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Τρίτη, 15 Ιανουαρίου 2013

FROM GENERAL HOSPITAL TO THE HOSPITAL OF SOULS: INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN JACKSON ON ANCIENT FAITH RADIO




My Dear people in the living Christ,

I found this interview on Ancient Faith Radio, an Orthodox Christian radio program out of Chicago posted on the internet. It is a most unusual interview not because this young actor discovered the Orthodox Christian Church but the way he initially responded to our Church when he entered it for the first time.  Those of us who are cradle Orthodox Christians should be aware of the profound impact our Church has on the souls of people who are exposed to it for the first time.  It is a long interview and I will share with you only the key points that I think speak to the souls of all human beings.  The Presence of God is awesome and when we encounter His Presence in our Orthodox Houses of worship we should be aware of how powerful and overwhelming His presence can be.  We Orthodox Christians who have been born into the Church sometimes take for granted the great gift of salvation into which we have been born.  I pray that the words of Jonathan Jackson will have the same impact upon your souls as they did upon my soul.

+Fr. Constantine J. Simones, Waterford, CT USA, Jan. 14, 2013

            Jonathan Jackson is an actor and a musician who is best known for his guest role as Lucky Spencer on General Hospital. He has won four Emmys.  Jonathan says that both of his parents were raised as Seventh-Day Adventists, probably about four generations on each side.  Jonathan started acting at the age of 11 in General Hospital.  He was an active member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church until he was about eleven years of age.  After that he went on a spiritual journey seeking to fill his thirst for God.  He says when he was 12 or 13 he could not see the purpose of going to Church.  He said it made no to sense to him.  He loved God, loved Jesus, but Church was just an absolutely confusing concept. It was almost pointless to him.  He thought he could read books, listen to tapes and that was sufficient for him to fulfill his spiritual needs. 

            Jonathan got married at the age of 20 to an actress that he met on the General Hospital show.  His wife was a non-practicing Roman Catholic and for ten years both of them were involved in the charismatic movement.  Then Jonathan’s first encounter with the Orthodox Church happened when he was to Romania to work on a film.  He said there were Orthodox Churches on just about every corner in Romania.  But at that time of life Jonathan thought that anything ancient was oppressive and too religious. He went into a few Orthodox Churches, super-small with lots of gold and it completely appeared foreign to him.  Both he and his wife thought that the Orthodox Church was an awkward cousin of Roman Catholicism. They thought that Orthodoxy was some bizarre offshoot of Rome.

            Jonathan started reading history books and they were all either Protestant or Roman Catholic.  There was almost no mention of Orthodoxy or of the Eastern Church.  Jonathan spent three years reading Christian history, and encountered almost nothing about the Eastern Orthodox Church, because they are all written by Western historians.  Jonathan was at a place where he discovered that what he considered to be the historic Church was the only option and He thought that it led back to Rome. But “there were some things about Roman Catholicism that I couldn’t quite reconcile, things like the Papal infallibility, especially how late that became an official doctrine, like around 1870 or something.” 

            “I finally, after three years, came to this turning point where I thought, my wife and I started going to some Catholic Masses. We probably went to over twelve masses over the course of that journey.  And it was interesting because I went there and I was very moved by the Holy Spirit, just moved, and I thought, wow I am in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is a historic faith.  But I also felt like I was experiencing the Middle Ages again.  It wasn’t until I went to an Orthodox Church for the first time that I felt that I was in the presence of the ancient Church, the original ancient Church.  Anyway I came to this point where I realized, “am I going to become Catholic?  And there were just a few things, very big things in my heart that I couldn’t quite wrap my soul around, so I was literally praying for a third door to open.  I asked God: I said, “I no longer understand Protestantism,” because to me, a house divided against itself cannot stand.  There are over 23,000 denominations in America alone.

            I was praying, and I had many nights that were bordering on a sort of almost dark night of the soul, a tormenting search for truth, because I so desperately wanted to be united with the ancient faith. And yet, there was just something about the Roman Catholic faith that was not fully resonating with me.  But all I knew was that the other option was to remain Protestant.  I came to the end of that search after about three years, and I finally was praying and just said, “I guess at this point, because I can’t fully embrace Roman Catholicism, I’m going to have to be a sort of disenfranchised Protestant.”  And suddenly this thought came into my head.  I don’t know how it happened.  I thought, “Before I completely throw in the towel on this whole thing and just become a resigned Protestant, I’ve never studied the Great Schism.  I thought that is one thing I should probably look at. As soon as I looked that up, it was like lightening.  All of these things started to click.  I don’t even know how it happened.  It was like a blur.  I think the first book I read was by Fr. Anthony McGuckin, and it had just been released.  It was a new book, and I got it on my iPhone, and it’s entitled The Orthodox Church.”

