Δευτέρα 27 Απριλίου 2015

I am in love. I am an Orthodox.

Why Orthodoxy? — My Confession of Faith:
How I discovered new meaning in the word “catholic” and the true challenge of the Christian life

Ryan Phunter
In His unbounded love, God became what we are that He might make us what He is.”  —St. Irenaeus (d. 202)

I am in love. The object of my affection, or rather, my devotion, is not a person per se, though it is very much alive. It has been alive for 2,000 years, persisting through seemingly insurmountable odds, and in that time it spread from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean north and east, ultimately to the shores of Japan, Alaska and California. Now it is very much established and thriving here in the United States. What is this thing that has become such a defining part of my life? I have fallen in love with the Orthodox Church.

It is difficult for me to render into words an account of the transformation that this awakening has wrought in all areas of my life. I feel myself to be at last truly satisfied, spiritually and emotionally. I feel enriched beyond description after years of an ever-present void. From the depths of my heart I sense that I am now a more fulfilled Christian, and above all I know that I am a more inspired human being. Sadly in this increasingly secular society, many people my age do not seem to want or desire such inspiration. For the college student who craves a deeper inspiration that goes beyond a routine weekly church hour, for anyone who wants to enter into a new level of spiritual life, I urge him or her to consider Orthodoxy. It has awakened in me a kind of spiritual consciousness that I never imagined I would experience, a kind of spiritual inspiration that very few of my non-Orthodox friends have today. For this awakening, I am, and will always be, forever grateful.

These words open my account of my conversion to the Orthodox faith. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and I have many friends, as well as my immediate family members and most of my relatives, who remain Roman Catholic. In June 2011 while working two summer jobs in D.C., I was fortunate to have the presence of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, where I had been attending Divine Liturgy since November 2010.

Immersed in the life of the parish, which was the primatial cathedral of His Beatitude Jonah, the former Metropolitan of all America and Canada, Archbishop of Washington and primate of the Orthodox Church in America, I attended Sunday Liturgy and Saturday vigils with ever-growing wonder and fascination each week. I was not yet a declared catechumen, but by then I had a clear feeling that the grace of the Holy Spirit, which so abundantly filled the liturgies and the hearts of the faithful, had acted to bring me to Orthodoxy.

St Nicholas in December 2011 shortly after my chrismation there.

Gazing up at the dome inside St Nicholas Cathedral. Sunday, September 30, 2012.

One day in June, I was overcome with the urge to commit to writing all the thoughts and feelings that had been stirring in my mind in the past months. Over the course of three days, while I was writing what turned out to be an initially forty-seven page account of my journey into Orthodoxy, I felt a constant warmth in my soul unlike any other I had ever experienced. Despite almost no sleep, I felt exhilarated and alive in a way I had never quite felt outside of this fevered period of writing.

As a writer, I naturally feel a strong sense of attachment to anything that I write – but with this piece, there was something different. I felt as though something beyond me, outside of me, yet also operating within me was moving me, stirring me, to write and revise and add to this document. I wanted to communicate to people my age, especially other Christians and specifically Catholics, why I felt so moved to embrace Orthodoxy and to give voice, insofar as I was able, to my immense gratitude for the gift of the indescribable richness and fullness of the Orthodox Faith.

At one point during the summer, I showed what I had initially written to Metropolitan Jonah, who frequently presided over liturgies at his Cathedral. He seemed astonished, and took the piece, which I had titled Why Orthodoxy, and said he was looking forward to reading it. Having seen him lead the parish in prayer week after week as the Liturgy was offered, the faithful gathered around their bishop just as the faithful did in the early Church, I had come to see what an extraordinarily kind pastor and person he was, and so his wisdom and pastoral guidance during my catechism meant so much to me.

I continued attending Liturgy each week, and as I came more and more into the inner life of the Church, I was moved to edit and expand and revise the document in August and September as the academic year began. I became an official catechumen on Sunday September 25 on the feast of St. Sergius of Radonezh, with His Beatitude guiding me through the brief ceremony. During my period of catechism, the very kind Father Valery Shemchuk instructed me in the fullness of the history and the beliefs of the Faith. It was he who introduced me to St. Silouan.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938) is my patron saint. He was a Russian peasant who took monastic vows and spent the last decades of his life as a spiritual elder on Mount Athos at the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon. His writings on cultivating prayer of the heart, love of one’s enemies, and the need to love and have deep compassion for all of creation have moved me more than any other saint.
O Holy Father Silouan, pray to God for us that He might save our souls!

A beautiful icon of St Silouan the Athonite, given to me by someone dear to me.

As my limited knowledge of the Church Tradition and her ancient Faith began to slowly expand, I felt moved to add more to Why Orthodoxy in October and November. A few weeks after my chrismation by Metropolitan Jonah at St. Nicholas on December 4, 2011, the celebration of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple on the Julian calendar, I returned to New York  to spend the Nativity holiday break with my family, who, to my immense gratitude, had come down to D.C. for my reception into the Church.

My Chrismation- Sunday December 4, 2011 at St Nicholas Cathedral in Washington.

There is a beautiful men’s monastery in my hometown, the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross, which is under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR, for short).

H.E. Metropolitan Hilarion visited the monastery in September 2012 for the Julian calendar observance of the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy and Life-giving Cross.

His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad

The brother monks maintain the beautiful monastery chapel, originally one of my hometown’s earliest primary schools built over a century ago, which is dedicated to St Herman of Alaska, and the beautiful grounds. Archimandrite Maximos, the abbot of the monastery, Fr. Cornelius, Fr. Silouan, Hierodeacon Parthenios, Elias, and others in the community are extraordinarily kind and warm-hearted men. Visitors are always welcome, and you will be unable to refuse the monks’ delightful and varied conversation, offers of several cups of tea, and a variety of fast-friendly snacks.

When I left for Scotland in mid-January 2012, my thoughts were still very much with all that I had experienced, learned, and  continued reading – the beauty of the Liturgy, the unique mystery and transcendence of Orthodox spirituality, the wisdom of many twentieth century Orthodox theologians, the Church Fathers, and of course the Holy Scriptures.

Holy Cross monastery grounds are a beautiful oasis of tranquility in my bustling hometown. The monks are exceptionally kind, and it is a joy to be able to go to Divine Liturgy so close to home in New York! The monastery’s presence in my hometown, and my fascination with it as a Catholic teenager studying different faiths, makes me think my journey to Orthodoxy was truly God’s providence.

Inside St Nicholas Cathedral looking out over the church nave from the choir gallery. Photo taken in August 2012.

During the spring semester I spent in Edinburgh, worshiping at the beautiful, small Orthodox community of St Andrew, I continually added onto and revised Why Orthodoxy up to March of 2012, and as of Fall 2012 it is now over a hundred pages. After reaching out to several publishers for their suggestions for revisions, I am in the process of revising and refining it further. For now I will share my different musings, articles, videos, podcasts and links on subjects relating to Orthodoxy. I invite any thoughtful and interested comments on any of my posts.

I am living again in Washington, D.C. for my senior year at American University, where I lead the student Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), so you can expect to see many things on my blog related to Orthodox life and different Church activities in DC!

My professional photo for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, where I work as a staff writer, researcher and blogger.

My professional photo for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, where I work
as a staff writer, researcher and blogger.

Wherever you are, may the Lord bless you and give you peace.


Ancient Faith Radio

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