One theologian noted, “Christians must attend [the communion]; and this they do not as a duty, but as a distinct privilege. They may feel unworthy to attend it, and yet they know that they are welcome by our Lord, Who numbers them among His chosen people….” No, this wasn’t written by John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Hodge, or even John Wesley. It was written by Nicholas Elias, a Greek Orthodox priest.

In his book, The Divine Liturgy Explained: A Guide for Orthodox Christian Worshippers, Elias makes several comments about the Lord’s Supper that any Calvinist and many other Protestants would wholeheartedly agree with. And it unmasks a serious flaw in how evangelicals frequently treat other Christian groups: too often, we shoot first and ask questions later. Our defenses go up because we know that we’re right and they’re wrong. In blissful ignorance, we sit as judge and jury. This is no better than what many Greek Orthodox laypeople think of us: when we tell them that we are Protestants, they say that that’s the same as being Catholic! One of these layfolks (though a man who was theologically trained) asked us if we believed that John the apostle wrote the Apocalypse. When we said yes, he was surprised. He thought that all Catholics and Protestants denied this! Ignorance can exist on both sides of the fence, and when it does the path of least resistance is to condemn from afar rather than to seek to understand.

So, in this blog, I wish to note a few things that I have learned about the Christian faith from the Greek Orthodox, especially while on Patmos. Today is our last day in Greece, and it is fitting that I offer some reflections about our time here among the Orthodox. These reflections are not only mine; they are those of the whole team from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts—Emmanuel Guegain, Billy Todd, Andrew Wallace, and myself. I’d love to get some comments on this and dialogue with you about these matters. Here goes:

1. As I alluded in the beginning of this blog, Orthodoxy celebrates the Lord’s Table at least once a week. This is far closer to the apostolic pattern than what most Protestant churches practice.
2. The rich symbolism in the service—which reaches back several centuries—reveals both a dedication to a biblical worldview and unmasks the frequent poverty in low-liturgy Protestantism. There are some high-liturgy denominations within Protestantism (Episcopalian, Lutheran, and to some degree, Presbyterian). But most, at least in America, put as little emphasis on liturgy as possible. Although a high liturgy, complete with repetition of ancient practices, has its problems, it also focuses on Christ and involves a time-tested ritual that does not try to be avant garde. There’s something to be said for that.
3. Protestantism has no central authority, leaving each denomination or, worse, each local church, to define truth and what it means to adhere to it. One of the things that is attractive to me about Orthodoxy is that it has a hierarchy of leadership which is responsible for maintaining true Christian belief and practice. There are no Lone Ranger leaders; each answers to someone up the chain.
4. The Protestant Reformation gave impetus to the elevation of reason over revelation, an idea that in essence gave birth to the Enlightenment. Even though we might not think that the elevation of tradition is a good idea, Protestants have largely failed to replace that with anything better. Once we claim that special revelation is our final authority, it raises a significant question: how do we access the meaning of that revelation? Luther appealed to his conscience; well and good. He also noted that the church fathers and popes disagreed all the time. True, to some degree. But he also opened the doors to the use of our own intellect as the final arbiter on truth, in spite of the fact that our minds, too, are tainted with sin. In Orthodoxy as well as Catholicism, tradition stands on much higher ground. And especially in Orthodoxy, it is appealed to in matters of credo. This has safeguarded the Orthodox branch from theological corruption that is especially the hallmark of Protestantism.
5. Along these lines, Orthodoxy has a strong connection with history. They recognize that the Holy Spirit did not wait until the 21st century to begin teaching us! He has been doing so all along, and it is to our peril and shame that we neglect the great lights of the faith who have gone before us. Evangelicals believe that it’s “the Bible alone” that is our final authority. But too often this means that the Bible alone is our only authority.
6. At least on Patmos, we were treated with incredible hospitality. The Abbot called us brothers and said we were free to visit him and make requests of him any time we needed to. On our last day, he kissed and hugged each of us as we left! This man is very high within Orthodoxy and showed us incredible Christian grace. He considered co-laborers in protecting the scriptures. My question is, How would we treat Orthodox priests who came to America to photograph our books? Would we look at them with suspicion? Would we tolerate them, but just barely? I learned a great deal about grace and humility from Abbot Antipas on this trip.
7.  Finally, there is a strong emphasis on rationalism within Protestantism vs. mysticism within Orthodoxy. This can be illustrated by what we value. On our last day on Patmos a year ago, we gave the Abbot books; he gave us icons. Now, please understand: I do value reason and am a true son of the Enlightenment. But I do not think that it has all the answers. I also believe that there is a strong mystical element to the Christian faith that western Christianity has essentially ignored. Why is Pentecostalism the fastest growing Christian group in third world countries? Where do we see God’s intervention in our lives today? Do we anticipate it, yearn for it? Or just find it in the Bible alone? Why is that many evangelicals in America are jumping ship and joining the Roman Catholic church or becoming Orthodox? Is it possible that the felt needs of these people are not fully being met within the evangelical community and that that lack is due to some genuine deficiencies?

