A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Category: Missions and Evangelism (Page 1 of 2)

Obstacles and Encouragements for Inquirers



Priest Igor Zyryanov

It is good to know that pastors and even entire congregations are becoming Orthodox in the US, other countries, and in Russia. The website Pravoslavie published an interview with a former Protestant pastor, Father Igor Zyryanov, who led his congregation into Orthodoxy. What I found striking about the article were the insights and anecdotes that can teach us how to do Orthodox outreach and how not to do Orthodox outreach. This is a very instructive and practical article. Read the whole article.


Taking it Slow

Because Protestantism is so different from Orthodoxy, it is advisable that inquiry into Orthodoxy be gradual. A take-it-slow approach can be quite fruitful. Oftentimes, converts will bring with them their family and even their congregation into Orthodoxy. One well-known instance of mass conversions is the reception of some two thousand American Evangelicals in 1987. Their journey to Orthodoxy took about five to ten years of careful study and visiting Orthodox churches. A rushed conversion can lead to missed opportunities. Father Zyryanov recounts:

Often priests who bring Protestants into Orthodoxy are in a hurry. They relate to Protestantism as to an enemy movement, and try to yank a person out of it abruptly. This is not always beneficial. For example, if a pastor starts thinking about Orthodoxy, the whole community may become Orthodox. But the priest to whom the leader has turned tries to convince him to receive Orthodoxy quickly. The pastor follows his advice, becomes Orthodox, and… looses [sic] his authority among his parishioners who have not had the chance to understand anything yet. The leader is kicked out of the congregations, and the parish receives a vaccination against Orthodoxy.

In our case, thank God, this did not happen. Fr. Viacheslav Pushkarev, the head of the missionary department of the Irkutsk diocese, was in no rush when he began to meet with us. He came to our meetings with lectures, allowed the whole community to understand Orthodoxy, to literally be permeated with it. Therefore we were all able to come into the Russian Orthodox Church, and we didn’t lose anyone.

As Father Igor noted, it is a mistake to think of Protestantism as an “enemy movement.” Behind what comes across as hostility is a sincere desire to defend right doctrine. Many Protestants have been brought up in a milieu of theological debates and bible memorization. Behind the outward aggressiveness is often an inner hunger – the unspoken sense that there is something more to the Christian life than bible study, intercessory prayer, simplistic praise songs, and evangelism. One thing many Evangelicals and Protestants are hungering for is the deep worship of the Liturgy and receiving Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. Another is doctrine rooted in historic Christianity that traces back to the Apostles. Also, many are hungering for a radical spirituality like that exemplified by the Desert Fathers.

My journey to Orthodoxy was a gradual one that took about seven years. I needed the time because I had much to unlearn. When I did become Orthodox, I did so with assurance and confidence that I was entering into the Church founded by the Apostles. For a Protestant, it is a costly sacrifice to give up long-held doctrines. That is why Orthodox outreach requires considerable patience and sympathy.

Becoming Orthodox is more than a matter of learning new doctrines. One learns an approach to prayer and worship quite different from Protestantism, and a physical approach to holiness – fasting and prostrations – that informs the Orthodox way of life. Probably, one of the hardest things for a Protestant to learn is humility and obedience to Orthodox priests. These important lessons are not learned overnight but gradually, over months and even years. Thus, taking it slow is usually good advice for Protestant inquirers.


Debates Not Helpful

The best approach for Orthodox outreach is friendly dialogue, not competitive debates. One time I got into a debate with some members of a Calvary Chapel church in Hawaii. For about two hours we had a friendly give and take, going from one bible passage to another. While exciting and even fun, I came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. It wasn’t fruitful because the timing wasn’t right. One needs to be ready to hear another point of view and ready to consider changing one’s views. Looking back on my past experience debating with Evangelicals, I can sympathize with Father Igor’s observation:

—And what about debates with Protestants, which were popular at one time?
—I think that this format is untenable. Let’s say we have a public debate and we win, while the Protestant leader loses. He is humiliated and insulted, and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll become Orthodox. If the Orthodox side didn’t have sufficient knowledge or good enough arguments and lost the debate, he has brought shame upon Orthodoxy. In both cases we have a fiasco.

Only the Holy Spirit can prepare people’s hearts and minds. Our role is to be there as humble servants helping those who want help. So now, when I meet a Protestant asking questions about Orthodoxy, I try to discern if he or she is genuinely open to Orthodoxy and if there is a spiritual hunger behind their questions. If they just want a debate, then I take a pass on that. But when I do meet an inquirer who might become Orthodox but has a hard time letting go of certain Protestant teachings, I will present a clear and pointed critique drawing on Scripture, church history, and the Church Fathers. This is for the purpose of helping a struggling inquirer, not for putting down a theological rival.


Slamming the Door in Someone’s Face

Orthodox outreach is everyone’s job, not just the priest. Every member of the local parish can affect Orthodox outreach for good or bad. Not too long ago, I met a man who came to the local Greek Orthodox parish for a class assignment. This being his first time at an Orthodox church, he was understandably nervous. He arrived during Matins and was wondering if he was even at the right place, because it looked like no one was there. Finally, the lady manning the candle stand opened the door and asked: “Do you want to come in?” This was a tiny gesture but a very significant one.

