Monday, April 13, 2009


A catechumen (Greek: κατηχούμενος) is one who is preparing for baptism in the Church. In modern usage, catechumen can also refer to one who is preparing for chrismation (or another form of reception) to be received from a heterodox Christian communion.

In the ancient Church, the catechumenate, or time during which one is a catechumen, often lasted for as much as three years and included not only participation in the divine services but also catechesis, formal instruction from a teacher, often the bishop or appointed catechist. Exorcists often performed the catechetical role, as well, following their initial prayers of exorcism over the one being made a catechumen, which is the traditional manner of receiving a catechumen into the community of the Church.

Catechumens are understood to be Christians upon beginning their catechumenate, and should they die before baptism, they are traditionally given an Orthodox funeral.

As the Church eventually became the majority religion of the lands in which it sojourned, the catechumenate as an institution gradually died out in many places, as most Christians were being baptized shortly after birth. As Orthodoxy has moved into the West and Far East and begun gaining converts to the faith, the catechumenate has been significantly rejuvenated.

Catechetical instruction in Orthodoxy in America does not typically last the three years which was common in the time of St. John Chrysostom, but typically can last from six months to a year, depending on the practice of the bishop, his jurisdiction, and the level of spiritual maturity of the catechumen. Local parish priests typically oversee the catechesis of those preparing to be received into the Church.

The Orthodox Church has no formal catechism, a single body of work that details the specifics of its faith. This is one difference between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, who does have a specific catechism.
[from OrthodoxWiki,]

My family and I are catechumens in the Church. We were to begin our instruction with Fr. Anthony's Basic Class on Orthodoxy, but due to a misprint in the bulletin the class was not offered the night we were in attendance. Rather it was the night during Holy Lent when the entire Canon of St. Andrew of Crete was prayed with the Little Compline.

One might call this a pretty big mistake. The Canon is very long and thorough, and very different than a class session, in the traditional sense. However, it was fitting that this "mistake" happened to us. Catechesis is very important - and by catechesis I mean here formal instruction via books or a catechist. But in Holy Orthodoxy the Liturgy and the prayer canons and offices are in themselves a catechist.

If a person only read of Orthodoxy and talked about Orthodoxy, and learned from there to think in an Orthodox way, and to speak like the Orthodox speak, and to love the things the Orthodox like, this would in no way make such a person an Orthodox Christian. Rather, to be Orthodox means to be Orthodox. A person is Orthodox who first has finally chosen to be Orthodox and has been received by the Church (like a mother receiving her adopted and beloved child). And from there one begins to be Orthodox by daily seeking to become Orthodox, by soaking up Orthodoxy and engaging in Orthodoxy through the life of repentance, prayer, worship, and merciful action in the world.

So as catechumens, that is, as a learner and an infant in the new creation of Christ's kingdom that is Holy Orthodoxy, we began in one of the best ways possible. We began to learn the cry of repentance. Were we surprised? Yes. By the change in plans? At first, but then by how much our souls needed this sort of prayer. And then after that, how rich and full of the Scriptures this prayer is - both in content and in spirit. Next to our weekly attendance at the Divine Liturgy, the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete was the best way to begin our life as catechumens in Holy Orthodoxy.

Below is an excerpt. The full text, broken up over four nights, is available from A synopsis of the canon's author, St. Andrew of Crete, is located at Wikipedia.

Stasis One, Ode 5

Eirmos: Out of the night watching early for Thee, enlighten me, I pray, O Lover of men, and guide even me in Thy commandments, and teach me, O Saviour, to do Thy will.

Refrain: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.