Please, let’s dialogue on these points!

Sincerely in Christ,

Dan Wallace

    16 replies to "What I have learned from the Greek Orthodox"

    • richards

      At the risk of sounding like a mindless DW groupie, I agree with nearly everything you said. Thus, we shall both have our bowels removed before our eyes and burned in our sight.

      I attended an Orthodox service back in January, just to see what it was like. I had read “The Orthodox Way” by Ware and Clendendine’s “Eastern Orthodox Theology.” I had also read Calvin’s polemic on the use of icons. What was Eastern Orthodoxy really like?

      There are many things on which I still choke in Eastern Orthodoxy, but what struck me so hard was the focus of the service: God is the focus of our worship, and God is Triune. There were no announcements of upcoming activities, no funny stories to go with a devotional sermon, no disorder. There was rich symbolism (nothing is done without significant meaning), carefully worded liturgy and prayer, and a sense of continuity with the past. Not only because of the iconography, but I could not look anywhere in that church and see something that would distract from my worship of the Triune God (well, maybe that icon of Constantine, but that was it).

      I’d like to respond to your points…

      1/7) While this may have been the apostolic pattern, so was keeping all things in common. That being said, I think our pattern of seldom-observing the Lord’s Supper is a result of our theology regarding it. If it’s just a memorial, then why celebrate it any more often that is required to remember it? I don’t quite understand Calvin’s view, but he does take a more significant view than just a memorial. The mystical aspect of worship is lost not just in the Lord’s Supper, but in other areas as well, which seems to be characteristic of Protestants (at least from my experience). Are we not missing something in our worship experience when we *only* engage our minds?

      The great irony is that while we reject the repetition of liturgy, the only thing that changes in our bulletin from one week to the next is the date and the hymn numbers.

      2) Poverty is an apt description of our services. Take out the 18″ high cross from the altar, and you are left with just another building. We have music that is sometimes theologically correct (we sang the theologically vacuous “Give me that old time religion” the other Sunday. I nearly cried.). Our focus is on the sermon and the choir special, and all else is just idolatry (enter Gnosticism).

      3/4/5) Authority — I’ve often thought about this, but don’t know a solution. Both EO and RC have some kind of authority, and while EO would not claim infallibility, when has the EO ever said they were wrong? If they contradict a council, they simply say it “wasn’t ecumenical,” but they only define ecumencial after the fact. They assume infallibility without claiming it, and that doesn’t seem to leave room for reform. I suppose the EO answer to this is “Why reform what hasn’t changed?” In reading Gonzalez’s “History of Christian Thought”, I’d rather fall into the hands of the emperor than some of the bishops. Protestants, it seem, have it no better. Like it or not, we *are* Lone Rangers who just happen to agree on the essentials, but not because we feel bound by any tradition, which we spurn. Despite this, we certainly do formulate our theology in light of personal tradition. If we would only recognize this, we might make a greater attempt explore the Great Tradition (to quote Olsen) rather than just mama and daddy’s, whatever that might have been.