Father Igor relates a painful incident in which the opposite attitude was displayed.

One woman, a third generation Baptist, started thinking about Orthodoxy, came to a church and asked the grandma at the candle desk if she could speak with a priest. The grandma said, “Are you even baptized?” The woman answered that she wasn’t. The old lady told the woman off, saying that batiushka would not even talk to her in that case. The woman did not give up after one try, and wrote to our center. Finally she met with a priest in another church. And this is not an isolated incident, unfortunately.

The Anarchist with a Green Mohawk  Source

Orthodox Christians need to be prepared to welcome all kinds of people, some who look like us as well those who look different. On several occasions, I have heard from inquirers about how they felt unwelcome when they visited an ethnic parish. Another challenge can be welcoming visitors who look outwardly very different, e.g., wearing black Goth-style clothing or bearing a heavily tattooed body or sporting a bright green Mohawk.

Orthodox priests need to remind parishioners that they too have a role to play in Orthodox outreach and that the Orthodox Church is not confined to one particular ethnicity but is a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 12:17). For example, outreach can take place during the coffee hour following the Liturgy. If a first-time visitor is not welcomed within the first few minutes, they will likely leave thinking that Orthodoxy is unfriendly and uncaring – a rejecting religion! So, if you see someone standing by themselves during the coffee hour, excuse yourself from your friends, and introduce yourself to the visitor. A short friendly conversation can be a life changing event for the visitor. The purpose of your introducing yourself should not be to debate, but simply to be friendly and welcoming. Perhaps setting the stage for another conversation later . . . maybe even later that same week over coffee!

Orthodox Christians should have in mind the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Protestant inquirers are often like the Prodigal Son yearning for home. The son in the parable was lucky the father saw him in the distance and came running to greet him. The elder brother had a harsh, judgmental attitude and the story would likely have a quite different ending if it had been the elder brother who greeted the returning Prodigal Son. Thus, the ordinary church member can sometimes be more important than the priest in Orthodox outreach. The parishioner is often the first Orthodox Christian a Protestant inquirer will meet. And many will make a judgment about Orthodoxy – for good or ill – based on the first encounter. Therefore, we should strive to treat all inquirers and visitors with courtesy and charity.


The Need for Nicodemus Ministry

Nicodemus and Jesus’ night time meeting

There is a need for Nicodemus ministries, where interested pastors and other inquirers can meet in private. Quiet, discreet inquiry is necessary for pastors to do the needed study and spend time in prayer in order to make up their minds about Orthodoxy. It is hard for a pastor to make a firm, reasoned decision to convert if he is embroiled in theological debates and suspicion that he is betraying his ordination vows. Fr. Igor noted:

In order for a person to find the true faith many conditions are needed, which are first and foremost created by the Lord Himself. A small part of this work, by God’s grace, is ours. Many Protestants come to me, mainly ministers. There are those to want to meet and talk secretly. We go to meet with them, answer their questions, and tell them about our own experience.

It is not easy for a Protestant pastor to be an inquirer into Orthodoxy. It takes humility to admit that one’s theology may be wrong. Some pastors at their ordination have made solemn vows that they would inform the leadership if they no longer hold to the teachings of their denomination. So, for some pastors even a curious inquiry into Orthodoxy is very risky. It also takes considerable courage to be open to wrenching changes in one’s job situation. Another factor likely weighing on the minds of inquiring pastors is how their wives, family members, and close friends will react. We need to be ready to respond, not just to theological questions about Orthodoxy, but also to practical questions about how to make the transition into Orthodoxy.

It would be good if an Orthodox priest is knowledgeable about the Bible and Protestant theology, but oftentimes an Orthodox priest may not have that background. My advice to Orthodox priests who feel unprepared to meet with a Protestant pastor interested in Orthodoxy are: (1) become acquainted with brother priests who have converted from Protestantism, (2) read helpful books like Fr. Josiah Trenham’s Rock and Sand or visit blogs like the OrthodoxBridge, (3) be humble admitting you don’t know the answer, and (4) don’t ignore the question – do your best to refer them to someone who can assist the inquirer. By being willing to treat a difficult question seriously you treat the Protestant inquirer with dignity and respect. Orthodox outreach is fundamentally team work.  Another possibility are closed FaceBook groups where inquirers can ask questions and voice their concerns about Orthodoxy.  Such groups do exist, however joining these group usually require a personal connection to ensure confidentiality. With our different gifts and backgrounds, we complement each other and build up the Church.


