The Catechesis Project

The Catechesis Project is a work in progress on an introduction to Orthodox thought and teaching for inquirers into the faith. Comments, questions, and suggestions are more than welcome.


22 responses to “The Catechesis Project”

  1. Salvatore Sberna Avatar
    Salvatore Sberna

    Father bless,
    I am currently a member of the Lutheran Church (ELCA) and like many in this patch of cyber-space I have been strongly considering converting to the Orthodox Faith and have been profoundly blessed by your encouragement and insight. That being said, there is so much I would like to see in a catechism, but what comes to mind at the present moment is a clear explanation of Orthodox Church hierarchy and what is going on with the hierarchy in the American Churchs right now. You have my thougts and prayers Father Stephen

    Peace of Christ,

    Salvatore Sberna

  2. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Gee, you only ask the simple questions… 🙂

    The overlapping jurisdictions in America and Western Europe, etc., are a product largely of the collapse of Church structure shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. The Russian Church was simply crippled. In America the various jurisdictions necessarily came about to meet needs. All Orthodox agree that the present arrangement is contrary to the canons, but most Orthodox are fairly patient about the whole thing – it’s easy to tie something in knots, not as easy to untie.

    In some ways the patience comes from the general assurance that despite the administrative problems, the Orthodox faith remains the Orthodox faith. Of course, ecclesiology matters, and if not addressed would eventually provoke a schism of some sort – or at least that has been historically true in several cases. Though I am not predicting that we are near such a time.

    There are some things that are better than they have been in a long time. SCOBA, the meeting of Bishops of the Orthodox Churches in America does many things in common (missions, college work, the Orthodox Christian Network, etc., and the amount of this continues to grow).

    There are some hierarchs who are more keenly committed to making progress on administrative unity than others – but I generally view all of this as in God’s hands. I pray, I do my work, and patience is part of our salvation. Indeed, Orthodoxy has a tendency to avoid short, quick solutions to almost anything. For an American this can be frustrating, but I’m coming to appreciate it more and more.

  3. Martha Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen, bless.

    I was glad to see Salvatore Sberna’s questions and your response to them – thank you. Like many converts, I sometimes struggle with feeling like the red-headed step-child of Orthodoxy. I feel that it is important for Orthodox Christians in America to develop a sense of our own identity. This is surely a slow process but I also feel that it won’t happen by itself. I think we need to pray for Orthodox American unity – a bringing together in the spirit, a people of faith.

    I admit that I don’t have a good understanding of all of the various jurisdictions and churches and who is in communion with whom; and the temptation, I think, is to say: “Well, I’ll just keep quietly working out my salvation through prayer and the sacraments and let someone else worry about the church.” But it is impossible to avoid that underlying feeling that the disunity and propensity toward isolationism is not the way it should be.

    I think that a catechism that could deal with this critical issue of current church leadership and unity would be so helpful to the catechumen and all who seek a deeper understanding or their role in the church.

    Thank you, Father. — Martha

  4. Salvatore Sberna Avatar
    Salvatore Sberna

    Thank you for the answer, Father. It makes me a little less wary about the state of things in America. At least I know something is to be done in God’s time (can we even say that God has a time?).


  5. Joanna Avatar

    Please consider writing something for the essentially unchurched, an increasingly large portion of our country (including people who are very dear to me). So much of what has been written as an introduction to Orthodoxy seems aimed at the person who is already a devout Christian, well educated in the faith, and seeking simply a fuller church experience.
    I think one of the reasons people don’t believe, is that they have been taught a version of Christianity, a heresy, that in many ways is contrary to reason, and are told that their quite legitimate question show a lack of faith, and that they’d better stop seeking answers. The main problem with heresy, then, is not that Christians who inadvertently accept a heresy because that is the only teaching they are aware of will be condemned, but that it prevents some others from believing at all.

  6. Dave Avatar

    Dear Father Stephens,

    My wife and I are struggling to find a church. We have visited 7 or more churches over the past year and have learned a great deal about the state of the ‘American church’. We have visited: Orthodox Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, community churches, Baptist, Methodist and an Anglo-Catholic church. My wife grew up as an Episcopal and I a Methodist, though I only truly drew back to the faith in my late-20s (I’m now in my mid-30s).

