Photos: Fr. Simeon de la Jara


Father Simeon de la Jara from Peru:

On a righteous path from Peru to Mount Athos, Greece



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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












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.

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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.






Harmony by Shlomi Nissim


Orthodox Mission

Orthodox Missionary Fraternity





Αδελφότητα Ορθοδόξου Εξωτερικής Ιεραποστολής









Photo: Alaska, USA


Native American Pathways to Orthodoxy


Marriane Poulos



I first felt the words of Christ come to life on a Pueblo Native American reservation in New Mexico, at “Ok’Ay Oh Ween Geh,” (Place of the Strong People.) The first time I stepped into the home of my Pueblo friend I was told, “This is not just my home, it is yours, too. And know that you always have a place to come home to, no matter how long it takes you to return.” How Christ-like this Indian elder was. The more our friendship grew, the more I was able to admire his goodness. Once I even saw him give the last of his money to an enemy. I also began to learn more of his people’s history. When the Spanish first came to the Southwest they called the Native Americans pagans. By force the colonizers converted them to Catholicism. They severely beat and hung many tribal leaders unless they allowed themselves to be baptized, immediately. They were made slaves. They were given Spanish names. “The Pueblo,” as a name did not exist yet. To themselves they were simply known only as “The People”. So it was in this atmosphere of evil The People were introduced to Christ, for the very first time. Despite the surrounding cruelty in which the Word came to them, they accepted it anyway. And this is what made the Native Americans such great Christians – they forgave their enemies.

To many Native American elders, the Word and the Way of Christ seemed so much like the teachings the Great Spirit had given to them. When they heard the scriptures they were convinced of Jesus, but they wondered why these bringers of his worWord were so unlike him – searching the Southwest for the mythic “Seven Cities of Gold,” My elder friend told me, “We knew where the gold was, but, you see, in an Indian way it would be bad for the people. It might make us greedy or start fighting, so we just left it buried there. In the Indian way a person’s worth was not determined by what he could accumulate, but by how much he could give.” Another Native friend of mine once told me, “Our ancestors grew up fearing the cross.” To them it had become a symbol of violence and death, comparable to the swastika.

One can only wonder how it would have been had the Pueblo Indians been introduced to Christ through the Orthodox Christian church like the Aleutian peoples of Alaska. The Aleuts, who were not mono-theistic, were taught the Christian gospel over a period of then years, and not so much by teaching and preaching, but by personal example. The life of Orthodox Saint Hermen of Alaska was one of humble service to the Kodiak people. His miracles of healing and prophesies concerning the future confirmed the Sugpiaq faith in Orthodox Christianity.

Today Alaska has become the home of four Orthodox saints, all who have been canonized by the church. This includes the martyred Kodiak Aleut Peter who died under torture in California for refusing to renounce Orthodoxy, after being captured by the Spanish. (Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, edited by Michael Oleska) Perhaps there are many pathways to the Giver of Life, Who is Everywhere Present, Who Fills All Things.

But the question remains, can one reject Christ and still achieve spiritual wholeness? The famous medicine man Black Elk believed the Indian tradition had been given by God to prepare the Indians for the revelation of Christ. (Michael Streltenkamp’s Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala, University of Oklahoma Press.) In comparing the various Native American Traditions to the mystic heart of the ancient Orthodox Christian Tradition (the original persecuted Christian Church of Christ,) we can find several corresponding links supporting this very idea. In both traditions we begin prayers by offering sweet fragrance to our Father in Heaven, or in the Native American tradition, to “Sky Father.” The Native Americans honor The Great Mystery in all the directions, and pray facing east, just as we Orthodox face east in prayer. The Bishops of the Orthodox church face east, south, west and north – to honor the Sun, Jesus Christ, rising in all the directions.

The traditional Native American idea of the Creator is expressed as The Great Mystery, and The Great Spirit. The Orthodox Church also shares the notion of God as Mystery, expressed beautifully by Bishop Kallistos Ware in his book,The Orthodox Way. He writes how the Greek Fathers “liken man’s encounter with God to the experience of someone walking over the mountains in the mist: he takes a step forward and suddenly finds that he is on the edge of a precipice, with no solid ground beneath his foot but only a bottomless abyss…our normal assumptions are shattered… And so it proves to be for each one who follows the spiritual Way. We go out from the known to the unknown, we advance from light into darkness. We do not simply proceed from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, but we go forward into greater knowledge which is so much more profound.”

And if the Holy Spirit, as the dynamic, as opposed to the still, aspect of God, in Orthodoxy, can be equated to the Native American concept of The Great Spirit, then perhaps we have reached the point where Christianity can be presented as the fulfillment of Indian tradition – in a new aspect of God. God as Person. A God who came to us to show his humble love for us. A God who experienced manhood out of his deep sympathy. “In his ecstatic love, God unites himself to his creation in the closest of all possible unions, by himself becoming that which he has created.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware)“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) This does not mean we replace or destroy the old. Many aspects of the Orthodox tradition correspond directly to the ancient beliefs of Native Americans, and perhaps this ancient window can also provide us with a greater scope of the deep Christ Heart.

One of our old, old holy men said,“Every step you take on earth should be a prayer. The power of a pure and good soul is in every person’s heart and will grow as a seed as you walk in a sacred manner. And if every step you take is a prayer, then you will always be walking in a sacred manner” (CharmaineWhiteFaceOglala Lakota).






553e9fd142208530f6d4bb94c388f33f,,,,,,,,,,Forest Reflections. Mammoth Lakes, Eastern Sierra, California. T







Joseph Magnus Frangipani, ALASKA, USA

After Baptism in the Eastern Orthodox Church


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

by Joseph Magnus Frangipani 

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

I listen to the heartbeat of rain outside…

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

I spent two birthdays in the Himalayas…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is suffering, and personhood, and sacrifice…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I say?

