"Most people have no idea what the Orthodox Church is. When I joined the church, my [Protestant] family was perplexed. They thought I had joined the Catholic Church, and Protestants are Rome-a-phobic," said David Hunt. Hunt transferred to St. Anthony Orthodox Church from Horizon Church after he started to read church history. "I was happy in a nondenominational church, until I had a family member attend New Life Presbyterian Church and say he had found the true church. This got me thinking, maybe there is something more out there." Hunt said he began to read Ignatius, Clement, John Chrysostom, and several other early Christian writers. "I was initially shocked and distressed." Hunt said the shock was over beliefs he held for years without any question that were under attack. Hunt and his family began to seek a new church that reflected three truths he saw in church history. These truths included a church with Episcopal government, sacramental focus, and liturgical service. "The historical church is Episcopal in government. This means that a bishop is over the pastor and that there is a leadership structure. In typical nondenominational churches, if someone doesn't like a pastor, he can just move on to the next church. All it takes is someone who decides to start his own church, come up with his own doctrine, and he goes off and forms his own church. That was not how it was meant to be," said Hunt. "A church needs also to be sacramental. There should be a focus on the Eucharist and how God works through mysteries to bestow grace to us.
"Lastly, the church should be liturgical. God spends a good portion of Old Testament describing how He is to be worshiped," said Hunt. "We see a lot of examples of incense in the Old Testament and in future heavenly worship depicted in Revelation." Hunt believes more Christians should investigate Church history. "C.K. Chesterton said that tradition is giving your ancestors a vote. This protects us from wacky theology and wacky services. This is not a common concept. Everyone is into reinventing the church to make it exciting, or with contemporary worship. If you took a Christian from any place in history except our own and put them in a church, they would know what was going on. Martin Luther would have no clue what is going on in most Protestant churches."
"A lot of Protestants view the first churches as sitting around singing praise songs with a guitar," said Nathan Thompson who transferred from The Flood, a Baptist church, to St. Anthony's several years ago. "I experienced a service that is more solemn, worshipful, and appropriate than Protestant churches. Western services, in general, have a tendency to segregate the teaching and worship as two pieces. In the Orthodox tradition, theology and worship are not separated. All our hymnology is theologically based. We say that we worship will all five senses. We taste the Eucharist, see icons, smell the incense, touch the icons, and hear the sounds. The Orthodox Church is the original church with an unbroken line to the church founders. We have the original message and we've been faithful to it." Thompson received a masters of theology at Fuller Seminary but plans to become an Orthodox priest. "There is definitely a large movement from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy. Most of the people in our church came from Protestant churches. A larger number of our clergy are Protestants who became Orthodox. People [today] are drawn to the mystical, spiritual aspect of Orthodoxy," said Thompson.
St. Anthony's conducts services in English. Forty-one people attended the Saturday Vespers service held at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. The heavily liturgical services included prayers, responsive readings, and scripture readings. Three men led antiphonal a cappella chants. A deacon walked the room as he performed the great censing with incense. Father Jon Braun led the prayer service in front of the sanctuary with two deacons. In front of Father Braun, two large iconic paintings depict Jesus and Mary. Service ended when Father Braun gave the congregation the final blessing and offered the dismissal.
Father Jon Braun founded St. Anthony's 11 years ago. Braun joined the Orthodox Church after he and six other Campus Crusade for Life leaders began to study church history. "We were looking for more depth in the church. We were concerned with the stability of the church. At the time, there was a movement to a pop-style of worship." Father Braun said that 2000 Campus Crusade people followed when they joined the Orthodox Church in 1987. "People who were leaders, staff, and students joined our exodus from the Protestant Church. Since then, thousands have followed this movement."
I asked Father Braun what happens to a person after he dies. "After death, a person will go to heaven or hell. A person who has faith in Christ will go to heaven," replied Father Braun. "But Orthodox people don't like to judge who this will be; we leave judgment to God. How can I be sure of how earnest people are when they say they are Christian? We don't believe in 'Ask Jesus in to your heart and it will all be ok.' Christianity is not a one-time experience but a growing process."
2825 Merton Avenue, San Diego
Denomination: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church
Founded locally: 1994
Senior pastor: Jon Braun
Congregation size: 210
Staff size: 1
Sunday school enrollment: 25
Annual budget: $175,000
Weekly giving: didn't know
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to business casual
Worship times: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.; Sunday,
8:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour