Nostalgia To Orthodoxy An Interview With Fr. John WhiteFord – الحنين إلى الأرثوذكسية لقاء مع الأب جون وايتفورد
تعرفت على قدس الأب المبجل جون وايتفورد من مقالته المشهورة جدا ال Sola Scriptura بعنوان ” فى غرور فكرهم ” مناقشا و مفندا هذا المبدأ ألا و هو ” النصوص وحدها تكفى ” ، موضحا كيف أن الكتاب المقدس وحده لا يكفى كنصوص ، لابد من شروحات آبائية و تقليد … إلخ ، فأثار فى العديد من الأسئلة لذا راسلته و بكل محبة و اتضاع قد جاوب اسئلتى .
1- Could you please father John introduce yourself ?
My name is Fr. John Whiteford, and I pastor St. Jonah Orthodox Church, in Spring, Texas.
I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, but began studying Orthodoxy while working on my B.A. in Theology at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. I decided to convert not long after graduating from there in 1990. I was baptized at St. Benedict Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City on November 10th, 1990.
I wrote an article entitled Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds, which laid out many of the theological reasons for my conversion. This article was published in the Christian Activist in 1995, and then was published in a revised and somewhat expanded form by Conciliar Press in 1996, under the title Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology. This essay has been translated into Russian, Serbo-Croat, Romanian, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, and Swedish. The Russian text was published as a booklet by the Brotherhood of St. Alexander Nevsky in Nizhny Novgorod, in 2000.
I married Wendy Woo in 1988, who was baptized in 1991 and took the name “Patricia”. I now have two daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine.
I was ordained a deacon by Metropolitan Hilarion on March 4th, 1995, and a priest by Bishop Gabriel on January 14th, 2001.
I currently am the general editor of the St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar, and also post liturgical texts on our parish web site.
your name before being a priest ?
My name has not changed. My mother named all of her children after people in the Bible. I was named for St. John the Apostle, and when I became Orthodox, I didn’t see any reason to change that.
your job before being a priest ?
I have worked for the state of Texas for the past 20 years. 13 years working in their welfare agency, and the past 7 years I have worked for their Child Support enforcement agency. My parish is still not yet able to pay a full salary, though it is moving in that direction.
2- What was your denomination before being Orthodox ?
The Church of the Nazarene.
3- How did you know about Orthodoxy ? What are the main motivations that lead you to be an orthodox ?
As my doubts about Protestantism increased, I found myself in a very unpleasant situation. As an associate pastor, I had certain responsibilities, which included leading a small group on Sunday nights, and also occasionally preaching on Sunday morning. I continued to fulfill these duties, but was increasingly less convinced about the things that I was expected to teach and preach. I also began attending Saturday night vespers at St. Benedict on a regular basis, and then on Sunday morning, I was back at the semi-charismatic Nazarene Church of which I was the associate pastor. The contrast between these two very different styles of worship on a weekly basis had the effect of increasingly convincing me of the shallowness of Protestant worship in general, but especially the “contemporary” style of worship that my Nazarene Church was using. There were two “worship songs” that stood out as being especially shallow. One was “As David did in Jehovah’s sight, I will dance with all my might” – which had no meaning other than that we were going to jam to the tunes of the rock band that was playing the music. Another was “Blow the Trumpet in Zion,” which was based on words from Joel, chapter 2. However, this song twisted the meaning of the words in that prophecy to suggest that it was talking about what a powerful army the people of God were, when in fact the prophecy is a prophecy of judgment on the people of God who have sinned. The army that is talked about in that passage, that is about to “run on the city” and “run on the walls” is an army that is coming to destroy Zion (Jerusalem) at God’s command. The trumpet is blown in Zion to sound the alarm, because Jerusalem is under attack. God is calling His people to repent, if they wish to avoid this judgment… but this “contemporary worship” song is anything but a penitential song. One Sunday, when I was asked to preach, I preached on Joel 2, and explained why this song distorted the meaning of the passage, and what it actually meant. Next Sunday, the “worship team” sang it again, as usual.