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

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

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

Editors Note: Joseph Magnus now lives in Port Townsend, Washington. He is a writer of children’s books and helps the Father Lazarus Moore Foundation.





Fr. Ephraim of Arizona


Photos from St Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Arizona, USA


The Spiritual War – Father Efraim of Philotheou and Arizona


Facebook about Father Ephraim Philotheitis, Arizona, USA 



St Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona


The Monasteries of Fr. Ephraim in America



Lance Goldsberry, USA:

 Why I Became Orthodox – A Personal Story & Testimony

From Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy



On January 31st, 2010, one day after my 50th birthday, I was received into the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of the East at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

My chrismation represented a 20 year journey of studying Orthodoxy. I was raised Roman Catholic, and went to parochial school for 12 years. I am grateful for my Roman Catholic upbringing; I learned who Jesus was, I believe I knew the Christ, but I did not always follow Him in my life.

After wasting a few years in adolescence and young adulthood smoking marijuanna and living a generally aimless life, I had a “born again” experience through the Catholic Charismatic movement. It was real in the sense that I repented of my sins and re-directed my life to Christ, and gave up drinking and drug use.

Shortly thereafter, I began attending independent charismatic churches, and left the Catholic faith. The churches I went to were very fundamentalistic. I got burned out after spending a few years in one fellowship in particular, where the leadership of untrained ”elders” exercised a very authoritarian and spiritually abusive kind of authority. After a failed marriage, I tried a number of evangelical churches, but did not find a home.

I am grateful for both my Catholic upbringing and my evangelical experience. My Catholic background instilled in me a knowledge of Jesus as my Lord, God, and Savior, and of wholesome morality. My evangelical experience taught me to be Christ-centered and to have a love of the Holy Scriptures.

After having been burned out from the fundamentalist sect, I began to do some reading. In fact, I already had been reading since the mid-1980s early Church fathers such as Polycarp of Smyrna, Ireneaos, and Ignatios of Antioch, and I was stuck by how “catholic” the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament itself were. I was especially struck by their belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For them, the Eucharist was the very Body and Blood of Christ our God. These early Christians had liturgy, sacraments, bishops; they did not seem like the fundamentalist churches I had been attending.

In the early 1990s I met a Greek Orthodox priest who would plant the seeds of my eventual conversion. Through a mutual friend, United Methodist Pastor Bob Stamps, I met Father Hans Jabobse. We all attended a bible study or sharing at lunch time once a week. Because Fr. Hans lived close to me, he often would give me a ride home. There was something compelling about Fr. Hans. I began asking him questions about Orthodoxy, the Eucharist, the Theotokos, and I always found his answers intriguing. He answered my questions with authority, humble but firm and certain.

I remember one day after Fr. Hans dropped me off at my home, I went upstairs and knelt by my bed, and said a Hail Mary for the first time in probably 10 years. A tear came to my eye. It was almost as if the Mother of God bent down and kissed me on the forehead.

I attended the parish he served at the time, my future parish, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church. I found the liturgy very uplifting and inspiring. I thought the chant sounded beautiful.

I began to attend inquirer’s classes at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis (St. Alexis Toth’s Church). For some reason, shortly after starting, my interest began to wane somewhat. I found Orthodoxy too conservative, and I quit going to the classes.

In the 1990s, I attend St. Mary’s Catholic Basilica on and off. I thought “Orthodoxy seems so similar to my Catholic faith, I might as well return to that.” At times I was devoted to my Catholic faith, and at other times, I was not. During the mid 1990s I actually began to lose my faith altogether, and started looking into Buddhism. But I never completely lost sight of Christ. I still read the New Testament every day, even during my short inquiry into Buddhism.

My return to Christ was inspired in part by watching the movie about Dorothy Day, called Entertaining Angels. There was a scene from the movie, when she was on the cusp of her conversion, where Dorothy is in Church, and look up at a crucifix and says,

“You really have a way of getting to people, don’t you?”.

It was a very moving scene, and I shed some tears.

Around 2000, I began attending a Byzantine Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis. I never completely lost my interest in the Christian East although it had waned at one time. As I re-committed my life to Christ, I began to think more about how to live out my Christian life, and how I would practice. I began to feel the hunger again for the Eastern Liturgy.

But since I was Catholic, I thought I would attend a Byzantine Catholic Church rather than an Orthodox one. I had read that the Byzantine Catholics shared the heritage of Eastern Orthodoxy, for they were Orthodox Churches that accepted union with Rome. My Church, the Byzantine Ruthenian Church, accepted union with Rome at Uzhorod in 1646.

I attended St. John’s for approximately 10 years. Overall, my experience at St. John’s was a very good one. All three priests that served our parish while I was there were very good men, very Eastern in their spirituality, and very trustworthy.

But during those years, I became increasingly Orthodox in my outlook. There are some very stark differences in Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spirituality and teaching. I found that on all of the issues that divide the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church, I came down in every instance on the side of the Orthodox- whether the issue was Papal Primacy, the Immaculate Conception, the Filioque, Purgatory, Indulgences, and a host of other issues.

I felt by far more attracted to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church. I began to feel disenchanted with the rationalist and legal framework of the Roman Church. It is my perception that the Roman Magisterium functionally supersedes Holy Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church.

As an Eastern Catholic, I had an identity crisis. Was I an Eastern Orthodox in communion with Rome, as many of the more Orthodox Eastern Catholics like to say? Or was I a Roman Catholic with Eastern Liturgics, as some Eastern Catholics in fact seem to be?

When people would ask me about my religion, I distanced myself from Roman Catholicism, and tried to explain what an Eastern Catholic was, and that I was really an Orthodox Christian “who accepted the authority of the Pope.” But in fact, I didn’t; I began to believe, as an Eastern Catholic, that the Pope could be seen as having a primacy of love and honor, as the eldest among co-equal brother bishops, but I could not accept that he had supreme jurisdiction over the entire Church Catholic.

