Native Americans may become the largest ethnic group in the American Orthodox Church

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LATIN AMERICA OF MY HEART

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“NATIVE AMERICANS MAY BECOME

THE LARGEST ETHNIC GROUP IN THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH.”

An interview with His Beatitude Jonah, Archbishop of Washington,

Metropolitan of All America and Canada

Source:

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/33241.htm

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY

In early December of 2009, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah of All America and Canada (Orthodox Church of America) visited Russia to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the OCA’s representation in Moscow. Correspondent Miguel Palacio took the opportunity to talk with Metropolitan Jonah about the OCA’s presence in Latin America.

– Your Beatitude, in which Latin America countries is the Orthodox Church in America represented?

– Our jurisdiction extends to Mexico. We used to have parishes in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela as well, but one of them joined the Russian Church Abroad, while others simply closed.

Several communities in Latin America want to join the American Orthodox Church. We would be happy to receive these faithful people, but there would be no one to take care of them because we have very few clergymen who speak Spanish or Portuguese.

One priest, who I hope will soon become a bishop, began a mission in Ecuador, in the city of Guayaquil, where there is a large Palestinian colony. Unfortunately, his good initiative has fizzled out. I have heard that many Palestinians also live in Central American countries, one of which is El Salvador. It is curious, but they do not go to the Antiochian parishes, and are requesting to be received under our omophorion.

The Constantinople and Antiochian Patriarchates prefer to pastor the Greek and Arab diasporas. We do not understand this. The Church should give pastoral care first of all to its local spiritual children. This is our principle in the Orthodox Church in America.

– When was the Mexican exarchate organized?

– The Mexican exarchate has existed since the 1970’s. At that time, the Bishop of the Mexican national Old Catholic Church, Jose (Cortez-y-Olmos), strengthened contact with our Church and became Orthodox, together with his entire community. Thanks to his labors, hundreds of Mexicans have become immersed in the Orthodox Faith.

Not long ago, five thousand Native Americans from twenty-three areas in the state of Veracruz were baptized into Orthodoxy. However, there is only one priest to serve that entire mass of people. In general, the Mexican exarchate has very few clergymen. They are all Mexican, including the ruling hierarch, Bishop Alejo (Pacheco-Vera).

– Have you ever been to Latin America?

– I have only visited Mexico. Now I am getting ready to visit Guatemala. A friend of mine lives there — Abbess Ines (Ayau Garcia), the superior of the Holy Trinity Convent, which is under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Patriarchate.

In Guatemala, a group of thousands of people who would like to become Orthodox have attracted my attention. Most of them are Mayan. If we take these Guatemalans in, as well as other members of the native Latin American population, then Native Americans may become the largest ethnic group in the American Orthodox Church. I, personally, would be very happy about that.

– I see that you sympathize with the original inhabitants of the American continent…

– I have the warmest feelings for Native Americans. I studied anthropology in the university, and was drawn to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. These were enormous, amazing civilizations.

I like Latin America as a whole — its art, music, literature, and cuisine. Latin Americans love life; they are open and hospitable people. I grew up in California — one of the most Hispanic states in the U.S. I was able to learn some Spanish from my Mexican friends (although I speak Spanish poorly). The priest who united me to the Orthodox Church was a Mexican. His name was Fr. Ramon Merlos.

– What does missionary work amongst Native Americans in the U.S. have in common with that amongst those of Latin America?

– To be honest, I do not yet know… Our Church has missionary experience in Alaska, where one remarkable priest serves — Archpriest Michael Oleksa, an anthropologist. He is a Carpatho-Russian; his wife comes from the indigenous Yupiks. Fr. Michael wants to conduct a conference of Orthodox Native Americans of America. This would be an extremely interesting event.

When Fr. Michael was rector of the seminary, he invited the Guatemalan community that was thirsting for Orthodoxy to send two members to receive a theological education. The idea was, of course, a good one. But people who are accustomed to a tropical climate are not likely to endure the freezing temperatures of Alaska.

– Are there Latin Americans amongst your parishioners in the U.S.?

– Of course there are. In California, thirty-five percent of the population is Latin American, and the percentage is even larger in Texas. There are Latinos both amongst the flock and the clergy in our Church. Studying in St. Tikhon Seminary is a Mexican with Native Americans roots, named Abraham. He has the obedience of sub-deacon. One sub-deacon in San Francisco is Colombian. At the end of November, I blessed a new convent dedicated to the Nativity of Christ in Dallas, the superior of which is Brazilian.

– What, do you suppose, attracts Latin Americans to Orthodoxy?

– Latinos love our Liturgy and icons; they are captivated by the deep veneration of the Mother of God within the Orthodox Church.

I have to say that the Catholic Church is quickly losing its influence in Latin America, and the reason for this is its close association with the upper social classes. A significant portion of the poorer classes, which make up the majority of the region, have become disillusioned with the Catholic pastors, and have aligned themselves with protestants, Mormons, and other sectarians.

Metropolitan Andres (Giron), the head of the St. Basil the Great Order of White Clergy in Guatemala, used to be a Catholic priest. He saw that his Church leaders were oriented towards the wealthy; in the 1990’s he left the Catholic Church, because he wanted to work for the people. Not long ago, Fr. Andres said to me, “I am old and ailing. Please take my people into your Church for the sake of their salvation.” It would be hard to call his community Orthodox, but it is gradually coming to know Orthodox teachings, and partaking of the traditions of the Orthodox Church. Besides those in Guatemala, Bishop Andres has opened parishes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other U.S. cities where his countrymen have settled.

– Are you not afraid of some conflict with the Catholic Church? After all, Latin America is still considered the “largest diocese of the Vatican.”

– There will not be any conflict. The Catholic Church relates to Orthodoxy with loyalty. Furthermore, I see no little potential for collaboration with the Catholic Church, first of all in the struggle against sectarianism.

Interview by Miguel Palacio

21 / 12 / 2009

The explosive growth of Orthodoxy in Guatemala

https://americaofmyheart.wordpress.com

http://latinamericaofmyheart.wordpress.com

LATIN AMERICA OF MY HEART

AMERICA OF MY HEART

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The explosive growth of Orthodoxy in Guatemala

Source:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.comHERE

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

Whenever someone speaks of “American Orthodoxy,” there is usually an unspoken understanding that the term refers to North American Orthodoxy: the United States, Canada, and sometimes Mexico. This way of speaking is indeed convenient, considering that the majority of Orthodox parishes in the Western Hemisphere are still located in North America. However, in the past few years a great change has occurred in Latin America that makes it increasingly inaccurate to focus on North America as the western outpost of Orthodoxy. Just two years ago, in 2010, the Orthodox Church received a large group of Guatemalan converts numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Now Guatemala, and possibly all of Latin America, holds tremendous promise of becoming fertile ground for the Orthodox Christian Church.

The seed of Orthodoxy in Guatemala was planted by the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City. Many people are familiar with the incredible work of Mother Inés, Mother Ivonne, and Mother María. In fact, just this year a group of seminarians from St. Vladimir’s Seminary traveled with the seminary Chancellor/CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield to see the work of the nuns and to assist at the orphanage. It is through these nuns that the Guatemalan soil was first prepared for the Orthodox Church.

Now, with the recent chrismation of a new group of Guatemalan converts that numbers between 100,000 and 200,000, the Orthodox Church is ready to blossom in Guatemala. The magnitude of the event cannot be overstated. Almost overnight, Guatemala has become the most Orthodox country in the Western Hemisphere (by percentage of national population). Furthermore, the Orthodox communities in Guatemala continue to grow rapidly and attract attention throughout Guatemala. There is still, however, little information available to the broader Orthodox world on the history and character of these new communities. For this reason, I traveled to Guatemala this summer, spending two months visiting many of the Orthodox parishes, meeting the leaders of the communities, and accompanying the bishop of the Guatemalan Church—His Eminence, Metropolitan Athenagoras—as he made his historic first visit to the new parishes in Guatemala. I returned to the United States with the desire to share what I saw and the conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work with power in Latin America…

Le Seigneur distribue Sa grâce à ceux qui s’imposent les fatigues d’un pèlerinage – Saint Jean Maximovitch (+1966) ╰⊰¸¸.•¨* French

http://franceofmyheart.wordpress.com

FRANCE OF MY HEART

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Saint Jean Maximovitch (+1966)

“Dans Sa bonté, le Seigneur distribue Sa grâce à ceux qui s’imposent les fatigues d’un pèlerinage: le pèlerinage ne rapproche pas Celui Qui est partout, mais les efforts des pèlerins rendent ceux-ci dignes de Sa manifestation, non par eux-mêmes mais parce qu’Il les accepte dans Sa miséricorde.”

Saint Jean (Maximovitch), Archevêque de Shangaï, Bruxelles et San Francisco.

Saint Jacob Netsvetov of Alaska (+1865) – The evangelizer of the Yup’ik Eskimo & Athabascan peoples of Alaska

http://alaskaofmyheart.wordpress.com

http://nativeamericansmetorthodoxy.wordpress.com

http://usaofmyheart.wordpress.com

ALASKA OF MY HEART

NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY

USA OF MY HEART

View of Russian Orthodox Church & Community of Atka AK SW Summer

Orthodox Church of St Nickolas in Atka Island, Alaska

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Atka Island, Alaska

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Saint Jacob Netsvetov of Alaska (+1865)

The evangelizer of the Yup’ik Eskimo & Athabascan peoples of Alaska

July 26

https://americaofmyheart.wordpress.com

AMERICA OF MY HEART

Saint Jacob Netsvetov, Enlightener of Alaska, was a native of the Aleutian Islands who became a priest of the Orthodox Church and continued the missionary work of St. Innocent among his and other Alaskan people. His feast day is celebrated on the day of his repose, July 26.

Father Jacob was born in 1802 on Atka Island, part of the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska. His father, Yegor Vasil’evich Netsvetov, was Russian from Tobolsk, Russia, and his mother, Maria Alekscevna, was an Aleut from Atka Island. Jacob was the eldest of four children who survived infancy. The others were Osip (Joseph), Elena, and Antony. Although not well off, Yegor and Maria did all they could to provide for their children and prepare them to live their lives. Osip and Antony were able to study at the St. Petersburg Naval Academy and then were able to become a naval officer and ship builder, respectively. Elena married a respected clerk with the Russian-American Company. Jacob chose a life with the Church and enrolled in the Irkutsk Theological Seminary.

