How to talk to the Non-Orthodox

Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) writes:

When I was still a layman I met my spiritual father, Abbot (now Bishop) Pankratiy of Valaam… we were both reading Saint Silouan the Athonite, by St Sophrony. We were discussing the passage where a young hotshot missionary archimandrite was telling the fathers about how he was preaching Orthodoxy in some remote land, probably a Catholic country. He was telling them that everything they had been told was heresy, a lie, and that they needed to convert and become Orthodox, or they were certainly going to fry in hell.

He went on and on about how he gave it to them. St Silouan spoke up, and said, Father, I think there is something you missed. Do they believe in Jesus Christ? He said, yes. Do they believe in the Trinity? Yes, he grudgingly replied, but in a heretical way. Do they believe the Bible? Yes. Do they honor the Saints and the Virgin Mother? Yes. Do they believe in the sacraments? So St Silouan said to him, If you tell them everything that they have believed is a lie, they will know that you are the liar, because they know these things are true. Instead of telling them it is all wrong, you must say to them, The basics of what you have been taught are true. But there is more! There is far more, and of great depth.

I would submit to you that this is the way we need to do missionary work: with love and respect. That does not mean that we have to affirm things that are wrong. But it does mean that if that love and respect does not come from our hearts, we will not connect with people to lead them to God. The doctrine and history is secondary. What we must manifest is the love of God. If you used “truths” to bash people over the head and destroy their faith, all that comes out is your own ego, your own self-centeredness and arrogance. They are indeed right to reject us when we do that.

Fr Silouan Thompson

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