The Seeking Heart:
Has anyone ever told you that you should be Orthodox? If not, let me be the first one. Yeah, you heard me right. You should be Orthodox. I say this because I’ve seen you around—young, Christian hipster—and I sympathize with the fact that your church is trying really hard to be relevant to you. They want to create an atmosphere in which you will feel comfortable and affirmed because, well, they’re afraid you will eventually become bored and just leave. From the outside it looks like your church is doing everything possible to make church seem not so much like… church. The narthex… lobby? Well, the entrance has a café, a coat check, and a cozy lounge complete with a gas fireplace and leather sofas. The worship service includes theatrical lighting and a well-rehearsed stage production so that, as you sit in your ergonomic pew with steaming-hot mocha latté in hand, you will feel truly at home—because it will literally be just like watching TV in your living room.
There’s no sanctuary. There is no altar. There are no candlestands. There is no chalice. There is no Gospel book wrapped in gold. Instead, there is a drum kit, a big screen, a podium, and a preacher holding an iPad. I can tell you’re tiring of this as much as it tires me to describe it. Yes, I have a hunch about you. Sure, your jeans are skinny and your skirt is plaid, and, yes, your oversized glasses add just the right hint of irony to your overall look, but you’re so much more than just a pretty face with a fancy waxed mustache. If “authentic” wasn’t such a painfully overused word in the Evangelical Christian lexicon, I bet you’d say you’re looking for something authentic at church. And just as the current generation of wool-spinning, fixie-riding, cheese-making, backyard-hen-owning young people are finding delight in nostalgia and meaning in the old-fashioned way of doing things, the slower yet more radical way of doing things, many young seekers of Christian authenticity are discovering the old-fashioned, the slower, the more radical way of doing church.
Young Christian hipster, I’m going to help you out. I have found the ironic Church of your dreams, where men can grow beards of fullish proportions and women can dress like their granny’s grannies. A place that actually has more scarves than you do, where people enjoy rooms filled with the fog of incense and prefer to read books that predate industrialization. In this place, being vegan is an asset. Always wearing pants in summer is also an asset. All that Dostoyevsky you read in college is finally an asset. And, best of all, that classics degree of yours will actually make you seem cool.
I would like to direct your attention to the Orthodox Church. We Orthodox don’t need to explore a vintage faith; we invented vintage faith, but it wasn’t called “vintage” back then. It was just called “faith.” We were Christians before it was cool. We were catholic before the Catholics and protestant before the Protestants. We started following the apostles’ teachings hardcore before the Bible was even written, and we read the books of the Bible before they were officially published—by us. So if you were wondering if the Orthodox Church is biblical, there’s your answer.
And you’re welcome! We do enjoy the ringing of church bells, but we prefer the more organic tone that is produced by the semantron. It’s okay. I can wait a minute while you Google that. We do tons of obscure things like carrying pussy willows on Palm Sunday, reading the Septuagint—or should I say the LXX—and fasting from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. We get to pick a new name when we’re baptized, preferably something completely far-out, like Polycarp, Photini, or Thekla. We call Easter “Pascha.” And much like your children, hipster Christian, our churches have old-fashioned names. Listen: simply calling your church a tribe and having Sunday meetings at a pub will be completely overdone.
Someday, when you’re tired of worship that looks and feels more like entertainment, you should come check us out. The Orthodox Church will still be around, operating in this world as unknown and yet well-known; as dying and, behold, we live; as chastened and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. You know, I think the Church you’re looking for has been there all along. Ironic, isn’t it?