Two and a half years ago I read Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware’s book “The Orthodox Way” and fell in love with the way in which the Eastern Orthodox Church embraces the mystery of God. This year I located that book’s predecessor, “The Orthodox Church”, and grew in my understanding of the history of that fine establishment.
Originally published in 1963, “The Orthodox Church” was Bishop Ware’s first book, written before he entered the priesthood and based upon his personal study of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In fact, at the time that the book was published, Bishop Ware had only been a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church for five years – having joined the church in 1958 after being raised in the Anglican Church (he’s from Somerset, England).
The book itself if separated into two broad selections. The first part deals with the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church, from the first century up until the 1980s (the copy I read was updated and expanded in 1993). This was a fun selection for me as I LOVE history and had always wondered how the Eastern Orthodox Church developed over the years. Most (read “majority”) church history books in English tend to follow the development of Christianity into Europe via the Roman Catholic Church before taking the Luther/Calvin road into Protestantism. Accordingly “The Orthodox Church” serves as a much needed counterweight to the Protestant centric history of the church.
One quick tit-bit before I move on to the second section. In reading the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I discovered that their system of governance is very similar to that of the Vineyard Movement. Both groups divided the church leadership according to geo-political boundaries with the national leaders/bishops working together to maintain unity worldwide. In Eastern Orthodoxy, each autocephalous church (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Greek, etc.) is led by a single leader (i.e. the Patriarch) who then meets with the other leaders to make sure they are all moving in the same direction. The Vineyard does the same thing with the national director of each Association of Vineyard Churches (AVC) having the responsible of leading the churches under their care while meeting with the other AVC leaders to make sure the Vineyard Movement worldwide is in unity. Similarly, while the Patriarch of Constantinople and Vineyard USA director are equal in all things with all the other Patriarchs/national leaders, they are given special honor as it was from those areas that each movement spread (i.e. first among equals).
The second major selection of the book deals with the faith and worship of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Bishop Ware covers such topics as Holy Tradition, the Sacraments, feasts, fast and prayer. Like the first half of the book, this selection was eye-opening in that it covered items and/or described the theology of the church in a way that I had not heard before. Sadly, I have to admit that I didn’t care for this selection as much as I did “The Orthodox Way” – mainly because I think it dealt more with the nuts and bolts of Eastern Orthodox practice rather than their theology… if that makes sense…
Hmm… let me try explaining one more time… in the “The Orthodox Way” Bishop Ware talks more about the theological concepts of how Eastern Orthodox views the world. The practical expression of this theology was left open to the reader. This, to me, was refreshing as it opened up new concepts about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, humanity and the church that I could chew and adopt as lead by the Spirit. In the this book, “The Orthodox Church”, the goal was to expose the reader to how the Eastern Orthodox Church works and lives – meaning that Bishop Ware spends more time on talking about how they express and embody the theological views that they hold dear. And, in this manner, Bishop Ware did great – he definitely opened my eyes as to why they do what they do. However, I have to admit that I am not a Eastern Orthodoxy member and, therefore, I did not…umm…agree whole hearty on their practices…
Yet that was to be expected and, on the scale of things, is something very, very minor as there is a TON we can learn from Eastern Orthodoxy about the nature of God, humanity and being the Body of Christ. This is definitely a good book to read if you are wanting to branch out of Protestantism and learn about the movement of Jesus within different members of the greater Body of Christ.