Almost from the beginning of my time here in Nepal, I have been struck by what I think of as the poverty of my situation here. What I mean is, Christianity has seen rapid growth here in the past few years and Nepalis now understand that there are Christians here. It is no longer a strange thing. However, the growth has been almost entirely among Protestant sects. When I am asked what church I belong to, and I reply that I am a priest in the Orthodox Church, the response is always the same: “I haven’t heard of that church before.”
Several people have asked me where I attend church and usually assume that I attend one of the Roman Catholic parishes. I feel the sting of embarrassment when I reply “we have no church here. I say my prayers in my room.” They must be thinking, what kind of Christianity can it be if your group has no churches here?!
My language teacher, Umesh, is no different. He asked me what group I belonged to. He too had never heard of Orthodox. He made a point on more than one occasion to say that he has heard of lots of Christian groups and he has attended Prostestant parishes and also a Roman Catholic church, but he has never heard of the Orthodox. I tried on each occasion to give some explanation of who we are, but we usually only had a few minutes before the lesson was to begin and he would simply shake his head and say, “I don’t understand who are the Orthodox.”
Yesterday, things took a significant turn. He was giving me a list of occupations and their Nepali names. So I asked him if there were a special Nepali word for Priest. He told me that there is a word for Priest but the Christians don’t use it because in this former Hindu Kingdom, it has always referred to Hindu priests. Nevertheless, I asked him what the word was. He replied that it is “pujari.” He explained that at the root of the word is the word for “worship” or “puja.” That was the open door!
I began to explain to him as simply and concisely as possible, that for 1000 years there was only 1 Church. The Christian Church began in Jerusalem, I explained, and it exists there to this day. In the New Testament, you read of the church in Antioch, the church in Thessaloniki, the church in Corinth, the church in Cyprus, etc. But in the understanding of the Christian, there was only One Church and the Christians in each of these cities simply belonged to the One Church which happened to reside in each particular city.
After 1000 years, however, the bishop of Rome separated himself and his followers from the other bishops and churches and began to refer to himself and his followers as “Roman Catholics” in order to distance himself from the rest of the Christian world. Five centuries later, the result of his schism resulted in further division in the West with the birth of Protestant sects; first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands. In addition, changes were introduced into the worship and teaching of the “Roman Catholics” and even more changes occurred among the Protestants. To this day, Roman Catholics and Protestants continue to make changes to the worship and teaching of their respective groups.
After the separation of the Roman bishop, the other bishops continued in unity in the One Church. They emphasized that they had remained true to the faith once for all deposited to the Saints and that they continued to offer, not a changed worship, but the “correct or right worship.” This was expressed by the use of a compound word from the Greek; a word that united the Greek word for “correct or right” with the word for glory or worship. The word was “orthodox.”
By using the word Orthodox, they were declaring that they remained faithful in worship and teaching and did not change the Faith that had once and for all been given to the Church. After 2000 years, the Church in Jerusalem is still there and is called the Orthodox Church. The church of Antioch, the church in Thessaloniki, the church in Cyprus, the church in Corinth, and more; these all still exist since the time of the New Testament and they are still, after 2000 years, the Orthodox Church. They all hold to the same worship and the same teaching passed down from the Apostles to each successive generation through the bishops and priests.
He laughed a joyful laugh and said “ah, now I understand. Now I know who the Orthodox are. I didn’t know this before. Now I understand who you are. Ah, I’ve learned something today.” I asked Umesh if he were a Christian. Knowing that he is familiar with the New Testament and that he has attended Christian parishes in Kathmandu and Pokahara, I had assumed he was. However, he replied that he is not a Christian and has no faith in anything. He just knows many Christians and has attended their “groups” as he called them.
I hope and pray that our time together in these language classes will one day lead to the conversion and salvation of Umesh, and of his young wife. I pray that seeds of faith will be planted in his heart as we continue together in the study of the Nepali language. Please remember Umesh and his wife in your prayers. And please pray for me also that the Lord will use me to spread the Orthodox Faith in Nepal.