The Road That Leads Home
by the Reverend Dorraine S. Snogren, with an Introduction by Bishop Ephraim
The Reverend Dorraine Snogren has been a United Methodist
pastor for over thirty years. In the past several years he has
come to feel increasingly that most Christians today, while they
might have a certain reverence for Church history, are in fact
quite ignorant of this heritage. This ignorance can largely be
explained by the entire approach to Christianity that emphasizes
the freedom of the individual to arrive at his own beliefs,
guided only by his interpretation of the Bible. The Christian
message, cut off from its heritage, is becoming more and more
arbitrary and indefinite.
An Evangelical Protestant who desires to make a careful study
of Church history must overcome certain difficulties. This
article is a record of such a study, the difficulties
encountered, and the conclusions that presented themselves. It
was written by a Protestant minister as a help in formulating his
own conclusions, and to share with certain members of his
In the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we read the
account concerning Cornelius the centurion, a Roman living in the
midst of Romans in Caesarea, the administrative capital of all of
Judaea, who yet was "a devout man, and one that feared God
with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and
prayed to God always," (Acts 10:2) one who also was
accustomed to fast until the ninth hour (v. 30). On these
accounts he is worthy of praise, as Saint Paul writes in his
Epistle to the Romans, "But glory, honour, and peace, to
every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the
Greek: for there is no respect of persons with God" (Romans
2:1011). Virtue has its own value, wherever it is to be
found. And yet these virtues are insufficient in themselves,
without faith in Christ and reception into His Church. Before
meeting the Apostle Peter, Cornelius neither believed aright
concerning God, or taught others the truth. But God, beholding
his diligence in that which he knew, and foreseeing also how
willingly he would embrace the truth, brought him to know Christ
in a wondrous manner. When Cornelius had fasted until the ninth
hour of the day, and was in prayer, an Angel appeared to him,
announcing to him that his prayers and alms had arisen before God
for a memorial, and commanding him to summon the Apostle Peter,
who would tell him what he should do. The Apostle Peter was
himself prepared to receive the messengers from Cornelius by a
vision and a voice telling him, "What God hath cleansed,
that call not thou common," and he was commanded by the Holy
Spirit to accompany the messengers from Cornelius. In such a
wondrous and extraordinary manner was the Apostle Peter brought
to Cornelius, and having heard the Apostle Peter, Cornelius and
those with him straightway believed and were baptized. Saint John
Chrysostom, commenting on this passage, has written, ". . .
if He did not overlook the Magi, nor the Ethiopian, nor the
thief, nor the harlot, much more them that work righteousness,
and are willing, shall He in anywise not overlook." The
righteousness of Cornelius was not overlooked by God; it prepared
him to receive the Gospel and so to be joined to the Church,
wherein was the fulfillment and reward of that righteousness.
The Reverend Dorraine Snogren aptly writes, " ... just
because God in His grace and mercy has met us where we are and
adapted Himself to our unique cultural and religious
circumstances in no way means He has abandoned His original
plan." Truth is found in the Church, and those who would
apprehend the truth must unite themselves to the Church. If God
could in so wondrous a manner provide for the illumination and
salvation of Cornelius, who was from among the pagans, how much
more will He provide for those who seek Him from among the
How diligent we Orthodox should be, who have as our heritage
the "Faith which was once delivered unto the Saints"
(Jude 1:3), received from the very Apostles, and preserved within
the Church unto our own days as that living and holy Tradition.
And how we should rejoice, beholding the earnestness with which
the Reverend Dorraine Snogren has sought the truth, and discerned
it in the Orthodox Church.
Some years ago, one of the Reverend Dorraine Snogren's four
sons entered the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, where he has
since been tonsured a monk, receiving the name Philaret. In the
years since that time, Father Philaret's three brothers have also
converted to Orthodoxy. His oldest brother, Andrew, also a former
Methodist minister, together with his wife Alexandra and their
two children, Krista and Hilary, live in Wentworth, New
Hampshire, and are members of the Church of the Dormition of the
Theotokos, in Concord, New Hampshire. Another brother, John, with
his wife Valerie and their son Nicholas, live in Washington,
D.C., and are members of the Church of Saint Cosmas of Aitolia,
in Riverdale, Maryland. A third brother, Constantine, lives in
Brookline, Massachusetts, and attends services at both the Holy
Transfiguration Monastery and the Church of Saint Anna, in
Roslindale, where he is one of the chanters.
Since writing this article, the Reverend Dorraine Snogren has
resigned from the ministry of the United Methodist Church, and he
and his wife Ruth have moved to Concord, New Hampshire, where
they plan to become members of the Church of the Dormition of the
+ + +
I am on my way home to the Orthodox Church. For me this is a
most unlikely journey. Where I have been doesnt seem to
support where I am allegedly going. Here I am, an evangelical,
charismatic, Protestant, having served the Lord faithfully for
over thirty years as a United Methodist pastor, now considering
becoming Orthodox. It doesnt make sense. Or does it? It
makes a lot of sense when one begins to understand the meaning
and function of Tradition in the early Church.
I believe Tradition is the most formidable barrier a
Protestant must deal with in his pursuit of the historic and
authentic expression of the Faith. And if my experience is at all
typical, once one begins to understand Tradition as understood
and expressed in the early Church, then Tradition as barrier
gives way to Tradition as a road map that leads one safely home
Needless to say, that statement needs a lot of explanation.
Let me quickly proceed.
Part I: The Meaning and Function of Tradition
Georges Florovsky, one of the outstanding theologians and
writers of our century, made a statement to the effect that he
would not isolate himself to his own age. 
That thought is not only provocative but also disconcerting.
