By Deacon Daniel Malyon
Discussing Orthodox Faith | Someone I often notice when speaking of my personal journey to the Orthodox faith is that people do not hear what they expect to. A number of years ago, I attended a converts group and explained how I came to faith through philosophical enquiry and was told, “we don’t want to hear about philosophy, when did you open your heart to Jesus?” Needless to say, I didn’t attend the group again. However, this incident raises an interesting challenge regarding the expression of our faith to others, and that is the risk of alienating them through not speaking to their need.
Discussing Orthodox Faith | Prepacked Evangelism
In my own secular life, I work as a teacher, and the question of differentiation comes up often in my planning. We are trained to ask, ‘what level are you teaching to?’ and ‘How does the lesson link to prior learning?’ In the same manner, we need to ask the same question when speaking about our faith or trying to present it in a manner that would be meaningful to others. After all, what benefit is it to speak of the marvel of the crucifixion to Someone who hasn’t come to terms with the concept of the salvation it brought?
Similarly, we would not spend the majority of our energies convincing a well-studied catholic enquirer of the importance of the fathers or apostolic succession. Therefore, we need to step away from the presumption that a ‘prepacked’ view on evangelism or the position that all come to Christ in the same way.
Discussing Orthodox Faith | Approach
Let us take two examples and compare these. Imagine that you have a visitor to your parish who has come from a Pentecostal background and left due to a family issue; they would be seeking to find a community and a church that can provide comfort. They may also face difficulties in areas such as the veneration of the Saints or the use of Icons in the Church. This means that anyone helping with their catechesis will need to adapt their approach to these specific needs through themselves having a comforting approach and a depth of understanding of these issues.
In a similar way, if there were to be Someone coming from a non-religious background and seeking to become Orthodox following some personal epiphany regarding the faith. This person may have a background in addressing philosophical questions and need their entire understanding rebuilt from the ground up and need to address tough questions on theological challenges such as the nature of God. Similarly, approaches may differ based on Someone’s prior theological education or their own prayer life, both of which impact the approach the Church should take when introducing Someone into the Church and catering to their development.
We need to ask, “what is their prior understanding? What needs to be stripped away, and what can be built on?” Discussing Orthodox Faith by Deacon Daniel Malyon
Discussing Orthodox Faith | Schism
As both of these examples show, the view that Someone’s spiritual and catechetical development can be presumed is an absurd one and one which the Church needs to address; otherwise, we risk falling into the common danger of ‘prepacked evangelism’ which we often see amongst some communities who will take a generic and often impersonal approach to their introduction of the faith to others.
This is also something we often see in our own communities where an enquirer whose needs or questions are not answered will be blamed if they do not attend again or lose their way in their journey of faith. However, if we are to take an intelligent approach to this challenge, it can be solved by looking to the example of Christ in his interactions with people of differing backgrounds and foundations in their faith.
In John 4, we see Christ’s interaction with the Samaritan woman, in which he refers to her concerns over the Jewish/Samaritan schism in a manner that gives us pause to think. When she asks, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) due to views on ritual purity, he responds by pointing out, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10). In this manner, he addresses her concern through raising his divinity, leading to a discussion on his teachings and the nature of salvation.
“a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:21) | Discussing Orthodox Faith
Discussing Orthodox Faith | Salvation
Following this, he calls her to him through speaking of the end of this schism through the person of Christ, stating, “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:21). In doing this, there is no dismissal of either her previous views nor a vindication, but catering to the discussion she needed for her salvation. Applying this to the modern challenge in evangelism in a multi-faith society, we need to ask, “what is their prior understanding? What needs to be stripped away, and what can be built on?”
In this manner, we can both take down any misconceptions and build up and need for development based on the manner of Someone’s prior learning.
In its missionary and evangelism work, the Coptic Church has made strives in its approach to bringing faith to other communities and growing in the multi-faith and often postmodernist world, however without ensuring that the evangelism that appears is catered to the recognition that diversity is not simply intercommunal but also intercommunal it is bound to hit a brick wall.
If we cannot speak to the individual and their own experience in our attempts to bring others into the Church, we will struggle to bring anyone into the Church. In the same manner, if we cannot cater to the individual needs of the person coming into the Church, we should not be surprised if they seek it elsewhere.
By: Deacon Daniel Malyon | A Deacon of St Paul’s Ministry and St Mary & Pope Kyrillos VI Church. United Kingdom ~ Coptic Diocese of London.
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2020-11-06 from London, England
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