Eastern Orthodoxy (Part I)

Have found a wonderful article by the talented writer Frederica Mathewes-Green about Orthodoxy,
and she answers questions about that tradition of Christianity. It is,
of course, here in the Middle East, the main church. Numerically theRussian
Orthodox Church is one of the largest in the world. The Orthodox sent
early missionaries to America (Alaska) and were somewhat successful in
converting the indigenous tribes there. So Orthodoxy, while we often
think of it as being Eastern, also has a long presence in the West.

Since this blog is about Islam and Christianity, and Orthodoxy has been
through good times and bad the Christians living with the Muslims, I
think it is important to learn about it. I will be posting sections
from her article in the coming weeks, though you are welcome to simply
read it all href="http://www.directionstoorthodoxy.org/mod/news/view.php?article_id=667">here.
The topic is ostensibly the emerging church, a genuinely uninteresting
movement to me, and I think her verdict on it is right on: it's a fad.
An interesting one, but a fad. But there is much in here that is just a
good summary of what Orthodoxy is and is not:

1.) Can you offer some insight about how the Orthodox Church understands
evangelism? Do you feel that, overall, that it is considered a priority
when compared with Protestant Evangelicalism?

The Orthodox Church has a beautiful history of evangelism -- but, unfortunately, it
is largely history. A factor we tend to forget, which has made the path
of Eastern Christianity so different from that of the West, is that for
the most part they have not been free. Many Orthodox lands have been
under Muslim rule for over a millennium, virtually since Islam began.
(Was it Chesterton who said, don't ridicule the Balkans for being so
bellicose; if they hadn't fought Islam to a standstill, we'd be
fighting the same battles in Paris.) Russia and the Slavic countries,
on the other hand, just emerged from nearly a century of Communism--20
million Orthodox died for their faith, including hundreds of thousands
of pastors.

Orthodox who immigrated to the US think of themselves as outsiders for a long time. You see a bit of this in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," where the child Toula compares herself unfavorably with the slim, blonde girls in her school. Orthodox for the most part are not European, their languages don't use the Roman alphabet, and they eat very different foods, so they are inclined to cling to each other. (The branch of
Orthodoxy my family joined is Arabic, which must bear an extra degree
of ethnic prejudice.) Setting out to evangelize their neighbors just
wouldn't occur to them.

(An aside on that: all Orthodox Churches
teach the same faith, and apart from spats here and there, are in
communion with each other; even the ancient split between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches has been bridged. So we could say that today's Greek, Indian, Ukrainian, Ethiopian, Russian, etc Orthodox are akin to the Italian,
French, German Catholic churches a century ago. The work is underway to
make a united American Orthodox Church of the array currently still
identified by immigrant background. But there is this difference from 19th
Roman Catholic churches, however: in Orthodoxy there has never been an
expectation that the churches need a single earthly ruler,ie , a pope.
Orthodoxy is organized at the level of "people, tribe, tongue, and
nation," and that is felt to be just about right. Unity comes from
common belief instead of external organization--anendoskeleton rather
than an exoskeleton. Rome and western Europe were part of this
arrangement until roughly a thousand years ago, when papal claims torulership could no longer be ignored.)

There is an American organization to support missions at home and abroad, the
Orthodox Christian Mission Center, as well as a relief organization,
the International Orthodox Christian Charities. Both great
organizations, but certainly not as developed as Protestant and
Catholic missionary & relief efforts.
The historic pattern or style of evangelism is interesting, however, compared with the West. While Rome decided to do everything in Latin, in order to guarantee
uniformity, in the East the emphasis was on making the faith
understandable. So the Scriptures and liturgies were always translated
into the vernacular, and where there was no written language,
missionaries would devise one. In the 4th century, St Mesrops Mashtots
developed a language for the Armenians, and (I love this) he based it
on the decorations he saw on their homes and around their windows; he
wanted to give them an alphabet that they would find beautiful. In the 9th century, Ss Cyril and Methodius developed an alphabet for the Slavs, and in the 19th
century, Russian missionaries who crossed the Bering Strait to
evangelize the peoples of Alaska ended up devising alphabets for 6
different dialects. Orthodox missionizing prefers to retain and honor elements of native culture as far as possible, which in Alaska, eg
, included retaining totem poles. The book "Orthodox Alaska" by Fr. Michael Oleksa does a good job of using the Alaska mission as a template to explore what Orthodox evangelism is like.


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