For isolating ourselves to our own age is precisely what the vast
majority of Christians are doing today. We are ignorant of our
spiritual heritage. We have cut ourselves off from our spiritual
We might recall that there were Church Fathers, but we are
completely ignorant of what they said. Our recollection of the
Churchs Seven Ecumenical Councils dims even more, even
though the Councils decisions, definitions, and directions
were understood to be the irrevocable mind of the Spirit upon
which the entire Church was forever to be secured and defined.
In other words, vast segments of Christendom are not
benefiting from what the Church has been, said, or done. We are
not building on the mind of the Spirit, which was pursued so
faithfully and defended with such meticulous care by our
spiritual forefathers. We are living and thinking as though the
Church did not exist until we got on board or that the Church of
the past is irrelevant and inconsequential. For many it is as
though the Church ended in Acts 28 and did not reappear until the
sixteenth century Reformation, or for a few, not until the
What we are saying in all of this is simply that many of us
have cut ourselves off from what the Church has called Holy
Tradition. This has not only created an anemic condition among
us; it has drastically deformed our concept of the Church. When
some of my friends say, "I wish we were more like the early
Church," I fear they do not know what they are asking and
would be reluctant to pursue the only avenue that leads to its
restoration. You see, it is Holy Tradition that provides us our
living connection with the past. We can be like the early Church,
but not without Holy Tradition. It alone
"contemporizes" the past with integrity. It alone
introduces us to the mind of the Spirit, which never contradicts
I recognize, however, that for many, Tradition has a lot of
negative associations. It speaks of man-made rules and
regulations; of things antiquated, irrelevant, and formalized; of
quaint ideas suited best for a museum. It speaks of a restrictive
adherence to the past that handicaps our freedom to pursue the
fresh breeze of Gods Spirit. But possibly most damaging is
the assumption that Tradition speaks of things that Jesus
forthrightly condemned. People erroneously equate Jesus
condemnation of the "tradition of the elders" with the
Churchs Holy Tradition. They fail to see that those human
precepts were substitutes for the Gospel, while the Churchs
traditions are the very framework that opens the Gospel up to us.
We commonly think of tradition as something handed down to us
from the past. Christian Tradition is that, but much, much more.
Holy Tradition has to do with the Faith which our Lord imparted
to the Apostles and which, since Apostolic times, has been handed
down from generation to generation in the Church. It is that
understanding and those practices, which have been tested by a
long time and were permanently lasting. But let me be more
A Common Understanding
Tradition, first of all, has to do with a body of material, a
common understanding, an accepted way of interpreting and dealing
with the Faith. The importance of this presumed unity is seen
clearly in Scripture. The Apostle Paul passionately appeals to
the Christians at Corinth, "that all of you agree and that
there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the
same mind and the same judgment" (I Cor. 1:10). He insists
that all church leaders "hold firm to the sure word as
taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound
doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it" (Titus
1:9). Our Lords prayer for unity in John 17 has everything
to do with His followers being sanctified "in the
truth" (v. 17). And again, His promise to be present with
those who gather in His Name is predicated by His saying,
"if two of you agree . . ." (Matt. 18:19). Then, of
course, there is Pauls unparalleled reference to "one
Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5).
From the time of our Lord there began developing a body of
truth, a particular interpretation of the divine events; and the
Church leaders from the time of the Apostles were given to
preserving and building on that sacred "tradition." So
the Apostle Paul exclaims, "stand firm and hold to the
traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth
or by letter" (II Thess. 2:15). "I commend you,"
Paul says to the Corinthian believers, "because you . . .
maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to
you" (I Cor. 11:2). 
And so, Saint Vincent of Lérins echoes the attitude of the
early Church in the matters of faith when he wrote, "We must
hold what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all."
The Mind of the Church
Seeing Tradition as encompassing this common understanding,
the appeal to Tradition also becomes an appeal to the mind of the
Church. It is the thinking capital of the Church. So the fourth
century Greek Father Athanasius encourages a Church Bishop:
"Let us look at that very tradition, teaching, and faith of
the Catholic Church from the very beginning, which the Lord gave,
the Apostles preached, and the Fathers preserved. Upon this the
Church is founded." 
Thank God the Church has a mind. It is healthy. It retains. It
doesnt forget. There is an ecclesiastical understanding
that lives in the Church. We dont have to be "tossed
to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the
cunning of men" (Eph. 4:14).
Occasionally someone suggests that the early Church quickly
became an apostate, but this is so incongruous with the integrity
with which the mind of the Church was maintained. If ever there
were "fundamentalists," in the best sense of the word,
they lived in those early centuries. They were sticklers for the
truth. In dealing with heretics, the defenders of the Faith
always appealed to the mind of the Church, to that Faith which
had been once delivered and faithfully kept.
So instead of becoming apostate, just the opposite was taking
place. As one writer said, "In the divine economy of
Providence it was permitted that every form of heresy that was
ever to infest the Church should now exhibit its essential
principle and attract the censures of the faithful. Thus,
testimony to the primitive truth was secured and recorded: the
language of catholic orthodoxy was developed and defined, and
landmarks of faith were set up for perpetual memorial to all
So we have Saint Irenaeus (ca. 130215) writing of
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by Apostles, and
conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by
Apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna,
whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried (on earth)
a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and
most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having
always taught the things which he had learned from the
Apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which
alone are true. 
Saint Irenaeus further states that the true Faith "is
being preserved in the Church from the Apostles through the
succession of the presbyters."  This
speaks of the Church holding the same Faith with one voice as
handed down by the Apostles and preserved by the successive
Reflecting this mind of the Church, one writer penned it so
We preserve the Doctrine of the Lord uncorrupted, and
firmly adhere to the Faith He delivered to us, and keep it
free from blemish and diminution, as a Royal Treasure, and a
monument of great price, neither adding any thing, nor taking
any thing from it. 
