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Comparative Theology - Journey from Protestantism

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Comparative Theology - Journey from Protestantism Transcription

 ANASTASIA:

… by marrying an Egyptian, they found that both of us had converted, and the big question is why? Why convert to something so much difficult than where you’re coming from.

 

THELO:

It is the "Kofta" (laughs). As Protestants we had hotdogs and barbecues, and we found Kofta!

We give a talk about our conversion, that normally runs about an hour forty-five, with the Powerpoint. Obviously what we are going to offer is completely insufficient, but when it is over, we will stay as long as you have questions, to answer them. We have no clock!

So, what we are going to do first, is to give a very brief synopsis, of how we ended up here, and I think especially with the Comparative Religion series starting, I think it is important, because we probably represent the majority of the people that you are going to encounter, that are religious seekers, that aren't Coptic already, they are going to be from the Evangelical Christian world, and that's where we came from.

 

I grew up in a very dysfunctional and poor area, and the Mormon church was able to step in and really help our family, so my mom entered into the Mormon church, where I was raised, and some years later, I left and I became an Atheist for a number of years, then I became an Evangelical Christian, and then became serving at a very large nationally televised church, where I run the seating for special events, and for the main service.

I am going to fast forward, I am going to skip a whole lot..., than I began a study of apologetics. I begun in real honest to look at defending our faith, and the best place I found to learn Apologetics, was back then, if you are older, you probably remember MySpace; they had Religion and Philosophy debate forums, and it was a hornet nest of brilliant atheists.

Virtually everyone I ever met, had been a former Evangelical Christian. Everyone of them.  So, if you want to know, "Where is the weakness in my belief system?", they will be more than happy to teach you. And they did! So, every time they would bring challenges, I would go research, I would come back, and respond, and this went on for a couple of years. I debated some other religions, to kind of see...

It was a tool for me, because it taught me what I needed to know about my own faith, by going to the most harsh critics, and it enabled me to find out, how consistent are other faiths with offering objective testable evidences with defending their beliefs, through observation, and how they do apply to reality as we see it, and at the same time, what they offer that is falsifiable in their claims.

 

If you notice, ninety nine of the people that you will meet, believe what they believe, because they like it. Honestly! You were all born into the Coptic church, and probably most of you have never really studied any criticism to your faith, from outsiders saying it may not be true, and you pretty much are walking in the cultural inheritance you have, and frankly, you have people in Egypt from the Muslim faith, that are doing the same thing. They are not questions theirs either, they just taking what they inherited.

Now, we believe, thank God, what you inherited is objectively true, and I believe we can offer a very compelling case for it, but most of people believe what they believe because it appeals to them.

 

We had come to discover, as Protestants, that, "If what I believe is based upon what appeals to me, what I am going to construct is ideally a "god" who looks exactly like I do! Because everything He likes is what I like!"

So, I felt that worshipping in front of a mirror, was not safe because, I am going to die one day. And when that day comes, how am I going to save myself, if I have been worshipping myself?

 

This was just a very fundamental tenant that I was applying, as a Protestant, in trying to be as objective as I could, in finding out what is true.

 

So, kind of fast forwarding, we studied Apologetics, and we begun teaching a college group. In this college group, we were meeting on Friday night, every week, in a discussion format. And when that would end, we would usually go to our places for three more hours, and college kids, six hours, every Friday, because we were engaging in talking, we were not standing and lecturing.

 

This led to one of the people asking, when did we get our Bible?

I mean, we as Protestants... When I say Protestants, understand that it is a way too broad a term to really describe anything meaningfully. Because, the difference between an Anglican and a non-denominational Evangelical is huge, so I am really overly generalizing, because I have to, for the sake of the discussion here, but it is very broad.

So, we are now teaching this group, you know, theology and apologetics, and he asks, "How did we get our Bible?" .

Well, being "Sola Scriptura", you know, Bible alone in the final Authority, like all Evangelical and Protestants, we didn't even know how we got it! It was something that you kind of presume, it fell from the heaven one day, and now you are holding it.

