Friday, December 12, 2014

RUSSIAN LANGUAGE CLASS

Have you ever thought about taking a short-term missionary trip through an Orthodox Christian missionary society, visiting Russia or Eastern Europe, or have you always wanted to learn another language? In September Matushka Cheri and I began taking a non-credit Russian for Beginners class at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. We have enjoyed the class very much and learned a lot, not just about the Russian language, but about Russian culture as well. By learning some Russian we can communicate with people who speak various Slavic languages. 

After learning that we were taking a Russian language class several people in the parish expressed interest in taking the class as well. So I talked with our teacher about it and we have made it possible for anyone who is interested.

I have been able to arrange for a Russian for Beginners class to be taught at Holy Cross Orthodox Church beginning in January 2015. The teacher will be Dr. Munavvar Dadajanova, a native Russian speaker and a practicing Orthodox Christian. Dr. Munavvar Dadajanova earned her doctorate in languages during Soviet times and moved to the United States in 2001. She teaches Russian at Creighton University and at Metropolitan Community College. This will be the same class that she teaches at these schools with the same text book. 

Class will meet on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in our parish hall, beginning Thursday, January 15th, and ending on Thursday, February 19th. This will be a non-credit class, but a Certificate will be awarded by the teacher to those who complete the course.

In addition to Russian language, the class will introduce students to Russian culture, history, religion, literature, music and food. The cost of the class is $90.00, plus $30.00 for the text book. This is not a parish fund-raiser. The class is open to people outside the parish as well, so please be sure to tell your family and friends about it. Everyone is welcome.

Holy Cross Orthodox Church is a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). For more information about us you can visit our parish website: www.holycrossomaha.net . 

We are conveniently located in the Ralston Suburb of Omaha, Nebraska. Our address is: 7545 Main Street in Ralston. We are just south of the 72nd Street exit off Interstate I-80, and three blocks west of 72nd Street on Main Street in Ralston. We are located on the East side of Hillcrest Landing. Just look for our signs. You can't miss us.

Let me know if you would like to take this interesting, helpful and fun class. You can contact me by e-mail at venovak@hughes.net or call me on the church phone: (402) 573-6558. If you plan to attend this class you must make reservations with me, so please contact me as soon as possible. I'll be looking forward to seeing you on January 15th!  

Monday, December 1, 2014

HOLY CROSS WEBSITE UPDATE

Dear friends in Christ,

Our parish website has just been updated with new material and photographs. I hope that you will visit our website and share it with others. It is packed with information about the Orthodox Church and Faith, the Western Rite within the Orthodox Church, and about Holy Cross parish. Here is the link:

http://www.holycrossomaha.net

My letter on the Home page will give you a helpful overview of our parish and its ministries. I suggest that you then go to the Photo Gallery and view “Worship at Holy Cross Orthodox Church.” On the slideshow you will see what a Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy is like at Holy Cross parish. You will also see photographs of the visit of Bishop George of Mayfield to our church and the tonsure of our Reader.

A visit to the About Us page will tell you more about who we are and where we come from. The Sidebar has some very important articles that you will want to read. First, I recommend that you read “Do You Have A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ?” You will then want to read “Introducing the New Testament Church” and a “Letter To An Inquirer.” For those who want to dig deeper into the Faith and practice of the Church, I suggest viewing the “Recommended Reading List” which is also found on the Sidebar. These books will be very helpful in your spiritual journey.

The Thinking About Visiting page is also something that you will not want to miss. On it you will find thorough and helpful answers to sixteen commonly asked questions such as “What are the people at Holy Cross like?”, “How are you different from traditional Anglicans?”, “How are you different from traditional Roman Catholics?”,  “What is your pastor like?”, and  “How does the Orthodox Church view non-Orthodox Christians?”

The News page will keep you up on the latest church news, and Fr. Novak’s Blog will not only keep you up to date on parish happenings but will also give you my take on much, much more. I hope you will keep coming back to read Fr. Novak’s Blog.

As you have time I encourage you to look through each page of our information packed website and read all of the articles. It is well worth the time and effort. What you learn will help you share your Faith with others and to defend the Faith when necessary. Our mission at Holy Cross is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him, and the fullness of the Apostolic Faith to those who do. This website will help equip you to do the work of an evangelist.

