I belong to an email discussion group called RightMeetsLeft, and recently one of the exchanges discussed the “wall of separation” between church and state. More on that, later. But one comment from a gentleman that rang out to me referenced “the evolution of religion in America.”
Does religion evolve?
According to Merriam-Webster, religion is defined as
1: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
2: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to workship a god or group of gods
3 informal: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group [ie., the Packers in Wisconsin.]
To evolve is “to change or develop slowly often into a better, more complex, or more advanced state.”
My question is, has religion in America evolved into a “better, more complex, or more advanced state?” Has it simply changed? Or, has it actually done the opposite — weakened, regressed, lapsed, decayed and degenerated?
Speaking from an Orthodox perspective, the church is a spiritual hospital, and its many “ceremonies and rules” are practices 1) given to us by God, not invented by men 2) tools to be used for spiritual and physical healing. As we respect God’s gift of free will, the use of these tools is utterly voluntary, and the results of their practice — movement towards God, healing, theosis — are directly proportional to the depth, sincerity and discipline of the application. Sort of like, going to the gym. What you put into it is what you get out. For us, it’s a spiritual workout. Thus, because of this understanding of what Orthodoxy is, not from man, but a gift from God, proven to work and yield results, very little in the Orthodox church has changed in 2000 years, with regards to theology, worship, and ascetics. To change the Divine Liturgy would be like deciding to get rid of the weights and treadmills and instead show movies at the gym–and then still expect to get a good workout. Doesn’t make any sense to us.
There is a joke:
Q: How many Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?
We’ll just light a candle.
So, from the Orthodox perspective, Orthodoxy is far more than a religion, a belief, or a system of beliefs. It is a practice, a way of life, that informs everything we do. A good example of someone in the news who is devoted Orthodox is Pittsburgh Steelers safety, Troy Polamalu. God bless him and his wife, Theodora.
Last year during the playoffs, we had the pleasure of hosting our beloved Bishop THOMAS, who is from Pittsburgh and celebrates Liturgy regularly with Troy and Theodora. On the last day of his weekend-long visit, at lunch after Liturgy, someone on our council presented him with the gift of a Packer’s jersey and a cheesehead. He politely thanked us, appreciating the gift, but said, to roars of laughter, it would truly be sacrilegious and possibly dangerous for him to wear it or even show it to anyone back home.