Orthodoxy: A Global Perspective
Heraclitus wrote that the only constant in the world is change. As a military spouse, I have been reminded of this several times when my husband and I have received new orders — necessitating three moves in the last five years.
With each move, I have acquired a bit of a routine, discovering some basic necessities to make myself comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. I do my best to find a coffee shop I like. A pizza place. A running route from my new home. The Orthodox Church in town.
When we moved to Singapore in 2013, I was suspicious of my chances with each of these prospects. Singapore isn’t exactly a hotbed for New York-style pizza – or any pizza for that matter. I had to adjust my caffeine tastes to what the locals call kopi – a sweetened coffee (if we’re being generous with the term) often served in plastic bags with straws rather than a mug. I felt a Greek church was an unrealistic expectation.
Singapore is a tiny city-state at the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula, home to about 5.5 million people. It is comprised mainly of citizens of Chinese, Malay, and Indian ethnic background. Driving around the island, there are obvious signs of the Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu faiths as well as many churches with crosses dotted about, but I didn’t see anything that looked Byzantine. I seriously doubted the likelihood of finding a Greek Orthodox Church.
So imagine my surprise to discover the tiny yet vibrant Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church. (Interestingly, the oldest church in the country is the Armenian Orthodox Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, built in 1835. While it does not have a permanent priest, the small community does occasionally celebrate liturgy, or Badarak, and the church has been able to protect its highly desirable property).
Holy Resurrection is the seat of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Singapore and Southeast Asia, though its small quarters are more akin to a village parish than the grand cathedrals of other metropolitanates. What it lacks in size, however, the church makes up for in its joyful worship and diversity. Perhaps it was this very church that Saint Luke had in mind when he wrote of the power of that mustard seed-sized faith. The small community is led by His Eminence Konstantinos, and is home to Orthodox from over a dozen countries. Indeed, while the liturgy is predominantly celebrated in English, the Lord’s Prayer is recited in not only Greek, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien (the Chinese dialect most predominant in Singapore) but also Georgian, Romanian, Finnish, Malay, and Bahasa Indonesian.
Curious to learn how a Chinese Singaporean finds his or her way to Orthodoxy, I went out to lunch with some friends after church one day. Over a table of fragrant chicken rice, savory char siew (sliced pork), and calamansi lime juice, I heard one local family’s story of their journey to Orthodoxy. Being born into the faith myself, I am always fascinated to hear the stories of my brothers and sisters who found the faith later in life. I was interested to see how a Singaporean’s path differed from an American’s path.
Honestly, not too much.
Indeed, Reader John and Julie’s story was a familiar one to me. Already members of another Christian church, they, along with their daughter, had become frustrated with the situation in their church, feeling that it was being guided by #what’strending rather than religious doctrine and theology. As they delved further into the history of Christianity, trying to find the true roots of the faith, they found Orthodoxy.
It is sometimes easy to focus too much on the cultural influences in our church community. Yes, my times in Greek School and Greek Dance Lessons are some of my fondest childhood memories, and they play an important role in our churches. But it is also important to acknowledge that it is faith, not ethnic culture, which binds us in Christ. Like the icons of some of our most glorious churches, Orthodoxy is a mosaic of its people, from all over the world, from all different walks to Christ Jesus.
While Heraclitus may have been in touch with the realities of military life, it’s clear our philosopher friend preceded Orthodoxy. Had he not, he would have perhaps found the same constant I have in the Church.
**The oldest church in Singapore is the Armenian Orthodox Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, pictured above, built in 1835. While it does not have a permanent priest, the small community does occasionally celebrate liturgy, or Badarak, and the church has been able to protect its highly desirable property.
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