Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2019)

A blessed Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple!

Hail, from whom alone there springs the unfading Rose;

Hail, for thou hast borne the sweetly-smelling Apple.

Hail, Maiden unwedded, nosegay of the only King and preservation of the world.

Hail, Lady, treasure-house of purity, raising us from our fall;

Hail, Lily whose sweet scent is known to all the faithful;

Hail, fragrant incense and precious oil of myrrh.

(Akathist Hymn to the Most Holy Mother of God from The Lenten Triodion)

Blog Series available as PDFs

Some of the Blog series I have posted here are available as PDFs.   Some people have said they prefer to read them as PDFs rather than follow through the Blog series.  Below are some of the Blog series now available as PDFs.

BIBLE RELATED BLOG SERIES

Glossary   Some of the terms I frequently reference in my blogs, especially those series dealing with Scripture

Introduction to God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4-11

God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 4

 God Questions His Creation: Genesis 5

Reading Noah and the Flood Through the Source Theory Lens

The Story of the Flood

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 7

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 8

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9

 God Questions His Creation: Genesis 10

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11

God Questions His Creation: The Conclusion of the Flood

God Questions His Creation: The Complete Text, Genesis 4-11

What is the Bible?

Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury

Scriptures and Tradition

Hermeneutics and Typology

Reading Scripture: The Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy

Adam, the First Human 

St. Simeon’s Interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46

The Scriptures Bear Witness to the Word of God

Psalm 51 and Repentance

GENERAL ORTHODOX TOPICS

Prayer Blog Series

Hell?

Death: The Last Enemy of God

Orthodoxy in Relationship to the World

Christianity and Islam

Glory to God for All Things, The Akathist Illustrated

Constantine the Great

The Goals of Teaching in the Early Church

The State and the Church and Sexual Abuse

The Mystery of Ourselves: Evolution and Christianity

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

Envisioning the Temple

Typikon Decoded

The Fathers on Hell

The Purpose of Righteousness

Images of Salvation

The Relationship of God to Life and Death

Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (2014)

Being and Becoming Human

Byzantine Orthodoxy, Hellenism and Science

That All Shall Be Saved

GREAT LENT POSTS

Great Lent 2008

Great Lent 2009

Great Lent 2010

Great Lent 2011

Great Lent 2012

Pre-Lent 2013

Great Lent 2013

Great Lent 2014

Great Lent 2015

Great Lent 2016

Pre-Lent 2017

Great Lent 2017

Pre-Lent 2018

Great Lent 2018

2019 Pre-Lenten Posts (PDF)

Great Lent 2019 (PDF)

2020 Pre-Lenten Themes (PDF)

Great Lent (2020)

HOLY WEEK POSTS

Holy Week 2008

Holy Week 2009

Holy Week 2010

Holy Week 2011

Holy Week 2012

A Walk Through Holy Week (2013)

Holy Week (2013)

Holy Week 2014

Holy Week 2015

Holy Week 2016

Holy Week 2017

Holy Week 2018

2019 Holy Week (PDF)

Holy Week (2020)

PASCHA AND BRIGHT WEEK POSTS

Pascha and Bright Week (2008 and 2009)

Pascha and Bright Week (2010)

Pascha and Bright Week (2011)

Pascha and Bright Week (2012)

Pascha and Bright Week (2013)

Pascha and Bright Week (2014)

Pascha and Bright Week (2015)

Pascha and Bright Week (2016)

Pascha and Bright Week (2017)

Pascha and Bright Week (2018)

Pascha and Bright Week 2019 (PDF)

Pascha and Bright Week (2020)

POST PASCHAL SUNDAYS

2008 Post Paschal Sundays 

2009 Post Paschal Sundays

2010 Post Paschal Sundays

2011 Post Paschal Sundays 

2012 Post Paschal Sundays

2013 Post Paschal Sundays

2014 Post Paschal Sundays

2015 Post Paschal Sundays

2016 Post Paschal Sundays

2017 Post Paschal Sundays

2018 Post Paschal Sundays

2019 Post Paschal Sundays

CHRISTMAS BLOGS

Twelve Quotes for Christmas

2010 Christmas Posts

2011 Christmas Posts

2012 Christmas Posts

2013 Christmas Posts

2014 Christmas Posts

2015 Christmas Posts

2016 Christmas Posts

2017 Christmas Posts

2018 Christmas Posts

THEOPHANY BLOGS

2013 Theophany Posts

2014 Theophany Posts

2016 Theophany Posts

2019 Theophany Posts

OTHER TOPICS

The Word, The Information, The Bit

Free Will and Biology  

Atheism

A Quest to Know What It Means to Be Human

Mindless Brains and Loss of Consciousness: The Neo-Atheistic Ideological Denial of our Humanity

What Does it Mean to be Human?

