April 1, 2016
Last week's Coffee Break apparently hit a nerve with a few folks, so let me begin by saying that it was not my intention to offend any of my Russian Orthodox friends or readers by my remarks. Guess maybe I need to clarify myself. I have lots of friends who are Russian Orthodox -- good friends, in fact -- and they understand that my position or statements come from a spiritual perspective and are not intended to be personal slams against them, their manner of worship or traditions.
I've no quarrel with the gorgeous music in the Russian Orthodox church. I don't even mind if folks want to retain some of the form or the pomp and ceremony. I'm not here to judge folks who want to retain pomp and ceremony. That's between them and the Lord.
Where I take issue with Orthodoxy is when priests and ministers who are supposed to represent the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ (along with the power and authority, and the agape love and faith which are characteristic of Jesus Christ) trade that life for pomp, ceremony and traditions of men, and leave out the weightier matters of love, faith, power, and the authority of the believer in Christ. That's when Christianity becomes a religion instead of a personal relationship with the Lord. That's when it becomes death warmed over instead of having the power to change and transform lives into living examples of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing religious about the Lord. There is nothing religious about a personal relationship with Him. Tradition and ceremony are one thing. They just don't happen to be life-giving in a spiritual sense. They may well please people's soul and flesh, but that isn't what Christianity is about. There is no communication of the power of God in ceremony, tradition, pomp and circumstance. There is no life-changing power in ceremony.
There is no life-giving agape love in traditions established by men -- no matter how esthetically beautiful or eye-pleasing (or ear-pleasing) it may be. Jesus was/is NEVER about tradition: He is about transforming us and restoring us to the image in which He created us before the fall. He is out to have for Himself a family of folks who are just like Him.
OK? Are we clear? Have traditions, if you like. Have ceremony, if you like. Have all the pomp and circumstance that tickles your fancy. Just don't leave out the real life that comes in a personal love-relationship with Jesus Christ, along with the attendant demonstrations of His life and power.
As you will see in the unfolding story of Saint Paul Island, despite the opposition, the religious persecution, the all-out efforts to literally steal the land out from under my folks, their home and the church they built, the testimony they left behind and the ministry they poured out through their lives in 35 years of labor there (21 for Dad before he went home to be with the Lord) brought change to the community, a lasting tribute to them, and salvation and transformation in the lives of every Russian Orthodox priest who served on the island during their years.
Let me also begin by saying that Della and I absolutely love Saint Paul Island. We love the people there. If the Lord had called us to that island, we'd be there in a heartbeat! We count many of the islanders as personal friends -- family, if you will. The Lord did a bonding together for us with those folks that has never left. To us, Saint Paul Island is like Hawaii without the trees and warm trade winds. But, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Christmas morning, 1965, should have begun like any other Saint Paul morning. It didn't. Very strong winds -- hurricane force winds, in fact -- had been blowing in from the east. The waters off Saint Paul Island are deep.
Before I continue, let me provide you with a bit of perspective.
In last week's post, I told you that Saint Paul Island is located in the Bering Sea some 350 miles north of Cold Bay in the Aleutians, and approximately 500 miles from Dillingham in Bristol Bay on the mainland (or a thousand miles, give or take, from Anchorage). Being situated in the Bering Sea (one could call that the northernmost waters of the Pacific or the southernmost waters of the Arctic Ocean) puts it right where the majority of North America's storms have their origins.
Now, if you happen to be a meteorologist and take issue with that remark, I'll forgive you. Meteorologically, there may be other factors involved, but if you've ever lived out in the Bering Sea, you know exactly what I'm talking about!
The Discovery Channel (and its counterpart, the Travel Channel) have aired weekly programs that refer to the Pribilof Island waters as the most dangerous place to fish in the entire world. An average of 17 people lose their lives in those waters every single year. Our oldest son, Chris, served as a fishing vessel's chief engineer for one season in those waters and decided the risks weren't worth it. The same vessel he served on went down without a trace with all hands on board the year after he quit, and he lost some of his close friends from Saint Paul Island.
OK. I've said all that to lay a foundation for Christmas morning, 1965.
Dad and Mom awoke to hear a very peculiar sound. It almost (?) sounded like they were on a houseboat, with waves lapping at the side.
Dad got out of bed, put his britches on and went to open the front door. 300 - 500 yards in any direction was nothing but ocean. It actually looked (and felt) like the house had been floated out to sea. In fact, the house was still securely anchored to the land. Dad had built the place at Saint Paul just like he had built in Barrow, Wainwright and Point Hope, positioning the house on posts driven into the ground with about three feet of space between the floor joists and the ground.
Good thing! Had he built any lower, the house would have been flooded and might well have floated away. As it was, the water level was right up to the level of the floor joists. The strong east winds had brought the water level up to the point where the lagoon had flooded and the tide had come in, swamping everything on the lower parts of the island. The southern tip of the island was a hill where most of the island's residents had their homes. Those homes were cut off from the rest of the island by the water which had overflowed the low-lying peninsula where Dad had built.
Dad found himself once again (remember 1944?) speaking to the storm and the seas and commanding peace. I do not remember how many hours they had to wait for the waters to subside, but the damage to their place was relatively minor. Other houses built during the days of the Russian fur traders broke apart and floated away, but the community took everything pretty much in stride. They did live, after all, in one of the most consistently windy parts of the world where there is only an average of seven days a year when the wind does not blow at least 15 knots (17 mph).
