Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Martial arts - 1

Martial arts and Christianity

The initial practice of those martial arts often included training in Buddhism or Zen philosophy

Elmer L. Towns:

One of the early founders of modern martial arts, Gichin Funakoshi, said, “The mind and technique become one in true karate.” Development of martial arts such as judo, kung fu, hapkido, and aikido were steeped in the spiritual traditions of their native countries. This makes sense, given that many of those martial arts sought to merge spiritual and physical exercises with the goal of strengthening both. Also, systems meant to develop combat skill naturally sought a means to govern when to use violence. As a result, the initial practice of those martial arts often included training in Buddhism or Zen philosophy.


Elmer L. Towns, Bible Answers for Almost All Your Questions, THOMAS NELSON / 2003 / PAPERBACK


Martial Arts and Orthodox Christian Faith

“The Trojan Horse” of the New Age

One of the phenomena that prevails in the contemporary Greek society is the increasing spread of the martial arts (Karate, Kung Fu, Judo, Aikido etc.) originating in the Eastern countries like China and Japan. Many people consider this movement harmless ignoring apparently that it represents a vehicle of initiation into a different religious tradition like the Buddhism and the oriental religions and therefore leads to the denial of the Orthodox faith. Moreover, many ignore the fact that the spread of the martial arts is part of a systematic active plan of the New Age, a well-known occult and religious movement that intends to change the Christian consciousness and in general to abolish Christian faith.

Indeed, the propagandist advertisement of this movement invades our houses daily through TV movies and shows and offers us as well a) access to mass media through special broadcasts, b) specialized brochures and magazines; c) special dedications in newspapers and magazines of all kinds; d) direct support from the New Age press (magazines as The Third Eye, Searches, The Unexplainable, The Path, etc.) educating schools for these techniques almost in each neighborhood of the cities from our country) collaborations with different new-ageist organizations, as well as with private schools or institutions for superior education. The most concerning fact is that the teachers of martial arts impel these often through the public schools to the prejudice of Helen taxpayers together with all the implications associated with those.

The connection with the New Age movement is relevant also from the publication of articles on a regular base by the Greek teachers of martial arts in new-ageist brochures. Their former adepts confess about the connection of their schools with occult organizations like: Harmonious life of Robert Najemi, disciple of guru Sai Baba, Gnostics, Sunlight organization of Panaghiotis Toulatou, The Church of Unification of Korean fake messiah SanMyousMoon, as well as the implication of their teachers in black arts. Organizations like Nea Akropolis, Osiris-Isis, Armoniki Zoi (Harmony Life) etc. offer lessons of martial arts while their teachers do not hesitate to make public their connections with occultism. The Athletic and Cultural Association SAGITARRIUS, accredited by the General Secretary of Athletic Sport, organizes yearly a seminary on subjects like: Hatha and Raja, Meditation, Positive Thinking etc. where the customary bibliography comprises books of the so-called “Christ of New Age”(!), of Guru Sai Baba and his disciple Robert Najemi, of Ron Hubbard, the messiah of Scientology, of New Acropolis and other new-ageist organizations.

This proves that the martial arts are the toils of the New Age that catch “fresh” fish daily, without any loss. Moreover, all these prove that the heresies from our country act like communicating vessels and their connection are by no mean competitive. Yet, what actually are the martial arts, what is their origin and “spiritual” base?

The Apparition and evolution of the martial arts

The techniques of the weaponless war were very well known to the nations of Far East from ancient times. Over the time they were performed, multiplied and thus formed different schools. They were always connected to a religious philosophy and thereby they were part of a religious system.

In China, the forefather of martial arts was the Kung Fu. Around year 520 AD a Buddhist monk who wandered in India, Bodhidharma or Da Mo crossed Himalaya and reached the Shaolin Monastery from China where he taught the monks from there, the techniques of war united with the Buddhist principles. The monks used those techniques at the very beginning to eradicate the thieves and pirates and later on they developed them so that their monastery became the cultivation center of the so-called “hard” Kung Fu based on strong hits and kicks. There is among them also the so-called “touch of death” (from poppy) a technique known only by a few teachers whereby if a body is hit on a certain spot, way and hour then it will slowly, inevitably die. In the same time, during the XIII century a “light” or “inner” form of Kung Fu was developed by the Taoist monk Jang Sung-Fe that does not use hits but is focused on the maximization of “inner energy” by calming down.

Karate appeared in Okinawa island of Japan in the XVIIth century and it was officially introduced in Japan at the beginning of the XXth century. It translated through “empty hand” (weaponless) and is based on hits using the hands, legs, head and knees combined with Kung Fu techniques.

In Japan the far forefather of martial arts is the Jiu Jitsu. It most probably appeared around the year 23 AD and became a standard during the Shogun Tokugawa (1606-1868) dynasty when the fight without weapons was emphasized and the use of swords was forbidden. The technique is related to Zen Buddhism and is characterized by hits in the vital parts of body using the legs strangles and blocks of joints.

The evolution of Jiu Jitsu is Judo that represents a sportive version of the aforementioned technique and focuses on sprains.

Moreover the Jiu Jitsu is the forerunner of Aikido, a contemporary technique invented in 1922 by Jiu Jitsu teacher Morihei Uyeshiba and focuses on the harmonization with the moves of the opponent. Recently, a school of this technique has appeared in Tripoli.

Ninzitsou is another technique that was invented in the IVth century by the Chinese general Sun Tzu. The disciples of this technique were instructed to kill silently. They also teach how to control breath and use meditation in order to stay submerged in water for a long time and control their heartbeats for passing unnoticed.

Tae Kwon Do originates in Korea with a history of many centuries. Tae means “I hit or crush with my leg”, Kwon means “I punch” and Do means “method”.

Effects and Risks

 In Greece, the martial arts teachers advertise them as being harmless techniques used only for self-protection. Yet it is surely not so. The instruction in these techniques implies serious risks for health like traumatisms during practice and irreversible injuries to knees, waist and other parts of body. Mortal accidents are not a seldom fact. Such types of facts are usually assigned to inexperienced teachers and those who have nothing to do with the things they teach. Nevertheless, they do occur because this field is completely unchecked, as a Greek teacher declared: “The state will give anyone the possibility to open a school even if one was a pilot.” Thus, each teacher is given the possibility to create a myth around himself, apparently for his “titles” and “capacities” he attained while he might have very well achieved them only from videos. There were recorded cases of teachers whose diplomas were fake while the teachers who failed their “examination”, came more times even the very next day and they returned having a “black belt” or even the second and third Dan (M. Dimitriadu, The Truth about the Martial Arts, Athens 1998). Even the Greek Federation for Karate, considered as valid, is not able to control everything therefore the consequence is that these dangerous techniques are consigned to the hands of semi-professional teachers who keep them going in a speculative and exploiting circle for the naïve victims.

Another myth created around the martial arts is the fact that you can use them for self-defence. However this argument serves only the advertising purposes. A Greek teacher admits that “it will take you around 10 years to be able to use very well those you learn. Do not listen to those who talk about rapid systems for if they said how long it would take to acquire well the knowledge, no one would show up to learn.” (M Dimitriadu, the afore cited book, p. 224). However, as a matter of course, the martial arts cannot protect you at all by shotguns. They would have been appropriate for self-defence before the guns were discovered. Nowadays, though, the easiest way for someone who has intentions to harm is to get a gun.

However, the aforementioned risks are only referring to the physical part. There is though even a higher risk, the spiritual one, we will discuss about in what follows.

Its religious base

As we earlier mentioned, almost all the entrepreneurs of martial arts were monks or ascetics who rather learned a religious tradition than a method of war or self-defence. The training, exercises, moves and usually all their techniques involve and express this religious tradition and faith as such that it is impossible to separate each from the other. Thus, one who is initiated in the martial arts (because we can truly speak about an initiation) will be initiated in its faith as well that is totally different from Christianity.

Which faith do we talk about? We deal with the fundamental conception of oriental religions that claims that there is no personal God (for instance there is no Father, Son and Holy Spirit of Christianity) but there is an impersonal divine energy or vital force that flows in the universe and penetrates all things. This vital universal force, called Chi in China and Ki in Japan, with different names in other parts, is everywhere, even in the contrary match of yin and yang that continuously interact. According to the adepts of oriental religions, one will control this force when he unites his mind with his body using physical moves, breathing control and meditation practice. Here is why the martial arts involve such type of exercises and techniques. Their focus is on handling this so-called energy by introducing it inside one’s self and one’s union with it. Usually, the union with the vital energy is called “enlightenment” and one who attained this stage is called “enlightened”. However, the term “Buddha”, means exactly “enlightened”, Thus, in martial arts the connection between the instructor and disciple is like one between someone who has a complete set of knowledge and someone who has not but is something more: it represents the connection between the “spiritual” father and his “spiritual” son or in other words, the connection between the “enlightened” who pursues on leading his disciples to “enlightenment”.

But let’s study a real example: Morihei Uyesheba (1886-1969), the founder of Aikido technique, was intensely focusing on searching for “budo”, the inner essence of martial arts. During the middle of his life, he has a mystical experience: while he was sitting under a tree, the universe was shaken and out of the earth a golden spirit jumped and covered his body in veils and transformed him in gold. Then his mind and body became light and he could understand the birds and the “divine law”. Since then he had developed a technique focused on the disciple’s acknowledgement of his inner power achieved through channeling the flow of vital force Ki in different parts of his body. When the body was filled with that force, it would become strong. Uyeshiba showed often the way he controlled Ki energy: he could “root” himself on the soil such as no one could lift him up, to throw his opponents using simple moves and walk over tea cups without breaking them. The magazine edited by the “Greek Association Aikido Aikikai” that appeared in Tripoli (March 2012) informs us: “The word Aikido is composed from three Japanese words: Ai means harmony, Ki means spirit, mind or energy of universe and Do means “path”. Aikido means literally speaking “The path of harmony with the energy of universe”. We quote from the same magazine, sentences that clearly prove the concrete religious base of this technique: “The power of Aikido comes from the spiritual energy that will be released when one unifies his mind with his body and becomes one with the nature and universe.” “Aikido is not just a fighting method but a way of one’s nurture and betterment.” “Aikido is shugyo meaning an intense physical and spiritual exercise for improving one’s character and progress in real wisdom. Therefore it is obvious the meaning of a dojo as a space where we exercise in a spirit of collaboration and reciprocal help in the technique of harmony. Dojo is not just a simple place for training but for “enlightenment”.

We have to clarify the fact that for oriental religions, the “salvation” or rather the highest grade of freedom is the dissolution of human person within the cosmic energy or vital force. The correct meaning of the aforementioned sentence is: “The person becomes one with the nature and universe.” Ki is usually adjusted in martial arts through breathing. The body moves involve special techniques of inspiration and expiration. The breath is for many times accompanied by a scream that apparently helps the release of Ki toward the opponent and thusly to unbalance him. In other cases, their screams are invocations of some deities. Although the oriental religions do not accept the existence of a personal God, they worship though as known, plenty of deities. These are deified people or deified beings, meaning beings that united on the highest scale with the vital force and attained divine characteristics.

Martial Arts and Orthodox Faith

 It is proved that martial arts represent a gradual and imperceptible but sure procedure to apostate from the Christian Faith and fall into another “spiritual” category, namely of oriental religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Shintoism, etc. The pursuit on them starts usually like a game, gymnastics or field events that will eventually lead him who carries on with them to occultism and acceptance of conceptions of oriental religions. Often even the instructors of martial arts (at least in Greece) did not consciously apostatized from Christ but as long as they are under the influence of a full ignorance of the Christian faith they consider that they deal with some compatible experiences and that the Christian God identifies with the impersonal vital force of oriental religions, occultism and New Age. Yet they all end up in the same point: the renouncement to the teaching about Holy Trinity that represents the base of Christian Faith, as well as to the belief that Jesus Christ is our only true God, Savior and Redeemer, the fall from the Grace of God and eventually the fall from salvation that comes through Christ. It is this that represents the biggest danger for man: his fall from salvation.

Many people are enthusiastic about the capacities of some who practice the martial arts, capacities that indeed, in some cases, surpass the natural human powers and therefore they leave behind a strong impression. They ask themselves: If these are not performed by the human power then what is the power they use to perform those by? Is it possible to perform them by a different power than Christ’s? Is it out of question that Christ might be involved in these cases? To give an answer to these, we go to the teaching and acts of Christ as the Gospel presents them. There we see that Christ has never taught about the self-defence, the repay of evil but about love, the forgiveness and sacrifice because “when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered He did not threaten” (I Peter 2, 23). The Gospel reveals to us also the one who acts behind the “supernatural” acts of martial arts. It boldly says: “For all the gods of the nations are demons” (Psalm 95, 5), namely the religions including those that represents the base of martial arts are not just some innocent occurrences as they might seem because behind them the devil is concealed so that he performs impressive “acts” and makes the people worship him.

Fragment from “Orthodoxy and heresies” brochure of Holy Mitropoly of Mantinia and Kinuria, no 79, April-June 2012



Tae-Kwon-Do and Orthodoxy

Lefteris Kalavrytinos

– A spiritual child of Fr. Alevizopoulos remembers


The following article was written with the euche of my spiritual father as well as the euche of my geronda, to whom I had confessed these things fifteen years ago after the end of my spiritual search, when God finally led me to the most blessed fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos. This article treats the story of my conversion from an atheist to a [Orthodox] Christian with the help of our Lord. Also, through this text an attempt is made to interpret the difference between Tae Kwon Do (TKD, a Korean martial art) and Orthodoxy.

Chapter 1 refers to the aim of Christian life which, according to the holy fathers, is nothing else but the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Through the words of holy men we describe the means for Its acquisition (God willing). At the same time, I give a definitive reply as to whether this aim can be combined with exercising TKD or not.

Chapter 2 refers to TKD, where a little historical background is mentioned first and the aim of this martial art and Olympic game is analyzed second, namely the realization of the ideals of Confucius and living the beliefs of Taoism and Buddhism.

Chapter 3 includes the famous conversation of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Motovilov as a living example for the realization of the Kingdom of Christ in our lives. On the other hand, I bring my personal past as a testimony and an example to avoid.

