Jeremiah 6:16 “Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.”
Welcome Note from Fr Spyridon:
Enquiring about Orthodoxy.
The Orthodox Church welcomes visitors to our services, and there is usually time afterwards to speak to someone or ask questions. Please note that if the service is a Divine Liturgy, only members of the Orthodox Church are permitted to receive Holy Communion.
The parish of St John of Shanghai in Belfast is presently without a parish priest living in the community; this is not a permanent situation and for the moment I have responsibility for pastoral oversight and monthly services. If you would like to contact me directly, my email address can be obtained from the warden, Seraphim Cameron.
One question people often ask is “How can I learn more about Orthodoxy?” The most important and direct way to do this is simply to experience Orthodox worship because our faith is expressed in our prayers and hymns. We believe that only by tasting for ourselves can we come to know the truth that is beyond all thoughts, Christ Himself.
God bless you.
Excerpts of an email by the then warden Johanna McBride to an enquirer in 2019:
Looking forward to meeting you.”
Letter by Fr Seraphim Rose:
Monday, July 15, 1963
I received your letter Friday on returning from Church, where I had received Holy Communion. And so it seems that in these few years our roles have been reversed: I, who was still seeking then, have found the object of my search; and you are now once more seeking. But this is as God wills.
I am very happy to hear again from you, and I am quite certain about the meaning of your writing now. I have prayed for you always, and have thought often about you; and it is quite correct that you have been especially on my mind during the last month or two.
When you last heard from me I was very near to the Russian Orthodox Church, though still somewhat uncertain; and though I had renounced the worst of my sins, I still lived very largely as the world lives. But then, unworthy as I am, God showed His path to me. I became acquainted with a group of fervent Orthodox Russians, and within a few months (it was, significantly enough, on the Sunday of the “Prodigal Son” just before the beginning of Lent) I was received into the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, whose faithful child I have been for the year and a half since then. I have been reborn in our Lord, I am now His slave, and I have known in Him such joy as I never believed possible while I was still living according to the world.
I have become what the world would call a “fanatic”; in fact, all true Orthodox believers are “fanatics.” Such “fanaticism” is justified by the fact that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church of Christ; it is the reality of which Roman Catholicism and all other churches are but pale shadows at best. This may seem like an extreme statement to you, and as proof I can only ask you to discover it for yourself.
Everything is according to the will of God; of this truth I have had very clear and remarkable experience in the last two years. The ways of God seem often strange to us; but His purpose is always the same: to draw men to Himself. As I said, I am quite certain of the meaning of your writing to me now: God wishes to use me to tell you about Orthodoxy—not because there is any virtue in me, but because Gods Truth is so powerful that it can be made known even through someone as totally unworthy as myself.
What I say must seem very unlikely in the eyes of the world. You have visited an Orthodox Church, as far as I know, only twice in your life: you yourself are probably still a nominal Anglican, and separated from all religion now, and your husband is probably Protestant or of no religion at all; there is perhaps no Orthodox Church within a hundred miles of you and perhaps you think of Orthodoxy as something “Eastern” and exotic. It is therefore very “unlikely” that you are to become Orthodox; and yet I am quite certain of the fact, and I feel that you are going to recognize the will of God in what I am saying. If this is so, and since the Orthodox Church is the one and only Church of Christ, then nothing the world can say or do will stop you from being truly joined to our Lord in His Church; and our Lord will send the means in due time to achieve His purposes.
I will not attempt to say much about Orthodoxy in this letter, but will wait to discover your reaction to what I have already said. And everything that I can say, of course, will be a very imperfect expression of truths that mean nothing until one experiences them with ones whole soul. If you are really interested in Orthodoxy, I can begin to send you books (not books about Orthodoxy so much as books of very practical spiritual advice which are a necessary nourishment of the Orthodox life), icons, etc., as well as introduce you to Orthodox people. I know, for example, a very devout American girl in New York who is a convert to the Russian Church. One of the joys of the Orthodox life is knowing such people (even if only by correspondence), for in Orthodoxy especially the sense of community is very strong; among devout people, everyone is “brother” and “sister,” and these words are not mere metaphors. All who have taken the name of Orthodox Christians are striving together for the same goal; and even in this life we have a foretaste of the perfect love that will bind us together in our Lord in the eternal Kingdom He has prepared for His faithful.
Orthodoxy is the preparation of souls for this Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. The schismatic Churches have, in lesser or greater measure, forgotten this truth and compromised with the world; Orthodoxy alone has remained other-worldly. The aim of the Orthodox life (of which we all fall miserably short) is to live in this life in constant remembrance of the next life, in fact to see even in this life, through the Grace of our Lord, the beginning of that life. This is the meaning of the “joy” of which I just spoke, and which to me is the strongest proof of the truth of Orthodoxy. The saint lives always in this joy—I will tell you later some wonderful stories of some of our modern Russian saints and how this joy was expressed in them. And Orthodoxy alone continues to produce saints—I mean real saints, not just “good men.” The present Archbishop of San Francisco (he came here recently from Paris) is such a man. He leads a life of real crucifixion—the strictest asceticism (he never even lies down), a totally selfless giving of himself to others, Christian kindness and patience even in the face of the most evil and slanderous accusations (for Satan attacks our Church very strongly, in many ways); but always he is full of such love and joy that one is always happy and at peace in his presence, even in sorrow and in the most trying circumstances.
