At long last, Orthodoxy steps out of the shadows and flowers.
When I was a kid, I felt like an outsider. Growing up an Orthodox in a Washington, DC community surrounded by Protestants and Catholics didn’t do much to bolster my already sagging self-image. Not too many years ago, a friend, an evangelical pastor, humbly confessed that he “didn’t know much about the Greek church.” My emotions kicked in; I was insulted. But, really, what did I expect? There was a kernel of truth in his admission.
Today, six U.S. Presidential administrations have passed into the fog of history, but the Orthodox church is finally getting its long overdue close-up.
Like any spiritual shepherd with a servant’s heart, Father Evan Armatas has lovingly watched new and future converts enter the doors of his parish, St. Spyridon Orthodox church in Loveland, CO, an hour north of Denver. Many of these searchers, he explains, have found what they have been searching for, joyfully immersing themselves in the mysteries of the Divine Liturgy, in the stunning iconography, the ancient chants, the sweet-smelling aroma of incense.
Gone, too, are the days when the Greek church served exclusively as a weekly gathering spot for those of Greek ancestry. “The church is rather misguided when attempting to be just for Greeks,” he emphasized.
“You need to go share the gospel with all nations,” as the Bible instructs, “not just the Jews.” Tapping this theme, while big-city parishes in Los Angeles and New York have kept the Greek in their signs, Father Evan long ago took a stand and had it removed from the sign outside St. Spyridon. Had he not followed through on his steadfast commitment to open his doors and his heart to all comers, “we’d be closed.” He described his congregation as “very poor, very rich, and in-between. That’s the sign of a stable parish.”
Father Evan said in some cases there is a lingering sense that assorted other Christian denominations tend to signal inconsistencies when it comes to voicing their core beliefs. “The instability of the faith outside the faith,” he notes. “What is professed one day isn’t professed one year from now.” Orthodoxy, he adds, offers a refreshing alternative. “If we present the faith,” he asserts, “people are desperate for it. It’s incredibly alluring in its truth. We just need to uncover it.”
At the same, time, the priest and devoted husband and father of four, isn’t wired to take the easy road and put the robust numbers on cruise control. In order for a parish to flourish, he declares, it must be attuned to its overarching mission. All else – youth basketball, Greek dances, festivals – take subordinate positions.
“Becoming a healthy parish requires each member of the Body of Christ to take seriously their commitment to our Lord,” Father Evan explains. “We do this by focusing first on our relationship with Him and walking with Him in our daily lives. We walk with him through remembrance of Him, our corporate and private prayers and our love and service towards Him.”
Fr. Evan, who grew up in the Denver area – his family owns several diners there – earned his undergraduate degree from Boston College in philosophy with an emphasis on business management and Christian apologetics in 1991. He went on to receive a Master of Divinity degree from Holy Cross School of Theology and served as assistant priest at St. Catherine in suburban Denver for five years before being assigned to be the first fulltime priest at St. Spyridon. He began his work with just six families. For years, he’s hosted Orthodoxy Live, the popular live call-in program on Ancient Faith Radio, which has been on the air for nearly a decade. His latest book is set for release later this year.
As I learned more about this unique servant, it becomes abundantly clear that he has a gift for building things from the ground up. In 2002, for starters, he organized the St. Nectarios Education Fund. The non-profit entity has opened five schools in Africa, educating more than 5,000 students and generating over $1 million in student aid in tandem with International Orthodox Christian Charities.
In his spare time, Father Evan loves to engage in numerous outdoor activities such as fly-fishing. While I’ve never tried it, I’ve talked to enough people who adore the challenges it presents. They explain it differs from the traditional spin or bait fishing, where it’s all about casting a weighted lure into the deep. With fly fishing, you instead summon the energy stored in the rod and the weight of the line to move the fly to its destination.
Transitioning from the harvesting of seafood from the lakes and streams that help nourish his soul, Father Evan left me with the image of a sumptuous spread that jumps beyond striped bass, catfish and bluegills. The Orthodox church across the ethnic rainbow, he asserted, has captured the hearts of converts because it infuses them with a “depth of richness. Compare that to eating a ham sandwich and a banquet.”