HEAVEN ON EARTH – ORTHODOXY
A Letter from an Orthodox Christian to
our Native Americans Brothers
On September 16, 2009, I saw a documentary on television presenting the life of one of the indigenous tribes living in the Amazon region. In Greece we know very little about these tribes: only that they are ancient, that their ancestors were wise and brave warriors, with well-organized nations and noteworthy civilizations, and that from the 15th century onwards, various white warlords led armor-clad warriors who came from the sea and who slaughtered the people of these tribes, ransacked their treasures, destroyed their cities and villages, and seized their land. It is on this land which was seized from the Indians that we now find all the countries that are on the continent known as “America”: North, Central, and South.
We Greeks have gone through more or less the same. We too had wise and brave warriors, with well-organized states and important civilizations, and from the 13th century onwards, various white warlords leading armor-clad warriors came from both land and sea and slaughtered our people, ransacked our treasures, destroyed our cities and villages and seized our land. These warlords had exactly the same flags as those who destroyed the lives of our brothers, the natives of America.
From the 15th century onwards, what was left of our land was seized by other barbarian warriors who came from the East, whose like our native American brothers had not confronted. These had likewise seized our land, even though we constantly revolted against them, until 1830, when a large portion of it was liberated, little by little. However, we were still weak and torn by civil wars among our own warlords (brave, but not wise ones; fortunately there were a few wise ones), and so, instead of becoming truly free and strong, we fell into the hands of our previous overlords, who placed us under their authority – not with weapons this time, but with cunning known as politics and diplomacy.
Even in our day, we are still struggling to free ourselves and to regain the wisdom and bravery of our ancestors.
So, my Native Americans brothers, I think I can understand your tribulations, enough to address a few words to you. In a manner of sorts, I am, so to speak, “one of you”.
In the documentary that I mentioned previously, I saw something that deeply wounded my heart: some Native Americans were standing on the ocean shore, at the place where the white invaders had disembarked from the sea and had planted a giant Cross, just before beginning their “labour” of exterminating the Indians. The modern-day Native Americans told the filmmakers who were preparing the documentary: “This is the spot where the white men began to seize our land. The Cross is the spirit of destruction, the spirit of extermination. That’s what we have learnt.”
Given that I too have hung a Crucifix on my bosom as a “protective amulet”, and my temples are full of Crucifixes (which are far more ancient than the white men who exterminated the Indians as well as my people), I would like to clarify to my Native Americans brothers two things: 1) what the Crucifix truly symbolizes and 2) exactly who those white men were, who had planted the Cross on the seashore and had incited the Indians to hate it. I beg you to please listen to me.
I know that nowadays, most Native Americans have a university degree and it is not necessary for me to speak in simple words, the way I would need to speak to people who live in the middle of the jungle. However, I will try to speak plainly, so that my words can be comprehended by both those with a university degree and by those who live in the wilderness. I beg my Indian brothers who live in the cities and have access to modern technology to convey the spirit of my words to their brothers (and my brothers) who live in the wilderness and still preserve the ancient wisdom and way of life of their ancestors unadulterated.
Α. The Crucifix and us
Long before the Earth, the mountains, the rivers, the sea, the trees, the animals, the birds, man, there were the spirits. Spirits are both good and bad, luminous and dark; there are spirits that love people, and others that hate them and try to harm them. Many of these evil spirits sometimes appear as benevolent ones and they perform some good in order to fool people, but eventually cause them even more harm and make them their slaves forever.
But, even before these spirits, there exists another Spirit, Who created everything. This Great Spirit is the One Who created the Earth and all that exists on it: the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the animals, the birds, and mankind. However, it is this same Great Spirit Who had also created all the other spirits – all the spirits, the good ones and the (eventually) evil ones.
The Great Spirit is benevolent and luminous, and had made all of Creation out of an infinite love. And everything that the Great Spirit had created was created with goodness. (Even the evil spirits, when they were originally created, were benevolent.) Similarly, the first humans who were created were benevolent, just as every person who is born is good. But, given that people have been created with a free will, they are able to choose to remain good or become evil. This applies to the spirits also, who can choose to be good or evil. Thus, long before mankind was created, certain spirits had chosen to become evil. But the Great Spirit, being full of love, did not destroy them, but instead allowed them to live, even though they had stopped loving Him.