So, this young lady had asked the question, and I had a book by a renowned scholar, F.F. Bruce, that I had acquired along with a whole library that I had acquired while debating Apologetics, I had never read it, so I handed it to her, and said "Here, you go read it, and you give us a teaching".

She handed it back a couple of months, and said "I can't, you do it"! So, I took about three months, and I went through the book several times, and highlighting, and noting, and then putting together a teaching that took eighteen hours to teach. Three hours a night, six nights, thirty-two pages of handouts, with maps, and all this information.

 

Well, a couple of things happened through that study. One is that there was one this city that really jumped out through the study. This was, among other things, the place where there was a letter that was written, and it contained the first list of the books of the Bible that we hold today. The first person to write that list, as it turned out, it wasn't Jesus! It wasn't Jesus who handed us the list of the books of our Bible! It actually happened several hundred years later.

How many people here know what is that letter that we read?

Well, you should! You really should, because it was written by St. Athanasius the Apostolic, and it was in 367A.D. and it was what was called "The Festal letter".

Alexandria was the intellectual capital of the world, so every year since Easter fell on the cyclical calendar, not on the normal calendar, but actually by the cycle of the moon and the sun, and so on... they needed the world's greatest astronomers to decided what does that fall on this year, and when you needed answers to intellectual questions like that, you turned to Alexandria.

So, the Alexandrian Pope, every year, he would write a letter, and it is called "The Festal letter", to tell us when the feast is, and in this letter, he may take the time to address some other issues going on in the churches.

In 367A.D., he addressed this question of what books are the authoritative books, and that's the first list that we found.

 

So, Alexandria really stuck in my mind, not just for that reason: it was the first cathecal school in the world, the first monasteries... I mean, it was the... they say, Jerusalem was the birthplace of Christianity, but really, Alexandria was the cradle for the baby of Christianity, and for quite some period of time.

In this study, I came across St. Athanasius, I am sorry, St. Erineus, and he struck me hard! Because, St. Erineus was a disciple under Polycarp, who was a disciple under John the Apostle. We are talking very early. He wrote around 188A.D. and he was writing to battle agnostic heresies, because this was the real threat against the church in his time: with agnostic believers. They claimed that there was a secret teaching that came to them through the Apostles, that the other ordinary regular people could not handle, so it was given secretly.

Well, St. Erineus said... his argument was to me, so sublime, and just... it is like this bulb just went on!

He said, "Go to any church founded by the Apostles. If they are going to give their truth something crucial to anybody, it is going to be to the Bishops they chose to lead the congregations, and it is going to be in the congregations they, themselves spent years establishing." They didn't write a letter, saying "Okay, go and start a church over here with this letter". They were living with them for years, they trained them personally! So, he said "Go look all over the world, wherever an apostle established a congregation, and what you are going to see, is, they all speak with the same voice. They all believe the same thing as each other, and you will also see that what they believe, they have never heard of these agnostic beliefs. How is it that they have never heard about them? This is after all, where the apostles established churches, and chose the bishops!"

"Now, look at the writings, because remember, this was in the canon of the scripture, and he was saying, look at the writings that they hold, and see if anybody has ever heard of these agnostic writings! They will look at them and say, we don't know what this is!

 

This to me was profound! You are in America; we are in America. We have as many churches as we do coffee shops. More churches than liquor stores, it is like, on every corner, in case you haven't noticed it is the American model, of: "I am going to compete and take the business from my customer, because I think I can provide a better service at a better service at lower prices". So, we actually find, if you track the history of Protestantism, the "better service, lower price" model continues...

Now, you just, instead of baptism and penitence and everything, you just come forward and say a prayer at an altar. It is called "Alter call", it was invented in the late 1700, early 1800, Charles Finney, I think, the whole story ... but basically, you can just come up and say a prayer, and now you are guaranteed to Heaven! So, "Here I am offering you lower prices", and that became, "Well now, I'll tell you what, you can stay in your seat, and raise your hand, and say a prayer with us", and then it became, "Everybody close your eyes, and put your head down, so nobody feels uncomfortable to raise their hands", and...

