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Greek Protestants ask: Why be Orthodox?
By N. M., former heretic group leader
This question, which may seem so unnatural to a Greek Orthodox faithful, is of great importance to another Greek, who does NOT believe in the Orthodox faith, or has little to do with it. As a former founder of a Greek Protestant group and now converted to Orthodoxy, I believe it is worth giving an answer to this question, from within my personal, past experience, from the point of view of a Greek Protestant and a formerly avowed enemy of the Orthodox Church.
So, the question is: How does a Greek Protestant view Orthodoxy? And what does it take, for him to appreciate it?
Special note to readers: This article is chiefly directed at Greek Protestants and not to Protestants worldwide in general (where the majority of the populations are historically Protestant)
1. A negative image of Greek Orthodoxy
When Greek Protestant pastors refer to the Orthodox Church here in Greece, it is almost always in a critical spirit. And it is a fact, that from a pious westerner’s point of view, they find many things in the Orthodox Church of Greece that are annoying. Let us therefore first take a look at some basic things that a Greek Protestant finds annoying, out of what he observes in the Orthodox Church in Greece.
1.1 The ignorance of the “mob”
When a Greek Protestant converses with a chance Greek Orthodox, and begins to set out various arguments (usually from within the Holy Bible), in most cases he will have before him a totally ignorant person; usually one who has not “had a taste” of the Christian faith and quite often just a fanatical “follower”, but not a conscientious faithful. It is a fact, that the average Greek Orthodox is usually less involved with the Orthodox Church than he is with his favourite soccer team, or with foreign literature, or with science, or with...Buddhism. Thus, in the eyes of that Protestant, that person will not be perceived as someone who does not know Orthodoxy, but as a representative of…Orthodoxy! They tend to “look down” on Protestants, just like the Pharisees’ attitude in the time of Christ, who used to say: “…this mob who does not know the law – accursed be it!...” (John 7:49).
1.2 The deficiency observed in the Presbyters
In the eyes of a Greek Protestant, the scandals of the Orthodox clergy convince him even more, of the correctness of his choice of “anything rather than Orthodoxy”. Almost each and every priest is seen by them as an “enemy”, “a mercenary of the enemy”, a “fraud”, a “predator wolf”, “immoral” and an “exploiter”. Most of all though, it is the fanaticism and animosity that is apparent or purposely displayed by some of them, that constitutes the most repulsive factor.
1.3 The lack of parish solidarity
While most Greek Protestants have warm social relationships in their congregations, in most Greek Orthodox parishes exactly the opposite is observed. Parishioners feel like strangers amongst strangers, and this, to a Greek Protestant, is proof of a lack of Christian love – something that he feels exists in the minority assemblies of his own particular group, where everybody knows everybody, and where there is much closer contact between them, due to their common particularities.
1.4 The mode of worship
Greek Protestants regard the Orthodox mode of worship as “a thing apart from the Bible”. They have a resentment towards Orthodox icons, psalm-singing, temples, sacraments, vestments, services, holy canons, etc.. Whatever they have been taught as not belonging to the “proto-Christian, Scriptural” model of worship, they will not accept as Christianically “valid” and will refer to it as “traditions of men”. Moreover, they are annoyed by the “recklessness” that seems to prevail in Greek Orthodox life and worship - both among the laity as well as among the clergy – as well as the attitudes thereof. Being accustomed as they are to the disciplined life of their group, they regard the local Orthodox faith more like a “transit area”.
From the above, it is obvious that the local Protestants (but also the Western-raised, local “Orthodox” of our time, who have objections of their own about our faith) focus mainly on the phenomena – the visible “symptoms”. They do not delve in depth, into the causes that underlie every phenomenon. They remain on the surface of the issue, and its essence inevitably escapes them. They generalize the “whole” and overlook the “components”. They are also oblivious to certain important parameters of the Christian faith, and have never asked themselves “how valid are some of the things that they were taught as given” in Protestantism.
As a result, they fail to even TRY to see the things from the Orthodox viewpoint; Because this would have been the only way that they would have been able to perceive Orthodoxy’s grandeur. If one doesn’t try to understand the other, along with the way he thinks, one will never be able to comprehend the other’s behaviour or the “symptoms” behind his faith, in depth. This is the reason that – before replying to the question “why be an Orthodox?” - I had wished to firstly show what repels a Western-raised Greek in Orthodoxy, locally.
Having unfolded the reasons that used to make me hate Orthodoxy, I shall now proceed to describe briefly what made me love Orthodoxy and led me to disband the heretical group that I had created in my ignorance, and to thereafter join the Lord in the Orthodox Church.
2. The source of the Christian Faith
The first basic thing that constitutes a sufficient and serious reason for one to be a Christian (in the broad sense of the word) Orthodox, is to comprehend the significance of the source of the faith.
