Recently, I had the occasion to try to explain to a number of non-Orthodox folks the features of Orthodox Church temples. The questions sounded a consistent theme. Why the icons? Why no pews? Why the oil lamps?
Time and again, I found myself reminded that our faith - the historic Christian Church - has its roots in the catacombs. Oil lamps were a necessity. Icons were simple Christian symbols that later merged with Old Testament images from the synagogues, that grew into an expression of God becoming man. And the pews, well - the churches were tiny, with peripheral benches - not theatre seats.
Our parish has spent the last year with a major focus on a new church building. Much has been accomplished, not simply in excellent construction, but also in the beautification of God's house.
Yet in the midst of such work, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. It is easy to forget that the purpose of the Christian life is our salvation, our struggle through prayer and repentance, and our love, forgiveness, and prayer for each other that is given by God.
It is critical for us to remember the catacomb Church, for it is here that we find the core of Christian life, the kind of holy life that served as a magnet for conversions, and a conduit for the strength given to the martyrs.
It is this life that we are still called as Christians to live. It is not a life lived in our heads, in our imaginations, or in our feelings. It is not even a life lived in a church building, however much that helps.
Orthodox Christians are always called to return to the catacombs, for this is where we find the path of the martyrs, that is, the path of Christ. However blessed we are in this world, our true citizenship must always be in the next.
Our failure to remember this truth is done at peril to our soul.