1. The purpose of man’s existence

What is the purpose of man’s existence? The answer is given to us by our Lord and also by His Saints through the ages, whose bodies were wasted in hard asceticism, fasting, vigils, prayers, and virtues in general. In all these, they lived freedom in Christ. This answer is also given through the conversation of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Motovilov (cf. Chapter 3). According, therefore, to the Saint, purpose of Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, namely the living of the Kingdom of God from this life.

The euche of the Ecclesia

The euche that follows is used by us when we beg the Holy Spirit to become our guide, and cleanse us from sin and its causes.

O Heavenly King, Paraclete[1], Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Through this euche, the Christian calls through his own will the Holy Spirit to come and dwell inside him, to transform him into a temple. The Holy Spirit respects man’s independent will and waits for this invitation. On the contrary, TKD, as we shall see further down, violates man’s independent will, since man becomes possessed and believes he has the right to impose his will to others, and nullify, that is, his fellow man’s personality.

The characteristics of the Holy Spirit

St. Seraphim [a] by his prayer places his spiritual child visibly inside the grace of the Holy Spirit. He does not abolish Motovilov’s person and he in turn does not go mad, like some of the victims of the eastern religions do, who, through meditation, end up in a vegetative state, but on the contrary fills him with an unutterable peacefulness and serenity, an incredible happiness, a singular sweetness, an internal warmth, and he in turn feels the divine fragrance of the Holy Spirit, becoming like St. Seraphim of Sarov full of the Holy Spirit.

According to the teachings of St. Innocent of Moscow [b], the characteristic traits of the Holy Spirit are faith and illumination, love, power, wisdom, happiness, joy, as well as peace, humility and, finally, prayer.

St. Silouan the Athonite [c] mentions among other things that the Holy Spirit teaches the true faith, It is the means of communicating and becoming acquainted with God, It grants love, wisdom, sweetness, joy, sight and knowledge of God, prayer, illumination, power, understanding of Scriptures, spiritual rest, and a foretaste of the blessedness of paradise.

Internal holy spiritual peace and external relaxation

One of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit is peace. The teachers of TKD also show a peaceful face, as sheep-like wolves that they are, and their bodies are relaxed through too much exercise. They do not have virtue. They can be debauchers, meditating gurus, participants in mental suggestions, whereas their soul does not rest in the Holy Spirit, as it is dead, not alive; in it live demons (this is what I understood in the school where I was taught TKD).

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

St. Innocent replies that “without the help and cooperation of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible not only for us to enter the Kingdom in Heavens, but even to make a single step on the path that leads there”.

Purity in faith

Continuing, the saint tells us that there is a necessary pre-condition for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, namely true faith. “This is given only to the one who is truly faithful. And truly faithful is he who confesses correctly our holy Orthodox faith, without making any additions or subtractions or changes, exactly as it was delivered to us by the holy apostles and as it was phrased and sanctioned by the Holy Father in the Œcumenical Synods. Every doubt or sophistry in matters of faith is disobedience. And the one who is disobedient can never become a temple and habitation of the Holy Spirit”.

In other words, it is pointless for one to meditate on one hand and try to lead a spiritual life inside the Church on the other. As we shall see in the next chapter, TKD (and martial arts in general) contain breathing exercises and techniques of meditation in movement. It is a form of yoga whose aim is self-deification (and a witness to one’s personal powers). Apart from the above, we must also note that there are many martial arts Schools that conduct meditation before and even after training.

It is madness for someone to wish to combine the path of extreme humility that our saints walk with the Luciferian self-deification path that we are subject to through TKD training.

Means of acquisition of the Holy Spirit

The same saint tells us that in order for us to acquire the Holy Spirit in our lives, the means are: clean heart, pure body, humility, obedience to the voice of God (i.e. to the Word of God), prayer, daily self-denial (mainly through fasting and almsgiving), reading and listening to the Holy Writ (and holy books in general), participation to the divine mysteries of our Ecclesia and in the divine Eucharist in particular.

Continuing, the saint tells us: “every soul can be filled by the Holy Spirit, if it is cleared from sin, self-love and freed from pride”.

When does the Holy Spirit leave?

St. Innocent tells us “Every sin drives away the Holy Spirit. Most hated, however, to Him are pornic sins among the bodily ones, and pride among the spiritual ones. The Holy Spirit, the perfect purity, cannot live inside a man defiled with sins. How can He stay in our heart, when it is filled with cares, desires and passions?”

Exercise in an art whose aim is self-deification is either the result of ignorance on the part of the trainee or the result of pride. These two (ignorance and pride) can by themselves drive away the Holy Spirit. In other words, the battle for living the kingdom of God goes out of the window. St. Silouan continues and tells us:

Deception and therapy

“One falls to deception either due to inexperience or due to pride. If one falls to deception through ignorance then the Lord will heal him quickly; if however he falls to deception due to pride, then his soul will suffer for a long time, until it learns what humility means, and then it will be healed by the Lord.”

If someone has fallen to the deception of TKD, depending as to whether this fall was due to ignorance or pride, then both the way to remove his dependence as well as the time until he is freed from its lures varies accordingly.

Obstacles in our path

According to St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, in his book “Unseen Warfare”, there are three things that stop man from living the kingdom of God. These are: the world, the devil and his self.

Psychological problems and the Holy Spirit

If one practices TKD for a time and also reads about Buddhism, Taoism, telepathy etc., and then suddenly stops TKD, he might suffer from phobias, persecution manias and psychological problems. These eventually leave through the mysteries of Holy Confession and Holy Eucharist, and more generally, through living an Orthodox spiritual life, through which the Holy Spirit clears the spots from the Christian person’s garment, recreates the soul’s virtues and brings the faithful back to the point he was when he had been baptized. Otherwise, if he does not turn to the Church, one might eventually need the support of a neurologist …

Chapter 1 Epilogue

In this first chapter I tried to give with simple words, the teaching of Saints (with my deepest respects to them) on the purpose of Christian life and also to show their experience on the third person of the Holy Trinity, by also bringing some of my own remarks. From the words of our Saints it becomes clear that TKD training is incompatible to the Orthodox worship, and my experience has shown to me that sometimes it can seriously harm the spiritual health of the trainee.

Chapter Sources

St. Silouan from leaflet no. 24 “The Voice of the Fathers, Devout [Osios] Silouan the Athonite, The acquaintance with God”, edition 6, Holy Monastery of Paraclete, Horopos, Attica.

St. Innocent of Moscow, from leaflet no. 25 “The Voice of the fathers, St. Innocent of Moscow, The breath of the Holy Spirit”, edition 1, Holy Monastery of Horopos, Attica.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, from his conversation with Motovilov, pp. 47 – 59 from the book “The Saint of Joy (St. Seraphim of Sarov and Orthodox spiritual experience)” by Harry M. Boosalis, publications “I Elafos”.

St. Nicodemus, from the Unseen Warfare.

Sermons by fr. Ioannis Chantzethanasis and by other fathers.

Personal remarks.

2. Tae Kwon Do (TKD)

TKD is a martial art that contains one spiritual road (one DO), one of the paths to spiritual development for the trainee. It is at the same time an Olympic sport. In this chapter I will discuss its purpose, and will also mention some related information.

History of TKD

According to the website, training in martial arts began in Korea around 50 B.C., and later on we meet a class of highborn youngsters (HwaRang = flourishing youth) in the kingdom of Silla that used to train in various martial arts. The ancient code of honour of these young men constitutes the philosophical (my note: and religious) essence of TKD.

Since 1910 and until the end of WWII, Korea was under the rule of Japan. After the war and the defeat of Japan in Korea, many martial arts schools began to appear. In 1955 these schools united under the name of Tae Soo Do. Later, in 1957, this art was renamed Tae Kwon Do. A trained eye can easily discern similarities in the hand movements with Japanese karate.

There are two martial arts federations of TKD: ITF, which exercise a more traditional form of TKD, and WTF. This martial art became an Olympic sport in 2000.

Religions in modern Korea

What religions thrive in the peninsula of Korea?

According to the website (that uses CIA sources) South Korea contains 49% of Heterodox Christians, 47% Buddhists, 3% Confucian followers and the remainder of the population follow other religions. TKD comes from this nation.

The website mentions that Seoul also hosts an Orthodox Church where the Divine Liturgy is conducted in both Greek and Korean.

Purity of faith and (Asiatic) Korean mentality

In the website I found a reference to the religious situation in Korea (mother of TKD). The University of Ohio group informs us that “many Koreans follow more than one religion. For example, many who turned to Christianity also continue their worship in the traditional religions …”

As we shall see further down, TKD is a religious amalgam. This is how one can truly interpret the symbols on the Korean flag.

The book of changes I’ Ch’ing

Great role to the Korean culture plays an occultist book of oracular art going by the name of I’ Ch’ing or, according to a different designation, “book of changes”. I have in my own hands its translation into Greek that was made by the New Age author Casey (publications Spartan). The book consists of 64 hexagrams. One chapter is entitled “asking the counsel of the oracle” where the reader is advised to throw a coin heads or tails in consecutive trials, in order to be informed which hexagram will give a reply to his question.

According to the website, this book combines Confucianism with Taoist philosophy (yin – yang).

It is well known that the devil performs pseudo-miracles and is even able to calculate a possible immediate future for his follower, if said follower has resorted to some oracular art. These things however do not hold rein on us Orthodox who have been freed by the Blood of Christ. This all-holy Body and Blood of Christ found inside the Holy Chalice keeps us free from the devil.

Oracular art and TKD

In one of the two TKD (in WTF), the forms used until one reaches the level of black belt are dedicated to the initial eight hexagrams of the oracular book I’ Ch’ing (

In Cook’s book, “Tae Kwon Do, Ancient Wisdom for the modern Warrior”, which is a book that is prefaced by Richard Chun, who holds a black belt of 9 Dan, there is a photo of trainees in the martial art working diligently on the oracular art through I’ Ch’ing (p. 60).

The Korean flag

In many TKD schools one can find the Korean flag. This flag (according to has its philosophical foundations in the Chinese traditional philosophy (religion, rather) of Yin and Yang. It is called Taeguk and has imprinted on it a summary of the ideas of the (occultist) book of changes I’ Ch’ing.

It consists of three parts, the white font that symbolizes peace, the red one and the blue circle, that symbolize the Taoist symbol of yin and yang as well as four tri-grams, one in each corner. The tri-grams symbolize Heaven, Fire, Water and Earth. They also contain a second “embedded” symbolism: the symbolism of the balance between opposites.

The trainee bows before these symbols before entering the training ground, where this respected-by-all yet foreign-to-Orthodoxy and full-of-secret-occult-symbols flag hangs.

Imagine a flag having as a symbol four playing cards and in the middle an upside Greek coffee mug; would anyone condescend to bow before it? Perhaps we modern Greeks are attracted to the exotic and foreign instead of looking at the truth that is next to us.

What is the purpose of TKD?

In the website, one can find information that proves that this martial art is based upon eastern beliefs borrowed from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucian philosophy.

In a free translation [in Greek] I give the reader a section from the prologue to the Nannangbi text that was written by Choi Chi-Won. He tells us that “there is a powerful spiritual path in Korea known as Pung Ryo Do … This path contains these three principles, of Confucianism, of Buddhism and of Taoism, that illumine the whole of the human race. Those who walk this spiritual path honour their parents but also dedicate themselves to their country, which is what the teaching of Confucianism is about …”

The author of the e-book “On Samjae and Kang-Yu” uses all of the above in order to stress to us the fact that “the philosophy of Pung Ryo Do is the essence of the philosophy of TKD”.

In other words, the Koreans are open about their faith. They openly tell us who they are. The one who wants to can follow them. In Greece one meets the same TKD. Why do the teachers here not tell us about the above?

What TKD is

We saw what its purpose is. But what is TKD? To this question I found some interesting answers.

On the website one can find the re-publication of an Anglican article from the magazine “Anglicans for Renewal” (February 2000).  In a free translation, its title is: “TKD and martial arts: Simple training or Trojan horse?” The author, after mentioning a number of things, concludes saying “In conclusion, my research and my personal experience have led me to the conclusion that TKD and martial arts are not simple training, but Buddhist practices of meditation” and continues saying that this training coincides with the initiation to the first stages of eastern occultism. Author of this article is the Anglican pastor Edward Hird.

Maria Dimitriadou[2] mentions in her website, among other many things, that the martial art forms are meditation in movement and a martial art is a form of yoga. This article was published in the well-known Orthodox periodical Dialogos (no. 23, Jan-Mar 2001).

The website contains publications from various martial arts followers, ending with concluding remarks made by many martial art trainees who claim that in the end a martial art, like TKD, brings man to the same place that yoga would.

In Doug Cook’s book “TKD, Ancient Wisdom for the modern Warrior”, there are three chapters on meditation. The first is entitled “Poomse – Moving Meditation”. There, the author, a holder of third Dan, confirms that TKD does include meditation in movement. In the second chapter, Cook describes the profits made from meditation (which is the Luciferian route to self-deification). In the third chapter, he presents a form of meditation called Active Meditation which is a necessary part for training in this martial art.

When I had asked my TKD teacher on the relation of TKD with yoga, he had told me that it is a form of yoga.

According to the above, TKD is clearly a form of yoga and as such includes breathing techniques and meditation in movement through training in forms and through meditation in the lotus position (cross-legged) as these are taught in India[3] or in Korea.

What is meditation in movement?

For someone to obtain a belt in TKD, he needs to learn to execute certain “choreographies”, as Cook calls them, namely forms of TKD. The repetitive execution of these movements is essentially a form of meditation because it trains man’s imagination against imaginary opponents, having always as an aim self-deification.

Sometimes, those who meditate either see demons, always granted by God’s mercy and not by their own will, or become possessed (this constitutes the witness of an anonymous nun).

The fathers (cf. St. Nicodemus, advisory manual) tell us that fantasy (imagination) is the result of man’s fall. Adam before the fall had no imagination, and the same holds for the devil. Christ did not have an imagination while he was on earth. Through imagination, the devil attempts and many times, alas, also succeeds in controlling man, offering him glass beads in exchange for the most precious thing he has, namely his immortal soul.

Ki or Chi and TKD

According to Cook, as he himself mentions in his small glossary that is found in his book (see p. 213), Ki[4] is a term that is used by the Japanese and Koreans and denotes the internal (esoteric) power of life, which consolidates the techniques of those who deal with martial arts.

