flattest state. In the process we lost not only Latin but Gregorian chant, a great pity. Most of the music that took its place was pedestrian. The body language of prayer was in retreat. The holy water fonts inside church entrances were often dry.

Yet, like most Catholics, I uttered few words of complaint. I knew that change is not a comfortable experience. And I thought of myself as a modern person. I was embarrassed by my difficulties adjusting to change. Also I had no sense of connection with those who were protesting the changes. These tended to be the rigid Catholics of the sort who were more papal than the Pope and politically on the far right. (I had never been attracted to that icy wing of Catholicism that argued one must be a Catholic, and a most obedient Catholic, in order to be saved.)

All this said, there was a positive side to Catholicism that in many ways compensated for what was missing in the Liturgy. For all its problems, which no church is without, the Catholic Church has the strength of being a world community in which many members see themselves as being on the same footing as fellow Catholics on the other side of the globe, in contrast with many Christians who see their church first of all as a national institution. The Catholic Church also possesses a strong sense of co-responsibility for the social order, and a relatively high degree of independence from all political and economic structures.

This aspect of the Catholic Church finds many expressions. I had joined one of them, the Catholic Worker movement, after being discharged from the Navy as a conscientious objector in the spring of 1961. Founded by Dorothy Day in 1933, the Catholic Worker is best known for its houses of hospitality — places of welcome mainly in run-down urban areas where those in need can receive food, clothing, and shelter. It is a movement in some ways similar to the early Franciscans, attempting to live out the Gospels in a simple, literal way. It is basic Christianity to have as little as possible — what Dorothy Day called voluntary poverty. Jesus said to do good to and pray for those who curse you, to love your enemies, to put away the sword; and Catholic Workers try to do this as well, refusing to take part in war or to sanction violence. The Catholic Worker view of the world is no less critical than that of the Prophets and the New Testament.

I also found in the Catholic Worker movement a remarkable interest in the writings of the Church Fathers. One often encountered quotations from St. John Chrysostom, Saint Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen and other voices of the early Church in movement’s widely read publication, The Catholic Worker.

One of the surprises in getting to know Dorothy Day was her special love for Russian literature, most of all the work of Dostoevsky. At times she recited passages from The Brothers Karamazov that had shaped her understanding of Christianity. Mainly these had to do with the saintly staretz Father Zosima and his teaching on active love — “love in action is often a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.” Dorothy all but demanded that I read Dostoevsky. She also had a deep appreciation of the liturgical life of the Eastern Church. It was Dorothy who first took me into a Russian Orthodox Church, a cathedral in upper Manhattan where I met a priest who, many years later, I was to meet again in Moscow, Father Matvay Stadniuk. (In 1988 he organized the first public project of voluntary service by Church members since Soviet power had launched its war on religion.) At a Liturgy Dorothy took me to, I first learned the Old Slavonic words Gospodi pomiloi (Lord have mercy), the most often repeated prayer in Orthodox worship services.

One evening Dorothy brought me to a Manhattan apartment for a meeting of the Third Hour, a Christian ecumenical discussion group founded by a Russian émigré, Helene Iswolsky. Participants that evening included the Orthodox theologian, Father Alexander Schmemann, the poet W.H. Auden, and Alexander Kerensky, who had been prime minister of Russia after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and before the Bolshevik coup led by Lenin. As I recall, the conversation that evening was in part about the Russian word for spirituality, dukhovnost. The Russian understanding of spiritual life, it was explained, not only suggests a relationship between the praying person and God, but has profound social content: moral capacity, social responsibility, courage, wisdom, mercy, a readiness to forgive, a way of life centered in love. While much of the discussion flew over my head, I recall talk about iurodivi, the “holy fools” who revealed Christ in ways that would be regarded as insanity in the West, and stralniki, those who wandered Russia in endless pilgrimage, begging for bread and silently reciting with every breath and step the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Life at the Catholic Worker was never without surprises. One of them was the discovery of Dorothy’s friendship with the Trappist monk and author, Thomas Merton, whose autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, had been a factor in my becoming a Catholic. Thanks to Dorothy’s encouragement, I came to be one of Merton’s correspondents and later his guest at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Following that first visit, he and I exchanged letters frequently — a seven-year conversation by mail that ended only with his death in 1968.

I also found in Merton a special interest in Eastern Christianity. Merton occasionally sent me photographs of Russian and Byzantine icons. As I was to discover in writing a biography of him, icons had played an important part in his conversion to Christianity and remained significant to the end of his life.

Thanks mainly to Merton and Dorothy Day, I was more aware than many Western Christians of the Eastern Church, but I had no more thought about becoming Orthodox than a visitor to the zoo thinks about becoming a flamingo. Orthodoxy seemed to me more an ethnic club than a place for an American whose roots were mainly Dutch and Irish. What eventually converted my mainly academic interest to something more intimate and compelling was actual encounter with the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Once again, a turning point in my life was triggered by a movie. In the Fall of 1982, I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts to give a lecture at the Harvard Divinity School. One evening I joined my friend Robert Ellsberg in going to a local cinema to see “Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears,” a Soviet film that had just received an Academy Award. It was a story set in the Brezhnev years that follows three women who met by chance as roommates in a Moscow residence for women. The film follows their struggles to build careers and families. Despite differences in temperament and ambition, they create enduring friendships. The stories told are comic, tragic, convincing and socially revealing. Muscovites became quite three-dimensional and not simply cardboard figures living in the grey world of Communism.

What was so important to me at the time about this entirely non-political film was the window it opened on ordinary Russian life. Walking out of the theater, I realized I had spent a large part of my life trying to prevent war between the US and the Soviet Union — I had been secretary of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, then been part of the staff of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and now was General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, working at its headquarters in Holland — yet had never been to Russia or even thought of going. The awful truth was that I knew more about American weapons than about the people at whom they were aimed. The same was true of everyone I knew who was involved in peace work. It was a shocking realization.

I wondered how we could regard what we were doing as peace work if it mainly had to do with informing people what nuclear war would do to the planet we live on and its population? I recalled of Thomas Merton’s insight: “The root of war is fear.” If that was true, would it not be better if we who sought peace in the world focused on building bridges rather than selling nightmares? After all, the weapons of mass destruction and the missiles that delivered them were chiefly the result of fear and ignorance.

That evening at the movies in Cambridge set me on a different course. A substantial part of my work for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in the years that followed had to do with trying to open East-West doors that had long been locked on both sides. On the Russian side, there was a lot of worry about letting people into the country whom they knew opposed Russia’s war in Afghanistan (then in the middle of its decade-long run) and who were highly critical of the Soviet repressive political system. No doubt they worried, should we be allowed in, that we would demonstrate on Red Square.

It took a year of persistent effort to arrange a three-day conference (the theme was violence, nonviolence and liberation) organized by my own organization, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, and hosted by the Russian Orthodox Church. It was probably the first such event in Russia since the Bolshevik overthrow of the Russian government in 1917. Our small conference helped pave the way for many organizations, academic bodies and businesses to develop their own contacts and arrange their own events and programs in Soviet Russia. What happened in the years that followed helped create a climate for greatly improved relations between the U.S. and Russia, which in turn led to still more face-to-face contact. Thousands of people from the U.S. and its Western allies began to visit Russia for business, cultural and purely touristic reasons, and more and more Russians came to the West. Eventually, in the Gorbachev-Reagan period, there were inter-governmental breakthroughs resulting in treaties that significantly reduced the number of nuclear weapons and missiles.

That first meeting in Moscow would have been useful no matter where it had happened, but for me it had an unexpected spiritual impact thanks to the event being in Russia. The first night I was there, too excited to sleep, I took a post-midnight walk from the hotel where I was staying all the way to Red Square and back. I felt as if I were exploring the dark side of the moon.

In the days that followed, visiting some of the city’s churches, I experienced a strong sense of connection with Russian Orthodox believers. The vitality of religious life, despite decades of severe repression and the martyrdom of many, far outstripped my expectations. This was not a Church on the brink of the extinction Lenin and Stalin had planned.

That first trip in the USSR was something like riding through the Louvre on a bicycle. I saw wonderful things, but too fast to take them in and with far too little understanding of Russian and Soviet history to make much sense of even those things which weren’t a blur. But the trip was enough for me to know that I wanted to come back, see things more slowly, and talk with Russians. I had a particular sense of connection with the Russian Orthodox Church and longed to have the chance to meet believers informally and face to face.

Back in Holland, I wrote to the bishop who headed of the publishing department of the Moscow Patriarchate, asking if I might have the cooperation of his department in writing a book about the Orthodox Church in Russia. It would not be, I said, an academic work. Others had done such books and in any event I was not qualified. But I had spent much of my adult life doing interviews for peace and church magazines, worked for various newspapers and press services, had written two biographies and many essays. I felt I could write a book about Russian believers, if the church could provide a translator and help me visit centers of Orthodoxy large and small. Thus began work on Pilgrim to the Russian Church, a book that would be published in 1988.

Not many months later, I was back in Moscow as a guest of the Russian Orthodox Church for another small conference. This time I had arranged for a three-day private visit ahead of the meeting. I was met at the airport by Tatiana Tchernikova, a devout Christian, an expert on Russian history and culture plus a gifted translator who was on the staff of the Church’s Department for External Affairs. Together we visited churches, monasteries, the one seminary near Moscow and art museums which housed icons as well as more modern works of religious art.

There were many high points, but perhaps the most significant was taking part in the Liturgy at the Epiphany Cathedral. This wasn’t one of Moscow’s oldest or most beautiful churches, though it has an outstanding choir. The icons, coming from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were a far cry from the work of such iconographers as Rublev and Theofan the Greek. Yet being in that throng of devout worshipers was a more illuminating experience than I had had in far more beautiful churches.

It was an ordinary Sunday, but the church was as crowded as a church in the West would be only on Christmas or Easter. As is usual in the Russian Orthodox Church, there were no pews, just a few benches and chairs along the walls for those who needed them, but I found it freeing to be on my feet. Though at times it was uncomfortable to be standing for so long, being upright made me more attentive. It was like a move from the bleachers to the field. (I’d love to know how chairs and benches made their way into churches. My guess is that it was connected with the Reformation’s re-centering of services around the pulpit rather than the altar. Gradually chairs and then pews became a normal fixture of church architecture.)

I was fascinated by the linking of spiritual and physical activity. Making the sign of the cross was a major element of prayer — Orthodox believers seemed to cross themselves and bow almost continually. As I watched the rippling of bowing heads in the tightly packed congregation, I was reminded of the patterns the wind makes blowing across afield of wheat. At first I stood like a statue, though wanting to do what those around me were doing. It seemed so appropriate for an incarnational religion to link body and soul through these simple gestures. It must have taken me most of an hour before I began to pray in the Russian style.

All the while two choirs, in balconies on either side of the cupola, were singing. For the Creed and Our Father, the congregation joined with the choirs, singing with great force.

The sense of people being deeply at prayer was as solid and tangible as Russian black bread. I felt that, if the walls and pillars of the church were taken away, the roof would rest securely on the prayers of the congregation below. I have rarely experienced this kind of intense spiritual presence.

In the course of my many trips in Russia, I came to love the unhurried tradition of worship in Orthodoxy, deeply appreciating its absent-mindedness about the clock. The Liturgy rarely started on time, never ended on time, and lasted two or three hours, still longer on major feasts. I discovered that Orthodox believers are willing to give to worship the kind of time and devotion that Italians give to their evening meals.

At first somewhat scandalized by the fact that many adults in church did not receive communion, I gradually became aware of how deep and mindful is Orthodox preparation for communion, with stress on forgiveness of others as a precondition for reception of the sacrament.

Receiving communion was often linked with confession the night or morning before. It was impressive watching confession in Orthodox churches. The penitent and priest weren’t tucked away in a closet but stood in the open, within sight of on the iconostasis, their faces inclined toward each other, nearly touching. There is a tenderness about it that never ceases to amaze me.

I quickly came to appreciate Orthodoxy for taking literally Jesus’ teaching, “Let the children come to me and hinder them not.” In our Catholic parish in Holland, our daughter Anne had gone from confusion and hurt to pain and anger after her many futile attempts to receive communion along with Nancy and me. The problem, priests and others tried to explain, was that she hadn’t reached “the age of reason” (who has?) and therefore couldn’t receive the instruction considered a prerequisite to post-baptismal sacramental life. In Orthodox parishes, all children, once baptized, are at the front of the line to receive communion.

I came to esteem the married clergy of Orthodoxy. It changes the climate of parish life. While there are many Orthodox monks and nuns, with celibacy an honored state, it seemed to me marriage was more valued in Orthodoxy than Catholicism. While chastity is for everyone, celibacy is not regarded as a higher state or a short-cut to heaven.

Praying with icons was an aspect of Orthodox spirituality that had begun opening its doors for my wife and me even before we became Orthodox. During a three-month sabbatical in 1985, while living near Jerusalem and teaching at the Ecumenical Institute, we bought a Russian “Vladimirskaya” icon of Mary and Jesus and began praying before it. That small icon, possibly brought to Jerusalem by a Russian pilgrim in the 19th century, became a school of prayer. We learned much about prayer by simply standing in front of it.

By the end of 1987, both Nancy and I had gotten to know the Church in Russia first hand, to the point that we envied those who belonged to it despite the many political and social problems Russian Christians faced. Oddly enough, it didn’t occur to me that there might be a similar quality of worship in Orthodox churches in the West. I thought that Orthodoxy was like certain wines that are best drunk at the vineyard.

Meanwhile, we were searching for a Catholic parish that would be a good fit. Because of our work, Holland had become our home. We lived in Alkmaar, a city northwest of Amsterdam which had nine Catholic parishes. Each had its own distinct identity. On the one hand there were parishes that seemed linked to the larger Church only by frayed threads. One parish we were part of for a time never used the Creed and one Sunday replaced the Gospel reading with a children’s story. It was very social but on its own path liturgically. The parish we next joined was, in its ritual life, clearly part of the Catholic Church, but here we experienced no sense of welcome or warmth. The only words anyone said to us occurred when we received communion: “the Body of Christ.” Finally we became part of a parish that struck us as both liturgically healthy and welcoming. This time we joined the choir in order to be more a part of a church community, but we were easily the youngest members of the choir and felt isolated. During the coffee break at choir rehearsal, the main topic of conversation was how much more vital the parish had been in earlier years. As before, Anne continued to be upset about her exclusion from communion.

Then in January 1988, we received an from Father Alexis Voogd, pastor of the St. Nicholas of Myra Church in Amsterdam, to participate in a special ecumenical service to mark the beginning of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Millennium celebration: a thousand years since the baptism of the citizens of Kiev in 988. He also teased me: “You have visited practically very Orthodox church in Russia but never visited the Russian Orthodox parish nearest to you!” For several years Father Alexis had been one of the people giving me advice about people to meet and places to visit in Russia.

Soon after Nancy and I were part of a gathering of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians attending a service that was a hodge-podge of speeches by clergy from various local churches (the Catholic bishop of Haarlem, also the head of the Dutch Council of Churches) interspersed with Orthodox hymns sung by the parish choir and some comments about the Baptism of Russia from Father Alexis.

If it was just that ecumenical service, perhaps we might not have returned, but at the reception in the parish hall that followed we were startled to experience a kind of interaction that I had rarely found in any church in any country. Walking to the train station afterward, we decided to come back to see what the Liturgy was like.

The following Sunday we discovered that the Orthodox Liturgy in Amsterdam was every bit as remarkable as it in Russia. And that was that. We managed only once or twice to return to Mass in our former Catholic parish in Alkmaar. Before a month had passed we realized that a prayer we had been living with along time had been answered in an unexpected way: we had found a church we wholeheartedly could belong to and in fact couldn’t bear not going to, even if it meant getting out of bed early and traveling by train to Amsterdam every Sunday. On Palm Sunday 1988, I was received into the Orthodox Church. Nancy made the same step on Pentecost.

In many ways it wasn’t such a big step from where we had been. Orthodoxy and Catholicism have so much in common: sacraments, apostolic succession, similar calendars of feasts and fasts, devotion to the Mother of God, and much more. Yet in Orthodoxy we found an even deeper sense of connection with the early Church and a far more vital form of liturgical life. Much that has been neglected in Catholicism and abandoned in Protestant churches, including confession and fasting, remain central in Orthodox life. We quickly found what positive, life-renewing gifts they were, and saw that they were faring better in a climate that was less legalistic but in many ways more demanding.

Yet we have never thought of ourselves as ex-Catholics. I occasionally describe myself as being a cobblestone on the bridge linking the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

A friend once asked me to describe the difference between the two churches. I said it’s something like the difference one might see in two parallel highways. The first impression is that they are identical, but after a little while, you notice that the traffic on one of the highways is going much slower and that, in contrast to the other, there are no police cars.


The religious movement in my life, which from the beginning was influenced by my parents, also influenced them. While neither followed me into Catholicism or Orthodoxy, in the early sixties my mother — after reading Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain — returned to the Methodist Church and remained much a part of the local church to the end of her life. Despite her age and failing eyesight, she continued in her struggle for the poor, much to the consternation of local politicians and bureaucrats. Though it’s not clear whether or not my father ever left the Communist Party, he eventually became a Unitarian. He enjoyed the joke about Unitarians believing at most in one God. In the last two decades of his life he was especially active in developing low-income and inter-racial housing projects in California. A cooperative he helped found in Santa Rosa was singled out for several honors, including the Certificate of National Merit from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Always deeply supportive of my religious commitment, I recall with particular happiness hearing him reading aloud to my step-mother from my book, Pilgrim to the Russian Church. In the spring of 1990, very weakened by cancer, he borrowed the crucifix I normally wear around my neck. It was in his hands when he died.





Why Orthodoxy?


Ryan Hunter

(Part 1-14)

After years of spiritual wandering and disillusionment, and studying all religions, I am entering the Eastern Orthodox Church: How I discovered new meaning in the word “catholic” and the true challenge of a Christian life

“In His unbounded love, God became what we are that He might make us what He is.” —St. Irenaeus (d. 202)

I am in love. The object of my affection, or rather, my devotion, is not a person per se, though it is very much alive. It has been alive for 2,000 years, persisting through seemingly insurmountable odds, and in that time it spread from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean north and east, ultimately to the shores of Alaska and the New World. Now it is very much established and thriving here in the US. What is this thing that has become such a defining part of my life?

I have fallen in love with the Orthodox Church.

It is difficult for me to render into words an account of the transformation that this awakening has wrought in all areas of my life. I feel myself to be at last truly satisfied, spiritually and emotionally. I feel enriched beyond description after years of an ever-present void. From the depths of my heart I sense that I am now a more fulfilled Christian, and above all I know that I am a more inspired human being. Sadly in this increasingly secular society, many people my age do not want or desire such inspiration.

For the rare college student who craves a deeper inspiration that goes beyond a routine weekly church hour, for anyone who wants to enter into a new level of spiritual life, I urge him or her to consider Orthodoxy. It has awakened in me a kind of spiritual consciousness that I never imagined I would experience, a kind of spiritual inspiration that very few of my non-Orthodox friends have today.

For this awakening, I am, and will always be, forever grateful.


“Remember constantly that the light of your soul, of your thoughts, and of your heart comes from Jesus Christ.” –St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1908).

Before I begin, I wish to thank two dear friends who have had the biggest impact on introducing me to Orthodoxy, Rebecca Dixon and Gillian Davies. They exemplify all that is best about the faith first and foremost in their incredible kindness and warmth. They are two of the most intelligent, cultured, and open-minded individuals I have ever met. Typical of most Orthodox who encounter a would-be-convert, they would probably tell you that they had little to do with my spiritual journey, saying such a thing is something that can only begin and evolve in the individual’s heart and soul.

But they did more than simply start me off on my journey. After I met them when I started attending weekly 5pm Orthodox vespers at Kay Spiritual Center at American University during the fall 2010 semester, they provided me with so much counsel and encouragement. They were welcome and informative company to the Sunday liturgies I insisted on attending as often as I could. They answered the many questions I had, and introduced me to two beautiful churches. Most of all, they shared with me their own unique personal experiences with Orthodoxy.

Because Gillian, a Greek-British American, preferred to attend Sunday liturgy at St. Sophia (Holy Wisdom), the Greek Orthodox cathedral a mile down Massachusetts Avenue from American University, I was able to experience worship in that church whose beauty is truly breathtaking. Gillian has graduated, so besides one very kind, thoughtful priest there, Fr. Dimitri Lee, who sang the weekly vespers at American, I know no one at that Cathedral. While I decided not to become a member of the St Sophia parish, I will be glad in the future to be a communicant on the occasions when I decide to visit that beautiful church.

