A Spiritual Journey to Eastern Orthodoxy- A Dialogue


Gaius,
Well, to answer something from the middle of your e-mail!! You are correct. There is NO cultural relativism in me. I have seen the trend and the trendies over the years and I find what is going on in this age, and what passes for philosophy and theology almost repulsive. Enough of that.

I spent several hours after church today rereading "The Orthodox Way," by Bishop Ware. What a book!!!

I admit though, that I'm going to be very cautious about leaving the very conservative Lutheran Church I'm in now. I don't know if I should bore you with my spiritual journey because it has been rather tedious. I absolutely WANT TO KNOW the truth and which church out of the 50,000 out there is the church I'm supposed to be in. I take my faith (praise that free gift from God) seriously and I can't stand it when I see people that play church, or go to church just in case all this God stuff just might be true and they want to cover "all the bases."

I'm been searching for the truth since I was about 10 years old and even wanted to be a Lutheran minister when I was in the sixth grade. But, I moved to Colorado and my first friend at my new school turned out to be a Jehovah's Witness. We spent hours and hours discussing the bible, religion, theology etc. I have to say that from that time on I have always been interested in knowing what the truth was, where God wanted me, etc.

After high school I moved to California for six years and my Jehovah's Witness friend was kicked out of the organization for immoral conduct.

So in college I majored in philosophy and temporarily lost my faith. I thought I was sooooo smart and knew EVERYTHING!!! Of course, I thank God that He doesn't give up on us just because we happen to go through that teenage and young adult know every thing disease.

Moved back to Colorado and had a friend from high school keep after me to go to church with him. Finally, since God wasn't done with me yet, I decided to go. Well, that was my introduction to the Southern Baptist Church. I got married (my wife would not go to church with me, but more on that later), to someone who had four kids and I was taking care of my two daughters already so we had quite a house full. On top of that we took on 7 Cambodian refugees. Anyway, one day my wife (who committed suicide after she divorced me so she could marry some guy she met at work) said that if I would go to the Catholic Church she would start going to church with me. Well, I jumped in with both feet, read probably 50 books on Catholic theology, apologetics, history, etc. I thought I had finally found a home -- or more correctly, the Holy Spirit had led me home. I used to debate people and defend the Catholic Church but after a few years of that I just could not do it any longer because I had trouble with all the liberal nuns, priests, the Pope, the absolute overboard theology on Mary, the idea that the Pope is infallible and the Vicar of Christ on Earth and on and on. So, even though I was conditionally baptised and confirmed in the Catholic Church I could no longer stay. To this day I have friends in the Church and I have met many people that love Jesus and are born from above Christians. But I want everything to be theologically correct so I left.

So I'm praying the 25th Psalm every night asking God to lead me in the truth and teach me. I go into a used bookstore and see a special on Calvin's two volumes of the "Institutes of the Christian Religion." I read the set in about six months and decided to go to a Reformed Baptist Church. It was a small church and I loved the brilliant pastor and his 90 minute sermons on Sunday but he was a 5-point Calvinists AND A DISPENSATIONALIST. So I tried my best to understand dispensationalism but could never come to accept it. And I got really tried of hearing about how people were going to hell of they weren't 5-point Calvinists, and if a baby died before he made a "profession of faith and was baptized," he would go to hell also.

So, I got out of that and decided that I was missing a sacramental church. I had read enough to know that the Lutheran Church I was confirmed in was not for me (ELCA). They had gone off the deep end and supported abortion (the murdering of God's creatures), women "ministers," gays and on and on. Then I looked up the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod on the internet and thought, well, now here is something I like. So I met with the pastor of my current church on several occasions for many, many hours discussing theology and decided to give it a try. I've been there about 16 months now and love the liturgy, the bible study, the people, and I truly believe that is where God wanted me. But then....

