It Started with an Icon in a Calvinist Seminary

Source: My Journey to Orthodoxy

Robert Arakaki grew up unchurched.  He became a Christian in high school through reading the Living Bible. His home church was Kalihi Union Church, that was part of the United Church of Christ. He began to be deeply troubled by the UCC’s liberal theology and wanted to help it return to its biblical roots. This led him to study at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for the purpose of preparing to become an evangelical seminary professor in the liberal United Church of Christ. However, in a surprising turn of events, he became Orthodox!

In his first week at seminary, he walked down the hallway of Main Dorm and saw on the door of one of the student’s room an icon of Christ.  He thought to himself, “An icon in a Calvinist seminary!?!”  This was to be the first of many encounters with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Robert was drawn to the deep mystical worship of liturgical worship that was rooted in the historic Christian Faith. His journey to Orthodoxy began when little questions about Protestant theology turned into big questions, and the big questions turned into a theological crisis. He became painfully aware that much of what passes for Evangelicalism all have their origins in the 1800s. This means that Evangelicalism is a modern innovation as is Liberalism.

But was more troubling was when he investigated classical Reformation theology, e.g., Martin Luther and John Calvin.  Two foundational tenets of Protestantism: sola fide (faith alone) and sola scriptura (Bible alone), were not part of the early Church and rely upon reading the Bible in a certain way. In other words, the Protestant Reformation marks not a return to the historic Christian Faith, but rather a late innovation.

What makes Orthodoxy so daunting to an Evangelical is its understanding that to have the true Faith means belonging to the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church. Robert was received into the Orthodox Church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1999 at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu. He said, “I am very grateful for what I have learned from Evangelicalism but there is so much more to Christianity. Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of Evangelical theology and worship.”