Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Long, Lost Relative

Foreword
This paper is written for the professors of the Bakke Graduate University in Seattle as part of an assignment for the Doctor of Ministry program, but to the “Research and Resources” committee of the Board of Mission in Ireland, of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The aim is to describe some aspects of the Orthodox model of ministry and mission and to set out some lessons we can learn. This is paper is the conclusion of extensive reading and a visit to Turkey and Romania with a group of other students, professors and Romanian Orthodox Priests. We began in Istanbul, made our way to Cappadocia and Ephesus before traveling through Bulgaria and into Romania to Bucharest and Iasi. We walked in the footsteps of Paul and saw the ancient remnants of the Church of Jesus Christ before observing and experiencing the living church in a former communist country. These are my own personal reflections. This was never intended to be a tourist trip but more of a pilgrimage and an opportunity to experience and rediscover our long lost family in the Orthodox tradition. It turned out to be a very long pilgrimage but these experiences and reflections were made with a group of people who have come to know each other better because of the many hours we spent together on the bus. We came to admire and wonder at the physical endurance of Paul who made the same journey without modern transport.
In seeking to understand this church, which has been isolated from the west since the split with Rome in 1054, we will look at its doctrine and practice. One becomes very aware of the distance between us but also the faith and practices that we share: it’s not always clear that in using familiar words we understand the same familiar things. J.I Packer reflects this line of thought when he describes the perceived distance between |Orthodoxy and traditional Evangelicalism, using the words of the ballad, ‘’It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go’’ . George Bernard Shaw said much the same when he described the usage of English on both sides of the Atlantic as ‘’a common people separated by a common language’’. The average person is not familiar with the Eastern Orthodox Church, we are not taught about it and so the assumption is made that there is little, if any, difference between the Christian and the Roman Catholic Christian. It is my contention that there are similarities as well as differences that we can learn from and even adopt to make valuable contributions to any living church for the glory of God.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank those who journeyed with me on the Orthodox Trail and those who have helped me along the way and in the process of producing this paper and pray that it will help someone somewhere on their journey through life.
Dogma, the practical theology of Orthodox Faith
Before investigating some of the beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy we need to give some consideration as to what we understand it to mean by ‘’orthodoxy’. The literal meaning of Orthodox is that it is the right teaching or right worship, being derived from two Greek words: orthos (right) and doxa (teaching or worship). As the false teachings and divisions multiplied in early Christian times, threatening to obscure the identity and purity of the Church, the term Orthodox quite logically came to be applied to it. Hence we have then term applied to Judaism with Orthodox Jews As opposed to Reformed or liberal and orthodox Protestants in contrast to liberals. The Orthodox Church considers itself as something of a guardian of truth against all error and schism, both to protect its flock and to glorify Christ whose body the Church is. Another way of considering Orthodoxy is to think of it in the light of those churches which call themselves ‘Orthodox’ meaning those churches who belong to a loose federation of churches who split from the Latin church in 1054AD [some of them are aligned to the council of Chalcedon and others opposed] giving special honour to the see of Constantinople. They were part of the eastern flank of the Roman Empire, where Constantine had his capital. After the historic split with Rome it became detached and developed an independent identity. Today, because of mission and political decisions, there has developed a Diaspora throughout the world but especially in the United States of America.[check this definition]. We will be using the second of these understandings in this discussion.
We are what we are because of what we believe and so in studying Orthodox faith and practice we need to reflect on the theological perspectives that make her what she is. When a people are separated by thousands of years it is quite natural that they should take some time to get to know each other once they have been re-acquainted. Before our trip we spent much time in reading about the life and faith of Orthodoxy but we have also been in discussion and spent time with those involved in ministry. In seeking to get a basic understanding of the dogma of the church one of the books we read was ‘’Introducing The Orthodox Church’’ by Anthony M. Coniasis . This covered such basics as liturgy, prayer, scripture, salvation, the sacraments and the controversial areas of Mary, the saints and the use of icons. Like other churches the Orthodox see themselves as the ‘’one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’’: they consider themselves,’ as the only way, and the truth to be the guardians of that truth for over 2,000 years. For a deeper understanding of dogma we read ‘’The Experience of God’’ by Father Dumetru Staniloae . This gives, not only a deeper understanding of Orthodox faith but also a different way of understanding dogma, which in turn gives us a better understanding of the nature of this church.. For Orthodoxy, dogma is not about those rules and regulations of the faith that are rigid and fixed. In some of the English translations the ‘’Dogma’’ was omitted from the title for fear that it would be understood only in the western way. For Father Dumitri this is not about a bald exterior appeal to the magisterium but…’’to indicate the inner coherence of dogmatic truth and the significance of each dogma for the personal life of the Christian’’ He goes on to say that what is needed is a ‘’concrete theology’’. For him theology presumes a personal relationship and that makes it less theoretic and more dynamic than the normal, western Dogmatic Theology.: it’s not about placing beliefs in various boxes, it’s more about living an integral faith where each part of the faith relates to all the others.
In studying the theology of Orthodoxy we find both continuity and discontinuity with ourselves and with the early church, at least as we understand it. Unlike the western or Latin Church the Orthodox have not been subject to the Reformation nor the Renaissance and they were never influenced by the Age of Reason and governance has not been by dictate of Pope or prelates but by the collective decision of the church: the Patriarch is merely the first among equals, as is the Moderator of the General Assembly, with his brother bishops. Anthony M Coniasis writes that ‘’The holiest moment in the church service is the moment when the Church-God’s people-strengthened by preaching and sacrament-go out the church door into the world to be the Church. We don’t merely go to church; we are the Church’’ . This view is similar to the Roman Catholic practice as the priest declares at the end of the Mass, ‘’The Mass is ended, go and serve the Lord’’. The division and schism of 1054 represents the separation of the brethren and a very long period of isolation, which has been aggravated by the historical events, such as the sacking of Constantinople in the thirteenth century by the knights of the Fourth Crusade. One of our problems is that we think by using the same word s we are meaning the same thing but that is not always the case. J.I Packer makes this point in his foreword to ‘’Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism’’ when he says
A venerable British ballad [or was it Irish?] begins by declaring, ‘’It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go.’’’. Substitute for Tipperary the desired togetherness between, on the one hand, North America’s evangelical church- as the great cluster of evangelical denominations, freestanding Bible churches, and evangelical networks within the subevangelical mainline are currently called-and the western outposts of the Eastern Orthodox communion on the other, and words of the song fit with ominous exactness: indeed, ’’it’s a long way to go.

Continuity
Theology of Mary
There are apparent similarities with the Western Church in the theology of Mary and the saints but also discontinuity when we begin to unpack what the words actually mean: for the Orthodox Mary, the mother of Jesus is Theotokos, the God bearer and any icons of her are always with the child, Jesus. In Orthodoxy Mary is never alone and she is always pointing to the Son of God she is looking inwardly in contemplation. She is not holding the child. The child blesses her for her willingness to be the one who brought him into the world. In the Latin Church Mary is seen alone. In Orthodox understanding Mary gives Jesus the place of priority and honour which is in line with our reformed view. [picture of Mary here?]
Ian Bria takes this further by saying that ‘’an ecclesiology which does not include Mary the mother of Jesus is unbiblical.’’ We may have to take this as a valid criticism in that we do not give Mary the position of honour that she has in scripture as the one ‘’most highly favoured’’. Timothy Ware states that anyone who fails to honour Mary is usually someone who does not really believe in the incarnation. He tells us that the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus insisted that Mary be called Theotokus because honouring her would safeguard a right doctrine of Christ’s person. He says that ‘’anyone who thinks out the implications of that great phrase, ‘The word was made flesh’, cannot but feel a profound awe for her who was chosen as the instrument of so surpassing a mystery’’
The Communion of the Saints
Like the Roman Church Luke there is a theology of death which means that life is not defeated or interrupted by death: the Church is quick and dead, militant and triumphant.. There is little practical evidence to show that we believe in a church militant in our practice: we remain orthodox in our liturgy if not in our praxis. Some believe that we ignore the saints who have departed unless they were born in the nineteenth century and were sent out as missionaries. To some we act as if nothing of any importance happened before the Reformation if not prior to the Revivals of the nineteenth century. More familiar to us is the view that the Church is not the building rather it is the gathering in the name of Jesus and the fellowship of the saints which means that a Christian is never alone. Upon entering an Orthodox sanctuary one becomes immediately aware, we are told, of the great cloud of witnesses spoken of in the book of Hebrews: they are on the walls and on the roof and on the Iconostasis, which is viewed as a window onto heaven. To those of an evangelical and minimalist view it appears to be more of a barrier between the clergy and people. The saints are very important to any Orthodox worshipper because they are part of the triumphant church. . Just as evangelicals look with great reverence to the Old Testament patriarchs and to the missionaries of the eighteenth century so the Orthodox looks to the Patristic Fathers with veneration. In visiting the region of Turkey known as Cappadocia we were reminded of the Cappadocian Fathers and the part they played in making of the church. In our reading we were reminded of the part played by the patristic thinkers in the theological formation of John Calvin .
The Trinity
Then there are similarities with the evangelical world too. We have the world of Orthodoxy to thank for giving us a focus on the Trinitarian nature of God. All too often today we observe those Christians who pay little attention to the Fatherhood of God and give too much on Jesus [they tend to be Reformed Christians], those who give all the attention to the Spirit [charismatic or Pentecostal] and then there are those who deny the trinity altogether and we call them Unitarians, while the Orthodox are very careful to hold on to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, ever three, ever one. In the Trinity we have the model for fellowship and partnership which results in service. It’s in the Trinity that we get the imperative to serve and to engage with each other. It’s in the trinity that we are reminded that ministry is all about relationships: our relationship with God, the triune God and our relationship with other human beings. We are all made in the image of God and that means we are fulfilled when we are like God, this is what the Orthodox call ‘theosis’, or the process of deification, what we prefer to call sanctification. This is what gave the Celtic Christians their relational ministry: this way of doing evangelism makes the person more important than the program and is more person-directed and less aggressive, more Christ-centred because the centre is not what we are doing but on Christ Himself. This is the approach we have taken in our church when we set up our prayer table in the community market. In this approach we allow people to come to us and request prayer rather than being direct and aggressive. As the Father relates to the Son and as the Spirit energizes the Son and makes sure the will of the Father is done so there is inter-dependence on each other, and that is how we are to relate to each other. Out of this approach we empower people rather than make them dependent, they become inter-dependent. In any community every member should have responsibilities and gifts for the benefit of the whole body.