Orthodoxy’s Rich Spiritual Treasures

The word “evangelism” comes from the Greek word “εὐαγγέλιον” which means “good news.” When we come across a great restaurant or see a outstanding movie, the natural reaction is to tell others about it. In the case of Orthodoxy, when we encounter the richness of Orthodoxy we will be eager to tell others about it. The treasures of the Orthodox Church consist of its prayers, the wisdom of the Church Fathers, the example of the saints and martyrs, icons, and chants. We should not be reluctant to let non-Orthodox know about these treasures. A Protestant will often find the quote from a Church Father or an icon of Christ exotic and intriguing, sparking a desire to learn more. The fact that our Sunday worship goes back to the fourth and fifth centuries will attract Protestants. Even the beeswax candle we light upon entering the church will strike some Protestants as exotic and daring. Father Igor notes:

Clergy who are involved in missionary activities in a Protestant milieu should make contact with pastors who are open to having contact. It is helpful to tell them about the faith, to suggest some patristic reading. In this case the whole community will have the opportunity to understand the beauty of Orthodoxy, to know what the Church is. I think that after this the majority of the members of the congregation will receive Orthodoxy. There simply can be no other outcome for a Protestant who sincerely seeks God. Having learned the facts about the Orthodox Church, about the Sacraments, about apostolic succession, a person simply cannot remain a Protestant.

Father Igor’s advice reminds me of the ice cream shop where the server hands out tiny spoons with samples. At first, you may have some reservations, but usually trying out the unfamiliar flavor will win you over, and you end up buying a scoop. Needless to say, a smiling, encouraging server behind the counter makes a difference in your decision to step into the shop and try out the unfamiliar flavors.


A Window of Opportunity

We are living in a period that can be considered a window of opportunity for Orthodox outreach. Our attitudes will affect the way we relate to inquirers. Effective Orthodox outreach requires the conviction

• that Christ came to seek and save the lost,
• that in Orthodoxy we have a rich and priceless heritage,
• that the Orthodox Church has the fullness of the Faith,
• that many people are spiritually hungry but do not know where to look, and
• that we ought to be open to all kinds of seekers: some who look like us and others who look very different and scary, e.g., heavy metal rockers covered with tattoos or anarchists with a green mohawk.  Let us remember the words of Christ: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:25; RSV)


Welcome to our church! Source


Let us open doors, not close them. We ought to welcome visitors to our church. Let us tell people: Come in and see!

Robert Arakaki



“WELCOME HOME: The Story of the E.O.C.”

I UNDERSTOOD: EITHER I GO WITH CHRIST OR I DIE: Interview with Igor Kapranov, former vocalist of metalcore band, ‘Amatory’.” Pravoslavie 16 January 2016

THE ANARCHIST WITH THE GREEN MOHAWK: A story of one soul’s healing on the Holy Mountain.” Pravoslavie 9 January 2017

FROM PASTOR TO PRIEST: Priest Igor Zyryanov on Protestantism and Orthodoxy.”  Pravoslavie 30 April 2018


Interested Protestant Pastors may contact the following:

Nearest local Orthodox parish

Missions and Evangelism Department of Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese



Is Orthodoxy Eastern?


image-03-smallA reader recently commented on the article “Crossing the Bosphorus.”

But I think that the idea of crossing the Bosphorus is perhaps overly dramatic and may not be an entirely helpful metaphor.

We need to remember that the Orthodox faith was at one time not confined to the East, where it has been faithfully kept, but that it was also once upon a time the faith in the West.

I coined the phrase “crossing the Bosphorus” (becoming Orthodox) in imitation of the more widely known “crossing the Tiber” (becoming Roman Catholic).  I like the phrase partly because the image of Hagia Sophia (the Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople has long captured the imagination of many, drawing them to Orthodoxy.

But the underlying point of the comment contains an important truth – Orthodoxy cannot and must not be confined to a particular city, region, or ethnicity.  Orthodoxy is catholic.  The word “catholic” comes from the Greek καθολου for “all together” or “general.”  In the early creeds the term “catholic church” was used to describe the Church’s universality as opposed to the individual local congregation.  Later the term “catholic church” came to denote the true Church as opposed to the various heretical or schismatic off shoots.  (See JND Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrine p. 190)

The Church’s catholicity is grounded in the Great Commission when Christ sent the Apostles into all the world to disciple nations and to baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).  The late Metropolitan Philip on the occasion of the receiving the 2,000 Evangelicals into Orthodoxy declared in his homily:

And he commissioned the disciples.  He said to them: Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . .  Not only Greeks.  Not only Antiochians.  Not only Russians.  Or Serbians or Romanians.  Go and make disciples of all nations.  Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.   (0:54-1:24)

So in light of the Church’s catholicity “crossing the Bosphorus” captures only a small part of Orthodoxy’s universality.  “Crossing the Bosphorus” (the Patriarchate of Constantinople) can be substituted with “crossing the Orontes” (the Antiochian Patriarchate), with “crossing the Dnieper” (Kiev, the ancient capital of Slavic Orthodoxy) or with “crossing the Moskva” (the Patriarchate of Moscow).

Protestant inquirers into Orthodoxy can easily get distracted by the variety of ethnic representations. This is especially so in the US where various ethnic branches of Orthodoxy are zealous to preserve their own particular heritage — the small “t” traditions.  It is critical for Protestant inquirers to realize Orthodoxy IS the Christian faith in the best “universal” or catholic sense. Centuries before Rome broke away in 1054 there was a great unity amidst all the diversity. The faith Tradition passed down by the Apostles was believed from Britain, France, Russia, Syria, Africa, Greece and Italy. Do not let the ethnic trees cause you to miss the beauty and unity of the Forest!