I aligned myself with the Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Elias Zoghby, who proclaimed himself in duo communion with both Rome and Orthodoxy. Bishop Zoghby considered himself an Eastern Orthodox Christian, holding to everything Eastern Orthodoxy teaches, but in communion with the Bishop of Rome, according to the limits recognized by the Eastern Fathers of the first millennium. But the problem with this is obvious: how can I be in communion with the Pope of Rome, if I do not have the same view of his office as he does, and as the Roman Catholic Church requires of all her members?

I began to  be dissatisfied with certain limitations placed on the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States, such as not having married clergy. The authentic tradition of the Eastern Church is to have married clergy, but for most of the time Eastern Catholics have been in Western Europe and in the United States, they have not been allowed to have married clergy. Although my bishop in fact was willing to ordain married men, and in fact had done so, most of our bishops were not courageous enough to do so.

I also questioned how I could belong to an autonomous Church, when Rome in fact chooses our Metropolitan? Or when Pope John Paul II in fact promulgated our Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Catholic Churches? And why in fact was there only one Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, when in fact, there are 21 divergent Eastern Catholic Churches, with very different heritages and theological traditions? With the exception of the Maronites, all the Eastern Catholic Churches have an analog in the Orthodox world- there are Catholic Russians, Greeks, Copts, Ethiopians, Syro-Indians, etc.

I decided I wanted the Orthodox identity. I believe in my heart that the Orthodox Church is the true Church, the Church founded by Christ and his apostles.  I believe that Catholics and Protestants are Christians too, I am not an exclusivist in the sense of asserting that only Orthodox are Christians and go to heaven. But the Orthodox Church has preserved in purity the faith

“You really have a way of getting to people, don’t you?”

It was a very moving scene, and I shed some tears.

Around 2000, I began attending a Byzantine Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis. I never completely lost my interest in the Christian East although it had waned at one time. As I re-committed my life to Christ, I began to think more about how to live out my Christian life, and how I would practice. I began to feel the hunger again for the Eastern Liturgy.

But since I was Catholic, I thought I would attend a Byzantine Catholic Church rather than an Orthodox one. I had read that the Byzantine Catholics shared the heritage of Eastern Orthodoxy, for they were Orthodox Churches that accepted union with Rome. My Church, the Byzantine Ruthenian Church, accepted union with Rome at Uzhorod in 1646.

I attended St. John’s for approximately 10 years. Overall, my experience at St. John’s was a very good one. All three priests that served our parish while I was there were very good men, very Eastern in their spirituality, and very trustworthy.

But during those years, I became increasingly Orthodox in my outlook. There are some very stark differences in Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spirituality and teaching. I found that on all of the issues that divide the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church, I came down in every instance on the side of the Orthodox- whether the issue was Papal Primacy, the Immaculate Conception, the Filioque, Purgatory, Indulgences, and a host of other issues.

I felt by far more attracted to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church. I began to feel disenchanted with the rationalist and legal framework of the Roman Church. It is my perception that the Roman Magisterium functionally supersedes Holy Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church.

As an Eastern Catholic, I had an identity crisis. Was I an Eastern Orthodox in communion with Rome, as many of the more Orthodox Eastern Catholics like to say? Or was I a Roman Catholic with Eastern Liturgics, as some Eastern Catholics in fact seem to be?

When people would ask me about my religion, I distanced myself from Roman Catholicism, and tried to explain what an Eastern Catholic was, and that I was really an Orthodox Christian “who accepted the authority of the Pope.” But in fact, I didn’t; I began to believe, as an Eastern Catholic, that the Pope could be seen as having a primacy of love and honor, as the eldest among co-equal brother bishops, but I could not accept that he had supreme jurisdiction over the entire Church Catholic.

I aligned myself with the Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Elias Zoghby, who proclaimed himself in duo communion with both Rome and Orthodoxy. Bishop Zoghby considered himself an Eastern Orthodox Christian, holding to everything Eastern Orthodoxy teaches, but in communion with the Bishop of Rome, according to the limits recognized by the Eastern Fathers of the first millennium. But the problem with this is obvious: how can I be in communion with the Pope of Rome, if I do not have the same view of his office as he does, and as the Roman Catholic Church requires of all her members?

I began to  be dissatisfied with certain limitations placed on the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States, such as not having married clergy. The authentic tradition of the Eastern Church is to have married clergy, but for most of the time Eastern Catholics have been in Western Europe and in the United States, they have not been allowed to have married clergy. Although my bishop in fact was willing to ordain married men, and in fact had done so, most of our bishops were not courageous enough to do so.

I also questioned how I could belong to an autonomous Church, when Rome in fact chooses our Metropolitan? Or when Pope John Paul II in fact promulgated our Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Catholic Churches? And why in fact was there only one Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, when in fact, there are 21 divergent Eastern Catholic Churches, with very different heritages and theological traditions? With the exception of the Maronites, all the Eastern Catholic Churches have an analog in the Orthodox world- there are Catholic Russians, Greeks, Copts, Ethiopians, Syro-Indians, etc.

I decided I wanted the Orthodox identity. I believe in my heart that the Orthodox Church is the true Church, the Church founded by Christ and his apostles.  I believe that Catholics and Protestants are Christians too, I am not an exclusivist in the sense of asserting that only Orthodox are Christians and go to heaven. But the Orthodox Church has preserved in purity the faith

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

The Orthodox Church has continuity through episcopal apostolic succession with the Churches originally found by the Apostles in Europe in Asia in the first century.

The Orthodox Church is not a monarchial Church, it is a conciliar Church. The doctrine of the Christ, His Divine-Humanity, was enunciated by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church from years 325 A.D. to 787 A.D. The Bishops, throughout the world, came together at these councils and proclaimed the doctrine of the Church. There is no one Bishop who defines dogma for the Church, as Roman Catholics claim for the Pope.

