An Icon Falls Asleep

At an OCF College Conference (during my junior year, I believe), my first time out in the wintery hills of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, our speaker was late for his first session.  Metropolitan Jonah, the then-primate of the OCA was apparently still en route, so the coordinators needed somebody to fill in and speak to the conference topic of community.  They emailed and then secured the speaking talents of Father Thomas Hopko, who lived nearby and ministered to the Monastery of the Transfiguration.

I had never heard of this man, but I still recall seeing a skinny man in a smooth black cassock walk up to the podium, wearing glasses and a blue pectoral cross.  He was introduced by Father Kevin as a “beloved” professor, the former dean at Saint Vlad’s, apparently in retirement because “once you hit perfection, you just have to quit”, jokingly alluding to Father Kevin and his classmates.  In my heart of hearts, I was prepared to be less than thrilled with the forthcoming presentation.

Then he began, saying that he had been asked to speak about communion, so I already thought this old priest had misread his email.  Nevertheless, he started by telling us about how we wouldn’t find the word in the Bible, that we would rather find the unfortunate translation into English of “fellowship”.  His words were often particularly staccato, his emphasis weaving in and out between rebuking and correcting, but somehow I was drawn to the excitement his preaching provoked in me and my peers.  The way he waded into a one-word topic made me immediately think about how I had always imagined the great Chrysostom wielding the sword of Wisdom as he pierced the hearts of his flock.  Could I be listening to a Saint?, I thought to myself…  Father Tom answered questions with authority, but rather than shaming our ignorance, he lovingly and accurately dissected our misperceptions without mincing words.

More than any other time in my life up to that point, I literally felt my heart being enkindled.  When he mentioned having a large number of podcasts he was working on, I was thrilled to look into this “Ancient Faith Radio” that a friend had once told me about long ago.  An addiction in the womb, I suppose.

I remember watching Father Tom during our services in the chapel, standing quietly and with the reverence befitting his office in the back-most corner.  At some point in the day, he sat at a table with students who had chosen not to dance, answering their mild questions.  I took a seat for a short while as he explained the contradictions of Scripture, how the Bible is not a science textbook:

“How many times did the cock crow, for instance?”

Like fools, we all answered three times.

“You all need to read the Gospels!” he said with a stinging voice; “It was either once, or twice!”

I loved his ability to speak to us like adults, almost like old friends who had said something dumb.  It was so…real?  It was undoubtedly authoritative without being haughty.  Perhaps you would have to hear it to believe me.

I remember calling my then-girlfriend, who was at a conference for Campus Crusade for Christ, Indy CC.  I paced the hallway with a smile, trying to convey to her the awe I had experienced via this priest’s oratory.  I was nearly giggling with excitement, as embarrassing as that sounds now.  I had just never felt so excited about God, the Church, &c.  Having happen at College Conference made it all the more vibrant to me, I suppose.

When I went back to school for the spring semester, I took advantage of the high-speed internet and delved into Father Tom’s podcasts, already enough in number as to give me hours of enjoyable listening.  I hung on his words, his stories, his insights and quips.  I had the courage to reuse his “material” at OCF meetings, with friends, with anyone willing to listen.  I had come out of my shell, because I had connected with someone who spoke the Gospel in a way I was ready to try and replicate.  I had been in the mindset that the Great Commission was for some Christians, those with a gift, to follow.  Father Tom had somehow, and very simply, loosed me of that incorrect perspective.  I needed to give God to people, to show God’s goodness and victory and superabundant love.  This was a vocation for all Orthodox Christians, and I was truly seeing this for the first time, even I couldn’t have put it in words at the time.

I remember having had the opportunity to meet Father once more in my life, at the monastery.  I had listened to what felt like thousands of hours of podcasts, and I was star-struck at being able to say something to him in private after the Divine Liturgy.  I thanked him for everything, and he somewhat awkwardly brushed it off as no big deal.  I basically wobbled away, having nothing more useful to say, but I look back and am glad I got to tell him a simple thanks.  It did not match what he had given me, even indirectly.  However, I suppose I have my works to continue my offering of thanks–first to God, then to all of God’s servants.

A friend fairly recently told me that when I spoke, I reminded her of Father Tom.  I delighted in that, secretly, but also openly.

May your memory be everlasting, dear Father, and my your soul dwell closer and closer to God, from glory to glory.  Amen.


