Neos Kosmos recently published an article by Nick Trakakis entitled Why I am not Orthodox, so I thought I would take the opportunity to write from a different perspective, since I have journeyed in the opposite direction to Mr Trakakis.
I am somewhat of a typical ‘Australian’ with British ancestry, and I grew up in the Anglican Church. After doing some religious searching in my university years, I eventually joined the Orthodox Church in 2013, and have been spiritually, intellectually and socially fulfilled ever since.
Many people criticise the Orthodox Church as being archaic and out of step with the times. However, this faithfulness to tradition is actually a major reason why I am Orthodox, because I do not subscribe to the idea that everything modern is automatically superior to the past. Authentic religion should not be subject to contemporary fads, fashions and biases, but should be based on unchanging, eternal, saving truths. If a religion is not brave or strong enough to swim against the current of the times, then it becomes a merely man-made institution and forfeits all claim to divine inspiration.
The Orthodox Church is also portrayed as ‘anti-Western’ and hostile towards unity with other religions. Once again, I believe that this is a virtue rather than a vice when understood correctly. All non-Orthodox religions teach different doctrines, and by definition they cannot all be true. For this reason, religious syncretism destroys the possibility of knowing God because it denies the existence of truth and acts as a mask for agnosticism or atheism. Is it spiritually healthy to treat truth and error the same way? Orthodoxy is a sincere religion and so it cannot ever be relativistic or agnostic, but must instead bear witness to the unique teachings that it possesses.
The fact that Orthodoxy does not completely or unquestioningly accept all of the principles of modernity such as democracy, secularism and feminism should therefore be no surprise. Those who claim that the Church needs to always follow the latest trends are in fact calling for a toothless state religion which dutifully obeys the wishes of the electorate.
The way the Orthodox Church acts independently and is not concerned with momentary trendiness is something that greatly appeals to me, because it demonstrates that the Church is built on the rock of truth rather than the shifting sands of popular opinion. I want the Church to guide, challenge and purify me rather than caving in to whatever is fashionable or convenient.
Orthodoxy is full of elaborate and beautiful rituals, which often lead to condemnations such as Mr Trakakis’ claim that they “over-indulge in liturgical practices at the expense of the internal life of the individual.” However, Orthodox believers see their church services as a transformative encounter with God, equipping them with the inner power to go forth and do good in the world. Indeed, the most charitable and pious people that I know tend to be the ones that attend the most church services. If people neglect to pray, read spiritual literature, go to confession and take part in the full spectrum of Orthodox life, then the long services can be challenging, but they are truly rewarding to those who are seeking God.
Finally, the ethnic side of Orthodoxy is one that turns many people away, and it has indeed been a problem in the Church. However, it is definitely being addressed, as there are numerous Orthodox services available in English, and an increasing number of convents to the faith throughout the world. Many people are unaware that the Church has done successful missionary work among the people of Japan, Africa, North America and Latin America. Personally, I was warmly welcomed into the Church and was delighted to encounter elements of Greek, Russian and Serbian culture which have been so deeply imbibed with Christian principles over the centuries.
It would be wonderful to see the growth and flowering of the Orthodox Church in Australia, and I hope that efforts towards this will continue. While there will always be some individual parishioners or clergymen who act contrary to the Christian Gospel, the head of the Orthodox Church is always Christ, who speaks through the Saints. The 20th century Saint, Father Justin Popovic, taught that “it is therefore a blasphemy-an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghos-to turn the Church into a national institution… Her purpose is beyond nationality, oecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata.” (Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, p24, translated by Asterios Gerostergios, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies).
There are many reasons why I am Orthodox, but the Church’s uncompromising loyalty to the ancient Christian faith is a major one. I am thankful that it has been preserved over the centuries in order to provide an alternative to today’s empty relativism and the worship of modernity. Pontius Pilate asked, “what is truth?” (John 18:38), and the Church teaches that Jesus Christ is “the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6) who “is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Orthodoxy is not about being Greek, or being old-fashioned, or being stubborn. At the heart of Orthodoxy is its great love for Christ, which means that its teachings and values can never be changed. And if you believe that “Christ is Risen”, then that is a very good thing.