Title: Introduction to Orthodoxy 1: Church Tour
Subject: Introduction to the class and tour of Orthodox Church
Age: 16+ years
The title of this class is, "An Introduction to Orthodoxy." Orthodoxy itself is not something that stays the same. In the one sense the faith is not different today than it was 2000 years ago, or even a couple of years ago. Yet one's appreciation and understanding of things is constantly growing and shifting. In this first class, the topics are an Introduction and Church Tour.
What is Orthodoxy? A few years ago someone said to me, why are you always speaking of things as Orthodox or non-Orthodox; why don't you just say Christian? At other times when I have spoken of Orthodoxy, people have asked if I was talking about Christ. And in other instances when discussing Orthodoxy, people have asked me if I was describing the Church. The response is that Orthodoxy is Christian, Orthodoxy is Christ, and Orthodoxy is the Church. The label itself is often used interchangeably with these key words. When an Orthodox person speaks of Orthodoxy or about something being Orthodox, they are usually speaking of that which is Christian, relates or is about Christ, and is His One True Body the Church.
Why not just throw out this label, "Orthodox," and use the various words or labels mentioned? The word is an amalgam, a combination of all three: Christ, Christian, and Church. How can they be separated? They are all connected and one and the same. People often mean something foreign to Orthodox thought when they use these words. We could say: Orthodox Church, Orthodox Christianity, and Christ understood, within an Orthodox framework.
Here is a different way of understanding this word, "Orthodoxy." Who is or who is not Orthodox? This is a great question. To many people, it is obvious. Those within the Orthodox Church, either baptized or Chrismated, hold to the true teachings, traditions, and spiritual life of the Church as handed down through the centuries. To others it is harder to define, it includes those who are Orthodox in spirit, not in name only. For our purposes, we will state it is both.
One last thought on Orthodoxy. What Lord's Prayer do you pray? This may seem like an odd question, yet there are different versions of the Lord's Prayer. Matthew's version is different from Luke's. Which one do you pray? Matthew's should be your answer. You might be asking yourself, "Why do I know and say Matthew's version?" The answer is because a group of people decided so. Today we call that group the Orthodox Church.
No matter what your knowledge of Christianity is, you can't escape from where you come, and all of us who call ourselves Christians and mean something by that label come from a common ancestor. We come from a church that has always called itself The Church.
We begin tour of the church in the Narthex. One of the distinctive features of the Narthex is the candle stand. When an Orthodox Christian enters the church, they light a candle, say a prayer, and place the candle in the sand. The reason for this comes from the first chapter of John's Gospel. Christ is the Light of the world. We light the candle in remembrance of this, to become a part of this Light. Much like life can not exist on earth without light, we too, can not exist on this earth spiritually without the Light.
The candle also harkens back to Genesis. God created light and separated the darkness from it. He created a space where life can exist, and this is the mission of the Church. Notice how a candle pushes back the darkness, and a globe of light surrounds the flame, a space where light can exist.
During Vespers, we chant the hymn "Fos Ilaron." The Christian day begins at night, specifically because Christ comes to push back the darkness, to push back death, and create a space where there is light, and therefore life.
In the Nave of the church, we worship and work in our faith toward Christ. Orthodox churches contain a dome, and in the center dome of each and every Orthodox Church is the same icon, the Almighty. It is an easy reminder that Christ is the Lord of the heavens. You will find a rounded dome, an apse, through which we know that it is God who comes to us. The movement of the domes creates a sense of God bending the heavens, and through a virgin, He becomes incarnate.
The solea is the space between the nave and the altar. It is the meeting place of heaven and earth, where all the sacraments occur: weddings, baptisms, Eucharist, funerals. There is a step up to the solea, where Christ will meet us half way. We take a step up, Christ steps down. This is seen after Christ is crucified, dies, and resurrects, and appears on earth. He restores His disciple Peter to uplift him after Peter denied Christ three times. Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me unconditionally?" Peter responds, "You know I love You like a friend." Again Christ asks, "Do you love me unconditionally?" Peter responds, "You know everything Lord, You know I love You like a friend." The third time, Christ humbles Himself, takes a step down, and asks, "Peter, do you love me like a friend?" Peter responds that he does, he takes that step up because he knows he can love Jesus as a friend. Christ came down and met Peter half way.
The Icon stand (iconostasis) contains icons. The icon to the right of the Royal Doors will always have an icon of Christ. To His right, there is an icon of St. John the Baptist. On the left of the Royal Doors is the Panagia holding the Christ Child. To the left of this icon will be the icon of the patron saint of the church. The left deacon door contains an icon of Michael the Archangel, while the door on the right contains an icon of the Archangel Gabriel. The iconstasis is not a barrier but a feature that shows how heaven and earth are united in Christ's saints. We are called to take our stand next to these great figures.
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas
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