Sunday, December 30, 2007

Well worth reading

Be sure to read Fr Stephen's post at Glory to God for all things. You'll see the link on this page. His posts are always worth reading and pondering, but this is one that is exceptional!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Church? or "churches?"

Many years ago, well over a decade and a half, I was wrestling with the fact of the many denominations that are found in our country, and now around the world. At that point, I (erroneously) tried to reason that God reached some through this group, others through that group, etc. etc. This thinking is pretty easy, for one justifies all kinds of things.

I remember one congregational meeting years back, when one gentleman said, "Pastor, let's just release these folks that don't come so the other denominations can have a crack at them!"

And how many times have we wrestled with the fact that friends and relatives are divided six ways from the middle in their own "churches?" What does one say?

Of course, the easy way, and the way that I've heard often is that it doesn't really matter! Now this I hear from Orthodox, also! Part of it comes from those raised in the Faith and who have children who have departed the Faith for "other pastures." It is a way of "dealing" with the pain. Just excuse it!

And there are those who just push it all aside suggesting that one "church" is as good as another.

But these approaches raise serious questions:

What of the "one holy catholic and apostolic church" confessed each Sunday?

And, if "it doesn't matter," why have many come to Orthodoxy at no small cost?

The Truth is that there is one holy catholic and apostolic Church, the very Body of Christ, the pillar and ground of Truth that has lived throughout the ages. There are not many truths, but One Truth, not many christs, but one Christ. And it does make a difference where you go, what you do and whom you believe.

We sing this marvelous hymn in the Divine Liturgy

“We have seen the true Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit.

We have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity,

for He hath saved us.”

We pray:

"Those who depart from the Orthodox Faith, dazzled by destroying heresies, enlighten by the light of Your holy wisdom, and unite them to Your Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church"

In the midst of all the "churches" out there stands The Church, the pillar and ground of Truth, the very Bride of Christ. Through all the ages She guards the deposit of Truth, and in Her and through Her men and women and children are saved and strengthened as they look to Christ's return. But in her they experience now His presence, His love and forgiveness, heaven on earth.

We must beware of compromising this Faith as we wrestle in love with those whom we love. Only the Holy Spirit gives strength and wisom to speak the Truth in all Love, as we pray for the salvation of friends and relatives -- living in such a way as to say "Come and See! Come and See Jesus! Come and join us in receiving the True LIght, the Heavenly Spirit! Come and rejoice in the True Faith, worshiping the Indivisible Trinity, for He has saved us!"

Not many churches, dear friends. One!


Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Tale of two families .....

Some nine years ago, when I was still a Lutheran pastor, a family who lived just down from that church began coming. George and Maria, with daughters Elena and Anna, and George's mother, Glenda came under my care. They were separated from the Orthodox church years before, had attended Baptist churches, and their daughters were enrolled in Lutheran Schools.

I remember catechizing them on Saturday mornings, all five -- and there were some interesting discussions, to be sure! At that time, remember, Orthodoxy was still "out there" for me. (But I must admit, some of the things that George shared piqued my interest!)

Over the years, our families did grow closer. I "designed" and participated in two "Lutheran" Quincieras -- a Mexican tradition for young ladies as they came to age 15. We had many discussions -- at one point, Glenda and I, who had some differences, had a rough spot (she had not become Lutheran).

So, the four were under my spiritual care as a Lutheran pastor.

But over the last several years, as my journey east narrowed, George and I had many discussions -- and in the last three years of my pastorate, my teaching very much followed Orthodox truth. And in those years, when George looked to return to the Church, I could find no reason to council him otherwise.

Pascha of 2005, George was received once again into Holy Orthodoxy. Maria and Elena and Anna were still under my care. In February of 2005, my coming home was no longer an "if," but a "when." In September of 2005, with George, Elena and Maria, I met Fr Dumitru at GreekFest at Sts Constantine and Helen GOC -- and he and I "clicked." In fact, after that meeting I emailed him, telling him that I felt stronger ties to him after that brief meeting than I did to most of my Lutheran colleagues.

On more than one occasion in 2005, George said, "You are Orthodox. How can you continue serving at a Lutheran altar!" Then, in October of that year, I began the process of resigning, not only my parish, but the Lutheran ministerium, and finally Lutheranism.