One day I was having a discussion with my Pastor and he said that if he weren't Lutheran he would be Eastern Orthodox. I'm like, say what?? Yes, he said, the Eastern Orthodox church looks at theology from a different perspective than the Western church. Sooooo, here I go again. I bought several books on the Orthodox Church and have been very interested, but I've jumped around so much I'm not ready to do it again unless the Holy Spirit drags me. (I guess that is not very respectful), but you know what I mean.

Every church I was in I found major things wrong. Either the theology became totally whacked like the ELCA, or I find out that half the deacons or the minister belong to the Masonic Lodge, or something. Finally, I decided that instead of trying to reform the church I would spend more time trying to reform me. (I have a long way to go yet).

I've found that Luther and his idea of imputed righteousness, and faith alone, and grace alone and Christ alone was very, very well thought out and appealing to me. On the other hand the explanations of Romans 2:6-10 have bothered me. Justification by faith being a one-time thing followed by a life-long process of sanctification seemed correct to me. After all, how can a person be "saved," then be unsaved, then saved, then unsaved???? That made no sense to me because it was saying that your salvation, after all, does depend on your own efforts. If God was going to yank your salvation from you because you sinned, even grossly, then the way I figured it, we are all condemned to hell. And since everyone is born under a death sentence, so much for "free will" towards one salvation. Can a person have free will? Of course. What type of car I want, what job etc. But it made perfectly good sense to me that a person's salvation was from God alone. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod looks at justification in two ways. One is objective justification (2 Cor. 5-17-21) where that fact is that Christ died for ALL MANKIND without exception. Then for that to be applied personally (subjective justification) a person has to "receive" the free gift. That is not considered a "work," but just the acceptance of a gift. How does one do that? By the Word and the Sacraments. Anyway, that's another whole subject.

I take my Faith very, very seriously and as far as I am concerned it is the only thing that matters. I feel sorry for all those lost people that hate God and think that the Cross is foolishness. I see it every day and trying to talk to these people is like talking to a dead tree--with the same results. I guess it is kind of like Acts 13:48 says: Those that were ORDAINED to eternal life BELIEVED. It is all of the Holy Spirit.

So, after this long-winded e-mail, I'm not sure what God has in store for me. I'm going to try to meet that Orthodox priest tomorrow and see what happens. That's what he said on his phone message. He said he would love to talk to me and for me not to worry, he's not going to push me into converting. He said that is in God's hands and I agree with that.

I know that I am really attracted to the Orthodox Church because of its rich history, the "smells and bells," the theology etc. And I fully expect to run into people in the Orthodox church that don't have a clue about what is going on. I met Catholics that couldn't even name one of the gospels--and that's after being in the church their whole life. Really sad.

All I know is that I want to feel like I'm home, worship God and, who knows, maybe in some small way make a contribution. Sometimes when I see on TV a monastery I think, now that would be great. Forget the cares of the world, pray, study etc.

So, now that you see I'm struggling, please don't think that I'm loony. I LOVE theology and all I want is to do and be where God wants me to be.
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

Gaius,
I spend as much time as possible in theology, prayer and reading the scriptures. The way I look at it is that the Scriptures are the Living Word of God to us. And, after being born from above and starting to live like it (of course I have to repent every day and every morning I recall my baptism) the reading of the bible has become a daily thing. I read through it once a year. My NKJV bible has a year reading program in the back and I go by that. It's truly amazing the things that just jump off the page at me. It's like, man, why didn't I "see" that before? Christianity is alive, the scriptures are alive and the Liturgy is an absolute must. The sacraments are exactly what they are supposed to be. GOD said it, I believe it. I'm sick to death of all these so-called "scholars" and their "higher criticism." I'm sure the Thrice Holy God is really impressed by a bunch of middle aged and college kids that are involved in "higher criticism."

