160: Catechizing New Age and Eastern Religion Seekers
Kevin Allen · January 1, 2011
In this episode, the microphone is turned as AFR General Manager and founder John Maddex interviews host Kevin Allen on the catechism module he developed (with his priest's blessing) specifically for inquirers coming from New Age and Eastern spiritual backgrounds. Is the entrance of New Age and Eastern seekers perhaps a trend the Church needs to prepare for? Are the issues, concerns, and paradigms of these seekers the same as those inquiring from Evangelical backgrounds? Must the catechist know something about New Age and Eastern religions in order to catechize effectively? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this program. You may download an attachment of the course outline here.
Mr. John Maddex: Welcome to this episode of The Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio. This is not the voice you usually hear. This is John Maddex of AFR, and today I’m hosting The Illumined Heart so that we can turn the microphone on our regular host, Kevin Allen, because our topic today is on catechizing Eastern religion and New Age inquirers. Catch that title very carefully: Eastern religion and New Age inquirers.
Just by way of a background, Kevin Allen, with the blessing of his priests, recently developed a special catechism module for a group of seekers and inquirers for his own parish, which many of you know is St. Barnabas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa, California. This program is especially for Eastern and New Age background individuals. With so many Westerners turning to the East and New Age teachings influencing this post-Christian culture of ours, just knowing what these groups teach is more important than ever. So, Kevin, thank you very much for coming on board on this side of the microphone. I’m looking forward to learning a little bit, because this is going to be a new topic for me as well.
Mr. Kevin Allen: Well, John, thanks for doing the hosting on the program. I appreciate it. Please pardon my voice. I’ve got a little bit of a chest cold.
Mr. Maddex: I think we’ve all been there this season. It has been that kind of year.
Mr. Allen: It has.
Mr. Maddex: I’d be very interested in knowing what led you to develop this special catechism module for Eastern and New Age inquirers there at St. Barnabas.
Mr. Allen: There’s a general answer, and that one is, as you pointed out, that with so many people describing our culture as neo-pagan, there is a need, I thought and think, for a module, a catechism module, for those who will definitely be coming to inquire about Orthodoxy. As you also point out, there are a lot of our catechists who don’t come from these backgrounds, many of whom are either cradle or ex-Evangelical and may have read a little bit here or there, but may not have the same language and worldview, so I think generally there is a need for this.
More specifically, we’ve started to have a trickle—I don’t want to say it’s a tsunami wave or anything like that—of Eastern seekers and New Age influence people coming to St. Barnabas. Specifically about a year and a half ago, a lady who came out of the Self-Realization Fellowship—I don’t know… are you familiar with them, John?
Mr. Maddex: No, I am not.
Mr. Allen: Okay. A man named Paranahansa Yogananda in the ‘30s and ‘40s came to this country. He was one of the earlier Hindu gurus, along with Swami Vivekananda—he came after him—[who] started what’s called Self-Realization Fellowship. His unique take is that he claims to have met Christ in mystical states and trances and various planes…
Mr. Maddex: Oh my!
Mr. Allen: ...and had a great love for Christ and said that he was the Western incarnation of God—not the exclusive incarnation of God, because he continued to see Christ as Hindus do, as one of many manifestations, but yet he had a great love for Christ, and in fact a drawing of Christ is on most of the altars of Self-Realization Fellowship temples.
This lady came to us with her husband, an ex-Evangelical, and they were both inquiring into Catholicism and Orthodoxy. He was very interested in the historic Church. She was drawn, however, by her love for Christ that she picked up not through his Evangelical background, because she was very negative about Evangelicalism, but through the Self-Realization Fellowship, of all places.
Mr. Maddex: Wow.
Mr. Allen: So she comes to us with lots of questions, the sort of typical questions that Hindus would ask: What’s our view on reincarnation? What about the exclusive claims to deity made about Christ? What about heaven and hell? Are all Hindus going there if they don’t accept Christ? Do we meditate? Why do we have to go to confession? She was thinking more in Roman Catholic terms. Do we take everything in the Bible literally? ...and so on. Our priest invited me to speak with her, then and on several occasions, because he, frankly, didn’t quite know how to respond to some of her questions, coming from that background.
