Odyssey To Orthodoxy
by Frs. Peter Gillquist and Gordon Thomas Walker
By the summer of 1966, our bubble was starting to burst. As staff members of Campus Crusade for Christ (headquartered at Arrowhead Springs in California) and men in key roles of leadership, we were intent on bringing America’s college students to faith in Christ. And we were further committed to Christ’s Great Commission: bringing the Gospel to the whole world. But that summer, we realized we would have to change our strategy. For we had become convinced from the Scriptures that the Church was the means to fulfilling that Great Commission.
The question was, of course, what is the Church?
By 1968, our National Field Coordinator — Jon Braun, Canadian Director — Ken Berven, African Director — Gordon Walker, Asian Director — Ray Nethery, Regional Directors — Richard Ballew and Peter Gillquist — and a host of others — resigned from Campus Crusade to pursue evangelism through the Church.
We did not want to build and maintain another new organization, at least not right away. Most of us struck out on our own, building house-churches in different parts of the country fashioned after what we saw as the New Testament model. We kept in touch with each other and exchanged ideas and encouragement from our successes and failures. Many of us had taken outside jobs to support ourselves and our families.
By 1973 all of us were expressing a desire to labor more closely together again. Working on our own was frustrating, and we sensed a need for mutual support and accountability. Consequently we decided to meet together in Dallas, Texas in July, 1973. Out of that meeting of about 70 people came a group of men who continued to meet every three months for theological study and to seek the Lord’s guidance in the development of various works and churches which we had started since leaving the staff of Campus Crusade. After we had had about three of these quarterly meetings, the leadership of the group settled down to seven men, and ultimately Peter Gillquist was chosen to preside.
THE SEARCH FOR THE CHURCH
At our meeting in November of 1973, the Church question emerged again. We wanted to express the New Testament Church.
“But everybody’s the New Testament Church,”
complained Jack Sparks, one of us who had left the Crusade staff.
“The Catholics say they are, the Baptists say they are, the Church of Christ says they are. Who’s right?”
Our background as evangelical Protestants meant that we somewhat knew our way backward to the Protestant Reformation, and that we knew our way forward to A.D. 95, the end of the New Testament era.
“My feeling is that we need to start right at the end of the New Testament and find out precisely where the New Testament Church went,” Sparks insisted.
Ultimately we decided to approach our studies methodically. Jon Braun would take Church history and look for continuity and polity. Jack Sparks would study early Church worship. Richard Ballew chose Christology.
“I’ll take the Bible and check out everything you brothers find with the Scriptures,”
said Gordon Walker a bit skeptically. We agreed we would plod through, century by century, at least through the Reformation, to find how and where the New Testament faith was or was not maintained in the Church. Every one of these quarterly meetings was electrifying. At each one new insights would come — we felt from the Holy Spirit. And they all ultimately directed us more and more toward the Orthodox faith, though in the early days we would have recoiled in shock had we known this was happening.
There was one other crucial element to the story. We had told our people, first, that we as a body of Churches would land somewhere in the historic Christian faith; we would not be forever independent. The world did not need yet another denomination. Secondly, we agreed on the front end that we would study the ancient truths that were universally believed and practiced; if they differed from what we held, yet squared with the Scriptures — we would change.
Here we were: anti-established Church, anti-liturgical, anti-sacramental, congregational in polity. We represented people who ranged from hyper-dispensationalists to signs and wonders charismatics, reading publications as diverse as Ramparts and the Jesus People Survival Guide. With all this, we were making ourselves open and vulnerable to the Fathers and Councils of the early Church!
In the early ’70’s, we experienced what some of us believed to be a supernatural word from God which defined our vision and calling for us. A passage which we believe the Holy Spirit directed us to consider in our quarterly meeting in May of 1974 helped us to understand our direction. It was centered in Isaiah 58:12:
“Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restored of Streets to Dwell In.” (NKJV)
We interpreted this passage to confirm what we sensed was an apostolic calling to go back to the Ancient Church for the patterns of the Churches we were planting. At this juncture we called ourselves the New Covenant Apostolic Order.