The term “crossing” can have more than one meaning.  In one sense it can refer to people converting to Orthodoxy.  In another sense it can refer to Orthodox missionaries going to lands where Orthodoxy is non-existent or barely known.  In the 1700s Orthodox missionaries – Saints Herman, Innocent, Jacob, and Juvenaly — traversed the vast Siberian tundra then crossed the Bering Strait to bring Orthodoxy to the native peoples of Alaska.

Saint John Maximovitch

Saint John Maximovitch

Another example of crossing is Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966).  In the 1930s and during World War II he served as bishop of Shanghai.  Then when the Communist took over China he was forced to flee.  He spent a short time in a refugee camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines.  Eventually, he became the bishop of San Francisco.  What is remarkable about Saint John Maximovitch’s ministry is how it spanned the vast Pacific Ocean, encompassing both Asia and America.  Another remarkable ministry by Saint John was his collecting the lives of the saints and his desire to make known the ”western” saints.  Thanks to him many of the pre-Schism Western saints became known to the Orthodox faithful.


Bishop John in Tubabao, Philippines

Bishop John in Tubabao, Philippines










One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

A useful rule of thumb is whoever was recognized as a saint prior to the Schism of 1054 regardless whether they lived in the western half of the Roman Empire or its eastern half is an Orthodox saint.  This is because they were part of the one Church.  Rome’s departure in 1054 was a great loss but the Church continued to be the one Church, not two churches or two halves.  We ought not let the more recent antagonisms with Roman Catholicism obscure the fact that at one time the Pope was an Orthodox patriarch and the Latin West was Orthodox.  As Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco said: “The West was Orthodox for a thousand years, and her venerable Liturgy is far older than any of her heresies.”  source

In Orthodoxy a saint is recognized as a saint through a designated feast day in the Church’s liturgical calendar, a troparion (hymn) in honor of the saint, and an icon of the saint.  When one is baptized or received into Orthodoxy the common practice is to take on the name a particular saint.  The patron saint becomes a model of Christian discipleship and one’s prayer partner.


Latin Fathers

Among the Latin Fathers are Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, and Jerome.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397) was the bishop who brought Augustine to Christ.  Augustine in his Confessions (6.4.6) recalls how Ambrose’s powerful sermons and his exegesis of the Old Testament brought a pagan skeptic to faith in Christ.  Ambrose persuaded Emperor Gratian to remove the statue of the pagan goddess Victory from the Senate halls.  He excommunicated Emperor Theodosius for his role in the massacre in Thessalonica, putting the emperor under discipline until he did public penance.  He also introduced antiphonal chanting into the Latin church.



It may come as a surprise to some that despite the many criticisms made of Augustine, especially in discussions about Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, he is recognized as a saint in the Orthodox Church.  Fr. George Papademetriou wrote “Saint Augustine in the Greek Orthodox Tradition” in which he explained how Augustine is a saint of the Church despite the numerous recent criticisms of his theology.  For example, while Augustine may have taught the double procession of the Holy Spirit in no way did he ever advocate changing the Nicene Creed.  Saint Photius pointed out that Augustine’s understanding of the Holy Spirit’s two fold procession was a minor position and that we are obliged to follow the consensus patrum (consensus of the Fathers).

Orthodox readers who question whether Augustine is recognized as a saint need to keep in mind that his feast day falls on June 15 of the liturgical calendar.  The dismissal hymn for that day goes:

O blessed Augustine, you have been proved to be a bright vessel of the divine Spirit and revealer of the city of God; you have also righteously served the Saviour as a wise hierarch who has received God. O righteous father, pray to Christ God that he may grant to us great mercy.   source

Interested readers can read John Stamps’ “When Tradition Fractures” for an insightful discussion of Orthodoxy’s fraught relations with Augustine of Hippo.

There is a need for Orthodox scholars fluent in Latin.  Orthodoxy needs multilingual theologians fluent in both Greek and Latin.  The patristic consensus cannot be confined to any one language or region.  For example, the Vincentian Canon is a Latin phrase: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (i.e. only “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”) is the catholic Faith of Christianity.  Saint Vincent lived in the town of Lerins (near modern day Marseilles, France).  Orthodox theology being grounded in the patristic consensus will be enriched as scholars, hierarchs, and laity read the Latin Fathers.  The same can also be said of the Orthodox understanding of the patristic consensus being enriched by Syriac Fathers like Saints Ephraim the Syrian and Isaac the Syrian Bishop of Nineveh.


Celtic and British Saints

Icon - St. Patrick

Icon – St. Patrick

In addition to Saint Patrick – Enlightener of Ireland, the Orthodox Church honors Brendan the Navigator, Venerable Bede, Saint Columba – Abbot of Iona.  For those of us who live in the English speaking world one of Orthodoxy’s hidden treasures lies in the numerous Celtic and British saints.  As I read through the list of names I was surprised to see so many familiar names that I never associated with Orthodoxy.



