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Word Magazine February 1999 Page 4-6
A JOURNEY HOME
By Michael Simmons
I’ve been on a journey! For fourteen years I have struggled with “What is the truth about the Church?” I have floated around, feeling hopeless at times, trying to find solid ground to stand on, no longer believing in the church world I had been a part of since 1973, yet believing in the Christ who is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22, 23). I have studied the Bible, theology, doctrine, and church history. I have visited various churches comparing denominational distinctives. I have listened consistently for years to the myriad of Evangelical voices that dominate Christian radio, and read many of their books.
My journey brought me to the realization that there had to be one true Church, or Christianity is a maze of contradictory interpretations that makes a mockery out of the One who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life …“, and who also said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it ….” The best that could be expected from us was to settle in our hearts which one of these thousands of denominations or non-denominational churches was truest “to us” and to plug in and do work for God.
My journey took me back in time, a century at a time. First it was twentieth century American Christianity: Evangelicals, Charismatic movements, and Pentecostal denominations. Then the Baptists, Wesleyans, Methodists, Church of God-Anderson, Reformed Church, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others of the previous four centuries, until I was faced with studying the Roman Catholic Church. While my study of all the protestant groups gave me an understanding and even an appreciation for each of them, I didn’t expect the same results or feeling when I examined Roman Catholicism. But studying Roman Catholic teachings for myself I was astonished to discover that I was persuaded to embrace many of their teachings. I was beginning to see the veracity of holy Tradition, Apostolic Succession, the Sacraments, Mary as the Mother of God, and the Communion of Saints. But there were also too many disturbing doctrines and dogmas. So it seemed that, although it was a fruitful study, I was still left to choose for myself which part of the “church” I would be a Christian in, embracing those things I could see as true, and ignoring the things I couldn’t see as true.
But there was one church remaining to consider, the Eastern Orthodox Church. And I figured I would end up with the same results as my study of Roman Catholicism because, having grown up in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I thought Eastern Orthodoxy was the same as Roman Catholicism except we didn’t have a pope. I was in for shock after shock as I studied the beliefs, the history, the spirituality, and the worship of the Orthodox Church. I was amazed at the “ring of truth” I heard as I studied the Orthodox Faith. Then I began my visits of Orthodox churches and monasteries and was blown away by the beauty, by the hymns and spiritual songs, by the prayers and profound theology, and, of course, by all the scripture in the Liturgy.
My journey came to a joyful conclusion on November 13, 1998 (the feast day of St. John Chrysostom) when I was reconciled to the holy Orthodox Church at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Greensburg, PA through the ministry of Father John Nosal. I have discovered peace and safety in the Church, which is the “Ark” of God. Not only are we called to believe in Jesus Christ, but we are called to believe in His Church, which is His Body.
I am excited to share with you my discovery of the Orthodox Faith, along with a list of “Things I Discovered” for your prayerful consideration.
THINGS I DISCOVERED
I discovered the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the one true church, built by Christ on the foundation of the holy Apostles and Prophets, that the Orthodox Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and has preserved the Faith unchanged since the day of Pentecost (Mt. 16:13-18; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Tim. 3:15; Jude 3).
I discovered Holy Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. It is not the traditions of men; it is the truth of God that has been believed “everywhere, always, and by all”, and His Church has passed it on from generation to generation in the Scriptures, in the Divine Liturgy, in the teachings of the Fathers, in the canons of the seven Ecumenical Councils, and in the Prayers of the Church (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; Mt. 15:3-9; Col. 2:8; 2 Thess. 3:6; Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 2:1, 2).
I discovered Holy Scripture, given by the inspiration of God, was given to us by the Orthodox Church, and was not to be privately interpreted, but understood and correctly interpreted in the context of the life of the Church (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16).
I discovered Liturgy is the God-ordained way of worship, that the worship pattern given to Moses for God’s people continued into the New Testament with Christ becoming the substance of all the types and foreshadowing’s of Old Testament worship, that Liturgy with its ritual and ceremony and all the symbolism contained therein is for God’s glory, for our edification, and for the salvation of the whole world (Acts 13: 1, 2; Heb. 13:10; John 4:22-24; Eph. 5:17, 18; Col. 3:16; Heb. 8:1-5; Heb. 9:23-25; Rev. 4-5; Isaiah 6; Luke 4:16; Exodus 24-40).
I discovered the Eucharist (Communion) is truly the body and blood of Christ by which we are nourished and receive the grace of God, that it is a mystery we enter into by faith and love (1 Cor. 10:15-17; 1 Cor. 11:23-34; John 6; Mt. 26:26-28; Mk. 14:22-24; Lk. 22:19, 20).