As we progressed along our journey, we saw the “foundations of many generations” to be the Biblical foundations of the Christian faith as interpreted through the ancient Creeds and conciliar formulations of the Orthodox Church. We became convinced that of all the expressions of Christendom, Orthodoxy had most faithfully preserved the foundations of the City of God. But through the centuries heretics, like bandits and marauders, had ravaged and pillaged the City — the Church. Thus it is no longer safe for the people of God to walk the streets unprotected by a shepherd. There are still wolves and demonic beasts and zealous, though benighted, men seeking to proselytize and divide and destroy the flock of God.
We believe God supernaturally called us to give our lives and talents to
“build the old waste places; … and raise up the foundations of many generations”.
We would count ourselves greatly blessed if it could be said of us
“you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to dwell in.”
As already stated, every three months we dutifully met together to share what we had discovered from our study in the interim. Massive changes were made necessary as our understanding grew. We found that from the start the Church of Christ and His Apostles was liturgical and sacramental, with a clearly-defined laity, governed by bishops, presbyters, deacons. We discovered Bishop Ignatius of Antioch overseeing Saint Paul’s “home Church” well before the close of the New Testament years. Here was Saint Justin Martyr sketching the shape of the liturgy of the Church and its biblical basis in the liturgy of the Tabernacle and later the Synagogue. All this was far from what we had assumed were the facts. We had to eat a lot of crow — banquets of it!
Along the way, several others joined with the NCAO — some from well beyond Campus Crusade ranks. These included Harold Dunaway of Alaska, Melvin Gimmaka and Joseph Copeland of Washington State, Timothy McCoy of Nevada, Weldon Hardenbrook of Northern California, Wayne Wilson of Orange County, California, Dale Autrey of Jackson, Mississippi, and Frederick Rogers of Gary, Indiana. Besides these there were a number of others under the leadership of Kenneth Jensen of Indianapolis, Indiana who made significant contributions to our development and understanding of Orthodoxy, but decided not to enter canonical Orthodoxy with us.
As we continued to study and debate (and did we debate!), we got to St. Athanasius and the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. If anyone could be credited with our conversion to Orthodoxy, it would have to be St. Athanasius and St. Ignatius. These men have become great heroes of ours along with many others of the ancient Church.
As a result of studying the life of St. Athanasius and the Council, our Christology was wonderfully sharpened. We discovered not just Nicea, but a total of seven Ecumenical Councils all dealing with the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Navigating through the first six took a mammoth amount of concentration and study. We were basically fine-tuning our Athanasius with an accompanying dramatic impact on our faith and practice.
But this did not come without many struggles. As we taught these things to our people, some reacted quite strongly and were convinced we were headed in the wrong direction. Thus, quite a number left us and have since become outspoken critics. But our commitment to our growing understanding of Orthodoxy and to the catholicity of the Church drove us to continue on, no matter what the cost.
THE E.O.C. IS BORN
By February of 1979 we had grown into a very close-knit and highly committed body of workers and churches. We knew that the Lord was leading us to take another step toward unity with Orthodox bodies in the United States, and we felt that the best way to do that was to declare ourselves to be a denomination or jurisdiction of Orthodox Churches.
In doing this, we did a very uncanonical thing — though we were not aware of how uncanonical it was at the time. We were already teaching our people about and functioning as bishops on the Ignatian model in our churches. Because of this, the six of us who originated the movement (Ray Nethery, one of the original seven, dropped out in 1978) secured a liturgy for the consecration of Bishops, formed a circle and consecrated one another. Then we went to our first official council and consecrated thirteen other men. That day, February 15,1979, the Evangelical Orthodox Church was officially born.
As the EOC entered into Orthodox theology and worship, the Eucharist became the center of our life in Christ. By it we began to feel that we entered into the heavenly Holy of Holies week by week. Previously our emphasis had been primarily on mission and service. It’s not that we abandoned those two very important aspects of Church life — we now see them coming more and more into focus — but we placed our emphasis on a more correct and complete worship.
THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF THEOLOGICAL AND LITURGICAL CHANGE
For those of us who came from a background of emphasis on mission and service, it has been a great change to make worship the center of our lives. From our past the very word “Eucharist” evoked images of a dead Church bound by dead tradition and a theology of salvation by works instead of grace. We had no concept of grace actually flowing through the physical means of Baptism or the Eucharist. In fact, most of us were anti-sacramental, being certain that those who believed in sacramental theology denied the grace of God and Holy Scripture.