According to the Cypriot web page, Ki is a basic and fundamental substance/element of the Universe. I believe[5] that this position has to do with the monist belief of things[6] that everything stems from one element; if we extend this belief a little, we arrive at the belief that man, being one with god, is himself god, but he doesn’t usually know it. The purpose of man’s life is to learn that he is god, knowledge that he obtains through the martial art, independently of ethics and virtues. In extreme cases[7], man can lose his personality and even his mind coming to be in a vegetative state. Such men, who cannot even help themselves through their unnatural training, are considered to be enlightened in areas of India, as Farasiotis mentions in his book (see further down).

Cook, in another of his articles entitled “Ki Energy”, that can be found at the website, mentions that Reed defines Ki as the “Universal energy, able for infinite extensions and compressions[8], which can be directed by the mind but is not contained in it”. Fa Xiang Hou says that Ki or Chi “circulates in all living beings and is a composition of yin and yang powers”. Further down, Cook notes that meditation and deep breathing are among the ways one can use to acquire Ki; exactly what takes place in TKD.

We as Orthodox must first and foremost aim to acquire the Holy Spirit. We do not believe in the monist view that man is God. We would like to be God-like, of course, always though in Christ and thus by grace.

The role of the teacher

The teacher is the one who trains his pupil in the technique and philosophy of TKD, and he is essentially his guide in Do, the spiritual path of the martial art. He places the pupil to begin meditation in movement (forms) and teaches him more or less about Buddhism, Taoism, even Confucianism and this without using many words; irrespective as to whether he himself is doing this consciously or not.

In the Gospel we find written that we must not call anyone else a teacher except Christ. The TKD teacher plays the role of a teacher in place of Christ, i.e. of someone who teaches foreign and opposite things to the written and oral tradition of our Orthodox Ecclesia. Those spiritual fathers who give their blessing for their spiritual children to participate in such arts are certainly either deceived or in ignorance (if they do it for reasons of supposed economy, God can only enlighten them!)

TKD’s Master

For us Orthodox, the ideal Christian, in other words the true Christian, is the Holy man of God, the one, that is, who has the Holy Spirit inside him.

Who is the ideal teacher of TKD? What is his main characteristic?

According to Maria Dimitriadou (cf. above website), the whole point of martial arts is the controlling of Ki or Chi, i.e. of the so-called “internal energy” which can even transform the trainee to a superman, making him able to kill even from a distance or put this energy into therapeutic purposes (demonic healing charismas). For such purposes of therapy, the martial artist can use acupuncture, massage or potions.

Cook, in the chapter “The Holistic Approach” of the aforementioned book, writes (on p. 37) that those who dedicate their lives to becoming an example in the arena of martial arts, deal not only with the obvious physical exercises, but also need to deal with issues such as anatomy, meditation, ethics, therapeutics, nutrition and Eastern philosophy (my note: often we will find Taoism and Buddhism mentioned as philosophies instead of religions[9]). In other words, he confirms the words of Maria Dimitriadou.

Media, Hellenic society and TKD

Martial arts, and more specifically TKD, are advertised by the media because they are Olympic events. There are films and books on martial arts,; even Greek champions of TKD who bring medals back home from international games. There is however lack of knowledge of the true nature of the martial arts in our country.

Meditation, Ki or Chi and Orthodoxy

Fr. Paisios had said that there is only God and the devil [that cause the various “metaphysical” events]. This is repeated continuously throughout the book “The guru, the young man and elder Paisios” by Farasiotis[10], namely that the energy of Ki or Chi, viz. the “breaks”, fatal blows from a distance, acupuncture and massage techniques must either be of God or of the devil. Man is not god and he has a by-grace given immortal soul, which is created once by the Creator and has limited capacity. The mental suggestion that was done on me (see next chapter) by my TKD teachers, who, due to their constant training had obtained large amounts of Ki inside them, and which they were directing onto me, is the energy of mages, and their Ki is demonic energy. It is another matter altogether that they thought that this was human telepathic ability.

Meditation in movement, breathing techniques, meditation, the lotus position; all these are concentration techniques of Ki or Chi but at the same time constitute the means for self-deification and self-illumination. The Do trainee (following his own path to spiritual “advancement”) will change; he will follow a spiritual path opposing the path of the Gospel. If one reads Maria Dimitriadou’s book “The truth on martial arts” on the experiences and testimonies of trainees, he will understand what I mean.

Sweat dripping on the carpet, time lost, and money spent; and in the end one is in danger of also losing both his bodily and spiritual health. If however he comes to Church, where, through Confession, Communion, the Divine Liturgy, and more generally through the life-giving communion with God, given to us “for free”, man will walk the path to salvation, even if this path is narrow and full of sorrows.

According to the Fathers, one must first thirst for God, to feel as the prodigal son of the parable and to wish to quench his thirst from the water that quenched the thirst of the Samaritan woman, at the time when the Lord offers it to him. Then God, once he finds the door open, even though the house of man’s soul will be dirty from passions, sin, and deception, He will condescend to enter and make it again new, clean and shining.

3. Theosis and anti-theosis

In the third and last chapter there is a great antithesis. The first part contains the conversation of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Motovilov as an example of a holy spiritual experience. There follows a commentary on the conversation, with an emphasis on the differences found between this holy spiritual experience and the experiences I had in the TKD school but also later on. The second part follows my personal witness.

Comments on the conversation of St. Seraphim with Motovilov

For this “metaphysical” experience many things can be said. I would like to point out only the following:

St. Seraphim respects Motovilov’s independent will, in opposition to TKD where mental suggestions take place, as we shall see further down.

The saint becomes informed on Motovilov’s wish through the Holy Spirit; there is no “telepathy” where the devil will whisper in everyone’s ears the same thing so that a certain form of invisible communication appears to take place[11].

Father Seraphim with his prayer that reaches God through His Holy Spirit convinces Him to grant these experiences to Motovilov. Neither does he meditate, nor does he apply techniques of self-deification but through his humility and virtue, attracts the Divine Grace and causes the miracle to happen.

Motovilov does not go mad or “ecstatic” but is exulted by the Holy Spirit, for God granted the experience according to his ability. On the contrary, when the devil, in his evilness, makes people meditate, he may even reach the point of driving them mad (after divine granting, of course, if there is nothing better that God can do for this man).

Finally, I would like to underline that neither St. Seraphim’s nor Motovilov’s faces (persons) are cancelled. God is personal; these are and continue to be independent persons, and they participate in the experience by a different amount each, while continuing to remain independent persons. There is no absorption of man by God, but His condescension becomes visible in order for Him to show mercy to His creation.

Personal witness

The following story is real, chronologically placed between 1985 and 1989; the people are real, and I intentionally use different names because I do not wish to judge these people, but their actions, hoping that some of them might change … Some of these are still in deception, having one foot in TKD and the other in Orthodoxy.

Protagonists of the Story

The one who writes this story is one of the protagonists. I used to be a Marxist atheist. When I was in the military I would not do the Sign of the Cross. After my military service ended, and during the course of my studies at the American College, I trained with TKD and other martial arts, as there was a school of TKD at college. For a time I would study books on Zen (Japanese “version” of Buddhism), Taoism, martial arts, telepathy. I would conduct experiments on “telepathy” (as I thought this phenomenon was at the time). I had, in other words, fallen into the deception that man is a god and that he has spiritual powers. It is easy for an atheist to become a yogi for essentially he deifies himself. It had made an impression to me that I was able to understand (as if someone was whispering this to me) whether a co-trainee had worked in the past with some other martial art, weights etc. or not.

Lakis is a bus driver in a Northern district municipality in Athens. He was the one who first took me to School, participating also in the induced mental suggestion that took place later, as he himself admitted, while also giving me the names of a few other participants.

Eleni is the sister of teacher Akis, the girl for whom I was driven to participate in the suggestion. She had a black belt and together we did telepathy experiments. I liked all this, but something was keeping me alert and puzzling me about this woman. She strongly believed that she is a Christian[12], despite the forms that she knew, the meditation she had done through the training, and despite the suggestion to which she had participated.

Akis, teacher of martial arts, had a black belt of “three Dan”. He had a Greek martial arts teacher and was spiritually confused. He used to say a lot of contradictory things. For example, he would speak on the “plan of God” or tell me to “think of Eleni, she is from God”; yet at another time he would tell me that I need a teacher (a spiritual leader or a yogi) or that TKD is the same as yoga (since it contains breathing exercises as well as meditation in movement). On one hand he would do the Sign of the Cross and on the other hand he would have a (full) relationship with a girl who was a medium! He seemed to believe that god is a mountain and that each faith is a path that leads to him. He must have been able to understand my thoughts (this is what I used to think then) because sometimes what I was thinking would happen, and he used to say that TKD is unbeatable and gives one a lot. He would read books on Theosophy and telepathy and he must have conducted related experiments. He had convinced himself that inside him is the truth, god (the dogma of monism that we are all parts of the One God, not His creations with a separate personality, and that our aim is to unite with Him losing also our personality in the process). Another time he would say that one must make sacrifices for TKD if he loves it, like for example giving up his studies in order to dedicate himself to it. Once, he even told me that he would accept monetary contributions.

Makis, teacher, took place in the suggestion. The demon used his voice, and I recognized this voice later on during a demonstration.

Robert Nadjemy, yogi, who created the centre “Harmonic Life” in Chalandri[13].

Dreams and Visions in the tradition of the Church

In the tradition of our Church, it is mentioned that we must not pay attention to dreams or visions because these can be traps of the devil. A characteristic example is that of St. Pelagia in Tenos where the saint did not make hypakoe to the Panagia who would tell her to go and find her icon, and in the end our Panagia told her off.

Once, a taxi driver fell asleep while driving. Then in his sleep he saw our Panagia asking him to “stop”. He woke up and stopped his taxi from falling off the edge of a cliff.

This way I too was walking towards the edge of the cliff, and the Lord informed me by a miracle, and I changed; now I try to follow the example of our saints.

Hypnosis/Suggestion/“Seizure” (Snatching)

I would like to mention a few words on the metaphysical experiences I lived in those years. These are: hypnosis, “seizure” and suggestion. Let everyone draw their own conclusions. I would like here to underline that St. Seraphim, and by extension our Lord, respects and loves man; he does not force him but makes suggestions. On the contrary, the devil enforces his own wicked will based upon the rights that man gives him each time he moves further and further away from the Lord’s path.

One day, during warm-up at School, I was sitting on the carpet doing some exercises to warm up before training when I fell asleep. Someone, Akis perhaps, had hypnotized me. Similar experiences are mentioned in the book “The guru, the young man and elder Paisios” by Farasiotis. Despite my own will, someone had hypnotized me.

One night, while I was asleep, I saw my body from a distance. Around my body were shadows of people, when I heard a voice that told me to marry this woman. A few months later, I went to a demonstration and teacher Makis would talk using the same voice I had heard that night in my dream. Out of curiosity and ignorance, I began reading and doing experiments on telepathy[14]. Lakis, after some pressure, confessed to me that some people had gone to Hymettus to participate in a Circle. Then he stopped talking and did not wish to say more. I asked teacher Akis too, who would tremble out of fear that I might destroy his “image”. I don’t know what had happened to him. It was as if someone was hitting him on the face. I told him that I do not obey to demons and later on, after a long time, he  replied to me and said that indeed he is a demon, but was wondering what I was. It was a good point he made. Later on, I would return my belt that he had given me and would leave his school. I would have no need for a teacher that cancels my personality. The one who would be most “cool” about it would be Eleni, who only told me that I cannot prove that suggestion had taken place, without denying the fact that it had.

Finally, I would like to mention another experience. One day during training my mind was “seized” and I was found on top of the room. Down below, I could see each athlete transparent. Inside each one of them I would see a demon with little horns and a tail, as we see them depicted in holy icons. In other words, God wanted to show to me through this that the moment the trainee would tell God that through his training (meditation in movement) he would be deified, he would become a temple of the devil, and appear like a demon. Basic dogma of Buddhism is that through meditation man is illumined. This illumination coincides with the occupancy of the unfortunate meditating one by demons.

Spiritual powers

When I was at karate school I had relations with a girl called Dimitra. After we split up, she started dating a mage, would tell me that at night I would caress her hair from far away, and that sometimes I would stop the power she had inside her to affect a specific person. One day that we were talking together, my leg was hurting and she told me. We were both far away from God, and that is an understatement.

Also, I used to conduct telepathy experiments with Eleni, who would put on her mind geometric shapes and I would then tell her each time what shape it was (the devil would tell her what to think and he would whisper to me the name of the same shape afterwards).

Once, I tried to “throw light” using my mind onto a Korean teacher. He understood it and turned and looked at me carefully.

The teachers at school would break stones and wood using their fists.

Eventually, I got the sense that I had changed. This made me think that I owed my strange spiritual growth to someone, and that someone would in turn ask something from me one day.

What had changed me was the training, i.e. the meditation through the training.

Harmonic Life / Miracle

When I gave up my belt to Akis, I went to Harmonic Life, a yoga centre in Chalandri. I had read a book “the autobiography of a yogi”. In this book, it would say that the yogi had met Christ. I followed a seminar on how breathing techniques and yoga can help man’s health. Each Saturday, we would conduct breathing exercises.

One day while I was coming home, the Lord brought a logismos to my mind to open up the Bible that had been dusting in my room since high school. I thought to myself: “I have read so many books on karate, Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, TKD, Marxism … Why don’t I also open up to read the Gospel?” Indeed, I opened the Gospel and then the light that does not burn sprung out and hit me on the forehead. It was the same light that Motovilov had seen, but in a smaller amount and for a shorter period of time. That was it. I went to Nadjemy, the American teacher of yoga, and told him that he does not pray to Christ as he believed and then I left. I found the blessed fr. Alevizopoulos, who sent me to a holy hieromonk spiritual father.

Fifteen years later

Many years after these events had taken place, I prayed for Akis and the rest, obeying our Lord who has told us to love our enemies and to pray for them, even a little “belatedly”. But in my room there came a strong demonic presence when I did this. I took a small prayer rope and said the euche. It left …


[a] The Saint of Joy (St. Seraphim of Sarov and Orthodox spiritual life) pp. 47 – 59, Harry M. Boosalis, editions I ELAFOS.

[b] The Voice of the Fathers, St. Innocent of Moscow, “The breath of the Holy Spirit”, edition 1, Holy Monastery of Paraclete.