The Sonlight Center had met with moderate success in building up a congregation, but it was initially underwritten by the District (which is similar to a Diocese), and had a very expensive lease on a very nice and large storefront facility, but the District only promised to provide financial backing for a period of about a year, and the day came when that support ended. I was not much involved in the business side of that Church, but a decision was made that we needed to look for a new and more affordable location. While we were in transition, our services were for a time held at a Messianic Jewish Church, which obviously would not have services on Sunday, since it had its services on Saturday. But since they were hosting us, I attended some of their services. Their services bore almost no resemblance to a traditional Jewish Synagogue service. Essentially, their worship was typical Charismatic worship, with some cheesy Jewish stuff thrown in, and a lot of Fiddler-on-the-Roof style music. I found that the people in the Church were almost all Southern Baptist Okies that were looking for something that had tradition. I thought it was unfortunate that instead of looking into Christian Tradition, they had gone down the path of Judaizing Christianity. This was just further evidence of the collapse of Evangelicalism, which has only accelerated in the years since.
4- How did you see the holy tradition before & after being Orthodox ?
Obviously reading about Orthodox doctrine and Tradition is an important part of the process, though back when I converted there was a lot less available in English then there is today. Now, if you know which sites to go to, you can find a wealth of information with a few clicks of a mouse, but back then there were only the books that were in print (which you couldn’t generally find at your local library, and so had to purchase), and there were a number of Orthodox periodicals that I subscribed to. One thing that I found particularly helpful was reading the novels of Feodor Dostoyevsky. His novels conveyed the spirit of Orthodoxy in a way that a dry text about Orthodoxy generally cannot. But one body of Orthodox literature that inquirers into Orthodoxy and new converts often overlook is the reading of the lives of the Saints, and this is one of the most crucial things that we should devote our time and attention to. Bishop Peter (Loukianoff) says that St. John of Shanghai greatly stressed the importance of the lives of the saints, and often when asked a question about some matter of faith or practice, he would answer by citing something from these lives, which he had extensive knowledge of. And all the reading about Orthodoxy in the world will be of little help if you do not regularly attend the services, fast, pray, and live out the Orthodox Tradition in your daily life. St. Maximus the Confessor said “Theology without practice is the theology of the demons”
Because I had come so far studying Orthodoxy on my own before I had filled my wife in on it, My wife had a lot of catching up to do. She was not closed minded on the subject of Orthodoxy, but she was also not going to convert just because it would make me happy. Over the years I have known people who assume that Asian women are all like the obedient and submissive Japanese wives they have seen in the movies. I have not gotten to know many Japanese women, but I have gotten to know many Chinese women, and they are not that way. I once worked as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, and the owner’s wife, who was about five feet tall, and relatively thin, seriously offered to protect me when I had to deal with some rowdy customers (and I was at the time 6’2”, 190 lbs., and had been studying martial arts for 2 years). So I was under no illusions that my wife was going to convert for any reasons other than her own. I had hoped that I might be able to convince her over time with the arguments that had convinced me, but as the fall of 1990 began, I began to think that she might never convert. My wife said that on the day of judgment she would be the one who would have to answer for her decision, not me… and I could not argue with that.
My wife’s decision to convert or not to convert was a question that would decide whether or not I could eventually pursue becoming an Orthodox priest, because an Orthodox priest cannot be married to a non-Orthodox woman. The wife of an Orthodox priest is one flesh with her husband, and so has a share in the priesthood. The canonical requirements to be a priest’s wife are pretty much the same as they are to be a priest, aside from the question of one’s sex. The priest’s wife even has a similar title. In Greek custom, the priest’s wife is called “Presbytera” which is the feminine form of “Presbyter” (the Greek word for “Priest”). Arabs call a priest “Khoury” (which means “Priest”), and his wife “Khouriah” (again, the feminine form for Priest). Russians call a priest “Batiushka” (literally “little father”), and his wife is called “Matushka” (“little mother”). The Matushka of a parish has no liturgical role in a parish, but she does have a motherly role, and so this is why a priest cannot be married to someone who is not Orthodox. So faced with the likelihood that my wife’s decision to not convert would eliminate the possibility of becoming a Priest, I had to consider what else I might do with my life.
