There has been much attention given by some “bloggers” about what is going on with Orthodoxy in the great state of Montana. The attention Montana has received has to a great degree been due to a narrative generated by such bloggers and is devoid of the reality lived by the Orthodox Christians who actually live here. The fantastic reporting of these bloggers has us engaging in sacramental rigorism, global conspiracies, end time speculation, and mobilizing people against bishops and others who thwart our plans. We are causing people to fear and engage in a sectarian mindset. It is reported that we have some secret plan called the “Montana Initiative.” Sadly, without doing any work of investigation or effort to speak directly with those of us who live here and have participated in these gatherings some assume that these bloggers know what they are talking about.
In reality, we just finished our second “MontaNika” conference of the summer. We have welcomed hundreds of people from around the country and Canada to our beautiful state to strengthen one another in our awesome Orthodox Church. Our participants encompassed a broad spectrum of ages and represented every jurisdiction. Our speakers likewise. They came from ROCOR, Antioch, Greek and the Serbian churches.
Montana is the old west and Butte was once a remarkable town. At one time it was the second largest city in all the United States. There was a town above ground and a whole city underground. There was gambling, prostitution, illegal liquor, gangs, cowboys and a large number of Orthodox Christians (especially Serbs). The Serbian Orthodox Christians a century ago agreed to put their guns on the table in front of them during parish meetings. It really was the old west. Last summer Abbot Tryphon, after speaking at our conference, attended one of our tours in Butte. One of the tour stops was an underground “speak-easy.” There were props and costumes and the opportunity to take photos. Anyone who has traveled out West knows that something like this exists at every tourist site.
Abbott Tryphon picked up a plastic toy “tommy gun” in this prohibition museum and posed with a number of people who were with him on this tour. Everyone was laughing and having a good time, and no one thought anything about it. The picture was sent out via the internet and the enemies went crazy. The picture was edited to exclude all but two other men on each side of the Abbott. The gun, the two bearded men on each side, and the turn-of-century patriotic bunting taken from a train on the wall behind them was all that was needed to create a completely false narrative about Montana, the Abbott and this event. “Guns, patriots, and white supremacists located in Montana and now they sucked in and used the old Abbott.” This, of course, is crazy -the people who write like this should probably not watch the next season of “Yellowstone” because they are convinced it is a documentary of everyday life in Montana. Such a person might imagine that we take everyone who disagrees with us to the “train station.”
The entire MontaNIKA event was labeled as a white nationalist, extreme right, gun toting, dangerous gathering of the kind of people we don’t want in our Church. As recently as three weeks before the event one of these bloggers who seems increasingly unhinged, used the picture of the Abbott as being self-evident. What else could this picture mean? Here was all the evidence needed to back the veracity of his reporting about Montana. The other host of the blog segment nodded his head in illogical agreement. It was sad. It is their safe place. It is even believed by leaders of our churches.
This year our keynote speaker was Bishop Maxim of the Serbian Orthodox Western diocese. I am sure that he was forewarned about how tainted his reputation would be if he came and spoke at this conference. Not only did he speak but he himself took responsibility for the content of the conference and it was done with his blessing and under his omophorion.
Bishop Maxim presented us with an incredible presentation on “seeking ye first the kingdom.”
The Bishop showed his command of both Orthodox theology and categories of the western tradition. In his perfect English he moved the hearer from any involvement of western scholastic theology to a sure and certain Orthodox position. This placed theology as experience with God rather than information and speculation about God. He moved the people away from their individual information portal via the internet to authentic personhood through prayer and worship. He rooted the experience of the kingdom in the Liturgy of the Holy Church. The audience was carried into eternity by His Grace showing how the Liturgy transports us from space, time, and temporal realities to real peace and eternal things. Those of us given to hear him were brought into the reality of participating in the whole life of Christ our God. It was truly one of the best theological presentations I have ever heard. The Kingdom of our God and His Christ is our safe place.
Fr Turbo Qualls, Mother Nectaria, John Heers, David Patrick Harry, Dn Ananias rounded out the speakers at our first Conference.
Our second conference was a men’s retreat with Metropolitan Jonah, Abbot Tryphon, Fr Hans Jacobse, Dr Philip Mamalakis, Dn Ananias, and our host Fr Russell, rector of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. This conference was entitled “Your brother is your Life”. I wish that every young man in the Orthodox Church could have been a part of these presentations and workshops. There is so much confusion in our culture about what it is to be male, and these speakers helped so very much to remedy that.
