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Tag: Kalihi Union Church

Memories of the North Shore

Manchester by the Sea    trailer


The movie Manchester by the Sea has been getting rave reviews.  I saw it partly because of the reviews, but also because I used to live in the adjacent village of Magnolia.  Watching the movie brought back memories of my time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  The North Shore of Massachusetts is a string of small towns: Salem, Beverly Farms, Beverly, Manchester by the Sea, Magnolia, Gloucester, Annisquam, and Rockport.  Gordon-Conwell is situated nearby, further inland, about eight miles away.  Because I lived in nearby Magnolia, I was constantly driving through Manchester by the Sea.  It was not so much the movie’s storyline, but the background scenery that brought the onrush of memories — the barren winter landscape covered with mounds of snow in the glaring sunlight against the crisp blue sky, the fishing boats floating in the harbor, and the distinctive New England style houses.  [Note: the name of the town is “Manchester by the Sea,” not “Manchester.”]


Seeing the austere New England landscape made me reflect on how this Hawai`i-born Asian-American Evangelical began his journey to Orthodoxy.  I had chosen Gordon-Conwell because of its reputation for theological conservatism and academic excellence.  I also went there because it was situated in the heartland of Puritan New England, the oldest Reformed presence in America.  This would put me in a position to meet Evangelicals and Liberals in the United Church of Christ (the present day descendants of the Puritans).  In the early 1800s, Congregational missionaries from New England brought the Christian Gospel to Hawai`i.  The original missionaries had a high regard for the authority of Scripture but by the late 1900s theological liberalism had become entrenched and dominant in the UCC.  My former home church in Hawai`i was one of the few conservative churches in the largely liberal UCC.   I was part of the Evangelical renewal movement in the UCC called the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF).  I went to Gordon-Conwell in hopes of eventually becoming an Evangelical seminary professor to help the BWF bring the liberal UCC back to its biblical roots.  However, in a surprising turn of events I became Orthodox!

Pantocrator icon

How did this happen?  Despite Gordon-Conwell’s reputation as a bastion for conservative Protestantism, there were already alternative currents of thoughts flowing in the seminary.  During the first week at seminary I was walking down the hallway of Main Dorm, to my surprise I saw an icon of Christ on one of the student’s door.  Jim was not Orthodox but a member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal group.  Seeing this icon would mark the beginning of the many other surprising encounters over the next three years.



Meeting Orthodox Christians

Part of my turn to Orthodoxy can be attributed to the people I met.  I was fortunate that Gordon-Conwell offered classes on early Christianity.  In that class I met Theo, a bright undergraduate from nearby Gordon College who was Greek Orthodox.  Theo introduced me to Fr. Chris Foustokos, the priest at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Newburyport.  I later had a long conversation with Fr. Chris during which I grilled him on Orthodox theology and practice.  I came away impressed that he did in fact have a personal faith in Christ.  I was also relieved to learn that he believed that those who converted to Orthodoxy would not have to undergo Hellenization.  In my second year, I sat down for dinner and saw the student sitting across from me make the sign of the Cross.  It turned out that Paul had just graduated from Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary and was up at Gordon-Conwell to study youth ministry.  A number of us Protestants got to know Paul quite well, and later that semester we accompanied him to the Orthodox Good Friday service in Newburyport.

Did these early contacts persuade me to become Orthodox?  Not really.  At the time, becoming Orthodox was the farthest thing from my mind.  Nonetheless, I was curious about Orthodoxy.  These friendly encounters encouraged me to a learn more about Orthodoxy and its ancient Faith.  So, while not decisive, these early encounters were indispensable to my becoming Orthodox.  Looking back, I would say that what was critical were the positive tone and the absence of a judgmental spirit in the Orthodox Christians I met.


