Great article by a Protestant who visits an Orthodox parish for the first time:

Pews? We don’t need no stinking pews! Providing seats for worshipers is SO 14th century. Gorgeous Byzantine art, commissioned from a famous artist in Bulgaria. Fully robed priests with censors (those swinging incense thingies). Long, complex readings and chants that went on and on and on. And every one of them packed full of complex, theological ideas. It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation. And just to make sure it wasn’t too easy for us, everything was read in a monotone voice and at the speed of an auctioneer.

I heard words and phrases I had not heard since seminary. Theotokos, begotten not made, Cherubim and Seraphim borne on their pinions, supplications and oblations. It was an ADD kids nightmare. Robes, scary art, smoking incense, secret doors in the Iconostas popping open and little robed boys coming out with golden candlesticks, chants and singing from a small choir that rolled across the curved ceiling and emerged from the other side of the room where no one was singing. The acoustics were wild. No matter who was speaking, the sound came out of everywhere. There was so much going on I couldn’t keep up with all the things I couldn’t pay attention to.

He later mentions another reason why I believe that Orthodox worship is true and right:

In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me.

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What is the Bible?

May 1, 2010

A little ditty from my childhood. Sadly, unorthodox (the “alone” part specifically):

The B-I-B-L-E! Yes, that’s the book for me! I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!

The Bible, typically plated in silver or gold

Elsewhere on the internets I was recently accused of “believing the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true.” This was humorous because some of my Protestant friends accuse me of the opposite; not believing the Bible or believing things that are contrary to the Bible. Sometimes you just can’t win!

But back to that assertion about believing that the Bible is true. For the Protestant I think this would be a pretty tricky question to address. Protestants in general take the view that the Bible is “self-authenticating” which to me personally seems like a pretty meaningless and contrived explanation. For the Orthodox Christian there is another way to address this question:

How could the Church discern what was true Scripture from what was not? The answer is to be found in the fact that the Bible was not the starting-point of the Christian faith, but a resumé of it: not the whole revelation, but a part: not the foundation of the Church, but its product. The Church preceded the Bible; indeed, we would be at a loss to explain the existence of Christians in the early years after Our Lord’s ministry and resurrection if, as many modern Christians insist, the Scriptures are the essential groundwork of the faith! As Fr. Alexander Turner puts it, the “Christian church had been a going concern in full operation, with its established procedures, organization and sacraments” for two decades before the first of the New Testament writings, St. Paul’s epistles, were composed. (The Bible and the Church by C.G. Pallas)

But what about the “many contradictions” that to some suggest the Bible is not reliable? Again, for the Protestant this is tricky, because the Bible is supposed to be inerrant in every sense of the word. For the Orthodox, though:

It is the faith of the Orthodox Church that the Bible, as the divinely-inspired Word of God in the words of men, contains no formal errors or inner contradictions concerning the relationship between God and the world. There may be incidental inaccuracies of a non-essential character in the Bible. But the eternal spiritual and doctrinal message of God, presented in the Bible in many different ways, remains perfectly consistent, authentic, and true. (The Orthodox Faith by Fr. Thomas Hopko)

The Orthodox definitely have a different take on the Bible, but this in no way diminishes the Bible. In my experience as a Protestant, the focus of one’s devotion of God is mostly expressed through reading and studying the Bible (and also through church attendance, where at least half the time is also spent in reading and studying the Bible). In Orthodoxy however, the focus is much more on one’s prayer life and communion with God through the Eucharist. Does the Bible come into play here? Absolutely! But instead of only reading God’s word, we’re also focused on literally experiencing and communing with Him.

Does History Matter?

April 7, 2010

First Council of Nicea

I’ve been surprised when some Christians have a “so what” reaction to early church history. I guess they figure that if their belief is true, then it doesn’t really matter what has happened in the past. If they do show any reverence or interest in history, it never includes a time period that precedes the Protestant Reformation.

