Claims of original Christianity in practice today occur regularly. I recently saw one on the CBS show, 60 Minutes.
According to the show, in a remote peninsula in northern Greece exists a place that some believe is the most sacred on earth, and the closest thing to original Christianity.
In fact, Father Thedosios, a resident and evidently a “mechanical wizard” because he has somehow maintained continuous electricity and occasional hot water on this ancient property, said, “Many Christians in the world, they are looking for the original church, you know, for the ancient church,”[i] When asked if he thinks this is the closest to the original church, Father Thedosios said, “Yes. When you come to orthodoxy, you will see, it has everything you ever sought for.”[ii]
The segment is, in fact, remarkable. It tells the story of a group of men incredibly dedicated to living a lifestyle of dedication to getting close to God. And there is some evidence that they’re very blessed in this endeavor as the show reports.
Despite a lifestyle of austerity and hard work the monks:
- are extremely healthy with very little cancer, heart disease and other illnesses associated with life in the modern world
- report an extreme satisfaction, to the point to where they never want to leave
- are reviewed in the report as participating in prayer services where they achieved “ecstasy”
- in fact live a lifestyle where they pray continuously around the clock
All of the above are extremely praiseworthy. The fact that this monastery, along with others nearby, exist after so many centuries, is fantastic. So I don’t want to take anything away from the greatness of what these people have achieved.
But it does it truly represent original Christianity? Let’s look at a few of the elements of their lifestyle.
In Love Feasts – Fellowship So Sweet, we read of a documented practice of meals of fellowship, called love feasts, where there was great sharing by all the members of the original Christian community, including women.
That leads us to the next point, that women are banned. In this version of original Christianity that is represented by some as the living example of what it was like to live as an “original Christian” the only participants are men with no women, no children, no worldly distractions, and the minimum worldly interaction to survive.
The monastery has some extreme disciplines like “embracing death”:
“‘The first thing a monk does is embrace and love death,’ Father Serapion told Simon. ‘Because death is the ticket to the other life. And without a ticket, you can’t travel.’
‘Where do you get the ticket?’ Simon asked.
‘Here, in this life. That’s what we do each day, we prepare for death – but with joy. We are joyful about our journey to heaven,” he replied.’[iii]
This emphasis on this way of dealing with death is admirable but not exactly what the original Christian church emphasized, with its emphasis on walking in the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the word of God to the people all over the world.
Another element of monasticism as depicted in the show is the elevation and importance of icons. The 60 Minutes show was able to show that the monasteries have some of the most oldest and most valuable icons in the world, although they see them more as articles important to liturgical living than precious works of art. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that the original apostles and disciples would be amazed and disappointed by the elevation and growing importance of icons after their deaths.
The fact is that monasticism first became a discipline among a small percentage of the Christian population hundreds of years after original Christianity. So while these men can be greatly admired for their dedication and service, to call them the best representatives of original Christianity does not agree with the facts.