Meeting Orthodox Converts

Fr. Peter Gillquiist

In my third year, I went to the Greek Orthodox church in Newburyport to hear a presentation by Peter Gillquist, a recent Protestant convert to Orthodoxy.  I asked him some hard questions about Orthodoxy and Reformed theology.  I admired his honesty, but was frustrated when he humbly admitted that he did not know enough about Reformed theology to answer my questions.  This left me on my own to work out the answers about how Orthodoxy and Reformed theology relate to each other.  In many ways this conversation was the genesis of the OrthodoxBridge blog.  Rather than leave people with similar questions to struggle on their own, I decided I would do the research and present my findings on questions relating to Orthodoxy and Protestantism.  The results of my research can be found in the Archives section of this blog.

Did the lack of answers affect my turn to Orthodoxy?  Yes, because I needed good reasons for making such a radical change.  I shared the Reformed tradition’s concern for right doctrine and the careful study of Scripture.  My sense of personal integrity was such that I could not undergo intellectual lobotomy and mindlessly accept Orthodox teachings and practices; I needed good answers, preferably biblical reasons, for becoming Orthodox.  The complexity of the issues surrounding the Orthodox veneration of icons, and Protestantism’s core doctrines of sola scriptura and sola fide were such that I needed to do extensive research.  The answers are there but require thinking outside the Protestant paradigm and questioning the unspoken assumptions that underlie Protestant theology.

I also got to meet Frank Schaeffer, another recent convert, at the Orthodox church in Newburyport.  Where Peter Gillquist was more soft spoken in his presentation of Orthodoxy, Frank was very much in-your-face.  When I asked whether I had to give up my Reformed theology to become Orthodox, he answered: “Yes, because it’s theologically off the map.”  I was taken aback and a bit affronted by his blunt answer.  I know that Frank Schaeffer has caused consternation by some of his recent statements, but I do have some positive memories of his kindness.  Once a fellow seminarian was struggling with going to church so I suggested he visit a nearby Orthodox church.  He met Frank Schaeffer, who then invited him to his home and cooked him lunch!  I was envious when my friend told me this story.


Paper on Icons

Prof. Richard Lovelace

During my third year, I wrote a paper on icons and Evangelical spirituality for Prof. Richard Lovelace’s class.  For this class I read some of the Orthodox classics like John of Damascus’ Three Treatises on the Divine Images and Theodore the Studite’s On the Holy Images.  I also drove down to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary in Brookline and interviewed Prof. Theodore Stylianopoulos.  I was struck by how warm and welcoming Prof. Stylianopoulos was.  I was also struck by how restricted access was at the Orthodox seminary library — a big contrast to Gordon-Conwell’s open stacks! One particularly useful book I came across was Antony Ugolnik’s The Illuminating Icon.  From this book I learned how images can shape one’s internal life and how Orthodox icons helped preserve Orthodoxy during the decades of oppressive Communist rule in the Soviet Union.  This book made me keenly aware of how modern American consumerism is suffused with icons (images).  The striking visuals of modern advertising that promote materialism are the spiritual opposite of Orthodox icons.  Protestantism’s iconoclasm has made it vulnerable to the iconography of Madison Avenue and Hollywood.  From the mass media we are inundated with images of beautiful people with “perfect” bodies who have it all and live “perfectly happy” lives (God removed from the picture).  Much of modern advertising speaks to our bodily appetites e.g., food or comfort, or speaks to our inner vanity or selfish desire to do “our own thing.”  What is being promoted is a secular worldview where God is allowed a limited role in the modern American lifestyle.  In contrast, the otherworldly quality of Orthodox icons points us to the eternal reality that lies beyond the evanescent fads of modernity and our accountability before the judgment seat of Christ.

My paper argued that the aesthetic qualities of icons can be beneficial for personal devotions and that the visual nature of icons can supplement Protestantism’s emphasis on the printed text.  This paper falls short of Orthodoxy’s sacramental understanding of icons, but I am not embarrassed by what I wrote because the gap between Protestantism and Orthodoxy is considerable.  It takes a while for a Protestant mindset to “get it” with respect to Orthodoxy.  This calls for much patience and understanding on the part of Orthodox Christians when they meet Protestants interested in Orthodoxy.


