John of Damascus

Orthodox Christianity: Offering Material Piety to Twenty-first Century America

by Carrie Frederick Frost

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Material piety was central to the early Church and it flourishes to this day within Orthodox Christianity. That Christians would love the material, created world makes perfect sense—their God took on matter in order to appear in the world of His creation. And early Christians understood that their path to God would be walked in that world; embodied as a human, among the other animals, alongside the trees, over the earth, beneath the sky.

Early Christians expressed this love for matter through their ornamentation of the catacombs of Rome, which were places not just of burial of the dead, but of gathering, of worship, and of praise. The same goes for outside spaces in later centuries, when noble women gathered in cemeteries to care for the graves and their park-like surroundings. The faithful also crafted religious objects: rings, bracelets, and ampullae for oil from holy sites, thus feeding their proclivity for, as Robert Wilken calls it, tactile piety: “worship with the lips and fingertips.” Continue Reading…