Thursday, June 3, 2010
We Have Found the True Faith
This past Sunday, a dear friend of mine was chrismated, that is received into the Orthodox Church. His journey to Orthodoxy has been a deliberate and thorough examination of the differences between the Orthodox faith and Catholicism, which is the tradition he grew up in.
Often, those not actively participating any organized form of Christianity are put off by the divisions within the different Christian denominations. Two issues seem to come up repeatedly:
- Isn't it the same God that is worshipped by all Christians? Why all these different denominations? Isn't one church as good as the other?
- Why it is necessary to participate in organized religion at all? Doesn't everyone have their own personal relationship with God? What do you need the church for? Why isn't praying at home by myself enough?
These are good questions and really go to the heart of what it means to become a member of any particular church. Why was it necessary for Ryan to leave the Catholic Church in which he was brought up and become an 'Orthodox' Christian? Why did I find very little that to me seemed real or appealing as I grew up attending, once in a while, the Lutheran Church, and yet found something very compelling in the Orthodox Church? Ryan has a cute (sorry, Ryan) allegory on his blog My Odyssey: A Journey East about why he felt he needed to attend the Orthod Church. Basically, the crux is that John Lennon is great but he is even more amazing within the context of The Beatles. He speaks of the fullness of faith that has been retained in the Orthodox Church. It is this same fullness that I experienced when I first started attending Orthodox Liturgy. It is fullness both of theology and of worship. Another friend-another Ryan-tells a similar story but from an evangelical perspective on his blog Gradually Brightened.
As part of each Sunday's Liturgy we sing, "we have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith." As Father Stephen emphasizes in his blog post We Have Seen, that "Dogma is not an argument over ideas, but a statement that guards the Apostolic witness (which is living and true)." We sing these words with joy, gratitude and humility instead of as fighting words to be hurled like spears at Christians of other denominations. At each vesper service we also sing: "Preserve, oh God, the Holy Orthodox Faith of Orthodox Christian unto the ages of ages." Having this as part of the service seems to me infinitely wise. It is the recognition by the Church Fathers that even though the Church is established by Christ and handed down to us from the apostles through our bishops in direct succession, it still exists within the fallen world and is threatened by the same corruption as everything else. So we pray each night for God to preserve this treasure that is the Liturgy and the sacraments-the outward manifestations of the True Faith that was revealed over 2000 years ago.
Secondly, the church was established to guide us on how to create a "right" relationships with God and with each other. Therefore it is extremely important what each church's teachings are on these issues. As members of a Christian church we become ambassadors of God' Kingdom for others. How each church defines the goal of our lives has huge implications on our day-to-day life. According to the Orthodox Church, it is not the goal of our lives to become "good people" in worldly terms. Neither is it to save the world (Christ already did that). The goal is to turn towards God, to have a change of heart, to become holy, to become Christ-like. And until this happens all the social programs we develop, all social utopias we conceive are temporary, of this world. (And can easily be destroyed by a small group of hell-bent individuals). This is of course not an excuse for individuals to ignore what happens in the world around them. (Here I am going to use the old grad student cop-out: "but that is beyond the scope of this blog post". But, naturally Father Stephen has interesting things to say).
The second question regarding the need for organized religion gets a little bit more complicated, I think, because the answer would have to be Yes and No. Some lucky individuals, I guess, feel God's presence so strongly all the time that they need no help. But I believe those people are few and far between. Even the saints often went through years, even decades, when they felt abandoned by the Holy Spirit. It is the teachings of the Church Fathers, the Tradition of the Church and the community of saints that help us over these dry spells. And when you feel too weak even to pray, you can be sure that there are others who are praying on your behalf. So, even if some lucky individuals truly do not need the Church (which I in fact doubt) there are a multitude of others who not only need the Church but they also need others to participate in that same church. It was for ALL that the Church was established.
It is this Church that makes the eucharistic sacrifice (communion) each Sunday "on behalf of all and for all", that Ryan was received into. I was delighted and honored but also humbled to become Ryan's godmother at his Chrismation. But, as a godparent, especially to an adult, what can I bring to the table? His journey to the Orthodox Church was a lot more thorough and deliberate than mine was. I am also not a church historian or a theologian. (Luckily his godfather, Stephen, more than makes up for my ignorance in this area). What do I have that I can impart of this treasure that is Orthodoxy? The only things I can think of is sharing my relatively extensive collection of Orthodx literature and bringing baked goods when appropriate. But most importantly, perhaps, I can share the joy that I feel about what I know about our God, our faith and our church.