I think Gillian understands. She proved invaluable in helping me improve on my Greek-reading, though I think I will continue to pronounce the letter ‘tau’ incorrectly in many instances! In our walks to and from church during Great Lent on Mondays when we trekked over to hear Fr. Dimitri sing the office of Great Compline, she shared her thoughts on the Faith, the Church, and some of her own personal views on its teachings and St. Sophia’s own traditions, as a parishioner and someone who was “cradle” Orthodox. I realized that by entering the Church, I would not be required to subscribe to some sort of ideological litmus test, but be encouraged, in every liturgy, and indeed, in every moment of my life, to believe in the Orthodox way, and put its teachings into practice. Thanks to Gillian I have come to appreciate how the Church stands for certain things, and does take specific positions on contemporary issues, but it does not focus so much on projecting an absolute image of itself to an ever-changing world as much as it emphasizes staying true to its rich Tradition.

As soon as I met Rebecca I saw that she has a love for life and an infectious spontaneity, twin attributes inestimable in any friend. Although she was only in DC during the fall 2010 semester, we’ve kept in touch, especially on Facebook where I love to share my latest stories and updates about my spiritual life at St. Nicholas Cathedral, the church she introduced me to in November. She loves to converse on all manner of things, from travelling abroad (she recently was in India spending her summer in New Delhi and Kashmir) to Canadian politics (she worked in the Library of Parliament in her native Ottawa) to different cuisine and languages.

I will always remember our many treks to St. Nicholas Cathedral for the Sunday Divine Liturgy, both for the amazingly lively conversations we had at 8:30 on mornings when most students slept in, and for the frequent snow and rain that often made it necessary to run to church! When she visited DC during Holy Week in April, perfect timing to have my old Orthodox buddy back in town, we had to sprint through pouring rain to get to the morning liturgy on Holy Wednesday, and I was in a suit! (Neither of us had umbrellas.) I remember that liturgy especially because upon entering St. Nicholas, Rebecca, who sang in her church’s choir back in Canada, immediately walked over to where the choir members stood, and proceeded to join them and the Metropolitan in their singing!

She is a member of the Orthodox Church in America, an autocephalous (fully self-governing) body of several hundred thousand Orthodox in the US, Canada, and several communities in Central America. In addition to its Russian roots, the Church has a large and steadily growing number of members entering from mostly mainline Protestant groups, but there have also been considerable numbers of Catholic converts, as well as some evangelical Christians who have all come to Orthodoxy in recent years through the OCA.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Church from 2008, has said in interviews that

“our churches embrace a very broad diversity of peoples across the continent.”

This is true, and one of the aspects of the OCA I find so attractive, along with its rich history. The Church in America is as old as the nation itself, historically founded in 1794 by Saint Herman of Alaska, a Russian Orthodox monk who peacefully inspired the conversion of the Aleut population on Kodiak Island, learning the local native languages, and proceeded to minister to dozens of indigenous tribes.

Rebecca’s family exemplifies the incredibly embracing diversity of the OCA; her mother’s family is religiously Jewish, and her mother made the difficult decision to enter the Church after she was born. Rebecca explained how her mother did not want to lose any of the cultural heritage with which she had grown up. After much thought and prayer her mother came to realize that embracing Orthodoxy did not mean she had to give up her family or her Jewish cultural roots. According to Jewish custom, which passes on the faith tradition through matrilineal descent, Rebecca and her mother, in addition to being Orthodox Christians, are also, and will always be, Jewish. As someone who has Jewish roots on my mother’s side of the family, I always thought it was beautiful that Rebecca could be both Jewish by heritage, and a Christian in her religion.

In addition to Rebecca’s wonderful sense of humor, and what I would describe as the enormously helpful ‘education’ that she gave me on really “all things Orthodox”, she also enlightened me early on in my studies of Orthodoxy, as I became increasingly interested in converting, that the OCA was no stranger to controversy. The Church has been going through controversy in many ways as painful as that which has been engulfing the Roman Catholic Church in recent years (albeit of a different cause.) I’m so grateful that she had the strength and forthrightness to share this with me.
More than anything else, I am grateful to Rebecca for introducing me to Saint Nicholas Cathedral, two blocks down Massachusetts Avenue from St. Sophia. This church is the primatial cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America, and it has been my spiritual home ever since that November day when she first took me with her to experience the Divine Liturgy there.

Into this beautiful church (in which I feel I have been adopted) I have come as a cautious but hopeful catechumen.

Finding Orthodoxy: The Beauty of the Faith and the Soundness of its Teachings

I will first address an area that is of less importance compared to the other doctrinal reasons behind my conversion, but still very important to me: the incomparable beauty of Orthodox worship.

The Divine Liturgy

I have never come across anything quite like the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic liturgical service of the Orthodox Church. As St. John of Kronstadt observes in his “Thoughts on the Divine Liturgy”,

“The divine services are a blessed fount from which the heavenly Grace abundantly pours forth its gifts upon all those who serve the Lord in fullness of heart – gifts of mercy, peace, consolation, purification, sanctification, enlightenment, healing, renewal, and – what is most precious – the gift of worship, in Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion.”

This “blessed fount” contains a beauty which is so transportive, so moving to the soul that once I experienced it for the first time, I had a powerful sense that something in me had changed forever.

Before I experienced the Liturgy for the first time, I had no idea such ethereal worship existed in Christianity. For many students who were raised in one of the Western Christian traditions, used to a primarily logical and rational approach to theology and spirituality, Buddhist and Hindu devotional practices can often seem refreshingly mystical, offering a more beautiful, transcendent approach to the divine. I know of many former Protestants and Catholics who have moved away from Christianity to pursue these mystical practices, leaving behind faith in Christ largely because they were bored or disillusioned with the only form of Christianity they knew. They were not generally grappling with issues of Christian soteriology or theology when they left, but simply found themselves drifting, disconnected from any real deep sense of spiritual engagement, challenge or fulfillment as Christians. Unfortunately, they were unaware that Eastern Orthodoxy exists and that for centuries it has offered its faithful a profoundly mystical- yet still a corporate and communal- approach to God.

Within the life of the Church, our path to theosis is not some lonely climb on our own unique “spiritual journeys” as an island unto ourselves, for such an approach to faith leaves anyone ultimately feeling alone and vulnerable. Nor is the Church’s admonition that life in Christ requires a life lived together as His living Body a burdensome, narrow-minded insistence that we obey its “rules”. Rather, the Church insists we partake of and unite with the Body of Christ literally, communally, and liturgically because she recognizes the most basic truth about the human person: man is created in the image of God, and thus finds his highest fulfillment as someone who worships God and rejoices in His presence. The Church holds that the most beautiful and fulfilling way to worship God is in the Divine Liturgy, her principal worship service. Man is thus, at his core, a liturgical creature.

Like any Liturgy, such rejoicing is always magnified when it occurs with many worshipers present adoring God, rather than a few faithful standing by themselves at a sparsely attended weekday service. At these weekday services one gains so much wisdom and becomes even more aware of the fullness of the Church’s liturgical life and her constant witness of the Gospel, but undoubtedly the occasions of greatest rejoicing are when the whole congregation joins together at wedding liturgies, the great Feasts of the Church, chrismations and baptisms, etc. These occasions are always filled with great rejoicing because they are a time of true, organic fellowship and community as the Body of Christ united around the bishop.

The Church recognizes that each human life is of immeasurable value and absolutely unique, and any bishop will tell you that our experiences of God differ from person to person. For instance, if you ask parishioners to name at what point in the Liturgy before communion they feel closest to God, or which liturgical prayers move them the most, you will get many different answers. Some people feel most comfortable praying alone in the quiet of their room; other people like to pray silently as they go about during their day, etc. A way to think of this is that we travel at our own pace, with our own distinct gait, but we are all on the same path, the Orthodox Way. Crucially, we unite ourselves, by the grace of God, to this Way, which offers the faithful union with Christ within His Holy Church. It is this unity in faith which is so crucial in the Church which has been preserved for centuries in the inner life of the Liturgy and the other divine services.

Many students today use meditation to find and center themselves, seeking to rise above the innumerable stresses of the world. The Church exhorts us to meditate on Christ, but not for the ultimate purpose of achieving a kind of nothingness or emptying of one’s very soul in moksha or nirvana. In her ancient witness she provides healing for the whole of the human person—the body, the spirit, the soul, and the heart—by helping the faithful connect to the divine. For those of you who are practitioners of any of the Buddhist or Hindu traditions, or interested in these practices, I would especially urge you to visit your local Orthodox church. There is such a rich treasure of Christocentric meditative practices within Orthodoxy’s ancient Tradition that any person’s appetite for mysticism can be more than satisfied by the meditative practices of the Holy Church.

What one discovers as one comes more and more into Orthodoxy is that the Church does not exist to entertain people, as some churches attempt to do in efforts to “grow” their congregations on corporate models, nor is the Liturgy simply about “making people feel good”, but it is about renewal through and in and by our life in Christ. This lifelong transformation in the image of God is, in all humility, richer and more transcendent than any of the non-Christian Eastern practices I have read about, participated in, or witnessed. I have read and experienced so much of other faith traditions, and there is truly nothing else like Orthodoxy. If you come to the Liturgy, you will experience what I describe with your own senses, your own soul.

In order to give you as clear as possible an impression of how beautiful Orthodox worship is, and how it has been transforming and satisfying its faithful for millennia, it makes sense to recount to you one of the most important stories in the history of the Church. The Russian Primary Chronicle recounts that late in the tenth century in the eastern European lands inhabited by the Rus, a Slavic tribe of peoples rumored to be descended from Vikings, one local knaz, Prince Vladimir of Kiev, desired to know which of the world’s religions he and his people should adopt. His grandmother Princess Olga had adopted Orthodox Christianity late in her life around 955 after visiting Constantinople, and Orthodox missionaries Cyril and Methodius, known as the ‘Apostles to the Slavs’, had introduced a Slavonic translation of the Bible using a newly devised Cyrillic alphabet, which borrowed heavily from Greek characters.

While Christianity had already made limited inroads in the lands surrounding Kiev, the principality’s most recent ruler, Vladimir’s father Svyatoslav, had been a pagan. Vladimir sent his envoys abroad to look into the religions of the world and recommend the one they found most fitting for the Rus. After experiencing the Divine Liturgy in Constantinople, the envoys were moved to choose Orthodoxy after previously having witnessed Muslims, Jews, and Catholics at prayer. Describing the liturgy celebrated in the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in the Byzantine capital, the envoys wrote to Vladimir:

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty. . .”

Importantly, the envoys make no mention of Orthodox dogma or teachings, which were nevertheless speedily brought to Russia along with Byzantine art, architecture and court etiquette following 988 when Vladimir and many of his people embraced Orthodoxy. Vladimir also eagerly married Anna Porphyrogeneta, sister of then-reigning Byzantine emperor Basil II “the Bulgar-Slayer.” It’s worth noting that the envoys, having travelled throughout all Europe and the Middle East, commented that

“surely there is no such beauty anywhere on earth.”

They were at last satisfied that they had found a religion that brought them closest to God. I am reminded whenever I hear this story of Saint Augustine’s beautiful quote in his Confessions:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

When the envoys reported

“we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth”,

their description of the liturgy is certainly fitting. Anyone who has ever been in an Orthodox church, who hears the mesmerizing chanting of the choir, anyone who contemplates the array of holy icons and frescoes that gaze down upon the worshippers along with the angels and “heavenly host” in the dome will know what the envoys meant. You need only to smell the sweet incense, with which the priests repeatedly bless the church and the people, as it rises toward the heavens to feel as the envoys did that

“God dwells there among men.”

The Liturgy is above all else a reflection on earth of the splendor and richness of heaven. In it, heaven and earth are united in the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the holy oblation, of Christ Himself on the altar. Many Orthodox are unsurprisingly very devoted to it. Since the word “orthodox” denotes not only “right belief”, but also “correct worship” and “correct glory”, some Orthodox consider the manners in which other Christians gather to worship God to be inferior when compared to the complete worship rendered to God in the form of the Liturgy. This can sound insulting, but it is not meant to be. Many believe that to honor God with anything less than the most beautiful expressions of love, appreciation, and reverence refuses Him the full glory we owe him and the full honor He commands. Since the Orthodox see human beings as

“liturgical creatures who are most truly themselves when they glorify God, and who find their perfection and self-fulfillment in worship,”

taking active part in the liturgy itself offers a means for Christians to aspire to that kind of perfection through intent concentration on the divine. As Matthew 5:48 reminds us,

“Be ye perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It is through participation in the inner life of the Church most fully expressed in the Divine Liturgy that man begins and continues on his path toward perfection, toward the divinization of his very being.

As Bishop Kallistos observes in his much-acclaimed The Orthodox Church the Liturgy is something that

“embraces two worlds at once, for both in heaven and on earth the liturgy is one and the same—one altar, one sacrifice, one presence.”

Similarly, St. Germanus, an early Patriarch of Constantinople (r. 715-730, d. c. 733) wrote that

“the church is the temple of God, a holy place . . . an earthly heaven in which the supercelestial God dwells and moves.”

This is a fitting description of the liturgy; each Sunday is not merely a gathering of the local congregation of the faithful in remembrance of God’s loving kindnesses and Christ’s sacrifice, nor is it only a sacrifice by the people, but a kind of celestial gathering, with the heavenly saints and angels dwelling among the earthly in worship. In the liturgy the faithful are

“taken up into “heavenly places” . . . and the Church universal, the saints, the Mother of God, and Christ Himself” are all present.

Anglicans, Lutherans and others of the Reformed tradition will notice, often to their immense surprise, that the Divine Liturgy contains numerous references to Holy Scripture. Bible passages are chanted at every service, sung by the choir in the form of Old Testament psalms while priests will chant the Gospel passage. Mary’s Magnificat (taken directly from Luke 1:46-55) is beautifully sung at each All-Night Vigil in the Slavic tradition (Orthros in the Greek tradition) and the “Our Father” prayer is sung by the entire congregation at every Liturgy. Bishop Kallistos tells us that

“Orthodoxy regards the Bible as a verbal icon of Christ . . . in every church the Gospel Book has a place of honor on the altar; it is carried in procession at the Liturgy and the faithful kiss it.”

The faithful bow their heads whenever the deacon or priest holds the Bible aloft and carries it out to the lectern during the chanting of the prokeimenon. This is not because we ‘worship’ the Bible, but because we consider it proper and fitting to treat it with the reverence it deserves as inspired of God.

When venerating a church’s principal icons during the Saturday vigil, worshipers will always venerate the Gospel book which is placed on an icon stand in the very center of the church next to the icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the day’s saints. The Psalter, honored as the “prayer book of the Church”, is beloved by many Orthodox and since beginning my studies of the faith and attending the Divine Liturgy, my knowledge of it has significantly broadened. At every Vigil many psalms are chanted in their entirety, and many at the Divine Liturgy as well, compared to the one responsorial psalm chanted in most Protestant and Catholic liturgical services.

In contrast to Orthodoxy, Western services are uniformly shorter in length, condensed in form, and feature considerably less singing. Since all mainline Protestant churches have their origins during the time of the Classical Reformation or shortly after, the structural basis for most Protestant services originates with the Roman Catholic Mass, which, unsurprisingly, given its shorter length, contains less scripture than the Orthodox liturgy. Today, contemporary Episcopal communion services in the US are nearly identical in form, content, and substance to the existing Ordinary form of the Mass, while Luther’s Deutsche Messe, even considering his advocacy of sola scriptura and the changes he made to the Western liturgy, bears a very similar resemblance to the current Roman liturgy.

In order to give you a sense of how old the roots of the Divine Liturgy are, and how it has withstood the test of time despite medieval wars, many church councils, the brutal oppression of the Ottoman Turks, and more recently communist Soviet attempts in the past century to exterminate the Church entirely, the main liturgical form celebrated on Sundays is the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, an early Church Father who died in the year 407. In his 1984 translation of St. Germanus’ On the Divine Liturgy, Dr. Paul Meyendorff, a prominent American Orthodox author, editor of St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, and Alexander Schmemann Professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, cites a noted Byzantine scholar who observes that the final developments in the Constantinopolitan or ‘Byzantine’ Rite occurred between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries prior to the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453. Most historians trace the core development of the Eastern liturgy to between the first and seventh Ecumenical Councils of the early Church, in other words, between 325 and 787 when the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy’ occurred with the restoration of icon veneration.

The Russian Orthodox liturgy assumed its present form shortly after Patriarch Nikon ordered corrections to the Russian liturgical structure beginning in 1653 in order to bring his Church in line with the liturgical practices observed in Constantinople. By comparison to any of the variants of the Byzantine Rite, the current Ordinary form of the Roman Catholic Mass dates to only forty years ago in 1969 when Pope Paul VI promulgated the revised Novus Ordo form after the reforms enacted at Vatican II.

Orthodoxy has admittedly had its own periods of liturgical change, but these occurred centuries ago and did not result in any Orthodox doctrinal teachings being altered or abandoned. The liturgy remains the unchanging cornerstone of faith and worship. What does it say about other branches of Christianity that so many worshippers either feel unfulfilled by their services as they currently exist, or that some churches hold councils and parish meetings where a majority vote can strip a service of many of the things that define it as Christian? Many of my Catholic friends do get a sense of spiritual fulfillment from the Mass, and this is wonderful, but none of them have exhibited the kind of enthusiasm for it which I have encountered among Orthodox anticipating the Divine Liturgy. Granted, most of these friends are “cradle Catholics” who grew up with the much-abbreviated Ordinary form of the Roman rite, as I did, but I have never met a Catholic who felt the depth of transcendent inspiration that I’ve witnessed so many Orthodox feeling during the Divine Liturgy.

I do not claim that all people who have ever experienced the Orthodox liturgy find it to be the most beautiful of any Christian service. That is simply not true; if it were, the Church would certainly have many more converts each year than it already has. But among all Orthodox, you will find almost no one — certainly no one prominent or respected — wishing to alter the Liturgy’s wording or, worse, omit any of it. This happiness and deep satisfaction with the existing age-old liturgy is not due in part to any sort of “inflexible conservatism” or aversion to the idea of change in the Church. Rather, it reflects the degree to which Orthodox appreciate the liturgy for its incredible beauty, its fullness, and the transcendence it allows each worshipper to have when he or she contemplates the mysteries of God’s loving kindness, mercy, grace, and majesty.

Despite my discomfort at seeing several mainline Protestant churches currently adapting gender-neutral pronouns to refer to God in their services, or the fact that many evangelical Christian congregations do not even baptize in the name of the Trinity, my love for the Orthodox liturgy is a positive thing that stands alone. I do not constantly compare it to the Mass or to Protestant services each time I stand in St. Nicholas Cathedral on Sunday mornings. Yet the degree to which the Liturgy has inspired the Orthodox faithful over the years is really incredible and worth noting. Most private prayers and personal devotions written by Orthodox over the centuries come directly from the liturgy, in comparison to the Western (both Catholic and Reformed) traditions, where most saints and important laypersons have composed prayers and hymns entirely of their own meditation, with little to no influence from their respective liturgies. Having grown up with many of these vernacular prayers and hymns, I continue to love most of them, but the reality that for centuries the Orthodox faithful have taken their deepest spiritual inspiration from the Liturgy speaks volumes about its unique and compelling draw.

The Orthodox sense of devotion to preserving the Liturgy and Church teachings is perhaps best expressed by the Eastern Patriarchs who told a group of Anglicans in 1718 that

“We adhere to the Faith He delivered to us, and keep it as a Royal Treasure, and a monument of great price, neither adding anything, nor taking anything from it.”

St. John of Damascus wrote similarly,

“We keep the Tradition just as we received it.”

This sense of liturgical continuity contrasts markedly with every other Christian tradition, even Roman Catholicism, which has changed the Mass less than most Protestant and evangelical churches have altered their services in recent years. Yet the Vatican II Council dramatically shortened the Ordinary rite of the Catholic Mass, at least partly in an attempt to make it more “doable” for increasingly busy people unwilling to devote more than an hour of their Sunday to sit in church. It is saddening that so few Catholics have ever been able to experience the Latin chants of the Tridentine Mass. Even with Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration that the present Extraordinary Form could be sung if people so desired, few actually endeavor to ask their priest to celebrate the Eucharist this way and some priests have been reluctant or unwilling to do so.

To me, the manner in which people worship and the degree to which—or if—it inspires them is indicative of not only their own spiritual health and happiness but the condition and state of their faith in general. I believe in the old principle of lex credendi, lex orandi. Anyone who has felt God’s presence in their own personal devotions or in a church service knows how powerfully inspiring it is. Paradoxically, when worship is emotionally stilted or mechanical, when it does not involve all your senses or emotions, when you leave the service without feeling awakened, enlightened, or transformed, you feel disappointed, frustrated, and unfulfilled.

Whether Orthodox or Catholic, Anglican or Low Church Protestant, if you have simply been “going through the motions” on Sunday without really getting much fulfillment out of it (I did this for years) I would humbly challenge you first to concentrate and allow yourself to be more open to contemplation. Try asking yourself:

“If my lips and mouth are praying, is my heart? Is my soul uniting to God?”

Of course there are times when inspiration just doesn’t come.