So appealing to Tradition is appealing to the mind of the
Church, to an ecclesiastical understanding; indeed, it is our
living connection with the fullness of the Church experience. It
is the total life of the Church transferred from place to place
and from generation to generation as it is inspired and guided by
the Holy Spirit. "For tradition which expresses the voice of
the whole Church is also the voice of the Holy Spirit living in
the Church."  How comforting and
securing it is to be a part of that stream of consciousness, that
river of truth.
Patristic as Well as Apostolic
Our understanding of Tradition is further enhanced when we
realize that the early Church considered itself Patristic as well
as Apostolic. Apostles and Fathers were coupled together. The
Fathers were the theologians, the teachers of the Faith if you
please, whom God raised up to give definition to the truth
recorded in Scripture. They preserved and developed the Faith in
keeping with the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts begins with Luke reminding his readers that
in his previously written Gospel he "dealt with all that
Jesus began to do and teach" (Acts 1:1). The implication is
that our Lord continued His ministry and teaching long after His
Ascension. This is in keeping with Jesus promise to His
disciples that after His departure, "When the Spirit of
truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John
16:13). The Church believed that one of the critical evidences of
the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit was in and through the
Fathers of the Faith. 
The mind of the Church and conforming to the Traditions of the
Fathers are synonymous. The heretics were judged by the Church
because they had no Fathers. They were innovators; their thinking
was not in keeping with the Tradition that the Spirit had
revealed and that the Fathers had preserved. And so the
eighteenth century monk, Starets Paisii, sums it up well in a
letter to a friend:
I plead and ask you from my whole heart to have undoubting
faith in the Fathers and in the teachings contained in them,
for they agree in all respects with the Divine Scriptures and
with the minds of all the ecumenical teachers and the entire
Holy Church, because one and the same Holy Spirit was working
in them. 
Scripture and Tradition
Undoubtedly the most troublesome facet of Tradition for the
Protestant is the relationship of Tradition to Scripture. The
Protestant puts Scripture above the Church. It is as though the
Church was made for the Bible, when in reality the Bible was made
for the Church. One must begin by realizing that the Bible and
Tradition are not two different expressions of the Christian
faith. Holy Tradition is the source of Holy Scripture. The Bible
is given to us in Tradition. Holy Tradition is the faith of which
Holy Scripture is an expression.
The Scriptural message was given to men not in paper and ink.
Gods Word was first placed in mens souls; His words
were engraved and imprinted in spirit and not by letter. Our
Lords message was first presented orally and only later
written down (see Luke 1:13).
Early in the Church the Word of God began to develop and take
on specific form and expression. A common understanding, a
"tradition," if you please, began developing under the
leadership of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles and their converts
taught and founded churches all over the Mediterranean world and
left them with its oral Tradition (see Acts 2:42; II Thess. 2:15,
Some might say, "Didnt Tradition get out of hand
and impose a lot of excess baggage on the Bible?" It is true
that certain doctrines began to take shapes that are only alluded
to in the Bible (e.g., the Trinity). Specific forms of worship
and practice also began to develop, like the rites of Baptism and
the Eucharist. The Fathers, however, always spoke of these as
having "Apostolic" origin. It is helpful to think of
these so-called "additions" to the Bible as what might
be omitted from a biography. A biography does not exhaust the
life of its subject. One would never say that because such and
such is not in the biography, therefore, it did not happen. Saint
Basil (ca. 330379) spoke of these as the "unwritten
mysteries of the Church," all of which were flourishing in
the fourth century and were understood to have great authority
and significance and were considered indispensable for the
preservation of the right Faith.  "Some
things we have from written teaching," said Saint Basil,
"others we have received from the Apostolic Tradition handed
down to us in a mystery; and both these things have the same
force for piety." 
"But shouldnt the Church be identical with the
Church of the Apostles? The Church in the Acts of the Apostles
appears so simple." That is like comparing your picture as
an adult with your picture taken as a child. There is a
correspondence, but something would be woefully wrong if your
appearance remained identical. A seed has an entire tree hidden
in its smallness. As the seed begins to grow, phenomenal changes
take place. However, its identity and continuity with the seed is
never lost. Even if that tree should live for one hundred, two
hundred, or more years, every single leaf that shall ever appear
will have had its origin and existence in that tiny seed from
which the tree sprang forth. Apple seeds dont produce
cornstalks. So it is with the Church. The Gospel starts like a
seed, but as it takes root and develops, changes do take place.
The Spirit, however, does not contradict Himself; so the
Churchs development in its self-awareness, doctrine, and
practice had to be meticulously in line with the mind of the
Spirit as He had always been known and expressed.
Just because an idea was ancient did not automatically make it
authentic. Something became a part of Holy Tradition only if a
comprehensive consensus of the ancients could be satisfactorily
demonstrated. And that consensus, as such, was not conclusive
unless it could be traced back continuously to Apostolic origins.
Tradition was never regarded as adding anything to Scripture;
it was the means of ascertaining and expressing the true meaning
of Scripture. Tradition, therefore, is the true interpreter of
Scripture. We would say Tradition is Scripture rightly
Scripture Rightly Understood
It is important to realize that the Church existed before the
New Testament was written. Little by little the Gospels and
Epistles began to appear. One writer rightly observed:
Moreover, when we take into account how few
"books," or manuscripts, there were in those days,
and the fact that besides the genuine writings there were
other gospels and texts written under the names of the
Apostles, it is easy to understand how important the living
Tradition of the Church was in safeguarding the true
Christian faith. The prime importance of Tradition is plainly
shown by the fact that it was not until the fifth century
that the Church established conclusively which books in
circulation should be regarded as genuinely inspired by
Gods revelation. Thus the Church itself determined the
composition of the Bible. 
