Monday, April 30, 2007

Blessing of Fleet a return to Paradise

By Fr. John Parker
Originally published in the Post and Courier on Sunday, April 29, 2007 and online at

I had heard of supersized but never supercharged. The young man meant well, though he was making a serious request by means of some sort of slang. He had bought a beautiful sterling silver baptismal cross and wanted to have it blessed. So he came into my study that day and asked, "Father, would you supercharge my cross for me?" I knew what he wanted, but the request came out so strangely. Not wanting to shame him by a direct correction, I said, "I'll be glad to bless your cross, Matthew." (Name changed.)

The Orthodox Christian tradition has a blessing for nearly everything good. Among the contents of a wonderful book titled "The Abridged Book of Needs," one finds, for example, prayers for blessing all of the following: water, bees, boats, fire engines, homes, wells, airplanes, meat and cheese, fragrant herbs and fishnets. And the list goes on. Each blessing is typically a prayer, completed with the trinitarian sprinkling of holy water on the object being blessed.
But what is blessing? Why would we, to make the connection present and local, bless the shrimp boats and their captains and crews? Does blessing supercharge?

First, let me give the short answers to these important questions. Blessing is a liturgical and prayerful act by which we, as we say in the Orthodox Churches, "commend ourselves, each other, and all our life unto Christ our God." And rather than supercharging shrimp trawlers, we are actually asking God to return them, by our synergy (working together with him), to their actual use and purpose.

Allow me to explain. When God created the world and all that is in it, and crowned his creation with man and woman, calling this "very good," everything was in order and communion with God. But when we, by our disobedience and self-interest, took matters into our own hands (read sinned), the whole world fell. That is, every part of existence was tainted, touched, affected by the sins of Adam and Eve - and today, by ours. Eating, for example, which was created to be our form of nourishment and communion with God, becomes gluttony: eating for the sake of eating. Drinking, offered to us for hydration and sober merriment, becomes drunkenness, and drunkenness for its own purpose. A home in the fallen world, originally intended for shelter, comfort, hospitality and the making of family, becomes a place where secret sins are hidden: illicit sexual relationships, abuse, rage, etc.

Realizing that we are now a part of the fallen world, and not the world as it was created to be, we have the holy task of offering the fallen world back to God, asking him to make it right and/or to help us to make it so. As one of the greatest and most famous Orthodox priests of the 20th century described it, we have the task of transforming "the smallest, seemingly most insignificant detail of the routine drudgery of everyday existence in this fallen world into paradise." This we do routinely at meals, saying grace or asking the blessing. We certainly take part in this critical vocation each time we celebrate the marriage of a woman to a man. In the Orthodox Churches, this we also do annually (during the season of the feast of the Theophany, our Lord's baptism, Jan. 6) by the blessing of the homes of our parishioners. For house blessings, we say, in short, "Lord, make this house a holy home." For marriages, "Lord, make this couple king and queen of their Christian household, married forever." At meals, "Nourish us with the gifts of thy bounty on this table, O Lord."

And this is what we take part in at the Blessing of the Fleet in Mount Pleasant. We gather to ask God to grant safety and success to each shrimper, and to assist each one to accomplish his or her vocation as a good steward of God's creation. Ultimately, every boat, every net, every engine, every deck and flag, along with every breath we breathe, belong to God and are on loan to us, given to us as gifts as a trust is given into the hands of trustees.

Certainly, a part of such a blessing is our intention to cooperate with God in its fulfillment. I'd damn myself by blessing a bottle of wine (intended for sober fellowship and enjoyment) and then drinking it all by myself in one sitting. And it would be to our condemnation and judgment to ask God's blessing on a fleet of shrimping vessels whose captains intend only to wreak havoc on the local seas and the inhabitants thereof, and to scam the local community. We must remember that our aim is a return to paradise.

Today, we ask God's blessing on the fleet, on those who operate the boats and on all of us who shall partake of their bounteous catch, remembering that our Lord Jesus Christ called his first disciples from among fishermen, and asking the heavenly protection of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, the patron of seafarers, in this new season.

