If you look up the word “orthodox” in the dictionary, it says, “conforming to doctrines or practices that are held to be right or true by an authority, standard or tradition.” (Orthodox with a capital “O” specifically refers to our Church.) It’s good to occasionally remind ourselves of this meaning.
Now, one need not have a Ph.D. to realize that to suggest anything is “right” and “true” these days borders on sheer arrogance (at least intolerance) especially in a religious context. And whereas “orthodoxy”, since the earliest days of Christianity, has been understood as a positive attribute and desired quality of faith, today it appears as something to be attacked on every level as old-fashioned, boring, dull, quirky and/or irrelevant. Rather than wear “orthodoxy” as a badge of honor, today it’s more like a scarlet letter!
I’ve heard several examples of this recently on TV. News analysts and political spinmeisters repeatedly denounced the views of certain congressmen as “unorthodox.” An interview with a famous symphony conductor described a certain piece of music as “defying the orthodoxy” of classical composition. A “religious” channel featured a preacher vehemently condemning “all that outdated, orthodox stuff that Jesus came to put a stop to.” There’s even an infomercial promoting “an innovative and unorthodox diet plan” as the answer to significant weight loss. We wonder why we Orthodox Christians sometimes seem to have an inferiority complex! Society has discovered the term and it’s open season on us! But in an age of doctrinal relativism—with accountability to no authority but the self, no standard beyond what makes us happy, and holding only the traditions we make up as we go along—it’s not surprising that anything labeled “orthodox” today scratches a place that doesn’t itch for modern man, devoid of absolutes—moral, legal, spiritual or otherwise.
This, of course, is nothing new. Since the fall of Adam, man has always been at enmity with God. The Old Testament patriarchs, priests and prophets faced the “unorthodoxy” of their times. In Judges 17:6 we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Man has always sought to justify his own actions, rationalize his own sins, and look for loopholes, even in God’s law. It just seems that now— with instant, late-breaking news from around the world on countless cable channels all vying for ratings by delivering us the most sensational and gruesome stories imaginable—we’re beginning to see the global results and consequences of the chaos caused by a rejection of “orthodoxy.”
Today, everything is subject to debate, argument, personal opinion and challenge. Even sports now offer the opportunity to challenge and overturn an official’s call by means of an instant replay. (Maybe at the Judgment, God will show us the instant replay of our life to justify His decision on our fate?!)
This also relates to the liturgical life of our Holy Church and our involvement in that divine life. Who, for example, will argue that prayer and fasting are not essential elements of the Christian life? In the Church, we pretty much stipulate this. Consistent with the meaning of the word “orthodox,” we have a definitive Authority, divine standard and long-standing Tradition on prayer and fasting that conforms to doctrines and practices we hold to be right and true. This is, among other things, what the Church recalls for us in our annual approach to Great Lent.
The “orthodox” teaching on prayer begins, “Two men went up into the temple to pray,” (Luke 18) then, by way of comparison between the two, incites us to ask ourselves “which one was orthodox?” Christ teaches that the publican’s prayer was “justified” rather than the pharisee’s. According to God’s standard, prayer offered in humility, reverence and repentance is “right” and “true.” Likewise, the “orthodox” teaching on fasting begins, “And when you fast” (Matthew 6:16), and then proceeds to detail the “right and true” way to fast.
Here’s the Gospel truth! We can reject it, say we believe it yet act as though we don’t, or accept what is right and true and act accordingly. But the fact that we are free to choose our response does not negate the validity and “orthodoxy” of the teaching. Understand?
Our Holy Church calls us to do many things. There are those who may denounce and reject some things as old-fashioned, boring, dull, quirky and/or irrelevant. We may ourselves be tempted to adopt such worldly notions. Let us strive to resist such temptations and resolve to make a determined effort to truly BE “orthodox”—in doctrine and practice, in faith and life, holding and propagating that which is right and true, and all for the glory of God.