Being Orthodox in a Protestant Society, Part 2

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.

12 comments

  1. Karen Vertrees says:

    It is very interesting learning about the Church. It seems that there is emphasis on worship instead of entertainment and feel-good religion. Would love to hear more about your Church.

    • kksorrell says:

      I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Nazarene Church. :) If you look to the left side on my blog under “Categories” you can click on “Orthodox Church” to find more posts about it. Thanks for reading!

  2. Phil Harwell says:

    Excellent article. As a new Orthodox Christian (converted from Protestantism) I still struggle with some things. Especially fasting; that’s probably the hardest! Makes the Friday co-workers-going-out-to-lunch thing tricky (though not undoable). Sometimes I still have a hard time learning how to relate to saints, the Theotokos, etc. But I am learning. And I love the journey, even though it gets rocky a lot! I blogged about my conversion experience. I would love for you to read it (I’m providing a link in the box below; I guess my name will link to it or something).

    • kksorrell says:

      Fasting is tough. I will admit we don’t do it 100 percent of the time. Sometimes we fast meat, but not dairy. Or in the middle of Lent sometimes we just have a “day off.” And I often get asked in the teacher’s lounge if I am a vegetarian! It can be awkward sometimes.

      I checked out your blog and it looks good! I am so glad you were chrismated!! Are you at Holy Trinity in Nashville? (We go to St. Ignatius in Franklin.) I am going to put a link to your blog on my site. Thanks for reading!

  3. Wendy says:

    Hey Karissa,
    Thanks for your comments on my blog. It’s been a while since I’ve been through the adoption process, so most of my blog posts are about my family and my ability to make a complete idiot of myself! However, I do post about adoption from time to time, and I think it’s comforting for those going through the process to read about NORMAL adoptive families and how we’re going about our very NORMAL lives. So, please keep coming back. And, if during the course of the process, you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

  4. Valerie Petschulat says:

    Karissa – When people ask if I’m a vegetarian, I say “Part-time.” Often that’s enough; if they ask more, I explain a little about fasting – because they asked! Valerie Petschulat

  5. Amy says:

    Does the Orthodox Faith teach salvation through Grace alone, not works?
    We are saved by what? We are saved by:
    Eph 2:8-BY GRACE.
    Acts 14:3-THE WORD OF HIS GRACE.
    Ro 3:24-GRACE THROUGH THE REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS.
    Eph 1:7-REDEMPTION…ACCORDING TO…HIS GRACE.
    Col 1:6-THE GRACE OF GOD IN TRUTH.
    Rev 1:4-GRACE…FROM HIM WHICH IS, AND WHICH WAS, AND WHICH IS TO COME.
    It seems to me (and I live and work in an Eastern Orthodox country) that this is a main difference in between the Orthodox and Protestant church. If you believe you can work your way to salvation, then you are diminishing and belittling Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We are created to do good works, not saved by them. Jesus’ blood paid it all. I know that the Orthodox church in America can be very different than the ones in Eastern Europe, so I was just wondering what your church teaches about Grace.

    • kksorrell says:

      We believe in both. We are very much a “both” church; both grace and works, both tradition and Scripture, etc.

      Of course I can only speak to what I have been taught. I would assume that some Orthodox churches overseas are very different.

      Where do you live and what is the OC like there?

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