If you’d like a look at me in action, a friend found this video from a few months ago. I simply stand, and mouth the words to the Nicene Creed along with the rest of the Syrian Orthodox congregation.
The occasion was the installment of Pope Tawadros; representatives of this sister Oriental Orthodox Church were in attendance. Before traveling back to their own countries in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, they had a joint service together in downtown Cairo.
My appearance is at about the 7:00 minute mark. It is worth a few minutes of your time, just to enjoy the different and vibrant color schemes of each church. In attendance with me was the former head of the Middle East Council of Churches, who I’m sure could explain the differences.
I remember at the time thinking I would write about the experience, but other projects placed it on the back burner until it was forgotten. But now I recall the fun, the boredom, the familiarity, and the small differences between these ancient adherents of the faith and their Coptic brothers I have come to know.
On the one hand, they seem utterly irrelevant. They are small, declining churches surrounded by violence and conflict. They have funny hats and peculiar beards. They did have a good time together, as did the small congregation of a hundred or so worshipers.
But of what value are these churches, these dresses, these colors, to the people of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq? What difference does this faith make to those suffering, to societies in collapse, the remaining faithful?
Perhaps the question can be what good is this faith anywhere? Does it transform, does it serve, does it save? There is no peculiarity to the Arab world.
But this faith is ancient, and those privileged to existentially wonder about it from the comforts of Western experience would do well to learn. I only wish I knew what the lesson is.
Is that the point? There are Christians in this world in the lap of luxury, and others in the deepest poverty. There are some who preside over the greatest military power in history, and others who are stomped upon by the weapons of war.
The world has made it possible for these worlds to connect, only adding to the complication. But for centuries it was such, and each slice of the Christian world had only slight knowledge of the extended family.
So what good does it do Syria to have a Christian costume party in Cairo? What good does it do America to have a Christian rock concert in a movie theater? What good does it do you to see a transplanted American in their mix, who assaults you with these questions?? What good does it do them that I was there at all?
Of course, each of these questions presupposes the ‘good’ of Christianity is for this world. It is, right? I would so like it to be.
But the Oriental Orthodox churches remind amid their colors and pomp and circumstance that worship probably has very little relevance to what good this world needs. More poignantly for me and probably most readers here, what I as an individual need.
But with God you cannot say it is what he needs, either. So what is the point?
Still, I have no lesson. Can faith and humility be ok with this? They must, lest you throw it all away.
Here, there is no certainty, there is no peculiarity, there is no victory. God can grant them each at other times if he wishes.
Instead, we wonder, we reflect, we appreciate. If all is well, we share, we worship.
If we like, we wear funny colors, or do interpretive dance.
And if he leads, we welcome marauding militias, or sign petitions against hovering drones.
And if he leads, we fight against oppressive regimes, or lobby against oppressive taxes.
But in the end, together, we mouth the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God…
And we trust, in the end, it will be good.