Tuesday, August 9, 2016

THE BRANCH THEORY - Don't Bet Your (Eternal) Life On It

During Lent this year I was introduced to a Uniate priest who was visiting Omaha. He was well educated, articulate, and personable. After spending a few minutes getting acquainted and in pleasant conversation he said to me, “I am going to say something you are not going to like.” After pausing for a moment he said, “I consider myself an Eastern Orthodox who happens to be in communion with the Pope.” While I could not agree with his statement, I could understand it. It was the Branch Theory, and that is something that I sincerely believed in for most of my adult life. 


As an Anglican I had sincerely believed that my Church was a Western Orthodox Church that happened to out of visible communion with the broader Orthodox Church due to the accidents of history. I believed that Anglicanism, when true to itself, held essentially the same Faith as the Orthodox Church in the East. They were Eastern Orthodox and we were Western Orthodox, and one day everyone would come to see that and the outward divisions would end. I was very sincere, but I was also very wrong.

Anglicans imbibe on the Branch Theory with their mother’s milk, or at least they did in the days when the Anglican Communion professed to hold the Catholic Faith. Today only a remnant of Anglicans still profess to be Catholic Christians, and most of them are found in the Anglican Continuum, with a smaller number in the Anglican Church in North America. 

Historically, Anglicans have believed, according to the Branch Theory, that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Nicene Creed and of the first millennium of Christianity has been divided into three branches: the Anglican, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Roman; and that these divisions constitute schisms within the Church rather than schisms from the Church. These schisms within the Church have been caused by the sins of men and by the accidents of history, but do not effect the essential Catholicity of any of the branches. Visible unity would be a good thing, and should be worked toward, but visible unity is of the bene esse (well being) rather than the esse (being) of the Church. Furthermore, unity could best be achieved through mutual recognition and intercommunion between the branches of the Church based on the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral or something like it.

I left the Episcopal Church in the late 1970s, after the 1976 Minneapolis General Convention approved the ordination of women and adopted a new Liturgy which was a clear break with Anglican liturgical tradition and was of dubious orthodoxy. I was of the St. Louis Generation, and was ordained to the Anglican ministry in 1984. The Anglican Branch Theory was what I was taught, and what I sincerely believed in and taught to others for many years.  


In recent years a form of the Branch Theory has been taught in the Roman Catholic Church as well, but it includes just the Roman and Orthodox Churches. Although Rome accepts the Orders of the Polish National Catholic Church and even has a limited intercommunion with the PNCC, exactly where this body fits in with Roman Catholic ecclesiology has never been fully articulated. A third lung, a branch, a twig?

Pope John Paul II described the Roman and Orthodox Churches as Sister Churches and two lungs of the Body of Christ, and both Benedict XVI and Francis have continued this teaching. Roman Catholics are willing to admit Orthodox Christians to receive communion in their churches, although the Orthodox Church not only does not reciprocate, but forbids its faithful to receive Holy Communion outside of the visible Orthodox Catholic Church.


Protestantism in general does not hold any form of recognizable ecclesiology, but holds a very loose form of the Branch Theory, which can best be described as the Invisible Church Theory. By far the predominant Protestant position is that the Christian Church is made up the thirty-thousand or so divided, disagreeing and competing denominations, plus the uncountable numbers of independent, interdenominational and nondenominational congregations, as well as those who profess belief in Jesus Christ but belong to no church and have little or no interest in “organized religion.” They see the “True Church” as invisible, made up of faithful believers in all denominations or none, and known only to God. In Protestantism the visible Church is of little or no importance as each believer feels free to believe and do whatever is right in his or her own eyes. Instead of removing a pope, the Protestant Reformation made millions of them and the result has been utter chaos.


With the collapse of the Anglican Communion into apostasy, traditional Anglicans have been forced by the necessity of circumstances to revise the Branch Theory downward in a Protestant direction until there is little or no difference in practice between the current Anglican view and the Protestant Invisible Church Theory.

In the generation since the St. Louis Church Congress launched the Continuing Anglican Movement in 1977, the Anglican Continuum has continued to divide and splinter until there are now dozens of small traditional Anglican jurisdictions in North America alone. A good history of the St. Louis Continuum is found in the book Divided We Stand, A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement, by Douglas Bess (Tractarian Press, 2002). Divided We Stand is a 314 page heartbreaking history of the movement from its beginning through 2001, chronicling its infighting, power struggles, and schisms.