It is the practice in Orthodoxy that when one becomes Orthodox one takes on the name of a saint.  Many recent converts have taken on the names of “eastern” Orthodox saints being unaware of the “western” Orthodox saints.  Those presently inquiring into Orthodoxy or about to become Orthodox can reaffirm their western cultural roots by taking the name of a “western” Orthodox saint.


Icon - All Saints of the British Isles

Icon – All Saints of the British Isles   Source

Saint Alan (Eilan), Hermit of Cornwall (d. circa 7th century)

Saint Brigid of Kildare, Ireland (d. 523)

Saint Chad (Caedda), Missionary, Bishop of Lichfield and Mercia (c. 672)

Saint David of Wales, Archbishop of Mynyw (Menevia), confounder of Pelagians (d. 601)

Saint Donald of Scotland, Holy Confessor (d. circa 8th century)

Saint Dorothy (Ida, Ita), Hermitess in Limerick, Ireland (d. 570)

Saint Edward the Passion Bearer, King of England (d. 979)

Saint Edwin Martyr, King of Northrumbia (d. 633)

Saint Gerald, Abbot, Bishop of Mayo, Ireland (d. 731)

Saint Gwen (Teirbron) of Britain, evangelist of Brittany (d. 5th century)

Saint Gwen (Wenna) of Talgarth, Martyr, Evangelist of Cornwall (born circa 463)

Saint Herbert, Hermit of Derwentwater (d. 687)

Saint Kenneth (Cynedd), Hermit Confessor of Wales (d. circa 6th century)

Saint Kevin (Caoimhin), Abbot of Glendalough, Ireland (d. 618)

Saint Laurence, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 619)

Saint Mildred, Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet (d. 732)

Saint Richard, King of Wessex (d. 772)

Holy Virgin Martyr Winifred of Wales (circa 650)










Moses the Black

Moses the Black

African Saints

One of the more well known African saints is Moses the Black.  He lived a life according to the passions of the flesh until his conversion to Christ.  After his conversion he lived as a monastic and served as abbot of a monastery until his martyrdom by Berber pirates.

Also among the African saints is the pair: Irene and Sophia.  Little is known about them but the Church remembers them.  More well known is Mary of Egypt.  One Sunday during Lent is designated the Sunday of Mary of Egypt.  On that day the Orthodox Church remembers how God’ grace transformed a woman caught in the pleasures of the flesh into one of the greatest saints of all time.  Other well known African saints include Athanasius the Great, Saint Katherine, and Anthony the Great.




Child Honoring the Chinese Martyrs

Child Honoring the Chinese Martyrs

China and Japan

China has the honor of the Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion (1900).  The icon of the Chinese Martyrs show a large group comprised of adults and children.  Standing in the front is Father Mitrophan (Ji Chong or Tsi Chung) with his wife Tatiana and their three sons: Isaiah, Sergiy, and Ioann.  The oldest son was 23 years old at his death and the youngest 8 years old.

Another Asian saint is Saint Nicholas of Japan, Equal to the Apostles.  Born Ivan Kasatkin in 1836 in the province of Smolensk, he later studied in St. Petersburg.  He received his missionary calling in the form of a request from the Russian consulate in Japan for a priest who would minister to the spiritual needs of the Russian community there, the Japanese, and other foreigners stationed in Japan.  He translated the Bible and Liturgy into Japanese.  After more than 50 years of missionary labor he planted 266 Christian communities before he reposed in 1912.


Crossing the Bering Straits

Orthodoxy first came to the American continent from the west, that is, from Russia.  The early Orthodox missionaries “crossed the Bering Strait” in order to bring the Good News of Christ to the native peoples of Alaska.  The Alaskan saints comprised four missionaries (Saints Herman, Innocent, Juvenaly, and Jacob) and one native born martyr (Peter the Aleut).

Martyrdom of Saint Juvenaly and his native guide.

Saint Juvenaly was born in Nerchinsk, Siberia in 1761.  He worked as a mining engineer and was married.  After his wife died in 1791 he entered a monastery in St. Petersburg.  In 1794 Fr. Juvenaly and others had reached Kodiak.  The following year Father Juvenaly baptized some 700 Chugatchi then crossed the Kenai Bay.  In 1796 he and his native assistant were martyred by the Yup’ik.  He was the first Orthodox Christian to receive the crown of martyrdom and is remembered as “Protomartyr.”


Peter the Aleut

Peter the Aleut  source


Another Alaskan saint is Peter the Aleut.  He was born in Kodiak in the late 1700s.  While in his teens he accompanied Russian fur trappers to northern California.  In 1815, while hunting in his kayak south of San Francisco he was captured by Spanish soldiers.  He refused to be rebaptized insisting that he was already a Christian.  In their zeal to convert Peter the Roman Catholic priests cruelly dismembered his hands and feet.  Today he is known as the “Martyr of San Francisco.”



