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Welcome to Orthodoxy - Outline

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Welcome to the Orthodox Church:

An Introduction to Eastern Christianity


by Frederica Mathewes-Green, Paraclete Press, 2015




Introduction: How to Learn About Orthodoxy          xi

            A challenging faith     xii

            We learned by experience:     

Examine liturgical elements     xiii

                        New theological ideas, old ideas absent     xiv         

            Not a perfect institution, but a Way to know Christ     xviii


Part One: Inside the Temple Exploring the empty church


1  “Enter His Gates”        3  In the narthex, the church’s lobby or foyer 


            An arriving worshipper takes a candle and venerates an icon     4

            Introduction to icons     4-7

            Making the sign of the Cross     8-10

            CS Lewis: Worshippers don’t monitor others’ behavior     9


2  “The House of God”    11   In the nave, the congregation’s worship space


            Traditional church architecture, the basilica, adding a central dome     12-14

            (aside: why so many ethnic varieties of Orthodox?     14-15)

            The cross-in-square design     15-16

            Icons cover everything     16

            The iconostasis     16

            No pews (no organ either)     17-18

            The analogion with “today’s special” icon     18-19

            The parish’s patron, St. Felicity of Carthage     19-20



3  “So Great a Cloud”      21  Still in the nave


            Love of the Theotokos, the ever-virgin Mary     21-25

            Whose interpretation of Scripture do you choose?     26-30

            Worship language is exuberant     30-31

            (aside: the early Christians’ Jewish Scriptures, the Septuagint     32)

Praying to saints, who are praying for us     33-37



4  “Upon This Rock”       38  A quick history lesson


The five great cities of the early church, the Pentarchy     39

Increasing disagreement on the role of the pope     39-46

Rome fell, but eastern Christianity was thriving     41-42

The filioque controversy     42-43

Conciliarity      43-35

Exoskeleton or endoskeleton?     45-46



5  “A Sacrifice of Praise” 47  Still in the nave


            The baptismal font     47

High percentages of converts     47-48

The holy water dispenser     48

House blessings     49

12 icons for the Feasts of the year     49

Worship books; all prayers are hymns     50-51

            Beauty in worship; fancy but not fussy     51-52

Old Testament precedent for beauty in worship    52-54

            Early structure of worship: prayers and sacrifices     54

The St. John Chrysostom Divine Liturgy     55

The Western Rite     55

            Beauty opens the heart to God     55-56

            Chanters’ stand, troparia and kontakia     56-68

            Paragraph-hymns and Byzantine tones     58-60    

            What do you mean, “It doesn’t change”?     61

            Traditions (like Christmas traditions) that give life     61-2

Russian icons and music: one “worked,” the other didn’t     63-64

A central core that doesn’t change     64

Distinctives of American Orthodoxy     64-65

Similarity of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox     66

            Orthodoxy “doesn’t change” because it “works”     67



6  “Partakers of the Divine Nature”     68     Theosis


            The Transfiguration of Christ     68-69

            “He was made man so that we might be made god”     68

As iron in a furnace takes on the properties of fire     70

Theosis in the Scriptures     70-72

            We are “partakers”; assimilation     72

            Direct experience of God     73-74

            How it looks in practice (“He is at peace in himself…”)     75, 82

            Skepticism, miracles     78-79

            Not characteristics the world admires     80-81

            The Uncreated Light     83



7  “Christ and Him Crucified”   85      Still in the nave


            Images of the Crucifixion: suffering or victorious?     85

            Freed from sin and death, or from the debt of sin? (Anselm and others)     86-89

            Analogy: police officer who rescues kidnapped teens     89-90

Honoring Christ’s sacrifice, we look away     90-92

Liturgical chandelier; light as fire, love can burn     93-95

The dome, bishop’s chair, bier, epitaphion, the Lamentations     95-97



8  “Image of the Invisible God” 98      Still in the nave


            Iconoclast controversy; St. John of Damascus, 7th Ecumenical Council     79-104

            The iconostasis: Royal Doors, icon of Christ Pantocrator     104-105

            (aside: women’s roles in the Orthodox Church     106-107)

            Icons of the Theotokos, St. John the Forerunner, St. Felicity     106-109

            How the saint looked when the light of Christ shone through them     109

            Angel doors, lampada, candle stands, bema and solea     110-111



9  “Your Body Is a Temple”      112    Looking into the altar


            Icons in the apse: Communion of the apostles, Virgin of the Sign     112-114

            The altar table     114-115

            Relics     115

            God permeates the material world     115-116

Divine energies, energeia     117-119    

            The goodness of the human body     119

            Flesh and spirit     119

            “Passions,” asceticism     120

            Use of matter for healing     122

            Elisha’s grave     123

            Relics, continued     123-124



10  “Into the Sanctuary”  125    Still in the altar


            Gospel book, antimens, tabernacle     125-128

            Hand-held blessing crosses of different designs     128-129

            (aside: less of a barrier between clergy and laity     129-130)

