Lenten Journey through the New Testament

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We interrupt our regular format for this Scripture reading challenge!

Would you like to up your Scripture reading this Great Lent? Perhaps you haven’t spent much time in Scripture recently, and would like to get in and wrestle with the great foundations of the Orthodox faith.

Join us on this Lenten reading challenge! Seven chapters a day, six days a week, beginning on Clean Monday, with a day each week to rest or catch up, will put you finished with the entire New Testament early in Holy Week.

If you want to back off a little and go six chapters a day, that’s fine, it’s just that on Holy Saturday or on Pascha you’ll have a load of reading to do to finish up, and that’s a pretty busy weekend for us!

To help a bit, you may choose to listen to the Scriptures on audio. A British friend of mine has recorded the entire New Testament for free here. There are also a number of free phone apps that could help you along as well.

It’s as simple as reading seven chapters today, and then seven tomorrow, and continuing on until you finish. For those who like charts and lists, I’ve broken it down for you in more detail.

CLEAN WEEK: Matthew 1 – Mark 14
M – Mt. 1-7
T – Mt. 8-14
W – Mt. 15-21
TH – Mt. 22-28
F – Mk. 1-7
SA – Mk. 8-14

FEAST OF THE TRIUMPH: Mark 15 – John 16
M – Mk. 15-Lk. 5
T – Lk. 6-12
W – Lk. 13-19
TH – Lk. 20-Jn. 2
F – Jn. 3-9
SA – Jn. 10-16

ST. GREGORY PALAMAS: John 17 – Romans 9
M – Jn. 17-Acts 2
T – Acts 3-9
W – Acts 10-16
TH – Acts 17-23
F – Acts 24-Rom. 2
SA – Rom. 3-9

VENERATION OF THE CROSS: Romans 10 – Galatians 6
M – Rom. 10-16
T – Rom. 17-1 Cor. 7
W – 1 Cor. 8-14
TH – 1 Cor. 15-2 Cor. 5
F – 2 Cor. 6-2 Cor. 12
SA – 2 Cor. 13-Gal. 6

ST. JOHN OF THE LADDER: Ephesians 1 – Hebrews 6
M – Eph. 1-Phl. 1
T – Phl. 2-Col. 4
W – 1 Thes. 1-2 Thes. 2
TH – 2 Thes. 3-1 Tim. 6
F – 2 Tim. 1-Tit. 3
SA – Phm.-Heb. 6

ST. MARY OF EGYPT: Hebrews 7 – Revelation 14
M – Heb. 7-13
T – Jas. 1-1 Pet. 2
W – 1 Pet. 3-1 Jn. 1
TH – 1 Jn. 2-Jude
F – Rev. 1-7
SA – Rev. 8-14

PALM SUNDAY AND HOLY WEEK: Revelation 14 – 22
M – Rev. 15-22 (1 extra chapter)
T – Go to church!
W – Go to church!
TH – Go to church!
F – Go to church!
SA – Go to church!
PASCHA!

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Kiss, Kiss, Kiss

Kisses-p1Orthodox people kiss everything: icons, relics, hands, cheeks, it doesn’t seem to matter, and few things are safe from an Orthodox person planting a smooch on it! We kiss hands of clergy, out of reverence for hands that have held God. We kiss icons (on the hands or feet, avoid kissing the face) to give honor to that holy person. We kiss each other because we want to foster love and friendship among the people of God.

Often, clergy and laity alike will come in for a kiss when you least expect it. Careful! Don’t kiss your priest on the lips (unless you’re married to him), and be prepared for returns: Greeks will usually want to kiss you once on each cheek, and Russians will go back for a third kiss. If you’re kissing cheeks, start with the right cheeks, then go for the left (try not to bump noses!), and brace yourself for one more on the right cheek if you’re in a Slavic community! It is not uncommon for such kisses to be imaginary kisses, where you basically just touch cheeks and make a smooching sound in the air. Depends on who is doing it, and likely has something to do with how afraid they are of your face hosting germs!