A Protestant is taught (and he has accepted, without any supporting verification and documentation whatsoever) that the source of the Christian faith is supposedly the Holy Bible, and that nothing else is to be accepted, outside of the Bible. In fact, a Protestant even believes that the Holy Bible consists of 66 books, without ever being given any explanation as to why Protestantism has omitted from the Bible those other 10 Books, which are acknowledged by Orthodoxy.
When such a person finds out that the Holy Bible has 10 more books, and also that the Holy Bible is NOT the sole “source of the Christian faith”, but instead, that the source of the Christian faith is the perennial experience of the Church “in the Holy Spirit” (which we call “Holy Tradition”), and that the New Testament had been compiled in the 4th century A.D. - and in fact by the Orthodox Church - that person is then inevitably at a loss. He can sense that “something is not right” in what Protestantism had taught him as being “true” and “indisputable”. The very basis of his faith will be irreparably destroyed. It will now be obvious to him, that it is absurd to reject the Orthodox Church who provided him with the Holy Bible, and only accept the Holy Bible, which was a product of the Orthodox Church. And if this person is logical and sincerely loves the truth, he will endeavour to see the things through the Orthodox point of view and thus comprehend why the true “pillar and foundation of the truth” is the Church (1Tim 3:15), and not the Holy Bible.
The Orthodox Church therefore, is that Church which has a CONSISTENT AND STABLE BASIS as the source of faith, as opposed to Protestantism. The Church is supported on the “Holy-Spiritual” life of the saints, and is furthermore witnessed historically, from its beginning, through to this day.
Having understood this, a Protestant will then cease to ask: “where did you find what you’re doing written in the Holy Bible?” Because from there on, he will have perceived that, regardless whether something is recorded in the Holy Bible or not, what counts is, if it has been acknowledged by the Church, in the Holy Spirit, for it to be valid and acceptable as a way of worshipping God.
3. Historical witness
In this way, this person will begin his own search for the HISTORICAL Church. Regardless of what assertions someone may have (as to what the early Christians supposedly did or believed in their worship), there are historical records, early Christian texts and archaeological discoveries, which evidence that Christians from the very beginning worshipped God in the Orthodox manner, and not in the Protestant one. There was an acknowledgement of Synods, specialized clergy, icons, vestments, the honouring of saints and holy relics, clearly defined dogmas, Divine Liturgy, Confession, Holy Unction, Chrismation, memorial services, the Crucifix, fasting, feast-days… All these things existed, from the very beginning, with changes being made to the Rubric only in details of minor significance. Should a Protestant discover all this information within the ancient historical sources, he will come to realize that everything he had been taught by his leaders was just an arbitrary and false depiction of the first Christian Church; and he will realize that everything he detested in Orthodox worship as non-Scriptural, is precisely that which was delivered to us by the Lord Himself!!!
Historical research will most assuredly lead a well-intentioned person to Orthodox worship, away from the Protestant concoctions of the 16th century.
4. Apostolic Succession
The following, equally important matter that will help one to understand that they cannot claim something to be “Christian” in nature if it is outside of the Orthodox Church, is the matter of Apostolic Succession. When one studies the ancient Christian sources, one begins to comprehend certain verses of the Holy Scripture; having lacked that knowledge previously, that person would have easily misconstrued or remained ignorant of them. The researcher will come to realize that the Church functions by means of the God-given Synodic system and that this same system is the very guarantor of the unity, the cohesion and the Holy-Spiritual life of the Church.
This study will lead him to perceive that in the Church of Christ, from the very beginning, nobody acted arbitrarily, without having the authority; that there has always been a gradation in authority, which begins with God the Father Himself, continues through the Bishop of every city and terminates at the last Christian. He will then be roused from his Protestant lethargy and realize that the authority of the Bishop is not a “man made” thing, but a basic Christian dogma of faith. He will then begin to question the Protestant leaders’ source of authority (and perhaps even the source of his own authority, if he happens to be acting as a pastor in their meetings). Who, exactly, was it that bestowed them with the authority of minister over the others?
He will also be surprised to find that the Church never apostatized (as someone had informed him), but continues to thrive through History, in perpetual collaboration and union with the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. And he will even acknowledge this apostolicity as existing ONLY in the Orthodox Church, when he discovers the reasons and the means that brought about the Schism with the Papists. The road to Orthodoxy will thereafter be a one-way street for him.
5. Reliable experiential answers
All of the above information will, by now, have provided that person with reliable answers to everything that he once used to accuse the Orthodox Church of. He will have understood by now the reasons for the “recklessness” observed in many of the Orthodox laity and clergy. He will now have perceived that in a Synodic System (where there is no “pyramidal” hierarchy with absolute, monolithic powers), it is only natural for disagreements and conflicts to occur between bishops on immaterial issues. He will understand that in an unshackled worship, it is only natural to find a plethora of clergy and laity who will exploit that freedom (albeit to their own detriment). And furthermore, that in such a freedom-filled worship, it is only natural for pseudo-Christians and opportunists to exist. This person will have also realized by now that the same things have always been observed in the people of God, and that Christ’s ‘field’ always had, still has, and will continue to have, weeds growing in it!
