The Narrow Way of Orthodoxy: A Message from Orthodoxy in America to Eastern Europe

By Hopko, Thomas | The Christian Century, March 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

The Narrow Way of Orthodoxy: A Message from Orthodoxy in America to Eastern Europe


Hopko, Thomas, The Christian Century


THE FIRST CHRISTIAN believers had no earthly identity. They were dead to this world. They belonged to God's kingdom. In their homelands they were aliens. In foreign lands they were at home. They belonged everywhere and nowhere, for they were "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). When the early Christian martyrs were brought before their persecutors they often answered the threats of their torturers with the simple words: "I am a Christian!"

By virtue of their having been baptized into Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, thereby becoming participants in the eucharistic supper of God's Kingdom, the believers in the Holy Trinity had died to this world. Their lives were now "hid wiath Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

This consciousness, this experience and this conviction have to a large degree been lost by the great majority of Orthodox Christians now living in North America. How few--even among the bishops and priests--have this fundamental, essential identity of being Orthodox Christians who belong to the one true church, which is, here and now, the foretaste God's kingdom to come for peoples of all nations of the earth.

For the most part we Orthodox in North America view our church membership primarily in terms of our ancestry as Albanians, Bulgarians, Carpatho-Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Russians, Serbians, Syrians, Ukrainians and so on. We identify ourselves and our churches in this way. And we are looked upon in this way by the Orthodox churches of the old countries; they often consider us to be an ecclesiastical "diaspora" no matter how long we have been living in the U. S. or Canada.

We in the U. S. and Canada are divided into many ecclesiastical jurisdictions on the basis of nationality, ethnicity and political ideology. We claim that we are one and the same Orthodox Church, and in liturgical rites and creedal statements we are. But we openly and shamelessly use our ecclesiastical structures for nationalistic, cultural, ethnic and ideological ends. We employ our church buildings as shrines of national heritages, museums for cultural exhibitions, concert halls for ethnic performances, training centers for languages and customs, meeting places for patriotic and political programs. We are free to do so. We have religious and political liberty.

If we North Americans dislike what is being done in our church, we can go across the street with like-minded people and open another church of our own, even calling it Orthodox. This has happened again and again. The result is ecclesiastical and spiritual chaos, disorder, hostility, competition, opportunism, a steady decline in church membership in the churches without significant immigration of Orthodox from the "old countries," together with an almost total loss of evangelistic and missionary consciousness and activity.

Recent events in Eastern Europe fill some of us with sorrow and fear. We see Orthodox in those countries sinking into the state into which we will fallen. Will there be even a few Orthodox Christians who will follow the hard and narrow way of Christ, which is uncompromisingly opposed to the broad and easy way of ecclesiastical division and schism due to nationalistic, ethnic, chauvinistic, political, ideological and personal passions and interests--the way that leads to destruction, both here and in the age to come? Will there be at least some who say: "I am a Christian; I am Orthodox. I belong to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ. I am of one mind, one heart, one soul and one body with all those who belong to Christ and the church, whatever their nationality and political opinions. I stand steadfastly opposed to those who use Christ's church for any secular, nationalistic, ideological or political purpose, however apparently noble and justifiable."

The future of Orthodoxy depends on the few in all countries of the earth who follow the narrow way which insists that the Orthodox Church must be the church and nothing but the church: the presence and foretaste of God's kingdom on earth for all peoples who wish to enter and be saved. …

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