This article was printed via the web on 4/30/2007 7:14:29 PM . This articleappeared in The Post and Courier and updated online at on Sunday, April 29, 2007.

Benediction Fiction

By Fr. John Parker
Published in Touchstone Magazine in May 2007 and online at

John Parker on the Dishonesty of Inclusive Prayers

Once I accepted an invitation to give the benediction at the graduation of the Medical University of South Carolina. I was delighted that a school like MUSC was still willing to invoke the Name of God and ask his blessings on those who are to be sent out into the world to practice the work that the school has trained them to do.

Having driven past the university’s beautiful St. Luke’s Chapel (named after St. Luke, the evangelist and physician) hundreds of times, I began to consider what words might be fitting for these medical students. I sat at my desk, reviewing ancient books of Christian prayers, to write the most appropriate one for those commencing the next step of their professional medical lives.

Parochial Names
Two days later, I received by mail a delightful letter, thanking me for agreeing to deliver the benediction and inviting me to a number of related festivities. Included with the letter, though, was a memorandum from the Office of the President of the Medical University: “Guidelines for Invocation and Benediction at Public Functions,” guidelines to which I would be required to conform in order to bless the graduates.

The first was a reasonable request for any public speaker: “Appeal to the larger spiritual virtues that all faiths have in common: love, faith, hope . . . peace, goodness.” The second was acceptable, although dripping with political correctness: “Use inclusive language: forbears rather than fathers, . . .” etc.

The third was a problem. Here is the text (the boldface appears in the original):

Steer clear of parochial, exclusively defining religious names, concepts, practices, and metaphors. A good rule of thumb to remember is that you come representing the entire faith community, not just your own group. The prayer should therefore not be offensive to anyone, whether Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, etc. For example, when opening or closing, an inclusive choice would be “Holy God, Holy One, Creator, Sustainer,” rather than “Allah, Jesus, Holy Trinity,” etc.

In four sentences, the Medical University of South Carolina, in its effort to “set a tone of reverence at our public assemblies” and “bear testimony to [our] richly diverse religious and cultural heritage” and somehow to make generic and inoffensive any public benediction or invocation, sanctioned officially one religion over all others: American pop-religion—a tray full of cafeteria-style faith, which takes nice-sounding “religious” words from this group and that, pleasing to the ear but without real content.

I sent my prepared benediction to the Office of the President, wanting to embarrass neither myself nor the staff of the Medical University at graduation. I soon received a polite call from the same office, during which I was un-invited to bless the graduates.

The truly Christian benediction (the only type of benediction I am authorized by my archbishop and my ordination to give) is not permitted. Thus, the university, hoping to display its “religious heritage” and seeking to demonstrate its “pride in . . . diversity,” actually shows itself to be selectively inclusive. Inclusion in the Medical University’s public religious expression is limited to those who will show no conviction at all.

No Good Word
The heritage of the Medical University is, to some degree, Christian. Its chapel is not “generic” by any stretch—it is named for a Christian saint, adorned with his stained-glass image, and topped with the Cross of Christ. These have been the marks of a certain faith. Not a generic faith.

Only a certain faith offers what people truly want and need, while a generic faith cannot—which we often see, ironically enough, in the world into which these graduates are being sent. Someone suffering from a third heart attack doesn’t want to hear about spirits that sustain us or a “god” who is with us in our suffering. He wants—even needs and expects—the blessing and grace of God in that moment.

His heart longs for some assurance that even if his body won’t be okay (sometimes it won’t), Someone is reminding him, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” This is the very same assurance and grace this Orthodox priest hoped—and was invited—to offer to the graduates who will care for such a soul.

To require a Christian priest to say little more at a benediction than “the Sustainer bids you to peacefully love your neighbor” or “May the Holy One be with you always” is effectively the same as asking a surgeon to say to a man dying on the operating table, “Don’t worry, everything is all right.” It is not a truthful word, and the dying man (and we are all dying men) needs the truthful word.