Besides embracing with my heart everything Holy Orthodoxy teaches, I love the spirituality and aesthetics of the Orthodox Church.

For Orthodox, God is not angry, rather He is the lover of mankind. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not to placate a vengeful God, but to liberate us from sin and death, and to defeat our adversary, the devil. For Orthodox Christians, there is no “sinners in the hands of an angry god.”

Orthodox spirituality is apophatic; that is, we cannot know him through discursive thought. We cannot know God by our ideas about God.

One of the things that attracted me to Orthodoxy originally was its liturgy. The Russian Primary Chronicle relates the story of St. Vladimir’s emissaries who were sent out to various nations to discover the true faith. Here is what they wrote back to Vladimir after visiting the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople:

Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here.

 This is how I feel about Orthodox worship. It is beautiful, it is the liturgy of heaven.

I am now a very contented Orthodox Christian. I believe that the Orthodox faith is the true faith.

“This is the Faith of the Apostles. This is the Faith of the Fathers. This is the Faith of the Orthodox. This is the Faith that has established the universe.” – from The Synodikon of Orthodoxy.







Callas Tiago Miranda Photography www.facebook.com-TiagoMirandaPhotography #callas #flowers #nature

The Eastern Orthodox Church is the only Truth and Apostolic Church –

American documentary: “The Ancient Church”


How old is the Orthodox faith?



If you are a Lutheran, your religion was founded by Martin Luther, an ex-monk of the Catholic Church, in the year 1517. If you belong to the Church of England, your religion was founded by King Henry VIII in the year 1534 because the Pope would not grant him a divorce with the right to re-marry. If you are a Presbyterian, your religion was founded by John Knox in Scotland in the year 1560. If you are a Congregationalist, your religion was originated by Robert Brown in Holland in 1582. If you are Protestant Episcopalian, your religion was an offshoot of the Church of England, founded by Samuel Senbury in the American colonies in the 17th century. If you are a Baptist, you owe the tenets of your religion to John Smyth, who launched it in Amsterdam in 1606. If you are of the Dutch Reformed Church, you recognize Michelis Jones as founder because he originated your religion in New York in 1628. If you are a Methodist, your religion was founded by John and Charles Wesley in England in 1774. If you are a Mormon (Latter Day Saints), Joseph Smith started your religion in Palmyra, New York, in 1829. If you worship with the Salvation Army, your sect began with William Booth in London in 1865. If you are Christian Scientist, you look to 1879 as the year in which your religion was born and to Mary Baker Eddy as its founder.

If you belong to one of the religious organizations known as “Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostal Gospel,” “Holiness Church,” or “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” your religion is one of the hundreds of new sects founded by men within the past hundred years.

If you are Roman Catholic, your church shared the same rich apostolic and doctrinal heritage as the Orthodox Church for the first thousand years of its history, since during the first millennium they were one and the same Church. Lamentably, in 1054, the Pope of Rome broke away from the other four Apostolic Patriarchates (which include Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), by tampering with the Original Creed of the Church, and considering himself to be infallible. Thus your church is 1,000 years old.

If you are Orthodox Christian of the Eastern Orthodox Church, your Church was founded in the year 33 by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It has not changed since that time. Our church is now almost 2,000 years old. And it is for this reason, that Orthodoxy, the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers is considered the true “one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” This is the greatest legacy that we can pass on to the young people of the new millennium.





This article of the then Hierodeacon Fr. Paul Ballester-Convollier was published in two follow up articles by the “Kivotos” Magazine, July 1953, p. 285-291 and December 1953 p. 483- 485. The previous Franciscan monk who had turned to Orthodoxy was made titlebearing bishop Nanzizian of the Holy Hierobishopric  of North and South America with its seat in Mexico. There he was met with a martyric death, the confessor of the Orthodox faith. The news of his murder was reported on the first page of the newspaper “Kathemerini” (Saturday 4 February1984) thus: “THE GREEK ORTHODOX BISHOP PAUL WAS MURDERED IN MEXICO. As it became known from the city of Mexico, before yesterday the bishop Nianzizian  Paul Di Ballester of the Greek archbishopric of North and South America died. He was murdered by a 70 year old Mexican, previous military and suffering from psychiatric illness. The funeral was attended by the Archbishop Jacob who was aware of the work of the active bishop. It should be pointed out that Bishop Paul was of Spanish origin, was received into Orthodoxy as an adult and excelled as a shepherd and author. The Mexican authorities do not exclude the possibility that his murderer was driven to his act through some sort of fanaticism.


Why I abandoned Papism


Martyr Bishop Paul Ballester-Convolier

 A horrible dilemma.

My conversion to Orthodoxy began one day while I was reordering the Library catalogues of the monastery I belong to. This monastery belonged to the Franciscan order, founded in my country of Spain. While I was classifying different old articles concerning the Holy Inquisition, I happened to come across an article that was truly impressive, dating back to 1647. This article described a decision of the Holy Inquisition that anathematized as heretic any Christian who dared believe, accept or preach to others that he supported the apostolic validity of the Apostle Paul.

It was about a horrible finding that my mind could not comprehend. I immediately thought to calm my soul that perhaps it was due to a typographical error or due to some forgery, which was not so uncommon in the western Church of that time when the articles were written. However, my disturbance and my surprise became greater after researching and confirming that the decision of the Holy Inquisition that was referred to in the article was authentic. In fact already during two earlier occasions, namely in 1327 and 1331, the Popes John 22nd and Clemens 6th had condemned and anathematized any one who dared deny that the Apostle Paul during his entire apostolic life, was totally subordinate to the ecclesiastic monarchal authority of the first Pope and king of the Church, namely the Apostle Peter. And a lot later Pope Pius 10th, in 1907 and Benedict 15th, in 1920, had repeated the same anathemas and the same condemnations.