Tell them about the recent one that you came across...

 

ANASTASIA:

Recently I came back from a trip, and I work at a Protestant ministry, and they were so excited about people who had come to accept Christ, and all you had to do was text in your response, if you wanted to receive Jesus, just text this number, and you can receive Christ.

 

THELO:

You can't make that up! I mean, that is pretty good (laughs), just text it in! I mean, I would like to hear their confessions sometimes!

 

So, anyway, we come from this background, and all of these competing churches, and mind you, most of the times, it is very sincere! They believe that they want a welcoming environment, they want you to feel comfortable, it is very much... they want to connect you with what they believe is true; there is no ill intent, I believe in almost any of the cases.

However, things do move into this kind of consumer friendly pattern, and so, everybody says "Ours is the authentic belief system. Ours is the authentic Christianity", and believe me, we had studied a lot. I spent a lot of time studying. I was a very knowledgeable Protestant. I can talk you about Lutheran, Calvinist, and non-denomination theologies, but here I find this test in St. Erineus, that I said, this is it! This is the answer! What did those early communities believe.       

 

So, I applied what I considered to be a methodology that I received from St. Erineus. By the way, that is my baptismal name. That is why... I am probably the only Erineus in the Coptic church, but he is one of our Saints, we just don't mention him, because he became a Latin father, I don't know why, but truly, the man had a very broad encounter, because he came from Polycarp, and Smyrna, and Turkey, and was very close to them in Rome, where he studied, and he was a Bishop (...) in France, so, very broad understanding...

So, I just decided, whatever I find that is believed the same in all the churches, that is what is authentically Christian.

Now, here is the thing: If you don't get anything else from tonight, this is what I want you to (remember):

I applied this methodology before I looked at the data! Before I looked at what they said, this is the way to know! Which means, I will conform to what I find!

If I find what they all believed is something that doesn't agree with me, too bad for me! I have to comply with it, because this is what was handed down! This is what is authentically Christian.

 

So, with this in mind, I begun historical study, and I said, at the same time,  I am going... I know, there is this one branch of Christianity, that I know nothing about, but it is a very early form, so that may be a good place to start learning things, while I am also doing an independent historical study, to see what these early Christians have said.

So, there was this building that I saw, and on the side, it said Alexandria. It is a diocese of Alexandria, on St. John, and of course, you can't miss this building, it is huge, but it was that word that caught me, and I said, that is where I am going to go. This is where I am going to learn this, and I walked up.

I was new, I didn't know better, and I have repented since, but I showed up on time (Laughs. So, Egyptians have "African time" too :-)

They forgave me, and I have learned to show up late, later, and I met Abouna Daniel out on the steps of the church, and I told him what I was there to do: I am here to learn and to study about the early church . I will never forget our exchange; I am sure it was different to him, but he said "Well, stay a while, and see how you like", and I said, how I like it is utterly irrelevant to anything! If I absolutely love it, and it is not true, I will walk. And if I absolutely hate it, but it is true, I have to conform to it, and it is that simple! Honestly, there was no false advertising here. When you are in the (...) looking up to the sanctuary, what top that center? Is that a birthday cake? Is that a party hat, is that fireworks, or is that a cross? Well, there is no false advertising here, it is a cross. It is our place to conform to the truth, not to go pick and find pieces of truth that we like, that we can adapt into our lives. You have to be willing to comply and bend with it.

 

So, this was the first approach, walking up to St. John.

 

(Some internal jokes. Nothing beats the "Egyptian wrestling".)

 

ANASTASIA:

 

Well, his first time at St. John was not my first time. I was still at home, that day, and he went with a couple of friends who were really interested, in just taking in the experience. Mind you, I was used to forty five minute Protestant service, this is how long it was. Well now it is two hours, and I am ready for breakfast, and I haven't heard from him yet. So I text him, and say where are you, and he says, church is still going, and it is two hours, and I am holy church service, bad man! That is a long time!

