Vol. 1, No. 3, Summer 1993, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe
For Christian Understanding, Ignorance is Not Bliss
"When we say 'the Church' we always mean the Orthodox Church and no
other," reported one respondent in a mid-1980s poll conducted in the
Soviet Union by Russian emigre Eugene Grosman. "It has been
established by Christ, and has had no deviations, neither left nor
right. All the rest are false churches or sects that went
astray." In the same survey Russian Evangelicals typically voiced
opinions just as intolerant, dismissing Orthodoxy as "a dead Church"
with "drunkards" for priests. "They know how to cross themselves,
and nothing else....Worshipping those icons, lighting the candles,
praying for the dead, it's all idolatry."1
In the Russian Empire and in the Soviet era most Protestants and
Orthodox rarely moved beyond negative stereotypical images of each
other. Unfortunately, ongoing mutual ignorance fuels increasing
religious conflict in the former East Bloc. Furthermore, the more
Western believers engage in ministry in East Central Europe and the
former Soviet Union, the harder they find it to muster civility in
their dealings with other Christian confessions. These days, the
mutual tolerance and respect among Western Catholics, Protestants, and
Orthodox, built up painfully over centuries, frequently evaporates in a
flash in the cauldron of ethnic and confessional strife now raging from
the Balkans to the Baltics to Siberia.
Most Western Protestants give little if any thought to
Orthodoxy, not out of hostility, but out of ignorance. In the
United States, approximately three million Orthodox equal better-known
Mormons numerically, but have a marginal impact upon American
society. Some U.S. Orthodox fear that nominalism may explain much
of their invisibility.2
Whatever the cause, Orthodoxy's comparatively low western profile
does appear to illustrate the maxim, "out of sight, out of mind."
Evangelicals' misreading of Orthodoxy stems at least in part
from a lack of understanding. For years I have been struck by the
abundance of contemporary Orthodox literature in the West concerning
Protestantism, in contrast to the scarcity of contemporary evangelical
perspectives on Orthodoxy. Perhaps the fact that Orthodoxy in the
West has had to contend with a far larger Protestant presence explains
its attention to what sets it apart from Reformation churches.3 In contrast, Protestants have focused attention on Orthodoxy only sporadically.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of Protestants, from the sixteenth
century on, have had little contact with, or understanding of, Eastern
Orthodoxy. Underscoring the point, a 1991 handbook of United
States higher education reproduced outlines of 16 courses treating
Christian-Marxist relations, 17 on liberation theology, but less than a
half dozen with a major focus on Orthodoxy.9
In the sixteenth century, Anglicans saw Orthodox as natural allies against papal claims to church leadership.4
Calvinists and Anglicans profoundly influenced Patriarch Cyril Lukaris
(1572-1638), although his Protestant leanings scandalized the Orthodox
world and led to his condemnation as a heretic.5
John Wesley had a deep and abiding appreciation for Eastern church fathers.6
Various mainline Protestant denominations conduct ongoing bilateral theological dialogues with the Orthodox.7
Individual Protestant scholars have written their share of perceptive academic studies of Orthodox history and theology.8
In the post World War II period the most significant exception to
the rule of minimal Protestant-Orthodox interaction has been their
encounter in the ecumenical movement. However, Orthodox
ecumenical activity rarely has involved significant numbers of
evangelical Christians. Nevertheless, the latter still owe
heartfelt appreciation to the Orthodox serving in the National Council
of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, and the World Council
of Churches, for their steadfast and often lonely championing of basic
Christian beliefs. Interestingly, unlike Protestantism and
Catholicism, Orthodoxy has never produced a faction that takes a
skeptical view of the veracity of Scripture or questions the divinity,
miracles, or resurrection of Jesus Christ or challenges historic
Christian social teachings, such as the inadmissability of a homosexual
lifestyle.10 If the Achilles
heel of Orthodoxy, historically, has been its tendency to align itself
with, or capitulate to, secular power, its strength has been its
tenacious preservation of the faith once received.11
A church could do worse. On a personal note, as an Evangelical
Christian, I have been deeply moved by warm spiritual fellowship with
Orthodox Christians. In point of fact, evangelical Christians
actually have more in common theologically with Orthodox believers than
with liberal Protestants.