The Beauty of Truth

*This post was written by guest contributor John R. Meese. You can connect with him at, where he regularly writes on personal growth and leadership, as well as other relevant topics for Christians today. A recent college graduate from Tennessee, John is also the newest staff member of Orthodox Christian Fellowship, the official campus ministry organization under the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America.*

Recently I’ve had some disappointing conversations with a couple of different Christian friends from non-Orthodox faiths. Both of them (separately) made it clear that they were uncomfortable with Orthodoxy as they understood it, because they felt that the “If you aren’t Orthodox, you are wrong!” approach to dialogue they had experienced with some Orthodox Christians was anything but welcoming, and frankly: I have to agree.hyperdox

Like it or not, Hyperdoxy is not Christ-like.

grumpy orthodox cat

Don’t get me wrong, I find Hyperdox Herman as amusing as Grumpy Orthodox Cat, and will quickly admit to laughing at a number of their humorous examples of “outreach,” but that’s just the thing: it’s comedy. Sadly, I’ve seen too many Orthodox Christians (young and old, convert and cradle alike) fall into the temptation of embracing this “Hyperdox” or “Convertitis” approach to those outside of the Orthodox Church, and in doing so only push them away.

Christ came to minister to the lost with love, grace, and acceptance. His primary message was one of “Come and see,” not “You’re wrong, and I’m right.”

That doesn’t mean he condoned their sins, or universally accepted their beliefs (on the contrary, he rebuked religious hypocrites all the time), but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the beauty of truth.

A parish Priest once shared with me this nugget of wisdom from his decades-long career that involved working with those beyond our faith, and I think it best sums up the mindset we need to have in these sorts of situations:

“When it comes to disagreements with those outside of the Orthodox Church, I have increasingly found that more often than not the issue is one of partiality vs. fullness, rather than right vs. wrong.”

We do believe that the Orthodox Christian Faith embodies the fullness of Truth, but there are countless Christian denominations out there which are filled with soooo much truth, even in their partiality!

Let us not shy away from the beautiful fullness of truth in Orthodox Christianity, but let us also remember Christ’s embodied message of love and understanding, and celebrate truth wherever we may find it. Let us be known as loving ministers to others on their journey towards a deeper relationship with Christ, our Lord and Savior, by building off of Truth wherever we may find it in the world around us!

Doxacon- science fiction and Orthodoxy

Today’s guest post is by Daniel. He is writing on a recent Orthodox conference, titled Doxacon. The purpose of the conference was to discuss popular genres and gain a deeper understanding of them through the lens of Orthodoxy. You can learn more about the speakers and upcoming events at


Doxacon was a science fiction and fantasy convention hosted by Protection of the Holy Mother of God Orthodox Church (St. Mary) in Falls Church, VA. The convention occurred the weekend of July 20th. The reason for the convention was that the parishioners at St. Mary’s got to talking and we realized that our shared culture are the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Father David Subu, the parish priest at St. Mary’s, said it perfectly in his opening remarks at Doxacon, we tricked everyone into coming to our parish’s ethnic festival.
Doxacon 2013 was a great success, we had over 100 attendees and we plan on having a Doxacon 2014 as well as a Doxacon Seattle. But since Doxacon was first announced I’ve had people come to me and ask, why science fiction and fantasy? My answer is that a growing amount of our culture is heavily influenced by the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Last summer, The Avengers reached a box office total of $1.5 billion making it the number three film of all time, right behind Avatar; another science fiction film.
Personally, I remember growing up being influenced by the Chronicles of Narnia and Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis and today we see the popularity enjoyed by Tolkin’s Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Both authors communicated Christian themes in their writings. Looking to Scripture we see the stories of Doxacon’s patron Saints Ss. Elijah and Elisha, whose feast day was the day of the conference. They are true supernatural heroes. The original super hero stories in fact. A master and his apprentice traveling the land fighting the evil king and queen. Able to call down fire, run faster than chariots, raise the dead, and be taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot.
The convention conducted a positive exploration of themes held in common between Orthodox Christianity, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. Some of these themes include, the beauty of the cosmos, the struggle between good and evil, the exploration of the mystical, the acceptance of the supernatural, and the examination of what does it mean to be human and how we relate to the world around us? I think one of the reasons we identify with these genres is that they recognize the reality of our cosmos beyond what we see with just our physical eyes. To quote Fr. Stephen Freeman, the modern world and even many Christians sees the universe as a two story universe. There is the first floor; the natural world which operates according to naturalist, “secular” rules, and the second floor; the world of God, heaven, hell, angels, and demons. These genres explore the truth, that the universe is one story. The mystical and the supernatural intermingle with us and when we read stories that express that truth it resonates with us.
But too often fans of these genres include children of the church who have fallen away; largely because there is usually no forum to discuss the genres they love so much and if there is any discussion it is usually negative. A recent Pew Research Center study found that the number of unchurched Americans has risen from 7 to 18 percent of the population over the past generation, that number is even higher for “millenials” who were born after 1980. Many of whom might feel engaged by a discussion of science fiction, fantasy, and faith.
And just as Saints Cyril and Methodius had to learn a new language when witnessing to the Slavic peoples so too do we need to learn the langue of this culture and perhaps pick up a bit of Elvish and Klingon along the way. Likewise St. Nicholas of Japan would attend popular gatherings to listen to Japanese storytellers and became an expert of Japanese history. St. Innocent of Alaska mastered six of the local dialects, devising an alphabet of Cyrillic letters for the main dialect. In the words of St. Basil the Great: “Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books [or sci-fi/fantasy books in our case] whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest.”
Quite by accident on our part, Doxacon occurred the same week as Comicon. But it seems to me that Comicon and much of our culture today ignores St. Basil’s advice about discernment, they carry away the entire flower taking the good with the bad. Instead of discerning the truth they engage in escapist fantasy and mindless consumption. The vision for Doxacon is to discuss what is true, what is noble, and what is beautiful in these genres we love. I hope you’ll consider joining us for Doxacon 2014 or Doxacon Seattle.

