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Mar 12 12

Can Americans Really Be at Home in the Orthodox Church?

by Anastasios Hudson

From the time I first became aware of Eastern Christianity via the Byzantine Catholic Church, and especially after the culmination of my search for the Truth led me and my wife to be baptized in the Orthodox Church, I have had a desire to spread the ancient Christian faith and to share everything I have learned with others. Orthodox Christianity provides the cure to the problems of mankind, and yet it is not well known in the West, something which I lament and which I am working to overcome in my own small way (but let the credit go to God, Who called and equipped me, and to my bishop Metropolitan Pavlos, in whose name I act).

Driving around North Carolina and Virginia, I would scope out places where Churches could be planted, monasteries built, and the Gospel preached. It was all very exciting to me, and over the years my fervor increased, until the time in 2006 when we put theory into practice and founded St. Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Mission Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Soon, we were dialoging with others interested in missions, and eventually after my ordination to the priesthood, we founded Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Greenville, NC.

Throughout all of this process, I found that the Orthodox Church naturally appeals to people. Almost everyone I have ever spoken with has been positive about Orthodoxy, except for a few principled Calvinists, traditionalist Roman Catholics, and Baptists. Conservative Christians appreciate our unchanging moral witness, while even liberal Christians find icons and our deep spiritual tradition to be a thing of beauty. Most of the people I have interacted with, though, have not converted. Is Orthodoxy perhaps just too foreign for Americans?

I have often heard this claim, and various supporting examples. Yet what’s interesting is that I have almost never heard it from non-Orthodox! Most often, it is self-identified Orthodox Christians who seem to be the ones that make this claim, usually in the context of arguing for various changes to Orthodox practices in order to make it more “accessible.”

One of the most common claims I hear made is that Byzantine chant is too exotic for Americans. The nasal, inflected nature of the music will just distract Americans. Yet my response is: which Americans?  Blues and modern R&B feature many of the same types of vocal inflections and embellishments that are present in Byzantine chant, and the same musical scales which permeate it are ubiquitous in modern rock and rap music; for instance, see Dick Dale & The Del Tones’ “Misirlou” from 1963 , or the popular sampling of Arabic and Indian music in rap and hip-hop songs by artists such as Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Truth Hurts. I know that from the first moment that I heard Byzantine chant, I was enthralled. Certainly, there are some who even after they become Orthodox find it to be grating on the ears, but I know of no one who did not convert to Orthodoxy because of the music.

Another popular myth is that Americans don’t know what a cassock is, are prone to thinking a priest in a cassock is actually a Muslim, and that as long as we wear long, black robes, we will never get anywhere. This claim is not only untrue, but it is also completely backwards. In my experience as an Orthodox priest in North Carolina, I am constantly approached by people who know I am a Christian priest, need prayers, or who want to talk about the faith. See my article “Why I Wear My Cassock to Wal-Mart” for more details. I have even had people come up and squeeze my hand or touch my pectoral cross and say “seeing you makes me feel comforted.” Imitating Western forms of clerical dress is not conducive to spreading the Orthodox faith and is a missed opportunity.

Occasionally, I hear the claim that our liturgy is too different than a Western Church service. One monastery I attended once is even involved with a project to change the Orthodox liturgical tradition to “make more sense” in our day and age. I remarked to them that plenty of converts were attracted to the received Orthodox liturgical tradition, while this monastery’s idiosyncratic attempt at redefining the liturgy was not spreading organically to other institutions, so this should be a sign. Here is one place where I have heard non-Orthodox make a criticism though, but these have all been High Church Anglicans who are used to the Book of Common Prayer. I can certainly sympathize with them, although a discussion of so-called “Western Rite Orthodoxy” is beyond the purview of this article.  I would simply remark that High Church Anglicanism itself seems foreign to many Americans, and we have had plenty of native North Carolinians come to our liturgies and Church functions, who have been struck by the beauty of the liturgy immediately. We even have had people in their 70’s come to the Church regularly, even though they had spent their entire life in Protestantism. The liturgy is not a barrier.

