By Stephanie Nikolopoulos
“I came to the conclusion that real spirituality was found outside of the Church – that was my prejudice,” Dr. Kyriacos Markides confessed in his Lenten lecture My Personal Discovery of Orthodoxy on March 1 at the Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York. Through stories of sojourns and miraculous healings, he then went on to show why he changed from an agnostic student to a professor of sociology and practicing Christian.
Greek Orthodoxy was part of the Cyprus-born Markides’ “cultural upbringing,” he said. When he came to the United States 1960, his plan was to earn a business degree and then return to Cyprus. However, being in the United States during the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the assassination of JFK, he discovered: “there were certain things business could not answer for me.”
Turning to sociology, he found that the great thinkers lauded by academia – such as Nietzsche and Freud – tried to debunk God. This relativism challenged him “to the core.” Markides realized: “You take God out, and anything goes. It’s kind of a nihilistic view.” Even so, he said: “By the time I got my degree I was a reluctant agnostic.”
“What rescued me, I believe, from agnosticism was something that happened to me as a graduate student.” The professor had him write a paper on a lesser-known philosopher who posited that secularism had reached its zenith and that culture was now moving back toward faith. Markides then began studying Eastern religions after a professor taught him to meditate. Finally, a friend who was taking a sabbatical on Mount Athos – the “Holy Mountain” that is home to twenty Eastern Orthodox monasteries – invited him to join him. “I thank my wife for urging me, ‘Why don’t you go and see what is happening there?’” There, his faith was reawakened.
“As we were going on the boat and passing one monastery after the other, I had the impression I was going back in time.” The first monk he met was Father Maximos, who helped guide him on his spiritual journey into mystical spirituality and introduced him to an elder who had the spiritual gift of performing miraculous healings. Markides recounts the story in his books Riding with the Lion and The Mountain of Silence.
When Markides began speaking about the work of the mystic and psychic Daskalos, the audience at the Cathedral peppered him with questions about how closely he aligned with Daskalos’ untraditional beliefs – particularly when the professor cited a statistic that 25% of Christians believe in reincarnation. (A 2009 survey published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life puts the number slightly lower at 22% for American Christians.) Markides refused to answer whether he believed in reincarnation – the Bible does not teach reincarnation – but did say: “A lot of Christians believe so strongly in hell that they forget paradise.”
“It’s academically legitimate to be a Buddhist,” Markides said, suggesting the same has not been true for Christians, but that that might be changing. Francis Collins (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief) and Eben Alexander (Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife) were mentioned as leading scientists looking toward faith. Markides posited: “In my way of thinking science today accepts things that are extremely miraculous.”