An American Faces East: My Journey to the Mission Society
By Fr John Brian – Madison, Wisconsin USA
Shortly after our Madison mission became part of the Mission Society of St. Gregorios of India (which is a mission effort of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church) in 2001, a young Malayalee from New York complimented our mission efforts and then detailed all of the issues confronting the Malankara Orthodox Church. After that, he asked: “What did you find in the Malankara Orthodox Church that made you join it? My question is a sincere attempt to learn more about the vast treasure of my Church, which sadly many of my own brethren have failed to see.”
(This response was found among email archives. It has been updated and edited. Photo: Metropolitan Thomas Mar Makarios with Fr John Brian)
Truly we are honored by compliments and love to hear about the good that can be seen by others, but all honor and praise belongs to God first and foremost who has brought us together. Holy Orthodoxy is a religion of community. It is nearly impossible to be Christian without community as we are One Body in Christ.
All temporal conflicts and separations in that body are wounds that will be healed by the love of our Lord. Like children, we often view our scrapes and bruises as an eternity of suffering. We sometimes deal with emotional problems and difficult times with child-like absolutes that we often regret. We need to always be working for mature wholeness, health and unity of Holy Church. There is a lot of room in God's kingdom for diverse manners and practices. Bishop Kallistos of Oxford has said that "all cultures have a facet of God's intent."
Truly, the Malankara Church is a light from the east that can help those of us in the west to see more clearly the path laid before us. Despite politics and conflicts, the Holy Spirit reaches forth to touch those that wait with wakeful hearts. We must be aware of this lest we begin to believe that God is limited by human conflict and politics. No, God is much much greater.
It is with great mystery that we are allowed to disagree and have dispute with one another. It is a symptom not only of our free will, but of our human frailty as well. In addition, we cannot know if God is working His will in the midst. We can pray for wisdom and love and light to prevail...and it will. When Mahatma Gandhi reached a point of despair, he said something like, "I remember that throughout human history no evil dictator, no vicious regime, no brutal leader has survived. All of them - 100% - have been destroyed. Then I am renewed." If this can be said about greater conflicts and difficulties, then certainly God will free us from "petty politics."
There may be a need to communicate differently; plan differently. There may be a need for mission work within the communities of Indian Orthodoxy, not just outside them. There may be a need for a re-dedication of bringing forth the spiritual nourishment and untold treasures seemingly locked within the Malankara Church. Many see these things.
Two such lights for me were Metropolitans Paulos Mar Gregorios and Thomas Mar Makarios. The soil, the good ground of the Malankara Church, which brought forth such bishops, must be fertile soil indeed. Although you may say there is drought-like conditions, through Mar Gregorios Thirumeni's writings I see fertile ground and trees with deep roots waiting to blossom, waiting to be nurtured to bring forth fruit for all humankind. I bear witness to the sowing, planting and nurturing efforts of Mar Makarios Thirumeni in that garden. I see Christ tilling the soil, gently touching young leaves and sprouts, encouraging new growth and weeding the gardens...
I was led to this church by a dream that came during a period of intense fasting and prayer. Paulos Mar Gregorios simply beckoned me to come his way, assuring me that it would be all right to do so, like one would with a frightened pet. He smiled as he waved me forward. He did not instruct me on what I should do or how I should do it.
Ordained to the Orthodox priesthood in 1987 in a now defunct American mission of the Holy Synod of Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the only church membership I had known. I took a personal and voluntary leave of absence from active status in 1992. After the initial six months passed, I was placed on “inactive status” according to protocol. Through a series of events that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit in 1998 and 1999, I was fully re-activated to the priesthood – even before my formal request. It was during that time I entered a retreat for discernment and realized to the depth of my heart that I needed to follow Mar Gregorios Thirumeni as best as I could, even though he had departed to eternal memory in 1996 and what I knew of him mostly came from a few of his books that I had read. I was willing at that time to accept whatever course was to be laid before me. I eventually talked with Fr. Michael Hatcher, Chorepiscopos for the Mission Society, and arranged to meet with Mar Makarios Thirumeni in Chicago in October 1999.
It would be nearly three years following that dream of Mar Gregorios Thirumeni before Thomas Mar Makarios announced our acceptance into the Mission Society of St. Gregorios of India in July 2001. I can only give praise and credit to God for any good that has come from this unusual path. If He has blessed our mission efforts or any of the ministries we have done, then it is only due to the spiritual direction given, even to unfamiliar places to meet with and worship with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar ways – all within the Holy Orthodox Christian Church. I asked only to serve God and humanity.
Please pray for us lest in our humanness we stray from the path that God has lit before us.
"We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not us." IICor4:7
In service to Christ and His Church,
Fr. John Brian Paprock
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission