We’re talking outreach again this week. Now that we have the principles down, what can we say when we get questioned about our faith? Let’s start with the hardest question you’ll probably get.
Orthodox? What’s that?
In the back of my head, I’m always thinking…”Hmm…where to start?” It will take us all a lifetime of liturgy, prayer, learning, compassion, humility, and repentance to really answer that question, but as some of you have probably found, a little history lesson is a good place to start for the casual inquirer. And we’re not talking detailed or complex history for you history buffs out there. Just the plain and simple–something that can get the conversation started in a non-confrontational way.
So here goes. My Five-Minute-or-Less Church History Lesson:
The Orthodox Church is the ancient Christian Church, starting at the time of the Apostles and continuing down to us today with an unbroken line. In the early Christian Church, there were five main centers of Christianity: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and each of those centers had a patriarch or pope (same word)–basically, an important bishop. For about a thousand years, there was only one Christian Church, but when the East and the West split, Rome became the Roman Catholic Church while the other four centers remained in communion with each other and became known as the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church. Today, while the majority of Orthodox Christians are in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, there are Orthodox Christians all around the world, including here in the United States/Canada.
Whew. I think I even did that in less than 150 words.
There are two ways the conversation typically goes after this.
Hmm…I never heard of that. That’s interesting.
And now’s your chance for some hospitality so you say,
Yeah, it’s really beautiful. Do you mind me asking you what your faith background is?
And now you listen.
So…is it sort of like Catholic?
That one deserves its own post, So until next week, keep sharing Christ’s Church with love and grace! Oh, and let us know what questions you’ve come across on campus!
We no longer knew whether we were in Heaven or on earth.
—The representatives of Prince Vladmir of Kiev, upon seeing Hagia Sophia for the first time.
There were thirteen of us. We came from all over. We studied nursing, law, theology, medicine, linguistics, geology. As we stood in the tedious security line at JFK, our boarding passes insisted we were travelling to Istanbul. But our true destination was quite different.
The Real Break students and trip leaders, with two representatives from the John C. Kulis Charitable Foundation, had the tremendous blessing of an audience with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
The streets of Constantinople are paved with the rich history of our Orthodox Church. A few short hours after our flight landed, we found ourselves shivering before the gates of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and our chills were not merely from the rain. Just ahead of us loomed the large black doors of the closed Saint Peter’s Gate, sealed shut since martyred Patriarch Gregory V was hanged there on Easter Sunday in 1821. As we hurried through the side entryway that night, and every day thereafter, those sealed doors reminded us of the struggle that Christians still face every day in that city.
We saw evidence of this struggle throughout Constantinople in the days that followed. We visited several beautiful Byzantine churches which still bore the jarring marks of their conversion to mosques after the fall of Constantinople. We stood speechless beneath the dome of Hagia Sophia, and listened as tour groups passed by, chatting amongst themselves, “Isn’t it nice that the Ottomans even allowed Icons in their mosques?” We climbed deep beneath a Turkish rug store to pray in the hidden remains of an ancient Orthodox Church buried below the city, chanting Agni Parthene with tears in our eyes as megaphones blared the Muslim call to prayer above us in the streets. In the words of our trip’s spiritual leader Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, we came to Istanbul and left having seen Constantinople.
His All-Holiness during the procession of the Icons on the Sunday of Orthodoxy at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Constantinople
But we did not simply see a city clinging to the shadow of what Constantinople once was. The work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is still extremely relevant to Orthodox Christians all over the world. We arrived at the conclusion of the 2014 Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Church, and we attended the concelebration on the Sunday of Orthodoxy at the Patriarchal Church of St. George, where we were present for the official reading of the Message of the Primates. To think, on the Sunday of Lent that celebrates the triumph of Orthodoxy and the end of iconoclasm, we were present for this historic event with almost all the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, chanting with them as they raised their icons in the procession.
We met with His All-Holiness on the Monday following this historic Synaxis, and he taught us about the centuries-old experience of the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Movement, and the significance of the Great and Holy Synod which will take place in 2016, as agreed during this Synaxis. At this Great Synod, all the Orthodox Primates will be present to discuss important theological questions in our Church. We all knew from Sunday School that the last Ecumenical Council took place in 787 A.D. It was amazing to learn that we were sitting in a room with the man who was convening the next one, over one thousand years later.
When we met with Metropolitan Elpidophoros at Halki Theological School, he told us
If you are self-confident in your knowledge of the faith, then you are ready to meet the other, whoever that may be. The only way to do that is to be educated.
We were educated beyond belief. In one week, we venerated relics of saints and patriarchs, visited holy springs, and learned about the Holy Myrrh and Chrism, the responsibilities of Archons, and the importance of mission work. We discussed marriage and family life in the Church, the role of technology and innovation, and the importance of women in our faith, even though we cannot be ordained. We saw the need for unity in the church, and the significance of the work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We broadened our understanding of Orthodoxy and the history behind it.
Most importantly, we realized that we all have a responsibility to preserve our Orthodox faith. We’ve all heard that “the youth is the future of the Church,” but we cannot placate ourselves with this notion of a distant future where we will become relevant. We are the now of the Church. As Archbishop Anastasios of Albania told us:
Now is the time for creativity, not repetition. We must think, pray, and act boldly.
This week, we learned that we cannot be passive in our walk with Christ. The Church is beautiful and historic, and it is our job to protect the Truth it stands for.
Real Break Constantinople students light candles at the Life-Giving Spring Monastery
About the Author
Marina Horiates is from Dallas, TX and is a member of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Dallas with her family. She is a junior at Yale University, where she studies English Literature and pre-medical studies. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school and specialize in pediatric oncology.