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From the East: A Russian Orthodox Priest Explains His Spiritual Views

In countries such as Russia, it’s almost impossible to ignore the Orthodox Church’s influence. While living in Russia with my American missionary parents, I was exposed to facets of Orthodoxy almost every week. We drove past exquisite cathedrals on the way to my parents’ bilingual Charismatic church, which was held in a movie theater. While playing childhood games outside, I would talk with my Russian neighborhood friends, who had been raised Orthodox. I regularly saw colorful iconic art—paintings, sculptures, crosses—for sale on the streets and in shops.

Orthodox Christianity is made up of two main branches: Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy. The two branches split in the year 451, when at the Council of Chalcedon, there was a disagreement over the nature of Christ.

The Eastern Orthodox Church includes groups such as the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and about a dozen other self-governing churches throughout the world.

Oriental Orthodoxy is comprised of six groups, the main one being Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The other five churches are based in India, Armenia, Syria, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

Father Andrew Louth

In recent years, leaders from Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy have sought to find commonality between their beliefs. Some of the churches, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, have even agreed to recognize baptisms and marriages that were performed by the other group.

Some Evangelicals believe that Orthodoxy keeps its focus on icons and rituals rather than on having faith in God. I grew up with a clear delineation between “our church” and “their church.” However as an adult, I wanted to see what Orthodox spirituality represented beyond the icons and rituals. I wanted to truly understand how the Orthodox people viewed God.

In order to learn more about the Eastern Orthodox perspective, I contacted Father Andrew Louth, a Russian Orthodox Priest in Durham, England. Until retiring recently, he was also the Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University. And before that, he taught early Christian theology at Oxford University. Father Andrew graciously agreed to answer my questions for the following interview.

 

Rachel Mock: I read on the Durham University website that you teach a course on the understanding of what it is to be human in early Christian theology. Could you tell me about some of the key concepts that you teach in that course?

Father Andrew: I used to teach such a course (I am retired now).  It was an MA course, with texts, the texts being Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Making of Human kind and Nemesios of Emesa’s On the Nature of Human kind.  Central concepts were: the human in the image of God, as bond of creation, as microcosm of the cosmos; quite a lot about psychology, a good deal about providence.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2015

About the Author: Rachel E. Mock is a writer and a mental health counselor who lives in Florida with her husband. She grew up as a missionary kid in Europe in the 1990s, and she has continued to do international mission and humanitarian work as an adult. Rachel loves to learn and write about people of other cultures. She has worked as a correspondent for The Herald of Gadsden County and has written for several other publications, including Tallahassee Woman and tallahassee.com. She blogs about her thoughts, her cultural experiences, and her spiritual journey at rachelmock.com. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest.

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