Monday, June 30, 2008


Dear Readers (both of you! :-))

Below is a response I recently wrote to an announcement about "two new Orthodox parishes" being established in the Baltimore area. It turns out that these are two Old Catholic groups wanting to advertise themselves as "Orthodox."

The reality of our current situation here in America is that of religious "entrepreneurial" chaos. In other words, every man can do what is "right in his own eyes." I prefer the chaos over government control, but that means that each of us must be diligent in knowing and living the fullness of the Faith. No automatic pilot allowed!

Here's my response. I offer it to you for your critique, response, and correction:

Fr. XXXX, please forgive me, but I spent (I won't say "wasted" but I want to) almost 10 years of my life playing "dress up" Orthodoxy in a group that desired the ancient faith without all that messy hard work of actually being in organic communion within the Orthodox Church.

I don't say that is what's happening here. How could I know? But I do know that any real and lasting work any of us do will have to be eventually brought to the Church in communion if it is ever going to be "fruit that remains." This "we are going to do Orthodoxy right" mentality is absolutely a dead end. If you and your Old Catholic group have charisms and talents, bring them to the Church. Perhaps the Church can put them to use, but more than likely it will be as it has been for me, a time when my own foolish notions of my gifts and abilities will be put to the test in the fire of the hard work of communion within the Church.

I also don't mean to engage in any lengthy discussion of the merits of this or that vision of communion and bringing America to Orthodoxy. I simply wish to share my own regrets for waiting so long to enter into the hard work of communion within the Orthodox Church. The fruit that this work has produced in my own life is worth much more than any of the perceived "gains" I thought I had outside of the organic and canonical communion within the Church. Please know that ever fear I had about the Orthodox Church was well founded.

There are many within the Church who see it as nothing more than a place to preserve yia yia's recipes and a few colorful costumes and dance steps, or some ultimately futile attempt to pretend they don't live where they live now. There are many within the Church, especially here in America, who are so narrow minded that you could put out both eyes with one bb! There are far too many who know so little about their faith that they resort to silly nationalistic (and sometimes racist) motivations for preserving the ancient traditions of the faith. The sad and overwhelmingly obvious results of these weaknesses is that these motivations will not preserve anything these folks want to preserve. These weak motivations are, after all, too small to preserve the timeless beauty of the Faith, and too irrelevant to keep any of the "old world" alive. All of these fears are well founded and certainly insist on an "eyes wide open" approach to entering the Church.

But in spite of these very real weaknesses, there is simply no substitute for the hard work of dealing with these shortcomings, especially with all the benefits that come.

Because, for every narrow-minded person I have encountered in the Orthodox Church, I have encountered a hundred sincere, faithful, and loving believers who, through patience, compassion, and love have guided me to a fuller understanding of the Faith. I have seen my initial impressions of some of the ethno-centric baggage of the Church as being too short sighted myself. I have found some of these cultural expressions (certainly not all) to be worthy bearers of deeper truths that have been helpful to me in deepening my own piety and faith. I have watched as so-called "cradle" Orthodox, grasping the deep healing given to them by the Faith, raise their children as committed believers and I've watched as so-called "converts" finally see the power of humility in living out a sense of gratitude for those who preserved the faith so they could receive it. I have watched as young men and women come to understand that if they first dwell deeply on the "sublime theology" of Orthodoxy, their children will want to keep alive those special cultural markers that allow them to display their Orthodox faith in a healthy and welcoming way. Their children want to learn the "language" not because of some foolish and shallow nationalism, but because that "language" best captures the precious nuances of the Faith they have come to love and has so transformed their lives. It has been worth the work.

My journey isn't over, anymore than I'm sure yours is as well. Here at seminary I am learning more than I ever dreamed, and much of that education is occurring not in a classroom but in the daily living with so many different people from so many different places. I have found my worst fears and my greatest hopes both confirmed in my canonical communion within the Church, and I wouldn't go back to my "dress up" days for anything!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

David Bentley Hart and Where was God

Gentle readers,

Your absent blogger/seminarian is intrigued with some swirling thoughts of late.

First is the concept of beauty. I am of the increasing opinion that Dostoevsky was right "Beauty will save the world."

Second is the increasingly strong and alarming thought concerning the destructive and deeply heretical teachings of Calvinism, particularly the Calvinistic notions concerning sovereignty and election. I am convinced that any future Ecumenical Council will be forced to anathematize Calvinism as one of the most insidious heresies ever faced by Christianity.

Finally, what is driving both of these thoughts is the widely reviewed theological work of David Bentley Hart. It is my opinion that Hart should be more widely known among the Orthodox, of which he is a part, and also it should be appreciated that Hart's work is getting serious attention in Western Christian academic circles.

Below is a link to an interview with Dr. Hart that I recommend highly. I also recommend both of his books of late: "The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth" and "The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?" Both books are published by the Eerdmans.

Please know that I am completely unable to grasp much of what Hart writes due to my very limited philosophical training, but what I do know is that the two nagging notions above are strengthened by Hart's work.

Gentle reader, two parting thoughts: God is not the author of evil, and, God is absolutely in every sense of the word and even beyond every sense of the word, FREE.

