Standing Silent in an Orthodox Pew

dansig
I had the sincere pleasure of attending my first Antiochene Orthodox mass yesterday. My wife attended the service with me so the entire experience was mixed with the desire to observe the rites as they took place and lean to my right every three or four minutes to check and make sure I hadn’t said anything stupid.

It didn't start with woodstock, Jesus was giving peace early

It didn't start with woodstock, Jesus was giving peace early


The mass began with a singing of the Psalms in Arabic and English. The sensation of hearing the Palestinian language sung by Palestinians (at the very least, those around the area) brought an immediate sense of disconnect from the St. Paul background. I felt on some level I was being placed in a time outside of the suburban St. Paul, a time outside of time.

As the voices behind us rose, a melodic confession of deep theological dogma began tickling my ears, swelling deep within my psyche. The priest would sing aloud a confession, to be enhanced, or agreed upon by the echoing voices of the chorus elevated behind us. I personally recognized many of the words sung, however the experience of song brought the exuberance of the creeds to brighter awareness within me.

I followed along with the mass to the best of my ability. Between my palms laid a sort of spiritual playbill, so I could know what to expect and attempt to be prepared for its alloted time. As in most services, I expected the demeanor of the audience to fade greatly. Curiously enough among the anachronistic crowd I saw no eye gaze to a watch, sleepy heads or thumb twiddling. The attendees stood firm, exited and utterly joyful through even the slightly longer homily (long for liturgical standards, I later found the priest has a pentecostal heritage).

Then came the amalgamation of our proliferation. We were to come forward to intake the bread and the cup. Voices began to rise, the temperature in the room, which had been surprisingly cool, began to steam. Then as people began to step forward I remembered who I was, where I was … and what I was not. My feet were nailed to the ground, my eyes glued upon the rejoicing and the celebration of the congregation as the climax of their week finally came to pass.

I am denied penance in the catholic church, roman and orthodox. I cannot call myself baptized in faith, for my baptism was inauthentic. I cannot celebrate in the redemption offered by my savior by taking in his blood and body as it was meant for me. I am, to speak anachronistically, a pagan.

But I have been baptized and I meant it: god, my authority has seen my faith. I have confessed my sins: god, my authority has heard it. I have accepted the offer of redemption and would gladly celebrate in any forum offered: god, my authority has felt it.

Why does the authority of the orthodox church dictate that which only the god can?

Advertisements

9 Comments

  1. It is a beautiful meeting, I’m happy you guys could experience it.

    I think the issue of apostolic authority would be a great topic to discuss in a coming meeting. I’m thinking about writing a post posing the question, “Is It Ok To Be Protestant?” but we’ll see how this blog goes.

    By the way, no one at St. George’s would consider you a “pagan.” (You neglected to mention that two of their priests are former Pentecostals.) They have their own reasons for converting, but you’re far from unchristian in their eyes.

    Most Orthodox are willing to grant that communion in a Protestant church is certainly “an act of grace,” but simply not a validated Eucharist. Since most Protestants don’t believe anything special happens with the elements during communion anyway, I don’t see why they can have a problem with this.

    Part of the charm, mystique, and pleasure of the Eastern Church (and the Roman) is the validity of their sacraments. It’s an expression of Christianity that has survived for 1800 years, and the closest thing we have to the church of antiquity. One reason we’re drawn to their worship is the unparalleled reverence they have for the elements–this requires a certain degree of separation between members and non-members. Do we really want to rob them of this heritage?

    Reply

  2. “(You neglected to mention that two of their priests are former Pentecostals.)”
    – check paragraph four, the last line.

    “By the way, no one at St. George’s would consider you a ‘pagan.'”
    – Though I agree no one would use such harsh terminology, my standing in the church is similar to that of the gentiles of the first century. I am not allowed admittance past the outer courtyards of worship. To allow someone creedal abjuration but exclude them from practice puts them in the “those guys” category.

    “Most Orthodox are willing to grant that communion in a Protestant church is certainly ‘an act of grace,’ but simply not a validated Eucharist.”
    – Possibly more accurate would be an act of obedience. Catholics deny our capacity as partakers (on the divine level) when we omit the very essence of its substance. A question with this also; who validates the Eucharist?