            Menorah, processional cross, candles, and fans, censer     130-131

            Prothesis table and liturgical implements, cross with corpus of Christ     132-133




Part Two: Inside the Liturgy          Participating in worship  



11  “Reconciling the World”      137    Vespers

(Saturday, December 8)


            Entering the church for Vespers     137    

            “Immaculate Conception” and “Original Sin”     138-139

            The Orthodox view: Ancestral Sin     140

            How do we inherit fallen human nature?     142-143           

Sin is all-pervading, yet we don’t “just accept it”     142-143

            Not payable by a third party; not a mere penalty (parking ticket)     143

Sin as sickness: Infection, not infraction     143

            Christ begins our healing when he enters the human race     143-146

            Three directions: humans and God, God and the evil one, Father and Son     146



12  “Not Counting Their Trespasses”  147    Still exploring salvation


            Christ heals us, rescues us—and also makes a sacrifice to the Father     147-148

            Scriptures about blood and sacrifice in the Epistle to the Hebrews     148

            An offering, not a payment     148

God doesn’t need our offering; we need to make it     150-151    

            The police officer again: an offering to honor the Chief?     152-153

            The “Ransom” or “Rescue” theory     153-155

            St. Gregory of Nazianzus: “Reverenced with silence”     156



13  “The Lord Is King”    157              Vespers begins


            Confession     158-159

New and Old Calendar, finding the date of Pascha     159-161

Metania and prostration     161-162

Opening hymns, prayers, psalms     164-165

Ongoing repentance     165-167

(aside: terms for the presbytera     168)

Procession, stichera, hymns for St Anna and the Theotokos     168-173



14  “Lord, Have Mercy”  174              Still in Vespers


            The ancient hymn “Joyous Light”     174

            Antiphonal and responsorial singing     175-176

            “Lord have mercy” in a very wide range of languages     176-177

            “Looking confidently” rather than “Assurance of salvation”     178-181

            Asking for mercy; repenting with joy (charmolypi)     179-181

            God forgives for his own reasons, not because he was paid     181

            Our debt not payable by a third party (restaurant manager)     182

            Forgiveness must be free or it is not forgiveness     182

Should we forgive each other freely, or require payment?     182-183

            The demands of honor     183-184

            St. Isaac, “Do not call God just”     184

            Fatherly love does not count the cost; the Prodigal     185-186    

            Sin: deliberate action, or a general condition (air pollution)?     187-190

            Spills a bowl of gravy     187

            Involuntary and unknown sin     188-189

            Christ takes away, not just the penalty for sin, but sin itself     189

            “Whether I desire it or not, save me”     189-90



15  “Awake, Sleeper”      191              Still in Vespers


            The problem of evil—not as tormenting in the East     191

            The evil one and suffering     192-193

            Keeping in touch with reality—Christ’s victory     193-194

            “Heart” and “Mind” in Scripture; reason and emotion not opposites     195-196

            The nous, the receptive mind     196

            Two gears, forward (dianoia) and reverse (nous)    196-197

            St. Paul’s use of “nous”     198

            My experience; the “little radio”     198-199

            Experience of God can be authentic, not merely emotional     199-200

            Why don’t we hear God’s voice? The nous is broken     200-203

            Sin starts with a thought, James 1:14-15     201

            “Thinking” is often aimless and reactive     201-207

Cultivating watchfulness    200-207

            St. Paul’s scriptures about watchful prayer     201

Hesychasm     203-204

            Drawing the mind into the heart (kardia)     204-205

The Desert Fathers, the Jesus Prayer     205-206

            St. Macarius, “The heart is a small vessel”     206-207      

The Prodigal needed time to heal     207

            Song of Simeon, Trisagion prayers, closing troparia     208-211

            Being precise: Hades and Hell, Paradise and Heaven     209

            The limits of reason (Hopko, Bradshaw, St Maximos, Aquinas)    211-215

            We can only use one gear at a time     214


16  “Time for the Lord to Act”  216    The Divine Liturgy

(Sunday, February 17)


            Call to battle, the evil one     216-217

Kairos and chronos     217

Matins     217-219

            Opening prayers, antiphons, “Only Begotten”     219-221

            “Unchanging”: Accumulating, not increasing in detail or updating     221-222

            Little Entrance, Troparia and Kontakia, Trisagion hymn     223-225

            Epistle and Gospel readings     225-227

(aside: “hilastheti” mercy versus “propitiate”/”expiate”     227-228)    


17  “Choose This Day”    229              Still in the Liturgy


            Homily, Catechumens, Cherubic Hymn     229-231

            Koliva and grieving     230-231

            (aside: ordination to the priesthood     232-233)    