However, these evil spirits had tricked the first humans, and convinced them to stop loving the Great Spirit. From then on, people distanced themselves from the Great Spirit; they refused His protection, and even forgot that He exists. They only vaguely recalled His existence, in fairy tales and the songs of their people, but nothing clearer about Him. And so, they became wicked, they began to fight amongst themselves and began to worship wicked spirits. But the Great Spirit had never forsaken them, nor did he hate them; He always waited for the right moment to help them.
Now this Great Spirit is not alone. He has a company of two other Great Spirits, equally Great, benevolent, and almighty. These Three Great Spirits are related to each other: the one Great Spirit made the other two come into existence – NOT by “creating Them” externally, but by “bringing Them out of Himself” (to use a human term, which does not befit spirits as well as it does humans). He did this out of His infinite love, and thus, the other two Great Spirits also love the First Great Spirit (Who brought them into existence) so much, that we do not regard them as three separate Great Spirits (even though they are three), but as One, which is comprised of the company of all Three. There are no earthly creations that are united with such a love, so we are not able to fully understand how the Three Great Spirits can be so united, that they can simultaneously be Three and One, but we can understand to a small degree what this means, if we think on how powerfully love unites people who feel it.
Thus united (as the Three Great Spirits have eternally been), the Three of them, as One, created the Earth and all that exists on it: the mountains, the rivers, the sea, the trees, the animals, the birds, man and the spirits and whatever else they wished to create. They created them, as we said, out of Their infinite love, in order to share this love with other beings; and not only this love, but also Their benevolent energies, which enable Their creations (when they so desire) to embark on an actual association with the Great Spirit, Who is simultaneously a company of Three Great Spirits.
The Greeks call this Great Spirit “Theos” and “Agia Triada” and those who speak English call Him “God” and “Holy Trinity”, while all peoples give Him a name in their own language, at times with a lesser knowledge about Him and at times with a greater knowledge.
Anyway, many centuries had gone by, while the benevolent and wise Great Spirit continued to wait for the appropriate time to help mankind escape from the wicked spirits and return (if they so desired) to the relationship that they had with the Great Spirit originally. For this purpose, He did something incredible – something that only someone with tremendously great love would ever do: One of the Three Great Spirits was incarnated into a man. He assumed a human body and soul; He became an infant by residing in the womb of a pure young girl, the purest ever to have been born on earth. He was born to this young girl, breastfed like any infant, grew up, and, when He reached adulthood, began to speak of the Great Spirit Who had brought Him into existence from the very beginning, and Whom he referred to as “His Father”. And, having shown us just how much He loved us also and how He identified Himself with us, He referred to the Great Spirit as “The Father of us all”.
He spoke to the people about truth, justice, and love, and asked them to forgive their enemies and to be humble. He asked them to love all people – good and wicked (because no one is perfectly good, to have the right to despise the wicked); to not be interested in wealth and glory, but to purify their heart of hate and selfishness, and to follow Him. He also healed the sick, the blind and the paralyzed, and He cast out evil spirits with His great power, which he eventually imparted to His disciples, so that they would also be able – by invoking His name – to perform such marvelous good deeds. But the wicked people who ruled that land arrested that kind Teacher (and naturally without believing that He was the Great Spirit who had become a man); they tortured Him, and killed Him, by crucifying Him with nails through His hands and feet, to a wooden cross! When He died, His disciples took His body and buried it inside a cave, then hid themselves, despairing and frightened.
Three days later, however, the good Teacher came back from the dead and appeared to His disciples. He explained to them again who He actually was and what He had come to Earth for, and He instructed them to travel to the ends of the Earth and to speak of Him to all the peoples of the world, because all people are children of the Great Spirit, who created all things. Then, after he had accompanied them for forty days, He left, ascending into the heavens.
Ten days later, the Third Great Spirit came down from heaven, taking on the form of a flame. It divided itself among the disciples of the great Teacher and thus filled them with heavenly wisdom, so that they could understand what the Three Great Spirits (who are One God) really are, and gave them courage, so that they might speak of The Three Great Spirits to all people, no longer fearing the violent attacks that the evil spirits would direct against them.
Beginning then, the disciples themselves became teachers and spoke of all this to as many people as they could until certain wicked people, under the power of evil spirits, caught them and killed them one by one in different places of the earth. Whoever showed trust in their words (which were the words of the great Teacher) became their disciples and learned how to be united with the Great Spirit through humility and love. There were thousands of people like this, among many nations, and of all colours. There are thousands of such people today as well.
