Why Do We Do What We Do?

by Doug Loss

I was born into a religious family.  Many of my relatives were active in the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) church, as ministers and as laity. 

Albert Einstein once said,

“What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?” 

That’s pretty much how I viewed religion in my early life; something that was all around, so pervasive that it was a general assumption and not something I really noticed.

As I grew older, I became curious about the tenets and practices of my denomination and my faith. 

“Why do we do the things we do?  What do the various actions represent?  What makes this church, this denomination, different from other Christian faiths?” 

These questions should have been rather easy to answer, I thought.  But it seemed they weren’t.  At least, the answers seemed to be different depending on who was asked.  I eventually realized that the deeper answer was usually,

“because we’ve always done it that way” or “because we like to do it that way.”

  Those answers didn’t tell me what I needed to hear.

The EUB church eventually merged with the Methodist church in 1967.  It had a very diverse group of congregants, from people who were very evangelical (with tent meetings and such) to people who were very “mainstream” (liberal theology, social gospel, etc.).  I kept wondering what were the beliefs that really united us as a denomination?  To try to get answers to this, I proposed to the adult Sunday school class I was in that we spend a season reading and discussing our church’s doctrine so we could all know what beliefs our church actually professed. No one else seemed all that interested in doing this.  I took this to mean that church doctrine wasn’t all that meaningful or important to discuss, at least to the vast majority of its members.

I gradually drifted away from regular church attendance, as it didn’t seem to hold much beyond the regular motivational and inspirational stuff I’d heard and been exposed to all my life.

In 1989, I began dating a Greek woman, and started attending Holy Cross Orthodox Church with her and her children. This was my first exposure to and experience with Orthodoxy.  It was very different from anything I’d ever seen before!  I was naturally curious.

Imagine my surprise when I asked what, for me, were standard, usually-unsatisfactorily- answered questions like

“Why do you have a wall between the congregation and the altar?”

I got serious, understandable answers based on the Bible, history, and theology!  In the Orthodox Church, there were reasons for the things that were done!  And all the reasons were at base directed toward one end: the worship of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

“Why do we sing hymns?” 

Not because we enjoy the music but because they help us understand and get into the proper frame of mind for worship.  Everything in the liturgy had a meaningful purpose; a task to perform in furtherance of divine worship “in spirit and in truth.”  I realized that there would never be an Orthodox folk liturgy, or jazz liturgy, or any of the “trendy” worship distractions that most other churches sometimes use to try to attract people.  No, worship isn’t supposed to be entertainment, it’s supposed to be worship.  That’s what I’d found in Orthodoxy!

I certainly wasn’t an instant convert to Orthodoxy, as Father Dan will attest.  I kept coming to church for some years, kept asking questions about Orthodox faith and practice until, finally, I felt that I was ready to truly and honestly accept and embrace Orthodoxy. Luckily for me, Father Dan eventually agreed.  I was formally received into the Orthodox faith and joined Holy Cross as a member — and they’ve been stuck with me ever since! 

Source: Holy Cross Church, Williamsport

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