My Intriguing Visit to an Ethiopian Orthodox Church—A First-Time Coptic Visitor’s Perspective

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What a remarkable experience I had visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church! A friend of mine gave my name to an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, suggesting that I give the after-church sermon to the youth. He invited me to attend the service, which I did, and by the end of it I had so many questions I wanted answered due to all the intriguing things I witnessed! Here are all the fascinating things I learned, and my observations upon further reflection:

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“Your crying baby is distracting me at church” — What should the church do?

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Who hasn’t experienced the distraction caused when a young child cries or gets too noisy? From the priest, to the deacons, and all the way down to the people surrounding the father and/or mother with the child, the tension and frustration is almost palpable. The parents too are distracted, not just by their noisy child, but by the emotional disturbance they feel when inundated with all of the varying glances they receive, with all those eyes telling them: “Quiet that child down, or leave.” And if it is deemed a sufficient nuisance to the priest (at least in the Coptic Church), many, if not most, will give the parent the “silent treatment”—that moment in liturgy when the priest stops praying, joining the chorus of dissenters in silence, sending a clear message to the parent(s) in the absence of prayer: “Your baby is distracting me and the entire church. We won’t move on until you’ve done something about it.”

What is the church to do? From the clergy to the lay person attending the service, how has the church historically viewed noise in church, and the place of children? Today, what should be our stance? Continue reading

Where is St. Mary buried? Understanding why the ancient Church until now celebrates the Feast of St. Mary

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Tell me, where is St. Mary buried? If you know anything about the ancient Apostolic Churches, you’ll know that they love to pay respect to the relics of heroes of the faith, “of whom the world was not worthy” (in the words of St. Paul [Hebrews 11:38]). You would think that with all the honor and adoration given to St. Mary, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches would be lining up in droves to get a glimpse of her bodily remains! Well, the answer to “where is St. Mary buried” explains why we celebrate her in August (15th in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, 22nd in the Coptic Church).

The answer is: Continue reading

The One Question That Surprisingly Almost Always Stumps Non-Orthodox Christians (and many Orthodox): Where Did Good People Go After Death, Before Christ?

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The other day Suzy and I had the opportunity to meet a lovely young lady who asked us: “What are the main differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy?” (paraphrase). Talk about a hefty undertaking!

“Where do I begin,” I thought out loud.

One of the biggest differences is that the Orthodox turn to a slew of Christian leaders over the past nearly 2,000 years to understand the faith, so there is a wealth of depth that has accumulated over time, that is unfortunately overlooked by many Christians today.

To show her what is lost by not having the benefit of thousands years of Christian teaching, I asked her a question that I’ve asked non-Orthodox Christians for years, and I have yet to ever receive the right answer. And when they realize what it is I’m asking, and the answer they are giving, their intrigue is always peaked as they realize something is missing regarding an integral aspect of their understanding of salvation.

Here’s the question:

“Where did good people in the Old Testament go after they died, before Christ’s manifestation in the flesh and the salvation He accomplished for us?”

People like: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Solomon, Levi, Moses, Jonah? Adam? Eve? Where did they go when they died?

The answer I usually get:

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Announcing the Release of My Book: “Orthodox Afterlife”

OrthodoxAfterlifeReleaseAnnouncement.png15 years ago, before the afterlife became mainstream fanfare with books and movies about heaven and the like, my journey to understand what has been taught and experienced by Orthodox Christians for the last 2,000 years about life beyond was just beginning.

During my college years (as my friends can attest) I was living a very sinful life away from God. Think of the typical, worldly college experience: that was me. My eternal future didn’t matter because I was enjoying satisfying my present.

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Evidence for Christianity: Book Overview and Highlights

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Recently I presented a few lectures derived from a book my wife bought me titled “Evidence for Christianity” by Josh McDowell (for PowerPoint lessons see below). He is a professor who teaches on this subject and collected his wealth of knowledge into a book. He is not an Orthodox Christian but most of what he writes does not disturb Orthodox theology or teachings, but for a few things here or there that should be obvious or are otherwise mostly benign. He presents evidence in support of the Bible, Christ, and His Resurrection from a historical and scholarly perspective, bringing to light writings and some archaeological finds that reflect the validity of the historical underpinnings of Christianity. I highly recommend his book, especially if you are seeking to stabilize your beliefs upon more solid evidentiary grounds. Believing on faith is best, but if you need evidence, there’s plenty of it!

Here is a list of the most interesting highlights I found in the book:

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Ordination & Excommunication. Two Essential Biblical Roles of The Church to Protect the Flock, Absent From Most of Today’s Denominations

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An expounder of false teachings, a man named Atef Aziz, who was excommunicated and whose teachings were formally condemned by the Church of Alexandria’s Holy Synod of bishops in 2002, has recently emerged particularly in the United States of America and has gained some ground and following in the hearts of some. On June 1, 2016 many Copts (by way of CopticWorld.org) and others received a communication from the bishops of North America warning Copts not to have anything to do with Atef Aziz (who has changed his name several times) or his followers or teachings, or otherwise be subject to suspension and possible excommunication. (To learn more about this heresy and recent controversies related to him, see the end of this post). (I got wind of this initially when I, as many others, heard the news of a beloved priest who was originally implicated with Atef Aziz’s teachings but has (as I understand it) since clarified to the Coptic pope his position and remains accepted within the flock.)

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Saint Quiz – How well do you know your Saints?

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How well do you know your saints? Icons are said to be written, not painted, because they tell a story so that even an illiterate person should know whose life is being portrayed. How good are you at figuring out which saint is depicted in these icons, paintings, and photos?
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What to think of the Non-Orthodox? What a Second Century Bishop says about those who are outside of “the Church.”

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I cannot believe how applicable this second century bishop’s words are to the present time. I challenge all of you to read this and not be at the least intrigued, or like me, be extremely moved by what he has to say.

He teaches fundamental truths that we Orthodox have too often slowly forgotten or are willing to do away with for the sake of being more “accepting.” Acceptance of people does not also require accepting their errant teaching.

To make this Church Father’s writings more accessible, I’ve provided his words in the form of a Question and Answer conversation/interview. Continue reading