In 1960, Penguin Books asked the 26-year-old Timothy Ware to write a book on his newfound Eastern Orthodox faith. His first reaction was to say no; he had been Orthodox for only two years. But a friend urged him to try and so he set his pen to paper. Now nearly 50 years old, The Orthodox Church remains the go-to book for people who want an introduction to Orthodoxy. Since that first book, Ware became a monk, took the name Kallistos, became a lecturer at Oxford University, and was made Metropolitan Bishop of Diokleia for Greek Orthodoxy in Britain.

Earlier this year, Ware lectured at North Park University and Wheaton College about what evangelicals could learn from the Orthodox and what the Orthodox could learn from evangelicals. Christianity Today editor in chief David Neff interviewed him during that visit.

Some friends who have joined the Orthodox Church talk as if the Orthodox tradition was fixed very early and handed down without change. You treat tradition in a much more dynamic way.

You're quite right that I think tradition is dynamic. I recall the definition given by the great Russian Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky: "Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the church." Clearly, tradition is life; it's not a fixed formula. Still less is it writings in leather-bound volumes. Tradition is life, and it is the life of Christ present in the church through the Holy Spirit. It is not simply fixed doctrines, but the continuing self-understanding and self-criticism of the Christian community.

What keeps that dynamic self-understanding from going off the rails?

Holy Scripture as it has been understood in the church and by the church through the centuries. With that understanding of Holy Scripture, we would appeal particularly to the fathers and the saints.

Tradition is not a second source alongside Scripture; clearly normative for us Orthodox is Scripture as interpreted by the seven ecumenical councils. But tradition lives on. The age of the fathers didn't stop in the fifth century or the seventh century. We could have holy fathers now in the 21st century equal to the ancient fathers.

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The implosion of Communism left a spiritual vacuum, and my fellow evangelical Protestants rushed into Russia. There have been tensions as they have tried to help people get to know the Bible better and to make their faith personal. Why has it been so difficult for Orthodox and evangelicals to work together in post-Communist countries?

The Orthodox felt and still feel deep resentment at the way—as they see it—evangelicals have moved in on their territory. They feel we suffered persecution in Russia for 70 years, often very severe, and we struggled to keep the faith going under immense difficulties. Now that the persecution has stopped, people move in from the West who have not suffered in the same way for their faith, and they are stealing our people from us. We feel as if our Christian brethren are stabbing us in the back. I'm putting it in extreme form, but there is this deep feeling.

Bound up with this is the sense in Russia and other Orthodox countries of what is called canonical territory. Orthodoxy is the church of the land. Therefore, they feel if other Christians come in, they are stealing their sheep.

I know evangelicals look at it differently. They would say, "Here is a country with enormous numbers of people who are totally unchurched, who for 70 years have had no chance to have a living link with Jesus Christ, and we must help them." But that's not the way the Orthodox look at it. They would welcome cooperation, but they resent anything that involves stealing their sheep.

The Orthodox have always had good cooperation with Billy Graham. When Billy Graham went to Russia, he was received by the patriarch, because he worked on the principle that those who came forward to make a commitment to Christ at his preaching were handed over to the clergy of their own church. He did not try to set up his own evangelical communities that would be rivals to the Orthodox.

In open countries where Orthodoxy has never been an established religion, how does Orthodoxy reach out to unchurched people?

In Britain, we have until very recently been concerned simply to be able to minister to our own people, to the children of Orthodox immigrants, who have lost a living link with their own church. Building our parishes from nothing—no church building, no accommodation for the priest—is not easy, and many of our priests in Britain still have to earn their living with secular work, because the community wouldn't be able to support them full-time. We need to have a much more effective home mission before we reach out to others.

We Orthodox would certainly be against proselytism, by which I mean negative propaganda aimed at practicing members of other churches, criticizing what they already believe. That is not the way of Christ. But evangelism is something different.

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We Orthodox are still certainly too inward looking; we should realize that we have a message that many people will listen to gladly. I see our mission not primarily to practicing members of other churches, but to the unchurched who are very numerous in Britain, less so in the United States.

