Southern barbecue takes time. Five hours on the coals is a quick smoke, so you have plenty of time to kill. This is the entire point.
A few years ago I was spending an afternoon out by the smoker enjoying a beer and a good book. I’ve always been a voracious reader and a history buff, and was deeply into Lost To The West, a survey of the Eastern Roman empire.
The book covered an era of history I had never studied and knew next to nothing about – the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of what came to be known as the Byzantine Empire. Each page brought me into a world I’d never learned about, full of political intrigue, war and conquest.
Far more interesting however, were the tales of holy councils of bishops, of iconoclasm, and of the shaping of Christianity in the centuries after the death of Jesus’ apostles. While I was aware of the emperor Constantine’s role in the rise of Christianity in Rome, I knew little of the circumstances surrounding this reversal of fortune.
The book shined a light on a faith I never knew. This wasn’t the Roman Catholicism I’d been warned about at tent revivals and in Jack Chick tracts. This was pre-Catholic. It was pre-denominational.
It told of a split with Rome, portraying Eastern Christianity as the trunk from which the West branched off. Was this true? Were there people today who believed that they were part of the true, original church begun by men who had known Jesus personally?
As I’ve discussed in the posts linked above, I was vaguely aware of Eastern Orthodoxy. Sometimes a news show or documentary would display images of ancient old men in black robes and hats, their long gray beards flowing down their chests like rolling storm clouds. They carried scepters and swung smoking urns of incense from golden chains studded with bells, creating a swirl of noise and smoke that seemed otherworldly. It was a vision of a long-forgotten culture that clung to obsolete rituals of a distant past.
The problem stirring up my worldview was that these people still existed. I began to think about how little I really knew about the history of my faith. For me, there was a gap that stretched from the Acts of the Apostles to some vague point in the late 19th century. For the people that called themselves Orthodox, there was no gap at all, only an unbroken tradition that traced directly back to Christ’s followers.
During the period I was reading this book I was not attending church. I intended to go back at some point but had not worked up the willpower or the courage. I also intended to never darken the door of a Pentecostal church again. Presbyterian it would be, or maybe some type of Reformed church.
I was not looking for a church with a praise band or a projection screen. And I wasn’t seeking church as entertainment. I was looking for a more structured church environment. Something with more balance and a more defined set of methods. I didn’t know the word for it at the time, but I was looking for something more…
In Part 6, which you can read here, I meet with an Orthodox priest.