It may surprise some to learn that Orthodoxy has American saints.  In addition to Saint John of San Francisco, there is Saint Raphael of Brooklyn and Saint Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  Saint Tikhon before he became Patriarch of Moscow served in North America striving to build up the scattered Orthodox immigrant community into a strong self-sustaining church.  Saint Tikhon is known as ”Enlightener of America and Confessor of Moscow.”  In his last sermon in America he said:

The Light of Orthodoxy is not lit for a small circle of people…. It is our obligation to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light, and our joy with those who do not have these gifts. This duty lies not only on pastors and missionaries, but also on lay people, for the Church of Christ, in the wise comparison of St. Paul, is a body, and in the life of the body, every member takes part.  source


Is Orthodoxy Eastern?

In conclusion, Orthodoxy is more than eastern, it is a universal faith.  To say Orthodoxy is eastern is often a shorthand reference to Orthodoxy’s deep roots in Byzantine culture and its indebtedness to the Greek Fathers.  In that sense one can use the phrase “Eastern Orthodox.”  But to imply that Orthodoxy is restricted to a particular region or a particular culture is misleading and can lead to a distorted understanding of Orthodoxy.

So, “No, you don’t have to ‘cross the Bosphorus’ to become Orthodox.”  That’s one way.  Many have entered into Orthodoxy through Greek Orthodox parishes that are under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.  Another way is to “cross the Moskva” by converting to Orthodoxy through a ROCOR parish.  Or “cross the Orontes” through the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese.  This is what the two thousand Evangelicals did in 1987.

Unlike Roman Catholicism which has one spiritual center: Rome, Orthodoxy has many spiritual centers.  What unites us is the Apostolic Faith – “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”  Orthodoxy in the US has an opportunity to manifest the catholicity of Orthodoxy.  The challenge for many Orthodox parishes founded by immigrants is to go beyond their ethnic roots and embrace the larger Orthodox Tradition.  One small step can be the inclusion of icons of American, African, or Asian saints in the sanctuary.  Another small step can be children or adult class presentations on the lives of the saints.  The honoring of the saints on their feast days requires the blessing of the bishop.  The honoring of the North American saints is an important step towards a unified American Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Church in America honors the North American saints on the second Sunday after Pentecost.  The kontakion (hymn) for that day goes:

Today the choir of Saints who were pleasing to God in the lands of North America

Now stands before us in the Church and invisibly prays to God for us.

With them the angels glorify Him,

And all the saints of the Church of Christ keep festival with them;

And together they all pray for us to the Pre-Eternal God.



The Twelve Gates of New Jerusalem

A prophetic description of Orthodoxy’s catholicity can be found in Revelation 21:13. In that passage New Jerusalem is depicted as having twelve gates: three on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west.   Access to New Jerusalem from all four points of the compass points to the universality of the Gospel and Christ’s reign.  They also point to the catholicity of the Church as it welcomes peoples from all over the world into the kingdom of God.

Robert Arakaki


Other Discussions on the Future of Evangelicalism


The recent “Future of Protestantism” hosted by Biola University on 30 April 2014, is not the only forum where the issue has been raised. A similar conversation took place between Stanley Hauerwas and Albert Mohler in 2012 titled “Nearing the End.”

Prof. Stanley Hauerwas

Prof. Stanley Hauerwas

Stanley Hauerwas, a widely respected theologian, is in Mohler’s words a “high church Mennonite.”  Albert Mohler is President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisvilee, Kentucky.

This conversation between a Baptist and an Anabaptist makes for an interesting contrast to the “Future of Protestantism” panel which was comprised mostly of Reformed theologians.


Evangelicalism in a Buyer’s Market

Prof. Hauerwas used the metaphor of the religious marketplace to describe the contemporary situation of American Protestantism.

But I suspect it’s true in most places because basically a buyers’ market, that very description, reproduces the presumption that you live in a demand economy that says that the buyer is supreme and they get to buy what they want and therefore…    (Emphasis added.)

This leads to a number of interesting insights.  Hauerwas observed that because American Evangelical congregations are in a buyer’s market it is very difficult to form a disciplined congregational life.  Albert Mohler concurred noting:

When Stanley Hauerwas talks about the buyer’s market for religion in America, he’s onto something that evangelicals ought to notice and notice very carefully. And that is in fact that that is indeed an apt metaphor for our society at large, but it also, if we’re not very careful, a dynamic that is experienced by many churches and denominations, not only in the Protestant mainline, where he mentions all those brand-named denominations jockeying to retain their membership and a declining membership base, but it’s also the case that there are many in American evangelicalism who basically think of the gospel as something to be packaged and sold.    (Emphasis added.)

American Protestantism with its free church tradition has given rise to a multiplicity of denominations.  Membership is a matter of individual choice; one is not bound to a particular church body.  One can move one’s membership as one sees fit.  With the recent erosion of denominational identity, church hopping and church shopping have increased among Protestants.  Within this frame outreach is the equivalent of marketing outreach, the Gospel as a commodity, and church members as clientele.  Evangelical churches that are non-confessional in doctrine, built around the popularity of a charismatic pastor, independent of the larger church, and ministries designed to meet people’s needs can be likened to a shopping mall; designed to maximize the influx of clients or attendees. This has resulted in church staff being under “the pressure to produce results.”