Not realizing it, we had held a very cerebral and rationalistic view of faith and grace. We perceived that primarily through the preaching of the Word of God (the Bible) God’s grace was somehow beamed into our hearts and lives. Thus, our soteriology — doctrine of salvation — had depended largely on a person’s ability to read, or listen, and understand. If he didn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand and believe then his only hope (which we believed was assured) was that God’s grace covered him anyway.
We believed that to be saved each Christian had to have a private conversion experience. We further believed that one should not be baptized until he could bear clear testimony to such an experience. In fact, most of us held the Zwinglian view that if one had not had such an experience, then any baptism prior to it was invalid.
Thus, infant baptism was held to be invalid. One must wait until he reached “the age of accountability” (a totally non-Biblical term) to be saved.
We sincerely believed our views conformed to Holy Scripture which is why early in our odyssey we held no place in our thinking for Tradition, Creeds, or Councils. All these we believed to be dangerous additions to the pure and simple faith of the Bible.
To anyone who is remotely familiar with Orthodoxy, it should be readily apparent what a tremendous trauma was in store for us once we began this odyssey. After seeing in the writings of Ignatius (A.D. 67-107) that the Apostles appointed bishops in every place and realizing that congregational polity was not indeed the Biblical polity, our theological dominoes began to fall.
Early on we had to face the reality that Ignatius and all the earliest Post-Apostolic writers held to a clearly sacramental and not a symbolic view of what we had called “ordinances”, but which the ancient Church called sacraments. The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin equivalent of the Greek word “mysterion” from whence we derive “mystery”.
Our studies of the New Testament and all of the early Christian writings forced us to see what the truly Biblical view was, that in a mystery, grace is actually conferred in the sacraments. Now those verses that we had never underlined began to make sense! And a whole new world of grace began to open to us. Instead of losing grace, we began to discover new dimensions of it. And furthermore, we found clearly that the ancients had developed a healthy synergism between grace and works instead of the unhealthy post-reformation dichotomy between the two.
IS LITURGY BIBLICAL?
Then came liturgy! Surely it didn’t matter what order of worship one followed as long as he believed the right things — or did it? The more we studied the more we realized that the worship of the ancient Church was structured on two Jewish institutions, not just one as we had previously held. The Synaxis of public worship (Liturgy of the Catechumens) was modeled upon the Synagogue worship, but the Eucharistic Liturgy (Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper) was modeled after the Temple worship.
Our studies brought us to see that there was liturgy in worship from the very beginning of church life. Then we saw it in the New Testament.
In Acts 13:2 we find
“as they ministered to the Lord and fasted . . .”,
the word “ministered” is “leitourgounton“. The root of this word is the one from which our word “liturgy” comes. It literally means “work of the people” but from the beginning has referred to the worship of the Church — especially that worship centered around the Eucharist or Holy Communion.
Then in Acts 3:1 and 10:9 we found the Apostles Peter and John observing the Jewish hours of prayer. These were liturgical prayers prayed at the same hour each day, and had come from ancient Jewish practice. To this day the Orthodox Church uses basically the same Scriptures and prayers except with Christian adoption and meanings included. Once we began to pray and worship liturgically we found a whole new dimension to the Christian life. There is something tremendously comforting and enriching when one regularly uses prayers and worship that have been used by the faithful in some instances for over 3,000 years!
We found that liturgy isn’t dead; it’s people who are “dead” or “alive” to the Lord.
With such developments some of our people began to complain of “Future Shock”. We had moved from free-wheeling spontaneity to liturgy and sacrament in our worship in the space of a couple of years. The ancient liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom slowly but surely found a new home in our midst.
WHAT ABOUT VESTMENTS?
Along with the issue of liturgy came the question of vestments. Though we were well aware vestments were used under the Old Covenant, and robes of white adorn the saints of heaven as told in Revelation, we were accustomed to clergy in the ordinary street wear of the laity. Now, however, we learned as the Church matured in the early centuries of Her history, Her clergy made use of vestments both to demonstrate the other-worldliness of God’s anointed and to underscore their role as part of the visible government of God. So we moved to clerical garb. But for some of us this was a very humbling experience as we had often spoken out against vestments in the past. However, our attitude came to be: if we’re going to be ministers of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, we had best dress as ordained servants dress.
