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

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- Holy Spirit, Fulfillment, Heaven, Benches, Children, Sacraments, Death

I'm still reading The Orthodox Church. I finished the history section a few days ago and decided not to post much about the more contemporary times of the Orthodox such as its life under Communism in Russia. Now I'm in the worship section and it's not real light-and-easy reading for me.  Much of it I can relate to, but there's quite a bit more that is new to me. Like praying for the departed.  I never realized our prayers for those already dead could make a difference as I've always been taught we get our chance here. We make the right decision, instant paradise. Reject God, well, eternal separation.  Then I read the view of hell is such that it's basically having to endure God when you don't want to!  Not exactly the lake of fire stuff Jesus described, but I gather that many believe this was metaphorical speech common back then.  Heh. 

I did like the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. My preacher sometimes says we tend to be leery of those who focus too much on the Holy Spirit because we see them as a bit odd. I guess all those faith healings on TV, being "slain in the spirit" and such...they just make us raise our skeptical eyes.  But I like the Holy Spirit. I've actually come to appreciate His role much more in recent years although I'm still not a speaking in tongues kind of person.  Perhaps I don't have enough faith or Spirit for that and my doubts keep me from experiencing this.

This evening I read a few things I wanted to share.  First this which reminded me of the Psalm (16:11) that states,

"'You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever."

Timothy Ware writes:

"Orthodoxy sees human beings above all else as liturgical creatures who are most truly themselves when they glorify God, and who find their perfection and self-fulfillment in worship."

Does this statement not remind you of the verse above? The Psalmist says in God's presence is fullness of joy.  The author here says humans find self-fulfillment in worship.  I wonder if this is why Christian Scriptures view heaven as people of all nations, all tribes, all tongues gathered around God's throne praising Him?  Contrast this to Islam's view of heaven complete with wine, women and honey!  The Islamic view may see fullness of joy and human fulfillment in sex and food and drinks forbidden on earth, but God knows - at least according to the Christian view - that only HE can satisfy our souls.  He is the Creator so why not?  Is this so far fetched?

I just thought of a song we sing -- "All that thrills my soul is Jesus. He is more than life to me" one line reads.  Yes, so God is the One who thrills our souls. Yet we on earth often seek to fill the void, fill the emptiness with materialism, with good food and wine, with fun times, entertainment, sometimes promiscuity.  We are longing for something to make us satisfied when the Bible is clear that God is the Satisfier of our souls!

Do you agree?

One cute thing I read was that in recent decades Orthodox have sometimes added benches to their churches.  The author writes of this with some sadness as he feels this makes services more formal. You cannot move around or get up and leave when you are stuffed on a row where you will disturb those on either side of you if you need to move.  "[Orthodox] are at home in their church -- not troops on a parade ground, but children in their Father's house. Orthodox worship is often termed 'otherworldly,' but could more truly be described as 'homely': it is a family affair."  (pg.270)  I just found the view of informally enjoying God's house as charming and sweet.  I could picture myself at my parents' house and how I flit from room to room enjoying just being there, enjoying the fellowship with other family members.

Baptism by immersion

In speaking of the sacraments -- I've read of three so far -- the author writes that Baptism is by immersion, not sprinkling or smearing.  As a Baptist, I can relate to this myself! :-)  However they do infant baptism, unlike us.   We believe people should choose to follow Jesus for themselves and,therefore, baptism happens after one decides to follow Christ.  Immediately following Baptism, the Orthodox have Chrismation which seems to be some sealing of the Holy Spirit on the child as they are anointed with a special ointment on various parts of the body.  The author noted Chrismation is also used as a sacrament of reconciliation.  For instance, one who left the Church and came back or a Roman Catholic or Protestant who converts is often received this way.  The Eucharist is never withheld from children as the Orthodox believe "suffer the little children to come unto me for of such is the kingdom of God."  They want children to always have memories of taking part in communion.  (pg. 279)

Oh, I cried when I read how the Orthodox treated dead bodies with love not abhorrence.  They often have open caskets and everyone kisses the body. That visual was just so touching to me that I cried.  Also they strongly oppose cremation.

Any thoughts, comments, corrections?