To me, the most important missionary witness that we have is the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic worship of the Orthodox Church. This is the life-giving source from which everything else proceeds. And therefore, to those who show an interest in Orthodoxy, I say, "Come and see. Come to the liturgy." The first thing is that they should have an experience of Orthodoxy—or for that matter, of Christianity—as a worshiping community. We start from prayer, not from an abstract ideology, not from moral rules, but from a living link with Christ expressed through prayer.

To draw in the unchurched, evangelical churches often strip away things that might be mysterious or strange. But when you invite someone into an Orthodox liturgy, you hit them full-on with strange symbolism and unfamiliar words.

Yes, and let them understand what God gives them to understand. Throw them in at the deep end of the swimming pool and see what happens. That is very much our Orthodox approach. I would not want to offer a watered-down version of Orthodoxy.

The basic rules of Christianity, our relation to Christ, are very simple. Because they are simple they are also often difficult to understand.

On the other hand, we should not be content with a bare minimum. We should offer people the fullness of the faith in all its diversity and depth. I would wish people, when they come to the Orthodox liturgy, not to think that they understand everything the first time. I hope, rather, that they have an experience of mystery, a sense of awe and wonder. If we lose that from our worship, we have lost something very precious.

There's a bad expression of mystery, which is just mystification. But there's a good sense of mystery—to realize that in our worship we are in contact with the transcendent, with that which far surpasses our reasoning brains. I hope that this sense of living mystery, which is entirely bound up with a personal experience of Christ, is conveyed through our worship.

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You speak of the fullness of the faith, experienced through the Divine Liturgy. Evangelical Protestants, from the first days of the Reformation through the Wesleyan Revival, have been eager to crystallize a central message and a central experience. We need to help people see both the center and the fullness of the faith. One theologian I talked to before this interview said, "Ask if the fullness doesn't sometimes obscure the center."

I agree that what we want is both/and—the fullness and the center. There could be a way of presenting Orthodoxy that makes it sound very complicated. We Orthodox have a rich inheritance, which could become a heavy burden if not properly handled.

Yet I certainly believe that Orthodoxy is simple Christianity—not an elaborate Byzantine ritual, but simple Christianity. When I first came in contact with the Orthodox Church, the music, the icons, the total experience of the liturgy influenced me greatly, but I did not become Orthodox because of that. I became Orthodox because I felt that it is simple Christianity.

If I were to meet you on a train and ask you, "What is the center of the Christian message?," how would you succinctly put that?

I would answer, "I believe in a God who loves humankind so intensely, so totally, that he chose himself to become human. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ as fully and truly God, but also totally and unreservedly one of us, fully human." And I would say to you, "The love of God is so great that Christ died for us on the cross. But love is stronger than death, and so the death of Jesus was followed by his resurrection. I am a Christian because I believe in the great love of God that led him to become incarnate, to die, and to rise again." That's my faith. All of this is made immediate to us through the continuing action of the Holy Spirit.

Evangelicals agree with everything you have just said. But we tend to focus on a transaction that happened at the Cross and a transaction that happens when the believer puts faith in what happened at the Cross. We take up Paul's courtroom metaphors. How would you describe the East's way of looking at it?

It's true, we Orthodox would, on the whole, not use the word transaction. It's also certainly true that we do not emphasize legal language.

We prefer the image of Christ as victor over death, love stronger than death, the kind of victory that we sense at the Paschal service Easter midnight in the Orthodox Church, when there is a constant refrain, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs he has given life." That is the image of Christ's work that we chiefly stress.

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We Orthodox are still certainly too inward looking; we should realize that we have a message that many people will listen to gladly.

But certainly within the New Testament there is a whole series of images. There is no single systematic theory of the Atonement, and we should make use of all these images. So, yes, we should find a place for the idea of substitution, which the Orthodox don't stress so much. It is there in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "He who was without sin was made by God to be sin for us, that we in him might become righteousness." The idea of the sacrificial Lamb is also a profound scriptural image. We should make use of those images as well as Christ the Victor.

