CC.com: Yesterday you said Orthodoxy was not just one denomination among many. What is the dialogue with evangelicals trying to accomplish, or how do you make that point to evangelicals who do see Orthodoxy as one of many denominations?
Fr. Hopko: I deal with that issue in Speaking the Truth in Love also, because dialogical is the way that it's done. You encounter, you speak, you have to listen in order to relate, so there's always a missionary dimension to dialogue. But it's also a dimension of testimony, it's also a willingness to have yourself tested. Okay, you think that we're wrong -- say why. Let's talk about it.
If we're all Christians, we all love Jesus, we all want the truth, and we don't agree about what that is, we'd better talk about it, and try to have enough dialogue so that we know what we actually disagree about! John Courtney Murray once said, "We don't know enough about each other even to disagree accurately." We've been separated from the Latin West for 900 years!
However, there are all these dangers. The danger could be exactly toward denominationalism. Even at Trinity Western the other night, when an evangelical who doesn't have a concept of the historical church and the sacramental church says, "I agree with everything you said," sometimes I'm tempted to say, "No you don't!" Because if you're inventing worship every week, and you don't believe that there's a church in history or that it all started in reality in the 16th century, you don't believe what we believe!
Now, the fact that we quote the Bible and talk about how Jesus saves us, you might relate to and believe in it, but the minute you come to how you access it, how it becomes yours, how you live it out -- I still think that there are incredible differences between evangelicals and Eastern Orthodox. Because for us, the Church is part of the gospel. Let me put it this way: The gospel implies the Church.
Fr. Florovsky used to talk about ecumenism in time, as well as in space. Who are you with in the past? You name any century, and we'll tell you who our guys were, and we'll tell you where we think the Church was, and we'll tell you where we think it wasn't, at least not in its fullness, where it became defective. In the early Church, we're with the so-called Catholics and not with the Gnostics and the Montanists. After the 4th century, we're with Athanasius, Basil, Gregory and the Nicene communities. In the 5th century, we're with the Chalcedonian communities, and in the later centuries, we're with Photius as against the papacy.
We have a history that we deeply identify with. We speak about Gregory and Basil as if they were our contemporaries, because mystically they are -- they are! And that's one thing that I think evangelicals, at least in their organic traditions, don't relate to.
In fact, a lot of times, as a matter of fact, they don't even know about it. They don't have the foggiest idea who these people even are. I've met United Church of Canada people who didn't know what the Nicene Creed was, and they were at a [World Council of Churches] Faith and Order Commission meeting representing their church! Seriously.
Then they say, "Why do you need it, it's Greek philosophy, it's old-fashioned, no modern person can relate to it." I remember in Russia once, I was there at a meeting exactly on the Nicene Creed, with Catholics and Protestants from all over the world -- it was an international meeting, sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission -- and the English-speaking Protestants were always on my case every day, because I could speak English, about, "Why do you do this, this is irrelevant, la la la."
And then we went to St. Sergius monastery outside Moscow, and there were all these people -- it was under Communism still -- the blind, the lame, all these people were out there in the middle of the night singing and singing, and these Protestants were out there looking at them and they're crying and saying, "I never saw such a piety," and then they said, "By the way, what are they singing?" and I said, "Well, they're just singing the outdated Nicene Creed that no one knows anything about." [laughs]
They were singing the Nicene Creed! And these people were just arguing that it's irrelevant, nobody cares about it, nobody knows what it is -- well, the one thing you had to do if you were Orthodox was to memorize the Nicene Creed and to know how to sing it. So that's the kind of thing that people find shocking.
I remember Desmond Tutu and his wife were at one service, and I heard her lean over to him and say, "I didn't know white folks could sing like this." So that's what the meetings can hopefully overcome and produce, some kind of new understanding of things, not caricatures.