Tragically, in the years that have followed the history recorded in Divided We Stand things have only gotten worse. The March 2014, edition of the Anglican Way (formerly Mandate), the magazine of the traditionalist Prayer Book Society, reported that “traditional Anglican parishes in North America belong to at least 45 separate jurisdictions, which may advertise only scant intercommunion arrangements... the ever changing landscape of churches of the Anglican continuum makes tracking via the Internet the most up-to-date, if not necessarily the most reliable means of locating active 1928 and 1962 BCP parishes in North America.” 

These “45 separate jurisdictions” are for all practical purposes separate denominations. Every bishop consecrated in these groups claims to be a bishop in the “one, holy catholic and apostolic church,” but such a claim can only fit with the Protestant notion of an invisible Church. By 2014, the three branches of the Anglican Branch Theory had become 47 branches: Orthodox, Roman, and 45 separate Anglican branches.

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the largest extramural Anglican body in North America, recognizes this fact in its practice. The official practice of the ACNA is to admit all “baptized Christians” regardless of what their denominational affiliation is, if any, their belief about the Eucharist, or their preparation for its reception, to receive communion. 

With the collapse and splintering of the Anglican Communion the Anglican Branch Theory has become untenable, forcing Anglicans to accept essentially an Invisible Church Theory in practice while still sometimes using the term Branch Theory, though without its original meaning. Since most of the first generation of leaders of the St. Louis Continuum have passed from the seen and a generation has come of age that never knew the Anglican Communion in the days of its (little “o”) orthodoxy or a united Continuum, this essentially Protestant ecclesiology is all that they have ever known. Since the old Anglicanism that was united in the Anglican Communion and professed to hold the Catholic Faith is gone for ever, the Anglican Branch Theory has proven itself untenable and false.


So how does the Orthodox Church view the Branch Theory? The Orthodox Church sees the Branch Theory as untenable and a heresy. 

In Orthodox theology and ecclesiology there is a unity between Christ and His Church.  There is only one Christ so there can be only one Body of Christ, of which He is the head. Orthodox theology does not teach that it is possible for the Church to be visibly divided while invisibly one. The four marks of the Church are given in the Nicene Creed: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and the Orthodox Church takes these four marks seriously and literally. The Church is one on earth, and in time and eternity. 

Unity is one of the essential marks of the Church, and with Christ’s promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church the Church will forever retain its essential characteristics, and will always remain visibly one. There have been and can be schisms from the Church, but no schisms within the Church. Schisms do harm the Church, but they cannot affect the nature of the Church. Like limbs broken from a tree, schisms can sometimes be re-grafted, but if too much time passes the severed limb begins to decay and die, and schism quickly begets the rot of heresy. The Church has always been, is, and always will be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

The Roman Catholic teaching regarding the two lungs of the Body of Christ and that there are two Sister Churches is likewise impossible according to Orthodox Christian ecclesiology. In Orthodox ecclesiology the “branches” of the Church are the local autocephalous Orthodox Churches; and if one were to talk of two lungs of the Church,  Eastern and Western, the Western lung could only be the canonical Orthodox dioceses in the West in general and the Western Rite within the Orthodox Church in particular.

Today there are Western Rite congregations and monastic communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and on the Continent of Europe. In North America there are Western Rite communities in the Antiochian Orthodox Church and in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (Moscow Patriarchate). It was in Antioch where the disciples were first called Christians, and the Moscow Patriarchate is by far the world's largest autocephalous Orthodox Church. In Europe there are Western Rite communities in the Russian (ROCOR), Romanian and Serbian Orthodox Churches.

Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware writes, “The Orthodox Church in all humility believes itself to be the ‘one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’, of which the Creed speaks: such is the fundamental conviction which guides Orthodox in their relations with other Christians. There are divisions among Christians, but the Church itself is not divided nor can it ever be” (The Orthodox Church, New Edition, c. 2015, p. 300).


In his High Priestly Prayer offered just before he began his passion, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that his disciples would all be one. 

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11). Continuing he prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me” (John 17:20-25).

The Apostle Paul described the Church and its Faith this way: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6). In these three short verses St. Paul uses the word “one” seven times.

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ” (I Cor. 1:10-13

The belief in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures.


Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “There is no salvation outside the Church” has been a Christian teaching from the earliest times. The fact that this truth has been all but forgotten in the West since the Western Church was splintered into so many fragments does not make it any less true. In fact, it serves as a warning to those who have lost their understanding of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, become desensitized to the great evil of heresy and schism, comfortable with divisions among Christians, and indifferent to the vital necessity of Christian unity.

St. Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258), writing about some schismatics of his day said, "Salus extra ecclesiam non est" — "there is no salvation out of the Church"(Letter LXXII).

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) wrote: “One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life.” (Against Heresies, III.4)

St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) said, “No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have the sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church.” (Sermo ad Caesariensis Ecclesia plebem).