So the cross, on which the body of the great Teacher was nailed, became sacred and acquired the power to expel evil spirits. This is why the disciples of the Teacher and their disciples, until today (in other words, ourselves), regard the cross as a symbol of the love that we must have for others (in other words, we must offer them love and every possible assistance and pray for them to the Great Spirit) and as a charm: we use it as a weapon that wards off evil spirits. Hundreds of instances have been recorded where people protected themselves or healed others from the influence of evil spirits by using small models of the cross on which the great Teacher was crucified.
This Great Spirit, which became man and taught love and was crucified and resurrected, had a human name, as well: He was called “Jesus”, which, in the language of the people to whom he was born, means “God saves”. And, since (even though he was a real man) He had inside of Him all the power of the Great Spirit, we call Him “Christ” (anointed with holy oil, like the kings are anointed). He is Jesus Christ, and the people who accepted His teachings and those of His disciples are called “Christians”.
Whatever you think of Christ, whatever you have been told or believed because of the suffering and the tragedies of your people, in reality Jesus Christ was He who taught love and was crucified and resurrected, in order to once again unite people with the Great Spirit, our Creator.
For us who follow the teachings of the great Teacher sincerely (or rather try to follow them, because very few actually try as hard, so that they might actually love like He taught it), the Cross is a dearly beloved object. It is a symbol of love and a weapon against the evil spirits, not a symbol of death and destruction.
B. People who followed Christ’s teaching to the end
Jesus Christ, the Great Teacher, the Great Spirit that became a man 2000 years ago in order to lead us closer to God, taught people that they will approach God and be united with Him when they love everyone, even their enemies. He did this, by forgiving His disciple who betrayed Him to his enemies, but also by forgiving His enemies themselves, when He was nailed to the Cross (although they probably did not acknowledge this forgiveness – with the exception of the centurion Longinus, who later became a Christian and died for Christ’s sake). But since it is impossible for a person, on his own spiritual powers, to reach the point of loving his enemies, the Teacher left us instructions to ask Him for help (He always listens to us) in order to acquire such strength. We call our communication with Him “prayer”. He also asked that we always remain united with Him (with the Great Spirit, in other words), and gave us ways to begin this union. We take on His good energy, by being baptized in water in the name of the Three Great Spirits, which constitute One, Supreme, Great Spirit. By using the names that Christ taught us, we address the Spirit that gave existence to the other ones “Father”, the one that became man we call “Son” (this is Christ), and the one that came down to the disciples in the form of a flame we call the “Holy Spirit”. We are baptized, then, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, and we thus become Christians.
The night before He was crucified, Christ took bread and wine, conferred upon them His benevolent Energy (we call it “Grace”, in other words “Gift”), and distributed them to His disciples. He said to them: “This bread is My Body, and this wine is My Blood. Eat and drink these, to commemorate me.” Ever since then, Christians repeat the same action. A priest, who has received the Grace of Christ through a special ceremony, repeats Christ’s action with the bread and the wine and we Christians eat a small amount of it, as did His disciples that night. Since the bread and wine take on the Grace of God, they are invisibly transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Thus we are united with Him and we take on (those who wish to, since there are weak and wicked people) the power to love all people.
In this ritual no one sees or tastes flesh or blood, only bread and wine. We eat bread and wine. But we know that these two are invisibly transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, because some Christians who arrived at perfect union with God (we call them “saints” and they are the teachers of every generation) saw this transformation with their spiritual eyes.
For the first three hundred years after Christ, the great empire that ruled our world at the time (the Roman Empire) tried to exterminate the Christians, forcing them to worship various spirits, which were worshipped by the ancient peoples but which were not the Great Spirit. They resorted to every kind of torture to force them. The Christians did not raise weapons against their enemies, not because they were not brave, but because they knew that, if they did what their Teacher told them (to not confront violence with violence), their souls would go to live with the Great Spirit, bathed in His light and receiving His love. Hundreds of thousands of Christians, men, women, and children, were tortured to death and gave their lives smiling. And three centuries after Christ, without spilling blood, the Christians won: the rulers of the Roman Empire became Christians themselves.
Of course, the problems did not stop (evil spirits always want to take people far away from God, either through violence or through trickery), but it is not now necessary for me to continue telling this story. The more educated of my Indian brothers can find books from which they can learn details, if they wish.