Incarnation
This Trinitarian approach also leads on to the Incarnational approach of the Orthodox. In the incarnation the son of God came to earth as a real man, of flesh and blood. He took on our humanity, cleansed it and transformed it into a holy and glorious humanity. God became like us that we might become like Him. The flesh is important and not to be despised, rather we are to give thanks for it: the Romanian Orthodox, we soon discovered have a great facility for moving easily from the holy to the earthly, they can worship and celebrate without any difficulty. It is because of this incarnation emphasis and their trinitarianism that they thought it important to work and worship and study in the monastic settlements, so on these settlements there were sanctuaries with elaborate icon pictures along with libraries and refectories and fields to work in. In this model there is a holistic or integral approach rather than a pietistic, individualistic and private faith. The church building and the liturgy is designed to be heavenly and God –centred so that the worship becomes a drama: gospel is processed through the door of the iconostasis and the priest is dressed in his finery with the cloud of witnesses looking in the presence of the icon of the Theotokos and the pantokrator on the doom of the roof [God is panokrator or creator]. In ‘’The Liturgy after the Liturgy’’ Ion Bria makes the starting point that the word, ‘liturgy’ has its derived meaning in the words leiteros meaning public, and ergon, meaning work. He goes on to say that ‘
’the liturgy is not just a commemoration of Christ’s ministry to the world, teaching, healing, feeding the people; it is the realization, in each new context, of the history of the world, of ‘what the lord has done’ [psalm 64:8]|The faithful can see with their eyes and hear with their ears and hearts the message of the gospel in the symbolic language of Jesus…Again, this is a matter not just of visualizing the Word of God, but also of partaking the Body of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life’’
In the participation of the people in the liturgy there is an appeal to all the senses: to sight as they see the architecture, the icons and the actions of the priest; to smell as the sweet fragrance of the incense rising up in worship; to hearing as the y hear the bells in the liturgy, as they listen to the singing, telling the story and the words of the priest and the reading of the Gospel and preaching of the word; to touch as they venerate the icons and feel the bread; and to speech as they respond in worship and as they bless themselves in the Trinitarian blessing. For Orthodoxy worship is central to life and living and does not remain in the sanctuary. How often do we need to remind ourselves, in the west, that worship is intended as our spiritual sacrifice, not to be restricted to church, not something we leave in the pews but in everything we do. If we believe in the Trinitarian God then we will follow His example of relational service. Worship is more than singing a few songs and praying a few prayers, it’s about the way we live. Music is of vital importance in the worship of Orthodoxy. In this heavenly drama that can last up to 150 minutes without seating the singing of the liturgy becomes vital. Listening to the harmony which tells the drama it is easier to attend to and remember than the spoken word. From blessing themselves to entering church the Orthodox believer remains thoroughly Trinitarian. Getting the worship right will lead to the right way to live. Like the Celtic Christians life and faith is relational rather than programmed, the ‘’Gospel Driven Church’’ becomes the ‘’Community Church’’ driven by the triune God. Many evangelicals are time driven: we have trained our people to come to worship which will fit into the lifestyle they have chosen. This may well be to do with the music of their choice or the liturgy that suits them best or even the length of the service so that once the magic hour arrives they are keeping an eye on the clock.
Worship
For Orthodoxy it’s not about the time spent in the sanctuary. There is an impulse for the faithful to be totally involved in the action of the liturgy. There is a desire to see, to enter into the holy place, to concelebrate and to take Holy Communion. It’s not a matter of time, but of moving towards the throne to praise in the presence of God. Ian Bria says that it is impossible to be uninvolved. Personally I can verify this. In a visit we made to a church in Iasi I felt caught up in the worship, by the beauty of the singing, by the spirit of worship in the place. Several times I wanted to leave but felt the tug to remain. I had no idea what was being said but that did not seem important. I was struck by the desire of the faithful to be there and to take the blessed bread with them. I was struck by the humility expressed by the women who stayed on their knees for long periods of time, blessing themselves, not in a way which seemed calculated to use the least possible amount of energy but reaching from their heads to the ground. At another church I was struck with a mixture of admiration and suspicion as I saw some women crawling on their hands and knees, blessing themselves in the name of the Triune God making their way through the icon of the virgin and child, pleading for health and healing. We in the reformed tradition remain suspicious of such practices, naming this as superstition and earning their salvation: do they not know that Christ forgives as we ask? But then I find myself asking ‘’how do we express our humility?’’ I think we would be too proud to humble ourselves .Metropolitan Anthony covers this in ‘’School for Prayer’’ saying that if we wish to pray we must start with a certainty that we are sinners in need of salvation. We need to realize that we are naturally cut off from God and that we cannot live without him. All we can offer is our longing to be changed that we may meet him. He says that ‘’prayer is really our humble ascent towards God, a moment when we turn God wards, shy of coming near, knowing that if we meet Him too soon, before His grace has had time to help us to be capable of meeting Him, it will be in judgment’’ Such real humility is not always at the top of evangelicalism
Vertical faithfulness
The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is seen as vertical faithfulness rather than horizontal persuasion. For most evangelicals the Great Commission drives them on so that ministry becomes an objective to be reached: targets are set as to how many can be reached with the message this week or this year, we seek to pack as many as possible into the church or the theatre or the tent. For Orthodoxy the target is to pass the faith on to friends and family that they may pass it on to their children and their children’s children. That seems like something Paul said in 2Timothy 2:2. For many generations now the Presbyterian Church has played lip service to this approach: the practice, on the other hand, has been less committed: we have made such demands on members to spent all their waking hours in the church that spending time with family and being in the community has become a rarity with the resulting outcome that we have become detached from the community in which we live and, worst of all, estranged from our families. We have become too individualistic and private and personal, failing to understand that our Trinitarian faith means we were intended to be the corporate body of Christ, and to have fellowship with one another, bearing one another’s burdens. In seeking to be faithful to the Great Commission we have actually become disobedient and have distorted it. Surely this command of Christ is both vertical and horizontal. There are some implications of this vertical faithfulness that local churches need to attend to.
Then there is the thorny question of the unity of the church. It was Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the believers would be one but as the years go on then fragmentation becomes greater. In the ‘’Liturgy after the liturgy’’ we read that,
One of the issued raised by the liturgy after the liturgy is the question of Christian unity. It was Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that all the believers should be one: today we are more fragmented than ever, not just across the denominations but within them also. For may years now the Orthodox have kept the World Council of Churches together given the absence of the Roman Catholic Church. By their presence they have demonstrated a commitment to church unity. Since the early years of the infant church Christians from the east have been in the vanguard of doctrinal purity and guardianship, hence the ecumenical councils that defined the divinity and humanity of Christ an other important doctrines we now affirm. On the more local scene the division among local churches whom largely share the same core values is a real obstacle to the gospel and the cause of Christ. While we cannot merely sweep aside the differences between us we should be deliberate and intentional in the engagement we have with those with whom we disagree. In 1974 the World Council of Churches meeting in Bucharest pointed to the necessity of churches working together in communion which would reflect in history the Trinitarian existence of God Himself. It goes on to say that,
The church is meant precisely to be that. Mission, therefore, suffers and is seriously distorted or disappears whenever it is not possible to point to a community in history which reflects this Trinitarian existence of communion. This happens whenever the church is so distorted or divided that it is no longer possible to recognize it as such a communion, or whenever mission is exercised without reference to the church, but with reference simply to the individuals or the social realities of history.
This means that getting our ecclesiology wrong may well make mission impossible. We need to have a correct view of the church, not as something separate from daily life but as an integral part of life. Our worship is another way of preaching the gospel to a secular world. This was highlighted at the W.C.C meeting in Canberra in 1991which spoke of the fundamental nature of the Christian life in sacramental terms.
Every worshipping community should be a model for an inclusive community. Worship space needs to be designed so that all people are able to participate fully. A lively ministry of hospitality, welcoming all in the name of the Lord, is most important. The plea of young people for forms of worship and celebration which fit their culture must be taken seriously.
With the attitude of intentional engagement there will be opportunities to agree and to disagree and to witness to the power and love of the Trinitarian God. Hospitality means being open to the thoughts and traditions of others, it means an openness to light from any quarter with the spiritual faculty of discernment. In our working with churches outside our comfort zone we have tended to isolate ourselves and remain aloof with the danger of remaining closed to the work of the Spirit of God.
Discontinuity
Some of the difficult areas of belief and practice include icons, the place of Mary and the saints and the attitude to tradition. At the beginning we quoted the ballad, ‘’It’s a long way to Tipperary’: recalling icons, is one of those areas were the distance seem the greatest. When a westerner looks at an icon he sees something quite weird, he sees something which evokes feelings of idolatry and exaggerated, cartoon-like thoughts. When the case for icons is put forward it appears very reasonable but the problem is that observation leaves us less than satisfied. This is an important topic because in a post modern society art and music have a very important place in worship and if we can learn from that we should.
Iconology
The trouble with icons and iconology is that we can only look at it from a western point of view. For the Orthodox there are three purposes in using them: one is to create reverence in worship, the second is to instruct those who cannot read; and the third is to serve as an existential link between the worshipper and God. The point is made by the Orthodox that while the Hebrews have always rejected any visible representation of God they did not appreciate that the use of letters can do the exact same thing: for example the use of Chi-Rho and HIS stand for Christ and Jesus respectively. St Basil said that ‘’what the word transmits through the ear, that painting silently shows through the image, and by these two means, mutually, accompanying one another…we receive knowledge of one and the same thing.’’ We are to understand that the Orthodox has two gospels: the one is visual and the other is the verbal to appeal to the whole person. The idea of icon has also become more a feature in the lives of people in popular culture: the communist regime of the USSR made it their practice to display photographs of their leaders to keep people focused on the right issues and the other is contemporary use of icons which act as windows to their programs; we understand that in the Presidential election in the USA on November v4th 2008 many African Americans took pictures of their forebears with them into the voting booths with them as a way of including them in this momentous event; then we are also reminded of the iconic nature given to celebrities and the description of Jesus Christ by the Apostle Paul as an icon of God long with his call for all the faithful to be like Him.
When it comes to prayer there are important lessons for us to learn from the Orthodox Christians and some things which call for critical thought. Take a look at the list set out by Anthony Coniasis and you can only agree that here we have a treasure for us to meditate upon. Here are just a few of these gems of understanding, taken at random, to demonstrate the wealth of wisdom as to the nature of prayer:
• Prayer…uplifts and unites human beings with God [St Gregory Palamas]
• Prayer is our personal communication system with our home base
• Prayer is opening the door of our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit
• Prayer is not bargaining with God, trying to convince Him to change. It is, rather, our asking Him to change us so we see His ways and His plans more clearly
• Prayer is raising my eye to God lest I begin to think that I am the highest point in the universe.
At the heart of eastern Christianity there is mysticism, there is a call to go beyond the cognitive thought forms that we in the west have iconized . There is much here that we can agree with and much that must challenge us. Theophan the Recluse calls for the worshipper to come before God with ‘’’the mind in the heart’’ He says that we need to pray with the mind but also with the heart. He says that we must pray with the mind so that it is not merely words, but the heart has to feel what the mind is thinking. Metropolitan Anthony says that ‘’unless the prayer which you intend to offer to God is important and meaningful to you first, you will not be able to present it to the Lord’’ He sets out three types of prayer: spontaneous; short vocal prayers and ready-made prayers. Discounting the possibility of being spontaneous all the time and rejecting set prayers he talks of the need for which is rooted in conviction. He suggests learning the Psalms by heart so that they can be used, drawn up from the well whenever they are needed and of the Jesus prayer. None of the above should present us with any problems and the idea of practicing daily prayer devotion at each end of the day should encourage us all. Coniaris sets out the daily cycle as one way of putting this into practice. Where many evangelicals have difficulty is with prayer to and with the saints.

