Overcoming the Cult Accusation

 

In the Byzantine Churches on Good Friday you wake up early to start observing the crucifixion of Christ. This starts with the Royal Hours in the morning, the decorating of the Kouvouklion, the un-nailing from the Cross and finally, at night, the Lamentation Vespers with the procession of the Kouvouklion around the church. It was during the Lamentation Vespers that Fr. George talked to the small congregation about how Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians are viewed in the culturally Evangelical dominated South as being a cult.

Hank Hanegraaff, also known as the ‘Bible Answer Man’, a recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy from Evangelicalism, was the center of Fr. George’s message. The Evangelical world, as Fr. George noted, has long viewed Eastern Orthodoxy, Eastern Catholicism and, to an extent, Roman Catholicism as mere cult worship rather than the expression of true Christianity. Non the less, when Hank Hanegraaff left the Evangelical church for Orthodoxy, Evangelical leaders across the country started accusing Hanegraaff of leaving true Christianity for a cult.

As Fr. George pointed out, this is the reality that many Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, live in. We were reminded that the Orthodox leadership and faithful need to educate our surrounding communities and doubters about Eastern Christianity with opens and love. We shouldn’t act like the leadership at the church where Hanegraaff was chrismated, who, after learning that leaders from the Evangelical church were present and later wrote very negative statements about the Orthodox Church, have been caught up in their own anger about the injustice of the false statements leveled at the Orthodox Church. Instead we need to approach with love while also defending our tradition. At the end of the day this means continuing with our traditions no matter how cultish for foreign they may look to outsiders. We cannot compromise who we are for the sake of making outsiders comfortable. Instead we should use our traditions as a learning opportunity that will and can help educate others about Eastern Christianity.

Submission and Acceptance

 

In my long experience with the Byzantine Rite churches I have always fell more welcomed and accepted there than in other Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, minus the Episcopal Church. In my encounters and time spent in Methodist, Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches I didn’t always feel welcomed or I felt welcomed but didn’t feel welcomed to express myself in a way that I saw fit. Like not being free to engage in my Southern culture and heritage while attending a Methodist campus ministries because that wasn’t considered PC. Or feeling like I needed to guard against myself from coming out as a liberal in many of the local Roman Catholic churches because good Southern Christians aren’t liberals. This last bit has been a culture sock since leaving Washington, D.C.

Well, last night after the Presanctified Liturgy the gathered Wednesday night congregants started in on our Lenten lesson. The lesson for this week was on submission. As I learned the Greek Orthodox and whole of Christian Orthodoxy has a similar approach to submission as the United Methodist Church: submission as serving each other as Christians. This is very different than from what I had learned growing up in a culture influenced by Evangelical Christianity that is hyper focused on God’s so called “laws” and Americanism. Something that requires that one be a conservative, American exceptionalist and nationalist as part of the equation to make it to heaven. It’s just short of a vague mathematical equation to salvation. I learned that Orthodoxy isn’t like this.

At the start of the lesson Fr. George asked the class what we thought of this week’s lesson. One parishioner said that being submissive to each other, treating others with respect and kindness, is what Christian Orthodoxy is about. It’s about keeping an open mind. Another parishioner said that submission is realizing that there is a middle ground and that not everything is black and white. Part of this submission in the Orthodox Church is attempting to understand where other people come from and not condemning them for thinking differently. At the heart of it is about approaching people with respect and love.

In so many instances I have felt that political allegiance is more important in certain religious communities than approaching people with love. I have felt that love has been secondary. This weeks lesson has touched on why I have felt so accepted and loved in so many of the Byzantine churches that I have attended: love is more important than personal political leanings.

 

Reading the Gospel at Pascha

 

Great and Holy Pascha (Easter) is just over two weeks away on April 16. In preparation Fr. George at St. Christopher Hellenic Orthodox Church has been asking parishioners to read the Gospel in various languages that they know. The reading of the Gospel in various languages is a Paschal tradition in the Eastern Rite churches that symbolizes the spreading of the Gospel to different peoples, cultures and countries and through out the world.