Short on time? Then at least read my letter on the Home page and view the slideshow under “Worship at Holy Cross Orthodox Church” on the Photo Gallery, — but be sure to return and visit the website again when you have more time.

A big Thank You to Hannah Frederick our Web Mistress for her good work in building, maintaining and updating our parish website. Being Web Mistress is no simple task. It is a demanding and time consuming ministry, but a very vital one.

Please be sure to introduce your family and friends to the Holy Cross website. An easy way to do this is to send it out to your Facebook friends.

If you have never visited Holy Cross parish before or haven’t worshipped with us recently, I hope you will accept my personal invitation to worship with us soon. If you are not in the Omaha area but have an interest in the Orthodox Church in general or the Western Rite in particular, please contact me by e-mail or by phone. I would be happy to  help you and to answer your questions.

Holy Cross Orthodox Church is a faithful, friendly and active parish, and we have a place for you!

May God grant you every grace and blessing,

Fr. Victor+

V. Rev. Victor E. Novak
Rector
HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
www.holycrossomaha.net
Rectory: (402) 687-9458
Church:  (402) 573-6558

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

FIFTY-THREE PARISHES OF THE PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENT CHURCH ENTER THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

I have some wonderful news to share. In early 2014, a whole diocese of the Philippine Independent Church converted to Orthodoxy together with its two bishops, all of its priests, and 28 parishes.

Their example has now been imitated by 8 more PIC bishops and 25 more parishes. In total, 53 parishes in the Philippines have come into Orthodoxy so far this year!

You can read about it on Orthodox Church Cognate website for November 18, 2014: 
http://theorthodoxchurch.info/blog/news/2014/11/whole-diocese-of-the-philippine-independent-church-converts-to-orthodoxy/

The Philippine Independent Church is an independent national Catholic Church in the Philippines. The PIC was established in 1902, by clergy and laity who had left the Roman Catholic Church. Initially isolated, the Philippine Independent Church struggled theologically to find its bearings after its separation from Rome. Eventually, the Episcopal Church USA and European Old Catholics intervened to help the PIC develop as a national Catholic Church. By 1960, the Philippine Independent Church was in full communion with the Episcopal Church USA, the Anglican Communion and the Utrecht Union of Old Catholic Churches.

When the Episcopal Church USA abandoned its historic Liturgy and approved the ordination of women at its 1976 General Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Philippine Independent Church repaid their debt and immediately came to the assistance of traditional Anglicans in North America.  When the first four continuing Anglican bishops, James Orin Mote, Robert Sherwood Morse, Peter Francis Watterson and C. Dale Doren, were consecrated on January 28, 1978, one of the consecrators was The Right Reverend Francisco J. Pagtakhan, Bishop Secretary for Missions and Ecumenical Affairs of the Philippine Independent Church.

Sadly, the new-born continuing Anglican Church, called the Anglican Church in North America in 1977 and 1978, struggled to find stability and unity, and began to divide after its very first provincial synod in 1978. Eventually, the Philippine Independent Church tried to intervene to bring the factions together again. Unsuccessful, the Philippine Independent Church later established the “Anglican Rite Jurisdiction in the America’s” (ARJA) in an effort to provide Catholic Anglicans in North America with a stable ecclesiastical life as part of the PIC. That too failed, and the PIC gave up its attempt to establish an Anglican Rite jurisdiction here.

Unfortunately, the same heretical ideas that had forever changed and splintered the Anglican Communion and later the Utrecht Union of Old Catholic Churches also began to make inroads into the Philippine Independent Church, leaving the PIC a house divided against itself and eventually becoming the dominant position in the Church. Fortunately, rather than forming yet another small and isolated “continuing” Church, Orthodox-minded clergy and congregations of the Philippine Independent Church have entered into full sacramental communion and visible unity with the 300 million-member Orthodox Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. So far they total ten bishops and fifty-three parishes with their clergy. To God be the glory! 

Twenty years ago Anglicans made up the second largest group of converts to the Orthodox Church. Today they may be the largest. In the past most Anglicans entered the Orthodox Church as individuals and families, although a few Orthodox congregations were actually established by groups of former Anglicans. 

Today all of that has changed. Whole parishes with their clergy are coming into the Orthodox Church. Some are entering through the Eastern Rite, while others are entering through the Western Rite. There are now canonical Western Rite Orthodox churches and monasteries in North America, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and on the continent of Europe.