From generation to generation there have been thousands of people who have been perfectly united with Christ and acquired the great love that He spoke of. Many of them distributed all of their property to the poor and kept only the clothes that they wore. Some even gave their clothes and lived naked in a deserted place, praying to God. They all helped their fellow people in whatever way they could, since their love for Christ made them follow His example. Those who were most united with God acquired the gift of performing miracles (to heal the sick, to expel evil spirits, etc), not by using magic, but simply by uttering Christ’s name. We respect and honor all of these people, we speak with them (they can hear us even after they die and go to the place of the souls), and we call them “saints”, in other words, those who are united with God.
Let us mention just a few of them:
Saint Makarios of Egypt was so kind-hearted that, when a young woman who was pregnant from a secret lover accused him of being the father, he accepted her accusation, suffered all kinds of insults from the local populace, and began working twice as much in order to support the woman and her child. Later, when the truth was discovered, he left secretly and never sought to be vindicated.
In the fifth century AD, Saint Paulinus, after spending all his wealth buying and freeing slaves from barbarian invaders (the Vandals), gave himself up as a slave in order to free the only son of a widow.
In 1015, when the Russian saints, princes Boris and Gleb, realized that their wicked brother Sviatopolkos had invited them to his palace with the intent to murder them, they went anyway. They preferred to die rather than force their soldiers to fight for their sake.
Saint Moses the Hungarian was a slave who preferred to be tortured for many years and eventually die rather than become his owner’s lover.
The seven year old saint Ivan Chi Chung, after being tortured in Peking, China, in the summer of 1900, full of spiritual power from the Grace of God, said that it is not harsh to suffer for Christ and simply asked to be buried near the church where he was baptized.
Saint Nicholas of Pskof, a “fool for Christ” (he pretended to be crazy so that people would not realize he was a saint), stopped the murderous king Ivan the Terrible in the middle of the street and offered him raw meat to eat, in order to show him that the way he was ruling Russia was like eating people!
Saint Andrew, another “fool for Christ”, on the night that God informed him would be his last, went to the street in Constantinople where all the brothels were located and died there after praying all night for all the sinful people of the world to seek God’s Light.
Saint Mary Skobtsova, who helped many people escape from the Nazis during World War II, was executed in the Nazi concentration camp of Ravensburg. It was reported that she changed places with another woman who was condemned to death, and allowed herself to be killed in order to save the other woman.
C. The false “Christians” who killed the Native Americans
At the beginning of the eighth century AD, a group of warriors in Western Europe, along with their king, who was known as Charlemagne, created another type of Christianity, changing many of the things that Christians had believed and taught until then. They thus created a different “version” of Christianity, which they wanted to use to conquer Europe. This different version was essentially a warlike religion, which was lacking in love and the compassion of true Christianity.
Two centuries later, the descendants of these warriors, who had become numerous and powerful, led their army and conquered the most important Christian city of Europe – Rome. They evicted the spiritual leader of the Roman Christians from his position and replaced him with one of their own. From then on, they imposed their own form of Christianity on all the peoples of Western Europe. They called this form of Christianity the “Catholic Church”, which was the term used by all Christians until that time, when referring to the one Church. They are also called “Roman Catholics”. We, however, who belong to the ancient tradition of authentic Christianity, call this version of Christianity “Papism”, from the leader of the roman Christians, the Pope. The departure of Rome (and all of the West) from the original body of Christianity is called “The Great Schism”. Only ancient Christianity is properly called the “Catholic Church”, but since the time of the Great Schism our ancestors have begun to refer to the original Christianity with the title of “Orthodoxy”.
The papist kings immediately began to attack the neighbouring peoples near them and after two centuries, they also conquered Constantinople, the capitol of the Christians of Eastern Europe (who are our ancestors, and who preserved the ancient form of Christianity that we share with them), destroyed our churches, raped our women, ransacked our treasures, stole our land and kept many pieces of it as their own, for four whole centuries, until they were taken away from them by barbarian warriors who came from the depths of the East and knew almost nothing of Christ.
In the pursuant centuries, the people of Western Europe lived in violence, poverty, and fear. And yet the worst part about this was that those who oppressed and terrorized them took solemn oaths that they were “Christians” and they even used the Cross as their symbol! Good people were deeply saddened, and many lost their lives (they were killed) trying to defend justice and truth. Thus many people in Western Europe came to believe that the Cross was a symbol of death and evil (just as our Indian brothers do), instead of a symbol of love and goodness.
