To all those who have continued to wait for my continuing thoughts and experiences in Orthodoxy, I apologize for the late arrival of this one. Things are and will likely continue to be very busy over this Summer, but I am hoping to get some posting done. To that end, I've decided to split up what would have been a very long Chapter 4 into a series of shorter chapters.
In my previous chapters I have cataloged my initial experiences with the Orthodox church and how it relates to some of the things that I really do not like about the Protestant church as a whole. As a reminder, I'd like to mention that what I am really emphasizing here is how a church's theology and beliefs play out in the real world, rather than how people who identify with one belief or another live. i think this is important. There will always be bad examples everywhere, and Orthodoxy is no different. Orthodox churches can suffer from a pervasive fault in one fashion or another just like any other church. What I want to draw out is the depth and richness of the belief that strives against our natural human tendencies. All churches have this to some extent or another, but I feel that Orthodoxy is especially well equipped in this area. It is equipped precisely because it does its job and is, in a word, orthodox. It does not try to innovate. It is expressly focused on preserving the church of Christ, as given by Christ through the Apostles. This is very different than most other churches, and indeed, is something that cannot be claimed or even approached by the Protestants. Rediscovering Orthodoxy is in a very real sense an oxymoron if done outside of Orthodoxy, which is what some Protestant churches might think they are trying to do.
In these next few chapters, I'd like to spend some time on the positive rather than the negative. Rather than talk about how I like Orthodoxy better than Protestantism, I'd like to talk about what really make Orthodoxy so invigorating and powerful to me. I've made strong and repeated mentions of these things in my previous chapters, but I'll try to tease them out in focus in these next chapters.
First things first. It's really hard to get at the essence of what I admire most in the Orthodox church, but I want to call it the spirit of the church. Holistically, through the sacraments, the services, the prayers, the teaching, the theology, and the life of the church, there is a pervasive sense of sincere and humble intent to serve, and intent to stand fast and preserve a Holy Tradition of Truth as taught by Christ and those who serve Him. It's a spirit that tries to avoid being caught up in the daily rustle and the latest political scandal. Rather than reactionary, it stands on its own, separate and sufficient without the need for additional context. When you experience the Orthodox church, you experience a belief that is lived out through ritual in a spirit of obedience not to man, but to God. It's a spirit whose sole drive is to draw Man to God. This really is the essence of the thing. Everything in Orthodoxy is meant to draw man to God. Everything else is largely incidental.
I think that this can be missed by cradle Orthodox who have lived so long in the church that they don't have a perspective outside of it. While this is a wonderful thing to have, and to some extent, I suffer from the same thing, having come from other places, I can feel and see the palpable difference in what many would likely consider only abstract pursuits of the mind or heart. But coming from the outside, I don't think the Orthodox who have lived their whole life in the church realize sometimes what a great gift they really have. To have a practice that so perfectly aligns with belief, that is, in essence powerless without it, but ever strong and steadfast and moving in the presence of true faith, this is something many struggle for but few achieve.
And here I speak to the Orthodox as well as the others. Realize what a great gift this is! To see and have a Tradition that draws you ever forward and calls for you to bow and stand before your Creator, giving you the tools and means by which you can talk and serve Him and complete service; don't ever think that the ritual is itself the thing, or that it's all just a "dance." These things are powerful, and they are spiritual. They are not just physical. These beliefs, driven by works of faith, are such a great gift and so full of riches that I really truly enjoy the experience.
The Orthodox church, throughout its long history has been full of various movements within the church. It continues to see various schools of thought throughout the church. One of the great things about Orthodoxy is that these schools of thought are taken and understood to be important, but only within their appropriate place. They should never rise above the spirit of truth and service before Christ that is the calling of all Christians. Indeed, by the vary word, Orthodox, it is clear that movements are not for innovation, but for understanding. This is really great. Movements within the church should unify, rather than divide. They should enrich our understanding of the truth, not change the truth itself or divide us on what the truth is.
To draw this all to a close (Already! See, I told you I would keep this short.), when I look through the theology of Orthodoxy, I see something that stands alone, solidly and clearly for the truth of Christ, of Faith through Works, and of upholding the teachings of those who have gone before, whose words have been guided by the Holy Spirit. This spirit of Orthodoxy, a unity in diversity, an Orthodoxy that grows rather than stagnates, is really the summary of all that I find so compelling in Orthodox Faith. In the future chapters, I can talk about specifics of theology, perhaps, or about other things, but when it comes right down to it, the holistic spirit of Orthodoxy simply holds so much more value and power and truth than that of the spirit of most Protestant churches. Many churches claim to have the Holy Spirit, but no church appears to have been so fully possessed of the Holy Spirit in all its facets than the Orthodox church.