The Anglican continuum is now divided into some 46 small and competing jurisdictions in North America alone, with the largest having of less that 5,000 members in the United States. While larger, the new Anglican Church in North America, established in 2009, is a house divided against itself. It is so comprehensive that Zwinglians, Calvinists and Catholics are all found in the ACNA, and there are dioceses that “ordain” women and dioceses that do not “ordain” women. Catholics are a distinct minority in what ACNA primate Archbishop Foley Beach rightly describes as “an Evangelical church in the Protestant tradition.” A house divided against itself cannot stand.

There are still some Catholic Anglicans talking about “Ecumenical dialogue” with the Orthodox Church and “diplomatic missions” to this or that Orthodox See, but what they fail to see is that the door to unity is already open. Both the Russian and the Antiochian Orthodox Churches have Western Rite parishes and monasteries right now. All Catholic Anglicans need do is to walk through the door where they will be warmly welcomed with joy. 

There is nothing more that needs to be discussed. Whole congregations with their clergy are being received into the Orthodox Church. The only requirement is that that the fullness of the Orthodox Christian Faith be embraced without addition or diminution (Jude 3). Our Western patrimony is being preserved and we are rebuilding the Western Church. St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco said, “Never, never, never let anyone tell you that, in order to be Orthodox, you must be Eastern. The West was Orthodox for a thousand years...”

Holy Cross Orthodox Church was received into the Orthodox Church in June of 2013, from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA); and we are a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the English parochial tradition. As Anglicans, we had always understood the goal of the English Reformation to be the restoration of the Faith of the Undivided Church. The Orthodox Church is the unchanged and unchanging Undivided Church from which the Roman See tragically fell way in AD 1054. For us, the English Reformation which began in 1534, was advanced by the Caroline Divines of the 17th century and the Oxford Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, has finally been completed. Our wanderings in the wilderness are over. We are home. We are happy, and we are not looking back. Would you like to come home? I can help. E-mail me at venovak@hughes.net or call me at (402) 573-6558.

Friday, October 31, 2014

NEW POLL FINDS EVANGELICALS' FAVORITE HERESIES

On tuesday of this week (October 28th) Christianity Today magazine published an important article on  its website titled: "New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies. Survey finds many American evangelicals hold unorthodox views on the Trinity, salvation, and other doctrines."

The article reports on a recent survey of Evangelical Christians and has a margin of error of only 1.8%.  The growing lack of orthodoxy among self-identified Evangelicals is alarming. For instance, 24% believe that the Book of Mormon is or may be a revelation from God. About 25 years ago I was involved in outreach to Mormons with the Gospel. At the time, a major Baptist ministry to Mormons was reporting the tragic fact that about 200 Baptists per week were becoming Mormons. I remember being shocked by that statistic, but with the Evangelical Christian population in America totaling about 60 million people, and with 24% of them believing that the Book of Mormon is or may be a revelation from God, it is not surprising. The Mormons have about 15 million potential Evangelical converts to proselytize. Few of these 15 million Evangelicals have ever read the Book of Mormon or investigated the claims made for it, but that doesn't seem to matter to them.

While 96% of Evangelical Christians say that they believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, their answers to subsequent questions in the survey demonstrate that a large majority are not really Trinitarians at all. 27% of Evangelicals - more than one in four — are Arians, believing that Jesus is a creature; while 31% believe that the Father is more Divine than the Son. Therefore, 58% of Evangelicals hold heterodox beliefs about Jesus. But it gets even worse...

Only 42% of Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit is a person. 58% believe that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force rather than a person, and 18% believe that the Holy Spirit is less Divine than the Father. That means 76% of Evangelicals - more than three out of every four — hold heterodox beliefs about the Holy Spirit.

How can so many Evangelicals hold beliefs that so clearly contradict the ancient Creeds you ask? In the survey, 70% of Evangelicals said that the Creeds have no place in their personal discipleship. No place! The Survey also found that 2/3rds of Evangelicals are Pelagians. Pelagianism has been called the most condemned heresy in Church history. But then, only slightly over half of Evangelicals saw any value in Church history at all. As far as the authority of the Church is concerned, 90% of Evangelicals believe that the Church has no authority to declare someone not a Christian. In other words, 90% of them believe that the Church has no authority to protect the flock or to correct those who stray far from Christian orthodoxy through church disciple. 

