After Liturgy last Sunday, we discussed that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity. Instead, Christ enables the Gentiles (us) to enter the commonwealth of Israel. This means that the promise of God given to Abraham that through him a Savior through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed applied not only to the children of Abraham, but to the whole world.
St. Paul discusses this extensively in the book of Romans. The Church is now the “New Israel” and we look to a “city not made with hands” but to a “heavenly Jerusalem.”
A very good question was raised: how did Christianity become established? It was established through the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles. The word “apostle” means “one sent forth” with the evangelion (“good news”) – what we call the Gospel. The apostles were the original disciples.
The gentiles heard the Gospel primarily through the preaching of the Apostle Paul. Paul was not an original disciple. In fact, he was a persecutor of the Christians before encountering Christ on the road to Damascus (you can read about this in Acts 9). Paul went to the Gentiles.
As our conversation progressed, we discussed how our Orthodox worship is very close to Jewish worship. That is because almost all of the early Christians were Jews. Because they professed that Christ was the Messiah, they were kicked out of the synagogues. They did not change their worship however. They just brought the synagogue worship into their homes.
The Roman Empire persecuted Christians as well but the Christians held firm. They also kept the same worship. Finally, when the Emperor Constantine lifted the persecution with the Edict of Milan in 313AD, the Christians were free of threats and the Church grew. Temples (churches) were built and the worship was formalized a bit. It is largely the same structure we have today however.
I mentioned a book that deals with the Jewish roots of Orthodox worship. That book is called “Orthodox Worship” and it explains and a clear way how our worship is grounded in Jewish forms. It shows how the Abrahamic traditions are carried forward in the Orthodox Church. You will be surprised how far back our worship goes. And, like some people brought up in the discussion, you will see why the Jewish services you have attended (bar mitzvah’s and so forth) feel almost “Orthodox.”
Another question came up about Jews and Christianity. We discussed a book recently published by Fr. James Bernstein, a man who was raised in a devout Jewish home and eventually became an Orthodox priest. He currently serves an Antiochian parish in Washington State. The books is titled “Surprised by Christ: My Journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity.”
I have included links to both books here. They will bring you Amazon where you can order them if you want to. In the next few weeks I will add a bookstore to the St. Peter website that will highlight books that you will find beneficial to understand our Orthodox faith better.
Yours in Christ,