[c] The Voice of the Fathers, Devout Silouan the Athonite, “The acquaintance with God”, edition 6, Holy Monastery of Paraclete.

[1] This means “The one who begs for us”; translations sometimes use the term Comforter. – Ed Transl.

[2] Maria is a friend and an official translator of many critical patristic texts into Greek (e.g. fr. Seraphim Rose’s Life and Works), author of patristic-minded books including a treatise on Martial Arts.  Her works are included in top theological bookstores in Greece. She is one of the major theologians who unmasked Martial Arts, the other being of course the widely acclaimed fr. Alevizopoulos – Ed.

[3] For more details on the Indian demonic beliefs, see the biographies of Elder Paisios and Porphyrios. – Ed

[4] This is the same Ki found in the Do of Aikido – Ed.

[5] All this fully agrees with fr. Alevizopoulos’ and Maria’s work, as well as with the words of Elder Paisios found in Farasiotis’ book – Ed.

[6] Occult’s well-known dogma “everything is one”; cf. Mme. Blavatsky’s Theosophical teachings – Ed.

[7] Cf. Farasiotis’ book “The guru, the young man, and Elder Paisios” written with the blessings of Elder Paisios himself, which fully unmasks the demonic teachings of the Hindu philosophy – Ed.

[8] Cf. the New Age pseudo-scientific films “What the [Bleep] do we know?”, “Pi” etc. – Ed.

[9] Our note: it does not matter because by condemning Origenism the Orthodox Church has also condemned indirectly Religious Philosophy, which is what this is – Ed.

[10] A fantastic book, 500 pages long, that you cannot put down that unmasks all the demonic actions of the Gurus in India, and how Farasiotis was literally saved through the prayers of Elder Paisios when he was in India. He wrote this book according to the wishes of his spiritual father, the Elder himself.

[11] The technique of telepathy and tele-vision, through the use of black mirrors, black candles and magic, is common at high levels of Freemasonry, Rotaries, Rosicrucians, and even Lions.

[12] A delusion that is common to those who participate in Martial Arts. – Ed.

[13] The last is a real name. All of the above can also be found through the works of Alevizopoulos (in more accurate ways, using patristic analysis) on martial arts, new age and Indian demonology; his 40 anti-heretical books that he left us are formally accepted as a treasure house of Orthodoxy by the Holy Synod of Greece. On the same frequency one finds many other enlightened Fathers and Elders, including the late saintly Elder Paisios and Archimandrite Vassilopoulos of blessed memory. – Ed.

[14] One of the characteristic traits of the victims of occult is that they foster a great amount of unnatural curiosity and are led to read strange books, watch strange films and so forth, leading themselves deeper into the devil’s web – Ed.



Thursday, April 16, 2020

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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




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From Peruvian Paradise To Orthodox Priest


Fr. Peter Smith, Georgia, USA

Perhaps this journey to Orthodoxy really starts for me as a Roman Catholic college student.

The Newman Club was an interesting way to meet “people” [from a college student, you need to read “girls!”] and so I “joined” the Club. Soon, however, there was an instant shock wave through the Newman Club as the priest who was the coordinator and facilitator of the Club, came onto me and tried to “hook up” one evening in the rectory.

Well, that hastened a totally unceremonious departure and immediate exit from that entire scene and – believe it or not – started me on the road to the Orthodox Church.

As a direct result of that dark and traumatic evening the night before I left college I returned home. That summer, a wonderful British family was visiting my folks. They lived in Peru and were on holiday in New York. My father knew them through his position of Vice President of an international import/export firm dealing with companies in South America. After hearing about the recent happenings in my life, they invited my dad to let me spend a year with them in Peru!!

An intriguing and incredibly exciting doorway and escape was all set for me to walk through on my way to the Orthodox Church…though I had no idea of just how that would happen, since the Lord kept it completely hidden from me. At this point, I was really “far away” from God! After the Newman Club and college, I truly embraced the proposition of a year far away from the chaos of my life as it was. Ever since the disastrous and indelible exit from “the college that will live in infamy,” there was an abiding and almost gnawing sense that there indeed was a God… and He must be somewhere!!

My world totally and graphically changed during that exhilerating flight from New York City to Miami to Panama City, Panama to Quito, Ecuador to Lima, Peru. With the exception of that gnawing sense of the Lord’s presence somewhere within me, I spent quite a carefree and ‘bon-vivant’ life in and around Peru for about 6 months. The caring and incredibly generous British family with whom I lived in a wonderful penthouse apartment in Miraflores, Peru [a rather affluent and “international” section of suburban Lima] helped me acquire a teaching position, allowed me to almost exclusively use one of their several cars, subsidized a club membership to a magnificent private golf course, introduced me to several “unattached” and truly vivacious daughters of foreign dignitaries and brought me along on many of their day-long sailing ventures.

In brief, at 20 tender and inexperienced years of age, I was tending to believe that Paradise was my immediate neighborhood.

Life was sweet, available, enticing, totally satisfying and completely at my beck and call. Seemingly, the Lord merely decided not to warn me to get ready to duck!!

In celebration of the ’78’ that I shot in my latest round of golf, the sister of one of my co-teachers at the Instituto Cultural and I double dated at a local beach with another couple – her other sister and her fiance. So the fiance Antonio and I decided with great gusto to go body surfing in the 6 foot surf at the beach that day. Beautiful weather…, delightful beach and surf…, lovely company…; it just couldn’t get any better than that! That gnawing sense of His presence now rose up to meet me …head on!

As I ran from the beach and dove into one of those enticing, beckoning waves, the Lord drew His two iron from His golf bag… and WHAM!!…He knocked me into the next week. Right through the top of the wave I flew!! A cartoon from the ’50’s comes to mind… a young, careless boy dives from a dock and gets stuck headfirst in the sand below; the caption reads, “LOOK MOM!! NO HANDS!!” Sooo, I went through that wave just like a knife…and smashed onto the hardened sand behind it…CRASH!!!

Totally stunned and unable to move, my mouth finally came to the surface…

“HELP ME!” I yelled as loud as I could!!

And then I immediately thought, “You clown! Nobody understands English at this beach!” So in Spanish, I again yelled


Finally, Antonio came and dragged me to shore…somewhat lifeless.


is the prayer that came to me just then!!

Well, He indeed let me live…but not very comfortably it must be said.

After 10 days of an agonizing uncertainty and a more agonizing pain; it was finally discovered that my vault into hard sand left two cervical bones broken into about 26 pieces as it showed on the X-rays. It took my dad flying to Lima, rallying a couple of his friends and associates to arrange a Panagra flight to New York and convince the pilot to land on a most inclement and stormy night in Lima and fly me back to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.

The Lord had emphatically put my raucous life to a complete stop and began drawing me into the life He set for me. After a lengthy surgery where I was put into skeletal traction with 40 pounds of weight pulling 180 degrees from my neck, I began a rehab that would not only put my neck into better shape…but would alter the entire life I had led and would live from now onward. On a Wednesday evening, the phone near my bed rang.

My ’24-7′ nurse handed it to me, and my girlfriend said quietly,

“Hi Gary, how are you?”

Within the next 10 minutes, my then girlfriend quickly became my ex-girlfriend. While I was living “the high life” in Peru, she had become enamored with another guy. But…the Lord had a plan…I was introduced to another young woman who was babysitting along with my now ex-girlfriend.

After a rather contentious and “sparring” conversation, the young woman told me that she’d try to get by to see me on Saturday. IT WAS STILL TIME FOR THE LORD TO KEEP ACTING!!

Saturday came, as did my dad. He visited on Saturdays and my mom on Sundays. Somewhere in the mid-morning, a most attractive and vivacious young woman showed up at my bedside!! Her name was Terri, and she decided to make good on her statement about trying to get to see me that weekend. Now we know the entire plot of this “conversion” journey… recently high living, young and ‘reckless’ young man, a lapsed Roman Catholic with a need for God; meets a “cradle” Orthodox young nursing student with a great sense of caring for and ‘healing’ people.

Our courtship began that day!! We spent the entire day getting to know Terri and liking everything we learned…both my dad and me, of course. What wasn’t there to like?…friendly, jocular, bright…[Oh, did I mention looooonnngg blonde hair and rather undulating curves?] Well, I told my dad after Terri left that I would marry her in a not too distant time of my life. He was amused!

The next day, my mom was to meet Terri. After a lovely and consuming day, I told my mom just what I told my dad the day before. She, however, was NOT amused. Well, none of us yet realized that the Lord was playing out this story. As I mentioned, Terri was a ‘cradle’ Orthodox Christian in the Russian Orthodox Church. I was still a curious and thirsty pilgrim in search of Christ…I seemed to have lost Him a little while ago! It was an encounter – you will pardon the expression – “made in Heaven.” Terri and I spent the next two months in the hospital – as I recouped from the broken neck – in regular conversation about God, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and salvation. I learned a great deal. Finally, I was able to go home for another two-months of recuperation…this time in a leather collar that closely resembled “Ming the Merciless” from Flash Gordon [my, my, I AM dating myself!] We continued my education…actually, my “catechesis.”

We spoke of marriage for a while, and I finally had an opportunity to meet Terri’s folks. Her dad could have been a priest…or at least a catechist! I learned sooo much from him about my future “home.” Terri and I married in September of 1969. After the birth of our daughter [our second child], it was just the right time for me to enter the Orthodox Church and make our family wholly one!! Studying and training with

A) the Irish-Catholic convert priest in their home church;

B) the Romanian-American priest who succeeded the Irish/Catholic priest; and

C) my father-in-law; allotted me every twist and turn necessary to negotiate this journey. Hence, by the time our family was ready for one church and one chalice, I was convinced and anxious for the service of Chrismation to receive the blessing of the fullness of Christ.

Chronologically, I was “introduced” to Orthodoxy [and my future wife!] in 1968 while in the hospital. Our marriage in 1969 took place in East Meadow, Long Island, NY. Fr. Daniel Hubiak was the priest who celebrated our wedding. I was Chrismated in 1975 in Niagara Falls, NY. We moved to Charlotte, NC in 1979 and were members of the Nativity of the Theotokos Mission until we moved to SVS in 1984. It was during our time in Charlotte while we were pastored by then Father Seraphim Storeheim – now Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and all Canada [who was on loan from Canada] when all ahead became clear.

One day in the midst of weeks of unemployment, I asked him,

“Father, after all this stuff that has been my life…do you think God might be calling me to the Priesthood?”

His response was so ‘totally Orthodox,’

“Well…could be!”

Well, we were on our way to SVS 4 months later!! I was ordained to the diaconate in 1986 in Charlotte and to the Holy Priesthood in 1987 at SVS. I guess my life has always been in God’s Hands…I just didn’t realize it until that violent encounter in 1968.

Essentially, any “conversion” truly affected a real change in the manner and intensity of life in the world for me. Yes…the swimming accident was central to any “conversion;” but it is a great mystery as to how much of “an accident” the episode really was.

Fr. Peter Smith is the Priest of St. Mary of Egypt Church in Norcross (Atlanta), Georgia, USA




Arizona, USA

Journey to Orthodoxy


St. Herman's Spiritual Daughters:

St. Nilus Skete, Alaska

Living in solitude, I occupy myself with searching the spiritual writings: above all I search the Lord’s commandments and their commentaries, and the Apostolic traditions; then the Lives and Instructions of the Holy Fathers. I reflect on all this, and whatever I find after reflection to be God-pleasing and useful for my soul, I copy out for myself. In this is my life and breath.

St. Nilus of Sora

* * *

Nestled between Kodiak Island and St. Herman’s Spruce Island, amidst cold Alaskan waters, lies an emerald islet, forested by towering spruce trees, buffeted by powerful winds. A myriad of birds—eagles, swallows, warblers, seagulls—find refuge here, and colorful tufted puffins nest each summer in its craggy black cliffs. A large Orthodox cross stands above the main shore as one approaches the island by boat. Behind the trees is a wooden church modeled after the fifteenth-century Russian church of St. Nilus of Sora. On this tiny island live women who have dedicated their lives to God and seek to have a living communion with Him apart from distractions. Nearby is Monk’s Lagoon on Spruce Island where St. Herman of Alaska lived at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This beloved saint brought Holy Orthodox Christianity and monasticism to America in 1794 from Valaam Monastery in Northern Russia. Surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and often cut off completely from the world by violent winter storms, conditions here are ideal for solitude. One is able to free oneself from the distractions of modern life and to cast the heart’s gaze inward, striving to seek God alone and to love Him above all.

The Monastic Way of Life

With St. Nilus as guide and patron, the nuns seek to emulate the monastic ideals of poverty, asceticism and interior prayer. Known for his extreme simplicity and voluntary poverty, St. Nilus emphasized the inner life of the monastic—the inward self-trial and practice of the Jesus Prayer. St. Nilus’ rule of life consists of two to twelve monastics living in cells clustered around the church—the skete form of monastic life. Called the royal path, it avoids both the trials of the large coenobitic monastery and the dangers inherent in the solitary life of the hermit. Each nun engages in her own intense inner warfare. The most necessary weapon is the unceasing repetition of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” She is striving, through prayer and spiritual reading, to imprint upon her soul an image of paradisal beauty and attain purity of heart. Monastic common life is based on the Lord’s commandments and the monastic principles of obedience, humility, love, and the cutting off of one’s own will, striving always to respond with “forgive me” and “bless.”

Rhythm of Life on St. Nilus Island

Life at St. Nilus Skete is ordered around the church services, the feasts and fasts, and a life of prayer. The sisters arise in the middle of the night for their solitary prayer vigil and then gather in church for Matins. Mornings are usually occupied with quiet activity, such as handwork. According to ancient monastic practice, the nuns strive to support themselves by the labor of their own hands—primarily through making prayer ropes. At noon, the main meal is served, followed by common obediences. After the service of Ninth Hour, Vespers and Compline, the nuns silently retire to their cells for spiritual reading, prayer and rest.

A rhythm of life has emerged in accordance with the seasons of the year, as well as with the physical demands of living in a remote wilderness. During Great Lent, the sisters devote themselves to prayer and fasting with few distractions. The welcome return of many forest songbirds heralds spring. Garden preparations begin, and in May carefully tended seedlings are transplanted. At the end of spring red salmon begin returning to their spawning grounds, and the fishing net is set. All are busy cleaning, filleting, smoking and canning the yearly supply of fish.