Does this mean that all who are outside of the visible Church are lost? No, it does not. 

In his book, The Church is One, Alexei Khomiakov, the great 19th century Orthodox theologian, considered by many to be a Doctor of the Church, wrote, “Inasmuch as the earthly and visible Church is not the fulness and completeness of the whole Church which the Lord has appointed to appear at the final judgment of all creation, she acts and knows only within her own limits; and (according to the words of Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians, I Cor. 5:12) does not judge the rest of mankind, and only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who exclude themselves. The rest of mankind, whether alien from the Church, or united to her by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her, she leaves to the judgment of the great day. The Church on earth judges for herself only, according to the grace of the Spirit, and the freedom granted her through Christ, inviting also the rest of mankind to the unity and adoption of God in Christ; but upon those who do not hear her appeal she pronounces no sentence, knowing the command of her Saviour and Head, ‘not to judge another man’s servant’ (Rom. 14.4).”

As St. Augustine of Hippo wisely remarked: "How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!" (Homilies on John, 45, 12). Nevertheless, the sheep who are without are bidden to come within the sheepfold so that there is one flock and one shepherd; and those who knowingly chose to remain outside for whatever reason place themselves in a very precarious position for, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.


Non-Orthodox Christians entering the Orthodox Church need not reject any of the good things found in the Christian traditions from which they come. Becoming Orthodox does not mean rejecting the past, but embracing the fullness of the Faith. It has often been said that while Orthodox Christianity has maintained the Faith of the undivided Church, the Roman Church has added to it and the Protestants have subtracted from it. 


Roman Catholics who become Orthodox do not reject any part of genuine Catholicism, but only those innovations in faith and practice which contributed to the Great Schism, or arose in the centuries following it. Roman Catholics converting to Orthodoxy should see themselves as returning to the Church from which their ancestors were torn away without their consent by the papal schism of 1054, and as embracing genuine Catholicism - Orthodox Catholicism.


The goal of the Protestant Reformers was to reform the Western Church of the abuses  and errors that had crept in after the Great Schism of 1054. In 1519, two years after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, in a debate with the famous papal apologist Johann Eck, Dr. Martin Luther said, “The truth lies with the Greeks” (i.e., the Orthodox).

Protestants converting to Orthodox Christianity need only embrace what Luther said in 1519: “The truth lies with the Greeks.” Protestants who become Orthodox do not so much repudiate the Reformation as complete it by returning to the Faith and Order of the undivided Church and returning to unity with the historic Church.


The English Reformation that began in 1534, was very different from that on the continent of Europe. No new Church was formed, and it was the bishops themselves that carried out the Reformation of the Church with the goal of reforming the abuses and errors that had entered the Western Church and restoring the Faith of the undivided Church. Although much good was accomplished, the English Reformation was far from perfect and mistakes were made. The goal of the Reformation was advanced by the Caroline Divines of the 17th century, the Oxford Movement and subsequent Catholic Revival of the 19th and he first half of the 20th centuries, and the St. Louis Church Congress and Continuing Anglican Movement of the latter 20th century. 

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes, “Ever since the early seventeenth century there have always been Anglicans for whom the Reformation settlement under Queen Elizabeth I represented no more than an interim arrangement, and who appealed, like the Old Catholics, to the General Councils, the Fathers, and the tradition of the undivided Church. One thinks of Bishop John Pearson (1613-1686) with his plea, ‘Search how it was in the beginning; go to the fountainhead; look to antiquity.’ Or of Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711), the Non-Juror, who said, ‘I die in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith, professed by the whole Church, before the disunion of East and West.’ This appeal to antiquity has led many Anglicans to look with sympathy and interest in the Orthodox Church, and equally has led many Orthodox to look with interest and sympathy at Anglicanism. As a result of pioneer work by Anglicans such as William Palmer (1811-79), J.M. Neale (1818-66), and W.J. Birkbeck (1859-1916), firm bonds of Anglo-Orthodox solidarity were established by the end of the nineteenth century” (ibid, The Orthodox Church, p. 311).

“There are individual Anglicans whose faith is virtually indistinguishable from that of an Orthodox,” writes Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, “but there are others... who openly repudiate fundamental elements in the doctrinal and moral teachings of Christianity” (ibid, The Orthodox Church, p. 314). Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is speaking here of the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism which holds people of widely differing theological views together in one body. Historically it was the Liturgy that united Anglicans and kept the comprehensiveness from becoming too broad, but with the abandonment of the traditional liturgies all restraint has been removed. 