As the Church defined the content of the Bible, it is to the
Church that we turn for the interpretation of the Bible.
No, this does not mean that we cant read the Bible for
ourselves and hear God speak to us from that reading. But on the
other hand, "private interpretation" (II Peter 1:20) is
never the basis for our authority. The judgment of Scriptural
interpretation must never be a merely private judgment, but must
be a judgment in harmony with the mind of the Church as expressed
in Holy Tradition.
It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives
its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided
which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the
Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with
Saying this puts one on a collision course with what the vast
majority of Western Christians believe today. Today we have bowed
to the cult of proud individualism. "I can believe anything
I want," or "Nobody tells me what to believe except the
Holy Spirit" are heard time and again. We freely
re-interpret Christs teachings according to our personal
tastes, guided only by our personal liking.  As
Georges Florovsky put it, "We are in danger of losing the
uniqueness of the Word of God in the process of continuous
reinterpretation.".  We might preach
salvation in Christ, but it is a salvation in egocentric
isolation from the Church. As someone observed, the Protestant in
protesting the Pope has promoted each individual to the rank of
infallible Pope. Private opinion reigns.
The Christian message is becoming increasingly indefinite and
appearing as only one more teaching in the series of teachings
ancient and new. And all of this because "without the Church
the possibility is open for an innumerable quantity of the most
arbitrary and mutually contradictory understandings.". 
Because "the faith of Christ becomes clear and
definite for man only when he unhypocritically believes in the
Church; only then are the pearls of this faith clear, only then
does the faith remain free from the pile of dirty rubbish of
all-possible, self-willed opinions and judgments.". 
We need the Bible. We need Tradition. We need the Church.
George Cronk in his book The Message of the Bible summarizes it
Since scripture is given within the context of tradition,
it must also be read, interpreted, and understood within that
context. And since as we have seen, tradition is the total
life and experience of the Church, it follows that the Church
is the sole authoritative interpreter of the Bible. Christ is
the founder and head of the Church, and the Church is the
body of Christ (see Eph. 4:116 and 5:2133). This
means that Christ lives in, inspires, and guides His Church
through the Holy Spirit. Christ, in and through the Church,
provides the correct interpretation of the Bible and of other
aspects of holy tradition. It is only within the living
Tradition of the Church and the direct inspiration of
Christs Spirit that the proper interpretation of the
Bible can be made. 
PART II: The Content and Relevance of Tradition
Everything we have said thus far has to do with defining
Tradition and seeing its role in the Church. But we cant
stop with that. The critical issue facing us now is not what
Tradition means but what Tradition says. Once we begin developing
an appreciation for Tradition we are forced to deal with its
message. For the typical Evangelical Protestant, that can become
a threatening and destabilizing experience. We are forced to
rethink some passages of Scripture, question some of our
long-standing beliefs, and re-evaluate our understanding of the
spiritual life. We begin to realize that through
"Westernization" we have, at least to a degree, lost
the "scriptural mind," the idiom of the Bible. 
In the light of Holy Tradition we appear embarrassingly
Obviously this paper is not the place to deal with the full
scope of Traditions content; that is a massive subject.
However, as I gained confidence in the integrity of Tradition as
my guide, I discovered three specific areas of thought that not
only filled my mind with wonderment but also challenged my
thinking and further pointed me home to Orthodoxy. I refer to the
early Churchs understanding of Episcopacy, Baptism, and the
Eucharist. Let me now share some of my findings in those three
areas, and let us see how we compare with the understanding and
practice of the early Church.
The Place of the Bishop
Many people today are attracted to churches that down play
formality and structure in favor of spontaneity and equality.
They have the misguided understanding that this is what most
authentically reflects the life of the early Church. 
If that were so, what do we do with the thoughts of
Clement, Bishop of Rome at the end of the first century? He gives
us a birds eye view of church life that not only speaks of
order and design in worship, but he sees the regulations of
Leviticus as illustrative of Christian worship.
The Lord has commanded that the offerings and services
should be performed with care, and done at the fixed times
and seasons, not in a haphazard and irregular fashion... .
The high priest has been given his own special services, the
priests have been assigned their own place, and the Levites
[i.e., deacons] have their special ministrations enjoined on
them. The layman is bound by the ordinances of the laity. 
I find it most interesting that he speaks of
"laymen," making a clear distinction between ministers
Then we have the writing of Ignatius. He was appointed the
second Bishop of Antioch about A.D. 69. This makes him a very
early witness and early enough that we dare not discount the
tradition that he was a disciple of the Apostle John. His life
stretches back to the very roots of our Faith and, therefore, has
to be taken very seriously.  What we
discover in his writings is his overriding emphasis on unity and
submission to ecclesiastical authority represented primarily by
the Bishop. He says that without the Bishop there is no Church,
there is no Baptism, no Eucharist; that the Bishop presides at
common worship, and if Presbyters officiate, they do so as his
delegates.  But let Ignatius speak for
I advise you, be eager to act always in godly concord;
with the bishop presiding as the counterpart of God, the
presbyters as the counterpart of the council of the Apostles,
and the deacons ... who have been entrusted with a service
... so you must do nothing without the bishop and the
presbyters. And do not try to think that anything is
praiseworthy which you do on your own accord: but unite in
one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope; with love
and blameless joy... . When you are submissive to the
bishop as to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are not
living as ordinary men but according to Jesus Christ... .
Likewise let all men respect the deacons as they reverence
Jesus Christ, just as they must respect the bishop as the
counterpart of the Father, and the presbyters as the council
of God and the college of Apostles; without those no church
is recognized. 