WHY THE CREEDS?
A careful study of the early Church history revealed the essential role played by the Creeds. We first observed that there are several obviously creedal passages in the New Testament. Two obvious ones are as follows:
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory,” (I Timothy 3:16)
Another passage reads:
“Therefore He says: `Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light,”‘ (Ephesians 5:14.).
These passages (and a number of others as well) were probably used in the early worship liturgy of the Church. Then as heresies continued to increase and plague the Church, the need grew especially for succinct Christological Creeds. Most likely the Apostles’ Creed was prepared by the Apostles, and it set the pattern for the later and essential Nicene Creed.
After all, only a few people had portions of Scripture, and furthermore those who had direct access to Scripture needed a proper hermeneutical standard by which to interpret Scripture. The Creeds have always served to provide that standard. The modern rationalistic idea that anyone and everyone is qualified to interpret Scripture was never a part of the Faith of the Ancient Church. Today we have every kind of sect and denomination in the world claiming the New Testament for their authority. But many reject the ancient creeds of the Church.
Those who claim to have no creed but the Bible are less than honest. They inevitably look to a teacher or certain books or to the founders of their church to provide the principles by which they will interpret Scripture. Why not stick with those standards which were formulated by holy men of old and which have stood the test of time?
THE GREATEST OF OUR STRUGGLES
Perhaps our greatest struggles came in the area of the use of icons and the Orthodox doctrines concerning Mary. Concerning the icons, we had been certain they represented serious violations of the commandment “Thou shalt make no graven images …” Was there not a danger of worshipping idols? Some of us came from such iconoclastic backgrounds that we wouldn’t even allow a cross to be worn or used in worship.
What we failed to see was the radical difference the Incarnation makes. Once God took on humanity then it became possible, even essential, to use matter to depict the significance of that event. St. John of Damascus in his very readable treatise On the Divine Images excellently explains and defends the use of icons. With fear and trembling, we confessed with the Fathers that if God the Son could inhabit human flesh, He and His saints could be imaged. Starting at first with small icons in our Churches, we soon came to boldly display our Lord and His faithful ones. After we began using icons in our worship services, we needed no further defense. They have been a phenomenal aid to realizing we worship in the presence of the saints and heavenly hosts.
And as for the danger of worshipping the images, they are no more mistaken for the ones they picture than a man may mistake the pictures in his wallet for his wife and other loved ones. He may kiss the picture of his wife if he is lonely, but that is a far cry from kissing her. The Church has long taught the difference between venerating an icon and worshipping the Holy Trinity. Veneration is comprised of honor, or devotion, to the person depicted by the icon.
St. John the Damascene points out that the devotion expressed before the icon passes on to the prototype (the one pictured in the icon). Worship is reserved for the Holy Trinity alone. worship certainly includes devotion and honor but also includes bowing before and submitting to the sovereign authority of the Holy Trinity. But rather than debate the issue, the best argument is to experience the blessings the icons can be when they are properly used.
Icons add depth and dimension to the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints. This has been perhaps one of the most blessed and comforting of Orthodox doctrines for us. Slowly we have come to really experience the presence of the saints in our worship service and in certain instances of daily life. We believe wholeheartedly that their prayers are powerful before God’s throne of grace. And now that they are enjoying His presence in a more full and direct way than when they lived on earth, it stands to reason that their prayers are more effectual than ever!
A number of months ago Father Richard Ballew was called by Father Joseph Copeland to come and help him with a particularly difficult problem with his people adjusting to liturgy. As Father Richard flew from Santa Barbara, California, to Yakima, Washington, he was overwhelmed with the sense that our dear friend, the departed Father Alexander Schmemann, was praying for him and that situation. Upon arriving at the airport, Father Copeland immediately reassured Father Richard, saying
“I’m no longer worried about the outcome of this problem. I’ve had the strongest sense that Father Alexander is praying for us!”
Talk about goosebumps!
This is a whole new realm for us. A few years ago we would have taken a skeptical, faithless approach toward the subject. Now we take great comfort and joy in it.
DO WE WORSHIP MARY?
Regarding Mary, we wanted to carefully avoid worshipping her or elevating her to the level of the Holy Trinity. We all had previously feared that was the case for those who honor Mary. But true Orthodox veneration of Mary is grounded in Scripture. Remember the declaration of Elizabeth,
“But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43 NKJV).