A Recent History of American Heresy

DARWIN’S DOUBT is Meyer’s Doubt

Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future

This is the final blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America.

In general Orthodox throughout the world have viewed the West’s embrace of Enlightenment Ideals  with suspicion.   Orthodoxy does not believe that the rights of the individual should always trump the rights of a nation, society, family or religion.    Because Orthodoxy views the human as a being always in relationship to others, Orthodoxy would want to see individual rights discussions balanced with an emphasis on the right and need to love others which means taking into account the value of society itself.  When it comes to fundamental human rights, Orthodoxy would want to say the most fundamental human right is to be able to love and to be loved (which includes forgiving, asking for forgiveness, repenting, granting mercy, stopping all cycles of revenge).

            As a minority religion in America, and one that has suffered some prejudice and rejection, the Orthodox tried to protect their people by encouraging in the case of inter-marriages that the non-Orthodox person join the Orthodox Church.   Orthodoxy’s own sacramental thinking discourages its clergy and members from any form of interfaith sharing of sacraments and in some case participating in other forms of worship.   In America, because the Orthodox were often perceived as ethnic and therefore different, the refusal of Orthodox to actively participate in ecumenical events often has gone unnoticed.  Orthodoxy believes that Christianity itself was meant to be one church, and has seen the divisions in Christianity and the diversification of Christian liturgies and theology as a negative evil further rupturing human unity.

            Because Orthodoxy does not have a single worldwide leader, but rather is organized along the lines of national churches, it often does not speak with one voice on many social issues.  However, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there is a fair amount of agreement among the Orthodox on many contemporary issues, and almost totally agreement on theological issues.   To date the various Orthodox groups in America do not have a unified church leadership, but rather are organized along ethnic lines.  The Orthodox therefore do not have one person or source to which to turn when seeking an Orthodox viewpoint on current issues.    Orthodox Christian leadership has generally taken a “conservative” stance on social issues:  pro-life being opposed to both the death penalty and abortion; opposed to genetic engineering, human cloning and stem cell research; opposed to same sex unions; and supporting family issues and the importance of motherhood in society.   Orthodox Church leaders when addressing the issue have also tended to be in favor of many forms of ecology and question the rapacious effect of consumerism on the environment.

The role of leadership in the church has been hotly debated throughout Orthodox America.   Some Orthodox newly arriving in America find allowing women leadership roles or voting roles in the church to be totally new and questionable.    Even the notion of voting (democracy) in deciding church policies (doctrine has not been debated much anywhere in the modern Orthodox world)  has met serious objections, especially from the hierarchy.    The role of the laity (whether male or female) has been disputed as the church becomes increasingly Americanized.   Bishops and priests sometimes express a fear of losing control of parishes as a result of democratization which they feel has no place in the church and which they sometimes interpret as anti-clerical.  On the other hand, as more of the membership is Americanized and educated, the laity demand more openness, transparency and accountability from their clergy and hierarchs.     Because the country is pluralistic religiously, Orthodox leadership has found it difficult to maintain absolute “denominational” loyalty.   This has caused some church leaders in America to encourage further withdrawal from non-Orthodox gatherings.   Conservative and fundamentalist thinkers are sometimes attracted to Orthodoxy,  pulling the church into that direction as they bring with them their disdain for the “liberalism” of their former denominations.    Many of these converts see the unique dress of Orthodox clergy as signs of the different and thus right ways of the Church.    This has caused numerous other Orthodox to wonder whether Orthodoxy is in fact bringing the faith to America or whether these new converts are in fact reshaping the Church to more closely resemble what they imagine Orthodoxy to mean. 

The challenges for Orthodoxy in America are many – cultural conflicts, as well as trying to discern the difference between Tradition and custom.  There is also the difficult issue of how to bring about Orthodox unity in America when its parishes are organized along ethnic lines or have loyalties to old world politics and patriarchs.  The issue is how does Orthodoxy incarnate the Church in America – what will it look like?  How can it be faithful to its past and tradition and yet able to witness to the Gospel in the 21st Century?

Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America

This is the 18th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Relationship to Christianity Worldwide.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Dayton, OH

Orthodoxy entered into America as a true minority religion in an already Christian country.   Technologically the Orthodox came from inferior cultures as they came to North America.   Politically they often arrived  as almost powerless with their fellow Orthodox living in countries dominated by Islam or atheistic communism.    Their initial reaction was often to try to preserve their customs and practices in their small ethnic enclaves to protect themselves from the American culture, which they often experienced as hostile to them.

            During the height of the cold war, many Orthodox coming from communist dominated countries often felt themselves under suspicion of being spies and un-American, despite their frequently ferociously anti-communist stance.    The issues which occupied the Orthodox were often not the contemporary issues of modern America.    Feminism and the ordination of women which have been prominent in religious debates in America have played a very minor role in Orthodox discussions.  Part of this is the result of the fact that American Orthodoxy tends to take its cues on issues from the “old world” and there feminism is still a minor issue.   Orthodox  being very conservative and traditionalist in custom often brought to their meetings and discussions the structures and thinking that dominate in the old world –  not only were the questions “foreign” to Orthodox thinking, but they were calling upon Orthodoxy to make changes it was in no way prepared to make as it struggled (by trying to preserve its past, its tradition) to adapt to and to survive in the new world.

Protection of the Theotokos, Dayton

Orthodoxy in relationship to the American scene has struggled with:

–         America’s extreme individualism (as versus the Orthodox understanding of a human as a being always in relationship to others) – including notions that morality is basically determined by each individual not by society;

–         America’s unconstrained consumerism (as versus a spirituality which emphasizes self denial as the way to love) – including the sense that a constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness means you should consume as much as you want and can afford;  

–         America’s love of things new (versus Orthodoxy’s constantly looking to tradition and the past to understand all things new) – including new ideas about God, morality, and truth;

–         America’s distrust of authority (versus a church which emphasizes hierarchy and tradition) – including a distrust of ancient or traditional ways of doing things;

–         America’s “meritocracy” (versus the Orthodox reliance on entitlement for those in positions of authority) – especially in relationship to bishops who traditionally commanded respect, not because of accomplishments but because of the office they held;  

–         America’s clear separation of church and state (as versus the Orthodox sense that there should exist cooperation, a symphony, between government and religion which are two branches of authority both given by God); and

–         America’s love of democracy and deciding most things by majority rule (as versus the historical Orthodox alignment with empires and kings in which there was not voting, but obedience to decisions handed down from on high) – including a modern tendency in American churches to vote on everything  from morality, to liturgy, to theology and thus to truth.

Next: Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future

Orthodoxy in Relationship to Christianity Worldwide

This is the 17th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Relationship to the World.

  Within the Christian household, Orthodox also experienced serious divisions.   The efforts to produce a unified Christianity beginning in the 4th Century CE did produce a remarkable amount of agreement among a very diverse Christian movement.   However the heavy handed practices of the Byzantine Greek empire  ultimately led to many of the non-Greek Christians splitting away from the Imperial Church.   With the rise of Islam in the 7th Century CE, these non-Greek Christians hoped they could maintain their regional and ethnic differences under Islamic domination which also meant shaking off Greek Imperial Christianity.    The formation of the “Oriental” Orthodox Churches such as the Coptic church, the Nestorian and Jacobite Orthodox churches can partly be explained by the intermixture of theology and ethnic political rivalries.

 The biggest split in Christendom as far as Orthodoxy is concerned however occurred between the Greek Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Latin Christians in Western Europe, which under the Greeks eventually was for all practical purposes beyond the control of the Empire.     Latins and Greek maintained their unity in the face of monophysitism and Nestorianism.   However, the linguistic, cultural and geographic separation of the Eastern and Western Christians led to an increasingly separated Catholic Christianity.   The differences in custom and practice led to serious debates between Greek and Latin Christians.    With the movement of the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, the Greek Christians became increasingly less concerned about the problems of their Latin co-religionists.    Eventually with four of the ancient patriarchates being Greek speaking, and only Rome being Latin speaking, and with the rise of  Charlemagne (800 CE) and the development of Western Christian kings who challenged the sole claims to Christian imperialism of the Greeks, Rome turned to these new Kings for help in defending Western Christendom.    With theological and liturgical differences, the support of Western Emperor claimants, Rome as the unrivaled patriarchate of the West claimed supremacy over the Greek bishops.   This eventually led to further fights about theology and ecclesiology, and a permanent division in Christendom between the Greek East and Latin West.     The Western Crusades of the 11-13th Centuries brought a Latin Christian army into military conflict with Greek civilians and the Byzantine army.   Ultimately the sacking of Constantinople by the army of the 4th Crusade in 1204 was seen by most Greek Orthodox as the permanent divide between Greek and Latin Christians. 

