Clicking here goes to information on the icon.Welcome to the St. Luke Web Page.
Search the site.Listen to Father Borichevsky's restored radio programsSee What St. Luke Orthodox Church has planned.Visit and sign our guest book.Contact the St. Luke Orthodox Church Web Development Team.
Find something on the site in a hurry.
St. Lukes Orthodox Church Home PageDonate Now!Shop for Orthodox goods from your Computerchurchdirectory Pages that deal with St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church. What's the news at St. Lukes.View all the previous and current Evangelist newsletters.View the Sunday bulletin.Information about St. Luke Orthodox Church including the Mission and Vision statements. Pages for 'keeping in touch' with God. Information on prayers and prayingView the prayer of the week and all other previos prayers of the week.Need to pray for something? What is the Orthodox Church and how/why do Orthodox Christians worship? What is the Orthodox Church of America?Who were the Saints, and why do we honor them?Find and explore many different liturgical texts we have available, including the Divine LiturgyWhat is Pascha?  See what it's like at St. Luke's.How is Orthodoxy playing a role in the present times?Learn what are icons and how are they used in the Orthodox Church today.BellsSee what we have to offer!Current Issues Pages for Organizations of St. Lukes. Christian Education, Youth Group, Music, Church Resource Center, Adult Education, and Junior Olympics.Maintenance, New Building, Strategic Planning, Cell Phone Tower, Inventory, Cemetery/Memorial Book, and Historian.Outreach, Charities, Internet, Evangelist Newsletter, Media, Prison, Sanctity of Life, and Mission.Liturgical, Altar Servers, Bell Ringers, Cemetery, Readers, Greeters, Choir, and Vestments.Fellowship, Supply Coordinator, Prayer, Women's Ministry, New Americans, Sunshinem, Flowers, and Vestments. Some stuff Study the bibleSearch the bibleOrthodoxy on the lighter side...Words of Wisdom...If you've got the taste for great Orthodox foods, this is the place to be.Children friendly section of the pageMessages

Church On Sunday? by Matthew Lickona
By Archbishop Leo of Finland.
Source: Internet Wednesday, April 8, 2009

He looks like a regular young guy — maybe late 20s or early 30s. Head shaved to mask a receding hairline, a black goatee to offset the baldness, the gold rim of his glasses glinting beneath his dark brows. A regular guy, except maybe for his robe. Though it has the sheen of satin, it does not drape or hang; it holds its shape, stiffly framing the man beneath. Though mostly creamy white, the robe beams with patterns of yellow gold. (If we were not in church, the fabric would seem ostentatious, guilty of Louis XVI excess.) And over the robe, a stole, equally stiff and resplendent, making an X across his belly. The resulting look is old-fashioned in the extreme, reminding me of nothing so much as the priestly robes worn by long-ago Jewish characters in the Jesus movies. Yet here it is on a Sunday in 2009, on a young guy, in a brick chapel set amid the more ordinary opulence of La Jolla Scenic Drive North.

The man is not a priest, nor even a deacon. Rather, he is one of at least eight more regular men assisting in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is being celebrated by St. Anthony the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. Eight men, all in similar robes of white and gold, except for the priest, who is even more enrobed and golden than his fellows. For much of the liturgy, we behold his back as he stands facing the altar, the tabernacle, and the cross, facing east along with the congregation. On his back is affixed a sort of medallion in the shape of a cross; in the center of the cross, a painted circle depicting the resurrected Christ.

Christ appears again on a large icon to the right of the Sanctuary stairs. Across from Him, an icon of Mary, His mother, referred to by the Orthodox as Theotokos — God-bearer. Throughout the liturgy on this Sunday of the Last Judgment, the icons are reverenced — the priest turning and bowing and making the sign of the cross as the choir sings in its thrilling, cheerful harmonies: “Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!” Later, he will swing a pot of incense toward each icon, then expertly yank back on the jingling chain so that a puff of smoke pushes out toward the image before rising to heaven. And he will do the same for both altar and congregation.

