Three things we can learn from our Orthodox friends

Yesterday after church at CSMSG and a set of short meetings with students, I headed over to the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, a Greek Orthodox church near Forest Park. They were holding their annual "Greekfest" and my goal was some lunch and a tour of the building.

I arrived just in time for the 1:00 tour and and on entering the sanctuary I was left breath- and speech-less. Not an inch of the place was left uncovered by some design, portrait or icon. The tour guide gave a remarkably detailed sketch of the Orthodox church, and the choir sang-- something that only happened on that tour, making me even happier.

Among his comments I found three Orthodox beliefs that especially stuck out for me.

1. The physical world is created good-- God said so. In fact, it was the second thing God said at each stage of creation. (The first was "Let there be," and after it was, "This is good.") Because the world is created good, it pleases God when we use its resources to give glory to God. Churches, homes, cars, gardens, businesses-- these should all be beautiful for that reason, because with intent, our building them can be a form of thanksgiving to God for what He's given us.

2. Jesus began His saving work at his birth, not only at the cross. Jesus progressed through every stage of human life, from birth as an infant to death, and "made over" each stage to redeem every part of life.

3. Icons are an important part of religious practice, not because they are objects of worship (they're not!) but because they help us remember. Icons are faces in the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) that's all around us cheering for us in our Christian life. They remind us that we are not alone. They show us that others have suffered as we do, that others have given their lives for the Kingdom. Icons show us people whose lives we can pattern ours after.

I firmly believe that understanding the beliefs of other churches is one of the keys to unity in the church and peace on earth. So (along with the shish kebab, spanakopita and baklava) I'm really glad I went to Greekfest, because I now have a great deal to think about.

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