Back a long time ago, before I got into the semester, I began a short-lived “I’m going to tell you about my experiences visiting Orthodox churches!” kick. Things happened: I got a call about a new appointment, schoolwork shifted into a new gear, I got distracted with commissioning things and Commission on the Status and Role of Women things, and mi media naranja moved across the ocean… this was all within the time that I had scheduled to post on Orthodoxy. Now the semester is ending & I can post what I had started but never finished earlier in the semester: my flirtation with Christian Orthodoxy.
I’m not sure what it is about the Orthodox Church that draws me to it, but this interest has been growing for a loooong time. My (very limited) exposure to Orthodoxy prior to this semester:
- College classes on European diplomatic history (shout-out to Dr. Treadway!), which included all the reasons people have killed each other in the Balkans… this was when I learned that Catholics & Orthodox cross each other in different directions and that the name “Petrovic” (“son of a priest”) was enough to get one killed during Catholic crack-downs on Orthodoxy
- Inadvertently, the people in my college class on European Diplomatic History also sparked my love of icons. When some of my college friends opposed women in ministry, I found refuge in the story of St. Thecla, the woman I began considering as my own saint. It’s ironic when you consider Orthodox reticence to recognize clergywomen, but it is also a bit ironic that those evangelical iconoclasts who opposed my entering the ordination process witnessed my transformation into an ardent feminist iconodoule!
- Limited academic exposure. I did take a class on Medieval Women Saints, which covered hagiography, (some) iconography, asceticism, gender, and awesome women like St. Mary of Egypt, and I also took a required seminary course entitled “History of Christian Thought,” which covered the shared Eastern/Western history through 1000 CE, but I may or may not have been as interested in flirting with the TA as I was in studying. So I skimmed through The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware and searched online for blogs & podcasts & other Orthodox resources… this mainly involved bookmarking every Wikipedia article about home altars/worship spaces and daydreaming about how I would have a dedicated room for prayer & incense when I got my own place (yay, parsonages!).
- Read Way of the Pilgrim while feeling like a pilgrim myself… a multi-hour daily commute around Nicaragua isn’t quite the same as the Russian wanderings in the book, but it sure felt like it! This led to praying the Jesus prayer (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) over and over while sitting on a 40-person bus, crammed with 70+ people, traipsing around the gorgeous Nicaraguan countryside.
- Began praying Orthodox Daily Prayer, a gift book from my Dad, inscribed with the note, “May the Beauty of the Orthodox Church be always with you”—and that has been quite the blessing!
- Orthodox Study Bible – my current favorite Bible… gorgeous (if exclusive) language, christocentric commentary (I always pair OT readings with the Jewish Study Bible, for balance ), a lectionary/daily prayer guide that I follow when I can, and a reminder that Scripture can be read on many different levels
- Read Elias Chacour, who is Melkite [Eastern-Rite Catholic], not Orthodox, but this book goes in my most-likely-to-transform-your-life list of books and led directly to my interest in the following bullet point:
- Visited the Middle East: Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem), Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem), and the monastery where Jesus was tempted Greece. Then we traipsed over to Greece, where I visited no churches, but just enjoyed Athens and that gorgeous island of Hydra! (Would love to go back…)
- Attended various Holy Week services at the local Antiochian Orthodox Church
- Attended a Greek Festival and a Mideast Festival at two of the Orthodox churches in my city… yummy food, decent wine, and lively music! What more could you ask for?
What more could I ask for? So maybe I have had more exposure to Orthodoxy than your average Protestant… but comparing my ecumenical knowledge to “the average Protestant” sets the bar pretty low. The Orthodox Church still remained Other. And the more I learned, the more it accentuated the Otherness of the East. I consider my knowledge to be the bare minimum a pastoral leader should have. So I set off to visit different Orthodox churches each week this semester…