During the homily, he offers a word of explanation. “We are created in the image of God. That’s why, when we cense the holy icons…we cense you…. What we do to one another is passed along to Christ. When we venerate the icon, that loving act is passed along to Christ. When we greet one another, that act is passed along to Christ, because we are in His spiritual image…. My dear children, think of the transformation: everything we do to one another, we do to Christ! God will judge us on our mercy and love!”

In some ultimate sense, this is why all these people are here. This is why that young man with the goatee and glasses has put on those extraordinary robes. They are thinking of the judgment; they are thinking of mercy and love. And they are thinking of the transformation, of Christ dwelling in their midst even as they long to dwell with Him in heaven. The priest quotes from a hymn, sung the previous night at Vespers. “‘Woe to you, O my darkened soul. Your light is stained by depravity and laziness. Your folly makes you shun all thought of death. How can you flee the awesome thought of the judgment day?… The time is at hand, O my soul. Turn to the good and loving Savior.’ This is our repentance — beg Him to forgive your malice and weakness as you cry to Him in faith: ‘I have sinned against you, O Lord, but I know Your love for all mankind. O Good Shepherd, call me to the joy of Your lasting presence.’ ”

Why Do We Go to Church?

Do you go to church on Sunday? If you don’t, do you ever wonder why those who do, do? If you do, could you answer those who don’t if they asked the question?

Since I began writing about San Diego County church services professionally a little over three years ago, I have begun to notice churches — lots of them. Not just the churches like Our Lady of Angels, situated by the side of the freeway, sending high their spires and signs to catch the eyes of passersby. Not just the monster megachurches like Horizon Christian Fellowship or Journey, places that might be taken for high school campuses or big-box stores. But also storefront churches like Abundant Grace Christian Center, tucked into strip malls or amid rows of one-story shops. Modest standalone churches like the Christian Compassion Center, low-slung and unobtrusive, blending in with the houses they serve. Old-style neighborhood churches like Christ Lutheran in Pacific Beach, adorned and exalted by the pride of past generations. Even start-up churches like the Chapel — advertising their services on roadside signs and with banners in front of school auditoriums. So many churches — a lot of us must be going. But why?

“We’ve confused going to church with being the church,” a North County megachurch pastor once preached to his massive congregation. He then went on to remind them that Christianity was not being practiced there, on Sunday morning, with all the faithful gathered together. It was practiced, he said, in their small-group communities, where soul could minister to soul on a personal level. He even went so far as to compare himself to the entertainment — not because what he was saying was frivolous, but because his status as preacher was not the point of things. I sat in the congregation and wondered, Is this man trying to talk himself out of a job?

“It seems to me like this model is passing away,” a South Bay pastor said to me, this time at one of those school-auditorium churches. “You see those kids?” He gestured at a couple of teenagers out in front of the building. “We go to Mexico every month to do service ministry. That’s why they’re here. If we weren’t doing that, they wouldn’t have any use for this.” “This” being the standard Sunday morning gathering: the songs of praise, the prayers, the community announcements, the sermon, the altar call, and in this case, the memorial of the Last Supper. In sum: praise God, petition God, understand God, spread God, and remember God’s love. (Well, maybe “understand God” is a little abstract — many churches today emphasize practicality over theology, as in lessons you can apply to your life right now.) “They wouldn’t have any use for this.”

It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve heard Sunday-morning praise bands that were tight and more than one performer who struck me as a genuine pop artist (Trevor Davis, anyone?) — just the sort to attract the young people of today. And of course, there is the power and presence of live music, especially live music that encourages everybody to join in. Maybe you could read something similar to the pastor’s sermon over your Sunday morning coffee, and you could certainly pray in the comfort of your home, but you’d have a hard time duplicating the musical experience. “Blessed be the name of the Lord/ Blessed be His glorious name!” A thousand (or even just a hundred) people, caught up in single-minded, single-throated praise, girded by drums and guitar: heady stuff.

