The Vision & Mission of Father Timothy Cook

St. Demetrios New Priest Brings Youth, Passion & Commitment Into the Community

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 811   By: Robert E Martin

11th June, 2015     0

Father Timothy Cook is the newly installed Priest at Saginaw’s St. Demetrios Church and was born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona.  He received his B.A. in Classical Studies from Hillsdale College in 2010, and then in 2014 his Masters of Divinity from Holy Cross School of Theology.  He was ordained to the Priesthood on August 16th 2014, and is currently serving as the parish priest at St. Demetrios. Fr. Timothy is married to Presvytera Catherine, and they have one child, Antonia.

The Church has her origin with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, not with a human teacher, or group, nor a code of conduct or religious philosophy. Orthodoxy believes that the Church has her origin in the Apostolic Community called into being by Jesus Christ, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Feast of Pentecost, which is celebrated fifty days after Easter, commemorates the "outpouring'' of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and marks the beginning of the mission of the Church to the world. The Orthodox Church believes that she has maintained a direct and unbroken continuity of love, faith, and order with the Church of Christ born in the Pentecost experience.

The earliest Church, which is described in the Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles, did not confine itself to the land of Judea and took very seriously the command of the Lord to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel. The words of Christ and the event of His saving Death and Resurrection were destined not only for the people of the first century and the Mediterranean world of which they were a part, but also for persons in all places and in every age. Within only a few years after the Resurrection, colonies of Christians sprung in the major cities of the Roman Empire.

In our Western Hemisphere, the Orthodox Church has been developing into a valuable presence and distinctive witness for more than two hundred years. The first Greek Orthodox Christians arrived in the New World in 1768, establishing a colony near the present city of St. Augustine, Florida. One of the original buildings in which these immigrants gathered for religious services is still standing. It was transformed recently into St. Photius' Shrine by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Father Cook for an in-depth interview about his background, beliefs, and direction that he hopes to chart for St. Demetrios as it moves forward upon its mission within our community.

Review: How did you first get interested in the notion of becoming a minister?

Ftr. Timothy Cook: Originally I considered joining the Marines back in college, however after I met my wife that seemed less of an option; but I wanted to do something that was service oriented with my life that really meant something, as opposed to sitting behind a desk pushing paper. I wanted to engage in something meaningful. Not long after I was married a Bishop nudged me towards the seminary and suggested I go for a year and see how it fits. Four years later here I am.

Review How did you get involved in the Greek Orthodox Church?

Cook: I grew up Protestant and most recently attended a southern Baptist church near Flagstaff where I was raised. My oldest brother converted first and is also a priest in Southgate, Michigan. When I went to stay with him over Christmas break back in college I was exposed to the Greek Orthodox Church and met the priests and over the course of the next year got more exposure to it. I always felt the Protestant faith was somewhat watered down as opposed to the Orthodox church and this felt more like the ‘real thing’ so I converted when I was in college my junior year. I became an ordained priest on August 17th of last year and studied at Holy Cross Theological School in Brooklyn, Massachusetts, which is where I graduated.

Review: What do you feel distinguishes the Greek Orthodox Church from other religions?

Cook: When I was 18 years old my impression at the time and my focus was upon what makes our faith deeper? I felt that Protestant worship centered upon the mind, with the usual service consisting of 15 minutes of praise songs that were very devotional and a half hour sermon, which was the entirely of it. Orthodox worship has some of that, but doesn’t only engage the mind but encompasses the entire being and involves all the senses, which is one of the points of bells, singing and incense.  The goal is to create an environment where not just the mind but the entire soul and body are engaged.

There are 40,000 different denominations of Christianity and when you get into the older faiths, especially Catholicism and Orthodoxy, you get more of the full expression of Christianity. Orthodoxy is more mystical and Western Christianity is more legalistic, asking what do I have to do to be saved? Humanity is guilty of these sins and they must be punished, so Christ is sacrificed upon the cross to satisfy this notion of justice. Orthodoxy is more mystical in the sense it involves a continuing process of being saved and continual encounters with God – similar to how when two people have a marriage ceremony they are married, but still have a long way to go before ‘being married’.  There is more to it than just the ceremony in that sense.

Christianity is obsessed with the notion of guilt & atonement and the need to cleanse and absolve sins. This image is present in Orthodoxy and scriptures, but is only one of many images. The idea of Christ being sacrificed for our sins is kind of a limited image, so when we talk of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins we have to ask who is demanding the sacrifice and to whom is he being sacrificed and who is doing the sacrifice?