I had therefore to dismiss any possibility of it being due to an inadvertent misquoting or forgery. So I was thus confronted with a serious problem of conscience.

Personally it was impossible for me to accept that the Apostle Paul was disposed off under whatever Papal command. The independence of his apostolic work among nations, against that which characterized the apostolic work of Peter among the circumcised, for me was the unshakeable event that shouted from the Holy Bible.

The thing was totally clear to me who he was, as the explaining works of the Fathers on this issue do not leave the slightest doubt. “Paul- writes St Chrysostom- declares his equality with the rest of the apostles and should be compared not only with all the others but with the first one of them, to prove that each one had the same authority”. Truly, together all the Fathers agree that “all the rest of the apostles were the same like Peter, namely they were endowed with the same honour and authority”. It was impossible for who ever of them, to exercise higher authority from the rest, for the apostolic title that each had was the “highest authority, the peak of authorities”. They were all shepherds, while the flock was one. And the flock was shepherded by the apostles in conformity by all”.

The matter was therefore crystal clear. Despite this, the Roman teaching was against the situation. This way for the first time in my life, I experienced a frightful dilemma. What could I say? On one side the Bible and the Holy Tradition and on the other side the teaching of the Church? According to the Roman theology it is essential for our salvation to believe that the Church is a pure monarchy, whose monarch is the Pope. This way, the synod of the Vatican, voting together all the earlier convictions, it declared officially that “if any one says ……. that Peter (who is assumed to be the first Pope) was not ordained by Christ as the leader of the Apostles and visible Head of all the Church ………. is under anathema”.

I am addressing my confessor.

Within this psychological disturbance I addressed my confessor and naively described the situation. He was one of the most famous priests of the monastery. He heard me with sadness, aware that it involved a very difficult problem. Having thought for a few minutes while looking in vain for an acceptable resolution, he finally told me the following that I confess I did not expect.

The Bible and the Fathers have harmed you, my child. Set it and them aside and confine yourself to following the infallible teachings of the Church and do not let yourself become victim of such thoughts. Never allow creatures of God whoever they may be, to scandalize your faith in God and the Church.

This answer he gave very explicitly, caused my confusion to grow. I always held that especially the Word of God is the only thing that one cannot set aside.

Without allowing me any time to respond, my confessor added: “In exchange, I shall give you a list of prominent authors in whose works your faith will relax and be supported”. And asking me if I had something else “more interesting” to ask, he terminated our conversation.

Few days later, my confessor departed from the monastery for a preaching tour of Churches of the monastic order. He left me the list of authors, recommending that I read them. And he asked me to inform him of my progress in this reading by writing him.

Even though his words did not convince me in the least, I collected these books and started to read them as objectively and attentively as possible.

The majority of the books were theological texts and manuals of papal decisions as well as of ecumenical synods. I threw myself to the study with genuine interest, having only the Bible as my guide, “Thy law is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my paths”. (Ps 118:105).

As I progressed in my study of those books, I would understand more and more, that I was unaware of the nature of my Church. Having been proselytized in Christianity and baptized as soon as I completed my encyclical studies, I continued with philosophical studies and then as I speak to you I was just at the beginning of the theological studies. It concerned of a science totally new to me. Until then Christianity and the Roman Church was for me an amalgam, something absolutely indivisible. In my monastic life I was only concerned with their exterior view and I was given no reason to examine in depth the bases and reasons of the organic structure of my Church.

The preposterous Teaching about the Pope.

Exactly then, within the bouquet of articles, that wisely my spiritual leader had put together, the true nature of this monarchal system, known as the Roman Church, started to unravel. I suppose a summary of her characteristics would not be superfluous.

First of all, to the Roman Catholics, the Christian Church “is nothing more than an absolute monarchy” whose monarch is the Pope who functions in all her facets as such. On this papist monarchy “all the power and stability of the Church is found” which otherwise “would not have been possible”. The same Christianity is supported completely by Papism. And still some more, “Papism is the most significant agent of Christianity”, “it is its zenith and its essence”.

The monarchic authority of the Pope as supreme leader and the visible head of the Church, cornerstone, Universal Infallible Teacher  of the Faith, Representative (Vicar) of God on earth, shepherd of shepherds and Supreme Hierarch, `is totally dynamic and dominant and embraces all the teachings and legal rights that the Church has. “Divine right ” is extended on all and individually  on each baptized man across the whole world. This dictatorial authority can be exercised at any time, over anything and on any Christian across the world, whether lay or clergy, and in any church of any denomination and language it may be, in consideration of the Pope being the supreme bishop of every ecclesiastical diocese in the world.

People who refuse to recognize all this authority and do not submit blindly, are schismatic, heretic, impious and sacrilegious and their souls are already destined to eternal damnation, for it is essential for our salvation that we believe in the institution of Papism and submit to it and its representatives. This way the Pope incarnates that imaginary Leader, prophesied by Cicero, writing that all must recognize him to be holy.

Always in the roman teaching, “accepting that the Pope has the right to intervene and judge all  spiritual issues of everyone and each Christian separately, that much more does he have the right to do the same in their worldly affairs. He cannot be limited to judging only through spiritual penalties, denying the eternal salvation to those who do not submit to him, but also he has the right to exercise authority over the faithful. For the Church has two knives, symbol of her spiritual and worldly power. The first of these is in the hands of the clergy, the other in the hands of Kings and soldiers, who though they too are under the will and service of the clergy”.

The Pope, maintaining that he is the representative of Him whose “kingdom is not of this world”, of Him who forbade the Apostles to imitate the kings of the world who “conquer the nations” and nominates himself as a worldly king, thus continuing the imperialism of Rome. At different periods he in fact had become lord over great expanses, he declared bloody wars against other Christian kings, to acquire other land expanses, or even to satisfy his thirst for more wealth and power. He owned a great number of slaves. He played a central role and many times a decisive role in political history. The duty of the Christian lords is to retreat in the face “of the divine right king” surrendering to him their kingdom and their politico-ecclesiastic throne, “that was created to ennoble and anchor all the other thrones of the world”. To day the worldly capital of the pope is confined to the Vatican City. It concerns an autonomous nation with diplomatic representations in the governments of both hemispheres, with army, weapons police, jails, currency etc.

