Monday, July 31, 2006

Orthodoxy and Islam

I'm sort of conflicted over how to feel about Islam. On one hand, I recognize the difficulties faced by Christians living in majority-Muslim or Islamic cultures. (As I'm using the terms, I try to dstinguish between Muslim and Islamic. A Muslim friend of mine once explained that there is a distinction. If I understand correctly, "Islamic" would refer to a government like that found in Iran, where the intent is to govern by Islamic law, while "Muslim" could refer to any nation that happens to have a majority population of Muslims, regardless of the style of government.) On the other hand, I also sympathize with the struggle of Muslim civilizations against Western imperialism. This is not to say that I have some burning desire to live under an Islamic regime. I just find Western interference in the affairs of other nations distasteful, and I respect Islam as one of a few organized forces that is able to combat it (to some degree).

When I look at Orthodoxy, I see a fairly wide range of viewpoints. On one hand, I was just introduced to the writings of Serge Trifkovic, who although reportedly Serbian Orthodox, seems to fit in very well with American Conservatism. He argues that Islam is inherently radical, inherently inclined to dominate, and can never be anything else. In what I've read by him, he seems to say nothing of Orthodoxy one way or the other, and he seems a good deal more defensive of Western Christendom than I would have expected. What happened to, "better the Turkish turban than the papal mitre?" (I'm not sure I've got the quote correctly, but it was a common sentiment among late Byzantines--that the Turks might be bad, but they were better than Western Christians.) Yes, the Serbians and other Baltic Christians suffered under Islam, but can anyone deny, especially now, that they suffered as well under Western domination? He also seems to omit from the picture what Muslims have experienced at the hands of Westerners, as if that is irrelevant to the acts of Islamist terrorists today.

On the other hand, you have the Moscow Patriarchate, which seems to work closely with Muslim leaders in Russia and to support Russia's greater cooperation with states like Iran than we typically find in the West. Although Russia allows freedom of religion, the paradigm is different from what we tend to expect in America. Orthodoxy is the dominant religion, while other traditional religions are allowed their place. There are Muslim countries as well that take a similar approach (in reverse, of course), to varying degrees. Indeed, Russia has a long history of coexistence between Christians and Muslims, not necessarily always peaceful, but they seem to have learned some important lessons that the West has not.

Perhaps a better comparison, though, as the opposite pole from Trifkovic, is Israel Adam Shamir, a Russian-Israeli Jew who converted to Orthodoxy. His writings are quite affirmative of Islam, which he views as a Christian heresy. (This is his view, I should stress, but it agrees substantially with the early Christian polemic against Islam, which I have also been reading recently.) Interestingly, there are some points on which Shamir and Trifkovic would probably agree, since they both seem to favor strong nationalism, and Shamir has sympathized with American paleo-conservatives on several points. But Shamir's main concern is to oppose the New World Order, and that includes championing those who resist Western influence, particularly if they do so on the basis of religious values rather than secular.

Something else I've been reading lately is a collection of lives of New Martyrs under Ottoman rule. The portrayal of Islam is clearly negative--a materialistic religion that alternates flattery with torture to force Christians to convert, that nominally respects personal choice in religion but takes every opportunity to force a decision, whether by offering Christians convicted of various crimes a choice between conversion and death for their offenses, or by accepting even the most spurious testimony to the effect that a Christian has chosen to convert. (In most of the lives, the choice of Islam or death is set up on the premise that the martyr is a Muslim seeking to apostasize. In some cases, this is truly the case; more often, their status as Muslim is ill-founded.) Of course, one could infer that these martyrs were the exceptional cases--that more often Christians were allowed to maintain their faith without violent consequences. Or perhaps it was more often the case that Christians in fact did convert to Islam, even if it was only to attain a better social standing, and these lives were intended at least in part to show that repentance was possible and desirable. It's hard to say, though from the contents of the lives themselves--they comment on these particular martyrs, not on the fates of others.

