"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

First Book of the Year: The Orthodox Church

I started reading two books yesterday and the very first one of the New Year is The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. Both Amber and Daniel have recommended this book, it made my Amazon wishlist and I got it within a few days of my adding it there thanks to The Family's Need for Christmas Gift Suggestions for Me!  Everybody cheer now.

I can tell this is going to be one of those books I have to read a bit slowly because it's all new to me.  I plan to not get bogged down in detailed notes, preferring to jot key thoughts and interesting tidbits that took my attention instead.  Feel free to expound upon anything here or in future notes if you wish.

Right off the bat on page one, the author caught my attention when he said "Christians in the west, both Roman and Reformed, generally start by asking the same questions, although they may disagree about the answers. In Orthodoxy, however, it is not merely the answers that are different - the questions themselves are not the same as in the west." 


Immediately I wanted to know: "what do you mean? what different questions?", but of course I must read the book to find the answers!

Although I've always considered myself as a Protestant to be very different from Catholics, in Orthodox views we "appear as two sides of the same coin" and the Pope is the first Protestant!    (p.2)

Orthodoxy means "right belief" and "right glory/worship" and the Orthodox "regard their Church as the Church which guards and teaches the true belief about God and which glorifies Him with right worship."  (pg. 8)

Also in the introduction the author mentions briefly that the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches split. This book mainly discusses the latter. He notes how the eastern expansion of the church was thwarted by this division and later the split with the Roman Catholic church kept it from expanding westward.  So it moved north...thus you find Russia, Romania, Bulgaria and surrounding areas home to large numbers of Orthodox Christians.  (pg.5)

Much of the time the Church was part of the State. (pg. 7) This reminds me of other books I've read where the religion and state were very closely tied in the past. People identified themselves mainly by religious labels in those days.

Although the Patriarch of Constantinople (known as the Ecumenical [or universal] Patriarch) holds a high honorary position, there is no equivalent to the Catholic Pope in Orthodox Christianity. (pg. 7)

In speaking of the Church and how people tend to think of it, the author notes Ignatius "thought of the Church as a Eucharistic society, which only realizes its true nature when it celebrates the Supper of the Lord, receiving His Body and Blood in the sacrament. But the Eucharist is something that can only happen locally - in each particular community gathered round its bishop; and at every local celebration of the Eucharist it is the whole Christ who is present, not just part of Him. Therefore each local community, as it celebrates the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday, is the Church in its fullness." (pg. 13)

Obviously this caught my attention since I noted it, but as to its meaning...I'm still trying to figure it out.  "Realizes its true nature"  -- what's this?  And what does he mean by stressing the "whole Christ" is present rather than merely a part of Him?  Why is celebrating the Eucharist "the Church in its fullness"?  Maybe the rest of the book sheds light these topics, but for now I'm pondering these words.

The three types of martyrdom was interesting:
1. White -- abandoning everything you love for the sake of God ; I'm guessing this is like a nun or monk possibly even a missionary who leaves his country and the comforts of home and family being near to serve God on a foreign field

2. Green -- freeing yourself of evil desires by fasting, laboring, or "suffer[ing] toil in penance and repentance"  -- I remembered a blog discussion a few weeks ago about unmarried Muslim men controlling sexual urges by fasting when I saw this description (note: sex is not an evil desire; however outside of marriage, sex is frowned on and considered sinful in some religions)

3. Red --  enduring "a Cross or death for Christ's sake"   (pg.15) -- I believe these are the ones most of us think of when we hear the word martyr (I do anyway); think shaheed in Islam

The Orthodox Church believes councils are important. In fact, "it believes that the council is the chief organ whereby God has chosen to guide His people. ... In the Church there is neither dictatorship nor individualism, but harmony and unanimity; its members remain free but not isolated, for they are united in love, in faith, and in sacramental communion. ... In a true council no single member arbitrarily imposes his will upon the rest, but each consults with the others, and in this way they all freely achieve a 'common mind.'"  (pg. 15)

I liked that description of councils actually.  I've noticed how the East tends to be more about community and family whereas the West often stresses individualism (although I'd be wrong to say family and society are thrown out the window as family is very important to most of us despite what outsiders may think.)  "Free but not isolated" sounds quite good actually.

On the negative side: I wonder if all these men who make up the council (I'm assuming women are not part of this) "freely achieve a 'common mind'" that keeps women as second-class residents of this planet whose main purpose in life is to serve men and breed children.  I suppose I'll have to read more and make up my mind.



Joni said...

"the Pope is the first Protestant! (p.2)" I am familiar with this view through our friend who is Othodox. They believe that at the earliest disagreement the Catholic church became the first to 'protest' and change. I know I am not saying it as properly as an Othodox Christian would. The irony is that the Catholics think the same about the Othodox. :P

Did you know that 'catholic' means "universal"?

Daniel said...

Catholic (little “c”) does mean universal. Orthodox Christians are catholic and then you have Roman catholic.

I would not attempt to read any of this book with a feministic mentality. God created man and woman for entirely different purposes and uses them for different missions. If this isn't understood, nothing will satisfy. Think Mary, mother of Christ. This may help a little. Also, if memory serves, I believe this is touched on somewhere in the book. I have read a few and sometimes get them mixed up.

There are things which will bounce back and forth, referencing different parts of the book. Some questions will not be answered until later chapters. This also, is a great introductory book into Orthodoxy, introductory being the key word. Good stuff, and I hope you enjoy the reading. I know the “different questions” is difficult for us westerners to wrap our heads around. It is a mindset thing, a way of thinking, foreign to us here. I was told this countless times and it took awhile for me to realize what they were talking about. Wait until you get to the mysticism stuff. Sounded scary to me, but was really interesting.