 

I came the following week, and just to see what this was all about, because, he came home (...) and he had the biggest man crush on this Daniel Habib, Abouna Daniel Habib, he just thought he was the greatest thing... and he was so sweet, and if you knew him before, it is sweet, but that is not the way to describe this man, he was rough around the edges, and he still is a little bit, but he was just... he had this aura about him, that I had to see by myself what this was all about.

Now, mind you, when I came in to the sanctuary, my Protestant senses were tingling, because I had been mostly in venues like this, we are in warehouses, we are in places with smoke machines, and we have lights, and guitars, so I came in...

 

THELO

Not this kind of smoke machine, by the way (laughs)

 

ANASTASIA

In our church now, the smoke machine is the sensor, and the special lightning are the candles. I walked in, and my senses were tingling, because to me this looks very Catholic, and I am Anti-Catholic, as a Protestant. I see beautiful chandeliers, and I see (...) red carpets, oh my goodness, I see people kissing the priest's hand, I thought I was going to die! I am like, "That is not happening".

Well, what was really wonderful was, I had (...) Mariam Yosef come, and sit with me, and she started to talk me through the Liturgy, this is where I really really want to encourage you: If you want to be an outreach church, if you want to be an Evangelistic church, and minister to people, look at somebody that looks completely out of place, that looks like "What is going on", they don't know where to sit, they don't know where... Somebody told me it is like getting on stage with Beyonce to dance. I don't know how to dance, I don't know what I am supposed to  do here.

So, if it hadn't been for Mariam, there wouldn't have been a second time for me.

I can tell you that. As I said, this red carpet, she said to me it is because it represents the blood of the Christ, and the blood of the Saints, and I didn't know that! In our churches it was like, it was going to be the still grey, or was it going to be the string steel, and it was going to be a fist fight over what carpet color we were going to have, and the Pastor's wife wins over all.

If it hadn't been for her sitting with me, I wouldn't have come back, and then I learned so much about what the meaning of the sensor was, and the meaning of what the chandelier was, and every single thing has such deep meaning. It was really great, and then, I think I will let you take over from here.   

 

THELO:

 

Well, when I first walked in, the first thing that struck... picture this: I have never been in one before (a church), you guys are so used to it. The first thing that struck me was that the priest was not facing me. There was no usher, there was no greeter, nobody welcomed me, nobody greeted me, and nobody was facing me.

There is symbolism that I understand, because I am human. I get it when I see it, you don't even to have to tell me why, and I knew what this meant! It meant that I am not a customer here! It meant, God is the center of attention. God is center, front, that altar isn't four feet to the left or four feet to the right; it is in the middle. And, the lecterns where (they) read and speak, those are not in the center, between, taking the place. Nothing is in the center, but God; the Altar.

When I am going to speak, when somebody is going to speak, it is over here. God stays in the middle, and I will speak from over here, because that is His place, and not mine.

Nobody is looking at me, or facing me; It is all directed at God. And then, when somebody is going to read or whatever, I know, that is directed at me, because you are facing me. I know exactly what things are for me, and what things are given over, and pointing to God. This is the first thing that struck me, and it did so beautifully!

 

You probably aren't aware, but most of what you see in all denominational Evangelical Christianity, actually has a root that goes back to a place called

Willow Creek. You have probably never heard about it. Willow Creek was going to begin a church, and so they hired a market research team, and they did their homework! They were good! From the color of the carpet, to the design of the interior, to the type of seating, to the coffee shop in the building, to... everything was market researched to the letter! And then, they opened to the doors, and it exploded! It worked! It was the first Mega-church in the America and it was so impressive! And the numbers were so huge, the people coming in... that all the other churches started to copy the model, because it worked.

 And then, you had numerous mega-churches; one of them is where I was running seating for the televised... they recorded for television service, and there were thousands of logistical issues you can ever imagine, involved in that.

