In the Footsteps of the Saints

As many of you already know, I serve as the pastoral assistant at St. Theodore of Tarsus Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cardiff. We are excited to announce a ‘Sponsored Prayer Walk’ on Saturday the 3rd of October! Read this great post from the parish priest, Fr. James Siemens, for more details:

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It has been a long time since I last posted something, but a forthcoming event in the life of my parish has moved me to hit the keyboard once again.

The Parish of Saint Theodore of Tarsus has been working to serve the people of Cardiff and South Wales since December, 2013. Our specific mission has been to preach the Gospel as faithfully as possible according to the traditions of the Kyivan Church – that is, the Eastern Church into which the people of Rus’ were baptised in 988, then re-united with the Western Church in 1595 – in the belief that, by living out these traditions boldly and in charity, we would be offering the people of Wales the opportunity to encounter the same ancient faith planted by Saint David, in a beautiful and mysterious form that might speak across some of the divides that characterise contemporary society.

To this end, we have endeavoured to…

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God Dragged me Kicking and Screaming or Facing My Fear of Vocational Ministry (Part 1)

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Picture Courtesy of GoodGuysWearBlack.Org

My mother tells me that when I was five years old she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. After listing several of the typical things little boys aspire to–a superhero, a policy officer, a fireman, etc.–I suddenly grew quite.

“You know what Mommy,” I said, evidently in the most serious tone, “what I really want to be is a pastor.”

When I was twelve I remember, during a time of private prayer and reflection, feeling very strongly that God was calling me to be a pastor and this filled my heart with joy. It gave me something to look forward to and to prepare for; a goal in life.  But, then, something changed.

When I got to high school I began to challenge this calling (big surprise I know). I became enamoured with art and music and spent all of my free time drawing, making independent films, and playing music. Leading up to graduation I became obsessed with being a professional rock star and dedicated every waking hour, outside of school, to an alternative/punk band I played the drums for. Touring the world and playing music was the only future I could imagine. The idea of being a pastor seemed increasingly irrelevant and positively boring.

This obsession carried on after high school as well. I moved back to my home town in Texas and began writing and recording my own music. Soon I befriended another young aspiring musician and we formed a band that played in venues all over Dallas and Fort Worth. Much to the consternation of my beautiful new bride, my friend and I spent nearly every waking hour rehearsing, writing, recording, and even choreographing our show.

Over time we began to see success. We performed at a local ‘battle of the bands’ and, within minutes of starting our set, had nearly half the auditorium crowding the stage and screaming. We lost the competition because we hadn’t brought enough people (part of your score was based on how many people bought tickets specifically to see your band play); yet, were swarmed by throngs of ‘fans’ asking for our autographs after the show. Even the band that won praised our performance. Soon we were offered a regular spot at a club in Deep Ellum Dallas and receiving invitations to play at other popular clubs as well.

In spite of this apparent success, I was a failure. I was neglecting my wife, neglecting my school work (yes, somehow I managed to stay enrolled at Tarrant County College), and performing poorly at work (surprisingly, playing in a band didn’t bring home the bacon). Most importantly, I was ignoring God.

For in the midst of everything I knew, deep down, that I was not meant to be a rock star and that, in truth, I was simply running away from vocational ministry. Music had become a false god in my life.  You see, there is nothing wrong with music, or art, or working hard at doing these things well. In fact, these things are GREAT goods that MUST be pursued to the best of our abilities for the glory of God. No, the problem wasn’t music; the problem was me. I was behaving like Jonah; I was fighting the Lord, running away from His direction, and had made an idol out of my song writing.

When this finally sunk in, I begrudgingly quite the band and began to focus on my studies at seminary. I had enrolled before the band broke up in a somewhat half hearted gesture at obeying the Lord.

While my experience at seminary was enriching and instilled in me a love for learning, it also opened up a new temptation. I began to obsess over philosophy and theology. Again, these things are GREAT goods and MUST be pursued. The problem was not with academics or learning; it was with me. I was still only half-heartedly serving the Lord and trying to find anything more interesting and important than fully embracing vocational ministry. Soon all I spoke about was philosophy and I began to obsess over the idea of earning postgraduate degrees and becoming a professor.