On October 1, 1825, Jacob was tonsured a sub-deacon. He married Anna Simeonovna, a Russian woman perhaps of a Creole background as was he, and then in 1826 he graduated from the seminary with certificates in history and theology. With graduation he was ordained a deacon on October 31, 1826 and assigned to the Holy Trinity-St. Peter Church in Irkutsk. Two years later, Archbishop Michael ordained Jacob to the holy priesthood on March 4, 1828. Archbishop Michael had earlier ordained John Veniaminov (St. Innocent) to the priesthood. With his elevation to the priesthood, Father Jacob began to yearn to return to his native Alaska to preach the Word of God.

Upon departing, Archbishop Michael gave Father Jacob two antimensia, one for use in the new church that Father Jacob planned to build on Atka, and the other for use in Father Jacob’s missionary travels. After a molieben, Father Jacob and his party set off for Alaska on May 1, 1828. The travelers included Father Jacob, Anna his wife, and his father Yegor who had been tonsured reader for the new Atka Church. This journey, which was always hard, took over year to complete, which was completed on June 15, 1829.

Father Jacob’s new parish was a challenge. The Atka “parish” covered most of the islands and land surrounding the Bering Sea: Amchitka, Attu, Copper, Bering, and Kurile Islands. But, he was to meet the challenge as clothed in his priestly garments, he actively pursued his sacred ministry. To his parishioners, his love for God and them was evident in everything he did as he made his appearances while enduring the harsh weather, illness, hunger, and exhaustion. For him life was Christ. Being bi-lingual and bi-cultural, Father Jacob was uniquely able to care for the souls of his community.

Since St. Nicholas Church was not yet available, Father Jacob built a large tent in which to hold his services, and after the church was completed he took the tent with him on his missionary travels. By the end of 1829, six months after arriving at Akta Father Jacob had recorded 16 baptisms, 442 chrismations, 53 marriages, and eight funerals.

With the completion of the church on Atka, Father Jacob turned to education of the children, teaching them to read and write both Russian and Unangan Aleut. Initially the Russian-American Company helped support the school, but in 1841 the school was re-organized as a parish school. Many of his students would prove to be distinguished Aleut leaders. While living in the north areas was difficult, Father Jacob was active in the intellectual life as well; in addition to his own subsistence needs, he was active in collecting and preparing fish and marine animal specimens for the museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He corresponded with St Innocent on linguistics and translation matters. He worked on an adequate Unangan-Aleut alphabet and translations of the Holy Scriptures and other church publications. In addition to praises from St. Innocent he began to receive awards for his services. In time he was elevated to Archpriest and received the Order of St. Anna.

Father Jacob’s life was not without its personal sufferings. 1836 and 1837 were to bring successively the death of his beloved wife Anna in March 1836, the destruction by fire of his home in July 1836, and the death of his father, Yegor, in 1837. After considering the message of these misfortunes, he petitioned his bishop to return to Irkutsk so that he could enter a monastic life. A year later he request was granted contingent on the arrival of his replacement. But none came. Soon Bishop Innocent arrived and invited Father Jacob to accompany him on a trip to Kamchatka. During the voyage Bishop Innocent seemed to have accomplished three things with Father Jacob: with the healing salve of the Holy Spirit provided words of comfort, dissuaded Father Jacob from entering a monastery, and revealed to the saintly priest the Savior’s true plan for his life that was for him to preach Christ to those deep in the Alaskan interior.

On December 30, 1844, St. Innocent appointed him head of the new Kvikhpak Mission to bring the light of Christ to the people along the Yukon River. With two young Creole assistants, Innokentii Shayashnikov and Konstantin Lukin, and his nephew Vasili Netsvetov, Father Jacob established his headquarters in the Yup’ik Eskimo village of Ikogmiute. From there, now known as Russian Mission, he traveled to the settlements for hundreds of miles along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, visiting the inhabitants of settlements along the way. For the next twenty years he learned new languages, met new people and cultures, invented another alphabet, and built more churches and communities. At the invitation of the native leaders he traveled as far as the Innoko River baptizing hundreds from many, and often formerly hostile, tribes. He continued even as his health deteriorated.

Yet the devil’s presence came to stir up spurious and slanderous charges against him in 1863. To clear the air his Bishop Peter called him to Sitka where he was cleared of all the charges. As his health worsened he remained in Sitka serving at the Tlingit chapel until his death on July 26, 1864. He was 60 years old.

During his last missionary travels in the Kuskokwim/Yukon delta region he is remembered for baptizing 1,320 people and for distinguishing himself as the evangelizer of the Yup’ik Eskimo and Athabascan peoples.

Hymns

Troparion (Tone 4)

O righteous Father Jacob,
Adornment of Atka and the Yukon Delta;
You offered yourself as a living sacrifice
To bring light to a searching people.
Offspring of Russian America,
Flower of brotherly unity,
Healer of sickness and terror of demons:
O Holy Father Jacob,
Pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion (Tone 3)

O Holy Father Jacob,
Teacher of the knowledge of God,
You revealed your love for your people,
Taking up your cross and following Christ,
Enduring hardships like the Apostle Paul.
Pray on our behalf to Christ our God
To grant us great mercy.

Source: Wikipedia

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St Nickolas Orthodox Church in Atka Island, Alaska

Atka Island, Alaska, USA

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The volcano of Korovin, Atka Island, Alaska

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St Jacob of Alaska

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Ο Άγιος Ιάκωβος της Αλάσκας 

& ο Άγιος Νεομάρτυρας Πέτρος ο Αλεούτιος

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Άγιος Ιάκωβος Νετσβέτωφ της Αλάσκας (+1865) – Ένας Αυτόχθονας Αμερικανός ιερέας που αγίασε (+1865) – Ο ιεραπόστολος των Εσκιμώων Γιούπικ – 26 Ιουλίου

http://alaskaofmyheart.wordpress.com

http://nativeamericansmetorthodoxy.wordpress.com

NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY

ALASKA OF MY HEART

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Η Νήσος Άτκα των Αλεούτιων Νήσων της Αλάσκας

όπου γεννήθηκε ο Άγιος Ιάκωβος της Αλάσκας

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Ο Ορθόδοξος Ναός του Αγίου Νικολάου στην Νήσο Άτκα

των Αλεούτιων Νήσων της Αλάσκας

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Άγιος Ιάκωβος Νετσβέτωφ της Αλάσκας

Ένας Αυτόχθονας Αμερικανός ιερέας που αγίασε (+1865)

Ο ιεραπόστολος των Εσκιμώων Γιούπικ

26 Ιουλίου

http://synaxarion-hagiology.blogspot.com

SYNAXARION-HAGIOLOGY

Ό Άγιος Ιάκωβος Νετσβέτωφ της Αλάσκας γεννήθηκε από πατέρα Ρώσο και Άλεούτια μητέρα στή νήσο Atka της Αλάσκας τό 1802. Ολοκλήρωσε τις σπουδές του στήν ιερατική σχολή του Ιρκούτσκ στή Σιβηρία. Μετά τή χειροτονία του σε πρεσβύτερο, επέστρεψε στήν Αλάσκα, οπού επί τριάντα πέντε χρόνια άσκησε τά ποιμαντικά του καθήκοντα μεταξύ των αυτοχθόνων, υπό συνθήκες διαβιώσεως ιδιαιτέρως επισφαλείς, συνεχίζοντας ετσι τό έργο του άγιου Γερμανού [13 Δεκ.]. Μόλις τό επέτρεπε ο καιρός, επιβιβαζόταν σε εύθραυστα καγιάκ η φόρτωνε τις ισχνές του άποσκευές σε κυνήλατα ελκυθρα και συνοδευόμενος από μερικούς κατώτερους κληρικούς, ξεκινούσε τις ιεραποστολικές του περιοδείες γιά νά φωτίσει τούς διάσπαρτους αυτόχθονες πληθυσμούς των Άλεούτιων Νήσων. Διέδωσε επίσης τό φώς του Ευαγγελίου στή φυλή των Έσκιμώων Γιούπικ, oι όποιοι κατοικούσαν στήν κάτω κοιλάδα του ποταμού Γιούκον (μεταξύ 1845 και 1863). Υπήρξε ό δεύτερος Όρθόδοξος ιερέας πού τόλμησε να εισδύσει στις περιοχές αύτές, μετά τον Άγιο ίερομάρτυρα Ίουβενάλιο. Κι ενώ γενικά συναντούσε καλή υποδοχή και γρήγορα προσηλύτιζε τούς αυτόχθονες στήν αληθινή πίστη, πολλές φορές άντιμετώπιζε την έντονη άντίθεση των σαμάνων μάγων. Δεν ηρκείτο μόνο στο νά βαπτίζει τούς ιθαγενείς, αλλά φρόντιζε γιά την πνευματική ζωή του ποιμνίου του, διδάσκοντάς του τις στοιχειώδεις αρχές τής χριστιανικής ηθικής, πώς πρέπει κάνεις νά προετοιμάζεται για νά αξιωθεί νά κοινωνήσει των άχράντων Μυστηρίων, με την εξομολόγηση, τή νηστεία και την προσευχή. Μετέφερε μαζί του μία σκηνή που χρησιμοποιούσε πρόχειρα ώς ναό, όταν το ψύχος δεν έμπόδιζε τον εκκλησιασμό παγώνοντας τα Τίμια Δώρα. Όταν δεν βρισκόταν σε ιεραποστολικές περιοδείες, μετέφραζε την Καινή Διαθήκη στή γλώσσα των ιθαγενών ίδρυσε, μάλιστα, και ένα σχολείο. Προς τά τέλη του βίου του, έχοντας ταλαιπωρήσει την υγεία του σ’ αυτές τις περιοδείες, συκοφαντήθηκε από κάποιον άλλο ιεραπόστολο στον επίσκοπο Πέτρο, ό οποίος είχε διαδεχθεί τον άγιο Ίννοκέντιο [31 Μάρτίου]. Εκλήθη να παρουσιασθεί στή Σίτκα, έδρα της επισκοπής της Aλάσκας· απολογήθηκε και χωρίς δυσκολία κατόρθωσε να αθωωθεί. Μετά από πολλές περιπέτειες, παρέδωσε την αγία ψυχή του στη Σίτκα στις 26 Ιουλίου του 1865 και κατατάχθηκε επίσημα στους Αγίους της Ορθοδοξίας το 1994.

