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264. April 20/May 3, 1979 St. Theodore Trichinas

Dear Barry,

CHRIST IS RISEN! May the blessing of our Lord be with you!

We were very happy to receive your letter and hear of your path to Orthodoxy. May God send you His grace abundantly and grant you eternal salvation in His True Church!

The light you saw, and the presence you felt, I am sure, are from God. Such a thing is fairly frequently experienced by converts to Orthodoxy, and the remembrance of it is often of great help in the temptations that come upon one in leading a true Christian life. However, don’t think much about it, and especially don’t make any “theories” about it! Just know that God is close and sometimes lets us feel that closeness.

As you prepare for Baptism, I would give you several words of advice:

1. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on the outward aspect of Orthodoxy—whether the splendid church services (the “high church” to which you were drawn as a child), the outward discipline (fasts, prostrations, etc.), being “correct” according to the canons, etc. All these things are good and helpful, but if one overemphasizes them one will enter into troubles and trials. You are coming to Orthodoxy to receive Christ, and this you should never forget.

2. Don’t have a hypercritical attitude. By this I don’t mean to give up your intellect and discernment, but rather to place them in obedience to a believing heart (“heart” meaning not mere “feeling,” but something much deeper—the organ that knows God). Some converts, alas, think they are very “smart” and they use Orthodoxy as a means for feeling superior to the non-Orthodox and sometimes even to Orthodox of other jurisdictions. Orthodox theology, of course, is much deeper and makes much better sense than the erroneous theologies of the modern West—but our basic attitude towards it must be one of humility and not pride. Converts who pride themselves on “knowing better” than Catholics and Protestants often end by “knowing better” than their own parish priest, bishop, and finally the Fathers and the whole Church!

3. Remember that your survival as an Orthodox Christian will depend very much on your contact with the living tradition of Orthodoxy. This is something you won’t get in books and it can’t be defined for you. If your attitude is humble and without hypercriticism, if you place Christ first in your heart, and try to lead a normal life according to Orthodox discipline and practice—you will obtain this contact. Alas, most Orthodox jurisdictions today (such as the OCA) are losing this contact out of simple worldliness. But there is also a temptation on the “right side” which proceeds from the same hypercriticism I just mentioned. The traditionalist (Old Calendar) Church in Greece today is in chaos because of this, one jurisdiction fighting and anathematizing another over “canonical correctness” and losing sight of the whole tradition over hyper-fine points. Our Russian Church Outside of Russia is in the best possible position in this regard, being rather in the middle of these two extremes and maintaining a balanced position (for example, grieving and occasionally remarking on the loss of Orthodoxy by the other jurisdictions, but not going to the extreme of declaring them to be “without grace”). We have recently written an article, in this connection, on Blessed Augustine, whom some converts (and Greeks) would like to regard as simply a “heretic,” without seeing that despite his errors he is actually more Orthodox than the modern, formally-correct “theologians” who criticize him

You yourself have had enough experience in life to avoid these temptations, which are actually those of the young and inexperienced; but it is good to keep them in mind.

You are already probably fairly well prepared for Baptism in outward knowledge (that is a lifelong task in any case, and one is never really “prepared”!). I would advise you to read some things that give more the “feel” of Orthodox Church life. The Confessions of Blessed Augustine is good reading for repentance and the warming up of the heart, and the ascetic and devotional literature of the Church is also very good—Lives of Saints, Desert Fathers, collections like the Lausiac History and the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great (who is much loved in the East). I am sending you separately our newest publication—some Homilies of St Symeon the New Theologian, which serve as a kind of catechism of the meaning of our Christian life, and also (in case you haven’t seen it) our article on Blessed Augustine from last year’s Orthodox Word.

As for serving God in the clerical state—that can be seen better after you become Orthodox. It is best not to think too eagerly of it in the beginning for fear of going “too fast” and not absorbing the lessons right in front of one. God will show. Just this Saturday (two days from now) we will have the ordination here of a young convert from Roman Catholicism. He joined the Church about 9 years ago and matured through various trials into someone who is just “ripe” for pastoral service. You must definitely meet him, and will gain much from talking with him. (He is Alexey Young, editor of the missionary periodical Nikodemos. He will take over our missionary labors in the southern Oregon area. By the way, the latest issue of Nikodemos is an excellent appeal to Roman Catholics to come to Orthodoxy—you should read it. We will have some extra copies soon in case you don’t subscribe.) There are many complications in pastoral labors today, and there is more hope for success in them if one “matures” into them rather than follow a standard path of “being assigned to a parish.”

This summer we will have our St. Herman Pilgrimage again on August 8-9, and then a week of courses on various Orthodox subjects (this year it will probably be a rather intense course). It would be good if you could attend. Of course, you are welcome to come and visit us any time. Please feel free to write about any questions you may have, also.

May God guide your steps into His Church and make you a fruitful laborer for Him!

With love in Christ,
H.S.

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