Windows to Heaven?

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                       28 Jan 2008


The Eastern Orthodox Churches of Montenegro look much like other old churches.  There is the church, the steeple, and inside the people … but … the people are paintings and statues of saints who have long since passed into another life.

 The well-organized and intricately crafted depictions of these saints are an essential part of worship.  The faithful followers believe that these statues and paintings, called icons, are a window to heaven.  It is through these windows that communication to God is made possible.  Prayers offered up by the devotees are conveyed to the heavenly father through a chosen portal … normally their favorite saint.  There is no praying in their homes since God is only considered present in church and that is the location for praying to Him.  People do not recognize their sin. Jesus is not personal, that is, they cannot expect to really be close to Him except in a church. 

 Many different saints are available.  Paintings or statues of most are in the front of the church.  Often, life size images line the walls of the sanctuary.  When coming into the church, the person often stops to light a candle …  or candles … representing prayer for sick or deceased relatives and friends or to a favorite saint as a way of demonstrating devotion.  The lighting of candles is especially important for special events.  Many, especially older women, bow or kneel before the icon of their saint, often kissing the picture and crossing themselves numerous times.  People always stand as they worship.  In some churches, there are a few seats … but they were not made for the comfort of the worshippers.  They are for the old or infirm but are rarely used because standing for the service is such an important part of Orthodox tradition.

 Special emphasis is given to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Typically, she is depicted at the top of the painting with others lifting up their hands and their prayers to her.  Other times, she is shown with a baby or small child representing Jesus.  Again, this illustrates the importance of Mary over that of Jesus.  Occasionally Jesus is illustrated as a grown man standing with others but most often he is still hanging on a cross … blood stained and suffering. 

 It is the windows to heaven that provide a clear outward difference of the Eastern Orthodox Church and that of its predecessor, the Catholic Church.

 The Catholic Church dominated the religious beliefs and politics for much of the first millennium after the birth of Christ.  About 1,000 years ago, a great schism took place.  This split resulted in the two churches going their separate ways.

 The Catholic Church differs from the Orthodox Church since the windows to heaven are not present and there are pews to sit on.  Still, … there are many common characteristics between the two groups such as the elevated position of Mary and several of the saints.  In addition, they share similar doctrinal values.

 In Montenegro, there are about fifty old Catholic Churches … primarily located in the northern coastal cities.  The once large Catholic population has dwindled significantly and most churches do not even have a priest. Today, most people claim to be Orthodox but few of either persuasion attend church or contribute to the silent collection containers.

 The conspicuous windows to heaven that were so carefully placed are seldom used.  The windows are now little more than a tourist attraction.

 The people of Montenegro have become a people without a true allegiance to the church of any kind.

 They need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and to realize that they do not need a special window located in a big church to communicate to Him and that salvation comes only through Him. … They need to know that God’s Word … as revealed in the Bible …  is for them; … that the Bible is the authority … not the priest or tradition; and that the Bible is for them to study, … to understand and apply to their lives.  … They need to know Jesus.  … Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes to the Father but through me.” … Will you come and share Jesus and God’s Word with the people of Montenegro?


Pronunciation Guide:

Montenegro                           MAHN-teh- nee-gro



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