A Long Journey Ends In Orthodoxy
The spiritual journey of the Rev. Jacob Meyer has taken some surprising turns: raised a Reform Jew, he joined a non-denominational Christian religious order and is now a priest in the Orthodox Church.
The consecration of Blessed John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Grant Park last week represents the latest stop on that journey.
Virtually all of the church’s 80 members are converts to Orthodox Christianity. Most, like the Rev. Meyer, joined en masse about three years ago as members of the Christ the Savior Brotherhood.
”We had been on a long journey together and had explored many different aspects of Christianity,” said the Rev. Meyer, 42. ”Finally, we arrived at the oldest form of Christianity.”
The Brotherhood was formerly the Holy Order of MANS, a product of the 1960s that could have been called The Church of Anything Goes. Its name comes from a Greek acronym.
Founded on the principles of fellowship and service, the order rejected most of the dogma, liturgy and formality of organized religion.
Its members, who had taken vows of poverty and humility, would move to a city, work for a few months or years, then move on.
In Atlanta, the order operates Brother Juniper’s Restaurant on Peachtree Street and Seraphim stained-glass studios.; 10 years of solid study’
The Age of Aquarius lifestyle was fine for young single men and women more than 20 years ago, the Rev. Meyer said, but as they aged, married and had families, members of the order felt the need for more structure and continuity in their religious lives.
After the death of the order’s founder, the Rev. Paul Blighton, in 1973, the order remained leaderless for about five years. Then, in 1978, the Rev. Andrew Rossi took over and began steering it toward a formal denomination.
”We went through about 10 years of real solid study, examining each of many different forms of Christianity and seeing which one fit us as a whole,” the Rev. Meyer said. ”It was later on when we discovered Orthodoxy.”
Members of the Orthodox Church make up about one-sixth of the world’s Christians, but it is overshadowed by Catholicism and Protestantism in the United States.
Orthodoxy shares common roots with the Roman Catholic Church, but the faiths moved in different directions and formally separated in 1054 when heads of the two churches excommunicated each other. The orders of excommunication were revoked in 1965.
Istanbul, still known in the church by its past name of Constantinople, is the center of the Orthodox Church, and the Patriarch of Constantinople is considered ”first among equals” by its 15 sister communions. Most are known by their ethnic roots – the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches, for example.
The church encourages regular fasting, recognizes saints, has a liturgical form of worship, displays icons as reminders of the proper Christian life, and practices seven sacraments, including confession of sins.
Not all members of The Order of MANS were prepared to accept such a formal religion.
”We lost a lot of people,” the Rev. Meyer said. ”It was very hard for everybody.” Some people who left the order later joined the church.
The group has retained the spirit of caring and sacrifice for each other, the Rev. Meyer said, but now functions more as a parish than a religious order.
Dennis Engleman is among those who left the order but joined the Orthodox Church and was present at the consecration last week.
”One of the things that attracted me to the Orthodoxy was that, despite the fragmentation that has gone on throughout the rest of Christendom, Orthodoxy is basically one faith wherever you go,” he said.; Pangratios became bishop
Once the order decided to become Orthodox, members had to find a bishop who would accept them and with whom they felt comfortable.
They found him in Metropolitan Pangratios, a Greek bishop of the archdiocese of Vasiloupolis, N.Y.
The bishop came to Atlanta to anoint the new church with chrism oil – believed to go back to the earliest days of the church – and invited the saints into the church.
The oil, according to tradition, goes back to the time of the Apostles. Each time more oil is needed, a few drops of the old oil are put into the new batch, so that some element of the ancient oil is always brought forward.
Standing outside the church, rapping on the door, the bishop represents the entry of the Lord into the church, Mr. Engleman said. His entry represents the presence of the church triumphant.
”This church is composed not just of people on earth who belong to the congregation, but all Christians who have lived and died for Christ and are invisibly present at all times,” Mr. Engleman said.
The consecration of the church represents the culmination of the journey for those members of the old Order of MANS who have settled in Atlanta.
Blessed John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church is named for John Maximovich, a San Francisco bishop from the 1960s – about the time the Order of MANS was beginning.