Ask most East Texans about the major divisions of Christianity and their response will probably mention only two of the three: Roman Catholics and Protestants.
The third branch of Christianity, Eastern Orthodox, is relatively unknown in most of the southern United States, but that’s beginning to change.
The Rev. John Mikita, pastor of St. John of Damascus Orthodox Church in Tyler, said his congregation has slowly but steadily increased since it began six years ago. It now contains about 55 members.
“While our members include some people — mainly immigrants — who were raised as Orthodox Christians, most are native East Texans who converted to this branch of Christianity because they found it met their needs and answered their questions,” Mikita said.
Mikita himself began his vocation as an Anglican priest in Pennsylvania. While in seminary, he began studying Eastern Orthodox Christianity and, shortly after he was ordained, decided it was the branch that most fully and faithfully followed the teachings of Christ.
“Orthodox Christians have a different world view than either Protestants or Catholics,” Mikita said. “It’s not just that they arrive at different answers, but that they ask different questions.”
Protestantism and Catholicism are both rooted in Western culture, he said. Orthodox Christianity, which is most common in Asia and eastern Europe, tends to take a more oriental, mystical approach toward faith.
“The Orthodox liturgy is very different than anything in the West, either Catholic or Protestant,” Mikita said. “It’s very ancient and really rooted in a living past and living present.”
Mikita said the Protestant reformation was a response to the excesses and abuses of the Roman Catholic Church of the late middle ages. He believes that if western Europeans of that era had had access to the teachings and practices of Orthodox Christianity, they might have chosen that direction rather than forming a third branch of Christianity. However at that point in history, there was little knowledge of Orthodox Christianity outside of Asia, north Africa and the far-eastern portions of Europe.
“Becoming an Orthodox Christian is not an easy thing to do,” Mikita said. “We want to make sure that people are making this decision with their heads, as well as their hearts.”
The process of being fully integrated into the Orthodox Church generally takes about two years, he said. Depending on what faith they previously practiced, it can cause problems with their families.
“My family was very supportive because, for me, it was almost returning full circle to the family’s original faith,” Mikita said. “My great-grandparents were Orthodox Christians, but my grandfather converted to Catholicism when he married a Roman Catholic.”
Mikita wears a full beard, which is traditional for Orthodox priests. Unlike Catholic priests, Orthodox priests can be married and he is; he and his wife, Christina, have two children. However, Orthodox bishops must be celibate and should Mikita’s wife die, he would not be allowed to remarry.
“A lot of people think I’m Jewish or Muslim,” Mikita said. “They’re often surprised when they realize the Christian world is much larger than they’ve ever been told.”
Eastern Orthodox Christians often come from a part of the world where they’re persecuted for their faith, but that has led to a strong internal cohesion in the Orthodox churches throughout the world, he said.
Harvey and Xenia Durham are Longview residents who are happy to have a relatively nearby Orthodox church to attend. Xenia Durham is a cradle Orthodox Christian, while her husband converted several years after they were married.
“Three of my four grandparents were immigrants and I was raised mostly on Air Force bases, where Orthodox Christianity wasn’t as rare as it is in East Texas,” she said.
Harvey Durham, who served for many years as the band director for Longview High School, said he was raised as a Baptist.
“It wasn’t a huge issue for my family when I became Orthodox,” Durham said. “I appreciate the Christian background and basic beliefs I learned growing up Baptist, but this branch of Christianity is the one I feel most comfortable with.”
Xenia Durham said the Orthodox services and foundational beliefs have not changed in the past 2,000 years.
“The church’s expectations don’t change to meet people’s desires,” she said. “I believe there is more substance in our religion and more fulfillment.”
A more recent convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity is Taylor Wingerd, an EMT with Good Shepherd Medical Center. He converted after his brother had done so; his brother had been introduced to Orthodoxy while traveling in Russia. The family mostly attended an Assembly of God church while the brothers were growing up.
“My parents are very devout, regular church goers, but they also encouraged us to ask questions and seek the truth,” Wingerd said. “In my teens, I began to visit other churches and felt like there had to be something out there that more fully met what I was looking for.”
When he was introduced to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Wingerd felt that he’d found a branch of the faith that could answer his questions and help him grow in faith.
“Orthodox Christianity is very traditional and really holy,” Wingerd said. “The goal is to grow in faith, connecting more fully with both God and others.”
Demetra Petrakis says
welcome to the Orthodox Church.
I was born and rise as Greek Orthodox.
I always find the spiritual life challenging and rewarding.
I love it. Now at 67 years old at last, I am able to study Theology.
I admire the Fathers of our church and I read their experience and try to learn them.
Orthodoxy is the faith frrom the heart.
God may be with you all.
V REV IGUMEN JOSEPH says
Generally, a very nice article except that, as Orthodox Christians, we do not believe nor teach the “Branch Theory” of the Church. There is ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH, that is the Orthodox Church. While heterodox, like Latins and the 30,000+ brands of Protestants, may have some greater or lesser understanding of Christianity and a desire to be part of it they lack the fullness which is in the Orthodox Church alone. To repeat, the “Branch Theory” of the Church is very popular among Anglicans, some Roman Catholics and Protestants, but it is a totally foreign concept to Holy Orthodoxy and a great heresy of modern ecumenism. According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, those who reject the Orthodox Faith are not simply of another equal and valid opinion but are anathema!
