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Crossing the...Bosporus

Fascinating article in the New Republic this week about a number of evangelical Christians who have embraced Eastern Orthodoxy. I've read a fair amount of coverage about prominent evangelicals crossing the Tiber, but this is the first feature length article I've seen about evangelicals embracing Orthodoxy.

The story focuses on Wilbur Ellsworth, a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Wheaton, IL, a town that some wryly refer to as the evangelical Vatican because of the presence of Wheaton College. Ellsworth found himself in increasing conflict with congregation members who embraced the "church growth" movement. After he left the congregation in 2000, he began a spiritual journey that ended him with him entering the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

While the AOC is smaller than the other major Orthodox churches in the United States, it appears to have a particular attraction for evangelicals:

Ellsworth's story is hardly unique. Most of the approximately 150 members of the Orthodox parish he now leads are former evangelicals themselves. Even Ellsworth's transition from evangelical minister to Orthodox priest is not uncommon. Of the more than 250 parishes of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, some 60 percent are led by convert priests, most of whom are from evangelical backgrounds. And, according to Bradley Nassif, a professor at North Park University and the leading academic expert on Evangelical- Orthodox dialogue, the Antiochian Archdiocese has seen over 150 percent church growth in the last 20 years, approximately 75 percent of which is attributable to converts.

The article provides some interesting recent history of the AOC in the United States, where a large influx of former evangelicals in the mid-1980s (including the writer Frederica Matthews-Greene) appears to have kickstarted the denomination's recent growth.  As an aside, there is at least one amusing (but understandable) theological misstep in the article, which suggests that Western Christians "relegate the Holy Spirit to a lesser place than God the Father and God the Son."  That may often be true as a matter of piety, but certainly not as a matter of doctrine.  On the whole, though, it's an engaging read.



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Fascinating. What will be the final conversion? Reverting to the Church of the Martyrs? The more one hears stories like this the more one is inclined to believe that the Church is wherever "two or three are gathered in my name." The church should be in a Sunday community to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and be intimate with his Word and Life. And let the leader truly serve or look for a new position.The article also seems to be about change and doing something different than one's parents. Do you think that evangelists do this because they want the completeness that Joseph Ratzinger says can only be gotten within?In general the Orthodox are the least ecumenical about inter-communion. Wonder how this group is?Another thought it brings to mind is that the theocratic Bush should have invaded Istanbul and restored its proper name. Even the Orthodox might have embraced him on that one.

Thanks for a fascinating reference!

Very interesting article.Reminds me of a long talk I had once with the father of a college friend of mine, must have been in 1997-98. My friend was converting to Orthodoxy; he was very much influenced by two Orthodox men on the faculty. Back home in Wheaton, the father was active in music ministry at one of the big evangelical churches. He said, though, that he and his friends talked about sacraments all the time. He didn't say much more about it, just said that the idea of sacraments was very attractive to his friends and him.

Interesting article, but I think he's wrong to frame the phenomenon in terms of a desire for more "intellectual" church--I think it's more about a thirst for mysticism, a reaction AGAINST the very left-brained world of evangelical theology (which is nowhere near as intellectually vacant as many insist, particularly not in Wheaton, Illinois).More at

Stephen: There may be a thirst for mysticism embedded in these conversions, but one thing that strikes me is the decidedly lack of mystical experience among these converts. It seems that the people described in this article have converted after much studious research and questioning--not after some enlightening event revealing the truth of Orthodoxy to their inner hearts.It may be more accurate to frame this in terms of the limits of Evangelical intellectualism. As Ellsworth put it, the Orthodox tradition has a far greater historical reach than the Evangelical tradition does--encompassing the 75% of history that Evangelicals tend to overlook. That historial reach stretches back before the rise of individualism that fueled the early reformers, and that has becime the hallmark of Evangelical Protestantism today. When one embraces Orthodoxy or Catholicism, it usually involves the embrace of a living tradition that is far bigger than the individual and his or her preferences. It's the "hugeness" that Joan DeRenzo spoke about at the end of the article. It's not just "Jesus and me" anymore, and there's a degree of security in belonging to something much bigger than yourself--bigger even than your local congregation.As I read the article, I couldn't help but think of John Henry Newman. Any Newman experts out there who care to comment?

Just to add some perspective to Mark's de-emphasis of mysticism, "studious research" into Orthodoxy usually emphasizes encountering the Fathers in original sources, and reading Palamite theology.

I read this article. At one stage, the author wrote that they had embraced something that was "not even American". Oh dear God, I thought, when did non-orthodox forms of Christianity become American???

i thought john gravy was an orthodox peiest , could he comment on this

To our Orthodox friends who might be lurking here:beware, beware, beware!Let our experience with the Scott Hahns et al be your warning.Some of these newbies aren't even sure that the Pope is Catholic enough.

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