Orthodoxy and Relevance

Christians have long talked about life as a journey, whether as runners or pilgrims or travelers or something else. Journeys tend to involve forks in the road, decisions to make, and obstacles to overcome. Sometimes, the decisions of this journey are between light and darkness, holiness and sin, redemption and backsliding. In these instances, the follower of Christ is called to choose the path of faithfulness. Other times, however, the decisions we make along the way do not seem to be inherently good or bad—it’s not immediately clear whether one path is better than the other.

Such an image of journey has been on my mind lately as I’ve wrestled with what seems to be an increasingly common trope for contemporary Christians: the ongoing debate between orthodoxy and relevance.

Per Merriam-Webster, orthodoxy means “right belief, sound doctrine” and relevance means “the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.” Based on those definitions, you wouldn’t expect contemporary Christians to believe that orthodoxy and relevance are at odds with one another. But if you talk to many Christians, you’d be wrong. Let me explain. Continue reading

A Brief History of Communion: Medieval Christianity

This post is part of an ongoing series on the history of communion.

The Medieval Church

During the medieval period, the Church began to use a common liturgy for Eucharistic celebration, with prescribed texts and traditions for services and practice. Some differences emerged between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, differences which were formalized following the Great Schism of 1054 CE.1 In the Roman West, the liturgy increasingly occurred in Latin, even in non-Latin speaking areas which were evangelized. In the Byzantine East, Greek liturgies were the most common, although in many locations liturgy continued to be held in vernacular languages. Continue reading

SSP: Vetus Latina

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

063During the course of the Middle Ages two groups of Latin Bibles circulated in the Western world, the Vetus Latina and Vulgate versions. The Vetus Latina (“old Latin”) is a family of locally made Latin translations of both the Old and New Testaments.[1] Two major strands of the Vetus Latina arose almost simultaneously between 150 and 200 CE, one in Roman Africa and another in Europe.[2] In addition to these “original” Old Latin translations, there may have been a fourth-century Italian revision of the Vetus Latina prior to Jerome’s cooption and revision of the text.[3] Continue reading

The Scriptures of Saint Patrick: The Medieval Scriptural World

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

BibleTwo factors shaped the used and form of Patrick’s scriptural context, namely, the “lack of early medieval pandects (single-volume Bibles) and the fundamentally liturgical quality of early medieval biblical books….”[1] There is no doubt that the Bible’s liturgical use underscored its importance during the early medieval period. In the words of Susan Boynton, “The Bible permeated the medieval Latin liturgy: biblical narratives and themes lay behind the fundamental structures of the liturgical year, and scriptural texts were ubiquitous in the form of chants and readings.”[2] In short, the Bible and its message of the Lord Jesus prominently occupied the medieval Christian worldview through liturgical structures, be they liturgical readings, hymnody, the liturgical calendar, biblical interpretation, or communal feast days. Continue reading

Book Review: Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)

Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)There are few times in history so important and yet so obscure as the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, when the movement bearing his name transformed from a band of several dozen followers hiding in terror into an international community that would shape the subsequent history of the world. Despite the paucity of evidence from this period, historians and theologians alike continually return to the earliest years of the Jesus Movement, attempting to ascertain precisely who was doing what and how they were doing it. To help bring clarity to the all important aspect of Christian worship from this period comes Andrew B. McGowan’s masterful Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014). Continue reading

PRV2: Other Issues

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Protestant Reactions to Vatican II.

VT@While we cannot consider every facet of the Second Vatican Council that Protestant scholars have engaged, there are three remaining issues worthy of briefly considering here: reactions to Vatican II’s position on the Priesthood, the Liturgy, and Religious Freedom. It is important to note with Martin Marty that during Vatican II very little was actually said concerning contemporary concerns such as female ordination and clerical celibacy, and thus many Protestant and Catholic differences on these issues are not directly the result of Vatican II.[1] The council did weigh in on several matters pertaining to priests however. In the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, the council affirmed that celibacy was to be “embraced and esteemed as a gift” among priests. Additionally, priests were called to avoid greediness, to develop their spiritual lives, to engage the sacred scriptures and Church Fathers, to remain aware of current events, and to take vacation every year.[2] Such praxis-oriented concerns, combined with calls for lay participation in the ministry of the church, suggest a commitment to collegiality of all levels of church hierarchy.[3] This collegial view of the church includes the leveling of authority within the official hierarchy, though maintaining the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, including the restoration of the historical office of deacon.[4] However, significant differences continue to exist between Protestant conceptions of the priesthood of all believers and the Roman conception of a celibate clergy. Continue reading

Church Search: Greek Orthodox Church

This post is part of our ongoing Church Search. For more information on our search and the churches we have visited already, please click here. During the “First Exposure” phase of our search, we are visiting different churches to gain a basic understanding of their doctrines and practices. Following these visits, we will post some of the basic doctrinal and practical considerations of the church we visited, as well as some thoughts on our experiences.