Other examples could be given, but I would like to close by mentioning that on a sunny Spring day in 2001, I looked out my office window in Downtown Raleigh and saw a line of Hare Krishna devotees going down the street, beating drums, and chanting to their pagan deity. Most of these devotees were White Americans. Research turned up their monastery in Hillsborough, and I see that there are hundreds of people who have converted to this religion in our area. Islam is a growing religion, too, as is Buddhism. All of these religions demand that converts adopt their lifestyle to the new religion, and not the other way around, and yet all of them are successful in a worldly, numerical sense.

Some may argue that if we adopted some of the changes mentioned above, more would convert to Orthodoxy. Yet in my missionary experience, I have not met anyone who did not convert to Orthodoxy because of cassocks, Byzantine Chant, or the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I have, however, encountered people who did not convert to Orthodoxy because they do not accept certain Orthodox doctrines, or because they did not want to make the changes necessary to live an Orthodox life.

Let us focus our missionary work on preaching Christ Crucified, the Church which He established, repentance and regeneration through baptism, reconciliation and forgiveness of sins leading to restoration and union with God. Let us follow the Tradition of the Church, not seeking to deliberately alter it, and thus free ourselves to focus on these things. Americans that are seeking the truth will find the Orthodox faith, despite any unfamiliar externals. I feel blessed to be working with many such individuals in my parishes.

Mar 6 12

Behind the Scenes Look at HTM’s Publications

by Anastasios Hudson

Those of us engaged in Orthodox Christian mission work are aware of the difficulties of obtaining quality liturgical materials in English; differing translation styles, cost-prohibitive volumes, dealing with out-of-print texts, and waiting for as-of-yet untranslated texts to appear can be frustrating. Nevertheless, fifty years ago, such materials were even rarer, and the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Massachusetts has been a pioneer in making these texts more readily accessible.

Recently, the monastery has released a website to give a “behind the scenes” look at their publications and to detail upcoming projects. So far, I’m impressed, and encourage you all to check it out.

Feb 26 12

Developing Future Church Leaders

by Anastasios Hudson
Father Anastasios and Andrew at His Baptism

Father Anastasios and Andrew at His Baptism

In January, my godson Andrew moved to Raleigh to help us in our missionary efforts here in North Carolina. We met about eight years ago online, when he was still in high school and had just developed an interest in the Orthodox Christian faith. Eventually, he embraced the faith, and when he was baptized in January 2008, I served as his godfather.

The work that began here with lay-led services in November 2006 has certainly blossomed, but there is much to do; a lifetime of work, in fact. Orthodox Christianity is not well-known in the United States, and our traditionalist stance towards the questions of Ecumenism and the Church calendar places us even more in the minority. As such, Andrew did not have a parish to attend where he lived out West, and so coming to North Carolina to work with me was the best option for him to have a regular Church life. He also shares with me a great desire to see Orthodoxy spread here.

We thank God for sending him to us, because he is a hard worker and is quickly learning the many facets of serving in a small mission community. This has raised the question in my mind of streamlining and replicating the experience, because I’ve never been a “one trick pony” so to speak. My goal is to establish Churches which plant other Churches, and to do so aggressively. Rather than just starting one parish, I hope that a network of parishes will be established in this region over the coming years, and in fact, we are currently witnessing people across the state come forward and pray for and plan for missions in their own cities and towns.

How then can we best replicate this on a larger scale? It is important to learn from the work others are doing. Recently, I found the Raleigh Fellows program, and it intrigued me. I hope that this Anglican program can be adopted into an Orthodox context. I am currently in discussions with one of the Fellows to learn from the program.

The idea is still new in my head, but basically young men (eventually women as well) would come to the area to learn from me and the other leaders of our missions in North Carolina how we have accomplished what we have accomplished, and more importantly, develop their spiritual lives and hone their vision of the Church’s evangelistic work so they can apply it autonomously in their own contexts.

