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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.

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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!

Welcome to the Blog

I’d like to welcome you to Triangle Orthodox, a new blog that has been established to highlight our efforts to spread traditional Orthodox Christianity in the Triangle region of North Carolina.

Why another blog from me, Fr. Anastasios?   I live and work a secular job in the Raleigh area, and pastor St. Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Church here, as well as Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Greenville, North Carolina, alternating back and forth.  I recently set up the Eastern Carolina Orthodox blog, which highlights the work we are doing in Eastern Carolina, and have enjoyed sharing some of our experiences and thoughts on mission there.  However,  I’m finding that as I explore opportunities to witness Christ and His Church in my home area, I’d like to have a place to jot down thoughts and experiences specific to the Triangle.  I considered adding a blog tab to St. Mark’s parish website, but I’ve found that people don’t always read the blog on a parish website, and I also intend to share things that deal with the region as a whole, and towns outside of Raleigh, where Orthodoxy needs to be established.  Hence, it seemed good to establish this blog.

I greet you all in Christ, and if you should have any questions related to our Church and our work, feel free to use the comments section, or send me an email at gocraleigh@gmail.com!

In Christ,

Father Anastasios Hudson