Tag Archives: Eagle River Institute

REMINDER: Eagle River Institute Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow’s the day St. John Orthodox starts it’s 2017 Eagle River Institute (ERI).

Kickoff lecture at 3:30 p.m. is by Peter Bouteneff, PhD. His topic will be:

From the Old Testament to the Fathers: The Journey of the Creation Accounts

The 7:30 p.m. lecture will be by Gayle Woloshak, PhD. Her topic will be

Religion and Science: Interface

If you value a dive into Orthodox thought, and practice of spirituality, I highly recommend you enjoy this opportunity. I’ve come to value Orthodox thought and their unique expressions of ancient spirituality. I sincerely believe each of us, regardless of our personal spiritual persuasion, can benefit from the thoughts and practices of other religions.  ERI is no exception.  I’ve discovered many enriching details about the Christian faith through my friendship with Orthodox, of which there are three major branches in Alaska: Greek Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, and Orthodox Church of America (formerly known here as Russian Orthodox).

My detailed write-up about this year’s ERI, published two weeks ago, is here:

Eagle River Institute 2017 – Science & Faith is Key Topic – Plan to attend!

I’ll be there and hope to see you too!

Chris Thompson
Church Visits

Eagle River Institute 2017 – Science & Faith is Key Topic – Plan to attend!

St John Orthodox Cathedral – Eagle River

St. John Orthodox Cathedral has announced their Eagle River Institute topic for this year: Orthodoxy and Science.

I’m very excited about this topic as it offers a unique experience for local Christians and other seekers to delve into the topic of religion and science. In over 17 years of visiting various churches in Anchorage, I’ve yet to hear any clergy dealing with this topic.  In light of this, I asked Fr. Marc Dunaway, Archpriest of St. John Orthodox Cathedral why this topic was chosen for this year.  “We want to address issues that are especially on the minds of the young people,” Fr. Marc replied. “We cannot ignore the recent statistics showing the increased departure of the millennial generation from the Christian Faith. Issues about Science and Faith are certainly very important.”

Fr. Marc is right as millennial’s have expressed dissatisfaction about churches sweeping science and faith issues under the rug. Much has been written about this recently. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group presented research findings a few years back in his masterful book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith.”

The Institute will be held August 1-5 at St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River.   A pair of highly qualified presenters will conduct four track sessions each, starting at 3:30 p.m. each of the five days, ending at 9:30 p.m. A dinner and vespers break separates each of the two-hour sessions.

Peter Bouteneff, PhD, a professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, will be presenting on “Early Christian Tradition and Genesis 1-3.”  Gayle Woloshak, PhD, professor of radiation oncology at Northwestern University and adjunct professor of Religion at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago and at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The speakers will alternate between afternoon and evening sessions.

For complete information and an detailed brochure use this link: http://stjohnalaska.org/institute.html.

As a side-note, I recently discovered that Hank Hanegraaff, president of Christian Research Institute, and known as the Bible Answer Man, recently converted to Orthodoxy. His given reasons for leaving evangelicalism include watching pastors who act more like entrepreneurs focused on branding. Hanegraaff said, “Where the pastor is like an entrepreneur, branding, formulaically getting people into seats — that became troubling to me and I decided I was going to explore,” he said.

I’m looking forward to this exploration of science and faith through the eyes of Orthodoxy. It’s worth the small fee. Over the years, I’ve become enjoyed the warm and dedicated spiritual connection this particular Orthodox community offers.


Six inspiring things from Anchorage faith organizations in 2015

During my forays into the local faith community in 2015 I experienced an intriguing mix of sights, sounds, venues and celebrations. This week I’ll briefly describe some that made lasting impressions. Next week I focus on my perennial quest regarding what I’d like to see churches tackle in 2016.

These impressions are mine alone, and omission isn’t intended as a slight to any faith-based organization in Anchorage.