And then, of course, there is the present situation in Palestine (broadly speaking, to include the territory between the Med and the Jordan and parts north and south). Here, the Christians have dwindled to a small minority, and their lot often falls with that of their Muslim neighbors. I read of one Orthodox Christian who ran for office under the party of Hamas, because it was the least corrupt option. More recently, I read that in the wake of the Israeli strikes against Lebanon, approval of Hizbullah is around 80% among Christians and Sunnis, as well as Shiites. Is this because they want to live under Islamic rule, or is it just because the greater oppressor seems to be Israel, and these Islamist groups are the only ones able to stand up against it?

I'm not sure what to do with all of this, but it certainly is an interesting mix.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"William & Maggie"

Although I don't generally think much of his singing ability or musical style, one of the better writers in contemporary Evangelical music is Charlie Peacock. About his only CD that I could really say I like to listen to (and when you listen to the interview at the end, you find out that he intended it to be different from his other stuff) is Everything That's on My Mind (1994). My favorite song on the CD--perhaps of any song he's written--is "William & Maggie." I've liked it for as long as I can remember, and perhaps now more than ever. Here's a lame attempt to render a song with its lyrics only:
William, to whom the world was given,
Dared not disturb the sleep of friends.
But one time in the night,
He turned to his wife,
And he whispered, "Remember
When I was young, and you were Maggie?

"'Cause I been thinking about
You and me and everybody in between.
It seems we've suffered one too many dreams
Of things that weren't so bad; it's just,
They were never things that we could trust.
Are we still pretending they're enough?"

Maggie, by whom all hearts were measured,
Kissed William softly on the cheek and said,
"Oh, it always amazed me
How someone could come
To the edge of the world,
Drop a stone down the side,
And turn and return
To the very same life. I remember
When I was young, and you were William.

"'Cause I been thinking about
You and me and everybody in between.
It seems we've suffered one too many dreams
Of things that weren't so bad; it's just,
They were never things that we could trust.
We must stop pretending they're enough."

"But what of the interval moment,
When you feel nothing,
And I feel nothing?
Maggie, I'm trembling in this interval moment,
When you feel nothing,
And I feel nothing."

Maggie, by whom all hearts were measured,
Kissed William softly on the cheek and said,
"Sometimes William,
William sometimes,
You've got to open up the windows
And let the wind blow through.

"You've got to let it blow through
You and me and everybody in between.
It seems we've suffered one too many dreams
Of things that weren't so bad; it's just,
They were never things that we could trust.
We will release them as they turn to dust."
I realize it's probably meant to be about the Christian life in general and how we sometimes lose our enthusiasm and our perspective on what a difference it should really make. But for me right now, it seems to sum up how I feel about Orthodoxy. I can't settle anymore for a form of Christianity that stops half-way, especially when I can no longer trust its method. I'm also finding it increasingly difficult to keep my mouth shut about this stuff with the people around me. I don't want to beat them over the head with it, but I want to speak out for what our Evangelical lives are missing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Orthodox vegetarians?

One thing I have not had much opportunity to do in my investigation of Orthodoxy up to this point is acquire any real familiarity with the various "Orthodox cultures." What I know of Orthodoxy comes largely through the theological and spiritual writings that I have read and the experience of communal worship in which I have participated. I have had some limited personal interactions with different Orthodox individuals, but it seems like for the most part they have been American converts, and conversation has rarely addressed more cultural issues. The parishes I have frequented are mission parishes--relatively recent plants, attracting a mixture of individuals from different Orthodox cultural backgrounds and a large proportion of converts. (The two exceptions are one visit to a Ukrainian cathedral and one to a Russian cathedral. But in neither case did I even have a conversation wtih anyone, much less experience any significant culture.)