Here is the link to the article on the Christianity Today website:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/new-poll-finds-evangelicals-favorite-heresies.html?paging=off

The Protestant Reformation abolished one pope, but through the Protestant errors of Sola Scriptura and Private Interpretation of Scripture has made millions of Evangelical Christians into personal popes. This has led to what I call a "Book of Judges Theology"  —  "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). 

Like in the days of the Judges, this way of thinking has led to disaster. The disaster has been both ecclesial and theological. Accepting no real authority outside of "what I believe" or "what I think" the Bible says has left Protestants divided into some 30,000 denominations in the 500 year history of Protestantism, plus uncountable numbers of independent, nondenominational and interdenominational churches, with five new denominations being formed every week. This is ecclesiastical chaos.

The theological fruit has become equally bad, with Evangelicals first rejecting the Holy Eucharist and the Sacraments, and now as the survey in Christianity Today demonstrates, even the historic Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, with 58% of contemporary Evangelicals holding heterodox beliefs about Jesus, and 76% holding heterodox beliefs about the Holy Spirit.  According to the Survey, 76% of Evangelicals are no longer really Trinitarians.

At Holy Cross Orthodox Church our mission is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him, and the fullness of the Apostolic Faith to those who do. That means we have a mission to the unevangelized and the unchurched, but also to self-professed Christians who do not hold to the fullness of the Apostolic Faith whether they have subtracted from it or added to it. This latest survey of Evangelical Christians reminds us that as Orthodox Christians we have a lot of work to do...  

It does matter what Church you belong to. It really does.

1. Jesus built His Church Himself (Matt: 16:18). Therefore the Church Christ built must have an unbroken history going back 2,000 years.

2. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18). Therefore the Church He founded nearly 2,000 years ago is still His Church today. No Teacher, Theologian, Reformer or "Prophet" is authorized to start a new Church. Any Church that is a split, a splinter, a severed branch, or a new denomination cannot be the Church of Christ.

3. Jesus commands us to "hear the church" (Matt. 18:17). He gave the Church the authority to bind and loose (Matt. 18:18). Yes, he gave the Church authority that Christians must accept. Jesus went so far as to say, "but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt. 18:17).

4. We are to "earnestly contend for the Faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Therefore, no novel 16th century (or later) Confession of Faith or doctrinal statement has any authority.

5. We have the assurance that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church "into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13). Holy Tradition is nothing less than the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

6. There is a vast amount of difference between the Church founded by Jesus Christ and the denominations started by men — even by men with the best of intentions. The Apostle Paul writes, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:4-5). Note how often the word "one" is used.

Nearly a millennium after our forefathers were separated from the Orthodox Christian Church in AD 1066, by the Norman Conquest of England, we have finally been restored to unity. The original goal of the English Reformation was to restore the Faith and Order of the Undivided Church. Sadly, over the centuries most Anglicans have lost sight of that goal and began to see themselves as merely another denomination and to adopt a faulty "Book of Judges Theology" doing what was right in their own eyes. At Holy Cross parish we have been given a great grace. For us, the English Reformation has finally been completed. We have returned to the Faith and Order of the Undivided Church, and we are now in full sacramental communion and visible unity with the 300 million-member Orthodox Church as a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. We are finally back home again. We have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to do. The door to the Orthodox Church is wide open and the welcome mat is out. Let us each strive to share the grace that has been entrusted to us that through our witness and ministry many others in the West may be reunited with the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. God loves everyone. Let's invite them to come home to "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth" (I Tim. 3:15).

+ + +

My parish has heard me speak about the Orthodox Study Bible from the pulpit. The New Testament of the Orthodox Study Bible is the New King James Version (NKJV) while the Old Testament is translated from the Septuagint. The Septuagint is some 1,200 years older than the Hebrew text found in nearly all English Bibles today and is very, very important. The Old Testament of the Orthodox Study Bible includes the Deuterocanonical Books, and the entire Bible contains commentary from the Fathers of the Church.

