When people tell me they are interested in the Orthodox Church, or Orthodox Theology, I often cringe in reaction (hopefully not obviously so). I expect something like the ‘Seinfeld’ sketch where George thinks of becoming Latvian Orthodox to appease his current girl friend’s parents. When asked about what he like of the church, he replies ‘the hats’.
There are many interesting aspects to Orthodoxy that attract people, but I believe there is only one ultimate reason anyone should seriously investigate it – and that is to seek a deeper, personal and corporate relationship with Jesus. Anything else (festivals, culture, worship, music or hats) is secondary.
What the Orthodox Church offers is a deep and rich tradition of knowing God; a historical community of people (saints) who have intimately known the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in their lives, and have left detailed descriptions of what this is like and what is required to attain it. This is not just a written history, but also a living history of people who are reliable guides into the Kingdom. And these saints are a part of a Church that offers the instruction (worship) and support (sacraments) needed to equip people for the journey.
There are times when I think the Orthodox Church should come with three warning labels posted on the door. First, the spiritual journey is inherently difficult. In the words of Detreich Bonhoffer, the calling of God is a call to die; if not in literal martyrdom, then at least to die to oneself. Like going to battle, or building a tower, the cost should be understood before beginning. The second warning should be for the unnecessary barriers that many Orthodox puts in place, especially in the American culture. Many of the traditions that are dear to the hearts of some ethnic Orthodox are not necessary and make it difficult for non-Orthodox to see beyond the ethnicity and Byzantine practices to the real core of faith. The third warning should be for the Church itself, sometimes the dangers within the doors of the Church are worse than those outside. It must be remembered that almost every major historical heresy came from an Orthodox bishop. This should not be a surprise, as Paul in his epistles gives many warnings about the problems within the Church. In a paradoxical way, this is actually a strength; as nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and these internal issues are just another way to learn to love those we disagree with or may even consider as our ‘enemies’. With some basic training, and a compass of love, this is just a part of the journey.
If you want to enjoy the hats, come to a festival for a day. If you are looking for the sure path of salvation, then Orthodoxy offers the best food, equipment and guides for the journey to Christ.