Problems and dangers
Shortly after my conversion I began to sense that the devil was preparing for ambush. After the initial enthusiasm, one by one, some former “witnesses who were led with us to the Orthodox Church began to quickly lose steam. Most of them ceased to progress, they became stagnant and some backslid. They did not have much time outside of the “Watchtower” organization and when they were no longer “pushed” by others, they also stopped to move ahead.
This is one of the common dangers awaiting all those who come out of such totalitarian groups. Their sudden freedom often leads them to minimize their effort and even to inertia. Usually these are people who left their group for other personal reasons and not for the love of the truth. People who leave heresies for dogmatic reasons rarely go back, despite the inescapable difficulties and their own struggle (in their new spiritual arena). Such failures (of people returning to the heresy) have negative influence even to the “witnesses” who are watching them and are anxiously awaiting to see something bad on them so they can “reassure” themselves that “whoever goes away from the flock, gets eaten by the wolf.” The organization has stressed to them that whoever leaves from it, gets lost in the world. Thus the people in it, keep tabs on the journey of every one who leaves. If they see him stop his religious activities, they conclude that they did well for trusting the organization. However, the continued progress of a disfellowshipped person becauses problematic to them because they realize that there is life outside of the “Watchtower.”
Usually people who depart from such organizations are so hurt from the fact that they were deceived and taken advantage by the religion they trusted as the “channel of God” that they can never trust anyone again, perhaps even forever. Some generally lose their confidence in all religions, in the Holy Scripture and even in God. I remember one of my acquaintances, and ex “presbyter” of the “witnesses, who after departing from the organization, went for two years without touching the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, the blame is to be placed mainly on the organization that deceived him. The opposite can also be true when a man remains excessively attached to the Holy Scripture according to the Protestant paradigm practiced by him in his heresy. This shows that this man instead of having the Church as his source of faith and whatever she teaches from its God-inspired sources of revelation, he arbitrarily and heretically holds on from all these sources “ONLY” the Holy Scripture, and if something is not referred in it analytically he rejects it as human tradition. This means that he does not trust the Church as the real body of the Lord Jesus Christ and considers her a human institution. One of the criteria therefore to gauge someone’s true conversion to Orthodoxy, is if he trusts the Church more than the Holy Scripture, which the Church handed down and certified for him! The man who truly returned to the Church, accepts every word of the Church as coming from God, equivalent to the Holy Scripture, and does not over-accentuate the Holy Scripture at the expense of the other God-inspired traditions.
However, if a man does not understand that the goal of the Church is the illumination and theosis of its members he will remain a Christian of the letter and not of the spirit. He will reduce the Christian faith to a philosophical system and he will always struggle with logical analyses and interpretations, while he will never receive any gifts of the Holy Spirit. Experience has proven that most of those who “stalemated” after their admittance to the Orthodox Church, had become accustomed to their past religious fellowship as a form of a “club” where they could find company and this was provided to them by the protestant groups, which met their emotional need to belong, to feel that they belong to a “brotherhood.”
However, some of the former “witnesses” did not find this sense of fellowship among the members of their local orthodox parish, which is often multitudinous and impersonal. Consequently the Church ceased to “move” them, because they were expecting her to fill this emotional void in their life primarily and not necessarily lead them to the life in Christ Jesus. Thus it is necessary for the Christians to work on this in every parish, to develop strong interpersonal relations between the faithful, to keep some of the faithful from being drawn away to non-Christian and heretical “brotherhoods.”
Of course the danger also exists from the side of the orthodox, in other words for some orthodox to become overly excessive in the time spent at the home of some “witnesses.” Such was the case of the family of one of my friends, in which all members became “witnesses” even when he was at a preschool age. He grew up and became a zealot of his “family tradition.” During that time I got involved in some heavy conversations with his mother who had just undergone a totally unjust disfellowship causing her to begin to think things over again. She was re-admitted to the organization and that’s when we began to have our initial discussions secretly from her son. Even though his mother ceased to believe in the “witnesses” she remained in the organization for her son’s sake, up until the time she would succeed to liberate him. This however demanded very much time and in the interim he married a young woman born and raised in the organization of the “witnesses.” By now he was the one waiting for his wife (to agree) so he could search outside of the organization. At the time while “working the streets” door to door he met an orthodox who agreed to hold a “scriptural study.” For the first meeting this man went to the house of the couple first. It quickly became apparent that the orthodox had much greater knowledge than them. This would have been the ideal opportunity to help them if the orthodox had a little more discretion. The first day they met he stayed in their home eight full hours! And although the woman also seemed to be interested at the beginning, she was eventually turned off by his lack of discretion. In the following days she kept her husband from calling him, she ended up insulting him and telling him not to ever bother them again. However, even at that point, I believe that an apology and a more careful approach could have easily solved the problem. However, he resorted to cynicism and insults over the phone, forever closing this door of help for these people. There is even a much greater problem in the Orthodox Church, caused by some careless or irresponsible (presbyters, even bishops who mainly scandalize the catechumens. For example, an acquaintance of mine a “former” witness who lived abroad, a Greek of the Diaspora, when he was chrismated with the chrism of repentance to return to the Orthodox Church he once left, returned to his country and there he tried to search for other orthodox. He found and held discussions with the parish priest of his area and he was very satisfied by his answers. One day, the local bishop was due for a visit. My acquaintance thought: “If I received such satisfying answers from the presbyter, imagine speaking to the bishop!