And as crown and peak of the almightiness of the Pope, he has one more faithful privilege that even the most ignoble idolaters could not even imagine- the infallible divine right, according to the dogmatic rule of the Vatican Synod that took place on 1870. Since then on “humanity ought to address to him whatever it addresses to the Lord:  you have words of eternal life”. From now on, there is no need of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church “to all the truth”. There is no more need of the Holy Bible nor of the Sacred Tradition for thus there is a god on earth, based on the infallible, the Pope is the only canon of Truth who can even express things contrary to the judgment of all the Church, declare new dogmas, which the faithful ought to accept if they do not wish to be cut off from their salvation. “It depends only on his will and intention to deem whatever he wishes, as sacred and holy within the Church” and the decratalian letters must be deemed, believed and obeyed “as canonical epistles”. Since he is an infallible Pope, he must receive blind obedience. Cardinal Bellarmine, who was declared saint by the Roman Church, says this simply: “If the Pope some day imposed sins and forbade virtues, the Church is obliged to believe that these sins are good and these virtues are bad”.

The answer of my confessor

Having read all those books, I felt myself as a stranger within my Church, whose organizational composition has no relation to the Church that the Lord built and organized by the Apostles and their disciples and as intended by the Holy Fathers. Under this belief I wrote my first letter to my superior- “I read your books. I shall not contravene the divine warrants so that I may follow the human teachings that have no basis at all in the Holy Bible. Such teachings are a string of foolishness by Papism. From the provisions of the Holy Bible we can understand the nature of the Church and not through human decisions and theories. The truth of faith does not spring but from the Holy Bible and from the Tradition of the whole Church”.

The reply came fast- You have not followed my advice- complained my elder- and exposed your soul to the dangerous impact of the Holy Bible, which, like fire burns and blackens when it does not shine. In such situations like yours, the Popes have pronounced that it “is a scandalous error for one to believe that all the Christians could read the Holy Bible”, and the theologians assure us that the Holy Bible “is a dark cloud”. “For one to believe in the enlightenment and clarity of the Bible is a heterodox dogma” so claim our infallible leaders. “As far as the Tradition, I do not consider it necessary to remind you that we should primarily follow the Pope on matters of faith. The Pope is worth in this case thousands of Augustinians, Jeronymuses, Gregories, Chrysostoms………..”.This letter accomplished to strengthen my opinion rather than demolish it. It was impossible for me to place the Holy Bible below the Pope. By attacking the Holy Bible, my Church was losing every worthy belief ahead of me, and was becoming one with the heretics who “being elected by the Bible turn against it”. This was the last contact I had with my elder.

The Pope is everything and the Church is nothing

However I did not stop there. I had already started to “skid due to the skid” of my Church. I had taken a road that I was not allowed to stop until I found a positive solution. The drama of those days was that I had estranged myself from Papism, but I did not accost any other ecclesiastical reality. Orthodoxy and Protestantism then were for me vague ideas and I had not reached the time and opportunity to ascertain that they could offer something to soothe my agony. Despite all this I continued to love my Church that made me a Christian and I bore her symbol. I still needed more profound thinking to reach slowly, with trouble and grief to the conclusion that the Church I loved was not part of the papist system.

Truly, against the monocracy of the Pope, the authority of the Church and of the bishopric body, is not intrinsically subordinate. Because according to the Roman theology “the authority of the Church exists only when it is characterized and harmonized by the Pope. In all other cases it is nullified”. This way it is the same thing whether the Pope is with the Church or the Pope is without the Church, in other words, the Pope is everything and the Church is nothing. Very correctly did the bishop Maren write, “It would have been more accurate if the Roman Catholics when they recite the “I believe” would say “And in one Pope” instead of “And in one …….Church”.

The importance and function of the bishops in the Roman Church is no more than that of representatives of the papist authority to which the bishops submit like the lay faithful. This regime they try to uphold under the 22nd chapter of St John’s gospel, which according to the Roman interpretation “the Lord entrusts the Apostle Peter, the first Pope, the shepherding of His lambs and of His sheep”, namely, He bestows on him the job of the Chief Shepherd with exclusive rights on all the faithful, who are the lambs and all the others, Apostles and Bishops, namely, the sheep.

However, the bishops in the Roman Church, are not even successors to the Apostles, for as it dogmatizes, this Church “the apostolic authority was lacking with the Apostles and was not passed down her successors, the bishops. Only the Papist authority of Peter, namely the Popes. The bishops then, having not inherited any apostolic authority, have no other authority but the one given to them, not directly from God but by the Extreme Pontiff of Rome.

And the Ecumenical synods also have no other value than the one given to them by the Bishop of Rome, “for they cannot be anything else except conferences of Christianity that are called under the authenticity and authority of the Pope”. Suffice the Pope to exit the hall of the Synod saying “I am not in there anymore” to stop from that moment on the Ecumenical Synod from having any validity, if it is not authorized and validated by the Pope, who could impose through his authority on the faithful.

The frightful answer of a Jesuit.

I almost gave up on my studies during that period, taking advantage of the hours that my order allowed me to retire to my cell, to think of nothing else but my big problem. For whole months I would study the structure and organization of the early Church, straight from the apostolic and patristic sources. However, all this work could not be done totally in secrecy. It looked obvious that my exterior life was greatly affected by this great concern which had overwhelmed all my interest and sapped all my strength. I never lost an opportunity to enquire from outside the monastery whatever could contribute towards shedding light to my problem. This way I started to discuss the topic with known ecclesiastical acquaintances in relation to the trust I had in their frankness and their heart. This way I would receive continuously impressions and opinions on the topic which were for me always interesting and significant.