This is the model that they all started to follow, after Willow Creek.

Well, what most people who maybe know the story, don't know, is that Willow Creek repented. They repented of this! They said, we did all this to increase accessibility and numbers, and we did, but what we lost, were the disciples. The hardcore disciples left, and went someone else!

So, they were looking to cater to the most marginal, kind of indifferent people, by giving them something fun, or different, but you are catering everything to this group that really doesn't seem to care much anyway, and the real disciples seeking, weren't getting anything.

If any of you have friends, or connections in the evangelical world, like I do, you will see that there is a movement, and it is a pretty one-directional movement, and it is from non-denominational (...) churches to earlier, more fundamental, Calvinist, Lutheran traditional churches, because they are looking for something holly, not fun! They are looking for something substantial, something meaningful and deep.

They are looking for something with some degree of intelligence! Because what they are getting fed are "Twenkies and HowHow" which are delicious, but at some point you are like "I need some vegetables! I need something of substance". So, they are kind of moving over in this direction, and then people from those churches; Lutherans, Calvinists and stuff, they are looking for something even more rich, deep, connecting them back to the early church, and they are moving to Orthodoxy!

 

Now, we as a Coptic church, are not the place where they are going. That is why we stand out as such an anomaly (...) we didn't marry an Egyptian, but we studied our way in! We are not here because we liked it, we are here, because we believe that Orthodoxy is objectively true.

Then there is a second question; what you need to understand is Coptic and Orthodoxy are not the same thing! When we decided Orthodoxy was true, we had a choice of flavor!

There was an Antiochian church near us, that (used to be) a Protestant church; the whole thing converted! Pastor and all! And the pastor became a priest, and the whole congregation converted.

We would have been pretty much at home there. There were Greeks, great food too, like you, there were Russians with incredible scholarship, we had all these options before us, and we didn't have to choose the Coptic church, but we chose the Coptic church for a reason, and we can talk about that later if you want, but my point is: There was that that which Orthodox, and that which is Coptic, and they are not synonymous. If you want to know which is which, go and look at all the other Orthodox churches. If they share it with you, that is Orthodox. If they don't that is Coptic, and that is okay! I am not saying Coptic isn't good; we chose Coptic! You know, we weren't born in it; we picked it! But you need to understand, that is not the same as Orthodox; You don't impose and demand and require Coptic at someone who wants to enter the church, because it is the Orthodox church. They are not here... You don't demand that they conform to Egyptian culture, or Egyptian standards...

Now, mind you, we love it! What we found conveyed in this, in just this gesture: it is five minutes of conversation and embrace and love and welcome and respect, conveyed in this; it is the most beautiful gesture; we have nothing this good in America!

When you do this... there is so much conveyed there! If I had to boil down the Coptic spirit to one thing, that would be it! Because it says, "We accept all things coming from the hand of God, the good and bad. What we receive comes from God, and what we don't receive. And what it really defines is the spirit of humility in practice! Not just in gesture or words, but in practice! When something great happens, Thank God! It was the will of God. When something horrible happens, that was the will of God. They humbly submit to it.

What I am getting at is... we absolutely love Coptic, but you don't impose them and force them and conflict them with what is Orthodox. Coptic is not synonymous with Orthodox. Some things are, something aren't.

And what I really want more than anything, if there is anything to take away, is, if any question comes up, I don't care what it is, my wife and I... the way we came here, I would want to see the whole Coptic church approach every question, that arises, all of them, in the same way! It starts with a simple premise:

 

You are not the first Christianity, my good friend! (Mimicking ArabEnglish) There. There are two thousand years of Christians that came before you showed up on this planet!

 

So, when the question arises, don't look at yourself and say: "Dear, what do I think? How do I like that? Does that really... I think that would do this..." No, that is not the starting place! There will be time to look at your own sensitivity, cultural sensitivities, and other questions, but the starting place, is to realize: If Jesus Christ rose from the dead, if that happened as a historical event, then he proved he was God!