Doctors, nurses, indeed all hospital personnel and those for whom they care need, like all the rest of us who are struggling to live in this dying world, a true, good word—a real benediction in the fullest sense of the term. Why can we no longer give it to them?

Within the walls of a hospital, a sterile, antiseptic environment is critical for the care and recovery of patients. But the sterile, antiseptic “benediction” the guidelines require is a “good word” to no one, blesses no one, offers no promise of divine aid and comfort to men and women who will need it desperately. Such selective inclusivity removes every particular faith to a space well off to the side, where it can do no harm to the secular ideal of “inclusivity,” but can do no good either.

In the end, to ask a Christian pastor to bless a gathering in this way is little more than having some person in religious clothing stand in front of a crowd to say a few generically religious words, hoping to give some religious legitimacy to a public gathering. Not only is there no power or grace in it, it is devoid of any essential meaning.

A True Prayer
That May, I did offer my prayer for the graduates of the Medical University of South Carolina, though not in their presence. I prayed:

“O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Lover of Mankind, Physician of our souls and bodies, who in pain bore our infirmities, and by whose wounds we are healed:

“Who gave sight to the man born blind, who straightened the woman who was bent over for eighteen years, who gave speech and sight to the mute demoniac, who not only forgave the paralytic his sins, but healed him to walk, who restored the withered hand of a troubled man, who stopped the flow of blood of her who bled for twelve years, who raised Jairus’s daughter to life, who brought the four-days-dead Lazarus to life, and who heals every infirmity under the sun,

“Do now, O Lord, give your grace to all those here gathered who have labored and studied hour upon hour, to go into all the world, and also to heal by the talent you have given to each of them. Strengthen them, by your strength, to fear no evil or disease; enlighten them to do no evil by the works of their hands, and preserve them and those they serve in peace.

“For you are our God, and we know no other. And to you we send up glory together with your Father who is from everlasting, and your most Holy, Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, a mission parish of the Orthodox Church in America, in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. He earned his MDiv (2001) at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and his MTh (2004) at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2007 the Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 09, 2007

O Hell, Where is thy Victory? O Death, where is thy sting?

By Fr. John Parker

Published as "Easter Seen as Victory over Death" in the Post and Courier, Pascha 2007

We stood for days by his bed, a small offering by comparison to that of his wife Sarah (names are changed), who barely left his side in the last four years. Timothy had struggled with Alzheimer’s for some time, but following his most recent bout with pneumonia, there was “nothing further the doctors could do”. Though ravaged by a deteriorating mind in the last several years, Timothy lived a full life. His children drove great distances to be with him—a son from Atlanta, a daughter who raced from York, Pennsylvania.

We encircled Timothy in his room at the beautiful new Hospice of Charleston, just up from the Port off Long Point Road. We prayed. We cried. We laughed. We commended Timothy to his Maker, our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Orthodox ritual included long and beautiful hymns, as well as an anointing with holy oil—in this case, myrrh which had been wept miraculous by the eyes of St. Nicholas in an icon from Michigan. The heavenly fragrance filled the air.

To some, this is absolute madness. A vain effort to console ourselves and the one who is dying. What silly humans do when “the doctors can do no more”. Prayers uttered into the deaf ears of the air. The oil has no beauty, no power—just superstition. A ritual whose end it to make sense of a senseless existence and a more meaningless departure. Voodoo.

One could come to such a conclusion if facing death only through the lens of science. Chemistry in the brain affects the body. The heart stops working. Oxygen depletion then shuts down organs. Breathing ceases. Life ends. Words don’t change science; oil doesn’t add oxygen to the brain.

But Christians do not view life strictly this way. It is impossible! Life is so much more than biology. Of course, there is the science of it all. But what of beauty, love, tears, fear, and joy? And Timothy, like all of us, is a human being with a name. He is a unique, unrepeatable individual. He was married. Had Children. And Timothy’s life—and death (as slow and agonizing as it was)—make sense precisely for one reason, and one reason alone: Because God became man, died to conquer death, and He is Risen! Truly He is Risen! In time and space.