Realizing that although this might be a freak situation, it was still a potentially deadly location in the event of future storms of greater intensity, and he applied to the Bureau of Fisheries for a change in his land grant -- a change that would move him to somewhat higher ground. The following summer, he jacked the house up by hand and moved it to a new location some three hundred yards to the west -- but not before hauling gravel and scoria from nearby Black Diamond Hill and raising the ground level by some three-to-four feet first. In a way it was reminiscent of Barrow and having to fill in swampy ground with all those truckloads of gravel before he could begin construction of the church there.
Saint Paul Island differed from every other place where Dad had gone to build and to establish the Gospel. Sure, there were some pre-existing churches in the communities before we arrived, but mostly (at least at first) he was welcomed and made to feel desired in the community. Saint Paul was not that at all. Hostility was the order of the day. Dad and Mom were interlopers. After all, who did they think they were coming to bring some new religion into town when what they had was just fine?
And therein lay the issue. They weren't there to bring in some new religion. In fact, they were there to do the complete opposite. Jesus is about as un-religious as you can possibly get! Nope. They weren't there to bring another religion; they were there to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus had put it this way (see Luke 4:18-19), "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
Saint Paul Island was an island of the "poor" in just about every sense of the word. Don't get me wrong. There were some righteous folk there. There were people on the island who had experienced a genuine salvation experience with Jesus Christ. There were a few even who were unashamed to speak of their walk with the Lord. They were in such a minority, however, that they were pretty much intimidated into keeping silence.
The Orthodox priest ruled the island with an iron fist. His word was law. Whatever he said went -- no matter what anyone else had to say about it. Even in cases where crimes had been committed and Alaska State Troopers had been sent to investigate, when the priest commanded silence concerning the issue so as to protect the guilty, people with knowledge of the crime would remain silent and not speak out.
The result was that Saint Paul Island was a spiritual garbage disposal (and probably a lot of other adjectives could be applied as well). The assistant priest was sleeping with women in the community and getting them pregnant, and having children by them whom he wouldn't support. The Alaska Department of Social Services couldn't get any cooperation in forcing him to pay child support because the senior priest commanded silence in the community.
The lay reader in the Russian Orthodox Church was a falling down drunk who persistently beat his wife and children, sometimes to the point of breaking bones and causing severe injury.
When some of these same people began to come to the church services Dad and Mom held, heard the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time in their lives and made a commitment to the Lord resulting in dramatic change in their lives, the priest issued an edict to the community.
"If you go to the Capeners' church and die, you will not be buried in the city cemetery. You will be buried in the cemetery reserved for sinners."
You may laugh at the absurdity of the edict, but to those people it meant either going to Heaven or Hell. Out of fear, some folks recanted their profession of salvation. For a while it had a measurable effect on the number of people who dared to come to the worship services. The non-native population of the island couldn't have cared less about the edict since most of them were not Russian Orthodox; and they became the core of the church for years to come.
In the 1960's and early 70's, Saint Paul Island's non-native population consisted of U.S. Coast Guard personnel, U.S. Weather Bureau personnel, Bureau of Fisheries people whose primary home was often in Anchorage or Seattle, or somewhere on the west coast, and Department of Education folks -- the Superintendent of Schools for the Pribilof Islands (also including Saint George Island), the local school principals and some non-local school teacher families.
For a time, the two churches -- the Russian Orthodox, and the Assembly of God Church -- represented a picture in racial division with mostly White, and a few Black and Hispanic folks attending Dad & Mom's services and Aleuts attending the Russian Orthodox services. It was an unintentional consequence of the threats leveled by the priest against the longtime residents of the community. Things were not going to continue that way, however.
Mom made it her business to get out and mingle in the community. Her flair for socializing and creating public dinners, teas and the like (And, Brother, you've never seen a cook or a baker like Mom! That lady could put together culinary concoctions that were the envy of every community in which she ever lived.) drew women who were sick of staying at home, doing nothing, or being abused by their husbands.
Let's take just one lady as an example. We'll refer to her as "Ludy." She was hardly the picture of an abused woman. For appearance and mannerisms, Ludy might as well have been a Czarina. She had both a commanding personality and carried herself like royalty. Ludy was a woman of influence in the Russian Orthodox Church, and her voice carried a lot of clout among the ladies on the island. She and Mom hit it off together and became fast friends. Their friendship lasted through more than 30 years before both died in 2000.
A day came when during the course of a normal, everyday conversation, Mom asked Ludy if she had ever made Jesus Christ Lord of her life. Ludy had always professed to be a Christian, but this was not something she was familiar with. When Mom explained what she was talking about, Ludy bowed her head right then and invited Jesus Christ to become both Lord and Savior of her life.
It would be a turning point of sorts in the community. The joy that began to be exhibited in Ludy's life was infectious, and other women began to check things out.
Let's pick this up next week. See you then.
I remind those of you in need of ministry that our Healing Prayer Call takes place on the first Monday of each month at 7:00 PM Eastern (4:00 PM Pacific). (For those accustomed to our previous “every Monday” schedule, we’ve had to pare down our schedule because of scheduling conflicts.) Our call-in number is (712) 775-7035. The Access Code is: 323859#. For Canadians who have difficulty getting in to this number, you can call (559) 546-1400. If someone answers and asks what your original call-in number was, you can give them the 712 number and access code.
At the same time, in case you are missing out on real fellowship in an environment of Ekklesia, our Sunday worship gatherings are available by conference call – usually at about 10:45AM Pacific. That conference number is (605) 562-3140, and the access code is 308640#. We hope to make these gatherings available by Skype or Talk Fusion before long. If you miss the live call, you can dial (605) 562-3149, enter the same access code and listen in later.
Blessings on you!
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