I have passed my life ever in night, for the night of sin has been to me thick fog and darkness; but make me, O Saviour, a son of the day. (Ephesians 5:8)

Like Reuben, wretch that I am, I have planned an unprincipled and lawless act against God Most High, having defiled my bed as he defiled that of his father. Genesis 35:21; 49:3-4)

I confess to Thee, O Christ my King: I have sinned, I have sinned, like Joseph's brothers of old, who sold the fruit of purity and chastity. (Genesis 37)

Righteous Joseph was given up by his brothers, that sweet soul was sold into slavery, as a type of the Lord; and you, my soul, have sold yourself completely to your vices. (Genesis 37:27-28)

Imitate, wretched and worthless soul, righteous Joseph and his pure mind, and do not be wanton with irrational desires, ever transgressing. (Genesis 39:7-23)

If Joseph of old also occupied a pit, O Sovereign Lord, yet it was as a type of Thy Burial and Rising. But will I ever offer Thee anything like it? (Genesis 37)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

To the Holy Trinity: Thee, O Trinity, we glorify, the one God: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, Father, Son and Spirit, simple Being, Unity ever adored.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: From thee, O pure maiden Mother and Virgin, God Who created the worlds and ages was clad in my clay and united to Himself human nature.

The Eirmos is repeated, ...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Inevitable Consequences

What's this all about?
If you're confused, read the original conversion announcement.

I think it's important to read comments on a blog. I know when I write a post, I try to focus on the thing I want to say, and not get side-tracked. The comments, though, are a great place to talk about things the post missed, or just to talk about related things. Some of the best parts of a post are the comments that follow.

Not everyone's comments are alike, though. Since announcing this humongous change that my family and I have chosen to undertake, we've gotten a lot of good feedback. Sure, you're always going to have some people who want to call you satanic, uneducated, evil, or conniving. I've had that happen, as have others before me. But, thankfully, most people have been very human and very Christian.

One comment I've heard does ring true: when a pastor converts, it upsets the people he leaves behind. Very true. Many of us observed this some years ago when notable Lutheran pastors decided to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, and in some cases brought some of their parishioners with them in the process. I may not have attempted to bring anyone with me, much less even told anyone about my discernment that I didn't have to, but that does not change the fact that the people I left behind most likely will be upset, confused, and possibly disillusioned.

I know that my former parishioners were told about my conversion shortly before I announced it. I am told they were shocked. And I can only imagine what else they must be going through. There isn't much I can do about that part. I have tried very hard to keep my discernment into Orthodoxy separate from my responsibilities as a parish pastor. My inquiry (and now conversion) into Orthodoxy has to do with me and my family, not the parishes I served. But in the end my final choice to convert destroys the separation I had held in place. Questions naturally arise from this.

What about all that I did as their pastor? What of the baptisms, the Lord's Supper administered by my hand, the forgiveness of sins dispensed "in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ"? If anyone is concerned, look to what you believe. For the Lutheran these things depend not on the man's character, nor what he does with his future, but upon the divine call. If the man had a divine call, then that is where the Lutheran puts his faith.

What of all that I spoke? What of my preaching, teaching, catechizing, etc? Check me against the Scriptures, if there is doubt. Consult the Book of Concord that I once pointed to. It's all there. I took from Luther whenever I could, relied upon official service books, used confirmation materials handed to me by the seminary, and even reformed ancient prayers to conform to Lutheran theology. And if anyone still has a doubt about anything I ever said or did, I will gladly point to the seminary class I learned it from.

Ah, but what of the icons? Last I was in the seminary bookstore, icon prints were still for sale (which is where I got my first one), and two icons hung in the chapel. Lutherans love icons (though not all Lutherans) as beautiful religious art. If this were not so, then when I published my use of icons in the basement chapel of one parish, where were the cries of foul from all the Lutherans?

I can only guess what my former parishioners must be thinking and feeling. It may be some of the above, it may not. I can only apologize for causing them suffering, and thank them for their love and kindness towards us when we were there. We still love and care for them very much. And I respect them. The contract was for Lutheranism, to speak humanly, and that is what I delivered, because when I was with them this was my true confession. Now that I am not their pastor I am doing something else. My suffering was perhaps the Lord's way of dividing us from where we were toward where we needed to be.

My district president and I have an agreement: I will not seek to cause disruption in the parishes I leave behind. I would have it no other way. Yet someone may ask, "If you believe in Orthodoxy, then why would you want to make people feel secure as Lutherans? Shouldn't you try to convince them to become Orthodox?" My answer: to do so would be to force it on them, and that is more danger than I think is good for them. I respect their convictions and their belief, for it was my belief, too, as their pastor. So my desire is that the congregations should heal from the loss of their former pastor, prepare for a new pastor (whoever he is, he will be truly blessed among them), and continue forward together in peace.

