Did you see the video of the Orthodox priest from Belarus offering an ecumenical greeting to the PCUSA assembly? The video and accompanying article can be found here. This is a very short, but powerful clip. Fr. Siarhei delivers a number of zingers, but he does it in such a nice way that you wonder if anyone even noticed:

  • First he tells the assembly that the Orthodox Church has an unbroken, unchanged, and unreformed Tradition and that our theology has not been changed in the past 2,000 years.
  • He spends a minute thanking the PCUSA for their partnership in social efforts, but that doesn’t deter him from what he says next…
  • He tells them that they are using the revised version of the Nicene Creed which includes the filioque.
  • He tells them that Christian morality has already been established and doesn’t need to be re-invented. He goes on to say that attempts to create a new morality look like attempts to invent a new religion; a religion that he calls a modern-day paganism. (This is in reference to some of the issues that the assembly was voting on, which you can read about in the article linked above).
  • He questions whether it is really the Holy Spirit that guides people to make such changes in doctrine, or if it is indeed a different spirit altogether. “Are there different spirits acting in different denominations?” wonders Fr. Siarhei.
  • He concludes by saying this his desire is that all Christians should contend earnestly for the faith, which was once and for all delivered to the Saints. (Jude 1:3)

Wow, he packed quite a lot into a 5-minute speech! While Fr. Siarhei was invited to deliver an ecumenical greeting he really ended up delivering a word of warning and a call to get on the right course. It is a powerful message and I appreciate that Fr. Siarhei was so careful to “speak the truth in love”.

Does God care how we worship Him, or is it a matter of our own preference?

Does our church reflect that Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, or does it accomodate the changing world and ever-changing tastes?

Does your church look like a lecture hall, or like a temple?

These are issues that I never fully considered before my introduction to Orthodoxy. Oh, I certainly had opinions on worship; the traditional Protestant type worship often seemed dead, and the more contemporary version of the same often seemed overly emotional. There were elements of both that I could appreciate, but nothing that I could consistently latch on to as “true worship.”

Furthermore, as a Protestant I felt that worship was so dependent upon various aspects beyond my control: Which songs were we singing today? If the songs were among my least favorite, then there went the whole experience and the chance to really worship. Is the choir good today? Is the worship leader present? If not, then chances were good that my mind was on the quality of the music rather than worshiping. And if there was bad theology in a song? Oh well, it rhymes nicely. Perhaps worst of all, worship was mostly a preparatory exercise to hear a sermon; that is to say that worship was a means to an end and not an end in and of itself.

But let’s really get to the heart of the matter here: What does it mean to really worship God? And what about worshiping Him the way that He wants to be worshiped, rather than the way we prefer to worship?

Orthodox worship is a serious – but not stuffy – affair. As I pondered this ancient form of worship, it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t up to me to decide the best way to worship God. Maybe, just maybe – it wasn’t about how I felt about the worship – maybe it was about how He felt and what He wanted. Maybe it shouldn’t be about having the right music to “get in the mood” to worship – maybe it should be about worshiping regardless of how I feel.

When I changed my perspective, the pieces began to fall into place. I’ve been attending Divine Liturgy for almost a year, and it’s more or less been the same thing every Sunday. Yet weekly I am amazed by the enormity of the beauty and wonder that I witness. For the first time I feel like the focus of worship is completely on God and not even slightly on me or how I feel. Pay close attention to many Christian hymns and songs and you will find that somehow the worship has become intertwined with the individual and his feelings. Look at the words to Amazing Grace, for example. It’s a nice song but it hardly qualifies as worship.

I’ll close with these comments from Fr. John Matusiak:

We do not gather for worship to be entertained, to be “relevant,” or to “appeal” to this group’s “taste” at the expense of the whole. While humans have the need to worship, worship must offer a glimpse of the divine, not an affirmation of humanity. Worship must always be seen as focused on God, period, and not on “me.”

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.

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.