We must bear in mind that originally there was only one Church
in a given community. And, as is obvious from the above readings,
they all met together in one place around a Bishop. As Georges
Florovsky says: "It can be asserted with great assurance
that ... each local community was headed by its own Bishop, and
that he was the main, and probably exclusive, minister of all
sacraments in his church for his flock."  But
when the number of Christians grew and a single meeting of this
sort became impossible, the community of believers split into a
network of parishes dependent upon it. The Presbyters (Elders)
then replaced the Bishop and became his fully empowered deputies,
but through the sacrament of the episcopal laying on of hands all
congregations retained their organic link with the Bishop as the
beneficent organ of Church unity. 
Irenaeus was another early Bishop born about A.D. 130. His
argument against the heretics of his day was that the truth to be
espoused was the truth preserved in the churches through the
succession of Bishops. With great confidence he says: "We
can enumerate those who were appointed bishops in the Churches by
the Apostles and their successors down to our own day." He
then lists the Bishops, using the Church at Rome and its
succession of Bishops as his example. I personally found this
most intriguing. He said:
The blessed Apostles, after they had founded and built the
church [at Rome], handed over to Linus the office of Bishop.
Paul mentions this Linus in his epistles to Timothy. He was
succeeded by Anacletus, after whom Clement was appointed to
the bishopric, third in order from the Apostles. He not only
had seen the blessed Apostles, but had also conferred with
them, and had their preaching still ringing in his ears, and
their tradition still before his eyes.
After listing the several other successors he concludes by
... and now Eleutherus occupies the see, the twelfth
from the Apostles. In his order and succession the Apostolic
tradition in the church and the preaching of the truth has
come down to our time. 
Interesting indeed! Yes, the early Church was under a great
move of Gods Spirit, but not without a developing design
and structure and not without highly visible, duly recognized,
heavenly ordained leadership.
This answers the question of why the book of Acts gives such
prominence to the Apostles. Why is it the Acts of the Apostles?
Why not the Acts of all true Spirit-filled believers? Immediately
after the death of Judas, the Apostles felt obligated to appoint
a successor. There had to be twelve. Then came Pentecost and
everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit. There was a great
"charismatic revival," in the authentic apostolic and
patristic sense of the term, in fulfillment of Christs own
words, "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. .
. . But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send
in My Name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your
remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:18, 25).
But what happened? Did this spiritual awakening mean everyone
began doing his own thing, starting his own independent ministry,
maybe his own church? No. We read: "And they devoted
themselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship, to the
breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). The Church
was sacramental; the people were subject to the Apostles and were
soon to find the same security, nourishment, and leadership in
the Bishops as the uncontested successors to the Apostles.
As free-spirited evangelicals, what do we do with this
information? Dare we make light of Apostolic Succession? What
would those early leaders think of all our freewheeling
independent movements? Does our understanding of the Church, its
leadership, authority, and functioning correspond with integrity
to that early Church?
But lets hold those questions in abeyance for a few
minutes and move on to another area. I refer to the early
Churchs understanding of Baptism.
The Meaning of Baptism
All the extant writings of antiquity point to one undeniable
fact, and that is that the early Church was a sacramental Church
both in theology and practice. Alexander Schmemann put it well.
He said: "This double mysteryrebirth from water and
the Spirit and the breaking of breadwas not simply a
ceremonial service but the source, the content, the very heart of
primitive Christianity." 
The Scriptures make many references to Baptism and in such a
manner that it places Baptism as an indispensable part of
ones salvation experience.
Jesus description of the new birth as a birth by
water and the Spirit was always understood by the early Church as
the water of holy Baptism (John 3:5).
Jesus commissioning His disciples to go into all
the world and make disciples was to be realized first by
baptizing them (Matt. 28:19).
Peter, on the day of Pentecost, directed his
congregation that the way out of their sin and into the
Spirit-filled life was to "repent and be baptized"
Ananias knew the importance of Baptism as evidenced in
his exhorting the new convert Saul: "And now why do you
wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on
His Name" (Acts 22:16).
Pauls exhortation to the Romans was for them not
to forget what happened at their Baptism:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into
Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried
therefore with Him by Baptism into death... . We know that
our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body
might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin
(Rom. 6:3, 4a, 6).
And on and on we could go with Scriptural references (some
other references are I Cor. 6:11; 10:2; 12:13; Titus 3:5; I Pet.
3:21; Heb. 10:32.) However, there is one additional reference
that is very suggestive. I refer to Mark 16:16: "He who
believes and is baptized will be saved." Even though those
several verses are omitted in some of the ancient texts, it is
nevertheless extremely important because it gives us a keyhole
peek into how the early Church regarded Baptism.
It is obvious from these references that Baptism was not like
a piece of costume jewelry that was just for show. It was very
critical to their understanding and experience of salvation.
Baptism was much more than a public testimony. It represented not
only the action of man but also the action of God. Most certainly
this understanding is found everywhere in the early writings.
There is an abundance of testimony.
I think of the writings of Saint Justin the Martyr, born at
the end of the first century. In his First Apology, a defense of
the Christian faith and practice, he made reference to the
threefold immersion in the Name of the Trinity, that there were
already established specific instructions for the candidates
followed by prayer and fasting for the entire church. He speaks
of Baptism as a "washing" and "illumination."
And bear in mind that this was written the first generation after
the Apostles. Lets let Justin speak for himself:
I shall now explain our method of dedicating ourselves to
God after we have been created anew through Christ... . All
who accept and believe as true the things taught and said by
us, and who undertake to have the power to live accordingly,
are taught to pray and entreat God, fasting, for the
forgiveness of their former sins, while we join in their
prayer and fasting. Then we bring them to a place where there
is water, where they are regenerated in the same way as we
were: for they then make their ablution in the water in the
Name of God the Father and Lord of all, and of our Saviour
Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. 