      6) If we don’t know the essentials of our own faith, how will we know a Christian brother when we see them? I think our fear of EO and RC is that we know neither what we nor they believe, but they sure are strange. Once we are fully informed of what we have historically held as sine qua non, we can be more open to accepting EO as our Christian fellow-workers.

      Dan, thanks very much for your insight and blunt criticism of the church. I hope this is widely read and debated with the same level of thought maturity that you have put into your work.


    • mjfreshoil


      I somehow have to rewrite my comments. When I tried to submit what I thougt was a very cogent response, it vanished into thin air… and instead, I see Richards comments in its place. Oh well.. and Richards comments are of course very good.

      As I have stated before, I come from a Penticostal background. I think the problem with most evangelicals is we have replaced the idea of being awestruck by our God with some form of intellectual reason. Jesus taught it was a necessity to have faith as a child. We have lost the mysteriousness of our faith. It has all been replaced by Systematic Theology. We have developed a “form of godliness but denying the power therof”. Im not saying good theology isnt important. Reason is certainly an element of faith, but it isnt the only element. I am not an advocate of developing a sort of mysticism by creating icons or statues, but there is some merit to it, even the scriptures definition of faith seems be a bit nebulous, and creates some mystery in itself: ” Now faith is the substance of things HOPED for, the evidence of things NOT SEEN”. Hope and not seen are certainly intangibles.

      The early churches response to communion abuses are understandable, but as a result we have lost the significance of it… it has become nothing more than tradition. When tradtion has no meaning, it becomes useless. I think we should do like Paul. He valued the importance of communion so much that when he taught on it, he quoted Jesus-maybe so it wouldnt become devalued as just an intellectual exercise.

      Our worship in many evengelical churches is still dead and lacking emotion because of abuses that happend earlier in history. And scripure certainly is filled with examples of worship that shoud remind us that praise and worship should contain mystery and emotion. When David danced, he was so awestruck by Gods power, he tore off his clothes. Or how about Jesus himself? When a group of people worshipped him while he entered Jerusalem, he was asked by some to tell them to stop. He said if they dont worship him, rocks would. Our relationship with God needs to be based on more than just reason.

      As a christian who still believes in emotional worship, and operating in gifts of the spirit, I am disturbed by all the misuse, but misuse shouldnt mean stop use. The apostle Paul when dealing with the misuse of spiritual gifts never told the church at Corinth to stop, in fact he actually said to “forbid not to speak in tongues”. This suggests to me that our approach to misuse has been inproper. I think to some degree the mystery in the icons of the Greek Orthodox church might have been inteneded to make up for the mystery and power of the Holy Spirt that worked in the early church. This is why I cannot be critical of them because they are trying to keep what we seem to have lost. This is also why I am not critical of TBN, or other charasmatic ministries. Yes there is alot of abuse, but at least they are trying to maintain the mystery and awsomeness of Gods power. If you have never been to a Benny Hinn crusade for example, you should go. Not to observe whether or not hes a scam artist; but even if you dont believe in the legitamacy of his ministry, there is an atmosphere of worship unlike anything Ive experienced in any church- including Penticostal. In an environment like that, whos to say what can happen and who can and cannot be healed or delievered. I know there is someone who just got offended by that statement, and their mind is racing at 100 mph to find a way to respond.. but how can you? Are you God? and decide what is and isnt appropriate? Yes of course we should evaluate everything in the light of scripture. It is the final authority. But what if scriptupre doesnt address it? Does that mean we should discard it? I dont think so. When Jesus spit and made clay to heal the blind man, did the Old Testiment validate the method? Or when the shadow of the Apostle Peter was used by God to heal, was there ever a scriptural or historical precident for it? The healings, the dancing, and the prasings, were not the result of good Bible exegesis, or a systematic theology. They were however the result of people who believed in the awesome, magnitude of a God who by His Spirit could do anything.

