April 26, 2008
Cory Dorta tried those big new warehouse churches with rock music and upbeat sermons. He went back to Orthodoxy.
“It was fun and games, but it wasn’t church,” Dorta, 20, said in the foyer of St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church in Davie as incense and ancient hymns filled the air. “I like more discipline.”
That solid feel, of clinging to truth in a trend-driven world, is what helps the church keep about 75 percent of its young people attending, according to Bishop Antoun of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese.
“People today are thirsty and hungry to know the truth,” Antoun said after a Holy Week service this week at St. Philip’s. “Faith and truth — that’s what lasts.”
Antoun, whose Diocese of Miami and the Southeast covers nine states, has been in South Florida on a round of services.
On Wednesday, he anointed people with oil and wine at St. Philip’s. On Thursday night, he led a procession around St. Mary parish in West Palm Beach during the Twelve Gospel Readings of the Passion of Christ. The bishop returned to St. Philip’s on Friday for the Funeral and Burial Service of Jesus Christ. And tonight, he’ll lead the Resurrectional Service at 10 p.m. at St. George Cathedral in Coral Gables.
The Antiochians are part of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, which includes Greek, Russian and Ukrainian groups. The Orthodox pride themselves on keeping the old-time religion from the oldest times. They still uphold the teachings of the first seven church councils, which ended in the eighth century, before the Eastern and Western churches parted ways.
One such point is the date of Easter, which they’re celebrating more than three weeks after their Catholic and Protestant brethren. The Orthodox keep the original standard to observe Easter after Passover, a rule dropped by Western churches in the 16th century.
Most Antiochian Christians are ethnically Syrian and Lebanese, and a few of the prayers are said in Arabic. But the church is rapidly Americanizing and has drawn thousands of converts from Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal and other churches.
Antoun, 77, is the senior among the six Antiochian bishops of Canada and the United States, where a half-million Antiochians live. They’re increasing by a thousand or more per year — sometimes by whole congregations, he said.
“They’re all just looking for the full truth of the church,” the bishop said. “They decided to return to the New Testament religion.
“The church also has made some practical moves, he said. The church runs a camp, school, museum and library on 403 acres in Ligonier, Penn. It all amounts to a lasting home for young people, like Cory Dorta.
“I don’t understand why so many churches preach different messages,” he said. “Other churches base their beliefs on the Bible. But the Orthodox Church made the Bible.