Ancient Faith Press has the Orthodox Study Bible in hardcover on sale right now at a great price. The regular price for this Bible is $49.95, but you can buy it for only $34.97. If you spend at least $75.00 with Ancient Faith Press you will even receive free shipping! Why not buy one for yourself and order extras for Christmas presents. What better gift can you give on Christmas than the Holy Scriptures? Here is the link:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-study-bible-complete-hardcover/

Friday, October 24, 2014

HAYRACK RIDE, BONFIRE AND POTLUCK: Saturday, October 25th

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow, Saturday, October 25th, is our annual Hayrack Ride, Bonfire and Potluck at Santa's Woods. The fun begins at 5:30 PM. All of the family and friends of Holy Cross parish are invited to participate, and everyone is encouraged to invite their own family and friends. No advance reservations are needed. We always have a great time with plenty of good food.

This is not a parish fundraiser. We simply charge what Santa's Woods charges us: $9.00 for ages 13 and up; $6.00 for ages 5 to 12; with children under 5 free. You can pay our Treasurer Tari C. when you arrive. Santa's Woods then collects their fees from the church.

Everyone is asked to bring food to share potluck style. If you haven't already signed-up to bring something in particular just bring something that would go well at a fall bonfire and potluck. The more food, the more fun!

The forecast is for beautiful fall weather on Saturday: Mostly sunny and pleasant, with a high of 76 degrees. We couldn't ask for better weather!

Santa's Woods is located at 3764 Hwy 133, Blair, Nebraska (between Omaha and Blair on Blair High Road). From Omaha take I-680 North to the Irvington Exit. Turn left on Blair High Road (Hwy 133) and travel towards Blair. Santa's Woods will be on your right. There is a large sign by the highway. You can't miss it!

Please be sure  to arrive by 5:30 PM. When you get to Santa's Woods just follow the signs to the location reserved for Holy Cross. The evening begins with a hayrack ride through a working farm, and then we will return to a roaring fire in a  private area reserved for our use. There will be picnic tables and electrical outlets for crock pots and coffee pots. Food is always in abundance. This an event that everyone looks forward to. You will have a great time. Kids will have a blast. As the song says, "The more we get together the happier we'll be!"

The Christian life is the good life at Holy Cross Orthodox Church. I hope to see you on Saturday at Santa's Woods!

blessings,

Father+

V. Rev. Victor E. Novak
Rector
HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
www.holycrossomaha.net
Rectory: (402) 687-9458
Church:  (402) 573-6558

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST?

Popular Orthodox Christian author and pastor Fr. Anthony Coniaris writes, “The question is often asked by evangelical Protestant Christians, ‘Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior?’ This is a very Orthodox question... Without such a personal acceptance of Christ and commitment to Him, one cannot be an Orthodox Christian.” (1)

Fr. Anthony Coniaris teaches us that, “Salvation for Orthodox Christians involves a relationship — a personal relationship with Jesus who is the door to the Trinity. This relationship takes place in the Church. Relationships, we know, are fragile. They have their ups and downs. We need to work on them constantly... If faith is a personal relationship with Christ, what are some of the factors involved in such a relationship? If you are a spouse or a parent, you know what they are. They involve saying, ‘I love you. I appreciate you. I love to be in your presence. I give myself to you totally. I am sorry I hurt you. Forgive me...’ In other words, we have to work hard on a relationship to keep it alive, vibrant, growing, and in constant good repair. So it is with our relationship with Jesus.” (2)

Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes, “in its essence, Christian faith is a personal encounter with Christ, an acceptance not of this or that teaching or dogma about Christ, but Christ Himself. In other terms, Christianity is extremely personal. This in no way implies that it is individualistic, for all believers encounter, recognize and love exactly the one and the same Christ. But Christ addresses Himself to each person, so that each faith is at the same time unique.” (3)

Fr. Anthony Coniaris says, “For Orthodox Christians, religion is a relationship with God in the Person of Jesus. It is on this personal relationship to Jesus that the happiness and the purposefulness of life depends. And it shall be on the basis of this relationship to Christ that our eternal destiny will be decided. Jesus is the door... What kind of relationship do we have with Jesus? Is it a relationship that is kept alive through faith, prayer, the sacraments and obedience to His commandments? Or is it a relationship that has died through sin and indifference?” (4) 

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk reminds us of just how personal the Christian faith really is. He says that every Christian can say, “For my sake God created the world. For me He became man in Christ. For me He suffered on the cross. For me He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.”