The sisters pick salmonberries, blueberries and currants in the summer months and gather edible wild mushrooms for drying. In late summer, the big silver salmon return and the attention is once again on fishing. This is also the time to be sure that the wood shed is full of a winter supply of wood.

Pilgrims come throughout the warmer months—when the seas are calmer and daylight hours are longer—to venerate St. Herman, praying at his grave and drinking from his holy spring on Spruce Island. Hospitality is offered by the sisters, and St. Sergius guesthouse, a large one-room cabin, is available for women pilgrims desiring to stay longer and who are undaunted by the rustic conditions.

Travel by sea becomes more difficult as early as September due to stormy weather. The focus turns inward as outdoor activity becomes more limited. Winter brings the opportunity for quiet, indoor obediences and treasured time for prayer, study and contemplation.

St. Nilus Skete is under the jurisdiction of His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

St. Nilus Island Skete



Fr. Meletios Weber, England: Through Oxford to Orthodoxy 

England, USA & the Netherlands

Archimandrite Meletios Webber, of Scottish background, was born in London, and received his Masters degree in Theology from Oxford University, England and the Thessalonica School of Theology, Greece. He also holds an E.D.D. (doctorate) in Psychotherapy from the University of Montana, Missoula. He is the author of two published books: Steps of Transformation; an Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (Conciliar Press, 2003); and Bread and Water, Wine and Oil; an Orthodox Christian Experience of God (Conciliar Press, 2007).

This interview was originally published in

* * *

——Fr. Meletios, could you tell us a little about your journey to Orthodoxy in Oxford, and how you became a priest?

—I went to Oxford as a theology student in 1968, and very quickly found an Orthodox Church there. The parish priest at the time was Fr. Kallistos Ware, who is now Metropolitan of Diokleia, and the deacon at the time was Fr. Basil Osborne, who is now Bishop of Amphipolis. The parish in Oxford was both a Russian and a Greek one, coexisting in a small room in what had once been the house of the famous Dr. Spooner. I was immediately attracted to the quality of the stillness that I found in that small room. That has been something that I have consistently valued in the Orthodox Church ever since. It is a quality which is difficult to talk about, but it happens when one goes into a space which is so obviously God-filled. That is something that I found very important and very attractive at that time. Under the tutelage of Fr. Kallistos I became Orthodox three years later, and I was ordained a priest some three years after that in January of 1976, by the Greek Archbishop of Thyateira in Great Britain, and served with that bishop as his chaplain for a number of years. My first parish in Britain after I returned from my studies in Greece was in an area of London called Harrow. From Harrow I went to the United States and spent 22 years there, before returning to Europe to live in the Netherlands in 2005.

——In which parishes did you serve in the U.S.?

—In the beginning, in 1984, I served as the parish priest in the churches of the state of Montana. There were three active parishes, two missions, and several other groups. This was with the Greek Archdiocese. I used to travel a very great deal throughout the year, which was at times a little more exciting than I wanted it to be. The people were very scattered, but very few in number. A trickle of converts started toward the end of my time there, but for the most part I was serving Greek Americans.

——Were there any converts at all while you were there?

—In Great Falls, Montana there was an air force base, and we had a number of very fine converts coming to us from that direction. We baptized a few families who were attracted to the Church from that place. It would be difficult to say that the Greek community found it easy to accept non-Greeks, because they saw themselves as a sort of bastion of Greekness. They were very friendly on the whole, but they simply did not know how to react to people who wanted to join the Church who were not Greek, who didn’t speak Greek, and so on. They also found it difficult at that time (and I think this is still the case), to keep their children in Montana. Almost everyone would leave the state as soon as they were able, in search of employment or education.

——Because Montana simply does not have very much to offer in the way of employment or education?

—Certainly in Great Falls there wasn’t. In Missoula and Billings there are universities; in Missoula there was quite a thriving Orthodox community. But even then, with the exception of two or three of my former altar boys, who went to get their law degrees and then returned to practice in Montana, most people found it difficult to find professional development in Montana. It is a problem in a state which has a huge surface area and a relatively small population.

——Where did you serve after Montana?

—I went to what is known in America as “The Bay Area,” meaning the area around San Francisco, and became the chancellor of what was then the Greek diocese of San Francisco, with Bishop Anthony. I served with him as chancellor for two years, during which time I served as parish priest in Santa Cruz. After I ceased being chancellor, I was then full-time parish priest in Santa Cruz, for another nine years.

——Is that the same parish in which the murdered Fr. John Karastamatis served?

—Yes. He was not my immediate predecessor; there had been three other priests in between. I knew his presbytera quite well, and his children. He was murdered on the premises of the church, in very unpleasant circumstances, some years before I arrived, but it was still a very dominant factor in the life of parish while I was there—something they couldn’t forget.

——In your experience as a pastor in America, with the Greek population and later with a slightly more diverse group, what would you say is the most challenging aspect of being a pastor there?

—I think that there are many problems, but none of them is insurmountable, so long as the focus of parish life always centers upon the words of Jesus and the Gospel. It is easy to become distracted into the realms of, for example, Greek culture and cooking, or folk dance, all of which are wonderful activities in themselves, but can never be the backbone of parish life. The backbone of parish life has to be spiritual in nature, and based very firmly upon the Gospel. So, the interests of parishioners can be in one direction, and those of the pastor in another, and it is up to the pastor to help the people whom he is serving stay focused on what is important; encouraging them, of course, in all these other areas as well, but making sure that the spiritual core is always present in everything that they do.

——Did you ever find that it was a challenge for your Greek parishioners to have a pastor, even a chancellor, who was not at all Greek?

—Yes, well, you would have thought so. But when I was in London I was serving a community that was almost entirely Cypriot, and also Greek- speaking. I survived that experience reasonably well. They used to call me in the Cypriot dialect “O kochenos,” which means “The red-haired one,” since I had red hair in those days. I have always found that although I am not Greek, I speak Greek reasonably well, and I can feel Greek enough to participate in Greek parish life—sometimes perhaps too much so. (Perhaps a little stoic reserve would be more applicable.) But because I speak the language, with very few exceptions (and there have been some), I have never been made to feel an outsider.

Bishop Anthony (whom I mentioned earlier, and who went on to become Metropolitan Anthony, reposing in 2004, on Christmas day), was not an easy man to work with in many ways. But the one thing that always surprised me about him was that with regard to ethnicity, he was sort of color blind. He actually forgot that the people around him were Greek, or not Greek. It simply was not important to him. This was one of his great strengths, actually, in bringing the metropolis together.

——Now that you have come to Holland, you are entering into a new realm—the Russians, the Dutch, and other Europeans who are living in Amsterdam, a cosmopolitan city. Could you describe what the parish life is like in the Russian Church in Amsterdam?

—First of all, the parish itself is a great deal larger than any other parish I have served in before. Apart from those two years when I was Chancellor and had oversight over a number of parishes, all of the parishes in which I worked personally had around fifty to a hundred families. Suddenly, when I come to Amsterdam, there is a huge parish with a very flexible congregation—new people seem to turn up every week The number of languages flying around is just something that you just have to get used to. In the altar four languages certainly are quite common amongst the clergy themselves.

——Those being…

—French, Dutch, Russian, and English; occasionally there are other languages, too. This being only us communicating amongst ourselves, in order to know what we are supposed to do.

——French being a sort of lingua franca?

—Yes. I don’t think there is actually a French person there. But we do have some people who are very, very qualified in language skills. One of our deacons is an international translator who works for President Putin and other people of that ilk, as the need arises.

——Is he Russian?

—No, he is actually Dutch. He speaks four languages fluently. He occasionally translates my sermons, which I enjoy immensely. I deliver them in Dutch, and he translates them into Russian. He catches nuances in what I am saying that I’ve missed. I am just amazed at his skill. He is a very young man. It is quite exciting.

Parish council meetings (which I don’t attend) are entirely bilingual, so everything has to be said in Dutch and Russian, and I should imagine that that becomes at times something less than a pleasure.

——Twice as long?

—Twice as long; and the subject matter at parish meetings is at times not so interesting, or not so important to the central interest of the parish. But I suppose that is just parish life.

——Which is the dominant nationality there now?

—I would have to say that the dominant group would be the Russians, most of whom have come to Europe fairly recently. There are very, very few old Russians left from previous immigrations, the notable exception being Matushka Tatiana, the wife of the reposed Fr. Alexei (who was Dutch). There are very few, if any, of that generation. There are some older women—particularly women—from a new generation; but that’s another matter—they came over as old ladies.

——Is this mixture of Russian and Dutch harmonious?

—I would say that it really is. I have been in parishes in England and in the U.S., where people tended to get very defensive about languages. In Holland that is not the case, and in Amsterdam, certainly not. We have a system of trying to balance the languages which seems to work very well. And I don’t think I have ever heard a complaint that we were using one language more than another. Occasionally I have to break into English or Greek during the services, bearing in mind that I know most of the services by heart in Greek, not even as well in English. People will sometimes comment on that, mostly not in too brusque a manner, but it is often the best I can do, if I am in a situation wherein I can’t find the book I need, or if I am in a hurry.

——Do you know any Russian?

—Yes, I also use Church Slavonic in the Services.

——Can you speak to the Russians in their own language?

—To a certain extent. I need some help to learn a bit more Russian. I do hear confessions in Russian, but that is more instinctive than linguistic, and normally I reply either in English or Dutch, depending upon what the person’s language skills happens to be.

——I understand that the difficulties that occurred in the London Moscow Patriarchate parish have been more or less smoothed out by this time. But in your opinion, what could have been the underlying problem which could have made it so difficult for the new Russian immigrants to coexist with the local converts—a problem which does not seem to exist here in Amsterdam?

I have never been a member of the parish in London, although I have known about it for forty years or so. I could be quite wrong in what I am about to say, and I certainly do not want to offend anyone. I, like many, many other people, regard Metropolitan Anthony Bloom as a very important part of my Orthodox formation, and I venerate his memory as do many, many others. I think what we saw there—somewhat encouraged by Metropolitan Anthony—was a very high level of expectation as to how the diocese would develop as he got older, and eventually what would happen after he died. But the circumstances in Russia were such, that by the time that happened, the reality was altogether different from any possible dream that anyone might have had. And I think that the reality and the dream simply didn’t mix.

I don’t necessarily think that anyone is to blame for this. I know that many feelings were hurt, but I don’t see any wrong-doing on anyone’s part; I think it was simply people doing their best to fight for what they thought was right and just—on both sides. But it is a situation with which Vladyka Anthony himself never really came to grips; and by the time the Soviet Union dissolved, he was already a very old man. Whilst he was mentally very strong right to the end, coping with the sort of ecclesiastical needs of the new Russians was something he had never had to do. He was ministering mainly to English people in very small, rural communities. There were a couple of exceptions, but on the whole, that was where his main influence seemed to lie.

Then, all of a sudden he was confronted with the huge ecclesiastical needs of a lot of Russians in cities, which was not where he was actually comfortable. That is a bit of a guess. I may be entirely wrong on that, but this seems to be part of it.

This is a point of view of someone who was not in the thick of it, an objective observer.

——How would you, in a few words, characterize this new burst of immigration coming from Russia and Eastern Europe in general? Is the majority or only a small percentage coming to the Church? How does this big wave of immigration affect the Church?

I think that several things happened relatively quickly when the Soviet Union dissolved. One comment that was made to me by a Russian, which I find quite interesting, was that for a lot of people, once the Communist Party was, as it were, no more, they latched onto the Church as being a point of stability in social life. And it was as if the Communist Party were replaced by the Church. We are not talking here about matters of faith, but simply about social structure, how people live their lives, what they do when they get up in the morning, and how they see the world when they look out the window. If that is true, then the Church obviously has a huge burden of evangelizing, bringing the Gospel to these people. I think that is what we see happening.

Typically the Orthodox method of doing such a thing isn’t by making church life attractive, by trying to “sell” an idea, or imposing an ideology upon people, but rather to open the doors of the parishes, to welcome people when they arrive, to make them feel at home, and gradually to educate them in the prayer life, which is after all, what the Church really has to offer. Of course, it is not an activity where efficiency counts for much. You’re looking for quality rather than quantity.

I would say that the Russian population in Amsterdam is something in the region of six or seven thousand people, which in comparison with the total population isn’t that large. Nevertheless, the congregation on Sunday morning is only, say, 350 people, including the non-Russians. So, yes, there is a great deal more that can be done.

The outreach has to be for Orthodoxy on a personal level. The era for the conversion of Russia was already a thousand years ago, and I don’t think those tactics would work on a modern group—the baptism by sword-point is no longer even desirable. The long term answer is for the Orthodox in Amsterdam to live lives which are attractive enough to people who are potentially Orthodox, so that they can be attracted to what the Church has to offer. We are greatly blessed—we have a wonderful bishop, we have fine clergy, and although they are all human beings, there are very human aspects of Church life as well. The very heart of what is going on is the proclamation of the Gospel.

——What is your ministry like to the youth, and how do you bring young people into the Church? How do you feel about rock concerts, and Orthodox priests entering into such realms that are not Christian in nature in order to reach out to the youth?

The teenage years are years of rebellion. Teenagers have been rebelling in one way or another since the dawn of time. So, making teenagers conform to anything has been a heavy task for parents and educators for as long as men and women have been around.

Ultimately, teenagers on the whole—although of course there are exceptions—tend to be driven by peer pressure, and if peer pressure includes a spiritual dimension, then there will tend to be a spiritual dimension to their existence, although it may not be recognizable to anyone else. But if spirituality is entirely lacking—as it tends to be so in the Western world, even amongst fairly religious groups in the United States—you find that teenagers tend to spend time in rebellion. This means that ultimately you pray for the teenagers, and hope that they are going to come through those years without too many scars. The churches tend to pick them up once again when they become young parents. There is nothing wrong with that pattern, it just happens to be the one that seems to be in place.

Now, I know so little about rock music and things of that nature that anything I say is likely to be very doubtful, but let me put it in another context: I can’t say that I have ever met anybody who has been converted to Christianity by attending a symphony concert. Now, if that is true of symphony concerts, I think that that is also true of rock concerts. So rock music is an end in itself—I really can’t say if it is good or bad. But it is unlikely to provide much of a spiritual dimension for most people. It is a diversion, a distraction; it is away from the spiritual quest, rather than on the path. Therefore, I would say that it is somewhat irrelevant; I don’t think that having priests dress as rock stars is going to fill the churches.

