Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the oldest church in the world still standing.

Ancient Faith

Living in most cities in America, the oldest building we are likely to encounter is between 100 and 150 years old. Sure, there are a few rare buildings that have survived here and there, but for the most part we live in a very ‘new and young’ society. The vast majority of buildings we see every day are less than a century old. So, it can be a bit of a stretch understanding just how ancient our faith really is.

Technology is the blame for most of the ‘new and young’ feeling we experience. We no longer build things out of stone ‘to last’ a lifetime. If we use stone, it is an accent wall and veneer. Our buildings today are made of steel and concrete. The only problem with steel and concrete is they can’t be reused for repairs. If something is damaged by fire or storms, we just tear it down and build something new.

I bring this up today because today is the Feast of Saint Demetrios, an ancient saint of our Church. He isn’t the oldest saint we have. His age isn’t the reason for my post today. It is the Church that holds his relics in Thessaloniki.

When I visited his relics in the early 90’s I was struck by something that has never left me. Throughout Greece I was caught by the antiquity. I had been to old places before in Europe, but this was different. In Greece I witness the antiquity of our faith.

The existing Church of Saint Demetrios in Thessaloniki, Greece was constructed in the 7th century. It has seen its share of damage from wars and disasters, but the building still stands. Near the ‘old’ church stands the ‘new’ church of Saint Gregory Palamas. It is over 100 years old.

Two churches built centuries apart, still in use, stand as a testimony to the ancient faith of Orthodoxy. This is not unique to Greece. You can experience ancient and new churches throughout the world. You can check out my blog from my Holy Lands 2020 Pilgrimage for my experience there.

I still laugh when I think of the ‘new’ church being more than a century old. Some of the oldest things we have in America are younger than the ‘new’ church. Before you quickly set aside the customs and practices of the ancient Orthodox faith as ‘out of touch’ with the times, remember we have been around from the beginning. There aren’t many options that can claim that.

Our churches have stood testimony to the ancient faith through wars, natural disasters and waves upon waves of ‘new religious ideas’ that don’t last more than a couple decades. Our buildings and practices may not be ‘new and shiny’ like the competition.

Real staying power means showing the scars of time in our churches and in our practices. You may see a few worn stones. I see centuries of knees in prayer wearing down that stone. I’ll take the wear and tear over new and shiny any day.

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