Faith community support of social causes

As the years go by, I’m increasingly enthusiastic when local faith organizations and their members go out of their way supporting charitable causes such as Thanksgiving Blessing, Crop Hunger Walk, food banks and food distribution programs, kids programs, etc. There is sufficient need in our community, and these efforts show that, for the most part, Christian organizations walk the talk. When Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church periodically holds two-hour Beer and Hymns events, more than $5,000 is raised for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. Church food drives are incredibly successful too, such as when St. Mary’s Episcopal Church collects donations of more than 4,000 jars of peanut butter plus other food items during the year.

Catholic celebrations mark years of progress

The Archdiocese of Anchorage held several important celebrations this year. One marked the 100th anniversary of Holy Family Cathedral, and the 50th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Many artifacts of local church history were on display, accompanied by colorful presentations by many local Catholic leaders. The ceremonial Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe marking Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz’s 75th birthday (and 25th anniversary of his ordination as bishop) was full of music, co-celebrating archbishops and bishops, and many priests. The investiture ceremony of the Royal Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, presided over by a cardinal, was a spectacular peek into church history.

Orthodox visits impressed me deeply

The Eagle River Institute at St. John Orthodox Cathedral during August afforded opportunities to learn about orthodoxy, and its history, especially Syrian-born Rev. George Shaloub’s lectures on Middle Eastern Christianity. With the Syrian refugee crisis in the headlines at the moment, it’s too bad more local Christians did not hear his messages. Vespers, held after supper each day, provided music and liturgy harking back to apostolic times. A recent visit to St. Tikhon Orthodox Church delighted me. The hour and a half liturgy was supported by an all-male choir singing in four-part harmony. The Russian Christmas celebration at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral was filled with music and liturgy, my first experience with starring, a beautiful Orthodox tradition brought from Ukraine.

Church worship experiences in middle schools

New churches (church plants) meeting in middle schools were a pleasant visit focus. Clark, Begich, Wendler, and Hanshew middle schools were the focus of those visits. They pay a standard Anchorage School District rental rate for use of the multi-purpose room for adult meetings and classrooms for the younger kids. Churches must bring everything needed and set up every Sunday, taking it all down after, but it works beautifully. Many of these locations provide better settings than some of our local churches. In each of these services, the proportion of millennials was greater than in an average church. I’ve been personally blessed by the number of these services I’ve attended, never feeling the absence of a dedicated brick-and-mortar church as a disadvantage.

AFACT support of Medicaid expansion

Earlier this year, Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together challenged the state Legislature with words and prayer at the Legislative Information Office to expand the Medicaid system on behalf of the working poor who slip through the cracks. AFACT, a local coalition of 14 local congregations, worked tirelessly on behalf of expansion. In the end, expansion of the health-care program did happen. When I attended the AFACT celebration at St. Anthony Catholic church in early fall, I was impressed with the passion this dedicated group expressed. I was especially taken with Pastor Julia Seymour’s remarks referring to “social junk.” She’s right. It’s so easy to criticize and ignore those among us we regard as not worthy of our consideration. However, everyone counts in our society, or it begins to rot from the center.

Longevity of senior pastors in our community

My interview with All Saints Episcopal’s Rev. Norman Elliott as he reached his 96th birthday was a true delight. His tireless devotion to his church, and the spiritual lives of those in our hospitals, should be an inspiration to us all. It’s not often we get to know a living church legend; Elliott certainly fits the bill. His stories of pastoring and teaching in the villages, coupled with flights of daring in the parish airplane, are fascinating. Whenever he digresses into the poetry of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy, which he manages to slip into most sermons, he becomes a different man. Elliott is devoted to God and to his church. Retired Archbishop Francis T. Hurley celebrated his 45th year as bishop this year. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing him several times, and like Elliott, he was a flying priest who ministered to a far-flung area. Both have interesting tales of serving God by airplane. The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church celebration of Pastor Alonzo Patterson’s 45th anniversary as their pastor and 66th anniversary of being a pastor was a warm and effusive display of love for their pastor. Many guest pastors were on hand to add their congratulations and thanks to God for Patterson’s many years of service. The musical tributes were warm and from the heart. It was an exceptional event to have experienced.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Fr. George Shaloub on end times, monasticism and marriage

In August, I was privileged to attend the annual Eagle River Institute at St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle. I was fascinated to hear a series of lectures on “Christianity in the Arab World” by the Rev. George H. Shaloub, pastor of The Basilica of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia, Michigan. Shaloub was raised in Syria, and trained at a monastery in Lebanon.