Perhaps in five-seven years we will have five or six young men living in the area and learning how to plant Orthodox missions, to be sent out upon the completion of their work to spread the Gospel and then found similar programs and initiatives in their area. Some would stay in North Carolina to help us, while others would serve in disparate places where there is a need for Orthodoxy to be established.

If you are interested in becoming an intern/fellow in such a program, please let me know, so that you can provide input as we lay out the vision for such a program. Others are invited to pray for us, or to support us financially in our efforts. Contact me for more details, and God bless you all.

Feb 17 12

A Church Building Catch-22

by Anastasios Hudson

In November 2006, my wife, her brother, and I began to pray the Service of the Typica on Sundays, as we embarked on our journey to establish an Old Calendar Orthodox Christian mission parish in Raleigh, North Carolina. For the first year, we were often alone, only being joined a few times by others. Eventually, the Metropolitan decided to ordain me a priest in 2008, so that we would have a regular sacramental life and so that we would have a greater ability to spread the faith.

Interestingly enough, about the time that the bishop decided to ordain me, a man in Raleigh contacted me and began to attend service. He eventually became my chanter. The same month, a family contacted me from Greenville, North Carolina, and expressed a desire to have a parish in their area. They were able to get together the resources to provide a location for worship, and this led to the Greenville mission growing much faster than the Raleigh mission. Now, our Greenville mission is doing quite well, is self-supporting, has a building, and is able to reach many people in the community.

In Raleigh, we are still meeting in my home chapel, though. In the beginning, my wife and I reasoned that God wanted us to focus on growing the Greenville mission, which was a considerable feat given the distance, lack of resources, and small number of attendees in the beginning. However, through Grace, the community grew, and now has 30+ members. Recently, though, more and more people have been contacting me in Raleigh, and asking me questions about the faith.

It’s kind of ironic, because I am not able to walk around Greenville witnessing and evangelizing and inviting people to our parish, but in Raleigh, where I live and have many contacts, I am not able to invite people to a Church, because we meet in my home chapel. Sure, I invite some people, but discernment is necessary as there are unfortunately dangerous people out there, and at the same time, many are uncomfortable to worship in a home chapel as well, even though this is the way of the early Christians.

Hence, in Raleigh we are in a bit of a Catch-22: we need more people to be able to afford to rent or own a building, and we need a building to attract more people! Of course the Church is not only about the building, but rather is about Christ and a relationship with Him and through Him other human beings, but the Church building does provide an important function in providing a beautiful worship space, a place where visitors feel welcome, safe, and possibly anonymous if that is their desire, and fellowship opportunities. I make the most of what I’ve got, and minister to people whose needs are not met by the established parishes in the area, but I nonetheless know that more people could be reached if we were to have a place to meet.
Seeing how the Lord has blessed Greenville, I am not worried about the future, and know that in God’s time, we will obtain a permanent place to worship and fellowship. I do want to highlight our situation, however, because I know that there are people who could bring us a step closer to obtaining a Church building if they only knew of our presence in the area. Perhaps that is why you are finding this article.

We do not seek an extravagant Church building, but we do seek to have something meager in which to worship, fellowship, and serve. If you have the means to help us make this happen, or you are able to assist partially, please let me know. If you belong to a Church that is going through hard times and may be on the verge of closing, please let your community know about our struggle and if possible, perhaps we could take over your building if you feel you are unable to continue.
By 2014, we can obtain a place to gather formally, and together is how we will do it. Keep us in your prayers, and let us know if you wish to help!

Feb 14 12

Pikeville and Fremont, NC

by Anastasios Hudson

Ten days ago, I went to Pikeville, North Carolina in order to bless the home of some parishioners. Pikeville is above Goldsboro, and many residents are affiliated with the nearby military base. Pikeville has around 700 people, and is thus quite small.

