Does Orthodoxy Matter? A Case Study

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And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

 

Father Seraphim Rose holding an icon of the Holy Trinityblessed seraphim.jpg

Orthodoxy means “true glory” or “true faith.”  We Orthodox think very highly of the word.  Or do we?  When it comes down to it, does Orthodoxy actually matter all that much to us (as it should)?  Orthodox Christians in the west find themselves living among many different Christianities and it can sometimes be tempting to think that notwithstanding some of the more obvious differences, (icons, the Theotokos, fasting, worship, for example), all these Christian traditions share much the same faith as us.  If you are of this opinion, then I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but it just isn’t true at all.  How so?

I am going to consider this issue by looking at a case study which reveals the damage that heresy can do in our personal lives, our relationships and even to the society and world that we live in.  It is a fictional story, but quite typical.

John and Mary go to an Evangelical Anglican Church.  John is Orthodox (Greek tradition).  Mary is Anglican.  This is her second marriage, being a young widow with one teenage son (Ian, 15) still living at home. She now has two children with John, daughters, aged 5 and 7.  John would prefer to go to his local Greek Church but his wife is a committed Anglican, and their children, although baptised in the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Ian), prefer the “lively worship songs”, as they put it, which are included in the church’s family service.  Ian is very involved in the local youth group and is thinking eventually of becoming an Anglican minister.  Does Orthodoxy then matter to John?  Well, yes, but only in a remote nostalgic sort of way.  It is some years now since he has attended Divine Liturgy, the last time was at Pascha in 2008.  His stepson, Ian, will have nothing to do with what he considers to be the “stuffy incomprehensible worship” at his stepdad’s church which he has visited once, just after his stepfather’s marriage.

Ten years later ….

Neither John nor Mary now regularly attend the Anglican Church.  John still hasn’t been back to the Orthodox Church since Pascha 2008 and Mary doesn’t like the new Vicar who is a woman.  Mary is quite a conservative evangelical believer who maintains that a woman should not be in a place of authority within the Church over men.  (This is the evangelical doctrine of the”headship of the male.”)  Her two daughters, now 15 and 17 still attend on their own and are very active in the youth group.  Ian, who shares his mother’s conservative outlook, has also left the church, disagreeing with what he believes to be the Anglican Church’s tolerance of homosexual partnerships.  He has started attending a very conservative Baptist church that teaches pure Calvinism, in particular, the doctrines known as TULIP (from the first letter of each doctrine), namely:-

Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, all humanity, is dead in sins and therefore damned.  Humanity’s nature is corrupt and utterly incapable of godliness.

Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, from eternity God elected certain people to salvation and others to damnation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond to God, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain people should be saved as a result of His unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected, and for whom Christ died, will be saved but the rest will be damned to hell for all eternity; again as determined by God’s sovereign will.

Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.  Man cannot choose to love God by his own choice and freedom.

Perseverance of the Saints – The precise people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith to the end. None whom God has elected will ever be lost; they are eternally secure even though they may sin grievously after election.

Although Ian is a pious and committed believer these doctrines trouble him.  He begins to doubt that he is one of the elect, chosen by God for salvation.  His sinful life (he occasionally resorts to prostitutes) troubles him greatly but his church tells him that he is unable to make any right choice and save himself.  Ian enters a very dark period of depression, made much worse by the impact of these heresies on his mental health.  His fragile relationship with his atheist girlfriend disintegrates.  He seeks medical help for a latent depression which has now become the full blown clinical variety.

Five years further on, the two daughters are now at the same university, one just about to graduate but they have been unable to find an evangelical church they like nearby, so they have stopped attending church on the grounds that they believe in Christ and are saved, so what’s the point?  Back home John and Mary now lead thoroughly secular lives.  John sometimes thinks wistfully of his childhood back in Cyprus when he used to attend church with his Nana but this seems to him a very distant idealised time now.  He hopes, nonetheless, that his wife or children will respect his wish for an Orthodox funeral if he dies first.

So, did Orthodoxy matter to John?  Well yes, particularly earlier on, but for most of his adult life only in a nominal sort of way.  He had certainly not been catechised in his youth and his grasp of the faith, therefore, had always been somewhat tenuous.  Did Anglican evangelicalism then strike him as being similar to Orthodoxy?  Well yes, mostly.  He only saw differences in the worship style which often set his teeth on edge.  Let’s face it.  He attended the evangelical Anglican Church for the sake of his wife and family.  When they stopped going, so did he.  There is only one God after all and this was just a different way of being a Christian, it seemed to him.  He did lament his stepson’s involvement in the Calvinist church because he could see how its refusal of human freedom and choice, its dark doctrines of divine election to salvation or damnation, did not feel right to him, but he couldn’t really say why. 