Πηγή:

Νέος Συναξαριστής της Ορθοδόξου Εκκλησίας

Εκδ. Ίνδικτος

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Ο Ορθόδοξος Ναός του Αγίου Νικολάου

στη Νήσο Άτκα των Αλεούτιων Νήσων της Αλάσκας

Νήσος Atka, Αλεούτιοι Νήσοι, Αλάσκα, ΗΠΑ

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Το ηφαίστειο Korovin της Νήσου Άτκα, Αλάσκα

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Νήσος Άτκα, Αλάσκα

με τον Ορθόδοξο Ναό του Αγίου Νικολάου στο βάθος

του Αλασκινού χωριού

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Άγιος Ιάκωβος της Αλάσκας

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Ο Άγιος Ιάκωβος της Αλάσκας 

& ο Άγιος Νεομάρτυρας Πέτρος ο Αλεούτιος

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About Yoga – Journey to Orthodoxy

http://whataboutyoga.wordpress.com

WHAT ABOUT YOGA?

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

About Yoga

Journey to Orthodoxy

Fr. Philip Silouan Thompson, USA: Moving East – From Roman Catholicism & Protestantism to Orthodoxy

http://usaofmyheart.wordpress.com

http://romancatholicsmetorthodoxy.wordpress.com

ROMAN CATHOLICS MET ORTHODOXY

USA OF MY HEART

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Walla Walla, Washington, USA

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Moving East

by Philip Silouan Thompson

Sources:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.comHERE

JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d seen church.

Not interested.

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

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

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

“Eat My body, drink My blood”

or

“you must be born again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, Christ did say

“They shall fast”

and

“When you fast”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Philip Silouan Thompson

http://silouanthompson.net

http://silouanthompson.net/journey/

SILOUAN

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

Η πορεία του Αμερικανού Matthew Gallatin από τον Προτεσταντισμό στην Ορθοδοξία

http://usaofmyheart.wordpress.com

USA OF MY HEART

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Θά παρακολουθήσουμε τήν πορεία τοῦ Αμερικανού Matthew Gallatin πρός τήν Ὀρθοδοξία:

«Στά 23 μου χρόνια βρέθηκα νά ἐργάζωμαι, ὄντας λαϊκός, ὡς βοηθός τοῦ διευθυντή τῆς ἀντβεντιστικῆς νεολαίας τῆς εὐρύτερης περιοχῆς μίας μεγάλης πόλεως. Μέ τήν ἰδιότητα αὐτή δίδασκα στήν τάξι τῶν νέων μιᾶς ἀπ’ τίς τοπικές ἐκκλησίες κάθε Σάββατο πρωΐ.

Ἕνα Σάββατο, νωρίς τό πρωΐ, προετοίμαζα μία σέ βάθος μελέτη κάποιου δογματικοῦ ζητήματος. Καθώς μελετοῦσα προσεκτικά ἕνα θέμα προσπαθώντας νά βρῶ κάποιο τρόπο νά τό ἐξηγήσω σέ μία ὁμάδα ἐφήβων, ἕνα ἐρώτημα ξέσπασε μέσα στήν ψυχή μου. Ἀπρόβλεπτα καί τόσο εὐκρινῶς σάν κάποιος νά μοῦ μιλοῦσε, ἦλθε τό ἐρώτημα: Γνωρίζεις τί πιστεύεις;

Φυσικά! , ἀπάντησα δυνατά. Θυμᾶμαι ὅτι ταράχθηκα μ’ αὐτή μου τήν ἀντίδρασι. Αὐτή τήν ἀπάντησι ἀπαιτοῦσε πάντως τό ἐρώτημα. Ἐξίσου αἰφνιδιαστικά ἡ ἴδια φωνή μοῦ ἀποκρίθηκε: Ναί! Γνωρίζεις τί πιστεύεις. Εἶναι, ὅμως, ἡ ἀλήθεια;

Μπορῶ ἀκόμη νά θυμηθῶ πῶς ἐκεῖνα τά λόγια ἀντήχησαν στό μυαλό μου. Ἀπείρως, ὅμως, πιό δυνατή ἀπ’ τά λόγια αὐτά ἦταν ἡ ὄμορφη, ἀπό καιρό λησμονημένη παρουσία, ἡ ὁποία μέ περιέβαλε ἐκείνη τή στιγμή —ἡ ἴδια τήν ὁποία εἶχα αἰσθανθῆ ὅταν ἤμουν μικρό παιδί. Ἄρχισα νά κλαίω μέ νοσταλγία, μέ ταπείνωσι καί μετάνοια, μέ ἀγάπη καί χαρά. Ξαφνικά ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῆς παιδικῆς μου ἡλικίας παραμέρισε τά θεολογικά πέπλα τά ὁποῖα εἶχα ὑφάνει γύρω ἀπ’ τήν καρδιά μου —ὅπως λέει ὁ ἴδιος: «ὁ ζωντανός Ἰησοῦς πού βρισκόταν ἁπλά δίπλα μου, εἶχε προηγουμένως ἀντικατασταθῆ ἀπό ἕνα θεολογικό πορτραῖτο»— καί γι’ ἄλλη μία φορά ἦταν ἐκεῖ, δίπλα μου. Πόσο ὑπέροχο ἦταν νά αἰσθάνωμαι τό ἄγγιγμά Του!

Τά χρόνια ὡστόσο μέ εἶχαν φθείρει. Νομίζω, δέν ἤξερα πιά πῶς νά ἔχω τήν παιδική ἐκείνη ἁπλότητα. Ἡ παρουσία Του σύντομα ξεθώριασε στήν ψυχή μου. Ἔμεινε μόνο νά ἠχῆ τό ἐρώτημα: Εἶναι αὐτό τό ὁποῖο πιστεύεις ἡ ἀλήθεια;

Πολλές φορές μοῦ ἔρχεται ὁ πειρασμός ν’ ἀναπολῶ ἐκείνη τή στιγμή καί νά εὔχωμαι ὁ Θεός νά μέ εἶχε φωτίσει νά κατανοήσω τότε ὅλα τά ὄμορφα πράγματα τά ὁποῖα γνωρίζω σήμερα. Θά γλίτωνα περίπου 30 χρόνια συγχύσεως κι ἀγῶνα στήν πορεία μου γιά τήν ἀνακάλυψι τῆς ἀπαντήσεως σ’ αὐτό τό ἐρώτημα. Ἀλλά μέ τήν ἀγάπη Του, τήν εὐσπλαγχνία Του καί τή θεία Του πρόνοια ὁ ἀγαπημένος μας Χριστός ἀποφάσισε πώς τό ταξίδι μου πρός τήν ἀλήθεια θά ἔπρεπε νά εἶναι μακρύτερο».

Στή συνέχεια ἀναγράφει μιά σειρά ὀρθῶν σκέψεων περί Ἐκκλησίας: «Ἄν ὑπῆρχε κάποιος πού πραγματικά γνώριζε τήν πλήρη ἀλήθεια, θά γινόταν… [ἔτσι νόμιζε στήν ἀρχή] ἀλαζόνας κι ἐγωϊστής καυχώμενος: “Ἐγώ γνωρίζω τήν ἀλήθεια, ἐνῶ ἐσεῖς ἁπλά νομίζετε ὅτι τή γνωρίζετε!”. Μία στιγμή, ὅμως! Ἡ ἁπλή γνῶσι τῆς ἀληθείας δέν φέρνει αὐτόματα ἀλαζονεία. Γνωρίζω, π.χ., ὅτι ὁ ἥλιος ἀνατέλλει ἀπ’ τήν ἀνατολή. Γνωρίζω ἐπίσης ὅτι τό αὐτοκίνητό μου χρειάζεται βενζίνη γιά νά κινηθῆ. Τίποτε ἀπ’ αὐτά, ὅμως, δέν μέ γεμίζει μέ ὑπεροψία. Τό ἀληθινό εἶναι ἐξίσου ἀληθινό γιά ὅλους καί ἡ ἐπίγνωσί του δέν μέ ὁδηγεῖ στόν ἐγωϊσμό. Ἀντιθέτως, ἡ γνῶσι αὐτή μοῦ δείχνει ὅτι δέν ἔχω ἐγώ τόν ἔλεγχο τῶν πραγμάτων. Ὅτι ὑπάρχουν πράγματα τά ὁποῖα δέν μπορῶ ν’ ἀλλάξω κι ὅτι ὁ κόσμος ἔχει ἕνα τρόπο λειτουργίας, στόν ὁποῖο δέν ἔχω ἄλλη ἐπιλογή παρά νά ὑποταχθῶ (ἐκτός ἄν ἐπιθυμῶ νά υἱοθετήσω τήν ἀνοησία καί τίς συνέπειές της)».

«Ἄν κάθε ὁμάδα ἤ ὁμολογία κατέχη μόνο ἕνα τμῆμα τῆς ἀληθείας [ὅπως πιστεύουν οἱ Προτεστάντες καί οἱ προτεσταντίζοντες δικοί μας], τότε ὅλα τά ὑπόλοιπα πιστεύω τους πρέπει ν’ ἀποτελοῦν πλάνη. Θά ἔπρεπε, λοιπόν, νά θεωρήσω ὅτι ὁ Θεός εἴτε θέλει εἴτε ἀναγκάζεται νά ἐκτελέση τό σχέδιό Του γιά τήν ἀνθρωπότητα χρησιμοποιώντας ψέματα. Ὁ ἀπόστολος Παῦλος μᾶς βεβαιώνει, ὅμως, ὅτι ὁ Θεός εἶναι “ἀψευδής”(Τίτ 1, 2). Αὐτό ἦταν ἀρκετό νά μέ κάνη νά ἐγκαταλείψω τήν ἰδέα ὅτι ὁ Θεός ἔχει ἀποφασίσει, δῆθεν γιά δικό μας καλό, νά μᾶς κρύψη τήν πλήρη ἀλήθεια».

«Ἄν ἡ εἰλικρίνεια ἀρκεῖ γιά νά σωθῆς, τότε κάθε βουδιστής, ταοϊστής, μουσουλμάνος, ἰνδουϊστής ἤ εἰδωλολάτρης πού εἶναι εἰλικρινής στήν πίστι του μπορεῖ νά ἰσχυρισθῆ τό ἴδιο γιά τή σωτηρία, ὅπως κι ἕνας εἰλικρινής χριστιανός. Αὐτό θ’ ἀναιροῦσε τά λόγια τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὅτι “οὐδείς ἔρχεται πρός τόν Πατέρα εἰ μή δι’ ἐμοῦ (: παρά μόνο μέσῳ Ἐμοῦ)”(Ἰω 14, 6) καί τή διαβεβαίωσι τοῦ ἀποστόλου Πέτρου ὅτι ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶναι τό μόνο ὄνομα “ὑπό τόν οὐρανόν τό δεδομένον ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἐν ᾧ δεῖ σωθῆναι ἡμᾶς (: μέ τό ὁποῖο εἶναι δυνατό νά σωθοῦμε)”(Πρξ 4, 12). Μπορεῖ ἑπομένως νά εἴμαστε μέν εἰλικρινεῖς ἀλλά σέ λάθος δρόμο!».