Still, Eastern Orthodox and evangelical Christians frequently
do find themselves in disagreement. Where conflict stems from
ignorance, careful study and genuine listening offer considerable
hope. To be sure, Orthodoxy often succumbs to triumphalism, that
is, defining one's own communion as the divinely-designated Christian
church, but that position does not distinguish it from a fair number of
evangelical churches which manifest the same spiritual
self-assurance. Instead, a conflicting understanding of divine
grace, which bridges the chasm between God's holiness and man's
sinfulness, most clearly sets Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism at
odds. While for Evangelicals, Christ alone, as revealed in
Scripture, reconciles heaven and earth, in Orthodoxy other mediators
appear to supplement Christ's saving grace.
Peter Kuzmic of Osijek, Croatia, argues that from an evangelical
perspective, liberal Christianity detracts from Christ by subtraction,
while Orthodox Christianity detracts from Christ by addition.12
Orthodox pray to Mary and the saints.
Miracle-working icons, in Orthodox practice, if not in Orthodox theology, strike Evangelicals as objects of worship.
- Orthodox priests represent man before God in worship, symbolically
moving back and forth between the inner and outer sanctuaries through
the royal doors of the iconostasis (icon screen).
Orthodox understand the Divine Liturgy as the God-ordained form of worship.
Orthodox see the church as an essential, institutional participant in human salvation.
Each point mentioned above, and many other Evangelical-Orthodox
distinctives, deserve careful investigation by evangelical
theologians--in strength and at length. Fortunately, recent
evidence suggests an encouraging increase in evangelical interest in
Orthodoxy. Three promising evangelical studies of the Eastern
Church are underway.13
"Partakers of the Divine Nature," an excellent study by Rev. Don
Fairbairn of Light of the Gospel Seminary, Donetsk, Ukraine, and Turning Over A New Leaf: Protestant Missions and the Orthodox Churches of the Middle East, ed. by David P. Teague, offer more immediate assistance.14
Every candidate for ministry in the former East Bloc would do well to
read at least the first, but preferably both, of these insightful
evangelical critiques of Orthodoxy. Practically speaking,
evangelical Christians, working in increasing numbers in historically
Orthodox lands, cannot begin to comprehend the cultural context without
committing themselves to labor-intensive study of both the common
ground and the distinct differences between the two confessions.
In 1980 at the General Assembly of the World Evangelical
Fellowship in Hoddesdon, England, disagreements over Reformation church
relations with the church of Rome led to the formation of a working
group to study the issue. Out of that process emerged Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective,
edited by Paul G. Schrotenboer. This thoughtful analysis clearly
summarizes shared beliefs and, without rancor, what appear to be the
insoluble differences between evangelical and Catholic understandings
of faith and practice.15
Exactly the same steps desperately need to be taken to outline more
fully where Evangelicals and Orthodox can and cannot make common
cause. Might some evangelical cooperative body accept this
challenge?16 We could pray that
as a result, love would more fully abound, strife and insensitivity
rooted in ignorance would diminish, and all those who claim the name of
Christ would, at the very least, be able to disagree agreeably.
The alternative to a better evangelical grasp of Orthodoxy, and vice
versa, is frightening to contemplate. If Evangelicals and
Orthodox do not become better acquainted and make earnest efforts to
defuse tensions in the old East Bloc, we can expect not only more
grievous misunderstandings, but bloodshed, both in the Balkans and well
beyond. Petitions to the Savior for peace among Christians of
different traditions must be accompanied by goodwill derived from
mind-stretching and soul-searching study.
"A Contribution to Protestant-Orthodox Dialogue in Russia,"
unpublished paper, Wheaton College Graduate School, Fall 1986, 7 and 9.
"Favorite Faiths," The Orthodox Church 29 (April/May 1993), 6.