I found most of these clerics more fanatical than I expected. Even though they were deeply aware of the absurdity of the teaching on the Pope, being stuck to the idea that “the required submission to the Pope demands a blind consent of our views” and in the other maxim by the founder of Jesuits by which “That we may possess the truth and not fall in fallacy, we owe it to always depend on the basic and immovable axiom that what we see as white in reality it is black, if that is what the hierarchy of the Church tells us”. With this fantastic bias a priest of the order of Jesus, entrusted me with the following thought:-

“What you tell me I acknowledge that they are most logical and very clear and true. However, for us Jesuits, apart from the usual three vows, we give a fourth one during the day of our tonsure. This fourth vow is more important than the vow of purity, obedience and poverty. It is the vow that we must totally submit to the Pope. This way, I prefer to go to hell with the Pope than to Paradise with all your truths.

A few centuries ago they would have burnt you in the fires of Holy Inquisition.

According to the opinion of most of them, I was a heretic. Here’s what a bishop wrote to me, “A few centuries ago, the ideas you have, would have been enough to bring you to the fires of Holy Inquisition”.

However, despite all this I intended to stay in the monastery and give myself to the purely spiritual life, leaving the responsibility to the hierarchy for the deceit and its correction. But could the important things of the soul be safe on a road of super physical life, where the arbitrariness of the Pope could pile up new dogmas and false teachings concerning the pious life of the Church? Moreover, since the purity of teaching was built with falsehoods about the pope, who could reassure me that this stain would not spread into the other parts of the evangelical faith?

It is therefore not strange if the holy men within the Roman Church started to sound the alarm by saying such as: “Who knows if the minor means of salvation that flood us, do not cause us to forget our only Saviour, Jesus….”? “Today our spiritual life appears like a multi-branch and multi-leaf tree, where the souls do no more know where the trunk is, that everything rests on, and where the roots are that feed it”.

“With such a manner we have decorated and overloaded our religiocity, so that the face of Him who is the “focus of the issue” is lost inside the decorations” Being therefore convinced that the spiritual life within the bosom of the papist Church will expose me to dangers, I ended up taking the decisive step. I abandoned the monastery and after a little while I declared I did not belong to the Roman Church. Some others seemed prepared until then to follow me, but at the last moment no one proved prepared to sacrifice so radically his position within the Church, with the honour and consideration he enjoyed.

This way I abandoned the Roman Church, whose leader, forgetting that the Kingdom of the Son of God “is not of this world” and that “he who is called to the bishopric is not called to any high position or authority but to the diaconate of all the Church”, but imitating him who “wishing in his pride to be like god, he lost the true glory, put on the false one” and “sat in the temple of God as god”. Rightly did Bernard De Klaraval write about the Pope: “There is no more horrible poison for you, no sword more dangerous, than the thirst and passion of domination”. Coming out of Papism, I followed my voice of conscience that was the voice of God. And this voice was telling me, “Leave her ……. So you may not partake of her sins and that you may not receive of her wounds”. How after my departure I fell in the embrace of Orthodoxy, in the light of the absolute and spotless Truth, this I will describe at a later opportunity.

Secondly, as my departure from Papism became more broadly known within the ecclesiastical circles and was receiving more enthusiastic response in the Spanish and French protestant circles, so was my position becoming more precarious.

In the correspondence I received, the threatening and anonymous abusive letters were plentiful. They would accuse me that I was creating an anti-papist wave around me and I was leading by my example into “apostasy” Roman Catholic clerics “who were dogmatically sick” and who had publicly expressed a sympathetic feeling for my case.

This fact forced me to leave Barcelona, and settle in Madrid where I was put up – without my seeking – by Anglicans and through them I came in contact with the Ecumenical Council of Churches.

Not even there did I manage to remain inconspicuous. After every sermon at different Anglican Churches, a steadily increasing number of listeners sought to know me and to confidently discuss with me some ecclesiological topics.

Without therefore wishing it, a steadily increasing circle of people started forming around me, with most being anti-papists. This situation was exposing me to the authorities, because in the confidential meetings I had agreed to attend, some Roman Catholic clerics started to appear, who were generally known “for their lacking and weakening faith, regarding the primacy and infallibility of the Highest Hierarch of Rome”.

The fanatical vindictiveness that some papists bore against my person, I saw it fully expressed and hit its zenith the day I replied publicly to a detailed ecclesiological dissertation, which they had sent to me as an ultimate step to remove me from the “trap of heresy” that I had fallen in. That work of apologetic character had the expressive title: “The Pope vicar of our Lord on earth” and the slogan that the arguments in the book ended up with, was the following: “Due to the infallibility of the Pope, the Roman Catholics are today the only Christians who could be certain for what they believe”.

In the columns of a Portuguese book review, I replied: “The reality is that due to this infallibility you are the only Christians who cannot be certain about what they will demand that you believe tomorrow”. My article ended with the following sentence: “Soon on the road you walk, you will name the Lord, vicar of the Pope in heaven”.

Soon after I published in Buenos Aires my three volume study, I put an end to the skirmishes with the papists. In that study I had collected all the clauses in the patristic literature of the first four centuries, which directly or indirectly refer to the “primacy clauses” (Matt 16 :18-19; John21:  15-17; Luke 22: 31-32). I proved that the teachings about the Pope were absolutely foreign and contrary to the interpretation given by the Fathers on the issue. And the interpretation of the Fathers is exactly the rule on which we understand the Holy Bible.