Perhaps if my situation were otherwise, I would not be so confused about food stereotypes that have come up in a couple of films I've seen. One is Everything is Illuminated, which is about a young Jewish man searching for information about his grandfather, but the search takes place in Ukraine. The other is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which I'd seen a few times before, but I don't think I'd watched since I got interested in Orthodoxy. I happened to watch it last night, mostly because I wanted to go back and observe the Orthodox customs and practices that were referenced in it, now that I'm coming from a place of greater familiarity.

In both films, there is more or less the same joke, where a Westerner (Jewish in one, white-bread American in the other) explains that he is vegetarian to his hosts from a historically Orthodox culture (apparently secular Ukrainian in one, at least semi-religious Greek in the other). In both cases, the reaction of the hosts is complete befuddlement. They can't conceive of what it might even mean to be a vegetarian, much less why anyone would choose such a lifestyle.

I must say, this surprises me. I mean, I realize that not everyone who practices Orthodoxy, and certainly not everyone who lives in a historically Orthodox culture, actually observes the fasts to a significant degree. But it seems like there would at least be a general awareness of the practice of abstaining from meat (and indeed, animal products in general)--occasionally for devout believers of all sorts, perhaps regularly for some monastics. It seems like the joke is based on a stereotype of total ignorance, like abstaining from meat is a Western invention (or at least one that bypassed the Orthodox East). I don't even know where such a stereotype would come from in Western perception, much less in a film like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which seems to have enough direct Greek(-American) influence to avoid the sort of mistake a Westerner might make.

It's a mystery to me.

Monday, July 24, 2006

another polkadots service

My three-year-old son heard us using the word "Orthodox" and found a match for it in his mental lexicon--"polkadots." So I guess now the "quiet church" is going to be the "polkadots church." I asked if he wanted to become "polkadots," and he answered, "No, I'm Ian." I guess that settles that question.

Anyway, we had a chance yesterday to visit the "quiet church" (vs. the "train church," since the Evangelical church we attend has a train table for the kids to play with when they're not in class; but that might get complicated, now that he knows he can sit on the hill next to the "quiet church" and watch the light-rail train go by). It's not, by the way, that the Orthodox church is any quieter than the Evangelical. (Perhaps it is--there are no drums, at least.) It's that he goes into the service with me at the Orthodox service, instead of his own kids' class, and he has to be quiet. My wife spent the day with some friends. The instigator was the youth pastor's wife from our Evangelical church, whose husband is with several of the teens on a short-term mission trip, and kids are with Grandma and Grandpa for a while. She decided to orchestrate a sleep-over Saturday night and some follow-up activities during the day on Sunday. Since my wife was going to church with her anyway, and Ian and I would be on our own, I took the rare opportunity to visit a Sunday DL. I think this was the first time Ian attended one from start to finish (if you don't count one potty break), plus about a half-hour of Orthros.

It was also a rare opportunity to hang around afterward without any time constraints except that we had to be home by 2:00 for nap time. Normally, I feel like I need to rush home after a service, so I can see my family. It worked out well, since Ian noticed the "craymound" (his word for "playground") out the window while we were eating. I figured after enduring such a long service, he deserved something in return, so I let him do his thing until he was the only kid left. He didn't mind even then. The hope of seeing another train go by was enough for him. But the other kids were great. The older kids pushed him on the swing and talked to him. He seemed to have a great time. He also got into a pointing war with a girl in front of us during the service, but at least they were quiet about it. I guess her parents weren't too upset. They invited us to sit with them at lunch, where I somehow got dragged into a discussion about Middle East politics. I'll have to try to apologize when I see them again. Fortunately, Ian's insistence about the "craymound" gave me a good excuse to exit the conversation. Once he got comfortable enough that I could give him more space, I had a good talk with another parishoner about various aspects of my situation.