What lessons can we learn?
Having tried to tease out any family resemblance I want to try to suggest some practical lessons we can learn from our long, lost relatives. To do this we will need to set out some of the features of the family. Firstly there is the Trinitarian doctrine, which sets the context for much of what is Orthodox Theology and practice. From the fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit comes the monastic communities. Since the fourth century monasticism has been organized into communities, some surviving to the present day. The monastic initiative was the response of the believers to the spiritual struggle. They went to the places that others would not go to. They took the gospel to those places where it had no gone before. When the gospel was taken to Russia monasteries appeared immediately; when the communists left Romania the monasteries began to multiply. Michael Oleska tells us that when Russia, Central Asia and Siberia were settled it was not by adventurers or frontiersmen, as in America, but by monks who went to the remotest corners of Eurasia to continue the struggle against the devil, in the world and within themselves. John Binns reminds us of the problem when discussing Eastern approaches to theology: the words used are often used by east and west but have different meanings. It is also useful to note that both sides have different ways of understanding the nature of this theology. In the east the understanding is not about an academic knowledge but of personal knowledge. Dumitru Staniloae makes the same point when he declares that dogmatics is about ‘concrete theology’…a theology of experience’’ this is not about abstract systems nor philosophical theory but the expression of personal experience and a living encounter with the divine. John Binns quotes the words of Evagrius of Pontus who described a theologian as one who prays and one who prays is a theologian. The reason for this is that theological understanding has developed in the Monasteries rather than the universities, in the rough and tumble of daily life rather than in the ivory palaces of academia. We must wonder how the increasing importance of the universities may influence the life of the church in the days ahead or if the strong link with monasticism will act as a practical bulwark. It would be a mistake to think of the eastern monasticism as remote and distanced from church and people. The fact is that from the very beginning, and we saw this in Turkey, the monasteries were tightly linked to the community. This is seen in the fact that they were centres of learning, places of hospitality and places of work. In times of economic difficulty they provided employment, places for prayer and contemplation. They had their origins in the gospel call to complete commitment and to leave family and friends. I the trinity there is a call to service and interaction. They saw themselves as ‘’white martyrs’, called, not to die, but to give up all for Christ’. John Binns reminds us that the first monks we re just ordinary people who committed themselves to live as the people around them lived. There was nothing very unusual about them. They lived in groups or alone; they ate the same food, wore the same clothes and did the same work as the people around them. Their aim was to live as an alternative communities so as to be critical friends, sometimes challenging, at other times encouraging society. It was in the monastery that people found training and education and sometimes employment. In the early days membership was flexible: monks could leave the monastery and work m in the community and community people were able to join the alternative community for a [period of time. This was an intentional community. we have to ask the question, especially in those places which are often considered God-forsaken, where are the intentional communities in our western societies? These communities were so successful at what they did that they attracted financial support from government and people with great resources. They even played a part in the national defense, making the point that all defense is not military but also spiritual. Emperor Basil II wrote: ‘what foundations are to a house and oars are to a boat, the prayers of the saints are to the Empire. Who can doubt that what the sword, the bow and military strength could not achieve, prayer alone has brought tom pass easily and splendidly’
Stemming from Monasticism we have another feature which is their servant attitude. This also stems from the emphasis on the incarnation. In the triune relationship there is the interaction and mutual service of their fellowship which explains their desire to serve. In Christ God planted Himself in our world, the tabernacle with humanity for a while. Unlike other kings he came to serve rather than be served and it is the responsibility of every Christian to do likewise: not that they speak of responsibility but rather of doing what should come naturally. In the various countries where Orthodoxy is found you will find the liturgy in the national language. You will also find a strong nationalist spirit. Sometimes the question is raise as to how the eastern European nations managed to keep their religion going. The answer to this question raises another characteristic which is that of a survival mentality: in Ireland we call it stubbornness. What that means in the Russian and Romanian context is that they choose to be with their people instead of holding on to religious purity. A pietistic view in Belfast has denuded the community of vibrant Christian witness today.
When Dumitru Staniloae was asked about the cost of surviving communism he said it was two-fold: fear and lies. The persecution was great and they had to pretend to be faithful to the atheist regime. The alternative was top resist, remain pure but be destroyed and be of no use to their people. The Romanian Patriarch during the Ceaucesu years decided to collude rather than resist and this choice was accepted by the population: when he resigned after the revolution the people persuaded him to return because they understood his decision. The same course of action was taken in Russia. The affect in Russia and Romania was to outlast communism: as in China the philosophical premise of Leninist-Marxist ideology was seen to be defeated. The premise was that eventually the success of communism would destroy the foundations of the church and that would lead to a rejection by the people. Unfortunately, for the regime, this did not work out and that was re-enforced when they turned to repression and persecution. When the communists left the church was there to pick up the pieces.
Next, we see that they are clearly intentional in their engagement, both with those they agree with and with those they disagree with. This is illustrated by their involvement in the ecumenical movement where they have held the foreground and in the way they have decided to stay in communities. Where are our intentional communities engaging with the enemy as well as with friends? We have been slow to join the discussion table. We have deserted those communities which need people to fight the spiritual battles which face them every day and that helps to explain why there is a major dislocation of church and community.
Another feature, already mentioned elsewhere, is their grounding in the saints, especially the patristics. They have a clear view of their place in history as the people of God: they are part of a long line of saints who have held true to the faith. While this history can imprison, as it tends to do with us, it can also liberate and inform. The ruins and relics in Turkey and elsewhere can give rise to hope as well as to despair as they consider the sovereign will of God
Application
Having suggested some features of our Orthodox brethren let’s spend some time in setting out how we can benefit from them. Living in a post modern world we need to consider how we can make more use of, and, appeal to the senses. The way we live and worship is very cognitive and while it is necessary for us to have strong minds as well as strong bodies we need to become more holistic in expressing our faith. While we may have difficulties in using icons as a way to focus the worshipper’s mind on Christ we may be able to use art in other ways. In our church we already have a stained glass window of Jesus but we may be able to highlight it more often using creative methods.
In thinking of the great cloud of witnesses we can include the example of the early church fathers along with the missionaries of the nineteenth century.
In thinking of mission we can take the approach of other congregations, along with our Orthodox brothers of making the worship service be the place to help people to become disciples of Christ and leave the liturgy with the understanding that the service has only begun.
Following the implications of the incarnation we need to be intentional in our approach to community. One of the strategies used by John Perkins is to call Christian people to relocate in tough urban communities. We need to attract those people who can, and will, be open to minister and live in the most difficult places, be they in the inter-faces of our cities or in the rural border areas. We can decide to make housing available in areas of acute housing shortage without giving up ministry opportunities. We could set up Intentional Christian Communities in the various areas of Urban Belfast, and why not on the Crumlin Road? In a community which is so segregated into Protestant and Catholic, Nationalist and Unionist we need models which can give example to how the two major traditions in Belfast can live together in harmony. If an experiment in integrated living is to succeed and space is to be shared we will need to create communities which have a certain degree of protection and control. Here is one suggestion or line of thought which is worth considering for our congregation and community:we could use our site to build some housing. A chaplain/warden and other necessary members of staff would be appointed. Places could be allocated with a mix of Christian and non-Christian people, young and old. A cross community aspect would be both essential and inspirational for the greater community. At the same time we could go into partnership with statutory services to build a sports hall/community hall which could also be used by the church.
This would be a renewing resource because it would get regular funding from government and it would dove-tail with the both the Vine and the other churches in the Greater Shankill Community-if it was thought appropriate we could be done with leadership coming from the shankill worship centre. We could be in partnership with the Shankill churches / or with Immanuel-there are models in the US [e.g. Redeemer Presbyterian in New York] and the Vine would play a vital part.
This would enable us to keep the present congregation going and keep a foot on this important arterial route. At the same time the outreach could go on, in parallel with the Vine and other congregations. Being intentional means that we have decided to do this rather than just let it happen. We have decided that we need to attract some Christians who will live in community to help us to model what it means to be a Christian in the urban community. Who else is going to be prepared to live in the places that even Christians have left. Living in community makes it all the more possible. If we were able to build as high as the church then we could have all the more accommodation. There would also be the possibility of extending the services in the future.
Outreach at the vine would be more likely to attract non-Church people. Alpha type courses as well as other topical services. This can only be of encouragement to the other churches and to the Vine-there is no need or desire to do what others are doing.
While the development of a worship centre’s on the Shankill Road is a laudable idea it would be even better if there were people living in community. Along with the work on the Shankill this could be an urban community, where in-service training could be received and students placed to find out the realities of urban life in Belfast.

