Charismatic renewal in the Orthodox church

It was added late to the schedule so I’m really glad I noticed it. I was wanting to jump right in and this was a perfect way to do it, albeit rather unexpected.

I’ve long been interested in the Orthodox church. Well, not really all that long. Ten years or so. When I was first really introduced to it I wasn’t interested at all. It was in my Historical Theology class. Robert Webber was very interested in Orthodoxy and brought in a man who was once an Evangelical firebrand and then converted to the Orthodox church.

I didn’t find much to like about the presentations in that class. Of course, I was still myself wholly Evangelical with all the biases that meant, so I wasn’t quite listening with an altogether open mind. I wonder what I would think now. I suspect I still wouldn’t like it, but I would have a better sense of the specifics.

Here’s why. Because the stories and presentation in that class were about Orthodox ecclesiology. The man who became a priest loved the Church, the history, the formality, the liturgy, the whole Apostolic succession that maintained a strict, orderly hierarchy. He was in love with the form of church the Orthodox presented.

I did, though, come out of that class feeling like the Orthodox had a much better claim for real succession than does the Roman Catholic church, whose theology likes to claim early centuries but is really late medieval. The Orthodox think the 4th and 5th century were worth keeping around for a good while longer.

Since that time I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve done a lot of reading of early church sources, and many of the very sources that the Orthodox raise as their sources. And it hit me again and again.

Where’s the passion? Where’s the real presence of the Spirit?

What I saw was all the theology of the Spirit, this elegant, wonderful, deep theology of spirituality and holiness being poured into yet more justifications of hierarchy, and power, and church politics. The theology doesn’t match the expression. I’ve little interest in forms or power structures or thinking that I need a man in a beard and dark outfit to somehow be my connection to the living Christ and his ever present Spirit. I believe in apostolic succession but it is through the Spirit that this is conveyed, not in the structures. I wondered where the living power of the Spirit that is so present in the early church writers has gone. Why is there such political battles even as they claim to be bearers of the one who has upset all those politics?

The presentation was on the charismatic renewal in the Orthodox church. So, given all my thoughts, I was interested.

And I was in turn absolutely delighted. Father Eusebius Stephanou spoke on his own realization of the living power of the Holy Spirit forty years ago and then on his, as he terms it, prophetic ministry within the Orthodox church to bring this renewal to all. It is, as he puts it, not a matter of bringing something new to the church. The Orthodox church, he said, is the Pentecostal church, it is the church that began on Pentecost, but has lost its way for all kinds of reasons and all kinds of distractions.

He told the story of how he had absolutely no interest in those from other churches, thought them (us) all heretics. A charismatic group of Orthodox began to include him, and he was entranced by their passion for God. He didn’t feel the same warmth they did, even after they prayed over and with him, but he knew there was something there leading him to greater depths. One evening, while eating alone as he usually did, the Spirit met him. Came over him with an overpowering love for Jesus, a passion for Jesus, a love for the work of God, and began to see and think with a profound new awareness of God’s work. This was the beginning of his ministry.

What’s so interesting to me is how so much of what he said, beginning with the absolute emphasis and adoration for Jesus, were points that I talk about in my book. He expressed what I was thinking we should see when the Spirit came. He emphasizes Jesus, he wants to participate with all those who call him Lord, he sees the frustrations that a rigid hierarchy can lead to. He is filled with this love for God, and is coupled with an absolute love for his church.

In this love, in this passion, in these emphases I resonate so strongly. He is the expression of what I read in the works of Symeon the New Theologian, or Nikitas Stithatos, or any of the other absolutely profound Christian Orthodox writers who have been so central to my developing faith.

I feel a bond of unity with Father Eusebius that goes beyond so much of what I’ve felt with so many Evangelical pastors.

And so, the conference started out well for me. And it was only my first taste of orthodox and Pentecostal dialogue.

But in between I got a taste of Peace–Baptist, Quaker, Pentecostal pacifism.

Which will be the subject of another post.

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