Monthly Archives: February 2018

An Orthodox reflection on the impact of Billy Graham

I grew up in a Greek Orthodox family with a very pious and faithful mother, who loved Christ. Our family attended church regularly and participated in the Liturgy. In my freshman college year at Lafayette College, I had a deeper spiritual awakening to Christ through a course in the New Testament which was required for all freshmen at the time. I joined Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, which enabled me to understand and practice my faith in Christ in a more personal and vibrant manner. My life was impacted greatly and I felt renewed spiritually. It was like having the type of spiritual conversion about which Billy Graham often preached. By my junior year, I felt called to study for the priesthood in the Greek Orthodox Church.
When the time came for me to seek a wife, I sought a woman who would also have had a reborn experience in Christ. Pearl, my now beloved wife of 59 years, was such a person. She also grew up in a Greek Orthodox home. When she was 16 years old she attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Ocean Grove, NJ which greatly enriched her spiritual life and her devotion to Jesus Christ. This experience opened her eyes in new ways and helped her appreciate the Gospel.
Her encounter with Billy Graham’s preaching led to a strong desire to grow in her relationship with Christ. She joined a Bible Study Group of a school friend who was evangelical. When she saw the great benefit from this experience, she encouraged the Greek Orthodox priest of her parish to begin a Bible Study in her own Church in Asbury Park, NJ. This was a new idea to her priest, who was a first-generation Greek immigrant, unfamiliar with Bible Study Groups. Nevertheless he consented when he perceived Pearl’s love for Christ.
Pearl and I married a year after our respective graduations from college and seminary. We have since raised five children and have served a single Greek Orthodox parish for 59 years, with a strong Bible Study emphasis through seven groups taught by both of us. We also began an international Orthodox Christian mission ministry which is presently active in thirty countries. My wife’s zeal to teach and share the gospel of Jesus Christ during our ministry together started at that Billy Graham Crusade in Ocean Grove. Throughout our lives, we have both appreciated BIilly Graham’s impact on our own lives, and his witness to the world. Even though the theology of our historic and traditional Greek Orthodox faith differs from his evangelical form of Christianity, our oneness in Christ has always united us.
Billy Graham’s life and ministry to all people everywhere increased our own desire to reach out to the world with the eternal gospel. We both admired Billy Graham and deeply resonated with his ministry to spread the gospel of Christ to all people. May his memory be eternal.
Fr. Alexander Veronis

New book on Evangelical mission in Moldova

Vladimir Ubeivolc, Rethinking Missio Dei among Evangelical Churches in an Eastern European Orthodox Context. Langham Monographs, 2016. Paperback, pp. xvi+320. ISBN 13: 978-1-78368-104-4
Reviewed by Dr Ralph Lee, School of Oriental and African Studies, London University; formerly Holy Trinity Theological College, Addis Ababa
This welcome volume is a recent addition to the Langham Monographs which examines approaches to mission in Eastern Europe where there is a strong Orthodox Church presence. The focus is on the situation in Moldova, but the ideas presented reflect the situation of Eastern Europe much more widely. The author assesses well the development of Evangelical mission in Moldova through its early history, under the Russian Revolution and later Soviet rule, and then after the collapse of the USSR. This history is helpful because it sets the context for understanding how Evangelical churches have grown and how they have developed their (mis)understandings of Orthodox Christianity. It also helps us to understand how the collapse of the USSR altered the identity and unity of the diverse Evangelical groups. The discussion is developed into a detailed examination of the relationship between the Orthodox and Evangelical churches, with a particular focus on points of tension in theology, canonical territory and aggressive evangelism and proselytism.
There follows a thorough analysis of how mission is understood in different ways by the diverse groups of Evangelicals. This analysis breaks down approaches into the managerial church growth approach most particularly associated with Baptist churches, post-imperial approaches associated with the Lausanne movement under the influence of John Stott, which sees denominational distinctives between churches as positive, and an Anabaptist approaches with their focus on participation in society. The analysis of the Orthodox understanding of mission and its incarnation / kenosis emphasis lays much of the foundations for later chapters that seek to address the mismatch between approaches.
These later chapters develop an understanding of the Missio Dei approach, which has had its critics in the past, but which Ubeivolc suggests may present some opportunities to develop an increased understanding between Evangelical and Orthodox approaches. The root of this understanding is that as we understand mission as God’s agenda, it becomes more possible to rejoice in the thriving of other churches and traditions; these are understood in the wide context of God’s mission.
In the final part of the book Ubeivolc seeks to define how Evangelical churches can develop new approaches that can engage more positively with Orthodox expressions. This includes a more Trinitarian approach to mission, which would be not only more accommodating to the Orthodox, but in the end also a more sophisticated theology. The analysis is detailed, but its focus on Moldova does not limit its application.
The jury is out on how Evangelical and Orthodox expressions of Christianity can better work together in God’s mission in the world. Ubeivolc’s analytical approach seems the right way to study the tensions and opportunities, and his recommendations need to be taken seriously, and worked into mission theology and practice. The dialogue and reflection must continue until and after significant tangible cooperation in mission is achieved.