There is a growing trend among Protestants to explore, for whatever reason, higher church communions. The group known collectively as the Orthodox Church is one of those benefitting from the longing among former Evangelicals. But, what does it offer? Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church (in realities, many different Churches connected by theology, but lacking a uniting structure) is not widely known in the West. After all, a split occurred officially at the beginning of the second millenium after Christ, leaving the Western world under the monotheological sphere of Rome, at least until the Protestant Reformation. The Orthodox Church was left under to wonder on their on, as is the case of the Russian Orthodox Church, or under the realm of Islamic caliphates, like the Greek Orthodox Church.
Because of this isolation Westerners do not know what the Orthodox Church is, believes, or hopes for. Westerners, and this becomes clearer the more I investigate Orthodoxy, are at a loss for how theology is “done” in other branches of Christianity. While we share, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity, the approach to it from the West and the East differ in several meaningful ways. Orthodoxy is still hidden behind ancient bigotry and intellectual illiteracy.
Andrew Louth, himself a priest of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate), aims to change that with his Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. He writes not to convert or otherwise proselytize, although at times I felt a pull on my Tiber-drenched Wesleyan heart. Rather as the title suggests, he writes to introduce to us a rather unknown stream of Christianity. While I knew something about Orthodoxy before engaging this book, I was able to learn more, much more than I expected.
Louth has divided this introduction into 9 theological areas. There does not seem to be an area that is lacking, unless you believe justification and individual sin are the main areas of Christian witness. Indeed, these topics are either not addressed, or simply not addressed in any meaningful way. Throughout Louth’s exploration of these areas, one gets a real sense that Orthodox theology places more emphasis on Christ, his nature, and his reign than it does on exacting theological formulations or any avoidance of a Lake of Fire. I say this tongue-in-cheek because, simply, that is what Louth (and other Orthodox authors) maintain is the real theology of the Church. Topics include the Trinity, Tradition, Sin, Creation, the Sacraments, Liturgy, and what happens next. Some of the tenants of the beliefs may surprise Christians simply not familiar with the East.
What Louth reveals is not a Church that is simply the Catholic Church without the Pope, but an ancient communion filled with wonder, mystery, and a deep and abiding spirituality with Christ at its center and our heart as the goal. Without any argumentation, or swipes at differing viewpoints and traditions, Louth is able to present small and neatly contained units of theological dogma to a wide audience by drawing upon shared beliefs. It is a masterful attempt at using what we know to inform us about what we do not know. Further, and thankfully, Louth has included a suggested reading list as an appendix.
The only issue I have with the book is the lack of a glossary. I know what Protestants call things and, for the most part, I know how a Roman Catholic is going to write about certain theological elements. However, there are some words in this book what will require at least an internet search to understand. While the book can be read without knowledge of what an anaphora or troparion is, these words and what they mean are themselves a part of the unknown aspect of Orthodoxy.
I would highly recommend this book to small groups but so too to the individual who desires to see what the Orthodox Church is about. This does not argue for the supremacy of Orthodoxy, but shows the whats and the whys of the ancient communion. If nothing else, what is revealed is an ancient and beautiful tradition of worshiping Christ.