Dec. 26, 2023 Newspaper Article, Part 6 of 6

Cranbrook Daily Townsman

Christianity 101: An Orthodox Perspective – The 21st Century to Today!

We have traveled through 2000 years of Church history in these last five columns and explained that through all of the second millennium changes brought in by the Pope of Rome, the Protestant reformation and counter-reformations, and the liberalism and secularization of our present epoch, the Orthodox Church has not changed. We have well established what we aren’t, but who are we?

People sometimes ask, “How can you call yourselves ’The Church.’” This is simply what we have called ourselves consistently for 2000 years. It is simply who we are. This historical truth is not meant to reflect any disrespect to others.

We have always welcomed new members through Baptism and Chrismation, had closed communion, that included infants, had married priests, bishops, and more monks than you can count. We have always worshiped bodily with bows and prostrations, used the sign of the cross to defeat the evil one,  let our prayers arise with incense, and let the light of Christ unite with our prayers as we light our candles. Our 1½  hour Sunday Worship service can be traced back to the Liturgy of St. James – the brother of our Lord – in the 1st C,  and was shortened by St. John Chrysostom in the 4th C. 

The 7th and last Ecumenical council in 787, firmly established that icons were to be venerated and honoured (not worshiped), or Christ’s very humanity is in question. The images of the saints who through “theosis” have been transformed, reflecting Christ back to us as mirrors, are most worthy of respect, as they encourage us to embrace Christ more fully. We believe there are no dead in Christ! Everything is centered on Christ with whom we cultivate a relationship, not a contract. God is full of love, not wrath, and we seek an ever-deepening life in Christ in our journey of “theosis.”

If you have been raised exclusively in a Western Church, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (who died in 407) may seem quite foreign to you on your first visit. We worship God facing east – even the priest and deacons. We are focused on worshiping God, not being entertained. Everything is sung or chanted, usually in four-part harmony, but there are no musical instruments. From the very beginning of the Liturgy when the Holy doors are opened and the Gospel book is raised, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” is proclaimed, and we join in worshiping with the heavenly angelic hosts, the saints that have gone before us, and our millions of brothers and sisters all around the world. Through our spiritual eyes,  the walls disappear, and we enter “Kairos” – the eternal kingdom of God. We are more mystically inclined than “scholastically intellectually” inclined in our worship of God.

So why is there such huge growth in the North American Orthodox Church in the 21st Century? Why is it that the oldest Church in Christianity seems to have become the newest thing? It is simply that our services and teaching are now in English, (or French in Quebec) and so we are now accessible to our English-speaking culture. Nothing has changed except the language. We have 2000 years of wisdom and so we don’t have to continually re-invent ourselves. There are now millions of “Orthodox” in North America, thousands of English books, with thousands of podcasts… Most newcomers have simply read too much Church history and joined us in the last couple of decades. 

We have taken a very brief tour of 2000 years of Church history. Obviously it is ridiculously incomplete as many entire books have been written on almost all of the events covered in this brief look. For anyone who is interested in a deeper look at the Orthodox Church, I would recommend starting with the “Apostolic Fathers” a collection of early 1st and 2nd century writings of companions of the Apostles. There are a multitude of additional books and podcasts available, many in our St. Aidan Church library and/or bookstore. Come on by and borrow or purchase some. We will also be holding a series of public talks on “What is the Orthodox Church?” at the newly renovated St. Aidan Church starting on Wednesday, January 31 and continuing for the following 6 Wednesdays. Perhaps we might be the Church family you have been seeking? Call me anytime to have a private or group coffee chat!

Love in Christ……fr. andrew…….250-420-1582

Image: The Nativity of the Lord Orthodox Icon