As it happened, the first Gulf War was on the horizon, and so I decided to join the military, for two reasons: 1) because, as the son of a World War II veteran, I felt like it was my turn; and 2) because if I couldn’t be a clergyman, I thought the next best thing would be to be a United States Marine. No one knew beforehand that the war would be brief, and as one sided as it turned out to be. The media played up the strength and size of the Iraqi army, and many predicted that we would end up in a quagmire that would go one for many years. I was sworn in (in the same building that Timothy McVeigh would later blow up) in early November of 1990.
I had moved slowly up to this point, hoping to be baptized with my wife, but she was comfortable with my being baptized after I enlisted, because she knew I would shortly be going to boot camp, and would possibly be in a war soon thereafter. And so on November 10th, 1990, I was at long last baptized. It was a great joy to be able to fully participate in the services, and to receive communion for the first time on the following day. I prayed that my wife would eventually follow me, but I decided that I would only answer questions she asked, and not say anything that might seem like I was pushing her any further on the subject.
I had spent a great deal of time praying about my decision to enlist, and had spent a good bit of time getting advice on it, and thinking about it. But at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, and I hoped that this was God’s will, but one of the things I had learned from the writings of Charles Finney was that it was a good idea to pray that God would thwart whatever you were doing, if it was not His will. So I prayed regularly that if it was not God’s will that I become a Marine, that He would not let it happen. While I was waiting to ship to boot camp, every month I had to attend a “poolee meeting.” In January of 1991, the air war phase of the war was well underway, and a patriotic fervor was sweeping the nation. All the poolees gathered at the Marine recruiting station, and then we ran in formation to a nearby park. As we ran, with flags flying, people stopped to clap, to applaud, cars approvingly honked their horns. Once at the park, we exercised, got a taste of what our drill instructors would be dishing out at boot camp, and then played flag football. I had just finished college, and so was a bit older than most of the other guys, who were right out of high school. Many of them seemed intent on impressing their recruiters, and so were playing flag football more like regular football, but without the helmet and the pads. At one point, someone hit me from behind and I felt a slight pop in my lower back. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but by the time we ran back to the recruiting station, I was in a lot of pain. I didn’t know it at the time, but God had answered my prayer.
The next day I could not sit, walk, or stand up without intense pain, and it wasn’t all that much better when I was lying down. I didn’t have health insurance – while in college I was supposed to have had it, but simply put on my forms that my insurance was covered by “YHWH, Inc”, and my policy number was “MT0817” (which wasa reference to Matthew 8:17 “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses”). And although I had been sworn in, I was not active duty military (because I had not gone to boot camp yet) and so had no health benefits there either. So all I could do was go to a general practitioner and pay out of pocket, and unfortunately, he never had any idea what the problem was. He thought it was a pulled muscle, and prescribed some anti-inflammatory medications, and some pain killers… doses of 500 milligrams of Ibuprofen. One day it occurred to me that I normally took more than that for a good headache, and so it was no wonder that it was of little use. Days went into weeks, and weeks went into months, and there was only mild improvement. My date to ship to boot camp, kept getting reset, and in the meantime, the war ended.
At one point my wife tried a Chinese remedy that involved putting an herbal plaster on my lower back, and then placing boiled dog skin over it, to keep it there. When it was time to remove it, I discovered that this remedy was not designed for Caucasians with a lot of body hair. I ended up having to shave it off, and howled like the dog whose skin I had stuck to my back.
Curiously, one thing that did bring some relief was doing lots of prostrations. I found that if I did at least 50 prostrations a day, I had less pain, but if I failed to do it, my pain increased.