Then we talked, over a long period of time. She and her husband both proceeded through our formal catechism program. She and her husband now are wonderful and pious congregation members. We love them. Then several other people have started to come. We have another couple from the Self-Realization Fellowship. We have a young guy that was actually a temple chant leader for the Hari Chrishna temple in Laguna Beach. Yeah, he’s been going through a spiritual crisis with that whole thing, but, yeah.
Mr. Maddex: I don’t think many people realize that you yourself have a background in some of these Eastern religions, so that’s why your priest asked you to speak to this individual, because you’ve had some experience yourself.
Mr. Allen: Yes, true. Good point, and it’s one that I think some of the listeners that listen regularly know. I just have a real heart for authentic seekers that are truly seeking God and for whatever the reasons are haven’t found it in the Christianity to which they’ve been introduced or exposed or raised. That’s really how we got this thing going. I went to our priests and said, “You know, just to put these folks through our normal catechism program assumes that the language that you’re using, the concepts that you’re using are language and concepts that they will identify in the way that maybe Evangelicals will, and that’s just not the case. You say ‘incarnation’ to a Hindu, and he thinks something very different from the way we understand the word ‘incarnation.’ “
Mr. Maddex: Yeah, which brings up a point. There’s plenty of resources for catechism classes for Catholics or former Evangelicals or even non-Christian-backgrounds at all. Where did you get your material for this class that targets this group?
Mr. Allen: Another good question. I drew from my own understanding and experience, of questions that these seekers [have] and [from] my own questions, that are unique again to their worldview and language, but in terms of answering the questions I rely exclusively… I’m using quotes and source references on the work of others for answers rather than my own. When possible and appropriate, I quote patristic sources as I know of them as well as source material from theologians like Vladimir Lossky, Michael Pomazansky, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Alexander Men, Fr. Seraphim Rose, Metropolitan Kallistos, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), even Fr. Patrick Reardon on his very excellent “Three-fold Structure of Salvation”—the sources that I’m familiar with.
Mr. Maddex: But you mentioned some of the categories like the incarnation and meditation… Go a little deeper into what those categories are that you’d cover in this class.
Mr. Allen: Sure. Well, I begin with the term “spirituality,” which is a word one hears all over the place, and how it’s used today. So I kind of talk about the different sorts of spiritualities that are out there, some of which I hope will cover the spiritualities that some of these seekers can identify with. Then I contrast that with how Orthodox Christianity understands the term as really being related to the Holy Spirit, not some generalized spirituality. Then I move to what I think is really the key issue that they all have to and we all have to confront, where that is to Christ himself, where he says, “Who do you say I am?”
Mr. Maddex: Yep. The biggest question of all time.
Mr. Allen: It really is. But I begin with what other traditions, including ones that these seekers come from, say about who Christ is, because I want to bring up all the possibilities, and then I contrast that and those with how the Orthodox view Christ: known in the Church, the nature of God is Trinity, etc. I also compare and contrast Orthodox Christianity with so-called Eastern non-Christian spirituality and New Age ideas of spirituality, and I specifically focus on the key issue of personhood, which is very, very unique, critical, and obviously different from the views of personhood with the East, especially with the Buddhists but also with the New Agers.
Then I also get into a little bit contrasting of Western forms of Christianity that they may have been influenced with and by, but often in negative ways. We also go over how Orthodox view the Bible, Christian monotheism contrasted with other forms of monotheism—Judaism, Islam, and even Hindu[ism]—how we view suffering, disease, and affliction, where these come from and how we reconcile these with our views of God as a loving creator. So these are some of the areas that we cover.
Mr. Maddex: I’m trying to envision the format. Do you do this, for example, after Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, and if not, when do you do it, and what kind of format do you follow? Q and A? Outline? How are you doing this?
Mr. Allen: Our formal and normal catechism at St. Barnabas begins in late September, early October, and runs through Pascha, so it’s a many-month program that occurs every Sunday. It’s given by our Fr. Michael Reagan and Fr. Wayne Wilson. They trade off, depending upon the topical material. It usually runs for about 45 minutes, and as people are starting to get into the coffee hour, the catechists come back from coffee hour and, yes, it’s right after Divine Liturgy.