Orthodox Books

Much of my turn to Orthodoxy at Gordon-Conwell came through reading.  Two occasions stand out vividly.  During my first year, I went to downtown Boston to make travel arrangements to fly back home.  It was a cold and dark winter afternoon, and as I stood in line reading Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. I found my secular worldview shattered. In the opening chapter, I encountered Orthodoxy’s sacramental understanding of creation and how the common, ordinary meal was a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.  What I encountered was not just the idea of sacramental reality, but also Orthodoxy as a gateway into that reality.  While Protestantism affirms the reality of heaven, it tends for the most part to project heaven into the distant future or into the afterlife.  This way of thinking leaves the present life encased in a secular materialism.  I learned that in Orthodoxy ordinary stuff like water, bread, wine, and oil can become vessels of divine grace, ushering us into the kingdom of God here and now.

Magnolia rocky shore — Katie Young


During my third year I would often spend my mornings reading while sitting against a large rock on Magnolia’s rocky shore.  One of the books I read was Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way.  The chapter “God as Mystery” gave me a glimpse of Orthodoxy’s apophatic approach of understanding God through prayer.  During this time I was writing my statement of faith paper for Prof. John Jefferson Davis’ class.  This assignment was very much in keeping with Western Christianity’s cataphatic methodology, in which one seeks to learn facts about God and then express this understanding of God through words.  From The Orthodox Way I learned how in the apophatic approach, intellectual study and prayer can be integrated to advance our knowing God


The Liturgy

During my time at Gordon-Conwell, I attended a few Orthodox liturgies.  One might expect that I fell head over heels in love with the Divine Liturgy, but that was not the case.  The language barrier was so daunting that I saw Greek Orthodox worship as an obscure, intricate ritual.  It was frustrating.  My experience was like that of a hungry person drawn to a restaurant but standing with his face against the window, looking on longingly, but unable to taste the delicacies within.  It was not until I began to attend an all-English Liturgy at a Bulgarian Orthodox parish in Berkeley, California, that my journey to Orthodoxy began in earnest.  Attending the Liturgy there week after week, being immersed in the flow of hymns and prayers, helped me to understand what Orthodoxy is about and experience God as Mystery.

Magnolia village, MA   source


Looking Back

My time on Massachusetts’ North Shore was but a small part of my journey to Orthodoxy.  By the end of my three years there I was still very much a Protestant in my thinking, but the various personal encounters and books that I read had had an impact on me.  They were like little seeds planted in the ground, invisible under the surface but slowly germinating, and in due time emerging as a plant that would one day become a pleasing fruit-bearing tree.  An equally good analogy used by my compatriot David Rockett here at the OrthodoxBridge is that these early encounters were like boulders assaulting my medieval castle walls without my noticing the small cracks they were creating in my theological and spiritual foundation! Analogies aside, one take-away here is that journeys to Orthodoxy are rarely instant, dramatic flashes of light in the sky, but more like the gradual light of dawn in which many little things long hidden become noticeable and show their results much later, sometimes after several years.

Robert Arakaki


Baptist Questions About Ignatius of Antioch



Icon - Ignatius of Antioch (d. 98/117)

Icon – Ignatius of Antioch (d. 98/117)

Dear Folks, Burckhardtfan wrote some important questions about Ignatius of Antioch’s understanding of the early Church. As my answer grew longer I decided to turn it into a blog posting.Burkhardtfan wrote:

Mr. Arakaki,

Thank you for another brilliant post. I just have two questions:

1. When Ignatius says that nothing should be done without the bishop, what does he mean by the word ‘bishop’? Does it mean a local pastor or someone with authority over local congregations in a certain area? Congregationalists believe that local churches should be completely autonomous, believing that any external authority which in any way dictates the affairs of a local church is illegitimate. This is especially prominent among Baptist churches; they jealously guard their independence. Does Ignatius or any other father clarify what they mean by a bishop or describe the functions of this particular office?