Jesus Christ lived and died as God-made-man. His life and work, his death and resurrection, are documented by Jew and Gentile alike—believer and unbeliever. After his brutal crucifixion and death at our hands, after his tomb was sealed and guarded by an extra regiment of soldiers—to be *sure* that no one would steal his body and then *claim* he was raised from the dead—He did this very thing. He conquered death and was raised from the dead, appearing to countless scores of people, beginning with his closest friends and disciples—who then went out to announce joyfully, if not with bewilderment, “Christ is Risen!”

We prayed at Timothy’s bedside precisely in light of this great gift to humankind by God Himself—the conquering of death by his death. The prayers prayed at Timothy’s funeral were prayed precisely because it is what we pray on Holy Friday as Jesus hung on the cross and died, fulfilling the law. “Tetelestai”—“it is finished”, “it is accomplished”, “it is fulfilled.” A portion of the hymns sung at Timothy’s funeral were sung precisely because they are sung for our Lord on Holy Saturday, when, fulfilling the story of the Three Holy Youths (Daniel 3) Jesus descended to the dead, and raised those bound by death, breaking their chains and releasing them from ‘fire eternal’. The whole context of Timothy’s funeral—and every Orthodox Christian funeral—is the Resurrection. No, there’s no superstition here—just the celebration of an eternal and timeless victory. A victory won within time and space by the Creator of all who condescended to become created; a victory the effects of which ripple both forwards and backward in time.

Words from the greatest homily ever preached on Pascha (proclaimed by St. John Chrysostom, the 4th century Patriarch of Constantinople) echo still in our ears reminding us of this great wonder, this great miracle, this great gift:

“Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below." Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life is liberated! Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be Glory and Dominion unto ages of ages. Amen!”

For this we gathered to pray for Timothy in his death. For this reason, our sadness is joyful—for death has not had the final word. For this we have hope, not in vain, since God Himself was dead but is risen. Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Fr. John Parker is Priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. He can be reached at 843.881-5010 or at

Monday, April 02, 2007

Extreme Humility is the Path to Salvation

Published in the Post and Courier on 3.25.2007 as Extreme humility path to salvation
By Fr John Parker

His appearance: peaceful, serene. Jesus Christ stands in his tomb, in front of the cross, already having been crucified. His hands are crossed, as if bound, but there is no rope holding them together (His self-offering is voluntary). His eyes are closed. Other implements of the crucifixion are evident: the sponge by which he was offered wine-vinegar to drink when he cried out, “I thirst”; the spear which pierced his side, releasing both blood and water, showing him to be truly dead on the cross.

Crucified. Silent. Entombed. This is “extreme humility.”

In His last hours, our Lord Jesus Christ showed this extreme humility in many ways, mostly, though, by his silence. His wordlessness was a silent echo of the prophecy of Isaiah, “As a sheep led to the slaughter, or a spotless lamb before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth…” Our Lord accepted His brutal scourging, crucifixion and death, in almost total silence, with unwavering faith and confidence in the love and will of his Father.

His actions on the Cross, like the example of every moment of his life, were a living out of the very Gospel he incarnated, made flesh. If someone asks you to walk one mile, walk two. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer them the other. If someone takes your cloak, give him your robe as well. All of this recorded, of course in the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ. The arduous journey to Golgotha; the offering not just of the other cheek, but of his whole body for beating—and not just for beating, but for death; the stripping of his garments and the lots cast for them. This is extreme humility.

This is the royal road to salvation. By the power of the precious and life-giving Cross—through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—we are invited onto this holy path, the way to healing, wholeness, salvation.

Extreme humility takes many forms which all have similar characteristics. One is drawing little attention to one’s own self and accomplishments while giving credit to God alone for whatever good we appear to have done. God alone is good, and to quote St. Basil the Great’s liturgy from the fourth century “we have done nothing good upon the earth.”