The religious market place has also contributed to a minimalist approach to the Christian faith.  Downplaying doctrinal distinctives makes a church more accessible to prospective members (potential customers) and lowers the cost of joining.  However, doctrinal minimalism has hidden costs. It weakens the sense of theological identity as well as commitment to the local church.  This explains the appeal of the recent neo-Reformed revival among Evangelicals.  The neo-Reformed emphasis on theological rigor and doctrinal precision can be seen as rooted in a need for theological identity.  Their stress on covenant and disciplined church life can be seen as a reaction to libertarian individualism rife in popular Evangelicalism.

If Hauerwas’ metaphor of Evangelicalism being in a buyer’s market holds true then the question needs to be raised as to whether Peter Leithart’s Reformational Catholicism can ever expand beyond being a niche market.  Leithart’s call for “Pentecostals attuned to the Christian tradition” (20:14), “Baptists who love hierarchy” (20:17), “liturgical bible churches” (20:22) runs against the grain of specialization and niche marketing that underlie Protestant denominationalism.  Asking churches to give up their distinctives is tantamount to their surrendering their identity.  Many would lose members and end up closing their doors.

What Hauerwas referred to as a buyer’s market is largely the result of Protestantism’s response to two aspects of modernity:  urbanization and consumerism.  The resultant incoherence of Protestantism has caused many Evangelicals to investigate the early Church, the church fathers, and liturgical worship.  This in turn has resulted in growing numbers to exit Protestantism altogether for historic traditions like Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.  See: “A Protestant Exodus?


Orthodoxy in the Religious Marketplace

This raises the question: How does Hauerwas’ religious marketplace metaphor apply to Orthodoxy?  In many ways Orthodoxy is a latecomer to the American religious market.  Many of the Orthodox parishes originated in the waves of immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s: Greece, the Balkans, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, and Palestine.  Designed to meet the spiritual needs of the immigrant communities, many ethnic parishes ended up perpetuating the culture of the “old country.”  Oftentimes, this was not so much niche marketing as it was a closed shop.  This state of affairs began to change with the influx of converts in the 1980s and 1990s.  Today Orthodoxy in America is at the cusp of change, from ethnic Orthodoxy whose identity is rooted in the culture of the “old country” to an Orthodoxy whose identity is rooted in American culture. And from a closed shop to evangelistic communities committed to fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Turbo Qualls becoming Orthodox

Turbo Qualls becoming Orthodox

What many Protestant converts find appealing about Orthodoxy is its ancient faith and liturgy.  It can be expected that Orthodoxy will hold fast to Apostolic Tradition into the twenty second century and beyond, while Protestant denominationalism will continue to mutate and morph into forms barely recognizable to those living today.  The future of Orthodoxy in the twenty first century depends on it being able to enter into the mainstream of the religious market.  This depends on Orthodoxy’s cultural accessibility (all English liturgies) and geographic accessibility (at least within an hour’s driving time). There are signs that Orthodox evangelism is bearing fruit resulting growing numbers of converts.  Saint Barnabas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa, California, is one example of effective outreach and catechumenate.  With no special program for outreach but ordinary parish life, Saint Barnabas has reached out not just to Evangelicals but also to the younger generation brought up on punk rock, tattoos, and turned off by an overly materialistic American culture.  See: “Christian Tattoo Artist Turbo Qualls: An Interview for the Two Cities.


Discipleship and Catholicity

Like Peter Leithart, Stanley Hauerwas touched on Evangelicalism’s need to regain the catholic dimension of Christianity.  Another concern of Hauerwas was the way Evangelicalism made church secondary to Christian discipleship.

….  But one of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is meditated faith. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church.  (Emphasis added.)

Where Protestantism emphasized the individual, the catholic dimension emphasizes the Christian life in community.  Hauerwas noted:

I need to read the Bible with other people. And that has pretty much been lost. Let me say in that regard that one of the other things that worries me about evangelicalism is I’m afraid it’s got the Bible and now, and exactly how it is that you reconnect evangelical life with the great Catholic traditions, I think is part of the challenges for the future because you need to read the fathers reading Scripture as part of our common life if we are to sustain a sense that we don’t get to make Christianity up. We receive it through the lives of those who have gone before and that just becomes crucial for us to be able to survive in which we find ourselves.  (Emphasis added.)

Like Peter Leithart, Dr. Hauerwas saw the recovery of the Eucharist as critical to the future of the church.

Well, let me say one of the things I would have us to go is a much richer, liturgical life than I think is the case in many evangelical and Protestant mainstream churches. I think a recovery of the centrality of Eucharistic celebration and why it is so central is just crucial for the future of the church.    (Emphasis added.)

It is interesting that for someone who comes from the Anabaptist tradition; Stanley Hauerwas has some kind words about the First Ecumenical Council!