Still, something’s gone a little awry — there’s even a song about it. A lot of the more modern Christian churches seem to share a similar songbook, and a hymn I’ve heard more than once is Matt Redman’s “Heart of Worship.” “I’ll bring You more than a song,” it promises God, “for a song in itself is not what You have required…. I’m coming back to the heart of worship/ And it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus/ I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it…” Sorry for the thing I’ve made it? The praise band isn’t enough. But what is that heart of worship? Why do we go to church on Sunday?

Prayer in Church Can Be a Funny Thing

Toward the end of 2006, I happened to attend, in close succession, a Roman Catholic Mass at St. Gregory the Great Church, a Chaldean Catholic Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral, a Conservative Jewish Shabbat Service at Ohr Shalom Synagogue, and a Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy at St. Spyridon Church. The Roman Catholic Mass I knew pretty well — the four-hymn sandwich (Opening, Presentation, Communion, Recessional) surrounding the liturgical layers: prayers of praise and petition, the Scripture readings, the homily, and the consecration and distribution of Holy Communion. Except for a few variations (some more significant than others), I could have been in any one of a number of mainstream Protestant churches.

The Chaldean Mass, however, offered an element of strangeness — the priest began his prayers (intoned instead of spoken) from behind a curtain. For at least part of the Mass, he was hidden away, deep in the recesses in the Sanctuary. And while I did hear a hymn or two, most of the music came from within the context of the liturgy itself, the ancient texts sung by either priest, choir, or congregation.

The curtain and the singing brought it more in line with the Jewish service I attended soon after, which was almost entirely sung by either cantor or congregation, and in which the scrolls of the Torah were stored behind the doors of the ark. The holy things kept hidden away until the appropriate time. It didn’t take much to dope out the connection between the Chaldean curtain and the Jewish temple veil that shrouded the Holy of Holies.

But it was the Greek Orthodox liturgy that really drove home the connection to the Shabbat service. In keeping with Jewish practice, a cantor led the congregation through the order of worship, which, again, was almost entirely sung. The Chaldean curtain here became a screen, solid like the doors of the Jewish ark. And as in the Jewish service, heavy emphasis was placed on prayer.

Prayer in church can be a funny thing. Sometimes, it feels like opening remarks, or like grace before meals — “Lord, bless this service, and help the pastor to open Your word for us….” Sometimes, it turns into a lesson for the congregation. “Father, we know that You are a good God and that You are with us even in the hard times, for as You have promised, Father, ‘I am with you always…’ ” But, as with the Jews, prayer is central to the Orthodox service, enfolding — encompassing? — every other aspect. Their function and form are traditional: Besides the Lord’s Prayer, there are multiple litanies of supplication (“That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord…”), entire Psalms, and constant refrains of praise and glory. “Holy God, holy mighty, holy immortal, have mercy on us.”

Most dramatic, to me, was the treatment of the word. The Jews reverenced the word of God — at one point, the Torah scroll containing the Five Books of Moses, mantled in heavy fabric, was processed throughout the synagogue. Congregants crowded to the ends of the aisles so as to be able to touch the scroll as it passed, either with prayer shawl or prayer book. The Orthodox priest also processed the word, bearing the Scriptures aloft through the congregation. But then, later in the liturgy, he did the same with the elements of Communion. Those elements, in the Orthodox tradition, actually become Christ’s body and blood — the true presence of God’s Word become flesh. (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”) The word and the Word — the echo was enormous.

You Should Meet Our Last Pastor

So it was with not a little interest that I learned of Father Jon Braun, founding pastor at St. Anthony the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. I found the church quite by accident (and before I found Father), holding its Sunday Liturgy in the brick chapel that anchors one end of the abbey-esque Torrey Pines Christian Church compound. At the time, I was on my way to speak with Torrey Pines’ pastor, Michael Spitters, who noted that, as an Emergent Christian, he wanted to avoid anything that struck visitors as “playing at worshipping God.” He said that some Emergent Christians — postmodern believers dissatisfied with the Evangelical status quo — were “actually taking back some of the traditions — the incense and the candles and the meditation.” I thought, “You mean, like the Orthodox in the next building over?”

