Big Ol’ Orthodoxy, Li’l Ol’ Salvation

Big Ol’ Orthodoxy, Li’l Ol’ Salvation March 19, 2009

I’m currently hastening toward a deadline on a new book and cleaning out old files. In the process, I came across the following portion of a podcast script from September 2008.

Religion as Baseball

Calvinists believe the game is fixed.

Lutherans believe they can’t win, but trust the Scorekeeper.

Quakers won’t swing.

Unitarians can catch anything.

Amish walk a lot.

Pagans sacrifice.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are thrown out often.

Televangelists get caught stealing.

Episcopalians pass the plate.

Evangelicals make effective pitches.

Fundamentalists balk.

Adventists have a seventh-inning stretch.

Atheists refuse to have an Umpire.

Baptists want to play hardball.

Premillenialists expect the game to be called soon on account of darkness.

The Pope claims never to have committed an error.

Those came from an email sent to me by a Roman Catholic friend.

So I made up one for the Orthodox:

The Orthodox claim their rules are older, but no one can agree on the date of the game … (the size of the bases, whether to have bleachers, beer on fasting days, the number of strikes, the length of the games, color of uniforms, how many teams are in the league … ) etc.

Back in 1992, just before graduating seminary, I was serving as Seminarian at a wonderful parish, Grace Episcopal Church, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, under Fr Andrew Sloane. Part of my duties was teaching Junior High Sunday school,populated by a very bright group of young kids.

As my days as a seminarian were numbered, Fr Sloane had hired a replacement and was touring him around to the various classrooms one Sunday to introduce him.

When I heard of this, I quickly said: “Okay guys, here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to play a trick on the new guy, Douglas.”

I then chose three of the brightest pupils and asked them to ask some hard questions of the new seminarian. I told one gal some details about the controversy around the Filioque Clause and its role in the Great Schism …

To another, I imparted data on the Roman Catholic understanding of Transubstantiation and Martin Luther’s belief in Consubstantiation …

Finally, another Junior High kid got a quick lesson on the nature of the Holy Trinity and a fancy word — hypostasis.

We rehearsed these scenarios for about 15 minutes before there came a knock at the classroom door and in walked Fr Sloane and the new seminarian, Douglas.

After the introductions, Fr Sloane asked if the class had any questions for Douglas.

Just as rehearsed, and with a totally straight face (I love Jr High kids) Courtney raised her hand and said, “The introduction of the Latin phrase, Filioque (and the Son), into the Creed was one of the major issues that split the Church — East and West — in the 11th century. What is your take on the Filioque?”

So, off he went! The new seminarian did his darndest to answer her query.

After an appropriate pause, one wherein I noticed the Rector was glaring at me, Michelle raised her hand, saying: “I have a question. We’ve been talking a lot about the nature of the Holy Trinity. In the Eastern Church, they use words such as hypostasis and hypostatic union in describing the Trinity. Could you explain these terms for us?”

At the point, Fr Sloane made a guffawing sound and looked at me, but the new seminarian plowed ahead, venturing where angels fear to tread and, shooting from the hip, did a fairly good job of clarifying the nature of the Trinity and defining terms.

Then came the kicker. Lisa raised her hand: “I have a question. The Roman Catholic Church believes in the Transubstantiation of the gifts of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Martin Luther’s teaching was different: Consubstantiation. How do these teachings differ and what are your beliefs?”

Fr Sloane reacted: “What is going on here? What on earth are you teaching these kids!?”

They couldn’t hold it any longer; everyone burst out laughing and our plot was revealed.

Ah … alas … seminary.

Just before entering seminary, my wife’s sister was telling us about teaching a Roman Catholic Sunday School class of 5 year olds. One day, one of the children asked: “Can Jesus outrun an airplane?”


I carried that cute snippet with me into a conversation sitting around the breakfast table in the seminary’s refectory one day with a bunch of upperclassmen.

I said, “My wife’s sister was telling us about teaching a Roman Catholic Sunday School class of 5 year olds. One day, one of the children asked: ‘Can Jesus outrun an airplane?’”

None of them even smiled. Someone asked, “What airline?”

I said, “What …?”

A chorus of voices repeated: “What airline?”