            After reading this book Jonathan contacted an Orthodox priest in the Seattle area.  Both he and his wife connected with this priest. This encounter led to attending his first service in the Orthodox Church.  “I was by myself, because I was still scouting this out.  It was interesting because the first reaction I had when I entered that Church was I got this very, very strong feeling that said, “Leave, run. Just get out. Just go. Don’t.  You shouldn’t be here.”  And I thought it was so strange, because I had already read quite a few books, I knew in my heart that this was where God was sending me, and I thought, wow. I almost started sweating; it was like this really intense thing.  I was very uncomfortable.  I didn’t know anybody.  It was very foreign.  I didn’t know what to do and all of that, but, after that, I felt like the Holy Spirit said, “No, stay for the whole thing, and then you’ll know how you feel about it.” I said, okay, I can do this.  I can do this.  So the first 45 minutes was just absolute discomfort.”

            The interviewer, Fr. Andrew, responds to this by saying; “you know, you’re not the first person I’ve heard that from.  There’s been a lot of people that, when they encounter Orthodoxy, that there is this strange sense of discomfort, and I think, to sort of put it into an interpretive matrix, I think it’s because you really are standing in the Presence of God.  And just as your reaction to seeing the Pantocrator (an icon of the all-encompassing Christ) was to throw out some four-letter words, what does one say in the Presence of God?  What does one do or feel?  I actually saw one guy who was an atheist who came to an Orthodox Church because he was interested in a girl who was attending, and he was present for about 20 minutes, and then he ran out of the Church and threw up on the front lawn and literally ran away.  That’s a little bit more extreme than your reaction.”

            Jonathan responds by saying: “I was sweating.  I was on my way there (running away).  But it was like a vivid thought.  It was not my own thought.  It was like: Run. Leave. Get out of here now.  And I thought, “What on earth? That’s not… I don’t think that’s from God, but what is going on here?  The incredible thing was: “Stay for the whole thing and then you’ll know how you feel.  Forty-five minutes into it, something happened.  The whole room transformed, and it went from utter discomfort to and I’ll tell you when it was for Orthodox listeners who would know in the Divine Liturgy—it was right after the homily, after the prayers for the catechumens.  Whatever hymn is sung—I’m sure there are many, but there’s a specific hymn that is sung after “Catechumens Depart.”  And the whole place virtually transformed.  It was the cherubic hymn that was being sung.

              So that is what happened to me, because heaven opened up.  And I was just standing there.  From one extreme of just “Get out of here.  This is just really foreign and bizarre and uncomfortable,” to tears streaming down my face, completely captivated.  And what captivated me in that moment was I had never seen a corporate body of people praying to God with such humility.  I just had never seen it. It took my breath away, to see people crossing themselves and saying, “Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.” And it wasn’t the self-flagellation, I’m-a-worm kind of repentance.  It wasn’t like that at all.  It was a repentance that was somehow connected to joy.  It was somehow connected to the Resurrection.  It was somehow like a romantic connection with God.  I had never seen that before, and as tears were streaming down my face, I just found myself praying, “All I want to do is be here, in the Presence.  I don’t care about anything else in the world. All I want to do is just be here in this Presence with this body of people.  Not just the local body of people, but the Body.”
           
            My dear people, this interview with Jonathan Jackson speaks for itself and we Orthodox Christians should seriously reexamine our relationship with the Orthodox Church if when we attend our local Church don’t get these same feelings. Jesus has given us the pearl of great price and we should understand that it is the greatest possession that we will ever have in our lives.

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones


            The following overview of what the Orthodox Church is and how it relates to Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is a good addition to the interview with Jonathan Jackson.  I believe it gives us a good synoptic insight into what exactly the Eastern Orthodox Church teaches and believes.