Incidentally, I think this is probably the first time I've mentioned Ian by name. I don't personally view it as a new revelation, since "abuian" (see my username) means "Ian's dad," but I suppose not everyone would have picked up on that.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Apostles and Icons

I realized today that I never reported on my most recent visit to an Orthodox service, for the Apostles' vigil at a ROCOR parish. As I mentioned in "some random updates," I had arranged to attend the service with an Evangelical friend. We got there a few minutes before the service began, about the same time that Fr. Athanasy showed up with the myrrh-streaming icon of St. Anna. We all had a chance to venerate the icon at the beginning, and then again after the matins Gospel reading. As I expected anyway, my friend just watched and chose not to venerate. I was kind of surprised to see that there were other non-Orthodox visitors--folks who apparently had no interest in becoming Orthodox either, or for that matter in learning about Orthodoxy. I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me, after reading that even Muslims showed up to venerate John the Baptist's hand as it toured through Russia. I'm just wondering how they knew the icon would be there. I only knew because I checked the church Web site for information about the service and noticed that they were expecting it. I suppose word about this kind of thing gets around in certain circles.

The service was perhaps the most crowded that I've attended there. It's a very small parish that meets in some converted office space. The nave is practically non-existent or at least indistinguishable from the ambo. It's about one or two steps from the entrance to the central icon and maybe about the same distance from there to the iconostasis. The choir takes up most of the space on the right. I've tried standing to that side, sort of between the central icon and the reliquary. You always feel like you're in the way. The left side isn't much better. One or two people can stand there without too much trouble. You just have to dance with the clergy. Everyone has to clear out into the narthex (which is also the fellowship hall, kitchen, and library) for anything that happens in front of the central icon. If there are more than a few people there for a service, most people have to stand out there anyway. My friend and I stood in the nave, to the left, until the first such occasion. I wanted him to get a chance to see things up-close for at least part of the service. After that, we stayed out in the narthex for the rest of vespers and the first part of matins.

At the veneration, everyone who came up was anointed with myrrh from the icon and received some of the bread offering (I don't know what the technical name is for it) and a prayer card. It's the first time I can recall being anointed with anything other than holy water. I tried to leave it alone, but it kept running down onto my nose, and it was a fairly humid evening, so I was sweating anyway. We left shortly after the veneration and anointing. (I had asked the matushka in advance when a good time might be to make our exit, if we couldn't stay for the whole service, and that's what she had suggested.) We wanted some time afterward to talk about it, and I didn't figure there would be much of that if we stayed until the end. (3:45 is early enough to get up for work, without staying up past 11:00.) I would have liked to talk with Fr. George after the service, but I'm glad we had a chance for our own conversation. We stood in the parking lot for a few minutes chatting. Fr. George came out at one point and reminded us that church was inside. I did feel kind of bad that we left when we did. I'm sure that's when the other visitors left, once they'd got what they came for.