After graduating with a bachelor of arts in humanities I determined to apply to the University of Dallas to pursue a masters degree in philosophy. During this time my family and I (we now had two beautiful girls!) lived in a run down apartment and I worked as a manager at a homeless shelter in one of the most dangerous streets in the US. My wife was not comfortable with my decision to pursue further studies at that time, reminding me of my calling to vocational ministry. I knew she was right, but was too stubborn and selfish to admit it. Something was holding me back; something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I believe it was partly because I had a distorted view of what being a pastor actually entailed. I thought it meant abandoning my love for music and my love for learning and scholarship; and being someone I wasn’t.

Two incredible things happened that changed my life.

First, I literally lost my ability to write. I had visited the campus at UD, gotten references from former professors, and filled out most of the application. All that remained was a personal statement, expressing why I wanted to study philosophy, and containing a brief intellectual history. Only a few short paragraphs; easy right? Except that every time I sat down to write nothing happened. This went on for several weeks and I began to get stressed (as did my wife, who wondered why I hadn’t completed my application with the deadline quickly approaching). I remember spending six hours at a Starbucks and only typing one sentence. Something was desperately wrong.

The second thing involved alcohol . . . lots of alcohol.

At the homeless shelter I worked at the residents and guests were required to attend chapel before each meal. Most of the time local pastors would lead the service but, on occasion, someone would cancel or a spot would go unfilled. In the case of a vacancy I would often step in to preach the sermon and lead a prayer. Accordingly, I was known as being a preacher among many of the homeless men and women we served.

One evening, just before the sun went down, I walked from the main building to a storage facility directly across the street. Suddenly I heard a voice screaming my name, “Joshua! Joshua!” I turned and saw one of our regulars stumbling down the street, obviously inebriated, and headed in my direction. “Joshua!” he cried again as he came up to me and grabbed my shirt, “Don’t fight God’s calling! Don’t fight being a preacher! You must preach!” I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him. Soon he drifted off, stumbling down the street and shouting random things at passers by.

The next evening at precisely the same time, as I crossed the street to go to our storage facility, I once again heard a voice shouting my name, “Joshua! Hey, Joshua!” I looked up and, to my great surprise, saw the same inebriated homeless man stumbling down the street in my direction. He caught up to me and grabbed me by the shirt again, the smell of alcohol nearly overwhelming, and stared at me in the eyes, “You must not fight God’s calling! You must be a preacher!” he shouted in a raspy voice. Once again, only this time somewhat shaken, I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him. This time tears streamed down my cheeks. He then carried on down the street in his drunken stupor.

The following evening . . . you guessed it! . . . it happened again, only it was  a completely different man. Just as drunk and smelly, but delivering the same message, at the same time and in the same place as the other two incidents.

That night I cried. The tears I shed not out of sadness or fear or anger but from the overwhelming feeling of love. The love of a God who cared so much for me that He took time to speak directly to me; and through the most unlikely people in the most unlikely of places. I also felt extremely humbled. I told my wife what had happened and we agreed that I should stop pursuing an MA in philosophy at that time. Instead, I was going to apply to become an ordained minister in the C&MA*.

I contacted the District Superintendent (i.e., bishop) and went for an interview a few weeks later. After that I submitted a formal application. In the application I had to write several pages explaining why I wanted to become a pastor and provide a brief account of my spiritual history. Astoundingly, after months of writers block, I wrote everything with ease.

This, however, is only the beginning of my story. It has been five years from the day I was accepted into the C&MA’s ordination program but I am not yet a fully ordained minister. I am now living in the UK and about to begin my studies to become ordained as a deacon in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  So, what’s up with that?

I’ll explain in part two . . .

*C&MA does not stand for ‘Country Music Awards’, or ‘Christian Mormon Association’, and is not some kind of cult. It stands for ‘Christian & Missionary Alliance’-an evangelical denomination which originated in New York in the 1800’s after a Presbyterian minister broke from his church to reach out to Italian doc workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on the Divine Nature (With St. Maximus the Confessor)

“It is impossible for the infinite to exist on the same level of being as finite things, and no argument will ever be capable of demonstrating that being and what is beyond being are the same, nor that the measured and immeasurable can be put in the same class, nor that the absolute can be ranked with that which exists in relation to other things, nor that that which has nothing predicated of it and that which is constituted by predication belong together.  For all created things are defined, in their essence and in their way of developing, by their own logoi and by the logoi of the beings that provide their external context.  Through these logoi they find their defining limits.  We are speechless before the sublime teaching about the Logos, for He cannot be expressed in words or conceived in thought.” – St. Maximus the Confessor

The Cosmic Importance of the Incarnation

Why did God become man?  Was this simply a reaction to Adam and Eve’s fall into sin?  Is the Incarnation merely contingent upon this event?  Or is there more to this story?