But if you find it impossible or very difficult to concentrate on heartfelt prayer or contemplation of God during your time in church, and if this continues week after week, ask yourself: could it be that the Mass or the service just does not inspire me to the extent that I crave? If your service does not give you a sense of spiritual fulfillment and communion with God, then you might consider thinking on the overall teachings of your denomination.

Ask yourself:

do you understand them?
Do you agree with them?
Do you really think that they are the best way to worship God and the inspiration for you to live the fullest, most Christian life?
I am by no means advocating that anyone should abandon their specific denomination just because they like the services of another church more than the services in and around which they were raised. To do that would be to trivialize the whole process of deciding to leave or enter a church, which is a profoundly contemplative, gradual, and serious matter. It is dangerous for someone to embrace a whole new faith suddenly or based only on how a service moves them; it is unlikely that the foundation of this new faith has embedded itself deep within them. Regardless of what denomination you come from, if you want to acquire a meaningful understanding of any of the Christian faith traditions, you should endeavor to study the Bible and connect with the intellectual and philosophical doctrines and teachings of your specific Church. “Going through the motions” is never enough to live any kind of fulfilling spiritual life, and anyone who does just that, week after week, will tell you that it leaves them with only a void.

If you are one of potentially millions of American Christians spiritually unsatisfied—profoundly unsatisfied—with what you are hearing, singing, and saying in church on Sundays, I would say to you that you should not feel obligated to continue participating in such a spiritually stagnant environment. One of the most beautiful things about the US is our long tradition of religious freedom. Every world religion and every denomination has a presence here. If you are bored or unsatisfied with your church, whether it’s Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist or “non-denominational” evangelical, I urge you to consider the numerous other options that you have! Since God gave us all free will, He surely does not want any of His children to persist in trying to worship Him in a church where they just don’t feel the spiritual connection or awareness of God that they crave. So, if you want a new kind of experience, look around you. Visit an Orthodox church.

Come to the liturgy. I promise you, you will be moved, in ways I cannot put into words.

First experience of Orthodoxy – the Liturgy— a kind of transcendent, enveloping beauty.

My first experience of Orthodoxy was, fittingly, also my first experience witnessing the Divine Liturgy, on the evening of Holy Thursday, April 1, 2010, at Holy Wisdom (St. Sophia) Greek Orthodox Cathedral a few blocks down Massachusetts Avenue from my university. My surroundings initially overwhelmed me—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I was no novice to beautiful religious buildings: I had been inside Notre Dame de Paris, la Basilica San Pietro in the Vatican, and more recently, in DC, the Episcopal National Cathedral and the Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. An avid student of art history, I had ‘Googled’ images of St. Paul’s in London, Westminster Abbey, Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock and the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. I had seen many beautiful Gothic and Neo-Byzantine style churches, and worshipped in many other Catholic, Anglican, and some Protestant churches. I had also been in beautiful synagogues, mosques, and a Sikh temple.

Having seen these beautiful places, it is still difficult to put into words the extent to which experiencing the Holy Thursday Liturgy of St. Basil affected me over a year ago when I worshipped in Holy Wisdom Cathedral. I went with an ex-girlfriend, one of my closest friends, a Polish Roman Catholic: she never went back, but she saw how much the experience moved me. The whole liturgy—some three hours long—awakened in me an entirely new spiritual plane that nothing else had inspired in me before.

St. Sophia’s (referring to the sofia, or wisdom, of God, not a particular saint named Sophia) is a beautiful templon (the Greek word for church is identical to the ancient word for temple) constructed to look like a miniature model of the Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. For those unfamiliar with Byzantine history, this larger ‘Holy Wisdom’ was the incredible sixth-century mother church of the Orthodox world and for centuries the world’s largest cathedral, famous for its crowning dome that endured many earthquakes. It was the liturgy in this church that inspired the conversion of the Rus.After the Ottoman Turks captured the city in 1453, it was preserved as a mosque, and today is one of Istanbul’s most frequently visited tourist attractions. Unfortunately, it has not been reopened as a place of worship: it is a museum.

The smaller Hagia Sophia I visited that April day is similarly very beautiful: with its great dome and high-set windows, it is something altogether out of place in the shadow of the Neo-Gothic Episcopal National Cathedral two blocks away. Yet as with all churches, the true beauty of this temple lies within. To give readers unfamiliar with Orthodox church architecture a sense of how different the Byzantine style is from anything Western, I wish to give the following description:

Entering the cathedral’s unfinished narthex (it’s still white, as yet unpainted with the golden frescoes and saints’ images that dazzle the interior), one immediately notices icon stands in the corner: to your right is Christ, to the left His Mother, the Theotokos (Orthodox give her this title, meaning “bearer of God”, dating to the Third Ecumenical Council, since she chose to bear Christ, the New Adam, the Father’s Incarnate Son.) Every Orthodox church has a small open shop in the narthex/vestibule area where laypersons, often including the presvytera (Russian: matushka), the priest’s wife, sell candles which the worshippers can light in front of the icons before entering the church. Some people bring their candles unlit into the church proper and when venerating another icon will place the candle in front of a saint’s image.

Upon entering the church interior, your eyes will be dazzled by the vivid colors everywhere: rich gray and dark green marble columns support the soaring pendentives upon which the cathedral’s towering central dome rests. Everywhere above and around you, on the gold-painted ceiling and the less-adorned side walls around the windows, you will see Byzantine-style painted frescoes of saints. The large, high-set windows, with colored glass panes, are actually obstacles to seeing outside. The reason for this is so that the church community, or laos, is not distracted by the outside world during the liturgy and can focus wholly on worship in the cathedral.

Rising above the temple are the four Gospel writers, their inscriptions written in Greek, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, taking their places close to the dome. Above them, rising higher in circles, are exalted angels, the ‘cherubim and seraphim’ of the Magnificat. At the top of the dome gazing down on His temple is the image of Christos Pantokrator—Christ enthroned as ruler of the universe. The Savior’s placement at the very top of the Cathedral reflects that the dome symbolizes heaven, and, indeed, just as with the great dome at the original sixth-century Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the dome here seems to hover above the temple, perched delicately on the sturdy Corinthian columns.

You will notice as your eyes come back down to earth the pews—these are uncommon in most American Orthodox churches, an example of ‘latinizations’ that have crept into certain Orthodox architecture over the years, especially in many American Greek churches. Pews are almost nonexistent in many European churches, where several rows of chairs are often placed along the side aisles for use by the elderly or small children. This is how it is at St. Nicholas.

Looking forward you will see that to the right on a slightly raised platform (this is not the altar) there is an elaborately carved chair. This is the thronos for the bishop (episkopos) when he visits the cathedral and presides over the Liturgy.

Unlike in Western Masses or services, Orthodox priests do not usually sit at all during the service. Like the congregation in most churches, they stand reverently before the altar which symbolizes the throne of God. The Israelites of the first century worshiped liturgically in the Temple at Jerusalem, where a rotation of prescribed daily prayers were said and psalms chanted, and worship was always conducted with the congregants standing, as Christ implies when he speaks to his disciples in Mark 11:25:

“When ye stand, praying. . .”

At St. Sophia’s, the priests allow people to sit for parts of the liturgy and use the pews. To the left side of the church you will see several low tables or recessional apses. Here, certain icons will be kept, and confessions heard during orthros (the pre-liturgy morning rite.)

Chapter 3: Icons, Images of the Saints and Reverence for the Virgin Mary

Many Protestants and Roman Catholics are unfamiliar with the use of icons in church services or private devotions. In Orthodoxy they play a major role in both, but this role has often been grossly misunderstood. Because Protestant theology eschews many of the older Church traditions that explain the reasons and importance behind these religious images, most Protestants are unaware of their theological importance, believing them instead to be distractions from worshipping God. The perspective I’ve heard from most of my Protestant friends is that “having so many ‘faces’ in a church distracts from worshipping God.” Others tell me that images of the Blessed Virgin, saints, and angels are either idolatrous, or simply “unnecessary.”

I would say that one person’s standard of what is “necessary” and “unnecessary” for proper worship is as subjective as the next person’s, and that is why respect for the Church’s revealed teachings on these matters and a willingness to evaluate and consider the role of centuries of Tradition (including the writings of many prominent Church Fathers, both Latin and Greek) is crucial here. To disregard all this wisdom as “unnecessary” or distracting seems to me to be taking a great liberty.

St. Germanus, mentioned earlier, was Patriarch of Constantinople until iconoclast Emperor Leo III “the Isaurian” (r. 717-741) removed him due to the archbishop’s continued and vocal support for the veneration of icons. St. Germanus’ defense of icon veneration is most clearly expressed in a letter he wrote to John of Synades, in which the Patriarch states that

“It is not to deviate from the perfect worship of God that we allow the production of icons. . . For we make no icon or representation of the invisible deity. . . But since the only Son Himself, Who is in the bosom of the Father, deigned to become man, according to the good will of the Father and the Holy Spirit, since He became a participant in blood and flesh, like us, as the great apostle says, “Having become similar to us in everything except sin” (Heb 4:15) we draw the image of His human aspect according to the flesh, and not according to His incomprehensible and invisible divinity, for we feel the need to represent what is our faith, to show that He is not united to our nature only in appearance, as a shadow. . . but that He has become man in reality and truth.”

As St. Germanus writes, our icons never depict God the Father, since He is invisible, as Scripture tells us in many places, most specifically in John 1:18 that

“No man hath seen God [the Father] at any time.”

Any Orthodox or Catholic theologian will tell you that veneration of saints’ relics or icons (known as doulia in Greek) differs significantly from latreia, which is the form of worship due to God alone. In our veneration, it is not the images or relics themselves we honor, but the spirit of the saint embodied in them. Doulia of icons and relics retains widespread practice in certain Catholic communities, particularly in South America and Southeast Asia, yet among American Catholics the practice is rare, mainly confined to older faithful, especially those who prefer to use the current Extraordinary form of the Mass, widely known as the Tridentine rite. Neither Catholics nor the Orthodox worship icons, nor do they worship the saints whose assistance they sometimes seek or whose exemplary qualities they seek to follow. This is of course a point of great distinction between Protestants and the older two Christian branches.

Icons are not painted, but “written” by their human authors—an appropriate distinction given that Orthodox believe that icon-writing comes from divine inspiration. Many of the most famous icons are centuries old and have been attributed to saving certain countries or peoples from disaster, such as Our Lady of the Sign in Russia, which the Russian people to this day venerate for the role attributed to it in saving the city of Novgorod from invasion. Another famous, beautiful icon is known to the Orthodox as the Virgin Theotokos (Mary) of the Passion (familiar to Roman Catholics as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, it is given particular veneration among Filipinos.) The Passion icon is one of many healing icons, as many laity and clergy have reported being healed of their afflictions while praying in front of it. This might seem superstitious to some Protestants disinclined to look favorably on such veneration in the first place, but the records and claims of people claiming miraculous healings exist.

Regarding the Virgin Mary, the Orthodox give her several titles corresponding to her role as Jesus’ mother. Because she is Christ’s mother, she is therefore mother of the Son of God who was Himself part of the Holy Trinity “before all ages”. This is why we call her Mother of God, for she is the mother of the eternal Word, the Logos described in the opening of St John’s Gospel. The Church’s reasons for honoring Mary are quite simple, and they are biblical. In Luke 1:43 Elizabeth calls Mary “the mother of my Lord”. Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983), renowned Orthodox theologian and former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, observed that Mary is “our link to Christ, and in Him, to God” the Father. She is

“. . . The very expression, the very depth of man’s “yes” to God in Christ. . . the human person that has become totally transparent to the Holy Spirit. If Christ is the “icon” of the Father, Mary is the “icon” of the new creation, the new Eve responding to the new Adam, fulfilling the mystery of love. . . Mary is the image and the personification of the world.”

Thus, Mary is the natural archetype for mankind, a perfect example for her fellow human beings to imitate. Through her willingness to bear the Savior of mankind, full cooperation with the will of God became something attainable and personal for mankind. Because

“she is the one who gave Him His human nature, His flesh and blood, she is the one through whom Christ can always call Himself “The Son of Man.””.

Because of Mary’s willing cooperation with God

“Salvation is no longer the operation of rescuing an ontologically inferior and passive being; it is revealed as truly a synergeia, cooperation between God and man. In Mary, obedience and humility are shown as rooted not in any “deficiency” of nature, but as the very expression of man’s royal freedom, of his capacity freely to encounter Truth itself. In the faith and the experience of the Church, Mary truly is the very icon of “anthropological maximalism”, its eternal epiphany. . . In Mary, the very notions of “dependence” and “freedom” cease to be opposed to one another as mutually exclusive. We are inclined to think that where there is dependence there can be no freedom, where there is freedom there can be no dependence. She, however, accepts, she obeys, she humbles herself before the living Truth itself, a Presence, a Call so overwhelmingly evident. . . ”

Because of Mary’s “yes” to God’s invitation to bear Christ the Savior, she signaled the coming redemption of humankind through her Son. No longer was man cut off from God, for God would enter the world through a woman’s body. Mary did not have to accept the role to which God called her; her very acceptance radically changed God’s relation to humankind, for it is through Mary that God entered the world as a man, and it is due to Mary’s humanity that Christ is “fully man” while also being fully God. Due to her special role as the Mother of Christ, it is only logical that

“Mary stands in the very center of the Church’s vision of the world, of man and life as the ultimate fruit and therefore the highest expression of that humility and obedience, without which there is no entrance into the mystery of man’s true communion with God.”

Father Alexander affirms her role as mediator and channel between man and God:

“Truly she is unique . . . and yet she is one of us, she is like us: her life and her experience are fully human.”

This is why the Orthodox feel such comfort in the presence of Mary, why we can approach her with our prayers that she might intercede with her Son to save us. She is the natural maternal figure for all humanity to look to for comfort, and through her Son, the very vessel by which the promise of salvation came to our fallen world.

Many Protestants consider the veneration given Mary by both Roman Catholics and Orthodox as something distracting from the latreia due to God alone. Some attribute widespread Marian devotion to a desire originating from pagan influence to have a female presence in the human experience of God. Orthodox and Catholics would answer that every person, man or woman, has the ability to believe in and come to know God, and since God the Logos, the Word, came into the world as the incarnate Son of Man, it is only natural that we seek to know Him through His mother.
Marian devotion in Orthodoxy is entirely Christocentric, revolving around and relating entirely to her role as Jesus’ mother. Because Mary is the Father’s chosen instrument of bringing His Son into the world, as she states in the Magnificat when she exclaims

“He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, from henceforth all generations shall call me Blessed”,

we believe it is improper not to honor her. Some Catholics and Orthodox condemn as oversimplification and reductionist the tendencies among Protestant theologians and ministers to omit almost any mention of her. Aside from the reference to her in the Creed, she is overwhelmingly “toned down” by most Protestants (excluding High Church Anglicans) who are uncomfortable with her importance in earlier centuries of Christian theological development, and are skeptical of the attention that Christians of the earlier Church traditions pay her.

As with Roman Catholics, Orthodox refer to Mary as the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, and often ascribe to her the honorific “Queen” or “Lady”, depending on the translation, as she sits besides God the Father and her Son in heaven. One universal Orthodox title for Mary that does not usually appear in the West is the Greek term Theotokos, (lit. “Bearer of God”.) Another Greek honorific is Panagia, the “All-Holy” one whom the Father chose to carry His Son into the world, who “without corruption gave birth to God the Word”, without the pain and physical changes that alter all other women’s bodies in and after childbirth. Having been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, I can attest that devotion to Mary in Orthodoxy is as beautiful and just as much part of the liturgy as it is Roman Catholicism, if not more so.

While the Orthodox do not use the “Hail Mary” in the Liturgy per se (a more correct translation of the Greek ‘Chaire’ is “Rejoice”, rather than ‘Hail’) at the end of Vespers during an All-Night Vigil the choir will sing, in English “Rejoice O Virgin Theotokos” which is of almost identical wording to the Western Hail Mary.

Every Sunday Liturgy following the conclusion of the anaphora, the clergy and people chant the millennia-old Axion Estin (English: “It is truly meet”) which is similar in wording to the Magnificat sung by the choir and people at most All-Night Vigils. The Magnificat (from the Latin “I magnify”) is one of the most beautiful and compelling parts of our worship. In the majestic chanting of the choir the people and clergy’s voices join together to intone the very words that Mary exclaimed at her Annunciation. Throughout all Eastern Orthodox services, there is never instrumental accompaniment, since Orthodox hold the human voice to be the most pleasing sound to the God who created it.

At the Magnificat, many worshipers become emotional—as St. Silouan tells us, tears in prayer are an expression of the heart’s desire to know God. Its beauty alone was something that drew me to attend the Saturday evening vigils at St. Nicholas. Every Orthodox church I have attended always offers a beautifully unique composition of the Magnificat, but the style at St Nicholas remains the one most touching to me. The celebrating clergyman comes out from the altar, turns to face the icon of the Blessed Virgin on the iconostasis, which he censes as he cries

“The Theotokos and the Mother of the Light, let us magnify in song!”

and then, as the choir begins the canticle, he processes around the church, censing all the worshipers as well as the icons of the saints. This is a reminder that the Church sings to the Lord in the presence of all the saints and the angels, who are present invisibly among us as Psalm 137 reminds us. The priest censes the people because Christ, truly God and truly man, bridged the ‘sacred distance’ between heaven and earth, uniting the human and the divine natures in His single personage. Several times during each vigil the presiding clergyman, whether priest or bishop, census us as a salutation to the presence of God in each one of us, and so, when we honor Mary, we remember that it is through her, a person as human as any of us, yet who chose to never sin, that God the Word took on human form and lived among us as Jesus the Christ.

Orthodoxy- The Orthodox Church: A family of Churches united by belief in the central role of conciliarity, the pastoral role of bishops, and adherence to a common Tradition.

One of the most attractive aspects of Orthodoxy to those coming from either Roman Catholic or Protestant traditions is that, while internal church politics of course exist in the different parishes, and at national or regional levels, Orthodoxy today is largely free of the kind of disagreements that frequently arise in Western churches. Of course not every Catholic or Protestant church community is going to have these problems over disagreements, but from my own observations they are far more common than in Orthodox churches. Jurisdictional wars and conflicts over doctrine and belief—whether official or unofficial—seem to be perpetually waging in mainline Protestant churches, and the line often seems blurred between Catholic bishops’ pastoral responsibilities and administrative roles, with the former often being neglected for the latter. Orthodox congregations do not disagree on matters of Church teachings or dogma.

While the Church in each nation or regional area is either autonomous or autocephalous (self-governing), the Orthodox Church across national and regional lines does not face the major challenges to its basic doctrinal teachings that Protestant churches and the Catholic Church have faced in recent years regarding questions of ordination of women, non-celibate homosexual clergy, elective abortion, etc. The Church’s stance on these issues is decidedly traditional or conservative, but not in a negative sense.

For instance, regarding abortion, the Church emphasizes a positive invitation to consider raising the child or adoption as a way of enabling a sacred human life to enter the world. Likewise, for those women who have had abortions, the Church does not treat them as pariahs, but as sisters or daughters in crucial need of Christian care and pastoral attention. They are encouraged to come to confession, since abortion is a sin of enormously tragic consequence, but above all, to come to church and not withdraw from life as so many women do when they are wracked with deep feelings of guilt. After a long time of thought and reflection, during which a spiritual father is expected to talk and meet with them and minister to them, they are readmitted to communion.
Describing administration of the Eastern Church worldwide, Bishop Kallistos Ware describes it in The Orthodox Church as a:

“Family of self-governing Churches held together not by a centralized organization, not by a single prelate wielding power over the whole body, but by the double bond of unity in the faith and communion in the sacraments. Each Patriarchate or autocephalous Church, while independent, is in full agreement with the rest on all matters of doctrine.”

In an April 10, 2009 podcast radio interview with Fr. Andrew Jarmus, Communications Director of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, made similar statements regarding the importance of continuing the tradition of what can be called “autocephalous communion” in the Church worldwide:

“The Church is not simply controlled by its primate, it is not a papacy, but rather, it’s always led in terms of councils, of people coming together. Now, in the ancient canonical vision of the Church, this always meant councils of bishops, but thanks to the development, especially within Russian theology from the late nineteenth century onwards, and through the experience of our own church, which was able to institutionalize some of those ideas. . . . we have been able to bring about participation of the clergy and the laity in almost every level of decision-making. . . This is something I believe is essential to the life of our Church, we have to make decisions together.”