«Πῶς μπορῶ νά θεωρήσω ὅτι ἕνας ἀρμινιανός κι ἕνας καλβινιστής μποροῦν καί οἱ δύο νά ἔχουν γνήσια σχέσι μέ τόν ἀληθινό Θεό, ἄν ὁ Ἰησοῦς Χριστός δέν μπορῆ νά εἶναι διαφορετικό πρόσωπο γιά διαφορετικά ἄτομα; Ὁ ἀπόστολος Ἰάκωβος, ὅμως, εἶναι ἀρκετά σαφής στό συγκεκριμένο θέμα. Στό Θεό “οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγή ἤ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα (:δέν ὑπάρχει ἀλλοίωσι ἤ σκιά λόγῳ μεταβολῆς)”(Ἰακ 1, 17). Ὁ ἀπόστολος Παῦλος μᾶς βεβαιώνει ἐπίσης ὅτι ὑπάρχει ἕνας Θεός, ἕνας Κύριος, μία πίστι, μία ἐλπίδα (Ἐφ 4, 4-6). Πῶς εἶναι δυνατόν, λοιπόν, ὁ πνευματικός σχετικισμός νά ἔχη θέσι στή χριστιανική πίστι;».

«Ὁ Θεός θέλει νά εἴμαστε ἕνα μ’ Αὐτόν (Ἰω 17, 21-22). Κι Αὐτός εἶναι ἡ Ἀλήθεια. Εἶναι δυνατό νά διασπείρη ὁ Θεός ψήγματα ἀληθείας στίς ὁμολογίες τοῦ προτεσταντισμοῦ κρύβοντάς τες προσεκτικά μεταξύ ἐλλιπῶν ἀληθειῶν κι ἐσφαλμένων ἰδεῶν; Ὄχι! Ὁ Θεός δέν συσκοτίζει —ἐκ φύσεως δέν μπορεῖ νά συσκοτίση— τήν ἀλήθεια μέ ψεύδη».

«Σκεπτόμουν διάφορα πράγματα τά ὁποῖα γνωρίζω ὅτι εἶναι ἀληθινά: Τή φωτιά, τό φύσημα τοῦ ἀνέμου, τήν πλημμυρίδα καί τήν ἄμπωτι. Καί εἶδα ὅτι αὐτό πού καθιστᾶ κάτι ἀληθινό δέν μπορεῖ νά εἶναι σχετικό. Δέν μπορεῖ νά διαστρεβλωθῆ ἤ νά ἰδωθῆ ἀπό διαφορετικές ὀπτικές γωνίες. Οἱ προσωπικές πεποιθήσεις μου γι’ αὐτό εἶναι ἄνευ σημασίας. Οἱ ἐπιλογές μου εἶναι δύο: Νά τό ἀποδεχθῶ ἤ νά τό παραβλέψω. Συνεπῶς ἡ ἀλήθεια περί τοῦ Θεοῦ πρέπει νά εἶναι ἡ πιό ἀντικειμενική ἀλήθεια πού ὑπάρχει».

«Ὅταν πηγαίνουν στήν ἐκκλησία δέν ἀκοῦνε ποτέ τόν πάστορα νά διαβάζη ἐπί 40 λεπτά τήν Ἁγία Γραφή. Τόν περισσότερο χρόνο τόν ἀφιερώνει στήν ἑρμηνεία της. Γιατί; Διότι γιά νά διδάξη, νά συγκινήση καί ν’ ἀποκαλύψη τό Θεό στούς πιστούς, πρέπει νά ἑρμηνεύση τήν Ἁγία Γραφή. Γι’ αὐτό κι ἐμεῖς προσευχόμαστε αὐτός πού κηρύττει νά “ὀρθοτομῆ τόν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας”(Β´ Τιμ 2, 15). Αὐτό πού εἶναι, λοιπόν, σημαντικό γιά ἕνα προτεστάντη δέν εἶναι ἁπλῶς τό sola scriptura (: μόνη ἡ Γραφή). Αὐτό πού στερεώνει τήν πίστι του καί πού τό ἐμπιστεύεται εἶναι ἡ ἑρμηνεία τήν ὁποία ὁ ἴδιος δίνει στό sola scriptura».

«Θυμᾶμαι ὅταν ἐξέφρασα σ’ ἕνα καθολικό φίλο μου τήν τρομερή ἐνοχή τήν ὁποία εἶχα αἰσθανθῆ, ὅταν συνειδητοποίησα ὅτι εἶχα περάσει ὅλη μου τή ζωή στηρίζοντας τή σωτηρία μου στήν πεποίθησι ὅτι ἡ δική μου ἀντίληψι περί Θεοῦ ἦταν ἡ σωστή. Πρός ἔκπληξί μου, χαμογέλασε μέ σημασία καί εἶπε: “Καταλαβαίνω. Ἐμεῖς οἱ καθολικοί ἔχουμε ἕνα παλαιό ρητό. ‘Οἱ προτεστάντες πιστεύουν ὅτι ὅλοι εἶναι ἀλάθητοι ἐκτός ἀπ’ τόν Πάπα!’”».

«Ὁ ἀπόστολος Παῦλος δέν κάλεσε τήν Ἐκκλησία νά θεολογῆ. Δέν προέτρεψε τά πνευματικά του τέκνα νά ἐξετάσουν διάφορα δόγματα καί νά υἱοθετήσουν αὐτό πού θά τούς φαινόταν πιό λογικό. Ἀντιθέτως, συμβούλευσε τούς πιστούς τῆς Θεσ/νίκης νά μείνουν ἀκλόνητοι καί νά κρατήσουν τίς παραδόσεις τίς ὁποῖες εἶχαν διδαχθῆ —τόσο ἐκεῖνες πού τούς μεταδόθηκαν μέσῳ ἐπιστολῶν ὅσο κι ἐκεῖνες πού διδάχθηκαν ἀπευθείας διά στόματος τῶν Ἀποστόλων [«Ἄρα οὖν, ἀδελφοί, στήκετε (: νά στέκεσθε ἀκλόνητοι) καί κρατεῖτε τάς παραδόσεις ἅς ἐδιδάχθητε εἴτε διά λόγου εἴτε δι’ ἐπιστολῆς ἡμῶν»(Β´ Θεσ 2, 15)]. Προσπαθῆστε, παρακαλῶ, νά τό καταλάβετε αὐτό. Γιά ἕνα σύγχρονο χριστιανό πού θέλει ν’ ἀπαντήση στό ἐρώτημα, πῶς γνωρίζω ὅτι αὐτό στό ὁποῖο πιστεύω εἶναι ἡ ἀλήθεια, τά λόγια αὐτά τοῦ ἀποστόλου Παύλου εἶναι ἀπ’ τά πιό σημαντικά πού ἔχουν γραφῆ. Κατά τά λόγια του αὐτά, ἕνας μόνο τρόπος ὑπῆρχε νά γνωρίζουν οἱ πρῶτοι χριστιανοί ὅτι βρίσκονται μέσα στήν ἀλήθεια: Νά μποροῦν νά ποῦν χωρίς ἐνδοιασμούς, “πιστεύουμε κι ἀκολουθοῦμε αὐτά πού ἡ Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Χριστοῦ πιστεύει κι ἀκολουθεῖ ἀπ’ τήν ἵδρυσί της∙ ἀπ’ τή μέρα τῆς Πεντηκοστῆς”».

Ἐπανερχόμασθε στήν πορεία του πρός τήν Ὀρθοδοξία:

«Ὡς προτεστάντης πίστευα ἀκράδαντα ὅτι ἡ Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Χριστοῦ εἶχε ἀρχίσει νά καταποντίζεται μέσα σέ μία ἤ δύο γενιές ἀπ’ τήν ἴδρυσί της. Ἤμουν ἐπίσης πεπεισμένος ὅτι ὁ Ἰησοῦς στεκόταν γιά περίπου 1500 χρόνια σχετικά ἀδύναμος ἀπέναντι στά διεφθαρμένα σχέδια ἀνθρώπων πού ἦταν μέν διάδοχοι τῶν Ἀποστόλων ἀλλά εἶχαν πραγματικά βαλθῆ νά καταστρέψουν τήν Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Χριστοῦ —ἀκόμη κι ἄν πολλές φορές μαρτυροῦσαν στ’ ὄνομά Του. Ὡς προτεστάντης πίστευα ὅτι ὁ Χριστός εἴτε δέν ἤθελε εἴτε δέν μποροῦσε νά κάνη ὁτιδήποτε, καθώς ἔβλεπε ἑκατομμύρια ἀνθρώπους πού νόμιζαν ὅτι εἶναι χριστιανοί νά ζοῦν καί νά πεθαίνουν μέσα στήν πλάνη. Μέ τήν ἔλευσι τοῦ προτεσταντισμοῦ, πίστευα, ἡ Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἔγινε δύναμι πού μποροῦσε ν’ ἀντισταθῆ στίς πύλες τοῦ Ἅδου.

Θυμᾶμαι τή μέρα κατά τήν ὁποία συνειδητοποίησα ὅτι εἶχα ζήσει ὅλη μου τή ζωή σ’ αὐτή τήν τρομερή ἀπιστία. Πῶς μποροῦσα νά πιστεύω ὅτι ὁ Κύριός μου εἶναι τόσο ἀνίσχυρος; Εἶχα πιστέψει ὅτι μποροῦσε νά μέ σώση, ἀλλά ὅτι ἦταν ἐντελῶς ἀδύναμος νά διατηρήση τήν ἀλήθεια στούς πιστούς Του ἔστω καί γιά μία μόνο γενεά. Πόσο ἀδύναμος κι ἀδιάφορος πίστευα ὅτι ἦταν ὁ Κύριός μας Ἰησοῦς Χριστός! Πέφτοντας στά γόνατα καί κλαίγοντας πικρά, μετανοιωμένος γι’ αὐτή μου τήν ἄγνοια, Τόν ἱκέτευσα νά μέ συγχωρήση.

Μεμιᾶς γέμισε ἡ ψυχή μου ἀπ’ τή γεμάτη ἀγάπη παρουσία Του. Γιά πρώτη φορά μετά ἀπό πολύ καιρό ἄκουσα τή σιωπηλή φωνή Του. Μή δειλιάσης, τώρα, Ματθαῖε. Δέν εἶσαι μακρυά ἀπ’ τή Βασιλεία Μου, εἶπε. Στά κατάβαθα τῆς ψυχῆς μου καί μέ ὅση δύναμι μπόρεσα νά συγκεντρώσω Τοῦ ὑποσχέθηκα ὅτι δέν θά ἤμουν πιά τυφλός κι ἄπιστος»(σ. 107).