Another is constant self-denial, which even includes denying special ‘spiritual gifts’—visions, tongues, dreams, prophecies, etc—which seem to come from God himself. Why? Because the Christian leading the life of extreme humility, witnessed in the lives of countless saints through the ages, stands with—and perhaps, dare I say, in front of St. Paul—claiming to be the chief of sinners (“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost [literally ‘first’] of sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15.) True humility says, “I am worthy of neither visions nor tongues, nor dreams, nor prophecies. Surely the Lord would choose to give such gifts to others much more faithful than I.” The saints teach, in fact, that it is better to seek the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness) than the gifts of the Spirit, since the former contribute to humility and holiness, while the latter often leads to spiritual pride, the most dangerous of sins. In short, if someone sets up a sign that says, “I’m a healer!” or “I am a prophet!” beware; the true saint not only wouldn’t announce it, he or she would likely deny it if asked.

The royal road to salvation is this: deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow me (says Jesus Christ). The self denial is not for its own purpose, but rather to take up solely the will of the God who is Love. The Cross is not my own, but joining my burdens, trials, and struggles to the Cross of Christ, which has trampled down death and sin, and has broken the chains which bind us. And to follow Christ in the fullest sense, is to stand, even in the face of the gravest persecutions and tortures, in silence, trusting in the might and mercy and righteousness of God, in extreme humility.

Fr. John Parker is the priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. He can be reached at or by phone at 843.881.5010.

On the Paralytic

Homily on Mark 2:1-12
By Fr. John Parker

Today I proclaim to you the joyous news of two Prosphora—two gifts, two offerings. The first is a paralytic, lifted up. A man so paralyzed that, according to St. Mark’s accounting, he does not or cannot even offer his own faith. According to the Scriptures, four men came to Jesus (pherontes pros avton paralutikon) bearing up, offering up, gifting Him a paralytic. Borne up by the four, unable to approach directly because of the crowd, the paralytic is lowered into the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in the presence of the Word, and by His word, and through the faith of the four friends that the paralytic’s sins are forgiven, that the broken man is made whole, raised up, and that the man goes out—goes home, to show by his walking and skipping and jumping that Jesus Christ is the One who is, and who was, and who is to come.

This is the first prosphora, the first offering, the first gift.

The second prosphora, the second offering, the second gift, is also a broken man. And yet, not only a man, but God-made-man. It is our Lord Jesus Christ, also lifted up, and because of the crowd. Not causally in the sense that there were too many people, but causally in that we, the crowe, shouted out for Him to be lifted up: Crucify Him, Crucify Him! Raised up not onto a rooftop, but onto the cross. Broken not by sin, but by us sinners, and so providentially, for us sinners.

And once raised up, broken, dead, also lowered. Not only lowered from the tree, dead, but also descending Himself, as God, into another crowd: the Dead. And there, not for the forgiveness of His sins (He was and is sinless), not for His healing (He is the Great physician of our souls and bodies, indeed the healer of the paralytic), but for the forgiveness of our sins, for the healing and salvation of us who crucified Him in the first place.

And this One, also not left in the midst of the crowd, unable to move or help Himself; this one also raised up, on the third day. Raised from the dead; Resurrected. Trampling down death by death. And this one also showing Himself to many—many of whom, like the first man’s friends, glorified God (amazed), saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Though some doubted.)

And it is this prosphora, this offering, this Man, Jesus Christ, whose Gospel is up borne likewise by four men, four pillars, whose names we know: the Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

It is by their testimony that we know these two prosphora, these to gifts, these two offerings. The first a shadow of the second, the paralytic fortelling and proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us paralytics also, broken and helpless, call on the Lord who is quick to save. And though we cannot lift ourselves, we can lift up those around us, by faith, with the sure hope of the Gospel, knowing the Almighty and Merciful God. And let us, like the four Evangelists, recount the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, not with parchment and pen, but with the love of God written by our deeds every moment of our lives. Amen.