When Christianity was taken to the Anglo Saxons during the first few centuries in Britain the image that sat best with them was of Christ smashing down the gates of Hades and leading those captured back to heaven, which is to say that in the dialogue between Protestants and Catholics the question comes down to are we saved by our works or by the grace of God? 

Protestants say grace alone will save us and Catholics say works are also involved. When that question is put to the Orthodox religion the fact we’re atoning for our sins does not erase the fact there is nothing we can do to make our sins better; but in the same sense, it’s not such a derivative system.

There are set rules that everybody must abide by and if they are transgressed they must be wiped out before we are friends with God again. We’ve missed the mark and broken a relationship with God that needs to be healed, so the process of Theosis – of realigning ourselves with God and re-entering into that state of communion with God is more evolved. The Saints are those in whom this process of theosis means becoming divine. Saints are those that have fulfilled that within their bodies and hence their bodies do not decay. The soul is alive and body divine so the goal is to try to get away from corruption of the soul, mind, and body.

Review: What goals do you have for St. Demetrios as their new Priest?

Cook: I’ve not been here long enough to have goals, as its only been 9 months now; and when I came here the Bishop told me that my job was to listen and to love the congregation. I’m in an unusual position because usually when priests are ordained they work under a senior priest first as an assistant and have a couple years to practice. The year I was ordained was a thin one in terms of graduates and both the Orthodox and Catholic churches are short on priests at the moment, so in my first year here I’m getting my footing down and learning, observing, and getting to know the congregation and the community. We have about 150 families that we minister to.

Review: Is the age demographic older and are you getting younger members involved with the church?

Cook: It is an older demographic and it seems to be that generation from 25-40 that were raised in the church and grew up and raised their own families, but did not hold the same priority for attending church, which is a pandemic problem in a way. It’s an interesting problem to address because it’s different from church to church and person to person.

Some people that were raised in the church did not come back because of a bad experience with a priest or person; with others it’s because of mixed marriages, as there was a time when people married within their own ethnicity and also within their own denomination and faith. But usually three options arise when this question of mixed marriages arises: either everybody goes to the same church and the other party converts, or everyone goes but the party that doesn’t convert cannot participate with closed communion; or nobody from the family attends at all, which is a white flag of surrender. 

How to address it?  Part of the problem is if you have intermarriage happening on the one hand, you also have a generation where there became less social pressure to go to church.  Kids soccer and sports activities are often scheduled for Sunday mornings now, which is also divisive, as crucial time is being taken up by sports, so people get in the habit of Sunday mornings not being a sacred time.

I feel the best way to address people who have left the church is show them the love of Christ by example when you meet them.

We spend too much time chasing people who have left and if they left because of some trauma with the church, trying to fix that can do more harm than good. I also think if people leave the church its because they don’t understand what the church is for and haven’t seen it. 

The most vibrant churches live the life of Christ. If we let them see what we have and preach the gospel at all times it makes a huge difference. If the priest is living the life of Christ and people are living the life of Christ there is a joy and light that comes out of that that is contagious and cannot be shut out or hidden. It doesn’t happen just on Sunday but each day of the week. If people are really living in Christ you can’t hide that and there is a joy there that cannot be hidden because it is infectious.  I think that’s the answer to why there are people not in church and how to best address it.

Review: What is the role of the church apart from the congregation within the community at large?

Cook: It should be the light of Christ that takes different forms. During the Lenten Season there are three themes we focus on beginning with the fast and ending with charity and the notion of graceful love. The purpose of the church is to be a hospital for those wounded physically or spiritually. It is a house of life where the gospel has conquered death. If we can function and do those things then we’re doing well. 

The orthodox faith is a beautiful blessing that should be shared, so when you ask of long term plans, if I have any it would be to keep St. Demetrios an open vessel to the beauty that is orthodoxy while also serving as a hospital for those in need, whatever help it may involve.  Christ says ‘When I was sick, you visited me; when hungry you fed me, when thirsty you served me drink, when in prison you visited me, when naked you clothed me.’  Distinctions are not made about what the person is in prison for, or why they are poor; there is no distinction in terms of allegiance or lines. Everybody sick needs healing. That is what the church is for.

Christianity became very comfortable over a period of decades and developed a social club mentality and atmosphere. You pay your dues, you dress nice on Sundays and share fellowship with friends; but the notion of feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison – the notion of real Christian love doesn’t happen real often.

Kids aren’t stupid and will see that side of it and say this is clearly all rot so I’ll find somewhere it is happening, which is a challenge as well. I want the church to inspire people to live the life of Christ, which is neither easy nor comfortable. But Christianity is not meant to be easy or comfortable, which brings us back to theosis and God and the search for more meaning and depth. If you want more you have to give more.




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