By now, he will have learnt what, and how, he must believe. In this way, he will understand that instead of criticizing the others’ conduct, it is more prudent for him to focus on his own life and conduct, knowing full well that he never was, nor is he still, the way he should be, before God. And that, instead of waiting for the others to make the first move, it would be better for him to create a circle of faithful brethren around him, with whom he can ensure the Christian fellowship that he desires. After all, he himself is not free of every responsibility towards the others.
6. Dogmatic clarification
Whether or not a Protestant, in the Orthodox Church he will also find something that cannot be found anywhere else. He will find ABSOLUTE DOGMATIC CONSISTENCY. Because, even if one wanted (contrary to nature) to regard Orthodoxy as a “worldly idol”, its superiority would still be grandly obvious - as opposed to any man-made worldly idol, every philosophy, religion or ideology. Because only the Orthodox Church is a REVELATION by God, on issues of life and salvation.
Only in Orthodoxy does one learn the UNIQUE way that God can be recognized as a Person, as well as the meaning of “Person” in Jesus Christ.
Only in Orthodoxy does one learn of a proven method of psychotherapy with experimental verification thereof in the person of the saints.
Only in Orthodoxy does one learn why God is Triadic and what the expression “God is love” means.
Only in Orthodoxy can one sense the element of freedom in his worship, and learn the reason for Christ’s sacrifice, away from the fear of an avenger-god.
Only in Orthodoxy can one learn the truth about Hell and Paradise and appreciate the grandeur of God’s love.
Only in Orthodoxy can one savour from the present time the Future Aeon of the Kingdom of God, far away from all the false promises for the future, which have no actual reciprocation in the real world.
All of the above, along with all the components of Orthodox Dogmatics, have such a completeness and reliability that cannot be found anywhere else. Because nowhere else can one find Divine Revelation unadulterated. When Man uses the Orthodox faith as a measure of comparison, he will find every other ideology and foreign dogma entirely inadequate!
7. The Holy-Spiritual life
Finally, as a person settles down in the Orthodox faith and lives the true meaning of Orthodoxy, he is gradually transformed into a likeness of his God and Lord Jesus Christ and he begins to confront his life and his fellow men in a totally different manner – one that cannot be found anywhere else.
He learns to judge himself, not by comparing himself to the “evil and accursed ones of the world” (in order to feel that he is “cleaner” and a “chosen vessel”), but to the PERFECT and ALL HOLY Lord Jesus Christ. Every such comparison will implant humility and a sense of one’s insignificance in one’s soul. That person will have finally perceived how to evaluate the “Christian way”; i.e., that it is not about “snootily criticizing one’s brethren”, but that it is a collective course by mankind, towards the par excellence purpose of its existence. Whenever a faithful looks upon his sinning brother, he will no longer criticize him, but instead, he will HIMSELF feel deeply sorrowed (knowing that he too partakes of that same essence) and will be pained. And he will also be aware that not only that person’s sin, but his also, is fuel that is added to the fire of malice in this world. He will thenceforth pray and repent, instead of criticizing; he will thenceforth perceive the other person’s fall as his own, and will agonize over his brother’s salvation.
Every time he does happen to sin, he will no longer despair, but will turn with hope towards the goodness and the love of God - who was crucified for the sake of the sinner, and not the righteous – and he will pick himself up once again and continue on with his struggle, with renewed strength.
He will seek a PERSONAL relationship, with his brethren, with the uniqueness that distinguishes every human person, and will not insist on seeing others confined to a standardized, legalistic model of conduct, morality and life. This is why he does not hesitate to beseech blessings from an all-holy saint such as the Theotokos, and at the same time from a (former) murder and rapist saint. He can even enjoy the disorderly manner of worship observed in the Orthodox Church, and instead of feeling offended he can actually admire the free and individual expression of the faith of each unique person in the presence of God, without any standardized preconceptions.
He will bypass the filth in the Church’s garden, preferring to sit in the midst of Her saintly “blossoms” and absorb their vitalizing “sap”; and he will acquire knowledge, according to the talent that the Lord entrusted him with. He will appreciate that Divine Power, which is able to produce flowers in a garden constantly vandalized by all sorts of enemies and adversaries.
And as the person gradually becomes enlightened (ONLY inside the Orthodox Church of the Lord), he will meet with the Lord, “the way He actually is” and along with Him, will experience the transcending of Time, by partaking of the Life of God.
For anyone properly acquainting himself, even briefly, with the grandeur and the depth of the Orthodox faith, and, on placing his footsteps on the path towards salvation and walking even for a short while along with the saints and getting even a small taste of the Water of Life, there will be no return!
Translation: M. D.
Article published in English on: 8-9-2007.
Last update: 8-9-2007.