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Subdeacon! Why all the Ecumenism?! My Journey into Holy Orthodoxy

Updated: May 30

By Subdeacon Nektarios, M.A.


Growing up, I was not raised in any particular religion. As is common in most modern American families, religion or spirituality in general never played a role up to this particular point in my young life. My father, although baptized a Roman Catholic, was non-practicing and not even a Christian anymore. My mother was a non-practicing Baptist who later converted to uniate papism. My grandmother, who I lived with most of my life, was a devout Roman Catholic from the Philippines. However, that was the limit of my religious exposure. My parents never agreed to me being baptized into Catholicism according to my grandmother's wishes when I was born. I do not remember ever attending church with any frequency outside of going with my grandmother to Latin masses during the earliest years every so often. However, that all miraculously changed in Southern California on one sunny day when a friend and I were on the school bus coming home while in seventh grade.

Me Venerating the Incorrupt Relics of St Philaret of New York at his Tomb (2022)

While on the way home, my friend and I struck up a conversation that led to religion. I don't remember what brought about the conversation since it has been over twenty-six years since then. However, a discussion about his religion started where he explained that he was a Sikh, a member of Sikhism, a religion founded in Punjab, India, by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century. I remember him telling me during this ride home all about Sikhism and what they believed, which I found interesting since I had never heard of this religion before. As we were pulling up to our bus stop and were about to get off the bus to walk home he asked me one question, “What religion are you?” My response was, “I don’t know,” and we got off the bus and walked the five minutes home and talked about whatever seventh graders were talking about in 1997.

This question, however, did not fall in short-term memory but stayed with me and puzzled me. It seemed to echo in my head over and over. That is a good question; what religion was I? I was not raised anything in particular, not even a run of the mill unknowledgeable “Christian.” I did not know anything about religion. I did not know who Jesus Christ was even though I had been to Latin masses infrequently with my grandmother when I was in my younger years. Luckily, I had a world history book for teenagers in my room that contained the history of just about everything. Inside this book I found a few pages about the various world religions, which included illustrations concerning the world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Taoism. Each religion had a picture of its symbol; the Christian Cross, the Jewish Star of David, the Sikh Khanda, the Star and Crescent of Islam and so on.

I had started to read about the world religions in this book and must have read those two pages repeatedly. Something in me began to wonder, "What religion are you? What is the right religion? What happens when you die?" Not something most seventh-grade kids think about in the United States at that age! I do not know why this question was all of a sudden so important to me as it was never important to me before. Why now? That became my obsession, my true interest and my only passion - to answer these questions. I started to read about these world religions in books from school and on our slow AOL (American Online) dial-up internet connection. During my early studies of the different world religions, I grew interested in Buddhism and I focused entirely on studying that. I went to the public library and read nearly every book they had there concerning Buddhism, which was no easy task for someone my age. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to follow this path and I became a Buddhist.

I devoted all my free time and even my school time to the study of Buddhism so much that my parents were starting to get upset about my interest in religion. As I dove further into the study and practice of Buddhism I developed a particular interest in Soto Zen Buddhism which was imported into Japan during the 13th century by Dōgen Zenji, a Buddhist Priest, who had travelled to China and picked up the religion and brought it back upon his return. During my time as a practicing Zen Buddhist something seemed missing. In Buddhism there is no idea or belief in a personal God or Deity, salvation was supposed to be achieved by yourself. It began to make no sense to me. In my mind there had to be more to this life and the next than a goal of achieving absolute nothingness. I started to get dissatisfied with the idea that there is no personal and loving God. Over time I started to think about the idea of God; that there had to be a reason for this life and for the next life. It did not seem logical that this world was an accident. So I started to search again.

Searching through the world religions again, I looked to my neighbors who were Sikhs and I started to remember what my friend had taught me about Sikhism. Sikhism did have some aspects of Buddhism that I thought I believed such as reincarnation but it also had aspects that I believed that Buddhism did not have and that was God. I do not know when I exactly abandoned Buddhism but when I did, I started to dive into Sikhism. Since my neighbors were Sikhs I had plenty of resources to learn about this tradition and the ability to gain firsthand knowledge by visiting Sikh temples (Gurdwaras) frequently with my neighbors. After a few months when I decided to become a Sikh, my neighbors were very enthusiastic about my conversion to their religion so they took me to the Gurdwara every time they went if I was able to attend, and helped me along in my practice of Sikhism.