Anyway, I ordered several more books and a monthly magazine from a Orthodox site. I'm still not sure where all this is going to go. I'm extremely happy with my conservative, Lutheran church. I've discovered that the West and the East look at theology in a lot different way. The West is more logical, like they have to have their dogmatics all laid out in perfect order, whereas the Eastern Church, at least in my limited knowledge, is much more mystical. The perfect example is in the Lord's Supper. The Catholic church uses pagan philosophers to explain how the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ. The Orthodox, like the Lutheran Church, says Christ said this is my body and this is my blood so that is what it is. They don't try to "explain" how it happens. It just does.

So, back to work tomorrow. My two days off go so fast. Then the 5 at work seem to just drag. Oh well, at least I have a job.
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

Don,
Yeah, you pretty much think as I do. I too love to talk and read about God all the time. Your research is confirming a lot of things that I've been confirmed about from other Christians doing the same research. I've met a lot of Christians who do independent research of the Early Christians, Protestantism, Catholicism, etc., and they mostly say the same things and discover the same spiritual doctrines. Fr. John Newman (a Catholic) said about 150 years ago that the more one studies the Early Church, the less Protestant he becomes. I don't know why, but every time I see such a thing happening I get amazed. I guess I'm just amazed at how this truth has been kept so secret for so long and that some people figure it out.

I love your comparisons of the west and east. You're right, the west does rely more on the mind, while the east relies on a balance of intellect, spirit, and heart, altogether constituting mysticism. And I'm glad that you watch out for all the so-called scholars. Some of them actually claim to prove that 2 Peter and other Scriptures are forgeries or whatever. And they think that we're loonies!
-Gaius

Gaius,
Our church has a brand new message board on the internet for people to use but the results have been disappointing. We have about 350 members, counting the kiddies. So far there are about 200 posts on the site and about 190 of them are from me.

I even addressed some posts to the teenagers to try and get them to get involved in their faith. Not one single response. Actually, I would love to teach a class for kids from about the age of 10 to 18 or so. I've always related well with the younger ones because I treat them like real people and don't talk down to them. And I went through about every question about faith a kid could possibly ask so I've been there, done that. But NOT ONE SINGLE response. Well, it's not me that brings people to Christ, but the Word, Sacraments and the Holy Spirit. So I'm not going to give up.

I hope you have a great week. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ and what he did for us. It's so great. By the way, I LOVED Mel Gibson's The Passion. For once Jesus was not portrayed as some sissy skipping through the tulips, but as a strong, working man. Of course I like Mel Gibson anyway. I did not see one single thing wrong with the movie. It's the best on the subject I have ever seen -- without a doubt.

Like he said, it did not blame the Jews anymore than anyone else. We ALL sinned and sent the Son of God to the Cross. (the review of the movie was just an after thought).
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

Don,
It's so typical to see all the apathy out there. And it's like that with almost everything- school, voting, church, etc. But I'm like you, we've got to keep trying. If they're at least reading and not responding, at least that could be a seed. And I also loved The Passion of Christ movie. It's just like you said, Jesus wasn't flying through the tulips and the Apostles weren't acting like they're on drugs every time a miracle happens. It was fantastic and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's God's words put on film and it was Gibson's perogative to make his own version of it, in other words, a realistic one! I pray that he does more good movies.

Anyway, I'll pray for you and the people at your church. Pray for me and the people at my church too because some of them are suffering from apathy as well.
-Gaius

Gaius,
The more a person tells me he is a bible "scholar" the more I will tend to dismiss him. And if they tell me they are into the "higher criticism" of the bible I pay NO attention to them. I'm sure God is really impressed with a bunch of college professors and kids being critical of His Living, written Word. It's almost laughable.

But, I want to follow the TRUTH no matter where that leads and I really don't care what anyone thinks about it. I just feel that about 90 per cent of the people that attend church in ANY church just don't seem to have a clue what their own church teaches. It's like, well in case any of this stuff is true I better do God a favor and show up on Sunday (if that much) just to cover all my bases. They somehow think that they are DOING GOD A FAVOR!!! Imagine that!!!!

Anyway, I've read a lot of the articles your website and they are great. Keep up the wonderful work.
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

Gaius,
Thanks for the great websites. I'm checking them out.

