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Can Americans Really Be at Home in the Orthodox Church?

From the time I first became aware of Eastern Christianity via the Byzantine Catholic Church, and especially after the culmination of my search for the Truth led me and my wife to be baptized in the Orthodox Church, I have had a desire to spread the ancient Christian faith and to share everything I have learned with others. Orthodox Christianity provides the cure to the problems of mankind, and yet it is not well known in the West, something which I lament and which I am working to overcome in my own small way (but let the credit go to God, Who called and equipped me, and to my bishop Metropolitan Pavlos, in whose name I act).

Driving around North Carolina and Virginia, I would scope out places where Churches could be planted, monasteries built, and the Gospel preached. It was all very exciting to me, and over the years my fervor increased, until the time in 2006 when we put theory into practice and founded St. Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Soon, we were dialoging with others interested in missions, and eventually after my ordination to the priesthood, we founded Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Greenville, NC.

Throughout all of this process, I found that the Orthodox Church naturally appeals to people. Almost everyone I have ever spoken with has been positive about Orthodoxy, except for a few principled Calvinists, traditionalist Roman Catholics, and Baptists. Conservative Christians appreciate our unchanging moral witness, while even liberal Christians find icons and our deep spiritual tradition to be a thing of beauty. Most of the people I have interacted with, though, have not converted. Is Orthodoxy perhaps just too foreign for Americans?

I have often heard this claim, and various supporting examples. Yet what’s interesting is that I have almost never heard it from non-Orthodox! Most often, it is self-identified Orthodox Christians who seem to be the ones that make this claim, usually in the context of arguing for various changes to Orthodox practices in order to make it more “accessible.”

One of the most common claims I hear made is that Byzantine chant is too exotic for Americans. The nasal, inflected nature of the music will just distract Americans. Yet my response is: which Americans?  Blues and modern R&B feature many of the same types of vocal inflections and embellishments that are present in Byzantine chant, and the same musical scales which permeate it are ubiquitous in modern rock and rap music; for instance, see Dick Dale & The Del Tones’ “Misirlou” from 1963 , or the popular sampling of Arabic and Indian music in rap and hip-hop songs by artists such as Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Truth Hurts. I know that from the first moment that I heard Byzantine chant, I was enthralled. Certainly, there are some who even after they become Orthodox find it to be grating on the ears, but I know of no one who did not convert to Orthodoxy because of the music.

Another popular myth is that Americans don’t know what a cassock is, are prone to thinking a priest in a cassock is actually a Muslim, and that as long as we wear long, black robes, we will never get anywhere. This claim is not only untrue, but it is also completely backwards. In my experience as an Orthodox priest in North Carolina, I am constantly approached by people who know I am a Christian priest, need prayers, or who want to talk about the faith. See my article “Why I Wear My Cassock to Wal-Mart” for more details. I have even had people come up and squeeze my hand or touch my pectoral cross and say “seeing you makes me feel comforted.” Imitating Western forms of clerical dress is not conducive to spreading the Orthodox faith and is a missed opportunity.

Occasionally, I hear the claim that our liturgy is too different than a Western Church service. One monastery I attended once is even involved with a project to change the Orthodox liturgical tradition to “make more sense” in our day and age. I remarked to them that plenty of converts were attracted to the received Orthodox liturgical tradition, while this monastery’s idiosyncratic attempt at redefining the liturgy was not spreading organically to other institutions, so this should be a sign. Here is one place where I have heard non-Orthodox make a criticism though, but these have all been High Church Anglicans who are used to the Book of Common Prayer. I can certainly sympathize with them, although a discussion of so-called “Western Rite Orthodoxy” is beyond the purview of this article.  I would simply remark that High Church Anglicanism itself seems foreign to many Americans, and we have had plenty of native North Carolinians come to our liturgies and Church functions, who have been struck by the beauty of the liturgy immediately. We even have had people in their 70’s come to the Church regularly, even though they had spent their entire life in Protestantism. The liturgy is not a barrier.

Other examples could be given, but I would like to close by mentioning that on a sunny Spring day in 2001, I looked out my office window in Downtown Raleigh and saw a line of Hare Krishna devotees going down the street, beating drums, and chanting to their pagan deity. Most of these devotees were White Americans. Research turned up their monastery in Hillsborough, and I see that there are hundreds of people who have converted to this religion in our area. Islam is a growing religion, too, as is Buddhism. All of these religions demand that converts adopt their lifestyle to the new religion, and not the other way around, and yet all of them are successful in a worldly, numerical sense.