During that period, even though from unrelated situations, for the first time I came in contact with Orthodoxy. Before I continue to recount the events, I owe it to confess here that my ideas about Orthodoxy had suffered an important development from the beginning of my spiritual odyssey. Certain discussions I had on ecclesiological topics with a group of Orthodox Polish, who passed through my country and the information I received from the Ecumenical Council regarding the existence and life in Orthodox circles in the West, had caused me a real interest. Furthermore, I started to get different Russian and Greek books and magazines from London and Berlin, as well as some of the prized books that were provided by archimandrite Benedict Katsenavakis in Napoli, Italy. Thus my interest in Orthodoxy would continue to grow.

Slowly, slowly in this way I started losing my inner biases against the Orthodox Church. These biases present Orthodoxy as schismatic, without spiritual life, drained group of small churches that do not have the characteristics of the true Church of Christ. And the schism that had cut her off, “had the devil for father and the pride of the patriarch Photios for mother”.

So when I started to correspond with a respected member of the Orthodox hierarchy in the West- whose name I do not believe I am permitted to publish due to my personal criterion that was based on those original informations, I was thus totally free from every bias against Orthodoxy and I could spiritually gaze objectively. I soon realized and even with a pleasant surprise that my negative stance I had against Papism was conforming completely to the ecclesiological teaching of Orthodoxy. The respectable hierarch agreed to this coincidence in his letters but refrained from expressing himself more broadly because he was aware that I lived in a protestant surrounding.

The Orthodox in the West are not at all susceptible to proselytism. Only when our correspondence continued enough, the Orthodox bishop showed me to read the superb book by Sergei Boulgakov, “Orthodoxy” and the not less in depth dissertation, under the same title by metropolitan Seraphim. In the mean time I had also written specifically to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In those books I found myself. There was not even a single paragraph that did not meet completely the agreement of my conscience. So much in these works as in others, that they would send to me with encouraging letters -now even from Greece- I clearly saw how the Orthodox teaching is profound and purely evangelical and that the Orthodox are the only Christians who believe like the Christians of the catacombs and of the Fathers of the Church of the golden age, the only ones who can repeat with holy boasting the patristic saying, “We believe in whatever we received from the Apostles”.

That period I wrote two books, one with the title “The concept of Church according to the Western Fathers” and the other with the title “Your God, our God and God”. These books were to be published in South America, but I did not proceed with their release, so that I may not give an easy and dangerous hold to the protestant propaganda.

From the Orthodox side they advised me to let go my simply negative position against Papism, in which I was dirtied and to shape my personal “I believe” from which they could judge how far I was from the Anglican Church as well as the Orthodox.

It was a hard task that I summarized with the following sentences: “I believe in everything that are included in the Canonic books of the Old and New Testament, according to the interpretation of the ecclesiastical Tradition, namely the Ecumenical Synods that were truly ecumenical and to the unanimous teaching of the Holy Fathers that are acknowledged catholically as such”.

From then on I began to understand that the sympathy of the Protestants towards me was cooling down, except of the Anglicans who were governed by some meaningful support. And it is only now that the Orthodox interest, despite being late, as always, started to manifest itself and to attract me to Orthodoxy as one “possibly Catechumen”.

The undertakings of a polish university professor, whom I knew, cemented my conviction that Orthodoxy is supported by the meaningful truths of Christianity. I understood that every Christian of the other confessions, is required to sacrifice some significant part of the faith to arrive at the complete dogmatic purity and only an Orthodox Christian is not so required. For only he lives and remains in the substance of Christianity and the revealed and unaltered truth.

So, I did no more feel myself alone against the almighty Roman Catholicism and the coolness that the Protestants displayed against me. There were in the East and scattered around the world, 280 million Christians who belonged to the Orthodox Church and with whom I felt in communion of faith.

The accusation of the theological mummification of Orthodoxy had for me no value, because I had now understood that this fixed and stable perseverance of the Orthodox teaching of truth, was not a spiritual solidified rock, but an everlasting flow, like the current of the waterfall that seems to remain always the same yet the waters always change.

Slowly, slowly the Orthodox started to consider me as one of their own. “That we speak to this Spaniard about Orthodoxy- wrote a famous archimandrite- is not proselytism”. They and I perceived that I was already berthed in the port of Orthodoxy, that I was finally breathing freely in the bosom of the Mother Church. In this period I was finally Orthodox without realizing it, and like the disciples that walked towards Emmaus close to the Divine Teacher, I had covered a stretch close to Orthodoxy without conclusively recognizing the Truth but at the end.

When I was assured of this reality, I wrote a long dissertation on my case, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to the Archbishop of Athens through the Apostolic Diaconate of the Church of Greece. And having no more to do with Spain – where today there does not exist an Orthodox community – I left my country and went to France where I asked to become a member of the Orthodox Church, having earlier let some more time for the fruit of my change to ripen. During this period I further deepened my knowledge of Orthodoxy and strengthened my relationship with her hierarchy. When I became fully confident of myself, I took the decisive step and officially became received in the true Church of Christ as her member. I wished to realize this great event in Greece, the recognized country of Orthodoxy, where I came to study theology. The blessed Archbishop of Athens received me patristically.  His love and interest were beyond my expectations. I should say the same for the then chancellor of the Sacred Archbishopric and presently bishop Dionysus of Rogon who showed me patristic love. It is needless to add that in such an atmosphere of love and warmth, the Holy Synod did not take long to decide my canonical acceptance in the bosom of the Orthodox Church. During that all night sacred ceremony I was honoured with the name of the Apostle of Nations and following that, I became received as a monk in the Holy Penteli Monastery. Soon after, I was tonsured deacon by the Holy Bishop of Rogon.

Since then I live within the love, sympathy and understanding of the Greek Church and all her members. I ask from all, their prayers and their spiritual support that I may always stand worthy of the Grace that was given me by the Lord.


“Theodromia” magazine, Issue 1, January -March 2006




Columbus Ohio

Holy Thursday of Holy Week

at Archangel Michael Orthodox Church

in Campbell, Ohio, USA