Thus, in the Orthodox Churches, while most of them operate in a form more democratic than that allowed in Roman Catholicism, with elected parish councils that recommend many administrative matters to the bishop, the episcopacy also retains a degree of traditional authority lacking in almost all mainline Protestant churches. Because the main areas of contention within Orthodox Churches are principally over matters of church finance or questions of local parish administration, rather than differences in belief, the Orthodox faithful have not had the disruptions to their liturgical life that most mainline Protestant churches and even some Catholic parishes have had in the United States.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah encapsulated the Orthodox position on faith and liturgy and their codependent, mutually reinforcing and symbiotic interconnectedness in a speech to the assembly of the newly-formed Anglican Church in North America in June 2009 in which he remarked “The Church is not simply human. It is divine . . . the living body of Jesus Christ.” This explains in part why we are so concerned not to allow any disputes or arguments over parish administration or inter-jurisdictional relations to mar our liturgical life. In the Liturgy, we transcend all of the outside concerns of our lives, which fade to the peripheries that they are, and enter in communion with the visible body of Christ all around us, and the invisible body, the saints, the angels, all the departed, the Theotokos, and God Himself.

Agreement on doctrine throughout the Orthodox world is nearly universal since

“certain doctrines, never formally defined, are yet held by the Church with an unmistakable inner conviction, an unruffled unanimity, which is just as binding as an explicit formulation.”

The Church’s stances on homosexual activity and elective abortion come to light in this regard. Divisions exist over certain new questions—for instance, the question of restoring the historic female diaconate, with certain bishops in favor and others opposed—but as His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah observed, these questions, if the clergy and people felt clarification was required, would be dealt with as the Church has always done,

“in terms of councils, people coming together”

rather than the Church ever splintering or dissolving outright. Thus, whenever there are disagreements in Orthodox congregations, they can be and are settled with local council meetings between the parishioners, priests and the bishop, without the formation of new church communities or sects.

In this context, the faithful understand that it is the Orthodox Church as a whole, the worldwide Body of Christ, which is universal in constitution and communion, not one particular bishop or pontiff. Bishops at their election and consecration assume crucial roles over their specific dioceses,

“endowed with the threefold power of

(1) ruling,

(2) teaching, and

(3) celebrating the sacraments.”

Authority and jurisdiction in Orthodoxy thus are held to be both local and universal—local in the bishops, who are “appointed by God to guide and rule the flock” as “monarchs” in their own dioceses, and universal in the Churches adhering to Tradition or when acting together in Councils.

Jurisdiction and authority have never been understood in the Orthodox Tradition in terms of residing in any one particular patriarch or pontiff. Rather, we remember the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John the Apostle, who said

“Where the bishop is, there is the Church.”

The logic behind this is very clear, and I will elaborate more on this in Part II when I describe why I decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church. While His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople enjoys a status of primus inter pares among all Orthodox patriarchs and bishops dating to Canon 28 of the 451 Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, the bishops themselves all possess a common charisma or gift of grace, constituting as they do the leadership of the universal Church. As Bishop Kallistos writes,

“Where Rome thinks in terms of the supremacy and the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, Orthodoxy thinks in terms of the Ecumenical Councils; where Rome stresses Papal infallibility, Orthodox stress the infallibility of the Church as a whole.”

Why I left the Roman Catholic Church

Before I begin the second and last Part, I wish to separately address the impact that the Roman Catholic Church leadership’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal had on my ultimate decision to leave that Church. My decision to enter the Orthodox Church lies almost entirely in positive affirmations and belief in its faith, teachings and concepts of authority, rather than negative reactions to the Catholic faith in which I was raised. I see my decision to enter the Orthodox Church as one in which I have continuously opened myself to the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I feel that my embrace of Orthodoxy is more a fulfillment of what is best about the Catholic tradition than a rejection of what is incorrect and heterodox about it.

In his popular book, Rediscovering Catholicism, author Matthew Kelly admits that while the Catholic Church has

“spent more than two billion dollars settling lawsuits, we have not spent a single dime on any special initiative to encourage Catholics in America to continue to explore the beauty of their faith. . . We have not spent a dime inspiring Catholics at a time when more are disillusioned about their faith and the Church than perhaps ever before. And that is a tragedy.”

This passage really moved me when I first read it. I was initially struck by my agreement with Kelly’s last sentence. This entire episode in the history of the Church, the media firestorm, the alienation of so many of the clergy from the people, and of course, the abominable instances of abuse that did take place, all of it together forms an absolute tragedy in the life of the Church. Looking back over this passage, however, I am struck by what I find between the lines, something that troubles me. Clearly many lay Catholics feel disconnected and impatient with the responses given by various senior and local clergy, and such perceived silence or indifference on the part of some of the clergy is troubling. Yet what is more troubling is that someone as internationally influential as Kelly believes that the Church needs to concentrate its efforts in investing money to revitalize Catholicism in the U.S, and that perhaps this is the main if not the only way to

“keep people in the Church.”

If American Catholics expect the Church to pour money into expensive ads to draw them back in, but they do not expect their pastors and priests to really endeavor to bridge the gaps in trust and understanding (or to really teach them the core Catholic doctrines, the substance of the beliefs for which they should be coming to Mass if they truly believe in the Catholic faith) off of what kind of reservoir of faith is the Church in America depending? Kelly writes that the problem of the Church losing members could be solved with financial investment from Rome. I will not dispute this here. What I find odd is that in his entire book he says nothing about how the struggling parish life in so many communities could be revitalized at ground level. Where is the emphasis on a revitalization of the Church’s pastoral care of the faithful, in the churches and in the communities themselves?

Although Kelly’s book did not convince me to return to the Roman Catholic faith, and I am concerned by his advocacy for a top-down financial rather than a local-based pastoral approach to a restoration of the Church, much of his book deeply inspired me. He is a very gifted writer, and his words spoke to my own life experience as someone who grew up as an often confused Catholic unsure of the Church’s teachings or direction. The book is a compelling and often philosophically oriented read for any Christian, Catholic or not. Besides his frank admission of the abuse, Kelly highlights the Church’s immense impact on the world through its feeding of millions of hungry each day, its education of more children than any government or private program, and the operation of thousands of hospitals across the globe.

These efforts are truly laudable, and for them the Church deserves great praise. I will always be proud of the Church’s efforts and I will always be grateful for the Christian faith it taught me. Yet even Kelly, an internationally celebrated champion of his faith, admits in his book’s opening pages that there is a chronic deficit of trust, of leadership, and of convinced faith within the Catholic community in America.

This truly is a tragedy.

While I did not know anyone personally who was victimized by a predatory priest, there can be no question that the damage the abuse caused to individual victims and their families is beyond what any apology can heal or any amount of compensation ever appropriately redeem. Only the healing power of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, and God’s providence in time can bring the healing which so many crave.

The larger issue, from my perspective of a member of the Christian laity viewing the Roman Catholic Church as a pastoral entity, is: how did the world’s largest religious organization and establishment fail so many millions of its believers? As much as media attacks on the Church have been increasing, to what extent this is due to an increase in secular culture in the US and worldwide is impossible to deduce with certainty. What is certain is that the initial reaction of the senior Church leadership in the Vatican offended and hurt many millions of faithful. Not because it harmed them bodily, but because the covenant of trust, that all-important trust, between bishops and the laity, between priests and their congregations, was broken, in parish after parish, by the combination of revelations of sexual abuse and further revelations that senior Vatican leaders had been complicit in covering up cases when media were “getting too close.”

Thus, while the large majority of priests and bishops had nothing to do with any of the abuse, the Church sustained a terrible damage to its pastoral reputation, its institutional prestige, and above all its image in the world. As a result, the somewhat unstable or loosely grounded faith of many Catholics worldwide, many of whom were never educated in the Church’s doctrinal teachings, came loose. From my perspective, three interrelated problems intensified many Catholics’ reactions to the Church’s handling of the abuse revelations.

These are:

1) an internal church culture in which clergy used the hierarchical system to seek protection and hide from possible charges of wrongdoing,

2) the complicity of many senior Church leaders in these cases of abuse by either ordering the payment of victims’ families in order to silence them, or the deliberate reshuffling of priests who may have been dangerous to children, and

3) the perception by many faithful Catholics that statements made by senior Vatican officials, US cardinal-archbishops and other leading prelates indicated a lack of willingness to punish the offending clergy.

Ultimately, all of these things taken together deeply saddened me. Combined with the aloofness of my diocesan bishop and lack of a sense of community at my family’s parish, I started to become disillusioned with the Church’s ability to offer real pastoral care to the faithful, or to actually enforce any degree of orthodoxy internally. Part of the Church’s difficulty in maintaining orthodoxy rests in the sheer size of it as a bureaucratic organization, as a global institution, but I think this symptom speaks to a larger, deeper illness in the life of the Church. I know many people who have left the Church or gone ‘inactive’ who felt as though something was missing in their own spiritual lives, in the Mass, and in the Church itself. I noticed the lack of connection in the liturgy itself, how vernacular hymns punctuate the prayers of the Roman rite in an almost staccato arrangement. I cannot recall the exact time it began, but for years I had a sense that the Church had lost something it once possessed.

Until I discovered Orthodoxy I could never have told you, much less imagined for myself, what this missing link was or where it existed. When I walked through the magnificent Baroque and Gothic cathedrals of Europe summer 2005, I caught glimpses of something the Church in America lacked, the presence of an ancient beauty that seemed an altogether different thing from the plain churches in which I grew up. This made me think more about the Mass itself. The shortening and alterations of the Roman missal undertaken in the wake of the Vatican II council confused and estranged many Catholics, who felt that much of the core beauty, the inner Tradition, of the Church had been pushed aside.

The Second Vatican Council brought many laudable practices, such as an interest in basic ecumenical dialogue with other Churches and the celebration of the Mass in vernacular language, but Mass attendance has declined ever since the implementation of the revised Roman missal in the 1970s. Many Catholics considered the Novus Ordo Missae lacking in the spiritual depth and beauty the Tridentine liturgy had offered the faithful for centuries. Especially in the Anglophone world, many felt that the liturgical changes moved certain translations beyond the necessary transliteration and lost the inner beauty that the Latin, however incomprehensible to most, preserved. I think it is wonderful that the Mass is at last in the vernacular, but I never understood why the Church took out so much of the beautiful language which conveyed so much spiritual depth, theology, and mystery.

I do not blame the Church collectively for the failings of so many of its leaders and priests, but I am deeply disturbed that such a large religious system such as the Church was peopled with many clergy who put their own positions within the institution—and a desire to save face—ahead of the pastoral needs of the faithful. It is impossible to describe the amount of shock, grief and pain that the scandals caused in the life of the Church. My reasons for departing the Church have little to do with the scandals themselves, and center mostly on theology. However, what I consider to be a massive pastoral failure on the part of the Roman Catholic leadership definitely embittered my sense of being a Catholic, and led me to question Church doctrine and dogma more than I had previously.

Orthodoxy: in part Catholicism’s Correction, in part its Fulfillment

Bishop Kallistos correctly observes that

“the Orthodox Church is not as much given to making formal dogmatic definitions as is the Roman Catholic Church”,

yet there are certain elements of the Orthodox faith that have come into the Orthodox Tradition in past centuries and stayed there. One of these “unmistakable inner convictions” of the Church is the refutation of the Filioque clause which played a defining role in the eventual Schism between East and West. The Filioque (Latin: “and the Son”) was first formally introduced in the West at the Third Council of Toledo in 589. This was a localized, non-ecumenical council in Spain convened by King Reccared and attended only by Spanish clergy at which Arian bishops and clergy recanted their heretical views.

The insertion of the Filioque, which, pointedly, only gradually entered into use in the West, violates the Orthodox spirit and approach toward the inner Tradition that

“is preserved above all in the Church’s worship.”

No Ecumenical Council ever authorized its introduction in the Creed, nor, from a Roman Catholic perspective, did a pope ever pronounce it as infallible doctrine. Since Orthodox believe in the principle that “Our faith is expressed in our prayer”, then the degree to which the West’s arbitrary insertion of the Filioque in the Creed offends the inner Tradition of the Church is a very high one. Even St. Augustine, one of the principal Latin Church Fathers credited with expressing the concept of Double Procession (that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son), repeatedly clarified his understanding of the Filioque with the ending tanquam ab uno principio—“as from one principle.” Thus, even to Augustine, the Holy Spirit’s procession rests on the centrality of the Father as this directing “principle” or originator within the Trinitarian framework, since any principle regarding the Trinity must have the Father as its directing head since the Father alone is unbegotten.

The Orthodox have been in many ways willing to compromise, or at least tolerate the idea that the Spirit proceeds “from the Father through the Son”, by virtue of Our Lord saying in John 15:26 that “When the Comforter has come, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father—He will bear witness to Me.” Jesus tells us that He “sends” the Spirit, but He states unequivocally that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. This is a question of the language our Lord used—he did not say “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father and I”, but “proceeds from the Father” alone. In the past few years, whenever I attended Catholic Mass, I would either omit the Filioque or say “through the Son”, but for considerable time the West’s logic for including the Filioque has defied my understanding.

The manner in which it was devised and declared (in a local Spanish council at Toledo with neither Ecumenical authority nor papal recognition), and the anti-counciliar manner in which it was implemented in the West violate the principle of “inner Tradition” of universally maintaining the Church’s time-honored traditions without alteration. Popes recognized the danger the Filioque posed and several condemned its gradual adoption into popular use in the West. Pope John VIII endorsed the decision of the Eighth Ecumenical Council of 879-880 at Constantinople which reiterated the earlier 431 Third Ecumenical Council’s prohibition and anathematization of any alteration of the original wording of the Creed at Ephesus. Historian Dr. Margaret Trenchard-Smith of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles observes in her essay “East and West: Cultural Dissonance and the “Great Schism of 1054”” that Rome resisted the Filioque’s insertion into the Nicene Creed for several centuries after its first official declaration at Toledo in the sixth century.

“Having promoted it at the Synods of Frankfurt (794) and Friuli (796), Charlemagne himself tried to insist on the inclusion of the Filioque in the Creed as normative practice in Rome in 809. However, Pope Leo III—the Pope who had made Charlemagne emperor—resisted the interpolation, as it would be “…a mistake to depart from the version of the Creed that had been universally accepted by Christendom.” To impress upon contemporaries his point and to preserve it for posterity, the Pope had the original Latin and Greek versions of the Creed inscribed upon silver plaques placed within Saint Peter’s.”

That Leo III, the very pontiff who crowned Charlemagne as Imperator Romanorum in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day in 800, refused the emperor’s desire to normalize the Filioque’s use at Masses in Rome speaks to the level to which the Pope saw himself as the defender of orthodox Christianity, the faith Rome then shared with the East. That he deliberately placed two silver plaques with the unaltered Creed in the central and most visited shrine in Rome, the site of St Peter’s execution and his tomb, demonstrates his rejection of the Filioque as a doctrine for the universal Church to espouse. One Catholic apologist with whom I have often talked argues that Pope Leo did this only to appease the Byzantines, who opposed Charlemagne’s campaign to normalize the Filioque in the West. His argument ignores the historical reality that in the very act of crowning Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans, the Pope had already offended and strained relations with the East.

The Byzantines had preserved their imperial succession of Eastern Roman emperors at Constantinople in the centuries after a Gothic king compelled the teenage Romulus Augustulus, the last Emperor in the West, to abdicate in 476. Ever since Constantine I moved the imperial capital to the Greek-speaking port of Byzantion in 330, renaming it “New Rome”, the city’s inhabitants referred to themselves as ‘Romans’. Leo’s crowning of another emperor to rival one in Byzantium outraged many in the East. In 800, when he crowned the Frankish king, an emperor reigned in Constantine’s city, but Leo considered the imperial throne vacant because its occupant was a woman, Irene of Athens.

Trenchard-Smith observes in her essay’s endnotes (#42) that in fact Pope Leo sympathized with the Double Procession theory, which he put forth in his treatise Symbolum orthodoxae fidei Leonis papae. Ironically, it was in this work that Leo – who clearly from his title saw himself as the defender of the Orthodox faith- expressed his own belief in the Filioque, yet ecclesiastical scholars and theologians most remember him for erecting the two silver tablets in defiance of the same belief. We can deduce Pope Leo’s intentions on the Filioque through not only this public gesture against its introduction in Rome, but also from his refusal to permit the Filioque to be used when he publicly celebrated the Mass in Peter’s See during his lifetime. Most telling about the papacy’s attitude to the Filioque is that, as Trenchard-Smith observes,

“Rome first used the Filioque in 1014 at the coronation of German Emperor Henry II.”

The Roman rite in the Eternal City did not allow the clause until almost five centuries after it was first formally introduced into the West at Toledo. We have solid evidence that several Roman popes opposed the Filioque, but none that the clause was ever used in any Mass in Rome before 1014.

Implicitly tied to the Filioque controversy is what Orthodox theologians have found to be the West’s

“tendency to subordinate and neglect the Spirit.”

The Catholic assertion that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son suggests that the Spirit is fully dependent on both, and therefore a lesser or weaker part of the Trinity of God. If the Holy Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son, then the Spirit must proceed from something impersonal rather than Personal, since He would not be proceeding from one Person of the Trinity, the Father alone or the Son alone, but the divine substance or energy of the two Persons, which they have in common. This confuses the personal nature of the three hypostases of the Trinity.

Catholics and Orthodox share belief that the Son was begotten of the Father “before all ages”, and we both believe that God the Holy Spirit and God the Word, the Logos who eventually became incarnate as Christ, created the world with God the Father, as Genesis 1:26 tells us God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. This presents a challenge to Western understanding of the Trinity.

When do Catholics and Trinitarian Protestants (who continue to include the Filioque) believe the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son? They cannot say at Pentecost, for that is when Christ sent the Holy Spirit, already having proceeded from the Father, into the world. In the Creed, Orthodox and Catholics alike profess our belief that the Holy Spirit “spoke by the prophets” of the Old Testament, and Trinitarians will say the Spirit proceeded eternally or from time immeasurable, but it is theologically impossible for the Holy Spirit to have proceeded from the Father and the Son anytime before the Son’s Incarnation. Before His Incarnation of the Virgin Mary He was not yet the God-Man, fully human and fully divine, but the begotten Son and impersonal Logos. Do you see how the Filioque clause confuses and dilutes the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity?

Catholics traditionally have used three scriptural passages to explain their belief in the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son in which the Spirit is respectively called the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), the Spirit of the Son (Galatians 4:6), and the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19).

The Orthodox understanding of these descriptions of the Holy Spirit is that because Christ is God Incarnate, the Spirit was of course present in Him and sent by Him into the world at Pentecost. However, these scriptural references to the Spirit relating to the Son do not address how the Spirit came to proceed from Father and Son in Western understanding, but simply that Christ, the Son of God, had the Holy Spirit’s grace and power because He is fully God. The Greek words which correspond to the Latin ‘procedere/procedit’ (to proceed/proceeds’) do not appear in any of these passages in question, and nowhere in Scripture do we have any examples where it is written that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Father and the Son. We do however have Christ’s words in John 15:26 that the Spirit

“proceeds from the Father”.

The online Catholic Encyclopedia page on the Holy Spirit gives credence to the orthodox “Father through the Son” position, citing that

“the Greek formula ek tou patros dia tou ouiou [Greek: from the Father through the Son] expresses directly the order according to which the Father and the Son are the principle of the Holy Ghost”

yet the Encyclopedia errs in reflecting the Catholic belief that this formula somehow “implies their equality as principle”, that the Father and Son are equally the source of the Spirit which must, therefore, proceed from both. The Encyclopedia continues,

“As the Son Himself proceeds from the Father, it is from the Father that He receives, with everything else, the virtue that makes Him the principle of the Holy Ghost. Thus, the Father alone is principium absque principio, aitia anarchos prokatarktike, and, comparatively, the Son is an intermediate principle.”

The Catholic clarification that “the Son from the Father receives the virtue that makes Him the principle of the Holy Ghost” is unnecessary in the Orthodox view. Since we hold that the Spirit proceeds only from the Father, we do not need to explain how the Son receives “the virtue” that makes the Spirit also proceed from Him—we do not have this problem since we hold to the original wording of the Creed. Furthermore, Catholic belief that “the Son is an intermediate” connecting or standing between the Father and the Holy Spirit is another example of Orthodox apprehensions that the Filioque confuses the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Orthodox theology, in contrast, has a more internally balanced and unified view of the Trinity: everything the Church holds God to be can be attributed to one Person of the Godhead, or to the three Persons in triunity. The Father, the Logos, and the Spirit were present at the creation of the world and before all sense of time. God the Father is the “maker . . . of all things visible and invisible”, God the Son is “begotten of the Father before all ages” as the Logos, and God the Spirit “proceeds from the Father”—the Father is the source of both Son and Spirit, who proceed from Him eternally. Because the Orthodox theology of the Person of the Holy Spirit is unconfused and does not require the philosophical extrapolation and clarification which the Filioque does, Orthodox worship and spirituality has maintained a close connection to third Person of the Trinity, “the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth”. We invoke the protection of the Spirit in our personal morning devotions and evening prayer before we sleep, and constantly during the Liturgy.