Some may argue that if we adopted some of the changes mentioned above, more would convert to Orthodoxy. Yet in my missionary experience, I have not met anyone who did not convert to Orthodoxy because of cassocks, Byzantine Chant, or the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I have, however, encountered people who did not convert to Orthodoxy because they do not accept certain Orthodox doctrines, or because they did not want to make the changes necessary to live an Orthodox life.

Let us focus our missionary work on preaching Christ Crucified, the Church which He established, repentance and regeneration through baptism, reconciliation and forgiveness of sins leading to restoration and union with God. Let us follow the Tradition of the Church, not seeking to deliberately alter it, and thus free ourselves to focus on these things. Americans that are seeking the truth will find the Orthodox faith, despite any unfamiliar externals. I feel blessed to be working with many such individuals in my parishes.


Developing Future Church Leaders

Father Anastasios and Andrew at His Baptism

Father Anastasios and Andrew at His Baptism

In January, my godson Andrew moved to Raleigh to help us in our missionary efforts here in North Carolina. We met about eight years ago online, when he was still in high school and had just developed an interest in the Orthodox Christian faith. Eventually, he embraced the faith, and when he was baptized in January 2008, I served as his godfather.

The work that began here with lay-led services in November 2006 has certainly blossomed, but there is much to do; a lifetime of work, in fact. Orthodox Christianity is not well-known in the United States, and our traditionalist stance towards the questions of Ecumenism and the Church calendar places us even more in the minority. As such, Andrew did not have a parish to attend where he lived out West, and so coming to North Carolina to work with me was the best option for him to have a regular Church life. He also shares with me a great desire to see Orthodoxy spread here.

We thank God for sending him to us, because he is a hard worker and is quickly learning the many facets of serving in a small mission community. This has raised the question in my mind of streamlining and replicating the experience, because I’ve never been a “one trick pony” so to speak. My goal is to establish Churches which plant other Churches, and to do so aggressively. Rather than just starting one parish, I hope that a network of parishes will be established in this region over the coming years, and in fact, we are currently witnessing people across the state come forward and pray for and plan for missions in their own cities and towns.

How then can we best replicate this on a larger scale? It is important to learn from the work others are doing. Recently, I found the Raleigh Fellows program, and it intrigued me. I hope that this Anglican program can be adopted into an Orthodox context. I am currently in discussions with one of the Fellows to learn from the program.

The idea is still new in my head, but basically young men (eventually women as well) would come to the area to learn from me and the other leaders of our missions in North Carolina how we have accomplished what we have accomplished, and more importantly, develop their spiritual lives and hone their vision of the Church’s evangelistic work so they can apply it autonomously in their own contexts.

Perhaps in five-seven years we will have five or six young men living in the area and learning how to plant Orthodox missions, to be sent out upon the completion of their work to spread the Gospel and then found similar programs and initiatives in their area. Some would stay in North Carolina to help us, while others would serve in disparate places where there is a need for Orthodoxy to be established.

If you are interested in becoming an intern/fellow in such a program, please let me know, so that you can provide input as we lay out the vision for such a program. Others are invited to pray for us, or to support us financially in our efforts. Contact me for more details, and God bless you all.

Raleigh Orthodox Church Website Redesigned

We are pleased to announce that the website of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Raleigh has been completely redesigned!

Orthodox Church in Pittsboro, NC

Pittsboro, NC

The Historic Courthouse in Downtown Pittsboro

Last year, my family and I visited Pittsboro, North Carolina. We went shopping in their downtown area, and also drove around the area where Jordan Lake is (not being terribly outdoorsy people, though, we did not go on the Lake). I know two families that live in the area surrounding Pittsboro, and after my visit, I can see why.

Whenever I go to a new place, I pray for the people there that they will come to know Christ and the Church which He established: the Orthodox Christian Church. It is hard to imagine that residents of small towns like Pittsboro would have many opportunities to encounter Orthodox Christians, especially clergy. In my article “If Orthodoxy Is True, Why Have I Never Heard of It?” I give some reasons for why Orthodox Christianity is not well-known in the United States. However, it’s also true that Christ will ask each of us individually how we have worked to fulfill the Great Commission, and we will not be able to rely on any excuses.

A native of Pittsboro would have to travel 50 minutes in order to attend liturgy at St. Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is currently a small group of faithful traditional Orthodox Christians meeting at my home chapel while we grow large enough to afford a building. Even the closest New Calendar Greek parish—St. Barbara’s in Durham—is 22 miles from downtown Pittsboro. It is highly unlikely that Orthodoxy will reach large numbers of people in Pittsboro and greater Chatham County until an Orthodox mission parish is established in Pittsboro.