Around Thanksgiving, Maria and Elena were received home in Holy Orthodoxy. Anna remains Lutheran. Glenda had remained Orthodox.

At Theophany in 2006, Fr (with George) came for our house blessing. At that time he suggested February 4th for our Chrismation -- when I question regarding additional catechesis, his reply was, "You are Orthodox!"

And so it was that on February 4th, George and Maria, my former parishioners, became our Godparents as we came to Holy Orthodoxy!

Glenda said, "You finally saw the light!" She was right, and we are brother and sister in Christ

Of course, all of them were present for our canonical marriage in October, George and Maria as our Godparents!

I think it was Elena (eldest daughter) who said once that she thought that God had this all planned!

You know what?

I know she was right!

And that is the story of two families ...

Glory to God in all things!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Visiting around ....

Katherine and I recently traveled east to see our daughter and her family in Goldsboro, NC. On that trip, we visited parishes in North Carolina and Tennessee -- well, we joined in Divine Liturgy in Raleigh, NC -- and visited with delightful priests in Tennessee.

Holy Trinity in Raleigh is a growing Greek Orthodox parish. They seem to be literally bursting at the seams, and will soon be building a new Temple in the process of their expansion. We joined them in April, also -- both Fr Stephen and Fr Paul remembered us, as did their Deacon. Because of our unique story, many of those at Holy Trinity recalled us, and all offered to assist and support our daughter and family, since she is seriously seeking Orthodoxy (although there are no Orthodox parishes or missions in Goldsboro --- yet! As has been our experience in these last two years, we were immediately at home, and felt part of the family.

As we traveled home, we made a point to stop in Oak Ridge, hoping to meet Fr Stephen (Glory to God in All Things). St Anne is located in a small building on a bustling thoroughfare in Oak Ridge. As we entered, we immediately knew we were "in church" with the smell of incense and the "ambience" of the place. To our right was the nave and sanctuary -- simple, but obviously the home of the faithful. We met Fr Justin, the assisting priest, and then Fr Stephen! What a joy. Although we had just met, we were family. We were indeed blessed to be there -- and Father Stephen had time to speak a bit to my lovely bride, who struggles with the spiritual welfare of our children (common plight of parents, God-given). Fr Stephen is indeed a gentle priest, and he is what he writes on his blog! We hope to join that parish in Divine Liturgy one day n our travels! We pray that God will bless the people of St Anne as they look to expand and build a Temple on adjacent land -- they are the Church in Oak Ridge!

Father mentioned that the Sunday previous to our stopping by that Russian priests with little English had concelebrated -- Father mentioned that the Liturgy flowed smoothly --in two languages! :) Oak Ridge has a sister city in Russia: they are connected by technology. You may remember that Oak Ridge was "the lost city" or "the hidden city" in the 40s and 50s -- nuclear development went on there, and those inside lived inside, those outside couldn't easily enter. You still pass through and see remnants of one of the gate houses.

From Oak Ridge, we traveled to Nashville, where we had lunch at Alektor Cafe. Fr Parthenios is priest at St John Chrysostom Mission, which until recently met on the campus of college connected with Vanderbilt University. The little coffee shop and Orthodox bookstore are near the campus and have been mentioned in the paper -- and when they recently served Divine Liturgy in their new church, it was televised! The mission, under the authority of the Greek Orthodox Church, is totally, I believe, English speaking. Father bustles about serving food in the Cafe -- and he and Presvytera share the love of Christ with the many who frequent the Cafe and Bookstore. You eat listening to the music of Orthodoxy, surrounded by the works of Saints, Monks, Theologians! Katherine and I would like to plan a trip to spend time with these fine people, and to enjoy and receive the Divine Liturgy in their new building.

So why write this? We Orthodox are joined in a way that goes beyond my describing. Whether in the developed large Holy Trinity in Raleigh, or in the smaller communities in Tennesee, there is a life, a joy, The Church -- those gathered and joined in the Blessed and Holy Trinity. It is a joy to know that one is "in church" even in the smallest of parishes, as rooms and buildings are transformed as we experience "heaven on earth." And my observation, limited though it may be, is that first things are put first: small communities have a certain patience, assuring that the spiritual life of the community is not overwhelmed by physical concerns. I've noticed a certain humility present, a willingness to truly wait on the Lord. Perhaps it is characterized by Fr Stephen in Oak Ridge, who said that someone who keeps records said, "We have 150 people here," to which Father said something like, "Really? I didn't realize that!" He isn't so much concerned with the statistics as he is with the souls.

