Orthodox Church

An Iconic Faith

FRANCISCAN BROTHER ROBERT LENTZ is a contradictory blend of traditional and tradition-challenging. That same surprising mix could be said to typify his contemporary approach to the ancient art of iconography.

Brother Robert’s work adorns cathedrals, churches, and homes of many faiths, though his name may not ring a bell, even among his fans.

But describe his icons of Martin Luther King Jr. or César Chávez, his portrayals of Jesus as black, Korean, and Navajo, and his non-Christian subjects including Mohandas Gandhi and the Sufi mystic Rumi, and the response may be “Oh, yes! I have one of those.”

Icons—religious paintings used as aids in Christian prayer—have been called a “doorway into the kingdom of heaven.” Brother Robert’s icons are striking, often for the contemporary twists in classically structured images, such as the army canteen held by St. Toribio Romo, a 20th century Mexican priest who is revered as the patron of migrants crossing the border. His Chávez image carries a copy of the Constitution and wears a sweatshirt with the United Farmworkers logo. “Icons may contain anachronisms,” he said, “when there is a great truth at stake.”

Brother Robert’s work—and his life—seem often to focus on such anachronisms in pursuit of truth. At 67, he is a Roman Catholic Franciscan brother in the New York-based Holy Name Province, living and working in a studio created for him in the order’s seminary near Washington, D.C. A religious brother is not a priest, though he lives by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and dedicates his life to charitable service. It’s Brother Robert’s second stretch as a Franciscan, the order founded by St. Francis of Assisi. But it’s his third stint in religious life, having also come close to ordination as a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

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The Church's Role in the Georgia-Russia Conflict

The recent Georgia-Russia mini-war in and around South Ossetia was definitely not a religious war, but it serves as a reminder that religious identity doesn't even come in third place when issues of national identity are at issue. While the battle raged, the majority of participants -- and casualties -- were Christians on both sides.

In both countries, the Orthodox Church [...]

Redefining The Camps

On a November evening a couple of weeks after the 2004 election, the regular monthly meeting of Orthodox Young Adults was held at my house. These 20 or 30 college students and young professionals are Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.

Lillian, a Web designer, had invented a party game for the evening. We divided into two teams. Each team was charged to prepare one of its members to be a “presidential candidate” and given the same list of controversial issues on which to prep, including abortion, gay marriage, federal aid to the poor, and environmental protection. The catch was that we would not choose our positions on these issues. Each team’s package of positions had been preassigned.

The “candidates” did their best to bluster through campaign speeches, in some cases enunciating the exact opposite of their true convictions. At the end, we went around the room and voted, and all voters got a chance to explain their choice.

The results surprised me. Virtually all the participants named abortion as their most important issue and were looking for a candidate who was “pro-life.” Lately, abortion hasn’t been in the headlines as much as it was in the early 1990s, but it hasn’t gone away, and according to a 2003 Gallup Poll young people are surprisingly prone to take a pro-life tack.

Yet the voters in my living room weren’t happy Republican campers. They wanted a candidate who was in favor of gun control and who supported laws that protect the environment. They favored government aid to the poor. The issue of gay marriage went virtually unmentioned. When I asked, “How many of you are both pro-life and against the death penalty?” most of the hands in the room went up.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2006
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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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After the Gold Rush

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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The Orthodox Church

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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