Yet we also know that the Internet has been a great tool for linking people to other people, places, and institutions which would have been inaccessible a generation ago. Perhaps someone in Pittsboro is currently looking into the Orthodox Church after having read about it online. Perhaps this post may reach him or her at the time when he or she is thinking of moving from curiosity to commitment. Yes, it is quite possible that some day, you will be the one bringing Orthodoxy to Pittsboro! Send me an email or give me a call (919-827-4945) today if you are Orthodox or are looking into Orthodoxy and wish to bring the True Faith of Christ to your community. We at St. Mark’s will do everything in our power to help you!

Wake Forest Needs an Orthodox Church

Wake Forest, North Carolina is a fast-growing suburb of Raleigh, the state capital. The population in 2009 was estimated to be 27,915, up from 12,588 at the 2000 census. Wake Forest has a family-friendly atmosphere, a reputation as a safe place to live, and offers many opportunities for recreation and shopping, with a mixture of national and regional chains and local small businesses. Wake Forest is also home to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which I blogged about visiting a few months ago.

What Wake Forest does not have, however, is an Orthodox Church.

As readers of the blog know, I am the pastor of Saint Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission Church, which is currently a small chapel community meeting in North Raleigh. We are traditional Orthodox who observe the Patristic Old Calendar and do not participate in ecumenical activities. There are also three parishes which belong to the New Calendar Church here in Raleigh. The following map shows the location of Saint Mark Orthodox Mission Church in relation to the locations of these three New Calendar parishes:

I am interested in the process of establishing missions and parishes in general, so while St. Mark’s does not have relations with the three New Calendar parishes over the aforementioned issues, it is nonetheless interesting to see how they have organized themselves. The second map shows the three New Calendar parishes, with a ten-mile radius highlighted around each one:

It is interesting to note that those living in the suburb of Cary, North Carolina, are at the intersection of the three parishes, and thus have the most coverage. Yet Wake Forest does not fall within the ten-mile radius of any of these parishes. From Downtown Wake Forest, the distance to these parishes is as follows:

Holy Trinity: 18.7 miles (28 minutes’ drive)
All Saints: 25 miles (36 minutes’ drive)
Holy Transfiguration: 25.4 miles (34 minutes’ drive)
(By comparison, St. Mark’s is 10.2 miles from Downtown Wake Forest [17 minutes’ drive]).

For many Orthodox, the prospect of a 30 minute drive is not too much in order to attend Church, but we also must recall that there are no other Orthodox Churches located up Capital Boulevard (Route 1) really until the Richmond area; thus, someone living in Henderson, North Carolina would have to travel 45 miles (54 minutes), whereas if there were a parish in Wake Forest, his commute would be shortened to 28 miles (33 minutes).

The Antiochian and OCA parishes are of a decent size, but not in a position to plant a daughter mission, while the Greek parish could plant a mission in Wake Forest or some other area of North Raleigh which would alleviate some of the pressure. However, they recently decided to expand their parish, a move which will cost several millions of dollars. They have their reasons for doing this, pooling resources being an effective way to manage their fellowship and charitable programs being one, also a desire not to split up a well-coalesced parish family into two, etc., but my concern and interest here is with missions and church planting, so further analysis and commentary is unnecessary.

In our Greenville, North Carolina mission, we are the closer of two missions to the city proper, and have more of an outreach and public visibility, and so we have grown by having people new to town come to the parish, even if they were not previously traditional Old Calendar Orthodox, or even Orthodox at all, but in Raleigh, with the existence of three established New Calendar parishes, mission strategy has to be different. Here, there is more of a need to highlight the distinctive nature of our traditionalist witness in order to convince new people to attend.

However, there is still a great opportunity to appeal to people in a geographic sense, as Wake Forest is not well covered by existing parishes, and there are people who cannot travel even 15 miles on a regular basis. Also, if we seek to have Orthodoxy grow, being able to invite family members and friends and neighbors is essential, and many are reluctant to travel so far for a visit. Finally, the proximity to the Baptist seminary is a good reason to have an Orthodox presence, as more and more Protestants discover Orthodoxy, which is the same Church established by Jesus Christ Himself and which has preserved all of the Apostolic doctrines without alteration, unlike the Western Churches.

For these reasons, Wake Forest needs an Orthodox Church. Saint Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission is currently meeting in my chapel in North Raleigh, but we are open to meeting wherever there is availability. Our Orthodox Church in Greenville, NC was founded when one family stepped forward and donated the land needed to have a Church building. Perhaps you are a pioneering Orthodox Christian living in Wake Forest who would like to donate land to establish a Church. Perhaps you are the pastor or a board member of a non-Orthodox Church which has been looking to relocate, and you would like to donate your current building to our mission efforts. Or perhaps you are just someone finding out about the Orthodox Church, and you want to talk about it with me. Whatever the case, send me an email or give me a call, and let’s see what the Lord has in store for His Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina!