"Don't you wish them to embrace Holy Orthodoxy?" YES, of course I do. But, in my opinion, a person should choose to look with freedom. I wish everyone in all creation were Orthodox, but I will not force it on anyone if I can help it. I love my former parishioners and respect them, and in my final fatherly consideration of their souls, I don't think forcing them to look would be healthful for them.

If anyone from anywhere decides in their own freedom to look, that is their choice, and that is by far more healthful than being forced to choose (though still serious). Emily and I both stand willing to listen and to help out anyone, as do countless others who comment on our blogs and to whom we link, for we know there are many across the U.S. and abroad who are reading about what's going on and feel drawn to look into Orthodoxy for themselves.

Let me close this post with a conversation I had recently:

I was speaking with an inquirer. He was very excited about what he was finding in Orthodoxy. When he explained to me the reasons he had for coming into Orthodoxy, one of the reasons was because a pastor he knew had converted, and he had never known that pastor to be wrong before, so he too was going to join. The man who said this to me is a smart man, and a good man, but he had made a mistake that is easy for anyone to make. I said in reply to him, "It is certainly well and good to look into Orthodoxy because of your trust and admiration for this man. However, you should not come to Orthodoxy because of the faith of someone else, no matter what you thought of him. You should only convert to Orthodoxy if you come to believe it yourself." He agreed with me.

When a pastor converts as I have done, there are many people - his parishioners and plenty of others - who may be tempted to follow him because they trust him. However, this way leads to sorrow and loss of faith. Instead one should seek only the Lord Jesus Christ in all things. So respect or admiration can lead a person to inquire, but finding the Lord Jesus Himself is the only reason to truly follow, for it is He that we are called to follow as disciples, and He alone.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Conversion Story? Er...Sort of.

What's this all about?
If you're confused, read the original conversion announcement.

After it is known that someone converts from one faith to another (or denomination, etc.), the next logical question seems always to be "why?" or more specifically "what thing(s) convinced you?".

The answers to those questions have nothing to do with Lutheranism, at least not until my conversion was already a past event. So I have no need to explain what I think is wrong with Lutheranism, because my opinions about it come from being converted; they are not the cause of my conversion.

Conversion is somewhat personal in nature; any story of it really only makes sense to those who have been through it. Plus, I don't really think it will do anyone any good to hear about all the doctrinal or theological changes that happened in me. It's enough that before I chose to be Lutheran, and now I choose to be Orthodox, and my choosing is tied to what I believe.

However, there is another side to the question, "Why did you convert?" The question also tends to mean, "Give an account of yourself. You were a Lutheran pastor, sworn to preach, teach, and confess the Scriptures according to the Lutheran Confessions. You seemed very whole-hearted in your belief and promotion of Lutheran Christianity. You loved serving your two congregations and handing on Lutheranism to them. What in the world happened?"

That question is a little more appropriate to answer.

The Decision to Honestly Look

The most disturbing part of "looking East" is that you truly have to open yourself to the idea that your own way of believing could be missing the mark. This is different from suspecting it is wrong or doubting it is true. It means, rather, that in the face of what you don't know, your own confession of faith may not measure up. Of course, you expect it will measure up and more. But, if we think of all the other people out there who never have come to know the beauties and truth that we know where we are at (in my case it was Lutheran Christianity), and thus lose out from not inquiring, then we must admit that the same is entirely possible for us in the face of what we have never heard or fairly heard out.

I was invited to look East by a friend. The goal was not to be converted, but to see if what was in the Lutheran Confessions was to be found elsewhere. (It is not, as I said in the post announcing my conversion.) But the scariest part is to take what you hold most dear and say, "You must be challenged now and proven genuine in the face of the unknown." The worst that could happen is your conversion; the best is that you learn something.

