The Orthodox Christian and the Heretic

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Thus He has given us through these things His precious and very great promises, so that you may escape from the corruption that is in the world” (II Peter 1:3-4)

The difficulty many of our people have in explaining the joy and beauty that comes only by faith in the Holy Trinity experienced in the Orthodox Church is that there is just so much to tell, and the expression of our sacred faith can appear to be overwhelming. Salvation itself is a process leading to deification. It’s not one simple point about Jesus Christ, but an entire experience that begins wherever we find ourselves at a given moment, and it has no ending, not even in the life beyond this lifetime.

In contrast, evangelists from other Christian traditions that confront our people do so with a single issue. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Or, were you washed in the Blood of the Lamb? Or again the Mormons who knock at your door: Do you believe there are saints alive today? Even worse are the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” who go in pairs and take advantage of normal politeness to force their heresies on the person holding open the door, demanding to leave their propaganda in one’s home. They try to disguise their rejection of Jesus Christ as Son of God, perpetrating a modern version of the heretic Arius, condemned by the First Ecumenical Council.

Our people have difficulty dealing with them, because they respond by offering an answer to the question put to them, and in that way they allow the challenger to set the agenda. The concern is usually valid: Belief in the Bible, faith in Christ, person salvation, or eternal life. But after that, you are open to a canned and well-rehearsed lecture on the singular aspect of Christianity that the agent of that sect delivers to you. Almost always there is no dialogue, since this is a monologue aimed at you, the target. Such “evangelists” are told not to listen to whatever you have to say—their purpose is to “witness,” meaning talk at you, not with you. In fact, it’s an insult to you as a person. You are not given the respect of equal discourse; your role is to be a silent absorber of the “truth” that you are hearing, and if possible become another check mark on the score sheet of the one who confronts you with his or her program.

This is the essence of sectarianism. It means a section of the whole, in this case a portion of the fullness of the truth about the One God in Trinity, and the gospel of salvation brought by the Son of God, Jesus Christ. What gives us the right to claim to be Orthodox Christians is that we have received the whole truth about God in Christ, we experience liberation from sin, we are aware of living in the presence of the Lord, and we are partakers of uncreated grace offered as a precious gift from our heavenly Father.

One bonus in being the victim of such a confrontation with an aggressive and persuasive agent from a sect, perhaps the only positive aspect, is that our spiritual children are confronted with the awareness of how much he or she knows the true faith. More than knowing, how much are we able to describe our beliefs to others and to “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you,” as St. Peter demands (I Peter 3:15).