An intra-Orthodox Debate: Christ at the Center and the Revolving Door Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 February 2008 09:26
A important debate is going on in Orthodox blogdom (which I have become aware of through Fr. Gregory Jensen's fine Koinonia blog)

The topic sounds, oh, so familiar. it is clearly not an issue unique to Catholics.

As articulated by theologian Bradley Nassif in a hard hitting article: The Orthodox Christian Opportunity.

The most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need to engage in an aggressive internal mission of spiritual renewal or outright conversion of our clergy and people to Jesus Christ. All of us—bishops, priests, and people—need to make the Gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our lives and in our parishes. We must constantly recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church.

Read the whole article. As Nassif puts it with considerable passion:

Still, an untold number of converts are coming through the Church like a revolving door: They enter with zeal, but quietly leave depressed and disappointed. Few take notice, and even fewer seek to retrieve them. In some cases, the converts are even blamed by Orthodox for not really knowing the Church or its ways. Good and godly Anglicans, evangelicals, charismatics, and mainline Protestants who could strengthen the Church end up being shunned by Orthodox fundamentalists within it. Legalism replaces love; mere church attendance gets counted as godliness; some priests control their parishioners through fear instead of leading them with a gentle spirit; and the pulpit disagrees with the altar by focusing on moral reform rather than spiritual healing. Now this is not true of all Orthodox parishes, to be sure. But it is true of too many of them not to say something about it.

Converts are leaving our Church in increasing numbers. Not because of a disagreement with Orthodox doctrine, but because of the distortions of Orthodox practice. They or their families are simply not being fed the Gospel, despite all the liturgical celebrations that go on. They are finding our Church to be more about Orthodoxy as a religion than about the life-changing power of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

This past year I have received more letters acknowledging this problem than at any other time in my life—and I’ve been preaching about it for the past 35 years. Orthodox people throughout North America and abroad are asking me how they can help change the Church for the better. They ask, “What can we do to regain the central message of the Gospel in our churches? What needs to be done to make the faith relevant to our everyday lives?”

I don’t have easy answers, but I do know where the answers lie. The Scriptures give us the cure, and their message is not complicated. So I say this every chance I get:

The most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need to engage in an aggressive internal mission of spiritual renewal or outright conversion of our clergy and people to Jesus Christ. All of us—bishops, priests, and people—need to make the Gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our lives and in our parishes. We must constantly recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church.

If that happens, watch out! It will lead to a revival within Orthodoxy itself, and the Church will grow in unprecedented ways. We will figure out how to evangelize the unchurched people of North America, and not just disillusioned Christians of other denominations. We will all recognize that true Orthodoxy is indeed about the Church, but at the center of it all is a life-giving relationship with Christ, who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:17).


As Fr. Gregory observed:

Convincing someone of the truth of the Orthodox faith, in my experience at least, is relatively easy. it is much harder to take people through the often long and labor intensive process of being inquirers, catechumens and then provide them, as newly illumined members of the Church, with the spiritual formation that they need to grow into mature, committed Orthodox Christians who place Christ at the center of their lives.

In every generation, in every tradition, in every one of our lives and vocations, the fundamental question is still the same: is a "life-giving relationship with Christ" at the center?