The following Sunday, I was leaving St. Anthony the Great’s Divine Liturgy when a parishioner approached me. “You should meet our last pastor, Father Braun. He used to be the National Field Coordinator for Campus Crusade for Christ, back before he became an Orthodox priest.” Hello. From an Evangelical Christian organization that didn’t even hold Sunday praise services to the most liturgy-drenched denomination I knew? How did that happen?

However it happened, Braun seemed like a good sort to help shed light on that “heart of worship.” For starters, he had left a successful career within his own tradition — without rejecting his Christian faith, mind you — and gone searching for it. “My father was a Presbyterian minister,” he explains, “and he hated the Orthodox business, just hated it. The only thing he ever acknowledged to me was this: ‘I have to admit that when I leave church on Sunday morning, I’m not sure that I’ve worshipped God.’ That was coming from a 98-year-old man who had been a minister all the years of his life” — in churches ranging from Berkeley to just above Anaheim.

Braun the son, however, was sure — he was satisfied that he had found that heart of worship, and in an ancient church that barely registers on the American religious landscape. (It is estimated that there are between two and three million Orthodox Christians in North America, and there are only ten Orthodox churches in the San Diego area.) “In America,” admits Braun, “if you’re not a Greek, a Russian, a Serbian, or a Romanian, you may not even run across the Orthodox Church. There is a Greek Orthodox Church across the street from Dallas Theological Seminary. I had a friend who went [to the seminary]. He was studying the commentaries of St. John Chrysostom, and across the street, they were doing the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and neither side knew the other existed. I went to high school in Berkeley, across from a Greek church, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s the Catholic Church in Greece.’ I dismissed it at that.”

The dismissal was part and parcel of his formation. “I remember, one day, I was sitting in church history class at Fuller Seminary, in Pasadena, and the professor — who was really good — was discussing Ignatius of Antioch. With one exception, his is the earliest writing outside the Bible — he lived between 50 and 110 A.D. The professor said, ‘Don’t bother to read him. It’s irrelevant. It’s the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church.’ I promise you that he knew that wasn’t true, but the point was to dismiss it so that you had no obligation to weigh it. I majored in history in college, and in seminary you do a lot of church history, but all I knew was that the Roman Catholic Church was evil because that’s what I was taught. And from what I was taught, there was no Orthodox Church because it was never mentioned. I promise you, not one time.”

So what happened to turn Campus Crusader Jon Braun into Father Jon Braun, Orthodox priest? Well, for one thing, history — including the history of worship.

The Phantom Search for the Perfect Church

It began with a practical question: “What’s going to happen to these kids?”

Braun was in his late 20s, the 20th Century was in its early 60s, and Campus Crusade for Christ was exploding. The Crusade operated as a sort of parachurch evangelistic ministry, and, says Braun, “People were interested. The students were easy to work with, and it was just a really easy time. We were very aggressive and evangelistic — we’d stop you in your tracks. And we were very effective. It’s just like what the apostle Paul did at Corinth. He didn’t know anybody, so he just sat there and started talking to people, and pretty soon, he had a church. What you have to do is know why you’re there. People will sense very quickly: are you trying to sell them on something, or do you have a purpose? I wasn’t trying to sell any of those guys. In January of 1961, I traveled to the University of Miami to start bringing Campus Crusade to the Southeastern U.S. The next year, I went to Athens, Georgia, got myself a room in a hotel, and went down to the cafeteria at the University of Georgia. I saw two guys sitting there and I went up to them: ‘My name is Jon Braun. I’m trying to start a Christian group on campus. If you’ll give me five minutes, I’d like to tell you why I’m interested in doing it and see if there’s any way you can help me.’ I never saw those two guys again, but they gave me two names. Within a couple of years, I had the largest Campus Crusade group in America there in Georgia.”