Repentance is the Royal Path to Life

Published in the Post and Courier on 2/25/07, there entitled: Repentance a renewal, not doom and gloom

By Fr. John Parker

The vast majority of Christians on our planet began, this past week, to celebrate Lent, also known as the Great Fast in the Orthodox Christian tradition. The Fast owes its existence, in part, to the 40 days in which Jesus went into the desert to be tempted by the devil following His baptism by St. John the Forerunner. The Great Fast is, for us in the world, our annual pilgrimage to the inner desert, wherein we seek to join ourselves most fully to God by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in anticipation of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here we struggle to learn and to live: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” And, “you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

This voluntary sojourn in the inner-desert is book-ended in Matthew’s Gospel by a command given on the one end by St. John the Baptist (3:2), and on the other, echoed by our Lord Jesus Christ (4:17), “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” By “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Jesus indicates that He himself is inaugurating the re-creation of the world. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are as God incarnate who has come to save the world. And by ‘world’, He does not mean just “people”. The Holy Scriptures teach that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son…”. He so loved the ‘cosmos’, as it says in Greek. God’s renewal of the fallen cosmos is now underway, and will be completed, we believe, with Jesus’ second coming to judge the world.

But what does it mean, “Repent?” The word itself strikes fear in the hearts of some, occasionally brow-beaten by self-appointed prophets of doom who announce, “Turn or burn!” by their placards and angry voices. For many others, “repent” is some old-fashioned concept rooted in a time from which we have now been liberated—a time when somebody besides myself had the authority to tell me what is right and wrong—mostly what is wrong. In this view, repentance is what fools do who don’t yet understand that what’s right in my eyes is right for me, and what is right for you is right for you.

Neither of these is Christian, so what does a Christian understand when he reads “Repent!”? Repent means this: change your mind. Change your heart. Change your direction. But this change presumes that there is a revealed standard. There is a ‘right mind’; there is a ‘right heart’; there is a ‘right direction’. We are not turning around for the sake of going in another, random direction. We do not change our hearts to match that of some Hollywood star. We do not change our mind in order simply to have a new perspective—in order to get out of a rut.

When a Christian observes what we call daily life, we don’t see life—we see remnants of life, and a lot of death. We know what life is because God has revealed what life is—or more precisely, because in Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself as life. Through the lens of Jesus, we see ourselves as seriously lacking, and only remotely human. We recognize our need to turn back to Him.

The beauty of it all, though, is that because of God’s love and mercy for the whole cosmos, death does not reign permanently. Jesus has conquered sin and death, and we can make this return to Him. In fact, it is He Himself who calls us home—to change our minds, hearts, and directions. To return to the narrow, straight path. To return to chastity, humility, patience, and love, not as defined by the world, but as revealed in Christ. To return to God.

Repentance is not a threat (or else!), it is a gift. It is the return flight of what we thought was a one-way ticket to destruction and death. Repentance is not out-moded and old-fashioned. Rather, it is a moment-by-moment renewal, and in fact, it is evidence of the truly open mind, especially when one recognizes that his own is not right.

Orthodox Christians exhort one another to “enter the Fast with joy”. Repent with joy? Yes! And we can do so precisely because we understand that repentance brings healing and union with God, and not a judicial acquittal from an angry judge on the last day. Repentance is God’s grace returning life to a dying world. Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church on the Square in I’On. He can be reached at or by phone at 843-881-5010.

Faith of our Fathers: A Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Anglicans

By Fr. John Parker
Published in the Post and Courier, Sunday, February 4, 2007

Nineteen degrees and snowing. An ecumenical affair: Orthodox Christians addressing curious Anglicans and Episcopalians in a Roman Catholic retreat center which shares a parking lot with an Orthodox Monastery of Romanian and American monks. Inside the retreat, a bustle of 50 or so attendees who traveled to Detroit from warmer climes, Florida included. Others from South Carolina, Maryland, and Illinois. A few came to warm up in Detroit, having crossed their southern border from Toronto. The most amazing of the attendees, in my opinion, was a former Episcopal priest—a woman—who has come to understand the way of the Ancient Church and renounced her ordination in order to enter the Orthodox faith.

On Monday and Tuesday, January 29-30, I had the privilege of taking part in this fascinating conference. “Faith of our Fathers: a Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Anglicans” was organized with the blessing and encouragement of His Eminence, the Most Reverend Nathaniel, Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate of the Orthodox Church in America.