What I did is I did mine in several sessions prior to the beginning of the formal catechism program, because, frankly, there’s so much that they wanted to cover and do cover, they didn’t want to give up any time that they had already scheduled. I asked those that were interested from among this group if they wanted to meet ahead of time, and some did, so we went through the program. It’s really [an] outline format, with category headings, bullet points, and extensive quotes, hopefully presented in a cohesive and coherent way, but this format as opposed to straight text allows the catechist freedom to add personal commentary and then move back to the outline format to stay on track.
Mr. Maddex: Thinking about the outline itself, about how many pages are we talking about?
Mr. Allen: It turned out to be a little bit longer than I thought it might when I started it. It’s 31 outline pages, and one of the priests I sent it to for vetting said, “Oh my! 31 pages!” but you have to remember that seekers from these backgrounds have a lot to learn and a lot, frankly, to unlearn. They’ve got views that are often quite skewed against biblical, patristic, and Christian concepts and ways of thinking. If we’re really going to take them seriously, we need to take the time to catechize them not simply in some cookie-cutter way, but in the unique areas where they need to be catechized. So it took 31 pages, and if we need to add more, then we should add more.
Mr. Maddex: Yeah. I mean, I frankly would be surprised if you wouldn’t want to add more, because you probably are learning more yourself about what’s out there.
Mr. Allen: No question.
Mr. Maddex: Just how many people are we talking about from Eastern and New Age backgrounds that have actually become catechumens there at St. Barnabas in Costa Mesa?
Mr. Allen: As I mentioned, it’s not a tsunami wave by any means, but, thank God, we have five or six currently. That’s out of a congregation of 250 or so, so it’s more of a trickle than a tsunami wave, but I’m certainly grateful that it’s happening. It’s something I’ve personally been praying for for a long time. Generally the way things work around St. Barnabas is, when a particular demographic group starts to come and get serious, more follow.
Mr. Maddex: Do you see this as a trend that maybe parishes moving east from California need to be prepared for?
Mr. Allen: I certainly hope so. Yes, we are in California, the land of all manner of religious and spiritual movements, but if you look at the demographic trends, John, in religion in the U.S., the direction the culture seems to be taking is away from traditional Christianity and towards all forms of what we’ve just described as neo-pagan. Genuine seekers of God, of truth, are going to run out of steam at some point, and where else are they going to find a Christianity with the depth, the tradition, the spiritual formation, and spiritual direction opportunities other than in the Orthodox Church? So, yeah, I think that this is something we need to start preparing for by both prayer and by preparing for those that come.
Mr. Maddex: I’d be curious about how these folks are even discovering Orthodox Christianity in general, and then your parish in particular. What are you finding?
Mr. Allen: Of course, the internet is a major factor in people finding out about Orthodox Christianity. One of the young ladies that has started to come from the Self-Realization Fellowship found out about Orthodox Christianity by reading a site by an Orthodox mom who, frankly, isn’t promoting Orthodoxy; she’s promoting homeschooling and different things like that about motherhood. She found out that this lady was an Orthodox Christian, the writer of the blog, and then she wanted to find out what this Orthodox Christianity was, and it resonated with her. And she had two young daughters whom she’d been taking to the Self-Realization Fellowship, and she brought them, and she and her husband came, and they’ve continued to come. So people come and then tell their friends, and then they check us out, but we also do yearly seminars. Some of your listeners know that, because we’ve run two of them in full on Ancient Faith, and we advertize these seminars broadly: we do Facebook ads, posters, flyers on college campuses. Our last two seminars had some real interesting connection for Eastern and New Age seekers, so I think that’s part of it as well.
Mr. Maddex: We’re talking with Kevin Allen who, of course, is the host of The Illumined Heart, but today we’ve turned the microphone around, and this is John Maddex as acting host so we can learn about this catechism program on Eastern religions and New Age movements at St. Barnabas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa.
Kevin, here’s where you’re going to be some help to me personally, because I need some definitions as I categorize some of these movements. Could you first define for us “New Age,” and what some of the New Age practices are?