After a while, it seemed like the pain was becoming manageable, and I began to work on getting back into shape. But then while working out one day, I felt another pop, and then I was back to square one. Soon thereafter, I came to the conclusion that I was not going to be able to go to boot camp, and then, after having to get my congressman to press the question, I was finally able to get the Military to release me from my enlistment. It took about another year for my back problem to mostly go away (though it still gives me some grief to this day). When I finally did get health insurance years later, I was told that I had hyperextended a semi moveable joint in my lower back.
But all of this turned out to be providential. The change in the direction of my plans took the pressure off of my wife to make a decision. Also, my mother moved in with me that summer, and her continued efforts to talk me out of Orthodoxy helped talk my wife into it. And all the while, she had continued to attend services with me, and after the Lamentation Service of Holy Saturday, 1991, she was so deeply moved, that she informed me that she wanted to be baptized. She was baptized on Bright Saturday, the following week, which was another unexpected answer to prayer.
6- I just saw a picture for u & your brother who is a protestant .. how could you deal with each other ? & what is the definition of ” accepting the other ” in your consideration ?
My older brother is a Nazarene Minister. When I first became Orthodox, his reaction was very negative. However, over the years, he has become much more understanding.
7- What are the main differences between the Orthodoxy life & the other protestant denominations from your point of view as an orthodox priest ?
I could write a book on the differences. There were a few things about my background that actually made it easier to become Orthodox.
8- How do you see the varieties of the protestant denominations nowadays ?
Unfortunately, they continue to multiply, and get further away from their roots in historic Christian Tradition, with each passing year. Though many Protestants have become more opened to Orthodoxy in the past few decades.
9- What are your wishes for the church ?
That our people will embrace their own Tradition with a new zeal.
10- What do you say for the youth in the orthodox churches ?
We need to make sure our youth understand the problems with the relativism that is being pushed in the culture. They need to understand what Truth is, and that it is not relative. We do not get to have our own Truth. And a few hours a Church in a week are not sufficient to counter-balance a week spent in public schools, watching TV, and surfing the web. Every family has to take very seriously their responsibility to instruct their children in the Faith, or else they will be lost to the Church.
I also think it is important in the west, that we have our services in a language that our youth can understand. This is especially true in the United States, which has a very welcoming culture, but a culture with a great deal of pressure to assimilate with it. Children may grow up understanding the native language of their parents, but they will not understand it nearly as well, and in the vast majority of cases, their children will not understand that language at all. You can fight that by rigorously instructing your children in your native language and culture, but the most important thing is to instruct them in the Faith, and that will most easily be done in English.
11- Could you please father tell us about your books & articles ?
I wish I had more time to write than I do, but I have written a few articles over the years. Sola Scriptura was the first. I have also written on things like the veneration of Icons, and articles responding to Protestant attacks against Orthodoxy.
12- What is your opinion about invading the protestant dogmas into some Orthodox churches ?
Many people grow up Orthodox, and do not realize how they have been influenced by Protestant thinking. It is a serious problem. This can only be fought by having a good program in your parish that not only focuses on teaching children, but also teaches the adults.
13- From your point of view what are the dogmatic challenges that face the church & the orthodox youth nowadays ?
Indifference to doctrine. Too many people simply do not think that it is important enough to learn what the Church teaches.
14- Did you visit Egypt before father John ? Do you know anything about the Coptic Orthodox Church ?
I have never been to Egypt. I do know about the Coptic Orthodox Church. Copts strike me as very pious people. Without a doubt, they are closer to us than any other Church outside of the Chalcedonian Orthodox Church. There seems to be little separating us today, except for history. I hope that someone comes up with a solution that will address the historical questions that divide us, without compromising the Truth of the Faith.
للأب جون وايت فورد كتابات رائعة و عظات جميلة منها
مقالة : ” فى غرور فكرهم” عن مبدأ ال sola scriptura أى هل الكتاب المقدس وحده يكفى ؟؟؟