I discovered the Mysteries (sacraments) of the Church were instituted by Christ for our salvation, and produce an action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They are Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Eucharist, Confession, Holy Matrimony, Ordination, and Holy Unction (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:37-39; Acts 8:14- 17; 1 Cor. 11:23-34; 1 John 1:7-2:2; Mt. 16:19; John 20:22, 23; John 2:1-11; Eph. 5:22-33; 2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim.5:22; Jms. 5:14-17).
I discovered Mary, the mother of Jesus, is Theotokos (the God-bearer), that she is ever-virgin, and is to be called blessed by all generations, that she is not only the Mother of God, she is the mother of us all, and is our foremost example among the saints of faith, obedience, humility, and purity (Luke 1:26-66; Gen. 3:15; John 2:5; Isaiah 7:14; Ezek. 44:1, 2; Ps. 45:9; John 19:26, 27).
I discovered the Communion of Saints, that those who have departed to be with the Lord and those who remain on earth are one family, one church; that when we on earth enter into worship in the Divine Liturgy those saints who have gone on before us enter into worship with us; that we may ask a saint to pray for us as easily as we would ask our dearest Christian friend, for there is no difference in the Kingdom of God, and we are to follow their examples of faith and holiness (Heb. 12:1, 22-24; Luke 20:37,38; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 23:43; Rev. 4:4, 10, 11; 5:8-10, 13; 6:9-11; 7:9-12; Phil. 1:21- 25; 2 Cor. 5:8; Mt. 17:1-9; Mk. 9:2-10; Lk. 9:28-36; John 11:25, 26; Eph. 1:22, 23; Rom. 8:38, 39; 2 Kings 13:20, 21; Ps. 97:10; Ps.116:15; Ps. 149:5, 9; Prov. 2:8; Dan. 7:22; 1 Cor. 11:1).
I discovered Icons are windows to heaven revealing the glory of God,, passage ways into the kingdom of God, Holy images to be venerated, through which we see Christ and the Father, that Icons of saints give us holy role models to follow as patterns for our lives. Icons help us worship God, and at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 A.D. the entire Christian Church decreed that Icons should be set forth in the Holy Churches of God (Ex. 25:22; 26:1; 1 Cor. 4:6; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; Heb. 1:1-3; Gal. 6:14; Heb. 12:2).
I discovered Church History reveals the Orthodox Church has preserved the Faith once delivered to the Saints throughout the centuries, and though the Roman Catholic Church was one with the Holy Orthodox Church for the first millennium of church history, the Roman Catholic Church departed from the One True Church, Holy Orthodoxy, through heretical innovations creating the great schism of 1054. Nearly five hundred years later the Protestants attempted to reform the Roman Catholic Church but only ended us creating their own heretical innovations, which have led to the hundreds of denominations which place their own interpretation on Holy Scripture to the exclusion of Holy Tradition.
I discovered the Church Fathers of the Orthodox Church, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, defended the Faith against heretics and gave to the Church the rich treasure of Trinitarian theology, Incarnational Christology, Sacramental Pneumatology, the Nicene Creed, the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Divine Liturgy, the Prayer of the Church, and all sound doctrine.
I discovered Salvation is through God’s mercy and by His grace, but that it is not a static one-time experience. It is rather a life-long process of union with God, of Theosis (deification), of being changedfrom glory to glory by acquiring the Holy Spirit, being conformed to the image of Christ, and being a partaker of God’s divine nature (Tit. 3:4-7; 2 Cor. 3:16-18; John 15:1-7; 2 Pet. 1:1-12; Rom. 8:29).
I discovered Orthodox Spirituality gives us the tools necessary to do spiritual warfare, to struggle ascetically toward Theosis (union with God). These tools include the sacraments, the Church community, the Church calendar (seasonal fasts and festal celebrations), the Divine Services, the Hours of Prayer, the lexicon of daily scripture readings, the call to almsgiving, the witness of the monastic communities, the ministry of the Bishops, priests, deacons, and spiritual fathers to guide us (Mt. 5-7;
Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 6:10-18; 1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Cor. 7:1-5; Acts 14:23).
Finally, I discovered Apostolic Succession, that the bishops of today have directly succeeded from the Apostles of Christ, that Orthodox Church government is hierarchical as found in Scripture, with bishops, priests (presbyters) and deacons functioning in divine order, and that bishops meet in council to be led by the Holy Spirit in decision-making (Acts 15; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-15; Titus 1:5-9; Eph. 4:11-14; 1 Cor. 12:27-31; Acts 6:1-7; Acts 14:23).
Michael Simmons, a former non-denominational minister, is a member of St. Michael Church, Greensburg, PA.
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