my Orthodox experience

Okay, as promised, here’s a few observations from my experience with the Orthodox Church.

Centrality of communion

The ”Mystery” of holy communion forms the basis for everything Orthodox Christians do in their life of worship together. They believe the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ in communion. "How" is the mystery. To say they take the Eucharist seriously is a huge understatement. This was clearly evident in the service I attended. The whole service builds towards partaking in the communion elements. Prayers, readings, songs, and actions of the priest are all geared towards this communal event with the divine. And the Orthodox view of the literal body and blood of Jesus in communion makes it a physical experience in addition to the spiritual reflection us evangelicals are accustomed to. At the gathering I attended, it was communicated how the nourishment of communion brings strength to our weary bodies, literally. I think mystery is often a missing category for evangelicals and oftentimes our emphasis on the symbolic nature of communion neglects the this-worldly implications of faith in Jesus. And as a worship leader and pastor, I realize communion shouldn’t simply be “tacked on” to the end of worship service if what we profess in the event is actually what we believe.

Worship style

I’m sure my Orthodox friends won’t like me referring to their particular “worship style.” It’s that type of language that drives many away from Evangelicalism towards the Orthodox tradition. Yet it is a specific style, let’s be honest. It’s just a style that hasn’t changed much...for almost two thousand. Attending their liturgy gathering, my observation is that instead of attempting cultural relevance the Orthodox concern themselves with historical relevance - consistency with how Orthodox Christians have worshipped throughout the centuries. And I’ll admit, this is a big stumbling block for me. Thankfully they do everything in English, so there is some willingness to adjust culturally. Yet the incense, chanting, icons, and other Orthodox worship practices don’t transcend cultures easily. I found it hard to connect. But for them, that’s okay, perhaps even the point of staying the same. I heard someone comment that you don’t adjust Orthodoxy to suit the tastes of culture - you adjust your tastes to the Orthodox tradition. And so I wrestle with this one. I prefer singing over chanting and the incense made my eyes water :-). Yet at the same time, for us “relevant” Evangelicals, I think there’s a lesson here somewhere... a point

I really appreciated the open and inviting atmosphere at the Orthodox gathering. The people were very welcoming, even though we were outsiders. Father Lawrence took time to personally greet us beforehand and give us a brief introduction to what we were about to experience. His warmness helped ease any anxiety in the strange surroundings. We were also invited to stay for a potluck gathering afterward. Even observing the regular participants, I sensed a strong connection with one another throughout the evening. And seeing the little kids free to participate in their own way was great (one even attempted to bring some “rhythm” to the hymns). The absence of pews also creates an informal (yet highly intentional I think) connection with one another and with God. I did struggle with not being allowed to take communion. I felt left out. Yet I also understand why (it’s like a family meal that only Orthodox “family members” partake in). I’m still working on what I think about this one.

Anyway, those are few quick observations after attending one Orthodox Lent liturgy. Much to learn, I know. I’ll be honest, though, I don’t see myself converting to the Orthodox Church (no offense to anyone:-). I do, however, hope my continued interaction/experience with Orthodox friends and ideas will deepen my own faith and how I practice it in my Mennonite Brethren tradition.


Kim Anderson said...

keep up this great work Dave. I love reading your site.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks Kim! Glad you enjoy it.

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