This week I had the opportunity to gain some refreshing insight from Father Nicholas Speier, the pastor of Saint Athanasius Orthodox Church in Goleta.
I’m currently in the thick of writing a research paper for my Global Christianity class at UCSB, and it centers around conducting ethnographic research on a local house of worship. Having been raised in the Protestant church and educated at Catholic schools, I had always been curious about the other, seemingly less prominent branch of Christianity – the Orthodox Church.
In fact, I have been driving past St. Athanasius Church on Hollister Ave. every day for the past two years, and have always wondered what their services are like. Upon hearing that I’d have to attend a house of worship at least three times for this project, I knew exactly where to high-tail it to.
I soon learned that the Orthodox Church is anything but “less prominent.” While there are only about a million and a half members in the United States, there are approximately 225-300 million in the world.
While I made good on attending their Sunday morning service a couple times, I learned the most from a one-on- one meeting with Fr. Nicholas. Sitting across from his cluttered desk in the church office, I began with general questions to clarify the more confusing aspects of the Sunday services. The ball got rolling soon enough, as he shared in more detail the essence of what he and the Church believes.
The one thing that struck me the most was his emphasis on unity. He makes a point to be friendly with the other local Christian pastors. In fact, when I was arranging the meeting, he asked if Pastor James would be coming as well. Fr. Nicholas went on to remark that although the local pastors will never all completely agree on theology or the ways of doing things, they all share the same mission and ultimate goal under the same God.
In Galatians 3:26-28 Paul writes, “So in Christ Jesus you are all Children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In the simplest sense, Paul is saying that as long as Jesus is at the center, differences come second. Not that they aren’t valid and should just be ignored altogether, but through Christ we share the deepest connection of all that transcends every other form of division.
After all, he says we are “Children” of God. What would it be like to see things the way kids do, before the complicated ways of organizing and making sense of the world that society taught us took hold?
You never know where or how God will speak to you. This week, His message impressed onto me to ponder happened to come from an Orthodox pastor I interviewed for an academic project. Clearly, the power of Christ has no boundaries.