Fr. John says
Agreed. The author of this story is not aware of this.
Philip Pughe-Morgan says
Yes, I agree with Fr Igumen that we must be careful not to fall into the trap of describing the Church has having branches, there is only one Church, and all others have fallen into heterodoxy. However, this is not to say that they do not individually have some knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith, and it is our task to share with them the fullness of the faith that we find in Orthodoxy.
On a slightly different point, I notice that many Orthodox Christians in North America (as in many other parts of the world for that matter), emphasise the ‘Eastern’ aspect of Orthodoxy when contrasting with Catholicisim and Protestantism. I suppose this is understandable when the majority of Orthodox are members of churches which are of Greek or Russian descent. However, as members of ROCOR’s new western rite mission in the Bristish Isles, we see ourselves as the descendants of our forebears of the ancient Orthodox Church of these isles in the first millennium, before the west becaome subjected to the new centralist papal authority. On that basis, we are proud to describe ourselves as Orthodox and members of the Russian Church, but equally as ‘Western’ Orthodox in the sense that we are not by descent simply an offshoot of Eastern Orthodoxy.
I’m glad the Baptists are loosing members. The Baptist Church teaches very Anti-Orthodox Theology. They insult All the Saints, including the Blessed Theotkos (Virgin Mary), the Holy Mysteries, and the very Tradition of the Church. They claim that THEY and not US, are the original Faith (Which is not true) and that everyone not with them is against them. They glorify the Blessed Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptizer of Christ (John) more than the Great and All Holy Messiah, and they have the nerve to call us Pagans….
I hope that all People will one day find Christ through Orthodoxy (although sadly not all will, even the Church teaches that it will loose members during the end times) and that those that follow heretical and anathema religions will return to the One True Holy Catholic Apostolic Orthodox Church, the Faith founded by God himself and the Apostles.
Marilyn Allen says
I am new to this site and to all things Orthodox for that matter. Lots of new terminology spoken here and this is my first post. I have to open new tabs and search for meanings as I read. :o) Ex I never heard of “anathema”. That’s a pretty strong word. Constantine is a little harsh in the comments above referring to all non-Orthodox as being anathema. Plus VErY wrong on some comments regarding Baptists. Be careful what you say. If I hadn’t already read other articles that displayed more love and understanding, I would have stopped right here and not return. In my ignorant opinion, all true Christians are searching for the Truth (Orthodox or not). It isn’t by accident I have come across this site. For myself, I am a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives in me and I do not associate myself to any “denomination” or church. I have been part of several and found them lacking. I also realize I am in GREAT need for a church home and fellowship and TRUTH. I read one of the articles (I think by Ben?) on his progress towards Orthodox. Makes a lot of sense. Then the article today about “Christian Formation”. LOVED it.
Marilyn Allen says
I was very disappointed when lthe monitor chose not to post my prior entry. It was too reactive and not very explanatory is my guess. Perhaps I’ll be given another chance with this post. I can only speak to my own experiences as a one time “Baptist” and have family members who still are. I cannot even imagine a Baptist Christian insulting ” All the Saints, including the Blessed Theotkos (Virgin Mary), the Holy Mysteries, and the very Tradition of the Church” and the statements, “that everyone not with them is against them. They glorify the Blessed Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptizer of Christ (John) more than the Great and All Holy Messiah, and they have the nerve to call us Pagans….” is simply not true-none of it. Why would one Christian call another Christian a pagan? Do you? Would you call me a pagan just because I do not know the customs and terms used by Orthodox Christians, but yet I’ve believed on the Lord Jesus and have been baptized in the name of the Father The Son and the Holy Ghost? I hope not! So why would baptists in reverse? Maybe someone has to you and I am very sorry if that happened to you.
I do not call myself “Baptist” because I believe I am a Christian and do not need to be called by any other name. There are other reasons I do not go to a Baptist church or any church for that matter because they become so worldly. I desire to know more of my precious Lord and to be closer and more disciplined. That is what has brought me to this site in the first place.. Please forgive me for my ignorance if I have said something out of line.
Marilyn, Thank you for your comments. I was raised in a Baptist Church. My father was a Preacher/Missionary. I never heard him one time call the Orthodox pagans, or say any ill will against the Saints. As I begin my journey to Orthodoxy I am kind of awestruck by what some people say on these forums. I will take the advice of my priest and take it all with a grain of salt. If you want to experience Orthodoxy and you seek the truth, attend an Orthodox church. Other than that, don’t be surprised at what you may read.
could someone send me more info on Orthodox Catholics? I’m in the middle of nowhere (NE Missouri) & attend a TLM in Quincy Illinois.
I need a guide/counselor,someone to talk to re: this. thank u
Fr. John says
Jewkota, please contact us at frjohn (at) journeytoorthodoxy (dot) com or use the contact form. We’ll be in touch with you shortly!