Before returning to Livonia, Shaloub graciously fielded some questions on religious diversity, eschatology, monasticism and marriage. Early in our conversation, I mentioned a Pew Research global religious diversity study from last year that, based on 2010 data, found that 31.5 percent of the world’s population identified as Christian, compared to 23 percent as Muslim and predicted Muslims will exceed Christians by 2050. Shaloub said the constant conflict in the Middle East had uprooted many Christians, and noted the loss of faith in Europe and decreasing family sizes.

What follows is a condensed and edited version of our exchange.

Does all this herald the imminent return of Christ?

“In the Orthodox tradition, we do not time the return of Christ. That would be against our faith. We have no control and we cannot predict. Now, there are so many stories in the Old Testament and in the Book of Revelation that can allude to circumstances. The Orthodox Church never interprets these ancient texts or symbolism as to relate to the present time. The Orthodox Church believes that all what’s written in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send his son Jesus. So we do not look at the world as a subject to be interpreted by Scripture. The Scripture can only be a map of salvation for us, without taking in all contexts at this time.”

But many Christians play up end-time possibilities.

“No stress, I always tell — if the Lord comes today, it would spare me paying the mortgage of the church of $3.4 million. If He chooses not to come, let Christ be Christ. There’s a tendency always here, we play God, and we play the Lord. We tend to put him in the box and limit him; therefore our own limitation. This is not part of our practice. People are looking for an answer why there is a war in Ukraine and war in the Middle East. The war is in our own inner city, not far from our doorsteps in America. That is a reflection of what’s going on. Let’s fix our home first.”

Continuing, he observed evangelicals perceive far away things as more healing, so they go to Africa and South America, when Detroit and Anchorage really need the help. “Charity begins at home. But in America, as a great power, a great influence, it does not pay to show our power and influence in our backyard. It is always on the world stage, because this is where America’s foreign policies interest lies.”

How do you address these issues in your ministry?

“We address it from three perspectives. One perspective, from my homily, is that we do not live alone in the world. If I’m to be a Christian, I have to fulfill God’s greatest commandment. It’s not enough to live for God. I have to look after my neighbor, whether he’s godly or ungodly. The second thing is in your community’s participation. You reach out and you work; whether in the soup kitchen, whether to collect blankets for the homeless in winter, clothes for children, or to feed the hungry. The third is to reach out to the religious leaders in your own community because the religious leaders have a lot of influence.”

What about monasticism’s role in early growth of Christianity?

“In the early days, third to seventh century, the piety of the Christian life was overwhelming. Men and women would leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life, called to become monks and nuns. They chose the desert because it either gave you life or made you naked — it would kill you. It was a very hostile environment, a testing ground about the endurance of the Christian. In the desert, most of our hymnology, most of the ‘yeast,’ that fermented the dough for the entire Christian world, came from the desert.”

Does a role for monasticism still exist?

“Absolutely, because what is missing from our Christian life is this deep spirituality. This can only come from one person chosen by God to dedicate his or her life to the life of prayer. Monastic life can be lived in your own married life but you cannot devote all of your life to a life of prayer. You have the worry of family, children, money, payments. A monastic person’s call is to pray for all of us. We need to have this prayer of intercession. We need people to pray for the world instead of fixing up the world. We don’t know how to fix the world.”

I understand you had an arranged marriage and have authored a book on marriage. Could you share some thoughts on strengthening marriage?

“Your spirituality and your morality is the guideline for your marriage. You will be angry, but Jesus said ‘get angry less.’ Your spirituality when you pray for someone is when you pray, you pray for yourself. It means you’re taking someone on the journey of life with you. Where do you learn that attitude and attribute and the cost of love? From your spirituality. Love is accountable, is responsible.”

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.