——What about priests attending rock concerts in order to reach out to the youth?

As I say, putting the same thing in the context of a symphony hall, having a priest sitting in the front row will not drive those people into the Church. The Church is good at being the Church. When the Church tries to be something else—and in the past it has tried to be all sorts of things, including government or administrator, sometimes because it had to, sometimes because it chose to—it is not at its best. The Church is essentially to do with living, and proclaiming the Gospel. The moment you start moving away from that occupation, then there is trouble.

——Viewing the youth of Europe, do you see any hope? Does materialism totally prevail, or is there any yearning for traditional spirituality amongst the young people of Europe?

I think the Church has failed to make faith a living issue for a lot of people. I am not here talking necessarily about the Orthodox Church, although I have lived in Greece, and I have seen how the Church there has fallen short of bringing the Christian life to people living in that country.

Here in Holland the churches are almost a dead issue, they are almost irrelevant to the life of the country. When youngsters come in contact with the Church—and now I am talking about the Orthodox Church—they tend to be quite taken aback by not only the spiritual strength which they encounter, but also the depth of experience which the Orthodox Church has. (I am talking about very small numbers of people.) That is because our favorite missionary method is simply to open a church door, and that is pretty much the extent of it. So if people choose to come inside, then we have a lot to share with them. But that is the limit of our activity in that direction.

Nevertheless, I also have a tremendous optimism. First of all, God is in charge, and no matter how badly we are doing, God is still God, and He is very good at being God. He has been doing it for a long time. In the end, God’s will will prevail, no matter how many obstacles we put in His path—or other people do.

This may be very wrong of me, but I see both in Europe and in the United States a quest on the part of young people towards what I suppose I could characterize as a quest for “goodness” as opposed to “rightness.” In the 1930’s and 40’s, certainly during the Second World War, Europe like most of the world was torn apart over questions of “rightness.” Goodness was not the issue at all—there was no goodness. Everything was bad. But the fascists thought they were right, and the communists thought they were right, and they tore each others’ throats out to settle it. What I do see amongst young people is a desire to pursue goodness for its own sake. This isn’t any big movement or anything of that nature.

I was a high school teacher for many years, so I have had much contact with teenagers. But simply from talking with teenagers, I would say that if there has been a trend at all, this is what it is.

——Do you have any young people in Amsterdam who have just “wandered in?”

There are some. We also encourage teachers to bring classes. That is beginning to happen.

——As a cultural experience?

—Yes, because the Church has something very different to offer. The Dutch are living in a post-Calvinist society, where the Church has a rather dour, cold, forbidding aura about it. To come into the middle of a celebrating Orthodox community is actually quite an important event for them, even if it has no spiritual dimension at all.

——The search for “goodness?”


——Is it difficult for the Russians and Eastern Europeans who immigrate here to adjust to Western European life? Do they go through a period of shock? What words of encouragement would you give to those who find themselves in Holland as their new home? How can they adapt themselves without losing what is best about their own culture and personalities?

—I am never quiet clear as to why people come to Holland in the first place, unless they have a specific job offer in this country. Of all the countries in Europe, it is one of the most difficult for an Eastern European to apply to live in. Holland has its own language which is only shared with half of Belgium, and that’s that. So language tends to be something of an issue. Housing is expensive, and social services are no longer as generous as they have been in the past. Having said that, I can also say that many people, although not everybody, find Holland to be home quite quickly.

When I was little, I was intensely aware of the differences between Scotland and England. Most people, for instance, from North America, wouldn’t even be aware that there were such differences. Whenever you move from country to country, or indeed within a country, you are likely to come across some difficulties. Holland has a bureaucracy, which goes at it own pace. Holland has its own educational system, which is different from other people’s. Holland has its own medical services, which tend to have a different slant on things. You can go to a store in Amsterdam and buy marijuana, but you can’t go and buy penicillin. Things are just different.

——Do you have any comment on the decision by the European Union to deny the Christian origin of European culture? And in contrast, on the recent attempt in the United States Congress to affirm and value this origin, and the essential role Christianity has played in the development of Western Civilization? What is the portent of this statement for the European Community?

—I think that one of the most important factors in the modern world is that perhaps for the first time, the Church has become free to criticize any political leader. I think that the Gospel is, and always will be, at odds with most of the social systems we have developed, at least so far. And it is the Church’s task to call government to account whenever political governments are behaving in ways that are at odds with the Gospel. So, I think that it is interesting that America, in which the notion of the separation of Church and State really originated, or partially originated, is now wanting to affirm some Christian roots; whereas, in Europe, where Christianity is so much part of the life blood that it hardly needs to be talked about, such a statement is deemed to be unnecessary.

The high points in the life of the Church, spiritually speaking, have usually been the times when the Church has been heavily persecuted, and the low points, spiritually speaking, have been times when the Church has been allied with political power. Not always, but sometimes. So, I think it is largely irrelevant as to whether political powers seek to have their roots in Christianity or in any other religion, if they use that religion to justify whatever it is they are doing. So, the freer the Church is to comment on political life in the light of the Gospel, the better the situation is, everything else notwithstanding.

——The experience of the Byzantine Empire, which remains somewhere in the consciousness of Christian society, has as its symbol the double-headed eagle signifying the harmonious functions of two heads in one body—the Church as the conscience of the Government, and the Government as the protector of the Church. Does this have any meaning for Europeans today?

—Of course, the Byzantine ideal depends upon Christian emperors. That is a great deal more than emperors who happen to be Christian. In the good examples which Byzantium gives us, we see people who are of great spiritual depth, and under those circumstances it is possible for such a thing to exist. I don’t see that the way modern democracy works is likely to bring people who are more than nominally Christian into positions of leadership.

People who are too demonstratively Christian are going to be wiped out in the primaries. That is the nature of the modern political machine. People with strong views about anything are likely to be wiped out. The people you are left with are those who are good at balancing, pleasing all sides. The Church is not like that. The Church should not be like that. The Church has a mission which hasn’t changed from the day that Jesus was physically amongst us on Earth.

It is the call to repentance, the call to bring people back to God. Very few states can be seen to have been successful in doing that same thing.

——You are speaking of states in the Western world, or states in general?

—In general. I know that Byzantium is a beautiful idea for many, many people. Holy Russia is a beautiful idea for many other people. Yet both the Russian political system and the Byzantine political system fell short of the Gospel in many ways, at least during certain periods of history, and sometimes markedly so. Neither one was of the mold of modern democracy. Unless things change dramatically in the future, I don’t see that the sort of government that existed in Russia, and in Byzantium, is going to be a possibility at all. So I would see the future being where the Church and the State might be amicable, but the Church always needs to reserve the right to criticize. And many governments don’t particularly care for that particular part of the Church’s mission.

——Do you think that this might be the underlying cause for this statement by the European Union?

—To be honest, the people who seem to be making the rules in Europe at the moment baffle me entirely. I have no idea why they say anything. Or even who they are.

——But you do not see this as setting the stage for more strictures on Church activities?

—No, absolutely not.

——They have fallen away from the Church, so they assume that all of Europe has fallen away from the Church?

—Pretty much. In some ways, that is good for the Church. Wherever, for example, Catholicism has been hand in hand with a particular government in a particular country, you haven’t always seen Catholicism at its finest.

——Being hand in hand with the government did not bring out its finest?

—Precisely. On the contrary.

——It brings out its worst?

—Well, the Spanish Inquisition leaps to one’s mind, but there are other examples.

——So, do you think that this decision could also have sprung from the Western European historical consciousness of abuses springing from a unity between Church and State?

—The Christian background of Western Europe is so vast, and so omnipresent, that nobody could actually eradicate it. It is an historical fact, there to stay. That is the basis of what’s going on. Given the arrival of Islam into Spain and parts of Eastern Europe, it has always been one variety of Christianity or another which has dominated this area for 1200 years, in some places even longer.

——And the new wave of Moslem immigration—are you feeling any pressure from this in Amsterdam?

—I am almost certain that there is a solution waiting to be found to what appears to be a problem. Most Moslem people here in Holland are very happy to lead there own lives, doing what they usually do peacefully with what are usually post-Christian neighbors. There will always be layers of fanaticism in every society, but on the whole, the Moslem presence in Holland is something that most people can live with.

However, when people turn to religion to provide themselves with what one might want to call “ego identity,” simply because that identity is not present anywhere else, it transforms the religion into something which is rather distasteful, and also makes their own psychological make-up somewhat suspect. This isn’t the best way of finding an identity. That is the problem. If people only find some sort of living identity in their religious affiliation, then we’ve got a lot of work to do. Because in the end, religions aren’t made to coexist. Religions, by definition, tend to be at odds, and this has always been historically true for Christianity as well as Islam, there has always been a tendency for one to want to wipe out the other. They don’t live side by side naturally. Quite how we can get them to live side by side with some sort of friendliness, I am not quite sure, but that is the work that needs to be done.

——Finally, do you have any words for the readers of Some wishes for the people of Russia, and her relationship to Europe?

I suppose my view is that the communists who took over Russian society at the time of the revolution were (and I think this is true), genuinely trying to improve society. But I also believe that the way they went about it, particularly becoming adversarial towards Orthodoxy, meant that their labors were, as it were, in vain. Russia is Orthodox to the marrow. I see it in the people who come to Church, who have no real academic or book knowledge of what Orthodoxy is all about, but who have a deep, deep reverence for Orthodoxy, and the life of Christ that Orthodoxy exhibits. Russia without Orthodoxy is, and has been, impoverished. It might be splendid in some ways, but there is something desperately lacking. And I am fairly certain that in God’s time the roots will be connected with the leaves. Then, what is in the depths of Russian history—what you might want to call the depths of the Russian soul (but perhaps that’s a little more dangerous)—will begin to manifest itself once again in positive ways, through growth, outreach, and commitment to the words of Jesus. That future is very bright indeed.

Nun Cornelia (Rees)




Personal testimony of Fr. Seraphim Holland

by Fr. Seraphim Holland, USA

I am a convert to Orthodoxy, and the next Holy Saturday (in 1996) will be the 16th anniversary of my baptism. I am an Orthodox priest, having been ordained just before Great Lent, this year (1995) after having been a deacon for 5 years. I am married, and have four children, Genevieve:14, Christina:11, Tim:8 and Natalie:5. My Matushka is Marina. I serve in the Mission parish of St. Nicholas, a community under the omophorion of Bishop Hilarion of Washington, in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Our community is almost entirely convert in makeup, and all of our services are in English.

I was raised Roman Catholic, with an unbelieving father (who subscribed to the “Man Upstairs” kind of “God” so many Americans believe in, and just thinks you need to be “good” to go to heaven). I saw many inconsistencies and lukewarmness among the Roman Catholics, and when I was a certain age (13?), my mother did not require me to go to church.

I was not a believer, but I was searching. I went to college, studying pre-med, and later switched to chemistry. I had a great desire to “make a difference”, but had reached a crisis, because I saw how temporal life was. I was fortunate to get a summer scholarship to do chemistry research, and lived at Purdue that summer, rooming with a “Navigator”.

The Navigators are a Protestant “Para Church” organization, with “Protestant Evangelical” Theology. He was a wonderful guy, and may God have mercy on him. He was used to plant a seed. We talked a lot, I read the bible a lot. As an almost last ditch effort, the Evil One so flummoxed me that at one point I wondered if God even existed. This was just for a moment, because the thought of atheism is ludicrous, given the evidence of God, which He put within us, and everywhere.

I prayed, thought, did research, and played a lot of basketball. When I came home, I had a “Protestant” conversion experience, akin to the way Campus Crusade for Christ incorrectly presents a *small part* of the story in their “4 Spiritual Laws“. I was all by myself, in my room, late at night.

I changed, or rather, the Holy Spirit helped me to change. I cannot say what I “was” at that point. According to Evangelical thought, I was “saved”. I know now that this was the beginning of the path to Holy Orthodoxy, which I had never heard of.

I went back to school for my junior year, and went to the campus’ Roman Catholic Church. They were wonderful folks. I went on retreats, and got to know two of the priests, and other folks really well. I was unhappy though, because they did not think the same as I did. All that I was learning and feeling – it did not connect with my experiences with them. When I attended a mass in which “liturgical dance” was used to express “worship”, I knew I had to go.

I attended two campus fellowships, in an order I don’t remember. One was charismatic/Pentecostal, and was called “The Upper Room”. I loved the folks there, but never bought into the Pentecostal doctrines about tongues. They seemed willing to let their *experiences* rule in this area, even though they were insistent on using the bible as the only source of doctrine in all others.

For a long time, I puzzled over this inconsistency, and am sure that this was part of my “road to Orthodoxy”, as it helped me to formulate THE QUESTION, which I will describe soon.

I also attended and participated in another Evangelical fellowship. The most I remember about this place is that they once had a service with a rock band, and played the kinda-sorta Christian songs from the Doobie Brothers.

Contemporaneous with all this was my involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ. I owe them a great debt, although they don’t see it that way. First off, I met my wife to be there. She introduced me to the Orthodox Church, as she was nominal Orthodox, but really a “nondenominational Protestant” in her outlook. She was excited to find out that I wanted to go to church in Indianapolis with her.

I can still remember the first day that I was at an Orthodox liturgy. I was starting to feel the coldness of the Protestant belief, and was looking for the total truth that I was feeling that Protestantism was lacking. This was actually an unformed expression of THE QUESTION.

The service was different, the prayer more sober – it expressed what I was really feeling in my soul.

They understood that God should be addressed with reverence, and that we should often ask Him for mercy! I was on an *intellectual* mission, but was smitten when I heard and experienced Orthodox worship. It was so *balanced*. I was associated with a lot of very evangelical folks, and really wanted to win souls for Christ (and still do). I was upset however, that it seemed that “winning souls” was all that was important to my peer group. I was further upset that their whole intent was to get intellectual assent from people, then turn them loose.

They did not work much on themselves. They did not think very much about the passions, except in a superficial way. They all believed in “eternal security”, which seemed to me to be a foolish belief, as they expressed it. Since they were “saved”, they did not ask God for *mercy*. I was feeling at that time how merciful God really is, and how much we need his mercy.

