A couple years ago in Sunday school, my mom, who was our teacher, challenged the class to give an elevator pitch about Orthodoxy. We were asked to come up with a 30-second pitch that might spark someone’s interest in the church.. I never thought too far into it. I think I used Psalm 135 in high school to say that if His mercy endures forever, that is a comfort and reassurance. It wasn’t until a recent OCF meeting at my school that I was asked a new question. “Why are you Orthodox?” My answer was that back in November of 2000 my parents allowed me to get dunked under water and that was that. The discussion leader didn’t think it was as funny as I did but nudged me further and said, “Okay, but why are you Orthodox today?” Why am I Orthodox today? I could give my elevator pitch, but at the time my elevator pitch didn’t make sense. I didn’t know what to say.
I was sitting there thinking, there are few times I can be rendered speechless and this was one of them. Then I realized why I was Orthodox. “I hit rock bottom” I said. Everyone looked at me. “I had to hit rock bottom, to realize that I needed to choose Orthodoxy.” Now at the time I didn’t have the time to share what that meant. I have had a few days to reflect and I wanted to tell other OCF people about my experience. Rock bottom does not mean I was sitting in a corner crying rocking back and forth not knowing what to do, I mean I did that, but way before rock bottom. Rock bottom was when I realized there was nothing else that could fill my heart like God. I was trying to find anything to self-medicate and fill this hole in my heart. I was searching for a love that I couldn’t find surrounding myself with friends, strangers, family, and the only thing that could fill the hole was not on my mind. It was God. Everyone has their struggles in life, and while my specific struggles are beyond the scope of this post, I’d like to share my thought process with you.
I needed to start to pray, but I didn’t know where to start, but if I could just say the Jesus prayer, maybe that would help. So over and over again I said the Jesus prayer until the words started to sink in, and then it hit me. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner”. Have mercy on me the sinner. I went from that to the pre-communion prayer, “I believe O Lord and I confess that you are truly the Christ who did come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.” It was then that I thought about St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4, that we are the garbage of the world, but we are everything in the eyes of God. I looked in the mirror at that moment and said, “I am the garbage of the world, but I am everything in the eyes of God”. In that moment I felt myself begin to cry. As the sudden realization that as the first among sinners, the garbage of the world, and the sinner God still loved me to an extent I could never imagine. God still loved me, a broken and hurt soul, because in His eyes I am everything. I thought about John 3:17 where it says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Not only did that help me remember that God loves me, but that He doesn’t want to punish us, He wants to save and love us. Then I looked up at my icon wall and I saw my icon of the Good Shepherd. I have two versions of this icon, of course I have the one with Jesus holding the sheep, but then I have another one where Jesus is carrying a man. At that moment I knew that Christ would carry me while I was broken.
The overwhelming emotion that I experienced of being loved by the One who is love is something indescribable. The distractions of social media and earthly cares that I used to hide my own brokenness never lasted. It was like putting a band-aid on during open heart surgery to stop the bleeding. It didn’t hold and it would never hold. The only thing that filled my heart and healed it was Christ. The only person who would always truly love me even at my worst was Christ. So, there I was, at rock bottom, in my room, waiting for an answer, to discover that I had it all along. If you asked me today what my elevator pitch is for Orthodoxy, I would tell you that it is the most healing medicine there is. The Church is the greatest hospital in which to realize that in my brokenness, Christ will still love me. Even if I was the garbage of the world, even though I was the sinner, and the first among sinners, God sees me as His perfect creation. How could I have forgotten something so fundamental to our faith. Why do I choose Orthodoxy? I choose Orthodoxy because it is through my faith in Christ that I can deal with whatever life throws at me. It is through the most healing hospital of Christ that I can be beautifully broken and put together by God. I choose Orthodoxy because I can be broken, and I can be the garbage of the world, but no matter what, I am everything in the eyes of God.
Publications Student Leader
Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re centering this year all around these three words, “Come and see.” It’s a challenge to all of us both to follow these three words and to share them with others. We have a few ideas of how you can do that this month and all year round in our Orthodox Awareness Month manual. We hope you check it out and participate.
But what does it really mean to come and see? Toward what are we coming and what will we see? Well, for the next four Wednesdays for Orthodox Awareness Month, we’ll reflect on just that!