This conflict in Christendom now escalated to open warfare led Christians both East and West to see the others as enemy to their faith.   This division in Christendom continued through the centuries and remained hostile and militaristic especially between the Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholics, and throughout the Balkans where Serbian Orthodox battled Croatian Catholics.  

In the modern world, the Orthodox deprived of the defense of their kings and emperors have often felt neglected and abused by Christians of the West especially as they suffered under first Islamic rule and then later under atheistic communism.

            Modern dialogue between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church leaders has led to a reduction of animosity, at least on paper, as the two sides agreed to withdraw mutual excommunications.   But little has been accomplished, especially among the Orthodox in terms of church union because the Orthodox continue to suspect Roman Catholicism does not seek unity with the Orthodox but rather domination over the Orthodox.

Next:   Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America

Orthodoxy in Relationship to the World

This is the 16th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Liturgical Worship.

Christianity has never existed as the only religion around.  The very birth of the Christian religion put it in relationship both to the Judaism of Palestine and to the Greco-Roman paganism of the Roman Empire.   Christianity’s early experience was that of an unwanted religion which suffered rejection, hostility and persecution.   Christianity labored without the protection of any army or king to advance its cause for the first three hundred plus years of its existence.

            All of that changed in the 4th Century CE when the Roman Emperor Constantine granted toleration to the Christian religion and then championed Christianity as a means to unifying his empire.   The experience of being an oppressed minority did not however lead the Christians to being empathetic with or sympathetic to other religious minorities once the Christians came to power in the 4th Century CE.   Christianity and Orthodox Christianity have had a hostile relationship to Judaism throughout the Christian period.    By modern Western standards, Orthodox liturgical texts, which are quite ancient, are also sometimes anti-Semitic as well as expressing condemnation of heretics and Judas.   In some ways this is strange since Judaism never posed any threat to established Christianity in the Roman Empire or in the modern world.   In another sense, Orthodox hymns took on a very “nationalistic” tone, mirroring the values of the empires in which Orthodoxy ruled.

            Christianity did aggressively work to convert pagans and Greek philosophers to the Faith.   Some of the best early Christian writings are efforts to offer an apology for Christianity to intellectual pagans and philosophers.   This led to and was aided by the Christian embrace of the Greek language and often of Hellenistic concepts and terminology.   Christianity came to see itself as theologically superior to all other forms of religion and philosophy.   The Byzantine Orthodox Empire was a hotbed of religious controversy and debate leading the Orthodox world to produce a sophisticated theology, and to be in constant dialogue with the ideas, religions and nations of the world.

 Beginning in the 7th Century CE, with the rise of Islam, the Orthodox Byzantine Empire found itself facing a new religious and political challenge.  Orthodoxy closely aligning itself with the Byzantine Empire faced in Islam a religious giant which also had its own army and its own political designs on the world.    At first the Orthodox assumed Islam was a revival of one of the old Christian heresies which did not recognize the divinity of Christ.   But as time wore on and the Islamic armies seemed unstoppable in their successes against the Byzantines, the Orthodox developed a more realistic assessment of this new religion.  However, they also suffered in their ability to deal with Islam, because their own mythology made them assume they were the God chosen and God protected empire.   They struggled mightily with a way to understand the success of Islam, and concluded that it was their own sinfulness which had brought the Islamic scourge to their doorsteps.   This thinking often resulted in the Orthodox attempting to become ever more faithful to their own tradition, which was an increased spiral of conservatism and traditionalism (looking to the past for answers) which has been a hallmark of Orthodoxy to this day.    Once the Orthodox found themselves under Islamic domination, they became increasingly ossified in their thinking and ways of doing things in an effort to preserve their customs and traditions in a now totally hostile world.  This in turn led to increased nationalism among the Orthodox peoples, who had always enjoyed a certain degree of localness in their practice and customs.   But the nationalism caused even further divide between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox and among the different ethnic Orthodox churches.    Unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy did not have a church structure with one head of the entire church.   The various patriarchates of ancient Byzantium led to the various nationalistic churches of the modern Orthodox world.

Next:  Orthodoxy in Relationship to Christianity Worldwide

Orthodoxy in the World: Liturgical Worship

This is the 15th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World.   The previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Key Practices (C).