1. We can also seek to be critical friends to both community and government. This has already begun but what we need to do, by way of intention, is to make it clear to the community which feels deserted by the church is that we are committed to and actually passionately love our communities. In the best practice of development principles we would seek to work with people rather than for them.
We could also make places of spiritual retreat available all the time: turning desert waste places into spiritual oases. We need to consider how to make our worship glimpses of heaven. Our sanctuaries should use the best of art and music and appeal to a many of the senses as is possible, given our theology and they should be as open as possible that people can make use of these sanctuaries.
We need to take biblical reality much more seriously: for them Pentecost is a continuing reality.
We should also consider the implications of vertical faithfulness in our models of ministry. As Presbyterians we speak often of the importance of family and of the responsibility of the family in passing on the faith to the next generation rather than delegating this to the local fellowship. One of the people in the UK to take this seriously has been the of Rev William Still of Gilmartin Parish Church in Aberdeen. Here the congregation is freed to work in the community as active members of the community and to minister to their families. In many of our Presbyterian congregations the expectations on the minister are very high which has tended to make people dependent rather than mature and active. I am not sure if these expectations are driven by ministers or by their congregations or by both. The effect is to increase the pressure and stress on the minister. We have forgotten that the work of ministry starts at home and when it looks outward it requires ministers who are well rounded people; people take time to think and pray and are not afraid to take creative opportunities to meet people where they are. We need to think out of the box. Too often we think, like the institutions we serve, in straight vertical lines. Too often we are overly concerned with our part of the Empire we call church when we need to take the rest of the body of Christ into consideration. We need to ask how to help one another in the spiritual battle.
In seeking to be faithful to creation we should seek to build any new plant using environmentally friendly actions. We should also be concerned with social justice issues so that we will stand up for those who are oppressed in any way.
Conclusion
In this paper I have tried to tease out the family resemblances and to look for lessons to be learnt. A church which has kept the faith for over 2,000 years, through years of persecution by Ottoman and Communist regimes is worthy of investigation, at least. I wonder how we would have fared if we had been the ones who had suffered what they have suffered?