I can remember this sentiment. We didn’t go looking for the historical church – we knew so little about it that the thought never even occurred to us. Instead it found us and hit us with its full force. And quite suddenly there were many things which we could no longer ignore; ideas that we could no longer be wishy-washy about.

I think that any Christian who takes their faith seriously must also take the early church seriously. Without the early church, there is no faith. There is no teaching of the apostles. There is no creed. There is no Bible. There is no example of countless Christians who took their faith so seriously that they were willing to die for it. Without the early church, we would not know who Jesus was. We would not know about God beyond the books of the Old Testament. We would not know orthodox doctrine. Truth – and subsequently our path to salvation – has been handed down to us from our forefathers in the faith.

Does history matter? If you take true faith seriously, then yes – history is of utmost importance. If you ignore history, you are missing out on the fullness of faith.

Reason #2: Truth matters

March 26, 2010

This is part of a series of posts highlighting reasons why I am converting to the Orthodox Church. These reasons are posted in no particular order. Some are big, important reasons; others may be small, wonderful but non-essential reasons. I hope they offer food for thought.

As I learned about the early church and the ecumenical councils that helped shape Christian doctrine and drive out false teachings, I realized that the church had long ago addressed the issues that Christians today still grapple with. Arianism, gnosticism, and other heresies had already been addressed and a determination made. It was of imperative importance to determine which beliefs were true and which were heretical because Christ founded one Church, and it was important to keep true, right beliefs within that Church. Without the right belief – what really is the point? One must understand who Christ is and what He taught. If our goal is to know God and to be like Him, then we must know who He is.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick put it like this in his excellent podcast on Orthodoxy and HeterodoxyIf there really is a God, then who He is and what He wants from us is more important than anything else. If we adopt a consumer-style understanding of faith, where various options are offered as a sort of religious buffet where the choice is left up to the consumer, then the logical conclusion is that beliefs about God are not very important – we can pick and choose as we like.

As I began learning about Orthodoxy, I realized that within Protestantism there is a high degree of accepted relativism. One could be a Presbyterian, another a Baptist, another a Pentecostal. They all have very different beliefs. They all see God in a different light. We can even go so far as to say that they are all worshiping a different version of God, which causes one to wonder if these groups are even talking about the same God. Some of them have beliefs or influences that were condemned as heretical by the early church. And yet we are supposed to accept the idea that they are all still part of the same “church?” The Church that Jesus founded? If the Church is the body of Christ, how can you have one part of the body doing one thing, and another part doing a completely different thing?  We can’t all be part of one body when we are clearly disjointed in our beliefs.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. John 17:11

Many evangelicals will say “all that matters is that you believe in Jesus and that He died for you.” This is extremely simplistic and one who makes this kind of statement will quickly run into problems. Who is Jesus? Was He God? Was He man? Who is God? What is His character? How can we know Him? How does Jesus relate to God the Father and the Holy Spirit? How does one understand the Trinity? What does it mean to be a Christian? And on. And on. And on. There is so much more than just “believe in Jesus.”

I am only interested in right belief, true belief – why would I accept anything less? Jesus said that the Truth would set us free, and I want the whole Truth. We left Protestantism because it represents only a piece of the puzzle, and not the fullness of faith that we were looking for.

The Church

March 23, 2010

Christ did not found a philosophical movement called Christianity, he founded His Church.

Then he said that the gates of Hell would not overcome it.

From the Orthodox Wiki:

The traditional belief in the Church is attested to in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. By this phrase is meant that the Church is undivided and not many (one), sanctified and set apart for the work of God (holy), whole and characterized by fullness and universality (catholic), and has at its essence the going out into all the world to preach the Gospel and baptize the nations (apostolic).

