Evangelicals Talking With Orthodox
In early November 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church visited the Rev. Billy Graham to wish him a happy 96th birthday. The visit was more than a symbolic gesture. Soon afterward, Metropolitan Hilarion delivered a speech to a group of Evangelical leaders at a forum organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In his address Metropolitan Hilarion reviewed the Russian Orthodox Church’s interaction with American Protestantism.
Among the vivid testimonies to the good cooperation between the Moscow Patriarchate and American Christians is our friendship with Billy Graham’s Evangelistic Association, the founder of which has visited Russia several times. We appreciated the understanding that representatives of the Association and the Rev. Graham personally expressed towards the stand taken by the Russian Orthodox Church in various historical periods. Source
He further noted that Orthodox and Evangelicals need to work more closely to uphold traditional biblical morality.
Billy Graham and Russia
Billy Graham’s interest in Russia goes back as early as 1959 when he made a personal visit to Moscow and prayed for Russia at Red Square (p. 232). In 1992, Billy Graham returned to Russia to conduct a three day evangelistic crusade (p. 235).
Billy Graham’s passion for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ is not incompatible with Orthodoxy.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware noted:
The Orthodox have always had good cooperation with Billy Graham. When Billy Graham went to Russia, he was received by the patriarch, because he worked on the principle that those who came forward to make a commitment to Christ at his preaching were handed over to the clergy of their own church. He did not try to set up his own evangelical communities that would be rivals to the Orthodox. (Christianity Today) (St. Elias Church)
After decades of Soviet rule some of the Orthodox Christians have succumbed to nominalism and preachers like Billy Graham have played an important role in renewing their faith in Christ. What is important to Orthodoxy is the fact that Rev. Graham has been respectful of the Orthodox Church. His goal has been to bring people to faith in Christ, not establish rival Evangelical Churches as an alternative to the historic Russian Orthodox Church.
Ecumenicism Through Personal Friendship
Billy Graham approached ecumenicism through personal friendship rather than through theological negotiation. David Aikman in Billy Graham: His Life and Influence (2007) tells how Billy Graham met the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pimen, in 1982 and 1984. In 1988, Billy Graham visited Patriarch Pimen by his bedside as he lay dying. He recounted:
I sat by his side for a long time and held his hand. . . . . He told me again, as he had on an earlier visit, that he wanted his priests to learn how to preach evangelistic sermons. I prayed with him as my brother in Christ. (Aikman 2007:168)
Billy Graham’s Example
I was delighted when I saw the picture of Billy Graham with Metropolitan Hilarion. This is a wonderful example of Evangelical-Orthodox friendship. If Billy Graham is open to talking with Metropolitan Hilarion, it then follows that Evangelicals should also be open to talking with Orthodox Christians and making friends with Orthodox Christians.
Probably the biggest impediment to Evangelical-Orthodox dialogue is ignorance. Many Evangelicals are unaware of the existence of Orthodoxy. Fortunately, this situation is changing as growing numbers of Protestants and Evangelicals are learning of Orthodoxy’s ancient roots and its liturgical style of worship.
At first sight Orthodoxy looks strange, foreign, or exotic to many Evangelicals. That is because so many Evangelicals do not know of Christianity’s ancient roots. Once they get over their initial shock Evangelical inquirers will be pleasantly surprised to find there are former Protestants and Evangelicals among the Orthodox. These former Protestants can explain the ancient Christian faith in terms familiar to Evangelicals. They thus become a bridge between two important religious traditions. For Evangelicals looking for something more the Orthodox response is: Come and see!
Rod Dreher. “An Orthodox-Evangelical Alliance?” In The American Conservative
Shirwood Eliot Wirt. Billy: A Personal Look at Billy Graham (1997) Ch. 26
Robert Arakaki. “Which Path to Church Unity: Recognition vs Reception”