For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to understand the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Church of the East: Christian churches that have an early history of divergence from the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic and Protestant churches in the West. The Coptic Christians I’ve recently written about are in this group. So were the Eritrean Orthodox who worshipped downstairs at Universalist National Memorial Church so many years ago. Also the British Orthodox I’ve cited on this blog. Originally, I was interested in them because some nineteenth-century Universalists saw a kind of pro-universalist apostolic purity in them; a history ripe for the reclaiming. But lately I’ve been more interested in their approach to mission.
For one thing, they’re not bashful about missions, and why should they be? Most come from parts of the world where Christianity isn’t a majority faith. To survive you have to have a strong sense of identity that corresponds well with missions. But you’ll forgive me if I suggest that their approach to the faith isn’t Mod or particularly attuned to contemporary culture. But, as they say in the software world, “that’s a feature, not a bug.” They work, or seem to work on a different timeline than your garden-variety mainline Protestant (Overstatements follow, but follow me.)
So I was a bit shocked to see that so many of the mission churches meet only once or twice a month. And many, perhaps most, of those — with English-language websites anyway — meet on Saturday morning.
The reason is pretty obvious. It allows the priests to serve more congregations. Some of the Copts travel several hours from their home parishes to serve missions, something that wouldn’t be practical if the mission had a Sunday evening liturgy following a liturgy at home.
This, too, is something those nineteenth-century Universalists would have understood, and also I’ve done my rounds of supply and circuit preaching. But their usual appointments (and mine) were on Sundays, which is also the tight time for church buildings. Few edifices are as well suited for worship as a church building, so why not gather for worship on Saturday mornings.