      Thanks again for indulging my comments.


    • stevemoore

      Now faith is the substance of things HOPED for, the evidence of things NOT SEEN”. Hope and not seen are certainly intangibles.

      Good point .

      Question: what is the substance and object of the faith you are referring to? Can it be anything? Are faith and hope good things simply because of some intrinsic value of their own? Are faith and hope good things simply because they are vectored towards something unseen and therefore the unseen supercedes the seen?

      For the believer, the scriptures are clear that our faith and hope are in Christ and the reality of His kingdom and plan – whether we see it or not. Hope and Faith are a confident expectation of this unseen reality. We can count on God to make good on His word and promises. So, just because it is unseen does not make it better somehow. One day He will be seen and be tangible, and that certainly wont diminish Christ’s value.

    • stevemoore

      Oh, and sorry to hijack the blog – didnt mean to get it off track.

      Dan – thanks for comments. Interesting and appreciate your letting us have a glimpse into this experience, and into the world of Orthodox worship and belief.


    • richards


      Although I see your point about the atmosphere of worship, it is lost by the reference to Benny Hinn. I don’t need to be God to know that he is not of God. This is a man who prophesied that Jesus Christ would appear on stage with him. He also said God had revealed (to just him) that each person of the Trinity was itself a trinity, thus, God is a “nine-ity.” He actually used that word.

      Can God work in such a place and through such a man? Well, he worked through Balaam, so I guess so. But note that there are no books in the canon by Balaam, and the only example Balaam sets for us is a bad one. The same goes with Benny Hinn.

      Again, I see your point about the atmosphere, and I don’t want to take away from Dan’s post, but I cannot help but respond.

    • mjfreshoil


      Point taken. Maybe Benny Hinn is not the best example I could have used, but I wanted more to relate to the environment, then the man himself. I agree that I have heard him and others say things that can certainly be off the wall ( if Im not mistaken even the late Dr Falwell has said a few things that might be questionable).

      It makes me, an African American Penticostal, visit a Greek Orthodox church. Isnt God good?


    • richards

      My question is this: Since we as Protestants have so much momentum pushing us further in the direction we are going, how can we change direction? How do we explore the mystery of worship or of the Lord’s Supper? How do we explore Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism? How can we do any of this as a part of our local congregation?

      In my local church, the attitude is one of preaching only a simple message of the Gospel (which is good), but that there is little need to go beyond this, and certainly no need to probe our faith historically.

      What action can we take as individual believers?

    • kolabok21

      Very interesting indeed and good observation from outside the box. I also concur with your assessment of the Orthodoxy religion.
      It does lead one to a relationship of obedience and traditionally speaking that is preciously what the Apostles & Apostolic Church Fathers did do.
      It IMO, is an order of hierarchal duty and reverence to do those things which the early church set out to do with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their daily activities’.
      I believe here in the west we have lost focus on such crucial elements of worship that is taking us further away from the truth, as revealed. I am not saying we are wrong, but maybe we have lost something along the way,
      yes tradition is important!!!
      Besides my wife is Russian Orthodox and I know when I went to some of the churches in Ukraine for the first time, I felt like dropping to my knees before entering, it was truly can I say a mystical experience.
      One thing my wife tells me about the icons, is sort of like this, a magnifying lenses if you will to focus on God or maybe better said to channel thru onto the father.

    • Sara

      I think a lot of spirituality depends on your culture as well. My father’s family is Roman Catholic and I have attended a handful of Catholic services before with extended family members. The differences I saw were mainly in how the service was arranged, and how we took communion. When I moved to Japan this year I had to “shop around” at the different English language services to find a new church to go to since my denomination did not have an English service here. I attended a Roman Catholic service for Filipinos living in my town, and it was worlds away from what I had known before. There was standing room only, everyone was singing and clapping their hands, we repeatly joined hands together while singing, and everyone truly cared about who you were, no matter who you were. The room was packed, with standing room only left for late comers. The spirituality of the service was the strongest I had ever experienced. While the liturgy and the communion probably added to the spiritual experience, I believe that it was the people who truly carried the spirit with them that made the difference. I’ll check out the English Orthodox Service next though and see if it’s any different:-).

