You may recall that I started off this year reading Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church which had been recommended by two friends. It was a great overview of this faith so when Amazon recommended The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann, I put it on my Wishlist. And a dear friend sent it to me for my birthday! *feels the love* So I just finished reading it and must admit the first book was better, more complete in explaining (so, Amber, your recommendation was better than Amazon's), but this one had many interesting aspects not covered in the first. So I feel a bit more well-rounded after having read both!
Here are a few things that took my attention enough to jot down the page numbers with intent to share. There was other stuff that I just decided not to post although I found it educational as well.
This bit about Constantine was good. I'll let you guess which side I fall under in the East/West divide. I was especially surprised when I read that the Eastern Church puts Constantine up there with the disciples of Jesus!
"For Eastern Christianity, Constantine still remains the holy initiator of the Christian world, the instrument for the victory of light over darkness that crowned the heroic feats of the martyrs. The West, on the other hand, often regards the era of Constantine as the beginning of an enslavement of the Church by the state, or even as the first falling away on the part of the Church from the height of primitive Christian freedom." (pg. 62)
For some reason I found this incredibly interesting although I'm not exactly sure why. Is "becoming a Christian" being baptized, saying a 'sinner's prayer,' following Jesus or what? Reminds me of becoming Muslim being as simple as saying the shahada. For the record, Constantine really wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River so that may be why he waited so long to be baptized.
Constantine did not receive baptism "the only symbol the Church accepts of becoming a Christian" until his deathbed. Thus the "primary, initial paradox" is "that the first Christian emperor was a Christian outside of the Church, and the Church silently but with full sincerity and faith accepted and recognized him." In Constantine's mind his faith in Christ "had been bestowed personally and directly for his victory over the enemy - in other words, as he was fulfilling his imperial duty. Consequently the victory he had won with the help of the Christian God had placed the emperor - and thereby the empire as well - under the protection of the Cross and in direct dependence upon Christ." (pg. 66)
Ever heard how Christianity has a lot of pagan aspects to it? Like Christmas, for instance, isn't talked about in the Bible as being December 25. Easter eggs? Not there. Christmas trees? Nope. Animal sacrifice and circumcision starting with the Jews as something new God gave only to them? No again.
The author talked a bit about paganism and how people back then felt about their religions and in a section speaking of reverence for saints and their relics and the "increasing complexity of worship" and interest in holy places and such, the author notes that many have directly attributed this to "pagan influence in the Church and regarded [it] as a compromise with the world for the sake of a mass victory." Yet the author states that the Christian does not need to apologize for this or try to explain it. "On the contrary, he may boldly accept the charge....Christianity adopted and assimilated many forms of pagan religion, not only because they were the eternal forms of religion in general, but also because the intention of Christianity itself was not to replace all forms in this world by new ones, but to fill them with new and true meaning." Instead of thinking of Christianity borrowing from and being influenced by pagan things, think in reverse. All things were initially good, but due to the fall, it has been distorted. "The Church in its own mind has returned to God what rightly belongs to Him, always and in every way restoring the fallen image." (pg. 98) So in a sense, the pagan rites have been redeemed by Christ!
Even if you come to church for the wrong reasons, it's OK! You can hear about Christ and - who knows? - your life may be changed because of it!
Speaking of the "cult of saints" even when their deeds were distorted greatly, the author says when people came to the Church and learned of the saints, they could see how lives were transformed by Christ. "However much men may have brought into the Church what they had seen and sought in pagan temples, when they entered it they now heard those eternal and immutable words about the Savior crucified for our sins - about the perfect love that God has shown us - and about His kingdom as the final goal of all living beings." (pg. 101)
Notice that last phrase and tell me if that won't make a HUGE difference in your "Christianity." Christian-in-name-only, anyone?
About a "Christian theocracy" -- "State sanctions gave the Church unprecedented strength, and perhaps brought many to faith and new life, but after Theodosius the Great it was no longer a community of believers; it was also a community of those obliged to believe." (pg. 111, emphasis mine)
Well, hey, if many in your community were "obliged to believe," why would you not have this problem? What is our excuse today? This is how John Chrysostom saw the Church
"His central concern was the Christian life of his flock and its variety and everyday reality. Before him was a world that had accepted Christianity but was still so close to paganism, so deeply poisoned by sin and ignorance, that it did not take the faith itself too seriously. People crowded into the churches, but outside church walls - and indeed, sometimes within them - were moral irresponsibility, hatred, and injustice." (pg. 112)
This was the last bit of the whole book, the last sentence is included below. I love the last three words.
"In the record of Orthodoxy, as in the story of Christianity in general, there is no lack of defects and human sins. ... The true Orthodox way of thought has always been historical, has always included the past, but has never been enslaved by it. Christ is 'yesterday and today and forever the same,' and the strength of the Church is not in the past, present, or future, but in Christ." (pg. 341)