Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Orthodox | Church As Ark

On Sunday I visited the Greek Orthodox Church here in Nottingham, a congregation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. It was unlike any Christian worship I have experienced before; fascinating, and well worth the visit. Go yourself, but be warned: set aside time – in its entirety, I think proceedings ran between 9:30am and 2:00pm.

Four things that struck me were ‘church as ark,’ ‘fluid worship,’ ‘church as theatre,’ and ‘post-literate church.’

Church as Ark:
While we were welcome to observe what was going on, it was clear that this was church for the Greek ex-pat community. There was no sense of seeking to reach out to include ‘the other,’ to grow through conversion, to assimilate and be assimilated. Rather, the intention seemed to have to do with keeping the integrity of what it means to be Greek – and Christian – in the midst of a non-Greek and highly irreligious culture. Church as ark. It is easy for evangelicals to disapprove of church as ark, but it is worth remembering that the Russian Orthodox Church more than conquered the Communist experiment; held imagination and communal identity in the face of an atheist alternative reality. And from the ark, the earth is repopulated.

It seemed to me that there were parallels with niche-culture emerging churches, such as Goth churches, which seek to create community that is authentically Christian and authentically their own culture, unwilling to compromise on either.

Should church call us out of our culture; or seek to transform it? Should our response to Christ’s reconciling previously hostile groups be to seek to hold those groups together in any local congregation; or to build partnerships between distinct local congregations?

It seems to me that the ‘calling out of culture’ and assimilating a new heterogeneous group instead approach is built on a theology where heaven is the goal. But as Bishop Tom Wright said to us in our college lecture last week, heaven is not the goal, not the final destination: the final destination is a renewed heaven and earth, the cosmos with decay extracted. That, contra to Bono’s vision, all the colours will not bleed into one, but that something beautiful will be created from a broad palette.

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