When I was a Protestant I often focused exclusively on one aspect of the Incarnation–namely its leading to the death of Christ and the atonement for sins.  While this is obviously of central importance (Christ most certainly did come to lay down his life for the world) it can lead to some misconceived and even detrimental notions.  One of them being that the Incarnation was simply an “accident”; namely, that it was not absolutely essential for the redemption of creation.  For many Protestants (not all) the Incarnation is viewed as merely a reaction to a particular event – the Fall of man into sin – rather than part of the cosmic destiny of creation itself.

I had…

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An Ecclesiastical Experience . . .

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As most of you already know, my family and I recently joined the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church!  I come from a devout Protestant family: my father has been a pastor for over thirty years, my sister is a missionary in Southeast Asia, and I, too, pastored for several years.  As you can imagine, our decision to join the Church was not easy.  Our journey was filled with years of angst, hours upon hours of discussion and introspection, mountains of books, and, intensive prayer.  While all of these activities played a role in our conversion it was our first hand experience of the Church that had the most lasting impact on us.  The great Russian philosopher Pavel Florensky once said, “Only by relying on immediate experience can one survey the spiritual treasures of the Church and come to see their value.”  This was certainly true in our case.

I still remember the first night my wife Rosie and I secretly attended vespers at an Eastern church near my parents house.  Up to that point, we had only rationalized about “the Church.”  We had loads of objective information, from piles of books,  rattling around our heads–but no subjective experience.  We were like blind beggars crying out on the side of the road–our first encounter with eastern liturgy was like the miracle of experiencing sight for the first time.

One day I will share the whole story with you; until then, please enjoy these beautiful photos.  Perhaps they will give you a taste of the beauty and richness of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; perhaps they will stir your soul and fill you with an intense desire to experience ecclesiality for yourself . . .

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Understanding Apophatic Theology (Part Two)

/  Apophaticism  (i.e. “negative theology” or “the way of negation”) is an essential feature of Eastern Catholic theology but is often misunderstood by Western theologians and thinkers.  This is part two of a series of articles designed to introduce apophatic theology to those who are unfamiliar with it . . . It should also prove useful for those who have a negative aversion to negative theology.   /

Another way to characterize apophaticism is in terms of the impersonal versus the personal.  In contrast to Plato’s heavenly realm of the forms and enigmatic Demiurge, or Aristotle’s reduction of form to that of particular instantiations of essences and his impersonal notion of the Unmoved Mover, early Christian apologists and theologians grounded the forms in the mind of God.  For unlike the Greek philosophers, Christians, following a biblical ontology, understood Ultimate Reality was a dynamic, self-determined, active Existence who lovingly created (out of nothing) and maintained the world.  Identifying the forms with the mind of God, however, necessarily leads to apophatic conclusions.  Why?  Because no one can know the mind of God.

Dionysius declares that we, “must not dare to apply words or conceptions to this hidden transcendent God [outside of what He Himself has revealed],” because, “the divinity is not only invisible and incomprehensible, but also “unsearchable and inscrutable,” since there is not a trace for anyone who would reach through into the hidden depths of this infinity.”

These statements make all the more sense when we recognize that the transcendent God is personal.  There is always an element of profound mystery attached to human personhood; especially in terms of  communicating our personhood to other persons.  No matter how ardently we attempt to communicate our interior life to the outside world the human soul remains a “black box” to those who remain forever distinct from us.  No matter how intimate the relationship there forever remains something private and unseen between even the closest friends.   If this is true of the human heart and mind, how much more so when it comes to the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity?  As Judith states, “You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought?” (Judith 8:14).

In this, apophaticism offers an epistemological advantage when compared to other ontologies; namely, it grounds our discovery of the Good, of Truth, of Ultimate Reality, in love.  For it is out of love that God makes Himself known (in as much as He can be known) and it is out of love that we seek to know Him.  According to apophaticism, seeking Truth–seeking to understand Existence–is ultimately the pursuit of a person (whether the pursuer realizes this or not).

Thus we are faced with a paradox.  Apophaticism teaches that the Divine Nature is completely inaccessible to us, and that He is actively seeking to make Himself known to us (which is why apophaticism, rightly understood, acknowledges that we can make positive statements about God).  To understand this, we must now turn our inquiry to the distinction between God’s essence and His energies.

