The Evangelical Character of the Church

Prophet Amos

Prophet Amos

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Demetrios Constantelos

[Four Major Aspects of the Church's Faith and Experience]

Many factors have influenced the formation of dogma and the evolution of Orthodox Christian Theology. The Evangelion, or Gospel, has contributed the most. Holy Scripture is the fountain and essence of Greek Orthodox Theology; all other elements are auxiliary. The very substance of the Creed, ethos, and worship of Orthodoxy derives from the Evangelion (Gospel). But some writers, either of the Orthodox Church or of other persuasions, have overlooked the evangelical, or biblical, character of Orthodox Christianity. Even in serious manuals this facet of the Orthodox Church goes almost unheeded.

Some theologians have stressed that the Orthodox Church is the guardian of the most genuine Apostolic Tradition and that she is the Church of the early Ecumenical decrees. Others have emphasized that she is a Patristic (of the Holy Fathers) Church, or that the Church is freedom fused with authority and the weight of the past. These and other characteristics-apostolicity, catholicity, traditionalism, moderation, unbroken continuity--have been described in several manuals, but rarely the evangelical.

Because of the lacuna in Orthodox textbooks from the early 19th century to the present, many Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) theologians and ordinary faithful have seen the Orthodox as biblically illiterate, if not superstitious and paganistic. Because the outward appearance of Orthodoxy is liturgical and sacramental, many Western Christians have regarded Orthodox liturgy and Sacramental life, as antagonistic to Holy Scripture. Even now, Orthodox Christianity is considered extensively involved in symbolism and ritual.

What follows is a brief attempt to turn the multi-faceted prism of Orthodoxy to another of its several facets, one which has ecumenical dimensions, since the biblical nature of the Orthodox Church furnishes a common ground in the Dialogues that take place between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic as well as Protestant confessions. In fact, Orthodox Theology in nearly every one of its ramifications is evangelical rather than Patristic, philosophical, or liturgical.

What has been characterized as sacramental, liturgical, patristic, or intellectual has biblical roots. Of course, biblical theology is sufficiently broad to be at the same time, liturgical and sacramental. The words and symbols of the liturgy, the Mysteries (Sacraments), and other rites are derived from the Holy Bible. Bible and dogma, Bible and ethical precepts, Bible and liturgical services and prayers - all are fused in Orthodox Theology.

The biblical character of the Greek Orthodox Church is not difficult to discover. Ecclesiastical writers throughout the history of the Church have never ceased to recommend the reading of the Holy Scripture. The Holy Bible has never been the exclusive book of the clergy or the monks. Saint John Chrysostom prepared the way.

In an appeal to the laity for Bible study Saint John Chrysostom writes: "Your mistake is in believing that the reading of the Holy Scripture concerns only monks...for you it is still more necessary since you are in the midst of the world. There is something worse than not reading the Holy Scripture, and that is to believe that this reading is useless...a satanic practice." 

The Divine Liturgy itself is not only mystery or Eucharistic doxology. It is also a liturgy of the Logos/Word of God, since the first part of the service includes two readings from the New Testament and a homily, which is usually an exegesis of one of the two readings. When one reads or listens to the Logos/Word of God one becomes Theodidaktos, or one taught by God, as Saint Clement of Alexandria writes.

Because of the central position accorded to the Gospel, the Evangelion, the Orthodox Church is an evangelical church par excellence. Orthodox piety and spirituality, sacramental mysticism, and patristic theology are based on the belief of the Living presence of Christ not only in the Divine Eucharist but also in the Gospels, which constitute the record of Christ's teaching. God's manifestation in history, God's revelation in the earthly life of Christ, His work through the Holy Apostles, His presence in the history of the Church--all constitute a living reality unfolded in the prayer life simply an antiquarian "history" buas "holy history," which manifests the acts of God in the past, lives on into the present, and forms a guidepost for the future.

While the Greek cultural and intellectual tradition played a paramount role in the life of the Church, the inner strength and real source of Orthodox Christian Theology must be sought in the Holy Bible. During the Medieval Greek era, the Church felt a special pride in being the custodian and teacher of the Holy Scripture while at the same time taking great care to preserve the Greek literary and cultural heritage. Despite the Platonic idealism and the substratum of Aristotelian philosophical tradition and scholastic categories in Patristic categories in Patristic thought, love for the simple teaching of Christ dominates the writings of many Holy Fathers and theologians. Orthodox Christianity in general was illuminated and modified by the light of Biblical revelation. As Lev Gillet has put it: "Orthodoxy presents a [Greek] classical landscape bathed in the Light of the Logos/Word."

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George