Are There Many Christian Churches, or Is the True Church One?
An Interview with a Former Protestant Missionary
Peter Jacksona former Protestant missionary and the translator of several books
of Holy Scripture into the language of the Kogi people of Colombia, presently a student at
Holy Trinity Spiritual Seminarytells of his road to Orthodoxy. This is an Interview
conducted with him on the pages of Pravoslavnaya Rus' [Orthodox Rus'] by R.
RS: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
PJ: I was an Evangelical Protestant from birth. My
family attended Baptist and Presbyterian churches, and my parents were firm believers in
[the concept of] the "invisible Church," i.e., [the belief] that there has never
been a single church on earth which could call herself the one True Church; i.e., [a
church] possessing the fulness of the Truth [Isstina]. All that was necessary was
"to believe in Christ" and to attend that church which was
"convenient." But I could never understand why there were so many different
so-called churches, all of which considered themselves to be Bible-based?
When I was 12 years old, our community was visited by some preachers who
were doing missionary work in Colombia and translating the Bible for the Indians. Because
I had always been interested in languages, I was attracted to this work. I was astonished
[to learn] that there are thousands of languages in the world into which the Bible has not
yet been translated. I began to study Greek and Hebrew, in order to prepare myself for
working in translating the Bible into such languages; and, at the university, I studied
linguistics. Later, I joined the Protestant Mission of Bible translators (Wycliffe Bible
Translators), in order to obtain a more detailed education.
When I was in training at Wycliffe, I became acquainted with my future
wife, Styliana; now we have two sons, Nicholas and Benjamin. Styliana's parents were
missionaries in Colombia, when she was yet 5 years old. They preached among the
semi-savage Kogi tribe. Her parents were very happy to receive our (my wife's and mine)
support in this missionary work. They had no time for translations; hence, after our
arrival, I began to study both Spanish (which is spoken in Colombia) and the language of
the Kogi people, and to translate the New Testament and the book of Genesis into their
language. I was also forced to create an orthography for the Kogi, as they had never had a
RS: How did you find out about Orthodoxy?
PJ: Being a missionary, I understood much. The
Evangelicals repeat, over and over, that they all have the same identical faith; but each
denomination has its own system of belief. Thus, I saw that the missionaries in Colombia
pretended to sympathize with the Roman Catholics; but that behind their backs, they hated
each other. Each denomination taught in accordance with its own belief-system, but would
say, at the same time, that all Protestants nonetheless believe one and the same thing. I
began to think deeply about thishow could we teach the tribes a single faith? when
one group would become Baptists, anotherLutherans, a thirdPentecostals. I
discovered that each Bible translator, willy-nilly, would translate it in accordance with
his own denomination's world-view. They would say that this "will help the Indians to
understand [the Bible] better." But which translation of the Bible was the correct
one? How could we proclaim catholicity [sobornost']? Where was the Church in all
Likewise, while I was translating the Bible from the Greek, I noticed
that its meaning was distinct from the English and Spanish translations. The Western
teaching concerning predestination (Calvinism), which always used to trouble me, did not
exist in the Greek Bible. But the English and Spanish translators, willy-nilly, would
introduce slight changes into the meaning of the text, in order to imbue the texts with a
western and even a Calvinist meaning. I likewise noticed that the other major Protestant
doctrines simply could not be Biblical; chiliasm, for example, or the justification of
believers by faith alone, although Protestants explain that these doctrines of theirs are
I began to study Church history, in order to find out precisely whence
these heresies originated, and what the early Church actually taught. Protestants, on the
other hand, teach that, after the Apostles, God ceased all activity, as it were, for
RS: And how did your spouse, who had grown up in a
family of confirmed Protestants react to the road along which you had begun to travel?
PJ: She always supported me; even, as it were, nudged
me along! When we were wed, we promised each other that we would always seek accord in all
controversial issues that might arise. The Truth [Istina] is one, and we always
discuss all questions until we reach an accord. What we cannot agree about is the teaching
concerning the Church. Styliana was likewise brought up with the idea of an
"invisible Church," but rejected it. She believed firmly that the Church must be
somewhere. It was precisely she who inspired me to find out whether Calvinism has any
basis in the Bible. When I discovered that the distorted concept of predestination existed
only in the West, and that the Holy Fathers of the East teach about synergy (i.e., the
mutually-reciprocal bond between the Divine and human wills), my wife asked me:
"Well, what about the Greek Church, then? Perhaps it contains the
My response was the following:
"Which Greek Church? Are you speaking of the Orthodox Church?"
I knew nothing about Orthodoxy, but I had been brought up with the
understanding that Orthodoxy is as pernicious as [Roman] Catholicismeven worse, in
fact. Thus, I expressed no further interest in the idea.
In the meantime, we were approaching ever closer to Orthodoxy! When we
were invited to preach at meetings, I would speak about fasting and the doctrine of
synergy. But people did not like what I had to say. I tried to be a proper Protestant and
base my teachings upon the Bible, but people would say:
"We don't care that you can support your words with the Bible, this
is still not our doctrine." It was apparent that, despite Protestantism's stand
against Church Tradition, they had created their own tradition. We finally figured out
that we were no longer Protestants. But we were also not [Roman] Catholics. So what were
we? Where was our faith?
When we returned to America for vacation, my wife purchased a used book
for 10 cents, entitled "The Orthodox Church." I immediately read it and was
struck by lightning, as it were. I did not know about the seven cumenical Councils and
about former apostasies. Now, I read about theosis and hesychasm, about St. Gregory
Palamas and the Venerable Serafim of Sarov. This was a new world! But, in reality, it was
not new, but distinctively unique [samobytnyi]; this was the Apostolic Faith. The
Truth [Istina] had turned out to be there, where we had not expected to find
Itbut [where] It had always waited for us. We understood that Christ had truly built
His Church, having said to Peter: "upon this rock I will build My Church, and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against her" (Matt. 16: 18). We believed in this as
in a verity, even when our families and friends stood opposed to our beliefs.
RS: When did you become Orthodox?
PJ: Only after our return to Colombia did we decide to
become Orthodox. But we could not find an Orthodox parish; there was only a tiny Greek
community there, but without a priest. A year later, we finally met a priest from
Venezuela, and he agreed to baptize us. A month later, he returned with a bishop from the
Patriarchate of Constantinople, who invited us to move to Argentina, where he would have
prepared me for the priesthood. But the newspapers at that time were filled with stories
about the meetings between the cumenical Patriarch and the Pope of Rome.
RS: What did you know about ecumenism and modernism in
PJ: We had already read about the participation of the
"official Orthodox Churches" in the "World Council of Churches," but
our Orthodox friends in America (all of them, from "officially-Orthodox
Churches") sought to convince us that there is no false teaching or heresy involved
in this; and that, by participating in the WCC, the Orthodox can enlighten the heterodox [inovernyie].
Nevertheless, this meeting between the cumenical Patriarch and the Pope of Rome troubled
us; as did the news that the Antiochian Patriarchate had established de facto
communion with the Monophysites. I wrote a letter about this to our bishop.
We were shocked by his reply. He railed abusively [vyrugal] at us
for our doubting the Patriarch and said that he was sorry that we had been "deceived
by fanatics," that is, by the True Orthodox. But we didn't even know a single True
Orthodox person, and we had never heard of them. We were simply opposed to ecumenism,
because it rejects the "uniqueness" [yedinstvennost'] of Holy Orthodoxy,
and thereby contradicts the cumenical Councils. Worse yet, the bishop informed us that
the cumenical Patriarch had not only wanted to enter into communion with the
Monophysites and the [Roman] Catholics, but even with all the monotheistic faiths.
This was no longer Orthodoxy! I have saved this letter, in order to show it to my
"Orthodox" ecumenist-friends. Ecumenism-modernism is not simply a temporary
tendency [veyaniye] that will soon vanish. It is the greatest peril of our times.
RS: How did you happen to meet True Orthodox
Christians, and how did this affect your life?
PJ: I was already sending off letters to various
Orthodox jurisdictions, in order that they might help me create an Orthodox parish in
Colombia. Soon after our baptism, we received letters from Bishop Ilarion [Hilarion] and
Fr. Luke; both of them were from ROCOR. Both the one and the other treated us with
Christian love, and also suggested to us that we should find out about ecumenism in
greater detail. Vladyka Ilarion did not say anything bad against that bishop from the PC,
but stated that the Holy Spirit was guiding us onto the right path. When we had finished
thoroughly studying [izuchili] the literature of ROCOR and the other True Orthodox
jurisdictions, we saw clearly the distinction between their spirituality and the
pseudo-spirituality [lzhedukhovnost'] of the "Orthodox" modernists. Thus,
we decided to join ROCOR.
RS: Now you are studying at Holy Trinity Seminary. What
are your plans for the future?
PJ: Despite the fact that there have long-since been
Orthodox temples in Latin America, we were amazed by the fact that there is not a single
one in Colombia, although Orthodox [Christians] do live there. Likewise, many of our
friends and acquaintances in Colombia are interested in Orthodoxy. This is a [Roman]
Catholic country, but the Protestants have drawn many to themselves. The majority of
[Roman] Catholics would never have converted to Protestantism, had they not noticed that
their church is moving ever-farther-away from the Truth [Istina]. People tell us
that they want to find that original Faith which [once] existed among the ancient Saints.
Thus, we think that Colombia, like all of Latin America, is a great harvest, which is
awaiting its workers.
RS: What would you like to say to our non-Orthodox
PJ: We are disappointed by the fact that at such a time
as Orthodoxy is being reborn in Rus', many false teachings are appearing and polluting
Russia. God is one, the Church is one, and the Truth [Istina] is one. I would
advise the non-Orthodox readers to study thoroughly [izuchit'] the teaching of the
Orthodox Church. Not a single other church or faith can call itself the true Church. Do
not depart from Orthodoxy because you see some people in it of little faith. You must not
abandon the Truth [Istina] on account of sinful man. Sinners are everywhere, but
true Saints are only [to be found] in Orthodoxy. Do not be afraid to ask questions and to
seek the Truth [Istina]. Then you will be able to say with us:
"We see the true Light; we have found the true Faith."
+ + +
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel
contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so
now I say again, If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you
received, let him be accursed. (St. Paul [The Epistle to the Galatians, Ch. I, vv. 8-9])
Translated by G. Spruksts from the Russian text in PR,
No. 8, 1997, pp. 11-12, 14.