Did Mary his wife ever consider Orthodoxy when the lady Vicar arrived?  Well, no, why should she?  Her husband rarely spoke of his childhood faith and she concluded that it could not have meant much to him in that case, so why should she consider it?  John and Mary now spend a conventional Sunday together as most couples do in their street, getting up late, going to the gym occasionally, shopping at B&Q, taking a drive into the countryside; just the usual and normal things everyone does nowadays.  Both still consider themselves as Christians, but obviously not of the fanatical sort whom they blame, quite rightly, for destroying Ian’s piece of mind.  As for the two girls, well they eventually graduated and now have families of their own.  Churchgoing, however, has become completely alien to all their families with the rest.

So, does Orthodox Christianity matter to you?
Does it matter enough for you to find out about it in more depth?
Does it matter enough for you to practice it as faithfully as you can, notwithstanding the distractions of modern life?
Does it matter enough for you to stay loyal to this faith no matter what challenges are presented to it by both family life and society as a whole?

And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

Letter To A New Convert

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Dear “John” (*),

I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.

Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.

So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?

Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?

Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?

Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?

Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?

Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?

OR…..

Have you read the Gospels?

Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper – the meaning of Holy Communion?

AND….

Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.

Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship – private or public.

We know because we believe and we believe because we know.

Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?

If we are meant, always, to be “happy”, why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.

Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.

And never confuse love with sentimentality.

And never confuse worship with affectation.

Be humble – love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love – And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!

I hope that some of this makes sense,

With my best wishes,
Mother Thekla
(sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)

(*) Sir John Tavener the composer

Mother Thekla, who died on Aug. 7, 2011 at aged 93, was the last surviving nun to have occupied the enclosed Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption in North Yorkshire, but became better known to the wider world as the spiritual muse of the composer Sir John Tavener. Mother Thekla wrote the following letter in 2009, when she was 91 years old. You can read more about her here.

 

Source: The Orthodox Parish of St Aidan and St Chad

Leap of Faith (II)

My Journey to Eastern Orthodoxy: Part Two

Looking East

Was there a pillar and ground of truth beyond man-made organizations and belief systems? Searching online for mystical Christianity, I stumbled across a series of videos by Ted Nottingham, a former pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who had converted to the Orthodox Church. His videos on Original Christianity pointed toward the ancient traditions of the Christian faith, the mystic monks of Mount Athos, and the Jesus Prayer. He talked about Eastern Orthodox spirituality as the unbroken link with Christ and the Apostles. Could this really be the original Christianity I was seeking? In all of my spiritual searching, why hadn’t I heard about Eastern Orthodoxy before? Maybe I had already walked right past it without looking, blind yet thinking I could see. Thus began my turning east toward the Orthodox Church.

I read Nottingham’s book “Written in our Heart: The Practice of Spiritual Transformation” and his translation of “The Prayer of the Heart: The Foundational Spiritual Mystery at the Core of Christ” by Father Alphonse and Rachel Goettmann. I began praying the Jesus Prayer,

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,”

invoking the divine presence. I watched the documentary “The Ancient Church” narrated by Stephen Baldwin as well as talks from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Other videos that I found helpful included talks by Father Barnabas Powell, Father John Behr, and Sister Vassa. But I realized that I needed more than just books and videos to truly connect with the ancient faith. I needed to find a living community.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I discovered several Orthodox Churches in the area, including one here in my town of Walnut Creek, as well as in nearby Orinda, Berkeley, Concord, and Oakland. Where to begin? I had no idea which church might be the best one to check out just to see how the services were conducted. I was concerned that some Orthodox churches might be more ethnically based or conducted in foreign languages. As an African American who only speaks English, I wanted to find a place where I would feel welcome. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had already visited an Orthodox Church when my wife and I attended a Greek Festival at Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland several years prior. At that time, I thought I already had all the answers to my spiritual life and was not interested in learning anything about the Orthodox way of worship. But I enjoyed the delightful Greek food. Little did I know that I would be back again for something much greater than spanakopita and baklava.

I reached out to Father John Peck at JourneytoOrthodoxy.com for guidance. I also connected with Presbytera Judith Irene Matta at Descent of the Holy Spirit Orthodox Christian Mission in Santa Maria, CA as well as to Ted Nottingham with Inner Work for Spiritual Awakening. All were helpful in recommendations. Fr. John Peck connected me with Father Michael Anderson at Saint Christina of Tyre Orthodox Church in Fremont, CA. He also recommended the books “Light From the Christian East” by James Peyton and “Orthodox Spirituality” by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos.

Although Fremont was a bit of a distance (about 40 miles) from my home, I appreciated the meetings with Fr. Michael who showed me the inside of church and gave me some additional insights and referrals to other Orthodox churches in the area. He encouraged me to read “The Didache” which provided a short overview of early Christian tradition as taught around the first century. Fr. Michael recommended listening to Ancient Faith Radio podcasts, especially those from the late Father Thomas Hopko, of Saint Vladimir Seminary. He also suggested the Russian film “Ostrov,” a moving story (with subtitles) about a fool for Christ.

As I left my meeting with Father Michael in Fremont, I got a call from Father Marin State of the Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Concord, CA. We scheduled a meeting for the following week. As I entered the nave of the St. Demetrios, I looked up at the Christ Pantocrator icon on the domed ceiling and wept in awe and repentance. After a long silence, Father Marin led me through the Lord’s Prayer. He welcomed me to return anytime and encouraged me to continue the journey with faith and humility. He recommended the documentary, “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” as well as videos from Frederica Mathewes-Green on her website Frederica.com. Meanwhile, I visited the beautiful Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco where I prayed for God’s guidance and venerated the relics of Saint John Maximovich. I also purchased my first icons and prayer rope at the Holy Virgin Cathedral bookstore.

Presbytera Irene Matta from Descent of the Holy Spirit Orthodox Christian Mission sent me several books, including writings by Father John Rominides, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, and Fr. George Metallinos along with many words of insight and encouragement.

Through Ted Nottingham I was referred via Fr. Philip Tolbert of Santa Rosa to Fr. Tom Zaferes at Ascension Cathedral in Oakland, CA. Father Tom invited me to attend Divine Liturgy the following Sunday. He also suggested the book, “Wounded by Love” by Elder Porphyrios. Ascension Cathedral is high up in Oakland Hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The service was moving, stunning to my senses as scents and sights of the heavenly realms surrounded me. Although the majority of the members were of Greek descent, the congregation was large and diverse enough for me to feel comfortable. Several people greeted me after the service and introduced me to other members.

I continued to attend Divine Liturgy services and met with Fathers Tom Zaferes and Ninos Oshana for biweekly Orthodox Faith Classes and Bible studies. Even though I had read the Bible from cover to cover several times in the past and had attended many studies during my years as a Protestant, I realized that Orthodox Christianity was something very different. Instead of seeing the church as a legal system with a get out of jail free card to stay the wrath of an angry judge, I began to see the church as a more like a hospital to heal the sick and brokenhearted, always welcoming us back to the open arms of a loving Father. I began to prepare for baptism into the church with prayer and fasting. I read “The Way of a Pilgrim,” “Desert Fathers,” and “The Philokalia.” I continued to say the Jesus Prayer throughout the day,

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

I was heading home.

The week leading up to my Baptism was spent with much prayer and fasting (right after Thanksgiving weekend). I was experiencing self-reflection, repentance, and unworthiness. Friday (the night before) my wife and I attended the Ascension Cathedral Christmas concert, lifting my spirits. My feelings beforehand including anticipation and humility. I made a Life Confession with Father Tom just before the baptism, which was a relief of unburdening. The “exorcism” stage in the narthex of the church was the most emotional as I experienced waves of repentance and remorse washing away and renewed commitment to Christ as I affirmed the Creed, The Symbol of Faith.

The following morning was my first communion where I went up with lighted candles with my Godfather, Athanasius. The overall experience left me with a deep sense of peace and homecoming, resting in God’s grace.  I am grateful for having found the ancient faith of the Eastern Orthodox Church and look forward to diving deep within its depths. I know that I have a long way to go. I trust that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.