Indeed, the babe in Mary’s womb was God from the moment of His conception. There never was a time when He wasn’t God. And in order to be our Savior, it was absolutely essential chat the Second Person of the Godhead take upon Himself true humanity.
Thus, Mary is rightly called “Theotokos” or “God-bearer”. She was the mother of God. He joined Himself to her, humanity for our sakes!
And just imagine the effects of having such an intimate relationship with the Son of God! It isn’t possible to have God living within you as Mary did without it changing you forever. The Church has held from earliest times that Mary was fully sanctified (deified) as a result of this relationship with Jesus.
Furthermore, she became the perfect example of what all Christians should be and do — one who completely and willingly receives Christ in both His natures, Divine and human. We are all called upon to emulate the Holy Virgin by coming in complete humility and obedience to Christ, receiving Him by faith into our hearts and lives.
This is what Orthodox Christians believe takes place in Baptism and the Eucharist. In Baptism we ace joined into union with Christ. In the Eucharist we are nourished every cell of our bodies and every part of our souls and spirits — by eating of His Body and Blood. We partake of His life in faith week by week as He Himself instructed us to in John 6:32-58. And without this sacrament we cannot effectively and consistently abide in Christ as every sincere Christian eagerly desires to do. Jesus declared:
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (Also in this context please see John 15: 1-12.)
Now back again to Mary — by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Mary herself declared,
“Behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” (Luke 1:48).
As we studied why the Ancient Church placed such a great emphasis on Mary it dawned on us that we had not faithfully “called her blessed.” Rather, because of our anti-Catholic bias and because of our reaction to what we perceived to be an improper worship of Mary, we had argued against venerating her and calling her blessed. At the time we didn’t see that the Church was saying that what Mary has become by sanctification/deification we all have the privilege of becoming.
We too should aspire to the holy standing which the Church declares the beloved Virgin has achieved; “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim.” As Hebrews, chapter two indicates, we human beings presently occupy a place lower than the angels, but one day, through our union with Christ we shall be exalted far above them. The Church holds that beloved Mary has already achieved chat exalted state.
A LIFE CHANGING CHOICE
Our journey through Church history had now brought us to an eleventh century crisis, and we were faced with a choice we hated to make. By 1054, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church had reached an impasse. The East went east and remained the Orthodox Church, and the West went west as today’s Roman Catholic Church and ultimately the countless varieties of Protestantism. We were forced to make a decision.
The issues that split the Church were fundamentally two. The disagreement between East and West focused first on the papacy. Anciently, the Church had seen the ministry of the apostles continuing on in the office of bishop. Even the Twelve had said concerning Judas,
“Let his bishopric another take” (Acts 1:20).
Peter was viewed as first among equals in the Twelve. As the years passed there came to be bishops over bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs — a sign of healthy growth — with care taken to preserve the first-among equals principle. Soon five patriarchates emerged in five important cities of the world: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. While granting the Roman bishop primacy of honor among the five, the four patriarchs of the Eastern Church rejected Rome’s eventual claim of universal supremacy: a bishopric over all of Christendom.
The second long-range disagreement centered in a late addition to the Nicene Creed in the West. The original Creed had read,
“I believe. . . in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father… ” This confession was consistent with the teaching of Christ in the New Testament, “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father … (John 15:26, italics mine).
A Spanish council in the 6th century changed the Creed to read, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son ” (Latin: filioque), and the alteration was gradually adopted in the West. By the eleventh century, these two impasses added to other problems to cause a permanent breach.
We studied the issues through in both the Scriptures and in history and faced up to the overwhelming evidence. The East was correct on both counts. It was they who maintained the apostolic faith.
THE ORTHODOX : GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Up until this time, we had no contact at all with the Orthodox Church. We had come to Orthodox Christianity “out of the books.” In 1977, a relationship with the contemporary Church was begun. This happened through a most amazing set of Divine circumstances.
