Last time, I discussed the findings of Peter Gillquist and his compatriots as they explored church history and worship of the earliest Christians in the book Becoming Orthodox.
I do not aim to make an exhaustive study of this book, and will simply highlight the items that stuck out the most to me. I highly recommend reading this book as the journey Gillquist took was full of frustration and joy and can only be appreciated by hearing his tale from him directly.
The church existed for many years before the first of several councils was called. The first being the Nicene Council around A.D. 325, where defenders of the faith stood up for Christ’s divinity. This resulted in what is today known as the Nicene Creed.
After reading this, I personally felt it is an important doctrine of faith for all Christians, and should be read frequently as a reminder of what we believe as brothers and sisters in Christ.
There were seven councils that were called and can be known as “ecumenical”. Ecumenical simply means that the church everywhere approved of the council. This does not mean there was no dissent, or that there weren’t problems. But it was widely accepted, and lasted throughout the ages as truth.
I thought it interesting that because of the schism around A.D. 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, and the further fracturing from Rome and Protestantism, that we cannot have a truly ecumenical council any longer. Which I think is heartbreaking.
I thought with this next part that I would have a clear cut case against icons. Exodus clearly states that idols are forbidden.
But this is a tale of my conversion, and I’m sure you can see where this is going.
Gillquist saw that God clearly differentiates between an idol and an icon. Yes, he forbids images that are worshipped. The golden calf is just one such image. Yet, God does allow other artistic interpretations, and in fact commanded the Israelites to do so in Exodus 26:1 when they are told to weave cherubim into the fabrics for the temple. Not just on the fabric, but the very Ark of the Covenant also had images of angels.
So at least I could see where the early Christians could have started making their own icons. After all there is a basis in the Bible for such things.
Seeing this allowed me to give some concession, though I could not bring myself any further than the thought of “Ok, it’s allowable, but clearly they are worshipping these icons and have backed away from what God intended.”
But Orthodox do not worship the icons. Instead with all icons, they see the image of Christ. Is it an icon of Mary? She was the Theotokos (literally: “God-bearer”). Christ shone through her. Is it Saint Patrick? Christ worked through him. Any reverence given to these icons is to Christ alone and not the men and women of faith. I didn’t learn all this till much later, but I thought it was important to make note of now.
This was a big issue for me. Wasn’t Mary just a young woman who happened to make an obedient choice one time? This was what I had always been taught. Which minimized her role in the story of salvation.
So looking again to Gillquist, I was reminded by one major point that is recorded in the gospels.
Mary is the greatest woman who ever lived.
Read that again. Look to the gospels, Elizabeth says of her, “Blessed are you among women,” Luke 1:42. The angel Gabriel says, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you,” and “you have found favor with God” Luke 1:28 and 30. Mary in her Magnificat prophecies, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” Luke 1:48. Emphasis is mine and texts are taken from the ESV.
In many of the churches that I have attended growing up, Mary was tossed aside as almost non-existent to the story of salvation.
Yet it was she who was the first to accept Jesus into her. Literally and figuratively. She not only obeyed God, she did so willingly. God did not force the choice on her. She was the first of us, and in a way, our mother and our sister.
There were many other things that I learned about Mary not only through this book, but through others as well. The chapter on her in this book made me rethink how I saw Mary. I knew that I had been guilty of tossing her aside, to my shame. If the gospels tell us that she is to be blessed for all generations, why do we as a church so often fail to do so?
Now I had a problem with Mary. Because I had to admit my faults, but I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t yet bring myself to give her the honor that the Orthodox Church does. It took many more months for me to make a decision.
This is everything that I will say on the book, but there is a wealth of information that is left out and I simply wanted to point out the things that stuck with me the most.
I cannot speak highly enough of Becoming Orthodox. Even if you do not agree with the assertions made, it’s an important work that should be read and contemplated.