Friday, May 19, 2006

Russian Orthodoxy

A note to our friends who are Russian/Eastern Orthodox believers:
Please, please, please.......... do not be offended!

We think very highly of the Russian Orthodox church. Other Christians are our brothers and sisters, no matter what church they belong to. The Russian Orthodox church is an essential part of "our" beloved culture here, after all. It just makes us very sad to see Russian Orthodoxy used by some people as an excuse for intolerance and extreme nationalism.

The comments I made concerning The Russian Orthodox Church as a political force to be reckoned with here were largely based on what representatives the ROC have themselves said during recent regional religious forums. I very much do not believe in calling people to a church, but in calling people to a living God, who wants for us to have a living relationship with Him. I have known some sincere Russian Orthodox believers here and had great respect for them.

However, I also interact with everyday people, see everyday life, follow the news, and hear reports from 24 or so other Russian protestant churches in our two regions. In a nation where 57% of the population call themselves Russian Orthodox, and only something like 5-7% of that number even attend a church service once or twice a year, the ideals of the church and daily life often greatly differ. When the majority of those who call themselves 'Orthodox believers' are more than likely to refuse the gift of a Bible, saying they have no time for it, you have to wonder how different is that from the average 'Christian' you might find in a US census?

Please understand that we love and respect the beauty and history of the Russian Church. . . but the church of Christ is neither Protestant, nor Catholic, nor Orthodox. The Church of Christ is made of people who have come to Christ for salvation, not to a church, not to tradition, not to self or national identity found in religion.

". . . and the ringing of the bells speak of unearthly beauty,
But the crowds here below seek only their golden calf.
Does anyone hear? Is anyone touched?
I cry out to those still living: seek Him simply, with the faith of a child,
Turn to Him with the faith of a child,
Oh, listen and hear the Father's voice."
Иеромонах Роман, 1994
(excerpt of a poem by a Russian monk, my translation)


BabaJulie said...

Very good explanation, Son. Certainly, it is our faith alone in Christ alone that matters, not what we call ourselves. Love to all, Mom

Lisa (agape) said...

Hi Phyllis I have a lot I want to share with you but for now I will just re-post this comment. Phyllis I have my own board and you are welcome to come post any questions you might have in order to better under stand the Orthodox. We are a very friendly board, I don't allow any rudeness , we are a loving Christian board. Please post anytime anyone is welcome to post as long as they keep a loving Christian spirit.

The problem is because to the Orthodox or just plain old Russians that don't practice their Christian faith you are outsiders. Russia is already a Christian country and you are seen as forcing them to believe in a totally different way, your brand of Christianity, which is relatively new and a bit hokey to them. To the Orthodox there is no invisible Church of Christ. To the strictest believers they would even go so far as to call the Protestants heretics. You are on their turf. I know the work you are doing in the orphanages is not being done by others. The church the ROC needs help there. So many generations due to communism have missed the chance to be raised as Christians from birth. I can't help but think you would have much more success if you were Orthodox Christian missionaries. I agree with the post of all the others. The Church is not just a theory. The church is a mystical place where we come together to worship Christ. The Church the visible Church has survived persecution as you know and your presence in Russia is a bit insulting to the Orthodox. I am sure you can understand that. I am being so direct in the interest of time not because I am personally against you. The tools of the ROC are there to bring us closer to Christ and His church, they are not just pretty rituals with no meaning , they are real very real. They are the living Bible, the Church predates the Bible, the Church gave us the Bible. To just give someone the Bible without the Church is only half the picture. The Orthodox do not proselytize so this protestant western approach is foreign and annoying to them. I think it would help if you attended some of the services of your local Orthodox Church , tried to find some pious Orthodox Christians to dialogue with. I am sorry to be so brief and direct, I have children I have to feed and then I have to get back to the school (see my blog to see what I have been up to. )

You know I think the world of you and Will and I know your heart is in the right place.

I am constantly reminded of St. Seraphim of Sarov , he said,
"acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved."

I do hope that helps and you aren't offended, and that I am making sense to you , I mean no offensive. I pray for you daily.

Love in Christ,

Tamara said...

I might still be able to believe that the Body of Christ is made up of Christians from various church affiliations, but even that is stretching it for me now--since my conversion. But I do honestly and with all my heart (or I wouldn't have converted) believe that the Church, the VISIBLE BODY OF CHRIST, that Christ left here on Earth is the Eastern Orthodox Church. The current EOC is a direct spiritual descendant of the Apostles of Christ. There is no disputing that fact. And each bishop and priest has had to learn and teach and protect and obey the Gospel as Christ gave it to the very first Apostles and they handed it down and on down the line.