Like my study of Buddhism, once I converted to Sikhism I completely submerged myself into study and practice. As a Sikh I learned the complete history and belief system of the entire religion - more than any of the cradle Sikhs knew. With being a Sikh came the cultural submersion into the Punjabi culture which was an awesome experience. I remember there were times as a kid when I would be at an event with my Punjabi friends and people I did not know would make fun of me for “pretending” to be a Sikh and my friends would come to my defense, explaining that I knew more about Sikhism than anyone else they knew which resulted in me making even more friends. However, my time as a Sikh was troublesome as my parents were starting to wonder about my new interest and quest for religion even more. There were instances I remember that I was so involved in my journey and I concerned myself with nothing else that sometimes my dad would not let me go on Sunday to the Gurdwara with my neighbors and would question and criticize my journey towards a life of faith and religion.

This “mini-persecution,” as I liked to call it back then, was pretty hard to handle for someone in the eighth grade. I could not understand why my parents were so negative about my religious journey. In my mind, I thought it would be the very opposite. Well, this experience opened up a new can of worms. I thought to myself: I believe in God, but why would God have me go through something like this? (Only later on would I realize that we are called to suffer for Christ.) I started to feel alone and that the God I believed in was not listening. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, but the concept of God is not the same as in the Orthodox Christian theology, where God is knowable and yet unknowable but desiring your eternal salvation nonetheless.

I started to look for the personal and loving fatherly Godhead that would always be there and that would look after me and bring me to him after this life’s end. I started to begin my search for this heavenly Father that I yearned for, and I started studying the world religions yet again, but this time I went towards Jerusalem, studying the so-called "Abrahamic" religions; Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I looked at both Judaism and Islam in depth but did not agree with their theology; Judaism because of the cultural implications that goes with it and its seemingly nihilistic emptiness and Islam because of its violent history and trend to convert by the sword that seemed more demonically inspired than anything else. That left me with Christianity. So, then I started to borrow my grandmother’s Bible and began reading it. In the pages of the New Testament, I was able to find what I was looking for, the personal and loving Father. I studied Christianity with the same zeal as I had any of the other religions all the while remaining a member of the Sikh faith. I did keep quiet about my renewed religious search because I did not want to draw any more unwanted attention from friends, and particularly from family.

Over the course of time I eventually decided, through much thinking, reasoning, a lot of prayer, and the grace of the most Holy Trinity, that Christianity was my home and my long search for the true God was over. I cannot exactly remember when I decided I wanted to become a Christian as there was no sudden realization but a gradual knowledge of the truth. When I decided to become a Christian, my study of my new faith became more in-depth and zealous than with the previous religions. I gave everything to this new journey. I started to attend the services of a Protestant evangelical non-denominational organization where I began to study the Bible.

I was placed in the adult Bible study by the pastor of the organization because my knowledge of the faith and the Bible was more advanced than the rest of those in my age group. By this time I had developed very good study habits due to my religious journey which required constant reading. Eventually my parents found out that I was in an adult Bible study and forbid me to attend because they did not want me being around adults which, looking back, was more than reasonable, even though at the time I did not seem to think so. Eventually, I was “baptized” in this Protestant organization by a single immersion and started to go to the adult Bible study again. I continued in my study of Christian history and theology by means of the public library, the internet and that Bible study that I had resumed.

Although I had found Christianity my religious journey was far from over. As my study of Christianity progressed I started to see holes in what I was being taught by the pastors of the Protestant organization. During my studies of the church history I started to see terminology that was not taught or taught in a negative light by these evangelicals I was studying with, such as bishops, priests, deacons, sacraments, saints and church fathers. When reading the New Testament I saw the ordination of deacons and consecration of bishops and when I went to services on Sunday with these Protestants there were no bishops or deacons like I had been reading in the text of the Acts of the Apostles. Why was this I asked?