In the fifteenth century, those who could do so took boats and left Europe, because they could no longer tolerate the situation. These were the boats of the white men who landed on the shores of America. But unfortunately the people who traveled in them did not remember Christ’s teachings about love and justice, believing that only gold has value in life. Thus, when they saw the rich cities of the native people, their minds were clouded and the desire to ransack them entered their hearts. Thus the evil began. Unfortunately, my brothers, you know the rest.
In the sixteenth century certain people in Western Europe created another version of Christianity, in order to escape from Papism. I believe that this was a mistake. They should have returned to the ancient, authentic version of Christianity, Orthodoxy, which the peoples in Eastern Europe – despite all their suffering – never lost. This new version of Christianity was named “Protestantism” (denoting their protest against Papism). During the next centuries many white Protestants came chiefly to North America and fought with the Native Americans who lived there. Unfortunately these white men also behaved barbarously: they exterminated the tribes and stole their land. Thus, once again Christianity as a whole was unjustly accused.
Since many Native Americans are wise, I am sure that they will understand what I am about to say. In all nations (among us and among the Indians) there are good people and there are bad people also. The white men, who originated in Western Europe and whose children and grandchildren now live in America and who are called Americans, are not evil. But the conditions that have prevailed in Western Europe since the Great Schism had prevented them from distinguishing good from evil. What the Native Americans suffered at their hands resembles what we suffered, even though we are Christians, just as our enemies supposedly are.
Until the twentieth century, people from Western Europe, who used the cross as a symbol of violence and death, tortured and killed our people and other peoples of the East, who guarded Orthodoxy as a precious treasure, and until today there are many people who follow Christ’s teachings to the utmost and become saints. In the second world war, roughly 1,500,000 people were killed in the country now known as Serbia because they refused to abandon authentic Christianity and adopt Papism.
D. Why I wrote this letter
I wrote this letter in Greek and showed it first to my brothers (in other words, to my dear friends) who are Orthodox Christians and who love all people. Some of them translated it into other languages. My heart’s desire is for it to be translated not only into the languages that are spoken by the white men of America, but chiefly into the languages of the Native Americans. Thus it will be able to reach even those Native Americans who don’t speak the languages of the white men, like those who live on reservations, in the American desert, and in villages in the woods.
I wrote it for two reasons. First, because I felt great sorrow when I heard some Native Americans (with whom we have so much in common) say on television that they consider the cross (the symbol of love) to be a symbol of death and destruction. This, which is an excusable but terrible mistake, excludes them from knowing Him who was once nailed to a Cross in order to save people from evil spirits – the Great Spirit who became a man, Jesus Christ. And (I speak the truth) our Native Americans brothers will never find the completion of their own civilization and religion if they do not come to know Jesus Christ, who (along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the “nuclear” Great Spirit) is the Creator of all things, even the spirits that they worship.
I do not want to steal that which they have, nor make them adopt the white men’s way of life. Indeed, at least half of this way of life is bad. I want them to remain Native Americans, wise and brave, to preserve their historical memory and their civilization, but to also learn about Orthodoxy, so that they can be not only wise and brave, but also holy – so that they can themselves, with their own Native Americans Orthodox priests, call upon the Grace of God to enter in them and their children and dwell there forever.
I am not a teacher, only a simple and humble student; a student, though, of the holy teachers of Orthodoxy of all generations. I do not at all have the wisdom or the right to advise my brothers what they should do. I ask them only to learn about Orthodoxy, and nothing more. I believe that the knowledge of Christ’s teaching, as it is preserved in the ancient and authentic Orthodox Christian tradition, is by itself enough to make them trust and love it.
Chief Seattle’s response to President Franklin Pierce in 1854, that he could not sell his people’s land because it does not belong to them but rather the people belong to it, has become a memorable piece of American history. In exactly the same time period, a Greek saint went from village to village saying exactly the same things to my people, the Greeks, who had just acquired their “own” state, but were being ruled by the powerful countries of Western Europe, who had dazzled them with their wealth and culture. This saint was called Christoforos Papoulakos (which means “dear old man”). The people in power captured him and he died in prison, but his words influenced our future.