In the middle of the service, there is a “passing of the peace”—the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” In recent centuries, the traditional Orthodox practice consisted of clergy around the altar kissing each other, but some parishes essentially have a brief meet-and-greet in the service. Visitors can probably get away with handshakes to those around them, but stick around long enough and people might start kissing you. In some parishes, one of several customary greeting are exchanged at this time, too.

Sidebar: In many Slavic parishes, it is customary for communicants to kiss the communion chalice after partaking of the Holy Eucharist. This is done out of great reverence for the chalice that holds the Author of Life. In most Byzantine parishes, however, they wouldn’t dream of doing this, also out of great reverence for the chalice that holds the Author of Life. It’s just one of those quirky differences in Orthodoxy!

A Guide to the Field Guide

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What is the Orthodox Church? And why a field guide? Put simply: she is the world’s oldest Church, and as such, she has matured and grown over time in her daily practices and liturgical expression, so understanding how to navigate her services and daily life is an important issue for anyone in the Church, or those exploring her for truth.

To those who have never been to an Orthodox worship service, the first few visits can be scary, and the services so intense, it can be confusing. Add to this, many times the services are conducted in strange languages that a visitor may not understand. And sometimes, even those who feel at home in the Orthodox Church, having spent many years experiencing her faith and worship services, may not have reflected on the meaning of this or that particular practice.

The Church is unchanged in a very real sense—she has carefully preserved, promoted, and died for the faith entrusted her by Jesus Christ in the first century. But that does not mean that she didn’t have to occasionally expand on or rephrase how she articulated that faith (usually to combat errors), or develop new customs over time. This process of maturity is not unlike life for any ordinary human being—we learn from our mistakes, grow from our trials, and try to find better ways to communicate.

The purpose of any field guide is to assist an observer in appreciating and understanding what he sees. This blog is no different. Its goal is to be a practical help and handy reference, designed for use with the shortest notice and easy to navigate answers about whatever a person may observe in a typical Orthodox church.

This guide tends to focus on North American Orthodoxy, with a primary emphasis on the United States, but we will do our best to be faithful to worldwide Orthodoxy. There is a recognizable beautiful and organic unity among the various church jurisdictions, most of which makes no difference whether it is a Russian parish in San Francisco, a Greek parish in Nashville, a so-called Pan-Orthodox parish in Hawaii, or even a Ukrainian parish in Odessa, Ukraine. Yet with more visits, and more familiarity with the services, a visitor will begin noticing subtle differences in liturgical customs.

While not a precise set of categories, for the sake of these blogs, the lower-case “t” tradition of the Orthodox Church are categorized broadly as Slavic-Russian or Byzantine-Greek. The category of Slavic-style parishes may include Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Romanian churches—among a few others. The category of Byzantine-Greek parishes is typically inclusive of Greek, Turkish, Antiochian/Syrian, and Serbian churches—again, among a few others. This blog attempts to be as universal as possible, and where “Slavic” and “Byzantine” practices are different, an attempt will be made to note such differences, at least in a general way. (Somewhere, someplace, at some time there will almost certainly be exceptions to these generalizations. (And at this time posts will not focus on differences within the Orthodox Western Rite—that would likely require its own treatment.)

The approach this blog takes may appear random at first. But eventually a trajectory to the posts will emerge. If this field guide were a physical book, one would open it to find two sections. The first section would be a step-by-step walk-through of a typical Divine Liturgy, our most sacred and central service. The Divine Liturgy is the heartbeat of the life of Church, and without it, there is no Orthodoxy. The second section would be an A-to-Z reference of the Orthodox Church, with a special emphasis on the services and daily disciplines of her people.

The most important thing we hope to communicate with these posts really isn’t the nuts and bolts of Orthodox worship and discipline, but the One who is the reason for our worship and discipline: Jesus Christ. The whole point of Orthodoxy is to life a Eucharist life in Christ for our salvation, and for the life of the world.

Nothing in this guide blog is the final word. The author is a mere layman, and it is quite likely he will overgeneralize and make an occasional mistake. There is always a danger at interpreting local practices as universal, perhaps not realizing that the Greeks or Russians in the old countries have never done it like this or that. Charitable comments, corrections, suggestions, or notable exceptions are always welcomed.

A similar version of this post appears here.