Because the Church, it is the Body of Christ, it is also the temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is a continued Pentecost.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, the eschatological spouse of the Son of God, united to him in faith and love, for which he gave himself up on the cross. The intimacy of a husband and wife is an earthly image of the intimacy that Christ has with his Church, and the union of an earthly marriage is a shadow of the union of that marriage of the Lamb of God with the Church.

The Orthodox see the Church as a mystical organism, not an organization of like thinking people. In the Church is the community where man is what he is created to be and can grow for eternity in divine life in communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Church is not broken by time or space and is not limited merely to those alive upon the earth. The unity of the Church is the unity of the Blessed Trinity and of all of those who live with God: the holy angels, the righteous dead, and those who live upon the earth according to the commandments of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The community of the Church is the locus of salvation for mankind; it is truly the Ark in which mankind may be saved from the flood of corruption and sin. In it, Christians sacramentallywork out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), worshipping the Holy Trinity in spirit and in truth. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (I Tim. 3:15) and thus may be relied upon in the Christian’s struggle to apprehend the one truth for himself. The Church is eternal, and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

When my husband and I first learned about Orthodoxy we initially brushed it aside as “too Catholic.” We saw pictures of Divine Liturgy at a nearby parish and I told him in an email “Don’t think I could get into this. Maybe I could if I lived in Europe and had an old-world kind of lifestyle.” The pomp and circumstance of the Liturgy just seemed so far from what I was accustomed to in my modern suburban life. As a Protestant I couldn’t relate to a style of worship that contained anything visually ornate.

We had read a lot about Orthodoxy and I think we could have continued down the path of mere scholarship for quite a long time, but several different people gave us the advice to jump right in by attending Liturgy. Divine Liturgy is meant to be experienced, and we were going to miss the main event if we only focused on scholarly pursuits.

I became determined to visit. David also wanted to visit but he was nervous – mostly afraid of the unknown of a new situation or of making a faux pas. We decided to attend a nearby parish that a friend had visited before. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were a bit nervous. As we made the decision to get out of the car, we were still nervous. As we stood inside the building but just outside the temple, we were really nervous! We had read Frederica’s 12 Things I Wish I’d Known and it was extremely helpful but we still weren’t entirely sure what to expect. We stood in the narthex for a minute or two, undoubtedly looking completely bewildered. A nice lady saw us and before we knew it we were inside the temple and observing our first Liturgy.

The next week we decided to try a different parish (OCA). We’ve been going back ever since.

If you are looking into Orthodoxy, you really must attend Liturgy. The Orthodox Church is so amazingly rich and you are doing yourself a disservice by not attending Divine Liturgy. If you are nervous like we were – don’t be! You can duck into the back of the temple and stand to the side and be completely anonymous if you would like. Just soak it all in. The next time you visit, you might want to look around and see if there is a copy of the printed version of the Liturgy. It is immensely helpful to be able to read along – so much is happening during Liturgy, it is easy to miss some of the words.

After our first Liturgy, David commented that it was almost hard to believe that this was the same religion that we had grown up in. Divine Liturgy was so different from anything that we had experienced. As the weeks and months pass by, we continue to be drawn to Orthodoxy both in scholarship and in practice. If you have not yet attended Liturgy, please consider doing so soon!

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting reasons why I have converted to the Orthodox Church. They are listed in no particular order. Some are big, important reasons; others may be small, wonderful but non-essential reasons. I hope they offer food for thought.

A few months ago I read an article in Christianity Today that highlighted a Christian movement in Mexico. It’s been awhile since I read the article and I can no longer recall the particulars, but one line really stood out: “How will the church in Mexico continue to change?” asked the columnist.

If the church is the pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), then it should be unchanged since the day that it was founded by Jesus. Yet in any particular church group (save one) you will find numerous changes. Roman Catholics have a pretty long history, but they change the rules all the time. Protestantism is no different, being that it was borne out of a desire for change; a desire that certainly continues to this day when we have thousands of different denominations.

I’m disturbed by all of these changes. Truth doesn’t change. Neither should the Church.