I am currently reading The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy. So far, very good!!! I really like it, so if you finish your book with a few questions still lingering, think about reading this one. It covers much of the same material, but more in-depth, I think.

Best of luck and if you have any specific questions, I will do my very best to answer them or find the answer for you.

Amber said...

Whee! I'm happy to see you've started this one. :)

re: the questions being different. I think it has to do with having a different culture and a different mind set. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are very much Western in their thoughts so even though they come to different conclusions the thought process tends to be similar.

Even though family is important to many many people in the West the cultural emphasis is still on individuality and forging our own paths, etc. We love the lone ranger kind of heroes. I'm not sure if I'd call it a fault but I think it's very true that we prize individuality more than cooperation with others whether they're family or not.

On the negative side: I wonder if all these men who make up the council (I'm assuming women are not part of this) "freely achieve a 'common mind'" that keeps women as second-class residents of this planet whose main purpose in life is to serve men and breed children.

*blink* I'm wondering why this even came up to be honest. Do you have some reason to think that Orthodoxy is keeping or trying to keep women down?

Also, my captcha is 'flogr'. I am so highly amused by this fact. :)

Lat said...

Interesting book! Can't wait to read more of your reviews.Do take your time and I know how it feels to go thru particular sections of the book slowly :)

Maybe the history lessons can help me too!

Anonymous God-blogger said...

It's a great book; enjoy.

Here is one Orthodox woman's essay on women in the EO church--her name is Frederica--


I am Orthodox and I wonder a lot about this issue--as do some others--but anyway, I thought this essay was interesting.

Susanne said...

Joni, thanks for sharing what you knew from your Orthodox friend! Yeah, I remember that about catholic, but I appreciate the reminder. It's sometimes hard for me to think of catholic with a little c! :)

Susanne said...

Daniel, thanks for your help! I would love for you to blog about any interesting bits in the book you are currently reading. yes, this stuff is pretty weird to me..I have two more posts of notes from only a few pages (they will be posted soon). I have to try to think differently, I suppose!

Oh, I realize God made the sexes different and I don't mind that at all. However I take huge issue with groups of men coming together and oppressing women and saying men are superior as if women are only good for breeding and staying home. I'm not saying the OC did this merely stating I hope they did not. :)

Susanne said...

Amber, I appreciate all that you added including your captcha 'flogr." :-P

I understand what you mean about our individualized vs. community-minded paths. Hmmmm .. I wonder when all that changed and why.

Oh, i don't know that they are sexist in any way. I think I've been influenced too much by groups of men who have come together to oppress women. Read too many books on islam perhaps. Muslims say it offers so many rights for women, yet some of the most oppressed people in the world are Muslim women. I am tired of groups of men coming together to keep women down. The faith doesn't oppress them so men must be, right? So my comment stemmed from that. I should have been clearer. :)

Thanks for your feedback!

Susanne said...

Lat, yes, I know you appreciate history so I hope these posts will be beneficial in that aspect for you! Thanks for your feedback...it's always appreciated!

Susanne said...

Anon God-blogger, welcome and thank you very much for that interesting article! I am at my dad's house and took time to read it all because I found it of great interest! I do appreciate your sharing it with me. I would love your feedback and help on other Orthodox notes posts if you feel so lead. :)

Anonymous said...

On the negative side: I wonder if all these men who make up the council (I'm assuming women are not part of this) "freely achieve a 'common mind'" that keeps women as second-class residents of this planet whose main purpose in life is to serve men and breed children.

Paradoxically, those who would insist on the rights of women to the priesthood are themselves by definition saying that the role of women (which is so much more than is stated above!) is in some way inferior to a man's role. Orthodox Christianity is an iconic faith, and we see the roles ascribed to men and women as icons of the High Priest Jesus Christ and the Church itself. This does not mean that we have roles of women VERSUS the roles of men. Rather we have God-given roles FOR men and women, that were handed down to us in the Traditions of the Church as a most appropriate celebration of the complimentary partnership and very valid natural distinctions between the genders. We are all glorified when we thankfully and with all humility embrace the roles that God has graced us with. The idea of 'competition' between men and women and who is 'superior' is an intrusion of worldly thinking into the thinking of the Church.

Remember, although spiritually there is no male and female, in the created order Eve was created from a rib of Adam. This does not mean that one is inferior to the other, but it should rather be understood as male and female being united as a single, complementary whole. There is no inferiority or competition but instead a mystical completion. Each has unique roles in natural life and the life of the Church, but the respective roles are not to the shame of each, but to their glory!

Enjoy the book! It's a great introduction!

Susanne said...

Herman, welcome and thank you for what you added. That was really quite pretty how you stated it. :)

Not sure if you read the comments where I explained what influenced those words from me in the post, but I read a lot about Islam last year and it seems groups of men are always meeting and deciding to keep the women down. I'm happy to read this is not the case in your faith! :)

"Remember, although spiritually there is no male and female, in the created order Eve was created from a rib of Adam. This does not mean that one is inferior to the other, but it should rather be understood as male and female being united as a single, complementary whole. There is no inferiority or competition but instead a mystical completion."

I really liked this and it reminded me of Paul talking about the various body parts (symbolically speaking of the parts of the Church) and how one cannot say to the other that "I am more important than you." Each body part is important...feet help us in ways hearts cannot and brains help in ways noses can't, but each are important in making up the whole person.

I appreciate your comment!