I said, “You’re kidding, right?”

They said, “You obviously haven’t had Dr Griffith’s Theology 2 class.”


But that was back in B.O. (before Orthodoxy)

But, Orthodoxy don’t make things any easier …

Which begs the question: Why does Orthodox Christianity seem so hard?

On second thought, that’s probably a Convert Question.

I mean, a native Russian, Syrian or Greek can just explain their so-called Faith Tradition by their culture … and move on.

Well, kinda.

When I asked my wife: “What’s the hardest struggle for Converts?”
She said, “Trying to convert the Cradles!”

She was, of course, kidding … uh, kinda.

I mean, the great temptation for all of us is to work out our OWN salvation. (You can wear yourself out trying to convert others.)

Unlike so-called Cradle (or ethnic) Orthodox Christians, American Converts can have a harder row to hoe — often spouting doctrinal differences compared with other Christians. Or, much like the Junior High Sunday School prank, minoring in the majors.

In a way, it all boils down to this: When someone asks you how Orthodoxy is different than their own brand of Christianity, just say: “Oh, Orthodoxy’s a lot harder than whatever it is you do.”

Heh heh.

What? You gave up potato chips for Lent?
Try Meat, Dairy, Wine & Oil!

Your church service lasts 50 minutes?
We go for over 2 hours!

Oh yeah, so you’ve had trouble reading the whole Bible?
Well you oughta see ours — it’s even longer!

You fasted 3 days to fit into your wedding dress?
We fasted 50 days just to eat a red egg!

Well, you get the picture.

But, face it, that’s not the face we should present to the world around us — even to other Christians!

I am blessed to be the beneficiary of an old book given me by a former parishioner, entitled: The Most Useful KNOWLEDGE for the Orthodox Russian-American Young People, by Very Rev’d Peter G. Kohanik, 1932-1934.

Cracking the pages of this book is like opening a time capsule long buried. I’ll close with this little piece called:

The Value of Little Things

If we wish to make life beautiful and successful we must give attention to what the world calls little things. Jesus taught that: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” It seems a small matter to give a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, but whosoever is faithful in things so small, will be ready to meet the demands of duty when the trial is great. We cannot all be philanthropists, but he who would give thousands to the cause of Christ must be willing to give such as he has, be it ever so little.

On one occasion Jesus said, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” If you can give but one day of the week to the Lord’s service — give it. If you can only give one dime — give it. If you can only say one prayer — say it.

“A word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Prov. 15:23). One word, if the right word, and spoken at the right time, may make a life brighter, a burden lighter — may change the entire destiny of a soul. The little words of kindness, little acts of self-denial, little moments of diligence, a careful watch against little sins, a grateful use of little blessings, a diligent cultivation of little talents — these might make a person great in the sight of God.

The close observation of little things is the secret of all true success in every pursuit in life.

What is smaller than a drop of water? Think of the many drops of water that go to make the oceans from which the islands rise.

We cannot all of us do big things. We cannot all of us be big people. Only one out of every thousand, perhaps, rise very far above the average; and yet that one, when you stop to think it out, is lifted to his place by the number of little fine things that have become welded together, as drops of water are joined together to make an ocean.

Take care of the little things that come into your daily life. Do not neglect to do the little, kind things that may, at the moment, seem so unimportant. Keep from the little unkind things that may seem almost equally unimportant. It is by paying attention to the little things, those that you do and those that you leave undone, that you become a truly big person, with a big soul.

In the Christian life there are many duties which sometimes appear insignificant, but whose faithful performance brings great reward; and their neglect — untold loss.

The human body is made up of many members, great and small. Each one has its work to do, and each is needed. The foot cannot say: “I can do without the eye,” merely because the eye is a small member. The Church of Christ is likened to the human body in that it is made up of many members, of every nation, tongue and people. The same cleansing stream makes us one, but some have seemed to do more than others. For instance, Solomon built a house for the Lord, the prophets and apostles gave us the Bible, the martyrs sealed their faith with their blood. But may we, the lesser members, not underestimate the value of the faithful performance of the little duties God requires of us.

* * *

Doing those little things makes salvation a whole lot easier.

(Or, so I hear.)

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