After my trip up to the Orthodox monastery, I went back up the next day and we ALL had a really, really, really great visit, they invited me to eat with them and they invited me up next weekend to spend the night on Saturday, going to Vespers on Saturday night, then stay for Sunday services in the morning. They said they understand how I felt and they were so nice. I feel like I have found the True Church, at last. I LOVE the Orthodox theology, the smells and bells, the people, etc.

For Luther, I have always admired him for standing up to the Catholic Church --the Roman one that is -- but his whole theory of the visible and the invisible church has always bothered me. After he was kicked out of the Catholic church he had to come up with something so he decided that the church is not one, visible church but actually an invisible church made up of true believers that are born again. Of course there is a local church, but no one knows who is born again or who is faking it. Luther's idea was that the invisible church is made up of only BORN AGAIN believers. Anyway, it seems rather strange to me now. No wonder I didn't agree with it. Here is a Lutheran view of the church: http://www.lifeoftheworld.com/lotw/05-04/05-04-03.php

I was able to pull up the websites you recommended. Oh goodie, now I have more stuff to read. I absolutely LOVE IT. I can't seem to get enough. I will read those articles with great care.

And I appreicate all the great information you send me. Tonight, at work, I was reading all your articles on your website about Islam. If people think those bunch of lunatics are peaceful, they better think again. I've sent your articles to several of my friends.

Guess what? After talking with the bishop -- actually he is now an Archbishop, I have a feeling that we are going to have a long, very spiritual relationship. In fact, and I know this is crazy, but the idea seems to be in my head that I may end up at their monastery (it's late, my spelling leaves a little to be desired after spending 10 hours talking on the phone selling auto insurance). It is a beautiful place, and like I told the Archbishop and the others that I have NEVER seen such reverence for God. Never!!

Another thing I'm discovering. I've been studying Western theology for years and I have never run across the concept that Original Sin was not believed by any Christian church. I find that such a relief because I have always had a difficult time swallowing that one. And now it turns out, that it was an invention of Augustine and picked up by the Catholics and the Reformers and the Western branch of "Christianity." Now, the Orthodox teaching and the early church Fathers have a different view which I AGREE with. (I'm sure they feel better now). But, the idea that God is a judge, a angry one at that, that punishes us for the sins of someone else, and that was committed before we were even born, was so hard to understand. Now I know why!! And, Don, why is that? BECAUSE IT IS NOT TRUE. The Orthodox, no, the Holy Orthodox Church has it right. Wow, I'm on a journey and I love it. I wish I would have started it many years ago. Now, I feel like I've wasted so many years in the wrong theology. Oh well, I'll have an eternity to get it down pat.

Peace, Don in Colorado Springs, CO
P.S. The Archbishop had me pick out a Christian name. I'm going to get baptized into the Orthodox church one of these days. I picked out THOMAS.

Don or Thomas,
It's wonderful to hear that the misunderstandings have been worked out at that monastery. It's also great to hear that it looks like God wants you to be Orthodox. It's even another blessing to be led to monasticism.

It sounds like you're spiritually attracted to the archbishop & that monastery & that's good. This could be where God wants you, but Orthodox people usually visit a number of monasteries to make sure which one God wants them at & which one they best fit in at. Each soul has its own necessities on the path of salvation & each monastery has its own personality to fit those needs. It's possible that God has already set this up for you with the archbishop & his place.

Thanks for those websites & thanky for the explanation on Luther's new paradigm of the church. You've got some good insights & good points that I've never thought of too, so it helps a lot. And I love your comments on original sin!