On February 8th, 1977, Fr. Jack Sparks instructed his young assistant, Marc Dunaway (now Fr. Marc Dunaway of Alaska) to mail 3 papers Fr. Jack had written on Orthodoxy to a St. Vladimir’s seminarian, informing him that the papers were still in a rough form and not ready for publication. But since the young seminarian had known Fr. Jack since he was a high school student, and the seminarian had even attended Bible studies led by Fr. Jack as both a high school and college student, he felt the liberty to go ahead and share the papers with Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
Fr. Schmemann was so impressed that he shared with Fr. Meyendorff and others at the Seminary. He then called Bp. Dimitri, who was in charge of missionary outreach for the OCA, and urged him to send someone to Santa Barbara to meet Fr. Jack and the others of our leadership who lived in Santa Barbara. Bp. Dimitri then called Fr. Thaddeus Wojcik, OCA pastor in Tarzanna, a suburb of Los Angeles, requesting him to follow up on this matter.
It was early fall of 1977 when Fr. Wojcik was finally able to make the trip to Santa Barbara. This was our first time to actually meet an Orthodox clergyman. This resulted in further dialog with the clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church in America, with roots in the historic Russian Orthodox Church.
Incidentally, the “young seminarian” mentioned above was Karl Bartke, later to become Fr. John Bartke, pastor of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Van Nuys, CA. It was in his Church on February 8, 1987 (exactly 10 years after the 3 papers were mailed) that the first 400 of our people were chrismated and approximately 40 deacons ordained.
To continue with the chronology, in 1981, we were invited to dialog with the faculty at Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, which introduced us more fully to the faithful of the Greek Orthodox Church. There was opportunity to meet with both clergy and laity of other Orthodox jurisdictions as well, including the Serbians, Carpatho-Russians, and Antiochians.
Because of the number of Orthodox jurisdictions in America, we decided in Synod in June 1984 to initially pursue the Church through the Patriarchate of Constantinople. If that door was not open, we would continue to look until we found a doom that was open.
At our January 1985 Synod we agreed the time was right to present ourselves to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople the following June, and the representatives appointed by the Greek Archdiocese to dialog with us agreed to that decision. The trip the following summed by nearly our entire Synod was a highlight of our lives, providing an incredible opportunity to visit three centers of ancient Christianity: Constantinople, Athens, and Thessoloniki. But the trip failed to provide the concrete spiritual direction and support we had looked for.
We returned home in time for a delegation of our Synod to meet with the Patriarch of Antioch, IGNATIUS IV, who was in North America on a pastoral visit. This had been arranged by Fr. Bartke before we traveled to Istanbul. Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba, primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in North America, had accompanied him to Los Angeles. Originally, the meeting had been scheduled as an informal visit to give us the privilege of meeting these two Christian hierarchs. But with our pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate two weeks earlier coming up short, could this be the Holy Spirit opening the door we had looked for?
Out of an extremely cordial and inspiring meeting with the Patriarch and the Metropolitan came their request for a complete profile report on the EOC, and an offer to help us in any way possible. The report was sent in September 1985, and other contacts were expanded or established between ourselves and Antiochian Churches in the weeks that followed. In January 1986, the EOC Synod drafted a proposal to Metropolitan PHILIP outlining our desire to be considered for entrance into the Orthodox Church through his Archdiocese.
At a meeting between Peter Gillquist and the Metropolitan in March of 1986, we emerged with some proposed guidelines for the possible reception of the EOC into the Antiochian Church. We suggested these details be fully discussed at a meeting between the Metropolitan and the Holy Synod of the EOC. That meeting was held on September 5 and 6,1986, at the Antiochian headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey. On September 8, in a meeting of the EOC Synod, the decision was made to say yes to the Metropolitan’s invitation.
We would enter the canonical Orthodox Church in and through the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
ENTERING THE GATES
We were brought into the Orthodox Church parish by parish, person by person, beginning on February 8, 1987 as previously stated. All of us were chrismated, that is, received by the anointing with holy chrism (oil) as a sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our clergy were ordained — deacons to the deaconate, bishops and presbyters to the priesthood in some of the most spiritually and emotionally moving services of our lifetimes.
Our desire is to serve the Church through the preaching of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the building of new mission Churches across the country, communicating the Orthodox faith on our nation’s campuses, through literature, and through education. We have been designated by Metropolitan PHILIP as the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission (AEOM). Our desire is to make North America Orthodox!