That is settled, he was God! What did He say? He said, listen to these guys, do what they tell you, and they were who? The apostles, and he said, The point of Salvation in History, the point of God's work from the fall of man to the resurrection of Christ, was, that they be one, as you and I are one, and they and me, and I and them, and I and you, and I will send my spirit, and he will dwell in you, and unite you to me and to one another.

Well, if that actually happened, if he accomplished that goal, then when the question arises, what I want to know, is not what do I think, what I want to know is, what has the spirit already said to the matter? Has the spirit spoken at all? Well, where will I hear the voice of the spirit, if that actually occurred, if the spirit of God entered into humanity, where does that spirit reside in humanity? It is in the church! Which again I will remind you, does not mean the Coptic church. It means The Church! The Orthodox churches, all the Apostolically established churches, which means, my first question is, what has this spirit said on the matter? Has he spoken on the matter? So, I am to look now: what have all the churches founded by the Apostles said on the matter? Where is something close that I can find to kind of match the situation, that might give me some information. Now this is not the end, this is the beginning of the inquiry, this is the beginning of the question, but this is the crucial beginning, because it takes you out of the place of being the decider and determiner of truth, and puts you in to being the discoverer of the truth.

You are the one now, seeking to find what is true, not to decide what is true, and now, you go and you start looking, what have all the churches spoken, since the beginning, and you are looking at the patristics, and you are looking to what was spoken early, and what was sustained, because this is all historically...

I liken this to a choir, and a very simple song is sung, and then somebody else comes in, and they want to add another chorus or another line, or another verse to the song, another chorus, they start singing it. But then the rest of the choir has to respond, because remember, the spirit dwells in the whole church, not in one person! So, now this person says, I believe, this is the spirit, and he starts singing the other line, and the rest of the choir says, no, that is a sour note, that does not belong in this song, and they reject it. Or they say, that is it! That fits exactly, that is beautiful let's bring that line in to the song, and they embrace it!  Or it could be like Gregory... when he brings in things that are beautiful and match, but then there is this one note, is like "Ding!", it is a sour note, and they say "He is still one of us! He brought in a sour note, we leave it out, but we keep the rest".

So, we are looking to what this choir sung, because and if there is a need to address something, to sing another note, to add another line to that chorus, you need to start by going back, and looking for what they sung before you, and you need to look at what the others have sung in the situation, both before you, and recently, in all the Orthodox churches, and if you find, there is now a unanimous voice. There is a lot of different opinions, you find universality even in the diversity! For instance, we use, historically the Alexandrian text of the New Testament. The Eastern Orthodox use the received text, the Latin text (...)  it is a more compact New Testament, and the other is a little more expanded. There are explanations, and the one that I think makes more sense, it says, that's because, it is more likely, you would add something in, to give more clarity from one of the other Gospels, into this Gospel, because you know it is true, and you want to expand it a little more for the reader, make much more sense, especially, knowing Eastern people, than just say, let's just remove something.

 

My point is, here we have two kind of textual traditions, but We look at each other, and we say "Yours is a valid, legitimate Bible", and the other looks back and says "Yours is a valid and legitimate Bible" so, what is Universal? That we affirm each other! Even if there is difference, there is a Universal. So, this is what I am saying, it is to go and look at what those before you have said, and sometimes there is room to move, there is room to be flexible, and other times it is very firm, but this is the starting point, to get us out of this place of looking to ourselves as the source of the truth, and realize that there are two thousand years that came before us.

 

ANASTACIA

Alright, well, to take us back to our story, we have talked about a number of things that we absolutely loved about The Church; not to say the least, it is the history, the richness, the fact that it was established by St. Marc. From my Evangelical background, it is like, our church is so old, it was established in 1972... That is old, in the Protestant world, so I would be visiting these churches that were established by Marc, and they would be like, Oh, it is great... Marc who? Marc this? Marc that? No: The Marc!

