the orthodox church

October 1, 2005 | 1 Comment

The Orthodox ChurchIt has been interesting to read through The Orthodox Church, by Timothy Ware. In the west, we tend to think Christianity is defined as Catholic or Protestant, and yet their is a whole other stream of Christianity that we usually overlook. Though it has developed traditions of its own, the Orthodox church still contains many aspects of how Christianity looked prior to the more formal organization of Catholic church in Rome. In reading this book, which is little more than an introduction, I found a number of things about the practice and theology of the orthodox church intriguing. Though I’m not ready to declare myself orthodox, here is a sample of some orthodox perspectives I found worth mulling over:

  • God, although absolutely transcendant, is not cut off from the world which He has made. God is above and outside His creation, yet he also exists within it. As a much used Orthodox prayer puts it, God is ‘everywhere present and filling all things’. Orthodoxy therefore distinguishes between God’s essence and His energies, thus safeguarding both divine transcendence and divine immanence: God’s essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. (209)
  • Several eastern writers, looking at the Incarnation…have argued that even if humans had never fallen, God in His love for humanity would still have become human: the Incarnation must be seen as part of the eternal purpose of God, and not simply as an answer to the fall. (225)
  • Redeemed humankind is not to be snatched away from the rest of creation, but creation is to be saved and glorified along with us humans … This idea of cosmic redemption is based … upon a right understanding of the Incarnation: Christ took flesh — something from the material order — and so has made possible the redemption and metamorphosis of all creation — not merely the immaterial, but the physical. This sense of intrinsic sacredness of the earth — created good by God, corrupted through the fall, but redeemed with us in Christ — has caused leading Orthodox in recent years to feel an increasing concern about the pollution of the environment. (235)
  • However great the prerogatives of the bishop may be, he is not someone set up over the church, but the holder of an office in the Church. Bishop and people are joined in an organic unity, and neither can properly be thought of apart from the other. (250)
  • There is in Orthodox worship a flexibility, an unself-conscious informality, not found among western congregations, at any rate north of the Alps. Western worshippers, ranged in their neat rows, all in their proper places, cannot move about during the service without causing a disturbance; a western congregation generally is expected to arrive at the beginning and to stay to the end. But in Orthodox worship people can come and go far more freely, and nobody is greatly surprised if they move during the service. The same informality and freedom also characterizes the behaviour of the clergy: ceremonial movements are not so minutely prescribed as in the west, priestly gestures are less stylized and more natural. This informality, while it can lead at times to irreverance, is in the end a precious quality which Orthodox would be most sorry to lose. They are at home in their church — not troops on a parade ground, but children in their Father’s house. Orthodox worship is often termed ‘otherworldly’, but could be more truly defined as ‘homely’: it is a family affair. Yet behind this homeliness and informality there lies a deep sense of mystery. (269)
  • The icons which fill the church serve as a point of meeting between heaven and earth. As each local congregations prays Sunday by Sunday, surrounded by the figures of Christ, the angels, and the saints, these visible images remind the faithful unceasingly of the invisible presence of the whole company of heaven at the Liturgy. The faithful can feel that the walls of the church open out upon eternity, and they are helped to realize that their Liturgy on earth is one and the same with the great Liturgy of heaven. The multitudinous icons express visibly the sense of ‘heaven on earth’. (270)


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