Thursday, July 26, 2007

Almost Persuaded ...

This is in response to Dr. P.'s invitation to write about another Christian group we admire. Anyone who has read my blog for any length will not be surprised that I am writing about Eastern Orthodoxy. (Anyone taking bets that Dr. P. is writing on Roman Catholicism?)

I'm glad Dr. P. stipulated that we're content where we are. I have trouble picturing myself leaving the Lutheran church. I love the emphasis on God's grace -- Christ -- in word and sacrament. I love the liturgy and the lectionary. Non-sacramental churches give me the willies and strike me as deist or secularized in worldview (more on that some other post). And Lutherans understand culture, not conceiving of the faith as some merely private closeted exercise. Great musicians and great theologians have come from the Lutherans. Probably the most famous modern Lutheran contribution to culture has been through one of our favorite modern sons, Dr. Seuss -- with that approach to life that is fun-loving, not ashamed of joy, not ashamed to be despised as foolish. And there is a longstanding affinity between Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox. The great Lutheran writer Jaroslav Pelikan, feeling that the Lutheran Church was no longer Lutheran but was succumbing to other pressures, was only one in a long line of Lutherans who have exited to the east.

Still, with my feet firmly planted where they are, I definitely admire the Eastern Orthodox. Now is neither the time nor the place to mention why I won't be crossing the Bosphorus, but the time to mention why I admire them:

  • The combination of intellectual rigor and appreciation for mystery. Too often these traits have gone their separate ways in the western churches.
  • The embodied sense of beauty and holiness that pervades both their art and their liturgy. Whatever you might say about the Orthodox, they are not closet Gnostics. (Gnostics were the "physicality doesn't matter and is at best beneath our notice" heresy.)
  • Theology of art and beauty. Part and parcel of the Eastern Orthodox tradition is the willingness to focus the powers of mind and reason anyplace where God's presence makes itself known in the world -- not just in the analytical pursuits of dissecting and classifying God's attributes. This makes Eastern Orthodox theology far less dry than the western strain of scholastic theology. There are entire areas of theology hardly touched in the western churches that are well-developed in the Eastern Orthodox church.
  • The focus on Christ. They do a good job of appreciating God's grace as opposed to man's merits.
  • The church triumphant. To participate in the Divine Liturgy is to sense the company of the faithful who have gone before, to live in memory of the faithful all the way back to the primitive church.
  • Old Testament saints. There are icons of St. Isaiah and St. Jeremiah to go along with St. John the Baptist and St. Nicholas of Myra. The roots of Christianity are remembered to go back far beyond the incarnation and back to God's earliest revelations to humanity that the incarnation was coming, God's earliest revelations that his true identity is God With Us.
  • "Memory Eternal!" They are not ashamed to be different than the culture around them. Isn't that a prerequisite for holiness in an age like this?


D. P. said...

Nice summary! I'm drawn to the East for many of the same reasons you are. As for who I'll be writing about, I guess we'll just have to wait and find out, won't we? ;-)

P.S. an after-thought said...

Your comments about Orthodoxy made me realize how little I know about that part of Christianity. And it made me realize why a good education should include info about various religions without people feeling that they are trying to be converted.

Andreia said...

Deist or secularized, really???????

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Andreia

Another Houstonian (like me)!

I couldn't find your denomination on your profile.

One of these days I may actually write a post on that but -- yeah. If someone finds it unbelievable or unreasonable that God would be truly present in this world through elements he created and where he has pledged himself to work salvation for us, then that's at least halfway down the road to saying God isn't really a presence in our world. So yes, non-sacramental churches give me the willies with a "God removed from this world" who seems nearly deist, and an abandoned world that seems nearly secularized.

It was like Anthony Flew said back when he was still an atheist: "Most of these guys are on my side, they just don't know it."

Or like when Zwingli said (against the sacrament of the altar) that "the finite cannot contain the infinite" -- well, congratulations Zwingli, that assumption disproves the incarnation. Care to take it back? Y'know.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Clay said...

The Bulgarian Orthodox would be happy to have you (this side of the Bosphoros!).

I agree that the Eastern Church is more comfortable with mystery, something I admire because they don't try to boil a transcendent God down into accessible categories. They let God be God.

The beauty that you speak of is readily apparent ("the smells & the bells"): incense, acapella singing, candles, iconography, wide-open space in the sanctuaries, iconostases, crosses, etc.

I think part of the theology can be tied to tradition and to suffering. There is an apprecation of saints and martyrs of old that is not present in all other fellowships.

The emphasis on Resurrection (over and above the Incarnation) is something I also value. Both are important, but if I have to choose to emphasize one over the other, I think the Orthodox have it right!

Just some off-the-cuff thoughts from another who is very happy in his tradition yet admires much of what the Eastern Orthodox Church entails.

Thanks for sharing!