By Loretta Fulton
“What Makes Us Orthodox” could be read as a question, or it could be taken as an affirmation.
The speaker for a forum at Abilene Christian University Oct. 12 chose to make it both. The Rev. Dr. Anton Vrame, director of the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, described some of the tenets of Orthodoxy, as well as some of the “Nots” of Orthodoxy, as in “Not living in the past.”
He also joked that because Dr. Philip LeMasters, priest at the local St. Luke’s Orthodox Church, was in the audience he could use the word “us” in the title of his talk. Usually, Vrame said, when people think of the Orthodox, they think of the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” or of icons or of lovely vestments.
Vrame led off with what the Orthodox are “not.” They aren’t living in the past, they aren’t defined exclusively by ethnicity, they are not new-age or neo-gnostics, and they are not a church that does not change–although that change may be slow in coming.
Vrame noted that it took the church 120 years to define the appropriate use of art in the church.
As to what the Orthodox are, Vrame said that above all else, they are Christian.
“We fundamentally are Christian,” he said. “We are Christian 24/7.”
The Orthodox also place a high value on the scriptures, church fathers, church councils, and theology.
“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” Vrame said. “You can not be a Christian alone.”
The Orthodox believe that the world is a gift from God and therefore is good and that humanity essentially is good. Both are fallen, but both are good. The Orthodox also believe that they are called to serve their neighbors and the world, healing and reconciling.
Orthodox Christians can be found in every part of the world, Vrame said. They are one faith, one church, with many cultures.
“We are truly a global church,” Vrame said.
And wherever the Orthodox have settled, they have adapted to the world around them. An example can be found in the food items that the Orthodox have found to be acceptable during Lenten fasting, including peanut butter in the United States.
“The Americanization has taken place,” Vrame joked.
In a question and answer session following his talk, Vrame was asked about the role of women in Orthodoxy. No women are in leadership roles, he said, but women are involved in all other aspects of church life and many of the church’s icons are of women saints.
For women to be permitted to take leadership roles would require a major shift in the Orthodox church, Vrame said, but isn’t out of the question.
“It’s an ongoing debate,” he said.