Now, I know that you will find places where such things not be true, or where people have lost their way, to be sure. But this is true: the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. It is the Body of Christ -- and Holy Mother Church seeks those who are lost, and we are redeemed in Christ our God. Or to put it another way: In Holy Orthodoxy, if you are lost, if you stray, you have a home, a Mother to return to, and that is a singular blessing!


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Giving thanks for .... modern technology

Katherine and I are at our daughter's in Goldsboro, NC for a few days. On the way down, we read books, but also have been able to join in the Hours, thanks to Ancient Faith Radio. As we began each morning, we "prayed" Matins, and the 1st, 3rd, and 6th hours. As the sun set on Thursday, and as we neared our first night's destination, with the setting sun in the rear view mirror, we "prayed" Vespers, the 9th hour and compline!

During the week, when I'm commuting to my job, I listen to various things, the appropriate hours included. What a joy to be taken up to heaven while on the road!

But there were other things, too.

Katherine and I listened to Deacon Gregory Roeber, Christopher Orr, Father Gregory Hogg, and Father John Fenton (some more than once!) Although we couldn't be at the recent Colloquium in Detroit, we could certainly participate in Spirit, joining in the conversation!

Technology can at times be a curse -- but what a blessing to be "present" for things we couldn't physically participate in, to read blogs like "Glory to God in all things" saving files written and audio for meditation and sharing.

And what a blessing to be able to copy some of these things, leaving them with friends and former colleagues, that they might see the ancient faith.

Tomorrow, we plan to join the community of Holy Trinity in Raleigh for the second time this year -- a drive of just under an hour and a half, but worth every minute to expose our daughter and her family to the Church!

Glory to God in all things!


Monday, October 29, 2007


On 27 October 2007 at 4:30 pm, Katherine and I were united by Holy Mother Church in the Mystery of Matrimony.

Keep in mind, though, that we have a certificate of marriage from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fairmont, MN, and one from Martin County, MN dated 23 June 1968.

Some, of course, wonder at this. Some, I think are a bit angry: after all, after nearly 40 years, why in the world do such a thing? How dare your "new church" not recognize what has been!

Keep in mind, though, that to be married civilly is not to be married in the Church. And to be married in most churches is not to receive a Mystery, a Sacrament at all.

We were eager to receive this Gift of the Church. And there was indeed blessing and warmth and relief -- a truly joyous and God blessed time!

As a Lutheran pastor, I performed hundreds of weddings over three plus decades. They all followed the same basic order, involved the same choices of this and that, had the same basic vows exchanged. If you've been to a Lutheran wedding, you know what I mean. And most of them lasted about 20 minutes; most followed a number of weeks of preparation.

However, marriage in Orthodoxy is a Mystery, a Sacrament. Permission must be had from Diocesan offices in advance. There certainly may be instruction and conversation between priest and bridal couple. But the Service itself remains essentially the same. It consists of Betrothal and Crowning. It is explicitly Trinitarian and filled with prayer and readings. And it is something we receive, a gift, a blessing that in its very act gives meaning to St. Paul's words in Ephesians 5! It looks to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit for every good thing and every blessing.

In my last decades as a Lutheran and Lutheran pastor, I increasingly directed couples to the rite of marriage spelled out in the rites of the church -- although more often than not in Lutheran (and protestant) churches, marriage services were crafted with all kinds of selections, soloists and other requests.

It was truly a blessing and joy to see that such is not the case in Orthodoxy: we received what Holy Mother Church gives! We were recipients of the fullness of the Father's blessings for us. The Word and Prayer, the incense and candles, the crowning all bestowed on us the blessing of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now, this is certainly not a theological treatise. A reflection, perhaps.

But again, I am overwhelmed by the blessings of the Church. I thought I knew a lot, but I'm continually realizing how little I knew.

And so Katherine and I rejoice in the presence of Christ, and in the blessing of the Holy Trinity in our marriage. And we give thanks to God for our Godparents and all the others who surprised us with cards and greetings.

It is good to be Home.

Glory to God in all things!


