‘Exploring Orthodoxy’: A day to explore Orthodox Christian spirituality

Held 26th August 2018 by Good Shepherd Orthodox Mission, Victoria

On a sunny, late winter’s day, the priest and parishioners of The Good Shepherd Orthodox Church in Melbourne welcomed visitors to our first ‘Exploring Orthodoxy’ day, conducted with the blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan Basilios. Promoted widely and designed as a potential first point of contact with Orthodox Christian spirituality for people of other faiths or no faith, the day also attracted Orthodox people thirsty for the treasures of their own tradition presented in the English language.

In ordinary terms, it may have been described as an open day and conference, but as a worshipping community, we were able to present our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Divine Liturgy as being at the centre of our life together and the day itself.

Upon arrival at the Religious Centre at Monash University, visitors and parishioners were greeted and handed their lanyard with printed name tag, ‘Exploring Orthodoxy’ pen and a 20-page booklet

At the same time as Matins, the Parish Council Chairman and recent graduate of the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies, Dr Daniel McInnes, gave a presentation titled ‘What is the Divine Liturgy?’. This set the scene for people who had never attended an Orthodox Liturgy as well as for those who have attended for years but wanted to understand more. During the Liturgy, Fr. Geoff delivered his sermon based on the scripture readings for the day emphasising the importance of our relationship with God, our relationship with the Church and our relationships with each other.

After a delicious lunch, the four afternoon sessions began. Primary school-aged children participated in an Orthodox outdoor treasure hunt and other fun activities. Members of the Parish Council introduced and thanked each presenter. To start the afternoon, Sub-Dcn. Timothy Grace covered ‘Orthodoxy 101: An Introduction’. In it, he gave a history of Christianity and the similarities and differences with other Christian expressions.

Following directly on from this, Dcn. Nicholas Fraser spoke on the first of two Orthodox spirituality topics – Prayer. To encourage further exploration, he provided an example of a prayer rule and a list of recommended reading. Interestingly, books on prayer had the highest sales for the day.

Fr. Tony Bartel, previously a Deacon at The Good Shepherd and currently serving at the Cathedral of St. George in Thornbury, tackled the second Orthodox spirituality topic – The Holy Mysteries. In addition to explaining how the sacraments unite us to Christ and transform our lives, he challenged those thinking about becoming Orthodox to consider their motivation for doing so.

The keynote address for the day was presented by the Parish Priest of The Good Shepherd Orthodox Church, Fr. Geoff Harvey. He reflected on the missionary activities of the Orthodox Church over the centuries and the missionary imperative that faces us at the beginning of the third millennium since Christ walked this earth. Fr. Geoff shared his vision for Australian Orthodoxy in English, pointing to the opportunity that is facing us right now and how we can pursue it because the priorities we choose now are going to impact what happens in the future. He urged us all to play our part in the mission to Australian people, which is to help them discover and return to the original church, through churches built for mission. He explained that we are here to share the good news of Jesus Christ with Australians, and the good news for us is that Aussies are looking for Orthodoxy even though they sometimes don’t know it. They want true worship and spiritual challenge. Our opportunity is to teach and make disciples. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, longs to bring the millions of English-speaking Australians who don’t know Him, into His fold.

The day concluded with the prayer ‘Truly it is right…’ led by the choir, followed by afternoon tea and time for people to discuss what they had heard and experienced.

Since then we have been grateful that Ancient Faith Radio, based in North America, and Upper Room Media, in Sydney, have made the presentations available as podcasts.

On the day and afterwards we have heard such stories as people now looking for an Orthodox church in their area, confirming their decision to become Orthodox or wanting to learn more. Perhaps these two quotes sum up the thoughts of many:

“I have attended an Orthodox Church my whole life but this is the first time I’ve attended an English service. I was in awe during the Liturgy, the choir was amazing and everyone was so friendly. Sharing a meal after the Liturgy was very enjoyable and I found the greeter at the check-in counter delightful to talk to and she gave me the contact details of an English-speaking parish closer to where I live, for which I am extremely grateful. I want to thank you for organising such an eye-opening event. It is lovely that the Orthodox faith is expressed in the English language for us all to benefit from.”

“I experienced Divine joy in it all. It was wonderful to learn that the Orthodox Church has preserved the mystical roots of Christianity. I loved the singing and joined in as well as I was able.”

Holding this event reminds us that every Sunday is an open day for those coming through our doors and the warm welcome we give them in the name of Christ can make all the difference as they discover, explore and, by God’s grace, come to know Him and His Church.