Mr. Allen: That’s a good question, John. I like the definition that a guy named Peter Occhiograsso—an Italian name, I guess, but he’s a New Age and Eastern writer—used in his book titled Through the Labyrinth. He says that New Age is a body of religious practices and ideas, much of which is spun off from classical Oriental wisdom traditions—like Buddhism, Hinduism, [and to a] lesser degree, Taoism—but it also includes a broader collection of practices that would be hard to classify as religious at all, like alternative approaches to healing; bodywork of all sorts, reiki would be in there; psychology, pop psychology; and various spiritual techniques and even psychic phenomena like trance-channelling.
So some of what is called New Age verges on or is right in the middle of what we would define as occult—not all of it, but some of it. The New Age movement, if you will, is characterized by enormous diversity, but fundamentally at root it is spin-offs from Eastern classical, Oriental wisdom traditions, like I say.
Mr. Maddex: And we have different terms used. We have the term “New Age,” “cult,” and “occult.” Now you talked about New Age. Can you help us differentiate between a “cult” and “occult”?
Mr. Allen: Well, the occult is the teaching of what is considered the “hidden” realm, and the occult would include all sorts of practices that would range from magic to trance-channelling to Wicca, also known as witchcraft, to astrology. All of those things that involve the unseen realm would be the occult.
Cults are generally characterized as spiritual movements around a strong, charismatic leader or figure, and one can be in a cult without it being necessarily occult. I would offer Jim Jones as an example. Certainly not a Christian or a traditional Christian, but in that generalized camp, certainly a cult leader, but not in the occult, although I might get some that might say he was in the occult towards the end, but in the beginning not, even though he was a cult. Does that help?
Mr. Maddex: It does, quite a bit. I just must here do a little promotion for a recent interview that you did with Fr. George Aquaro to help define what is the occult and the realm of magic and the realm of, not New Age, but more of the mysticism that exists in some dangerous, dangerous ways. It’s a two-part interview, and I’ll tell you that helped make some definitions and bring some light to a very important subject. It was an excellent interview, Kevin.
Mr. Allen: Yeah, Fr. George did a good job; I agree.
Mr. Maddex: Let’s talk a little bit more about this New Age terminology. You included Hindus and Buddhists as “New Age.” Did I hear you correctly?
Mr. Allen: I may have. I don’t mean to, but let me differentiate a little bit. First of all, most people whom we might call “New Agers,” we have to be careful, because most of them don’t like that label, because it sounds too faddish or lacking in seriousness. Some of these folks may be being dilettantes or into fads, but there are others who are serious about what they’re doing. Frankly, in many cases they’re more serious than some nominal Christians may be.
Serious Hindus, like Hari Krishnas or Rama Krishna followers or Indian-Americans, that is Asian Indian-Americans, who have been raised in traditional Hinduism, or Tibetan Buddhists, or those that are involved in other forms of Buddhism—they’d be insulted if you lump them together into some “New Age” category. That would be like lumping Anglicans, Baptists, Calvinists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, all in one group. There’s great diversity there that needs to be understood, and especially Hindus and Buddhists believe they are following—and they are!—long, deep ancient spiritual traditions. Now, we have our differences with them, but nonetheless they’re older than Christianity is. They’re not New Agers. New Agers, in fact, have borrowed some of their ideas, not the other way around.
Mr. Maddex: So in the catechism that you’re conducting there at St. Barnabas, do you differentiate between the followers of traditional Eastern religions and, say, New Age, or do you kind of present them in the same catechism?
Mr. Allen: That’s a good question, too. I try to stay away from too much specificity, and I focus instead on what I consider to be general conceptions and/or misconceptions that all of these seekers share that will perhaps be a hindrance to them during catechesis unless we unpack them and address them at the outset. But, no, I don’t go too deeply into Buddhism, which, frankly, is not my area of specialization anyway, or Hinduism, which is more an area for me. There are enough issues that are of a general nature that we can cover that are going to be important to cover that we don’t need to get into all of the details.
Mr. Maddex: Kevin, I’ve heard you say in the past that you actually believe that of all the Christian religions, Eastern Orthodoxy is the most compatible, say, with the ethos of non-Western spiritual traditions. That may cause some alarm for some people. Help us understand what you mean by that.