Monday, October 15, 2007

One, Holy Catholic

Yesterday, Katherine and I determined to visit another Orthodox congregation. We went to St. Basil the Great (ROCOR) in St. Louis, where good friends Theodore and Photini go. What a joy!

The building itself is small, and when we arrived a tad late, the lovely bride said, "No anonymous arrival here!" We entered -- and it was standing room only (literally, a few scatter chairs and benches -- wonderful!) We were in the narthex. Katherine noted that all the women had head coverings, and really did stay in the narthex -- until she located some prepared coverings.

All were attentive, although a few whispered to us, welcoming us. There were some that came later than us, but not many. The nave was small, but truly Orthodox, and it was "heaven on earth."

Always a joy is the fact that it was the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom -- done in a different style with a marvelous choir in the Russian fashion. The liturgy was done in English, with the exception of a hymn or two in Russian. "One, holy, catholic!"

Interesting to us (and different, since we hadn't been there before) was the fact that just prior to receiving the mysteries, everyone venerated icons and relics while one of the prayers before Holy Communion was said by a reader: we learned that during this time, all were asking forgiveness of one another and of the saints! Marvelous! I recall that just prior to this (if memory serves me correctly) Father Martin asked forgiveness of those present for any sin or offense he had given.

We joined those present in the light lunch following in a suite in the building across the parking lot, where we enjoyed time with brothers and sisters in Christ, and had a bit of time to spend with Theodore and Photini (the are proprietors of Archangels Bookstore, located in Maplewood, MO and on the net).

Orthodoxy is the living expression of that which we confess, when we say "I believe in one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." What a joy to confess and live that whether Greek or Serbian, Russian or Croation, American or ... and the list goes on.

This parish is over two decades old. Father Martin has been their priest for all of those years, starting, literally, with "two or three." Now the congregation numbers about 100.

As we left, I said to Katherine, "Should God bless me with priesthood, this is the kind of parish I'd like .. faithful people working out their salvation, enjoying heaven on earth, focused on that most important." I mentioned this to Father Martin and he said, "Should that day come, come and talk to me -- we could serve these people together, and maybe both get a vacation!" (Comments paraphrased but faithful here).

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic!

Glory to God in All Things!


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

When the Family Struggles

Every parish is a family, a community and communion formed in Christ. And ever parish is filled with sinners, isn't it? No one is exempt from praying, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner."

Families struggle, and they run into rocky times as stubborn and sinfully selfish wills collide. Fact of life. It happens.

But what do we do then?

Around any flare up, one finds many opinions. People have explanations. Folks choose up sides. And then there may be "investigations" to get the facts. What was said? When was it said? Who said it? Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts. And, this may well be helpful.

But, we are the Body of Christ and members of it.

That means, that we all pray "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner." And we recognize that we are still joined in Christ in His Church. He has gathered us. As strong as the temptation may be, this isn't the time to run off into some corner with friends to sulk, or to plot, or to endlessly rumble on about what was wrong and how we, of course, were not wrong.

It is, however, time to gather again at Christ's Holy Altar. It is time to confess our sin, and to carefully prepare as we thoughtfully pray the prayers before Holy Communion. By humbling recognizing that we are indeed still brothers and sisters and Christ, we can move on.

There is definitely a time to recognize that what's happened has happened, and all the arguing in the world can't change it. We are still joined in Christ, and the Evil One is hard at work trying to divide us -- especially by egging us on to lift our noses in the air and show everyone how righteous I am! Let it go. Learn, but let it go, and be joined again in Christ our God.

As we face the ups and downs of life together, and as we are indeed hurt and attacked at times by those whom we love, think on the words of this petition from "Morning Prayers" in the Orthodox Study Bible:

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who envy and affront me, and do me harm, and do not let them perish through me, a sinner.
So many of the hassles that afflict and divide us in our parishes (and in our families) are just so much wasted time as our eyes are directed everywhere else but to Jesus, author and perfector of faith!

I'm reminded of a poster from the 1960's which read "What if they gave a war and nobody came." What would happen in our lives if, when some of these arguments arose, we each said, "I'm not playing."

Look to Jesus, author and perfector of faith!

And remember, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

Then at least some of the family struggles would be quickly laid to rest as we realize that Christ has delivered us from the Evil One (and from ourselves!)


