I can think of a few good reasons to quit the fast of Great Lent and leave Orthodox Christianity alone. For one thing, I like to eat meat and dairy. Whenever we Baptist get together for a meal between morning and evening services, you had better believe fried chicken in some form or fashion will be on the menu ( Why did the chicken cross the road? Two preachers had a pan of biscuits.). In the African-American Baptist Church, there is a movement to have a good time in worship with a focus on the emotions stirred up by the singing and preaching in our worship. In fact, we are willing to take on secular music styles to draw people into worship. No matter how much we are taught otherwise, we preachers frequently judge ourselves and others based on congregational response (AMEN) and will construct sermons with phrases and buzz words that will encourage such responses. Right now, I believe my church is at the edge of what could be a revival in our worship. Our usher’s ministry has been blessed with the return of well-trained leadership. The youth choir has new sponsors and directors who have volunteered their services. We have two young adult men (in which there is a shortage of in many rural black churches) and their wives that have become more active in the work of the church. These elements are combined with reliable, seasoned adults who consistently work to get things done. So, why do I wish to continue to introduce elements of an archaic, bookish, ritualistic, and “dead” (they don’t get in the spirit like we do) church that most white people aren’t trying to learn about? Why am I still striving to follow the disciplines and study the doctrines and writings of Orthodoxy when only one other preacher that I know of from any race also shows an interest? Here are a few reasons.
- HISTORY- If it is important to learn and be aware of American and African-American History, why shouldn’t we also embrace the roots of the Christian faith? Had there been no Athanasius, Catherine, nor Cyprian; there may not have been a Richard Allen, Charles Mason, or MLK. Also saints like Basil, Ephraim, and Gregory (Palamas and the Theologian) served in a world where the color of one’s skin truly meant little in the sight of fellow Christians. Having knowledge of Orthodoxy can help us see the fullness of our humanity and the possibility of racial reconciliation.
- SPIRITUALITY- Having a good time on Sunday morning is no substitute for a sustained life of prayer and fasting through the week. We need to have access to the time-tested prayers to help direct our communication with the Lord. Words from the saints enhance what we read in the scriptures. Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays is a great way to keep us mindful of our Savior’s betrayal and crucifixion, to help us be mindful of what we do, say, and think.
- CULTURAL AWARENESS – Many Americans are illiterate when it comes to geography and different cultures. The Orthodox Christian faith can open doors of learning for us. Arabs, Copts, Ethiopians, Greeks, Russians, Serbs, and others are all a part of this church. Likewise we can introduce them to our culture beyond the stereotypes of BET and Tyler Perry.
- REVERENCE – I love the smell of incense, gazing at the iconostasis, and listening to Byzantine chant. I can’t see us having these things at Trinity the third weekend after next. But, to experience a divine liturgy is a beautiful thing. While icon veneration is an obvious challenge to most of us (bow down and kiss a picture of MARY?!). When the theology is explained and understood, it makes perfect BIBLICAL sense (they put the Bible together, so they should know what they are doing). Oh, and the priest prepares the communion with bread baked from a believer. It does not come pre-packaged in plastic and foil. Even if we don’t adopt divine liturgy, we can always learn about reverence for God in worship.
- COMMUNITY DIVERSITY – Too many smaller elements of black culture are being overshadowed by are very narrow and stereotypical definition of who we are (when was the last time you heard zydeco music on your local r&b radio station?). There are too many instances were we say that someone isn’t “black enough” or is “trying to be white.” We enrich and add to the African-American community when we are bold enough to expand our boundaries of our possibilities that older generations sacrificed their lives for us to have. Just ask the world’s number one golfer or that family that lives in the White House.
So, will Trinity Baptist Church become Holy Trinity Antiochian Orthodox Church (maybe OCA)?! Don’t bet on it. Will I leave the Baptist denomination and seek to become a priest? I’m not even worthy to day- dream about such a move. It is way too early for such questions. I haven’t even completed my first Paschal cycle. The only thing I can do is continue on this journey and give my church family a glimpse of what I am going through and learning about. In time, God will make my direction more clear to me. Right now, I am to be faithful disciple.