So, there is the richness of it, there is the fact that it is one church where... growing up, again in the Protestant Evangelical Church, we talked about the church as a whole, but pretty much it was always... we wanted our church to be better than the other one down the street. "When people come in here, we want them to feel warm and welcomed, we want them to feel like family, we want love on them, we want them to feel like no other church that they've ever been to". It was acting in those churches, and then something that I discovered here is that it really is one church, and if it is not for the spirit alone, it is for the fact that all you guys are all cousins. I found out that everybody is related to everybody. I love it, and I think Thelo...

 

THELO    

 I had a friend who said "Hey, that guy over there is related to the pope, he is a friend, and I am American... " and I was like, "Dude, we are the only two people in this room that are not related to the pope!"

 

ANASTACIA

So, there were so many,  many things that we loved and we can't even convey them all. I want just to convey some of the simplest ones: honestly, when I see you moms holding your little babies, and your little Egyptian babies with their long dark eyelashes, and their brown skin, even if they are running amok across the floor, I can't help but look and wonder, it this what Our Lord looked like?! Because this beautiful middle eastern brown eyes... it really strikes me, sometimes to the point of tears, because, sometimes we forget that our Jesus, God incarnate, became a man, and He grew up in Nazareth, and He played, and so you have to wonder, is this what He looked like.

So, here are some of the wonderful things that we loved about coming in to this Church, but at the same time reminding you that I started going to a Protestant church when I was five, and I started coming here when I was in my early forties. So, it was that long that I had been taught against many of the things that are tradition here in the Coptic church. Now, not just taught about it or... there different expressions, but... literally taught against it.

So, here we are coming into it, and you have, say confession. Well, we could just say, "in the Protestant church we don't have confession, we have small groups, we have accountability groups", but you can't say that because, if I am bringing my confession to a priest ... in the Evangelical Protestant church they would say "There is one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, to put a Priest between you and God, and say what Christ did on the cross is not enough, it is heresy. It is an abomination".

So, and I don't have time to resolve that, if someone wants to resolve that, they can stick around later.

(You have also) the intercession of the Saints; It is in the book of Deuteronomy, and I think, Leviticus, and it says that you're not supposed to talk to dead people.

So, these were not any small issues that we were coming up against.

So, here we are, here is all these beautiful things that we are learning, so, not just beautiful things, now there is historical things that we are learning, ...

Thelo, if you can impart, just a little bit, the three most important things about being a Christian, about how you come in...

 

THELO

In looking for what the... I am sorry Abuna, we are running a little late but... we'll cut it at 12:15...

In looking for what the early church believed, universally, in all the churches funded by the Apostles, the first things I came across were these: Baptism, and that is pretty essential! How do I enter into Christ? That is core. That is not some peripheral issue, and they all believed the same thing: Baptism is what enters you into Salvation, and infant baptism. That was Universal. The next was, why do we meet every week, what is the central focal point, and how do I partake of Christ in my life? Well, it is communion! Well, that is Universal, this is the body and blood of The Christ, and how you partake in Him. And then, how do I spend eternity with God? How am I going to be saved and live with Him forever ? Universally it was a life of faithful dedication to Him. That is how you will ultimately end-up with Him.

That was opposed irreconcilably to my beliefs as an Evangelical.

 

ANASTACIA     

Right, so those three things are going to be core, because here is what is happening now is; Thelo and I are at this point, sort of Catechumens, we are not wanting to become Orthodox, but we are learning so much, and we learned at least these three core things about Baptism; that there is salvation through Baptism, the Eucharist, that it sustains us, that it is the body and that we participate in our salvation.

So, these are three things that were absolutely core, against what we were taught. We were still trying to go back and forth, and visit our home church, our home protestant church, we still have our family there that we love and want to connect with, and I will never forget, this one time that we went to visit, we realized, every time they were offered communion, in the churches that we were going to, they were saying, "This is great juice, this is bread, and it is nothing magical about it, there is nothing going to happen when you take it, it is just to remember what Christ did for us".