While en route, my GPS brought me through the nearby little town of Fremont, with approximately 1400 residents. I enjoyed seeing the older homes, and the slow pace of life. It looks like a fantastic place to be a kid, although perhaps teenagers complain about the smallness of it and lack of shopping establishments!

As always when I am on these travels, I wondered how we can bring Orthodoxy to these small towns. Obviously, parishioners living there would provide a good first step, but oftentimes our parishioners have migrated from elsewhere, and might not themselves be integrated well into the local community. Reaching native North Carolinians in small towns might thus be more difficult, and perhaps it would take a conversion from a tight-knit family to get the ball rolling.

I can’t stop dreaming of one day seeing Orthodox parishes and missions dotting the landscape of Eastern North Carolina. Please join me in prayer for this intention!

Feb 11 12

The Value of Lay-Led Services

by Anastasios Hudson

Last Sunday, fourteen people gathered together in worship and fellowship at our parish on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. They prayed the Service of the Typica, also known as the Reader’s Service, which is what Orthodox Christians do when there is no priest available to serve liturgy.

As most know, since our founding in mid-2008, I have traveled from Raleigh three times a month to serve the Orthodox Christians of Greenville, NC. The other weekend of each month, our faithful gather for a lay-led service, following the words of the Savior: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Having a regular life of prayer is essential to the Christian life, and our parish does not want to go a week without worshipping as one body.

In some Orthodox parishes, if the priest were absent, the Church would be closed that day. Yet Reader’s Services have a long history in the Church, and highlight that through our baptism, we all share a part in Christ’s priesthood, even while some of us are set aside for the ordained ministry. We all benefit from worshiping God and asking His blessings, hearing the reading of Scripture and the hymns, from praying for each other, and from being present with each other to encourage one another.

In times of clergy shortages or social strife, lay-led services have sustained the Church in many places. They are also a tool for missionary expansion; for instance, a family that lives some distance away from the Church could pray Typica on the weekends they cannot travel to the parish, and begin to invite others, eventually forming the nucleus for a future mission parish.

It is such a blessing for me as a priest to see the faithful maintaining the cycle of prayer even when I am not able to be present, and instilling a sense of spiritual responsibility in their lives and their children’s lives. I invite everyone to come out on the Sundays when Typica is celebrated. Fourteen people this Sunday; how many a year from now? It is an exciting time!

Jan 28 12

Your Church Is in Grimesland? That’s Kind of Far from Greenville…!

by Anastasios Hudson

I grew up in the small town of Findlay, Ohio, which at that time had about 40,000 people. As a child, my mother would take me to get ice cream in the town of Jenera, which took a long time to drive to and was way out in the country. The attraction there was that they had Red Velvet flavored ice cream, which was apparently not available in Findlay at the time.

A few years ago, the memory of that ice cream place came to my mind, and I decided to try and find it on Google (I didn’t; if anyone from Ohio knows, is it still there?) Checking the maps, I realized that Jenera was precisely 12 miles from where we lived in Findlay. I couldn’t believe how short of a distance that actually proved to be; as an adult, I drive 22 miles to go to my secular job every day!

Distance is thus quite a relative concept, and this has been born out in our experience serving the Orthodox Christian community in the Greenville, NC area. Our parish is about 7 miles from the center of Greenville, and yet we have heard on more than one occasion from people whom we have invited to the Church that our parish is “kind of far” from the heart of town! Distance is relative, but is 7 miles really a difficult distance to commit to traveling once a week, let alone for a visit?

To put this in perspective, I drive 90 miles to serve the community, a founding lay family drives 67 miles (they wanted to have the parish in Greenville so it could minister to the maximum number of people in Eastern Carolina), another core family travels 26 miles, etc. Those just mentioned come to every single service! Yet strangely enough, there are still those who would rationalize their non-attendance based on a 7 mile distance from the center of town.

