Converting to Orthodoxy in Spain

Source:
Journey To Orthodoxy

Converting to Orthodoxy in Spain. Tudor Petcu is a
Romanian writer, graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy,
University of Bucharest, Romania. He has published a
number of articles related to philosophy and theology in
different cultural and academic journals. His work focuses
on the evolution of Orthodox spirituality in Western
societies as well and he is going to publish a book of
interviews with Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. In this
article, he interviews Jose Pino Francisco Rodriguez, a
Spanish convert to Orthodoxy.

In the early 1990s, when Spain experienced an influx
of migrant workers from Eastern Europe, the number of
Orthodox increased massively bringing the current total to
about 1.5 million.

TP: First of all, please tell us how
you discovered Orthodoxy and how you would describe your
meeting with Orthodox spirituality.

JPFR: I was born in 1976 and, even though
practically all the members of my family were atheists
(some of them Communist, others Anarchist), thanks to my
grandmother I was baptised in the Latin (Catholic) Church
as a baby and took my First Communion when I was 9 or 10.
As you can imagine, I did not receive any kind of
religious education at home. However, when I was 16 or 17,
I started asking myself questions and began a journey
through different Western Christian denominations that
would finally lead me to receive the Sacrament of
Confirmation in the Catholic Church in the year 2005.

Some years before that, however (in 2000 or 2001, I would
say), I bought a small icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a
Street market. When I looked at the image of our Saviour,
it seemed as if He was looking at me, and this fascination
for Byzantine art led me to start studying Orthodoxy. At
first the interest was purely intellectual, but gradually
I started wondering whether Orthodoxy would be a valid
option for me. This question grew withing me little by
little. At that time, however, I was not ready to say
‘yes’ to Orthodoxy, as it seemed something
completely alien to my culture, language, etc. Please bear
in mind that, as I told you, I was a committed Catholic
since 2005. Nontheless, I continued reading extensively
about the Orthodox Church and learning more each day.

In 2011 my interest in Orthodoxy had become so pressing
that I thought I had to do something about it. Even though
I perceived that there were some difficulties, I decided
to spend some days at an Orthodox monastery in Cantauque
(France) to know Orthodoxy in action and have some time to
meditate. And there I took my decision to become Orthodox.
I suddenly felt that the Orthodox Church was my spiritual
home, and that my conversion could wait no longer. Some
months later I was received into the Church by Chrismation
in the Holy Metropolis of Spain and Portugal (Ecumenical
Patriarchate of Constantinople).

My meeting with Orthodox spirituality was a liberating
one: I felt free from Medieval Latin theological errors,
from a purely human Philosophic approach to religion and
an inhumane morality based on a juridical understanding of
Soteriology, and I started having a personal relationship
with Jesus Christ in His Church.

TP: Which would be in your opinion
the unicity of Orthodox spirituality? How do you
understand the beauty of Othodoxy?

JPFR: First of all, I am totally
convinced that Orthodox Christianity is the original faith
preached by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles,
codified in the Creeds and Ecumenical Councils of the
Church and defended by the Holy Fathers in their writings.
This by itself makes the Orthodox faith unique.

But not only this. Orthodoxy appeals to the whole human
person. It is not a purely intellectual religion or a set
of dry dogmas that you accept internally. It is a way of
life, something that pervades every aspect of your life.
We are body and soul, and Orthodoxy touches both aspects.
Our faith is physical, “bodily”: we prostrate
before icons and kiss them, we light candles in Church, we
smell the scent of incense, etc. But it also elevates our
soul to a living relationship with God in prayer. The
beauty of our divine offices fulfils every aspiration and
desire of our spirit. This is a big difference with other
religions where, for example, images are forbidden.

TP: What does it mean for you to be
an Orthodox Christian in Spain?

JPFR: Being Orthodox in Spain is not an
easy thing, and I am not referring to having access to
Orthodox parishes (thank God, we have parishes of the
different Patriarchates in virtually every province). What
I mean is that Orthodoxy in its current form (i.e.
Byzantine-rite Orthodoxy) is something alien to the
Spanish culture, a religion that has been
“imported” by immigrants. The Orthodox Church
in Spain is still a “foreign” matter. The
Spanish language is very rarely used (most parishes
celebrate the Liturgy in Romanian, Greek, Slavonic, etc.).