Even among self-professed traditional Anglicans a widening comprehensiveness is observed. Within the Anglican Church in North America will be found self-identifying Catholics, Calvinists and even Zwinglians; opponents of women’s ordination and bishops who ordain women; believers in seven sacraments and believers in two; adherents of traditional liturgical practices and those who could best be described as semi-liturgical. In order to hold the organization together the ACNA has adopted a novel “three streams theology” uniting Protestants, Catholics and Pentecostals in one body. How a body with such conflicting theologies and internal contradictions can be called Anglican in the historical sense of the word is anyones guess.

Much the same is true of the Anglican Continuum. There are continuing Anglicans today who are theologically far removed from the Affirmation of St. Louis which was proclaimed at the great St. Louis Church Congress in 1977. There are continuing Anglicans who believe in seven sacraments, seven Oecumenical Councils, who study and venerate the Fathers of the Church, pray for the dead and ask the intercession of the Saints. But there are other continuing Anglicans today who believe in two Sacraments, condemn belief in the intercession of the Saints and who do not pray for the dead. While the majority see Apostolic Succession as of the esse (being) of the church, a minority see it merely as of the bene esse (well being) of the Church. These conflicting view points — and there are many more — are not just found among jurisdictions, but within them. In the Anglican Continuum the Anglican Catholic Church, an Anglo-Catholic jurisdiction, is in full communion with an Evangelical Protestant jurisdiction, the United Episcopal Church. This comprehensiveness has always been the Achilles heal of Anglicanism.

In Orthodoxy the Faith of the undivided Church is not merely one of the permissible options. It is simply De Fide. There is no doctrinal “comprehensiveness” in Orthodoxy, no “via media,” only “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).   

Speaking of the Anglican-Russian Orthodox Theological Conference in Moscow in 1956, Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey reported that the Orthodox said in effect, “The Tradition is a concrete fact. There it is in its totality. Do you Anglicans accept it or do you reject it?”

Many Anglicans have come to see The Tradition as a concrete fact, have embraced it in its totality, and have entered the Orthodox Church. Today, Anglicans make up the largest single group of converts to the Orthodox Church. Archpriest Josiah Trenham, a convert to the Orthodox Church from Anglicanism and a former clergyman of the Reformed Episcopal Church writes, “It is my estimate that there is no heterodox body in America from which more Orthodox clergy have come than the Anglican Communion. The number of Orthodox priests in this country [the USA] that were previously Episcopal clergy is certainly in the hundreds” (Rock and Sand, by Archpriest Josiah Trenham, Newrome Press, c. 2015, p. 193).

Orthodox priests who were formerly Anglicans can be found everywhere. In my own community of Omaha, Nebraska, there are nine Orthodox priests. Of the nine, six are converts; and of the six, five are former Anglicans. When I am asked, “Where have all of the traditional Anglicans gone?” My answer is always the same, “To the Orthodox Church!” In the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) alone, there are two bishops who are former Anglicans, as well as one bishop who is a former Roman Catholic.


The Orthodox Church is nothing of the ethnic, closed society that some mistakenly think it is. In fact, the Orthodox Church is far more diverse ethnically than Anglicanism or Lutheranism among others. Orthodox Christians come from every race, nation and ethnicity on earth. My own parish is white and black; European, Middle Eastern and African, native born and foreign born. 

The Orthodox Church is both Eastern and Western in culture and liturgy. While predominantly Eastern, the number of Western Rite congregations and monastic communities is growing. St. Tikhon of Moscow - the good friend of Anglican Bishop Charles Grafton of Fon du Lac, and St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, are the patrons of the Orthodox Western Rite. It was St. John who said, “Never, never, never let anyone tell you that, in order to be Orthodox you must be Eastern. The West was fully Orthodox or a thousand years.” 

While Anglicans now make up the largest single group of converts to the Orthodox Church in the United States there are also large numbers of Roman Catholics and Protestants who have come home. There are Orthodox priests who are former Roman Catholics, as well as priests who have come home to Orthodoxy from virtually every Protestant tradition. Everyone is welcome. 

The Orthodox Church is growing so rapidly that in many places it has become a Church of converts. In America, 23% — about one in four - Orthodox Christians are converts, as are 30% of the clergy and 43% of seminarians. Hardly an ethnic ghetto!


The Branch Theory? Don’t bet your eternal life on a mere theory, especially one that has proven itself to be untenable.

All Christians are invited to come home again, both laity and clergy. The door is open and the welcome mat is out. You will be treated with love and dignity, and welcomed with joy. What is required is accepting the Deposit of Faith without addition, diminution or change. As St. Mark of Ephesus said, “There can be no compromise in matters of the Orthodox Faith.” The gifts, talents and training of non-Orthodox clergy who become Orthodox are valued, and large numbers of former non-Orthodox clergy are now serving as Orthodox clergy. I am one of them. 

