Meanwhile, I came into direct contact with Orthodoxy for the first time and quite independently from the previously mentioned circumstances. It must be said here that my gravitation to this Church started forming since the very beginning of my spiritual odyssey.
Earlier, while I was still at my monastery, I had had lengthy discussions on ecclesiastical topics with a group of Polish Orthodox university students who had passed through my country. Later, the information I received from the Ecumenical Council regarding the existence and activities of the Orthodox of the West truly sparked my interest. Furthermore, I received some fortuitous publications from the Russian and the Greek Orthodox Churches of Berlin and London. The powerful articles therein by Archimandrite Nicholas Katsanevakis in Naples began to win over my heart.
Taken together, these three circumstances were conducive to expunging my previous misconceptions and bias against Orthodoxy, entrenched in me by formal Roman Catholic education. Catholic students are taught in middle school that "the schism of the East, so-called Orthodoxy, is nothing more than an assembly without life, mummified and desiccated; Small local churches without any of the genuine and distinctive characteristics of the true Church of Christ."1 In other words, "a deplorable schism fathered by the devil and mothered by the pride of Patriarch Photios."2
During that time of personal crisis, compounded with my general (and recent) knowledge, I initiated a correspondence with a highly respected member of the Orthodox hierarchy of the West. At last I was quite ready to comprehend everything this bishop would communicate to me about Orthodox teaching. In other words, I was in a position to examine objectively the relevant facts about the constitution and theological status of the apostolic churches. Over the course of this communication, it became obvious that my position against Papism matched the ecclesiological teaching of Orthodoxy. Thus, while I combated that which ought not to be part of the Christian dogma, Orthodoxy provided that which ought to be. When I discussed my observations with that reverent hierarch, he agreed with me, though cautiously, given my connection with the Protestants at that time.
As a point of interest, it must be said that the representatives of Eastern Orthodoxy in the West are not at all interested in proselytizing. This is due to their perception of the ecclesiastical status quo in Europe. Proselytizing goes against their conviction that spiritual fathers must adhere to the demanding pastoral toil due primarily to the Greek and Russian communities, with whose spiritual care they have been entrusted.
My correspondence with this hierarch soon reached an advanced state, at which point I was put in touch with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Only then was I advised to study the celebrated work of Sergius Boulgakov, Orthodoxy, 3 and the equally challenging work of the Metropolitan of Berlin, Seraphim, bearing the same title.4 As soon as I began reading these two works, I found myself in total agreement with the spirit of the authors. I did not come across a single paragraph that I could not accept and adopt wholeheartedly and in good conscience. In the pages of these works and in many others that I began receiving from Greece along with letters of encouragement, I found the teaching of Orthodoxy expounded with surprising clarity. It gradually became clear to me that the Orthodox faithful are the only Christians in the world today who share the same faith with the Christians of the catacombs. Unique and truly faithful, they alone are fully justified to boast in the Lord while repeating the patristic phrase:
We believe in everything we received from the apostles, in everything the apostles received from Christ, and in everything Christ received from God the Father.
To them also apply the words of Tertullian:
Only we are in communion with the apostolic Churches because our teaching is uniquely equivalent to their teaching. This is the testimony of our truth.5
During this period, I completed my books The Meaning of the Church According to the Fathers of the West and Our God, Your God, and God.6 Later on, I was compelled to discontinue the circulation of the second book in South America, only to prevent its use by Protestant propaganda.
At that point, I was advised by my Orthodox colleagues to disengage myself from my polemic efforts against Papism that had become an obsession for me. I was counseled, instead, to initiate a self-examination, in order to clearly define my personal creed.
This would provide the basis for evaluating my precise theological position and reveal the gaps caused by my association with Anglicanism. This endeavor was neither painless nor short in duration as it forced me to undertake a most extensive research in a faith in which I lacked theological proficiency. It would not suffice simply to expunge the dogmas of the Papist primacy and its privileges while upholding the remainder of the Roman teachings. So I proceeded with a deep and thorough analysis of the basic truths of Christianity. These basic truths helped me distinguish the Papist dogmatic boundaries upon which the Vatican had founded its political-ecclesiastical interests. Through the centuries, those boundaries had been determined by papal decrees of every class and kind and served to promulgate an imperialist agenda within the church.