Orthodoxy tends to view the Christian life not as some juridical way to salvation through obedience to law, but rather a way of love through self-denial, in order to re-establish the relationships in the world which were destroyed by human sin.   In Eastern Christian piety Christ is more the victor over death, than the victim of justice.

            The liturgical worship of the church is  essential to all Orthodox Christians, for in this worship we experience community (humanity in relationship to others), the natural life-giving goodness of the created physical world, and the divine love of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.    In this worship we experience ourselves as relational beings, the very way in which we were created by God.   We come face to face with how evil in the world is real –  sin causing separation which is death (physical and spiritual).   In worship we also experience the  victory of Christ over all forms of separation and death.  In worship we realize our soul is not in opposition to our body, but rather for humans we experience the spiritual life through the physical body.    We experience the life-giving sacraments which unite us to God.  We see the Icons, that particularly Orthodox art form in which lines and colors are used to reveal the truth of the incarnation of God and the deification of humanity.   In Orthodoxy salvation is union with God, Theosis.      Union with God  occurs not in some future heaven, nor merely in the human mind, but rather is  both  restoration of the wholeness of the human being (body, soul and spirit) and the transfiguration of this life and the created human.   Salvation itself is not some juridical overcoming of broken laws so that justice is restored, but is rather the transformation of the separated and broken human being into a relational being in love with God and neighbor.

Nativity of Christ

Next:   Orthodoxy in Relationship to the World

Orthodoxy in the World: Key Practices (C)

This is the 14th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World.   The previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Key Practices (B).

In worship we also encounter beauty, which as Orthodox Christian Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, will save the world.   Beauty saves the world because it overcomes humanity’s tendency to rely on its own rationality and reason.  Beauty speaks to humanity of  a different logic which exists in the universe which is quite beyond human understanding.   Everything in creation is not just practical and utilitarian.    Beauty speaks of mystery, and the person who experiences beauty is the person capable of also realizing this non-human, non-rational view of the universe.   Beauty and mystery speak to us of God.

            To help overcome the human reliance on their own intelligence and rationality (in effect to acknowledge the existence of reason and being greater than humanity), scripture (God’s Word) and tradition are given to humanity.  Those who accept these guiding forces in the world constitute the Church.     Tradition thus becomes an important means for humans to escape the trap and limits of their own time and place by offering a “timeless” wisdom and understanding which has come down to us through time but which are not limited by the contemporary or the “now.” 

            For contemporary people whose lives are governed by the newest and latest discovery or idea, and who live by a creed of pragmatism and individualism (in other words, whose lives are totally governed by Enlightenment ideals), it might be hard to understand why anyone would be concerned about any kind of tradition.    One can gain some glimpse of how powerful tradition can be in people’s lives (for good or ill) by watching  the movie, THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, or the Israeli movie, USHPIZIN.  For indeed in Orthodoxy there is a tendency to want to allow tradition to guide all things in the life of the Church.   Tradition can serve as a liberating release from the imprisonment to self and one’s own logic which can be created by extreme individualism and enslaving oneself to contemporary culture.

            In the modern world, the Orthodox  struggle greatly with the ideals of the Enlightenment and its focus on the individual human.   Orthodoxy certainly suspects the over emphasis on individualism in modern Western life leads to further human separation, isolation and alienation, all aspects of the fallen world, and all in opposition to the ideal of love.     Extreme individualism is seen as being related to the death of the human who is by nature a relational being.     Dostoyevsky’s story “The Onion” is an example of an extremely self-centered woman who not wanting others to be saved chooses to stay in hell rather than allow her salvation to also be the salvation of others.  For Orthodoxy, individualism is often seen as the very cause of Eve and Adam’s sin.   Individualism, when combined with the human’s reliance on their own rationality, is seen as the cause of so much of the world’s suffering.   The Orthodox worldview assumes there is a good and right, and also an evil and wrong way of doing things.   Love is what makes the good.  We are created to be relational beings, not isolated individuals.

In the same way that the sin of Adam and Eve affected all of humanity, so too the salvation in Christ is done for all the world.  There is no salvation which is purely individualistic; we are saved in communion with Christ and as part of the world which God so loves and transfigures in Christ.  Salvation does not consist in escaping this world and other people, but in being part of the world which is transfigured by Christ.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World:  Liturgical Worship

Orthodoxy in the World: Key Practices (B)

This is the 13th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World.   The previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Key Practices (A).

