Following Jesus: The Orthodox Tradition

As I mentioned earlier this summer, one of my projects for the next year is to represent the Pietist tradition in an online, ecumenical conversation about how different Christians understand what it means to “follow Jesus.” Each month starts with a lead essay from one conversation partner, then each of the other eleven contributors writes a response by mid-month, reflecting on what they can learn from the month’s tradition — and where there are meaningful disagreements.

What I’ll do here each month is to include a sample paragraph from the lead essay, one from my Pietist response, and then one each from two other responses I found interesting. Or just follow along yourself at Harold Heie’s Respectful Conversations website, where you’re also welcome to enter the conversation by commenting on essays and responses.

August’s Tradition: “What it means to follow Jesus in the Orthodox tradition

“Of course, not every Orthodox Christian follows Jesus with the same degree of faithfulness, fervency, holiness, and fruitfulness as the canonized Saints have done.  But there is, nevertheless, one basic way of following Him that is the ideal, the hope and expectation for every Orthodox Christian—the path of aspiring to live in ever-closer, direct communion with Him; being filled with His Love, Joy (John 15:11), and Peace (John 14:27); striving to live in purity of thought, word, and deed; and ever trusting in His limitless mercy in anticipation of His Second Coming (Rev. 22:20), the Resurrection of the Dead, the Last Judgment, and eternal life in Heaven, our true home (Phil. 3:20-21; cf. Phil. 3:7-14).”

– David Ford

My Response: “The Living Faith of the Dead vs. The Dead Faith of the Living

“…Pietism has tended to conceive of ‘following Jesus’ in personal and private terms, rather than as a collective, public experience. We Pietists can learn much from the Orthodox tradition, in which union with Christ is experienced through ‘vibrant communion/fellowship with His Saints—the living, the departed, and in a very special way, the glorified.’ Furthermore, while Pietists, like many other Protestants, tend to approach the written word of God as if they’re the first to do so — and are sometimes suspicious of giving too much authority to clergy, Ford emphasizes that the Orthodox read the Bible with the words of Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils as guides, under ‘the spiritual direction of one’s spiritual father.'”

Additional Responses

“Although Wesleyan Methodists do not identify and canonize saints, the description of saints as ‘faithfully, fervently, and fully liv[ing] in vibrant communion with our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ’ beautifully expresses the goal of Christian holiness that John Wesley had in mind. For him, every follower of Jesus should seek to have–expressed by Wesleyan Methodists in the language of Paul–’the mind of Christ.’ As Ford observes, not every follower reaches the same degree of fervent faithfulness as the saints, but all may be inspired to live more faithfully. The Wesleyan Methodist movement was originally organized in groups (societies, classes, bands) where followers of Jesus were supported and accountable to others in this endeavor.”

– Sarah Lancaster, “Holiness and Sin” (The Wesleyan Tradition)

“Whenever a tradition appeals to the example of how ‘holy’ people have become, Reformed folk squirm.   Our beginning point is total depravity.  And when someone thinks he or she is making great progress being liberated from its effects, we tend to see this as another sign of total depravity.  Therefore, looking to those who have become so purified and holy as examples strikes Reformed people as dangerous and deceptive.  We don’t follow Jesus by following others.  We follow Jesus by following Jesus.”

– Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, “What can God Redeem?” (The Reformed Tradition)

The Roman Catholic Tradition>>