Tuesday, November 10, 2009

orthodox, Orthodox or ORTHODOX?

I admit that I stole this post from Pastor Peter's blog Pastoral Meanderings where the title was "Are you lutheran, Lutheran or LUTHERAN?" It was a great post and, upon reading it, thought that this could easily be framed for an Orthodox environment. So, with both gratitude and apologies to Fr. Peters, here it is:

In any congregation we have a mix of Orthodox -- not what you think. You are thinking a mix of Orthodox jurisdictions like Greek, OCA, ROCOR, Serbian, Antiochian etc. I am not talking about that. The mix of Orthodox we have in our congregations comes not from the various backgrounds of the Orthodox within the congregation but flows from their level of information, identity, and ideology.

The orthodox within a congregation are the folks who do not attend. They have their names on a membership roll and may or may not be contacted about this, informed of the need to be regular at the Lord's House and Table, or may just be allowed to hang on in this tenuous thread of a connection for, well, ever. These can sometimes be the people who insist that they know more than others what is Orthodox and what is not, and usually, what is going on in the Church today is not their idea of Orthodox. They were once active but something happened -- no, not the big thing that made them mad and turned staying at home into a protest (though sometimes that happens). Most of these gradually dropped out -- over time -- growing out of the habit of church attendance. These are often the ones who are least informed of what it means to be Orthodox, have an identity of being Orthodox but that identity is outside of their daily lives and does not affect who they are or what they do today, and whose ideology tends to be conservative but is less rooted in Liturgy and the Scriptures than in "that is the way it was when I grew up..."

The Orthodox are those who attend, but irregularly. These are not just Nativity and Pascha or Palm Sunday folks (though some of them are and they will even tell the Priest, "See you at Pascha" or "See you at Nativity" or "See you at Palm Sunday for the 'baby parade'"). But that is generally not the only time you see them. They will always be there at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. They are friendly and genuinely like the Church. They may even get The Word or other diocesan publications via the web. They intend to be active and usually see themselves as being active. They seldom realize how long it goes between times when they show up. They know a lot of the folks in the pews. They know the congregation and her history. They have a good idea about what the Orthodox believe and teach, less so an idea of what Scripture says. They are informed about the big things but less so little things (both theologically and in terms of what is going on in the congregation), their identity is deeply rooted both in Orthodoxy and in the congregation but less so in the weekly at the Divine Liturgy, and their ideology tends to be moderate on just about everything (having learned well from St. Paul moderation is a good thing).

Then there are the ORTHODOX who are there most Sundays, feast days, Holy Week, even Saturday night Vespers, -- in fact, when they are gone, everyone notices and wonders where they are today. These are the folks who sit in the pews week after week, who attend meetings, who volunteer for work days, who teach Sunday school, who sit on the Parish Council, who read their bulletin, who are advisors to SOYO (or GOYA and other youth equivalents) who provide coffee hour, who man the bookstore, who sing in the choir, who chant, who make the Holy Bread and who are concerned about the long term future of the congregation and the Diocese. Many of these are old time families who have a deep history within the congregation and a deep affinity for things Orthodox. But many of them are new to the Orthodox faith -- some having come from churches where the Gospel was not clearly proclaimed and where feelings replaced the Sacraments as means of grace. They have come through the journey looking for and finding a home where the liturgical life is rich, the music is the handmaiden to the Word, the Eucharist is central, the Scriptures are believed and preached, and life flows from and back to the altar . These are the folks who give extra toward the family in need (generally without anyone else noticing) or make sure that when something needs to be done, it is done regardless of how overworked they already are in service to the church and the Lord. They know the Priest well, may not always agree with him, but who know how to disagree without conflict and who try, in every way possible to find common ground on most all issues. They are rooted in the past but look for the best of what which comes from today. They bring back to the Priest the bulletins from other churches when they are away from home. They stand at the doorways and greet people (strangers from off the street or strangers to them from among the orthodox and Orthodox listed above). They are informed Orthodox, they are Orthodox in identity and informed choice, and their idealogy is based on the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and taught through the Church and experienced through the Offices, Divine Liturgies and the Mysteries.

