Burn the Heretics
Whenever my grandfather discusses Greece, he mentions his singular experience in the Greek Isles. Visiting an Orthodox Church with my grandmother, an Orthodox priest graciously administered a tour of the premises. The dialogue advanced swimmingly between the parties until the priest asked if my grandparents were Orthodox. When my grandfather admitted his Protestant roots, the priest kindly-yet-forcefully requested that my grandparents leave the church. To this day, my comprehension of the Orthodox tradition remains tainted by my grandparents’ experience.
Given my assumptions, I appreciate Bishop Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way
, which functions as a primer on Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy and the Western Church: They’re Different!
While Ware explores the basic tenets of Orthodoxy in this book, I will focus on the contrasts between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity.
The first distinct difference surrounds the representation of God. Whereas Western Christianity remains wary of images, fearing the worship of idols, Orthodoxy distinctly focuses on symbolism. “Recognizing that God is incomparably greater than anything we can say or think about him, we find it necessary to refer to him not just through direct statements but through pictures and images. Our theology is to a large extent symbolic. Yet symbols alone are insufficient to convey the transcendence and the 'otherness' of God” (14).
Recognizing the ethereal mystery of God, Orthodoxy questions the assumption that humanity can reason itself to an understanding of God. By utilizing symbols and images, the Orthodox understanding of God transcends language.
Second, Orthodoxy considers sin in different terms. Where Western traditions focus on compunction through a juridical lens, Orthodoxy views sin through a therapeutic lens. “For the Orthodox tradition, then, Adam’s original sin affects the human race in its entirety, and it has consequences both on the physical and the moral level: it results not only in sickness and physical death, but in moral weakness and paralysis” (62).
While Western traditions steer toward sin as guilt in need of just punishment, Orthodoxy tends to consider sin in medical terms—a disease in need of a cure.
Lastly, Orthodoxy carries a high view of the Holy Spirit. Although Western traditions pay lip service to this third member of the Trinity, in practical terms, the Holy Spirit functions as a secondary member, a process proceeding from God the Father and God the Son. Not so, in Orthodoxy. “First, the Spirit is a person… Secondly, the Spirit, as the third member of the Holy Trinity, is coequal and coeternal with the other two; he is not merely a function dependent upon them or an intermediary that they employ” (91-92).Three Cheers for Ecumenism
A way to lead life, The Orthodox Way
considers the basic tenets of Orthodox tradition. While the core principles between Western and Orthodox tradition resemble each other, Orthodoxy varies to a slight degree. But, the overarching goals remain the same. Ware writes,“The spiritual Way is not only ecclesial and sacramental; it is also evangelical” (109).
Such sentiments can be preached in sanctuaries across the Western world. Of course, my ecumenical leanings need not be reciprocated. As my grandparents’ illustration clearly implies, Orthodoxy remains wary of the West. However, I appreciate learning about the Orthodox tradition. In many ways, Ware’s explanation of Orthodoxy aligns closely with core Western theological principles surrounding the deity of Christ, the divine nature of the Trinity, and the necessity of prayer. Even though Eastern and Western traditions vary significantly in specific theological insights, the general positions offer much to be praised. The Orthodox Way
shifts my understanding from broad stereotypes to in-depth specifics. If you possess a curiosity about the Orthodox Church, Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way
acts as a sterling introduction.
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