Up to now, I’ve been sharing what I think the Orthodox Church has to offer the non-Orthodox community. Now it’s time to turn the tables. My evangelical passions prompt me to suggest that the time has come for us Orthodox to rediscover the evangelical character of our own faith on its own terms not on the model of popular evangelicalism. (See my chapter The Evangelical Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, ed. James Stamoolis (Zondervan, 2004)). Because of our maximalist vision of theology, our evangelical identity looks and acts very differently than yours. Still, I would like to suggest that the Great Tradition of our Great Church cuts both ways – we ourselves are judged by it! Even if the gospel is formally in the life of the Orthodox Church, as we believe, that does not mean our people have understood and appropriated its message. "Catholicity" (i.e. the whole and adequate expression of the faith) must be discerned and applied if the Church is to be spiritually viable in today’s world.
More and more Orthodox, as they study the Great Tradition, are admitting that many of our leaders and laity don’t have a mature grasp of their own faith. They recognize that the Church isn’t free from ethno-centrism or religious bigotry, that it hasn’t contextualized its faith and liturgy in the modern world, and that it hasn’t figured out how to relate to unchurched people in North America (its converts mostly consist of disillusioned believers from other Christian traditions). More and more Orthodox, as they explore the early church afresh, see that there are parts of its ancient liturgies that seem to have no biblical justification, and that we cannot simply regard the Reformation and the last millennium in the West as nothing more than a sideshow.
To be sure, there are countless cases of people whose spiritual lives are flourishing in vibrant Orthodox communities. Still, the most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need to engage in an aggressive "internal mission" of evangelizing our priests and people to Jesus Christ. Our own Church Fathers, such as Sts. Symeon the New Theologian and Makarios of Egypt, exhort us to that end. I also know from personal experience that it’s possible to be "religious, but lost." That’s why all of us – bishops, priests and people—need to make the gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our lives and in our parishes. We must constantly recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church. Naturally, if this happens, it will lead to a revival within Orthodoxy itself, which will cause the Church to blossom in unprecedented ways. When all is said and done, I see many signs that suggest that the Orthodox and evangelical communities are gradually coming together more in vision, than in fact. As more and more evangelicals appropriate things Orthodox, it may well be that the 21st century will go down in history as the Orthodox century.