I don't care so much for the idea of satisfaction. Satisfaction is not a scriptural word. The legal imagery, I think, should always be combined with an emphasis upon the transfiguring power of love. The motive for the Incarnation was not God's justice or his glory, but his love. That was the supreme motive. "God so loved the world." That is what we should start from.

We've talked about evangelizing the unchurched. That's one area where Orthodoxy hasn't done a whole lot. Why is that?

You are not entirely fair to the Orthodox. From the ninth century on, the Orthodox undertook an immense missionary outreach to Slavic peoples—Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia. In that period they were every bit as dynamic in their missionary outreach as the Western church.

You have to take into account the effect of being under Muslim rule, when any form of missionary outreach was forbidden. Christians survived under Islam as self-contained communities, but to attempt to convert a Muslim to the Christian faith would have led immediately to a death sentence. So, naturally, under Islam the Orthodox could not undertake notable missionary work. In the 19th century, there were Russian missions in China, Japan, Korea, and among the Muslim tribes within the Russian Empire. Then came Communism, and it made outward missionary work more or less impossible.

We Orthodox ought to be doing much more than we are doing in this field, but you have to allow for the historical circumstances. The West in the last five centuries has been dominant, rich, influential, colonial, imperial, expansionist. That made missionary work much easier. The East had none of these privileges except for a limited extent in Russia.

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How about social justice—how does Orthodoxy practice that?

There is a great deal of room for Orthodoxy to do more. The most notable efforts in recent years have been by the church of Russia. At its local council in 2000, and more recently in 2006, the church of Russia has produced reflective documents on social witness. This may be only a beginning, but it's a valuable beginning.

In the West, we ought to develop our social witness. Within Orthodoxy, there is a strong tradition of compassion for the poor, the underprivileged, the suffering. This you see in many of the lives of our saints. But all too often, this was merely on an individual basis, helping those who were in distress and need. There was not enough effort made among Orthodox to question unjust social structures. We gave bread to the poor, but we did not ask sufficiently why the poor had no bread. We did not, perhaps, protest against the unjust social structures that existed in Orthodox countries and now exist in the Western world.

Jaroslav Pelikan, an important historical theologian who became Orthodox late in life, once told me, "You evangelicals talk too much about Jesus and don't spend enough time thinking about the Holy Trinity." Can one talk too much about Jesus?

I would not want to contrast faith in Jesus with faith in the Holy Trinity. My faith in Jesus is precisely that I believe him to be not only truly human, but also to be the eternal Son of God. I cannot think of a faith in Jesus that does not also involve faith in God the Father.

How is Jesus present to us personally at this moment? How is it that he is not merely a figure from the distant past, but that he also lives in my own life? That is through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I cannot understand a faith in Jesus Christ that would not also involve faith in the Holy Spirit.

I don't think we can have too much faith in Jesus. But faith in Jesus, if it is to be truly such, is necessarily Trinitarian. If you look at the lives of the Orthodox saints, you will find a very vivid faith in Jesus. Their affirmation of the Trinity did not in any way diminish their sense of Jesus as their personal Savior.

Related Elsewhere:

Bishop Kallistos Ware's book The Orthodox Church is available at and other retailers.

A portion of Christianity Today's interview with Ware is available on YouTube.

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Previous Christianity Today coverage of orthodoxy includes:

Performing Orthodoxy | "The Hermeneutics of Doctrine" argues that belief is as much about embodiment as affirmation. (March 26, 2008)
What's so Radical about Orthodoxy? | Introducing Radical Orthodoxy and the project to "re-narrate" reality without the word secular. (May 24, 2005)
Paradoxical Orthodoxy | Great sayings from Christianity's master of irony. (September 1, 2000)

Additional coverage of orthodoxy from Christianity Today's sister publication includes:

Orthodoxy, Explained | How did the church come to understand Christ as fully God and fully man? Stephen Need is an excellent tour guide to the early church councils that debated the core issues of Christian faith. (October 9, 2008)
Neo-Orthodoxy: Karl Barth | He revived orthodoxy when mere moralism and humanism had seemingly won over the theological world. (January 1, 2000)
Eastern Orthodoxy: Did You Know? | Little-known or fascinating facts about Eastern Orthodoxy. (April 1, 1997)

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