Why I Wear My Cassock to Wal-Mart

Orthodox priests wear distinctive clothing: an inner robe (called a cassock), an outer robe or vest, a cross in the practice of some Churches, and properly a hat. The Orthodox canonical tradition makes it clear that this is not optional; the 27th Canon of the 6th Ecumenical Council states:

None who is counted with the clergy should dress inappropriately, when in the city, nor when travelling. Each should use the attire which was appointed for clergy members. If someone breaks this rule, may he be deprived of serving for one week.

Fr. Anastasios With His Daughter

Fr. Anastasios in Full Priestly Attire with His Daughter

In our missionary experience, however, there are times when I must go about my activities in civilian attire, for instance when I go to work at my secular job. The Metropolitan has authorized me and other working priests in our diocese to do this if necessary. It is not something that I enjoy, though, because it tends to create a feeling of split personality. After I arrive home from work, if I need to go back out, I put on my cassock.

Many of my Protestant friends have no understanding as to why an Orthodox priest is required to wear distinctive clothing, but unfortunately, even some Orthodox in our times have asked why it is necessary. More than once, I’ve heard or read a remark along the lines of, “well, is it really necessary to go to Wal-Mart in a cassock?” The implication being that somehow it is “too much” to wear a cassock while shopping.

I wear my cassock to Wal-Mart.

Fr. Anastasios and His Father

Fr. Anastasios in Informal Priestly Attire with His Father

An incident last week illustrates why this is the right thing to do. There is a Wal-Mart 5 minutes from my house, and one evening after work, my wife asked me to go pick up two or three items. I knew that I would be in the store for a maximum of ten or fifteen minutes. It would have been tempting to just go in my civilian garb; after all, I had just gotten home from work, was still wearing a shirt and pants, and could have easily just hopped in the car, taken care of business, and been back before I knew it. Instead, I put on the cassock and went.

When I arrived, an employee there approached me, and asked for prayers. She knew I was a priest, even if she was not Orthodox, and I asked her what she needed prayers for. This woman has suffered three great losses in the past few months. I blessed her, and went about my business shopping. I thought to hand her my business card just in case, and when I could not find her, I gave it to her co-worker. She called the next morning, and we met a few days later to discuss her circumstances more in-depth.

If I had not been in my cassock, I would have missed an opportunity to provide comfort to someone who needed it. Wearing a cassock is not always convenient, and the added attention can be hard at times. But it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus Christ, and the Church which He established. I am a minister of the Gospel of salvation, and if I do not present myself as such, an opportunity could be missed, and in this case would have been missed.

Sometimes people ask me if I am Orthodox; they are familiar with our Church. As Orthodoxy grows here, I expect that there will be more priests ordained, who will likewise wear their cassocks. As this occurs, Orthodoxy will become more and more known, and more and more people will become used to us, and seek us out. We priests should not deny them this opportunity.

An Orthodox Christian View of Multi-Site Churches

In my work as an Orthodox Christian missions priest here in North Carolina, I often have encounters with Evangelical pastors and Church planters. I want to understand the religious culture that I find myself in, and I want to learn from others’ experiences starting Churches, even if their context is often quite different than mine. I also hope to raise awareness of the Orthodox Church, and to make new friends.

Through these efforts, I have become aware of a newly-expanding trend in Evangelical Church life, the “Multi-Site Church” (also referred to as “Multi-Campus”). My interlocutors often ask what I, as an Orthodox Christian, might think of such a concept, and I also know that many of my fellow Orthodox Christians would not be familiar with the concept. Hence, I decided to write this brief article to offer an assessment of the phenomenon from an Orthodox viewpoint. Please note that I am designating this article as an Orthodox Christian view, and not necessarily the Orthodox Christian view.

A basic definition of a multi-site Church is “a Church which meets in multiple places.” In effect, it is a type of branding, where a recognized Church community creates satellite locations which use the same name and approach, and exist under the same leadership. A friend of mine who attends one such Church explained that there were people traveling from across town to attend the Church, people who would not be as able to bring their neighbors and friends to Church with them because of the distance. A satellite campus was therefore set up in an area where many were commuting from, so they could have the same Church experience in their own area and minister in their own neighborhood.