After reading several of his writings, I have come to love and greatly esteem St. Seraphim of Sarov, and his observation that

“the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

With this incredibly challenging and beautiful aspiration, the true Orthodox life becomes one of an ever-occurring process of theosis, or deification where we strive to become one with the energy of God in all ways, constantly endeavoring to let ourselves be filled with the Holy Spirit. This call to begin a long process of aspiration to godliness, to become one with God as “partakers of the divine nature” through the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Peter tells us, is such a beautiful thing. It is something that strikes me as the perfect embodiment of Christianity—striving to become one with God. St. Athanasius of Alexandria reminds us in On the Incarnation that

“The Son of God became man that we might become god.”

This is not just a passable offer from anyone—this is the very reason for the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word—why the Father sent His Son into the world to dwell among us!

Since I first began my studies of Orthodoxy, I have noticed that Eastern theology is imbued with a kind of awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence and importance that I had only once briefly experienced in any Western church. When my class was preparing for confirmation at St James Roman Catholic parish in high school, our pastor Father Robert Smith (we called him Father Bob), a very kind man, enjoined us to sing with him a vernacular hymn “Send Us Your Spirit” by David Haas, the refrain of which is

“Come Lord Jesus, send us your spirit, renew the face of the earth!”

This struck me as being so beautiful, and so different from what I was used to in church—confirmation was the one time, as far as I remember, that the Church had ever really focused on the Holy Spirit outside of Pentecost. When I heard my pastor singing this beautiful supplication to the Spirit, it seemed to me such a perfect calling toward all that I sought to be as a Christian: loving God, opening up oneself to the work of the Spirit, serving and loving others, and seeing God alive in humanity. Yet I never experienced any awakening or transformation like it again while I was a Catholic.

The Church’s Catholicity: Affirming Orthodoxy’s conciliar approach, its non-coercive understandings of authority and the maintenance of Church communion— and its emphasis on the mysterious role of the Holy Spirit in life and liturgy. Catholic and Orthodox, Infallibility and Conciliarity: Different approaches to the “theology of communion” and opposing conceptions of how the Church maintains its catholicity.

Both Roman Catholics and Orthodox would agree with St. Ignatius in his letter to the Smyrnaeans (viii, 2) when he observes that

“where Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Similarly, Orthodox and Catholic do not disagree that

“the Church is the extension of the Incarnation, the place where the Incarnation perpetuates itself.”

Certainly both Catholic and Orthodox would agree with St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662) in his observations in his seventh century Mystagogy that

“the holy church of God. . . is a figure and image of the world, which is comprised of visible and invisible things. . . The Church is essentially one.”

Where the two traditions differ is in their conception of how this oneness or “catholicity” is expressed and in what manner the Church should guard the faith.

“For Rome the unifying principle in the Church [in other words, what makes it truly one, universal, or catholic] is the Pope whose jurisdiction extends over the whole body, whereas Orthodox do not believe any bishop to be endowed with universal jurisdiction.”

The heart of this debate rests in the Churches’ differing understandings, textually and historically, of Matthew 16:18 when Christ says to Simon Peter, also called Cephas:

“And I say to you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

When I was younger, I would have assumed, as I had been taught, that this passage clearly endorses the papacy as the reservoir of universal Christian jurisdiction on earth. Now that seems to be a real distortion and I approach the text with a different understanding. It seems that Christ is choosing Peter, as an especially beloved and dedicated follower, to fulfill a special pastoral role in the Christian community after His death. There is no example from Holy Scripture in which the apostles understand Peter to have infallibility or supreme authority over them after Christ’s death and Resurrection, as the Roman Catholic Church has claimed for centuries. In fact, in Galatians 2:11, St Paul writes that

“when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed.”

The Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible translates Peter here as “Cephas”, but this is an equivalent Greek name for Peter. This passage is a public assertion by St Paul of his equal statute to St Peter in apostolic authority and dignity, and far from suggesting that Peter was the infallible Prince of the Apostles, this passage shows that he was capable of making a mistake, an error another apostle corrected.

There is no reason to think that just because Peter was given a special commendation by Christ that any sort of universal jurisdiction applies to his successors as bishops in Rome, some of whom were soldier-warriors, princes, and even murderers. Nowhere in the Bible is there any statement that Peter’s successors should have infallible power or supreme apostolic authority. A Catholic apologist with whom I have talked points to Matthew 16:18-19 as the justification for Rome’s claims. I then would point to John 20:23, where Christ speaks to all the apostles, not only Peter:

“Whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted to them; and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained.”

‘You’ here in the Greek appears in the plural usage, confirming that Christ was speaking to the apostles together. If Peter was considered to be the prince of the apostles, their supreme leader and the chief shepherd of the Church after Christ’s death, Resurrection and Ascension, why did Christ give to all the Apostles equal authority to remit sins?

As I read over the text of Mark 16:18, it seems to me that Christ is foretelling the struggles that the Church would face in its infancy against pagan Roman persecution and endless heresies. He seems to be entrusting Peter with a certain brotherly charge toward the other apostles in the loving way that other first bishops were the spiritual and pastoral cores, or hearts, for the local faithful as the leaders of the first churches. This is only my humble interpretation.

As a result of diverging interpretations of this scriptural passage, the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches have approached the question of communion of belief and matters of jurisdictional authority in different ways. Where the Roman Catholic Church is “often seen too much in terms of earthly power and organization” due to its more administrative, executive understanding of the papacy, Roman Catholics will, in turn, often see the

“more spiritual and mystical doctrine of the Church held by Orthodoxy as vague, incoherent, and incomplete.”

While traditionalist Catholics tend to believe that their Church has always defended the Papacy’s powers of supreme and universal jurisdiction, there is strong evidence to suggest that this view gradually evolved in the West. One pope venerated by both Catholics and Orthodox as a saint, Pope St. Gregory the Great (r. 590-604), famously opposed Patriarch John of Constantinople’s desire to add the term “Ecumenical” to his title, writing to the patriarch that

“Whoever calls himself the universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, the precursor of Antichrist, because he thus attempts to raise himself above the others. The error into which he falls springs from pride equal to that of Antichrist; for as that Wicked One wished to be regarded as exalted above other men, like a god, so likewise whoever would be called sole bishop exalteth himself above others. . .”

Pope Gregory’s unequivocal condemnation of any primate calling himself “universal” or sole bishop might shock most Catholics who have never read it, since the Catholic Church has long attempted to convince its faithful that popes always professed the claim to universal authority and immediate jurisdiction over all other Christian Sees. Yet St. Gregory clarifies that this is anything but the case. He points out to Patriarch John that even when the 451 Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon offered the bishop of Rome the honorary title of ‘universal’ bishop, the reigning pope refused to accept it:

“You know it, my brother; hath not the venerable Council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of ‘universal’ upon the bishops of this Apostolic See [Rome], whereof I am, by God’s will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given to him; none hath assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren.” [Emphasis mine.]

This is the very antithesis of a pope claiming universal power and authority over all other Christian Sees. Pope St. Gregory refers to his fellow bishops as “brethren” and cautions against any bishop “assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate”. He not only reiterates that since his predecessors as Roman popes, first in honor among the five apostolic sees or patriarchates, declined the honorary title ‘universal’, all other patriarchs ought to avoid using the term, but he specifies that even when the Fathers at Chalcedon offered the popes this title, they understood it primarily as an honor of distinction, rather than a recognition of the Papacy’s unique power. St. Gregory clearly feared that this honorific title and similar ones offered to previous Roman popes could lead to an improper and heterodox elevation of one of the patriarchates above the others. Even the title ‘pope’, meaning ‘father’, was first applied not to the bishop of Rome, but to the Patriarch of Alexandria. Today, the primate of the Coptic Oriental Orthodox Church centered in Egypt is still addressed by this ancient title which precedes the Roman one.

How does this early pope’s view of universal jurisdiction compare to the Catholic Church’s teachings on papal authority today? In Christus Dominus, the Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church promulgated by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965 during the Second Vatican Council, Section II of the Preface states

“In this Church of Christ the Roman pontiff, as the successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the feeding of His sheep and lambs, enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal authority over the care of souls by divine institution.”

This is understood as a

“primacy of ordinary power over all churches.”

Section II of Christus Dominus, titled “Bishops and the Apostolic See”, describes the Pope as

“exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church.”

These words differ markedly from those of Pope St. Gregory some thirteen centuries earlier who was so cautious not to take to himself an honorific title he believed would elevate the Papacy far above the other Sees.

The Roman Catholic Church today still asserts the Papacy’s universal and immediate jurisdiction over all Christians. Part I, Section 2, Chapter 3, Article 9, Paragraph 4, Section I of the 1997 Second Edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that

“The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

This is the very antithesis of the episcopal collegiate conciliarity which is a key part of the ancient Tradition which administered and held together the Sees of the early Church. As these words show, the Catholic Church today teaches that the Bishop of Rome, not Christ, is the

“perpetual source and foundation of the unity”

of the Church itself, both for the bishops and “the whole company of the faithful.” Unsurprisingly, those Catholics who believe such a legalistically defined and power-based concept of universal papal jurisdiction and power over the Church are likely to ask,

“If Orthodox reject papal claims to universal jurisdiction, what could possibly keep their Church together?”

The Orthodox answer is one of the most beautiful examples of our faith. The Church is united not by one man but by:

“. . . the act of communion in the sacraments. The Orthodox theology of the Church is above all else a theology of communion. Each local Church is constituted by the congregation of the faithful, gathered round their bishop and celebrating the Eucharist; the Church universal is constituted by the communion of the heads of the local Churches, the bishops, with one another.”

Rather than a Pope externally maintaining the unity of the Church through his “supreme and universal power” over all believers, the Orthodox emphasize the Church’s catholicity, its wholeness, at a local level all over the world. Wherever you have “the faithful gathered round their bishop celebrating the Eucharist” you have the Orthodox faith, and the Church’s pastors, its bishops, “in common with one another” exercise local responsibility for maintaining it alongside the faithful laity. Thus, to the Orthodox believer, one’s bishop is not the distant administrator that he commonly is to the vast majority of Roman Catholics, but a pastor, a spiritual advisor, even, in small enough dioceses, a beloved family friend. Because dioceses are smaller in size, many Orthodox bishops are able to fulfill the role most commonly given to the parish pastor in Catholicism.

The internal strength, continuity, and timelessness of the Orthodox Church is so because unlike in Roman Catholicism where the Church’s liturgical life, spiritual health, and overall dogma depend heavily on arbitrary inclination and can, by canon law and practice, be changed at will by a Supreme Pontiff who maintains unity from without, in Orthodoxy

“unity is created from within by the celebration of the Eucharist.”

We do not see the need (or the orthodoxy) in vesting one single See, one prelate as ‘Supreme Pontiff’ to maintain the Church from without. Indeed, if one examines the state of the Catholic Church today, one sees liturgical chaos in more liberal parishes and often a reactionary (rather than an organic) conservatism in traditionalist ones which has produced sedevacantists, certain fringe members of the SSPX, etc. Where is the unity of faith Rome always championed?

Sadly, many Catholics are aware that the historic unity of their faith is gone. Traditional Catholics will be the first to admit that the Roman Church today is far less orthodox than it was in 1054 or 1439. Examine its worship: there is no longer unity in the inner liturgical life of the Church. In one parish you have traditionalists clinging to the Latin Tridentine Mass, the current Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite, while in most, you have the much more informal services in the Novus Ordo style that are a juxtaposition of the Roman liturgical rite (spoken, no longer sung,) and vernacular, mostly Protestant or post-Vatican II hymns with diverse instrumental accompaniment, including trumpets and string instruments.

While Rome (and the Protestant churches which evolved out of and in reaction to the early modern papacy) defines the Church in an invariably legalistic and rational framework, harking back to Augustinian juridical theory and Scholasticism, Orthodoxy sees the Church as the living and mystically united Body of Christ carried on through the treasured deposit of a living Holy Tradition. Fidelity to this core has enabled her to defend the faith from within the context of a dynamic fidelity to this Tradition, which means that we value adherence to the faith of the early Church and the maintenance of collegiate conciliarity as the framework for Church unity. We believe this is the surest ways to carry this living Faith into modernity. While we maintain koinonia from within, and see the Catholic Church as the faithful everywhere in faithful communion with their bishops, including those living among us and those faithfully departed who sleep in Christ, we are internally accountable for defending and living the Faith – bishops to each other, priests to bishops, laypersons to father confessors and spiritual mothers, and so on. This is the very antithesis of the top-down hyper-centralized Catholic administrative approach to maintaining communion which sets one man, the Pope, as the source and symbol of the faith’s unity.

In his April 10, 2009 Ancient Faith Radio podcast interview with Fr. Andrew Jarmus, the director of OCA Communications, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah aptly described the less-coercive nature of Orthodoxy when he said that

“in the Church there is absolutely no room for obedience as power. There is no room for coercion in the Church, there’s no room for subjection in the Church, there’s no room for submission, other than to the will of God Himself.”

There has never been anything corresponding to the Inquisition in the Christian East, and punishment for heresy during the Byzantine and Russian empires generally involved excommunication and a fine, sometimes exile, and only rarely incarceration.

Having been raised in the Catholic faith since my birth, I can attest that the Orthodox Tradition is not only very much complete, but that the Roman Catholic Church’s more legalist focus, manifested, for example, in its scholastic declarations on the process of transubstantiation, has major limitations. The view of the Eucharist as a ‘Divine Mystery’ does not hold up to logical Aristotelian formulae, so in the thirteenth century influenced by Thomistic thought the Roman Church dogmatized ‘transubstantiation’. This is the philosophical formula that the elements in the consecration are materially changed to flesh and blood and only the ‘accidentals’ of bread and wine, that is, their outward appearance, remain visible.

From the Orthodox perspective, we do not see the purpose in attempting to rationalize what the faithful have from time immemorial received reverently as a divine mystery. In the Divine Liturgy we affirm that we believe the bread and wine are changed in a divine Mystery at the Epiclesis “by the power of the Holy Spirit” into “the most precious Body and Blood of Christ.” In the opening words of our communion prayer, we say:

“I believe, O Lord, and I confess that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. And I believe that this is truly thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly thine own precious Blood. . .”

We do not see the need to expostulate, as Thomas Aquinas did, that in the changing of the bread and wine into Body and Blood, the substance is materially altered, hence the Latin term transsubstantiatio. This seems to philosophize and rationalize what the Church has understood for centuries to be a holy, awe-inspiring, and incomprehensible Mystery. Likewise, the Orthodox Church has never dogmatized a view on purgatory, but has always taught that souls require some form of purification if they are to enter into the presence of God in the next world (Revelation 21:27). Rome’s dogmatization of purgatory is a later development foreign to the beliefs of the early Christians.

Because I was always told that transubstantiation is the exact moment in the Mass when, after genuflecting before the Holy Gifts, the priest by the Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, my experience of the Mystery that occurs at the Epiclesis was never so much as an incomprehensible holy transformation as it was a kind of already defined, almost scientifically precise thing, of whose essence and mystical power I was actually quite ignorant. The Orthodox emphasis on the change that takes place at the Eucharist by the Holy Spirit’s mysterious transformative power, or metousiosis, while not really differing theologically from the Catholic definition of transubstantiation, allows for the preservation of a strong degree of heightened anticipation, awareness, and sense of wonder among the laity at the consecration.

Rather than trying to rationalize and explain it as Thomas Aquinas and others did, we keep it as a Holy Mystery. St. Germanus, aforementioned eighth century Patriarch of Constantinople, gives the following detailed description of the significance of the symbols and movements during the Epiclesis of the Eastern liturgy in his Ecclesiastical History and Mystical Contemplation. After declaring

“to the God and Father the mysteries of Christ’s incarnation, His ineffable and glorious birth from the holy Virgin, His dwelling and life in the world. . . His holy resurrection from the dead on the third day, His ascension into heaven. . . His second and future glorious coming. . . ”,

the priest then silently

“. . . expounds upon the unbegotten God, that is the Father, and on the womb which bore the Son before the morning star and before the ages, as it is written: “Out of the womb before the morning star have I begotten you” (Psalm 109:3). The priest asks God to accomplish and bring about the mystery of His son—that is, that the bread and wine be changed into the body and blood of Christ. . . then the Holy Spirit, invisibly present by the good will and volition of the Father, demonstrates the divine operation, and, by the hand of the priest, testifies, completes, and changes the holy gifts which are set forth into the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, Who says: “For their sake I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified (John 17:19), so that “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (John 6:56).”

St. Germanus describes the epiclesis as a profoundly transcendent moment, but nevertheless a mystery of inexplicable power and grace, in which the clergy and the people together become

“eye-witnesses of the mysteries of God, partakers of eternal life, and sharers of the divine nature. . . . the priest’s performing the divine mystery while bowing down manifests that he converses invisibly with the only God, for he sees divine illumination, he is made radiant by the brightness of the glory of the face of God.”

This deeply mysterious understanding of the changing of the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ reflects Orthodoxy’s spiritual richness, manifested in the poetic beauty and transcendence of the wording of the Liturgy.

Papal Infallibility: A distortional innovation and an affront to the conciliarity of the Church.

For years I have endeavored to understand, yet never been able to truly understand or accept, one of the most important theological aspects of Roman Catholicism, the jurisdictional and administrative primacy of the Papacy. This core belief in doctrine separates this Church from every other, so thus it cannot be but essential to what it means to truly be a Roman Catholic in belief. I tried many, many times to understand or rationalize the idea of papal supremacy, then for a time I resigned myself to thinking “who am I to question such a teaching of the Church?”, but even then I felt that I was simply blindly accepting something that I didn’t really believe.

I never was able to believe or accept the 1870 ruling of the First Vatican Council that declared the doctrine of papal infallibility ex cathedra. Neither my pastor nor any priest or religious education teacher ever instructed me or any of my fellow first communicants or confirmation candidates in the importance or meaning of this most important decree. Yet this text is a core part of the Roman Magisterium’s authoritative doctrinal teachings. I will include the specific paragraph in question that is, in summary, the chief obstacle to a restoration of communion between the Roman Catholic Church and every other Christian denomination:

In the concluding paragraph of Session Four, chapter 4 of the First Vatican Council, issued on July 18, 1870, the senior archbishops and papal legates in the Vatican proclaim that they

“. . . teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, on the exercise of his office, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by divine assistance, infallibility. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not by consent of the Church, irreformable. So, then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition, let him be anathema.”

I was deeply troubled when I read these words for the first time. Most Roman Catholics my age have never read them, my relatives and family members who consider themselves Catholics have not read them. Yet here the Church anathematizes all who do not believe in the “divinely revealed dogma” of papal infallibility. Anathematization in the Roman Catholic Church means that the Church declares excommunication and sanction against the individual being anathematized, and that offender, knowingly or unknowingly, is outside the grace and protection of the Church. During the medieval period anathemas were declared which removed all ecclesiastical and legal protections from suspected heretics, and someone so anathematized could be seized at will and persecuted, with no intervention by the Church.

As a student of history, I never understood why the Church held numerous councils before 1870, including those after the Great Schism such as the 1215 Fourth Lateran Council and the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century and others. If before 1870 the Church believed that popes uniquely possessed the authority to pronounce unerring declarations on questions of faith and dogma, why did the Church hold so many councils of bishops who worked with the Pope in deciding these questions? The Church maintains that papal infallibility existed before 1870, and that it was simply defined explicitly for the first time in the First Vatican Council. Never mind that such a pronouncement is an upending of the inner Tradition of the Catholic Church, which never believed infallibility as it was revealed in 1870, let us examine the situation in 1870.

What happened when Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-78) and the First Vatican Council pronounced the dogma of papal infallibility? Hundreds of thousands of faithful Catholics, who could not believe that such a doctrine could suddenly come into the Church as revealed dogma over eighteen centuries after the Church began at Pentecost, separated from the Church. Why would they do this if the Church had always believed and understood papal infallibility throughout its history? If the Church had always believed and taught the doctrine, why did its pronouncement cause so many faithful Catholics to leave the Church and become part of what are today known as the ‘Old Catholic’ churches?

The First Vatican Council receives no mention in most American students’ confirmation preparations. Many local parish churches entirely overlook this decree and its immense doctrinal significance in the Roman Catholic faith. Why is this? Do most Roman Catholic pastors in America not believe it—or do they themselves not fully understand it or believe it to be understandable by the laity? At best, the declaration of papal infallibility was profoundly unnecessary, since the two times it has been employed by popes, both relating to questions of the Virgin Mary’s status and position, the Church theologians were in agreement about the issues before the pope ruled on them ex cathedra.

At worst, however, papal infallibility is a gross breach of Church Tradition. For a Vatican council of only Roman Catholic clergy to declare, after centuries of never venturing to do so, after centuries of never asking to convene an ecumenical council on the matter, that the pope possesses full “divinely revealed” authority in certain instances, and thus has no need of consulting other bishops strikes me as both arrogant and, of course, unorthodox. That the papacy should take this view of its own authority, after centuries of Roman pontiffs who often ruled as corrupt princes rather than as exemplary churchmen, is especially troubling. I believe that the Orthodox understanding of infallibility makes much more sense. Christ is “the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23) and the Orthodox Church, as

“the pillar and the ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15)

is infallible

“but there is no such thing as personal infallibility.”

