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From Texas Baptist to Orthodox saint?

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/religion-faith083111/religion-faith083111/ From Texas Baptist to Orthodox saint? By TERRY MATTINGLY - Scripps Howard News
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2011

      From Texas Baptist to Orthodox saint?

      By TERRY MATTINGLY - Scripps Howard News Service
      First Posted: August 31, 2011

      Wherever bishops travel, churches plan lavish banquets and other solemn
      tributes to honor their hierarchs.

      Visitations by Archbishop Dmitri Royster of the Orthodox Church in
      America were different, since the faithful in the 14-state Diocese of
      the South knew that one memorable event would take care of itself. All
      they had to do was take their leader to a children's Sunday-school class
      and let him answer questions.

      During a 1999 visit to Knoxville, Tenn., the lanky Texan folded down
      onto a kid-sized chair and faced a circle of preschool and elementary
      children. With his long white hair and flowing white beard, he resembled
      an icon of St. Nicholas -- as in St. Nicholas, the monk and
      fourth-century bishop of Myra.

      As snacks were served, a child asked if Dmitri liked his doughnuts plain
      or with sprinkles. With a straight face, the scholarly archbishop
      explained that he had theological reasons -- based on centuries of
      church tradition -- for preferring doughnuts with icing and sprinkles.

      A parent in the back of the room whispered: "Here we go." Some of the
      children giggled, amused at the sight of the bemused bishop holding up a
      colorful pastry as if he were performing a ritual.

      "In Orthodoxy, there are seasons in which we fast from many of the foods
      we love," he said. "When we fast, we should fast. But when we feast, we
      should truly feast and be thankful." Thus, he reasoned, with a smile,
      that doughnuts with sprinkles and icing were "more Orthodox" than plain

      Dmitri made that Knoxville trip to ordain yet another priest in his
      diocese, which grew from a dozen parishes to 70 during his three
      decades. The 87-year-old missionary died last Sunday (Aug. 28) in
      Dallas, in his simple bungalow -- complete with leaky kitchen roof --
      next to Saint Seraphim Cathedral, the parish he founded in 1954.

      Parishioners were worried the upstairs floor might buckle under the
      weight of those praying around his deathbed.

      The future archbishop was raised Southern Baptist in the town of Teague,
      Texas, before moving to Dallas. As teens, Royster and his sister became
      intrigued with the history of the major Christian holidays and began
      visiting a variety of churches, including an Orthodox parish. The
      services were completely in Greek, but they joined anyway -- decades
      before evangelical-to-Orthodox conversions became common.

      During World War II, the young Texan learned Japanese in order to
      interrogate prisoners of war, while serving on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's
      staff. A gifted linguist, he later taught Greek and Spanish classes on
      the campus of Southern Methodist University. While training to serve in
      the OCA, which has Russian roots, he learned Old Russian and some modern

      Early in his priesthood, the Dallas parish was so small that Dmitri
      helped his sister operate a restaurant to support the ministry, thus
      becoming a skilled chef who was become famous for his hospitality and
      love of cooking for his flocks. During his years as a missionary bishop,
      driving back and forth from Dallas to Miami, monks in New Orleans saved
      him packages of his favorite chicory coffee and Hispanic parishioners
      offered bottles of homemade hot sauce, which he stashed in special
      compartments in his Byzantine mitre's traveling case.

      A pivotal moment in his career came just before the creation of the
      Diocese of the South. In 1970, then-Bishop Dmitri was elected -- in a
      landslide -- as the OCA metropolitan, to lead the national hierarchy in
      Syosset, N.Y. But the ethnic Slavic core in the synod of bishops ignored
      the clergy vote and appointed one of its own.

      Decades later, the Orthodox theologian Father Thomas Hopko described the
      impact of that election this way: "One could have gone to Syosset and
      become a metropolitan, or go to Dallas and become a saint."

      The priest ordained in Tennessee on that Sunday back in 1999 shared this
      judgment, when reacting to the death of "Vladika" (in English, "master")

      "There are a number of saints within Orthodox history who are given the
      title 'Equal to the Apostles,' " noted Father J. Stephen Freeman of Oak
      Ridge. "I cannot rush beyond the church and declare a saint where the
      church has not done so, but I can think of no better description of the
      life and ministry of Vladika Dmitri here in the South than 'Equal to the
      Apostles.' "

      (Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council
      for Christian Colleges and Universities. Contact him at
      tmattingly(at)cccu.org or http://www.tmatt.net.)
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