God’s Active Presence and Self-Revelation

While it is impossible for us to comprehend the essence of God, it is possible for us both to know and experience Him.  How?  By participating in His energies.  Because God is love (1 John 4:8) He desires to be known and to be in communion with His creation.  His active presence and self-revelation in the world is what apophatic theology refers to as God’s uncreated energies.  God’s foreknowledge, His providence, His will, His goodness, His love, His justice, Hist power–all of these attributes are discovered through participation in God’s energies.  These works of God are, according to St. Gregory Palamas, “manifestly unoriginate and pretemporal.”

Which is simply to say, they are uncreated and, hence, not something ontologically grounded outside of God’s being.  St. Palamas explains:  “Neither the uncreated goodness, nor the eternal glory, nor the divine life nor things akin to these are simply the superessential essence of God, for God transcends them all as Cause.  But we say He is life, goodness and so forth, and give Him these names, because of the revelatory energies and powers of the Superessential.”

Thus, while God’s energies dynamically flow out of His essence, his energies are not to be mistaken as being His essence.  To understand this, St. Palamas provides a very simple illustration:

The divine essence that transcends all names, also surpasses energy, to the extent that the subject of an action surpasses its object; and He Who is beyond every name transcends what is named according to the same measure.  But this is in no way opposed to the veneration of a unique God and unique divinity, since the fact of calling the ray “sun” in no way prevents us from thinking of a unique sun and a unique light.

So, as it would be mistaken to confuse the act of eating with the person eating it would be mistaken to confuse God’s foreknowledge with the One who knows future contingents.  Likewise, we would be mistaken to separate God’s providence from His essence as we would be mistaken to separate rays of light from the sun; nevertheless, we are able to recognize the rays as being unique in relation to the sun as we are able to recognize that God’s providence is unique in relation to His essence.

It must be stressed, however, that the things we learn about God through participating in His energies are still restricted by the confines of our finite language and limited noetic capacities.  Thus, while we can affirm positively that, for example, God is good–because He is creator and sustainer, always keeps His promises, brings about our salvation, etc.–we must remember that such a positive affirmation is still analogical, and does not provide us with information about the Divine Nature.  For, as Dionysius states, “we use whatever appropriate symbols we can for the things of God.  With these analogies we are raised upward toward the truth of the mind’s vision, a truth which is simple and one.”  Likewise, St. John of Damascus explains that, “many of those things about God which are not clearly perceived cannot be fittingly described, so that we are obliged to express in human terms things which transcend the human order.  Thus, for example, in speaking about God we attribute to Him sleep, anger, indifference, hands and feet, and the alike.”

Apophaticism, therefore, maintains God’s complete transcendence–His otherness–and his nearness and familiarity without falling into contradiction.

Understanding Apophatic Theology (Part One)

/  Apophaticism  (i.e. “negative theology” or “the way of negation”) is an essential feature of Eastern Catholic theology but is often misunderstood by Western theologians and thinkers.  This is the first of a series of articles designed to introduce apophatic theology to those who are unfamiliar with it . . . It should also prove useful for those who have a negative aversion to negative theology (pun intended).   /   

Apophatic theology is founded, first and foremost, upon the Incarnation.  For it is the incarnation of the Word that highlights the paradox of God’s nearness and immeasurable distance from creation.  In the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar :

The “I” of Jesus Christ is the measure of God’s distance from and nearness to man, that unimaginable nearness of him who is, and remains, even more unimaginably sublime above everything in the world (in similitudine major dissimilitudo)–and both things are equally true.  We shall never be in a position to encapsulate the mystery of this “I”, with its nearness and its distance, in a concept or a formula, for at its heart lies the mystery of the relationship between God, the Absolute, and man, the relative.

This antinomy is most clearly expressed in the first chapter of St. John’s gospel which proclaims that, “No one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18); and affirmed also by St. Paul who states that Christ is, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1: 15).  Thus, the Incarnation is at once God’s ultimate and most intimate revelation of Himself to His creation and a fixed reminder of the mysterious and ineffable nature of the God who remains unseen and invisible.

As we shall see apophaticism is not synonymous to agnosticism; it is not an attempt to eradicate positive statements about God or deny our personal experience of God (as some believe).  Aristotle Papanikolaou explains that, “there is always a gap between our language about God and what God is.  In an apophatic approach, theology, attempts to stretch language in order to express the central antinomy revealed in the Incarnation–God’s transcendence and immanence.”  Apophaticism is, therefore, an acknowledgment of the complete transcendence and utter incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature and the humble admission that human beings lack the noetic capacities and linguistic tools needed to grasp or properly communicate the infinite, eternal, Godhead.  Furthermore, it is the acknowledgment that God loves His creation and condescends to make Himself known in spite of our limited capacities.