The Orthodox tended to focus on love as the highest good, and saw Christ’s teachings as primarily a reaction against the world’s desire for human justice.  The questions presented to Christ,  “Who is my neighbor?” or “how many times do I have to forgive my brother?” or about tithing, are viewed as questions of justice which try to quantify love and thus limit it.   But the Gospel love of Christ is not limited by a human sense of justice –  love even your enemies, give expecting nothing in return, sell all you have and give it away, forgive without constraint if you want to be forgiven, give to those who cannot repay and to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters not to those most important or influential or who will offer handsome rewards.   The emphasis is not on sacrifice in order to suffer like Christ suffered, but rather to sacrifice in order to love others like Christ love us.

            The Orthodox tended to view Eve and Adam’s sin as one of selfish rebellion against God.  The antidote to this rebellion being to find a way to submit your own selfish will to the loving will of God.   Fasting was seen as the corrective for Eve’s own taking of the forbidden fruit in the garden when there was only one rule from God.   Learning to distrust one’s own desires and emotions because they are selfish was to be accomplished by forcing oneself for the sake of love to consider the good of the other first.  This was often advocated through some form of obedience to others –  one’s parents, one’s spouse, one’s priest or bishop or spiritual father or confessor.

            The way to see the world as it was originally intended by God to be –  life-giving and a way to further inter-communion and loving relationships – was offered to the faithful in and through the liturgical and sacramental life.   In worship, at least according to the Orthodox, people best experience the loving life between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  In worship, humans learn again of their unique role between God and the rest of the created order.  For in worship the humans acknowledge that they are in fact not God, and they experience an equality of all humans as they stand in relationship to the Holy Trinity.   In worship, the created and physical world also is restored to its proper life-giving role.   Water becomes life-giving, taking away sin, washing one’s eyes so that they can see again, and cleansing one’s soul so that one can again experience the divine life.    Bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ – a food that is not dead or dying like the meat and cooked vegetables we eat – but now capable of putting us in communion with God and giving us eternal life.   In worship we overcome our self-centered thinking by listening to the word of God in community, realizing that we as people need a common understanding of God’s will in order for us to truly love one another.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World:  Key Practices (C)

Orthodoxy in the World: Key Practices (A)

This is the 13th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World.   The previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Teachings (D).

Orthodoxy like any religious tradition is primarily a way of seeing the world.   The Orthodox Church would claim that it has “the mind of Christ,” meaning it shares the viewpoint of the world held by the incarnate Son of God, the God of love.   To fully enter into the Orthodox tradition is to come to see the world as God sees it.

 The first basic assumption of this view of the world is that the created order and humanity itself are naturally good.  Humans are given by God a free will and can and do make  choices both good and evil.    Humans were not created by God as automatons programmed to do God’s bidding.   Rather, God endowed humans with free choice so that humans could choose to love – God, their fellow human beings, and creation itself.    Love is the ultimate good and virtue in Orthodox thinking.   Love is “normative” for human choice, but humans are free to choose the opposite of love, namely self-love.    The history of humanity is one in which humans obsessed with their own (self-)good, have chosen self-love to their own destruction.   For we humans are primarily relational beings (in relationship to God, fellow humans and the created order), and when we chose self-good at the expense of love, we contribute to the continued downfall of humanity.   Self love is what becomes the seed bed for evil itself.

            Traditionally Orthodoxy saw the human struggle in the world, and the “light” offered to the world through Jesus Christ, as being a struggle against self-love in order to restore proper relationships between God, humanity and rest of creation.    The Torah was given to the Jews to help them learn right relationships.   But the Torah was not able to convert the inner heart of humans, for it remained an external law attempting to impose upon a rebellious humanity the right way of life.    Christ came into the world as love incarnate, to heal and transform humanity from within, since the Law could do little more than reveal how self-centered, rebellious and sinful humanity really is.  As humans we cannot perfect ourselves, but we can humble ourselves and we can repent asking God for mercy and His Spirit to guide us.

The Orthodox way of following Christ is an effort to call humans to self denial in order to return them to beings focused on the love of others.    As such, the monastic way of life emerged the exemplary way to follow Christ through self denial.   Fasting, abstinence, simplicity, purity, self sacrifice and obedience were seen as the common tools for all Orthodox to help overcome our own self centeredness.   Marriage was idealistically viewed  as a martyrdom of self denial in order to live a life of love.  And celibacy was held in even higher regard as the best way to deny the powerful desires of the self.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World:  Key Practices (B)