Here's the link to the interview.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Press Release

Press Release

Powell Completes First Year of Seminary

A Shocked Barnabas Powell Finishes His Freshman Year at Holy Cross

Brookline, MA 4 June 2008: With final exams behind him, Barnabas Powell finds himself at the end of his first year at seminary at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. The school, located on a beautiful campus in Brookline, Massachusetts (near Boston and just minutes from historic Fenway Park) is the central educational facility for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is also home to the only fully accredited Eastern Orthodox Christian 4 year undergraduate college in the Western Hemisphere (Hellenic College). Go to for more information.

A Review of the First Year

Barnabas, his wife Connie, and their (then) 11 month old daughter Alexandra, arrived at Holy Cross in August of 2007 to Married Student housing on campus. Their apartment was actually bigger than they expected and they immediately set out to make this 900 square foot, 3 bedroom apartment, their new home for the next several years.

While Connie set up the apartment, Barnabas registered for classes and re-entered the life of a student after having been in the workforce almost 20 years since his last venture in higher education at Toccoa Falls where he received his first Theological degree. The first year at seminary is supposed to be the toughest and it certainly was. Courses in New Testament Greek, the Book of Romans, Patrology, Genesis, and others immersed Barnabas in reading, studying, and test taking that pressed him to excel in his chosen field. The first semester ended with Barnabas passing all his courses.

The second semester of this first year was filled with new challenges. Classes like Dogmatics, Canon Law, Liturgics, and Byzantine Chant would require Barnabas to examine areas of theology and prayer that called him to a serious reflection of his faith and his time management skills. On top of that, Connie had taken a part time job as a substitute teacher in the local Brookline City Schools to help the little family cover expenses while Barnabas focused on his studies. This meant a seemingly weekly struggle to find daycare for Alexandra while Dad went to class and Mom went to work. But they did it.

The highlight of the second semester was Holy Week. Each year all the incoming freshmen are tasked with serving the Campus Chapel (Holy Cross) for all the services of Holy Week. This meant serving in the altar, baking bread for the services, and clean up of the Chapel every day of this special week. With services at least twice a day (sometimes more) Barnabas and his fellow classmates were very busy. But this week was wonderful and terrible. Exhausted and exhilarated, the freshmen arrived at Pascha ready to hear the familiar cry “Christ is Risen!” It was glorious. Unfortunately, what Barnabas thought was a recurrence of kidney stones that started on Holy Tuesday turned out to be a fairly serious infection that landed him in the hospital on Clean Monday. All was well after a week of antibiotics and it was back to work.

The year ended with a flurry of activity around final exams and Graduation exercises. Barnabas was both active in coordinating the Graduation exercises and singing in the school choir. He received his grades for the second semester and found that his first year’s GPA was 3.73 after receiving all A’s for his second semester classes.

What’s Ahead

The end of the second semester doesn’t end Barnabas’ work. He is scheduled to take Liturgical Greek during the first session of Summer School and then begin his Modern Greek training in August for the second half of Summer School. In between, Barnabas will be working at the Diakonia Center in South Carolina teaching and being a counselor at the Metropolis of Atlanta Youth Camp program. Barnabas has also recently added a part time job to his schedule. He is working at Capers Catering here in Boston to help cover summer tuition and other bills.

Barnabas has also been given the honor of being one of four students selected next year to serve as an Altar Group Leader. The Altar Group Leader is assigned one week each month of the semester when his team is in charge of serving in the altar for our twice daily services and in keeping the Chapel clean. The team is made up of an Holy Cross seminarian (the team leader), an Hellenic College assistant leader, and several incoming freshmen that are to be trained in serving the Chapel. Barnabas considers this honor one of his most important tasks next year. He has also been elected to the Student Government for the Seminary and College as the Treasurer. This puts Barnabas on the “executive board” of Student Government, making him the only Married Student representative on the executive board. The second year looks even busier than the first.


Barnabas, Connie, and Alexandra are so grateful to the many friends and family who made this first year possible through their prayers and donations. Your gifts at the very beginning of this unlikely journey made this first year possible for the Powell family. Connie still plans to continue working for Brookline Schools, and Barnabas hopes to get as many hours as possible at the catering company. Alexandra continues to grow so fast and will celebrate her 2nd birthday September 22. She enjoys going to play dates with Mommy, and generally either whispering or shouting the new words she seems to learn every day. She is the apple in her mother’s and father’s eye.

If all goes according to schedule, Barnabas should graduate in May of 2010 and then, as the Lord wills, he will continue serving the Lord’s Church as God sees fit. His dream is to so grasp and internalize the beautiful and life-giving Orthodox Christian faith that he will be able to communicate at least some of that beauty to as many people as possible here in America. He and Connie hope you will remember them in your prayers.

Barnabas Powell is a former Pentecostal pastor who converted, along with 20 families from the church he founded in Woodstock, GA, to the Orthodox Christian Church in November of 2001. He is married to the former Connie Demas, and they are the proud parents of Alexandra Georgia Powell. Barnabas is a full time seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, studying for his Masters of Divinity in pursuit of ordination to the holy priesthood of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He is a grateful seminarian under the loving paternity of Metropolitan ALEXIOS of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta and a proud son of the South temporarily waylaid entirely too far above the Mason-Dixon (but he longs to get home as soon as he can).