Getting saved in the Church

Fr. Stephen Freeman of "Glory to God for all Things" deals with many things humbly and well. His post, "Getting saved in the Church" is excellent, for he in all gentleness and love speaks the truth for us in this day and age.

Consider these paragraphs:

Thus, the Church is what salvation looks like. It is here that we are Baptized into the very life of Christ, into His body. It is here that we are fed on His Body and Blood. Here in the Church we are restored to communion with God and communion with others. And it is here that the battleground to maintain that communion takes place. Thus God has given us the means to correct one another, to heal one another, to aid in the salvation, the complete restoration of each other in Christ.

Anyone who does not know that the Church is what salvation looks like has not begun to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. We cannot love one another unless there is another to love. Indeed, the New Testament, with the exception of the Book of Philemon and the Pastoral Epistles is written only to the Church. And those exceptions are written to men only in regard to their place within the Church. The New Testament belongs exclusively to the Church. If you are reading it as an individual and not as a member of the Church to whom it was written, then you are reading someone else’s mail.

Finally, the Church has always understood itself to be One (not an abstract “one,” dwelling mystically in some second storey, but a very concrete one). Those who establish fellowships and ordain leaders have not been given authority to do what they do. Reading the letters of Abraham Lincoln does not make one a U.S. Senator. Those who have authority in the Church were appointed by Christ and by those whom Christ appointed. Apostolic succession is real - though not merely mechanical. Those who sit in the seat of the Bishops must in fact teach what the Apostles taught. But to ordain men apart from this divinely appointed means comes dangerously close to the make-believe of cult-like groups who think nothing of proclaiming prophets and the like. Of course, the Orthodox Church treats with deference and respect those who lead Christian communities, and in most cases has graciously received converts from that number with respect (though some like myself, having been an Anglican, had to submit to re-ordination - I did not take this as an insult).

According to Scripture, it is only in the Church that we will find the “fullness of Him who filleth all in all.” Why would we want less than the fullness, and how could we dare to create our own organization and claim such a Divine reality to be its constitution? Those who have inherited their Church from their own fathers stand perhaps in a different quandary. But it is still a quandary to be pondered and not merely justified because it exists.

"Church" is not "what you make it" nor is it merely the latest creation of well-meaning people who think that Holy Mother Church must be "reinvented" or "made more relevant."

Thank you Father Stephen!

Read more of Father at


"Orthodox People Time"

"In my opinion, being in Church for that first Amen is a sign, an indication of one's humility. And where humility is, its opposite is sin. The sin is not disturbing other people. The other people in Church are not the object of our worship. It is rude, to disturb other people. But it is sinful to be so presumptuous and prideful that one can jump in and sing with thousands of Archangels and ten thousands of Angels at one's own whim. We stand before the throne of God, and when we realize that, every other consideration, all our personal likes and dislikes, become secondary."
-- Bishop BASIL, Diocese of Wichita & Mid-America

Bishop BASIL, through this statement, gave me pause. He caused me to stop and think.

He put into words something that has been at the back of my mind for a long time.

What Bishop BASIL said caused me to say “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

“Orthodox People Time” as Fr. Joseph Huneycutt titled this quote, is an interesting phenomena, especially to those lately come, like me. People come in at all times during services. On the one hand, the informality is delightful, in its own way. Because Orthros starts the morning at a set time, 8:30 on Sundays for instance, Divine Liturgy starts at a little different time depending on Orthros. Understandable, then, that some might come in a various points during Orthros – or even during the very beginning of the Divine Liturgy.

It is a good thing, too, that those who might be detained for good reason, will come for as much of the service or Divine Liturgy as they can.

On the other hand, we are often all too ready to make the exception the rule. Soon even the attempt to arrive “on time” has vanished in the wind, and we let all sorts of things delay us. It is a distraction to be sure, and it makes the visitor wonder when people habitually arrive late, even appearing in the pew just prior to the distribution of our Lord’s most precious Body and Blood.

As “one lately come,” as a parent, godfather, and now a grandfather, I also want to humbly point out that such behaviors teach and model to our precious children that these holy things aren’t really that important at all, since we can do all kinds of “other things” on say, Sunday morning, popping in for the last half hour of the Divine Liturgy.

All of these things are easily used of Satan to deceive us into an easy happy-go-lucky view of the most Holy Faith – and are used of that old wily foe to lull us into thinking that everything centers on “me” and “my comfort” and “what I want.” And it denies Christ, and in all reality acts as though we really only need Him as a buddy or friend when we want Him around.

