The future of the ancient Christian Church depends on three things. First, that people experience the mystery of a sacramental life in Christ—that they go to church and feel the peace of the Lord that replaces an unsettled heart. Next, the future of the Church requires that Christians understand, with their minds and hearts, the basics of the Faith. Recently after Liturgy, I shared coffee with a woman in her nineties whom many call “Baba”. She is Macedonian, and her family immigrated to America in the forties. There wasn’t an Orthodox church nearby their home in America, and, for the few that existed here at that time, Liturgy was in Greek or Slavonic. Because of this, Baba’s mother encouraged her and her siblings to go to Methodist and Catholic churches with friends. While at a Methodist church (the Catholic churches were in Latin), she learned the Beatitudes, which are also present in Orthodox Liturgy, though she hadn’t known this at the time. When she became an adult and attended Liturgy in English, she was amazed at the rich Scripture throughout the divine services of the ancient faith. Baba sought to belong to an American Orthodox parish and even helped found the parish we both attend today.
As she spoke with me, she explained the importance to her and the other church founders of having services in English. When I became interested in the ancient faith in America and visited our English-speaking parish, I was able to understand the words prayed and realize how much of Scripture is written into the various services of the Church. Hearing Scripture comforted me. Attending Liturgy in English contrasted to the experiences I had had attending services I couldn’t understand when I had visited Greek and Russian parishes. At these places, it had seemed hard enough to adjust to the icons and liturgical style (chanting, repetition, and priest-parishioner call and response), and the added veil of a foreign language seemed to close me out. In fact, these differences were not closing me out—though to attend to the Lord through them made me feel that I would need to change in impossible ways (like becoming Russian—or Greek).
Ancient faith in America should be in English because understanding the language and delivering the Liturgy with strong, harmonious voices powerfully shares the Faith. However, God can be discerned even when the language is foreign and the words are not understood. God speaks to one’s heart and stirs amazing feelings by His Spirit of Truth through the Church music, which is deep, layered harmony and beyond language. For example, when I was a young woman studying abroad in Russia and first heard the Church music, it was in Slavonic, and I felt glorious holiness seep through my body like wine. It isn’t a matter of a perfect choir, but the reality of God with us that convinces my heart to stay in the ancient faith. He is present when the choir is weak. A weaker expression still shares the light, if one wills to see it. I have experienced the presence of God in services where the language is in common but the choir members are few. Nonetheless, where two or more are gathered, God is present. His presence is a holy mystery and speaks to each one’s body and spirit in ways one cannot fathom.
One’s response to God as He is, rather than how one expects Him to be, is the sticking point that enables or disables the future of the Church. When one understands the words of the services, one can better appreciate the continuity between Judaism and Christianity by the reading of the Scriptures. For the Jews, the Law of God was their sacrifice and salvation. The Jews expected a messianic king of glory. Christ unexpectedly fulfilled Jewish prophesies when in meekness and humility He became the sacrifice and salvation for all. The world is always surprised by God’s ways. Even those whom He set apart as His people, the Jews, have the choice to accept or reject Christ.
For 300 years after the time of Christ, the Church existed without a written compilation of Scripture. The Law of God, or the Torah, which remains the sacred text in Judaism, was practiced in an oral manner. The oral tradition practiced in the Jewish synagogue continues on in the new Christian Church. Christians believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, and councils of Orthodox Christians throughout the ages have gathered to protect the continuity of God’s Wisdom to His people. Orthodox Christians understand that God’s communication with all people is not limited to the Bible—or to an ethnic group, or even to a particular religion—rather, when one seeks God in spirit and truth and aims to see Him for Who He is, His revelations to us are dynamic. The importance of the Holy Tradition of the Church is in its fulfillment of the Jewish law with the Law of Love, Who is Christ and His Body, the Church. Though this sounds symbolic, it is an actual reality that occurs by the physical and spiritual body of humankind.
Finally, the future of the Church depends on people accepting the cost of growing ever more counter-cultural as they follow Christ. Choosing God takes courage and steadfastness. Peace is realized in hope that no matter what, God is real, He is present, and He loves completely. This life is only the beginning of a divine plan. This life is riddled with suffering: illness, death, accidents, and divorce, but the warmth of God is possible even in the worst of circumstances and is found in a relationship with Christ through prayer that inspires love. Religion may seem based on ideas, but the embodied experience of living faith is dynamic and changes one for the better, starting in the deep and tender recesses of one’s heart. Others notice peace and goodness enacted by one’s life. The cycle of salvation working within a person lights others’ hearts to desire God.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+