The first time the phrase “come and see” appears in the Gospel of John is right after John the Baptist calls Jesus twice “the Lamb of God” and says that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and rest upon Him. A few of John’s disciples must have been intrigued by their master’s deference to his newly-arrived cousin because they decide to follow Him to see where He’s going.
I’m not sure they knew what they were in for when Jesus turned and asked them, “What do you seek?” But by some moment of inspiration, they asked Him where He was staying.
In his homily on this passage, St. John Chrysostom notices
They did not say, “Teach us of Thy doctrines, or some other thing that we need to know”; but what? “Where dwellest Thou?”
It’s an interesting question. Why not ask, “What do you teach?” or “Why does John call you the Lamb of God?” There’s something significant about knowing the place where the Lord lives and then coming to stay with Him in His own home. To come and see where the Teacher dwells is experiential.
This, I think, is why we prefer the invitation “come and see” over long-winded philosophical arguments about the validity of our Orthodox Christian beliefs. We know that Truth is beyond words–it must be experienced before it can be expressed, and no expression will ever do justice to the experience itself. The place to experience God, to simply come and see where He lives, is in the Church. The Church is the place where God’s Heavenly Kingdom is most clearly breaking through into the created realm.
Take the account of the pagan Slavs sent by St. Vladimir to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, for example. Upon returning to their king, the delegates declared
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there.
And it is not just the beauty of the Liturgy and the music and the icons that make known the place where the Lord dwells, but the beauty of the Body of Christ, the beauty of Christian hearts being purified by God’s love.
So the first calling of come and see is simply to enter into the place where the Teacher lives, to follow Him and earnestly desire to experience the life of His Kingdom. This is the first step in the making of a disciple of Christ, to seek out where the Lord dwells and then stay with Him a while.
I’d be willing to bet, that if a poll were taken of the world’s most beautiful churches, the list would be of the great cathedrals in Greece, the Holy Land, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia. While of course the grand and stately churches and cathedrals we conjure in our minds are in fact beautiful, there are many more that are no bigger than a standard American two-car garage.
The following 30 photos take a tour of the theology of space, and how it gets really personal the smaller it gets. Enjoy!
1. Private Chapel in Turin, New York
This chapel in upstate New York was a labor of love for Charles “Ed” Scherneck, who spentt twenty years building it completely from scratch. Unfortunately, it was left unfinished at the time of his death in 2003, and was auctioned off in a state of disrepair last fall.
2. Holy Trinity Chapel, Antarctica
Built entirely of real Siberian Pine, this Holy Trinity Chapel was reassembled half a world away from its original construction to serve Russian researchers in Antarctica.
3. Athens International Airport Chapel
The chapel inside Athens International Airport, though officially nondenominational, puts a particularly tasteful spin on Orthodox modernism. Hopefully it provides much needed peace from the stress of travel.
4. St. John’s Monastery in Goldendale, Washington
St. John’s Monastery shows how a beautiful Iconostasis can go a long way – balancing Orthodox spirituality with some HGTV sensibility!
5. St. Paraskeva Chapel, Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia
This chapel is housed in the last car of a fully-equipped hospital train which makes monthly trips on the Trans-Siberian railway to serve communities with little access to either health or pastoral care.
6. Orthodox Military Chapel in Kandahar, Afghanistan
This chapel was built on the NATO base in Kandahar, Afghanistan based on designs of wooden Romanian Churches from Transylvania. It has served as the home parish for countless soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.
7. Holy Trinity Church, Holy Dormition Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine
This church sits atop the “Economic Gates” of the monastery hardly has enough room for a small car to pass below. According to ancient Ukrainian architectural custom, a church was built over every gateway into a fortress or city. This was done for two reasons: firstly, to remind a visitor from outside of the city that they were entering a holy place, and can thank God for arriving safely, and secondly, for people to pray for protection before venturing out into the unprotected wilderness beyond the city limits.
8. Church of the Mother of God in Biały Bór, Poland
This church was designed by Jerzy Nowosielski, a Polish graphic artist and iconographer in the mid 1990s. Critics condemn this church’s unconventional design, but Nowosielski dug deep into the theology of Early Byzantine Liturgical spaces. He was also inspired by the timeless drama he found in Liturgy, “as a person who is well nigh obsessively concerned with liturgical questions, I consider the Christian liturgy to be a transformation of the Greek theater.” As such, the arches, stairways, and columns directly allude to ancient Greek stages.