There is a place for everyone. Come and see. The Orthodox Church welcomes you!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Holy Cross Orthodox Church is a faithful, friendly, vibrant and welcoming church, and we have a place for you.

We are a Faithful church, firmly committed to “the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), without addition, subtraction or change. We believe the same things that Christians believed a century ago, a millennium ago, even 2,000 years ago; and in the Orthodox Church there are no voices calling for change, no theological conflicts and no problems with liberal-modernism. We have never had a “dark” age, a Reformation or Counter Reformation, and we have never had a “Vatican II.” The Orthodox Church is timeless and unchanging in Faith and Morals, and Orthodox Christians will believe just as we do now until our Lord returns. As St. Athanasius the Great said, “Know that we must serve, not the times, but God.”

We are a friendly Church. Everyone is always welcome at Holy Cross parish - Orthodox Christians and Christians of other traditions, churched and unchurched, believers searching for a church that takes discipleship seriously and seekers who may not even be sure what they are looking for. 

We are a vibrant church, with plenty of opportunities for involvement and service. We celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist (Divine Liturgy/Holy Mass) twice each week, have active parish organizations including a parish Sisterhood (Women’s group), a vested Choir, a Guild of woodworkers and craftsmen who beautify and maintain our church, a quality Sunday School program, — and we regularly support four area homeless shelters. 

We contribute large amounts of food to feed those most in need at the Open Door Mission and the Lydia House shelters, and every ounce is contributed by the members and friends of Holy Cross parish. Our latest delivery totaled 507 pounds of much needed food, and we have another delivery ready to go.

Every Friday and one Saturday of the month large amounts of donated gourmet bread is delivered to the Francis and Siena House shelters. Pickups are made the night before. Making these regular pick-ups and deliveries takes real commitment on the part of our parish volunteers, and they carry out this virtually unseen ministry week after week, month after month, and year after year. In 2015, Holy Cross volunteers picked up and delivered 15,311 packages of donated gourmet bread. Now that is a lot of badly needed food! 

Hardly a word has to be said about these ministries to keep them working and to keep our members giving of their time. They are simply the good fruit of Christians who are serious disciples of Christ. 

We are a Welcoming church. Holy Cross parish is a real church community, and we enjoy being together. We have fellowship and refreshments in our parish hall after the Liturgy on Sundays, with a potluck luncheon on the last Sunday of the month. We have an annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, a parish outing to see the Omaha Storm Chasers Baseball Club on Faith and Family Night, a Summer Church Picnic, a Fall Hayrack Ride, Bonfire and Potluck at Santa’s Woods, occasional Dinner and a Movie Nights in our parish hall, and more. 

We are white and black, blue collar and white collar, young, middle aged, and seasoned. We are a diverse church family united by our love for God, faith in Jesus Christ, and commitment to the Orthodox Christian Faith. You will never feel like a stranger at Holy Cross parish, and after a few weeks you will feel like you have known everyone for years. We currently have seven catechumens who are preparing to be received into full membership in the Orthodox Church. Everyone is welcome to join us, and we have a place for you too!

Holy Cross Orthodox Church is a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). We are Western in culture and worship, and English and Celtic in spiritual heritage and traditions, while being in full communion and visible unity with the 300 million-member Orthodox Church. 

Although we are a Western Rite parish, Eastern Rite Orthodox Christians are always welcome to worship with us, receive the Holy Sacraments (Mysteries) at our altar, and become members of our parish. Eastern or Western, we are all One Church, One family and united in One Faith.

As a Western Rite Orthodox parish in the English and Celtic tradition, we use the Liturgy of St. Tikhon rather than the Eastern Rite Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. St. Tikhon of Moscow was responsible for making the restoration of the English Usage of the Western Rite possible, and our Liturgy carries his name in honour of his work. St. Tikhon is one of two patron saints of the Western Rite. The other is St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, the 50th anniversary of whose repose in 1966, was just commemorated around the world. It was St. John of San Francisco who said, “Never, never, never let anyone tell you that, in order to be Orthodox you must be Eastern. The West was fully Orthodox for a thousand years.”

What makes Holy Cross parish such an amazing church? We are a Eucharistic community, and the Holy Eucharist is the centre and summit of our spirituality. The life of our parish is centered in the Holy Eucharist.

We celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, commonly called the Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass, twice every week. On Sunday morning we celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist with Gregorian chant and the great hymns of the Church. We worship God in a spirit of holiness, administer the Sacraments with great reverence, and preach real sermons, teaching the fullness of the Apostolic Faith.