My research was imperative because I did not want to repeat the mistake of the [Old] Catholics, who, scandalized by the infallibility decree of the Synod of Vatican, abandoned the pope but still adhered to Roman theology. This theology has been interwoven with so many other false doctrines, biases, and superstitions, that it is no longer orthodox. Acknowledging the extreme difficulty of this task, I chose to express my position in general but positive terms and issue the following statement of faith:
I believe all the content of the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments and all teaching that directly emanates from their content, in accordance with the interpretation of the traditional ecclesiastical teaching, namely, the Ecumenical Synods and the full consensus of the Holy Fathers.
Almost immediately, I sensed that the amicable alliance with the Protestants came abruptly to an end. With the exception of a small group of Anglicans, whose understanding and moral support followed me during this awkward period, only the Orthodox, though still extremely cautious, were interested in my struggle. Only when the latter let go of their prejudice and mistrust toward me, did they begin to consider me a "possible and interesting catechumen."
At the time, the fortuitous friendship of a Polish Orthodox scientist strengthened my conviction that Orthodoxy adhered to the essential truths of early Christianity. This Polish Christian had resisted the desperate efforts of the Uniates 7 to lure him to Papism due to his influence and wealth. His response was simple but most inspiring:
You claim that I must deny my Orthodox faith in order to become a perfect Christian. Great! My Orthodox faith consists of the following elements: Jesus Christ, the Gospel, the Synods and the Holy Fathers. Which one of these elements must I deny to become, as you suggest, 'a perfect Christian'? Unperturbed, the Uniates shifted their strategy and suggested that there is no need to deny any of these basic elements. He only had to recognize the pope as the infallible leader of the Church. My friend countered with this profound response: "I must recognize the pope? This would be the equivalent of denying all of the above!" I realized at that point that in order to purify his faith, any thinking Christian of every other denomination faces the need to reject some element of the teaching of his faith-group that conflicts with the overarching teachings of Christianity. The only exception to this is the Orthodox Christian-only his beliefs constitute the pure essence of Christianity, the complete, eternal, and immutable Truth, as revealed by God Himself in the Gospels.
A Roman Catholic, for example, can reject the pope as I did, recant the teaching on purgatorial fire, or argue the terms of the Synod of Trent without losing his Christian identity. Similarly, a Protestant may reject the teachings of the reformers regarding divine grace and predestination and still be a Christian.
Only Orthodoxy has not incorporated any external elements, so that every single item of its faith is an essential and unaltered truth, impossible to reject or excise. The Orthodox Church is the only Church that has never attempted to suggest anything other to the faithful than that which always, everywhere, and by all has been considered to be the God-revealed Truth.8
Thus, when one adopts Orthodoxy, one simply embraces the Gospel in its primal purity. Conversely, if one denies and apostatizes from her, it is akin to denying and apostatizing from Christianity itself.
Orthodoxy is the only Church that has faithfully guarded the truth of the Gospel. She "never altered anything in it; neither added nor subtracted";9 she "did not cut the essential, nor did she embody the nonessential, nor did she lose something belonging to her, nor did she grasp something foreign, always wise and faithful to everything she inherited."10 She knows that it is not permitted to make the slightest change to the faith that was entrusted to her once and for all,11 not even if suggested by an angel from heaven12 and certainly not by an earthly man full of flaws and weaknesses.
Orthodoxy is the true bride of Christ "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but [...] holy and without blemish."13 She is the Holy Church of God, His only one,14 "the truly Catholic Church that fights against all heresies. She can fight without ever being defeated. Even though all heresies and schisms sprouted as wild branches and were cut from the vine, she remains steadfast to her root, in her union with God."15 Anyone who follows her follows God; anyone who listens to her voice, listens to the voice of God;16 and anyone who disobeys her, becomes a gentile.17
Convinced thoroughly by all I had read and learned, I no longer felt deserted. I was no longer alone and dejected by the powerful Roman Catholics or the increasingly indifferent Protestants. In fact, I was united in faith and teaching with millions of my brother Christians in the East and throughout the world. It was a comfort to be finally united with all those who constitute the true Orthodox Church.
The Papist slander of the theological fossilization of Orthodoxy had totally lost its validity as I finally comprehended the consistent perseverance of Orthodoxy in its inherited truth. Orthodoxy is not a motionless, rigid, and fossilized stance but an unceasing flow of confession of the ancient faith. It can be likened to the current of a waterfall, which appears to be always the same, yet its waters move unceasingly and change constantly, forever creating new sounds and harmonies.