The Long. Lost Relative

Foreword

This paper is written for the professors of the Bakke Graduate University in Seattle as part of an assignment for the Doctor of Ministry program, but to the “Research and Resources” committee of the Board of Mission in Ireland, of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The aim is to describe some aspects of the Orthodox model of ministry and mission and to set out some lessons we can learn. This is paper is the conclusion of extensive reading and a visit to Turkey and Romania with a group of other students, professors and Romanian Orthodox Priests. We began in Istanbul, made our way to Cappadocia and Ephesus before traveling through Bulgaria and into Romania to Bucharest and Iasi. We walked in the footsteps of Paul and saw the ancient remnants of the Church of Jesus Christ before observing and experiencing the living church in a former communist country. These are my own personal reflections. This was never intended to be a tourist trip but more of a pilgrimage and an opportunity to experience and rediscover our long lost family in the Orthodox tradition. It turned out to be a very long pilgrimage but these experiences and reflections were made with a group of people who have come to know each other better because of the many hours we spent together on the bus. We came to admire and wonder at the physical endurance of Paul who made the same journey without modern transport.
In seeking to understand this church, which has been isolated from the west since the split with Rome in 1054, we will look at its doctrine and practice. One becomes very aware of the distance between us but also the faith and practices that we share: it’s not always clear that in using familiar words we understand the same familiar things. J.I Packer reflects this line of thought when he describes the perceived distance between |Orthodoxy and traditional Evangelicalism, using the words of the ballad, ‘’It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go’’ . George Bernard Shaw said much the same when he described the usage of English on both sides of the Atlantic as ‘’a common people separated by a common language’’. The average person is not familiar with the Eastern Orthodox Church, we are not taught about it and so the assumption is made that there is little, if any, difference between the Christian and the Roman Catholic Christian. It is my contention that there are similarities as well as differences that we can learn from and even adopt to make valuable contributions to any living church for the glory of God.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank those who journeyed with me on the Orthodox Trail and those who have helped me along the way and in the process of producing this paper and pray that it will help someone somewhere on their journey through life.
Dogma, the practical theology of Orthodox Faith
Before investigating some of the beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy we need to give some consideration as to what we understand it to mean by ‘’orthodoxy’. The literal meaning of Orthodox is that it is the right teaching or right worship, being derived from two Greek words: orthos (right) and doxa (teaching or worship). As the false teachings and divisions multiplied in early Christian times, threatening to obscure the identity and purity of the Church, the term Orthodox quite logically came to be applied to it. Hence we have then term applied to Judaism with Orthodox Jews As opposed to Reformed or liberal and orthodox Protestants in contrast to liberals. The Orthodox Church considers itself as something of a guardian of truth against all error and schism, both to protect its flock and to glorify Christ whose body the Church is. Another way of considering Orthodoxy is to think of it in the light of those churches which call themselves ‘Orthodox’ meaning those churches who belong to a loose federation of churches who split from the Latin church in 1054AD [some of them are aligned to the council of Chalcedon and others opposed] giving special honour to the see of Constantinople. They were part of the eastern flank of the Roman Empire, where Constantine had his capital. After the historic split with Rome it became detached and developed an independent identity. Today, because of mission and political decisions, there has developed a Diaspora throughout the world but especially in the United States of America.[check this definition]. We will be using the second of these understandings in this discussion.
We are what we are because of what we believe and so in studying Orthodox faith and practice we need to reflect on the theological perspectives that make her what she is. When a people are separated by thousands of years it is quite natural that they should take some time to get to know each other once they have been re-acquainted. Before our trip we spent much time in reading about the life and faith of Orthodoxy but we have also been in discussion and spent time with those involved in ministry. In seeking to get a basic understanding of the dogma of the church one of the books we read was ‘’Introducing The Orthodox Church’’ by Anthony M. Coniasis . This covered such basics as liturgy, prayer, scripture, salvation, the sacraments and the controversial areas of Mary, the saints and the use of icons. Like other churches the Orthodox see themselves as the ‘’one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’’: they consider themselves,’ as the only way, and the truth to be the guardians of that truth for over 2,000 years. For a deeper understanding of dogma we read ‘’The Experience of God’’ by Father Dumetru Staniloae . This gives, not only a deeper understanding of Orthodox faith but also a different way of understanding dogma, which in turn gives us a better understanding of the nature of this church.. For Orthodoxy, dogma is not about those rules and regulations of the faith that are rigid and fixed. In some of the English translations the ‘’Dogma’’ was omitted from the title for fear that it would be understood only in the western way. For Father Dumitri this is not about a bald exterior appeal to the magisterium but…’’to indicate the inner coherence of dogmatic truth and the significance of each dogma for the personal life of the Christian’’ He goes on to say that what is needed is a ‘’concrete theology’’. For him theology presumes a personal relationship and that makes it less theoretic and more dynamic than the normal, western Dogmatic Theology.: it’s not about placing beliefs in various boxes, it’s more about living an integral faith where each part of the faith relates to all the others.
In studying the theology of Orthodoxy we find both continuity and discontinuity with ourselves and with the early church, at least as we understand it. Unlike the western or Latin Church the Orthodox have not been subject to the Reformation nor the Renaissance and they were never influenced by the Age of Reason and governance has not been by dictate of Pope or prelates but by the collective decision of the church: the Patriarch is merely the first among equals, as is the Moderator of the General Assembly, with his brother bishops. Anthony M Coniasis writes that ‘’The holiest moment in the church service is the moment when the Church-God’s people-strengthened by preaching and sacrament-go out the church door into the world to be the Church. We don’t merely go to church; we are the Church’’ . This view is similar to the Roman Catholic practice as the priest declares at the end of the Mass, ‘’The Mass is ended, go and serve the Lord’’. The division and schism of 1054 represents the separation of the brethren and a very long period of isolation, which has been aggravated by the historical events, such as the sacking of Constantinople in the thirteenth century by the knights of the Fourth Crusade. One of our problems is that we think by using the same word s we are meaning the same thing but that is not always the case. J.I Packer makes this point in his foreword to ‘’Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism’’ when he says
A venerable British ballad [or was it Irish?] begins by declaring, ‘’It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go.’’’. Substitute for Tipperary the desired togetherness between, on the one hand, North America’s evangelical church- as the great cluster of evangelical denominations, freestanding Bible churches, and evangelical networks within the subevangelical mainline are currently called-and the western outposts of the Eastern Orthodox communion on the other, and words of the song fit with ominous exactness: indeed, ’’it’s a long way to go.

Continuity

Theology of Mary

There are apparent similarities with the Western Church in the theology of Mary and the saints but also discontinuity when we begin to unpack what the words actually mean: for the Orthodox Mary, the mother of Jesus is Theotokos, the God bearer and any icons of her are always with the child, Jesus. In Orthodoxy Mary is never alone and she is always pointing to the Son of God she is looking inwardly in contemplation. She is not holding the child. The child blesses her for her willingness to be the one who brought him into the world. In the Latin Church Mary is seen alone. In Orthodox understanding Mary gives Jesus the place of priority and honour which is in line with our reformed view. [picture of Mary here?]
Ian Bria takes this further by saying that ‘’an ecclesiology which does not include Mary the mother of Jesus is unbiblical.’’ We may have to take this as a valid criticism in that we do not give Mary the position of honour that she has in scripture as the one ‘’most highly favoured’’. Timothy Ware states that anyone who fails to honour Mary is usually someone who does not really believe in the incarnation. He tells us that the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus insisted that Mary be called Theotokus because honouring her would safeguard a right doctrine of Christ’s person. He says that ‘’anyone who thinks out the implications of that great phrase, ‘The word was made flesh’, cannot but feel a profound awe for her who was chosen as the instrument of so surpassing a mystery’’
The Communion of the Saints
Like the Roman Church Luke there is a theology of death which means that life is not defeated or interrupted by death: the Church is quick and dead, militant and triumphant.. There is little practical evidence to show that we believe in a church militant in our practice: we remain orthodox in our liturgy if not in our praxis. Some believe that we ignore the saints who have departed unless they were born in the nineteenth century and were sent out as missionaries. To some we act as if nothing of any importance happened before the Reformation if not prior to the Revivals of the nineteenth century. More familiar to us is the view that the Church is not the building rather it is the gathering in the name of Jesus and the fellowship of the saints which means that a Christian is never alone. Upon entering an Orthodox sanctuary one becomes immediately aware, we are told, of the great cloud of witnesses spoken of in the book of Hebrews: they are on the walls and on the roof and on the Iconostasis, which is viewed as a window onto heaven. To those of an evangelical and minimalist view it appears to be more of a barrier between the clergy and people. The saints are very important to any Orthodox worshipper because they are part of the triumphant church. . Just as evangelicals look with great reverence to the Old Testament patriarchs and to the missionaries of the eighteenth century so the Orthodox looks to the Patristic Fathers with veneration. In visiting the region of Turkey known as Cappadocia we were reminded of the Cappadocian Fathers and the part they played in making of the church. In our reading we were reminded of the part played by the patristic thinkers in the theological formation of John Calvin .

The Trinity


Then there are similarities with the evangelical world too. We have the world of Orthodoxy to thank for giving us a focus on the Trinitarian nature of God. All too often today we observe those Christians who pay little attention to the Fatherhood of God and give too much on Jesus [they tend to be Reformed Christians], those who give all the attention to the Spirit [charismatic or Pentecostal] and then there are those who deny the trinity altogether and we call them Unitarians, while the Orthodox are very careful to hold on to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, ever three, ever one. In the Trinity we have the model for fellowship and partnership which results in service. It’s in the Trinity that we get the imperative to serve and to engage with each other. It’s in the trinity that we are reminded that ministry is all about relationships: our relationship with God, the triune God and our relationship with other human beings. We are all made in the image of God and that means we are fulfilled when we are like God, this is what the Orthodox call ‘theosis’, or the process of deification, what we prefer to call sanctification. This is what gave the Celtic Christians their relational ministry: this way of doing evangelism makes the person more important than the program and is more person-directed and less aggressive, more Christ-centred because the centre is not what we are doing but on Christ Himself. This is the approach we have taken in our church when we set up our prayer table in the community market. In this approach we allow people to come to us and request prayer rather than being direct and aggressive. As the Father relates to the Son and as the Spirit energizes the Son and makes sure the will of the Father is done so there is inter-dependence on each other, and that is how we are to relate to each other. Out of this approach we empower people rather than make them dependent, they become inter-dependent. In any community every member should have responsibilities and gifts for the benefit of the whole body.