There are two parts to this challenge, and they are not Orthodoxy vs. Lutheranism. They are "me" and "the Truth". If Lutheranism is the best confession of the Truth, then it can stand against all else, including the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity. If it is not, then it will fall short. But, at the same time, I am sold under sin and subject to corruption. I can be misled. Who's to say I'll get it right. A person has to be careful about this way of thinking. Too much of it leads into being so skeptical and defensive that you hear nothing but what you have decided to hear, or it can lead to outright atheism.

Thus, considering "me" as a fallen human being, the decision to look itself is very dangerous. I decided the reward for looking, though, was worth the risk. The reward is nothing short of my Lord Jesus. To not look was to bind myself to presumption in place of conviction. That's a bit unsettling to me.

I should point out that I had written a paper at the end of seminary, condemning Eastern Orthodoxy as "synergistic" and "not the pure Church of old, but its own denomination..." However, something was unsatisfactory about writing that paper for me. I believed my conclusions in the paper - both in favor of Lutheranism and against Orthodoxy - so it's not like I harbored doubts. Eventually I realized what it was: there was something about Orthodoxy that was different enough from other denominations that made my evaluation of it seem unfair, as if I hadn't given Orthodoxy a proper chance to speak. When the invitation came to give it a serious look, I decided that this was an opportunity for a more careful investigation. If nothing came of it, then at least I would have the satisfaction of knowing why I'm not Orthodox, as I know regarding Roman Catholicism and other Protestant denominations.

Maybe one day I'll publish that paper I wrote with another in rebuttal. It still makes me laugh.

So that is what happened. As to why I kept looking once I discovered Eastern Orthodoxy did not equate with Lutheranism, that's a bit harder to answer. A big part was that, while knowing it wasn't Lutheran was easy, learning what Orthodoxy itself is was terribly hard - and I wanted to know. I certainly walked away from it a number of times, thinking, "Well, that's enough of that." Thank God He had mercy on me.

What I Converted To

And I will say this one last thing: I did not look because I was searching for "the Church." I had friends who were looking for that very thing and found it in Orthodoxy. I had no notions that there must be a "visible" Church or some "true" Church. I just wanted to know what made Eastern Orthodoxy what it is - that would allow me to know if I belonged there or with Lutheranism.

In the end, though, I was blessed to see that what is most defining of Eastern Orthodoxy is it's immediate experience of the kingdom of heaven, of a direct and living connection with Christ that is different from the Protestant experience. In other words, its Church-ness, its ecclesial-ness.

All of the book descriptions about Orthodoxy being the Church, all of the strange ways the Orthodox have about describing things in this Church, all the frustrating and seemingly nonsensical ways the Orthodox try to explain the Christianity of individuals outside Orthodoxy, etc., all is derived from trying to relate in speech, in books, in example, in illustration what can only be known by experience. Thus, the common answer to many who want to know what the big deal is: "Come and see."

In this sense it's a spiritual thing that must be apprehended by faith - by the one seriously and truly inquiring (not pre-concluding). That's not to say that one cannot give witness to Christianity in such ways (books, talking, etc.), because it can be, and always has been, and should be. But it is to say that what is pattently different between Orthodoxy and where I was in Lutheranism is a matter of this experience of the Church's "immediate kingdom-ness".

Sure, the theology of Orthodoxy belongs with its experience, and the two should be together always. My investigation was primarily theological. I do not desire to take anything away from the organic wholeness of Orthodoxy as I write and give description. I merely wish to focus here on the most distinct difference, in my opinion, between Orthodoxy and Protestantism: the experience of the kingdom of heaven while we live in the world.

Between where I was in Lutheranism and where I am in entering Orthodoxy, there are two ways:

  1. A hidden fellowship, spread throughout the world, appearing only where the Gospel is preached in truth and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's command, and sustained by the forgiveness of sins in spite of our fallibility in this life, until the purity and perfection of the next life is attained. Any visible unity or structure or polity is separate from it's invisible church-ness, and is a human creation, plagued by the fallibility of human fallenness. This is proven best by the errors of Rome. At best you can have a visible Church, namely, a congregation, but not the visible Church, at least not until Christ's return. Therefore the true Church transcends what humans build in the visible realm, and instead unites true believers in the invisible realm.

