The other day a pastor-friend asked me to help him prep for a Sunday School lesson by writing a list of the top ten things every Protestant should know about Eastern Orthodoxy. I thought I would share the list here:
1. We are not “basically Catholic.” We do not have a pope, and our theology is rather different from both Catholicism and Protestantism.
2. We are quasi-democratic. The bishops make decisions, but the people have to agree to those decisions. We call that conciliarity. It can be messy, but it more or less works.
3. Our various archdiocese are independent from each other, aligned with historic sees, but we all basically get along (except when we sometimes break communion with each other over various theological or jurisdictional differences; see #2).
4. The Eucharist? We call that Jesus. We believe it is actually the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine, but we do not believe in transubstantiation. That is a Catholic thing. We believe it is a mystery. In other words, “It’s the body of Christ. Now stop asking so many stupid questions, and open your mouth!” (see below).
5. We take communion from a common cup with squishy bread – I mean Jesus – thrown into it. The priest puts it on our tongue with a special spoon. I know, “gross,” but the priests have to eat the leftovers, and they are not dead.
6. We kiss icons – images of the saints – to honor them as exemplars in the faith. This seems to some people like idolatry, but imagine a widower kissing a picture of his deceased wife. Is that idolatry? All are alive in Christ Jesus.
7. We pray to the Mother of God, the Theotokos, who died and was taken bodily into heaven (incidentally, we are in the Dormition fast right now). We honor her. We do not worship her. After all, how would you want your mother to be treated?
8. We fast a lot, probably about half the year: Every Wednesday and Friday (to commemorate the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus), two Lents (one before Christmas and one before Easter), the Apostles Fast after Pentecost, the Dormition Fast (now), and probably a couple of others I’m forgetting about. We avoid meat products and alcohol during fasts, but we try not to be legalistic about it.
9. It is very easy to be legalistic about stuff if you are Orthodox.
10. Our services appeal to the whole body. We stand, bow, cross ourselves, chant, smell incense, and taste communion because we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Our worship is long, but if you think it’s boring, you’re doing it wrong.
This list went through a few editions. What would you add/take away?