Incarnation

This Trinitarian approach also leads on to the Incarnational approach of the Orthodox. In the incarnation the son of God came to earth as a real man, of flesh and blood. He took on our humanity, cleansed it and transformed it into a holy and glorious humanity. God became like us that we might become like Him. The flesh is important and not to be despised, rather we are to give thanks for it: the Romanian Orthodox, we soon discovered have a great facility for moving easily from the holy to the earthly, they can worship and celebrate without any difficulty. It is because of this incarnation emphasis and their trinitarianism that they thought it important to work and worship and study in the monastic settlements, so on these settlements there were sanctuaries with elaborate icon pictures along with libraries and refectories and fields to work in. In this model there is a holistic or integral approach rather than a pietistic, individualistic and private faith. The church building and the liturgy is designed to be heavenly and God –centred so that the worship becomes a drama: gospel is processed through the door of the iconostasis and the priest is dressed in his finery with the cloud of witnesses looking in the presence of the icon of the Theotokos and the pantokrator on the doom of the roof [God is panokrator or creator]. In ‘’The Liturgy after the Liturgy’’ Ion Bria makes the starting point that the word, ‘liturgy’ has its derived meaning in the words leiteros meaning public, and ergon, meaning work. He goes on to say that ‘
’the liturgy is not just a commemoration of Christ’s ministry to the world, teaching, healing, feeding the people; it is the realization, in each new context, of the history of the world, of ‘what the lord has done’ [psalm 64:8]|The faithful can see with their eyes and hear with their ears and hearts the message of the gospel in the symbolic language of Jesus…Again, this is a matter not just of visualizing the Word of God, but also of partaking the Body of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life’’
In the participation of the people in the liturgy there is an appeal to all the senses: to sight as they see the architecture, the icons and the actions of the priest; to smell as the sweet fragrance of the incense rising up in worship; to hearing as the y hear the bells in the liturgy, as they listen to the singing, telling the story and the words of the priest and the reading of the Gospel and preaching of the word; to touch as they venerate the icons and feel the bread; and to speech as they respond in worship and as they bless themselves in the Trinitarian blessing. For Orthodoxy worship is central to life and living and does not remain in the sanctuary. How often do we need to remind ourselves, in the west, that worship is intended as our spiritual sacrifice, not to be restricted to church, not something we leave in the pews but in everything we do. If we believe in the Trinitarian God then we will follow His example of relational service. Worship is more than singing a few songs and praying a few prayers, it’s about the way we live. Music is of vital importance in the worship of Orthodoxy. In this heavenly drama that can last up to 150 minutes without seating the singing of the liturgy becomes vital. Listening to the harmony which tells the drama it is easier to attend to and remember than the spoken word. From blessing themselves to entering church the Orthodox believer remains thoroughly Trinitarian. Getting the worship right will lead to the right way to live. Like the Celtic Christians life and faith is relational rather than programmed, the ‘’Gospel Driven Church’’ becomes the ‘’Community Church’’ driven by the triune God. Many evangelicals are time driven: we have trained our people to come to worship which will fit into the lifestyle they have chosen. This may well be to do with the music of their choice or the liturgy that suits them best or even the length of the service so that once the magic hour arrives they are keeping an eye on the clock.
Worship
For Orthodoxy it’s not about the time spent in the sanctuary. There is an impulse for the faithful to be totally involved in the action of the liturgy. There is a desire to see, to enter into the holy place, to concelebrate and to take Holy Communion. It’s not a matter of time, but of moving towards the throne to praise in the presence of God. Ian Bria says that it is impossible to be uninvolved. Personally I can verify this. In a visit we made to a church in Iasi I felt caught up in the worship, by the beauty of the singing, by the spirit of worship in the place. Several times I wanted to leave but felt the tug to remain. I had no idea what was being said but that did not seem important. I was struck by the desire of the faithful to be there and to take the blessed bread with them. I was struck by the humility expressed by the women who stayed on their knees for long periods of time, blessing themselves, not in a way which seemed calculated to use the least possible amount of energy but reaching from their heads to the ground. At another church I was struck with a mixture of admiration and suspicion as I saw some women crawling on their hands and knees, blessing themselves in the name of the Triune God making their way through the icon of the virgin and child, pleading for health and healing. We in the reformed tradition remain suspicious of such practices, naming this as superstition and earning their salvation: do they not know that Christ forgives as we ask? But then I find myself asking ‘’how do we express our humility?’’ I think we would be too proud to humble ourselves .Metropolitan Anthony covers this in ‘’School for Prayer’’ saying that if we wish to pray we must start with a certainty that we are sinners in need of salvation. We need to realize that we are naturally cut off from God and that we cannot live without him. All we can offer is our longing to be changed that we may meet him. He says that ‘’prayer is really our humble ascent towards God, a moment when we turn God wards, shy of coming near, knowing that if we meet Him too soon, before His grace has had time to help us to be capable of meeting Him, it will be in judgment’’ Such real humility is not always at the top of evangelicalism
Vertical faithfulness
The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is seen as vertical faithfulness rather than horizontal persuasion. For most evangelicals the Great Commission drives them on so that ministry becomes an objective to be reached: targets are set as to how many can be reached with the message this week or this year, we seek to pack as many as possible into the church or the theatre or the tent. For Orthodoxy the target is to pass the faith on to friends and family that they may pass it on to their children and their children’s children. That seems like something Paul said in 2Timothy 2:2. For many generations now the Presbyterian Church has played lip service to this approach: the practice, on the other hand, has been less committed: we have made such demands on members to spent all their waking hours in the church that spending time with family and being in the community has become a rarity with the resulting outcome that we have become detached from the community in which we live and, worst of all, estranged from our families. We have become too individualistic and private and personal, failing to understand that our Trinitarian faith means we were intended to be the corporate body of Christ, and to have fellowship with one another, bearing one another’s burdens. In seeking to be faithful to the Great Commission we have actually become disobedient and have distorted it. Surely this command of Christ is both vertical and horizontal. There are some implications of this vertical faithfulness that local churches need to attend to.
Then there is the thorny question of the unity of the church. It was Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the believers would be one but as the years go on then fragmentation becomes greater. In the ‘’Liturgy after the liturgy’’ we read that,
One of the issued raised by the liturgy after the liturgy is the question of Christian unity. It was Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that all the believers should be one: today we are more fragmented than ever, not just across the denominations but within them also. For may years now the Orthodox have kept the World Council of Churches together given the absence of the Roman Catholic Church. By their presence they have demonstrated a commitment to church unity. Since the early years of the infant church Christians from the east have been in the vanguard of doctrinal purity and guardianship, hence the ecumenical councils that defined the divinity and humanity of Christ an other important doctrines we now affirm. On the more local scene the division among local churches whom largely share the same core values is a real obstacle to the gospel and the cause of Christ. While we cannot merely sweep aside the differences between us we should be deliberate and intentional in the engagement we have with those with whom we disagree. In 1974 the World Council of Churches meeting in Bucharest pointed to the necessity of churches working together in communion which would reflect in history the Trinitarian existence of God Himself. It goes on to say that,
The church is meant precisely to be that. Mission, therefore, suffers and is seriously distorted or disappears whenever it is not possible to point to a community in history which reflects this Trinitarian existence of communion. This happens whenever the church is so distorted or divided that it is no longer possible to recognize it as such a communion, or whenever mission is exercised without reference to the church, but with reference simply to the individuals or the social realities of history.
This means that getting our ecclesiology wrong may well make mission impossible. We need to have a correct view of the church, not as something separate from daily life but as an integral part of life. Our worship is another way of preaching the gospel to a secular world. This was highlighted at the W.C.C meeting in Canberra in 1991which spoke of the fundamental nature of the Christian life in sacramental terms.
Every worshipping community should be a model for an inclusive community. Worship space needs to be designed so that all people are able to participate fully. A lively ministry of hospitality, welcoming all in the name of the Lord, is most important. The plea of young people for forms of worship and celebration which fit their culture must be taken seriously.
With the attitude of intentional engagement there will be opportunities to agree and to disagree and to witness to the power and love of the Trinitarian God. Hospitality means being open to the thoughts and traditions of others, it means an openness to light from any quarter with the spiritual faculty of discernment. In our working with churches outside our comfort zone we have tended to isolate ourselves and remain aloof with the danger of remaining closed to the work of the Spirit of God.
Discontinuity
Some of the difficult areas of belief and practice include icons, the place of Mary and the saints and the attitude to tradition. At the beginning we quoted the ballad, ‘’It’s a long way to Tipperary’: recalling icons, is one of those areas were the distance seem the greatest. When a westerner looks at an icon he sees something quite weird, he sees something which evokes feelings of idolatry and exaggerated, cartoon-like thoughts. When the case for icons is put forward it appears very reasonable but the problem is that observation leaves us less than satisfied. This is an important topic because in a post modern society art and music have a very important place in worship and if we can learn from that we should.
Iconology
The trouble with icons and iconology is that we can only look at it from a western point of view. For the Orthodox there are three purposes in using them: one is to create reverence in worship, the second is to instruct those who cannot read; and the third is to serve as an existential link between the worshipper and God. The point is made by the Orthodox that while the Hebrews have always rejected any visible representation of God they did not appreciate that the use of letters can do the exact same thing: for example the use of Chi-Rho and HIS stand for Christ and Jesus respectively. St Basil said that ‘’what the word transmits through the ear, that painting silently shows through the image, and by these two means, mutually, accompanying one another…we receive knowledge of one and the same thing.’’ We are to understand that the Orthodox has two gospels: the one is visual and the other is the verbal to appeal to the whole person. The idea of icon has also become more a feature in the lives of people in popular culture: the communist regime of the USSR made it their practice to display photographs of their leaders to keep people focused on the right issues and the other is contemporary use of icons which act as windows to their programs; we understand that in the Presidential election in the USA on November v4th 2008 many African Americans took pictures of their forebears with them into the voting booths with them as a way of including them in this momentous event; then we are also reminded of the iconic nature given to celebrities and the description of Jesus Christ by the Apostle Paul as an icon of God long with his call for all the faithful to be like Him.
When it comes to prayer there are important lessons for us to learn from the Orthodox Christians and some things which call for critical thought. Take a look at the list set out by Anthony Coniasis and you can only agree that here we have a treasure for us to meditate upon. Here are just a few of these gems of understanding, taken at random, to demonstrate the wealth of wisdom as to the nature of prayer:

• Prayer…uplifts and unites human beings with God [St Gregory Palamas]
• Prayer is our personal communication system with our home base
• Prayer is opening the door of our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit
• Prayer is not bargaining with God, trying to convince Him to change. It is, rather, our asking Him to change us so we see His ways and His plans more clearly
• Prayer is raising my eye to God lest I begin to think that I am the highest point in the universe.
At the heart of eastern Christianity there is mysticism, there is a call to go beyond the cognitive thought forms that we in the west have iconized . There is much here that we can agree with and much that must challenge us. Theophan the Recluse calls for the worshipper to come before God with ‘’’the mind in the heart’’ He says that we need to pray with the mind but also with the heart. He says that we must pray with the mind so that it is not merely words, but the heart has to feel what the mind is thinking. Metropolitan Anthony says that ‘’unless the prayer which you intend to offer to God is important and meaningful to you first, you will not be able to present it to the Lord’’ He sets out three types of prayer: spontaneous; short vocal prayers and ready-made prayers. Discounting the possibility of being spontaneous all the time and rejecting set prayers he talks of the need for which is rooted in conviction. He suggests learning the Psalms by heart so that they can be used, drawn up from the well whenever they are needed and of the Jesus prayer. None of the above should present us with any problems and the idea of practicing daily prayer devotion at each end of the day should encourage us all. Coniaris sets out the daily cycle as one way of putting this into practice. Where many evangelicals have difficulty is with prayer to and with the saints.

What lessons can we learn?

Having tried to tease out any family resemblance I want to try to suggest some practical lessons we can learn from our long, lost relatives. To do this we will need to set out some of the features of the family. Firstly there is the Trinitarian doctrine, which sets the context for much of what is Orthodox Theology and practice. From the fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit comes the monastic communities. Since the fourth century monasticism has been organized into communities, some surviving to the present day. The monastic initiative was the response of the believers to the spiritual struggle. They went to the places that others would not go to. They took the gospel to those places where it had no gone before. When the gospel was taken to Russia monasteries appeared immediately; when the communists left Romania the monasteries began to multiply. Michael Oleska tells us that when Russia, Central Asia and Siberia were settled it was not by adventurers or frontiersmen, as in America, but by monks who went to the remotest corners of Eurasia to continue the struggle against the devil, in the world and within themselves. John Binns reminds us of the problem when discussing Eastern approaches to theology: the words used are often used by east and west but have different meanings. It is also useful to note that both sides have different ways of understanding the nature of this theology. In the east the understanding is not about an academic knowledge but of personal knowledge. Dumitru Staniloae makes the same point when he declares that dogmatics is about ‘concrete theology’…a theology of experience’’ this is not about abstract systems nor philosophical theory but the expression of personal experience and a living encounter with the divine. John Binns quotes the words of Evagrius of Pontus who described a theologian as one who prays and one who prays is a theologian. The reason for this is that theological understanding has developed in the Monasteries rather than the universities, in the rough and tumble of daily life rather than in the ivory palaces of academia. We must wonder how the increasing importance of the universities may influence the life of the church in the days ahead or if the strong link with monasticism will act as a practical bulwark. It would be a mistake to think of the eastern monasticism as remote and distanced from church and people. The fact is that from the very beginning, and we saw this in Turkey, the monasteries were tightly linked to the community. This is seen in the fact that they were centres of learning, places of hospitality and places of work. In times of economic difficulty they provided employment, places for prayer and contemplation. They had their origins in the gospel call to complete commitment and to leave family and friends. I the trinity there is a call to service and interaction. They saw themselves as ‘’white martyrs’, called, not to die, but to give up all for Christ’. John Binns reminds us that the first monks we re just ordinary people who committed themselves to live as the people around them lived. There was nothing very unusual about them. They lived in groups or alone; they ate the same food, wore the same clothes and did the same work as the people around them. Their aim was to live as an alternative communities so as to be critical friends, sometimes challenging, at other times encouraging society. It was in the monastery that people found training and education and sometimes employment. In the early days membership was flexible: monks could leave the monastery and work m in the community and community people were able to join the alternative community for a [period of time. This was an intentional community. we have to ask the question, especially in those places which are often considered God-forsaken, where are the intentional communities in our western societies? These communities were so successful at what they did that they attracted financial support from government and people with great resources. They even played a part in the national defense, making the point that all defense is not military but also spiritual. Emperor Basil II wrote: ‘what foundations are to a house and oars are to a boat, the prayers of the saints are to the Empire. Who can doubt that what the sword, the bow and military strength could not achieve, prayer alone has brought tom pass easily and splendidly’
Stemming from Monasticism we have another feature which is their servant attitude. This also stems from the emphasis on the incarnation. In the triune relationship there is the interaction and mutual service of their fellowship which explains their desire to serve. In Christ God planted Himself in our world, the tabernacle with humanity for a while. Unlike other kings he came to serve rather than be served and it is the responsibility of every Christian to do likewise: not that they speak of responsibility but rather of doing what should come naturally. In the various countries where Orthodoxy is found you will find the liturgy in the national language. You will also find a strong nationalist spirit. Sometimes the question is raise as to how the eastern European nations managed to keep their religion going. The answer to this question raises another characteristic which is that of a survival mentality: in Ireland we call it stubbornness. What that means in the Russian and Romanian context is that they choose to be with their people instead of holding on to religious purity. A pietistic view in Belfast has denuded the community of vibrant Christian witness today.
When Dumitru Staniloae was asked about the cost of surviving communism he said it was two-fold: fear and lies. The persecution was great and they had to pretend to be faithful to the atheist regime. The alternative was top resist, remain pure but be destroyed and be of no use to their people. The Romanian Patriarch during the Ceaucesu years decided to collude rather than resist and this choice was accepted by the population: when he resigned after the revolution the people persuaded him to return because they understood his decision. The same course of action was taken in Russia. The affect in Russia and Romania was to outlast communism: as in China the philosophical premise of Leninist-Marxist ideology was seen to be defeated. The premise was that eventually the success of communism would destroy the foundations of the church and that would lead to a rejection by the people. Unfortunately, for the regime, this did not work out and that was re-enforced when they turned to repression and persecution. When the communists left the church was there to pick up the pieces.
Next, we see that they are clearly intentional in their engagement, both with those they agree with and with those they disagree with. This is illustrated by their involvement in the ecumenical movement where they have held the foreground and in the way they have decided to stay in communities. Where are our intentional communities engaging with the enemy as well as with friends? We have been slow to join the discussion table. We have deserted those communities which need people to fight the spiritual battles which face them every day and that helps to explain why there is a major dislocation of church and community.
Another feature, already mentioned elsewhere, is their grounding in the saints, especially the patristics. They have a clear view of their place in history as the people of God: they are part of a long line of saints who have held true to the faith. While this history can imprison, as it tends to do with us, it can also liberate and inform. The ruins and relics in Turkey and elsewhere can give rise to hope as well as to despair as they consider the sovereign will of God
Application
Having suggested some features of our Orthodox brethren let’s spend some time in setting out how we can benefit from them. Living in a post modern world we need to consider how we can make more use of, and, appeal to the senses. The way we live and worship is very cognitive and while it is necessary for us to have strong minds as well as strong bodies we need to become more holistic in expressing our faith. While we may have difficulties in using icons as a way to focus the worshipper’s mind on Christ we may be able to use art in other ways. In our church we already have a stained glass window of Jesus but we may be able to highlight it more often using creative methods.
In thinking of the great cloud of witnesses we can include the example of the early church fathers along with the missionaries of the nineteenth century.
In thinking of mission we can take the approach of other congregations, along with our Orthodox brothers of making the worship service be the place to help people to become disciples of Christ and leave the liturgy with the understanding that the service has only begun.
Following the implications of the incarnation we need to be intentional in our approach to community. One of the strategies used by John Perkins is to call Christian people to relocate in tough urban communities. We need to attract those people who can, and will, be open to minister and live in the most difficult places, be they in the inter-faces of our cities or in the rural border areas. We can decide to make housing available in areas of acute housing shortage without giving up ministry opportunities. We could set up Intentional Christian Communities in the various areas of Urban Belfast, and why not on the Crumlin Road? In a community which is so segregated into Protestant and Catholic, Nationalist and Unionist we need models which can give example to how the two major traditions in Belfast can live together in harmony. If an experiment in integrated living is to succeed and space is to be shared we will need to create communities which have a certain degree of protection and control. Here is one suggestion or line of thought which is worth considering for our congregation and community:we could use our site to build some housing. A chaplain/warden and other necessary members of staff would be appointed. Places could be allocated with a mix of Christian and non-Christian people, young and old. A cross community aspect would be both essential and inspirational for the greater community. At the same time we could go into partnership with statutory services to build a sports hall/community hall which could also be used by the church.
This would be a renewing resource because it would get regular funding from government and it would dove-tail with the both the Vine and the other churches in the Greater Shankill Community-if it was thought appropriate we could be done with leadership coming from the shankill worship centre. We could be in partnership with the Shankill churches / or with Immanuel-there are models in the US [e.g. Redeemer Presbyterian in New York] and the Vine would play a vital part.
This would enable us to keep the present congregation going and keep a foot on this important arterial route. At the same time the outreach could go on, in parallel with the Vine and other congregations. Being intentional means that we have decided to do this rather than just let it happen. We have decided that we need to attract some Christians who will live in community to help us to model what it means to be a Christian in the urban community. Who else is going to be prepared to live in the places that even Christians have left. Living in community makes it all the more possible. If we were able to build as high as the church then we could have all the more accommodation. There would also be the possibility of extending the services in the future.
Outreach at the vine would be more likely to attract non-Church people. Alpha type courses as well as other topical services. This can only be of encouragement to the other churches and to the Vine-there is no need or desire to do what others are doing.
While the development of a worship centre’s on the Shankill Road is a laudable idea it would be even better if there were people living in community. Along with the work on the Shankill this could be an urban community, where in-service training could be received and students placed to find out the realities of urban life in Belfast.