Being an Orthodox Christian of Spanish origin, then, is a
continuous strife to acquire a new mindset and even new
customs and traditions. It should be noted, however, that
this was not always the case: I firmly believe that the
old Hispanic Church of the first millennium was fully
Orthodox. But that old Hispanic Orthodoxy disappeared many
centuries ago, so adopting foreign habits and rituals is
unfortunately the price that we have to pay in order to
preserve the faith. In any case, I can assure you
something: despite all these difficulties, the joy of
professing the true faith really compensates for all the
rest.

I am extremely happy of being an Orthodox Christian. I can
feel “the joy of Salvation” (Psalm 50) every
single day of my life here on Earth, and I hope that God
will make me worthy to dwell with Him in Heaven after the
Resurrection.

TP: What is the meaning of life that
you have discovered in Orthodox spirituality?

JPFR: In Orthodoxy I have discovered the
profound meaning of life. We are born into this world to
know our Creator, and

our heart will not be still until we accept
Christ,

as Blessed Augustine of Hippo used to say.

However, conversion is only the beginning of our journey.
We have to become ‘deified’, i.e. through the
Spirit we must devoid our lives from our selves and fill
them with God, so that “I no longer live, but Christ
lives in me” (Gal 2:20). This deifying process is a
life-long one. As Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, the goal
of Christian life is “the acquisition of the Holy
Spirit”.
Being an Orthodox Christian does not mean that your
problems will suddenly disppear; however, your perspective
changes completely as you know that there is a provident
God who will never stop loving and sustaining you, so you
can face these problems under a new light. Faith takes us
on, so to say: “I can do all this through Him Who
gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).

TP: Who are for the most important
representatives of Orthodoxy for you? I would also
appreciate it very much if you could talk about the most
relevant books that helped you to understand Orthodoxy in
a deeper way.

JPFR: If we are talking about world
representatives, I would of course mention His All
Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople-New
Rome ad Ecumenical Patriarch. He is a humble pastor, a man
deprived of all worldly power and whose sole concern is
the salvation of our souls. We should never forget that he
is the Primate (‘Protos’ in Greek) of all
Orthodox Christians, and that for an Orthodox Church to be
considered canonical it has to be recognised as such by
him.

At the local level, my Spiritual Father, Archimandrite
Demetrius, of the Holy Metropolis of Spain and Portugal,
is my greatest support in my spiritual life: he shares in
my joys and sorrows, he listens to me when I am in
distress, and I confess my sins to God in his presence. He
is really a loving and caring father to me and always
manages to find some time for me despite the fact that he
is a really busy man who travels extensively. My
Archbishop, Metropolitan Polycarp of Spain and Portugal,
is also a prominent figure in my life as an Orthodox
Christian. I always find pastoral support in him in my
efforts to spread Orthodox Christianity in our country,
especially through our news blog http://sacrametropolisortodoxa.blogspot.com

As regards books, as I told you before, I have read
extensively over a period of more tan 10 years. However,
if I had to highlight one particular book, I would
undoubtedly choose The Orthodox Church, by
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia. This book has
become an international best-seller, and has opened the
doors of Orthodoxy to innumerable people all over the
world. By the way, he is the director of the
Cambridge-based Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies
(IOCS), of which I am a distance learning student. Another
very interesting book -written by an Anglican, not an
Orthodox Christian- is An Introduction to the
Christian Orthodox Churches
, by John Binns, a volume
that is full of very useful information and that was
translated into Spanish some years ago. In the field of
Theology, I would like to mention Being as
Communion
, a very thorough introduction to Orthodox
ecclesiology by Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas of
Pergamon, maybe the most important living theologian. In
the domain of spirituality, I was impressed to read the
works of Saint Silouan the Athonite. And, last but not
least, I would like to mention one classic of Russian
Orthodox spirituality: The Way of a Pilgrim.

Francisco José Pino Rodríguez was born
in Southern Spain in 1976, but since his adolescence he
has lived in Madrid. Married and the father of two boys,
he has a PhD in English Philology and a Masters Degree in
Translation. He works as a translator. He was Chrismated
in the Orthodox Church in 2012. Francisco José
collaborates with the Holy Metropolis of Spain and
Portugal (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople),
whose news blog and Facebook page he administers. He is
currently a distance-learning student at the Cambridge
Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS).

This interview is one of many that will be published
in the book “The rediscovery of Orthodox heritage of
the West” by Tudor Petcu, containing interviews with
different Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. It will be
published in two volumes and the first one will appear by
the end of this year.

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