I know and they know that 7 miles is not the real reason they have not visited or are not attending regularly, so I just want to pierce through the excuses and say: if you knew that a buried treasure was 100 miles away, would anything stop you from going to recover it? Yet the greatest treasure of all—Holy Communion, the true Body and Blood of Christ—is only available in the Church, and this great gift is available for free each week. Besides Holy Communion, there is fellowship and many other blessings which are there, yet many take them for granted because it seems like there will always be a chance later to visit the Church or begin attending regularly.

The question I have for such people is: are you sure about that? Do any of us know what will happen to us today? Will we tell God that 7 miles was “kind of far?”

Jan 21 12

Fr. Anastasios’s 2012 Pastoral Challenge!

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

2011 drew to a close here in Greenville, and on a very positive note as we welcomed several new people who have begun to attend regularly. This builds upon the growth we had already experienced this year, making 2011 our best year yet! It’s a testament to all of your dedication, and I am blessed to be pastoring such a great group of people.

Late in December 2010, we moved in to our new building, which we have worked hard to maintain and to beautify. At Pascha this year, we saw twice the numbers as 2010. We had our first parish picnic in August, at which we hosted members of the community beyond our own parish as well, we had several extremely large turnouts at our clothing giveaway, during which hundreds of needy people were helped, and we made it on to the news twice! We baptized four people in Greenville and also my own newborn daughter Sophia, and we have four more people preparing for baptism at present here in Greenville (and two more at my chapel community in Raleigh!) We’ve seen both growth in numbers and spiritual growth in our own lives, and we are really excited to find out what 2012 has in store!

As I did last year, I won’t be speaking about personal New Year’s Resolutions in this message. You all have heard a lot about this topic already, and we know that most of those resolutions do not come to pass, anyway. Instead, I want to issue “Fr. Anastasios’s 2012 Pastoral Challenge” which will help us all continue to grow personally, and as a parish. The following four challenges (five for those of you who attend infrequently!) are not overly complicated, nor are they revolutionary—as Orthodox Christians, they are things we should be doing anyway regularly—but sometimes it helps to have a focus and a goal, and to reflect, so with that in mind I have developed my challenge.

Personal/Family Prayer Devotional. All good works begin with prayer. We pray at Church, and we should be praying our daily prayers. But do we ever go beyond the call of duty, beyond what is “required”? In 2012, I would like each of you to commit to praying a devotional service once a month, whether it be a canon or Akathist to Our Lord, His Holy Mother, or one of the saints. Devotional prayers are often more personal in nature, tender in composition, evoke a sense of connection with the individual being prayed to, and garner for us great blessings. The more that we pray personally and as a family, the more we will live in harmony with our neighbors and will help our parish grow as well. There is a clear link between prayer and our parish’s well-being.

Increase in Knowledge. Some of us know a lot about our Orthodox faith, while others have a basic understanding. What we all share in common is a need to delve deeper. There is an ocean of material available to us, which could never be fully consumed in this lifetime. Yet each small measure that we put in is repaid greatly. We do not seek to grow in knowledge just for the sake of being smarter, but rather education is a path to greater faithfulness. Ignorance of the faith can lead to spiritual problems, while time spent learning leads to deeper faith. In 2012, I would like to challenge each of you to read two books: one saint’s life, and one historical book which addresses some aspect of the Orthodox Church in history. I am available to make suggestions and to lend books!

Evangelism. What’s the point of receiving all of these great blessings, if we don’t put them to good use? Let’s not keep this great treasure a secret. I frequently preach on outreach and the need to bring others to Christ and especially His Church, and we should all be sharing our faith with everyone who will listen. In order to focus our effort, however, I would like everyone to commit to inviting (and bringing if it will facilitate it) at least one person to Church this year. A family member, a friend, a neighbor, or someone we meet in our day-to-day life. Pamphlets about the Church are available in the vestibule area, and further titles will be produced throughout the year. They are always available for you to take and use.