    I cannot describe fully in this message all that we have learned, however, I believe that I have learned that schism is evil and that the schisms that began with Luther to be the root of our modern predicament. This is not to say that there were not good intentions within the thought of the modern reformers. There certainly were, but their sin, rebellion and lack of submission to authority did much damage to their theology, in my opinion. By submitting to the authority at hand, I feel that we help to heal or destroy that authority (1 Peter 2:13-17). This is what Jesus did at the cross.

    This is one reason why I long to revert to an original form of the church. I’ve considered Catholic Church (which my wife will not even consider), but even I would have a difficult time submitting to Roman Catholic church, because I feel that the concept of the infallibility of the Pope and some of their other doctrine to be heretical. However, it seems that all the churches that we have visited have been laced with some heresy. But I also know that my heart is still laced with heresy, so choosing becomes difficult. We have friends that we minister to at the Evangelical Luther Church, so that’s where we’ve been attending.

    Although we are interested in the Orthodox faith, we do not have an Orthodox church in our area (Port Angeles, WA).

    Any advice for us and our search?

  7. Richard Barrett Avatar


    I lived in the Pacific Northwest for years; if you can ever get out to St. Paul’s in Brier, WA, I think you would find Fr. James Bernstein to be a wonderful priest.

    There is an Orthodox community about a half an hour away from you, in Port Townsend–the St. Herman of Alaska Mission. Here is there contact information:

    Mission of St. Herman of Alaska
    Orthodox Church in America
    1407 30th St.
    Port Townsend, WA 98368
    email hidden; JavaScript is required

    Please let me know if I can answer any other questions for you about Orthodoxy in Washington state. richard_barrett (at)


  8. Richard Barrett Avatar

    Er. Here is their contact information, that is. English is my first language, I promise…

  9. Patty in WA Avatar
    Patty in WA

    St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in Port Townsend is a lovely church. It was consecrated in September, so it is no longer a “mission”. It would certainly be driving distance from Port Angeles, and what a jewel to find so close.

  10. Dave Avatar

    We visited St. Hermans. It was the first time for me at an Orthodox church…very beautiful, of course: music, art (icons) and church itself. The people were kind, mostly converts from various Protestant religions. It was difficult for us to participate in the service. I suppose we wished that the liturgy was more participatory for visitors. But the experience has left us thinking, which is good. Thanks for the connection, Patty and Richard.

  11. Patty in WA Avatar
    Patty in WA

    Yay! Wasn’t that a beautiful church? I am given to understand that the priest designed it. I think it is so expressive of both the timelessness of Orthodoxy and the Northwest locale. You should have seen it the day of its consecration–talk about cheek-by-jowl! It was packed. The small bookstore in the back is among the best you will ever see, by the way.

    I am a catechumen, myself. My husband, son, and I will be baptised and chrismated on Christmas Eve–only three more “hungry” Divine Liturgies! May I encourage you on three points?

    First, when we started attending, I thought I would *never* “get it”. But today, less than one year later, I was able to participate in the Divine Liturgy by heart–except for the prayers right before communion–and those are spoken, and I am going to get them memorized before Christmas Day! None of the rest have been any “work” for me. My 12 year old son has had it all it his heart it all for *months*–ah, to have a young brain again. And frankly, no one notices if you booof it. One of the most appealing things to me about the Orthodox is how little they judge me. When I make all kinds of mistakes–crossing myself at the wrong time or singing before the choir comes in, no one gives me the hairy eyeball. Everyone knows they have their own plate to clear, and that my wrong note is not high on the list of things *they* need to repent. And I read a wonderful line in Bishop Ware’s book–it’s not about us being on parade; it is about being children in our Father’s house.

    Second, and I speak as a lifelong Protestant, 30 years a Presbyterian, and a great and avid lover of the hymnody of the Protestants, please give this a chance. If I had been “looking” (which I wasn’t) for another Presbyterian church, I would have been graceful enough to do more than attend one Sunday and walk out making a snap judgment. I knew that when I first attended the Orthodox Church…and made a decision that I would not be more demanding of an unfamiliar venue than I would be of one with which I had great familiarity. You have to give yourself a few times to get used to standing, to the Tones, to hear the words of the hymns.