This fact–the radical ontological distinction between the creature and the Creator, the unknowability of God’s essence, and God’s desire to make Himself known–is vividly portrayed in the account of Moses on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament.  Scripture tells us that:

On the third day in the morning, there were thunderings and lightnings and a dark cloud on Mount Sinai; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, and all the people in the camp trembled.  And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke, because God descended upon it in fire.  Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the people were exceedingly amazed . . . and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Then God spoke to Moses, “Go down and solemnly charge the people, lest they break through to gaze at God, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:16-21).*

In this passage we see that God, in his unfailing love and desire for communion–and in order to initiate a covenant with Israel–manifested His presence in a physically provocative way; thus condescending to our human nature.  Yet what God is, His essence, is symbolized by the impenetrable cloud of darkness, thick smoke, and fire; for God is invisible and His nature a mystery.  His presence, if directly beheld by man, is so overwhelming that God warns Moses not to let the people ascend the mountain lest they gaze directly upon Him and die.

The complete inadequacy of creaturely language–with regard to its ability to describe God–becomes even more obvious as we read Moses’ own account of his experience on the mountain in the presence of God in chapter thirty-three:

But He [God] said, “You cannot see My face; for no man can see My face and live.”  Moreover, the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me you shall stand on the rock.  So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.  Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:20-23).*

For surely the Divine Nature is not a body–possessing hands and a face–but is incorporeal.  Our language is simply unable to explain that which transcends all creaturely categories; thus, Moses, writing metaphorically, speaks of God having a ‘face’ and ‘hands’ and a ‘back.’  For as the Lord Himself declares in this passage, “no man can see My face and live”–which is to say that no man can peer into the very essence of God; this knowledge is too great for us.  Yet, mysteriously, God allows Moses to experience Him indirectly; allowing him to see His “back.”  This, itself, is unhelpful for those who seek to understand what God is because there is know way for us to understand what it means to gaze upon the Lord’s back.  Here, again, human language fails us; Moses’ own experience was virtually indescribable (even to himself).

The stark contrast that we find in these passages and, throughout the Bible, between the creature and the Creator, are exactly what led the earliest Christian theologians to promote apophaticism.  For the Greek philosophers (namely those in the stream of Platonic and Aristotelian thought) believed that being or existence could be grasped by the human intellect and explained using purely human categories.  Christians, however, embracing the ontology of Scripture, recognized that Existence Himself, the great “I AM,” stood outside of all creaturely thought.  As Fr. John D. Zizioulas explains:

The message of apophatic theology was precisely that the closed Greek ontology had to be broken and transcended, since we are unable to use concepts of the human mind or of creation, for signifying God–the truth.  The absolute otherness of God’s being which is found at the heart of biblical theology is affirmed in such a manner that the biblical approach to God contrasts acutely with that of the Greeks.  Apophaticism rejects the Greek view of truth, emphasizing that what we know about being–about creation, that is–must not be ontologically identified with God.

Plato’s famous analogy of the cave makes the difference between Greek and Christian thought explicit.  For in Plato’s account truth can be grasped when we stop looking at the mere shadow of being on the wall–i.e., the imperfect copies of eternal forms–climb out of the cave, and fix our gaze directly on the sun–the good;  the immaterial and immutable realm of the forms; the, “cause of all that is correct and beautiful in anything”  In Plato’s ontology, gazing directly at the good is possible through purely human intellectual effort.  In contrast, Christian theology teaches that the Good transcends all human distinctions and categories; the Good is completely other and, hence, unknowable by means of purely human effort.  For the Good says, “no man can see My face and live” (Exodus 33:20).*

Such considerations are what spurred Pseudo-Dionysius, that great champion of apophatic theology (and whose icon can be found at the top of this article), to proclaim:

Indeed the inscrutable One is out of the reach of every rational process.  Nor can any words come up to the inexpressible Good, this One, this Source of all unity, this supra-existent Being.  Mind beyond mind, word beyond speech, it is gathered up by no discourse, by no intuition, by no name.  It is and it is as no other being is.  Cause of all existence, and therefore itself transcending existence, it alone could give an authoritative account of what it really is.