Sure you can divide up the folks differently and I claim no infallibility on this division. And I say this not to judge. I love them all. Some orthodox really want to be ORTHODOX but don't know how or think it is too much effort. Some ORTHODOX want to be Orthodox and step down their participation because the church is taking up too much time. I know that if the orthodox were really needed, they would be there but they see the Church as a fire extinguisher for emergencies and they would be the fire extinguisher in case the Church had a desperate need. But such a view cheapens that the Church is a hospital for those who are sick--and we are ALL very sick with sin. It's easy to come to the Church when we need it because of personal and sudden tragedy. It's all the more difficult when things are going great and we choose to revel in our prosperity, not realizing or not wanting to realize that such has come from God.

It's easy to be very judgmental especially for those of us who have come to the true faith from a tradition, as good as it was, did not have the fulness of the faith. We tend to speak out more of the need for our family and friends to be not only Orthodox but ORTHODOX. And then we lash out at those who may only be orthodox and throw up our hands in disbelief when they don't seem to realize all the great things the faith has for them and for their spiritual health. Some of us ORTHODOX feel that we have an angle on holiness, even suggesting that we are somehow worthy to be deacons or even priests. That will be a cross many of us will have to bear for the rest of our lives, a burden with which we will continually struggle. And hopefully, we will all be changed


  1. I am surprised that no one has commented on this. It is a well-written and insightful piece that I think would make a good read in a church bulletin or newsletter.

    Thanks for sharing.

    This reminded me of a recent post on my blog (I'm not plugging it!), a selection from by Fr. John Romanides. If you have the time, read it. If you have more time, get and read his Patristic Theology, if you haven't already. I think you would like it.

    Here's the link: http://ekekraxa.blogspot.com/2009/10/fr-john-romanides-on-therapeutic-nature.html

    In Christ,


  2. I've sometimes said that there is no such thing as a non-practicing Orthodox Christian. But I always hesitate because it is not for us to say who is the practicing Christian and who is not and appearances can always be deceiving.

    On one end of the spectrum that you describe---orthodox, Orthodox, and ORTHODOX---we should not forget that one of the great traps for the ORTHODOX is to become pharisaical about it. Orthodoxy is a very attractive religion for the pharisaical, because it gives them a "rule-book" to adhere to that's so long and so complicated, they'll never exhaust the opportunities it gives them for legalistic, outward conformity. Such a person may appear to fall into the ORTHODOX category, but is not really practicing the faith at all.

    And on the other end of the spectrum, one possibility that comes to mind is a person who falls into the "orthodox" category because she is married to someone outside the church. Her absence is not negligence, not ignorance of the faith, and certainly not a lack of faith or commitment to Christ. It is, rather, her commitment to her marriage as the primary content of her Christianity, her primary sacramental means of receiving God's grace. Regular attendance at Church is not possible because it would, in fact, conflict with her marriage, with time for raising the kids, etc., and because it might even anger her husband, causing him to think of his wife as arrogant and sanctimonious. The way she witnesses Christ to him, then, is through her submission to him, through her love and affection and commitment to him. I don't remember who, but one of the Fathers has written that such a woman can save her husband. Her marriage is her monastery. She is most definitely ORTHODOX, to my mind. She is more Christlike than the pharisaical ORTHODOX man, and after all, the Church and its liturgies and practices are not the end; they are a means to an end, which is theosis.

    It reminds me of St. Mary of Egypt. Remember that this great Saint, so holy that she gets her own day of commemoration during Holy Week, fled into the desert at her conversion and received the Eucharist only twice in her long life. Except for at her baptism, she never attended the Liturgy at a church. She lived naked in the desert and obviously had no prayer books and was not "informed" in the sense of reading theology or Church history. But she was most certainly ORTHODOX.