LENNY C. LEPOLA
For the Gazette
For the past year and a half, Sunbury has been home to St. Barnabas the Apostle Orthodox Church, of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, located at 415 Perfect Drive.
For many, the mention of an Orthodox Church brings up images of churches from specific countries and cultures — Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox. The Orthodox Church seems to have its name attached to almost every country with a Christian presence, including Japan, China, Finland, Latvia, Australia, and the United States has its Orthodox Church in America.
During a recent conversation with the Very Rev. Father Athanasius Dresdow, the St. Barnabas the Apostle Priest, many of the mistaken perceptions of Orthodox religious practices and the larger church structure were addressed.
Father Dresdow explained that the Orthodox Church traces its development back to the earliest church established by St. Paul and the Apostles, practicing what it understands to be the original ancient traditions, believing in church growth without worship and liturgy changes.
The processes of both growth and change are familiar to Father Dresdow. He has a Master of Science degree in elementary education and teaches in the Buckeye Valley Local School District. He and his wife Michelle have two teenage daughters.
Eight years ago Father Dresdow was taking a seminary course and had been serving as a Deacon at an Illinois church for four years, when the call came to enter the priesthood.
“One day I was talking to a Bishop and he said they needed a priest in Columbus; and asked if I would like to go there,” Father Dresdow said. “That was in August of 2002, when St. Barnabas was renting space from St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Columbus and meeting on Sunday evenings.”
St. Barnabas began in 1999 with five families, Father Dresdow explained. With growth came over 80 members, about 30 families, and St. Barnabas needed its own home. Wherever the church was located, Father Dresdow said, it would be an easy commute for some, more difficult for others. St. Barnabas serves folks from as near as Delaware and as far away as Coshocton, with parishioners living in Westerville, Columbus, Mount Vernon, Hilliard, and Newark.
“One of our parishioners saw this building for sale, and we had been looking for a home,” Father Dresdow said. “We were renting, we needed our own space; we looked at it, took it to the congregation and put it up for a vote. This is close for some of our congregation, farther away for others, but in general most of our parishioners have found it to be a very positive move.”
Father Dresdow said the St. Barnabas congregation has been renting 415 Perfect Drive with a buy option, they have money in a building campaign fund, and they’re talking with a bank; they want to stay and make Sunbury a permanent home.
Father Dresdow went on to explain the beliefs and practices of the Orthodox Church in general, and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America that encompasses St. Barnabas.
The Orthodox Church was founded by Jesus Christ and described throughout the New Testament; all other Christian churches and sects can be traced back historically to it, Father Dresdow said.
“The Christian church was unified until the 11th century, with five historic patriarchal centers,” Father Dresdow said. “Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople - for the first thousand years of church history we were essentially one.”
According to online Orthodox Church educational material, in 1054 the Roman Patriarch pulled away from the other four, and the Roman Catholic Church schism and subsequent Protestantism created the over 2,600 Christian groups in the world today. Nearly 1,000 years following the schism, the other four patriarchate’s remain intact maintaining the Orthodox Apostolic Faith serving 225 million Orthodox Christians worldwide — over 1 million in the United States — the second largest body in all of Christendom.
“The Orthodox Church, historically, has been here the whole time of Christianity, Orthodoxy is a very ancient form of worship,” Father Dresdow said. “1,000 years ago there was an unfortunate split between Rome and the Orthodox Church, but we don’t see ourselves as a schism. The nice thing is we’re all united in the sacraments; the Orthodox bishops are all talking to bring us back together administratively. It looks like we’re all split, but we’re not.
“The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese has deep and lasting roots in Christian antiquity and biblical tradition,” Father Dresdow continued. “Our patriarchate is unbroken all the way back to St. Paul. Our head Bishop still resides in Damascus, Syria, on the same street where the Apostle Paul was taken following his conversion; where St. Paul and St. Barnabas established the Church at Antioch in 42 AD.”
Father Dresdow said the Orthodox Church never engaged in scholastic discussions and divisions like Rome did in the Middle Ages; and that Catholicism has a central authority, but there is no central authority in orthodoxy, no equivalent of a Pope.
“We recognize that there are differences, but when we say there are differences we don’t say that disparagingly,” Father Dresdow said. “The patriarch of Antioch sits at all meetings of Bishops, but he does not have authority over them. Orthodoxy is more of an organic church, the whole body of the church holds the authority.”
He also said Orthodox Churches focus more on the resurrection of Christ instead of the crucifixion.
“Every single Sunday we concentrate on the resurrection,” Father Dresdow said. “We ask: Why did the Son of God become human and die on the cross? Western churches teach that Christ died in our place to appease the wrath of God; we believe Christ came because human nature had fallen ill, that Christ came to heal. He took our human nature and put it to death on the cross. By putting our human nature to death and bringing it back to life, and with the ascension raising it up to heaven, our suffering and death leads to life. And all of this is accomplished through repentance.”
Father Dresdow said the best definition of repentance is to turn away from things that lead away from God, and turn to things that bring life. The Orthodox Church is like a hospital, he said, its business is healing people so they can be united with God.
“Another unique thing about the Orthodox Church is our view of hell,” Father Dresdow said. “We believe God never stops loving us. It was our pride that got us in trouble in the first place. If we choose to reject God, he’ll accept that, but he’ll never stopped loving us.”
Father Dresdow spoke of other aspects of the Orthodox faith that may seem different to many western Christians. Orthodox churches are decorated with icons of Christ, the Mother of Christ, and Saints; the liturgy focuses on chant; there are more fast days in orthodoxy. All of these, he said, are examples of the unchanging worship and daily life of Orthodox Christians with roots in the first century church.
“Our Fellowship is made up of people who grew up as Orthodox, and many who didn’t,” Father Dresdow said. “We have a lot of people coming into the Orthodox Church looking for a more ancient form of worship, a form of worship with roots in the early days of the Christian Church.”
Father Dresdow said visitors are always welcome at St. Barnabas the Apostle Orthodox Church, and the church is in the process of starting a youth group.
St. Barnabas the Apostle Orthodox Church holds services every Sunday. Matins/Orthos begins at 8:45 a.m.; Divine Liturgy begins at 10 a.m. There is also a 5 p.m. Saturday Vespers.
For additional information about St. Barnabas the Apostle Orthodox Church go online to stbarnabas-columbusohio.org, or call 614-891-7748.