Dear Parish Faithful,
One of our newest members, Brian Jonson (chrismated this last July 25), just sent this to me. I found it quite 'on the mark' for who we are as Orthodox, and how it describes the Orthodox ethos. And it so nicely captures our invitation to others: "Come and see." So, with Brian's permission, I am sharing it with the entire parish. I hope it actually speaks to your own experience of the Church. Altogether, a very fine reflection on the first major Feast Day of the Church Year.
In the years I spent searching and learning about our ancient faith, I often dealt with the question "...but what do the Orthodox believe about...?" to be completed with any number of dogmatic issues. These questions didn't just come from protestant friends and family, they also came from me. In my previous mindset, "what" I believed was of primary importance. This is why I have multiple systematic theology books. I always had a need to turn to a book to understand my theology of God, prayer, ecclesiology, soteriology, and the rest. It was the typical rational, western mindset. My favorite Bible teacher had a slogan: "Unleashing God's Word, One Verse at a Time." He convinced me the entire canon was perspicacious. It was meant to be understood fully by all Christians. (And, of course, his interpretation was different from many of his protestant brethren). I had settled on the "reformed" protestant tradition and held that for more than two decades.
I confess that I would get frustrated when Orthodox Christians would suggest that I "come and see" a Divine Liturgy or other worship service as an answer to my questions. It seemed an excuse. Come and see? How on earth could my attendance at an Orthodox service answer theological questions? I need to see the church doctrinal statement. Where are their systematic theologies? The Nicene Creed? Too broad.
After several years of coming, and seeing, I finally get it.
What do the Orthodox believe about God? There is one God in Three Persons; it is constantly affirmed in all services.
What do the Orthodox believe about prayer? Listen to the many litanies in our services. Read the prayers in a prayer book. There is no question as to the role meaningful prayer has for the Orthodox.
What do the Orthodox believe about sin? Attend the services at the beginning of Great Lent; listen to the Canon of St. Andrew. Pay attention during Great Vespers; see what the Church says about repentance and Christ's victory over sin.
What do the Orthodox believe about music? Nearly 85% of the services seem to be chanted. The priority of the human voice, God's perfect instrument, is clear. The music is never about any individual talent but rather the corporate expression of worship in Spirit and in Truth.
What do the Orthodox believe about the Scriptures? They are revered, the Gospel book encased in gold. The faithful venerate the inspired words of God and it seems a large percentage of prayers are straight from the book of Psalms.
What do the Orthodox believe about the material world? Look at our prayers for seasonable weather; see what many saints say about God's creation and creatures; Read the Akathist "Glory To God for All Things"; smell the incense, hear the bells, see the beauty of an Orthodox house of worship filled with icons.
What do the Orthodox believe about our role in society? Notice the prayers for our president, civil authorities and armed forces.
What do the Orthodox believe about the Eucharist? It is the central feature of every Divine Liturgy.
What do the Orthodox believe about those who have reposed? We pray for them; we ask them to intercede for us; we long for the day we can be reunited. The church militant is encouraged and helped by the church triumphant.
If a person truly wants to understand the ancient, true Christian faith, they simply need to "come and see"! All we believe and hold true is on display.