So he went up and introduced himself and he narrated to him that he once again returned to the orthodox faith. To his great surprise, instead of being welcomed by the bishop, his (lack of)* grace chastised him telling him that it was wrong for him to change his faith and the fact that he became orthodox shows instability of character! Fortunately, I had fore-warned him that scandals will exist in the Church (Matthew 13:41 – 18:7 2nd Peter 1:3), just like they existed during the age of the apostles and during the age of the old Israel. I had told him that he would run into these situations and he needed to keep from being scandalized and he had to learn to separate the individuals from the faith. The true faith, the sound dogma is of great importance. If some liturgist of the Church is not right, the Church is not to blame! He is to be revered as a liturgist of the Lord, while the judgment of his person belongs to the Lord. The Lord will accept his service, even if he becomes condemned as an individual. However, besides this extreme degree of ecumenism (that all confessions are equivalent) the new catechumens are in danger of being ensnared by the exact opposite extreme of fanaticism. The new catechumen being uninformed of the canons of the Church and impressed by the zeal of some Greek old-calendarist groups stands to be ensnared in such a schismatic group, which is orthodox by al means, except the “canonicity” of its presbytery. This catechumen needs to be taught that the ecumenist perception of some orthodox clergy is certainly flawed; on the other hand it does not affect the relationship of the other orthodox with God. Nor is it necessary to interrupt his communion with the body of the Church to begin, communion with some schismatic group which wishes to be labeled “Genuine” orthodox which in the final analysis is not even in communion with the rest of the old-calendarist mainstream Orthodox Churches and Patriarchies worldwide.
However, problems were not totally absent even from responsible and zealous presbyters of the faith. These amazing people, despite their overwhelming effort to welcome the former victims of heresy to their parish, unfortunately they considered the chrism of repentance unnecessary for their re-admittance to the Orthodox Church, despite the clear mandate about this necessity based on the past experience and practice of the church diachronically, from the time of Basil the Great up until the contemporary theological conventions. Perhaps they intended to make the re-admittance of these people to the Church much easier. Unfortunately however, those who were convinced by them, and they did not go through the Chrism of repentance, they froze and backslid relatively quickly, since the Holy Spirit (the grace) did not ignite inside of them as much as it could have.
The above predicament made me avoid cooperation with some presbyters, who could have otherwise been very helpful to the assistance of the victims of heresy. I was not exempt from being scandalized myself at the very beginning due to the subject of the icons, which is extremely important for all those who return from protestant heresies. When George explained to me that the icons are not “idols” since they do not depict the invisible God whom we have not seen I was content. Soon after this however, I discovered that most orthodox churches display that forbidden image of the (so called) Holy Trinity. Of course, they wouldn’t possibly allow such a fabrication to be venerated! “I did not leave one heresy to fall into another one!” I told George and he gave me another book, proving that this icon was not only forbidden by the 7th Ecumenical Council but it also consists of heretical elements. This put my mind at ease because I saw that the Church had the correct and proper position in this matter and the blame belonged to some individuals who ignored the truth or they neglected to follow the true teaching.
Immediately I photocopied some of the most essential pages of this book and I made them available to the presbyters of the temples where I saw this fabrication. Unfortunately some of the presbyters ignored this information altogether, some did not remove this image so they would not upset the donors, others because the icon was ancient and valuable (as an artifact) and numerous other lame excuses. Worse yet, one of them not only did he refuse to extract this idol from the temple, but during the very next time I attended Divine Liturgy he wore (if at all possible!) a vestment full from top to bottom with dozens of copies of this antichristian and infidel image! In any case, I surpassed this obstacle allowing God to be the judge, especially since the Church was forbidding this and the presbyters were to be personally blamed for this action. Some others however were so deeply scandalized that I’m not sure if they would ever overcome this.