That website explaining Luther's church confirms my opinions even more. It says that wherever the Gospel is correctly preached, then that is where the Church is. Well, who decides what is correct? And then the article actually quotes the Nicene Creed, "I believe in one, holy Catholic & Apostolic Church," yet they interpret it to mean "I believe in one invisible Church", something different from what the writers of the Nicene Creed meant it to say. It's absolutely ludicrous! This is what I mean by Protestants changing the meanings of various concepts, like "Apostolic", "Church", "Sacrament", "Tradition", etc. & making Scripture & the Early Church mean anything they want them to mean. To the Early Christians, believing in one Church wasn't believing in one invisible Church. They literally believed that salvation was through the Church & they constantly taught that, & even the writers of the Nicene Creed taught that. This is why the idea of a personal Savior has never been a part of the Apostolic Church because salvation has always been believed to be corporate, which is a word from Latin meaning "bodily", & our salvation is in the Church as the Body of Christ.

Sometimes these false ideas really bug me & sometimes they don't!
Anyway, I love your e-mails & research, & let me know of any more developments & ideas.
Oh, & you're right. The reverence in Orthodox churches & monasteries is phenomenal.
-Gaius

Gaius,
You see the same thing I did, even though I tried to ignore it for as long as I could. Luther invented the idea of an "invisible" church because he got kicked out of the one he was in. And for the Creed, when we say the phrase One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, it is changed to say One, Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church.

The conservative Lutheran church I was in went out of their way to say they were connected with the Ancient Church and it was the Catholics that went astray. It flat doesn't wash though.

As for the Orthodox monastery in Buena Vista, I just have a really good feeling about it. I really do get along with EVERYONE there without exception. And Archbishop Gregory is so firm in his convictions that one must wall himself off from the modern ecumenical movement. He absolutely has a fit when the World Council of Churches or NCC is mentioned. He feels that it is plain hersey to "go along to get alone." He can give you a thousand quotes from the Fathers to support his views. He is a great spiritual leader. I can't remember if I gave you the website to that Monastery, but here it is: http://www.buenavistaco.com/GOC/

Now, Archbishop Gregory insists that I will have to be baptized into the Orthodox Church anew. He says that the Lutheran baptism and confirmation, the Southern Baptist baptism and the "conditional" baptism and confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church doesn't count because they were false churches.. In a way I agree with him. The more I read Orthodox theology the more I see how much I have missed. While I constantly disagreed with Western theology -- Original Sin, God being a God of Anger and killing His Son to satisfy his wrath, a God that condemned depraved fallen-sinners to hell or heaven before they were born, and on and on, I couldn't see any other alternative.

AND THEN...... the Holy Spirit answered by prayers, especially the 25th Psalm, v.4-5. and "opened" my eyes. I find the theology of the Holy Orthodox Church to be absolutely correct. I took to it like duck to water. I mean reading a totally new concept of the pagan, western view of "Original Sin" from the Orthodox view was like a bolt of lighting opening the understanding -- not like the Apostle Paul experienced -- but, I'm telling you it has been an experience. I just wish it would have happened years ago.

And for your website!! Well, in between phone calls I read your articles. What a great website. I hope you keep it up. You never know how or who that reaches. In heaven someone might say, "Hey, so you are the one that had that website. That's how I got turned on to the Truth of the Orthodox church. One just never knows what influence he is having."

That Lutheran website is the best there is for a Lutheran. What was frustrating for me was I keep telling people about it at church and NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON had enough interest to look it up. Not one!!! I don't get it. To me pursuing the truth and finding the TRUE church has been my sole purpose and it is very rewarding.

If people could get as excited about God as they do Janet Jackson, or the Yankees, this would be a better place.

The book I'm reading now is one AWESOME BOOK. When I finish it I will start over and read it again. It is: THE ANCESTRAL SIN, by John S. Romanides and translated by George S. Gabriel.

Peace be with you, both now and ever and unto the Ages of Ages (cute huh?)
Seriously, have a great day!!!
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

Don,
Thanky for the website & that book suggestion. I'm somewhat weak on the theological details of the Original Sin issue. So I'll get that book some time.

Your last e-mail was encouraging, & it proves to me how we're all in this together. I'm sure you've been passing seeds around to people about the Apostolic Faith too, & you never know what may grow from them. The Orthodox Faith is maximalist, not minimalist, as it is in other Christian faiths; so we have to not only preach the Apostolic Faith but we also have to convince people to seek it!