    I have to say that the surest sign I have that this is the right step for me is that I am not pining after the hymns of my past. That is nothing but the work of the Holy Spirit, as a great gift to me. I’m not bragging per se here, but telling you something so you will know how I cherish the hymnody of my life: I can say with confidence that I have at least 200 hymns memorized, all the verses, and most of them, both the soprano and the alto, and I can play far more of them on the piano. OK? Yet…the thought never crosses my mind that I am “missing out” by not singing these hymns. Do I still play them on the piano? Yes, the ones that are in concert (haha) with Orthodoxy–like so many of the Christmas carols are! But do I have a “hole in my heart”? No. And that surprises me no end.

    The third point has to do with something that I noticed early on in my conversations with Orthodox. They go to Divine Liturgy when they are out of town. Most of the Protestants I know do not–the Roman Catholics do, and the Orthodox do, but not most of the Protestants. *Therefore*, it is as likely as not that you were assumed to be Orthdox (if you were noticed; see point 1 above). So when (not if) you go back, don’t be shy about asking for booklets that have the Divine Liturgy, or about asking questions of an Orthodox. If they are too shy to help you, they will likely point you to someone who *can* help–and the man who runs the bookstore can help you a lot, too, in terms of being able to more fully participate in the Liturgy or Vespers.

    If you have kids, be sure to get to the St. Nicholas event this week–look at the website to find out more, and get your reservations. This event (at a different Church) was our first glimpse into Orthodox practice and joy, and it was so family-friendly that it was a big event in our lives–and a lot of fun.

    Sorry to burble all over Father Stephen’s blog–I am just so delighted at the lovingkindness of God in bringing me and my family to the Orthdox faith, I can’t contain myself (well, I decided not to)

    Many, many blessings to you in these days of Advent, of waiting, of “hearing the angels sing”.

  12. Dave Avatar

    Thanks, Patty, for your thoughtful response. My wife and I have much to consider. I am certainly confused about what to do about a church. However, I know that Jesus will lead us, even though our decisions will not be perfect. He will make us his, that I know for certain.

  13. NeoChalcedonian Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Elements of Faith by Christos Yannaras is the best introduction to Orthodoxy for non-Orthodox persons in the Western world that I have ever seen. It only needs to be reprinted and distributed. The books by Bishop Ware and Fr. Hopko seem to be written for those with a Christian background looking for a fuller experience. Would you agree with this assessment? I would create a petition for reprinting the book if I thought it would accomplish anything.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    I haven’t read it. I’ve read his book on the Freedom of Morality. I’ll have to hunt an old copy down. Thanks for the suggestion.

  15. afroditi Theohari Avatar
    afroditi Theohari

    Do you have any idea how i get this book Elements of Faith mentioned above? Thanks

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have not yet found a copy. Doing google search, etc. is probably the best any of us can do. Alibris has a few copies, but the book is now treated as a rare book, and thus the price is over 100 dollars.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    This might prove helpful for Elements of Faith:

  18. Katia Avatar

    ” C. S. Lewis was not, of course, an Orthodox writer, but his books are very good and except on a few minor points he seems to come close to an Orthodox understanding. He is certainly excellent at addressing the general secular mentality of the modern West.” the book is called Mere Christianity great book for western mind helped a lot my husband to understand where i was coming from ,he was a Protestant and i am Orthodox Christian

  19. Zoe Avatar

    Before I and my husband decided to attend our first Orthodox Vespers Service and our first inquirer’s class, we both read Becoming Orthodox by Peter E. Gillquist and The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia). These 2 books Gave us inspiration to inquire further about Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

    Father Bless.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar


    I stayed up very, very late last night reading parts of the 500+ page dissertation that can be downloaded from that thread. The dissertation, done at Baylor, is simply outstanding if you’re interested in the development and history of 20th century Orthodox thought – probably the most significant century since the 13th. I’m enjoying immensely. Combined with Papanikolaou’s book which compares Lossky and Zizioulas (and covers some of the same preliminary territory as the dissertation) I feel like I’m getting a nice bit of education in an area that is utterly seminal for Orthodoxy today.

  21. Rebecca Avatar

    Hello Fr.
    Im just following up on this Yannaras book. I have just read it and it is incredible! I wish they would reprint it as well and I think we need to get a movement for this although he is contraversial??
    Im just curious if you all ever found the PDF link to the book. If you have any ideas could you please direct me? Thank you

  22. jane Avatar

    I have just been reading the comments on the Catechesis Project, including discussion about Elements of Faith by Christos Yannaras.
    I did a search on and Blackwells UK is selling it for 20 pounds.

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