Κάποιος φιλόσοφος φίλος του τοῦ τόνισε: «Ἡ Ἀνατολική Ὀρθόδοξη Ἐκκλησία. Ξέρεις, πρέπει νά ξεκαθαρίση κανείς ὅτι οἱ προτεστάντες μεταρρυθμιστές ἐπαναστάτησαν ἐναντίον τῶν ἐκτροπῶν τῆς ρωμαιοκαθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας. Προσωπικά, πιστεύω ἀκράδαντα ὅτι ἄν ὁ Μαρτίνος Λούθηρος εἶχε στραφῆ στήν Ἀνατολική Ὀρθοδοξία, δέν θά ὑπῆρχε προτεσταντική μεταρρύθμισι. Διότι δέν θά ὑπῆρχε μέσα στήν Ὀρθοδοξία λόγος διαμαρτυρήσεως γιά κάτι».

Στή συνέχεια ἀναγράφει τί αἰσθάνθηκε ὅταν πρωτοβρέθηκε στήν Ὀρθόδοξη Λειτουργία: «Ἐκείνη τήν εὐλογημένη στιγμή, καθώς ἡ Ἀλήθεια καί ἡ Ἀγάπη δρόσιζαν τήν ψυχή μου, θυμήθηκα τήν ἐρώτησι τήν ὁποία ὁ Ἰησοῦς μοῦ εἶχε θέσει πρίν περίπου 30 χρόνια, στό ξεκίνημα αὐτοῦ τοῦ μακρινοῦ κι ἐπιπόνου ταξιδιοῦ: Ματθαῖε, εἶναι αὐτό τό ὁποῖο πιστεύεις ἡ ἀλήθεια; Μετά ἀπό τόσο καιρό αἰσθάνθηκα ὅτι ἐπιτέλους μποροῦσα νά Τοῦ ἀπαντήσω. Μέσα στό λιβάνι καί τίς ὄμορφες προσευχές τῆς Λειτουργίας κοίταξα δακρυσμένος πρός τό θυσιαστήριο καί ψιθύρισα: Ναί, Κύριε! Ἡ ἀλήθεια εἶναι.

Καί τότε, τόσο καθαρά, ὅσο οὐδέποτε ἔχω ἀκούσει λέξεις νά προφέρωνται, μοῦ ἀποκρίθηκε ἥσυχα: Ματθαῖε, ἐδῶ βρίσκεσαι πιά στό σπίτι σου».

Καί τελειώνει μέ μιά σειρά, ἀκόμη, ἀπό ὀρθές σκέψεις, σχετικά μέ τήν Ὀρθοδοξία τώρα: «Τό νά στέκεσαι ἔξω ἀπ’ τήν Ἐκκλησία καί νά τελῆς τά μυστήριά της, εἶναι ἀνάλογο μ’ ἕνα νεαρό, ὁ ὁποῖος βρίσκεται σ’ ἕνα λιβάδι παίζοντας baseball καί φαντάζεται τόν ἑαυτό του μέσα στό Yankee Stadium. Μπορεῖ νά εἶναι φανατικός φίλος τοῦ ἀθλήματος καί νά ἔχη ὅλα τ’ ἀπαραίτητα γιά νά θεωρῆται παίκτης —τό ρόπαλο, τή μπάλα, τό γάντι, ἀκόμη καί τήν ἀπαιτούμενη δεξιότητα. Μέχρι, ὅμως, νά μπῆ σέ ὁμάδα, παίζει baseball μόνο στή φαντασία του».

«Ἕνα παράδειγμα ἀπ’ τήν κλασσική περίοδο τῆς δυτικῆς μουσικῆς. Στή μουσική αὐτή οἱ συνθέτες ἔπρεπε νά τηροῦν ἀρκετά αὐστηρούς μορφολογικούς κανόνες γιά τά ἔργα τά ὁποῖα συνέθεταν. Ἄν δέν συμμορφώνονταν μ’ αὐτούς, τά ἔργα τους δέν θά γίνονταν ἀποδεκτά ἀπ’ τό εὐρύ κοινό. Ὡστόσο, ἀκόμη καί μέσα στά πλαίσια ἐκείνων τῶν κανόνων, ἀναδεικνυόταν ἡ προσωπικότητα διαφόρων συνθετῶν. Ὁ Mozart κι ὁ Haydn ἔγραψαν καί οἱ δύο σύμφωνα μέ τούς ἴδιους τύπους, καί ὅμως, ἦταν ξεκάθαρα διαφορετικοί συνθέτες.

Ἔτσι εἶναι καί τά μυστήρια. Ἔτσι πρέπει νά εἶναι δεδομένης τῆς διπλῆς τους ἀποστολῆς νά ἑδραιώσουν τόν ἄνθρωπο σέ μία μοναδική σχέσι ἀγάπης μέ τό Θεό, ἑνώνοντας ταυτόχρονα ὅλους τούς πιστούς μεταξύ τους…

Φαντάσου πῶς εἶναι νά γνωρίζης ὅτι εἶσαι ἕνα μέ διακόσια ἑκατομμύρια ἀνθρώπους σ’ αὐτό τόν πλανήτη. Ὅλοι προσευχόμασθε μέ τίς ἴδιες ἀκριβῶς προσευχές. Οἱ ἴδιοι ὕμνοι ἀναπέμπονται ἀπ’ τά χείλη μας. Μία συγκεκριμένη μέρα, τήν καθορισμένη ὥρα τῆς λατρείας, ὅλες οἱ ἐκκλησίες μας τελοῦν τίς ἴδιες ἀκολουθίες».

«Γιά περίπου 20 χρόνια ἡ Ὀρθόδοξη Ἐκκλησία δέν εἶχε καθόλου γραπτά καινοδιαθηκικά κείμενα. Προφανῶς, λοιπόν, δέν ἦταν δυνατό νά τηρηθῆ τό sola scriptura, ἀφοῦ πολύ ἁπλά δέν ὑπῆρχαν γραπτά κείμενα τῆς Καινῆς Διαθήκης! Πῶς, λοιπόν, κατάφερε ἡ Ἐκκλησία νά ἐπιβιώση καί νά διδάξη χωρίς τά θεόπνευστα αὐτά κείμενα; Ὑπό τήν καθοδήγησι τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος γιά τό ὁποῖο ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶχε πεῖ “ὁδηγήσει ὑμᾶς (: θά σᾶς ὁδηγήση) εἰς πᾶσαν τήν ἀλήθειαν”(Ἰω 16, 13), ἀκολουθώντας τίς παραδόσεις τῶν ἁγίων Ἀποστόλων.

Ἄν, λοιπόν, ἀποδεχθῆ κανείς ὅτι ἡ Ἐκκλησία ἦταν ζωντανή πολλά χρόνια προτοῦ γραφοῦν τά πρῶτα κείμενα τῆς Καινῆς Διαθήκης, ἀναγνωρίζει οὐσιαστικά ὅτι δέν ὑπάρχει ἀπολύτως κανένας λόγος νά θεωρῆ τίς ἐπιστολές τῶν Ἀποστόλων καί τά Εὐαγγέλια πλήρεις κι ἀποκλειστικές πραγματεῖες τῆς χριστιανικῆς διδασκαλίας καί πρακτικῆς. Στήν πραγματικότητα, ὅπως μᾶς ὑπενθυμίζει ὁ ἀπόστολος Ἰωάννης, “ἔστι (: εἶναι) δέ καί ἄλλα πολλά ὅσα ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, ἅτινα ἐάν γράφηται καθ’ ἕν (: χωριστά τό καθένα), οὐδέ αὐτόν οἶμαι τόν κόσμον χωρῆσαι (: νομίζω πώς οὔτε ὅλος ὁ κόσμος δέν θά χωρέση) τά γραφόμενα βιβλία”(Ἰω 21, 25). Οἱ συγγραφεῖς τῶν κειμένων τῆς Καινῆς Διαθήκης ἀπευθύνονταν σέ μία ἀκμάζουσα Ἐκκλησία, τῆς ὁποίας τά δόγματα καί τό τυπικό τῆς λατρείας εἶχαν ἤδη θεμελιωθῆ ἀπ’ τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα μέσῳ τῶν Ἀποστόλων.

Ἔτσι, ἐνῶ ἡ Καινή Διαθήκη εἶναι θεόπνευστη, ἀξιόπιστη καί πολύτιμη γιά τήν Ἐκκλησία, τά κείμενά της δέν γράφηκαν γιά ν’ ἀποτελέσουν ἕνα πλήρη θεολογικό ὁδηγό, ὅπως θέλουν νά πιστεύουν οἱ προτεστάντες. Στήν πραγματικότητα, εἶναι προφανές γιά κάποιον πού διαβάζει τίς ἐπιστολές τῶν Ἀποστόλων ὅτι ἀναφέρονταν γενικά σέ συγκεκριμένα προβλήματα ἤ ἀνάγκες τίς ὁποῖες ἀντιμετώπιζε ἡ Ἐκκλησία ὡς σύνολο ἤ κάποια συγκεκριμένη κοινότητα.

Οἱ συγγραφεῖς τῶν Εὐαγγελίων καί τῶν Ἐπιστολῶν δέν εἰσήγαγαν καινούργια δόγματα. Ἀντιθέτως, ἐπιβεβαίωναν αὐτά τά ὁποῖα δίδασκαν ἤδη οἱ Ἀπόστολοι καί προέτρεπαν τούς χριστιανούς νά τά βιώσουν. Λαμβάνοντας, λοιπόν, ὑπόψιν τή θέσι τῶν ἀποστολικῶν κειμένων στήν πρώτη Ἐκκλησία, δέν θά μπορούσαμε νά τά ἐκλάβουμε ὡς πλῆρες ἐγχειρίδιο τοῦ καλοῦ χριστιανοῦ. Τά Εὐαγγέλια καί οἱ Ἐπιστολές δέν γράφθηκαν μέ σκοπό νά δημιουργήσουν ἤ νά οἰκοδομήσουν τήν Πίστι. Γράφηκαν μέ θεία φώτισι γιά νά τήν ἀποσαφηνίσουν καί νά παροτρύνουν τούς χριστιανούς νά μείνουν ἀπαρασάλευτοι σ’ αὐτήν».