Our midweek celebration of the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist is held over the lunch hour so busy people can come and receive the Bread of Life. This is a quiet, prayerful and intimate Liturgy with smaller numbers in attendance. Attendance for this midweek Liturgy can vary. Last Wednesday we had eleven in attendance. Receiving Holy Communion in the midst of a busy week will  change your week. Making it a habit will change your life!

Holy Cross parish has a very nice leased facility that includes a traditional chapel, parish hall, and sacristy, classroom and office space, and we have already twice expanded the amount of space we lease. We also have a Building Committee and are ready to purchase a church building whenever a suitable building becomes available, and are currently serious considering a building that we may buy. 

As a Western Rite parish we have a special mission to rebuild the Western Church that fell away from the Orthodox Church in 1054, and shattered into splinters after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, and to re-evangelized the secularized West. There are now Western Rite Orthodox congregations and monastic communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and on the Continent of Europe, and our numbers are growing.

Holy Cross Orthodox Church is a faithful, friendly and vibrant parish, and we have a place for you. We celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist every Sunday morning at 10:00 AM. Everyone is invited to attend, and visitors are always welcome. We hope to see you there!

Monday, July 11, 2016


Dear friends in Christ,

I am attaching for you a link to  a MUST SEE twelve minute video of the Revival of Orthodoxy in Russia Exhibition in Moscow. 

Millions of Orthodox Christians were martyred under communism including some 40,000 priests, but with the fall of communism a great revival has begun. The Russian Orthodox Church has opened three new churches a day, each and every day, for more than a quarter of a century now, as well as more than 800 monasteries. A new Pentecost has begun with missionaries proclaiming the Gospel all around the world.  

At Holy Cross Orthodox Church we are among the fruit of this great spiritual revival and resurgence. Do you want to be where the Holy Spirit is on the move and great things are happening? The Orthodox Church is what you are looking for. We love being Orthodox. Come and join us. Everyone is welcome!

Here is the link to the video: 

We celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist (Divine Liturgy/Holy Mass) every Sunday at 10:00 AM. We are a faithful and friendly parish, and we have a place for you. Come and see!



Fr. Victor Novak
A Western Rite parish of the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558 

Friday, June 17, 2016

PENTECOST - Sunday, June 19th

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday, June 19th, is the Feast of Pentecost, commonly called Whitsunday in our tradition. Pentecost is a major Feast of the Church, and a very important day in our spiritual lives. The aim of the Christian life is nothing less than the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and union with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. None of this could happen had it not been for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. May we continue to seek an ever deeper filling by the Holy Spirit and to live more fully in the Holy Spirit.

Sunday Matins is at 9:15 AM, followed by the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM, with fellowship and refreshments in our parish hall after the Liturgy. Everyone is always welcome at Holy Cross parish. We are a faithful and friendly congregation, and we have a place for you. Hope to see you on Whitsunday!



Fr. Victor Novak
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Understand two thoughts, and fear them. One says, ‘You are a saint,’ the other, ‘You won't be saved.’ Both of these thoughts are from the enemy, and there is no truth in them. But think this way: I am a great sinner, but the Lord is merciful. He loves people very much, and He will forgive my sins.” -- St Silouan the Athonite  


Thursday, June 9th, is the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist will be celebrated at Holy Cross parish on Thursday evening at 6:30 PM. The Ascension of Christ into heaven took place forty days after His resurrection from the dead, and as Orthodox Christians we continue to celebrate the event forty days after Holy Pascha. Please join us Thursday evening to celebrate our Lord's Ascension.


Last week two more former Anglican clergymen were ordained as Orthodox priests and two more former Anglican congregations were received into the Orthodox Church as Western Rite churches. Fr. Jonathan Cook and Fr. William Bauer are the two newly ordained Orthodox priests. Axios!

Fr. Jonathan Cook and his congregation were received into the Orthodox Church from the Missionary Diocese of All Saints of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA); and Fr. William Bauer and his congregation were received into the Orthodox Church from the Episcopal Missionary Church (EMC), a continuing Anglican jurisdiction that evolved from the Missionary Diocese of the America's which left the Episcopal Church under the leadership of Bishop Donald Davies more than twenty years ago.

Fr. William Bauer and I both served under the late Bishop Donald Davies. Bishop Davies had once been the Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska and became the first bishop of Fort Worth, Texas. He later left the Episcopal Church and became a continuing Anglican bishop. 

Fr. Jonathan Cook and I both served under the late Archbishop Robert Morse. Archbishop Robert Morse was one of the four original continuing Anglican bishops consecrated back in 1978. Both of these men are good priests and will be real assets to the work of our Western Rite Communities. The restoration of Western Orthodoxy continues to advance as the Lord rebuilds the foundation stone by stone. 