Now that was the first time I ever realized, and I am flashing back in my whole life that they literally do this every week, they might read the passage, where Jesus broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, but they would emphasize that there is no power in this. And I just realized that they were drawing a Theological in the sense that we reject the holy (...) church, and I hadn't noticed that before.

 

Then we went to his niece's baptism in Protestant church, and they said the same thing, that this is just an outward profession of an inward decision, and there is nothing happening in baptism. And so, I was pleading in my mind, please stop  drawing these lines... I didn't want to become an Orthodox, to be honest with you; I wanted to learn the richness of Orthodoxy, and take it back and share it with my Protestant family. But here, my Protestant family is drawing this hard line in the sand, they are pushing me toward Orthodoxy, if I wanted the truth!

 

So, here we are, stuck in the middle, and what we had on a Powerpoint... I wish that you could see this visual, because what we have is; We have our old life, and our old church, and our Protestantism over here, that we have attended forever, and then we have Orthodoxy over here, and all the things that we learned that are true, that are core, and they were handed down from the Apostles, and here Thelo and I are stuck in the middle: we can't go towards Orthodoxy, because there are things that are so important; like I said, it is an abomination to put a priest between you and Christ, or... but we can't go back because they don't have the blood and body of the Eucharist!

So, here we are stuck in the middle, what are we going to do? Are we going to reject what we know now, that is known to be historically true; the Eucharist, the Baptism, the life of Holiness, are we going to reject that and go back to Protestantism, or are we going to reject Protestantism? It was just...

We couldn't resolve it, and if there is any way to convey this place of terror, like are we becoming Apostates? Are we being cut-off from God, and are we going to become totally lost?

 

THELO

We literally, not exaggerating, would wake up many mornings in terror. You know like night-terrors, when you wake up just terrified? This was many many mornings! This is just how we would wake up! We are becoming Apostates!

I would literally have to logically talk myself down, and say: okay, If these things which I have identified in Orthodoxy, are wrong, if they can't be so wrong that it is not Christian, because that would mean, there was no church for what thirteen hundred years? Twelve hundred years, ...because some of our practices and believes developed a little later... they didn't... believe it or not, the lines in the parking lot were not painted by St. Mark! I know, you might have heard that, and we indentify everything back like "Of course, that came from the Apostles"... but some things developed a little later, you know, we are trying to identify these things, but if they are that wrong that, can they be so wrong that it is not Christians, well that means that there was no church, because everybody believed these things for twelve hundred years! So, I had to talk myself down, but I still wasn't convinced they were wrong, and that was a long road! That period in-between, you think... you are rowing out to go see something and you keep rowing and rowing, and all of a sudden you look, and the shore is gone, and you can't go back! You can't see the other shore (yet), so, you can't go on, there is nowhere to go to.

This is a horrible place to be (Transcriber: Tell me about it brother!).

 

ANASTACIA

Well, we have minus nine seconds left.

I just want to say that obviously we did resolve these things, and we love this church, and we love being here, and it is absolutely priceless, that which we paid for with losing some of our friends, and we've been cut off some of our family, but it has been more worth it.

If you have any questions afterward...

 

THELO

We will stay... as long as you have question we will stay that long to answer them. We don't have a clocks.

 

ANASTACIA

Thank you so much for welcoming us here today.

 

 ABOUNA

What a blessing to have two witnesses of our Orthodox faith here in our midst; people who went a very long journey to come to what see as the truth, and what we see as the living church, and it is a blessing to have them, so  thank you guys so much for coming here.

They are going to be here, and I encourage you, ask your questions, because it is not every day that you meet people with an experience like this, and who can answer, because, you are facing these things... being in our western culture, even in our country, its way of thinking is a Protestant way of thinking, and it influences us without us realizing, so, I think it is a very good to ask your questions, and find some answers, and I will thank you guys again.

 

Let us stand up and pray...

 

Transcribed by jeanounou (November 2017)