PRESENTING ORTHODOXY

            There are 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world.  Most of them live in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia and the Ukraine. There many other millions throughout the world.Three million Americans are Orthodox Christians.  The heaviest concentrations of Orthodox in America are in Alaska, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio.  Organized Orthodox Church life first came to America in 1794 with missionaries from Old Russia who came to Alaska.  Centuries of vigorous Orthodox missionary activity across 12 time zones in northern Europe and Asia was halted by the Communists after the Soviet Revolution in 1917.  Orthodox missions are active in Central Africa, Japan, Korea and many other parts of the world.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE HOLY
ORTHODOX CHURCH

Are you Jewish? 

No. We are most definitely Christians.

Oh, then, you are Orthodox Presbyterians? 

No. We are neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic. Oh, you mean like Eastern Orthodox? Yes, except that we as Americans are very much in and of the West.  Ironically it is from the West that the Eastern Orthodox Church came to these shores some two hundred years ago through Alaska and California. Since that time Orthodox Christianity has been flourishing in the Americas.



Is that like Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox?

Yes, but the Orthodox Church is One Church. Currently, however, Church organization in North America is divided among several different jurisdictions, or governing bodies of varying national origin within the One Church.  The doctrine and worship of each jurisdiction and parish is the same, though in some, languages other than English continue to be used in the services.

I thought there are just two kinds of Christians, Protestants and Catholics.  How can you claim you are neither?

From the Orthodox point of view, Roman Catholicism is a medieval modification of original Orthodoxy of the Church in Western Europe, and Protestantism is a later attempt to return to the original Faith.  To our way of thinking, the Reformation did not go far enough.  We respectfully differ with Roman Catholicism on the questions of papal authority, the nature of the Church, and a number of other consequent issues.  Historically, the Orthodox Church is both pre-Protestant and pre-Roman Catholic in the sense that many modern Roman Catholic teachings were developed much later in Christian history. The word Catholic is a Greek word meaning having to do with wholeness.  We do consider ourselves Catholic in that sense of the word, that is, as proclaiming and practicing the Whole Faith.  In fact, the full title of our Church is The Orthodox Catholic Church.  We find that Protestants readily relate to Orthodoxy’s emphasis on personal faith and Scriptures.  Roman Catholics easily identify with Orthodoxy’s rich liturgical worship and sacramental life.  Roman Catholic visitors often comment, “In lots of ways your liturgy reminds me of our old High Mass.”  Many of the polarities between Protestants and Roman Catholics (i.e. “Word versus Sacrament” or “Faith versus Works’) have never arisen in the Orthodox Church.  We believe Orthodox theology offers the “western” denominations a way in which apparently opposite differences can be reconciled.

Why do you call yourselves Orthodox?

The word Orthodox was coined by the ancient Christian Fathers of the Church, the same traditionally given to the Christian writers in the first centuries of Christian history.  Orthodox is a combination of two Greek words, orthos and doxa.  Orthos means straight or correct. (It is also found in the word orthopedics, which in the original Greek means the correct education of children.) Doxa means at one and the same time glory, worship and doctrine. So the word Orthodox signifies both proper worship and correct doctrine.  The Orthodox Church today is identical to the undivided Church in ancient times.  The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther once remarked that he believed the pure Faith of primitive Christianity is to be found in the Orthodox Church.

Then you must be a very conservative Church.

In current American usage, the word conservative and liberal indicate a variety of often-conflicting viewpoints.  Usually we don’t really fit either category very well.  On seven major occasions during the first millennium of Christianity the leaders of the worldwide Church, from Britain to Ethiopia, from Spain and Italy to Arabia, met to settle crucial issues of Faith.  The Orthodox Church is highly conservative in the sense that we have not added to or subtracted from any of the teachings of those seven
Ecumenical Councils.  But that very conservatism often makes us liberal in certain questions of civil liberties, social justice and peace.  We are very conservative, or rather traditional, in our liturgical worship.

Which do you believe in, the Bible or Tradition?

A good short answer to this question is Yes! The question implies precisely a kind of polarity (i.e. Bible versus Tradition) which is not found in the Orthodox Christian worldview.  Tradition or in Greek paradosis, is used very often in the New Testament both as a verb and a noun.  (See 1 Cor. 11:23), where literally translating the original Greek, Paul says “for I received of the Lord that which I also have traditioned to you…”  See also 1 Cor. 11:2, and 11 Thess. 2:15 and 3:6).