After that, we went to Wendy's and talked for a couple of hours. I appreciated the discussion. For the most part, my conversations with Evangelicals have followed a standard pattern--they don't know much of anything about Orthodoxy, they think it sounds like a fine option for those who are into that kind of thing, and although they might not agree with everything about Orthodoxy themselves, they don't care much to debate the issues. This case was a little bit different. I kind of thought it might be. My friend has a lot of experience discussing religious differences with Mormons and other cultists, so he's not afraid to challenge what doesn't sound right to him. It never got heated or anything, but he did ask pointed questions about the areas of prominent difference. We talked quite a bit about intercession of saints, for instance, and other concepts related to Mary (perpetual virginity, sinlessness, etc.); we talked about Tradition and Scripture, and my reasons for choosing Orthodoxy; we talked about more formal aspects of the service--some things he liked, some he didn't. He brought up an interesting tension--he noted the reverence and formality (compared with Evangelical traditions), but at the same time, it seemed like there was a lot of stuff going on during the service. Of course, there are a lot of elements combined into the liturgy itself, but his point was the somewhat more incidental stuff, from disruptions caused by kids, to elements of personal piety like venerating icons and lighting candles, to people doing things that didn't seem to be part of worship per se while participating in worship at the same time (talking to each other or to visitors, coming in late or leaving early, even the priest getting distracted with something and then jumping back in when it was time for him to do something). I explained to him about the practice of taking confessions during the service, which requires the priest to keep popping in and out. Later, I followed up with some thoughts in an e-mail:
One other thing I should mention from last night. Regarding the movement and apparent distraction from the solemnity of what was going on, to one degree this can get out of hand, and that is why there is a certain amount of regulation on when it is and isn't appropriate. Much of what goes on with people moving around, venerating icons, lighting candles, is all part of worship, and so there is no problem with it. Even the elements that seem like distraction, where the priest is doing something else and breaks it off to jump in with something he's supposed to say--in part, this reflects that the priest has a lot to do during the service, some of which involves just praying quietly on his own while other things are happening; it also reflects the practical mechanics of running a service. I'm sure you know that when you're actively involved in a service, your attention does sometimes have to be given to the tasks and processes that need to keep going. There's a sense in which the ideal of Orthodox worship is for everyone to be actively involved. When you're doing that for something that lasts hours, it's just part of human existence that you can't be 100% focused on worship 100% of the time. Things like greeting people who have come in late, explaining things to visitors, watching a child, going to the bathroom, and yes, sometimes sitting down to relieve aching joints, are just part of human existence that is not altogether excluded from worship. If we could really worship 24-7, we would probably figure out ways to cook and clean during the service, since they need to get done sometime. The important thing is to keep it all balanced, and with the right attitude. It's perfectly acceptable to be comfortable with what's going on because you've been doing it for so long, but you also have to combat distraction.
As for me, I'm still not sure what I think of the whole myrrh-streaming icon thing. I honestly didn't even get a chance to see whether the icon was doing anything while I was there. I never actually thought to check when I went up to venerate it. I did look at it, but I went quickly since I knew others were waiting. I wasn't particularly expecting it to do anything to me--heal me or anything like that. (I didn't have anything to be healed of, that I knew anyway.) So it was something I just kind of did and went on with life. I never really doubted that it does in fact stream myrrh, although I don't know exactly what the reason might be.

This was the first time I invited someone to visit that particular parish with me. Normally, I invite them to the Antiochian parish, but in this case it just worked out better--my friend works closer to this one, and it was a service that I happened to go to, and he happened to be available for. As I explained some of the features of the service to him, it occurred to me that I was noting several points where the Russian tradition wasn't my preference. I thought about this later. I have a great deal of respect for Russian Orthodoxy--for its role as the first coordinating structure of Orthodoxy in America, and for that matter its missionary outreach of which the American mission was just one part, for its resistance to some of the modernizing and Westernizing trends that seem to have been advocated by Constantinople, for its preservation of Orthodoxy in general during centuries when other Orthodox cultures were oppressed, for its resistance to the atheistic forces that tried to destroy it in the last century. But when it comes to the flavor of Orthodox worship, I think I really do favor the Byzantine style--the music, the design of the iconostasis, the observance of Orthros in the morning. There were probably other things--I seem to remember it coming up a lot. I guess one thing that I'd like to see come out of an effort to create some sort of American Orthodoxy is the seriousness of the Russian tradition combined with what feels to me like the somewhat more authentic flavor of the Byzantine traditions.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

from bad to worse

Tensions in the Holy Land continue to climb, as Hizbullah has joined the fray by taking two of its own Israeli POWs and firing rockets across the border from Lebanon.
Since thou art a liberator and deliverer of captives, a help and succour of the poor and needy, a healing physician of the sick, a contender and fighter for kings, O great among Martyrs, the victory-clad George; intercede with Christ God for the salvation of the souls of Palestine!
Great-martyr George is the recognized patron saint of Palestine (along with several other countries). A good place to start on information about Orthodox Christianity in Palestine is this piece by Maria Khoury.

some random updates

Regarding my earlier post, "confess your faults to one another," I finally got to meet with the chair about my dissertation. The meeting went pretty well, and I'm finally getting back into making some real progress. We talked about ways to make the job a bit more manageable, and one unforeseen blessing, he thinks he can get back some of the money I spent last year on dissertation guidance that I never actually used. I had no idea that would even be an option.

