Recently I have begun to study the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity. This was due in part to feeling that my evangelical faith is feeling a bit uncomfortable, but also due to a man I respect and admire joining the Eastern Orthodox Church, which caused me to want to investigate the history and theology of the Orthodox Church. Working in a Christian bookshop has enabled me to gain access to a few books on the topic as they come in (which is not very common in the mid-western United States). My starting point has been a book by Peter E. Gillquist titled Becoming Orthodox. It is a memoir of sorts that chronicles the journey of Gillquist and other evangelical Protestants as they attempt to understand the their life in faith, which eventually led them to Eastern Orthodoxy. I finished part one tonight and wanted to write up a few thoughts.
First, I seem to agree with Eastern Orthodoxy on two of their criticisms of Catholicism and Western Christianity. The Pope, while I don’t believe him to be an evil man as some evangelicals seem to portray him, is not an office I see a lot of precedent for. I acknowledge that The Bishop of Rome was historically important as the seat of Christianity moved there after the destruction of Jerusalem, but does that necessarily mean that The Bishop of Rome should evermore be the head of the world-wide Church? I find it a bit uncomfortable, I admit, but I’m also willing, at the moment, to agree to disagree on this particular issue.
The second criticism of Eastern Orthodoxy, one that I discovered in doing some earlier research on the tradition, requires the filioque debate. Essentially, the Eastern Orthodox Church rejects a change that was made to the Nicene Creed. Originally, the creed stated that The Holy Spirit proceeded from The Father and is to be worshipped with The Father and The Son, which was in accordance with John 15:26. However, the Nicene Creed in the West was eventually changed to the Holy Spirit proceeding from The Father and The Son. On first glance, this seems to be a very minor, almost insignificant change. However, the more I thought about it and the more I looked at the Evangelical Church in America, the more I began to see how marginalized The Holy Spirit has become in all but the Charismatic denominations (and even there, the view of The Spirit almost seems to have swung completely too far in the other direction). The Spirit is discussed, but it certainly isn’t seen as, or talked about, being on equal footing with The Father and The Son. I think Francis Chan addresses this issue, albeit without Eastern Orthodox leanings, in his book Forgotten God. So, I find myself agreeing rather firmly with the Orthodox Church on the filioque issue.
Does this mean I’m Eastern Orthodox now? I rather doubt it. Honestly, I haven’t done nearly enough research to consider any changes, but I do feel drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy in ways that I haven’t yet begun to comprehend. And while Gillquist’s book makes for interesting reading for a beginner on this topic, it sounds somewhat similar to other “is church as we know it truly the historic church” books. Although, in Gillquist’s defense, his was written about fifteen years before some of these other books, and he points firmly to an ancient practice of Christianity, rather than a post-modern one. But I must confess that my knowledge of Church history is quite basic and not developed enough to really know if I can refute some of Gillquist’s claims with regard to First Century Church practices and Eastern Orthodoxy. Not all scholars in New Testament Christianity seem to become Eastern Orthodox. I rather enjoy N.T. Wright’s scholarship, and he is Anglican. But, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. I know a few other traditions also claim to be The Historic Church. They can’t all be correct.
My final thoughts on the subject. Gillquist mentioned that the Western Church has continued to reform and counter-reform, dividing into smaller and smaller branches, while the Eastern Orthodox Church has remained constant. I must admit that I want to know how accurate this claim is. I have wondered in the past if the Western Church is either a) continually attempting to reform itself into something that it has subconsciously lost, or b) founded on the attitude of “no, that’s not the way to do it, my way is!”. We really do seem to keep dividing and subdividing. Is the Eastern Orthodox Church really different in this regard? If you can fill in my gaps of knowledge on this, I would certainly appreciate it.