In much of the Western world, we think of Christianity as having two major divisions, Catholic and Protestant. Some societies have based their whole identity around the division between these two groups, a division that stems back to the time of the Protestant Reformation, an era whose beginning is often marked on October 31. On that day in 1517, Martin Luther presented his famous “95 Theses”—and likely nailed this paper to the doors of various churches in Wittenberg, Germany—with the intention of starting a debate about certain Church practices that he thought needed to be reformed.

Historically, however, there is another division, in some ways a deeper one, that goes back five centuries earlier. That is the division between the Eastern and Western churches. We in the West are often ignorant about the life and thought of the Eastern Church, known as the Orthodox Church. Speaking for myself, I was almost completely unaware of anything to do with the Orthodox Church until near the end of my time in seminary, when I read an introductory book about the subject. I found it interesting, if quite foreign, to consider the ways that this part of the Christian family worshipped and conceived of life in Christ. Some things about it made me uneasy, and some others seemed fairly intriguing or inviting.

Several years after leaving Acadia, I returned in the fall of 2010 to attend the Hayward Lectures, which were being given that year by Dr Edith Humphrey. (You may notice throughout these posts how valuable that Lecture series has been for my own development—perhaps a recommendation for continuing education in general?) Dr Humphrey had an interesting story: having begun in the Salvation Army, she later became a member of the Anglican Church of Canada, and eventually joined the Eastern Orthodox Church. Her presence at Acadia was as fascinating as her lectures, because here was someone who belonged to a very different tradition than most of ours, but who shared many evangelical commitments with us because of her background and formation. She seemed like a bridge or a translator for those of us who wondered what Orthodoxy was all about.

I believe it was during a question-and-answer session on the second day of the lectures that Dr Humphrey mentioned a book that she commended to us as sort of the Orthodox equivalent of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. She said that, like Lewis’ perennially popular book, this book was the kind of book that she had passed on to people who were inquiring about Christianity as the Orthodox see it. The book was called For the Life of the World, and it was written by Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983), a priest and theologian who was born in Estonia and eventually taught at an influential Orthodox school, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, in New York.

I immediately picked up a copy of the book from the library and started to read. What I found there was quite profound, and has become a permanent part of my own understanding of the significance of Jesus Christ.

Schmemann’s book is a reflection on eating. It’s important to understand that for the Orthodox church, the Eucharist (what we call Communion or the Lord’s Supper) is at the centre of worship. At this meal, we (in some mysterious sense) feed on Christ. Schmemann takes the interesting step in his book of considering Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit in the Garden of Eden alongside our eating of the Lord’s Supper. The results are really illuminating, and pierce to the heart of what it means to be given a new heart, a new life, in Christ.

In the beginning, we were placed in God’s world and given the invitation to eat. But instead of eating rightly—eating the many things that God had offered us—we ate the one thing that was forbidden. Our poor eating in the Garden is a symbol of our big problem: we’ve been given the world, but we’ve not done with it what we should. We’ve become hungry for the wrong things, and these wrong hungers are our rebellion against God.

When Jesus came, he intended to bring us back from that rebellion, to heal our relationship to God and his world. So, at the supper that pointed to his death on the cross, he gave us a sign of a second chance, a new start. He once again invited us to eat. As we take the bread and the cup, they are a symbol of the world being offered to us again. But this time, because of Jesus, we can eat rightly.

The supper of the Lord points us, then, to what Jesus came and gave himself for: that we would again be hungry for the right things, that we would deal well with God’s world, and become good “eaters” again in him.

This is the seventh in a series of posts that could be titled, “Helpful Stuff I’ve Learned.” Most of these bits of learning were connected with reading books or sitting under certain teachers, so I’m usually going to share them as little pieces of autobiography: how I came across them, why they mattered to me at a certain time, or how they continue to matter. These posts will deal mostly with ideas, but these ideas have also supplied me with memorable images or phrases that have helped me over the years in trying to discern what it means to follow Jesus.