Source: Orthodox Evangelist Newsletter
By Joseph Abbate
Vice President of the Brotherhood of St Symeon the New Theologian
For those of you who may have just discovered St. Symeon’s Ministry, you might have found the word Renewal in many of the Ministry’s publications. For those of us who have been involved in this Ministry through the years, it is important to refresh our memories on the meaning of this word. First of all, Renewal does not bring any additions to doctrines or theology. It does not involve new teachings or motives other than what our Church Fathers have taught. Then what is Renewal?
Renewal reminds us of what we already have, but have forgotten that we had it. We are like people who have forgotten our inheritance. We must ask ourselves; do we practice what we read in the Bible and the Church Fathers? Do we hunger and thirst for more presence with God? Do we know what we are entitled to from our heavenly Father?
Remember how Josiah felt when he rediscovered God’s Laws and Commandments? He wept! (2 Kings 22:10-20) Why? Because the Lord touched his heart in such a deep manner that it changed his entire life.
I remember the many testimonies of our faith-partners during the conferences we used to hold and how their lives were touched. They had a rebirth experience! They may have read the Bible and Church Fathers before, but the Holy Spirit brought the words to life and their lives were never the same!
Renewal Involves a Personal Relationship with Christ
Renewal involves bringing Christ out of obscurity and to the forefront. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit: “He will glorify Me” (Jn. 16:14). Those of us in the Renewal Ministry always desire to give God the glory and look for opportunities to share Him with others. Those who have been touched by the Lord want others to experience what they have received. Yet, how painful to experience the misunderstanding and ostracism they receive by others in the Church, because some in the Church may feel uncomfortable with these people’s zeal for the Lord. Renewal often involves rejection and for many it was too painful or frustrating to bear. I have personally witnessed a large amount of good people through the years who ended up leaving the Orthodox Church because of this! Many ended up joining other denominations where they could fellowship with like-minded Christians and not have to struggle or argue with others regarding their witnessing or personal experiences with God. For many of them, they were tired of the fight and wished to be at peace (or rather a lack of conflict) in their new denomination. I must admit, for me, the cost has been higher than I ever thought it would be. I have entered into isolation along with Fr. Eusebius and other faith-partners of St. Symeon’s.
Some have asked me if it was worth the years of isolation, giving up marriage, leaving a good paying job, losing friends and sometimes your very health. All I can say is that, like Josiah, I wept also when God touched my heart and I felt a burden for my fellow Orthodox brethren. I was raised in Chicago and attended many Orthodox Churches, but it was not until I heard Fr. Eusebius preach and witnessed firsthand the miracles which took place that I knew God had called me.
With over 20 years of Church attendance in Chicago, I knew nothing of what God wanted for my life and never heard once from the pulpit of God’s love for me. I knew that I was not the only one with this dilemma, since I could see that none of my relatives or friends who also attended the Church had their lives touched by God in any significant way.
They figured that no one can know God personally and that they are not entitled to have any awareness of God’s love in their lives. As many people feel, it is only their duty to go to Church and be a good person. They thought this was all God expected of them. I know of no other priest with the prophetic calling to reach the Orthodox Church. So I sacrificed these things so that the word can get out in this last hour. If that is what I had to suffer, then so be it!
Everything I worked for since I have been here in Florida for the past 20 years was so I could eventually be freed to work in this Ministry full time. It just happened in a way I did not expect. But, I feel God’s move and presence to press forward. Yet, this is another reality for those involved in the Renewal of the Orthodox Church.
Of all the supporters of this Ministry, I know of no one who has not in one way or another suffered or sacrificed. Their zeal for the Lord has drawn misunderstanding from others in the Church and they are often branded as Protestants or too vocal for Christ. Their life for their beloved Lord convicts others to the point of feeling uncomfortable and even upset. In other words, they are convicted, and being convicted is never a pleasant feeling. The message of Renewal is also prophetic, since renewal involves a prophetic calling, that is to warn fellow believers on the dangers of being spiritually lukewarm and practicing a comfortable Christianity. We must be spiritually sensitive and alert. We should ask ourselves, “What is God saying to us and the Church in this day and age of apostasy?” Let us have the heart and ears to listen to God’s Spirit. The word of God states: “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27). If we are indeed His sheep, then we should hear what God is saying. “He who has ears, let him listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church” (Rev. 3:22).
Editor’s note: Regarding Orthodoxy and the Charismatic movement – “The Charismatic Movement in the late 1960s and 70s, swept through both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. In 1968, Archimandrite Rev. Fr. Eusebius A. Stephanou, Th. D. of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America experienced along with other Orthodox priests an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, though the Charismatic Movement in the Eastern Orthodox Church never exerted the influence that it did in other mainstream churches. Individual priests (such as Fr. James Tavralides, Fr. Constantine Monios and Fr. David Buss and Fr. Athanasius Emmert of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, and Fr. Eusebius Stephanou of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, founder of the Brotherhood of St. Symeon the New Theologian and editor of “The Logos”, and Fr. Boris Zabrodsky of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate in North America, founder of the Service Committee for Orthodox Spiritual Renewal (SCOSR) which published “Theosis” Newsletter) were some of the more prominent leaders of the charismatic renewal in Orthodoxy. Of those priests, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou is perhaps best known, because of his teaching at a seminary. In response to His experience, he wrote many books and articles, and founded two groups, The Brotherhood of St. Symeon the New TheologianSymeon the New Theologian and the Orthodox Renewal Center. “ (Wikipedia).
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops has an opportunity to work together as the bishops build a blueprint for a unified Orthodox Church in North and Central America to Renew Orthodoxy by focusing on Christ rather than on ethnic and cultural concerns.
Originally printed in the Orthodox Evangelist Newsletter, Summer 2013, Vol. 46. No. 2.
From my perception “renewal” has taken a dual direction within the Orthodox Church here in America. I do not place either one above the other. Both bring us to our goal, a closer walk with Christ and union with Christ (theosis). Currently there is an upsurge in the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Many years ago this was not the case. Until various monasteries and convents were established here in the U.S. spiritual direction was difficult to obtain regarding the practice and use of the Jesus Prayer on a personal level. To a degree this may be the case for those who can not travel to a monastic center to seek a spiritual elder/confessor. Presently, books have been written in English on this path, however, they always caution that a spiritual father/confessor is required for progress and to avoid dangers. This is one path of renewal. The other, as stated by Mr. Abbate, is the one which is lived by the Brotherhood of St Symeon the New Theologian through the “charismatic” path. It is not widely accepted. Here too, we need spiritual direction so we can grow and be fruitful in the different gifts of Holy Spirit which are manifested in our lives. Orthodox Christians following the latter path also need encouragement from the spiritual fathers/confessors. Going to visit the Brotherhood of St Symeon the New Theologian is one option, but again, we have the problem of distance and travel for some people. Some may be tied down to the responsibilities of church leadership, family and work. Where can spiritual guides be found across the country and in which Orthodox Church to assist us on the second path of renewal?
As a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and former Roman Catholic I recall “Renewal” as the recurrent leitmotiv that so often heralded the dumbing down of liturgy and the edulcoration of doctrine throughout the Post-Vatican II Reconstruction Era. This term will ever remain suspect for me, particularly when used by clergy. Hopefully in their zeal, Orthodox clergy and hierarchy will have the good sense to avoid the abusive excesses of the Roman Catholics.