            Censing the altar and iconostasis     233

            (aside: Forgiveness Vespers     234)

            Forgiveness, non-judgement, Prayer of St Ephraim     235-237

            The Great Entrance     238-239

            “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” versus challenge and growth     240-242

            (“God hates sin like the parents of a leukemia victim hate cancer”     240)

            Danger of self-directed spirituality; delusion     241-242

            We keep returning to slavery     242

            The paradox of free will—Augustine and Pelagius     242-243

            We are God’s synergoi     243-245

            Bradshaw: the word “synergy” differentiates East from West     244

            Cassian’s “Conferences,” Paphnutius and the “middle in between”     245-246

            Isaac of Syria—the mother who calls her toddler     246

            Another view of “Rescue” salvation: the fireman rescues a child     246-247

            Reluctance to be rescued, Romans 7     247-248

            St. Paisios: the “power” that stops us from resisting sin is love     248

            Sheep and goats—like judging a livestock show     248

            St. Herman of Alaska: “Do you love God?”     248-249



18  “Where Two or Three Are Gathered”      250    Still in the Liturgy


            Kiss of Peace     250-251

            The Nicene Creed and the Arian controversy     251-253

            Anaphora and Eucharistic prayers, the Epiclesis     253-255

            Receiving communion; antidoron     257-258

            (aside: How do you get a patron saint?     257)

            Closed communion protects both the people and the Holy Gifts     258-262

            “I will not speak of your mystery to your enemies”     262

            “Mysteries” and sacraments     263

            Memorial prayers, “time is the tricky factor here”     264-266



Part Three: Inside the Community  Gatherings and prayers



19  “When You Fast”      271              Coffee hour during Lent

(Sunday, March 30)


            Fasting primarily means keeping a vegan diet     271-275

            Local variations; “When in Rome”   272

            Fasting strengthens all aspects of self-control     272-273

Oikonomia (economy) and health needs     274

Orthodox harmony across centuries and cultures; expecting to agree     276-277

Authority: central ruler or community memory? 277-278

            Role of the laity in preserving the faith; “they changed the locks”    278

            Spiritual father-child relationship; managing long-term temptation     280-281

            Surprising monastics     281-282



20  “Each Person Is Tempted”   283     Guidance for habitual temptation

(Sunday, April 12)


            Late-night phone call, managing long-term temptation     283-287

            St. Conon, “I thought you wanted the crown”     285-286



21  “Make Disciples … Baptizing Them”     288    Baptism & Chrismation

(Saturday, April 26)


            Overview of St Lazarus services, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week     288-290

            Glimpse of Pascha, with the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom     290-294

            Six candidates for chrismation     294-297

            Opening prayers and exorcism     297-299

            Baptism in the “horse trough” font     299-300

            Absolution for a “life confession”     301

            Chrismation; the making of Holy Myron     302-303

            (aside: Apostolic Succession     302-303)     

            “Arise, O God, judge the earth”     305



22  “A Great Mystery”     307              Wedding / Crowning

(Sunday, June 1)


            Initial questions, Litany     308-309

            Betrothal, exchange of rings     309-310

            First and Second prayer of marriage     311-313

            Crowning     312-313

            Eternal union     313-315

            Epistle, “refers to Christ and the Church”     315-316

            Gospel, homily, Common Cup     316-317

            Dance of Isaiah     317

            Removal of Crowns     318



23  “Built His House upon a Rock”     319    Houseblessing

(Sunday, July 6)


            The icon corner; how icons are arranged    320-323

            (aside: why use formal rather than spontaneous prayers?     323-325)

            In the icon corner: books, candle sandbox, incense, prayer rope     325-327

            Orienting the home     327

            Psalm 90/91, prayers; first procession, with holy water     327-328

            Second procession, with blessed oil, third procession, with censing     328

            Blessing before and after a meal     329



24  “Those Who Have Fallen Asleep” 330   Funeral

(Monday, August 4)


            Story of St. Tasia     330-331

Trisagion prayers for the departed, in Kate’s home     331

            Washing, clothing, and anointing the body     332-333

            Dormition of the Theotokos, Paraklesis service     334-335

Coffin brought into the church, Trisagion prayers repeated     334-335

            Vigil through the night, reading Psalms     335

            (Next: Mercy Meal and Liturgy for the Feast of the Transfiguration     335-336)

            Funeral hymns     336-339

            Epistle, Gospel     339-340

            The Last Kiss     341

            Graveside service with Trisagion prayers     341-342



Conclusion: “Go and Do Likewise”       343  Next


            You can benefits from taking up any of these aspects of Orthodox practice     344

            Three reasons to keep it intact:

Choosing what you like won’t change you     344

Early-church authenticity is lost when it’s curated      344-345

            Dynamism of the whole     345

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