After the Presanctified liturgy and after Fr. George had handed me the antidoron, blessed bread, he asked if I could read the Gospel in Ukrainian. I told Father that I didn’t know Ukrainian but that I could read the Gospel in Dutch and Portuguese. After our Lenten devotional class Fr. George asked if I would be able to supply the Dutch and Portuguese Gospels after he assigned me verses to read.

The way this will work is that I will be reading Dutch and Portuguese verses of the Gospel during the Paschal vespers on Holy Saturday night. There will be fourteen to fifteen other people reading the Gospel in various languages standing in the outer part of the sanctuary. According to Fr. George this will look like a cross from above but equally important the positioning of readers will look like a compass that represents the world. The readers will “go around the world” reading the Gospel in our different languages by taking turns. We will go around the circuit several times until every one has read their portion of the Gospel.

Now I need to wait for my assigned portion of the Gospel and then find the corresponding Dutch and Portuguese Gospel verses. Then I’ll start practicing.

Mansplaining Icons

 

Mansplaining was coined by Rebecca Solnit in her 2014 book Men Explain Things to Me. Mansplaining, for those not familiar with the term, is when a man re-explains to a woman what the woman, who is more knowledgeable on the topic, what she just explained to the man. By doing this the man assumes that he is more knowledgeable than the qualified woman who more qualified via her educational degree, focus of study or life experience.

Two weeks ago I took a Roman Catholic male friend to Washington, D.C.’s beloved St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral for Saturday night vespers. My Roman Catholic friend is versed in Russian history and culture but not well versed in the Russian Orthodox Church, Christian Orthodoxy and Byzantine Rite (Eastern Rite) Catholicism. As I was explaining the workings of the Russian Orthodox Church, vespers and how to venerate icons my friend asked why the style of the icons looked old. He had noticed all the beautifully written icons on the walls and ceiling of the church. I explained to him that for an icon, a holy image of Christian imagery, to be considered a true icon, the icon being written cannot deviate from the original icon of it’s type. Hence, an icon is a copy of it’s original. This is why icons in the Russian Orthodox have an old style to them.

I explained this to my friend. He responded by telling me that a certain professor at American University, who is well known for his fascinating and challenging Russian history courses, would say that icons have an old styled look to them because they have to be copies of their original. That an icon cannot deviate from it’s original in style. Exactly what I said. I told him he was mansplaining and that I wasn’t pleased. I then went on to tell him more about icons, their spiritual importance and how styles vary in different Orthodox Christian and Byzantine Catholic traditions based on the materials used and the culture of the church.

 

Devil Worshipers

 

When you’re the priest or a parishioner of a church with the name “Saint Christopher Hellenic Orthodox Church”, some people might think your little church is centered around devil worship. Ummm… True story though…

Two weeks ago I started going to the local Greek Orthodox church after giving up on the few local Roman Catholic churches for numerous reasons. The first visit was for the Pre-sanctified liturgy on Wednesday nights. Defiantly my favorite liturgy during Great Lent. I stayed after the liturgy to meet parishioners and have dinner. After dinner the congregants started their Wednesday night Lenten devotional class. Before the class started Fr. George told the story about possible devil worshipers.

There’s a couple who attends St. Christopher Hellenic Orthodox Church who’s bee keeping neighbor thinks they worship the devil. Fr. George has known about the neighbor for some time. The couple invite Fr. George  over for a house blessing. Fr. George goes over to the house for the blessing and asks the couple about their neighbor. The couple tell Father that she’s still the same, that she still thinks they worship the devil. Cause, well, everyone knows Hell-enic means hell and the devil, not Greek.

Fr. George continues on his way blessing the house while the bee keeping neighbor is out looking after her bees. Fast forward some time. Fr. George is now at the grocery store by the pharmacy where the bee keeping neighbor is pickup up her prescription. She sees Fr. George and blurts, “He worships the devil! He’s a devil worshiper!” The shocked pharmacist immediately explains to Fr. George that bee keeping neighbor is on a lot of meds. Fr. George tells the pharmacist that bee keeping neighbor has always believed that he and his parishioners worship the devil. After all, Fr, George comments, she believes that Hellenic (Hell-enic) means devil worship and not Greek.

After hearing this story I knew I had to split my time between the local Greek Orthodox church and the Ukrainian Catholic church in Conyers, GA.

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