    • Dan Wallace

      So many comments! And all while I was traveling from Athens to Dallas. Thanks for the great interaction. We got to the Athens airport at 8 am yesterday (Athens time) and didn’t get back to Dallas until almost midnight last night (Dallas time). Since Dallas is 8 hours behind Greece, our time from airport to airport was 24 hours. Long day.

      It looks as though the comments have taken on a life of their own, but there are two or three that I felt I could and should respond to:

      1. My own view on communion is pretty much the same as Calvin’s. (I wrote an essay or two on this, posted at I don’t think that Jesus instituted rituals for ritual’s sake. Mere memorial strips the Eucharist of its mystery and is, in my view, a reaction to the abuses of the Roman Catholic approach in the 16th century. So, for me, having communion frequently is an important aspect of the Christian life. I do not see it as a means of saving grace, but it is a means of sanctifying grace. (And although it is true that we need to make a distinction between apostolic practice and apostolic precept, I think there is sufficient ground to argue that communion fits both.)

      2. The problem of how to access revelation as our final authority remains a large one. Catholics and Orthodox appeal more to tradition, while Protestants appeal more to reason. I’m not entirely in either camp, perhaps because I believe in the noetic effects of sin (viz., sin has tainted our thinking) and because I believe that the Church quickly shifted away from a clear understanding of the Jewish/Old Testament roots of Christianity. Thus, reason cannot be fully trusted (because our minds cannot) and tradition cannot be fully trusted (because the church fathers also were affected by the noetic effects of sin and because they looked at the gospel through a hellenized worldview). There is a third way to access revelation and that is through the Spirit. I’m not saying that the Spirit provides believers with new truth, but he does assure our hearts about what has been essentially revealed. That is, if we can’t trust tradition or reason to guide us infallibly to a grasp on the essence of the gospel, we must rely on the Spirit in this endeavor as well (cf. Rom 8.16).

      3. One of the demarcations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy on one side and Protestantism on the other is simply this: RC and EO focus more on our organic connection to Christ while Protestants focus more on our forensic status brought about by Christ. Both of these views are taught in the New Testament. I think Paul especially grasped both well, as did Luther. But Luther’s followers have abused his views by focusing so strongly on forensics (i.e., our declared status of ‘not guilty’ before God) that some even say that once you’re saved you can live like the devil. On the other side, I’m not sure that RC and EO often grasp fully the incredibly freeing good news that Christ has paid for all of our sins and that we appropriate him by faith.

    • stevemoore

      Dr Wallace – do you perhaps have a title or link to one of the articles you mention over on – I have searched a bit and do not see them. Or rather, I dont see what I thought I would see. ;^)


    • Dan Wallace

      I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t find the essays either! A preliminary essay is called “Passover in the Time of Jesus.” That doesn’t deal with the issues direction, but it may be helpful just the same.

    • stevemoore

      Ok, I dont feel so bad then. ;^) I’ll check out that essay and keep my eyes open for the others.


    • JoanieD

      I found all the comments here to be very interesting. Miles, I am glad you recreated your post after it went missing. I agree with your statement, Miles: “Our relationship with God needs to be based on more than just reason.” Somewhere in the Bible it says “Taste and see how good the Lord is. ” And Jesus said that he brings us great joy. There is more than reasoning there. I was brought up Catholic, then was involved with an independent “born again” type of church, then back to Catholic with the charismatic Catholics, then learned Centering Prayer as taught by the Catholic monk, Thomas Keating. It’s centering prayer with silent praying “in tongues” at times along with more formal prayer at times like the Our Father that sustains me. Due to situations within my marriage, I unfortunately am not involved with any local church and am “on my own” but I am surrounded by people doing their best to follow Jesus. I do miss the more formal gathering of the people at the Catholic church though. And though I still am unsure what I think about Communion, I wish I could attend. 🙁

      Dan, you bring up some very good questions. I am glad your time at Patmos was so fruitful for you and your friends. The Abbot there sounds like a very loving man.