Orthodox Spirituality: The centrality of the Holy Spirit’s illuminating presence in our lives and the Church’s insistence that knowledge of God and aspiration to Theosis require transformative Philanthropia and a willing sacrifice of self.

“To Know God”: The Holy Spirit within us, Christ alive in the Church today, and living the Sign of the Cross.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but you know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but you see me: because I live, you shall live also. In that day ye shall know, that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” – John 14:15-20

These beautiful words contain Jesus’ promise to His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit from the Father, “another Comforter” to abide with them—and with all the faithful!—forever. The first verses are familiar to many as Elizabethan composer Thomas Tallis’ magnificent “If Ye Love Me” choral composition. I urge you to wonder at their meaning: Christ did not say that the Spirit would dwell “near” us or “by” us, but that “he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” It is by the grace of the Holy Spirit that in Christ we “shall live also.” Revealing the Trinity, Jesus tells us that by the Holy Spirit,

“ye shall know that I am in my Father. . . and I in you.”

What an extraordinary promise, that God in the third Person of the Holy Trinity will dwell with us and abide in us to the end of time!

Stirring testimonies left to us by so many of the saints bear witness of their profound awareness of Christ’s active presence in His Church on earth and the Spirit’s abiding presence in the hearts of the faithful. From St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, and many others among the early Fathers, to Seraphim of Sarov, John of Kronstadt, and Silouan of the Holy Mountain, all the saints reaffirm that the Holy Spirit and Christ Himself are truly at work among us. One of the most beautiful passages about the Spirit left by St. Seraphim comes to mind when he describes the Holy Spirit as a fire,

“warming and igniting the heart and inward parts. So, if we feel coldness in our hearts, which is from the devil (for the devil is cold), then let us call the Lord: He, in coming, will warm our heart with perfect love, not only towards Himself, but to our neighbors as well. And the coldness of the despiser of good will run from the face of His warmth.”

From these words rings forth the centrality of the third Person of the Holy Trinity in Orthodox spirituality. Just as the Spirit is an active presence upon which the faithful are urged to call, Christ Himself is always present in the Church, which St John of Kronstadt equates as

“one and the same with the Lord—His Body, of His flesh and His bones. The Church is the living vine, nourished by Him and growing in Him.”

When St. John wrote these words, he was reminding us that Christ is not only supporting the Church from heaven as His “living vine” on earth, but that Christ is truly alive in the Church, as much as His flesh and bones are of Him! By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Church continues to grow in Him here on earth.

St. John continues by urging us to think on the Church not as a man-made institution or earthly thing, for in truth it is neither, but to think on it together with

“the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father and Holy Spirit.”

While the Church on earth is partially in the care of wise yet fallible men, it is above all in the loving care of Christ, its creator and eternal head. The late Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) of venerable memory spent the closing years of his life at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington. Father Valery Shemchuk once told me that His Grace often said that God made creation itself so that there might someday be a Church. In saying this, Bishop Basil was underlining not only the timeless and divinely preordained mission of the Church, but that the very purpose of man’s existence is to draw closer to God in the life of the Church.

Similarly, Bishop Kallistos observes that “Orthodox theology never treats the earthly aspect of the Church in isolation, but thinks always of the Church in Christ and the Holy Spirit. All Orthodox thinking about the Church starts with the special relationship which exists between the Church and God.” By this “special relationship”, through participation in the inner life of the Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may come not only to believe in God, but even to know Him. As St. Silouan observes,

“Enlightened by baptism, people believe in God. But there are some who even know Him. To believe in God is good, but it is more blessed to know God.”

How does the venerable elder describe those who “have come to know God by the Holy Spirit”? They “stretch upward day and night, insatiable, to the living God, for the love of God is very sweet.” May we all aspire to this intimate knowledge of the love of God in our souls, “stretching upward” to touch the very heavens.

One of the most profoundly simple ways to invite God into our hearts is to make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves. You will notice when you enter an Orthodox church that people make the Sign of the Cross quite frequently, often accompanied by a bow. Worshipers cross themselves during the Liturgy whenever the doxology is invoked, which is quite often in comparison to Western Christian services, they cross themselves when praying before icons, and they cross themselves in their own private devotions, in morning and evening worship. There is a particular symbolic beauty to the Orthodox method, in terms of how it is done physically, which you should find out for yourself. I have seen many old men and women at church perform the most beautiful crossings upon themselves, with faith shining in their eyes, and I have witnessed the loving kindness with which my archbishop, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, greets individual members of the congregation after the Divine Liturgy, holding out the gold cross for people to kiss. If you catch him later for a blessing, he makes the Sign with his right hand over your cupped hands in the same ancient way Our Savior holds His own right hand in benediction in every icon.

Certainly, the Sign of the Cross is very important, for it is the physical Symbol of the Christian faith. Yet it occurred to me recently that the perfect Sign of the Cross is not actually a precisely done hand gesture or movement at all. As Christians, the Sign is something much more meaningful than a physical motion with our right hand. We are called to make the Sign of the Cross each day within our hearts, as a quiet commitment in all that we do, asking that the Holy Spirit illumine every aspect of our lives. Truly, by living in imitation of Christ’s loving example, we live the Sign, we live the Cross. This is by no means easy—indeed it is a great challenge—but it is the most beautiful, the most fulfilling one ever offered to mankind.

Just as we are challenged to live the Sign as much as we find comfort in performing it over ourselves, implicit in the very word “Orthodox” is not only an obligation to observe the many traditions of the Church that constitute “right belief”, but to live in a spirit of “right glory” toward one’s fellow man made in the image of God. Thus, Orthodoxy in its truest form is a resounding call to work toward holistic social justice which embraces and strives to heal and foster the whole of the human person, body, mind, soul and spirit. It is a call to live in philanthropia, a profound love for mankind.

As Bishop Kallistos reminds us from the words of 1 John 4-20,

“Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. A person can love his neighbor as himself only if he loves God above all; and a person cannot love God if he does not love his fellow humans. . . only if he loves his fellow neighbor can a person be deified.”

Thus, outside of philanthropia, there is no possible way we can become like unto God through divinization. Because humans are “made in the image of the divine Trinity”, we can only realize “the divine likeness” if we

“live a common life such as the Blessed Trinity lives: as the three persons of the Godhead ‘dwell’ in one another, so we must ‘dwell’ in our fellow humans, living not for ourselves alone, but in and for others. . . Such is the true nature of theosis.”

As St. Silouan observes,

“Blessed is the soul that loves her brother, for our brother is our life. The Spirit of the Lord lives manifest within her, giving peace and gladness.”

It is this inner peace which comes from exercising the Church’s calling to the highest form of love: agape, or love of the image of God in every person.

“That you be saints”: The Church’s invitation to holiness, communion in self-sacrifice and the life-long process of Deification through love of God and love of mankind.

“Seek God daily. But seek Him in your heart, not outside it. And when you find Him, stand with fear and trembling, like the Cherubim and Seraphim, for your heart has become a throne of God.” – St. Nectarius of Aegina (1846-1920).

“Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – St. Matthew 5:48.

In this journey toward divinization, the Church’s central role cannot be overemphasized. Because so much of Orthodox spirituality has to do with worshiping in the “inner Tradition” of the Liturgy, the Church’s services and the prayers taken from it really are direct aids in the evolution toward theosis. At the same time, the process of deification requires a Christian to lead a life of Christian action. It is here where Orthodoxy is so deeply inspiring to me: the Church cleaves to its “inner Tradition”, which holds fast and remains unchanged, emphasizing a positive invitation rather than a negative command, over and over again, to listen and act based on the words of Our Lord recorded in Luke 9:23:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

What is this daily cross in modern times? Where does it appear? I believe it is to be found in a unique place in each person’s soul, oftentimes with different crosses appearing over the course of our lifetimes. These crosses constitute different sacrifices, different struggles for different people. For some, the cross may be poverty, physical or spiritual, and its accompanying fear, depression, and tendency toward despondency, and the challenge is to seek God with an open, loving heart with all one’s strength. For others, the cross may be material wealth, which can often become a great spiritual poverty, and the challenge is to come to God with a humble heart with all one’s strength and love the poor. For others still, the cross might be healing (or in some cases, ending) a difficult or harmful relationship, dealing with estranged family members, enduring a personal tragedy, or any other deeply painful circumstances which unnerve our inmost being and cut to the core of who we are. It is these later struggles which can often impair our relationship with God. For a smaller group within the Orthodox Church, there is the challenge to embrace asceticism and monastic life as a monk or nun or a religious vocation as a priest or deacon. For all of these crosses, the challenge is always to try, through our prayerful relationship with God, to remain open to the grace of the Holy Spirit,

“the Paraclete, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. . .”

To follow in the path of Jesus and live the Christian life is certainly not easy, especially in a contemporary society that constantly challenges core elements of the faith. His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah has said that what we do in church on Sunday counts for only five percent of actually being Orthodox. Actually living the faith requires that one’s beliefs, which one professes in church, be put into meaningful and corresponding action outside in the world. His Beatitude observed in his April 10, 2009 podcast interview on Ancient Faith Radio with Fr. Andrew Jarmus that this impetus to right action corresponds inexorably to a selfless love of one’s fellow man:

“. . . In order to be Christians we need to take up the daily cross of self denial, which really consists of being able to put our own opinions and ideas into perspective, and to look and see what is the greater good of the other. How can I serve the other, how can I love the other? How can I deny myself so that I can live in communion and love with the other, so that my ego no longer becomes the main criterion of my decisions, my own action, but rather, first and foremost, the will of God.”

The Orthodox believe that in every sacrifice or trial we undertake in pious and heartfelt rendering to God, when we do these things we are ever conscious that we are doing them in remembrance of Christ’s redeeming salvation and His promise to all of eternal life, that ever-present sign of God’s enduring love for His creation. Thus, the “belief” in Orthodoxy and the “action” living the Faith requires are not separate parts of a compartmentalized, cordoned faith, but mutually symbiotic, reinforcing elements that both serve to strengthen, enrich, and enliven one’s faith. This thinking is one of the strongest attractions the Orthodox way holds for me.

This denial of self might seem especially difficult to college students. It is hard in many ways to be a religiously observant college student today; many devout Christian, Jewish, and Muslim students will tell you that living out their faith involves not only positive loving service and action in the spirit of God, but answering many of their secular colleagues’ often hostile questions: “Why are you praying?” “Why are you doing that?”, or, more often, “Why don’t you do that?” Many religious students will find that living their faith requires them to abstain from much of what their less observant (or non-religious) friends consider to be “integral parts” of the contemporary college experience: heavy drinking, recreational drug use, the “hookup” culture of casual or anonymous sex, etc.

Indulgence in all these things—sex, drugs, and alcohol, as they are so succinctly put—are attractive to many college students. A part of why I am writing this is to be a witness, in what small way that I can, to share with whoever is reading this that there is another path you can take, another path open to you outside of what everybody seems to be doing. Many students feel a heavy pressure to “just do it” whether the ‘it’ in question is a marijuana joint, binge drinking, hard drugs, or becoming physically involved with someone they literally just met. The last ‘it’ in particular has caused many of my friends, both male and female students, to feel used, hurt, and confused. These instances of misuse of your or someone else’s body are events in time that have happened in every generation and every culture throughout history. What is so hard for a lot of young students today is to avoid the line of thinking which insistently proclaims ‘everyone is doing it.’ This peer pressure is a powerful argument for many students struggling with poor self-image or with low confidence entering college, and especially those facing different emotional issues or family circumstances.

When Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in the first decades of Christianity’s very presence in the world, he offered them a clarion call to holiness—not absolute perfection, for saints are not God, but a path toward holiness, toward perfection. His words then are as relevant, and as actionable, today as they were when he first recorded them:

“This is the will of God: that you be saints.” (1 Thessalonians 4:5.)

The apostles frequently referred to the first Christians as ‘saints’, but what did this term mean to them? One such saint is not the same person as the Virgin Mary, who was so without corruption or sin that God became incarnate through her, by her acceptance and free choice to bear the Theanthropos, the God-Man Jesus Christ. A saint, like all of us, starts off ‘fallen’ or separated from the perfect form of living to which we are all called. What makes the saints of the Church so remarkable is their ability to open themselves, truly open themselves in all aspects of their life, to the working of the Holy Spirit.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons reaffirms St. Paul’s urging, reminding us that

“The glory of God is the perfection of the creature.”

Since man is the summit of His creation, made by Him in His image, and granted the promise of eternal life through God the Son, think of this challenge to perfection as an ongoing process rather than an intrinsic end. Salvation is not some thing that just happens, but an ever-evolving, ever-revealing transformation in which we are called to attain the highest and truest form of personhood by living our faith in Jesus Christ. Father Anthony M. Coniaris, a prolific Orthodox writer and priest emeritus of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America reminds us that

“Salvation is not static but dynamic. It is not a completed state, a state of having arrived, but a constant state of moving toward, becoming like Christ, toward receiving the fullness of God’s light.”

Thus, salvation from the Orthodox perspective can best be described as a constant journey toward Christ, a road which meets with many bumps and challenges along the way. God is the engineer who laid the foundation for this road, Who planted that seed in all of our souls, and the Church is the engineer who shapes, designs and helps maintain the road, and its saints the best travelers.
Many look at the lives of the saints and get overwhelmed or discouraged, thinking “they were perfect!”, and feel unworthy of emulating their path, as though they could not possibly move from where they are at present to even remotely near a saint’s level of holiness. At other times it might seem as though such a sanctified life is not possible to live in this day and age, with young people feeling so much pressure to “just do it.” This can be very discouraging.

Yet part of the beauty of living an authentic Christian life is not being sinless, for we all sin, even the saints, but striving for imitation of Christ, for imitation of godly living and of wholesome love for the other and of care for one’s soul. Michelangelo, that genius among geniuses who painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling laying on his back at the command of a pope, hands down a gauntlet, not for us to seek to imitate his genius or his specific work, for that can never be equaled or surpassed. Rather, he challenges us to challenge ourselves:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

Orthodox prayer encourages and facilitates the development of an individual sense of consciousness of one’s sins and failings, but not for the purpose of dwelling negatively on one’s failings, but focusing positively on one’s free choices to live “in the light”. One of the most important prayers in personal devotion is the “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This prayer has particular importance in Orthodox monastic life, specifically in the eremitic hesychasm pursued by many monks on Mount Athos, the monastic center that can be regarded as a spiritual capital of Orthodoxy. In the Jesus Prayer we are reminded of the importance of St. Paul’s words when he urges us to “not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). Responding to the call to such “pleasing and perfect” life is a deeply spiritual undertaking, very much connected to the process of theosis, which Bishop Kallistos reminds us is “a social work” originating in the heart as well as the mind, and necessitating the will of both.

Not something to be complainingly undertaken as a burdensome obligation, this call to holiness is one of the crowning jewels of the Orthodox faith. Orthodoxy is an invitation to return to the fullness of God’s love, to restore the intended closeness of the relationship between God and man. As St. Basil the Great writes, “The design of our God and Savior in regard to mankind is a calling back from the Fall and a return to a familiar friendship with God from the alienation brought on by disobedience. This is the reason for Christ’s sojourning in the flesh, for the model of His Gospel actions, the suffering, the Cross, the tomb, the Resurrection. That man, who is being saved through his imitation of Christ, might receive that old adoption as son.”

This view of salvation is profoundly relationship-based, intimately connecting each person’s sanctification to how Christ-like she or he is, how meek, humble, and loving she or he is toward all people. When in the Litany of Fervent Supplication in the Divine Liturgy the Church prays for

“patriarchs, priests, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers”,

one sees the centrality of human relationships to the Orthodox perspective. We are being saved together; all of us a part of our church community living in communion with each other and with the living Body of Christ around the world. When during the Anaphora the priest offers the Eucharist

“for those who have fallen asleep in the faith; ancestors, fathers, mothers, patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, martyrs, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in flesh”,

one sees that this communion, and the prayerful and loving relationships such communion entails, extends beyond the grave to include those “fallen asleep” in Christ, who we believe worship invisibly with us before the altar.

When we strive to become like God, ultimately one with Him as we contemplate His glory and the joys of Christ’s saving triumph over Death, we begin to understand the key to the ideal Christian life, which is salvation itself. Writing in the year 270, St. Basil the Great compared salvation to ascending a ladder, with one end touching the ground of the earth and the other rising to the heavens: What is necessary for

“those being introduced to the virtuous life”,

the Christian path to salvation, is that they “should put their feet on the first steps, and from there mount ever to the next, until at last they have ascended by degrees to such heights as are attainable by human nature.”

St. Basil’s expression of salvation is the antithesis of the evangelical concept rooted in “five-point Calvinism” that an elect person can be saved by an emotionally overpowering “born again” experience in which he or she is absolutely “saved” the moment they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. This doctrine, taught as the last point, “Perseverance of the Saints” in classic “T.U.L.I.P.” Calvinist thought, ignores and denies each person’s God-given free will to choose to sin or fall away. Faith in Christ as the Savior and obedience to the teachings of the Church are fundamentally important to the Orthodox view of salvation, but what faith is not is an unshakable certainty in a static moment of salvation which one receives in an instance. Faith is not surety in a gift of salvation from God granted to some (but not all) in a set moment in time from which the elect can never depart or fall short, but an invitation to a process of gradual transformation as one strives to dedicate one’s life to Christ through constant renewal by the Holy Spirit.

By describing salvation as a slow ascent of ladder steps which one takes in degrees, St. Basil draws attention to the crucial role that one’s spiritual father or mother plays in the life of every Orthodox believer. By meeting regularly with one’s spiritual parents, especially a priest who can administer confession, one intimately learns of ways to recover and return again to the path of ascent, the gradual transformation in faith. As Bishop Kallistos once answered an evangelical Christian he met on a train who pointedly asked him, “Are you saved?”, “I trust that by God’s grace I am being saved!”

For the Orthodox, the central axiom of our life in Christ is making Him the core of our existence. In his remarks at the assembly of the Anglican Church in North America in June 2009, Metropolitan Jonah insisted that Christians must change their mindset, their approach to spirituality, so that we acknowledge that:

“. . . It is only Jesus Christ that matters. And that faith is the core of our identity, not only our relationship with God but with one another. It’s a unity that totally transcends our particularity. But in and through that unity, in and through that communion, with Christ, and with one another, by the Holy Spirit, we find our true and authentic personhood. It’s only by actualizing that relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit with one another that we truly become persons in relation to one another, in that communion of love, and that love which is not a human emotion, but that love which is the very grace of God that flows forth from our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit, embracing our neighbor, embracing our enemies, embracing all of our name, everyone. And it’s only by this unity, this transcendence of all that would keep us imprisoned in our heads, imprisoned in our emotions, imprisoned in the particularities of our own egocentric little worlds, it’s only by the transcendence of all of that, to live according to this new identity in Christ, in absolute union and communion of love with one another, that we actualize the Church..”

His Beatitude’s speech is nothing less than a rallying cry for Christians everywhere to engage with the central questions of Christianity (“Do I love God with all my heart? Do I love my spouse, my neighbor, the poor woman, or my enemy, as if he or she were Christ?”) on a much deeper level than what society today asks of us or what many Christian denominations instill or expect. Communion in Orthodoxy is certainly communion of belief, sharing the same faith, partaking of the Eucharist together, but it must also be a communion of joined souls. The Church calls us to a communion of people coming together in full cooperation with the Holy Spirit in love, fellowship, and true transcendence of self-centeredness and self-importance.

This is not a liberal idea or a conservative idea. This is the very process of theosis, the very core of our divinization. Without this core aspect, without people opening themselves, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to

“that love which is the very grace of God that flows forth from our hearts”,

as Metropolitan Jonah puts it, the Church remains divided in a dichotomy between the Place, that is, the location for worship and spiritual transcendence, and the Idea, the unrealized community of hearts and souls living and acting together in Christ. It is the joining of Place and Idea in the lives of the Orthodox faithful which offers a full, living, dynamic synergy between that timeless, beautiful transcendence found in Orthodox worship, and the transcendence found in what Metropolitan Jonah calls actualizing the Church—living the Gospel in heart, body, and spirit. By this actualization, which is impossible without our cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we are divinized, we become as St. Peter exhorts us,

“partakers of the divine nature”.

Importantly, since theosis “according to the likeness of the Trinity involves a common life, it is only within the fellowship of the universal Church that this common life of coinherence can be properly realized.” This fellowship should be seen as inclusive rather than exclusive, since its greatest expression in the life of the Church is in the communion of the faithful in the Eucharist. Orthodoxy maintains that since

“Church and sacraments are the means appointed by God whereby we may acquire the sanctifying Spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness”

to which we aspire , participation in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist should be a joy for one’s heart and soul.

Final Observations: Eastern-rite Catholicism as a bridge between two Church Traditions, hopes for restoration of communion between Orthodox and Catholic, and seeing the universal Church as a place of “living Tradition” where mankind is fulfilled above all in the life of the Liturgy.