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the read - I'll refrain from giving you any thoughts of my own as this is a very important time for you to find the truth for yourself. But if you ever have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I'll do my best to help in any way I can. This goes for whether you are just seeking to understand or looking for the first church. :)

Susanne said...

Morning Mercy, thank you and welcome! Please feel free to share any thoughts concerning this post if you wish. I appreciate your kind words. :)

Jim Baxter said...

"What is human?" GOD's answer...

Keven J. Hasson, President of the Becket Fund, recently stated, "...the American and Soviet systems...offered differing visions of freedom and human nature." The missing element in every human 'solution' is an accurate definition of the creature.

In the Bible, God's Word has accurately defined the human being as 'the earth creature endowed with the ability to choose.' His natural Rights, therefore, are merely an extension and application of natural human endowments, which all humans - everywhere in the world - possess. Even as goldfish, canaries, and puppy dogs require an environment based on their natural features, so humans require external freedom to fulfill their natural internal abilities of choice, selection, election, and consent. Uniquely, America was founded on this definitive paradigm in human nature. All nations should reject foundational human opinion that teaches otherwise.

Further, God's gift of criteria for choosing between alternatives supplies us with superior standards for successful visionary choice-making. Humans cannot invent (or replace) criteria greater than self, ACLU to the contrary.

Defining 'human' accurately is the first step in establishing accurate and successful environments, institutions, and creative relationships for earth's Choicemaker. Middle East governments, and all leaders, would do well to pay attention: nature and nature's Creator speak with an authoritative voice. Psalms 25:12 119:30, 173 Joel 3:14 Selah

No one is smarter than their criteria.

Jim Baxter Sgt. USMC WWII & Korean War semper fidelis

Amber said...

Well, you know what I think about the heaven/hell question. But I'll yammer on about it some more anyway. :)

Growing up I got the typical images of heaven and hell. People in white robes (sometimes we got wings!) laying about, playing harps, whatever for heaven. And...and I thought it looked like the most boring place ever. I mean, really. Earth is *much* more interesting than that. Heck, I got in trouble one time (contain your shock!) for telling a Sunday school teacher that at least hell sounded interesting. Nor, later on, did the vision of Islamic version of heaven appeal. It's a desert dwellers imagining of heaven, but it doesn't...I mean really, so what? Water, dates, wine, pretty girls/boys. Well, I think the pretty attendees are supposed to only be for the men. Women get...I don't know. But whatever. That's not the point. Heaven as a sybaritic paradise doesn't seem right either. Why would you things that were forbidden on earth because they were bad suddenly be okay in heaven, in God's very presence?

It's like telling a kid they can't have the cookie now, because it's poison. But if they eat all their brussel sprouts they can have the *exact same* cookie in an hour. What happened to the poison? But I could just not understand the Islamic version of heaven very well.

But it made a lot of sense, and continues to make sense to me that after death we are pure spirit. And God (though not merely spirit and incomprehensible to us) is everywhere all the time. So once we've shuffled off the mortal coil, is there a place to go where God is not? I don't believe so. So we must go into His presence. But we'll all experience it differently based on the lives we led here on earth.

I think we're leery of those who emphasize the Holy Spirit because of the 'holy rollers' abduction and abuse of the term. I know that many of them are sincere, but that doesn't make them right in what they do, or how they do it.

re: pews - The first Orthodox church I went to didn't have any pews. Partially I think it was because they were in a temporary building while they built their permanent church, but it was interesting. They had chairs around for people who wanted or needed to sit through the service but a lot of the congregation stood the whole time. The Greek church has built in pews, but they still retained enough space in the back for people who wish to stand through the service to do so. Now that you mention it I do (oddly, given the Liturgy) feel less formal when I go to the Orthodox services. People aren't shooting death glares at anyone who has to get up to leave for any reason. Hm.

Ah, you know how I feel about infant baptism, so I won't do that all again. This comment is probably too long anyway. But I do believe it's the correct way.

The reception of converts into the Orthodox church via chrismation apparently can differ depending on where you're coming from in the first place or even the priest. From what I've read, some don't accept any denominational baptism and so you have to be baptised and everything as an adult. It's a question I've been thinking about since I was baptised as an infant, but in the Lutheran church, and it wasn't by immersion. So was I really baptised? And when I converted to Roman Catholicism they accepted my Lutheran baptism as valid, so I wasn't baptised then. Would the Orthodox accept that I'd been baptised even though it wasn't in the proper form and in a Protestant denomination? I know you can't answer that. Just thinking out loud.