Points of Convergence

Hierarchy. The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical Church. There is an episcopate (the office of bishop), there are presbyters (priests) who serve under each bishop in a local Church, and there are deacons who assist the bishops and presbyters. This is not viewed as optional, or merely a point of administrative opinion. It is seen as divinely-inspired and part of the deposit of faith.

Bishops are the successors to the Apostles, and the presbyters are those who are given part of the ministry of bishop, but not that ministry in its entirety. Only the bishop can ordain, for instance. Presbyters serve under a bishop, and their preaching, teaching, and ministry is conducted in the name of the bishop, who cannot be present in all places at all times.

From the time of the early Church, there were bishops in the major cities of the Roman Empire, and presbyters assisted them in outlying gatherings, which were later identified as parishes. Country areas originally had bishops, but these were eventually replaced by simple presbyters under the direction of the bishop of the nearest city. This manifested that in any given area, there may be multiple gatherings, but only one Church under the authority of one bishop. Anything else would have meant a divided loyalty, divided attention, and overlapping jurisdiction and responsibility for the one flock.

Multi-Site Churches, interestingly enough, could be seen as a partial return to this earlier practice, from the extreme congregationalism that emerged during the Protestant Revolution of the 16th century and the subsequent influence of Revivalism. The pattern of local congregations planting other local congregations and then turning them loose soon thereafter could be seen as a visible sign of disunity, insofar as the planted Churches could end up disagreeing with the mother Church in even areas of doctrine, and competing with its mother and sister Churches in the same area for members. It would be hard to argue that this is the will of Christ. A Multi-Site Church could be viewed as the Church in a given area, with the satellite locations being parishes under the authority of the lead pastor, who would be similar to the administrative function of a bishop in the Orthodox Church. I am not speaking of a theological equivalency, since a Protestant lead pastor is not viewed in the same way and does not function in the same way as an Orthodox bishop, but practically speaking, there is a hierarchy of pastors. Having one Church organization in a given area with multiple locations would mean multiple points of impact of one visible body of believers. It means that one message is being communicated across a wide geographical area.

Unity of Purpose. Since Orthodox dioceses consist of parish Churches which are united under one bishop in a geographically-united area, they generally have institutions which promote a sense of unity. “United we stand, divided we fall” is a cliché, but is often a true statement. When we go to a diocesan event, we encounter our brothers and sisters from other parishes who are known to us, and we feel a sense of common purpose, being under the guidance of one Chief Shepherd. When we travel to sister parishes, we are truly at home, knowing that our priest knows the priest at the parish we are visiting. We’ve seen him serve with our priest at times, perhaps. This is in contrast to the strictly Congregationalist model, where each individual community is completely independent, and regional gatherings such as conferences reflect a perceived spiritual affinity rather than a tangible unity. Such gatherings are often conducted to foster unity versus manifesting a true unity which already exists.

Resources. A Multi-Site Church is often able to accomplish more than individually-planted Churches which are fully independent. Through coordination of ministries and resources, overlap and waste can be avoided. The wheel does not need to be reinvented. The ministry of the lead pastor extends further, and provides a united witness. Experience is shared with the local campus pastors, training them in an apprentice relationship instead of forcing them to “learn as you go.” New locations thus have an advantage over more autonomous or independent types of Church plants. Similarly, an Orthodox Diocese has a centralized administration which can determine where best to use resources, and can throw more weight behind problems in one parish by calling in help from other parishes in a more efficient manner. During a natural disaster, even Congregationalist, independent Churches can get resources and assistance because of the natural desire of people to help one another, but in less extreme situations, it may be more difficult to obtain needed resources. Multi-Site Churches and Orthodox Dioceses have an advantage in this area.

Points of Divergence

“The Experience.” As mentioned above, Multi-Site Churches often attempt to replicate a specific experience in different locations. This presupposes a charismatic pastor with a specific “style” to him, and a Church which does things a certain way, such that it would be something that people would want, and which they would choose over the myriad other Churches available to them in an area. As Tom Shefchunas points out in his article Will The Multi-Site Church Survive?, a major test of a Multi-Site Church is its first change in leadership. With the experience changed, will the Church remain the same?

In Orthodoxy, the worship service is standardized, not only in terms of place (all over the Earth) but also in terms of time (throughout history). There are naturally minor variations from place to place, but the structure of the service has remained essentially the same since it was first instituted by the Holy Apostles, and insofar as we can see from the earliest texts which attest to the form of the liturgy. An individual presbyter or bishop might have a style of preaching, or be particularly gifted with one of the charismatic (i.e. personal) spiritual gifts, or the style of chant may differ between Russians and Greeks, but the experience of Orthodoxy is universally the same. When I was looking into Orthodoxy, this was one thing that impressed me. Even when I lived in New York and attended liturgy in a parish comprised of mostly Greek immigrants, where the liturgy was almost entirely in Greek, I still experienced the worship of God in a way that bore Divine Grace. The service was familiar enough to me that I felt comfortable there.