  2. A visible gathering around Christ in the world (a.k.a. a gathering around the Eucharist, continuous and unbroken and findable throughout time). She is known within herself by, and held together throughout history by an ongoing, immediate experience of the kingdom of heaven - which is both eminently and immediately kingdom, Body of Christ, and Church. Her existence in the world is perhaps half-way between the hidden/invisible Church idea and the visible return of Christ on the Last Day - yet this is only apparent to faith. In this immediate experience of Christ and His kingdom "Word and Sacraments" are not all you have to go on, but fill all that this is, visible and invisible, for they are the mystery of Christ being all in all. Because this is an immediate experience of the kingdom, the Church herself is a sacrament of the kingdom, bringing all that enter her into immediate participation in this Kingdom that is also Body and Church of Christ. The sins, vanities, pride, and foolishness of men may rage among those in the fellowship, but they cannot overthrow this immediate experience of the kingdom in her Eucharistic fellowship, because the gates of Hades cannot prevail against her (the Church).

I am still a catechumen (learner), so I pray that if I have misspoken, wiser Orthodox will step in and correct me. Lord, have mercy.

So, I see two ways. It's just a matter of which one you believe. I have converted from one to the other, because I seek Christ Jesus in spirit and in truth, and I believe that based on what I have seen and heard for myself that I cannot remain where I was. I must leave behind what and who I love in Lutheranism in order to remain with and follow the One I love above all things.

And as a result, now I hear a little differently our Lord Jesus' words, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A New Heaven and a New Earth

"I have dreamed a dream, but now that dream is gone from me."

The above is a movie quote from Matrix: Reloaded. The character Morpheus uttered it in shock as he watched his ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, explode before his eyes, which was shortly after discovering that his hope in "The One" was a false hope.

I think of this line as I bid my final farewell to Evangelical Lutheranism.

However, I also think of another line from the same character, this one from the first Matrix film:
"Welcome to the real world...."

It's like being born, coming into Holy Orthodoxy, or like waking from a hard sleep. Everything you once knew or experienced before birth or while asleep is suddenly removed, but in its place is simply what is real and true.

Unlike birth or a dream, though, a person must choose to wake up or to pass beyond the birth canal. Even if he is utterly convinced it must be done, he must still apply his will wholeheartedly. He will not know what that waking or birthing is like experientially, and when it begins it can be quite frightening, because it can sometimes push you along like a current. But in this way God means to bring you from sleeping into waking, from dreaming into the real of His kingdom - what the world calls the Orthodox Church.

I have sent a letter to my district president, resigning from the roster of the LCMS. Because he had asked on more than one occasion about what led me to such a decision, I attached an explanation to the back of the resignation. I reprint it here:

The Reason for My Resignation

In short I have only one reason: my children. Where can I take my children, especially now that I am no longer a parish pastor? The entire Missouri Synod is ablaze with mistrust among its members, endless squabbling over power, and a seemingly unstoppable erosion of worship.

This last point alone is of serious importance, since the Christian faith is that of worship in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23-24; Athanasian Creed), and in the LCMS there are multiple competing worships. This reveals a deep-seated loss of and detachment from the redemption accomplished for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Where can I take my children under the banner of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod that their faith may not be eroded or grievously mislead by this chaos? It is useless to say that all this is simply the way things normally are, because the LCMS is a voluntary association, which means its members voluntarily continue on like this. There is nowhere in the LCMS where my children can be spared from a subjectified, and therefore false, example of Christ and His holy Church.

This much alone is enough for any God-fearing man to pluck his family from the flames and run to safety.

However, more than this lies behind my resignation. If I were to stay, it would only be long enough to advocate that the Synod be dissolved (for it is no synod at all, by definition of the term), or that there be a formal parting of ways. But instead I choose to resign, not only from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, but even from the Evangelical Lutheran Church itself, if there is such a thing.

