When people ask, “Where do you go to church?” I say, Holy Cross Orthodox. (I don’t even muddle things up by saying “Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox” since we trace our roots back all the way to Acts Chapter 11 and the city of Antioch.) But, almost 100% of the time, what happens next is this: nothing. The conversation just keeps going on as before, babbling on about the weather, political scandals, kids, school, work, sports… you name it. The person I’m talking to is so used to hearing an innumerable and nearly inexhaustible combination of possible church responses that the name “Orthodox” doesn’t even seem to register. It’s like insert any name: First Baptist, Second Reformed, Third Congregational. Or the new hip church names like: The Flow, Journey Church, Soul City, Elevation, Compass Fellowship Center. Or now the even more trendy and really cool neo-classical hipsters who use authoritative and authentic words like… Ecclesia, Imago Dei, Kairos, and Agape Fellowship (Somehow they feel more legitimate by using Latin and Greek?) and the conversation simply moves on without a hiccup? (It would be a fascinating study to understand why modern churches who reject so much of ancient historical teaching, desire ancient and historical names like Imago Dei and Ecclesia? Hmm? A topic for another time.)
But the questions that no one ever asks are:
“Did you say Orthodox? “What the heck is Orthodox?” “Why Orthodox?”
Now I suppose that in our present pluralistic, egalitarian, ‘no one is ever wrong – everyone is always right’, and ‘every spiritual path is equal’ culture in which we find ourselves, the person is simply being nice and polite assuming that your church is just like my church and all churches are the same. Plus it’s not appropriate to pry and ask questions about such personal things like ‘religion’ since all religions are more or less the same and all more or less take us to the same place. Or, they may not want to ‘get into it’, you know, have a conversation about spiritual things, about faith, practice, history etc. because it might lead to a disagreement and hurt feelings and bruised self-esteems, so in the end people just avoid the question altogether.
Or the last option is this. (and this is the one that I think is most legit) They have no idea of what ‘orthodox’ even means as a word, let alone what it means as an adjective to define the Church that has existed for over twenty centuries, one and undivided, and which claims the lives of millions upon millions of saints both living and reposed!
So let me play devil’s advocate. “Did you say Orthodox?” “Why Orthodox?”
Because it doesn’t change.
It remains the same. Rooted deeply, unchanged in the faith, practice and teaching of Christ, the apostles and the prophets. Like Jesus, Orthodoxy is the same, yesterday, today and forever, and so is the one Church He said He would build. No doctrine or teaching is voted on. No trend or whim of culture which says ‘this is cool’ tells the church how and why it must change. These incessant and ever changing fads of mankind do not carry authority to fix the church – in order for the Church to become cool, hip and relevant. They are overruled. Truth, Substance, Sacraments, Liturgy and Apostolic Continuity are relevant and timeless – not trends. Remember: Cabbage Patch Dolls? How about “Pet Rocks” or the classic Polyester Leisure Suits. Here today, gone tomorrow. How are the “updating” and “renewing” changes of Vatican II helping the Roman church these days?
Rather, we stand with Christ, and on Christ, who changes not. We stand upon the shoulders of saints whose prayers, hymns, liturgies, sacraments, words and teachings we speak and partake of today, and our children will pray and be fed with tomorrow. What they received they passed on. What we have received we pass on. Never changing, always guarding. Always willing to share with others.
Because it doesn’t change.
Our churches are not ‘fellowship halls’ or ‘celebration centers’. They are Sacred. Holy. Sanctified and set apart from the world. They are adorned with holy objects, they rest upon holy ground, they provide holy things for the holy people. Walk in, and you leave the world. Walk in, and you smell incense from worship that never ceases, see candles burning that never go out, gaze upon a holy altar where a eucharistic meal of thanksgiving and eternal life is prepared continuously for the people, and you’ll look eye to eye with saints, old and new, through the holy Icons graciously adorning the walls reminding us that we are never alone. They remind me that the church is not ‘mine’, it does not belong to me and my generation, but it is ours, it is His, and that as I run the race of faith I am never alone. Contrast this understanding to a friend of mine who recently told me their family changed churches simply because of the seating. He said, “the X Church seats were really uncomfortable, but the Y Church has theatre style seating that recline back AND they have cup holders to hold our Starbucks during the worship set…”
Because it doesn’t change.
In a world where everything changes and nothing remains the same. Where technology forces us to adapt to the new or else become extinct and die. Where everything is up for review, debate and revision. The Orthodox Church remains true to the teachings, to the Sacred Tradition, to the Faith of our Fathers. No voters assembly, no priest, no pope, no bishop, no person can adapt, alter, adjust, or augment the Sacred Tradition unilaterally. There is a deep comfort and a solace knowing that our path to Theosis, towards oneness and communion with the Holy Trinity, is the same path that saints before us walked. It worked for them. It can work for us. To know that our prayers, words, beliefs, fasts, practices, teachings, all remain as they have been. Never put up to a vote. Never fodder for what culture says is cool, hip or relevant. But they remain steadfast, timeless, changeless, eternal.
I know. It all sounds so darn un-American. So paradoxical. It can’t be right. Or can it? Can we say ‘no’ to what we want, to what I want, and can we submit our desires and wishes to the corporate mind of the church? Can we yield to the Sacred Tradition of our Fathers and Mothers in the faith? To the faith which is bigger than anyone of us. The faith that changes us, instead of us changing it. If you can then you will have peace that surpasses understanding, for you will have the Church. You will have Christ Himself, who together are One, and are the same. Changeless: yesterday, today and forever.
“So why are you Orthodox?”
Because it is The Church.
Because Her Truth does not change…
…instead, the Church changes me.
And it is in this very changelessness, that She remains timeless and relevant to all who would discover her, submit to her, and in the end, find new life through her.