Mr. Allen: Right. Well, what I don’t mean is that because we have the name “Eastern” in front of “Orthodox” that we are some sort of [an] Eastern mystical religious tradition ourselves, and anyone listening, Evangelicals or otherwise, that don’t know that: we need to be clear about that. Eastern Orthodoxy is the oldest apostolic tradition that exists on the planet. We go back to the apostles and to Christ himself. Everything that Evangelicalism holds to be core and key came out of the Seven Ecumenical Councils that the Orthodox Church fought [for] and championed. So that needs to be said.
But I think that the opportunity for us to connect is great, first of all, because Orthodox Christianity is truth, and authentic seekers, I think, seem to sense this when they experience Orthodox worship if they will give it a chance. I once asked a girl who came to us who had been raised by Hindu parents why she became Orthodox, what it was that caused her to turn from her native religion, and she simply said that she felt the Orthodox faith and experience was truth. Interestingly, she said that it was a truth that she could sense and experience.
There are some superficial similarities, and I want to emphasize “superficial.” I don’t mean to use that word to mean superficial in terms of not meaningful, but they’re external. Hindus and Buddhists have long and deep religious traditions, and so, of course, do we in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, back to the founder of our faith. They take that seriously. They have spiritual teachers and guides and gurus, and we have spiritual fathers. Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus especially have rich and colorful and full-sensory worship, as we do in the Orthodox Church. Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus pray with prayer beads; we use prayer beads or prayer ropes. They prostrate; we prostrate. We share a monastic tradition with Hindus and Buddhists.
Most importantly, John, we share a common emphasis on direct experience rather than on mere theologizing or rational approaches or, as I love the way Fr. Peter Gillquist says it, a “once-prayed, always-saved” approach. Hindus and Buddhists accept that it takes work to become transformed. Of course, we believe in synergy between human effort and the action of God’s grace in our transformation process. So we share a certain ethos that other Christian traditions don’t, and that’s why I made that comment.
Mr. Maddex: Thinking of those of us who came from non-Eastern religious backgrounds, more Evangelical or perhaps Catholic, particularly those that are on their way, who are on that journey now: how important do you think it is for that catechist to understand these worldviews or practices or baggage that inquirers from these other backgrounds, looking at Orthodoxy, bring? Why is that important?
Mr. Allen: I think it’s a definite advantage for the catechist or the developer of the catechism to understand Orthodoxy first and foremost, of course, and then the backgrounds of those that he or she is catechizing. We’ve certainly seen that with the Evangelicals who come in. It’s an advantage. Having ex-Evangelicals in the Church and a catechesis process that speaks to their language and understands their concerns—about the mother of God, icons, and so on—helps the inquirer feel confident about what he or she is being taught. If they went through the same things that I have and addressed them adequately, then maybe there’s something here for me, too.
It’s really no different with people from non-Protestant backgrounds. It’s certainly an advantage, although not a necessity, to be able to connect with them based on a shared experience, language, and terminology.
Mr. Maddex: We kind of saw this in your seminar that you had called “Christ the Eternal Tao.” Again, for some coming from the background that I came from, that seems like a strange statement that you would identify Christ in that way, with a terminology that is certainly strange to us. Is that what you’re talking about?
Mr. Allen: Yes, I am. It’s exactly a great example, because “tao” in Chinese means “the way,” so when you unpack that word… “Tao” to most of us, t-a-o, sounds very weird and mystical, and you see the symbol of Tao that one sees and you don’t think of Christianity, but when you unpack the word and then realize that it means the way of the cosmos, the way of creation, the way of the order of all things, the way from the beginning, and that Lao-Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching, speaks of the Tao as possibly being a person, then Hieromonk Damascene makes the statement, coming from Fr. Seraphim Rose, that this was a foreshadowing of the Messiah in a very different culture very many years later. So that is exactly what I’m referring to.
Mr. Maddex: I would just highly recommend if you listeners have not accessed that in our specials section, the special is called “Christ the Eternal Tao,” t-a-o, and Hieromonk Damascene is the speaker there at St. Barnabas. Those are archived on our website, and I think you’ll find them to be very, very enlightening.
What are some sources that are out there for those of us who really need to be more familiar with the teachings of Hinduism or Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism? Do you have some good books or other sources of information you could recommend?
