1.) Can you offer some insight about how the Orthodox Church understands evangelism? Do you feel that, overall, that it is considered a priority when compared with Protestant Evangelicalism?[snip]
The Orthodox Church has a beautiful history of evangelism — but, unfortunately, it is largely history. A factor we tend to forget, which has made the path of Eastern Christianity so different from that of the West, is that for the most part they have not been free. Many Orthodox lands have been under Muslim rule for over a millennium, virtually since Islam began. (Was it Chesterton who said, don’t ridicule the Balkans for being so bellicose; if they hadn’t fought Islam to a standstill, we’d be fighting the same battles in Paris.) Russia and the Slavic countries, on the other hand, just emerged from nearly a century of Communism—20 million Orthodox died for their faith, including hundreds of thousands of pastors.
Orthodox who immigrated to the US think of themselves as outsiders for a long time. You see a bit of this in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” where the child Toula compares herself unfavorably with the slim, blonde girls in her school. Orthodox for the most part are not European, their languages don’t use the Roman alphabet, and they eat very different foods, so they are inclined to cling to each other. (The branch of Orthodoxy my family joined is Arabic, which must bear an extra degree of ethnic prejudice.) Setting out to evangelize their neighbors just wouldn’t occur to them.
The historic pattern or style of evangelism is interesting, however, compared with the West. While Rome decided to do everything in Latin, in order to guarantee uniformity, in the East the emphasis was on making the faith understandable. So the Scriptures and liturgies were always translated into the vernacular, and where there was no written language, missionaries would devise one. In the 4th century, St Mesrops Mashtots developed a language for the Armenians, and (I love this) he based it on the decorations he saw on their homes and around their windows; he wanted to give them an alphabet that they would find beautiful. In the 9th century, Ss Cyril and Methodius developed an alphabet for the Slavs, and in the 19th century, Russian missionaries who crossed the Bering Strait to evangelize the peoples of Alaska ended up devising alphabets for 6 different dialects. Orthodox missionizing prefers to retain and honor elements of native culture as far as possible, which in Alaska, eg, included retaining totem poles.[snip]
A big factor is that Western theology was based on the Scriptures in Latin translation, and as radically as the Reformers broke with Catholicism, they still unknowingly built on the same Latin-language thought-world. (St. Augustine could not read Greek well, and was led astray by a mistranslation in Romans 5:12). An example is the NT Greek word “energeia,” energy, which appears all through St Paul, eg, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is energizing in you, both to will and to energize for his good pleasure.” But there was no Latin equivalent, so when Jerome made his translation he used “opus,” work. A sculptor creates a statue and that is his opus, but it is separate from him; he’s not “energizing” within it. So you see that this creates a very different sense of whether and how God is present—the reverberations go on and on.
In Orthodoxy, salvation is a free gift, entirely by grace (grace is an aspect of God’s “energy,” rather than a separate created thing). We are saved by being rescued from the power of death and the evil one, like the Hebrews rescued from Pharaoh—not by Jesus making a payment to the Father. That theory didn’t develop till the 11th century, after the East-West split. Substitutionary atonement strikes native Orthodox as strange and somewhat repellent. Though, as I said, they emphatically believe in salvation by grace, so you see how it cuts across Western categories.