«Ἄν εἶναι φυσιολογικό γιά τό σύγχρονο προτεστάντη νά βιώνη τήν καθοδήγησι τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος ἐκτός τῶν Γραφῶν, γιατί νά μήν ἰσχύη τό ἴδιο καί γιά τήν πρώτη Ἐκκλησία; Γιατί ὁ προτεστάντης ὑποθέτει ὅτι αὐτός (ἤ ἡ ἐκκλησία του ἤ ἡ ὁμολογία του) μπορεῖ νά καθοδηγῆται ἀπ’ τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα, ἀλλά ὅτι τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα δέν θά μποροῦσε νά καθοδηγῆ τήν πρώτη Ἐκκλησία κατά τόν ἴδιο τρόπο; Γιατί νά μή δοῦμε μέ τόν τρόπο αὐτό τήν Ἱερά Παράδοσι τῆς ἀρχαίας Ἐκκλησίας —ὡς δηλ. τήν καθοδήγησι τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος, πέρα τῶν ὅσων εἶναι γραμμένα στήν Καινή Διαθήκη;

Φυσικά, ὁ προτεστάντης θά ἐπιμείνη ὅτι οἱ ἐνέργειές του εἶναι σύμφωνες μέ τίς Γραφές, ἐνῶ πολλά στοιχεῖα τῆς ὀρθοδόξου παραδόσεως εἶναι ἐντελῶς ἀσύμβατα μ’ αὐτές. Καί σίγουρα ὑπῆρχε μία ἐποχή κατά τήν ὁποία κι ἐγώ ὁ ἴδιος ὑποστήριζα ἀνένδοτα τό ἴδιο πρᾶγμα. Αὐτό, ὅμως, πρίν κοιτάξω τόν ἑαυτό μου στόν καθρέπτη κι ἀναρωτηθῶ: “Πῶς εἶμαι τόσο σίγουρος γι’ αὐτό;”.

Ἦταν σάν νά ξύπνησα ἀπό ἕνα λήθαργο, ὅταν ἐπιτέλους κατάλαβα ὅτι τό νά χαρακτηρίζω τίς παραδόσεις αὐτές ἀσυνεπεῖς πρός τίς Γραφές ἦταν, ὑπό τήν προτεσταντική μου ὀπτική, ἕνα κενό ἐπιχείρημα. Γιατί τί ἔλεγα στήν πραγματικότητα κάθε φορά κατά τήν ὁποία ἰσχυριζόμουν κάτι τέτοιο; “Οἱ παραδόσεις αὐτές δέν μπορεῖ νά εἶναι σωστές, ἀφοῦ εἶναι ἀσύμφωνες μέ τόν τρόπο μέ τόν ὁποῖο ἐγώ κατανοῶ τίς Γραφές καί μέ τήν πεποίθησί μου ὅτι ἡ ἀλήθεια πηγάζει ἀπ’ τίς Γραφές καί μόνο —τά ὁποῖα τελικά εἶναι καί τά πιστεύω πού ὁδήγησαν τούς προτεστάντες σέ ἀντιφατικές πεποιθήσεις πάνω σ’ ὅλα τά σημαντικά θέματα τῆς Πίστεως καί πού καταθρυμμάτισαν τόν προτεσταντισμό”.

Κατάλαβα ὅτι ἄν ἔπρεπε ν’ ἀποκαλῶ τούς πρώτους χριστιανούς αἱρετικούς, ἐπειδή δέν δροῦσαν σύμφωνα μέ τή δική μου ἑρμηνεία τῶν Γραφῶν, τότε θά ἔπρεπε νά χαρακτηρίσω καί τούς προτεστάντες ἀδελφούς μου αἱρετικούς. Αὐτό, ὅμως, δέν θά μέ ὁδηγοῦσε πουθενά στήν ἀναζήτησί μου γιά τήν ἀλήθεια. Συνειδητοποίησα, λοιπόν, ὅτι ἔπρεπε νά βρῶ κάποιο ἄλλο σημεῖο ἀναφορᾶς μέ βάσι τό ὁποῖο νά κρίνω τίς παραδόσεις τῆς ἀρχαίας Πίστεως.

Καί τό βρῆκα, ὅταν συνειδητοποίησα ὅτι ἡ Καινή Διαθήκη παραδόθηκε σέ μία Ἐκκλησία πού εἶχε ἤδη ἑδραιώσει τό δόγμα της καί τίς λατρευτικές της παραδόσεις. Ἡ προσπάθεια, λοιπόν, καθορισμοῦ ἐκ μέρους μου τοῦ τί εἶναι σύμφωνο μέ τήν Ἁγία Γραφή καί τί ὄχι, πῆρε τότε τελείως διαφορετική τροπή. Κατάλαβα ὅτι γιά νά κατανοήση κανείς τί σημασία εἶχαν τά λόγια τῆς Καινῆς Διαθήκης γιά τούς ἀνθρώπους γιά τούς ὁποίους γράφθηκαν, πρέπει πρῶτα νά κατανοήση τίς παραδόσεις ἐκεῖνες πού διαμόρφωναν τό πλαίσιο, μέσα στό ὁποῖο ἐκλαμβάνονταν τά λόγια αὐτά.

Ὅταν ἄρχισα νά ἐξετάζω τά πράγματα ἀπ’ αὐτή τήν ὀπτική γωνία, ἔμεινα ἔκπληκτος. Ταυτόχρονα, ὅμως, λυπήθηκα. Λυπήθηκα, γιατί ἀνακάλυψα ὅτι μέ τό νά ἐπικεντρώνωμαι στά λόγια τῆς Καινῆς Διαθήκης χωρίς νά γνωρίζω —ἤ καί χωρίς ν’ ἀποδέχωμαι πολλές φορές— τό εὐρύτερο πλαίσιο τῶν παραδόσεων, μέσα στό ὁποῖο τά λόγια αὐτά γράφηκαν, εἶχα ἐξουδετερώσει σ’ ὅλη μου τή ζωή καί τήν παραμικρή ἐλπίδα νά γνωρίσω τό χριστιανισμό, ὅπως τόν γνώριζαν οἱ πρῶτοι χριστιανοί. Ἄν δέν κατανοοῦσα τίς παραδόσεις αὐτές, τό μόνο τό ὁποῖο θά μποροῦσα ποτέ νά γνωρίσω εἶναι μία μερική ἔκφρασι αὐτῆς τῆς Πίστεως».

«Ὡς προτεστάντης δέν ἤμουν ἀφοσιωμένος μόνο στό sola scriptura ἀλλά καί στό sola gratia (: μόνο ἡ χάρι). Στ’ ὅτι δηλ. ὁ ἄνθρωπος σώζεται μόνο διά τῆς χάριτος. Ἡ πεποίθησί μου, ὅμως, ὅτι τά παιδιά δέν μποροῦν νά βαπτισθοῦν μέχρι νά φθάσουν σέ “ἡλικία εὐθύνης” μέ ὁδηγοῦσε στό συμπέρασμα ὅτι ἡ χάρι καί μόνο δέν σώζει. Γιατί πίστευα οὐσιαστικά ὅτι ἡ σωτηρία ἑνός παιδιοῦ δέν ἐξαρτᾶται τελικά ἀπ’ τή χάρι, ἀλλά ἀπ’ τή δυνατότητα κατανοήσεως τοῦ σχεδίου τῆς σωτηρίας. Ὅσο καί νά θέλη, λοιπόν, τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα νά κατοικήση στήν ψυχή ἑνός παιδιοῦ, θά πρέπη νά περιμένη μέχρις αὐτό νά φθάση σ’ ἕνα συγκεκριμένο διανοητικό ἐπίπεδο. Πίστευα, λοιπόν, στή “σωτηρία διά τῆς κατανοήσεως καί τῆς χάριτος” κι ὄχι στό sola gratia.

Τότε, ὅμως, ἦλθε κι ὁ ἀντίλογος: “Ὄχι! Παρότι πρέπει νά φθάση τό παιδί σέ ἡλικία πού νά μπορῆ νά κατανοήση τή σωτηρία προτοῦ τή δεχθῆ, ἡ σωτηρία του βασίζεται ἀποκλειστικά καί μόνο στή χάρι. Γιατί ἡ χάρι τοῦ Θεοῦ εἶναι αὐτή πού ὁδηγεῖ τό παιδί στό ν’ ἀντιληφθῆ τήν ἀνάγκη γιά τό Θεό, νά βιώση τήν πίστι καί νά ὁμολογήση τό Χριστό”.

Αὐτό, ὅμως, δέν ἀλλάζει τίποτε ἀπολύτως. Γιατί ἄν ὄντως ἔτσι ἔχουν τά πράγματα, εἶναι προφανές ὅτι γιά ἕνα μεγάλο χρονικό διάστημα τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ παιδιοῦ ἡ χάρι εἶναι παροῦσα, ἐνῶ δέν ὑπάρχει σωτηρία. Προφανῶς, λοιπόν, χρειάζεται κάτι περισσότερο ἀπ’ τή χάρι γιά νά σωθῆ ἕνα παιδί. Γιά νά μείνω πιστός στήν προτεσταντική μου θεολογία ἔπρεπε νά πιστέψω ὅτι μέχρι τά παιδιά νά φθάσουν στό διανοητικό ἐπίπεδο πού θά τούς ἐπέτρεπε νά κατανοήσουν τήν ἁμαρτωλότητά τους καί νά ὁμολογήσουν τήν πίστι τους στό Χριστό, δέν μποροῦν νά σωθοῦν. Τό παράδοξο αὐτοῦ τοῦ ἰσχυρισμοῦ μέ ἀναστάτωσε ἀφάνταστα, ὅταν μάλιστα ἀναλογίσθηκα ὅτι ὁ ἴδιος ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπε ὅτι ἡ Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀνήκει στά παιδιά (Λκ 18, 16).

Σ’ αὐτό ἐντούτοις ἔσπευσα ν’ ἀπαντήσω μέ τήν ἑξῆς παλαιά καί κοινότυπη δικαιολογία: “Ὁ Θεός μεριμνᾶ γιά τά βρέφη καί τά μικρά παιδιά. Ξέρει ὅτι στήν ἡλικία τους δέν μποροῦν ν’ ἀντιληφθοῦν τήν ἀνάγκη γιά σωτηρία. Ἄν, λοιπόν, κάποιο πεθάνη, ὁ Θεός δέν θά τό καταδικάση”.