    “… most Protestants don’t believe anything special happens with the elements during communion anyway …”
    – As with the doctrine of sacrament, the entire point is obedience with the result of grace. Protestants in their non-sacramental theology (which I believe is heretical) still find they act right in obeying the command of the Christ by partaking in the elements, blessing them before hand and joining together in the tradition. Does one have to cognitively rationalize the transubstantial nature of the body and blood to receive their graces?

    “…closest thing we have to the church of antiquity…”
    – at what point did antiquity build extravagant buildings in reverence to their crucified, resurrected ascended and returning christ-god, born of a virgin, sinless, one with the creator himself and extant today in the form of a spirit; celebrated with hymns, ornate clothing and painting, thorough creedal statements, multicultural acceptance and the allowance of female participants? Antiquity? The orthodoxy I saw was a beautiful conglomeration of centuries of developments of traditions of theology, culture, acceptance, philosophy and ridicule. To claim these members are the “closest” to antiquity is not only ridiculous, it neglects at least a millennium of its own theological development. Otherwise, all these fantastic questions we have of Christian origins and our founder would be an active study, instead of a historical quandary.

    Reply

  3. on misquoting you
    -I apologize.

    on paganism
    -a person’s “standing” in the church is very different from their “welcome” in the church. While you and me are no doubt in the “those guys” category in terms of participating in Eucharist, I just want to clarify (and I think you’ll agree with me) we were welcomed warmly to the table after the liturgy, invited to return, and treated as fellow Christians–merely of a different tradition. (as I recall Alicia, you, and me weren’t the only people not taking Eucharist on Sunday, so I didn’t feel ostricized in any way)

    on validity of Eucharist
    – this is probably an area of dangerous generalization for both of us, but when I asked John (an Eastern Orthodox Christian) how most members of the Eastern Church view the protestant sacraments, he spoke in terms of “acts of grace” without “apostolic validity.” To answer your question, I believe a Roman or Eastern Christian might say something similar to “an ordained priest from the Apostolic tradition validates the Eucharist.” (an Orthodox would say just Orthodox)

    on Protestant Eucharist
    -I don’t mean to say that Protestants don’t take Eucharist seriously (though one could argue Evangelicals struggle here). I meant that it doesn’t fulfill the same role as it does in the Roman/Eastern worship tradition.

    on Antiquity
    It is not an insult to tradition to call Eastern Liturgical worship ancient. Antiquity and changelessness is an object of pride for the Orthodox–part of their identity.

    Of course primitive Christianity didn’t have carefully crafted domes, ornate icons, and ancient liturgy–but Orthodox christians believe they carry something more important from antiquity, Apostolic Authority.

    Reply

  4. Just a quick comment in regards to the statement: “I am denied penance in the catholic church, roman and orthodox. I cannot call myself baptized in faith, for my baptism was inauthentic. I cannot celebrate in the redemption offered by my savior by taking in his blood and body as it was meant for me. I am, to speak anachronistically, a pagan.”
    I believe that an important dynamic of Eucharist theology is being omitted from the conversation. This dynamic is that of communal celebration. It is in the meal of the Eucharist that the community is brought together under Christ. Concurrently, the absolving of sin is done for and by the communal body. To deem one a pagan is simply to be seen as part of another community. While there is validity in the statement that we are all part of the broader community of Christian, one would not presume that this inclusion would grant access to specific communal practices and celebrations of a specific communal entity. I believe that this statement and those which followed relay a sense of dejection on the part of the writer for being left out of the communal practices. However, I would suggest that the practices of a specific community can and should remain private so as to enhance the value of the community for those within. This is why restrictions are placed on communal entry so as to ensure trust within its partcipants. This is natural and should not be seen any other way

    Reply

  5. Greetings!

    I’m just lurking – forgive me if I’m being a bore. I’ll quickly go away.

    > Antiochene Orthodox mass yesterday.

    The Orthodox, Antiochian and otherwise, generally prefer the term “Divine Liturgy” to mass.