In 1977 the “Message of the Iroquois Confederation of the Six Nations to the Western World” was presented at the International Conference of Indian Nations in Geneva, under the auspices of the Non Governmental Organizations of the UN. In this message, the ancient wisdom of the Native Americans was compared against the utilitarian and invasive culture of the white men, the culture that now essentially rules the whole world and which in reality is only the culture of the Western white men, not ours. Similarly, the reproaches against Christianity included in this message, that “Rome is the real place that it is modeled after”; that it “de-spiritualized the world”, and that it “came to prominence with weapons”, refer to the false versions of Christianity that were created in the West, not to ancient Christianity or to Orthodoxy. A few years earlier, during the second world war, an Orthodox saint, imprisoned at the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, the bishop Nikolaos Velimirovich, sent a moving message to all the people of Europe, wherein he too compared the ancient wisdom of the Orthodox Christians with the culture of the West, the same culture critiqued by our Iroquois brothers as well as every wise and thinking Native American.
E. Among religions, Orthodoxy
Perhaps there are many people, of different religions, large and small, simple and strange, who are trying to convince the Indians to follow them. I am not suggesting a new religion to the Native Americans, but rather the oldest one, the one that comes straight from the creation of the world, from the Great Spirit who waited thousands of years for the time to come to reveal it to mankind.
And, ever since we discovered it, many centuries have again passed until the time came for Orthodoxy to arrive at the land of the Native American peoples, the land of America. Unfortunately, it arrived after Papism and Protestantism; in other words, the truth arrived after its false permutations; love arrived, after the violence and the fire.
In the nineteenth century, thousands of Native Americans from various northern tribes (such as the Aleuts) were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and became Orthodox Christians. Some of them became saints, who are now honored by us, the white Orthodox people, such as Saint Peter the Aleut, who heroically endured torture to the death in California in 1815 at the hands of Spanish Jesuits, who tried to force him to deny Orthodoxy and become “Catholic”.
Also, Saint Iakovos Netsvetov (1802-1865), a just and wise Aleut priest, who traveled great distances over the frozen American north, speaking of Christ and distributing Holy Communion, the repetition of the last supper of Christ with His disciples (this is the supreme religious ritual of Orthodox Christians, which takes place every week). He also translated some Orthodox Christian books into the language of his people. In 1979 Saint Olga of Alaska reposed in the Lord; she was a member of the Yupik tribe – a midwife who offered a great deal to the people of the local community and herself became sanctified through her love towards people and God.
Furthermore, since that time, several true and wise teachers of Orthodox faith and love have lived on American soil, spending many years with the tribes of the American north; they loved them and were loved in return, and they frequently defended the natives against all types of white colonizers. Among them was Saint Herman of Alaska (1836), who settled on Spruce Island and lived a simple and poor life there (full of miracles and communication with the Great Triune God and the good spirits, His angels), helping the Aleuts as much as he was able. Also, Saint Innocent Veniaminof (1797-1879), Saint John Maximovitch the Wonder-Worker (1896-1966), who with his prayers stopped the typhoons on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines for 27 months, Saint Nicholas Velimirovich (1880-1956), and others.
The difference between Orthodoxy and other religions is this: many religions all over the Earth worship spirits, and many also recognize the existence of the Great Spirit and pray to Him, as each one understands Him. But the ancient, authentic Christianity, Orthodoxy, suggests not only a teaching about the Great Spirit or a prayer to Him, but also the union of a person with the Great Spirit (which is a company of Three Great Spirits), a union which the saints achieve through the Great Spirit who became a man and who always has communication with people: Jesus Christ.
This is why many people from other religions or from other versions of Christianity, when they learn of Orthodoxy, after careful research, leave the religions that they previously followed and become Orthodox. But, as one of the most worthy of them, the holy monk Seraphim Rose (1931-1982), said, “When you become Orthodox, you don’t lose any of the real truth that you learned before”.
In 1891, the priest Alexis Toth and along with him 3,614 Catholics from Minneapolis, Minnesota, left Catholicism together and became Orthodox.
On January 22, 1984, in Mexico City, the Orthodox bishop Paul de Ballester (who had become Orthodox in 1953, when he realized that Papism, to which he had belonged until then, was misguided) was murdered as he left the church, in which he had celebrated the great holy liturgy ritual of the Orthodox.
On May 18, 1985, in the city of Santa Cruz, the Orthodox priest Ioannis (John) was murdered inside the church by people who clearly worshipped evil spirits. After his death, God revealed through various miracles that he was a saint.