Τά λόγια αὐτά τά κήρυξα κι ἐγώ ὁ ἴδιος πολλάκις ἀπό ἄμβωνος. Καθώς, ὅμως, βάδιζα πρός τήν Ὀρθοδοξία, ἄρχισα ν’ ἀντιλαμβάνωμαι τίς μᾶλλον ζοφερές συνέπειες τῶν ὅσων δίδασκα τόσα χρόνια. Αὐτό τό ὁποῖο διακήρυττα ἦταν οὐσιαστικά ὅτι τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα δέν μπορεῖ νά κατοικήση μέσα σ’ ἕνα βρέφος ἤ σ’ ἕνα μικρό παιδί, παρά μόνο ἄν αὐτό πεθάνη! Ἄν πεθάνη, πηγαίνει στήν ἀγκαλιά τοῦ Θεοῦ, ὅπου πιά νοιώθει τή γεμάτη ἀγάπη παρουσία Του. Ἄν ζήση, ὅμως, βρίσκεται σέ μία πνευματική ἀπομόνωσι, ὅπου καί τό παιδί κι ὁ Θεός περιμένουν τή μέρα κατά τήν ὁποία θά μπορέση αὐτό νά καταλάβη ἐπιτέλους ὅτι Τόν χρειάζεται!

Κατάλαβα τελικά ὅτι ἡ ἄποψί μου γιά τήν πνευματική κατάστασι τῆς νηπιακῆς καί παιδικῆς ἡλικίας ἦταν μᾶλλον σκληρή. Τελικά βρέθηκα ἀντιμέτωπος μέ τό ἑξῆς ἐρώτημα: Εἶναι δυνατόν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ν’ ἀντιμετώπιζε ἔτσι τά παιδιά, ὅταν εἶπε “ἄφετε (: ἀφῆστε) τά παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός Με καί μή κωλύετε αὐτά (: μήν τά ἐμποδίζετε)∙ τῶν γάρ τοιούτων ἐστίν (: σ᾽ αὐτούς πού τούς μοιάζουν ἀνήκει) ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ”(Λκ 18, 16);

Θυμᾶμαι ὅτι εἶχα ἐξοργισθῆ καθώς συνειδητοποιοῦσα αὐτές τίς ἀλήθειες. Ὅλες αὐτές οἱ τυπικές προτεσταντικές μου ἀπόψεις ὅσον ἀφορᾶ τό νηπιοβαπτισμό ἦταν τελείως ἀπαράδεκτες. Ἦταν ξεκάθαρα ἀντίθετες μέ τήν προειδοποίησι τοῦ ἴδιου τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὅτι “ἐάν μή στραφῆτε (: ἄν δέν γυρίσετε πίσω) καί γένησθε ὡς τά παιδία, οὐ μή εἰσέλθητε εἰς τήν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν”(Μθ 18, 3).

Ἐπέμεινα, ὅμως, καί εἶπα: “Τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα κατοικεῖ, λοιπόν, πράγματι καί στά μικρά παιδιά. Ἡ δυνατότητα μετανοίας, ὅμως, εἶναι ἡ μόνη ἀπόδειξι ὅτι τό Πνεῦμα τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐνεργεῖ μέσα στό παιδί. Ἑπομένως, δέν μποροῦμε νά δεχθοῦμε τήν παρουσία τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος διά τοῦ βαπτίσματος, πρίν νά φθάση τό παιδί σέ ἡλικία κατά τήν ὁποία νά μπορῆ ν’ ἀναλάβη τήν εὐθύνη τῶν πράξεών του καί νά μετανοήση, κάτι τό ὁποῖο τά βρέφη δέν μποροῦν νά κάνουν”.

 Σκέφθηκα, ὅμως, ὅτι ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἴσως ἐννοοῦσε κάτι παραπάνω ἀπ’ τή μετάνοια ὅταν εἶπε ὅτι πρέπει νά γίνουμε σάν τά παιδιά γιά νά κερδίσουμε τή βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. Μήπως μιλοῦσε γιά τήν πραότητα, τήν ταπείνωσι καί τήν ἁπλότητα τῆς πίστεως πού τά διακρίνει; Δέν εἶναι αὐτά στοιχεῖα πού ἀποδεικνύουν τήν παρουσία τοῦ Θεοῦ; Εγώ ὁ ἴδιος πολλές φορές ταπεινώθηκα κι ἀναλύθηκα σέ δάκρυα, ὅταν μέσα ἀπό μικρά παιδιά ἄκουσα τή φωνή τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος. Καί εἶμαι σίγουρος ὅτι καί πολλοί ἄλλοι προτεστάντες ἔχουν παρόμοιες ἐμπειρίες.

Βεβαιώθηκα, λοιπόν, ὅτι τό Πνεῦμα τοῦ Θεοῦ μπορεῖ νά κατοικήση στίς καρδιές τῶν παιδιῶν. Μ’ αὐτή τή διαπίστωσι, ὅμως, εἶχα διανύσει ἕνα πλήρη κύκλο φθάνοντας στό σημεῖο ἀπ’ ὅπου ξεκίνησα καί βρέθηκα πιά σέ ἀπόλυτη ἀντίθεσι μέ τή διδασκαλία τοῦ ἀποστόλου Πέτρου: “Μήτι τό ὕδωρ κωλῦσαι δύναταί τις τοῦ μή βαπτισθῆναι τούτους, οἵτινες τό Πνεῦμα τό Ἅγιον ἔλαβον καθώς καί ἡμεῖς; (: Μήπως μπορεῖ κανείς νά ἐμποδίση τό νερό γιά νά μή βαπτισθοῦν αὐτοί πού ἔλαβαν τό Πνεῦμα τό Ἅγιο, ὅπως κι ἐμεῖς;)”(Πρξ 10, 47). Ἐπιτέλους κατάλαβα ὅτι τά παιδιά πρέπει νά βαπτίζωνται. Γιατί, σύμφωνα μέ τή διδασκαλία τῆς Καινῆς Διαθήκης, τό βάπτισμα καί ἡ ἐνοίκησι τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος εἶναι στοιχεῖα ἀδιάσπαστα μεταξύ τους. Τό κήρυγμα τοῦ ἀποστόλου Πέτρου τή μέρα τῆς Πεντηκοστῆς, οἱ Σαμαρεῖτες χριστιανοί καί ἡ οἰκογένεια τοῦ Κορνηλίου εἶναι ἀδιαφιλονίκητα παραδείγματα πού ἀποδεικνύουν ὅτι ὅπου ὑπάρχει τό ἕνα, ὑπάρχει ἀπαραίτητα καί τό ἄλλο».

«Παρά τήν προσκόλλησί μου στό sola scriptura, δέν ὑπῆρχε πουθενά στήν Ἁγία Γραφή ὁτιδήποτε, στό ὁποῖο θά μποροῦσα νά βασισθῶ γιά νά στηρίξω τή μεταφορική ἑρμηνεία τοῦ χωρίου περί πραγματικοῦ Σώματος καί Αἵματος. Ἡ μόνη ἀπάντησι στό ἐρώτημα αὐτό ἦταν: “Δέν εἶναι λογικό ὁ ἄρτος κι ὁ οἶνος νά γίνωνται —ἀκόμη καί διά τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος— Σῶμα κι Αἷμα Χριστοῦ. Κανένας λογικός ἄνθρωπος δέν θά τό δεχόταν αὐτό. Μόνο οἱ ἀφελεῖς καί οἱ προληπτικοί θά μποροῦσαν ἴσως νά τό πιστέψουν”. Εἶδα, λοιπόν, ὅτι ἡ ἄποψί μου γιά τό θέμα αὐτό δέν ἦταν σέ καμμία περίπτωσι θεμελιωμένη στήν Ἁγία Γραφή! Στηριζόταν ἀποκλειστικά στούς περιορισμούς τῆς σύγχρονης ὀρθολογιστικῆς μου σκέψεως».

«Πῶς εἶναι δυνατόν νά πιστεύω σέ κάτι τόσο ἀκατανόητο ὅπως ἡ ἐνσάρκωσι τοῦ Υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ, καί παρόλ’ αὐτά ν’ ἀρνοῦμαι τήν ἀληθινή παρουσία τοῦ Χριστοῦ στόν ἄρτο καί τόν οἶνο τῆς Θείας Εὐχαριστίας; Πεῖτε μου! Ἄν ὁ Θεός μπορῆ νά εἶναι παρών στό ἀνθρώπινο αἷμα καί τούς ἱστούς μέσῳ τῆς ἐνσαρκώσεώς Του, γιατί νά μή μπορῆ νά εἶναι παρών καί στό ψωμί καί τό κρασί; Σέ τελική ἀνάλυσι, καί τά δύο εἶναι ὀργανική ὕλη. Μόνο ἡ διάταξι τῶν μορίων τους ἀλλάζει.

Σ’ αὐτό, ὅμως, ἔδωσα μία ἀκόμη προτεσταντική ἀπάντησι: “Ἡ ἀνθρώπινη ὕπαρξι ἔχει νοημοσύνη κι ὡς ἐκ τούτου θά μποροῦσε ὁ Θεός νά κατοικήση μέσα της. Τό κρασί καί τό ψωμί, ὅμως, εἶναι ἄψυχα πράγματα”. Μισό λεπτό, ὅμως! Δέν μπορεῖ δηλ. ὁ Θεός νά βρίσκεται σέ ἄψυχα πράγματα; Ἔχουμε ἀκούσει τή φωνή Του μέσα ἀπ’ τά σύννεφα καί τή φλεγομένη βάτο. Μέσα ἀπ’ τήν πέτρα στήν ἔρημο, γιά τήν ὁποία ὁ ἀπόστολος Παῦλος βεβαιώνει “ἡ δέ πέτρα ἦν (: ἦταν) ὁ Χριστός”(Α´ Κορ 10, 4). Παραδέχθηκα τελικά ὅτι ὁ πανταχοῦ παρών Θεός μέ τήν ἀγάπη καί τήν παντοδυναμία Του μπορεῖ νά βρίσκεται ὅπου ὁ ἴδιος θέλει.

Καί γιατί νά μή μᾶς προσφέρη τά βασικά φυσικά συστατικά τῆς δικῆς Του ἀνθρωπίνης φύσεως; Ὁ Ἰησοῦς δέν εἶναι κάποιος γνωστικιστής φιλόσοφος πού μᾶς λυτρώνει ἐξυψώνοντας τή σκέψι μας καί προσφέροντάς μας ἱερές ἀρχές τίς ὁποῖες πρέπει νά μελετήσουμε. Ὄχι! Κάνει κάτι ἐντελῶς ριζοσπαστικό —καί ταυτόχρονα ἀπολύτως φυσικό. Μᾶς ἀναδημιουργεῖ ἐνδυόμενος τήν ἀνθρωπίνη φύσι. Ἑνώνεται μαζί μας ἐξαγνίζοντας τή φύσι μας κι ἑνώνοντάς την γιά πάντα μέ τή θεία. Στή συνέχεια μᾶς καλεῖ νά γίνουμε “θείας κοινωνοί φύσεως”(Β´ Πέτρ 1, 4), ὥστε νά “μεταμορφωθοῦμε” στήν εἰκόνα Του (Β´ Κορ 3, 18). Εἶναι τόσο παράλογο τό ὅτι ὁ Χριστός μᾶς πρόσφερε τ’ ἀληθινά στοιχεῖα τῆς δικῆς Του καθαγιασμένης ἀνθρωπίνης φύσεως —τῆς ἴδιας φύσεως στήν ὁποία πρόκειται κι ἐμεῖς νά μεταμορφωθοῦμε;».