All of this is not to point fingers, either. Lord be merciful to me, the sinner. For I’ve wandered in late, become distracted, too. So, dear reader, this isn’t just about “you,” – it is about us.

We are often so wrapped up in our little worlds that we don’t see the larger picture, and we don’t think all that much beyond our own little comfort zone. So, I come in late, but I don’t think of those who are already present. But even more than that, it is sinful to be so presumptuous and prideful that one can jump in and sing with thousands of Archangels and ten thousands of Angels at one’s own whim!

And when we do these things, we become idolaters, putting ourselves at the center of the universe, thinking that everything and everyone, including the Blessed and Holy Trinity, should give way to “me.”

So we stop and think: we certainly do not want to be rude to those around – but the bigger problem is in the sin of pridefully attempting to stand before God on our own terms. That cannot be done.

St. Paul writes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And Holy Mother Church through the ages has called her sons and daughters to live in the communion of the Holy Trinity as she calls them to worship. The Master sends His servants saying, “Come, for all things are ready.” He provides the garments. How dare we despise Him by our rude and sinful actions?

“Orthodox time” is on the one hand delightful – it is a joy to see those who have been detained for good reason come, albeit a bit late! On the other hand, we must repent of our sinful and slothful attitudes when we make it a matter of habit to “drop in” at our own convenience – or merely put in an appearance.

It is such a joy to be wrapped up in the Divine Liturgy and in the other services! It is a blessing of the Holy Spirit to be able to pray in the privacy of our homes those words handed down from the apostles! To be Orthodox, to live in Christ, to submit to His will, is to experience “heaven on earth!”

Thank you, Bishop BASIL, for your fatherly Word of the Lord!


Thursday, September 13, 2007

What’s in a name?

This Article was met by some resistance when originally published. Some thought that I was advocating the abandonment of all Greek in our parish -- but such was not the case. Our concern must be for the one, holy, orthodox, catholic faith and the spread of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. We can honor heritage, but not allow that hertiage to get in the way. Those coming home to Orthodoxy surely must respect the long history of those who brought this Holy Faith to the United States -- and those of the varying Ethnic Backgrounds must Remember that we are Orthodox and Greek or Serbian or Russian. To become Orthodox does not mean becoming Greek or Russian!

One of my fondest memories of our coming to Orthodoxy happened just after our Chrismation. As we came into the fellowship hall for the Evening in Athens that was in progress, Angelo approached, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “Now, you Greek!” Those of you who have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will remember that same line after Ian Miller is baptized. Good fun!

I suspect from reports that I have heard, that the same could be stated in any one of a number of Orthodox jurisdictions. “Now, you Russian!” “Now, you Serbian” The list could go on. (This isn’t only an Orthodox thing, either: Lutherans of yesteryear and some of today would say, “Now, you German!” In the first third of the twentieth century, many German Lutheran congregations switched to English because of the anti-German sentiment).

On the one hand, there is not a thing wrong with such light-hearted statements.

But the “dark side” lies in the fact that some, albeit well-intentioned pretty much mean it. That is to say, they will speak of the Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or …. ) Church and mean just that. Not the Greek ORTHODOX Church, but the GREEK Orthodox Church. That becomes a dangerous thing. It implies, whether it is intended or not, that Christ’s Church is a national thing and that there are many, rather than one, Church.

I am told that if you are in Greece (or Russia, or Serbia or … ) that it is the Orthodox Church that is referenced, or “the Church.” However, when our forefathers came to this country, which has no “state church,” they quite naturally spoke of their Church by their nationality. And it was true that Greeks who came to this country did speak Greek, and Russians Russian, and Serbians Serbian and Romanians, Romanian (and so on), because at that time it was their native tongue.

However, it was the same Divine Liturgy. It was the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It was Christ’s Church. And that joined all across the nationalistic and ethnic backgrounds. The hierarchs could gather and speak with one voice, although in different languages.

That was then. But we don’t live “then,” but now! And we all rejoice in the faith of Holy Mother Church, we rejoice that we are joined in Christ! And we truly do say to all around, “come and see!”

And we can rejoice that our liturgy is a living liturgy, but that it is the liturgy of the Holy Church and that it doesn’t change willy-nilly with every fad and fancy, as it is a guardian of the truth served by faithful priests and bishops!

