Tales of a Dark City
The Church of Jesus Christ, Paragon
What if Jesus Christ and the saints were Novas? What if being a Christian meant becoming a superhero? The Church of Jesus Christ, Paragon, a sect expelled from the Orthodox Church in North America, believes Jesus of Nazareth was the preeminent Paragon and Christian martyrs and mystics throughout history have followed in his footsteps with their miraculous—nay abnormal—deeds. To Paragoners, as the sect’s members are called, The Shadow Weave is a sign from God, a sign that the miracles of Christ and the saints were real, a sign that the faithful of today are called to achieve feats of equal wonder.
Agenda: To guide normals toward holiness, which Paragoners believe includes paranormal power. To counsel abnormals in the godly use of their miraculous abilities. To admonish and stop those who misuse such gifts for wickedness.
Structure: Religious hierarchy, governed by Archbishop Theodosius and three other bishops.
During 2004, in the early days after the Shadow Weave, the religions of the world struggled to come to terms with the appearance of the Novas and what they represented. Many sects embraced the Novas as God’s children, while an equal number of faiths rejected them as tools of Satan.
In 2016, rumors arose in Manhattan of miracles at the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, an Eastern Orthodox church on the Lower East Side. People had gone to the cathedral terminally ill and left completely healthy. Others witnessed a priest giving doves instructions outside the cathedral—to hold an icon of the Virgin Mary aloft for the feast of the Annunciation—and the doves obeyed. Still others listened to the cathedral’s bishop, Archbishop Theodosius, give a sermon in ancient Greek and understood it, despite not knowing a word of the language. And many had seen the icons of the saints that, when kissed or touched with veneration, animated and recited the saints’ most beloved sayings or told their tales of martyrdom.
Theodosius soon captured the city’s imagination with his proclamation that everyone could work such wonders if they would devote themselves to Jesus Christ and a life of spiritual discipline. The New York Times verified the cathedral’s abnormal phenomenon, including the fact that Theodosius himself was an abnormal who, startlingly enough, did not possess a detectable M-R Node. Yet the paper published a skeptical editorial about his claim: “Certainly many extraordinary, even miraculous, events have arisen in recent years, but this unfortunately seems an opportunistic attempt to swell the church’s numbers. The archbishop has proven himself a wise, if mysterious, humanitarian; this seems beneath him.”
Opportunistic or not, Theodosius’s teaching did swell the cathedral’s numbers by hundreds, and reports, eventually in the Times itself, confirmed some of the cathedral’s laypeople had devoted themselves to prayer, fasting, and regular liturgical worship and had subsequently manifested abnormal powers. It was impossible to tell if the religious observances had caused the abnormal abilities or had simply coincided with them, yet many in the city came to believe the archbishop’s claims. It was a message of hope for them, that spirituality could have glorious manifestations, that a life of holiness could also be a life of power. Soon the Liturgy (the Eastern Orthodox mass) was being attended not only by non-Orthodox Christians but also by non-Christians. People would line up outside the front door to catch a glimpse of the archbishop and to hear him preach, each hoping to pray him- or herself into being a Nova.
As the weeks went by, Theodosius spoke of a deeper understanding of the Christian faith, of a truth that had eluded the church for centuries: Jesus Christ himself was an abnormal, the paragon of paragons, who had come to the world to set people on the path toward their full potential, which was to become paragons themselves, humbly sharing in God’s divinity. Theodosius, along with the nuns in the convent adjoining the cathedral, wrote tracts expounding this teaching and attempted to show that wonderworking saints throughout history had been paranormals. Many people wondered why miracles had subsided in the modern age. Theodosius’s answer was simple: “Our hearts have grown cold. In the two thousand years since the Holy Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost, we have struggled to feel the holy fire within, much less share it with the world. But the Holy Spirit has come again!”
This became a recurring theme for Theodosius, one he stated most forcefully on the Pentecost in 2017, when he quoted the Acts of the Apostles: “‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh…And I will work wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below…’” With eyes joyfully gleaming, Theodosius said, “The last days are upon us, my beloved. See the signs and wonders!” With abnormals appearing almost daily outside the sect, its members wondered, “Are these paragons also inspired by God?” Theodosius answered yes: “In His wisdom, God has inspired Saints, and saints to be, all around us.” The names of abnormals thus came to be whispered in veneration, and some iconographers painted icons of them, as if the abnormals were saints. But what about the abnormals who use their powers for evil, such as The Avatars and their minions being fought in Europe? “They have been seduced by the devil,” said Theodosius. “They have turned a grace into a curse. But we must pray for them. With love, they may yet return to righteousness.”
Other bishops began to grumble about and then openly oppose these teachings. In a sharply worded letter, Theodosius’s peers demanded he immediately cease his teachings or face charges of heresy. “You risk misleading all the faithful,” the letter stated. “We are called to faith, hope, and love, not miracles. Indeed the Lord graces the world with wonders through His saints, but miracles are not a sign of salvation. And our chief concern is the well-being of souls.” Theodosius responded with a letter reminding them that the Orthodox churches had affirmed the doctrine of deification for centuries, that God had become human so humans could become divine. What surer sign of that divinity than miracles? “You would be fooled by the devil working wonders,” one of the bishops retorted. After several fruitless attempts to persuade the bishops, Theodosius chose schism rather than renounce his beliefs. To the other bishops’ disappointment, parishes throughout the United States and Canada left the church with him.