2. In the same passage, what is the phrase ‘catholic church’ in the original Greek/Latin (I don’t know which language Ignatius wrote in)? Does it really mean ‘universal’ in the original Greek/Latin, or is the English translation an interpolation? I know the Greek word ‘katholikos’ means universal; if this word is present, then I know the concept of a ‘catholic’ church existed from the very beginning (some Baptists completely reject the notion of a ‘universal Church’ – and some go so far as to reject the idea that the Church is the Body or Bride of Christ!)

God bless!



1. The Office of the Bishop

In Titus 1:5 Paul reminds Titus that he gave Titus the assignment of appointing elders in every town and to “set in order the things that are lacking.” Here Titus is acting in the capacity of a bishop, and the elders playing the role of priests assigned to a local parish. It appears that there were already Christian fellowships in these towns but that they needed to be recognized and brought into proper relationship with the Church catholic. Also interesting is Titus 2:15: “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” This makes sense if Titus is acting as a bishop attempting to bring order to a troubled diocese. Given the egalitarianism of Baptist polity I cannot imagine a Baptist pastor exercising “all authority.” More significant is the Greek word επιταγης (epitage) which Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament vol. viii p. 37 has this to say: “…it denotes especially the direction of those in high office who have something to say.” (emphasis added)  That the meaning of the original Greek “epitage” is based on authority coming from a higher office is consistent with the office of the bishop as a hierarchical position.

Acts 14:23 indicates that only qualified men were appointed (ordained) to office of elders. The verse also notes that this was the standard practice for local leaders to be appointed by those with apostolic authority. This was not an independent action by an autonomous congregation but a church under the authority of the Apostles. Baptist churches are self-organized, not by an external authority; this is contrary to Acts 14:23.

The following chapter (Acts 15) shows how the early Church responded to a theological crisis. In response to the controversy over whether Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to become Christians a council was convened in Jerusalem. This set a precedent for future Ecumenical Councils. (For those unfamiliar with church history, the Seven Ecumenical Councils defined the parameters of orthodox Christology and Trinity.) From the Jerusalem Council came a letter showing how the issue was resolved. This decision had binding authority on the churches. This is quite different from the Baptist polity.

Another indication of the bishop as the leader of the city can be found in Revelation 2 and 3 in which a letter was sent to the respective “angel” (bishop) of the cities of Asia. In Revelation 2:5 Jesus warns the bishop of Ephesus that he would be removed from office (remove your lampstand from its place) if he did not amend his ways. So when we look at Ignatius’ letters we see them addressed to the church of a particular city. This points to the local church as the unified gathering of congregations in one particular city or area. Ignatius could have addressed it to a particular home fellowship but he did not.

The word “bishop” is derived from the Greek επισκοπος (episcopos). It comes from “epi” (over) and “skopeo” (to pay attention to, be concerned about). The modern English word “supervise” is similar in meaning coming from “super” (over) and “vise” (to see) thus to “oversee.” Some denominations have superintendents instead of bishops but the overall function is similar. One critical difference is that Protestant superintendents cannot claim apostolic authorization for their office. See my posting on the office of the bishop and apostolic succession.

Ignatius of Antioch (d. 98/117) was very familiar with the polity of the early Church. He came from Antioch the home church of the Apostle Paul. According to the book of Acts Antioch was where Paul received his missionary calling and it served as his home base for his missionary journeys (Acts 13 and 14). Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch after the Apostle Peter and Euodius, whom he succeeded in AD 68. Thus, Ignatius’ letters cannot be ignored as a later development but must be treated as a direct witness to the early church.


2. The Church Catholic

Regarding the Greek word καθολου (katholou) that Ignatius used in his letters, the Liddell-Scott Lexicon gives the following meanings: (1) on the whole, (2) in general, and (3) in the negative – not at all. Etymologically, “katholou” comes from “kata” (according) and “holou” (whole, all) and thus can mean: according to the whole. An excellent discussion of the emergence of the idea of the church catholic can be found in JND Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines (p. 190):

If the Church is one, it is so in virtue of the divine life pulsing through it. Called into existence by God, it is no more a mere man-made agglomerate than was God’s ancient people Israel. It is in fact the body of Christ, forming a spiritual unity with Him as close as is His unity with the Father, so that Christians can be called his members.

