Thank you for coming today, it is an honor being here at such a large gathering dedicated to helping people come to know Christ, and life in His kingdom.
When I was forwarded an email from Diana Collymore asking about a presentation on the Orthodox Church at Urbana, initially it was a joy to consider such an invitation. When I realized she wanted the history of the church, worship and theology in 25 minutes, the feeling turned more into panic. A quick calculation of 2000 years of history suggested I had 30 seconds to cover each 100 year period. I have already lost several decades …
Today, I do not want to give you a lot of facts, and even less try to persuade you that the Orthodox Church has a lot of answers. Instead I want to leave you with what may be new questions and a new perspective; and hopefully begin a new dialogue.
But first, a bit of introduction:
I am Howard Webb, a lay person within the Orthodox Church, a member of All Saints of North America Antiochian Orthodox Church, here in St. Louis. I am not a bishop, not a priest, I do not lead a ministry. What do I have to offer you?
What I think I have is a perspective (age tends to give that). While I have been Orthodox for 27 years, my roots go back into evangelical soil. In the early 70s I was reading InterVarsity books. I am particularly grateful for the writings of Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and later my time at L’Abri; for helping me learn how to ask questions that challenge assumptions.
In 1978 I graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary (here in St. Louis) with an MDiv degree, and spent several years as a chaplain resident at Missouri Baptist Hospital. In struggling with issues of theology, psychology and pastoral care I ended up asking questions about worship and liturgy. To make a long story short, I started looking into the history of worship and fell into the Early Church.
For the past 27 years, my wonderful wife Rhonda (who was a missionary in the Phillipines with Wycliff Translators) and I have been a part of the St Louis (and wider) Orthodox community; we started a mission church and are heavely involved with a community outreach to the homeless. I can tell you which ethnic group makes the best shisk-ka-bobs and one of my sons Gregg (over here) can tell you the intricacies of Byzantine music and about variations of 4th tone plagal chants.
But enough about me. Give me a bit of context about you, and your current impressions of the Orthodox Chruch…
Introduction of Audience – Who are you?
- Who has been to an ethnic festival (Greek, Serbian, Russian, etc.)? Did you take the church tour, or just enjoy the food?
- How many have attended orthodox worship, either a liturgy or vespers, Orthodox Wedding?
- Who saw the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? Ok, you know it all. My church actually has that inflatable wading pool.
- Less humorously, did any of you following the news about the punk band “Pussy Riot” in Moscow this last August?
We have 25 minutes to cover 2000 years of history. Plus worship and theology. A lot of important things will be left out. You can find the facts, I have a blog with links, which you can find from my bio on the Urbana website.
There is an old Russian proverb: “If you dwell on the past, you loose an eye, if you ignore the past you loose both eyes”. The value of the past is not that it has different answers to our questions, but that they asked different questions. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Universe has taught us that how we ask our questions determines the answers we get. 42.
The history of the Church, at least the Western view I learned in school, was basically that after the death and resurrection of Christ, the Church was started at Pentecost. After some persecution and struggle, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 312, and things went down-hill from there, until the Reformation; and here we are today. I am going to give you a kaleidoscopic glimpse of some history that I did not get in college or seminary. Like a kaleidoscopic, it is going to seem like some random bits and pieces, but I hope that as I talk they fall into a pattern that will get you asking new questions.
Worship: We have it, and we are in the bells-and-smells category. To discuss worship, we must first ask the question:”Why do we worship?” We share this question, and we both have our roots in the Old Testament, with the sacrifice of Able, Moses and the tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem; and we end up with St. John’s vision of divine worship in the Book of Revelation. But how we frame this question “why do we worship” will change how we connect the dots from these texts to what we do today.
As for theology: for over 1000 years there was only one Church, and we still share much in common: Nicean Creed – belief in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the Incarnation, …. While these beliefs have been gifted to you by the Early Church, I see two main differences between the Orthodox of the East, and those of the West (whether Evangelical, Catholic or Protestant). First: the East has a different way of doing theology; and second, our major paradigms are different, we ask a different category of questions.
A note about words: I will use “Orthodox Church” and “Eastern Church” as interchangeable, inclusive terms of the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox and others, and to some degree the Egyptian and Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox. This is a contrast of East to West, or Greek to Latin. In speaking of the West, I am inclusive of both Catholics and Protestant/Evangelicals. I may refer to the Early Church or Early Church Fathers as being Orthodox, but htey are an early history which we both share.
Lets get started