I love the reverence for the dead as well. It's so unusual in today's society where we shy away from anything that reminds us that we're not immortal.

Susanne said...

Mr. Baxter,welcome and thank you for your very interesting comment on defining "humans." I appreciate what you had to share on that topic! Thank you for stopping by. :)

Susanne said...

Amber, I'm **so glad** you decided to "yammer on" and write a long comment. I especially enjoyed and appreciated your thoughts on heaven. I think you are far from being the only one thinking the white-robes, harp-playing heaven sounds boring! Ha, ha. Maybe you are the only one brave enough to say it during a Sunday school lesson, but I know for a fact others feel the same. I do. I remember a guy in my high school class at a Christian school asked if we would get to play soccer in heaven because floating around on clouds eating grapes seems boring. I agree. Thankfully no one has ever tried to reinforce that this is all we will be doing and my preacher says he plans to fish there (because it's one of the things he enjoys so much on earth.) He takes that "eye has not seen, nor ears heard" verse rather literally I suppose. :) His point and I think most people's is that heaven will be beyond anything we can imagine. You like life on earth? Wait until sadness and heartache are over. Maybe those things were necessary on earth so we could contrast THIS (with its wonderful times and its horrible times) with THERE (where sin will be no more and where pain is gone, no more separation from God.) So if earth can be this good, why cannot heaven be better?

I liked your illustration re: the Islamic heaven and the cookie. I haven't used that exact illustration,but I have wondered "out loud" to some Muslims why what is forbidden here will suddenly be OK there.

Glad you shared your experience with pews in Orthodox churches and such. Also I liked reading your comments on death, infant baptism and Chrismation. Thanks much for all you added especially the heaven bit. It's VERY helpful!

Amber said...

I think the problem with describing heaven is mainly that we're restricted to comparing it to pleasant things on earth if we want to get the point across in the beginning that it's all good things. So we paint these pictures, but they don't even come close. Only they get ingrained in our minds and we get the false idea that that's what heaven is like. When really it's beyond comprehension. So I like being able to say that heaven is being in God's presence and leave it at that. What could be more wonderful?

Susanne said...

Yes,it's a very nice thought. Much better than boredom on the one hand and a heavenly whorehouse on the other. :)

I actually have a talk on heaven on Facebook now.


Your interesting comment inspired me to ask! ;)

Daniel said...

In relation to the Holy Spirit, I would suggest you read up on St. Seraphim of Sarov. When I started to learn of him, and I have much more to learn, all I could think about was how wonderful it would be to have as much of the Holy Spirit filling me as it did him. Beautiful!

My understanding of infant baptism (other than what you already addressed) is the cleansing of original sin. We are born sinful and the baptism cleanses us of that original sin. Chrismation seals us until we are old enough to make the choices to sin or not sin. At least that is my understanding. I have already been baptized by immersion and in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, so all I need now is Chrismation. Until then, I am not able to partake in communion. I tend to look at it this way…if the first century church did this and it didn’t change until around the 1500’s and many churches still do this, can it really be a bad thing? I tend not to get too wrapped up around the axel on this one.

Daniel said...

Amber, I think I can answer your question about baptism…sort of. It does depend on the Diocese Bishop. The priest really doesn’t have much say in the matter. The only reason I don’t have to get baptized again is because when I was baptized in the Baptist faith, it was done in the same manner as the Orthodox Church. Some Bishops still require it do be done anyway, but mine does not. I have a feeling if you were only sprinkled they would require you to be properly baptized. I even offered to do it again, but my priest said I was good and should stick with what the Bishop told me so I will not be. What would happen, should you decide to join, once your education period is finished you would be baptized and chrismated on the same day.

Hope this helps. Ultimately, its up to the Bishop of the church you attend.

Becky said...

This is one of my big problems with Orthodox/Catholic (some protestant) churches, the idea of original sin. It really does not sit well with me. I refuse to believe that a baby is born as anything other than completely pure and innocent, and I refuse to believe that should a baby die before baptism s/he will not be saved.
Also, the idea of baptism as a child doesn't sit well with me either. I'd prefer to leave the choice up to the child her/himself, when s/he is old enough to make that decision.