Telecasting Sermons. Preaching is a gift, a calling, a grave responsibility. Preaching the Gospel is a yoke upon the presbyter. The Holy Spirit inspires him and enlightens him, but he must purify himself and be prepared to receive Grace, lest he be a stumbling block to the people. The flock can easily see through hypocrisy. A preacher must know the congregation he serves (unless he is a traveling preacher invited to preach by the bishop or local pastor) and tailor his sermon to their needs.

Many Multi-Site Churches televise the lead pastor’s sermon to the satellite campuses on a regular basis, with local “site pastors” occasionally adding their own mini-sermons, or occasionally replacing the televised sermon with their own. Worship music and prayers are localized and performed live. From an Orthodox perspective, though, the practice of telecasting a sermon to another group of people watching it in a Church setting is problematic. Rather than the Holy Spirit speaking through the preacher to the assembly of the faithful, and experiencing all of the tension and release that accompanies live preaching, as a buildup progresses and then a conclusion reached, the assembly becomes a passive audience detached from the context that produced the sermon. In effect, the sermon was for someone else.

To be clear, Orthodox Christianity is not opposed to recording sermons and using them for those who cannot make it to Church for a legitimate reason, or for review by those who were present at the time of its delivery. However, televising the sermon to satellite locations serves to highlight the uniqueness and charisma of the lead pastor as opposed to the local site pastors. I as an Orthodox priest am nothing without my bishop; I serve the Sunday liturgy on an altar cloth which bears his signature and authorization for me to do so, and I was ordained by him and placed in the parish and missions where I serve. When I preach, I preach the Gospel of Christ, and I do it in the name of the bishop, who is the Chief Shepherd of each parish Church in his diocese. My preaching does not differ from my bishop’s in terms of content, but it can be tailored to the local people whom I know better owing to day-to-day contact. Televising sermons to satellite locations places too much of an emphasis on the preacher’s person and character. Instead, Orthodox would have the site pastors preach their own sermons based on the teaching authority of the lead pastor, who sets the guidelines.

Not Letting Go. While the Orthodox Church is hierarchical and Multi-Site Churches are organized somewhat hierarchically (even if they see it as a matter of administration and not doctrine), there is still a sense in Orthodoxy that at some point, the goal is for the daughter mission to become a full-fledged parish, and operate in a self-sufficient manner, under the guidance of the local bishop. In this sense, Orthodox parishes are half-way between a Multi-Site Church and a completely independent Church. Each parish is autonomous, insofar as the Cathedral Church is not dictating all the details of the individual parishes, but each parish is still connected to the Cathedral, which is the seat of the bishop, who also visits the parishes regularly and teaches and preaches across his entire diocese.

In a practical sense, though, some individual parishes are more able to plant daughter missions than others, and the goal of a mission in an Orthodox context is always to mature to the point that it attains parish status itself, becoming an equal to its mother parish. If a collection of parishes in an area matures to a certain degree of self-sufficiency and is producing clergy at a sufficient rate, then they may be given their own diocese and bishop, who operates autonomously in his own sphere, while being obedient to the Holy Synod (the group of all the bishops together).

In the more commonly-encountered Evangelical practice of planting a mission and then giving it freedom when it reaches maturity, there is a sense that at some point, the local community must “sink or swim.” It cannot rely on having the support from a lead pastor and congregation who might support it financially and thus perpetuate inefficiencies. There is a temptation to complacency in the Multi-Site Church that can prevent spiritual maturity as well. Will a satellite congregation ever feel empowered to plant its own Church and mentor it and its pastor? Or will all initiative be taken from the main campus? Will the satellite location avoid making decisions altogether? Independent congregations will not run into the temptation of letting another community do things for them consistently.

For the sake of fairness, when I asked a Multi-Site Church pastor about this topic, he stated that if he felt led in prayer, he would support one of the satellite pastors either divesting his congregation from the mother Church, or he would help that pastor start his own Church or ministry. I commend my interlocutor on his openness and willingness to not put his conception above God’s will. May all such Churches feel empowered to set someone free to serve the Lord in extraordinary ways.


