Once an Evangelical church, this Alaskan parish has become an Orthodox center


He also encountered the tensions and diversity present in American Orthodox circles today. He remembers a young man, a new convert, who frequently criticized the Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, preferring the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. When his stay at St. James House ended, the young man began attending the local Greek Orthodox Church with a young woman he met on a dating app.

“A lot of times you’ll see converts coming in, and they’re super excited, and they’re listening to these very fundamentalist Orthodox…and they’re like, okay, I have to go to a church where every woman has her head covered and she always wears a skirt,” DeJonge says. In his experience, extremist fundamentalists burn out and leave the church or soften when they come to a deeper understanding of orthodoxy.

According to DeJonge, orthodoxy is about acquiring the mindset of Christ; neither distracted by rules nor let secular culture disinterested in orthodox ideas set the framework for issues such as the ordination of women.

In St. John’s, the Evangelical-Orthodox tradition can perhaps blend into the Orthodox traditions. It is an American Orthodox Church after all. “In St. John’s, there’s always this question like, is this the St. John’s thing, or is this an Orthodox thing?” says DeJonge. Maybe both.

Father Marc Dunaway admits that St. John’s sometimes does things a little differently, but he thinks it’s an asset that attracts aspirants and people unfamiliar with Orthodoxy so that greater cooperation between Christians can happen. flourish. He sees his work as a way to counter fundamentalism in the Orthodox Church, helping people see true faith in the real, messy world and live more like Christ.

“Fundamentalism, by its nature, is polarizing because it insists on black and white. There is no gray. It’s one of the characteristics, psychologically speaking, of fundamentalism, I think, this insistence on certainty,” Dunaway says. “And so they have their ways of establishing certainty: I know what tradition is. I have a voice of authority in this shit. I have no doubt. I could wake up every morning with complete certainty about what I believe and what I do and the answer to every question. Well, that’s just not the real world, even in the Orthodox world.

Part of St. John’s DNA is to pursue engagement with local Evangelicals – not to convince them to become Orthodox but to encourage dialogue. Dunaway last week met with Bishop Alexei of the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska to discuss St. John’s hosting a local Evangelical and Orthodox meeting in September in partnership with the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative, a international movement of Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians who want to improve cooperation and understanding between groups.

Leading academic expert on Evangelical-Orthodox dialogue, Bradley Nassif, will address an audience at the Eagle River Institute on what Orthodox can learn from Evangelicals and what Evangelicals can learn from Orthodox.

Evangelical Jonathan Speigel and his wife are the first to arrive at a weekly book club at St. James House run by Dunaway. Speigel has been there for many years and enjoys learning about the history of the early Church and praying with the Orthodox group. He now has multiple home icons.

“I realize, you know what, deep down, we’re the same,” Speigel says. “We develop different approaches to things, different expressions, different understandings… but when we listen to each other, you know, we learn. So I always had a good time. And I developed an interest in the old church fathers. And of course, they’re kind of like, all Orthodox.

Modern Orthodox Collaboration

Perhaps more than any other St. John’s partnership, Father Marc Dunaway is most excited when he talks about the International Orthodox Theological Association and the Center for Orthodox Christian Studies at Fordham University in New York, which both aim to articulate and examine orthodox responses to modern challenges.

Last year at the Eagle River Institute, Carrie Frederick Frost, a specialist in modern Orthodoxy at Western Washington University, gave a lecture on the Orthodox tradition that women do not receive Communion during their periods, arguing that the ancient Jews and early Christians did not understand the science of the periods in which they were forming. purity rituals and practices for the sacraments.

At the Eagle River Institute this week, Teva Regule, President of IOTA and specialist in liturgical history and theology from Boston College, will speak about liturgical renewal and what parishes can learn from monastic life.

At a cafe around the corner from St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Regule explains that the founding of IOTA was inspired in part by the work of the Orthodox Theological Association of America, formed in 1966 by members of the clergy who taught in seminaries to exchange points of view. . Today, more and more Orthodox lay people like Regule have doctorates on Church-related issues and are asking questions like: How can we increase cooperation between Orthodox jurisdictions not only in America but around the world? ? Divisions in world Orthodoxy are a major concern.

At the first IOTA meeting in Romania in 2019, “the energy was really palpable,” says Regule. “All of a sudden you can recognize and know, even though you have a totally different type of cultural setting, that you are part of one faith.” About 300 people attended. The next meeting is scheduled for January 2023 in Greece. Dunaway hopes to attend with his son and return with more insights to share with St. John’s.


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