Braun is in his mid-70s now, but he has lost little of the presence that undoubtedly aided in his success. A hint of Charlton Heston can be seen in his profile, his frame, his long agricultural hands. His intellectual demeanor is that of a man who has read much and now seeks to retain what is essential. When he pauses midsentence to find the right word, his tongue will dart from one corner of his mouth to the other as if seeking a target. A preacher’s son, to the pulpit born. “Occasionally, there would be nights when six or seven thousand kids would come to a lecture, followed by a lot of personal one-on-one, and we had all these converts.”

But once you got them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then what? How do you sustain the believer’s life in Christ? “You’d say to yourself, ‘These kids really do have a God-consciousness; they really do desire to commit themselves to Christ. But where are they going to be five, ten years from now?’ We began to say, ‘There’s only one thing you can do with these people, and that’s church.’ That’s where Christians end up, and if they don’t, they don’t really prosper all that well.” Like I said — practical.

The problem was that kids back then (not unlike kids today) “hated to go to church. We said, ‘Well, why?’ So, as one of my friends said, we began The Phantom Search for the Perfect Church. We tried to create it.”

“We” was a group of seven former Campus Crusaders — emphasis on “former.” “We tried to turn collegiate ministry into church, and we realized it wouldn’t work. Several hundred of us left Campus Crusade in ’68 and ’69. In the early ’70s, we had a meeting in Dallas of Campus Crusade alumni — two or three hundred showed up, and it was decided that seven of us would be given leadership. One guy was going to study worship. Another, how to view the Bible. My job was church history, and another guy had liturgy. We agreed to meet every three months to compare notes, and four of us ended up back where I had been living, in Isla Vista, up by UCSB. We met every afternoon. We’d study all day, and we developed a church — we even organized a denomination, called the Evangelical Orthodox Church, and started up a number of congregations. But we told people from the start that this was temporary, that we were going to become part of historic Christianity.”

By Whose Authority Do I Speak for God?

Why historic Christianity? Partly because of the man raised from the dead in Springfield, Missouri. “One guy in Isla Vista was a heretic in regards to Christ and the Trinity. Nice guy but a heretic. So a bunch of us left the group, and this guy got mad at us and said, ‘You don’t want to know what’s true.’ We said, ‘Yes, we do. What’s true?’ ” The heretic sent them south to hear the former pastor of La Jolla Lutheran. He also sent them to Springfield, Missouri, to hear Pastor Bill Britton, and as Braun got off the plane, he saw Britton walking toward him, accompanied by an old man. “He said, ‘I’m Bill Britton, and this man is my father. He died in the service last night, and we raised him from the dead!’ My first thought was, The poor guy can hardly move! Why didn’t you leave him dead? He would have been so much happier dead!” Braun had met faith unmoored from all but Scripture, and he found it alarming.

But there were other reasons. Doctrine, for starters. Upon returning to Isla Vista, “I called my best friend and said, ‘We’ve got to meet.’ We sat down in a Carrow’s restaurant, and I said, ‘I split from the Presbyterian Church. I split from the Covenant Church. I split from Campus Crusade for Christ. If I split once more, I’m going to be schizophrenic. How do I know who’s right? I can be pretty persuasive. How do I know I’m not just talking people into something?’ At the heart of almost all of this is authority. By whose authority do I speak for God? If I get up to preach on a Sunday morning and just make up what I’m saying, Lord have mercy on those poor people. I’m supposed to be their shepherd. What if I tell them something that’s not true? Say I get up there and tell them, ‘If you ask Jesus into your heart at five years old, then you’re okay’ ” — whatever sort of life you lead after that, you’re still assured salvation. “That’s a key doctrine of much of Evangelical Christianity. One day, while I was driving and listening to the radio, I heard Chuck Swindoll — a major Evangelical author and radio preacher — “preaching on the Prodigal Son. He was intent on preaching eternal security — ‘Once saved, always saved.’ He was adamant about it. He got to the part of the story where the father says that his son ‘was lost and has been found.’ He didn’t even read the words. He just said, ‘There was never a moment when the relationship between this young man and his father was broken.’ And I thought, ‘Come on, Swindoll, you know better than that. I know you know Greek pretty well; I know you can read the text.’ He just left it out because it ruined his theology.” If the Father and Son represent God and humanity, and if humanity can be lost and then found, then eternal security becomes a touch problematic.