At the “Watchtower” organization you would find people who were struggling for the dogmatic purity of a dogmatically filthy religion and they were held back by their own religion. In Orthodoxy however, I needed to struggle, so the most correct dogmas of the Church would not be stepped upon by her own liturgists! In the organization I needed to keep searching to see in which dogma I was deceived by the “Watchtower.” In Orthodoxy I needed to discern which true teachings of the church were not upheld by the faithful and to make an effort to safeguard them and uphold them in my own life and worship or to bring them to the attention of others. And here, no one would “disfellowship” me. In reality, for someone who cannot see his own impurity, he is scandalized by every little thing done by others. But I didn’t dare to judge the liturgists of the Most High, since I myself was not in the position to uphold even the simpler things I owed to my heavenly benefactor. I could be scandalized about the indifference of presbyters concerning the instruction of the laity, or even their own. I could be scandalized from the endless bickering of some bishops and the tendencies they represent. I chose however to invest more time in the things I could change, essentially with my own self-improvement. For the things I couldn’t (make a difference) the Lord would provide, since He is the head of the Church and He knows to orchestrate everything infallibly. Besides, this is what the apostles Paul and John did when they were not accepted by presbyters of some churches (3rd John 9, 10, 2nd Corinthians chapters 10-12). The Lord knew to correct the insufficiencies, as he did with the unworthy bishop of the Church of Sardis (Rev. 3:1-4). So if the apostles themselves left the management of such matters to the Lord who was I to be scandalized? Even when I was in the area of heresy, I did not act any differently regarding some matters of impropriety or personal sins of others. Why would I act any differently now in the true Church of God?
Despite the difficulties and the stagnation of some, more and more “witnesses” began to approach the Orthodox Church. Even among those who were not speaking to me for years, anymore few are the “witnesses” who avoid me. The rest of them, come and we discuss about everything, in secrecy from the others of course, and at some point they confess the superiority of the orthodox doctrine. They come to the realization that the Church is not a “religion” with the common use of the word. It is a true science of psychotherapy, which heals the soul and makes it likened to its master, so man can become “perfect.” This being the purpose of God from the beginning: “Let us make man according to our image and likeness” it is not a group of the supposedly pure, but a hospital of patients who may become healed or not depending on their willingness to follow the therapeutic discipline of the gospel. When I understood this I offered this prayer to the Lord:
‘Lord, thank you for giving me everything I asked you for. I asked you to give me knowledge so I can recognize your truth, and you gave me so much knowledge, that it is not even possible for me to begin to assimilate it. I asked you to fill my cup and you made it run over! “ This knowledge however taught me that I had no idea what I was asking back then! I shouldn’t have asked you for knowledge! I should have asked you for purification and illumination. Now therefore I also beseech you for this gift, which is the true need of every man…’
Anymore now I was praying to God as a Father and not as Lord as the pre-Christian faithful who did not have the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, not unlike the western “Christians.” This was a new dimension of God for me, considering that I had become accustomed from childhood to look at God as a bugbear who was keeping an exact account of all my deeds, so he could “avenge” me at some future day of judgment. My God was no longer the unjust God of the west, who is satisfied with the death of the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, and who gives “ransom" the death of His innocent Son to some tyrant, like he was afraid of him. He did not fabricate some “caldrons” of hell to sadistically torture his creatures, nor did he plan to kill them at some future destruction. In His Church I learned that God sent His Word and Son Jesus Christ, to assume the human nature and unite it with the divine. Thus, he could elevate it to his own likeness by grace, so his purpose for man could be fulfilled. Thus “human nature could defeat death” in the person of Jesus Christ, who defeated death by his resurrection. Anymore now, every faithful Christian has the authority to be called a son of God and God can be his Father and he can be God’s child. I learned that God will be “everything to everyone” or “everything for everyone” which will make some very joyous by this tight embrace of his love, while some others will hate this very tight embrace, and this love will be hell to them. Paradise will be this communion of love with God and the lack of this communion will be Hell. The experience of God’s love and the realization of our failure to respond to it will cause the pain and the torture of Hell. I learned that the truth I was seeking was not a package of doctrines, but a person. And the name of this person was Jesus Christ.
Anymore now, I speak about the real gospel to people who are interested in knowing it. Nothing was lost from all these years. Everything was a valuable experience, which can be used for the service of the true Gospel for the deliverance of people, who were trapped in a cage and are searching for a way out. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. And the Lord of the harvest keeps sending workers, more by the day, to work in his vineyard. I rejoice in seeing more and more of my past acquaintances to search for an exit from the cage in which they were skillfully enclosed by some trappers, and I don’t neglect to offer my assistance, anyway I can, in their difficult journey.
Finally, I accepted the request of becoming the godfather of George’s on, as a small token of my great fullness toward him, especially since we helped and depended on each other in this long journey leading to Truth and Life.
* parenthesis translators
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