Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Orthodox Evangelism

An old bishop used to teach to never discuss the faith with people who are merely curious; it does them a disservice and cheapens the faith, making it a matter of casual consideration. But rather if they show concerted interest b/c they are seeking the truth, then help them in that kind. The Holy Gospels are replete with examples of the Lord not giving exactly what is sought upon the first or even the second request. He did not always answer the question given, and sometimes would answer a completely different question. Go and preach to my brothers so they don’t come to this place, asked the rich man. They have the law and the prophets. Did St. Lazarus jump up and say, “an opportunity!” This is not our way.

Many have come to the Lord because one refused at first blush to answer. Either their question was impious, or merely curious, or was not an Orthodox question. Sometimes short answers or no answers are best then. But then, many come back and push farther, attempting to take the faith by force and by storm, and it is good to give them what they can bear, and stop when they become once again morbidly curious.

“Don’t you want to evangelize me?” asked one coffee house philosopher, when the Orthodox Christian turned away. “No. I want to save myself. And so should you.” If the parent tells the child to read more books and stop watching so much TV, but himself takes to flipping channels, the child learns not what you say but what you do. It is deeds, not empty words that save. But if someone sees you intent on saving yourself, he learns that he should be intent to save himself, and he will devour the words and they will save him.

At a certain university, a homeless man used to come to the apartment of an Orthodox Christian to eat and wash his clothes. If he stayed past a certain point in the evening, the Orthodox man would tell him “it’s my rule to pray the office at this time and in Holy Orthodoxy we don’t ever perform prayers (no spectators), so you’re welcome to stay, but can’t just sit on the sofa and watch. You can say the prayers with me; or, if you prefer, come back in half an hour, and stay as long as you like.” Once, he had left but then a moment later knocked on the door. Open to those who knock, says the Lord. This is why the priest does not give the blessing unless you approach him; you must first knock. We Orthodox believe in synergy, not spoon feeding. So the Orthodox man opened the door for him. And he said, “I want to say the prayers with you.”

Whenever he would come, they would say the prayers; the man learned how to chant, they would sing the Psalms antiphonally, and you could see that he was reaching out to God. If he had tried to talk him into the Faith, he would have seen this as yet one more evangelistic attempt to convert him, which are so prevalent in our culture, and it would have impoverished the Faith’s grandeur and importance in his mind (and perhaps weakened the Orthodox man as well).

The moment we “need” members to exist, we cease to be real. What is needed is faith. But instead the answer was, ‘I am going to save myself. You can go with me, if you’ wish.’ That’s the only time the Orthodox man ever brought it up, and so the other came. If the rest of one’s life is not an icon, what good are words? It would have caused him to stumble over the young man’s unworthiness when he spoke words that made him a liar. Instead, the Orthodox Christian sought union with God and repentance, and the other man felt the same need, and one needn’t have feared, because the Holy Spirit draws men, and when people respond to Him, he leads them to what they need.

This is how this writer learned the Orthodox faith. And the long line of people coming to the faith from those I learned it from responded like this, because we didn’t need to tell them about it, or make it one more message, or cater to idle curiosity. The faith is not a set of precepts, or a belief system. It is always and ever only the pursuit of theosis.


February 19, 2008 - Posted by | -- Evangelism, Western Rite Issues | , , , ,


  1. Which jargon specifically troubles you?

    Theosis? It’s just Greek – it’s a pious custom for Orthodox to use very familiar Greek words and phrases in some cases, even if we don’t personally speak Greek. Like kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy). This is because our people have sung the Greek continually since Christ and the Apostles. Continually, the earliest prayers and the scriptures have been sung in Orthodox Churches to this day and without end. So, for instance, when a Bishop is enthroned, we shout Axios! (worthy!) even if we’re in Kansas. It’s a pious remembrance of our fathers who gave us this Faith and led and taught us and do so still, without whose perserverence there would be no Faith on the earth. There is perhaps no more important form of piety in Orthodox life than to stand in the footprints of our Fathers, and so there are many little recognitions of this.

    It is also, somewhat, that placing all words in the vernacular can seem to cheapen them – but even so, among us are people of all nations, so truly what vernacular do we have but the languages of all? It’s our tradition to translate the holy books into the language of people we evangelize, creating a written language for them if they don’t already have one, but because we are worldwide, there’s a lot of cross-fertilization. Why do you think the Russian alphabet looks so much like Greek? Because we created it for them. And likewise, it’s simply easier when one word in Greek or Russian or Arabic might stand for several or a hyphenated phrase in English. Theotokos, for instance (God-bearer). Besides which it is pious to refer to the Mother of God by all pious attributions and names we have ever used – New Eve, Ark of the New Covenant, Heaven, Portal once opened and forever shut, Ladder, Ark of our Salvation, etc. So Theotokos can never be lost or replaced with only “Mary”. The same we do of Our Lord. And so the multiplication of attributions is our way, fullness upon fullness of glory, rather than say the bare minimalism of a Protestant form of faith, and likewise we bestow her to one another from Heaven with gilded ikons, and drape over them special cloths, and sing to her amazing akathists (a special set of prayers), and do heap lauds upon lauds. This is our way. And finally, Orthodoxy is the first religion of man – the religion of Eden – and that of the pious Patriarchs – of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of the believing Disciples, and so has gone into all the world and all cultures, and so we share between us all manner of pious customs, including bits of our language, especially the language of those who led us to Faith – for far from being a collection of national Churches, we are the universal (catholic) body of Christ, and we are One in Heaven and on Earth. At our Holy Pascha, it is a pious custom, for instance, to say Christ is Risen in as many languages as any present do speak, for we proclaim the salvation of man to the world.

    As for the word theosis itself (deification or divinization), indeed that is the very meaning of our religion; it can mean nothing else, and all our thinking, doctrine, devotions, and pieties are but a means to that end. We are, after all, Orthodox, and say with our brothers the first Christians “God became man that man might become God.”

    Coincidentally, the next scheduled article (already written) is about theosis.

    Comment by tuD | February 20, 2008 | Reply

  2. No offence here, but this sounds like complicated jargon to me. Way too religious. May His Spirit lead you into a life of The Spirit.
    By His Grace,

    Comment by rjperalta | February 20, 2008 | Reply

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