Fr. Jonathan Cook is pastor of St. Tikhon Orthodox Church in the greater Richmond area of Virginia, and Fr. William Bauer is the pastor of St. Columba Orthodox Church in Fernley, Nevada. There are photos of Fathers Jonathan and William at their ordinations posted on our parish Facebook page. May God grant them many years!


Our English and Celtic forefathers in the Faith were torn away from the Orthodox Church against their will by the Norman Invasion and Conquest of 1066, but the door is now wide open to return to the Orthodox Church. Today, Anglicans make up the largest single group of converts to the Orthodox Church, and in the United States alone there are hundreds of former Anglicans who are now Orthodox priests serving in both the Eastern and Western rites. 

The Western Rite that had been lost to the Orthodox Church due to the Papal Schism in 1054, and the Norman Conquest of Orthodox England in 1066, has been restored and the number of Western Rite Orthodox congregations and monastic communities is growing. At Holy Cross we have just celebrated our fourth Pascha (Easter) as an Orthodox parish. As a Western Rite Orthodox parish we have preserved the fullness of our English and Celtic cultural, liturgical and spiritual heritage and patrimony in full sacramental communion and visible unity with the 300 million-member Orthodox Church. We were received with open arms, have been fully integrated into the Orthodox Church, and have no nostalgia for our Anglican past. We have lost nothing and gained much. After almost a millennium, we are home.

To my traditional Anglican friends, both clerical and lay, please know that the door is wide open, the lights are on, and the welcome mat is out. I am often asked, “Where have all of the traditional Anglicans gone?” And my answer is always the same: Home to the Orthodox Church, — the Church of our Fathers. You can come home again too. You will be welcomed with joy. Come and see!

If you live in Eastern Nebraska or Western Iowa, I hope to see you at church on Thursday evening, June 9th, at 6:30 PM for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist for the Feast of the Ascension; or on Sunday morning at 10:00 AM for the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist. Visitors are always welcome. We are a faithful and friendly parish and we have a place for you.

If you live outside of the Omaha area, but are interested in coming home to the Orthodox Church, I would be happy to answer your questions and to help you come home too. You can reach me by phone at (402) 573-6558, or by email at venovak@hughes.net. 

Jesus Christ is the Truth Revealed. Orthodox Christianity is the Truth Lived. Let’s live it!

7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Christ is Risen! Христосъ воскресе! Christus resurrexit est!
We had a glorious celebration of Holy Pascha at Holy Cross parish with shouts of "Christ is Risen!" "He is Risen Indeed!" echoing through the temple. The Paschal Hymn, "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death..." was sung repeatedly throughout the Liturgy. The Processional Hymn was, Jesus Christ is Risen Today! And the Recessional Hymn was, Hail Thee Festival Day! (6th century). One catechumen was received into the Church by chrismation and another person was received into the catechumenate and is preparing for baptism. Red Easter Eggs were distributed. A festive Potluck Luncheon followed the Paschal Liturgy with a wide variety of delicious food, three kinds of wine, baklava, hot cross buns, Easter cakes and more. It was a glorious celebration and a joyful Feast. Easter has an Octave in the Western Rite so the celebration continues through Bright Week with the Octave Day this Sunday.

This was our fourth Pascha as an Orthodox parish, if you include the year that we were in transition to Orthodoxy and were under the protection of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. God has been very good to us, and we are so happy to be Orthodox Christians!

While we love and value our English and Celtic cultural, liturgical and spiritual patrimony, we are Orthodox Christians who happen to be Western Rite, not Western Christians who happen to belong to the Orthodox Church. Why? Because “this is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.”

Metropolitan Hilarion has encouraged us to draw on the spiritual riches of the Christian East as well as restore the Western Rite to the Orthodox Church. This year we adopted a beautiful Eastern Rite practice during Holy Week. For the first time we had a bier with an Epitaphios (Icon of the Burial of Christ) set up in the church and decorated with flowers. It was deeply moving to pray on Good Friday before the bier of our Lord while awaiting His resurrection on the third day.

I am attaching for you links to some important articles, beautiful photographs and inspiring videos that will bless and uplift you, and encourage you in your walk with our Lord. I hope that you will take the time to visit these links. Believe me, you will be blessed!

First, is a link to a six minute video of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill celebrating the Paschal Liturgy at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. This magnificent cathedral was blown up by the bolsheviks after the communist revolution in Russia, but was rebuilt, just as it had been, after the fall of communism. It is beautiful!

Here is a link to a twelve minute video of the Paschal Service and Agape Vespers on the Holy Mountain of Athos:

Here is a link to photographs of Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrating Holy Pascha:

Are you familiar with the Miracle of the Holy Fire? This is a wondrous miracle of God that has been happening every year on Orthodox Pascha (Easter) since the first century. This great miracle takes place at the Tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Israel.