All I heard in Protestant circles was off-the-cuff praise, hymns, and prayers used in an evangelistic context. I still needed to WORK on myself. Everyone was telling me I was SAVED, but I didn’t believe it. I felt I was BEING saved, because of God’s great mercy. I was not quite ready to ignore my own passions and fulfill the “Great Commission”. These Orthodox people seemed to have different priorities – and they matched my still forming Christian consciousness much better.

When I heard how many times the Orthodox sing “Lord have mercy”, and the other beautiful prayers, I was overwhelmed. I had come home. It took another 9 months before I was Orthodox, because I still quite foolishly tried to prove or disprove Orthodoxy by intellectual research, even though something deep within me had been touched by the Holy Spirit in a way I knew I could never explain, or understand. I embarked on a period of study (too much) and prayer (too little) to prove whether Orthodox was the one true church. This leads me to THE QUESTION.

THE QUESTION: Our Lord and Savior promised His Apostles, and by context, and through them, all Christians that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who would lead them (and us) into ALL TRUTH. (St. John). This promise indicates that there is a source of truth, and that the Apostles were entrusted with it. If this is the case, then one should be able to locate the descendants of those very apostles, and be assured that one is believing the TRUTH. Christendom has been shattered into so many sects and beliefs, including not a few ugly heresies.

Where is the truth? How does one find it? Some look only to the bible, and the amount of varying doctrines using that very same bible are as great as the sands of the sea. Where is the order? God is simple, and orderly. Would He not have a church that reflects this order and simplicity? If there is one true visible and invisible (of course) church, then a lot of people are wrong. It seems that the only way to find the truth is to find this church.

Where is it? Can it be found? It must be there, because Christ promised us that the Holy Spirit would lead us to ALL TRUTH. Certainly the Baptists and the Methodists, and the Pentecostals, and the nondenominational (arguably, an oxymoron), etc., all cannot have it. At least everyone save one is wrong. Where is the *one*?

I pursued the answer to this question vigorously. By the end of the second term (when I had met Marina, and THE QUESTION was formulated), I had not resolved it, and was still sufficiently entrenched in Campus Crusade to have signed up for a three month Evangelistic tour in Wildwood, NJ. I lived in a big rooming house with lots of other folks, worked all day at a campground to earn my bread, and either evangelized on the beach or boardwalk at night, or attended worship services, bible studies, and discipleship sessions. I averaged about three to four hours sleep a night.

During this time, I was plagued by THE QUESTION, and prayed much about it. I also studied, from books I had checked out of the library back home (there were big fines when I returned!). The books were mostly from Protestant authors who were giving their slant to history, or modernist Orthodox authors who did not sound any different on a fundamental level than the Protestants. I did not know enough to have access to really good quality Orthodox Literature, with one exception. I had a prayer book. This book had morning prayers and the like, and I forced myself to use them.

Although I had Roman Catholic roots, I had become rather iconoclastic and although I agreed in principle with “prayers to the saints”, I did not *really* want to do it. This was not doubt because of the misapplication of the (true) “I am the Way the Truth and the Life” doctrine. People found out about my prayers, and I became the official nut case in the house. My discipler, a wonderful man called Jim Dunn, thought I was apostatizing. We had long conversations, which seemed to me to be harangues, and I grew farther apart from my peers. I can hear his complaints even now: “But if Jesus is Your Savior, why do you need to prayer to the Saints? They can’t save you”. “Why do you want to talk about Mary so much. This is idolatry”. “Didn’t you invite Christ into your heart? What is all this talk about not being saved yet?”.

I had been to the mountain (of Protestant Evangelical doctrine and experience), and my soul KNEW there was something higher. My last month in the house was miserable, because I was no longer a believer according to my peers.

Upon returning to school, there was one last temptation to overcome. This one has a funny twist to it. Marina and I were at the “looking at china” stage, but I was adamant that I would not marry her unless I became Orthodox, and I was adamant that I would not become Orthodox to marry her! This was really a bit of sophistry on the part of the Evil One. After all, I loved her, and I loved the Orthodox church. I think I just did not want to *appear* that I converted just to marry her. Fortunately, at some point, Glory be to God, I just believed. Completely.

On Holy Saturday, 1980, I was baptized and chrismated. I had insisted upon baptism, although I was given the “option”. Shortly thereafter, we were married, the day after the end of the Spring Session.

Upon further reflection, I believe that the *beauty* of Orthodoxy is what attracted me. The discordance of competing Protestant beliefs are ugly to me, and the reliance on doctrine and de-emphasis of worship, liturgical expression, and ascetical endeavor always left me feeling a little hollow. God IS beautiful, and His church reflects Him.

There is so much *beauty* in Orthodoxy that I do not see in Protestantism, and Orthodox are also quite far away from the neo-platonist tendencies of some Protestants.

Some emphasize reason so much that they seem to forget that man has a body and a soul, and that God, who is totally free and beautiful, having made man in His image, has given man an inherent love for beauty. The Orthodox, worship God *naturally*, and not just with cold blooded reason, but also with their God given feelings and intuition.

In Orthodoxy, a man is not “saved” in an event. He is transformed, and is like a sapling that grows towards the light, and he loves God more and more, because “He first loved us”. Because of his love for God, and his ascetical struggles (to win the kingdom of Heaven by violence), God helps to change him, and his will slowly, imperceptibly conforms to the perfect will of God. He becomes like God; he shares in the energy of God. We call this process “theosis”, and this is salvation. It is not just intellectual assent, and it is not just ascetical endeavor, which some call “works”. It is a synergy of the two. The first follows the other, and the other empowers a man to do the first.

Fr. Seraphim Holland




Called To Orthodoxy

* * *

A former Pentecostal minister and Independent Old Catholic Priest’s conversion story to the Orthodox faith


Sherie Mercier, Michigan, USA

Where do I begin? I was born and raised in St. Joseph, Michigan, on the shores of SW Lake Michigan – across the lake from Chicago, 61 years ago. My parents were not very religious, in fact, they attended a Methodist church in my hometown. The pastor was a medical doctor and eventually left the active ministry and set up shop as a General Family practitioner. My parents stopped attending church and after that I never remember them ever stepping into a church at all, even to this day. My mother is deceased but my father is still alive and I have never seen him enter a church.

So, eventually, around the age of 7 or so, I went to a Baptist church with my neighbors and continued to do so until my teenage years. I then set out to check different denominations, usually joining them, then leaving because something didn’t “feel right”. Of course, our home town had a huge Roman Catholic following, plus my maternal grandmother had been Roman Catholic herself.

I remember seeing statues of Mary and crucifixes. Our public school in that day followed the Roman Catholic system of meatless Fridays, usually fish sticks or mac and cheese. So, I became interested in the Roman Catholic faith. But it was not to be at all until years later.

I graduated high school, enlisted in the US Army, did a short stint and then married my first husband in Scotland. We settled back in Michigan but only for the summer of 1974, then moved to Arizona. I again, searched and wanted to be Roman Catholic, but my husband was adamant against it. So, I chose the next best thing, the Episcopal church, back then it wasn’t as liberal as it is now. It was the Liturgy that always attracted me to these types of churches. Protestant churches lack any “real” liturgy, rather their services are typified by an opening song(s), prayer, more songs, another prayer, offering and finally – “drum roll please” – the sermon, the main stay.

Of course, we are to learn and be taught but these churches continue to make the “sermon” the most important part of the service each Sunday. Yet, to keep the peace, I did exactly that, attending one Protestant church after another. I was lacking though on the inside, my heart longed for the proper worship to be given to God. Another caveat to all of this is that I am a musician, I play multiple instruments and sing, so churches would ask me to help lead music on Sundays.
After jumping from church to church, I would sneak occasionally during the week to the local Roman Catholic parish near where we lived. My husband was at work and didn’t know. I longed to be Roman Catholic and felt one day this would happen.

In 1983, after the birth of my youngest child, I was attending an Assembly of God church in Phoenix. I loved the people there and the worship was good. One Sunday, the regular pianist was not in attendance and I knew the piece the choir was going to “perform”, so I stepped in and led at the piano. The church eventually asked me to do the music regularly. Then one Sunday, I was supposed to do a special number for the evening service but was pulled aside by the music director and told in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t graduate from the AG college in Springfield, Missouri, I couldn’t even sing on a Sunday evening. My feelings were greatly hurt and I said that’s it. I left that church, then started sneaking to Mass on Sunday mornings behind my husband’s back for a while. Then one day I found a position working at a Bible Christian church, playing the piano again. I loved this church also and the people but disappointment struck in that the pastor left his wife and 3 children for another woman.

That did it!! I called a parish that was on my way to work (by this time, I was working full time) and spoke to the associate priest there. We met once a week for 5 months and at Easter in 1986, I was received into the Roman Catholic church. Again, because of musical background, I was soon cantoring at the parish weekly. I loved the liturgy and asked to help different parishes in the diocese. At one point, I was asked to assist with a Byzantine Uniate parish. This was it! The beauty of the Divine Liturgy had captured me. It was totally different than what I was seeing in the Western Rite. But things did not let me stay there as I ended up with other obligations at other parishes in the diocese.

In 1989, after 15 years of marriage, my ex-husband left the country and moved back to Scotland with our 2 sons and I was left to raise my 3 girls. I remained a Roman Catholic and continued to work in several parishes over the years. Then in 1997, while my husband, Mark (a cradle Catholic) and I were at a parish, I made an abrupt decision after something a priest had said. I left the RC church for the next 9 years. I began studying and eventually became a licensed Pentecostal Church of God out of Joplin, Missouri minister. I left that denomination as the rules were too stringent and it cost too much money. Besides your regular tithes and offerings to the church, you also had to “pay” for your credentials, which became costly. I applied for independent credentials from a non-denominational ministry and became a pastor for a small local congregation. After a few years, I was called back to the Roman Catholic church, but not for long. Yet, it was when I was called back to the RC church, I began to truly study the early Church Fathers, the Eucharist and other “Catholic” teachings.

I would discover the “Independent Old Catholic Movement” in 2008. The beauty of Roman Catholicism without having to answer to Rome. In fact, one of the things that drew me to this movement was that a lot of them ordained women. I always had felt a calling on my life and thought I had fulfilled it in being a Pentecostal/non-denominational minister. In 2009, I joined a group called, O.SS.T. – the Order of the most Holy Mother Theotokos. I had never really heard Mary addressed as the Theotokos except in the council of Ephesus when this was declared. Eventually the archbishop of the group asked me to take seminary studies and in August of 2011, I was ordained a deacon and on June 1, 2012, ordained a priest.

In my studies, I had to write a paper on the differences and similarities between the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches. Our liturgies did not follow the RC but rather were a mixture of all 4 of the above. When I was ordained, someone gave me a beautiful icon of the Theotokos, which I still have. I also had purchased a couple of icons and a pocket icon of Christ the Pantocrator and Our Lady of Kazan. I still have those also after all these years. One of the people who helped concelebrate my ordination gave me a book on the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, New Martyr of the Communist Yoke. I read the book and then put it aside for a long time.

Over the next several years, I served on and off as a supply priest, tried to have a local parish to work at but with no success. In hindsight, I know I should have never been a priest and that is probably why I failed to fulfill my calling. At one point, I was working as supply priest for an Episcopal congregation in Northern Arizona but then the proverbial “rug” was pulled out from underneath me. I know why, I wasn’t “liberal” enough for them and that’s all good and well. I made some very nice friends there and stay in touch with them.

Fast forward to July 2016 and I am at a crossroad. I was doing some cleaning and came across the book I mentioned above regarding St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. I was led to read it and I had “liked” several Facebook pages on the Orthodox faith and teachings. One I tuned into was from St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Geneva, New York and a man named Steve Tobey. He does a daily video called, “The Gospel Minute” and I was hooked. I had looked up several Orthodox parishes and one was in Prescott – St. George’s – but I could not get a response.

I need to digress here for a moment, due to some medical issues, I lost my foot and ankle back in 2011 and wear a prosthesis. The problem is that they tear up your pants and skirts terribly. So, I was looking to see if it would be okay if I attended Great Vespers or Divine Liturgy in slacks – I always wear black and dress very modestly.

I kept trying St. George’s to no avail and then in August, someone gave me the email address to Fr. Thomas Frisby from Exaltation of the Holy Cross parish in Phoenix, Arizona. I contacted him and then we set up a dinner with him and his wife, Laurel with my husband and me. We did so and I gave Father Thomas some background of above and asked plenty of questions. Due to my schedule at the time, it was several more weeks before I began to attend Divine Liturgy. My first service was on Sunday, September 25, 2016 and all I can say was, “This is where God wants me to be for the rest of my life.” At the end of coffee hour and a wonderful book study, “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius, I asked Fr. Thomas if I could become a catechumen. He did not hesitate and so I did the following Sunday before Divine Liturgy. BTW, my birthday is the feast day of St. Athanasius (May 2).

I also told all my friends via Facebook that this was what I was doing. Some were shocked, I told them if they wanted to, they could unfriend me. I had a lot of Protestant friends at the time and wasn’t sure how they would react. Some have stayed my friend, some haven’t.

Finally, in November, Fr. Thomas said I would be received into the Church on the forefeast of the Theophany, January 5, 2017. My husband Mark came with me and I can’t say how moved I was to be brought into the Orthodox faith. I wrote of my experience in four blogs that were published to Facebook also. Even though my husband for now has no desire to convert, he supports me in being Orthodox and he does attend Divine Liturgy with me on occasion. My parish family is very welcoming to him as well as they were to and still are to me.

A side note – as a veteran, I currently belong to the American Legion, a veteran’s service organization. I was considered for Department Commander for the 2017-2018 year. I was handed a month ago, the schedule I would have to adhere to for that year. What I discovered was that I would be gone too many Sundays, away from Divine Liturgy and the Eucharist. This was an easy choice as there was no way I would miss intentionally almost 1/3 of the year to be the commander. I posted on Facebook as well as an email went out to all the posts in the Department (over 130) and the reason why I would not be running. The overwhelming responses (all positive) that I was taking a stand for my Faith proves to me that this is where God wanted me to be.

It also has been a witnessing tool to the Orthodox Faith and people are now asking me about what we believe and there is even interest in some of them coming to my parish.