“If a man thinks highly of his brother, deeming that the Lord loves him—and especially if he believes that the Holy Spirit dwells in his soul—that man is near to the love of God.”
-St. Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938).

There was a time over a year ago when I was still nominally a Roman Catholic, but had been immersing myself in the life of the Orthodox Church at St. Nicholas Cathedral, when my soul was in a state of transformation and transition. I longed for a solution to a question that came to me with increasing frequency: how could I continue participating in the fullness of Eastern liturgical and spiritual life and remain within Catholicism? Was this possible? Would I attend two churches on Sundays?

I briefly considered Eastern-rite Catholicism as a kind of bridge. It would have mollified my family, since they would naturally be saddened by my conversion to Orthodoxy, they would think that I was “giving up” the faith in which they had raised me, the faith tradition their families had practiced and believed for generations.

I repeatedly emphasized that Eastern spiritual and liturgical life added so much to, rather than took away, any sense of my catholicity, but I can of course understand their sadness and surprise. Initially Eastern Catholicism seemed ideal: I could worship in the Orthodox liturgical form and have access to the incredibly rich Eastern spirituality which Western Catholicism in the Roman rite lacked, while still honoring the Pope in the litany.

Eventually I realized I could not fully be a part of the Orthodox spiritual and liturgical life I had so come to love while remaining outside the Orthodox Church that had uniquely preserved it all these centuries. Likewise, I could not remain in a Church that, however much autonomy it was now recently allowing its Eastern members, had often suppressed their liturgical and spiritual life in the past. In the Catholic Church today, its Western and Eastern members still have to adhere to certain papal innovations in order for Rome to deem them fully Catholic and

“within the See of Peter”.

In the life of the Orthodox Church, most clearly in the Great Litany of the Divine Liturgy, we pray for people who harm us, even those who are our enemies – we pray, as do Eastern-rite Catholics,

“for those who love us and those who hate us”.

Saint Silouan reminds us that

“The Lord wants us to love our fellow-man; and if you reflect that the Lord loves him, that is a sign of the Lord’s love in you. And if you consider how greatly the Lord loves His creature, and you yourself have compassion on all creation, and love your enemies, counting yourself the vilest of men, this is a sign of the abundant grace of the Holy Spirit in you.”

Thus, when we pray in the Liturgy, and on our own in our daily prayers, if we can find it in our heart to pray for our enemies, to genuinely love them, and to recognize the presence of God in them, we are on the path to holiness and divinization, becoming like unto God Himself. Much more easily, we should feel this love for our brothers, for those who support us and love us, and for all those who we befriend and hold dear to us, including those of other faiths.

The unified pre-schism Church prayed for heretics like Arius to repent and come back to the fold. Why then should we not pray in true love and charity for Roman and Eastern-rite Catholics, who are not our enemies but brethren from whom we are currently and lamentably divided? While we do not yet pray for the Pope by name in the Litany, as we did for centuries before the schism, we pray in our opening Great Litany as we have for centuries

“for the welfare of the holy churches of God and for the union of all”.

Catholics are not only not our enemies, but they are our friends and neighbors and often in the U.S. (as in my own case) they are beloved family members with whom we are hoping very much to restore communion!

Eastern-rite Catholics today are in a more comfortable position within Catholicism than they were before the late Pope John Paul II issued his Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome in 1990. The Pope’s 1995 apostolic letter Orientale Lumen (“Light of the East”) praised the unique spiritual and liturgical gifts which the many Eastern-rite Churches in communion with Rome added to the faith, and urged the Eastern Churches to restore many of their recognizably Orthodox liturgical and spiritual traditions which had often disappeared or were dying out due to forced or inadvertent “latinizations”.

Such changes included forbidding Eastern-rite Catholic priests to marry, introducing the practices of First Communion and Confirmation as separate sacraments given to children and teenagers apart from infant baptism, the Stations of the Cross and Eucharistic adoration, kneeling for parts of the liturgy, etc. Examples of the ‘Orthodox restorations’ in the wake of Orientale Lumen include the adoption by Eastern Catholic churches of the celebration of Presanctified liturgies during Lenten weekdays, the increasing ministering of infant baptism followed by immediate chrismation and partaking of the Eucharist, and other Orthodox practices lost or discontinued in many Eastern parishes over the years.

While it is a joy to see my Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters free at last to rediscover so much of their ancestral Eastern Orthodox liturgical and spiritual heritage, the 1990 Canon in particular has bewildered many Orthodox bishops and theologians. While encouraging the promotion of Eastern, essentially Orthodox orthopraxy, in many ways the Canon reaffirmed core aspects of papal orthodoxy. It requires Eastern-rite Catholics to accept in principle yet not teach in practice many Roman beliefs which the Orthodox consider heresies and treat as obstacles to a restoration of communion. The Canon stipulates that Eastern Catholics must submit to and acknowledge universal papal jurisdiction and above all supremacy and infallibility ex cathedra in order to be in communion with Rome, yet since Orientale Lumen and the introduction of the Canon, most Eastern parishes are today allowed to worship essentially as Orthodox Christians in their liturgical life. One of my Eastern Catholic friends who attends Georgetown University, Frank Miller, thus describes himself as an “Orthodox in union with Rome”.

As a result of this complicated history with Rome and persisting uncertainty as to the extent to which the recent ‘restoration’ of Orthodox practices in the Eastern Catholic eparchies will facilitate the renewal of these parishes’ historic liturgical and spiritual life after decades of alterations, the Orthodox look upon the situation of the Eastern Catholics with some caution. Rome historically compelled them to insert the Filioque in their recitation of the Creed, forbade the Eastern parishes from ordaining married priests, and many Roman Catholic bishops refused to allow the Eastern parishes to function autonomously within the Catholic communion but instead imposed various latinizations in their worship. Fr. Alexis Toth’s conversion to Orthodoxy a century ago, which brought many thousands of Carpatho-Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics into the fullness of the Orthodox faith of their ancestors, is an example of the often unstable position of many Eastern Catholics within the Catholic Church which historically did not allow them autonomy in their liturgical life.

We cannot help but wonder what would happen if we too quickly embraced communion with Rome. What would happen to the deposit of the Faith, and how would we address the important questions on how the unity of the Church is maintained? One of my friends Nathaniel Lewis, a catechumen due to be chrismated at Pascha, observed in a discussion with Frank Miller, the Eastern Catholic friend mentioned above, that in the past millennium out of communion,

“Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have developed fundamentally different diagnoses on how to fix the human condition and this affects practice.”

Most Roman Catholics remain completely unaware of the existence of Eastern-rite Catholics, and so they are unfamiliar with the core Eastern belief of theosis. As a result, in their soteriology Eastern Catholics have far more in common with the Orthodox than the Roman Catholics with whom they are in communion.

The Western and Eastern views of the human person, its purpose in this life, and its possible progression and destination in the next are profoundly distinct. The Augustinian view of original sin comes to mind—most Catholics today are horrified when they read the Thomistic scholars’ rationalist and legalistic interpretations of Augustine’s elucidations, which logically led to Calvinism’s heresies of Double Predestination, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, etc.

Calvinism is the inevitable rational conclusion to much of Augustinian thought, for both Calvin and Augustine believed in the essential evil and depravity of the human person, especially in the condition of ‘original sin’ before baptism.

Thus Augustine enunciated what became a widespread Roman Catholic popular tradition that unbaptized babies go to Limbo, a remote corner of Hell (seen as a physical place) where they never behold the ‘Beatific vision’ of God. What a monstrous God would condemn sinless infants to such a fate? Calvin took Augustine’s views further, teaching a God who allows no free will to follow Him but “Unconditional Election” for the pre-ordained righteous. While he saves a tiny minority, the God of Calvinism likewise predestines most people for hell-fire before their birth – this is Calvin’s theory of ‘Double Predestination’! This is likely part of the reason historically Calvinist countries have higher rates of atheism than surrounding states and lower rates of church attendance: how depressing to hold to belief in such a God!

In addition to different views of salvation, Orthodox and Catholics maintain very different beliefs on how the unity of the faith is and should be maintained. Thus, we are understandably hesitant to rush to a restoration of communion. Sadly, arrival at true reunion will continue to elude us if Rome persists in keeping the innovations of papal supremacy and infallibility in the way it currently practices and teaches these as dogmas. We know this schism was not meant to be, but until the Vatican alters its position, it must be so, for we cannot risk compromising the fullness of the Faith which we see Rome has so utterly compromised in the many latent protestantizations in parish life and among the attitudes of the Catholic laity especially in North America, and the long history of the latinization of the Eastern Churches.

How can we look upon the history of the Eastern Churches in union with Rome and think “this is a safe path for us to tread?”, much less the right one? While Rome has recently begun urging Eastern Catholics to guard and restore their sometimes eroded Orthodox inheritance, we look upon this shift with natural skepticism because it is Rome which for hundreds of years encouraged and sometimes compelled the various latinizations in the first place! These alterations caused undoubted harm to the life of the Eastern Christians living in union with the Holy See.

I very much hope that one day we can return to communion with Rome. The simplest way to move toward this goal which we all desire is not primarily through faith in the ongoing theological conferences between the hierarchs. While these talks have yielded promising discussions, especially with regard to the question of papal primacy on a universal level, they seldom impact the lives of the faithful or cause any of the bishops to ‘change’ their minds. Rather, the easiest and most natural way for East and West to grow closer is for ordinary faithful of the Roman and Orthodox Churches to introduce each other into the traditions of their Churches. We can grow closer together through greater understanding of who we are, what we believe, and what we can learn from the beautiful aspects of each other’s faith traditions.

Western Christians would greatly benefit spiritually from greater access to the Eastern Fathers and Orthodox beliefs in theosis and the potential divinization of the human person which are largely missing in the West. Similarly, many in the Christian East are unfamiliar with the great writings of the Western Fathers and the pre-schism Western saints, and the Western musical traditions of Gregorian and Ambrosian chant and evensong would be possible eventual additions to some Eastern churches.

Eastern Catholics should invite their Roman Catholic brethren to worship with them, and Orthodox should invite both Western and Eastern Catholics to the Liturgy. More ethnically-rooted Orthodox and Eastern Catholic parishes, while laudably preserving their unique heritages and showing greater hospitality and warmth to visitors in recent years, would do well to reach out more to the diverse local communities beyond their church walls. All of these things, done in a loving spirit with the humble and joyous hearts of servants of God, will do wonders to heal the spiritual schism, the rift of otherness which has been the greatest chasm between East and West over the centuries. As St Silouan reminds us, when are actualizing and living out the great invitation of the Gospel, Christ’s commandment to “love one another” as He loves us, then we can truly call ourselves Christians, a word which means “little Christs”:

“The man who knows the delight of the love of God—when the soul, warmed by grace, loves both God and her brother—knows in part that ‘the kingdom of God is within us.’”

It is this love which I hope will enable Orthodox and Catholics to genuinely learn more about each other. My immediate family members, most of my aunts and uncles, and my four grandparents all remain Catholic, so naturally I long for a restoration of the ancient and natural communion between our Churches. It is what Christ prayed for, that “they may be one” just as He and God the Father are one. Just as the Trinity contains three divine Persons, a restored Communion would include three Church Traditions: the Orthodox, Roman, and the Eastern Catholic, and just as the divine unity of God does not prevent the Trinity of three Persons, the oneness of a restored communion will not mean that the Orthodox are subsumed into the Roman Catholic fold, but at last in full communion with the ancient primus inter pares See of the early Church.

When communion is restored in the fullness of time, a monumental dream will have been realized as East and West will at last be reunified in the fullness of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith after a millennium of separation. However, it is crucial that in our natural but cautious movement toward a restoration of communion, we not seek to move precipitously beyond this basic restoration. To do so is not only unnecessary, but would risk corrupting the ancient Faith delivered to us to carry on and defend. We simply cannot and have no right to compromise in any way the fullness and integrity of the Orthodox faith, the faith of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. For now, we should aim for something deceptively simple, but actually beautifully complex: a better understanding of each other’s faith traditions, and entry into a deeper love for each other as Christians which strips away the obstructive barrier of otherness. By this love, we will, through God’s grace in the Holy Spirit, come gradually closer to a unity in the faith which today eludes us.

I consider entering the Orthodox Church as not so much a rejection of Roman Catholicism—though I am certainly glad to be able to leave behind the doctrines of purgatory and papal supremacy and infallibility—as much as a fulfilling embrace of what I consider to be Catholicism in its earlier and true, purer form. Orthodoxy, in its belief, teachings, and above all its liturgy, is profoundly catholic in nature. It is a pity that the Roman Catholic Church has gradually deviated from original orthodox teaching in its view of its own authority. It is clear to me from my studies that many of the Latin Fathers would never have anticipated the papacy developing a view of itself as the sole and absolute universal judicial and administrative authority for all Christendom. The scriptural passages that Catholics cite to claim such universal authority (mainly Matthew 16:16-19 and Luke 22:31-32) hardly justify the First Vatican Council’s declaration or the papacy’s long-established view of its own jurisdictional authority.

In fact, the two times popes have spoken ‘infallibly’ ex cathedra, Pius IX on the ‘Immaculate Conception’ of the Virgin Mary in 1854 and Pius XII in 1950 on her Assumption, the popes were not acting arbitrarily, but in response to millions of faithful who petitioned them for clarification. While the traditional Roman Catholic arguments for the Immaculate Conception rest mainly in Luke 1:28 (Mary is “full of grace”, gratia plena), logically her fullness with the Spirit and with Jesus hardly seem to suggest that she was born outside of sin. The Fathers are clear that she was conceived like anyone else; she is All-Holy by choice, by her lifelong transformation into a truly holy person who chose to never sin and to lead a perfectly righteous life. That God the Father chose Mary to bring His Son into the world shows clearly that she is most “blessed among women” and certainly did not sin, and so the declaration on her Immaculate Conception seems unnecessary at best and emblematic of problematic Augustinian views on “original sin” at worst. As to the 1950 decree on her Assumption, Pius XII left it open in his Munificentissimus Deus whether or not he understood the Virgin’s Assumption into to heaven to have prevented her death or immediately proceeded it; in the text he alludes to her death several times.

I have come to understand the catholicity of the Church as a unity of intent and belief comprised in and among the faithful and in the communion of bishops—laity and clergy together, those devout Christians, orthodox and catholic, who observe and receive the Eucharistic mystery in wonder, love, and awe on Sunday. How can there be true communion, true oneness of faith and a common life in Christ, between people not in ecclesiastical communion with each other, people who, by definition, belong to different religions, different confessions? Papal infallibility seems out of place here principally because such external, inevitably political control is so unnecessary to the unity of the Body of Christ maintained by communion in the Eucharist and sharing in the one

“faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3).

St. Peter being given “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” by Christ could, and has been taken to mean a number of things apart from the Vatican’s declaration that Peter’s successors as bishops in Rome have supreme authority and jurisdiction over all other Christians. Popes could be acknowledged as having universal pastoral care, certainly a status as first among equals, but—universal administrative jurisdiction?

As Bishop Kallistos observes, Orthodox recognize the Pope

“as first—but only first among equals. He is the elder brother, not the supreme ruler. We do not consider that, in the first ten centuries of the Church, the Pope possessed direct and immediate power of jurisdiction in the Christian east, and so we find it impossible to grant such power to him today.”

What I and many Orthodox long for is the time when popes will universally see themselves as the loving elder brothers of a reunited Orthodox Catholic Church. In some ways this is how modern popes, especially Pope Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II, have exercised their ministry in the context of close ecumenical discussions with the Orthodox and other Christians not in communion with Rome. I very much hope that the Vatican moves to embracing this historic role which the Orthodox always accorded the papacy: respect, deference, and honor as the first See in the ancient Faith. While Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, C.M., a prominent Catholic priest and author of We Believe: A Survey of the Catholic Faith (1990) contends that “Peter’s successors as bishops of Rome were recognized as leaders among the bishops, just as Peter was recognized as leader among the apostles”, the ancient and long-practiced tradition of Rome holding a place of honor among the other patriarchs and bishops does not equate with, amount to, or explain later papal developments regarding claims of universal jurisdiction.

In contrast to the Vatican today, the Orthodox understanding of the Church honors its conciliar form, the guiding authority of local bishops in their autocephalous or patriarchal Churches, and above all the idea that unity and catholicity rest in the communion of believers. To me this is clearly the correct understanding. There is such balance, flexibility, and beauty in the Orthodox arrangement where the Church is comprised of a “family of sister Churches”, each one independent or self-supporting in governance, yet all belonging to the same universal, catholic communion of belief.
As someone who was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, as much as I believe as an Orthodox Christian that the papacy has erred in its adherence to the doctrines of primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility, it saddens me that some of my family members might feel that I am rejecting or departing from the tradition in which they raised me. Yet I am cautiously hopeful of the many new promises of ecumenical dialogue and interfaith collaboration, especially between the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Churches. I am especially intent when the priest prays during the Great Litany of the Liturgy for “the welfare of the holy churches of God and the union of all men” — may all unite themselves to the Orthodox faith which is the Christian faith. Christ Himself prayed about all those who believe in Him “that they might all be one” (John 17:21.) I would welcome the reunion of East and West in the event that both Catholic and Orthodox Churches could meet the conditions which Bishop Kallistos outlines as necessary for such a reunion to take place:

“Surely we Orthodox should be willing to assign to the Pope, in a reunited Christendom, not just an honorary seniority but an all-embracing apostolic care. We should be willing to assign to him the right, not only to accept appeals from the whole Christian world, but even to take the initiative in seeking ways of healing when crises and conflict arise anywhere among Christians. . . We would wish to see his ministry spelt out in pastoral rather than judicial terms. He would encourage rather than compel, consult rather than coerce.”

This primarily pastoral role envisioned for the papacy is one which attracts a prominent Catholic theologian, Fr. Patrick Granfield, OSB, professor of theology at The Catholic University of America. Father Patrick joins Bishop Ware in positive opinion about the Pope fulfilling a universal primatial role. In his book The Limits of the Papacy: Authority and Autonomy in the Church, Granfield foresees that

“as the universal primate in collegial association with bishops in other Churches, the Pope’s task would be to safeguard the faith and the unity of the entire [universal] Church.”

While such hopes of reunification and above all, restoration of communion, are unlikely to come to fruition in present time, I trust in the guiding power of the Holy Spirit—who works in mysterious ways—and pray that the time will come, sooner than later, when the two great Christian Traditions, Catholic and Orthodox, will be again one. I wish for the Catholic to be more orthodox in belief and the Orthodox to be more catholic in vision and focus. I would humbly echo the plea of Anglican Bishop John Pearson (1613-86) when he urges all Christians to

“search how it was in the beginning; go to the fountainhead; look to antiquity.”


Although I have already written on the Liturgy extensively, I wish to leave you with some final observations. Bishop Kallistos observes that “the Orthodox peoples have poured their whole religious experience into the Holy Liturgy which expresses their faith. It is the Liturgy which has inspired their best poetry, art, and music.” This is true, as anyone with an art history background or possessing an ear for the works of Rachmaninov or Gregoriev can tell you. Similarly, in his own reflections in his book The Orthodox Liturgy, Austin Oakley observes that the liturgy has always been one of the most integral aspects of Orthodox identity and faith, both personal and communal: “The normal lay worshipper, through familiarity from earliest childhood, is entirely at home in church, thoroughly conversant with the audible parts of the Holy Liturgy.” I have come to increasingly feel this way as I continue to participate in liturgies and vespers. As a result of such a deep feeling of communion, ordinary Orthodox worshippers

“take part with unconscious and unstudied ease in the action of the rite, to an extent only shared in by the hyper-devout and ecclesiastically minded in the West.”

In the Liturgy one discovers the Inner Life of the Church, for it is in the Liturgy, beloved, treasured, and defended by Orthodox for centuries, that the faithful so clearly manifest their abiding devotion. The Liturgy, as something which has remained almost entirely unchanged for centuries, whose essential form dates to over sixteen hundred years ago, is, to me, one of the greatest gifts of Orthodoxy that I will receive when I am chrismated. In the Liturgy are found the best embodiments of the “living Tradition” to which the faithful cleave. Bishop Kallistos correctly, and with some sense of humor, observes that Orthodox are constantly talking about Tradition. Yet what does this word really mean? Is it a kind of reactionary, mechanical, static devotion to all things old? Such tradition, if that were Orthodoxy, could only be called empty.

Of course, the word has different significance for different people. Certain Orthodox parishes that are more ethnically oriented (specific communities of Russians, Serbians, or Syrians, etc) may sometimes strike people unfamiliar with them as being more mechanical in nature, cleaving to specific ritual observance rather than a broad, more informed Tradition. If you are inclined after reading this to visit an Orthodox church, there is a small chance that you might step into one like this, where, if you don’t immediately venerate an icon, people might look at you as if asking, silently, “Why are you here?” Do not be afraid if this is the case; rest assured, most parishes are not like this, and such behavior is not in the spirit of Orthodoxy.

