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« AEF Conference: Frederica Mathewes-Green | Main | AEF Conference: lunch time »

December 08, 2006


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Canadian Christianity interviewed Fr. Thomas Hopko (retired Dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary - Crestwood, NY) and a prominent teacher amongst the Orthodox in America.

In this interview, he addressed questions about evangelical Protestant interactions with the Orthodox.

An excerpt below: These days people talk about post-modern culture and how thoughts and words are no longer enough -- we need experience now -- and the Orthodox worship has a sort of appeal there because it engages all five senses.

TH: Holistic, yeah. What would your response be to evangelicals who start using candles and incense and chants and possibly even icons -- all the accoutrements -- but without actually becoming Orthodox?

TH: It's interesting you should ask that, because the Evangelical Orthodox [under Fr. Gillquist] were doing that before they joined up, and I was there when they were doing it, and if you went, the ethos and atmosphere was very Protestant, but they had the words of the liturgy, they had icons.

I think Fr. Nicholas in Santa Barbara stood up that week and said the word that kind of did the trick.

He said, "You can't imitate or mimic or mock the Church. You're either in it, or you're not. And Orthodoxy isn't a set of texts or a bunch of pictures -- it's a living, organic community that has texts and icons, and it's that living community where the power is that you need, and if you're not in that community, you can have the accoutrements, but you don't have the power."

That's what he said.

And I think that made them realize they had to join up -- for better or worse, put up with all Orthodox ethnicisms and everything. You couldn't just imitate it, you had to be in it. Because it was a historical community, in history, that you had to enter into -- just like the Gentiles had to be grafted to Israel. Otherwise it just becomes the latest fad, in other words.

TH: Yeah, and it isn't any less individualistically self-willed than somebody who would get up in a polyester suit and necktie and bang the Bible and preach -- it's just, you happen to like these kinds of prayers and these kinds of pictures, but it's still not the Church that is doing it, it's you that's doing it.

I wrote in that book, Speaking the Truth in Love, that that individualism and self-will thing can even be very conservative. It's not always liberal to do what I feel I like to do, except my predilections happen to be for old things rather than new things, but it's still me. And the Lord said, "out of his treasure, the man brings forth things new and old," but it still has to be the Church, because it can't be mine.


Full interview here:

Interesting interview with Fr. Thomas, thanks Joe.

DP, I do think that it has to be other "ancient future" evangelicals who answer your question. For the Orthodox, there probably is no good answer to it other than "become Orthodox."

and yet also recognize that evangelicals making the entire jump into Orthodoxy -- all at one time -- is highly unlikely...

Well, whole churches have done it at one time. But those were in California. :)


you pointed out:

"Well, whole churches have done it at one time. But those were in California. :)"

Yes. I knew that. In fact, a pastor friend -- formerly Foursquare -- did that very thing years ago (in San Dimas, CA).

Sometimes, the perceived lack of encouragement from EO folks for anything less than completely becoming EO is a little discouraging. I think I understand the reasons why, however. That's why I continue to respect my EO friends (like you and many others) so much. :)



At the very least, an Orthodox worth his or her salt would hesitate to give such advice in front of a group of people or other public forum. That would be like encouraging people to willy-nilly take prescription medication. The best advice is, "go see a doctor."

And that would be my advice to someone asking that question. Go talk to a priest, one who bears the marks of Christ, and say "I can't become Orthodox because of x, y, and z... nevertheless what must I do to be saved?"

as a once-evangelical who has gone 'all the way' into orthodoxy, thanks so very much for posting these discussions.

+ sky

Gina - not just in California, but many churches elsewhere as well.

Also - it's entirely appropriate when you see others imitating and curious about 'accoutrements' to invite you to at least consider the entire living community from which those 'accoutrements' are sourced from. Of course this begs many questions, and any invitation can be declined, but minimally the invitation is appropriate I would think. And in regards to Orthodoxy, I believe that one motivating factor to make such an invitation is because of the profound inter-relatedness of worship. Icons 'make sense' within the ecclesial, Trinitarian theology of the Eastern faith... rooted in the actual experience of the Incarnation... which is not separate from what salvation actually is... linked to the Divine Liturgy linked to... Eucharist... all embedded in a very distinct eschatology... and these are things that cannot be fully entered into just by reading books and putting up a few icons.

As a struggling evangelical (sick unto death of self-referential collaging), I read about Orthodoxy for 6 months and thought I knew what it was. I then went to my first Liturgy and realized I hadn't a clue. You couldn't access it merely intellectually. An entirely different organ must be used.

There are so very many critiques that we can offer one another from various faith backgrounds (and we Orthodox deserve most of the critiques offered towards us), but I think that many Orthodox sense that the Emergent cutting and pasting (collaging) an Ancient/Future faith is a kind of hyper-Protestantism. It still seems based on the primary epistemology of Protest (ie, protesting Modernism) and Reformulation (re-imagining church through collage and relationality), and yet all seemingly still quite individualistic. Individualistic because it is still the individual who is the prime determinant... the individual determines what elements are most important in the collage based on wherever they are in a given season... do today we'll do Lectio Divina, tomorrow a labyrinth, next week the Jesus Prayer. Forgive the unfair and simplistic characterization, but you know what I mean.

Ie, in the process of throwing out what emergents see as the 'worst' in modern evangelicalism, and begin to collage new elements... one of the things that is lost is the "for better AND for worse" power of whole surrender.

Christianity lives within the poles of complete surrender and freedom, martyrdom and Light... death destroyed by death. It is this entire surrender to the whole historical community that has so much power.

this opens up many cans o' worms, and let me add the caveat that I continue to learn from and so appreciate the relational, loving, sincere (and authentic) inquiry I find in so many emergent communities. There is a spirit of honesty and curiosity and again, relationality, that is such a fresh air... in ANY faith community!

The question I have for Frederica is: Given that we all desire an "Ancient Evangelical Future," and yet also recognize that evangelicals making the entire jump into Orthodoxy -- all at one time -- is highly unlikely, what mediating strategies might we employ to move us forward into our past?

Here's an easy one...

read "Evangelical Is not Enough" and consider what it says carefully. And if it rings true begin living, preachings, etc. what is says.

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