Several readily available, annotated Orthodox resource catalogs
offer a remarkable variety of popular and scholarly Eastern Church
critiques of Protestant faith: Light and Life Publishing Company,
4818 Park Glen Rd., Minneapolis, MN 55416, tel: 612-925-3888,
fax: 612-925-3918; St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary Press, 575
Scarsdale Rd., Crestwood, NY 10707, tel: 914-961-8313, fax:
914-961-5456; and Icon and Book Service, 1217 Quincy St. NE,
Washington, DC 20017, tel: 202-526-6061; fax:
202-526-3316. As a sampler, the New York-based Holy Trinity
Monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad distributes English
editions of Greek and Russian polemical attacks on Protestants:
Apostolis Makrakis, An Orthodox-Protestant Dialogue (Chicago, IL: The Orthodox Christian Education Society, 1949); Kyril Zaits, Missionary Conversations with Protestant Sectarians
(Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1973). Father
Peter Gilquist, a Campus Crusade convert to the Eastern Church, pens
equally aggressive, if more polished, Orthodox apologetics: Becoming Orthodox, a Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1989); Making America Orthodox (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1985); Coming Home: Why Protestant Clergy Are Becoming Orthodox (Mount Hermon, CA: Conciliar Press, 1992). In contrast, Father Anthony Ugolnik's The Illuminating Icon introduces Orthodoxy to Western Protestants thoughtfully and unabrassively (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989).
Archbishop Methodios Fouyas, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1984, c 1972), 36.
Ibid., 35-36; George A. Hadjiantoniou, Protestant Patriarch: The Life of Cyril Lukaris, 1572-1638, Patriarch of Constantinople (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1961; Kallistos Ware, "Cyril I," The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 4 (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 189-91.
Ted Campbell, John Wesley and Christian Antiquity
(Nashville, TN: Kingswood Books, 1991); Randy Maddox, "John
Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy: Influences, Convergences, and
Differences," Asbury Theological Journal 45 (Fall, 1990), 29-53; Howard Snyder, "John Wesley and Macarius the Egyptian," The Asbury Theological Journal 45 (Fall, 1990), 55-60.
John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias, Salvation in Christ: A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1992); E. C. Miller, Toward a Fuller Vision: Orthodoxy and the Anglican Experience (Wilton, CT: Morehouse Barlow Co., 1984).
Valuable examples would include Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974); and James J. Stamoolis, Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1986).
Rom Maczka and Mark Elliott, eds., Christian-Marxist Studies in United States Higher Education: A Handbook of Syllabi (Wheaton, IL: Institute for East-West Christian Studies, 1991).
The few instances of Orthodox theological liberalism only serve to
underscore the rarity of the phenomenon. Paul Valliere,
"Theological Liberalism and Church Reform in Imperial Russia" in Church, Nation and State in Russia and Ukraine,
ed. by Geoffrey A. Hosking (London: Macmillan, 1991), 108-29.
Also, what sometimes has passed for "clerical liberalism" has "proved
more clerical than liberal": Gregory Freeze, The Parish Clergy in Nineteenth-Century Russia, Crisis, Reform, Counter-Reform (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 389.
In the conciliar world Protestants, for the sake of unity, have been
willing to overlook what they perceive as Orthodoxy's
fundamentalist-like theological immobility. At the same time,
Orthodox, for the sake of ecumenical recognition, have been willing to
overlook mainline Protestant theological modernism, and for the sake of
survival, assumed they had to support Kremlin foreign policy and the
myth of Soviet religious liberty. Thomas C. Oden, Two Worlds, Notes on the Death of Modernity in America and Russia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 167-68; Hans Hebly, The Russians and the World Council of Churches (Belfast: Christian Journals, 1978), 135-38; Kent Hill, "The Orthodox Church and a Pluralistic Society" in Russian Pluralism: Now Irreversible?, ed. by Uri Ra'anan, Keith Armes, and Kate Martin (New York: St. Martin's, 1992), 168.
Dr. Kuzmic is the president of Biblijslav Teoloski Institut, D. Tucovica 32, pp. 370, 54103 Osijek, Croatia.