For those of you women who think that you have a calling on your life to be a minister, priest, or other clergy, it isn’t necessary. I wish I would have found the Orthodox Faith – the TRUE faith – years ago. I probably would have never been a minister or priest. Do I miss what I did? No! I am fulfilled as a woman in the Orthodox faith. We have a place in the Church that is rich and Christ truly loves each of us.

I am writing this just days before the start of Great Lent and praying that I will continue to draw closer to Jesus Christ in the time. My journey is continuing and I thank God for the Orthodox Church and for my parish, Exaltation of the Holy Cross as well as Fr. Thomas and Laurel Frisby.




Finally Oriented

by Fr. Barnabas Powell, 
Cumming, Georgia, USA

Fr. Barnabas Powell is the priest at Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming, Georgia, USA

* * *

The Pentecostal church I grew up in had a profound impact on my life. The lively services, the thundering sermons, and the emotional altar calls gripped my young heart and fed my hunger for an intimate encounter with God.

As a young man growing up in a Pentecostal church, I always knew I wanted to be a preacher because all the powerful men I had ever known had been men in the pulpit, and I wanted to be just like them.

In my Pentecostal church I was told that a stream is purest at its source, so what we had to do was to be like the Church in the Book of Acts. If we were going to affect our world for Jesus then we needed the same power the Early Church had, and that meant being Pentecostal.

The whole purpose for our emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, lively, emotional worship services, and powerful, motivating, sermons, was to keep us motivated to win lost souls. If you weren’t witnessing, you weren’t on fire for the Lord.

I was the youth choir director and our youth group traveled around the Southeast singing and preaching the Good News. Sometimes I would give the sermon, but that had been a honor earned on the streets, since none of the young preachers were allowed to speak at church until they’d proved their metal by preaching on the street corners. It was there that we got our first speaking experience.

Every Saturday we’d gather at the church and get our sound system and go street preaching. We’d set up usually across from a strip shopping center near a traffic light so we could witness to the shoppers and the folks in their cars. Only one at a time could speak so the rest of the group fanned out in the shopping center with Gospel tracts in hand, ready to lead lost people to the Lord. One of the greatest badges of honor was if you were preaching and someone in one of the cars stopped at the red-light heckled you. That was suffering persecution for the Gospel.

Over the years, I began having difficulty dealing with those times when the level of religious excitement wasn’t at a fevered pitch. I knew I was excited about Jesus, but I began questioning whether I knew Him or not. I knew I didn’t want to go to hell. I knew I wanted to go to heaven (after all, if you’re in heaven, then you’re not in hell, right?). I knew I wanted to be a preacher, because everybody listened to the preacher. I knew I wanted to have a successful ministry (meaning a large church), but what I didn’t know is what to do when the emotions died down. All my quick and simple answers weren’t working for me so why would I think that they’d work for others. I was missing something.

It was then that I received the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do: go to college for a theological education. So, off I went to Toccoa, Georgia, where I attended a small, conservative, Evangelical, college. While at school, I was exposed to a depth of theology I had never imagined. Wow, this was it! Deep theology! But a lot of this theology was causing me to question my Pentecostal upbringing. I could no longer see the Christian life as one of constant emotional excitement, or ecstatic religious experiences. I had to admit that some of the doctrinal positions I once held were not entirely accurate.

I Became an Evangelical

Gradually, I became an Evangelical, committed to the classic theology of the Protestant Reformation. At least our goal was still to win the world for Christ. My time at school was wonderful. The classes were, for the most part, challenging and enlightening. I was being taught to be a scholar, to ask the right questions, and to discover the right answers. But the longer I studied the more I became convinced that something was missing! It was then that I discovered an interest in church history.

Every graduate of a Pastoral theology course of study at Toccoa Falls College had to have what was called an internship at a church. So, the last summer of my senior year I had scheduled my internship at one of the most successful churches in the Southeast, Christ Church, in Nashville, Tennessee. This church was well known for being a Pentecostal church that had successfully married Evangelical theology with Pentecostal worship.

Some of the questions I was asking were also being asked by the assistant pastor of Christ Church, Dan Scott, Jr. He and I had long discussions about this. Dan was a scholar with a Master’s degree in sociology from the University of Southern California. We would talk for hours about theology and church history.

A Dream About Orthodoxy

Dan told me about a dream he had while he was a missionary in Canada. In the dream, he was walking inside this very old church building, with marble floors and high ceilings. Inside there were pictures all over the walls and candles burning everywhere. Several old men with long white beards and dressed in black robes, were praying standing up, and he sensed, stronger than he had ever sensed, the presence of God in the place. The men were actually glowing with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and Dan said he was speechless.

All of a sudden, one of the old, bearded, men turned to him and asked: “Where have you been?”

One day Dan advised me to read The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. I started reading this book and was captured by the history of the Orthodox Church. Here was the story of what happened to the missions of St Peter and St Paul in the New Testament; the continued story of the missions to Greece, Ephesus, Antioch, Asia Minor and Jerusalem.

It was eye opening to say the least. I had been trained to see all of Christianity as a question of either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism and now I was being confronted with a third Way.

Much to my surprise, I learned that not only were there still Orthodox Christians, but that there was even a group of former Evangelicals and Charismatics who had become Orthodox. I got in touch with them and two of their leaders journeyed to Georgia to visit with me.

By the fall of 1989, I was pastoring a growing Evangelical congregation in Woodstock, Georgia called Church of the Firstborn. I was also working as a Promotions Manager at In Touch Ministries in Atlanta.

This placed me deep in the Evangelical world of media and ministry.

Every week my best friend, Rod Loudermilk (a former Pentecostal pastor himself), and I would meet to discuss theology and the books we were reading and invariably we would turn to the church history books we both found so interesting. In these books we discovered the Church fathers, the witness of the Holy Spirit in every age of the Church and the heroes of the Faith we began to identify as true and genuine followers of our lord Jesus. We began to be convinced that there were treasures here for us today that we desperately needed to reclaim.

I was also trying to incorporate what I was learning about the early Church into our local congregation: things like a weekly Lord’s Supper, and the weekly recitation of the Apostle’s Creed. Also, I began involving the congregation in regular responses:

“Peace be with you,”

“And also with you.”

I imagine our Pentecostal church was the only Pentecostal church in the area with icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary behind the pulpit! As a Pentecostal, I had been taught that worship wasn’t a spectator sport. I didn’t realize till it was too late that the underlying theology behind historical Christian worship wasn’t compatible with my current theology.

It was like trying to mix oil and water. It didn’t work.

Discovering the Orthodox Church

In 1992 I began to have regular discussions with those who had become Orthodox. I found myself drawn to these men and their journey. They didn’t try to persuade me they were right. They just told me about their own story.

After an invitation from one of these men, I visited an Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, Indiana to experience what we had been reading about. What we both experienced there was both overwhelming in an emotional and experiential aspect and exciting in that here was the historical perspectives I had been searching for in a modern setting.

After the service, we said our good-byes and headed back to Atlanta. For a long time neither of us said a word. There were no words. I was convinced that I had to have the theology behind the beauty that I had just experienced.

I eventually had to come to grips with my own spiritual journey and my pastorate at our church in Atlanta. The breaking point came when an evangelist I had invited to our church for a series of meetings (we still called it a “revival” at that time) began praying for my folks in a prayer line and I was there praying that his prayers wouldn’t harm or deceive these dear people.

That was it! I had to make a choice. I approach our church elders and spoke frankly with them about my own journey to Orthodoxy, and we agreed to make a clear message to our church about my own choices. At the end of those days of talking and praying 20 families from our church had decided to enter the Orthodox Church with me. We went through a year’s worth of catechism and were all chrismated into the Church at St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church in America) in Atlanta in November of 2001. Our journey to Orthodoxy took almost nine years, but we were finally home.

Orthodoxy attracts me precisely because of my background as a Pentecostal. Worship is very important to Pentecostals. And in Orthodoxy I have found a depth of worship that doesn’t deny my emotions, but doesn’t depend on them as well. Orthodox worship takes into account the whole person. It was said by the great Russian writer, Dostoevsky, that “beauty will save the world,” and I have found a beauty in Orthodox worship that draws me to God.

A former professor and Evangelical (now a Roman Catholic) once said that the theology he read that had been written by Christian writers in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries (times that were suppose to be gripped in the darkness of ritualism and false teachings) were more awesome and more powerful than most of all the conservative Protestant writers of his own day. In effect, he said that their “error” was more beautiful and more powerful than my “truth.”

Richness and Fullness

My journey has led me into Orthodox worship and belief. This should not lead others to think I have abandoned my desire to find the fullness of Christian faith and worship. It simply means that I no longer feel the need to reconstruct a pure church in the image of the early church. I am not certain I would be able to recognize such a Church if I encountered it. If those folks mocking Christ failed to recognize the scourged, beaten, bleeding, and crucified person hanging on the cross as the Lord of glory, would I recognize his body today? My only recourse is to trust the Holy Spirit has preserved His Church and ask that same Spirit to form me within the Church that exists today.

Nonetheless, for me, Orthodoxy offers a richness and a fullness that is timeless and yet refreshingly new. It is so vast and wide-reaching and so full of mystery that it will take more than a lifetime to fully examine it. While I am not competent to judge the hearts of others, I am convinced that there is preserved within Orthodox Christianity a foundational core of worship and faith that is fundamentally true to the Spirit and life of the New Testament. This is the faith “once, for all, delivered to the saints.”

For those who wonder whether this can be true, I refer them to the words of St. Philip the apostle:

Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathaniel said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”- John 1:45-46




New State Museum Named for Orthodox Priest Opens in Juneau, Alaska, USA

by James Brooks

The writer evidently ‘forgot’ to mention that Andrew Kashevaroff was an Alaskan Orthodox priest, or that the current bishop of Alaska, Bishop David of Sitka and All Alaska, gave the invocation. May Fr. Andrew’s memory be eternal!

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After 12 years and about $140 million in development, Alaska has a new state museum.

The Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum, affectionately known as the SLAM, officially opened after an hourlong ceremony featuring speeches from state dignitaries and song and dance from the Harborview Elementary School Tlingit Culture and Language Literacy Program. Hundreds of people filled the plaza outside the new building, standing under a cloud-dappled sky that occasionally dropped rain showers. The clouds parted just as Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, rose to speak.

“This is a moment that will be marked in Alaska’s history by what is happening today,” Gov. Bill Walker told the crowd. “This building is absolutely phenomenal by what it represents.”

What it represents is a long-term commitment. Bob Banghart, deputy director of the state division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, has repeatedly said the new building — which combines the services of the capital’s museum, archives and library into one structure — can last 100 years.

The previous museum, built on the same location in time for the 1967 Alaska Centennial, lasted just shy of 50 years. It was torn down in 2014 as construction of the new building progressed.

“This building ate it,” Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said of the old museum, “and it has digested it well.”

At 118,000 square feet, the SLAM is seven times as large as the old museum, and it was intended to have space for 50 years’ worth of new collections. The closure of the National Archives office in Anchorage took up some of that room with transferred items, but there’s plenty of room to grow.

The building is one of the last significant state projects to be funded with money collected and allocated in the 2008 oil boom.

“One thing I’ll say about this building: Timing is everything, and it was really good timing by somebody’s part. We can afford to cut the ribbon,” Walker said.

Many lawmakers were in attendance at the ceremony, and Mallott alluded to their presence and the state’s current fiscal situation.

He said the building

“celebrates what, if we make the right choices about our future in coming days, we can celebrate both collectively, symbolically and really when we say, Alaska can build the most beautiful edifices.”

Museum conservator Ellen Carrlee was in the audience, listening to the speeches given by the governor, lieutenant governor and eight others.

In her hands, she held a framed picture of the decorative panels that adorned the old museum. It was given to her by a friend on the new museum’s opening day to commemorate the years of work involved in the new building’s construction and outfitting.

“It’s a huge relief to finally be here,” she said. “It’s like studying for a big exam: You study and you study — you could always study a little more — but to have it be here is tremendous. It’s not all the way done, but we couldn’t keep people out any longer. People want in, they want to see it.”

When the Harborview students finished their dancing and cut the celebratory ribbon, a crowd surged through the museum’s front entrance and into the gallery.

In front of one case, Juneau resident and temporary museum employee Tanna Peters explained the artifact mounts she’s been working on for the past year and a half. Curators from across the state were brought to the museum two years ago to help move artifacts into storage and to draft plans for the displays that now make up the museum’s permanent gallery.

To a regular visitor, the gallery looks complete. To a curator’s eye, however, there’s still things to do. Peters pointed out one display, where two artifacts were slightly touching — a no-no where preservation is involved. Pull-out drawers in some display cases are still empty, and the vendors in charge of the museum bookstore and cafe have not yet moved in.

Banghart said, however, that for all intents and purposes, the museum is complete. There might be a few little things to fine-tune, but it’s nothing that will keep the public from enjoying it.

David Shumway and Ken Ratcliffe, standing in the permanent gallery, couldn’t help but agree. For the past several years, Shumway has worked as the project’s mechanical engineer. Ratcliffe was its electrical engineer.

“This is a one-in-a-lifetime project for us,” Ratcliffe said.

To understand why, you have to look inside the museum’s walls, at things a normal visitor will never see. Museums and archives demand precision care, even with something you might take for granted — like the way the air moves in the building.

“There’s five separate and distinct environments in one building that are almost unnoticeable except for the Archives; they’re at 55 degrees,” Shumway said.

To understand, Shumway offered a suggestion: stand in the lobby for a few minutes and feel the temperature and humidity. Next, walk into the gallery and do the same. It’s much more humid, and it’s designed that way to protect the artifacts.

The lighting operates under the same principle — bright and inviting in the lobby and open spaces, but dimmer in the display cases to protect light-sensitive objects.

Shumway said fine-tuning each element of the building will take a little while longer. Plans are one thing, but actually having people in the building is something else.

To 5-year-old Eddy Seifert, however, the only thing filling his eyes was the mining locomotive in one corner of the gallery, with a section of the trans-Alaska Pipeline System towering overhead.

“This is my favorite thing, because it’s new,” he said with arms outstretched, indicating the entire building.

His mother, Shannon, laughed.

“We just walked through the doors,” she said. “I’m amazed how huge this is. I can’t wait to explore all the little nooks and crannies.”

The state museum is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The state library and archives are open during working hours on weekdays.

Admission is $12, $11 for seniors and children are admitted free during the summer. A season pass is $25, according to a rate increase approved last year.