In 1987 a group of 2000 Protestants, along with their pastors, left Protestantism and became Orthodox, and over the next years they were joined by many more. In 1996 the young Russian soldier Evgenios Rodionov was beheaded after imprisonment and torture lasting 100 days, because he refused to deny Orthodoxy and follow another religion. After his death, miracles have shown that he is also a new saint.
The blood of these saints, like the blood of Saints Ioannis and Evgenios, is added to the blood of countless other Orthodox who gave their lives in the twentieth century. We already spoke of the 1,500,000 holy martyrs of Serbia. I will mention only one more instance: in 1919 at the monastery of Oranki in Russia, 11,000 Orthodox priests were murdered because they refused to abandon their faith.
I will be frank. We Orthodox Christians recognize and honor the good spirits that were created by the Great Spirit, we build churches in their honor and pray to them. We call them “angels” (messengers). But we do not think that the spirits worshipped by our Native Americans brothers are good. We know that the good spirits recognize and worship the Holy Trinity, and recognize and worship the Great Spirit that became man, Jesus Christ. We have countless examples where the good spirits, the angels, recognize Jesus Christ as the Great God and offer him worship. They do this continuously in their own world, where they live. Thus, every spirit who does not recognize and worship the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ cannot be a good spirit, even if it seems to be.
The “spirit of the world”, which our Native Americans brothers recognize and respect (some of them call it “Manitu”, a name that has become known to white men), seems to be the Grace of the Holy Spirit, of the “core” Great Spirit, that created the world, preserves it, and protects it.
The Orthodox saints live with love for all beings of the world; many of them live in the forests with the creatures of the wild; they are their friends and they communicate with them. However, they do not worship “animal spirits”, but rather the Great Spirit who created all the other spirits. With their prayers and their sacred ceremonies they bring the Grace (blessing) of the Great Spirit to the mountains, the forests, the rivers, the cities and all the world.
It is not important to us, if someone acquires “special powers” with the help of spirits. The saints heal the sick and predict the future with the Grace of the Father, the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit, in other words of the Great Spirit Himself, and not with the help of other spirits. Of course, they honor the good spirits of the angels and the souls of the saints; they often speak with them, and are very careful to distinguish the communication of the good spirits from the traps of the evil ones (in general we honor all the deceased brethren and continuously pray to the Great Spirit that they will all eventually end up in His Light).
Thus, I urge and beseech our Native Americans brothers to learn about Orthodoxy, not only reading books and articles on the internet, but also visiting holy places in America, like Orthodox churches and monasteries all over the American continents. Some such places, among many others, are St Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood in Platina, California, while it would certainly be useful to contact Fr. Peter Gilquist and his colleagues from the Evangelical Orthodox Mission of the Archdiocese of Antioch in the USA – those who came to Orthodoxy from Protestantism in 1987 after organized and rigorous research.
We Orthodox Christians are like all people, full of weaknesses and faults. Not all of us are good. But even today there are many who apply Christ’s teachings to the fullest extent and arrive at a union with Him. There are even obscure, poor people in neighborhoods of cities and villages who have reached a great saintliness.
My homeland, Greece, is today very poor and controlled by the large multinational companies, like the rest of the world. Many of us have almost forgotten our tradition and have adapted to the culture of the Western nations, which has taken over the whole world – a culture that has been resisted by the Indians. Fortunately there are still many of my people who also resist, as well as some regions that guard the precious treasure, the culture, wisdom, and holiness of Orthodoxy. One such a place is the “Holy Mountain”, Mount Athos (a unique example in the world), with is located in Greece. There, many people from many nations of the world have come to know Orthodoxy and have understood how important it is for them and for all humanity.
At this link, you can see the story of a Native American chief who lived and died as an Orthodox Christian, at the same time defending his tribe’s tradition. He even began translating the words of the most holy ceremony of Orthodoxy into his own people’s language.
At this link, you can see the story of an African American who discovered Orthodoxy and became an Orthodox priest, thus finding true freedom and the way to fight for it for the good of his people, our black brothers.
At this link, you can see the story of a white American Buddhist priest, who Christ Himself called to Orthodoxy, something that he never imagined possible.
You haven’t learned anything important about Orthodoxy through this letter of mine. It was only a humble invitation, full of love, for to you to learn even more.
I wish you peace and the Grace of the holy and Great Spirit, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to your hearts. May every just desire of your people, and of every persecuted people, be fulfilled.
With true respect for your history and culture,
From faraway Greece,