1. We can also seek to be critical friends to both community and government. This has already begun but what we need to do, by way of intention, is to make it clear to the community which feels deserted by the church is that we are committed to and actually passionately love our communities. In the best practice of development principles we would seek to work with people rather than for them.
We could also make places of spiritual retreat available all the time: turning desert waste places into spiritual oases. We need to consider how to make our worship glimpses of heaven. Our sanctuaries should use the best of art and music and appeal to a many of the senses as is possible, given our theology and they should be as open as possible that people can make use of these sanctuaries.
We need to take biblical reality much more seriously: for them Pentecost is a continuing reality.
We should also consider the implications of vertical faithfulness in our models of ministry. As Presbyterians we speak often of the importance of family and of the responsibility of the family in passing on the faith to the next generation rather than delegating this to the local fellowship. One of the people in the UK to take this seriously has been the of Rev William Still of Gilmartin Parish Church in Aberdeen. Here the congregation is freed to work in the community as active members of the community and to minister to their families. In many of our Presbyterian congregations the expectations on the minister are very high which has tended to make people dependent rather than mature and active. I am not sure if these expectations are driven by ministers or by their congregations or by both. The effect is to increase the pressure and stress on the minister. We have forgotten that the work of ministry starts at home and when it looks outward it requires ministers who are well rounded people; people take time to think and pray and are not afraid to take creative opportunities to meet people where they are. We need to think out of the box. Too often we think, like the institutions we serve, in straight vertical lines. Too often we are overly concerned with our part of the Empire we call church when we need to take the rest of the body of Christ into consideration. We need to ask how to help one another in the spiritual battle.
In seeking to be faithful to creation we should seek to build any new plant using environmentally friendly actions. We should also be concerned with social justice issues so that we will stand up for those who are oppressed in any way.

Conclusion

In this paper I have tried to tease out the family resemblances and to look for lessons to be learnt. A church which has kept the faith for over 2,000 years, through years of persecution by Ottoman and Communist regimes is worthy of investigation, at least. I wonder how we would have fared if we had been the ones who had suffered what they have suffered?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

INSIDE OUT OUTSIDE IN

Northern Irish Blogs.
Top of the British BlogsCrumlin Road Presbyterian location

Some time ago my wife gave me a funny look. You may not think that as being particularly strange, not when you know me and you know my wardrobe “elegance”. What was funny was that somehow I had managed to put my jumper on “inside out” or was it “outside in”? That’s one way of getting more use out of it. It’s a bit like the case of the student who never washed his socks; he just recycled them in the wash basket! Who is to decide what is the right way anyway? My guess is that there are night clubs in Belfast where you would not get in if you wore your clothes that way, whether the article was a stripy jumper or not
That got me thinking about how important it is, or is it, to look well and to do things which look good. Some people are very concerned about the way they look so they spend hours getting ready to go anywhere: they have to wear the right clothes, having everything colour co-ordinated. Most women need to have their make-up on first thing in the morning and men who would not be seen dead without their latest electronic gadget. For me the most important thing in the morning is breakfast and taking the dogs out for their walk.
I guess the normal thing now would be to remind us all that God looks at the heart and not the outside appearance and that is we concentrated on that it would be a better idea than thinking of how we look. That would be normal and true but I want to take a sidewise glance at this from another angle. We are all too familiar with the decline in numbers attending the institutional churches. I only say the institutional church because that is where my experience is and not on those churches which are emerging in various places. Sometimes I feel very defeated by the downward trend and then I have to remind myself, to quote Jonesy in Dad’s Army, “don’t panic, don’t panic”.
This is where I come back to the truth I learnt from my wardrobe malfunction. Unless we in the church are ready to turn our churches “inside out” or “outside in” we are never going to make a difference in our society. What I mean by this is that we need to keep our focus on God and on Jesus Christ in particular but we need to draw alongside people. We need to put the community back into the heart of the church. Presently our church buildings tell the world that we are different, set apart, a place where ordinary people do not go. Jesus Christ was always part of his community. I want our building to say to the world, “you are welcome” I want the Christians to say to the world, “church is a place of sanctuary, of peace and of acceptance”. We are not a private club; we are a people who are literally on the move. I know that the worry is that if we do not take care of ourselves we will lose our edge. Can we not leave the health of the church to the God who owns the church? Can we not trust God so that as we become more community minded He will look after our spiritual health or is that ok for missionaries in Africa and different for us in Belfast? Why not, for example, share our buildings with the community?
It’s time for all Churches to turn the inside out. Maybe my mistake was worth making after all!

Monday, October 02, 2006

What kind of society do we want?


Northern Irish Blogs.
Top of the British BlogsCrumlin Road Presbyterian location

The call came at 6.30am on Sunday, 1st October to tell me that the church minibus had been torched and all that remained was the shell. My first reaction was one of thanks that no one had been hurt or worse. But now I would like to ask a very important question- what kind of society do we want? Another question is what are we prepared to do to get that society?

We were only one of a number of incidents that night in the district around the church and the damage that is done by this affects the whole community. What we struggle with is the fact that we are really trying to develop projects to work for a better society. Crumlin Road Presbyterian has been one of the lights in this district all through the troubles- on Friday night I was at the Boys Brigade Company section where there were teenagers meeting in the upper hall and next week the plan was to take these boys to Dundonald to go ice skating. Every week there are groups of people meeting in the church and the bus is used to collect and return people of all ages to church. Over the years we have taken people on various trips and outings,. Only this summer we hosted a team from the USA who worked with local people to clean up the district and to improve the environment by helping with gardens and giving flowers and plants in window boxes. We took a large group of local residents to the Giant’s Causeway for the day. The bus was used every day to ferry the team to various places to help them do their work

In our reading of the bible we understand the Christian’s calling is to serve and to help to rebuild civil society. Over the last 12 months we have been asking questions about how we can best serve our community- we are not going away, not to the suburbs, not to the green countryside, we are staying because this is where we are called to work and serve. We have had many meetings where we have considered whether or not we should sell the bus just because of the expense of it upkeep- the insurance alone costs £1,800 a year- but we have always decided that the need and the use has outweighed the cost and so we have made a commitment to keep it.

Thankfully there was no one hurt. Thankfully all that was lost was a material asset but we need that asset to do this work. This is not the time to talk about those who did this in negative and harsh ways because, like it or not, they are part of this community and an outburst of moral indignation will serve no one, even if the temporary feeling is good. What we do want to say is that it is completely counter-productive to destroy the work of those who want to help. Yes the bus was insured but that will not be enough to buy a new one- we do not have the money-you will not find big expensive cars parked outside our church. We do not have the professional people with the healthy salaries. Any that we did have, have left for the more comfortable places- we are a truly indigenous church and that means we have ordinary working men and women struggling to keep above the debt line. We are running an overdraft. Earlier in the year our data projector was broken – it cost £1800 four years ago- to day the same model costs about £500 but we do not have even that amount to get a new one and will have to hope that the insurance company pays up.

Is this the kind of society that we want? Yes we can turn the other cheek because we know that in the end no one gets away with the consequences of their actions but if we are to continue working for the community we need help.

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