Braun wanted to avoid such a pitfall. “I said, ‘This better be true. This better be right. This better have history behind it.’ We gathered the other guys” — Braun’s fellow church-seekers — “and we came to the conclusion that you’re going to have to find the footprints, as it were, of the Holy Spirit throughout history. You’re going to find those in the Church, particularly in the councils of the Church. We studied those Ecumenical Councils hour after hour. Why? Because you better be right about God. Either Trinity or not. If God’s not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, either you’ve got the wrong God or it doesn’t make any difference. That was the first issue that drew us — we determined it was going to be historic Christianity because historic Christianity knows what it believes.”

Where Heaven and Earth Meet

But if theology had a history, so did worship. As it turned out, the Jewish echoes I picked up in the Orthodox liturgies I attended were no accident. Nor were they artifice. “The Orthodox ritual was basically just a continuation of the Jewish ritual,” says Braun. “Everybody who started it was a Jew, and they just unembarrassedly kept it. I was totally unaware of that, even though I’d been educated in some very fine seminaries. I had no idea that’s what had taken place — I don’t think they wanted me to know. We were taught that the Bible was the only rule of faith and practice — but there’s no place in the New Testament that says how you should conduct a service. There’s a lot of stuff in the Old Testament” — the more Jewish part of the Bible.

“I did used to see the church as a lecture with music,” he says. “It’s a place where Christians gather to get encouraged, and we call it worship because that’s what we call it. In the more modern services, maybe you don’t call it worship — maybe you call it a praise service.” Now, his notion is rather more exalted: “The church is to be the visible expression of Christ in the community. It’s where people should be able to experience that. The line between heaven and earth, as it were, is extremely thin. Catholics and the Orthodox believe that the service takes place unceasingly in heaven, and we just join them. This is where heaven and earth meet.”

Not surprisingly, theology played a part in the change. The Trinity makes possible the Incarnation of the Son, which is sort of the point of Christianity. The God-man, the sinless Christ dying to pay the penalty for sinful humanity. But, says Braun, there is more to it than that. “It’s a point of emphasis. In the Eastern Church, they would say that the heart of it is this: deification. God became man in order that man might become God. Not God by nature but God by grace. The Son of God became a man in order that we might be brought into a living, dynamic union with Christ in His glorified humanity, sharing in what He is. The West likes to call it ‘sanctification.’ ” And if you’re a human seeking that kind of union with the divine, the meeting place of heaven and earth might be a good place to begin — and even end.

Why do you go to church? Recall the priest at St. Anthony the Great: “My dear children, think of the transformation!”

All this is not to say that getting from there to here was a gimme. Like the Phantom Search for the Perfect Church, the Evangelical Orthodox Church’s liturgical shift was gradual, taking a fair chunk of the ’70s and ’80s. At first, “The Evangelical Orthodox Church was the church that let it happen. ‘Well, it’s time to start. Pull up some chairs. Anybody got a song they want to sing?’ We were in total rebellion against Campus Crusade, which was very rigid and constructed — you had a manual and you followed it. But we developed.” Still, “The first time I went to an Orthodox service, I hated it. But I said, ‘I hate it, and I’m still going to do it.’ By the time we became Orthodox, there was no change from the Sunday before to the Sunday after.”

