Orthodox Christianity is proving attractive to some Western Christians who are weary of liberalism or hungry for a stronger sense of worship and the continuity of the New Testament Church.
Father Peter Gillquist can still sound a lot like the Campus Crusade staff person he used to be. "Being a Christian doesn't mean sacrificing brains," he told a group of students at the University of Winnipeg. "Christ enlightens our minds." But Gillquist's evangelical fervor has a different flavor these days. As chairman of the department of missions and evangelism of the Antiochian Christian Archdiocese of North America,his goal is "to establish 5OO new Orthodox parishes in North America by the year 2000." "The days of Orthodox Christianity being the best-kept secret in North America are over," says Giliquist.
In 1987, some 2,000 evangelicals ("Campus Crusade types") in 17 parishes were received en masse into the Orthodox Church. "Since then we've started 32 additional missions and churches, all in the United States," he says, bringing an estimated 6,500 worshippers within the evangelical Orthodox stream. And the movement continues with some momentum. Gillquist's Winnipeg visit, sponsored by the local Orthodox Clergy Association, attracted larger audiences than organizers had expected to a full schedule of meetings in Orthodox, Protestant and, university settings.
"It was exciting to have him here," says Father Mirone Klysh of St. George's Orthodox Church in Transcona, a Winnipeg suburb. "He inspired the Orthodox as well as the enquirers. [His teaching] lifted the spiritual level of the Orthodox." And, Klysh notes, leaders of at east two local Protestant congregations (Anglicain and Pentecostal) were asking for more information.
Giliquist says that 85-90% of the new people in Orthodox churches are Christians from another part of Christendom. While they come from many different backgrounds, Orthodoxy seems particularly attractive to those from the Anglican/Episcopalian communions.
Since the Church of England began ordaining women, Gillquist has been in touch with 110 Anglican priests in England. The goal of 500 new parishes, he explains, will "not be limited to our own archdiocese," but will include new parishes that "stem from the efforts here."
Peter Gillquist, who grew up in a Lutheran home, began taking his faith seriously in university. He is an alumnus of Dallas Theological Seminary and Wheaton Graduate School, and a former regional director of Campus Crusade for Christ.
An inability to assimilate large numbers of new converts into existing churches started Gillquist and other Campus Crusade colleagues on a "walk through history to find the Church." Tbey were surprised to learn that the early church was liturgical, sacramental and had bishops. "We didn't want to discover these things," he says.
Continuing the history lesson, Gillquist explains that "for the first thousand years the Church was one," until a major dispute in 1054 separated Rome from the four other patriarchal centres. The Protestant Reformation in 1517 further splintered the western church (some 2,600 denominations at last count). But the East has continued with relative uniformity the traditions of the "one, holy, apostolic, catholic church." "This church hasn't rearranged the gospel over the centuries," he says.
While Gillquist acknowledges that the cultural trappings of Eastern orthodoxy are a tough sell in the West, he insists that students are not interested in "short-cut Christianity," that commitment to the leadership of a bishop (theocracy rather than democracy) is liberating, and that "Orthodox women don't go through identity crises."
As well, the evangelical stream is having an impact on the traditional and culturally bound Orthodox churches by developing training programs, explaining doctrines and infusing a spirit of evangelistic fervor.
Gillquist points to a new Study Bible that has the New Testament and Psalms with Orthodox study notes as "exhibit A of the kinds of things we're doing [to help the Orthodox] to learn the Scriptures apologetically and devotionally."
And priests like Klysh are happy for the help. He observes that having English language parishes within the Orthodox communion "fills a need within the existing community." Many are seeing it "as a solution to the problem of losing young people because of language issues.
Article taken from the ChristianWeek newspaper. Used by permission