Regarding "prayer and fasting," the Apostles' Fast ends today for Old Calendar churches with the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. I'm visiting the ROCOR parish tonight for Synaxis of the Apostles Vigil. A friend who has never been to an Orthodox service--one of the elders at our Evangelical church, actually--is supposed to be joining me. There's supposed to be a myrrh-streaming icon present, which is something I've never seen in real life. I'm not sure how to feel about it right now. I tend to be kind of skeptical about miraculous manifestations. I'm not saying I have any good reason to be--just stating the truth about myself. So I really don't know how I'll react to it. I don't know how my friend will react either, but it should make for some good conversation at least. I brought it up with my wife (who's not going) as something that's decidedly not intellectual. She's convinced that such things don't happen (not in Orthodoxy at least), so I guess it's not just being too intellectual that's a problem for her. (I didn't figure she'd go for it, but I did think it would be interesting to get the contrast.) On a side-note, another less intellectual resource that I've recommended to her, which I just discovered a few days ago, is Road to Emmaus, an Orthodox publication that focuses on personal experiences of believers around the world. They have a selection of articles online, including some family- and missions-oriented interviews that I thought she might like. I don't know if she's read any of them yet.

Regarding "leading toward unity," the Joint Commissions of ROCOR and the MP met a couple of weeks ago in Moscow. As a follow-up, ROCOR has just published on its site an epistle from Bishop Evtikhii to his jurisdiction (ROCOR churches inside Russia) about the reunification. I've been wondering about the logistics involved, particularly for ROCOR parishes inside Russia and MP parishes abroad. (Otherwise, it should be a relatively simple process--ROCOR will care for Russian Orthodox outside Russia, and those inside Russia will keep doing what they've been doing.) This is the first time I can recall seeing anything in the way of an actual (if approximate) timetable. They expect to finalize the act of communion in a year or less (Lord, speed the day!), and from that point there will be about a five-year transition period for the ROCOR parishes inside Russia to place themselves under their local dioceses. It doesn't say anything about what will happen outside Russia. A similar process? Who knows. It may be a more delicate situation since, as we've seen recently with Sourozh, they have options to abandon Russia altogether.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ilan Halevi on Russian Orthodox in Israel

I ran across an interesting quote by Ilan Halevi:
One of the most pathetic and tragic things about this country are the Christian Orthodox Russians in Israel on false pretenses. Not only do they squat in hangars and sheds to have masses in secret, they occupy abandoned Palestinian Christian Orthodox graveyards - burying their dead in existing graves and writing Russian on the tombstones.

Colonization of the dead by the dead. This is a marginal but revealing feature of this totally mad situation.
This ties in with an article I saw not long ago in Haaretz, about the strange situation of the Russian Orthodox in Israel. I remember being struck by the irony that, as the Israelis import Russians (even many who are non-Jewish) to offset the Arab population, they are actually augmenting the Orthodox Christian population of the region. Russians who might have been at best nominally Christian before they emigrated suddenly identify more actively with Orthodoxy as a familiar cultural anchor in their new homeland. Considering how difficult it can be for Christians to preach the gospel in Israel, what better way to help the Church grow? And how long before this process leads to a significant Orthodox community that spans both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide, with affinities between those of Russian and Arab background?

Monday, July 03, 2006

another visit, another reason to be frustrated

Well, my wife finally made it with me to another Orthodox service. As I mentioned earlier, I had asked her if she would visit at least once without our son, so she could focus on the service itself. He's a pretty good kid, and he's generally quite well behaved when I take him by myself, but when she's there, he gets really clingy and fidgety. I know she would have to deal with him if we were to go to an Orthodox church regularly, but I still wanted her to have at least one chance to make an independent assessment of the service itself. Besides, considering his sleep schedule, there would probably be times when we'd have to trade off going alone while the other one stayed with him. Anyway, we had a little trouble coordinating someone to watch him for the morning with the parish schedule to make sure Fr. Gregory would be there, but we finally pulled it off yesterday.

