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My Discovery of Orthodoxy in Korea

To shorten my story, finally I was able to study in this evangelical Protestant Seminary in Seoul, Korea. But my question about the original eastern Christianity of Christ’s Apostles, still haunted my mind. I have been praying to God to guide me to find this original Church.

Finally God answered my prayer toward the end of my schooling in Korea, having been there for almost 5 years. One day I went to the biggest book store in Seoul at that time. Everything was written in Korean, but one book written in English caught my attention. It was the well-known book of Bishop Kallistos Ware: “The Orthodox Church”. I did not know what “Orthodox Church” was, I thought it was a new cult from America. But I bought the book, and upon the completion of my reading I was so joyful that at last I found the Church I have been praying for.

I came to know later that the building across my dormitory, which I thought to be an Islamic mosque for all these years, and which my Korean friends who lived around the area called it as a “The Church with the big chief” or “a kind of Roman Catholic Church without a Pope”, was actually Orthodox Church building. Finally I decided to visit the Church, but my Islamic and Evangelical Christian backgrounds were holding me back upon seeing the many icons on the walls. I thought that the Orthodox Church was not any difference from the Roman Catholic Church in worshipping idols. There were several different things that made me difficult to accept immediately the Orthodox teaching at the first sight:

1)      The prominent place of the Virgin Mary

2)      The usage of incense

3)      The usage of written prayers

4)      Calling  clergyman as   “father”.

5)      Kissing the hand of a priest, icons, relics

6)      Prostrating to icons , crosses, and relics.

7)      Praying to the saints and praying for the dead

But at the same time I was attracted by the Theology of the Orthodox Church, especially on the Trinity that seemed to be in conformity with my discovery of this belief at my conversion when I read Qur’an 3:45 above. There seemed to be some discrepancies between the beautiful theology of this faith with the above practices that I had difficulties with.

Slowly it dawned in my mind that, in Islam the Word of God was sent down to become a Book, ”the Qur’an” through the intermediary of the Prophet Muhammad, so that the prophet Muhammad is much highly praised in Islam, because Muhammad is the “bearer of the Word of God”. In extolling Muhammad, no Muslim thinks that he or she worships Muhammad alongside God. In Christianity the Word of God was sent down to become Man through the intermediary of the Virgin Mary, therefore Mary is also the “bearer of the Word of God”. If in Islam extolling Muhammad as the “bearer” of the Word of God is not an act of idolatry why should it be an act of idolatry when one extols Mary who is also the bearer of the Word God in Christianity? At last I saw the parallel between the practices of these two different faiths, and then I could see that the prominent place of the Virgin Mary in Orthodoxy has nothing to do with idolatry. So the comparison of Jesus in Islam is with the Qur’an and not with Muhammad, and the comparison of Mary in Islam is with Muhammad.

As in Islam the Word of God was sent down to the Prophet Muhammad in the form of a book in Arabic language and letters, therefore the primary art form of the Word made Book in Arabic is “calligraphy”. Meanwhile in Orthodox Christianity the Word of God was sent down to the womb of the Virgin Mary in the form of Man that can be depicted, therefore the primary art form of the Word made flesh is “iconography”. Calligraphy is not an idol and is consonant with the doctrine of the Word made Book, therefore Iconography is not an idol either and is in conformity with the doctrine of the Word made Flesh.

Incense is used all over the Bible, it was used during the worship of the people of Israel in the whole Old Testament period, it was used by Zechariah in the New Testament when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him (Luke 1:9-10), it was offered to the Christ Child by the Magi ( Matthew 2:11), it is used in the heavenly worship ( Revelation 5:8, 8:5). Therefore I began to realise that there is nothing unbiblical in the usage of incense.

Relics are the remains of a person who was proven to be living a holy life. Holiness comes from the Holy Spirit that sanctifies the whole being of the person both soul and body, since the body is also going to be resurrected. Holy Kiss  is commanded by the Scripture as a sign of greeting , respect and fellowship in love ( Romans 16:16, I Corinthians 16:20), and prostration is not always an act of worship but also it is simple respect , such as when Abraham prostrated to the ground in front of the sons of Het ( Genesis 23:7). Therefore kissing or prostrating to the icons and relics are not always the signs of idol worships but the signs of respect and honour to the work of Incarnation (in the case of the Icons) and to work of the Sanctification of the Holy Spirit ( in the case of Relics). Again I discovered that there is nothing unbiblical about all these practices.

The saints are “the spirit of the righteous made perfect” ( Hebrews 12:22) and they are alive in the New Jerusalem, because those who believe in Christ are alive, even though they died ( John 11:25), They are members of the same Church of Christ, so we are in fellowship with them in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Hence we are brothers in the faith with them. Brothers/sisters  in the faith can pray for another brother/sister in the faith. Again I discover that it is not so much “praying to the saints” that is practiced by the Church, but it is praying to God together with the saints, since they are still alive and we are in fellowship with them, and request the saints to pray for us to God. So, a real Christian fellowship between members of the same Church in Christ, both in heaven and on earth, is established ( Ephesians 1:10). I discovered again that there is nothing idolatrous nor unbiblical in having fellowship with the saint in prayer.

Also I discovered that there is nothing in the Bible that prohibits anyone to pray “to God” for the dead as a sign of fellowship and love, what is prohibited by the Bible is “praying to the dead” and “necromancy” , “medium”, “spiritism” and all sorts of occultism. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). Praying “TO GOD” for the dead in the form of commemoration has nothing to do with “necromancy” , “medium”, “spiritism” and occultism, but is it the sign of the hope of the Church that the dead in Christ is not gone and lost into oblivion, but still alive in Christ.

Lastly, clergyman is a spiritual father to his congregation through the Gospel (I Corinthians 4:15), and Paul always called Timothy his disciple as his “true son” (I Timothy 1:2). Therefore the Church members being spiritual children of the Clergyman in the Church, and the Clergyman being spiritual father to the congregation, therefore it is not correct to call him brother, or calling him on a first name basis, but it is logical to call him as “Father”. I was satisfied with this finding in the Bible. And in regard to written prayer there is nothing in the Bible that is against this practice, since the command to pray “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) does not mean that we cannot use written prayer. But it means that our prayer, whether spontaneous or written one, should be done with sincerity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

With all these discoveries, finally I decided  that I have to become an Orthodox Christian, and Orthodoxy proven to be the Biblical Church of the Apostles. Finally I was received into the Orthodox faith by the priest of the Church in Seoul, the then Archimandrite (now retired Metropolitan) Sotirios Trambas (Sotirios of Zelon).


This interview was conducted by:

Fr. Gavril Galev

Abbot of the monastery “St. Clement of Ohrid”,

Kinglake, Melbourne, Australia

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