Thankfully, we had satellite television with a Roman Catholic channel called the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN). This channel quickly became my new favourite television channel, where I was able to learn about the church fathers, the sacraments, and other topics being discussed that were lacking in the current Protestant organization I was attending. In this channel, I found what I thought to be historical Christianity. I eventually realized that the Protestant organization that I had been "baptized" into was nothing more than a by-product of the Protestant Reformation that has absolutely no historical basis for its theology in light of the traditions of ancient Christianity as I understood it, at that time. So when I came to this realization, I immediately and without hesitation wrote a letter to the Bible study leader and the pastor of that community and told them I was leaving them for Roman Catholicism.

That made my grandmother extremely happy as you can imagine. Coming from Buddhism, Sikhism, and Protestant evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism was not an easy or short journey. But being a Latin Catholic was a lot easier because of my grandmother. Because of her I was able to live my faith fervently and devote myself completely, because if my dad said anything about it he would then have to answer to my grandmother who would come to my immediate defense. I began attending the same church as my grandmother and felt more at home than I had before in the Protestant confession. I saw what I was reading about in the New Testament. There were bishops, priests, and deacons; there were liturgical services like I saw in the readings of the church fathers; the concept of Sacramentology was there and, most importantly, the belief in the real presence in what I thought were the eucharistic gifts. I loved my new "church" and I felt that I was finally home; that I had found Christ's true Church. I kept studying Catholicism and saw no flaw in the theology of the church I was preparing to start my catechism classes in.

However, God, works in mysterious ways, indeed. One day while I was getting ready to watch the daily mass on ETWN, they showed something different from the Roman Mass that I was already used to. They had a uniate priest celebrating the Byzantine divine liturgy. I was in awe at this form of the liturgy, “I knew not whether I was in heaven or on earth,” as is recounted by the Slavic emissaries when arriving at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for the first time. I had never heard of these so-called "eastern catholic churches." I went online and learned about the Byzantine Rite and was very interested in what seemed an exotic liturgical form. I found that there was a uniate church about twenty minutes from my house. So I, a newly licensed driver with a car, visited on one Sunday morning and witnessed my first divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

My first experience of this liturgy was something that words could not describe, or so I thought. The following Sunday, I went back, and after making sure they were really part of the Latin communion, I decided to become a catholic through the byzantine rite. During this time, my mother had also decided to become a catholic, so she joined the uniate church with me and we started catechism classes at the byzantine church near our house. I even got my Roman Catholic grandmother, who at first was hesitant, to attend a byzantine divine liturgy.

After months of catechetical instruction with the parish priest, my mother and I were received into the byzantine uniate church on Holy Saturday. She was “baptized” and I was “chrismated” in the uniate confession. We became very involved in the parish life and made lots of friends and I started to serve as an altar server. Naturally, I also started to learn about the Eastern Orthodox Church. I was pretty unfamiliar with Holy Orthodox Church at this point and I knew just through catechism that they used to be part of the catholic church. I started to study them and wonder why they had supposedly left the catholic church. I started discussions about the Orthodox Churches with some friends at the parish who were more familiar with them than I was. I also started joining online discussions with Orthodox Christians on various Orthodox web forums trying to figure out why the Orthodox Church had “left” the catholic church.

One Sunday, I was given a book entitled The Papacy by Abbe Guettee by a friend who wanted to help me understand the Eastern Orthodox perspective. When she gave me this book, she also suggested that I go and check out a vespers service at this new Orthodox Church in Riverside, California, called Saint Andrew Orthodox Christian Church, to get the entire Eastern Christian experience. I am not sure that she foresaw the future implications. I took her up on the suggestion on one of those Saturday evenings and drove to Saint Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California. I walked in and was immediately overwhelmed by what I experienced. At the time, this parish was in a large hall they had just built. When I entered the building, I could smell the incense and witnessed the readers, subdeacons, priests and deacons in their cassocks, singing in Byzantine chant by candlelight, which I previously only had heard on the internet. The priest came from the altar in his black ryassa, a young thirty-five-year-old priest with an angelic voice named Father Josiah. I stood there taking everything in and feeling God's grace in that Church, unlike what I was experiencing in my uniate parish. I left that night feeling that I had been in a place that was otherworldly. As time went on, I read this book that was given to me and at that point, my faith in Catholicism began to crumble. I was not sure what to think, so I kept joining discussions with Orthodox Christians on the Orthodox Christian web forum of Monachos (started by now His + Grace Bishop Irenei of London), trying to convince them that they left the true church while at the same time trying to convince myself after what I had read and what I had experienced at St. Andrew.