However, to make North America Orthodox we must learn how to capture the minds and hearts of a great host of her people. We have found that a growing number of Evangelical pastors are beginning to give serious attention to Orthodoxy. But this is a new phenomenon and presently is limited to only those who are more prone to a studious and serious study of the Church’s early history. It is essential that we get beyond this circle and make Orthodox theology the topic of discussion among the common people as was once the case. Church historians tell us there was a time when the nuances of the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ were discussed in the market place. We are dedicated to making this happen again if God so wills!
In terms of sheer numbers, what we’ve done isn’t that substantial. Some of you pastors have more members in your local parish than we had in all of the EOC combined. Perhaps the thing that makes our conversion to Orthodoxy significant is that we represent a thoroughly pluralistic, heterodox, entirely Americanized body of people. In other words, if we can become Orthodox, then anyone in North America can!
Also, we come from a particularly, evangelistic background — which means we know well the arguments on the heterodox side of the fence. If somehow we can devise succinct answers to the questions non-Orthodox have and then work our acceptable ways to proclaim those answers, we represent a strong force for Orthodox evangelization. And we know there are many, others just like us who if given the time and persuasion will join the Orthodox ranks just as we have
We feel there are some things crucial to the evangelization of non-Orthodox Christians and to prevent our own Orthodox people from being proselytized by the Protestant sects and para-Church groups. One of these things is to teach our people to understand the terms and methods of witnessing which those other groups seem to use so effectively. The following are examples of these terms along with brief answers that Orthodox people need to know when confronted with them.
1. “Have you been born again?” The simple answer to this question is “Yes!” All Orthodox Christians who have been properly baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity have been born again. It may well be that they need to renew their love for and commitment to Christ. Or if they are lapsed Orthodox, they may need a conversion experience. Most Christians need to experience a number of “conversions” in their lifetimes. I am using the word “conversion” somewhat like “repentance”. In fact, conversion is the turn about that should follow any deeply felt repentance.
Most Evangelicals use the terms “Have you been born again?”, “Have you been saved?”, and “Have you been converted?” in a synonymous manner. Obviously this is not a precise use of terms. But properly understood and used, all of them are Biblical terms that can be meaningful to Orthodox Christians.
2. “Have you accepted Christ?” Again the answer is “Yes!” We accept Him or receive Him every time we receive the Holy Eucharist. It may be that some Orthodox Christians need to rededicate their hearts and lives to Christ. Or they may need to become more lovingly aware of the presence of Christ as they receive His Body and Blood. But they have “received Christ”.
3. “Have you made your decision for Christ?” This gets into a more ambiguous and subjective type of question that is sometimes used by Evangelicals. If you’re talking to a lapsed Orthodox, perhaps you do need to confront him with the need to make a fresh “decision to follow Christ”, but we know our Christian lives are continuous walks, not a one-time decision.
4. “Church membership and baptism aren’t really, important. Accepting Christ is what’s important.” Often Evangelists will make a statement like this. If so, they need to be lovingly but firmly informed that they are dead wrong. A proper view of the Church teaches that our baptism into Christ (in the name of the Holy Trinity) makes us members of His Body the Church. It’s not possible to be saved without this taking place. It is wrong and un-Biblical to separate personal salvation from baptism and Church membership.
5. “Come to our revival (renewal) meetings. You will really be blessed and helped.” Often an Orthodox could be helped. But what some Evangelicals are interested in is proselytizing the Orthodox. To win Orthodox and Catholics is viewed as being super special in some Evangelical circles. Our answer should be to start having our own renewal or “revival” meetings. They, can be planned around special feasts and holy seasons, bur should definitely focus on St. John Chrysostom-type Biblical preaching and not liturgy alone.
Much more could and should be said along these lines, but it is time to bring this paper to a close. Obviously the theological milestones which we have passed have been revolutionary for us. We are aware that for many in the Evangelical world, this does not represent progress but devolution. Our only reply is that once one has tasted these blessed truths and the comfort they bring, he loses his fear of them and begins to see why so many have fought and died for them throughout Church history.
So ends a journey of some 15 years. We have been borne along by the Holy Spirit from being a scattered, independent people to becoming a part of the visible people of God. We are beginning a journey of living out the rest of our lives in peace and repentance, and encouraging as many others as we can to join with us in doing so within the family and friends of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.