Archbishop Nathaniel had been approached by several local Episcopalians and neighboring Canadian Anglicans who asked, “How can you help us?” a question rooted in both the recent and centuries-old scandals and struggles which are plaguing the Anglican Communion worldwide.

His Eminence made it very clear in his keynote address on Monday that the conference was not intended or organized in any way to solicit Episcopalians to the Orthodox Church, but rather was an answer to a profound request for guidance and assistance. The Archbishop’s biblical foundation for the conference, he elaborated, was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He noted that the traveler did not cry out for help, but rather lay beaten on the roadside. It was the Samaritan who took note of the bloodied man, had compassion on him, and made arrangements for his recovery.

The conference was structured around four basic lectures: “Theology”, “Liturgy”, “Culture and Tradition”, and “Practical Considerations”. Each was preceded by a brief account of a personal journey to Orthodoxy. The speakers were predominantly former Episcopalians, most of them now Orthodox Priests. The lineup included Charleston native, Fr. Gregory Mathewes-Green (who—along with the present Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul, the Very Rev. William McKeachie—coauthored the Baltimore Declaration); his wife Frederica, also a native Charlestonian and well-known columnist, speaker, and author of books like Facing East and The Illumined Heart; Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon—one time professor at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, and present lecturer at Nashotah House Seminary; and others.

His Grace, the Rt. Rev. Mark, Bishop of Toledo and the Midwest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, shared with the conference participants his engaging arrival to the Orthodox Church. Bishop Mark found his way from his native Roman Catholicism to charismatic Christianity, finally studying at and then teaching at Oral Roberts University. His ever-deepening studies of the Old Testament, along with engaging conversations with an Orthodox professor at ORU led him to embrace the Ancient Church, in which he now serves as a hierarch.

A third bishop, His Grace, the Rt. Rev. Tikhon, Bishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania of the Orthodox Church in America, shared briefly about how is life is “made very interesting” by the fact that his mother serves as an Episcopal priest.

I believe it is safe to say that very few of the conference attendees came to hear about the Orthodox Church and faith for the first time. Many appeared to know a significant amount already, and have developed friendships with Orthodox clergy and lay people in their respective hometowns. There were, however, a few difficult questions, which required a delicate response—though the answers remain unchanging.

One fellow from Canada asked, for example, why the Orthodox Church practices what many call “closed communion”, allowing only those members of the Orthodox Church to receive communion in their services. Several speakers explained this commonly misunderstood and challenging pastoral matter. In fact, in the Orthodox Church, not even all Orthodox can/ought to receive communion at any given service. Our discipline is to serve those who have prepared themselves by prayer, fasting, and recent confession, taking very seriously St. Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:27ff).

The grounds for so-called “closed communion” are ancient and simple. First (also a practice abandoned by many non-Orthodox Christians today), one must be baptized to receive. Baptism is open to all repentant sinners, in the Christian view, and is the doorway into the life of the Church. Second, the Church has always believed that Communion is the sign of the shared fullness of faith, and not the maker of it. In other words, it makes no sense for a group of people to “have communion together” who don’t believe the same things about who Jesus is, why he lived and died, how we are called—voluntarily—to change for and be changed by God, and what the bread and wine become in the liturgy. In short, in this scenario, there is no “common union” (the meaning of “communion”) except the action of eating and drinking something together at the same time.

The inquirer was also somewhat surprised to hear that this was the universal practice and belief of all Christians for 1500+ years, and for Anglicans until the 1950s or 1960s. It has always been and remains the practice in the Orthodox Church (as well as the Roman Catholic Church, I believe) to this day.

“Faith of our Fathers” was a conference rooted, at least generally speaking, in Acts 2:42. We shared the teachings of the Apostles, we sat at table together, we enjoyed one another’s company in fellowship, and sang a beautiful Vespers (evening prayer) service on the occasion of the Feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs: St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom, fourth-century luminaries universally remembered for their essential contributions to Christian theology and preaching.

The talks from this conference will all be available for download at, a 24-hour Orthodox internet Radio station.

Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church located on the Square in I’On. He can be reached at or by phone at 881-5010.