As Bishop Kallistos observes, the true Orthodox tradition is one which is far from static: the life and light of the Church are vividly expressed in the Liturgy, a word which means

“work of the people”.

It is here that the life of the Church is most evident, the heart and soul of the Faith where the priest, representing Christ, and the faithful come together and worship before the invisible powers of heaven. Yet the life of the Church is also present in the day-to-day trials and interactions among parish communities. The Church is present whenever the local ???????? gathers as an assembly to bring new members into the Orthodox fold in baptism and chrismation, whenever it celebrates the joining of a man and a woman in holy matrimony with high solemnity and radiant joy, or commemorate the passage of loved ones into the next world. The Church lives also in its centuries of accumulated teachings, which are replete with oceans of ink in wisdom: the writings of the Ante-Nicene and early Fathers, the lives of the saints, and above all, the Psalms, the “prayer book of the Church” and the Holy Scriptures.

The Orthodox sense of obligation toward and honoring of Tradition is anything but empty or outdated; the exact perception of Church Tradition is something that differs in each person, with different practices from parish to parish manifesting in different cultural and linguistic traditions. Yet the faith remains the same everywhere. The venerable Bishop Kallistos reminds us that

“Loyalty to Tradition, properly understood, is not something mechanical. . . An Orthodox thinker must see Tradition from within, he must enter into its inner spirit. In order to live within Tradition, it is not enough simply to give intellectual assent to a system of doctrine, for Tradition is far more than a set of abstract propositions — it is a life, a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit.”

This invitation to enter into the Tradition’s “inner spirit” is the shining beacon of Orthodoxy. Bishop Kallistos’ avowedly dynamic conception of the Way of the Church, which he observes is inwardly changeless, is one in which individual believers’ approaches to this Tradition are

“constantly assuming new forms, which supplement the old without superseding them.”

The Holy Spirit is constantly connected to this perpetually renewing sense of Tradition. Georges Florovsky calls Tradition no less than “the witness of the Spirit.” Therefore, it is an informed, contemplative reverence for the Church’s many traditions, all revealed together as part of its great Tradition, combined with spiritual openness and introspection, which is the key to developing a richer, more self-aware Christian life. Orthodox are seriously called to be witnesses of this ‘Tradition of the Spirit.’

I would be misleading you if I said that Orthodoxy does not involve and require a deep appreciation for and sense of devotion to its traditions. Yet it is worth one final time noting the words of the estimable Bishop Kallistos, who reminds us that

“true Orthodox fidelity to the past must always be a creative fidelity.”

Loyalty to Tradition, properly understood, means accepting that Tradition is not only something “kept by the Church” exactly as it was some fifteen centuries ago. It is something that

“lives in the Church, it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church . . . a living discovery of the Holy Spirit in the present.”

The challenge for each Orthodox person is to enter into the fullest possible awareness of how studying, honoring, and above all living this Tradition will bring them a closer communion with God, a greater sense of self and a deeper understanding of human nature.

Bearing all this in mind as I prepare for chrismation, I am reminded of the opening words of the Magnificat:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior!”

I use an exclamation point because when the Virgin received news that the Father had chosen her of all women to bring His Son into the world, she ‘exclaimed’, rejoicing, for she was filled with overwhelming gladness. An indescribable gladness fills my heart and warms my soul as my chrismation approaches. In my own small way, and ever-conscious that I sin, while the Blessed Lady was without corruption, I rejoice to have found the Orthodox way, and I look forward to the day when, in the fullness of time, the Churches of the world will be reconciled. Mindful of the many preparations that lay ahead, I close with the familiar words of praise rendered by King David in the psalm which he taught to Solomon:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord, teach me thy statutes. . .”

Epilogue: Orthodoxy – Home at Last

“I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, with all my heart,
for Thou hearest the words of my mouth;
And I shall sing to Thee in the presence of angels.
I shall bow down and worship toward Thy holy temple.”

-Psalm 137

On December 4, 2011, the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, I entered into a new life. It was a glimmer of the joy I imagine I will one day, I hope, feel on my wedding day. I was received into the Orthodox Church by the laying on of hands and chrismation at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington D.C. His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah performed the ceremony. Surrounded by my family, parishioners, and standing in the invisible presence of God, the Theotokos, the other saints, the angels, and all the departed who are yet alive in Christ, I professed the Orthodox faith, that treasure beyond compare

“once for all delivered to the saints”.

Marilyn Swezey and Mikhail Arsentiev stood next to me as my godparents. As I closed my eyes and raised my hands in supplication to Almighty God, and Metropolitan Jonah anointed me on my forehead, my ears, my eyes, my mouth, my palms, and my feet, aside from Christ, I felt one person’s presence more than any other.

My twin brother Sean entered the world five minutes after I did on July 2, 1990. Seventeen days later he passed away. While I never knew him, I miss him every day. I miss the life he never lived with me, the laughs we never shared, and even the fights we never got to have together. Above all, I miss the deep friendship we never got to take for granted as twin brothers. I always wondered how my life would be different had he survived, and I have often wished that I could hear his voice. I don’t have to wonder at what he would have looked like: my parents always said all I needed to do when I wanted to see him was look in a mirror.

And so I live. When I was reading the Psalms the other day, my eyes fell to the opening of Psalm 33:

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall be praised in the Lord.”

What a joy it is to be alive! I will never know why God took my brother so soon from this earth, or why He wished me to remain here, but I feel a sense of wonderment and awe that I live. If my brother could pass away so soon, if hospital doctors were certain I was supposed to grow up mentally handicapped and bound to a wheelchair or even blind for life, and yet now I am as I am, what incomparable power God has, what mystery He works beyond our understanding! Oftentimes I feel overwhelmed with joy and gladness that I am alive. Life truly is a mystery. I recall Psalm 145

“Praise the Lord, O my soul, I shall praise the Lord as long as I live, I shall sing praises to my God while I have being.”

This is the joy that grips me every day of my life, the joy that flows from being alive.

My parents always said God must have kept me here for a reason, for His own purposes. Rather than trying to figure them out, as I used to, now I seek only to cooperate with God as He leads me in all that I do. I see my brother as a kind of guardian angel, and I feel that he wants me to live life as beautifully, and rightly, as I can. I truly believe he helped guide me to Orthodoxy.

I turned the pages of my Bible to another Psalm, 85:

“Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear me. Guard my soul: O my God, save Thy servant who hopes in Thee. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for all the day long I will cry to Thee. Gladden the soul of Thy servant, O Lord, for to Thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul.”

This beautiful prayer helps me begin the conversation with God that occurs softly, in the quiet of the heart. It reminds me of the words of my patron saint, St Silouan the Athonite:

“My soul thirsts for the living God. Times and again my soul seeks fullness of delight in the Lord. My soul yearns for the Lord, and I seek him in tears. How could I not seek Thee, O Lord? For Thou Thyself didst seek me out, and gavest me to delight in Thy Holy Spirit, and now my soul yearns for Thee.”

My patron saint spent the closing decades of his earthly life in perpetual prayer and repentance, shedding endless tears for the suffering of the world. He lived as an ascetic in ceaseless prayer in a small cell on the Holy Mountain in northern Greece. When he died in 1938, his disciple, Archimandrite Sophrony, found thousands of notes that the barely literate saint had somehow penciled on scraps of paper. Wisdom from Mount Athos is the collection of these notes, and besides the Scriptures themselves, their words have inspired me more than any others. Reading through them for the first time, it is impossible to describe the joy that gripped me as I read his words about the all-encompassing love God has for each of us, and how our souls yearn to know God:

“The Lord loves us so dearly that it passes description. Through the Holy Spirit alone can the soul know His love, of which she is inexpressibly aware. The Lord is all goodness and mercy. He is meek and gentle, and we have no words at all to tell of His goodness; but the soul without words feels this love and would remain wrapped in its quiet tranquility forever.”

When I first read these words, I asked myself: does Sean feel this quiet tranquility? For as long as I can remember, I have wondered: Can he laugh? Does he see me? Is he aware of my presence? My soul feels his presence deeply. I wonder where he is, what heaven is like. I wonder what is must be like to see God, truly and up close.

I believe that our spirits, once separated from our bodies at physical death, must have the freedom to go where they please for some time before their particular judgment, not as haunting ghosts, but as freed, liberated souls, like rays of light. On the day of my chrismation, I felt my brother’s presence in the Cathedral so strongly. He was telling me, “Ryan, you are home.”

I don’t long for death at all—I am someone who loves every minute of life and treasures it for what it is: the sweetest of gifts from the Father of Lights. When, many years from now, God calls me to fall asleep and pass unto eternal life, I don’t have such a fear of the passing, of the upending of this mortal phase, since I have the comfort of knowing that my brother awaits me. It will be such a joy to at last see his face. I wonder if people grow in heaven, in any way reflecting the passage of time here on earth or the years since their earthly death, or will my brother appear as the baby he was when he departed this life? I am always drawn to little babies and toddlers; in part I see their fragile joy and their innocence and imagine my brother must have been this way in the short time he lived on this earth.

As this Lenten season begins, my first one as an Orthodox Christian, I am mindful of the countless blessings God has put in my life. In the past two years since my journey to Orthodoxy began, so many incredible people have come into my life. My incredible girlfriend has absolutely transformed and enriched my life beyond description. I cannot put into words just how much she means to me, and how grateful I am to God for her presence, all her invaluable advice, her constant support, and above all, her love. My godparents, Marilyn and Misha, are two of the kindest people I have ever met, each with a strong faith and a deep love for God, and I am so grateful for their prayers, support and friendship. Through St. Nicholas Cathedral in DC, I have made a fantastic friend, Ivan Plis, who is one of the most hilarious, brilliant, and kindhearted men I know.

I have made so many wonderful friends here in Scotland on exchange, and I remain close to my friends in the States, whom I miss very much. My relationship with my family means so much to me. My parents’ love and encouragement has grounded and sustained me in times when I doubted myself throughout my life. I have always felt really close to my mom, and in the past few years I have come to feel much closer to my dad than ever before. I see the Holy Spirit at work in this change, and in the healing that is coming to my family. I am so grateful to them for their acceptance of my conversion. As the older brother of two sisters, my parents’ reminding me that I should set a positive example for Lauren and Beth pushed me to excel and pursue my passions in history, languages, and writing, and, more recently, international politics, interfaith work, and theology. I miss them both very much. It amazes me that Lauren is about to go off to university and that Beth will be doing the same in just another year!

The monks at Holy Cross Monastery in East Setauket, my hometown, are exceptionally kind and hospitable men, of an almost palpable love for Christ. Worshiping with them before I left for Scotland was a deeply transformative experience. They are under the omophorion (canonical authority and protection) of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). From only the videos I have seen and what little I have read of him, he seems to be a wonderfully kind archbishop, filled with such grace and love for his flock, and I am overjoyed that the ROCOR is once again in communion with her sister Orthodox Churches. Three monks in particular at Holy Cross, Fr. Silouan, Fr. Hierodeacon Parthenios, and Monk Cornelius, have amazed me with their level of spiritual insight, kindness, and deep humility.

I cannot describe what a blessing it is to have the ability to attend the Divine Liturgy and receive communion in my hometown. Stepping into the monastery church, one enters not only a unique physical place, but ones comes into a whole spiritual mindset and frame of being that is a world removed from its surroundings outside. When I was younger I often passed the small white building with its peculiar gold onion dome, so out of place amidst the colonial architecture surrounding the village green in the New York town. Now, looking back after my chrismation, it seems that the monastery’s very presence was a sign that God was calling me to Orthodoxy.

Arriving in Edinburgh on exchange for the semester, I began worshipping at a church quite unlike any other I had ever entered. The community of St Andrew here (under the omophorion of Archbishop Gregorios of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain) is a testament to the international catholicity- the wholeness, the unity in faith- of Orthodoxy. When I attend Liturgy here, I experience the same liturgy that priests in every Orthodox church worldwide celebrate on Sundays. I am brought into the same Orthodoxy that the faithful live at St. Nicholas and at St Sophia Cathedrals in Washington, the same faith which transcends language, different cultural heritages, and historic jurisdictions. Here at St. Andrew’s are the Slavonic and Byzantine chant modes I came to love in the Orthodox parishes I attended in D.C. Deacon Luke and his wife Marion, both exceptionally kind and warm people, lead the choir together. Coming to liturgy here, I feel a close connection to the Orthodox worshipping in D.C., in my hometown in New York, and all the faithful everywhere. As I participate for the first time as an Orthodox Christian in the Great Fast of this Lenten season, I feel at home.

St Andrew’s is a vibrant parish full of young families with more babies and little children than I have ever seen gathered in one place. One little boy of six, Yuri, who matter-of-factly tells me and my Romanian friends that he is a “Russian from Glasgow from Latvia”, has such a joy in him, such a lively personality and such an inquisitive nature (in and outside of Liturgy!) that I see firsthand the Church’s wisdom in keeping little children present at Liturgy, allowing them to take everything in, the sounds of the choir and the bells, the scent of incense and rose oil, the sight of the icons, vestments and the candles, so that they grow up in the bosom of the Church community. When I compare the Church’s wisdom in providing for this cura personalis kind of education and introduction for its children to the attitude common to many churches among different Western denominations that see worship services primarily as ‘ordered, disciplined instruction’ for teens and adults, and consequently ferry their kids off to Sunday school at the earliest possible point in the service, there is no real comparison in my eyes.

To raise one’s children surrounded by and immersed in the fullness of the Christian community in all its beauty and its imperfections, its glories and its frailties, to show them the images of the saints invisibly present on the walls and on the iconostasis, to instill in them a familiarity and a love for Orthodox worship from the earliest age, this seems to me the most natural way of raising one’s children to love Christ, to know what it is to be in awe of God before one can contemplate a sermon or understand the Gospel. Just as I saw at St. Nicholas Cathedral, at St. Andrew’s I see parents inevitably struggling with noisy or inattentive toddlers, but no one seems to mind. For anyone wholly caught up in the Liturgy, worship transcends such distractions, and in a way, the presence of these young children, these people so new to the world who can so easily feel wonder and express awe, adds to the beauty. I see the radiance that enters a child’s eye when his mother raises him up to light a candle, or when a little girl’s father lifts her up so she can kiss the icon of the Theotokos, and these are small moments of beauty and wonder that might plant themselves in the very core of a child’s memories.

St. Andrew’s is a remarkably diverse community. There are many Americans, as well as Scottish and English converts, as well as a small number of mostly Romanian students attending the University of Edinburgh. Most of the Divine Liturgy is sung in English, with parts in Greek and Romanian for the large and vibrant immigrant communities from these countries. My experience with the latter language is new, and it is a beautiful, lively Romance one which reminds me very much of Italian. What is most remarkable about this community is that we worship in a house church facing the Meadows Park. It was built as an ordinary house, and only from the cross painted in gold on the front door can one identify the building as a church. Stepping into the church for the first time I felt the distinct impression that this is how the early Christians must have felt worshipping clandestinely in each other’s houses. The reason for our worshiping in this house church has nothing to do with the persecution the first believers faced, but worshiping in this humble building, in contrast to the magnificence of the two cathedrals which were my principal previous experiences of Orthodox worship, is a new and inspiring experience.

Two priests at St. Andrew’s have made a deep and lasting impression on me. They are archimandrites, monks with a high degree of spiritual development and cultivation, and both have at the end of Liturgy given poignant, eloquent and powerfully challenging sermons urging us to examine ourselves and enter into a new cleanliness of being, of heart, mind and action, this Lenten season.

Father Avraamy (Neyman), the English monk who invited me to his house for dinner on Meatfare Sunday, is an absolute delight to talk with, and I cannot describe how much his warm hospitality moved me. He is a man of exceptional kindness, lively wit and great humor. I deeply enjoyed his stories about his childhood growing up in southern England, attending a public boys’ school, and what his life entailed before he became a monk. He is also a convert from Roman Catholicism, so it was wonderful to be able to talk to someone with the same background and a similar journey into Orthodoxy. A lover of beautiful choral music, he shared with me several magnificent compositions of Ambrosian chant, including sixteenth century Seville composer Francisco Guerrero’s O Sacrum Convivium (O Sacred Banquet). I am also profoundly grateful for his gentle pastoral guidance.

Father Raphael (Pavouris), my confessor here, is a kind, quiet presence with the inner grace and humility of a man who has lived on holy Mount Athos. His gentle words of kindness, guidance, and healing have greatly helped and comforted me, and I strongly sense the presence of the Holy Spirit working through him. I am profoundly grateful for his prayers for me and for my family at the altar.

I am deeply grateful to Fr. Valery at St Nicholas Cathedral, for his kind and instructive guidance during my time as a catechumen, and especially for introducing me to St Silouan! His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, my spiritual father, is a reservoir of grace, kindness, deep faith, and pastoral guidance. Even from across the Atlantic, his words of wisdom reach me through modern technology: the OCA website, the St. Nicholas Facebook page, and Youtube and Vimeo videos. This is a great comfort. He is not only a primate charged with the care of his Church. To the people of St Nicholas parish, he is in every sense a loving pastor.

Metropolitan Jonah often speaks at St. Nicholas about the Orthodox view of repentance, which is, he frequently points out, quite different from the traditional Western emphasis on guilt and penalty for one’s sins. The Eastern emphasis is on the power of the term repentance itself, which means ‘to turn away’ from these sins into the healing embrace of God’s love, for He is the physician of our souls. At his June 2009 address to the newly formed Anglican Church in North America, the Metropolitan spoke of the importance of surrendering to God, of opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s transformative grace and light:

“We have to surrender to God, personally, in the depths of our being. Our surrender, and this takes tremendous humility, is that spiritual quest to allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit. It is a quest of repentance, and renewal of our mind. Repentance does not mean feel guilty and beat yourself up. That’s not repentance. Repentance means be transformed in the renewal of your minds. What we’re talking about is a radical spiritual transformation that we are called to by the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that we can enter into and participate in that living unity. And it takes that complete surrender of our lives, on every level, the surrender of our passions, the surrender of our attachments, the surrender of all of those passions which we hold so dear, and especially all of the resentments which we bear.”

This Lenten season, when Christians are called to deny the control these passions so often exert over our lives, His Beatitude’s words are especially poignant for me. The true Lenten spirit involves fasting, for certain, since, as St John Chrysostom observed over sixteen centuries ago, “fasting is a medicine” for body and soul. Yet what is far more important than whether or not we adhere exactly to the Church’s teachings on abstaining from all meat and dairy during the forty days before Pascha is that we live in the right spirit of love, charity, and humility toward our God and our fellow sinners. In this way we can hope to “enter into and participate in that living unity” with Christ in the Holy Spirit. St. John Chrysostom, the author of the Divine Liturgy, writes in On Fasting that

“Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Show me your fast with your works. If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him!”

St John’s words urge us to greater love of the other in this time of renewal, discipline, and hope (for we await the death and Resurrection of our Lord!) He cautions against gossip and cruel speech, urging us to “fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers?” His advice for Lent is advice we are meant to live by throughout the year, throughout our lives.

God acts in ways far beyond our understanding. He is God. He moves outside our conception of time and place. He touches our lives in ways we would never expect, and in subtle, soft whispers which we do not always notice. The Byzantine tradition of hesychia cultivated at Mount Athos, the discipline of acquiring inner silence and the stillness of the heart, allows us to see and feel and perceive so much more of God’s activities in the world, among us, if we only endeavor to keep this stillness. This stillness is not one which insists we remain physically motionless, but that we ceaselessly strive to commit our soul to the whispering guide of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who will put a deep, peaceful quiet in our heart.

If we do this, and we free ourselves to perceive the incredible beauty in God’s creation all around us, His reverberating presence in the joy, laughter, tears, and sufferings of each of our fellow man beckons us to see His presence within ourselves. In our morning prayers, Orthodox invoke the Holy Spirit, the “Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere present and filling all things.” We ask Him to dwell in us, for He is “the Treasury of Blessings and the Giver of Life.”

I rejoice with all my being to have found the Orthodox way. Giving humble thanks to Almighty God, aware of the blessings that He has bestowed on me, I close with a supplication left to us by St. Silouan who cultivated such a reverence and awe for all of God’s creation, all the natural world and the men that inhabit it, that he prayed ceaselessly and sought the Holy Spirit in tears.

“O ye people of the earth, fashioned by God, know your Creator and His love for us!
Know the love of Christ, who in His mercy waits for all men to come unto Him.
Turn to Him, all ye peoples of the earth, and lift your prayers to God. And the prayers of the whole earth shall rise to heaven like a soft and lovely cloud lit by the sun, and all the heavens will rejoice and sing praises to the Lord for His sufferings whereby He saved us.
Know, all ye peoples, that we are created for the glory of God in the heavens. Cleave not to the earth, for God is our Father and He loves us like beloved children. . .
O Lord, grant to all nations to know Thee by Thy Holy Spirit.”

– Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, May 2012