All of these speakers are very well known and have stellar reputations in the Holy Church. Are any of them fanatical? Do these speakers present a danger? Is this a slate of speakers that manifest the “right wing”? Are we to believe Fr Turbo Qualls is the black face of a white, nationalistic undermining of Orthodoxy in Montana? Were the people who came to the conferences the “wrong kind of people” to have in the Holy Church? What kind of people do you not want to come into Orthodoxy? Is your understanding of the church such that new converts will change the church or be changed by the Church? Is Mother Nektaria aiding a men’s movement designed to overthrow the Bishops and demean women? Is Dr Philip Mamalakis of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox seminary assisting a right-wing movement of primarily Russophiles? Are these conferences a danger to the witness of the local Orthodox parishes here in Montana? Are all of these speakers and participants just duped?
I will now focus on Dr Philip, who was our esteemed speaker representing Holy Cross Seminary and GOARCH. He was powerful and extremely effective in showing within family systems how a man, in his home and with his family, can become more a man of God and lessen his likeness to an ”ape.” Now that should sound like heaven to all mothers and wives who have seen their son as nothing other as knuckle dragging apish Neanderthals. My apologies to all Neanderthals. Dr Philip had a very effective approach to what was essentially askesis for these young men. He was in a very practical way teaching dispassion and ongoing Theosis rooted in repentance that can and should occur daily in the family home. He showed them how to do it. Dr Philip also spoke about the Ecumenical Patriarch in a beneficial and positive way. Dr Philip defended the EP’s environmental Theology. In what was labeled by bloggers as a “Slavic” centered and “right wing” conference, wouldn’t there be a visceral backlash against such comments? Is that not just “red meat” for those who “secretly support Putin?” Don’t those “conservatives” support pouring toxins into the rivers and killing the environment? Clearly anyone who suggests such a thing doesn’t understand how much we love our outdoor Montana. Wouldn’t a group like these Montanans react against the EP and environmental issues? Crickets……. ! Dr Philip was wonderful, and we hope that he will come again as he gave us so much and left us with such spiritual gifts. At some point in time, Dr Philip will most likely come across those who live east of Montana who are still concerned that there is a nefarious and unorthodox movement afoot in Montana. So, ask him if that was his experience.
With full disclosure and with tongue in cheek, I thought Dr Philip said EV (electric vehicles) instead of EP and then something about the environment. That perked up my ears. So, I was going to say something about his support for EVs as this would be a serious issue that could bring about a schism. Well at least it is equivalent to a foot-fault in tennis. We don’t in general like EV’s. When it is -40 (not windchill but actual temperature) and the next closest town is three hours away, EV batteries will not endure as they prove inefficient in cold and cannot maintain a charge for the vast distances of our state. When leaving your home in the winter we often keep our tanks full and take extra fuel along so if we get stuck in a blizzard’s snow drift we don’t die. That is not possible in an EV. For the record, Dr. Philip did not bring up EVs (electric cars) but rather the EP. So everything is fine and our fellowship intact.
The vast amount of positive and delightful information at these conferences cannot be conveyed here. The joy of the fellowship cannot be adequately communicated. I encourage each of you to reach out and ask any of these trusted Orthodox speakers if there was anything out of place at these conferences. The people commenting on Montana Orthodoxy claim to have inside information from “trusted sources”. It seems that those most trusted in reporting about the conference might be the ones who were there and participated in the event. Everything else is fantasy, speculation and lies.
Next year MontaNIKA will be even bigger and will draw even more participants. As enemies of the Church have put the spotlight on Montana, there are more and more witnesses to what is really going on here. Every time an unhinged or mentally/spiritually unstable blogger attacks what we are doing in Montana, another family wants to move here. Every time we are misrepresented, reviled, and falsely characterized, more and more men attach themselves to our parishes and want to be a part of this incredible Holy Church. Fewer and fewer bishops now can defend what they have heard in their episcopal echo chambers. This conference is the very best of sincere support and love for our Bishops and our Holy Church. Maybe next year we can get speakers from some of the other canonical Orthodox churches who have been led to believe the lies and fantasies of the unhinged and mentally/spiritually unstable. No matter! Next year will be even bigger and just as much centered on our God and His love for the Holy Church.
These conferences have been conducted under the authority of Bishop Maxim and are held in his church, Holy Trinity in Butte Montana. If there is any concern or problem, I am sure that you can contact him, and he will be glad to speak about these events. You may contact any of the priests that were actually in attendance. This was the very best of fellowship. You may contact any of the noteworthy speakers who presented at these two conferences who were received with great joy by the attendees. You can contact any of the several hundred participants who are all coming back next year and bringing friends. You will not find even one that can report anything that was negative, unorthodox, or unbecoming in what was truly a Holy Spirit filled Summer in Montana.
Fr Andrew Moore
St Mark the Evangelist
Great Falls, MT