Well, I want to be careful with that word rational because I think nothing is more rational than Christian Orthodoxy. I think the Nicaea account of Trinity is an extraordinary development that is a tradition thinking through its fundamental commitment in a manner that is intellectually compelling.

However, the Nicene Creed is more than the product of rational intelligence.  Orthodoxy believes that the Holy Spirit guided the bishops in their defense of the Gospel against the heresy of Arianism.  Because the Nicene Creed represented the mind of the Church (and not individuals), it was able to unify the early Church.

Hauerwas’ call for the recovery of catholicity, the Eucharist, and the Nicene Creed has much in common with Pastor Leithart’s “Reformational Catholicism.”  The similarities between Hauerwas and Leithart is significant in that it shows a similar concerns being voiced not just in Reformed circles but also among the Baptists and Anabaptists.  This points to a widespread hunger for catholicity among Protestants.


Michael Spencer — “Internet Monk”

Michael Spencer aka "Internet Monk"

Michael Spencer aka “Internet Monk”

The late Michael Spencer’s “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” written in 2009 represents another part of the conversation. Originally a blog posting on the Internetmonk.com the article was later published by the Christian Science Monitor giving it a much wider circulation.  Where Stanley Hauerwas is a high profile theologian, the late Michael Spencer worked as a youth minister then as a Baptist pastor.  In 2000, he began to blog and in time became one of the most popular Evangelical bloggers.  Part of Michael Spencer’s popularity is due to his ability to give voice to a quiet shift taking place in the Evangelical subculture, the emergence of post-Evangelicalism.  While not as measured and erudite as Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Spencer wrote boldly from the frontline of Christian ministry.

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

He used bold unguarded language in his famous article.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

He also predicted an anti-Evangelical turn in American culture.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

Michael Spencer did not claim to be a prophet.  He wrote as an observer who saw both dangers and promise in the Evangelical movement.  It is now five years since the article was first published in 2009.  There have been some notable shifts, e.g., the rapid and widespread legalization of same-sex marriage and reports of the growing percentage of Americans who identify as unchurched, nothing as dire or cataclysmic as Michael Spencer predicted.  But if current trends continue, his 2009 article may well prove prescient.

Dr. Hauerwas view of Evangelicalism’s future is just as grim as Michael Spencer’s.

I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because there’s just—it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired.

In terms of the religious market we can expect to see three trends.  One, the continued decline of mainline Protestant denominations into obscurity.  Two, this will be followed by the decline of Evangelicalism.  Evangelical Protestantism is already at its peak; its growth rate has stalled for the past several years, a sign that its decline may have already started.  There is a recent report that the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest Protestant denominations, has been experiencing declining membership since 2005.  But the decline of Evangelicalism is not likely to become a major trend until the 2050s. Three, the next Protestant wave may come from the charismatics and Pentecostals.  But the wild card factor that hasn’t yet received much attention is the implication of the shift to a post-Christian society for the American religious market.


The Larger Conversation

The recent Biola forum is but one among many going on among Evangelicals today.  What I find intriguing is the fact that there was a time not too long ago when Evangelicalism’s existence and future was an unquestioned given.  That so many are discussing the matter seriously points to something in the air.  It is like the uneasiness that animals sense before the onset of a great calamity.  I had this foreboding premonition about Protestantism after my studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the 1990s.  I was deeply troubled by the improbability of bringing biblical renewal to historic mainline denominations on the one hand and the unchecked trendiness of Evangelicalism on the other.  The pervasive maladies of modernity that afflicted Protestantism in both its liberal and evangelical expressions caused me to look into the early Church.  What I found was a unity of faith that spanned the Roman Empire and continued to endure in the Orthodox Church.  I found in Orthodoxy a catholicity of faith that Leithart and Hauerwas are longing for.

MysticalChurchIt also struck me that Orthodoxy being rooted in Tradition is capable of riding out a hostile and increasingly post-Christian society.  One of the images used to describe the Orthodox Church is that of Noah’s Ark.

I found comfort in the stories of the early Christian martyrs.  But I was also impressed that the Orthodox Church of the twentieth century managed to survive Communism, despite the systematic destruction of churches, slaughter of faithful clergy and laity, and many who collaborated with the Soviet regime.

This has implications for the recent warnings about a post-Christian society.  I suspect that many Christians, Protestants and even Orthodox, are not ready for this new hostile religious market.  We need to heed Jesus’ warning:

As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.  Night is coming, when no one can work. (John 9:4; NIV)


Robert Arakaki


Further Readings

“The Post-Evangelical Option: An Interview with Michael Spencer” in Modern Reformation.  Eric Landry and Michael Spencer.

 “The Nature and Future of Protestantism” in The Calvinist International.  Peter Escalante.

“Back to the Future for Protestantism?” in OrthodoxBridge.  Robert Arakaki.

Protestantism’s Fatal Genetic Flaw” in OrthodoxBridgeRobert Arakaki.

“Christian Tattoo Artist Turbo Qualls: An Interview for the Two Cities” in TheTwoCities.com.   Nathaniel Warne and Turbo Qualls.


« Older posts