Braun and his companions found historic Christianity being preached and practiced in the Orthodox Church, and they followed it there. “I think there were about 2000 of us brought into the Orthodox Church over several Sundays in 1987 — in Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Chicago, Nashville, Anchorage, Vicksburg, and Ben Lomond. The Orthodox Church is organized by countries of origin — they believe the same thing, whether Russian or Greek or Antiochian. We were received by the Bishop of Damascus. Forty-five of us became priests, and another 85 came in as deacons. It made the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times.” And the movement continues — Braun estimates that around 7000 Evangelicals have made the jump to Orthodoxy “in the past few years. I have a friend with a church I helped start in Costa Mesa, and a lot of the people he’s brought in are from Biola University, which is just hard-core Protestant.”

The Very Heart of Worship

Men of God are not angels; it should come as little surprise to find that there is another, more personal dimension to Father Braun’s story. During our conversation, Father Braun stresses that he’s not looking for a fight with his fellow Christians. “What I would say and often do say to a Protestant or Evangelical is, ‘We don’t disagree. You just don’t do everything.’ The first part of the liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Word, and the second part is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The typical Evangelical service is simply the preservation of the first part. Being respectful to my father, I would say, ‘Dad, this is the way Christians have worshipped for centuries. It isn’t something that you make up on your own every Sunday.’ He would go so far as to admit that there was nothing wrong with the stuff we were doing, but he would say, ‘It’s too ritualistic. It’s dead liturgy.’ And I would say, ‘Dad, there’s no such thing as liturgy that is living or dead. People are living or dead.’ ”

Back in his Campus Crusade days, Jon Braun was dead — or dying, losing the battle against sin and its wages of death. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. “It would be fair to say that I never considered anything but being a minister,” he recalls. “Or at least, some form of Christian ministry. I had the normal problems and temptations of a kid, but there was also a sense of a radical ‘call.’ One with such a sense should be serious about sin, and early in life, I became aware that many who preached the message did not live the message. Young people don’t handle that well, and I was no exception. Thus my issues with besetting sins” — nothing shocking but consistent enough to represent a defeat in the spiritual battle. “How could I be a clergyman and live a garbage life? That didn’t compute.”

He took lots of advice from lots of Christians, all to no avail. “Something was very wrong somewhere,” he writes in his 1991 book Divine Energy: The Orthodox Path to Christian Victory. “A vital piece, or pieces, of the fullness of Christianity had to be missing.” Braun found those pieces during his study of Orthodox Christianity, specifically, in that notion of deification. “Empowered by the divinized humanity of Jesus Christ to which we are joined,” he writes, “we can enter the battle and win. Union with Christ is the bottom line for Christian living.”

And union with Christ is why he goes to church on Sunday. Writes Braun, “The Divine Liturgy is a personal dialogue between the worshippers corporately and the All-Holy Trinity…. Communion with God at Holy Communion is the center core, the very heart of worship. It is an experience that much of modern Christianity is hardly aware of. How we are nurtured is a mystery, but nurture us in Christ it does. The sustenance gained at that meal in dining with Him and partaking of Him is of infinitely greater importance to our lives in union with Christ than are our daily meals to our physical bodies.”

“What happens in a Eucharistic service?” he asks. “Something happens; I’m not sure what. I can’t explain it. But somehow, it affects me. The mystery is actually practical.”

Unto Life Everlasting

Father Jon Braun stands amid the congregation on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, robed in black. He is retired now, some 13 years after founding St. Anthony the Great; Father John Reimann has taken his place before the altar. But when it comes time to divide and distribute Holy Communion, he slips on a stole, takes his place on one side of the altar, and busies himself with the practical matter at hand. The congregation approaches; Braun stands, waiting, chalice in one hand and spoon in the other. Two of the eight assistants hold a crimson cloth below the chalice, so that nothing falls to the floor. The children come first, and Braun smiles as he slips the elements of Communion between their lips. “The servant of God, [Name], partakes of the precious and all-holy Body and Blood of our Lord, and God, and Savior Jesus Christ unto forgiveness of sins and unto life everlasting.”

Back to Article Listing