Basic History

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Long Beach

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Long Beach

Much like our previous post on the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church claims a history as long as the history of the Christian Church itself. Thus, we again note that this brief summary of Church History is something of an injustice. The Orthodox Church has long claimed and studied the earliest writings of the Christian faith, most often termed the “Church Fathers.” Of great importance in the earlier Church were the Seven Great Ecumenical Councils (from the fourth through eighth centuries), all of which took place in the Eastern Roman Empire. The growing divide between Eastern and Western Empire played a role in dividing the Byzantine bishops from the West, as did Western claims to papal supremacy (more on that below), the filioque clause, and the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 CE. The Orthodox Church remained the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire (often called the Byzantine Empire) until the Fall of Constantinople until its fall in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks. Orthodoxy remained alive and well, however, in eastern Europe, especially in Moscow, where Russian Orthodoxy remained a strong presence until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. However, Orthodoxy remained throughout Greece and much of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and with the fall of the USSR has continued to grow abroad. There are between 225 and 300 million Orthodox today belonging to 14 autocephelous (administered separately but in communion with each other) churches around the world.

Doctrinal Considerations

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Winston-Salem

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Winston-Salem

Orthodox Christians practice what they understand to be the faith handed down from the Apostles, which “has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”, though not without unaltering development of doctrine and cooperation with local traditions compatible with the faith. Of central importance for Eastern Orthodox faith is the Holy Trinity,  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, three-persons, co-eternal, and whom Christians are brought into union. Additionally, of great importance are the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (as originally written, that is, without the filioque clause), the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Holy Scriptures (Septuagint and New Testament), the writings of the Church Fathers, and the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion (which is believed to be the real presence of Christ, but often differentiated from Roman Catholic transubstantiation, and is in reality closer to the Lutheran teaching on consubstantiation, though not expressed in those exact terms). Perhaps the first thing that one notices upon entering an Orthodox Church is their use of icons, pictorial representations of Biblical scenes, the history of the Church, and the lives of the Saints. Orthodox also affirm that church leadership should include bishops, and though they affirm that the bishop of Rome (the Pope) should be viewed as “first among equals,” they do not affirm his premiership and infallibility. Since Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches are not currently in communion (which may change by 2025), the Orthodox look to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (currently Bartholomew) as the head of Orthodox conciliar leadership.

Local Church Experience

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Interior

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Interior

This past Sunday we visited The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Winston-Salem, which is an absolutely beautiful house of worship. Some might find icons distracting, but we found them to increase our sense of awe and assist greatly in approaching God in worship. If the first thing one noticed upon entering were the icons (and the iconostasis), the second was the language being spoken. Or rather, the languages  being spoken, namely Greek and English. Even as someone trained in Koine Greek, it took some time for me to adjust to the service (and poor Hayley was lost much of the time). We followed the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, as well as a separate memorial liturgy for a member of the congregation who had passed away. Apart from the repetition of these liturgies (we often would say something in Greek and then again in English, the scripture readings, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer, for example), the most notable thing was the lack of a sermon as part of the liturgy, with a homily only coming at the end of the service. One thing I wasn’t entirely satisfied with was the level of congregational involvement in the service, as all the music was sung by the choirs/priests, and there were not even many opportunities for liturgical responses from the actual laos (people). Of final note were (again, like our visit to the Catholic Church) the number of children, teens, and young families present, which was very encouraging. Overall, despite the new-ness of this church experience, we greatly enjoyed our visit to the Greek Orthodox Church and look forward to returning.

This visit marks the scheduled end of the “First Phase” of this church search. Over the next few weeks we will be beginning the “Second Phase,” and we invite you to follow along with us. Thanks for reading!