So to answer your question is: No. The word “catholic” is not the same as “universal.” The word “universal” has more of the sense of geographic dispersion, being everywhere. The better word for that is the Greek word οικουμενη (oikoumene).

Let me give you an analogy to illustrate the notion of “according to the whole.”


US Embassy in Manila, Philippines

US Embassy in Manila, Philippines

Imagine a US embassy located in a far off country in Africa or Asia. That embassy is not the United States but it is definitely a part of the USA. An action taken there is applicable elsewhere in the US and American embassies around the world. This is because that embassy and its staff work under the authority of the US government.

In a similar manner, the Orthodox Church through apostolic succession exercises authority from Christ and his Apostles.  What unites the local parish to the entire Church is the Eucharist in which we feed on the body and blood of Christ. The Orthodox parishes around the world shares in the same worship and doctrine. What one sees at one parish will be the same as other parishes around the globe. This liturgical and doctrinal unity is proof that Orthodoxy is the Church Catholic.

Imagine also a group of natives in the area who love the United States and want to be US citizens. They form an American club, read the US Constitution every week, eat hamburgers often, and celebrate the Fourth of July once a year. Would that make them US citizens? Of course not. They could pass for Americans but the key thing is whether they have the right to vote. This is the quandary of Protestants; they think that just holding a copy of the Bible in their hands make them a church. Early Christians like Ignatius of Antioch would strongly disagree. The key here is the Eucharist under the bishop.  Ignatius wrote:

Let no one do any of the things appertaining to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints (To the Smyrneans VIII)

A Protestant might object: “What’s the big deal about the Eucharist? It’s just a symbol.” The answer to that is that historically Christians have always since the beginning affirmed the real presence in the Eucharist. The symbolic understanding is something that surfaced on the radical fringes of the Protestant Reformation. Because the Eucharist links the local church to the Christ’s death on the Cross, the Eucharist is the source of the Church’s covenantal authority. Thus, the way Baptists and Congregationalists celebrate the Lord’s Supper makes visible their disconnect from the early Church.


A Reminiscence

I used to belong to a congregational church. Once I was on the church by-laws committee. The moderator wanted to do some minor updating to the by-laws. I persuaded the rest of the committee to put everything up for review including the church’s statement of faith!   I recommended some changes to the statement of faith that were approved. And ironically, the by-laws revisions led to my old church moving away from pure congregational polity to an elder model. As a congregational church we were free to do as we pleased. As an Orthodox Christian I look back on all this with amazement, amusement, and horror.

Kalihi Union Church – Photo by Joel Abroad

I understand and appreciate congregationalism’s emphasis on local church autonomy. It’s a very useful defense against a denomination attempting to impose strange doctrines on the local church. My former home church (Kalihi Union Church) was staunchly evangelical in the liberal mainline United Church of Christ. Over time I became concerned by the fact that that local church autonomy, while it provided some protection against liberal theology also made for a highly dysfunctional ecclesiology. Unity becomes more a mirage than a reality.

When I became Orthodox I found a sense of relief when I learned that the Orthodox bishops are constrained by Holy Tradition and that the entire Orthodox Church, including the laity, have a responsibility for guarding Holy Tradition. Just as reassuring was the fact that the Orthodox Church has kept the Faith without change for the past two thousand years.


Closing Question for Baptists and Congregationalists

The question I have for any Baptist or Congregationalist reading Ignatius of Antioch’s letters is: If the polity and worship practice described by Ignatius is at odds with your congregational polity and practice, whose church more closely resembles the early Church founded by the Apostles? Ignatius of Antioch’s which lives under the bishop and celebrates the Eucharist every Sunday or the Baptist/Congregational church which has no bishop and celebrates the Eucharist infrequently?

Robert Arakaki