9. St. Seraphim Church in Walshingham, Norfolk, England
Built into the arches of the former waiting area of an abandoned train station, St. Seraphim also hosts one of the most sought-after schools of iconography in the United Kingdom.
10. The Russian Orthodox Chapel at Sylvanès Abbey, France
This charming chapel sits deep in the Pyrenees and sponsored by the local Roman Catholic Diocese as an act of good will to the small local Orthodox community. The wooden construction was built in Russia, then shipped to its current location in four modular pieces.
11. St. Nicholas Chapel on the battleship Gregorios Averof, Greece
Dedicated to the intercessor of sailors, this chapel sits inside of the Greek Navy’s flagship.
12. Holy Trinity Monastery in Bodenwerder, Germany
This secluded monastery hosts a beautiful chapel with some striking iconography in a really intimate space.
13. Church of the Three-Handed Mother of God in Tallinn, Estonia
Carved out of a medieval arsenal, this tiny church dedicated to the icon of the Three-Handed Mother of God has a beautifully rustic iconostasis.
14. Romanian Village church
This teeny church in Romania shows the best of religious folk art.
15. Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel in Hungary
This chapel was dedicated in 2001 in the attic of a formerly state-owned library in Hungary.
16. St. Olav Chapel in Folldal, Norway
The chapel was built in 2003 at Steinhaugen farm in Central Norway following traditional Norwegian farm building architecture.
17. Monastery of St Antony and St Cuthbert in Shropshire, England
This monastery chapel is a truly meditative place part of a monastery in the heart of rural England. The icons were written by the hand of Aidan Hart.
18. Emmaus House, Harlem, New York
The Emmaus House is a refuge for homeless in Harlem. Not only can they go to the Emmaus House to pray, it’s also the most active Eastern Christian food pantry in New York.
19. St. George Chapel in Jerusalem
This pilgrims’ chapel is misleading in size, but look at the Cathedra on the right, and it’s clear that a normal-sized priest wouldn’t even fit under the Iconostasis without bending his neck.
20. Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
This monastery chapel achieves the intended effect of making the faithful feel like they’re surrounded by the mysterious and comforting presence of God.
21. Pilgrims’ chapel in Bethlehem.
Another pilgrims’ chapel in the Holy Land, this one is carved in a cave not too far from where Jesus was born.
22. The Shrine, Little Walsingham, Norfolk, England
Meant to be an ecumenical house of worship, the Shrine, as its known, hosts a series of small prayer rooms for members of various faiths.
23. Uzhorod Castle Chapel
This chapel offers an interesting social commentary on what it means to be royalty, and where the sanctuary is in relation to the nave.
24. Private Chapel to St. John Climacus in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
A former rec room, this family decided to create a chapel to one of the greatest monastics in their own home. It gives whole new meaning to “the domestic Church.”
25. Private Chapel of Viktor Yanukovcyh at Mezhyhirya
The line between beautiful and gaudy was crossed by Ukraine’s former president when he built this chapel attached to his bedroom. Notably, he completely leveled what remained of a 10th century women’s monastery to build this monument to himself. Not all church constructions are well-intentioned, unfortunately.
26. Dormition Chapel in Kom, Montenegro
Beautiful in its simplicity, the sun illuminates the sanctuary of this monastery chapel.
27. St. Nicholas Chapel in a suburb of Kyiv, Ukraine.
This chapel was built in a village outside of Kyiv for people who don’t think a church can ever be too close to home: the back yard.
28. St. Barlaam Chapel, Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, Ukraine
This chapel of St. Barlaam was dug out in the eleventh century and rests more than sixty feet below ground. The holy imperishable relics of St. Barlaam, who lived and died in same place as this chapel is today, rest to the right of this picture, out of frame. He is known for being the first abbot of the monastery.
29. St. Nicholas Chapel in Toronto, Ontario
Tucked between office buildings in Toronto’s financial district, this chapel provides an intimate setting for prayer amid the city’s bustle.
30. St. Sabbas in Harper Woods, Michigan
Part of a monastery complex in suburban Detroit, this chapel welcomes visitors from the imperial-Russian-inspired restaurant next door.