Every year the tomb is sealed and all of the candles and lampadas are extinguished. Before the Patriarch of Jerusalem enters theTomb of Christ for the Paschal Services he is carefully searched so that it can be verified by the faithful that nothing that could start a fire is brought in with him. This has been done year after year for centuries. After a period of prayer, the Holy Fire miraculously descends from God into the Tomb of Christ. This fire is then used to light the candles of the thousands of faithful who gather in and around the Church to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Often lampadas and candles in various parts of the church also spontaneously light. The Holy Fire is then taken to other Orthodox countries. Today, it is usually flown by jet planes, sometimes by military jets. In both the video from Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow and the video from Mount Athos you will see the Holy Fire arriving from Jerusalem.

The Holy Fire is miraculous. Initially, it is unlike any other fire. The faithful can bathe their hands and faces in the flame without being burnt in any way by it - as you will see in the photos and in the video from Jerusalem. But later, it burns like any other flame. This miracle only occurs on Orthodox Easter and only at the Paschal Services of Orthodox Christians. 

I am attaching for you some articles on the Miracle of the Holy Fire, some photographs, and a short video taken of it this year. 

Skeptical? There is no reason to be. This miracle has happened year after year since the first century and has been attested to by vast numbers of witnesses throughout the centuries. This year the Holy Fire was even subjected to a scientific test. Here is an article about it in the Roman Catholic media by a formerly skeptical Roman Catholic reporter:

Here is a link to a short Video of the Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem 2016:

There is even a website dedicated to sharing the Miracle of the Holy Fire with those who have not heard of it. There you will read a description of the Miracle of the Holy Fire from the Patriarch of Jerusalem himself. Here is the link:

I am also attaching for you a link to a report written almost a thousand years ago, titled, How the Holy Light Descends Upon the Holy Sepulchre, from The Pilgrimage of the Russian Abbot Daniel in the Holy Land AD 1106-1107:

As I was writing this Update, a friend of mine who is highly placed in the Roman Catholic media sent me this quote about the Miracle of the Holy Fire from Pope Urban of Rome in 1096:

“Of holy Jerusalem, ...This very city, in which, as you all know, Christ Himself suffered for us, because our sins demanded ...in that place ...He died for us; there He was buried. How precious would be the longed for, incomparable place of the Lord's burial, even if God failed there to perform the yearly miracle! For in the days of His Passion (Holy Week) all the lights in the Sepulchre and round about in the church, which have been extinguished, are relighted by divine command. Whose heart is so stony, brethren, that it is not touched by so great a miracle? Believe me, that man is ...senseless whose heart such divinely manifest grace does not move to faith!”

On Easter Sunday, May 1st, I posted some amazing photographs of the Miracle of the Holy Fire on the Holy Cross Parish Facebook page. You will want to see these seven photographs. Here is the link to the Holy Cross Parish Facebook page:

If you have not visited the Holy Cross Facebook page I encourage you to do so today. Please “Like” our Facebook page so we can more effectively share the Good News of Jesus Christ and the full deposit of the Orthodox Christian Faith with others. The Holy Cross Parish Facebook page is updated regularly with important information so you will want to follow it closely.

We are now in the midst of Bright Week, commonly called Easter Week. Bright Week is Fast free, so there is no Fast or Abstinence all week long. We will celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist tomorrow, Bright Wednesday, at 12:10 PM. Receiving the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion in the midst of the week will change your week. Making it a habit will change your life. I hope to see you on Bright Wednesday!

This coming Sunday, May 8th, is the Octave Day of the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Holy Pascha has an Octave in the Western Rite and so we will continue to celebrate Easter this Sunday with the glorious Paschal Hymn, “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” Sunday is also Mothers Day and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the day than by being at the Liturgy to pray for our mothers and by bringing our mothers to church.

Faith is not a leap into the dark, but a step into the Light of Christ. The Holy Fire that illumines the Tomb of Christ year after year on Orthodox Pascha is a reminder from God that the Tomb is empty, Christ is Risen, and He remains with His people. “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). “We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith by worshipping the undivided Trinity. This has saved us” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Sunday School is at 8:45 AM, followed by Matins at 9:15 AM, and the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM. Fellowship and refreshments in the parish hall will follow the Liturgy. Everyone is always welcome at Holy Cross Orthodox Church. Invite your family and friends. We are a faithful and friendly parish, and we have a place for you!

Christ is Risen! Христосъ воскресе! Christus resurrexit est!



Fr. Victor Novak
A Western Rite Parish of the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558