What do you know about Orthodox Christians?

Or better, what do you know about Eastern Pan-Orthodox Christians? Or more specifically, the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of North America??

I knew nothing about the latter, except that the minister of the St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church in Hendersonville NC, Rev. Dr. Clayton Parks, wrote me, as pastor of Providence Baptist Church of Hendersonville NC, to ask if we were interested in selling our church building. “We started our church four years ago,” he wrote. “We have outgrown our little store front church, and with all kinds of expecting mothers in our church, we need a bigger space.”


Putting aside my curiosity about those expectant mothers and whether or not we might want to sell our church buildings, I thought, “What in the world is American Carpatho-Russian Orthodoxy and what are they doing in this part of the Bible Belt?


New York, maybe, as I know something about the Orthodox Church of America, based on Long Island. They have a seminary in Pittsburgh, St. Tikhon’s, and one in Yonkers, St. Vladimir’s (which I had the pleasure to visit once).


These are not to be confused with the one on Perrysville Avenue on the north side of Pittsburgh: Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius. I spent almost a decade in gospel work in that great city, so I know about some of this.


But I still have this question and so might you: What in the world is a Byzantine Catholic?


Here is part of the answer: There are 25 Catholic churches (or denominations, we Protestants would say) that use the Byzantine (Greek) liturgy as opposed to the Roman (Latin) liturgy. Of these, 14 are known as Greek Catholic or Byzantine Catholic. They report to the Pope in Rome.


I know it’s confusing, which is the way people elsewhere feel about Baptists.


I myself felt that way last week when I came across the video of a Baptist minister condemning the student revival at Asbury University in Kentucky as being false, even of the devil. Why? Because they weren’t using the King James Version of the Bible. Because women were speaking from the platform (generic as it was). Because when students stood to testify there was no mention of the blood atonement.


As I listened, I wondered again if I should hold onto that word Baptist.


Thirty years ago, I gave up the word Southern and kept the word Baptist. The Southern Baptists had become too Republican, too political, too white, too masculine, too fundamentalist, and too intolerant of discussion and dissent. I wanted none of it. I am glad I left, as I note they just disfellowshipped (excommunicated) their largest and most influential congregation, Saddleback Church in or near Los Angeles, whose founding and recently retired pastor is the legendary Rick Warren.


I met him once, but I will hold that story for another time.


The Asbury University Revival reminds me how hard it is to keep their taxonomy straight. That is a Wesleyan school, named after the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. But neither Asbury University nor Asbury Seminary are Methodist, except that the United Methodist Church approved Asbury Seminary for educating their ministers.


That last note—about educating their ministers—will surely change because Asbury Seminary has been the primary institution calling bishops, ministers, and congregations to leave the United Methodist Church; many have joined the new Global Methodist Church. Women in ministry is not the defining doctrine in this split as it was among Baptists 30 years ago; it is queer Christians—what to do with them in the church. United Methodists, as best I can tell, are willing to put them in the pulpit, and Global Methodists want to push them back into the closet.


Regardless, it is going to make the rest of the Christian world all the more confused about who is what and why. Which is how I feel about the Orthodox.


I first encountered them when my student called to say he was leaving the Baptist church and joining the Orthodox Church, even going to their seminary in New York. When I asked why, he said, “Remember that book you gave me to read? When I read it, I discovered myself.”


I liked what he said, but it pushed me, way back then, to do my homework about an Orthodox world that is as confusing as the Baptist world.


For my continuing education in these matters, I am meeting with the aforementioned Orthodox priest, Dr. Parks, on Friday morning. I have a lot more research to do before then, for sure. He may be scrambling to learn something about Baptists, especially the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.


Good luck, dear brother! It’s not easy for even me to keep straight about all the Baptists. Or the Methodists. Let alone the Orthodox.


I do know his American denomination (if I can use that term which I know he will resist) is under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and is largely based in Pennsylvania. How they got to Hendersonville may be my first question. Then I will ask about that word Ecumenical, which is intended to include all Christians. But apparently that so-described Patriarch has a hard time staying connected even to all the Orthodox.


It is bewildering, I know, which is what many people may be feeling as they shake their heads and walk away from all of it. “I’m taking a walk” John Prine wrote in one of his songs, but that also is another story. Peace.

Published On: March 1st, 2023 / Categories: Commentary /

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