Later on he continues, saying:
And for this [rite] we have learned from the Apostles this
reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own
knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were
brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that
we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance,
but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may
obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed,
there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again,
and has repented of his sins, the Name of God the Father.
He then speaks again of the Trinitarian invocation and then
says, "And this washing is called illumination because they
who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. .
. . he who is illuminated is washed." 
I was so moved when I first read Justins statement,
"And for this [rite] we have learned from the Apostles . .
." That statement alone gives tremendous authority to all he
is saying. Awesome indeed!
A document known as The Shepherd of Hermas was written about
A.D. 100, about ten years after the repose of the Apostle John.
The Shepherd writes:
They had need to come up through the water, so that they
might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into
the Kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of
their former life. These also, then, who have fallen asleep,
received the seal of the Son of God, and entered into the
Kingdom of God. For, he said, before a man bears the Name of
the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he
puts mortality aside and again receives life. The seal,
therefore, is the water. They go down into the water dead,
and come out of it alive. 
Yes, the early Church believed in Baptism as an indispensable
part of the salvation experience. As Saint John Chrysostom so
aptly noted, others fish by pulling fish out of the water,
whereas we Christians fish by throwing the fish into the water. 
One cannot help observing that the form of Baptism was also
well established in the Churchs Tradition. Alexander
Schmemann in his delightful book Of Water And The Spirit reminds
us that in the early Church there was no dichotomy between form
and substance in Baptism. For the early Church the form of
Baptism was the very means by which the essence was manifested,
communicated, and fulfilled. He put it graphically when he wrote:
And the early Church, before she explains if she explains
them at allthe "why," the "what,"
and the "how" of this baptismal death and
resurrection, simply knew that to follow Christ one must, at
first, die and rise again with Him and in Him; that Christian
life truly begins with an event in which, as in all genuine
events, the very distinction between "form" and
"essence" is but an irrelevant abstraction. In
Baptismbecause it is an eventthe form and
essence, the "doing" and the "happening,"
the sign and its meaning coincide, for the purpose of one is
precisely to be the other, both to reveal and to fulfill it.
Baptism is what it represents because what it
representsdeath and resurrection is true... .
Such is the central, overwhelming, and all-embracing
experience of the early Church, an experience so
self-evident, so direct, that at first she did not even
"explain" it but saw it rather as the source and
the condition of all explanations, all theologies. 
I find it difficult if not impossible to disregard the ancient
testimonies. I find it equally hard to imagine that the New
Testaments strong and elevated emphasis on Baptism could
have arisen if it were understood simply as a public testimony,
as representing only the action of man.
But let us move on to the third area that early captured my
attention and further reminded me how far we have wandered from
the early Churchs thinking and practice. I refer to the
The Centrality of the Eucharist
The Eucharist was the center of the Churchs worship. It
was the "sacrament of sacraments" to which everything
in the Church led and from which all things flowed.
The Church took very seriously and quite literally Jesus
words "This is My Body" and "This is My
Blood" (Matt. 26:26, 27). And again, "I am the living
bread which came down from Heaven; if any one eats of this bread,
he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the
life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). And again in
John 6:56, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides
in Me, and I in him."
Again let me quote Justin the Martyr. Remember, these words
were shared only some fifty years since the repose of the
Apostles, and the immediate disciples of the Apostles were still
living and were the leaders of the numerous Churches.
And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which
no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that
the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed
with the washing that is for the remission of sins and unto
regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.
For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these;
but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been
made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for
our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food
which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which
our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the
flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the
Apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called
Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon
them: that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks,
said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My
Body" and that, after the same manner, having taken the
cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My Blood"
and gave it to them alone. 
Saint Ignatius, who was appointed as the second Bishop of
Antioch in about A.D. 69, in writing against people who hold
strange, unorthodox views, said: "They abstain from the
Eucharist and prayer because they do not acknowledge that the
Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered
for our sins."  Irenaeus (born ca. 130)
supports this when he wrote: "For as the bread, which comes
from the earth, receives the invocation of God, and then it is no
longer common bread but Eucharist, consists of two things, an
earthly and a heavenly . . ." 
The fourteenth century monk, Nicholas Cabasilas, expresses
most beautifully the Churchs long-standing understanding of
the spiritual effect of the Eucharist when it is properly
understood, approached, and administered:
O wonder of wonders, that Christs spirit is united
to our spirit, His will is one with ours, His flesh becomes
our flesh, His blood flows in our veins. What spirit is ours
when it is possessed by His, our will when led captive by
His, our clay when set on fire by His flame! 
The above words indicating that the Eucharist must be
"properly understood, approached, and administered"
were carefully chosen. Some time ago I was teaching a class in my
church and the discussion turned to the centrality of the
Eucharist in early Christian worship. One of my students,
realizing that our church had Communion only once a month,
inquired as to why we did not have it more often. My response was
that the frequency of Communion does not make it like the early
Churchs Eucharist, that we lacked the spiritual context
that would make it meaningful. How true, especially when it is
regarded only as a memorial supper. "Properly understood,
approached, and administered" is critical.
The scholastic endeavor to determine when and how wine and
bread become the Body and Blood of our Lord never seemed to
concern the early Church. All they knew was that by the sacrament
they were partakers of Christ through faith and that their
spiritual life was fed and renewed. The Orthodox have never
attempted to explain the "reality" by using
Aristotelian categories of "essence" and
"accidents" and, as occurred in Roman Catholicism, to
describe the change as "transubstantiation."
The early Church seemed quite satisfied to simply believe that
this is a matter of faith, that there is another reality
different from the "empirical" one, and that reality
can be entered, can be communicated, can actually become the most
real of realities. 
