Christ is risen!
We are now approaching the end of Bright Week, the wonderful week in which we Orthodox greet each other with proclamations of Christ’s resurrection and affirmations that “Indeed He is risen!” During the services of Bright Week the Royal Doors remain open giving us a full view to the alter symbolizing the empty tomb as well as the veil being torn in the Jewish Temple at the moment of Christ’s death. Fasting is prohibited during this time so the faithful can recover their strength after eight weeks of fasting during Lent. It is a time of renewal for all of creation by our Lord Jesus. When I think about what Orthodoxy is and continues the become, renewal is a word that leaps out in so many ways. After exchanging e-mails with a very wise and dear sister in Christ, I began to suspect more renewal was going on than I expected. But first a little background information about me.
I grew up in a family where there was unquestionable belief in Christ, but pretty much little or no discussion of Him outside of church on Sundays. Even then most of the discussing was usually done by the pastor. I was starving for information about the history of the Early Church and Christ. I eventually started reading the Bible and doing a bit of research myself, which turned into more than a little bit, that led me to Orthodoxy.
When I found Orthodoxy, I wondered how it had been kept hidden from me for so long. All the richness that is Orthodoxy, that which many rightly call the fullness of the faith, is impossible for me to describe in one blog post or even a lifetime of blog posts. (Anyone who’s seen the works of St. John Chrysostom understands just a little of what I’m referring to. And he is only one of many who have written about the Orthodox faith in ways I could only dream of.) I had searched for and found Orthodoxy and wondered how on earth I had missed it! But I was recently reminded that I was not alone.
On the other side of the same coin is a dear sister in Christ I know. She’s someone who grew up in Orthodoxy, but, as it sometimes happens, ended up finding herself just as hungry as I was. While she was exposed to Orthodoxy from the cradle, she ended up having the same hunger for the history of the Church. In an e-mail to me she reminded me there were reasons for the slim pickings for us English speakers out here early on. She wrote:
My grandparents never went to school – they could barely read at a low elementary level, in Greek of course. My parents never got good answers to any religious question. When they asked a question, they were told, “Don’t ask questions! Just believe!” Some people left the faith because they thought there were no answers to their questions. People lived in a world of superstition which took the place of knowledge.
It dawned on me our worlds were even more alike than I thought. I grew up going to the church I did because that’s where my parents decided we were going to go. Discussions about the faith or things faith-related rarely, if ever, occurred in our home because my parents weren’t the studying kind. While I know my father went to trade school when he was younger, I know that my mom had not received much more than an elementary school education. We believed in Jesus because someone with authority somewhere in our family (how many generations back is beyond me, but based on a bit of research I’ve done regarding my family tree either my great-grands or great-great-grands were slaves on my mom’s side, so I’m going to go with the odds and guess it was one of my grandmothers) decided we were going to follow Jesus and that was that. In any case, it became apparently clear to me that if I was going to find any solid answers to questions I had about the Christian faith I was going to have to do the digging myself. And dig I did! I dug and hit many a rock of superstition and ignorance, both on my part and the parts of others. I ran into forms of racism, nationalism, and other -isms that were enough to help me see why folks would want to stay away from Christians. Years later I would find the Orthodox Church.
After the shock of finding the treasure it is, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What happened here?” and I thought, “I’m sure I’ve found what He established, but why does it seem more like an ancient relic to me than something simply ancient.” And here is what that wonderful sister in Christ wrote clearing things up for me:
You have to remember, not only is Orthodoxy new to America, compared to the westerners, but in traditional Orthodox lands they never went through a Renaissance or an Age of Enlightenment, or any such thing. People were very poor and uneducated. Most of Greece was not liberated from the Turks until after WWI. Russia was basically a feudalistic society until about then, and then they suffered under repressive communism for 80 years.
In this life with its bumps and tragic human affairs we have a way of sometimes letting dust gather on things most precious to us. Sometimes we see it, sometimes in our ignorance, we don’t. Sometimes obstacles as large as communism are placed in our way. Sometimes when the knowledge of such things isn’t passed along, someone generations away may look at it with eyes that can’t see it for what it is. It’s like the ear that’s listened to nothing but rock-n-roll trying to appreciate Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart. But Christ is who He is. He promised that if we seek we shall find. I can attest to this.
So where does renewal come into this for me?
In order for anyone to claim knowledge about something being renewed, they need to know what the older state of that something was. I’m not bold enough to make such a claim about Orthodoxy. I know better than that. However, I spent more than a few years in American Christianity. I’ve seen the ups and downs of Protestantism, the new names of repeated movements, but I never saw anything like Orthodoxy. I can say from a distance that I now actually see Orthodoxy in the U.S. now. It may just be that Christ is renewing Christianity in the U.S. through Orthodoxy. It seems in the whirlwind that modern-day Christianity has become, folks hungry for the Church that Christ established through His apostles are starting to take a look at Orthodoxy and are starting to ask us Orthodox believers questions about our faith (I’ve even had a few ask me a question or two here in Sweden). Through the grace of God, we now have resources in English available to us that weren’t there before. Sites like Ancient Faith Radio and Orthodoxy Chrisitan Network, as well as the myriad resources available on other sites, are helping equip us with knowledge about our faith that should help us provide answers for non-Orthodox searchers or just the curious.
This past Lent, the combination of the Church services, Orthodox podcasts, English translations of the works of the Early Church Fathers, and the study of Scripture did more for my personal renewal of faith than anything I can remember in some time. I would by no means say I was a miserable Orthodox believer before then, but Orthodox podcasts and the works of the Early Church Fathers wonderfully shed more light on things.
Something’s going on in Orthodoxy… No. Orthodoxy’s been there. Something’s going on in the world. I believe a renewal is happening. However, I believe Orthodoxy just may be causing the renewal.
May God be with you all.