I wish more people knew this Jesus.
On Sunday I went church — a local Greek Orthodox parish called Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox.
I was there to receive a check. I am an advocate for children in foster care and am President of a global organization that works directly with thousands of children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment.
St. Paul’s is a church with a mission. This year, part of their mission is to help children who need help.
I have attended Saint Paul’s before. Maybe 6 times, on days where I wanted the deepest richness of liturgy. Have you ever attended an Orthodox service? Growing up Roman Catholic, I thought I knew everything about what some might deem “boring church.”
Roman Catholics sit and stand and kneel during their roughly one-hour mass – pretty boring. Reformed churches (non-traditional) make standing optional, but lots of people stand during the worship. You sit and watch during the hour and twenty minuteish service. And they have rock bands and cool videos and techy stuff. Way less boring.
In the Orthodox churches, you stand — basically for two straight hours. And there’s all this chanting and incense and robes and you feel like you are Greece or Turkey or places like that.
The Orthodox church was created in the 11th century. There was a split between the western church (Rome) and the eastern church (Constantinople) — the Great Schism. Previously, dating back from the time of Jesus, there was one denomination: the “Catholic” or “Universal” church.
We don’t hear about Orthodox churches here in the west because they are predominately eastern; the Roman Catholics, primarily western.
Today there are thousands of Christian denominations; the largest is Roman Catholic, then Orthodox, then the Anglican.
I am an Anglican (known in the U.S. as the Episcopal church). Sometimes the Anglican church is called The Church of England. They split from the Roman Catholic church, in the 16th century, for a bunch of reasons, including a divorce. You’ve probably heard that story.
Many pastors and theologians, for centuries, have argued about the purpose of church. The traditional churches (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist) think in terms of the power of incarnational worship — in certain mental respects, getting your body involved, as a way to lure in your mind and heart. Lots of symbols, and the involvement of your five senses.
After the Reformation — when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest tired of Roman antics — basically anything that resembled the Roman and Greek churches were ditched. Sola Scriptura became the main idea and it basically means traditions don’t matter – all that matters is the Bible.
I stood and stood and stood and stood with chants and incense and dozens of signs of the cross. My back started to hurt. (My lower back does that when I stand for too long.) But my Roman Catholic roots run deep, and appreciation for the virtue of sacrifice (i.e., pain) kept me on my two feet.
My friend and mentor Wayne stood to my right, and my youngest son Elliot stood to my left, and I wasn’t about to shame myself in front of them.
I didn’t want to run the risk of dishonoring God, either. I’m not even kidding I still feel guilt like that because of my upbringing.
Your mind is bound to wander during any two-hour liturgy when you’re standing basically the whole entire time. If I’m honest, I wanted to shuffle out of there a couple of times. But again, Wayne and Elliot.
But when that happens your mind attaches onto your senses: the sights, the smell, the sounds. That’s what Locke wrote about. The tabula rasa — our blank slate brain that is informed — shaped — by our senses.
The large domed ceiling. That color blue. I didn’t know whether to call it teal or turquoise. I toyed around with chartreuse for a few seconds but concluded that chartreuse was more like a pinkish color. (I’m still not sure, though.)
I’m not very good at naming novel colors.
I felt relieved that the Jesus on the ceiling didn’t have blonde hair.
There were the dark brown wooden pews with no padding.
The lady and two daughters sitting behind us, all dawning black dresses, all looking entirely foreign.
Most of the people in the dark brown wooden pews had darker hair.
The walls upfront seemed painted with gold.
For some reason, I thought about Christmas mornings attending Sunday church (Anglican) at Westminister Abbey.
The Jesus being baptized in the Jordan wall. I decided to take a photo of him.
I wanted to check my iPhone like a hundred times.
Then I thought about all the rubbish I’ve heard over the years — Roman Catholics aren’t, somehow, Christians. Neither are those who practice rituals.
It’s the “You don’t worship like us so you can’t possibly be a Christian” bile.
I was frustrated. I sometimes get frustrated with ignorance.
In my mind I say, “Think about it, for nearly 2,000 years, Christians have worshipped this way. And, today, the vast majority of Christians worship this way.”
I don’t know who I was talking to – I guess those who think their brand is the only brand: the tribalists.
I listened to the name of Jesus proclaimed countless times by the worshippers at Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church. “Jesus” over and over and over.
The service was all about God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
Then the priest read from the words of Jesus, from the Gospel of Luke. A few minutes after that, Holy Communion.
Then the liturgy stopped. Two women came to the stage and invited me to join them.
In front of hundreds of faithful Greek Orthodox worshippers: On behalf of Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, we are honored to bless RFK with a check in the amount of $43,150 to help children in foster care.
I almost fell over.
I don’t remember how I thanked them, but I mentioned Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Inasmuch you have done it for the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
It doesn’t get any more “least” than being a child.
Then being neglected.
Then being abused.
And then abandoned.
Family induced childhood trauma — we must help those children.
Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox helped those children.
Proclaiming and confessing the name of Jesus. Giving to the least of these. Studying scripture. As far as I am concerned, that is about as Christian as it gets.
I will be back in Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine.
I want to go to an Orthodox church in Greece, too. Or, Russia, but I’ve been advised that it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel to Russia because of this.
Please read these words for the Gospel of Luke; they are the most important words on this page.
If only more people knew this Jesus:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”