Tradition means that which is handed over.  The New Testament carefully distinguishes between traditions of men and The Tradition, which is the Faith handed over to us by Christ in the Holy Spirit.  That same Faith was believed and practiced several decades before the New Testament Scriptures were set down in writing and given canonical (i.e., official) status.  We experience the Tradition as timeless and ever timely, ancient and ever new. We distinguish between the Tradition (with a capital T) which is the Faith/Practice of the Undivided Church, and traditions (with a little t) which are local or national customs. Due to changing circumstances, sometimes cherished traditions must be altered or respectfully laid aside for the sake of The Tradition.

The New Testament Scriptures are the primary written witness to the Tradition.  Orthodox Christians therefore believe the Bible, as the inspired Word of God, is the heart of the Tradition.  In the New Testament all basic Orthodox doctrine and sacramental practice is either specifically set forth, or alluded to as already a practice of the Church in the first century AD.  Tradition is witnessed to also by the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Nicene Creed, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, by the liturgical worship and iconography of the Church, and in the lives of the Saints.

Do you mean you Orthodox believe your elaborate worship is based on the Bible? I’d like to know where.

The Christian Church learned to worship in the Jewish Temple and in the Synagogues.  Again and again the New Testament tells us that Jesus, Paul and the others worshipped regularly in Jewish houses of worship (See for instance Luke 4:16); Acts 3:1, Acts 17:102).  We know from archaeology, and from modern Jewish practice, that Synagogue worship was and is highly liturgical, i.e. communal, organized, ceremonial, and done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40).  The French Protestant biblical scholar Oscar Cullman demonstrates very convincingly in his little book Early Christian Worship that when John describes heavenly worship in the Book of Revelation, he is following the Hebrew custom of portraying Heaven’s worship in terms of earthly liturgy.  The writers of the Bible thought of earthly worship as a shadow or type of Heaven’s liturgy, (See Isaiah 6, Hebrews 8:4-6). In other words, a biblical passage such as the fourth and fifth chapters of the Book of Revelation gives us an accurate picture of a very early Christian worship service.  That service very much resembles modern Orthodox worship.

Orthodox worship is also very Scriptural in the sense that it is a kaleidoscopic mosaic of Scriptural quotations, paraphrases, references, and allusions.  It is, quite literally, to pray the Bible.  Apart from the fact that we worship in English, and use modern harmonies with our ancient melodies, our services are basically identical to those of the early Christian Church. For that reason our worship sometimes seems a bit strange to Protestant and Roman Catholic visitors.  We often hear, “Your services are just beautiful, and the music is outstanding, but they feel somewhat different”.


It sounds as if you are rigidly bound by your Tradition.  You mean it can’t  be changed?

The Tradition as a set of basic principles outlining our worldview is a constant. Its very constancy, however, sometimes will even demand change. As a simple instance of this, by Tradition our worship is to be celebrated in a language understood by the worshipping congregation.  This means the Tradition not infrequently requires a change in liturgical language.  As another instance, the Tradition also requires constant change in us as, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we grow spiritually and respond ever more fully to the call of God in Jesus Christ.

Do you have the Virgin Mary, Saints, pray for the dead, and have confession like the Catholics?

There are points of contact between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic belief on these issues, and modern Roman Catholic practice.  There are also significant differences.  To discuss them in depth is beyond the scope of this short summary.  The following is a brief statement of the Orthodox point of view.  We honor the Virgin Mary as higher than the Cherubim and more glorious that the Seraphim because she is the woman who gave birth to Jesus, Who is the Word of God, Who is God, (in Greek, Theotokos).  We call her blessed and think of her as the greatest of missionaries, for her unique mission was to deliver the Word of God to the world.   (See Luke 1:43,48: John 1:1, 14; Galatians 4:1).  We likewise honor the other great men and women in the life and history of the Church—patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors and ascetics—who committed their lives so completely to the Lord, as models of what it means to be fully and deeply Christian.  These men and women are called saints; a word deriving from the ancient Latin word meaning holy.  For example, we believe that men like the Apostle Paul—in their devotion to Christ—led holy lives and that we are called indeed to be imitators of him, as he was of Christ.