The Good Shepherd, The True Bishop

Today’s guest blogger shares her experience with a humble bishop. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

A Strange Compliment

Today we bring you our first guest blogger after our long break. Ashley-Veronika writes a memoir type piece on being a Christian among environmentalists. I’m sure you can relate to her experience. We welcome your comments!

“A Strange Compliment”

“I’ll admit, when I first found out you were a Christian, I thought ‘Oh, no…” Jay said to me during a farewell tradition for staff at The Outdoor School at Rancho Alegre. It was an unforgettable hot day in June and our backyard BBQ site overlooked a sparkling Lake Cachuma. For two years I have lived on this mountain outside Santa Barbara, CA with a cohort of friends and colleagues and together we have taught thousands of 6th grade campers about the joys of nature and the benefits of environmentalism. But on this last day, I was poised under instructions to receive verbal praise and appreciation from each of them without responding, to just to soak up the love offered by them all. This ritual, performed compulsively for each leaving staff member, is grotesquely called a “sunshine enema.”

Yet, that “sunshine enema” didn’t begin with Jay’s comment about how I express my faith in Jesus. It began with a quiet moment as I took my place in the lawn chair, then one at a time each of my friends sitting around me offered very moving praise for my friendship and work. Bryan spoke of how he would miss my companionship, and Rachel told me how much she admired my teaching style and curriculum. I’ll particularly never forget my supervisor Justin telling me with tears in his eyes “You NEED to keep teaching. The kids out there need you.” Part of the exercise is that you may not verbally respond at all to the sunshine given to you, though I could not help but tear up at that. It was a beautiful experience that I’ll never forget, and I certainly left glowing, tearing, and grateful, but also bewildered by the comments at the very end. It was stunning how when Jay did bring up my presence as the Christian on staff, immediately everyone else supported that comment. The was a stark change in the focus of my ‘sunshine.’

“I felt like I had to guard myself, watch my actions and words around you or I would be judged…” It’s an interesting way to begin an ‘appreciation,’ isn’t it? I certainly thought so. Yet this comment turned out by the end of it to be one of the most interesting and pivotal compliments I’ve ever received.

In my field of work, a Christian is rather an anomaly. I was a professional naturalist at an outdoor school in California. This means that every week a new group of twelve year olds arrived at our site on a bus, and we take them on hikes to look for signs of wildlife, to learn about the evolutionary adaptations of mountain lions, the ancient geology of the area, and about the stories and traditions of Native Americans who survived here. We helped class after class of kids create a personal connection with nature.

It makes sense that this work would attract young environmentalists on a mission to make the world a better place, who often held very liberal and secular idealism. My coworkers, and everyone else I met during five years in the field, tended to take modern ethics for granted and were people who had ‘spiritual but not religious personal connection with Nature’. The culture among naturalists in California was wild in many senses of the word—it was colorful, open-minded, cheerful, simple, embracing old fashioned crafts like home brewing and chicken farming, and new progressive morals like tolerance and free love. A delightful lifestyle, but one with substantial differences from the bookish, chaste, disciplined Christian lifestyle with traditional morals that yet melds with any and all hobbies. This cultural difference meant more for me than just being unable to find a carpool to church, or explaining why I don’t participate in some of the more popular recreational activities amongst naturalists (smoking weed and casual sex, for instance). It meant that there would be occasional, oblique ideological conflicts that were never directly mentioned until Jay spoke up that last afternoon during my farewell.