«Σέ μία γωνία τοῦ σαλονιοῦ μου, βρίσκεται μία μεγάλη βιβλιοθήκη. Μαζί μέ τά βιβλία καί τά διακοσμητικά ἀντικείμενα, ἔχουμε ἐκεῖ καί τίς οἰκογενειακές φωτογραφίες. Μία ἀπ’ αὐτές τίς φωτογραφίες εἶναι τοῦ ἀγαπημένου ἀδελφοῦ μου, Barry, πού σκοτώθηκε σέ αὐτοκινητιστικό δυστύχημα τό 1976, στήν ἡλικία τῶν 21 ἐτῶν.

Τό νά πῶ ἁπλά ὅτι τόν ἀγαποῦσα δέν σκιαγραφεῖ ἐπαρκῶς τά αἰσθήματά μου γι’ αὐτόν. Ἔχουν περάσει 25 περίπου χρόνια ἀπ’ τό θάνατό του. Καί ὅμως, ἀκόμη καί σήμερα, ξυπνῶ κάθε 27η Ἰουλίου (μέρα τῶν γενεθλίων του) μέ δάκρυα στά μάτια καί μέ τή γλυκόπικρη ἀνάμνησί του στήν καρδιά μου.

Κανείς, λοιπόν, ἀπ’ τούς προτεστάντες φίλους μου δέν θά τό ἔβρισκε ἀφύσικο ἄν, ἐνῶ καθόμουν μπροστά στή βιβλιοθήκη, ἔπαιρνα στά χέρια μου τή φωτογραφία τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ μου καί τή φιλοῦσα. Γιατί, ὅμως, ὅταν πάω δύο βήματα παραπέρα, στό εἰκονοστάσι, καί φιλήσω τήν εἰκόνα τῆς Παναγίας γίνομαι ξαφνικά εἰδωλολάτρης; Τί ἄλλαξε; Τί ἔχει ἡ Παναγία πού δέν ἀξίζει τήν ἀνάλογη ἀγάπη καί τό σεβασμό τόν ὁποῖο δείχνω στόν κεκοιμημένο ἀδελφό μου;

Ἤ ἄς ὑποθέσουμε ὅτι φιλῶ τήν εἰκόνα τῆς προστάτιδος ἁγίας τῆς κόρης μου, Vera. Ὅπως κι ὁ ἀδελφός μου, ἔτσι καί ἡ Ἁγία πέθανε μέ βίαιο θάνατο. Πρίν ἀπό 19 αἰῶνες, στήν ἡλικία τῶν 12 ἐτῶν μαρτύρησε γιά τήν πίστι τοῦ Χριστοῦ μαζί μέ τή μητέρα της καί τίς δύο ἀδελφές της. Στά μάτια ἑνός προτεστάντη, ὅμως, τό νά δείχνω σ’ αὐτήν τήν ἀνάλογη ἀγάπη τήν ὁποία δείχνω καί στόν ἀδελφό μου εἶναι ἁμαρτία.

Ποῦ βρίσκεται τό πρόβλημα τελικά; Ὅταν ἄρχισα νά ἐρευνῶ τό θέμα, διαπίστωσα ἕνα παράδοξο στήν παλαιά προτεσταντική μου ἀντίληψι. Ἀπ’ τή μία καταδίκαζα ὁποιονδήποτε τιμοῦσε τήν Παναγία καί τούς ἁγίους, ἐνῶ ἀπ’ τήν ἄλλη θεωροῦσα σωστό νά τιμῶ τούς προτεστάντες ἱεροκήρυκες καί δασκάλους, ζῶντες ἤ κεκοιμημένους. Ἦταν ἀπόλυτα φυσιολογικό νά ἐγκωμιάζω τούς ἀνθρώπους αὐτούς, νά παρακολουθῶ video καί διαφάνειες ἀπ’ τή ζωή καί τίς πράξεις τους καί νά δακρύζω ὅταν κανείς τραγουδοῦσε τό τραγούδι “Thank You for Giving to the Lord” (: Τίτλος δημοφιλοῦς προτεσταντικοῦ τραγουδιοῦ πού σημαίνει “Σ’ εὐχαριστῶ πού μ’ ἔφερες κοντά στό Θεό”. Τό τραγούδι αὐτό ἐκφράζει τήν εὐγνωμοσύνη κάθε προτεστάντη σ’ αὐτούς πού τόν ὁδήγησαν στήν πίστι). Ἄν, ὅμως, ἔβλεπα κάποιον νά ὑμνῆ καί νά τιμᾶ τή γυναῖκα πού ἔφερε στή μήτρα της τό Σωτῆρα, αὐτό θά ἔθετε ἀμέσως σέ ἀμφισβήτησι τό πόσο χριστιανός εἶναι!».

«Ὅταν τούς ἀκούω νά μιλοῦν μέ τόση περιφρόνησι γιά τή Θεοτόκο, λυπᾶμαι κι ἀναρωτιέμαι ἄν ποτέ ἔχουν σκεφθῆ ὅτι μιλοῦν ὑποτιμητικά γιά τή μητέρα Αὐτοῦ πού ἔγραψε μέ τό δάκτυλό Του στίς πέτρινες πλάκες τό “τίμα τόν πατέρα σου καί τή μητέρα σου”.

Τί μποροῦμε νά ὑποθέσουμε ὅτι αἰσθάνεται γιά τή μητέρα Του ὁ μόνος Ἄνθρωπος πού μπορεῖ νά τηρήση τέλεια τήν ἐντολή αὐτή; Σκεφθεῖτε πόσο ἐμεῖς, οἱ ἄθλιοι κι ἁμαρτωλοί ἄνθρωποι, σεβόμαστε τίς δικές μας μητέρες καί ὑπερασπιζόμασθε τήν τιμή τους. Πόσο λαμπρή θέσι πρέπει νά κατέχη, λοιπόν, ἡ Παναγία στή γεμάτη ἀγάπη καί σεβασμό καρδιά τοῦ Υἱοῦ της!

Πόσο ἀπογοητευμένος θά εἶναι, λοιπόν, ὁ Σωτήρας μας, ὅταν ἀκούη κάποιους, οἱ ὁποῖοι μάλιστα ἐπαγγέλλονται ὅτι Τόν ἀγαποῦν καί Τόν ἀκολουθοῦν, νά θεωροῦν τή μητέρα Του ὡς “τίποτε τό ξεχωριστό”; Πόσο λυπημένος θά εἶναι γι’ αὐτούς πού σέβονται ἰδιαιτέρως τούς ἱεροκήρυκες, τούς προέδρους ἤ τούς προπονητές τοῦ ποδοσφαίρου, πού χλευάζουν, ὅμως, αὐτούς πού τιμοῦν τή μητέρα Του ὅπως τήν τιμᾶ κι ὁ ἴδιος; Πόσο πονᾶ γιά ὅλους αὐτούς πού ὑποτιμοῦν τήν ἄσπιλη ἐκείνη γυναῖκα πού ταπεινά ἄνοιξε τήν ἀγκαλιά της σ’ Αὐτόν, ὥστε νά μπορέση νά πλημμυρίση μέ τή χάρι Του ὁλόκληρη τήν ἀνθρωπότητα;».

Πηγή:

Ἀρχιμ. Ἰωάννου Κωστώφ

Τά Ἴχνη του Θεού – Ἀπό τόν Προτεσταντισμό στήν Ὀρθοδοξία

ἐκδ. Ἅγ. Ἰωάννης ὁ Δαμασκηνός

Ἀθήνα 2011

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Holy Confession: Confidentiality

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Holy Confession: Confidentiality

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ORTHODOXY IS LOVE

From “Guidelines for Clergy” (Orthodox Church in America):

“The secrecy of the Mystery of Penance is considered an unquestionable rule in the entire Orthodox Church. Theologically, the need to maintain the secrecy of confession comes from the fact that the priest is only a witness before God. One could not expect a sincere and complete confession if the penitent has doubts regarding the practice of confidentiality. Betrayal of the secrecy of confession will lead to canonical punishment of the priest.

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite exhorts the Spiritual Father to keep confessions confidential, even under strong constraining influence. The author of the Pedalion (the Rudder), states that a priest who betrays the secrecy of confession is to be deposed. The Metropolitan of Kos, Emanuel, mentions in his handbook (Exomologeteke) for confessors that the secrecy of confession is a principle without exception.”

In St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite’s Exomologitarion, he writes:

“Nothing else remains after confession, Spiritual Father, except to keep the sins you hear a secret, and to never reveal them, either by word, or by letter, or by a bodily gesture, or by any other sign, even if you are in danger of death, for that which the wise Sirach says applies to you: “Have you heard a word? Let it die with you” (Sir. 19:8); meaning, if you heard a secret word, let the word also die along with you, and do not tell it to either a friend of yours or an enemy of yours, for as long as you live. And further still, that which the Prophet Micah says: “Trust not in friends… beware of thy wife, so as not to commit anything to her” (Mic. 7:5).

For if you reveal them, firstly, you will be suspended or daresay deposed completely by the Ecclesiastical Canons, and according to political laws you will be thrown in jail for the rest of your life and have your tongue cut out. Secondly, you become a reason for more Christians not to confess, being afraid that you will reveal their sins, just as it happened during the time of Nektarios of Constantinople when the Christians did not want to confess on account of a Spiritual Father who revealed the sin of a woman. The divine Chrysostom both witnessed these things and suffered because of them on account of his trying to convince the people to confess. It is impossible for me to describe in words how much punishment this brings upon you, who are the cause of these things.”

St. John of the Ladder writes:

“At no time do we find God revealing the sins which have been confessed to Him, lest by making these public knowledge, He should impede those who would confess and so make them incurably sick.”

The Byzantine Nomocanon states, in Canon 120:

“”A spiritual father, if he reveals to anyone a sin of one who had confessed receives a penance: he shall be suspended [from serving] for three years, being able to receive Communion only once a month, and must do 100 prostrations every day.”

Source:

ORTHODOX WIKI

LINK: IGLESIA ORTODOXA DE LA SANTISIMA TRINIDAD EN LIMA, PERÚ – VÍDEO – Spanish

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LATIN AMERICA OF MY HEART

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