It has taken me so long to write this that you’ve probably already forgotten about Part 1.
It’s hard to be Orthodox in America. Here’s why:
- The Orthodox Church doesn’t change with culture and doesn’t let culture dictate the way the church runs. No flashy basketball leagues. Not even a church gym. No trendy coffee shops in the foyer. No big screens or powerpoints. Instead, you get a multi-sensory experience: rich harmony of acapella hymns, haunting odor of incense, flicker of candlelight, deep earth tones of the icons, taste of wine and bread on the tongue. The point is engagement, enrichment, enlightenment, NOT entertainment. I can see how the OC can seem ritualistic and backwards to some people, but many Protestant churches have taken the entertaining/fun/sports approaches way too far.
- Orthodox Christians seem to have to work at worshiping. We stand during most of the liturgy to remember the risen body of Christ. We have LOTS of services (most of which we call feasts), especially during Lent. As I’ve said before, liturgical time is different than regular time, and we believe that part of being a Christian is stepping out of the busy chronology of our lives and into the timelessness of faith. Liturgy means “the work of the people,” and we take that seriously.
- Orthodox Christians fast. We fast meat and dairy on Wednesdays and Fridays to remember the betrayal and death of Christ. We also fast for longer periods of time leading up to a feast. In addition, we don’t eat before Divine Liturgy (i.e., no breakfast on Sunday morning!) in order to prepare ourselves both spiritually and physically to receive communion. Fasting is very much a spiritual discipline, and it’s one that’s hard to explain to people. St. John Climacus said, “Fasting makes for purity of prayer, an enlightened soul, a watchful mind, a deliverance from blindness.” As a relatively new Orthodox Christian, I must confess that I still wrestle with fasting sometimes, but I do believe that with time it will continue to deepen me spiritually.
- Orthodox Christians believe in saints and greatly love (NOT worship) Mary. The lives of the saints provide us with a rich history of role-models of the faith. Orthodox icons give is pictorial reminders of the saints and encourage our love and faithfulness for them and for the faith. Mary has a place of honor because it is through her that we have Christ. We do also believe that saints can intercede or pray for us. This is pretty hard for Protestants to swallow. I always get a little nervous as to how people will respond when they ask about my son’s name, and I tell them he was named after Saint Ephraim the Syrian.
- We don’t believe in a one-time “getting saved” experience. We believe that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Salvation is a process, and one is continually deepening spiritually and loving Christ (and thus others) rightly. While most Protestants agree that a process is involved, they have trouble with the lack of “a moment.” With my kids at a mostly-Protestant school, I can’t help but wonder when they’ll come home talking about getting saved or accepting Christ. I don’t think that will necessarily be a bad thing, but I will reiterate to them our Orthodox beliefs about salvation.
- Orthodoxy tends to keep to itself. This is one of my few critiques about the OC. We are much less evangelistic than other kinds of churches – to a fault. At times separating ourselves from the world becomes more important than just being the church we are supposed to be. I don’t think that Orthodoxy has to be so exclusive in the sense that we reject anything and everything non-Orthodox. I would love to see Orthodoxy embrace some of the approaches to ministry (to the community, to children) that we see in Protestant churches.