However, we are now American. And our language is English. And we want those who join us to see and hear and understand the faith handed down. We do not want to make comments that would suggest that because a person doesn’t share our ethnic background that they are “second class.”

At the same time, we certainly don’t want to lose the timeless beauty of the Greek in the Divine Liturgy (and, of course, those of other backgrounds might say the same).

Our Liturgy, our Church is so rich and full that it takes time to experience it all. Our worship is multi-dimensional, “3-D” or even “4-D” compared to then one dimensional and two dimensional “worship” services of so many others that call themselves church. It takes time to assimilate it, and we certainly don’t want language to be a barrier, nor do we want our own attidudes to become a barrier to the Faith given in Christ!

So, Ezekiel, what are you saying?

First, we can treasure our ethnic backgrounds, but we must guard against allowing those backgrounds to destroy the unity we have in Christ. We dare not suggest that people need “become Greek” or “become Russian” (and the list goes on) to be Orthodox. Treasure the heritage and pass it one, but don’t equate ethnic background with the Church.

I think that we also need do what we can to make our Divine Liturgy accessible to all. That doesn’t mean changing it, but it does mean being aware that many who come are not versed in Greek. It is true that over time one can learn the Greek of the Liturgy, to be sure – but we want all to know what they are saying the “Amen” to! I would be willing to work with Father and with Vassilli to assure that the hymnody of each Sunday and feast is accessible to all. As I look about at Divine Liturgy, I see many who aren’t really aware of the marvelous apolotykia, troparia, and kontakia that are being sung. With words, all could follow and even join in the song of the Church!

Above all, we need to assure that people see the marvel of the Church united in one Eucharistic fellowship over every nation and ethnic background. We want all to see that we are indeed Orthodox, in order that they may see the Church in our country, not merely as a transplant or ethnic oddity. That doesn’t mean that we lose the rich heritage that has been handed down from our ethnic backgrounds – but it does mean that we never let that cloud the fact that we are joined in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, in Christ, in whom there is no Jew nor Greek.

We have received the True Light! And we have received the Heavenly Spirit! Now, we deny our selves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

We are Orthodox. We are Christian.

With all humility and love in Christ


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Journey Home

This article was published in our parish newsletter in March, 2006

I (and my wife) were born into Lutheran homes, and we were baptized as infants in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Both of our families were active in their Lutheran congregations, and both of us were raised in “traditional” Lutheran homes.

At the age of about 13, when I was confirmed, my pastor suggested that I consider becoming a Lutheran pastor. I’d never even though of this before. My education began in High School, continued through Junior College and Senior College, and culminated with four years at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I left the seminary in April of 1972, and was ordained in that month. Karon and I were married in 1968, and our daughter Tracey was born in 1972, son David was born in 1976, both in Cedar Rapids Iowa.

As a Lutheran pastor, I served parishes in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Troy, Michigan, and finally in Glen Carbon, Illinois. The first and last parishes were “traditional,” in that the Lutheran Liturgy was followed, and Christian growth and training was based the Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. The church in Troy, Michigan followed “church growth” techniques of various protestant groups and abandoned even the historic liturgy and teaching of the Lutheran Church.

In the last two decades of my ministry and life as a Lutheran, I was very much concerned that the “deposit of truth” be maintained. My parish in Glen Carbon was liturgical and celebrated Eucharist every Sunday and on feast days. I offered Confession and Absolution, although not many received this. I encouraged daily disciplined prayer, and as I grew in my understanding of the Fathers, encouraged reading and studying them.

However, within Lutheranism, particularly the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Confessions of the Church were given lip service, while practically speaking they were abandoned. Although Confession and Absolution were part of what Lutherans confess, the official church body didn’t require the practice. Increasing, any semblance of the historic western liturgy gave way to “pick and choose” when it came to worship. Rather than seeing improvement in these things, or any sort of repentance, things were glossed over. A number of my colleagues and I became very much concerned that Lutheranism, in particular the Missouri Synod, was akin to the Titanic. Everyone was always waiting for the next convention or the next administration to “fix” things, but it didn’t get better.