      Joanie D.

    • Perry Robinson

      From the other side of the fence, here are some correctives. The mystical/reason dichotomy is not really helpful. We think we can know things about God using our brain. It is because of our view of theology proper, we think reason has a limit. We know God in the divine activities, not the essence, which is one reason why we deny the filioque.

      Orthodoxy claims infallibility, though it isn’t limited to one bishop. Plenty of the Ecumenical councils claim it. There are conditions in 2nd Nicea, not to mention some earlier at Ephesus that determine what is or is not an Ecumenical Council. It is not arbitrary.

      Generally speaking, the Orthodox do not have statues, but only icons. Icons go back as far as the Catacombs and Duros Europas 2nd/3rd entury. Even earlier if we take Gnostic criticism seriously. As for Liturgy and emotion, if you know the Scriptures the liturgy comes alive. If you don’t, it is quite boring. The Liturgy often says things I wish to say but much better than I could and so gives form to my emotion. I make it my own and teach my children to do likewise. You use the book till you don’t have too.

      Another benefit of liturgy is that it actually protects the lay people. The priest simply can’t do whatever he likes and neither can anyone else. Some may think that this is restrictive, but on the other hand Orthodox have voting rights and canon law to protect them from abuses. The liturgy serves a similar purpose in part.

      As for hierarchy, Heb 13:7 should be kept in mind. As for the Eucharist, Calvin’s view of the Eucahrist is similar to the Orthodox view of Icons, they are divinely energized and put forth an illuminating power to those who reverence with faith. But for the Orthodox, the Eucharist isn’t an icon (

      I am not sure how Dan’s appeal to the Spirit’s work bridges the access gap, given the noetic effects of sin. The latter seems to cut at the appeal to the Spirit as well. Moreover, just as much skepticism about the actual working of the Spirit and the apparent work of the Spirit can be generated as with reason or tradition. At least tradition is historical and demonstrateble to a large degree.

      Orthodox emphasize a Christological union since our corporate union with Christ is hypostatic in the Incarnation and not legal, for all are “in Christ” and raised regardless of legal standing (1 Cor 15:20ff). We would be worried that a fundamental legal relationship would not only be inadequate to rescue creation from annihilation caused by sin, but that it betrays a fundamental mistake in Christology (Nestorianism). I am not accusing, just expressing concerns from over here.

    • ChadS

      As a Catholic even I feel we have plenty to learn from our Orthodox brothers.

      I converted to Catholicism from a mainline Protestant denomination. On my journey I became very attracted to the Byzantine Catholic liturgy (it’s almost identical to Orthodox services). Since then I’ve attended several Orthodox services too. I’ve never seen churches and services so full of symbolism and mystery. Everything the Orthodox does during worship is chock full of symbolism, from the way they make the sign of the cross or even to the tones they use in singing. And it all points towards the one holy and triune God.

      In the Orthodox tradition icons are “windows into heaven.” Like their services icons are full of symbols that express mysteries and truths much more fully than words could ever hope. That’s why you won’t find photos or lifelike paintings in their churches, they would say it distracts from contemplating God and focussing on his worship.

      I think one thing we should keep in mind when talking about the Orthodox is that they view Protestants and Catholics as the two sides of the same coin. They see a difference more fundamentally between East and West. They believe generally that western theology (both Catholic and Protestant) is too wrapped up in the enlightenment and trying to explain things in logical and clear fashion. The Orthodox focus more intensely on mystery and contemplating the divine and not worrying about how exactly it works. They seem happy to just say it’s a mystery (don’t get me wrong they have a very well defined theology that concurs mainly with Catholic understandings but they just don’t have the emphasis on rationalism that western theology developed). I think we all could take a page from that book and not worry about connecting the lines correctly from a to b to c and just enjoy the fact that it “is.”


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