 

*All Scripture quotations are taken from the Orthodox Study Bible which utilizes the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible).  Therefore, the chapter and verse numbering might not correspond to those found in translations, e.g., ESV, NIV, KJV, etc., which utilize the oldest available Hebrew and Aramaic texts.

Coming out of the Closet . . . the Confessional Closet, that is

After six years of intensive prayer and research, I’m excited to announce that my family and I are joining the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church!  I realize this news will leave many of you shocked and even horrified.  Undoubtedly, there are some of you doubting my sanity and even my salvation at this very moment.  You may also feel hurt that I never spoke to you privately before making this announcement public.  To those of you who are upset, I offer my sincere apology—it was never my intension to surprise you or take you off guard.  The rigorous demands of day to day life make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for me to maintain regular contact with many of my dear friends (and even family) scattered around the world.

For those who have not had the opportunity to speak with me personally about this decision, I offer this humble blog post.  Please keep in mind that it is not intended as an in-depth apologetic of the Catholic faith.  It is, however, written to provide preliminary answers to the burning questions which immediately popped into your head upon reading my announcement.  To be sure, it is not comprehensive—there are literally hundreds of other questions I could have chosen—but, it does touch on some of the more pertinent issues.  So, without further ado, let the Q&A begin:

Do you still believe in Jesus?

I certainly do.  I believe He is, “the image of the invisible God the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the Church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

Do you still believe in the Bible?

Most emphatically I do!  For it is the inspired word of God; as St. Paul states: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (1 Timothy 3:16).  The Bible is of primary importance and is an essential component of our corporate worship.  It is also a crucial aspect of our personal spiritual development.  All Christians should read the Bible and meditate upon its message.  Nevertheless, I do not accept the spurious doctrine of Sola Scriptura which was proclaimed by Martin Luther and perpetuated by Protestants thereafter.

Don’t Catholics worship Mary?

They do not—that would be idolatry.  As it is written, “you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).  Mary is, however, highly honored as the first Christian and for being the mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (i.e. the Mother of God incarnate).  As it is written, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

Do you still believe in Baptism by immersion?

I believe Baptism by immersion is the primary example we see in the New Testament, and, thus, the primary and most preferable mode of Baptism.  Nevertheless, it is not explicitly pronounced in the Bible as being the single and only mode of Baptism.  Throughout Church history, from the earliest times, Baptism has been administered through other ways (i.e. sprinkling, pouring, etc…).  In the Eastern Catholic churches, however, immersion (following the example of the New Testament) is still the preferred mode.

Do you believe infants should be Baptized?

I certainly do, as our Lord says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).  As a sacrament, baptism is the means by which we are united with the body of Christ (i.e. His Church) and made alive.  Like circumcision under the Old Covenant, baptism is the gateway by which we enter into the New Covenant and share in the death of Jesus.  As it is written, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism . . . you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive” (Colossians 2:11-13).  Children have been baptized — washed clean from the Original Sin inherited from their parents and allowed to join the life of the Church (i.e. the Kingdom of Heaven ) — from the earliest times.

Do you believe you can save yourself through works?

No one can “save themselves” from death (which is the inevitable consequence brought about by sin) or from the final judgment—only God can do this.  It is clear that God does not bring about our salvation through the works of the Law of Moses, but through Jesus our Lord.  As St. Paul states, “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).  Nevertheless, “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).  True faith is instantiated through our love for God and our love of neighbor.  This is why St. James proclaims, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).  We are saved by grace through faith—but real and living faith is evidenced through works of love.

What is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is a communion of over twenty ritual churches.  The Roman church is the largest and, therefore, the most widely known.  The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is simply one of the twenty ritual churches.  They are, essentially, Eastern Orthodox, originating from Ukraine , who are in full communion with Rome and under the authority of the Pope.  They are otherwise known as Eastern Catholic’s or Byzantine Catholic’s.  (Note, however, that there are other Eastern Catholic Churches who go by other names).

Are you moving to Ukraine ?

No.  Although, I would love to visit someday!

Are their services in English?

Yes!  In most of the American parishes, the Divine Liturgy is in English.

Isn’t Pope Francis a crazy liberal who preaches universalism and thinks abortion is not a big deal?

You’ve been reading the Huffington Post again haven’t you?  Take some time to read the things Pope Francis actually says—then decide if he’s a crazy liberal.

Can I visit your church?

Yes!  You are always welcome to visit–come just as you are.  We are currently attending St. Nicholas Mission.