Once again, her assessment was generally negative. She still does not find herself attracted to much of anything about Orthodoxy, while she does find herself repulsed by certain things. She appreciated the lunch afterward--believers eating together has been a theme in our Evangelical church lately, and I think she liked the idea of incorporating a communal meal into the regular weekly routine. I told her--and I'm pretty sure this is correct--that it's a fairly standard practice in Orthodox parishes, at least in part because you're supposed to fast before taking communion, so if most people take communion, that means most people have not eaten for something like 18 hours.

As far as specific objections, she doesn't like the ritual, she thinks far too much attention is given to Mary in the liturgy, and she thinks that in general it's far too intellectual. She also doesn't see how an unchurched person could feel comfortable in an Orthodox service, which for her has evangelistic implications. I wasn't going to reply to these objections, but after we sat there for a while not saying anything, she asked if I wanted to say anything. I explained first that I don't think I'm the person to be responding to this stuff. So far, nothing has worked, and I think at least a significant part of the reason is because we think about things in such different ways--not just about Orthodox, but about everything. Nevertheless, I tried to respond in some fashion.

Admittedly, yesterday's service (the parish we were at is on the new calendar) was a somewhat exaggerated case, as far as the Theotokos is concerned. The main commemoration of the day was the deposit of her robe in Constantinople, so even where you would normally get something about other saints, it was all the Theotokos. I'm still growing in my own acceptance of her place in Orthodoxy. I think for anyone who's grown up in Evangelicalism it's probably a long process to get comfortable with her. The general problem is with the place of saints in general, of whom the Theotokos is simply captain and chief and gets more attention than any other. This is complicated by an almost mirror reaction of Protestantism--the saints in general are downplayed, but particular revulsion is reserved for the cult of Mary that they know from Catholicism. Now, putting aside the differences between Catholic veneration of Mary and Orthodox, there's still a lot to get over. I tried to explain Mary's role among the saints and how it is also the case that, as all saints are honored for their connnection to Christ, she is honored above the others for her unique connection to Christ. Everything that makes her worthy of honor is directly connected with her son.

I also tried to explain that her role in relation to Christ has made her not only a great saint but an emblem of the Church. She was the first human indwelt by Christ, she was the first to receive in faith the gospel of his coming, she was the first to respond in such a way that she became instrumental in the manifestation of Christ in the world and thereby contributed to the salvation of all who would believe in him. Her life parallels that of the Church, and just as she is tied by flesh and blood to his personal body, she is tied by faith and spirit to his body the Church. Also, since the saints collectively represent the Church, the Theotokos as their champion represents the Church in herself. And as the Church is Christ's body, and she is his mother, she is also our mother.

I explained that veneration of the Theotokos only appears to detract from worship of Christ, because Evangelicals don't generally make room for human cooperation in salvation. Not that human agency is unimportant in Evangelicalism. Clearly, someone must preach the gospel for a person to hear it and believe. Someone must help a new believer grow in understanding. Someone must preach to the congregation each week. In the church we attend, these relationships are even formalized. Typically, instead of the pastor baptizing a new believer, the pastor oversees the process, but the baptism is physically performed by a person who was instrumental in that new believer's spiritual growth. We establish formal discipleship relationships by pairing newcomers with someone else who is more experienced. But when it comes to understanding salvation theologically, or articulating it liturgically, we shy away from any suggestion of a human element. In Orthodoxy, on the other hand, veneration of saints is completely proper, because we recognize that God most often works through other humans. The saints are honored for the way that God used them, for the way that they became vessels of his will and action in the world. To honor them is therefore to honor him and to worship him in the diversity of his action in the Church.