As for heaven, I like what Amber said about it being in God's presence. I like that thought a lot actually. Neither the Christian nor the Islamic version of heaven sounds particularly appealing to me.

Also, I tend to prefer not to have so much focus on heaven/hell, but rather on the life we're living right now. There's this female Sufi, Rabia, who lived around 700CE, some of my favourite quotes by her are:
If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.


I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:
With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames of Hell
So that voyagers to God can rip the veils
And see the real goal.

Amber said...


That does help, thanks. I remembered that the decision was made on a fairly local level, but for some reason I thought each priest could make the decision. It's good to know it's the Bishop rather. :)

I was either baptized by sprinkling or pouring, but certainly not immersion. We have pictures from the baptism so even though none of my family can recall, I can see I was definitely not all wet!

Amber said...


Huh. That's different from what I understood the Orthodox stance on original sin and baptism to be. I was told that the concept is not an original sin that we are born with where, if we die as infants we are automatically condemned to hell, through someone elses' sin as it were, but rather the stain of that original sin is carried on in the consequences that we suffer from it. So mankind dies, because of original sin and we've inherited the inclination toward choosing sin over following God. We inherited a fallen world, but not the guilt for the sin that caused it to fall.

So if that's the understanding of original sin then baptism can't wash it away, since there is no guilt to be cleansed. I was under the understanding that baptism was a rebirth into the family of God, a circumcision and a mark on us like the circumcision of the Israelites. Which is part of the reasoning for infant baptism as well as communing infants rather than waiting for them to hit some intellectual milestone. There's no good reason to deny a child something that will feed and strengthen them (as being raised in full communion with the Church does) and denying them reception of communion is the same thing, denying them something that will strengthen them.

I saw it compared once to having a child and then making them live apart from the rest of the family until they hit 7. Watching through the windows, as it were. Then telling them that if they want to, they can come be a part of the family and get all the love and everything that is there. Why weren't they allowed to be a full part of the family before that point?

Susanne said...

Daniel, thanks for sharing your thoughts on infant baptism and chrismation. Amber explained it to me once as more of a covenant sort of like the Jews circumcised their sons when they were like 8 days old. I don't know that I believe baptism washes away sin although I'm sure this is colored by the fact that I think baptism is symbolic more than literally something to wash away sin. (Jesus' blood was sufficient for this. And why was he baptized if we believe him to be sinless?)

Becky, I've heard that first Rabia quote before and always found it beautiful! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this discussion!!

Amber, you wrote:

" So mankind dies, because of original sin and we've inherited the inclination toward choosing sin over following God. We inherited a fallen world, but not the guilt for the sin that caused it to fall."

This is how I think of original sin as well. The inclination to sin is there. No one had to teach me to be selfish and lie, but you always see mom's saying "Share your toys" and "don't lie" because those things come naturally.

Oh, I see you already explained your thoughts to Daniel re; infant baptism. You know, I realllllly love what you said there and the example given about the family! Wow, thanks!!

Daniel said...

Like I said, I am still very new to most of this and may word it with the sting of being a protestant rather than how they would word it. Doing my best.


Amber said...

Me too, actually. I've only been studying Orthodoxy for maybe a year and everything I've learned has been from books or people I meet on the internet! I'm shy irl so I haven't even managed to introduce myself to the priest at the church I attend most of the time! :)

I hope I didn't come across as being bossy or nasty or anything. I was just surprised at your answer and I tend to over share/explain/think 'out loud' in these comments. But if I did, I'm sorry. That wasn't my intention at all.

I think I need a disclaimer: 'Amber will sound like an ass at some point. She doesn't mean it that way. Please forgive her, she's socially challenged. :)'

Susanne said...

Amber, you should have that as your tag line on your blog! :-P You made me laugh! Not good for old ladies as they approach bed time either! Wretched girl!!

Amber said...


Yeah, I really should, shouldn't I? Just so people know what they're getting into.

I am resisting all the old lady jokes that came to mind. I just want you to know that so you can appreciate my restraint. :D

Susanne said...

Your restraint is much appreciated. See, as a Southern-raised child, you are at least respectful of your elders, bless your heart. :)