These are very difficult times. Most of the priests and bishops I know (the bishops of our Church are very close to their people, very warm, and very easy to approach) are convinced that these are the last days of the world and that the reign of Antichrist is at hand. This is of course a very easy subject to get carried away with; but our Lord has told us to be prepared for the signs of the end, and those who are not interested in them are only going to be seduced by them. The faithful remnant of Christians in the last days, as our Lord has told us, will be very small; the vast majority of those who call themselves Christians will welcome Antichrist as the Messiah. Therefore it is not enough to be a “non-denominational” Christian; those who are not true Orthodox Christians belong to the “new Christianity,” the “Christianity” of Antichrist. The Pope of Rome and practically everyone else today speaks of “transforming the world” by Christianity: priests and nuns take part in demonstrations for “racial equality” and similar causes. These have nothing to do with Christianity: they do nothing but distract men from their true goal, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. The coming age of “peace,” “unity,” and “brotherhood,” if it comes, will be the reign of Antichrist: it will be Christian in name, but Satanic in spirit. Everyone today seeks happiness on earth, and they think this is “Christianity”; true Orthodox Christians know that the age of persecutions, which began again under the Bolsheviks, is still with us, and that only by much sorrow and tribulation are we made fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
The heart of Orthodoxy is prayer; and I may truthfully say that before I found Orthodoxy I never had the slightest idea of what prayer was or what power it had. Often, of course, one is cold in prayer; but I have known times, both by myself and with others, of truly warm and fervent prayer, and of heartfelt tears of repentance: and I have known the joy of seeing my prayers answered. Thus encouraged I, feeble and unworthy, have been bold to speak to our Lord and to His Mother and His Saints (I have known no one who prays to the Saints with such faith and fervor as Orthodox believers), and their guidance in my life is as real to me as my own breathing.
Please forgive me for speaking so much about myself, but it is impossible for me to speak about Orthodoxy in the abstract; all I know about it has come from my experience. On a more external level you may be interested to know that I have never returned to the academic world and never shall; that I have still not finished the book I began two years ago, both because of its length and because of the change in my views since then (the book is a discussion of the spiritual state of the contemporary world in the light of Orthodox Truth); and that, God willing, I intend to become a monk (and perhaps a priest) in the service of God when I have finished the book in a year or two.
As to your state, it seems to me to be not at all hopeless, but rather encouraging. You feel yourself deserted by God; and yet you had the strength to resist the Satanic temptation of your father and to suffer all that has happened to you with some patience. God has weakened you, I think, to prepare you to find all your strength in Him; and the way to such strength lies in Orthodoxy.
Write soon and tell me what is in your heart. If I have spoken boldly, it is out of the intense certainty and joy with which I am filled by our Lord when I receive His Most Holy Body and Blood. How can I not speak boldly when it is as clear as day to me that everything in this world passes away in an instant, and all that remains is our Lord and the indescribable Kingdom He has prepared for us who take His light yoke upon ourselves (and indeed, how light is that yoke that looks so heavy to unbelievers!) and follow Him. Pray for me, who am unworthy of everything that has been given me.
In Christ, your brother,
p.s. What part of Illinois is Ursa in? Is it near any large city?
p.p.s. I am enclosing a few English articles that appeared recently in the small journal of the San Francisco Diocese.
p.s. again: After writing the above, I was reading a few pages from one of our recent spiritual fathers (he died in 1907 and has not yet been canonized), Father John of Kronstadt. I read a few pages from him every night, and usually I find that he speaks very directly and explicitly to me about some problem or circumstance that has been troubling me that day. Tonight, just after finishing this letter, I read (opening the book at random) the following:
“As a mother teaches her child to walk, so also God teaches us to have a living faith in Him. A mother will make the child stand, and leave it for a while by itself, then she will tell it to come to her. The child cries without its mother; it wants to go to her, but is afraid to attempt to move its feet; it tries to walk, makes a step, and falls down. God teaches the Christian faith in Him in like manner: our faith is as weak as the child beginning to walk. The Lord leaves the man without His help and gives him up to the Devil, or to various distresses and afflictions and afterwards, when he is in extreme need of help of being delivered from them (for we are not ready to go to Him until we are in need of salvation), He bids us look on Him and come to Him for that Help. The Christian endeavors to do so: he opens the eyes of his heart and tries to see the Lord by means of them, but his heart, not being taught how to see God, is afraid of its own boldness, and stumbles and falls. The enemy and inborn sinful corruptions close the newly opened eyes of the heart and cut him off from God, so that he cannot approach Him, though God is near, ready to take him into His arms; only God must be approached with faith, and an effort must be made to see Him fully with the spiritual eyes of faith. Then He will Himself stretch out His helping hand, will take the man into His arms and drive away the enemies. Then the Christian feels that he has fallen into the arms of the Saviour Himself. Glory be to Thy goodness and wisdom, Lord! Thus during the efforts of the Devil against us, and in every affliction, we must see clearly with the eyes of the heart, as if He stood before us, the Saviour, the Lover of men: and look upon Him with boldness as upon our inexhaustible treasury of goodness and mercies, and pray to Him with all our hearts, that He may give us a portion of this inexhaustible fountain of blessings and of spiritual help; and we shall immediately obtain what we are praying for. The chief thing is faith, or the spiritual vision of the Lord and the hope of receiving everything from Him, as the Most-merciful, the Most-true. This is the truth; this is from experience. By these means God also teaches us to acknowledge our extreme moral infirmity without Him, to be contrite in heart, and constantly in a prayerful frame of mind.