As far as unchurched people feeling uncomfortable, I reminded her that worship isn't necessarily about feeling comfortable. I'm not sure she got the point. She seemed to think I was talking about the ascetic aspects of Orthodoxy in particular, but my point was simply that worship is what it is, and there's really not much about it that's meant to be comfortable for us. In fact, one could argue that worship, and religion in general, is meaningless if it doesn't make us uncomfortable. I think the idea of visitors to Orthodox services is that a person who is looking for something different, something a bit foreign, something truly uncomfortable, will come and will want what they find. A person who wants to be comfortable probably isn't ready to meet Christ anyway. One thing that helped is that at the meal after the service we happened to sit with a couple who had recently converted. I saw that the wife was wearing a white robe with a cross on the back and suspected that it had something to do with baptism, but since I had never seen anyone wearing one before, I asked what it meant. She explained that they had recently converted--she had been baptized, and her husband had been chrismated. So when we were talking about this issue of unchurched people visiting an Orthodox service, I could point out that in a church like that one, no one would ever be baptized if only people who were already Christians of one sort or another came to visit and decided to stay. I can't comment much personally on what it's like for an unchurched person to visit an Orthodox service, but clearly they do, and we had living proof of that.

What probably intrigued me most was her comment about it being too intellectual. Now, I know where she's coming from. Personally, I think Orthodoxy has the perfect blend. As I see it, Evangelicalism is mostly about the intellect--reading the Bible, praying with eyes closed and head bowed, hearing a sermon preached, even singing--all these things are done mostly with the mind and only minimally with the body. Charismatic churches probably do a better job of incorporating the body, but I don't think she would want to go to one of those, either, so I'm leaving that aside. Orthodoxy incorporates posture, motion, sight, taste, touch, and smell. It does a better job of expressing its faith through things like feasts, which everyone can relate to on some level. On the other hand, Orthodoxy does have a great deal of intellectual depth behind it. But here's an interesting juxtaposition--she called it too intellectual, but she also commented on how short the sermon was. To my mind, these are almost contradictory ideas. I would say that Evangelicalism favors the intellect too much when half the service is the sermon.

I hadn't had time to process it when we talked yesterday, but what I think is going on is that the liturgy itself--the songs and prayers--contains greater theological depth than what she is used to in Evangelical worship. Now, part of it is that there are a lot of unfamiliar concepts, but even aside from that, there is just a lot more theology. Not that Orthodox liturgy has theology, while Evangelical liturgy doesn't. They both have it. Clearly, without it, you could hardly call what's going on any form of Christian worship. But Evangelicalism simply can't stomach the kind of theological depth that is found in Orthodoxy. Evangelicalism has its theologians and its books of systematic and biblical theology. But the integration of theology with worship is sadly deficient. This goes both ways. Not only does theology not come through to the extent that it should in worship, but worship has insufficient impact on theology. For most practical purposes, Evangelicalism has accepted the Western isolation of theology from the spiritual life. This is not to say that Evangelical theologians are unspiritual or even that Evangelical theology does not articulate an importance of spirituality for the theological enterprise. But there is still a serious disconnect in the realization of the principle. When you really get at how the theological process works, it is so mechanical that the Spirit has little to do with things.

Well, this is already longer than I intended. My point here is not to solve my wife's objections, but to express my feelings on the situation. On one hand, I'm not particularly surprised that she had the same reaction she has always had. On the other hand, I'm still disappointed that there wasn't some kind of change in her feelings. I suppose the only conclusion to be drawn is that she's not going to be attracted to Orthodoxy by the worship--not initially, anyway. This leads me to think that, if it's going to happen at all, it's probably going to come through the practical testimony of changed lives, particularly of mine. This feels like a huge burden, particularly since I'm not even sure how far I can go without really being part of the Church. Still, it does provide renewed incentive to grow in my own walk before God. Maybe it will turn her heart, and maybe it won't. But the effort cannot possibly be wasted.