As someone who ministers in Romania, sharing the gospel among the Eastern Orthodox is one of my key ministry activities. It can be one of the most bittersweet things I do: it is bitter because God uses evangelists to proclaim his Word to hardened hearts; it is also sweet to watch people come to understand, learn, and embrace the truth of the gospel. So, week after week, I give the gospel to as many people as possible.
The biggest religious demographic in Romania is Eastern Orthodox. Romanians are generally born into Eastern Orthodoxy, growing up with it as their understanding of truth. Generally, however, my own evangelistic efforts have proven to me that many Romanians in my community do not have a biblical understanding of the gospel. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Let me explain.
The Challenges of Sharing the Gospel Among the Eastern Orthodox
The Eastern Orthodox Church traces its roots to the early church. Following the church’s east-west split in 1054 A.D., Roman Catholicism was associated with the western side of Europe and Orthodoxy took the east of Europe and Asia.
The Differences in How We View Mary and the Saints
Eastern Orthodoxy claims to be the “true belief” when it comes to the Christian faith. However, as a Protestant evangelical there are some problematic elements. For example, Eastern Orthodoxy adorns Mary and prays to the saints. They also have holy water, priestly confession, and icons. A lot of this you will have seen if you are familiar with Roman Catholicism.
If you come to my city, you can go to one of the main streets where you can feast your eyes on a grand cathedral. Its beautiful white stones and luxurious grounds are truly a sight to behold. Very quickly, however, you will wonder what goes on inside. Suddenly, you hear a speaker box as a young priest begins to chant from the Scriptures. You will also see people lining up to kiss portraits of Mary, Jesus, and the saints. During a special annual festival, people even line up to kiss the bones of a dead saint.
Those in Eastern Orthodoxy don’t view this as idolatry. However, it’s difficult not to see the way they treat Mary and the saints as something that is forbidden in Scripture (Exodus 20:4–6) and evidence of self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9).
The View in How We View Church Tradition and Scripture
One of the problems is that church tradition gets put on the same level as Scripture. In practice, the Eastern Orthodox people whom I’ve encountered follow the church even when its teachings are in conflict with the Scriptures. Mere laypeople are not allowed to question the church’s practices. It is heartbreaking watching people kiss bones and paintings, giving away their money, all (presumably) to secure their standing with God. They desperately need to know that salvation is in Christ alone (John 14:6; Romans 5:1).
The Opportunity of Sharing the Gospel Among the Eastern Orthodox
I live in the midst of this heartbreak, as the majority of Romania has adopted this system. You might be wondering how this impacts my evangelistic work.
Share the Gospel with the Lost
I once stood on the streets with a young woman who heard the gospel for the first time. She was just about ready to cry after I had presented the truth to her. She had been giving money to priests, hoping to earn salvation. The tears were ready to flow as she realized the truth for the first time. In this case, her Eastern Orthodox background actually helped my evangelism.
What she believed was a lie, there is no doubt about that. It helped, however, because she was used to thinking with a broadly Christian mindset. Somebody who believes they are saved by works at least has a category for sin and the need to be saved. He or she can easily be shown that this is not biblical. They can engage the truth in ways that are different from those in postmodern, largely post-Christian, western societies.
At the same time, there are many people I meet who are deeply entrenched in a form of works-righteousness. They simply will not listen to the Word. Instead, they shout and get rowdy when somebody says they come from a different confession. On rare occasions, I meet people who are properly studied in Eastern Orthodox theology, which can lead to some very interesting conversations.
Receive Encouragement from Brothers and Sisters in the Faith
On even rarer occasions I have met some people who seem to be genuinely saved, despite some of their problematic Eastern Orthodox beliefs. One Eastern Orthodox friend understands salvation biblically, and it is hard to imagine that he isn’t actually saved. There is a lot to be encouraged by when it comes to opportunities for evangelism in Romania.
Invest Time in Their Lives
One final evangelistic opportunity is worth noting. In most cases. the people attending Eastern Orthodox churches are not loved by their priests. It is a big change for them when a missionary or a local pastor spends time with them over coffee. This kind of witness is slowly taking root in peoples’ lives. they are learning and understanding the truth, and even coming to faith.
Despite the gospel-obscuring strongholds of the devil in this country, the light of Jesus Christ is slowly penetrating darkened hearts. Souls are being drawn to the truth. Slowly, but surely, the ground is being won in this battle. Should the Lord will, the teaching of those who would gain from other peoples’ pockets will give way so that the nation might instead be flooded with God’s truth. May it be.