Multi-Site Protestant Churches and Orthodox Dioceses are probably not considered together too often. Doctrinally, there are huge differences, which are beyond the scope of this article. However, Orthodox Christians and Evangelicals from Multi-Site Churches do encounter one another, and may have reason to consider the similarities and differences between the organizational models of their respective Churches. Orthodox Christianity, which stakes its claim as the historic and original Christian Church, can see some of the developments in the Multi-Site Church movement as positive, insofar as they bring it closer to a model practiced by the Early Church. Some practices of these Churches do not seem consistent with the faith delivered once unto the saints (Jude 1:3), however. We would encourage them to further explore the doctrine and practices of the Early Church, and to follow the evidence where it leads. In the meantime, let us rejoice that Our Lord has appointed and continues to appoint the encounters and friendships which have led to these types of considerations.

Father Anastasios Hudson is an Orthodox Christian priest planting missions in the Triangle and Eastern Carolina. The articles posted on the Triangle Orthodox and Eastern Carolina Orthodox blogs are provided freely for your edification and because Father enjoys writing about his experiences. Father Anastasios is also available for paid writing and speaking engagements. Please contact him at the link above if you are interested in his services.

Friendly Conversations

Yesterday, I met with my new friend Matthew.  I first found Matthew via a blog search back in March.  I made a comment on his blog, and began to follow him on Twitter.  Eventually I asked him if he wanted to meet up, and this is now the second time that we were able to get together.  Both times, we have gone to local establishments: Big Boss Brewing Company, and Carolina Ale House.  You can read his account of our meeting here.  While I am not militantly against chain restaurants and brands, I believe that supporting local establishments over chains helps to build our community, and as Christians, this is an important way for us to engage said communities.

Matthew is from a Baptist background, while I was raised Lutheran, spent a few years in the Roman Catholic Church, and finally settled in the Orthodox Christian Church, where I became a priest.  For this reason, we have some differing doctrinal positions.  Matthew is about to embark on international mission planting, while I am engaged in domestic mission planting (as a bi-vocational priest, or “tentmaker”).  For this reason, we also have several things in common.

The basis of what we share in common is a desire to follow the Truth, Jesus Christ, and this allows us to rejoice in what is held in common, while also permitting us to engage the doctrinal divergences that exist in a spirit of honesty and charity.  As is abundantly clear from my various writings online and my affiliation with a traditionalist Orthodox jurisdiction, I am not an ecumenist—I do not believe that we can reestablish some supposedly-lost unity by means of doctrinal compromise and joint social projects.  This does not mean, however, that I am against one-on-one dialogue and discussion.  These meetings allow me to understand the beliefs of others accurately, while explaining our Orthodox beliefs, and answering any misconceptions about such. It also affords me the opportunity to nurture friendships, which are so hard to find in these days of isolation and superficiality.

I thank God for blessing me with this new friendship, and I look forward to future discussions with Matthew, along with other non-Orthodox Christians living in my community.

On Baptizing My Daughter

On Saturday, July 31 (o.s.), I had the honor and privilege of baptizing my infant daughter Sophia at the Chapel of St. Mark the Evangelist in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The godparents were Mr. Leonidas and Dr. Anna Pittos of Detroit, Michigan.

The Pittoses arrived by plane around 7:30 pm on Friday evening.  I picked them up from the airport, and took them to my home.  We enjoyed several hours of discussion, and retired for the evening.  I awoke around 8:00 am on Saturday morning, and began to execute all the remaining preparations for the momentous event.  We started at 12:15 pm, so during those four and a quarter hours, I essentially was running around like a madman getting ready.

A baptism is both a religious and a cultural event, so the preparations involved both the spiritual and the secular.  Practicing some chants, making sure all the necessary accessories were available for the ceremony, and keeping a prayerful disposition were combined with grilling the chicken and making sure the quiche was fully-cooked, and that we had enough napkins and plates.  Guests began to arrive around 11:30 am.

The service went off without a hitch.  Orthodox baptisms contain many long prayers, and several ritual actions with great significance.  The focal point of the service is naturally the moment of baptism itself, when the candidate is immersed in the water three times (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but there are several things leading up to the immersions, such as the renunciation of Satan, and several things take place after, such as the giving of the Cross to the newly-baptized.  All in all, it lasted about 50 minutes.  We then hosted a fellowship meal for those assembled, and the last guests left around 5:15 pm.  It was a marvelous day.

There is a prayer that Orthodox priests pray before baptizing someone.  It states:

Wash away the defilement of my body and the stain of my soul. Sanctify me wholly by Thine all-effectual, invisible might, and by Thy spiritual right hand, lest, by preaching liberty to others, and offering this in the perfect faith of Thy unspeakable love for mankind, I may be condemned as a servant of sin. Nay, Sovereign Master that alone art good and loving, let me not be turned away humbled and shamed, but send forth to me power from on high, and strengthen me for the ministration of this Thy present, great, and most heavenly Mystery.