In both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism a theologian is someone who studies philosophy and systematic theology to know about God and earns advanced degrees in these areas of study. In Orthodox Christianity a theologian is someone who truly prays and experiences God personally, as well as studies theology. Orthodox priest Fr. Anthony Coniaris writes, “theology is understood less in terms of intellectual understanding and more on a level of personal experience. We Orthodox learn our theology not just from books but more especially from the liturgy, from prayer, from hysychia (silence), and from the Jesus prayer.” (5) 

Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote in his forward to Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae’s English translation of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: The Experience of God (HCO Press, 1979): “Theology, talking about God presupposes a personal relationship. It presupposes faith and ascetic purification, the quest for continual prayer, the thirst for sanctity; the true theologians are the saints... The only genuine theology is that summed up by Evagrios of Pontos in a phrase which Fr. Dumitru likes to quote: ‘If you are a theologian you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.'”

Fr. John Beck says, “All those spiritual giants who are venerated as Fathers of the Church in fact base their theology on knowledge of God acquired not by rational speculation but by personal living experience.” (6)

In Orthodoxy the age of the Fathers is not past but present. In Orthodoxy there is no looking back to a lost Golden Age of “the Undivided Church” because Orthodox Christians do not believe that the Church can be divided. Churches and churchmen can fall away into heresy or schism, but the Church cannot be divided. Tradition, according to Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky is living, it is “the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.” It is not a dead corpus of facts for historians and theologians to dig up from the past and argue about. Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Lutheran theologian and Luther expert of the 20th century, and a convert to the Orthodox Church, put is this way: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

In his book, The Orthodox Way, Bishop Kallistos Ware writes, “Tradition is far more than a set of abstract principles — it is a life, a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit. Tradition is not only kept by the Church - it lives in the Church. It is the Life of the Holy Spirit in the Church... it is not static but dynamic, not dead acceptance of the past but a living experience of the Holy Spirit in the present.”

There is no dry Ivory Tower theology in Orthodoxy and Orthodox theologians are not mere academics.  Orthodox theologians are clergy and lay people, men and women, of deep prayer with intimate personal relationships with Christ and who do not merely know about God, but know Him personally. That is why there cannot be liberal or even unbelieving “theologians” in the Orthodox Church as there are in the Roman Catholic and Protestant West.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann taught, “We cannot have trust in someone whom we only know superficially. We must know this someone, we must have created a relationship with him. In the end it is necessary to love this someone in order to have confidence in him... Our knowledge of God comes not from books, nor is it the result of reflection. To arrive at a knowledge of God, it is necessary to cultivate a relationship with Him... God is known through an immediate relationship, and it is this which we must seek.” (7)

Bishop Kallistos Ware writes, “Because of the Comforter’s (the Holy Spirit’s) presence in our heart, we do not simply know Christ at fourth or fifth hand, as a distant figure from long ago, about whom we possess factual information through written records; but we know Him directly here and now, in the present, as our personal Savior and our Friend. With the Apostle Thomas we can affirm, ‘My Lord and my God’ (Jn. 20:28). We do not merely say, ‘Christ died,’ but ‘Christ died for me.’ We do not merely say, ‘Christ rose,’ but ‘Christ is risen!’ He lives now, for me and in me. This relationship with Jesus is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit.” (8)

This may sound much like what is heard in many evangelical churches today, but there is a profound difference. Fr. Anthony Coniaris writes, “Evangelicals have so separated the personal from the communal that finding a church after coming to Christ is often a mere afterthought or appendage to what is seen as able to stand by itself: one’s personal, private, individualistic ‘relationship with Jesus.’ However, to emphasize a new birth without corresponding emphasis on the Church is like an obstetrician who goes to great lengths to help the infant come forth from the womb, only to place it on the sidewalk with the exhortation that it go and find food. The newborn needs its mother: the Church. The Orthodox Church, as did the early Christians, does not separate the personal from the communal. We do not confuse ‘personal’ and ‘individual.’ Our personal relationship with Jesus is anchored on our communal relationship to the Church as the nurturing and soul-sustaining Body of Christ.” (9)

It is not a choice between a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or a corporate relationship with Him through the Church. Our relationship with Jesus is personal, but it cannot be individualistic.  It is both personal and communal: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and incorporation into the Church which is the Body of which Christ is the head.  It is not either/or, but both.

