Salvation = Grace + ??: Do We Orthodox Focus Too Little on the Redeeming Blood of Jesus and Too Much on Righteousness?

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The other day in Sunday school, as I was discussing a phrase that the early Fathers often spoke—”There is no salvation outside the Church”—and also spoke about the need to strive for righteousness so we can be ready on judgment day, someone asked: “What is the role of the blood of Jesus in all of this?” “Where is grace?”

“It goes without saying,” I said, “that grace of Christ’s death and redeeming blood is the foundation of salvation.”

But they challenged that assumption and responded: “In the Orthodox Church, it is not spoken of enough.” Is that a fair statement, do you think?

As I was preparing this post, a friend of mine reached out to me because he was challenged with the same type of concern brought forward by some Orthodox Christians, that somehow the Orthodox Church is undermining grace when we emphasize the fact that “works” (being righteous) is necessary for salvation.

I think these questions and challenges often stem from the extent to which Evangelicals and other similar non-Orthodox Christian denominations emphasize “nothing but the blood of Jesus” (as the song goes) and “justification by faith in Christ” as being all that is needed to reach heaven, while excluding the need for the Church and righteousness, although Scriptures teach otherwise. And so, when we Orthodox are continually exposed to this message with such a singular focus on the issue of salvation, many are persuaded that maybe they are right: we are justified to enter heaven by faith in Christ, and that’s all we need.

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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

Is a 20-minute Liturgy un-Orthodox? Why It’s Not as Laughable as You Might Think

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As I attended a 20-minute mass at a Catholic cathedral (pictured above) right next to work during my lunch break with a colleague, I could not help but think of how many Orthodox Christians would scoff at the brevity of the service. But is it really that laughable? Here is why I believe it is absolutely Orthodox to allow, in certain circumstances, for a short (20-30 minute, beginning to end) liturgy in the Orthodox Church. Continue reading

Understanding, Enjoying, and Improving “7 & 4” Kiahk Praise Service in the Coptic Church

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“Seven & Four”

There is a special rite of praises in the Coptic Church that are commonly known in Arabic as “7 & 4,” which relate to a service conducted on Saturday nights during the Coptic month of Kiahk. What does that name mean? From the amateur to the scholar, you will hear the same answer that the renown author Gawdat Gabra gives: “It is commonly called ‘the seven and four’ because seven Theotokias and four odes [a.k.a. canticles] are thus sung.”

If anyone has paid any attention to the praises sung on Saturday night, you would have realized that the above explanation is no longer valid!

Allow me to explain:

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When Men Should Be Silent in Church, According to the Apostle Paul

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Photo courtesy of Katherine Nawar.

The apostle Paul is too often (and unfairly) criticized as being a male chauvinist (i.e., excessively displaying prejudiced loyalty for men over women).

One of the main remarks leveraged against him is what he says regarding the need for women to be silent in the church (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35). While I could attempt to alleviate much of the discomfort or distaste you may have by providing you a lengthy discourse on the historical context of his statement and how it was understood by the early Christians, I would rather focus on leveling the playing field by telling you something you may not know: he told men to keep silent in church too! Continue reading