As Alexander Schmemann says:
The purpose of the Eucharist lies not in the change of the
bread and wine, but in our partaking of Christ, who has
become our food, our life, the manifestation of the Church as
the Body of Christ.
This is why the holy Gifts themselves never became in the
Orthodox East an object of special reverence, contemplation,
and adoration, and likewise an object of special theological
"problematics": how, when, in what manner their
change is accomplished. The Eucharistand this means the
changing of the holy Giftsis a mystery that cannot be
revealed and explained in the categories of "this
world"time, essence, causality, etc. It is
revealed only to faith: "I believe also that this is
truly Thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine
own precious Blood." Nothing is explained, nothing is
defined, nothing has changed in "this world." But
then whence comes this light, this joy that overflows the
heart, this feeling of fulness and of touching the
"other world"? 
In Protestant circles we often hear, "But its only
a symbol." We, however, need to remind ourselves that Jesus
did not say that this represents or stands for my Body. He said,
"This is my Body."
Reporters once asked the famous choreographer, Martha Graham,
"What does your dance mean?" She replied,
"Darlings, if I could tell you, I would not have danced
it."  Symbols point us to something
beyond themselves, to truths that transcend words. Today,
however, we tend to think of a symbol as representing and
speaking of an absent reality. Symbol as originally understood,
however, meant manifesting and making present the other reality,
a reality that could not be made present in any other way other
than as a symbol. 
One writer, after discussing these Holy Mysteries, summarizes
We must answer that the Mysteries of Baptism and the
Eucharist "do not merely suggest or express spiritual
realities, but positively embody and convey them, as they
could not be conveyed by any other mode... . Substance and
form are here complementary and inseparable. The outward does
not simply represent the inward. It is the inward, clothed in
the only form in which it is possible for us to apprehend it
by our earthly faculties. Matter is not the antithesis of
spirit, but its home and living garment, something used to
shadow forth the highest truths, and even to become the
dwelling-place of that divine Being Who giveth to spiritual
realities a body, even as it pleaseth Him. This tendency
finds its warrant and consummation in the sublime Mystery of
the Incarnation, which is the Word made Flesh ... God with
The above stated truths are further supported when we look at
the word "remembrance" in the words of Jesus, "Do
this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). The Greek word we
translate "remembrance" is anamnesis. It really has no
adequate one-word translation. It carries with it the sense of
being there, participating, joining with, rather than the simple
commemoration of or looking back on a past event. The French
scholar, Louis Bouyer, put it in a much more scholarly manner in
his book Eucharist. He said: "It in no way means a
subjective, human psychological act of returning to the past, but
an objective reality destined to make something or someone
perpetually present." 
So the Eucharist is not a sacred drama, a mere representation
of past events. It is a personal encounter with the living
resurrected Christ. It is the place where we meet Christ in the
fullness of His redeeming activity, the place where Christ is
made present, where He makes Himself present (Luke 24:31).
And so an Orthodox priest writing to his flock says:
At the Liturgy, we are not simply remembering something
which happened 2,000 years agothat is Protestant
theology; nor are we repeating something which cannot be
repeated, which happened once and for allthat is Roman
Catholic theology; we are present at the actual event we
remember whether it be the Nativity, the Resurrection, or
Pentecost. Actually, all these events are made present to us
and we to them in a mysterious but nonetheless real way. God,
Who is outside of time, sees all eternity at once. For Him
the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ are now and He
unites our poor worship to the event which we remember. 
Let me bring this paper to a close with a question: What are
we to do with this tremendous witness from the past? We know what
the early Church was like. With just the three examples I
gaveEpiscopacy, Baptism, and Eucharistwe can see how
far off course we have veered. What are we to do about it?
I would join countless numbers of evangelical Protestants and
say I have come to know Christ with fulfilling and life-changing
effects and daily witness His grace and leadership in my life.
But just because God in His grace and mercy has met us where we
are and adapted Himself to our unique cultural and religious
circumstances in no way means He has abandoned His original plan.
God does not contradict Himself. Truth is intolerant, and truth
is found in the Churchs living and Holy Tradition. It is my
growing conviction that only a strong living Tradition can
protect us from the corrosive and destructive forces of modern
life, the insidious and deceptive effects of modern pluralism,
and the disheartening and confusing proliferation of religious
I have heard Bishop Ephraim tell of various conversations he
has had with non-Orthodox people who try to convince him of the
rightness of their non-Orthodox beliefs. He says they usually
begin their apology with the words, "I believe,"
"I feel," or "In my opinion." At that point
Bishop Ephraim feels compelled to say, "Wait, wait, wait. It
has no bearing on this matter what you believe, or think, or
feel, or what your opinion is, just as it is of no importance
what I believe, or think, or feel, or what my opinion is in this
matter. The only thing that is of any importance and has any
authority in these matters is what the Church has always
believed, thought, and felt... . In this, as in every matter,
it is the Church and its sacred Tradition which must teach us,
and we must listen humbly and be instructed."
What are we to do with this "cloud of witnesses,"
this Holy Tradition through which they live and speak with such
clarity and certitude? Well, for me there seems to be only one
logical response. I must turn to the Church and its sacred
Tradition; I must listen humbly and be instructed. I cannot let
Gods marvelous blessings of the past blind me to what I
have missed or deter me from that to which He would lead me
still. I must return home to Orthodoxy. 
1. Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church,
Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, p. 11.
2. See also II Thess. 3:6.
3. Florovsky, op. cit., p. 73.
4. Quoted by Florovsky, op. cit., p. 83.
5. Quoted in the study paper, The References to
Baptism and the Eucharist in the First Apology of Saint Justin
MartyrThe Generation After the Apostles, pp. 5-6.
6. Ibid., p. 5.
7. Quoted by Florovsky, op. cit., p. 74.
8. Letter of 1718 in G. Williams, The
Orthodox Church of the East in the Eighteenth Century, p.