Dan Clendenin, "Eastern Orthodoxy: A Western Perspective," Baker Books,
forthcoming; Paul Negrut, "The Development of the Concept of Authority
in the Romanian Orthodox and Evangelical Churches," Ph.D. dissertation,
London Bible College, forthcoming; and George Hancock-Stefan, "The
Impact of Reformation on the Romanian People: 1517-1642," Ph.D.
dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, forthcoming.
The Institute for East-West Christian Studies has permission to
distribute Fairbairn's 76-page unpublished paper for the cost of
photocopy, postage, and handling: $8.00 (U.S. and Canada, 1st class),
$10.00 (Europe, printed-matter airmail); and an 18-page summary for
$3.00 (U.S. and Canada, 1st class), $4.00 (Europe, printed-matter
airmail). Interserve, 325 Kennington Rd., London SE11 4QH,
England, and Middle East Media, Box 359, Lynnwood, WA 98046, jointly
published the 1992 second edition of Turning Over a Leaf. Less helpful are two pamphlets: Across the Divide, ed. by R. T. Beckurth et al. (Basingstoke, England: Lyttleton Press, 1977), because it focuses primarily on Evangelical-Catholic issues; and Christian Witness to Nominal Christians Among the Orthodox,
ed. by Apostolos D. Bliates (Wheaton, IL: Lausanne Committee for
World Evangelization, 1980), because it attempts too much in 43
pages: history, demographics, theology, and apologetics.
Paul G. Schrotenboer, ed., Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), 8-10.
Possibilities include the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Lausanne
Committee on World Evangelization, and the International Fellowship of
Evangelical Students. IFES hosted a consultation on Orthodoxy in
London 29 June-2 July 1993. Second, the Society for the Study of
Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, headed by Dr. Bradley Nassif of
the Antiochian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church, strives to improve
relations between the two traditions. (See Calendar for September
1993.) Finally, a small group of Eastern Orthodox and
Evangelicals met in Stuttgart, Germany, in mid-February 1993, in part
to discuss common objections to theological trends evident at the 1992
Canberra World Council of Churches meeting. (Letter of Bradley
Nassif to friends of the SSEOE, 5 April 1993; and Ecumenical Press
Service, 06-20 March 1993, "Eastern Orthodox, evangelical Protestants
News Notes on Orthodoxy
The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios of Constantinople
(Istanbul, Turkey) appointed a Greek Orthodox missionary and ecumenical
worker, Anastasios, as exarch of Albania in September 1991. He was enthroned as Archbishop of the Albanian Orthodox Church in August 1992. In April 1993, the Vatican appointed Fr. Rrok Mirdita as Archbishop of Tirana.
He formerly served an Albanian Catholic Parish in the Bronx, New York.
Born in southern Yugoslavia, he emigrated to the United
States in 1973. One draft of a new freedom of conscience law calls for
native Albanian leadership of religious communities, a potential
problem not only for Orthodox and Catholics, but for Protestants and
Muslims as well.
One World, no. 183 (March 1993), 20; National and International Religion Report (22 March 1993), 1.
Bulgaria today suffers from perhaps the most serious Orthodox division
in the former East Bloc, outside Ukraine. In May 1992 the Union of
Democratic Forces (UDF) government, through its Religious Affairs
Board, dethroned Patriarch Maxim and ruled against the existing
Bulgarian Orthodox Holy Synod in favor of a new synod headed by former
dissident Father Hristofer Subev. According to News Network International, "There are bishops who have reportedly been highly compromised by the communists on both sides of the schism."
Janice Broun, "Bulgaria's Orthodox Seminaries Seek Renewal," News Network International, News Analysis, 25 November 1992, 35. See also One World, no. 183 (March 1983), 20-21.
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC),
founded in 1992, assists Orthodox Churches worldwide in providing
disaster relief and economic and social assistance. Offices in Moscow
and Belgrade currently distribute food, medicines, and other aid.
Alexander G. Rondos, Executive Director
International Orthodox Christian Charities
711 West 40th St., #356
Baltimore, MD 21211
Mark Elliott, "For Christian Understanding, Ignorance is Not Bliss," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 1 (Summer 1993), 5-6.
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report
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