For my years as a naturalist, the nearest town was over 45 minutes away from our mountain community, and so we were more than coworkers. I spent many Sunday evenings with my lovely, but few, neighbors. My nearest friend, Rachel, arranged weekly potlucks at her kitchen which she named The Happy Pocket. We would gather and play music, drink home-brewed ginger beer, eat fried quinoa patties, discuss the adventures we had with the kids that week. When they brought weed to smoke, they were always kind enough to offer even while they understood I wasn’t interested. I always felt we got along well, even if I did feel a bit lonely in my faith sometimes.

Yet there were awkward moments also. I heard my fellow naturalists casually complaining about “Those right-wing Christians rejecting environmental policies” and how if only it weren’t for the Christians we could teach about evolution. On the supposed Rapture Day in May 2011 predicted by some fringe Christian nut, a coworker approached me with mock surprise and exclaimed “You’re still here!!” as if either of us actually expected I would have been whisked away to Heaven. And once when I lead the meal prayer with a group of Catholic school students, the breakfast supervisor Sage had such wide surprised eyes that I thought she would drop her cereal bowl. Still, it was always a mostly unspoken ideological conflict, until that last day. What struck me initially is that Jay had the courage to speak about it aloud, and speak it to me directly; whatever else he was going to say I already respected him for doing that.

Jay praised me for not being that stereotype he expected initially, for not trying to force my religion on anyone, or judging anyone’s lifestyle choices. There were nods all around the staff. He told me that I had changed his mind about what Christians are like, and I smiled. But then Seth followed up with a surprising elaboration: “It’s really good you recognize that your religion is just for yourself, and for your own spiritual benefit, but not for everyone.” There was an universal solemn agreement amongst my friends to that. I’m sure I saw everyone nodding as he spoke, but my heart folded in when I heard that.

Though I am honored by the intended compliment, I did not at all mean to imply in words or actions that I believed my religion is ‘just for myself.’ I have no idea where they got that idea, or why they would all consider it a good thing. I want to clarify: no, it isn’t. My religion isn’t ‘just for me’ any more than my environmentalism is. The nature of the sunshine tradition necessitated that I did not respond to the complements and praise given to me. But those last few comments were unforgettable and have occupied my thoughts. It is one thing to say that I have been respectable in how I lived out my faith, but quite another to assume I therefore thought it was a merely internal faith restricted to my own heart and not applicable to anyone around me.

I do think Christianity is for everyone, just as much as I think natural conservation is for everyone. I believe global warming is a true, actual phenomenon, and important to be discussed for the benefit of all people; I believe Jesus rose from the dead so that whoever wishes to accept Him may rise from death also and into eternal life. These are both factual to me. Yet they are treated very differently by the culture I am in.

An environmentalist would never be praised the way I was praised for my respectful faith. One would never say “Your recycling is just for your benefit, not for everyone, and I’m glad you recognize that.” Or, “I’m glad you find benefit from your belief that global warming is happening. But it’s best to leave others to their own beliefs about the world.” It just wouldn’t make sense. And so it didn’t make sense to hear my God spoken of that way either. When you see something good and true, you are eager to share it with others, and there is no honor in keeping it ‘just for yourself’ especially when it is a matter so connected to everyone!

Unfortunately, there is an uncomfortable double-standard between the evangelism of environmentalism and evangelism of Christianity. I have some friends who roll their eyes when I espouse the environmental agenda, and naturalist friends who walk on eggshells around the topic of religion with me. Yet while some of my friends might be uninterested in composting or solar technology, never to my knowledge has there been anything like the defenses or preemptive self-consciousness that Jay described before he complimented me. A particular friend thinks my composting bin is “gross” and my bicycling ‘too hard,’ but she has never indicated any worry that I would judge her for trashing her potato skins. There just isn’t a stigma against being an environmentalist like there is in being a Christian.

I strongly advocate a continuing commitment to increasing sustainability in one’s life for everyone, and I even more advocate a continuing relationship with the Jesus Christ. But what’s more, (and it is this that might have surprised Jay initially) I promote a careful evaluation, questioning and exploration of each point for both topics. No one should blindly accept environmental policy any more than religious teachings, but gather information diligently, test facts carefully, and ask questions thoughtfully. And every and all presentation of facts –environmental or religious—should be offered with respect to the audience’s feelings and ideas.

In the end, what apparently made the most impact is that I absolutely love both my naturalist peers and my other friends and I respect their freedom. I can maintain my friendship with naturalists who don’t understand the joy of being Christian as well as with my friends who can’t be inconvenienced even to recycle newspaper. Perhaps simply this behavior, being respectful but still absolute about my beliefs, is the most surprising good news I will ever evangelize. If I do only this, I consider it a vast success. It certainly seems to have shocked Jay into a new way of thinking, and his comment, in turn, shocked me.


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