It couldn’t get better because when one asks wrong questions, one gets wrong answers. And where truth is obscured or made relative, there can be no freedom, but only a constant movement here and there. Prayers and Liturgy are replaced by high sounding doctrinal discussions which leave the people behind and which are aimed only at scoring points. And this is not what the Nicene Creed means when it says “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” That phrase of the creed has always been very important to me, and to a number of my colleagues. We believed that this Church was visible (not invisible, some idealistic hoped for reunion), alive, well – and as our Lord Christ says: the gates of hell did not prevail against it.

We wrestled with the fact that seriously reading the Confessions of the Lutheran church indicated that there really shouldn’t be a “Lutheran” church at all: for the Reformers were demonstrating that they were actually one with the ancient church. Indeed, it is clear that they would hold to the ancient fathers, to that which the Church had handed down. Their claim was that Rome had ceased doing that – thus a call for Reform!

Three plus years ago, our small group began discussion which included Orthodox of the Antiochean Archdiocese, among them Fr Gordon Walker, one of a group of people from Campus Crusade for Christ that discovered the Fathers, formed an “orthodox” church body, and then discovered that there was an Orthodox Church, the ancient Church. We wrestled and prayed. Initially, although we certainly found large areas of agreement, we were pretty much convinced that Lutherans could still function.

Our prayers and study continued, amidst the crumbling Lutherans. All of us were very much concerned that the Office of the Holy Ministry (the Priesthood) was more often than not not seen as ordained by Christ and given to His Church. Pastors were defined as those selected to carry out things given to every Christian to do. They were literally hired and fired. All of us were very much in the minority in our church body regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. Most treated her ever virginity as a “pious opinion, ‘ in spite of the fact that the Church East and West confessed and taught this from the apostolic times.

Lutherans are run by a congregational polity. This is to say that a local congregation has autonomy and can do pretty much as it pleases. Indeed, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is a “voluntary assembly of congregations,” NOT the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And as such a body, it really has no bishops. It even uses language that says that every pastor (priest) is a bishop – directly contradicting the teaching of the Fathers and the Church through the ages.

I have wrestled with these things increasingly in these last years. I’ve seen the church body in which I was raised split into many warring factions, its polity becoming a corporate giant concerned with survival and success as the world counts such things. Where was the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?

And then, in February of 2005, our little group held a retreat at Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI. I was overwhelmed as the Sisters sang the hours, beginning at 5 am, lasting until 7:30 am. I was touched by the Spirit at meals in which idle chatter was non-existent, and during which Fr. Roman Braga read from St Maximos the Confessor. And in evening discussions, this man who had survived Soviet solitary confinement and called it a blessing radiated the quiet peace and love of Christ. We were all deeply moved as Archbishop NATHANIEL spoke with us at an evening “banquet.” He treated us with love and respect and spoke of Christ and His Church in a way that I’d never seen in any President or official of a Lutheran Church Body. It was shortly after this that for me, my journey to Orthodoxy changed from “if” to “when.”

Indeed, one of my parishioners, the man who is now my Godfather, said to me on more than one occasion in the last half of 2005 (after he returned to the Church), “You are Orthodox. How can you continue to serve at a Lutheran altar.” Karon and I were talking (it was probably mostly me at that time) in June already about my increasing discomfort with what calls itself Lutheran.

And then, at Greek Fest this past September, met Fr. Dumitru. He and I “clicked” as they say. Indeed, I felt a closer kinship to him than I did to many of my Lutheran colleagues in office! What a joy that meeting was!

Now the question was “when.” Through some rather harrowing experiences in the fall of 2005, my lovely wife and I determined that the time had come to leave our Lutheran heritage for Orthodoxy. I won’t say much about that time, except that it became very clear that Lutherans have no proper bishops, and that pastors are treated by so many as hirelings. It also became clear that God was moving: He provided very supportive, loving and loyal families (I hope that many of them will soon join us), and the Church has now received us. Fr Dumitru’s “Welcome Home” after our Chrismation on February 6th brought tears of joy and relief.

The Church has indeed survived the onslaughts of hell! And despite the follies and foibles of sinful creatures, the Divine Liturgy continues to give faith! You can be certain that the Church remains in her Heirarchs, Bishops and Priests concerned and sworn to guard the deposit of Truth! Never take that for granted! For here, Christ is in our midst.

“We have seen the true Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit.

We have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity,

for He hath saved us.”

Ezekiel +