When I reached this point of revelation in my faith, the Orthodox finally began to view me as one of their own, and so an archimandrite wrote in a letter the following:
Discussing the truth of Orthodoxy with this Spaniard does not imply proselytism but a discussion about a doctrine and a religious spirit that are as much ours as they are his; the only difference is that we inherited it from our predecessors while he succeeded in excavating it from beneath the debris of fifteen centuries of Western ecclesiastical history. It was most obvious then that the journey of my "spiritual unrest," as my father confessor had labelled it, had quite naturally and without my awareness led me to the bosom of the Mother Church, Orthodoxy. In reality, during that final period of my journey, unbeknownst to me, I was already Orthodox. I was strolling next to the divine Truth, just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, without recognizing it until the final stretch of my spiritual pilgrimage.
When I became unequivocally convinced about everything, I felt that I needed to take one final step. I wrote a lengthy account of my entire ordeal and its developments and mailed it both to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to His Beatitude, Archbishop of Athens, care of the Apostolic Ministry of the Church of Greece. I also sent immediate notice of my intent to become Orthodox to the hierarchs and various members of the Churches with which I had developed a special relationship. Delighted by the sense that I was in possession of that precious pearl worthy of all sacrifice,18 I left my country and went to France where I fully connected with my Orthodox brothers I had recently met there. Nevertheless, the critical step of becoming a canonical member of the Orthodox Church would require a little more time.
Upon reaching a fully mature decision, I officially requested entrance to the true Church of Christ. In full accord it was resolved that this event take place in Greece, an Orthodox country par excellence, where I soon needed to move in order to pursue my studies in Theology. Upon my arrival in Athens, I visited His Beatitude the Archbishop, who received me with the most paternal embrace. His unceasing sincere love, care, and interest have accompanied every step of my new ecclesiastical life.
The same holds true for his most reverend chancellor, who by God's grace is now the bishop of Rogon. He is indeed a true father, whose sincere interest in me has far exceeded all my expectations.
Needless to say, in the midst of this atmosphere of tender love, the Holy Synod did not take long in accepting me into the bosom of the Orthodox Church. During the deeply moving service of Holy Chrismation by which I finally became a member of the true vine, I was honored with the name of the apostle of the nations and was subsequently accepted into the Holy Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Penteli as a monk. A few months later, I was ordained into the diaconate by the laying on of the hands of the bishop of Rogon. Now, at last, I feel replete with joy, despite the endless aggravation caused by members of the dark order of the Uniates of Greece, who never cease to fabricate slanders against my person. I am blessed, because I am enveloped by the love, warmth, and full acceptance of the Most Holy Orthodox Church of Greece, including the members of her sacred hierarchy, the various religious brotherhoods, and generally all those who have embraced me with their spiritual support.
I ask all these fathers and brothers in the faith and all those who kindly kept in touch with me, sympathetic as they were to my cause and overall odyssey, to keep me in their prayers, so that I may receive the grace from above and prove worthy of the amazing beneficence of the Most Good God.
FOOTNOTES TO CHAPTER 8
1. See for ex. Apologetics of F. Juan Ruano Ramos for the Use of Students of Middle Education, Barcelona 1948. 2. Behold how Roman Catholicism views Orthodoxy from an apologetic standpoint: (a) Orthodoxy is not the One Church, because she distanced herself from the center of unity which is the Pope. (b) She is not the Holy Church, since she consists of a branch broken from the trunk of the vine which is the source of grace and holiness; and this [vine] is the Papist Church. (c) She ceased to be the Catholic Church from the time she was divided from Rome, the nucleus and symbol of catholicity. (d) Neither is she Apostolic, since she does not descend from the apostles, but from Photios and Cerularius. Ibid. Part B, "Specific Characteristics of the True Church of Christ." 3. Serge Boulgakov, L'Orthodoxie, édit. Félix Alcan, Paris 1933. 4. Metropolite Seraphim, L'Eglise Orthodoxe, Payot, Paris 1952.5. Tertullian, De Prœscript., Hœretic., XXI. 6. Nuestro Dios, Vuestro Diosy Dios, Buenos Aires 1951.7. The Uniates (from Unitas, which means union) consist of the covert order of the Byzantine Rite Papists, who masquerade as Orthodox priests and actively seek to Latinize the faithful in Orthodox lands. 8. Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. [catholic is that which is believed] always, everywhere, and by everyone (St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, Ch. 2. 9. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 23, 16. 10. Ibid.
11. Jude3. 12. Gal. 1:8. 13. Eph. 5:27. Cf. Origen, On Exodus, Hom. 9. 14. Song of Songs 6:9. 15. St. Augustine, Serm. De Symbol. Catech., 40, 635. 16. Cf. Luke 10:16. 17. Cf. Matt. 18:17.18. Cf. Matt 13:44-46.
Page created: 20-5-2011.
Last update: 20-5-2011.