Mr. Allen: There are so many that we could go on for too long with those, but what I’d recommend as basic, if a priest or a catechist has no background at all, John, in Eastern religions or New Age, there are a couple of books that I can recommend. One is Fr. Alexander Goussetis, whom I’ll be interviewing. He wrote one through Light and Life called Encountering World Religions: An Orthodox Christian Perspective. It’s a good primer, a good beginner.
I could recommend Christ the Eternal Tao as we’ve referenced, by Hieromonk Damascene. That’s a good one, published by St. Herman’s Press. The lecture came from the primary thesis of the book.
Kyriacos Markides, M-a-r-k-i-d-e-s, who’s best-known, I guess, for The Mountain of Silence, but he also wrote a whole group of books that came prior to The Mountain of Silence on the occult and on Eastern religion and on New Age stuff that he was involved with before he came home to his native Greek Orthodox Christianity, and that’s a good one. There are several good ones, actually.
Another one recently published by St. Herman’s Press is a good introduction especially to Hinduism and that’s called Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios. It’s about a young Greek kid that was raised in the Church, actually spent an enormous amount of time with the highly charismatic and holy Elder Paisios on the holy mountain of Athos and yet decided to venture off to India to see if the Indian gurus had as much power and holiness as he. This is the story of his exploration into Hinduism and Eastern stuff, very, very interesting.
Those are several of the books I could recommend to get started.
Mr. Maddex: Just to remind people that this is John Maddex talking with Kevin Allen on his own program, The Illumined Heart because we wanted to find out from Kevin about this catechism program, class, that has started at his parish, St. Barnabas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa, California, to help inquirers coming from Eastern religions and the New Age to understand Orthodoxy and to be introduced to the Church.
Let me ask a question, Kevin, that I’m sure I’m asking on behalf of a lot of priests that are listening right now. If they would be interested in having access to this catechism that you’ve developed, this module, is it available?
Mr. Allen: No. I’ve had a couple that have already asked me, I mentioned on another broadcast. I’ll send it to anybody that’s interested in seeing it or using it.
Mr. Maddex: We’re kind of getting close to the end here. This is just a fascinating conversation with Kevin on this topic, but I’d be very interested in hearing your take on the approach a catechist should take, the kind of attitude that he should have, in terms of these traditions being heretical in many respects, and everything in them has to be abandoned or more sympathetic. How would you address that?
Mr. Allen: That’s a great question, John. I heard a very good priest once say that he thought the New Age movement was a bunch of baloney and that he had little patience with those who follow anything in them. He’s really a great priest, does a great job of bringing people in and so on, and I think, though, that that might be representative of what some others think as well, and I disagree with that in this way. Having that sort of attitude, I think, makes it tougher first for the catechist to take an inquirer seriously, and somehow or other, that’s going to be communicated, one way or the other.
Everybody wants to be respected and taken seriously, so I think the best attitude is one that sees every inquirer as being a sincere seeker of truth, despite the fact that some of these ideas are very, very off-base and heretical and perhaps even in the occult, then to try to communicate our faith in a way that connects with that person, to the best of the catechist’s abilities. We have to be discerning about where people are coming from, and of course at the same time we have to be clear about what we believe and what we’ve been taught and what we’ve been handed down. No, we can’t be wishy-washy. No, we shouldn’t try to accommodate views that are wrong, troublesome, occult, and dangerous, or to lower our standards. But I think it’s important to understand that God’s timing with an inquirer may be different from yours or mine.
Mr. Maddex: That’s a good point. I’ve heard Fr. Thomas Hopko say that the light and truth of Christ shines through many windows, and it may not be the window that you’re standing in front of right now, but all truth is God’s truth, and the light of Christ shines everywhere.
Mr. Allen: Yeah. The key is to know what is truth and what is not. Not everything that maybe shines through these windows may be truth, but I agree the greater truth that people have that there, for an example, is a God, or that there is something greater than themselves, or that there is something beyond the sensory data that we pick up, that is true, and we can appreciate that truth which has been given to them through these practices.