We also believe that in the risen Christ, prayer transcends the barrier between life and death and that those who have gone before us pray for us, as we remember them in our prayers.  In Christ, we are one family.  (See Hebrews 12:1; 11 Timothy 1:16-18).  As indicated in John 20:21-23, and James 5:14-16, we practice sacramental confession and absolution of sins.  The priest is the sacramental agent of Christ. The priest sacra- mentally conveys Christ’s forgiveness, not his own.

Does your Church practice Open Communion?

In the strictest sense the Communion of the Orthodox Church is open to all repentant believers.  That means we are glad to receive new members in the Orthodox Church.  The Orthodox concept of Communion is totally holistic, and radically different from that of most other Christian groups.  We do not separate the idea of Holy Communion from Being in Communion, Full Communion, Inter-Communion and total Communion in the Faith.  In the Orthodox Church therefore, to receive Holy Communion, or any other Sacrament (Mystery), is taken to be a declaration of total commitment to the Orthodox Faith.  While we warmly welcome visitors to our services, it is understood that only those communicant members of the Orthodox Church who are prepared by confession and fasting will approach the Holy Mysteries.

Why do you have all those pictures in your Church?

Icons are not pictures in the sense of naturalistic representations.  They are rather stylized and symbolic expressions of divinized humanity. (See ll Peter 1:4; l John 3:2).  Icons for the Orthodox are sacramental signs of God’s Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).  We do not worship icons.  Rather, we experience icons as Windows into Heaven.  Like the Bible, icons are earthly points of contact with transcendent Reality.  In the original Greek of the New Testament Christ is called several times the icon (image) of God the Father.  (See ll Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).  Man himself was originally created to be the icon of God (Genesis 1:27).

Do Orthodox Christians pray to icons?

Christians pray in the presence of icons (just as Israelites prayed in the presence of icons in the Temple), but we do not pray to the image. (I would add to this that we honor the prototype that the icons represent.  We pray to God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We reverence icons.  We venerate icons).

Isn’t all your old-fashioned doctrine and worship a bit irrelevant to modern American life?

We believe that God quite literally does exist. He is not a figment of pious fiction or wishful thinking.  God and His will is therefore our top priority.  We believe that the Word of God quite literally became Incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth. We believe that the Lord Jesus literally rose from the dead in a real though transfigured and glorified physical body. We believe that life apart from God is hollow and meaningless.  We notice that people today talk often of meaningfulness, the meaning of life, meaningful relationships, the common good, the good of humanity, hope for the future of mankind and so on.  Also, various cults continue to attract many followers in all parts of our land. This indicates to us that people today are hungry for the answers we believe God has revealed through His word, Who is Jesus Christ.

We believe ultimate human values are revealed to us by God, and serve as constant guides in the use of our steadily expanding scientific knowledge. We seek to evaluate technological advances in the light of those basic values.  In our experience that our  venerable Liturgy and the ancient Christian doctrines about God the meaning of human life are just as relevant today as yesterday.  These define our basic values.  We know the whole ancient Christian Faith as that which makes more sense than anything else in this world of constant change, confusion and conflict.  God is the Source of all Meaning; we believe that mankind’s noble ideals such as truth, beauty, freedom and love, are not merely ideals, but real characteristics of a real Lord.

In and through Christ Jesus, God reveals Himself in human terms and in human terminology as One Who is at the same time Trinity of Persons. God is not three people.    The One God is revealed as having three personal Centers of Being. God is therefore neither alone nor lonely, for the One Lord is also perfect Communion of persons, God as Trinity is the model and source of human inter-personal communion and fellowship.

Man was created capable of communion (mystical union) with God. Human matrimony is a favorite biblical image of this communion-relationship.  Our capacity for divine communion was soon damaged by human error, stubbornness, and evil (i.e., sin).  Because of God’s infinite love, our potential for communion with God has been restored, renewed, and transfigured by Christ Jesus. Christ communicates His very life to us through His Word and Sacraments.  In Christ and the Holy Spirit we can and do experience varying degrees of a mystical union with God now in this life, and on a regular basis. We believe that the purpose of human life is for us to become partakers of the divine nature through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, in prayer, sacrament, study of the Word, fasting, self-discipline, and active love for others.  All other human projects and purposes, however noble, and important, remain secondary to that, which give ultimate meaning to human existence.

GOD IS GLORFIED IN HIS HOLY SAINTS
ΔΟΞΑ ΤΩ ΘΕΩ ΕΝ ΤΟΙΣ ΑΓΙΟΙΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ



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