So, while no Orthodox would ever say that any one else isn't a Christian, because Orthodox are taught to look to their own sins and not judge others, they will say that it is the Orthodox Church that preserves the Fullness of the Truth of the Gospel.

I think you have a hard road ahead of you, but you knew that before you took the position, and of course, all missionaries struggle with whatever cultural issue is there. My zeal just runs the other way. I want everyone to hear about what they're missing in their churches and find out what the Fullness of Truth is. ;-)

I agree with Lisa that working from within the EOC would be the way to reach those unchurched, to send out the call for those who have ignored Christ and the Church for so long or who have forgotten under the Communist rule. But Christ is most definately in the Orthodox Church, and the Orthodx Church is the way the Russian culture has always met Christ and it is the way the Russian culture at large will ever continue to meet Christ.

I also think that it's hard for our American minds to look that far back. Our history is a few hundred years old. The fact that a ruler of a country would ever go seeking for a national religion is almost unfathomable to me, except that God was moving in his heart. And the way that God directed the emmisaries away from other religions and gave them the one Church that had faithfully preserved the Gospel, and then the fact that it was EOC missionaries that traveled to Russia to plant the church, all of that shows me that our miraculous God can and has preserved His Church, His Message and I just don't believe that the Communist Regime in Russia could stand in the face of God. That Church there isn't dead, and the faith of the people isn't dead, either. God wouldn't have done all that, and carried the Gospel through all that distance, to let it die out now. Because it is the Holy Spirit that protects the Church and guides the Church, and the Holy Spirit isn't on vacation now any more than before, you know? My dad used to say, "That didn't knock God off his throne!"

Forgive me, because I'm so zealous, and probably overzealous. I know that's not a virtue. I'm not very good with theology or even history, as the above no doubt shows. But I am more than willing to tell you about my journey towards Orthodoxy, why I converted, why I could never go back to where I was before. I'm linking to my blog here, too, which shows pictures of our family's reception to the EOC, if you're interested in seeing it. I'm sure it will look a bit different, since our parish is in the Greek jurisdiction. You still have my e-mail address, too.

Тётя Анна said...

Я пишу в Русский языке! Это оченъ хорошо! I don't know where everything is on the keyboard, though. I'll have to figure that out.

amazing journeys said...

Amen, Will.

Anonymous said...

I think another factor that comes into play is that it is difficult for us to understand the mindset of the people who have lived under the communist regime, and before that, the occupation of the Turks and others.

My husband's grandparents lived in the U.S. for close to thirty YEARS and were still frightened of being in their home and using the telephone, fearing them both to be bugged. They are/were suspicious of everyone and everything. His grandmother always worried about his grandfather coming home from work after it was dark, because so many people were taken away in the night in Yugoslavia, never to be heard from again. Her first husband disappeared that way, and nothing could convince here that wouldn't happen in the U.S., too.

Not without good reason, though.

It's common knowledge among the Serbs and Russians that when you left your country during Communism, someone from your home country now in the U.S. was responsible for monitoring your activities and reporting them back to government in the old country.

If you receive unsatisfactory reports, a member of your family still there would be punished on your behalf.

It's would be naive of us to think that Russians, Serbs, Romanians, etc. are not still being monitored by secret police (and now the mafia) in their own countries and abroad, and punished for their infringements.

Just because Communism officially "fell" it doesn't mean those governments have given up that practice.

So, for any missionaries or foreigners offering aid, who are trying to hand out Bibles or other assistance and are being declined, I can TOTALLY understand why. It has nothing to do with whether the Russian people are Christian but feel they have no need for a Bible or not.

It has everything to do with they psyche of having lived under that kind of regime or occupation. They simply do not and cannot trust that these missionaries or foreign aid workers are not being used by the secret police for some type of monitoring of their activities. Who will find out they've accepted this gift? How will that information be used against them in the future? Who is secretly taking my picture accepting this? How will my brother in prison be tortured further by my accepting this book? etc.

It's really hard to understand that mindset, but I know many people who have lived in the former Soviet Union and, frankly, it's not something they ever "get over", really. They always have that duality to them - what is presented in public, and what is said/done at home in private in safety.

The fear remains. It is a lasting legacy of those regimes.

I guess the only thing we can compare it to, as Americans or Canadians, is when the airline ticket agent advises you not to accept any packages from anyone you do not know. But there's a shedload of difference there, eh?

Phyllis said...

Yes, yes, yes! And they're still monitoring. Will said that he thought twice before even typing FSB in his first post here. We're having to be very careful about a certain subject in our phone and email conversations these days. (The consequences aren't anything like what they used to be, though.)

The only thing that I want to point out again, is that Will was talking about RUSSIANS who were detained for handing out Bibles. No foreigners were involved. Still, I completely see where you're coming from. . . .

Would you like to email us? We've replied to the other commenters by email.