The other thing, too, is I think that we have to be careful to feel, like: look, even if a catechesis process takes four or five months, listen, at the end of it there may be some seekers from these traditions who aren’t there yet, or not fully there yet, and we have to be accommodating of them and work with God’s timing, and maybe they come in then. Maybe we say, “Listen, we love you. We want you to continue to come on in, to journey this way, rather, but maybe you’re not ready yet, and there’s no rush. We’re going to be here next year as well.”
Mr. Maddex: That brings up a good point, then. What would you say to these catechumens are the key things that they must accept, coming from these traditions, before [they] can receive baptism? In other words, what’s essential and what is not?
Mr. Allen: That, of course, is going to depend on the priest or the bishop, and I don’t really cover that so much in this catechism module, because I want to leave that to the catechesis of the Church itself. There may be different standards on that. I’ve told inquirers that, look, they have to believe the Nicene Creed, which has got a lot in it, because they’ll recite it during the baptism service. I’ve been asked, even recently, “What if I can’t accept or fully understand what is in the Creed, but want to proceed anyway?”
And, listen, I don’t know if any priest would agree, but I say, “First of all, you need to sit down and talk to your priest”—they’d agree with that, but I also tell them, because I like this a lot—this is also from Fr. Tom Hopko—“Not everybody may be ready to fully understand everything in the Creed, but what is key is wanting to believe it.” I may struggle as an ex-Hindu with believing, say, the resurrection of the physical body at the end of time, but that’s what Christ and the Church teaches, so I should want to believe it and be willing to struggle against my unbelief.
But not everybody may be fully theologized, if you want to say it that way, after a four- or five-month catechism process. I think what they need to do is to be in love with Christ, to be moving towards a biblical understanding of who Christ is, understanding that there’s an authority that comes through the Church, believing that the sacraments are not just symbols, that they matter, that they’re vehicles of grace, that they transform, help us transform. I would have a little sense of oikonomia that, other than some of those core issues, that the rest follows. It certainly did with me. I wasn’t able to accept absolutely everything, even when I became Orthodox, and I’d been an Evangelical 15 years prior to that, John.
Mr. Maddex: Here’s where you’ve got to just give that over to the wisdom and personal spiritual direction of that priest.
Mr. Allen: Yep.
Mr. Maddex: Who knows where they’re at, what their background is? I know in my case I was fully ready to jump on board, but in my case, Fr. Pat Reardon, who brought us into the Church, would not chrismate us because I still struggled with the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. He felt that that’s essential. You need to accept that. That’s a very critical difference. So it is good that the priest dealing with these individuals in counseling and catechizing them is fully aware of their own spiritual condition.
All right, well, there’s so many other questions I’d love to ask, but one thing that I’m really interested in is: How much Bible should be recommended to the catechumen from these backgrounds? Do you recommend that they read the Bible right from the get-go? Is it too daunting for them at first? Help us understand your take on that.
Mr. Allen: My take is, yes, they should begin reading holy Scripture, and, yes, it is daunting. It’s daunting for many of us who are Christians for many, many years. The amount of and which gospel texts they should read, of course, again I would defer that to their spiritual father or the catechist. When people ask me who haven’t spent a lot of time in the Bible where to start, I’ll generally say: Start with the book of Mark. It’s one of the shorter of the gospels. Then the book of John, because that really resonates, especially the prologue, with those from other traditions. Then to read the Psalms, which speak so much about repentance and so on. I would say those are decent starting places, but I would definitely and do definitely recommend that from day one they start reading the Spirit-inspired holy Scriptures.
Mr. Maddex: Well, I’m sad to say we are going to have to bring this to a close, but, Kevin Allen, thank you so much for this enlightening program. I know I learned a lot, and I’m just so excited to hear that a parish like St. Barnabas has—is reaching out to yet another category of individuals, of faith backgrounds, with the truth of the Gospel and the Orthodox Church.
Kevin, thanks again for doing this with us. I’ll be glad when you’re back on this side of the microphone, but let me also take this opportunity to thank you for what you’re doing with The Illumined Heart. It’s such a blessing to so many thousands of people all around the world, and we’re grateful for your efforts for Ancient Faith Radio and The Illumined Heart, and I hope you’ll come back on that side of the microphone sometime soon.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, John, and I appreciate the interview. Appreciate it.