Greater Integration. Our parish does not exist as an island, but is part of one diocese (a network of parishes under our bishop, Metropolitan Pavlos), which in turn joins the other dioceses as the one local Church of Greece, which in turn with the Russian and other Orthodox Churches forms the one, true Church of Christ. Some of us have never seen another parish or met anyone else from one of our other parishes. In 2012, let’s bring about greater integration of our parish with others. In the Fall, there will be another Youth Conference, and I encourage all the families with children to start planning now. If finances are a problem, we can plan a fundraiser at the Church. For those without families, perhaps on a vacation, make an attempt to attend another parish. For those who cannot travel, connect online to members of our Church and perhaps volunteer for one of our Metropolis-wide initiatives.

Finally, an extra one for those of you who don’t attend regularly: The Once a Month Challenge! Now, we should all be attending liturgy every time it is celebrated. Some of us have circumstances which interfere with that. There are legitimate reasons, but there are also not-so-legitimate reasons. “I’m busy” doesn’t cut it! If we are to have time for the Church, we must budget that time just like we would a doctor’s appointment or a trip to the grocery store. We all go shopping for food, but do we neglect to go “shopping” for the bread of life, which is only available at the Church? None of our New Year’s Resolutions matter one bit if we never attend Church. So to get started, for those who have frequent difficulty coming to liturgy, instead of focusing on coming every week, let’s commit to come at least once a month in 2012. Once we are used to coming, we will want to come so much that the other weeks will fall in to place.

As 2012 progresses, let’s take these four (five) challenges seriously, and keep track. I guarantee that the more we do, the more that God will bless our parish, and we will see the results in more growth, more harmony, and more opportunities. Given how great 2011 was for us, I can’t even imagine what will happen in 2012!

God bless you all!

In Christ,

Fr. Anastasios

Jan 13 12

Raleigh Orthodox Church Website Redesigned

by Anastasios Hudson

We are pleased to announce that the website of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Raleigh has been completely redesigned!

Jan 12 12

Our Vision for Raleigh

by Anastasios Hudson

Saint Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Church is:

  • A Church which is faithful to the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • A Church which is part of the Orthodox Christian Church, which is the original Christian Church
  • A small mission community meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina
  • A missionary-oriented Church which in turn plants other Churches throughout North Carolina and the Southeast
  • A traditional parish which observes all of the doctrines and practices of the Orthodox Church
  • A Church which ministers to members of all races and ethnicities equally

Our Church Will:

  • Continue to relentlessly share the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Church with the city of Raleigh
  • Encourage and equip its members to grow in faith and piety through active participation in the life of the Orthodox Church
  • Obtain a permanent Church building by 2015
  • Work to encourage a return to Traditional Orthodox practice among those who have lost it
  • Minister to those who have been left behind by other Churches or who are not sure how to explore faith for the first time on their own
  • Establish adult education to enable members and non-members to grow in their knowledge of the Christian faith
  • Work with local charities to provide material relief to the suffering and needy

The Resulting Vision

Currently, we have been meeting in our pastor’s humble home chapel. As we grow in our primary location in North Raleigh, we will obtain a Church building so that we can reach more people; our current situation prevents large scale advertising, and not everyone is comfortable to come to a house chapel (although I promise that we don’t bite!).

Continued growth will reveal where there are groupings of families. When there are pockets of people concentrated in an area sufficiently far from the first Church, we will encourage and equip the group to meet regularly for prayer, and from this will sprout the next mission. When this mission blossoms, the process will be repeated, so that there will be exponential growth across Raleigh and the Triangle region.

Over the long run, we seek to not just be “the” traditional Orthodox Christian parish in Raleigh and the Triangle, but rather one of many. Our goal is to see several traditional Orthodox Churches across North Carolina’s Triangle area, covering a wide geographical area and enabling everyone to have a truly local parish Church. We envision parish Churches in Downtown or South Raleigh, in North Raleigh, in Apex/ Cary, in Pittsboro, Durham, and in Wake Forest, although we are of course open to wherever the Lord ultimately blesses us to grow, and will follow His lead.

We believe that a network of multiple, smaller Churches tied together will be more effective than growing and continuing to acquire or build larger and larger facilities over the years.