For over a decade I have earnestly and sincerely given myself to the promotion of the Lutheran Book of Concord. I have thrown everything that I am and have into learning this confession from the best theologians, teaching this confession to all that I could, and defending it wherever possible. It has been my hope, especially during the past four-plus years as a parish pastor, to pass on through these Lutheran Confessions the faith once delivered to the saints by Jesus Christ our Lord through His holy Apostles.

Yet the sad condition of the LCMS and all American Lutheranism itself has led me to explore other options. I had hoped to find the faith detailed in the Book of Concord elsewhere, but I could not. This Confession overturned all other Roman Catholic and Protestant claims to truth completely. But there was one Church, one expression of Christianity that I had not properly engaged due to my own ignorance. That is the Orthodox Church. Better known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, my family and I have become convinced that this Church is without a doubt the very Church of Christ Himself (even though we did not set out to find such a thing). We desire nothing more than to be Christian; the Orthodox Church is the home of Christianity – both at Pentecost and continuously until today.

I had begun by looking for another Lutheran haven. That was a disappointing search. Yet what I found was more than I ever knew was possible. I have found the faith once delivered to the Apostles. I have found the Church described by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. I have found the home of worship in spirit and in truth – even in Spirit and in Truth – and that worship which fulfills the Scriptures. In fact, I have come to believe (for this is no mere intellectual game, but a matter of the heart and soul and serious conviction) that the Orthodox Church is the fulfillment of the Scriptures and their continuing in the history of the cosmos.

Much investigation, prayer, and discernment has gone into this decision. Though other pastors before me, having come to this same decision, have done otherwise, I have chosen not to bring my investigation and discernment regarding this matter into the parishes where I have served. Instead, I have continued throughout to lead them to embrace Lutheranism as I was taught it in seminary. I even left as much of a paper trail as I could so that it would be apparent to all that everything I gave them was Lutheran and congruous with the Lutheran Confessions. Originally this was so future ministers could continue the work after I moved on, and also so the people would know whether they were receiving genuine Lutheranism or not. I have had great confidence that doing this – even as I privately began discerning – was a drastic improvement over the half-decade of vacancy and uncertainty they lived with before my arrival.

I love the people I served in the Lord Jesus dearly. I am sad that I did not get to speak with them about my beliefs concerning Holy Orthodoxy, but I did not feel such a move would have been healthful to them. The Prophet Isaiah said of our Lord Jesus, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (42:3). How much more should I, His unworthy minister, take care with His sheep, to not force anything on them whether they were willing or not, and thereby do damage to their souls. Instead I go on ahead myself, so that all those who hear may have the freedom to inquire or not, to discern or not, to follow or not. The Lord forces no one, and neither do I.

It is true that I have suffered much personal hardship as of late. Rather than dissuade me, it has all tested my faith and brought me with great speed to the gate of Christ’s home in Holy Orthodoxy, like Lazarus begging covered with sores waiting for a kinder Rich Man. God be merciful to me a sinner! The Orthodox Church is the fullest expression of the catholic (universal) faith, and is truly the Body of Christ on earth and the gate of heaven.

I strongly hope and pray that every one reading this will take the time to carefully learn of this Church, and hear her according to her own words and meaning, and not according to our private expectations. It is not easy for we with Western ears, geared toward Roman Catholic vs. Protestant conflicts, to do this, but the labor is well worth it.

If Lutheranism were only compared against Roman Catholicism and the plentitude of Protestant denominations, it would win hands down every time. But never can Lutheranism compare to the Truth and faithfulness of Holy Orthodoxy, and the intimacy she holds with Christ our Lord. Words can neither do justice nor exhaust the greatness of Christ in His Orthodox Church, with the Father and the Spirit ever reigning, world without end. Amen.

In the Orthodox Church my children have the very best they could ever hope to have: communion with Christ in the fullness of His grace. No; it’s better to say that my children have what they should have as Christians. They have what Christ has won for them by His voluntary suffering, death, and resurrection to life. Anything else will just not do.

In Christ,
Benjamin L. Harju

"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" [Rev. 21:1-2].


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.