Hieromonk Averky (Moreno) of Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY

While on Monachos, I met a Hieromonk who would forever change my life and my faith. His name was Father Averky (Moreno). He was Spanish by ethnicity and a former papist seminarian who converted to Holy Orthodoxy and became a Russian Orthodox Monk at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. I remember a distinct conversation with him early on, where I was trying to push my papist uniate agenda on these internet forums and he told me bluntly, "Shut up, you do not know what you are talking about." This is not something I had ever heard before coming from a priest but it worked for me and so I shut up and began to listen. He engaged me in every discussion about the Orthodox Church. He would send me phone cards in the mail so that I could call him at the monastery and he would catechize me over the phone a few times a month and we would e-mail almost daily. He taught me the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism and he taught me the history of the Church that I never knew and eventually taught me where the Latin Papists had separated from the Holy Orthodox Church, and about the heresy of ecumenism that was encroaching on the Holy Orthodox Church. He sent me many books, the first two being The Struggle Against Ecumenism: The History of the True Orthodox Church of Greece from 1924 to 1994 by Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston, Massachusetts and The Rush to Embrace by Father Alexey Young.

It was through his holy prayers that I came to realize the errors of the Latins and that I was in a confession that had abandoned the faith of the fathers and innovated many new heresies that were unknown to the Apostolic Church. So, it was then that I decided that I wanted to become Orthodox. However, before I could start my journey into Holy Orthodoxy I had to leave the papist confession and this was a difficult decision because my mother and I had both come to the uniate church together. Regardless of that fact, I knew that I had to follow the truth and that truth was that the Holy Orthodox Church is the true unadulterated One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ on earth. I could no longer in good conscience remain with the Papist confession. On the feast day of St. Nicholas at my parish, we had a community gathering that night with the uniate bishop visiting and I took the opportunity to tell them that I was leaving the catholic confession for the Eastern Orthodox Church and would no longer be attending St. Nicholas.

Me, Father Josiah Trenham and Father Deacon Joseph at the Uncut Mountain Press Conference

Father Averky at the time, unknown to me, was very sick with kidney problems which he knew did not give him much time left on this earth. Regardless of his health, he still gave me all the time he could, either over the phone or by e-mail. He was a genuine spiritual father, full of love, patience, and care for me as a new inquirer leaving the papist confession into Holy Orthodoxy. Before he sent me to a parish, he told me to go into the yellow pages of the phone book and e-mail him a list of every parish in my immediate area and the names of the priests. He called all the priests on that list and interviewed them over the phone before deciding who he would send me to, to be cared for spiritually after he departed this life. At some point, he called Father Josiah Trenham and after speaking with him, felt that this is the priest who I needed to be with. He sent me to St. Andrew Orthodox Christian Church under the spiritual care of Father Josiah, where I would be received by baptism in proper Orthodox form.

Just before my baptism by Father Josiah, Hieromonk Averky (Moreno) in his last e-mail communication to me before his repose, in a letter that I have never before publicly shared, wrote me a heartfelt message with words of love and encouragement in part concerning my baptism and reception into the Holy Orthodox Church which I will now share. Father Averky wrote me saying,

"Try to focus on how out of all the millions and millions of people who are so desperate to find God, to have belief and faith, that God in his gracious mercy led you to the True Ark of Salvation. And of course know how the very idea of losing another soul to destroy, to his sworn enemy, who is Christ our God infuriates the Evil One, so he is not going to give up without a fight [...] when you come up out of the water the third time and will have been Chrismated, you will look around, and everything, everyone, will look so beautiful to your newly-illuminated eyes.

During this most solemn week of the year the Orthodox Church movingly recounts the betrayal, the travesty of the trial, the brutal mistreatment, and crucifixion of our Lord, tells us to realize that the "Jews" spoken of in the services is not only that group of Jews at the time of Christ who envied and hated Him and who intimated the Roman Procurator into putting Christ to death, we just as much are to be included with them for our many sins. What better week of the year could bring to mind all of your sins that you will speak in the presence of Christ's priest so that you will be prepared for the blessedness of true baptism into Christ."