Then came The Day of Fire. The last remaining Avatars somehow managed to teleport themselves across the sea, appearing above Manhatten. While one flew west towards Los Angeles, the other began to rain down destruction on New York City. Much of Manhatten was vaporized, and the island physically shattered, crumbling into Hudson Bay. As the Avatar turned his attention to the rest of the Five Boroughs, the survivors of the initial assault fled to what safety they could. And the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas still stood.
The wave of Avatar Energy caused horrific storms of fire, lightning, gravity distortions, radiation, and other unpleasant energy. People began to spontaneously erupt en masse. And through the chaos came Theodosius and his wonderworkers, erecting barriers, healing the sick and injured, and even providing food and clean water. Five thousand people managed to find their way to the shelter of the Cathedral and the wonderworkers within, and those who had newly gained powers were tasked with helping their baseline brethren.
A week later, when the chaos had died down enough to risk moving, Archbishop Theodosius and the Paragoners gathered what supplies they could, and made a perilous trek across the ruined city, heading west to escape Burning Brooklyn. With the Holland Tunnel collapsed, there was no way across the Hudson River, until one of the newly erupted Novas, Gregory Kincaid, who had at this point only demonstrated the ability to conjure water, bent his will to mastering it. He used his powers to part the Hudson River, allowing the 5,000 refugees to cross into Hoboken before his Node burned out and he died of a massive aneurysm.
With this clear sign of God’s favor, Archbishop Theodosius vowed to rebuild, and a new Cathedral of Saint Nicholas was erected with the aid of donations from across the world. Since then the influence of the church has spread.
With parishes throughout North America, the Paragoners sect has grown into four dioceses: the Archdiocese of the East, governed by Archbishop Theodosius; the Diocese of the Midwest. governed by Bishop Tikhon; the Diocese of the West, governed by Bishop Basil; and the Diocese of Canada, governed by Bishop John. Decisions affecting the entire sect are made by the synod of bishops through consensus, with Theodosius as chair. On a local level, parish councils make decisions under the guidance of clergy.
Keeping with Orthodox tradition, the sect’s entire clergy is male, although there is a growing movement to ordain women, given the number of abnormal nuns and laywomen. The bishops are split on this, with Theodosius and Basil leaning toward it, and Tikhon and John, against. All four agree the second greatest abnormal in history—Mary, the Mother of God—is a model for all believers, whether or not women are ordained.
The rebuilt Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Hoboken remains the sect’s spiritual headquarters. Theodosius’s apartment and the archdiocesan offices and library are on one side of the Russian-style church, with its star-spangled onion domes. On the cathedral’s other side is the Convent of Saint Mary of Egypt, home to a handful of nuns, one of whom is the abnormal iconographer responsible for the cathedral’s wondrous icons.
The other three dioceses are headquartered in Ottawa, Chicago, and San Francisco. Parishes in all four dioceses are mostly in cities where immigrants from traditionally Orthodox countries (Greece, Russia, Romania, and so on) are most common. The sect has seven monasteries, the largest of which is Holy Transfiguration Monastery, which has a large compound, including rooms for visitors. The basement of the main building is a labyrinth of cells filled with strange devices, most of which look like implements of torture. “They are for the purgation of sin and the inflammation of power,” Abbot Gregory explains. He does not elaborate.
The sect is rich in theological and philosophical knowledge, which has become progressively esoteric as Paragoners have used abnormal abilities to plumb the depths of the Imageria for truths about God and the cosmos. Many of their writings are housed in the archdiocesan library. Theodosius is able to understand any language, so the library includes texts in almost every known language, as well as the archbishop’s half-finished translation of the New Testament, of which he says, with no arrogance, “This will shape theological study for the next fifty years.” Holy Transfiguration Monastery is also a storehouse of important texts, although they are more obscure and often bizarre, with a large collection of books on the occult and heresy (Gregory’s personal collection).
Issues facing the Church
While sects like The Seven Thunders are a natural concern for the Paragoners, the worst issue may come from within.
Five years ago, thirteen wonderworking monks from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery north of San Francisco joined the Paragoners. This turned out to be the sect’s most influential addition. The monks’ abbot, Hieromonk Gregory, possessed great power. He could ingest poison unharmed, cure the sick, foresee the future, and even raise the dead, according to some. He was also a prolific writer, and his interpretations of the para-Christian way began to eclipse the archbishop’s.
At first, Theodosius considered Gregory an eloquent ally, but he disagreed with the abbot’s apocalyptic tone and his emphasis on extreme asceticism as the way to awaken paranormal power. Gregory urged long fasts, all-night vigils, and painful mortification of the flesh. Theodosius became particularly alarmed at rumors of flagellation at the monastery. There were darker rumors, of the monks somehow being involved in the disappearances of abnormals who had refused to heed Gregory, as well as overt attacks against prominent members of The Seven Thunders.
The archbishop sent the abbot letters urging moderation, but Gregory would not budge, saying he was merely pushing Theodosius’s teachings to the logical next step. The synod of bishops consequently wants to be rid of the abbot, but Gregory’s influence has become widespread; the synod risks sundering the newborn sect if they expel him. For now, there is an uneasy truce, but a poison has begun to spread in the sect’s veins, as ascetic practices have veered from the therapeutic to the punishing and rumors have begun to abound of Gregory’s monks turning into vigilantes and inciting others to do likewise.