    > The mass began with a singing of the Psalms in Arabic and English. The sensation of hearing the Palestinian language sung by Palestinians (at the very least, those around the area) brought an immediate sense of disconnect from the St. Paul background. I felt on some level I was being placed in a time outside of the suburban St. Paul, a time outside of time.

    I think your reaction was a very valid one. The service you’re referring to actually was Orthos or the Morning Prayer Service just prior to the DL.

    > I cannot call myself baptized in faith, for my baptism was inauthentic.

    Your baptism was entirely authentic if it was originally offered in the name of the Trinity.

    > to celebrate in the redemption offered by my savior by taking in his blood and body as it was meant for me.

    The Orthodox believe communion requires unity of belief.

    > I am, to speak anachronistically, a pagan.

    Not at all – you are a Christian who happens not to be Orthodox.

    > Why does the authority of the orthodox church dictate that which only the god can?

    The Orthodox Church sees itself as “God’s Collective Representative” on Earth – “the Body of Christ” and derives its authority (at least in its understanding) from this.

    > By the way, no one at St. George’s would consider you a “pagan.” (You neglected to mention that two of their priests are former Pentecostals.) They have their own reasons for converting, but you’re far from unchristian in their eyes. Most Orthodox are willing to grant that communion in a Protestant church is certainly “an act of grace,” but simply not a validated Eucharist.

    Yes.

    > Part of the charm, mystique, and pleasure of the Eastern Church … is the validity of their sacraments. It’s an expression of Christianity that has survived for 1800 years …

    Well, 2000 years, but who’s counting. 🙂

    > I am not allowed admittance past the outer courtyards of worship. To allow someone creedal abjuration but exclude them from practice puts them in the “those guys” category.

    Not really. You stayed beyond the declaration “The Doors, the Doors” when the catechumens would have been kicked out in ancient times. 🙂

    > A question with this also; who validates the Eucharist?

    The Church. Just like the Church validates the Books in the Bible. 🙂

    > Does one have to cognitively rationalize the transubstantial nature of the body and blood to receive their graces?

    Watch your terminology. The Orthodox generally don’t like the term “transubtantiation” because of Catholicism’s elaborate (and “unnecessary”) explanation for what’s going on therein. The Orthodox sometimes use the term but it means only “the transformation has taken place.”

    > at what point did antiquity build extravagant buildings …

    Generally – in the 4th century. Before that it evidently depended on the “house church” you were in – some where wealthy, most were not. 🙂

    > thorough creedal statements

    4th-5th centuries for the Nicene Creed, earlier than that for the Apostles.

    > The orthodoxy I saw was a beautiful conglomeration of centuries of developments …

    Just like AG services are a conglomeration of a century of developments.

    > person’s “standing” in the church is very different from their “welcome” in the church. While you and me are no doubt in the “those guys” category in terms of participating in Eucharist, I just want to clarify (and I think you’ll agree with me) we were welcomed warmly to the table after the liturgy, invited to return, and treated as fellow Christians–merely of a different tradition. (as I recall Alicia, you, and me weren’t the only people not taking Eucharist on Sunday, so I didn’t feel ostricized in any way).

    Everyone (at least in the Antiochian tradition) who is a Christian can receive the Antidoron (blessed not consecrated bread) at the conclusion of the service, as an act of solidarity and fellowship.

    > I believe that an important dynamic of Eucharist theology is being omitted from the conversation. This dynamic is that of communal celebration. It is in the meal of the Eucharist that the community is brought together under Christ.

    Orthodox “community” must consist of an actual unified community of belief, not simply an associated group of people who call themselves Christians but vary radically in belief.

    > the absolving of sin is done for and by the communal body.

    The Eucharist as a means of absolution of sins traditionally is associated by the Orthodox with “sins not unto death” (“venial” sins), not sins that mortally wound the soul (“mortal sins”) – 1 John 5:16-17.

    > a pagan is …

    a non-Christian (per Orthodoxy).

    John Davenport 🙂

    Reply

  6. Danielson:
    When you are in Rome, you do as the Romans do…when you are in an Orthodox Church, one must follow their rules. Didn’t I raise you better to understand this etiquette???
    I love you…
    Your forever mom!!
    p.s. hi boys..Reed, Jeramy and others….

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s