(First Things) - When I tell people I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, I often get a puzzled reaction. “Eastern Orthodoxy?” some will say. “What’s that?”
Others will ask whether I actually mean the Greek or the Russian Orthodox Church, mistakenly believing that they are different denominations. In fact, whether Greek, Russian, or Serbian, all are part of the same Church—including my Orthodox Church in America.
The Orthodox Catholic Church—as it is formally called—is the second largest in the world with about 300 million members. And while we remain almost microscopic in the United States, the Church is increasingly attracting converts, assisted by an increase in the number of English-speaking parishes, our beautiful chanted Liturgies, and our refined understanding of the Christian faith.
Some mistakenly think of us as “Catholic, but without the Pope,” or “Catholic, except with married priests.” It is true that there are some similarities with Rome. We agree that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ and we both robustly support traditional Christian monasticism. But there are also real theological differences that remain despite a millennium of on-and-off ecumenical efforts to heal the Great Schism.
My favorite general description of Orthodoxy comes from a pamphlet given me while I was being catechized:
Orthodox Christianity is the Ancient Christian Faith. It’s Orthodox, but not Jewish. It’s Catholic, but not Roman. It’s Evangelical, but not Protestant. It’s not denominational, it’s pre-denominational.
I have only been Orthodox since 2007 and sometimes feel as if I have yet to make a real beginning. I’m certainly no expert on the Church’s theology, moral teachings, and history. As I’ve studied, I’ve been greatly aided by Ancient Faith Radio, an online streaming service where listeners can not only enjoy beautiful Orthodox hymns twenty-four hours a day, but also find scores of podcasts from top theologians, apologists, and educators. Here are a few of my favorite programs:
Ancient Faith Today: AFT is a live, listener call-in program (archived as a podcast) presenting “informed conversation about subjects that matter through the lens of the Eastern Orthodox Church.” Hosted by the thoroughly prepared Kevin Allen, no issue or controversy involving faith and culture is off limits in this always-provocative twice-monthly program. For example, recent shows have discussed living as a Christian “in a neo-pagan culture,” a debate on the Church’s view on same-sex attraction, and an episode about the importance of human exceptionalism (featuring an interview with yours truly).
Frederica Here and Now: My friend Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, an author and lecturer, is probably the most popular apologist for Orthodoxy in America today. (Khouria—“mother”—is the honorific title given a priest’s wife in the Antiochian Orthodox Church.) Whether offering her take on a social controversy, teaching about the lives of the saints, interviewing Orthodox monks, or discussing the vicissitudes of transitioning from a once radical feminist to a now devout priest’s wife, Matthewes-Green’s podcast is a gentle and loving presence in the contemporary dissonance of strident discourse.
Orthodoxy Live: AFR’s second live call-in and then archived program—alternating Sundays with Allen’s—has Fr. Evan Armatas answering listener questions about Orthodox theology and practices. Fr. Evan’s gentility and respect for caller perspectives make this a must program for anyone interested in—or in challenging—the Orthodox faith.
A Word From the Holy Fathers: Modern Christianity continually seeks to reinvent the wheel. But, as Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg)—former Oxford fellow and founder of the Sts. Cyril and Athanasius Institute of Orthodox Studies—demonstrates, there really is nothing new under the sun. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the intellectual and spiritual traditions of the early Church.
Speaking the Truth in Love: Fr. Thomas Hopko, dean emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, is one of the most knowledgeable American experts on Orthodoxy today. A gifted speaker, Fr. Tom’s folksy manner and profound knowledge about Church history, Orthodox theology, and Christian moral philosophy make for a fascinating program on “Christian belief and behavior.”
I once heard an affectionate joke about my faith: How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: What’s a light bulb?
The point is that Orthodoxy intentionally does not “change with the times.” Our doctrines do, however, need to be communicated in a modern and effective manner. Ancient Faith Radio has tapped into the living water of Orthodoxy in performing this vital evangelical task.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults for the Patients Rights Council and the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.