My Big Greek Orthodox Baptism: 
I was received into the Orthodox Church by Holy Baptism on December 3, 2016. Here is the video:

Part 1 (The Exorcism) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Wyqux0wO-0

Part 2 (Preparation) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlysMNnGp1o

Part 3 (Baptism) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63YqzDmf7GY

Part 4 (Chrismation) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9_P69gR6P8

Part 5 (Prayers) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLQYsq5utpw

Part 6 (Change) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB6zhl4PhQo

Part 7 (Completion) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIWkBQe2rqU

 

By Robert Hammond

Posted by Fr. John in Journey to Orthodoxy

Read Robert’s Journey from the Beginning by clicking HERE

Leap of Faith (I)

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My Journey to Eastern Orthodoxy: Part One

Protesting Protestantism

“Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God, who died for your sins, was buried and rose again on the third day?” The Reverend’s voice echoed against the tile baptistery. The water was cold.

“Yes,” my meek reply.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.”

The Reverend’s voice disappeared as I sank beneath a sea of pain. The water entered my nostrils and I gagged. I choked. Coughed. Gasped for air.

Washed in the water of life. Surrendered to the eternal. Dead and buried with Christ. Yes, I did believe, but…

So many questions yet unanswered. So many deeds undone. At eight my heart had only just begun to lust for the Tree of Knowledge. Duality. Good and evil. An unfulfilled yearning pounded deep within me. My sins had been forgiven and I had only just begun to sin.

I emerged from the water of life, coughing and spitting. The water hid the tears of one who sought surcease of sorrow. Raging hatred. Rebellious angels tormented me as they revealed the evil that yet remained within my soul – that part of me which would remain apart and alone.

Thus I was baptized into the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a mainline Protestant denomination. Although the Disciples of Christ movement was started by a couple of dissenting Presbyterian ministers in the early 1800s, the church claimed to be based on first century New Testament faith and practice. I attended Sunday school, memorized Bible stories, and sang in the choir, but as I grew into my teen years, I began to feel like something was missing.

Although I appreciated the basic message of believing in God and being good, I felt like I was just skimming the surface of Christianity. Where was the power and mystical experience described in the New Testament? Protesting against my Protestant upbringing, I experimented with all kinds of self-help programs, occult practices, and other religions including Buddhism, Hinduism and New Age spirituality. I meditated, chanted, practiced self-hypnosis, yoga, and Tai Chi. I read the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, The Lotus Sutra, Autobiography of a Yogi, and countless other spiritual texts.

Like the Prodigal Son, I eventually found myself lost in a moral and spiritual wasteland, desperately alone in the darkness. I was like a dead dog lying on the road of life when the light of grace shined down upon me and turned my heart toward Christ. I picked up the Bible and read it from cover to cover several times, recognizing that the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ was real and ever present. Glimpsing the light of grace, I experienced a deep healing and recovery, which led to turning my life around. But without clear guidance, my spiritual life meandered through various denominations and ways of worship, including Assembly of God, Calvary Chapel, Reformed, and “nondenominational” evangelical mega churches.

As a Protestant I had been taught that original Christianity had disappeared or been corrupted soon after the time of the Apostles. The “true church” did not reappear until the time of the Reformation in the 1500’s. Subsequent movements claimed to have the most correct interpretation of the scriptures as they argued over pre-tribulation raptures, pre-millennialism, predestination, and other controversies.

As I bounced between various denominations, I judged the sexual and financial scandals that plagued the televangelists and mega-church leaders, while justifying my own moral failings. Doomsday prophets cashed in on end-times hysteria with ever-changing dates for Christ’s return. As preachers fell and prophecies failed, my faith wavered. What happened to the church?

Although my confidence in organized religion was diminished, I still believed in God and Christ. But how could I connect to the one supreme God with so many contradictory paths leading in opposite directions? Enough was enough.
I was done with all these churches and their false teachers. I began to refer to denominations as “demons-in-nations” and I finally gave up man-made religious organizations altogether.

I became “spiritual but not religious,” which meant that I would just pick and choose whatever beliefs “resonated” with me at the time. Free from any sectarian dogmas, I began practicing silent prayer and meditation, reading the Bible on my own and studying 17th century Christian mystics, especially George Fox and the early Quaker writings. Perhaps I had finally found the true path, I thought, as I sat alone in silent stillness, waiting on the Lord. But how would I know that the inner guidance and insights I received were any more than delusions or vain imaginations? After five years of silent waiting, praying, and seeking the inward light, I realized I was still wandering in the wilderness alone.

I continued reading the work of more spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Krishnamurti, Vernon Howard, and George Gurdjieff. Much of what they said sounded true, but who could I really trust? My skepticism skirted toward the brink of atheism as my desperation sank into despair. What if the whole universe was just a random chaos of matter in motion? How could I restore my waning faith? I prayed for a sign from on high.

Celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary on Memorial Day in 2016, my wife and I leaped out of an airplane at 18,000 feet over Monterey Bay, California. Tumbling head over heels toward the earth, falling, floating, fearless motion blended into stillness as I let go of every thought and feeling, melting into the ever-present moment. Trusting in a safe landing on solid ground took a great leap of faith.

I didn’t know that I was about to take another leap, a leap of faith, that would make skydiving look easy.

By Robert Hammond

 

Journey of a Young Artist

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Jonathan Jackson and The Seeds of “The Mystery of Art”

 

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet— Saint Porphyrios
When I was young, they brought me to Babylon
And the night hung over my head
The smoke came into my dreams 
In the valley of dry bones

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with God
My eyes were seared and my blood was bruised
But I was hidden within a song

All around were the sounds of Babylon
But all I heard, were the hymns of heaven

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with her 
I was barely coming clean and she had already seen
A war on her innocence

I spoke of the Christ underneath the clouds 
And woke her from the sleep of death

She took my hand and walked me through the crowd
Why, is anybody’s guess?

All around, was the gold of Babylon
But all I saw, was an angel of heaven

You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church
You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church

 

I would like to start with the journey of how this book, “The Mystery of Art” began. It was not an intellectual or abstract search. The questions and explorations on this subject were immediate and crucial for me growing up. I began working as a professional actor at the age of 11 on General Hospital. At The age of 12, by God’s grace I had a profound encounter with Christ. My father would give us cassette tapes of sermons to listen to and one night, I heard a sermon on “The holiness of God and the pride of the human heart.” I don’t know why and I don’t know how these things occur, but I was cut to the heart. I suddenly realized how far away from God I truly was. How prideful and full of selfishness and egoism I was. It scared me to be honest. And yet, paradoxically, in that very moment of feeling the weight of my sinfulness—how my supposed righteousness is like “filthy rags” before the holiness of God, as Isaiah says—a Divine Presence also overwhelmed me. I felt like a great sinner who was also mysteriously loved beyond comprehension.

Around the same time, I read C.S. Lewis’ chapter called “The Great Sin”, which is all about Pride. I read Matthew 25, the Last Judgment and Matthew 5 when Christ says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I knew I could never impress God with my self-righteousness, so I cried out for mercy, I cried out for grace. And the compassions of God washed over me.

This was a turning point in my life. Nothing was the same after this encounter. I began to hear and perceive my own thoughts with great clarity. This was frightening too because I was suddenly aware of all the judgments and horrible thoughts I had about people. But the Holy Spirit was so merciful in this process. He never made me feel condemned. Convicted, yes. But never condemned. He would always whisper, “I’m not showing you this to condemn you, I’m showing you this darkness, so you can be healed.”

I began to think about God all the time. Throughout the following years there were many struggles and trials but the mystery of God became the most beautiful, the most attractive, the most intriguing and important pursuit in my life.

Naturally and organically, I had a desire to incorporate the Holy Spirit into the work I was doing. I had studied a few different acting methods but for the most part, my own personal method was being birthed through experience. Working with Anthony Geary and Genie Francis and other incredible performers like Michelle Pfeiffer and Sir Ben Kingsley. It was very much like Orthodoxy in the sense that I was a sponge, soaking everything in through experience and not through theory.

Within a short period of time after this initial encounter of grace, I was given some very heavy storylines to portray. I was about 15 years old and my character Lucky Spencer finds a young girl in the woods, who has just been raped. It is winter and the poor girl is freezing out in the cold, left for dead. He rescues her and they develop a friendship. He spends months taking care of her and being by her side as she tries to heal from this horrific event.

On a Soap Opera, you are on TV almost every day; especially when your storyline in prominent. In a more direct way than most artistic mediums, you are living the day-to-day story of your character. I was portraying this storyline for months. It was during this time that I first remember bringing God into my preparation as an actor. I began to ask Him, “How could you allow this innocent creature to suffer in this way?” “How can anyone be healed from such a wound?”

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They were questions my character could have been asking God and questions most of us have asked before. What it began to do for me, was nudge my work towards something inherently spiritual and although I would not have known it at the time, something sacramental.

