Before we were going to talk together, I wanted to write down some thoughtful questions about their beliefs. Questions I wanted to know, questions I think others would like to know so I got my pen out and jotted them down. I wrote down questions like, “How do you explain the gospel of Jesus Christ?” “How do you authorize your worship? Bible? Creeds? or Tradition?” and “What is the biggest threat to your church today?” I had seven questions in all. I kissed Julie. Then I started walking down the apartment steps.
My friend Adrian scheduled this meeting for me after I told him I have been trying to talk to an Orthodox priest without success. He was the translator. Walking into the church was not the most welcoming. It was quite dark and candles were lit. The painting of the saints covering the walls seemed were dark, flat, black. There was a girl in the corner with her head on a shelf and her hand on an icon. She just stood there leaning.
Mihai, the priest dressed in his priestly garb, quickly approached us with a nice smile on his face. Adrian introduced me, we put some chairs in a circle and started the conversation. “Ask whatever questions you have.” “Okay,” I replied. “First, what is the gospel of Jesus Christ?” He looked at me for a moment. “I cannot explain it. It cannot be explained. Only God can explain it to you. Just read the gospels and epistles and it will be explained to you, if God wants to. Paul explains it very well in his epistles.” “Okay” I replied, “but you cannot give me your own summary?” “Ok, God is love. God is light. God want you to have peace and not be in turmoil.”
I then wanted to know how the Orthodox church saw protestants. “What do you think about protestants?” He replied, “they are in the dark about many things. They went to far when they left the Catholic church. Catholics are extreme in that they glorify Mary too much, as they think the Pope is infallible, as they don’t allow the Pope to get married.” “So do you think protestant or Catholics are saved?” “I do not judge, only God knows,” he replied. Then he told me a story. “You know, once a Orthodox priest and a drunken bus-driver died and went to Saint Peter. Peter let the bus-driver into heaven and sent the Orthodox priest to hell. And the Orthodox priest cried, “Why” and Saint Peter said, you preached too many sermons and people were just sleeping. But the drunken bus-driver lead 23 people to heaven when they prayed for their lives.”
“When I walk around town passing out fliers in search for an opportunity to present the gospel, some Orthodox believers call me a “pocăiți.” What does that mean?” Looking a little embarrassed, he explained slowly and carefully. “It means a person who repented. It can mean a good thing, like when someone turns to God. But people use it also for people who leave the Orthodox faith.”
The last question we talked about was the topic of studying the Bible. “This was one of the extremes of the protestant movement,” he said. “The Pope is looked to for truth for Catholics.” “The people are to study the Bible for their truth for the Protestants.” Then he brightened up; “the Orthodox stay right in the middle. We want the people to read the Bible, but the explanation should be left to the priest, who has studied it in college. Just like a patient goes to a doctor for medicine, Orthodox Christians go to the priest to hear the meaning of the text.”
Mihai had to leave the conversation for 20 minutes to bless some food for a walk-in believer. After he returned we concluded our discussion with the main threat of the Church. “What is the main threat for the church today?” “Peace,” he replied. No one has peace today and that is what everyone looks for. And because they don’t have peace, they aren’t able to live right. It’s like a tree which can’t bear fruit because the winds are pressing against it. The world needs peace. With that, I asked if we could talk next week about worship, baptism, singing, and icons. Lord-willing Adrian will visit Mihai again next week.