Archbishop Gregory sounds like a staunch defender, & I like his assertion that the Catholic & Protestant churches are false. There are a lot of similarities between them & the Gnostics.

Oh, & I loved what you said about the people at your church not bothering to do any spiritual research, that they're more interested in knowing about music stars & sports. It is astounding to me how Christians can do that. But it starts real early in life. I teach grade school kids German & Spanish, & TV & computers have a real grip on them. By God's grace I can reach some of them to get excited about Christ though.
-Gaius

Gaius,
Archbishop Greogroy is a man of strong conviction and he has told me that he just flat will not compromise the TRUTH of the Orthodox Faith. Like he said, if three people are standing in a circle and two of them back up a few feet, then accuse the one that has stood still of breaking off from the main body, they need to rethink what's going on.

Of course, Archbishop Gregory has a lot of times been in the Middle East and was part of the underground Russian Orthodox Church that was basically taken over by the Soviet government several years ago. I guess the Russian catacomb church has several hundred parishes in Russia. The truth will win out and someday we can all be one body.

Also, Father Gregory had some of his family members murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in Lebanon when he was a kid. So he's been there, done that.

I actually am looking forward to being baptized into the Orthodox Church. I guess it will take place in Buena Vista at the Monastery. No time set yet, but I'm going to be fairly insistent on it. I want to be able to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and I want to be part of the Church. I KNOW I have finally found my home. Praise God.

I've always thought I would like to teach kids that around 8-15 or so. I seem to really relate with them and it would be a great feeling to be able to point the young in the right direction.

I have told many of my friends about my search into Orthodoxy and they are listening. I will do everything I can to share with people what I have experienced. I've had a long, difficult search through about every church there is, and now I can say it was all worth it. I can talk to people from many different religions and I know their theology so I know how to approach them -- and I will. The Orthodox church is too precious to be kept hidden. The West hardly knows anything at all, just like I didn't. Then, being exposed to the early fathers and the theology of the Eastern Church it finally all makes sense.

Sorry if I'm getting excited about all this. I think it is a disease of the convert. But, call it what you will, I LOVE IT!!
I didn't find out until to late, but the new church in Colorado Springs had there first service today. I talked to Father Dionysi of St. Basil of Kineshma Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church in America awhile ago. He called me after getting my e-mail and we talked for about two hours. I'm going to his place tomorrow (Monday) and we are going to get acquainted face to face. He's been through a lot himself. He's married and has 5 kids. I think he converted from the Eastern Catholic Church. He has Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal and Vladimir staying with him for the next week. The Metropolitan is recovering from some serious surgery that he had done at a hospital here in Colorado Springs. I will be meeting him tomorrow also. Now, there is a person that has REALLY been through it. Prison in the Soviet Union and tons of other persecutions. What a man of God. I'll give you the website of my local church (boy that has a nice ring to it):
http://www.russianorthodox-roac.com/index.html

I do have to say that I had so many really good friends at the Lutheran Church I was a member of, including the Pastor. I really hated to just up and leave them, but I had to follow where I believe the ABSOLUTE TRUTH is. My Pastor called the other day and asked how I was doing and I told him great and that I would send him an essay I came across on the internet about the difference between the Eastern and Western churches. I asked him to give me his comments on it. That was two weeks ago and I haven't heard a word. The essay was is called: THE RIVER OF FIRE by Alexandre Kalomiros. What a terrific document. I'm sure you have heard of it before. If not, here is a great, great essay; also a couple of Orthodox websites that I have found very helpful in my research:
http://www.orthodoxpress.org/parish/river_of_fire.htm
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/new.aspx
http://stjrussianorthodox.com/stjrusorthodoxy.htm.

Ok, sorry, I didn't mean to get so long-winded. I'm gaining a lot of new brothers and sisters in Christ.
Don (THOMAS) in Colorado Springs, CO