Putting the Cross on the Newly-Baptized

Putting the Cross on the Newly-Baptized

This is a great irony, that through baptism, we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27), we are born again (John 3:5), and we arise with Christ (Romans 6:4), yet the one baptizing us can be submitting himself to judgment by not living up to this standard.  With this in mind, the Church offers this prayer, so that the priest who is truly diligent can ask the Lord for cleansing of his own soul, before seeking to cleanse another’s.  Such prayers are not rote, and I take note of what I am asking God to do for me.  It is a great honor to be able to serve as a priest and to baptize, yet it also entails a great responsibility.  Saint Augustine rightly taught that any sin of the minister does not deprive the one receiving the sacraments of grace during his controversy with the Donatists, yet by acknowledging that grace is present even in the case of sinful ministers, it only highlights the condemnation that such persons inflict upon themselves.  May I not ever become complacent or read these prayers in a superficial manner.

It is hard to describe what it feels like to baptize someone, let alone one’s own child.  I have previously baptized six adult converts, but this was actually my first infant baptism.  I noticed clearly that during the exorcisms, the baby seemed tense and fussy, and after the three immersions, she became utterly still and eventually fell asleep.  This is not an isolated phenomenon, but something I have previously observed in past baptisms.  In some pictures, one can see Sophia looking at me with a huge smile on her face, and I thank God that He granted me the blessing to perform this life-giving sacrament on my own child.

The New Christian in Her White Adornment

The New Christian in Her White Adornment

It is an awe-inspiring feeling when one performs a baptism, knowing that God has granted us humans some participation in His divine work.  I pray that my Sophia, and all others who are baptized into the Church of Christ, will always keep their eyes on the Lord, and never let them wander due to the distractions that exist all around us.  Baptism is one’s entrance into God’s family, but it is only the first step in a life-long journey of faith.

Some reading this article may be intrigued to find out more about the Orthodox Christian Church—which is the original Christian Church—and its practices.  I encourage you to contact me for further information.  God bless you!

My Visit to Southeastern Baptist Seminary

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary | Courtesy Ildar Sagdejev

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Last Saturday, July 9, 2011, I had to take my wife and newborn daughter to my mother-in-law’s house in Wake Forest, North Carolina, which is about ten or fifteen minutes away from where we live in North Raleigh.  I decided that since I would be in Wake Forest, and since I did not have anywhere to be that afternoon (which is quite rare for me), that it would be fun to stop by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary so that I could check out their library.

The campus is absolutely beautiful, with its old buildings, many trees, and large swaths of grass.  The housing around the seminary is also pretty, and it all evoked a small college town atmosphere.  The seminary’s campus was the home of Wake Forest University, until it moved to Winston-Salem in the 1950s.  It reminded me of a cross between my college years at North Carolina State University, and my seminary days at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, which was tiny in comparison to Southeastern.

I had visited the library almost six years ago, but had not been back since.  That was before I was ordained a priest, so I didn’t stick out the way I do now.  As I entered the seminary campus, I started to wonder if I would get any looks or have anyone engage me in a debate, owing to my Orthodox priest’s cassock.  I have to admit, part of me felt like I had crossed the border into foreign territory!  But I was able to make my way to the library undisturbed.

I made it to the library, but it being the summer and a Saturday, there were not that many people there.  I decided to spend my time in the periodicals section, since I can get almost any book I would want through interlibrary loan, but periodicals are not so easy to obtain.  The seminary has an extensive collection of periodicals, and I was pleased to be able to browse through them.  They even carry several periodicals relating to Orthodox Christianity; Orthodox Life and Orthodox Word appealed more to me than the Greek Orthodox Theological Review or St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, I must admit.  They have periodicals from various theological persuasions, and include a range from “conservative” to “liberal.”  I was happy to be there among all that knowledge.

Walking around the campus and in the library, it made me keenly aware of how little Orthodox Christianity is known or appreciated in these parts.  I hope to return to the seminary soon, both to see more of the campus, hopefully when classes are in session, and especially the library, to read some more of the periodicals and do research. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to engage with someone while I’m there.  I also have considered visiting some of the nearby coffee houses or other hangouts to see whom I might find.  I really enjoy having discussions with people about Orthodoxy and how it compares and contrasts with Western forms of Christianity, as long as the conversation is polite and respectful (see my article, An Instance of Baptist Harassment, for an example of when things did not go so well).

If you’re finding my blog post and you are a student at Southeastern Seminary, feel free to contact me and maybe we can get together and chat some time soon!