9. Protopresbyter Michael Pomazensky, The
Old Testament in the New Testament Church, p. 14.
10. Timothy Ware identifies some of these
Fathers in his book, The Orthodox Church, p. 212 as
follows: The Orthodox Church has never attempted to define
exactly who the Fathers are, still less to classify them in order
of importance. But it has a particular reverence for the writers
of the fourth century, and especially for those whom it terms
the Three Great Hierarchs: Gregory of Nazianzus [the
Theologian], Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom. In the eyes of
Orthodoxy the Age of the Fathers did not come to an
end in the fifth century, for many later writers are also
FathersMaximus, John of Damascus, Theodore of
Studium, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas, Mark of
Ephesus. Indeed, it is dangerous to look on the
Fathers as a closed cycle of writings belonging wholly to
the past, for might not our own age produce a new Basil or
Athanasius? To say that there can be no more Fathers is to
suggest that the Holy Spirit has deserted the Church.
11. Fr. Sergii Chetverikov, Starets Paisii
Velichkovskii, p. 246.
12. Florovsky (op. cit., p. 87) discussing
these "unwritten mysteries" existing in the Church of
Basils day as including: "the use of the sign of the
Cross in the rite of admission of Catechumens; the orientation
toward East at prayer; the habit to keep standing at worship on
Sundays; the epiclesis in the Eucharistic rite; the blessing of
water and oil, the renunciation of Satan and his pomp, the triple
immersion, in the rite of Baptism." Also Timothy Ware, The
Orthodox Church, p. 204, gives the content of Tradition its
broader perspective when he says: "It means the books of the
Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical
Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons,
the Service Books, the Holy Iconsin fact, the whole system
of doctrine, Church government, worship, and art which Orthodoxy
has articulated over the ages. The Orthodox Christian of today
sees himself as heir and guardian to a great inheritance received
from the past, and he believes that it is his duty to transmit
this inheritance unimpaired to the future."
13. Ware, op. cit., p. 213.
14. See Florovsky, op. cit., p. 74.
15. Archbishop Paul of Finland, The Faith
We Hold, p. 18.
16. Ware, op. cit., p. 207.
17. See William Kirk Kilpatrick, Psychological
Seduction, p. 166.
18. Florovsky, op. cit., p. 10.
19. Archbishop Ilarion (Troitsky), Christianity
Or The Church?, p. 31.
20. Ilarion, op. cit., p. 32.
21. George Cronk, The Message of the Bible,
22. Florovsky, op. cit., p. 10.
23. Kilpatrick, op. cit., p. 165, rightly says:
"God did not create a simple world, and He has not given us
a simple religion. The doctrine of the Incarnation is every bit
as subtle as the doctrine of protons and electrons, and much more
24. The Early Christian Fathers,
edited by Henry Bettenson, p. 32.
25. The Apostolic Fathers, edited by
Jack N. Sparks, p. 73.
26. See Bettenson, op. cit., p. 5.
27. Ibid., pp. 42-44.
28. Georges Florovsky, Christianity and
Culture, p. 89.
29. Alexander Schmemann, Historical Road of
Eastern Orthodoxy, pp. 28-33. For further reading in early
church development read Florovsky, Christianity and Culture,
pp. 88-96; Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, pp. 19-25.
30. Bettenson, op. cit.
31. Schmemann, op. cit., p. 29.
32. Bettenson, op. cit., p. 61.
33. As quoted in "The References to
Baptism and the Eucharist" in the First Apology of Saint
Justin Martyr, p. 13.
34. Quoted in "The Form of Baptism", Bishop Ephraim,
35. Quoted in "The Form of Baptism", Bishop Ephraim,
36. Alexander Schmemann, Of Water And The
Spirit, pp. 55, 56. The Protestant view of Baptism, if not
the Sacraments in general, was considerably affected by the 18th
Century European "Enlightenment" which depreciated the
role of mystery in life. In the "Enlightenment view"
everything has to be rational, reasonable and understandable.
Human understanding was stressed over divine activity. The focus
of faith shifted from Gods action to our action. So when we
think of the meaning of Baptism in Enlightenment terms, the
answer has to do with our testimony, a means of our understanding
certain truth, our means of joining the Church, a little memory
exercise that helps us say, remember or think something. From Remember
Who You Are by William Willimon, pp. 33, 34.
37. Quoted by "The References to Baptism
and the Eucharist" in the First Apology of Saint Justin the
Martyr, p. 20.
38. Sparks, op. cit., p. 112.
39. Bettenson, op. cit., p. 96.
40. The Life in Christ, Nicholas
Cabasilas, p. 23.
41. See Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist,
pp. 38, 39.
42. Ibid., p. 226.
43. From Sacred Symbols That Speak,
Vol. I, Anthony M. Coniaris, p. 5.
44. Schmemann, op. cit., p. 38.
45. From "The References to Baptism and
the Eucharist" in the First Apology of Saint Justin, pp. 22,
46. Louis Bouyer, Eucharist, pp. 103,
47. "Orthodox Light," Vol. 4, April
1988, p. 5.
48. I was deeply moved and encouraged by the
comments of one who was working for the restoration of the
Orthodox way of life in the West. He recognized that one cannot
ignore the thousand years of Western cultural experience that has
formed the souls of the Westerners and its genuine values and
virtues. Then with compassion and sensitivity he said that
Orthodoxy, if it is the fullness of truth, should reveal such
largeness of soul, such generosity of spirit, that anything of
genuine value and truth in any culture should be purged and
transfigured in its radiance. I most humbly say,
"Amen!" "So be it!"
This article originally appeared in The True Vine,
no. 5, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Reprinted with permission.