A Community That Endures

For many Christians from other traditions, the Orthodox Church looks like Christianity’s answer to Ringling Brothers Circus—no tigers or clowns, but vestments that make peacocks look understated and more ritual than in a trapeze act. The casual visitor to an Orthodox service is likely to come away impressed with "the theatrical side of it"—and perhaps even a deep sense of God’s presence.

A visitor to our parish—St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands—asked me during the coffee gathering after the Liturgy if "two hours wasn’t just a little on the long side for prayer" and "Was it really necessary to say ‘Lord have mercy’ so many times?" On the other hand, he was glad he came because "it was like a living museum, like Williamsburg, only here you get to see what the church was like back in the time of Constantine." The surprising thing was that he returned the following Sunday and, back home in Chicago, eventually became a member of an Orthodox parish. He wrote me to say, "I was wrong about Orthodoxy being like Williamsburg. I find there’s no place where I am so much in the present as when I’m taking part in the Liturgy."

A Protestant visitor to the parish told me she felt like she was "meeting cousins I didn’t know I had." She had read about Orthodox Christianity and knew about the Great Schism of 1054 when the bishops of Rome and Constantinople excommunicated each other, "but it just seemed like some detail of history." She was amazed by the intense atmosphere of worship during the service. "I learned today that Christian worship doesn’t have to be a classroom with hymn breaks."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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