Over the following years I portrayed a lot of dark and tragic roles: someone struggling with suicide, a heroine addict, a murderer among others. It was around this time when I began to ask God, “How can I portray these dark and troubled characters dynamically and truthfully, without being consumed by the darkness myself?” There are many tragic stories of young actors who become drug addicts after playing one in a film. The stories of drug overdoses and suicides among young actors and actresses are too many. I instinctively steered away from “Method Acting” and sought a different path, even though I didn’t know exactly what that would be.

It was around this time when I discovered Dostoevsky. It’s amazing to me now, being Orthodox that I wasn’t able to comprehend anything about the Orthodox Church as I read his books. It was like a veil, I suppose. But what I did discover was a kindred soul. Here was someone who was writing about very dark and tragic characters and themes but from a place of beauty—from a place of the Light of Christ. Prince Myshkin, from the “The Idiot”, changed my life. I clung to Dostoevsky in my heart as I approached portraying these dark characters and prayed, “Lord, please help me to portray the darkness of this world from a place of purity and light. Please, help me not to be overcome by the darkness, but to infiltrate the darkness with Your Light. Without you I can do nothing. I am nothing, I have nothing and I can do nothing without You, Lord. Amen.”

This is a snap shot so to speak, of the journey towards writing, “The Mystery Of Art”. These were the seeds, which by God’s grace, grew over time. There were so many important and profound spiritual realities that I wasn’t exposed to at the time, because I had not encountered the Holy Orthodox Church. I was grasping in the dark, looking for answers, feeling my way towards Christ, as best I could, but I always knew that something was missing; something significant and crucial to my relationship with God. There is a beautiful Scripture in the Gospel of John where Christ says,

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

I was one those lambs who was not of this fold. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and your prayers, He found me and brought me home. My journey to the Orthodox Faith took many years and was paved with blood and heartache. I carried all of these artistic questions and experiences with me as my family and I came into the Church for salvation, deliverance and healing.

See also: Jonathan Jackson’s Orthodox Acceptance Speech at the Emmy’s

See photos from his visit to Mount Athos for the first time with his 11 year-old son Caleb (2015), where they stayed  for five days visiting Simonopetra and Xenophontos monasteries, and spent most of his time at Vatopaidi Monastery (Friday till Tuesday) where he met the Abbot, Elder Ephraim, and attended an all-night vigil on Saturday night.

While at Vatopaidi Monastery, Jonathan also gave a testimony of how he converted to Orthodoxy for Pemptousia, which can be seen here.

A Conversation About God

With Actor Jonathan Jackson & Dr. Norris Chumley

While Jonathan’s views about Art in his book The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God are quite controversial, as two opposing book reviews below indicate(*), the narrative of his conversion and finding the true Church in “A Conversation About God” is captivating.

Watch a fascinating conversation about God, Conversion and Art, with Actor Jonathan Jackson and Dr. Norris Chumley:

Orthodox Christian Network

 

(*) Moses Benjamin Cabe (Ben Cabe) is praising Jackson’s views here, while  Richard Barrett (Orthodox Arts Journal) urges caution in

The problem of art in Anglophone Orthodoxy: a review essay” .

As for me, I am undecided yet and still studying the matter. Jackson invokes Dostoyevski‘s  quotation “Beauty will save the world.” and quotes Elder Porphyrios’ words in Wounded by Love“Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”, both  central in my life and this blog.

Indeed, you do not have to be a Christian to create true art.  In fact, it may be that you have to become an artist before you are able to truly become a Christian. Jackson adds  that, when someone is drawn to the beauty of a certain piece of music or painting, he is really being drawn to Christ.  Far removed from Christ is anyone who does not, and cannot, appreciate beauty.  “It is an incredible thing to discover that Christianity is an experience of saying yes to what is truly beautiful. …  From the beginning, the pure and ancient faith of Christ, which is still alive today, proclaims that God is beautiful!”

While Jackson is surely right in all this, there are other claims he makes in this book which may be problematic and will hopefully be addressed in future blog posts, when this whole matter is clearer in my mind…

My Conversion To Orthodoxy

fr-jonathan

Fr. Jonathan Hemmings (Orthodox Christian Parish of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross at Lancaster) talks about his conversion to Orthodoxy, his meeting Metropolitan Anthony of Sourouzh, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, and other Living Signposts God of the Faith, and his last book, Fountains in the Desert.

 

For a more detailed testimony of Fr. Jonathan’s Conversion go to Finding the Faith of Joseph of Arimathea

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