Friday, August 24, 2007

Evangelicals and Orthodoxy

I was startled to see this article in The New Republic - JMC

Evangelicals Turn Toward... the Orthodox Church?

The Iconoclasts

by Jason Zengerle

When Wilbur Ellsworth ministered at First Baptist, a typical Sunday service--held inside the church's immense but unadorned white-walled, burgundy-carpeted sanctuary--went something like this: Wearing a suit and tie, Ellsworth would stand at a pulpit and preach. Aside from occasionally rising in prayer and joining the church choir and orchestra in some traditional Protestant hymns, the congregants would largely refrain from any activity during the one-hour-and-15-minute service--except for once a month, when they would receive communion.

The service Ellsworth now leads at Holy Transfiguration, by contrast, has an entirely different feel. Wearing his priestly vestments and standing inside the church's small sanctuary--which boasts yellow walls covered with hundreds of tiny iconic pictures of saints and Oriental rugs on the floor--Ellsworth conducts much of the service from behind the iconostasis (or icon wall) where he is out of view of the congregation. The congregants stand for most of the two-hour service, constantly prostrating and crossing themselves, and the only music is rhythmic Byzantine chanting. At the end of the service, they file up to the front of the sanctuary--as they do every Sunday--and take communion. It's easy to see how, for someone reared in an evangelical church, the Orthodox Church might seem like something not just from another culture, but another world.

And yet it is precisely that otherworldliness that is part of what is attracting a growing number of evangelicals to the Orthodox Church. Since the late nineteenth century, when fundamentalism emerged as a response to the increasing cosmopolitanism of mainline Protestant denominations, evangelicalism has been an anti-modern movement. But, at the same time, with its belief in the importance of saving lost souls, evangelicalism hasn't been able to completely divorce itself from modern culture--and, in the latter half of the twentieth century, it began to increasingly try to employ or co-opt aspects of the modern world in its efforts to lure "seekers" and others to the faith. As Ellsworth explains, one of the principal attractions of the Orthodox Church for him is its solidity--and lack of interest in integrating modern life. "There is, in the Orthodox Church, an enormous conservatism," he marvels. "There is not going to be a radical change in the worship life of the church next week."

Read it all on The New Republic website here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

God's Law: Threat or Promise?

by Fr John Breck, August 2007

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God!" (Rom 15:7)

When he wrote his various letters to churches around the Mediterranean and throughout Asia Minor, the apostle Paul used a literary convention widespread in the Hellenistic world. He began with a personal identification and blessing, followed by a word of thanksgiving for all that God had accomplished through his ministry in the life of that particular community. Then he moved on to the body of the letter, combining proclamation of the Gospel with practical teachings. This was followed toward the end by a series of exhortations: directives indicating practical, concrete ways his teachings should be put into effect within the church. Finally, he concluded with greetings to members of the community and a final benediction.

We find a good example of the apostle's exhortations in the brief passage, Romans 15:1-7. Based on the Gospel proclamation that makes up the body of the letter, these words draw out specific consequences for believers, consequences that take the form of responsibilities or obligations. He concludes the passage, "Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God."

There are two very different ways we can read exhortations of this kind. They can be taken, as they so often are, in a legalistic sense, as commands that tell us how to conform our behavior to the will of a just and righteous God. Or they can be seen as means of grace, by which God Himself works out a transformation in our life, leading to our eternal sharing in His very existence.

Read it all on the OCA website here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

August 9: Venerable Herman of Alaska

Venerable Herman of Alaska, Wonderworker of All America, was among the members of a spiritual mission organized in 1793 to preach the Word of God to the native inhabitants of northwestern America, who only ten years before had come under the sovereignty of Russia.

St Herman came from a family of merchants of Serpukhov, a city of the Moscow Diocese. His name before he was tonsured, and his family name are not known. The monastic name is given when a monk takes his vows. He had a great zeal for piety from youth and at sixteen he entered monastic life. This was in 1772, if we assume that Herman was born in 1756, although sometimes 1760 is given as the date of his birth. First he entered the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage, which was located near the Gulf of Finland on the Peterhof Road, about 10 miles from St Petersburg.

From the menologion of the Orthodox Church in America. Read it all here.