Orthodox theologian Fr. John Meyendorff reminds us that Church membership is not enough. He writes, “What makes a Christian a Christian is this personal commitment to Christ. One’s formal belonging to the church through Baptism and the sacramental participation remains a mere potential if the individual commitment does not take place.” (10) 

Fr. Anthony Coniaris says: “if it’s not personal it’s not real.” And the Holy Scriptures tell us, “And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). The personal and the ecclesial go together.

So, how do we develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in His Church? “The big question is HOW? How does one experience God in life? The answer is through the commitment and surrender of one’s life to Jesus, by speaking to Him each day in prayer, by turning to Him for guidance and strength, by reading daily His personal love letter, the Holy Bible, by praying for and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, by receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist.” (11)

Like any personal relationship, developing and sustaining a personal relationship with Jesus Christ takes time and effort.  As Fr. Anthony Coniaris has said, “Relationships, we know, are fragile. They have their ups and downs. We need to work on them constantly...” So, how do we begin?

First, invite Christ into your heart through prayer. Praying the beautiful prayer to Jesus of St. Dimitrii of Rostov, a 17th century Russian Orthodox saint, is a good way to begin:

Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, 
and burn up the thorns of my misdeeds, 
kindling my heart with the flame of Thy love.
Come, my God, sit upon the throne of my heart
and reign there.
For Thou alone art my God and my Lord. Amen.

Second, read the article Introducing the New Testament Church, by Fr. Victor Novak. You can obtain it at no cost directly from Fr. Victor: venovak@hughes.net .

Third, if you are an Orthodox Christian talk with your priest. Ask him for spiritual direction, for help in developing a personal prayer life and in more fruitfully participating in the sacramental and communal life of the church. 

If you are not yet an Orthodox Christian, talk with an Orthodox priest. Tell him that you want to be received into the Church and to live a life of serious discipleship.

Finally, prayerfully read the book GOD AND YOU: PERSON TO PERSON. Developing a Daily Personal Relationship with Jesus, by Fr. Anthony Coniaris. This easy to read and understand 160 page book can be purchased from Light and Life Publishing: www.light-n-life.com , (952) 925-3888. This is one of those rare books that can change your life. If you are going to read only one spiritual book this year make it this one! Fr. Stanley Harakas of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary said, “My advice — put it at the top of your reading list.”


1. GOD AND YOU: PERSON TO PERSON. Developing a Daily Personal Relationship with Jesus, by Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Light and Life Publishing Company, C. 1995, p. 88.
2. Ibid, Coniaris, p. 19.
3. Celebration of Faith, Volume 1, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, SVS Press.
4. Ibid, Coniaris, p. 27.
5. Ibid, Coniaris, p. 34.
6. Cited in Coniaris, p. 112.
7. Cited in Coniaris, p. 39.
8. The Orthodox Way, by Kallistos Ware, SVS Press, 1979.
9. Ibid, Coniaris, p. 41.
10. Cited in Coniaris, p. 88).
11. Ibid, Coniaris, p. 39.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

FR. VICTOR NOVAK TO CELEBRATE THIRTY YEARS OF MINISTRY ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 28TH

On Sunday, September 28th, I will celebrate thirty years in the ordained ministry. Thirty years! Time has flown by, but God has blessed my wife and I, and our ministry together, in so many ways. On Sunday, September 28th, we will celebrate a Solemn Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM in thanksgiving, followed by a catered luncheon in the parish hall.

Holy Cross Orthodox Church is located at 7545 Main Street, in the Ralston suburb of Omaha, Nebraska. We are a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), and were received into the Orthodox Church from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in June of 2013.  

For more information call (402) 573-6558, e-mail me at venovak@hughes.net, or visit our parish website: www.holycrossomaha.net. There is no charge for the luncheon. Holy Cross Orthodox Church warmly invites all the friends of the parish and the general public to attend.

Holy Cross is a faithful, friendly, active and welcoming parish. I hope that you will join Matushka Cheri and I to celebrate our thirty years of Christian ministry together, and  in prayer that the next thirty years of ministry will be blessed and fruitful. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you at the Holy Eucharist on Sunday, September 28th, at 10:00 AM, and at the catered luncheon following the Liturgy. God bless!