During my catechesis with Hieromonk Averky, I was instructed in traditional Orthodoxy as one would imagine being catechized by a Hieromonk from Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville during the early 2000s. This catechesis by Father Averky made me fully aware of the history of the heresy of ecumenism as you can see by the first two books I was given at the start of my catechism. Looking back now, over twenty years later since my baptism into Holy Orthodoxy, I can now fully understand that Father Averky, who stood at the altar with the Saints of ROCOR during his life, was forming me to withstand the syncretistic ecumenism that would continue to batter the Church more and more as the years went on.

In 2003 and 2004, my first years within the Holy Orthodox Church I became fully aware of the threat that the heresy ecumenism imposed on the Church by the actions of the Patriarch of Constantinople. During these first years, I witnessed the height of the persecution by Patriarch Bartholomew against the zealot Fathers of the Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou on Mount Athos. It was in 2003 when Bartholomew started a blockade against the monks in an attempt to deny them food, water, medicine and other necessities and again in 2005 when Bartholomew used this same tactic all for their "crime" of ceasing his commemoration because of his heretical ecumenism with the Latin Papists. I saw these monks being abused by the Greek Police, slandered in the news media, threatened in court cases and labelled extremists for their confession against the heresy of the Heresiarch of Constantinople.

Greek Police Abusing Monks of Esphigmenou Monastery

I could not believe what I was seeing. I could not wrap my mind around it. Having just been baptized into Orthodoxy from the uniate papists, I was seeing an "Orthodox" Patriarch turn on his own flock for the sake of a false union with the Latins who have in their own right betrayed Holy Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, this experience of witnessing the new events was just the beginning of my entry into the struggle against heretical ecumenism even at this early stage in my Orthodox life. In early 2003 I had enlisted into the United States Marine Corps and was to leave for basic training immediately after my high school graduation. In June 2004, I graduated high school and sixteen days later I was on a bus to Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego, California, where I would experience first-hand heretical ecumenism by the hands of an OCA Military Chaplain Stationed at Camp Pendleton, California.

Upon arriving at MCRD, San Diego, I was assigned a platoon like all of us are, and it so happens that there was a Coptic Monophysite in my platoon who came to know that I was an Orthodox Christian when he had seen me doing my solitary prayers at night with the little red Antiochian Orthodox Prayer book. When we reached our second phase of boot camp, I found that there was an Orthodox Christian chapel and a chaplain serving at that location which meant I was able to attend liturgy every Sunday for that month. One Sunday, the Monophysite came and asked me if he could go with me to liturgy since they did not have a Coptic priest there. I said yes of course, however, I made it perfectly clear to him and told him in no uncertain words that, "you cannot receive communion because we are not in communion with you and you have to stand in the back," which he understood. When we arrived, I introduced myself to the priest and informed him that I am Eastern Orthodox and where I was baptized. I told him that this recruit with me was a Monophysite and not Orthodox so that there was no miscommunication, misunderstanding, or confusion that this person was, in fact, not an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

The first Sunday, that Coptic individual stood in the back and did not dare approach the chalice. However, the following week, the OCA Priest told me that the Monophysite was an Orthodox Christian and that he could commune of the Holy Mysteries. I was outraged and the eighteen-year-old recruit (me) standing in front of a Navy Chaplain with the rank of Commander (O-5) belligerently protested against this OCA priest's blatant heretical ecumenism, using those words to be exact, in my first Confession of Faith for Holy Orthodoxy just three months out of the baptismal font. However, that OCA priest ignoring my legitimate protest, allowed the Monophysite to commune. I never returned to that Orthodox Chaplain again.

That has been my journey into Holy Orthodoxy and my experience in the anti-ecumenist struggle. Straight out of the baptismal font, I witnessed Patriarchs betraying the faithful Orthodox confessing monks of Mount Athos and a priest of the Metropolia (OCA) betraying Christ and giving the most Holy Gifts to a heretic. These blatant betrayals of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church enflamed my desire to defend the Holy Orthodox Church against the Soul-Destroying Heresy of Ecumenism and it was these moments that I enlisted myself into the anti-ecumenist struggle and vowed to never relent, just as those who are struggling to destroy the Church by these heresies have been relentless.

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