By Athanasius Yoo, M.D., B.D.
My long pilgrimage to the Mother Church has been completed. As I think back over the long road of this pilgrimage, I become filled with deep emotion. For by the grace of God, I, a stray sheep, have found the lovely bosom of the Good Shepherd, the true body of Christ, – the One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Therefore, it is my conviction that my humble retrospections should in nowise come to naught to those who are outside of the true Church of Christ.
I am a Korean and a medical doctor by profession. My father was an Elder of the Presbyterian Church in Korea and my mother a very devout deaconess of same. Consequently I was brought up in an unusually religious atmosphere.
My mother hoped that I would become a minister of the Presbyterian Church. But I had no interest in that profession because the example of the Protestant ministers at that time was much too superficial and did not impress me as being Christian at all. And so I entered medicine instead, finished medical school and began practicing in Seoul, Korea. I continued my medical practice until the unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire. The fall of Japanese imperialism, and the subsequent independence of Korea, impressed me greatly with the frailty of life and of the world.
After a period of sincere prayer and meditation, I decided to dedicate myself to the ministry. I entered the Presbyterian Theological School in Seoul, Korea … with deep conviction and fervent faith for my newly chosen profession. Soon after, however, I was confronted with the malignant teaching of higher biblical criticism and of rationalistic modernistic doctrine. The evil shadow of Harnack and Deissmann, the poisonous sabotage of the Tubingen School, the narcotic abomination of Schleichermacher and Rutschul dominated the School. The revival of twentieth century Arianism and Nestorianism was promoted and the so-called “social Gospel” emphasized. Moreover, the Second Coming of Christ and the doctrine of everlasting life were counted as convictions of the ignorant. Had I not entered this Theological School, I probably would have kept my peace of mind. But once I had learned the false theology of this school, I lost my peace of mind. Indeed, I found it impossible to accept these heretical Protestant teachings without going against my conscience and good faith.
As a result, I began to look for more conservative Protestant teachings in order to find consolation . . . but I could not find any. With deep unrest and despair, I began reading some Roman Catholic theological books and my interest in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the Virginity of the Virgin Mary, the Apostolic Succession, and Transubstantiation, was greatly aroused. However, because of the lack of books, my reading in Roman Catholic doctrine was limited. In the meantime, I continued my theological studies at the Presbyterian seminary and after my graduation from there was advised to be ordained. But I refused ordination because I now felt that the ministry of the Protestant Church lacked Apostolic Succession and was therefore null and void.
After much thought and hesitation, I finally became a Roman Catholic in 1950. Up until this time I had no contact whatsoever with the Orthodox Church.
Upon studying Roman Catholic doctrine, however, I found many false teachings in it also. Those that bothered me especially were the following:
1. The withdrawal of the cup from the laity during Communion.
2. The Doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope.
3. The Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
4. The Doctrine of Purgatory.
5. The Doctrine of Indulgences.
6. The universal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome.
7. The exclusive Latinity in the Mass and in other services.
If I refused to accept the above doctrines, I would be under anathema. And so I remained in a state of confusion. In order to resolve the problems I had about the Roman doctrine, I began studying the writings of the Church Fathers. These along with scholastic theology, I read for a long time. My conclusion from all these studies was that the Roman Catholic Church, too, had gone astray as had the Protestant. In doubt, despair, and agony, I decided to go to the United States in order to escape my doctrinal troubles. I arrived in the United States in 1955.
In the United States, I studied advanced medical science and also continued my theological studies. For the first time I was given the opportunity to read into Eastern Orthodox theology. Up until this time I had had no contact with Orthodox Christians or with any Orthodox Church. Thanks be to God, however, for He led me by His Holy Spirit to the primitive, conservative, and most pure and virgin faith of Christianity! For I discovered that in the Orthodox Church, Christianity with all its richness and essence was to be found. In the bosom of the Orthodox Church, my despaired soul found a resting place, a heavenly harbor! With great joy and hope, I decided to become an Orthodox Christian about a year ago. At first I hesitated to make a hasty decision for fear of disgracing myself by frequent changes of denominations. But gradually I became convinced of the validity of Orthodoxy.
By the Grace of God, I was convinced that I must serve Him through the priesthood of the Orthodox Church. And so I began following the way of the Cross, willing to sacrifice anything. Through the kindness of His Eminence, Archbishop Michael and His Grace, Bishop Athenagoras of Elaia, I was given permission to study Orthodox theology at the Holy Cross Orthodox Theological School in Brookline, Massachusetts, in preparation for the priesthood. My desire is to return to Korea as a medical-priest missionary after my ordination into the Orthodox Church, and join the Orthodox mission which already exists in Seoul, Korea.
I’ve been reading a lot more about Orthodoxy lately. I have been studying the Church fathers more, and I recently realized the Eastern Orthodox church was not just another kind of Roman Catholic. I’ve become really fascinated by the Eastern Orthodox theology, it seems to be less focused on legalism and original sin, and more focused on the triumph of Jesus over sin an death and the cooperative transformation of the Spirit in the life of the believer.
Ok, so I have a question pertaining to this article. I’m living in South Korea right now (I’m American, but just living here for a couple years). Where is the Orthodox church? There are SO MANY Christian churches here (and some cults too, eek), but there are only a couple Eastern Orthodox churches. Is evangelism just a slower process for EO than for protestant, has it stagnated, or is the Eastern Orthodox church just being ecumenical, and not concerned with putting churches in a country that is already largely western-style Christian?
I’ve never been to a Korean mega-church. I have made many friends here I think Korean culture is very outgoing, and therefore Koreans seem very comfortable evangelizing. I have also almost been run over several times by people who don’t obey red-lights and don’t use turn signals, and I have heard a lot about government corruption, so I have to admit to my friends who are enamored with Korea’s Christian growth, that it has not reached every aspect of life.
Maybe Korea will have an Orthodox “explosion” in the words of Father Gillquist, after the US does. Maybe Orthodoxy will have a new appeal to Koreans, who are looking for a deeper theology, and something more similar to their own cultural expressions (Buddhism and Confucianism have some similarities to theosis, icons, veneration of saints, which are not usually found in protestantism). I also heard there is an Orthodox church in the North, and I am just praying for the Kim family to have a radical repentance and conversion to Christianity, and stop torturing, killing, and starving their people.
What do you think about Christianity in Korea and specifically Orthodoxy in Korea?
Fr. John says
Orthodoxy in Korea has just celebrated its 110th year. Here are some important links for you:
Korean Orthodox Church
110 Years of Orthodoxy in Korea
Orthodox Christianity In Korea
Orthodox Churches in Korea
Korean Orthodox Mission of ROCOR
These should put you on the right path.
Personally, I’ve heard that the Korean Orthodox Church has a wonderful monastery and some terrific churches with many dedicated clergy and faithful. Let us know what you find out!
And tell them we sent you!
Thanks for answering so quickly! I’ll check out those sites. Sorry for being a little negative in my post. I’m just starting to get excited about Eastern Orthodoxy, and want to learn more. I’m a little discouraged that it’s not as popular here, like Roman Catholic and Protestant are, but of course popularity is not what it’s all about. I feel like most Koreans have never heard about Eastern Orthodox (like most Americans until recently) and are missing out.- they are getting to know Jesus in these other churches and I think that’s great, but maybe they can get to know Him better, and gain a deeper understanding of theology in the Orthodox Church. But, I guess I need to get on the train to Seoul and check it out myself 🙂