Fr. Vasileios Thermos, Is a beneficial influence of Protestantism on the Orthodox Church possible? Theologia 90, 1 (2019), 61-89.
Summary (pp. 88-89).
This article examines two fundamental characteristics of Protestantism that are of interest for the Orthodox Church. First, it paved the way to Modernity and has been the Christian denomination that mostly undertook the task of carrying out a dialogue with it. By introducing a Christianity that intervenes in history it affirmed the world as a field of God’s action and adopted a rather secular eschatology. Second, it exalted the individual and thus induced an existential nuance in faith and religion. Subjectivity now is welcomed and constitutes an agent of revelation.
In the light of these two attributes possible beneficial influences of Protestantism on the Orthodox Church are examined: a) Orthodoxy can be taught useful lessons by the successes and failures of the Protestant confrontation of Modernity, an endeavor that is urgent because of a defective encounter of the Orthodox Church with Modernity, b) A more existential quality of Orthodox worship, catechesis, preaching, pastoral practice etc. is required in order to make the Orthodox message more compatible with contemporary culture; this existential character should include a more vivid ecclesiastical life as well, where the shadow of organization does not suppress individuals, c) ‘Cultural Orthodoxy’, endemic in Orthodox countries, is uneasy with Holy Scripture, a problem that keeps it outside history and active involvement in the world; therefore the Orthodox Church should attempt to regain her Biblical identity, a development that would benefit Orthodox people in their civil life as well, d) The relationship of the Orthodox Church with the world is characterized by an embarrassment and oscillation, because the way of intervention is misinterpreted as obsolete theocracy; therefore Orthodoxy has to be reconciled with pluralism.
It goes without saying that one does not have to agree with everything an article says in order to commend it. Thermos’s article is indeed in many ways excellent.
It is obvious — and thus can only be treated sympathetically— the painstaking effort of an Orthodox priest, which at times seems a dangerous balancing exercise, to encourage his theological siblings to look positively at another Christian confession. This call to a favorable gaze rather than a careless glimpse constitutes an exhortation to learn from Protestantism without embracing it indiscriminately on the one hand, but also without rejecting it altogether in advance on the other.
Thermos views Protestantism in a macro-theological perspective, focusing mainly on its effects on the intellect and society. Such an approach cannot easily avoid stereotypes. In the noble endeavour of describing the wide range of elements that the Reformation has brought forth, the article may seem contradictory at times, especially if the reader belongs to a very specific expression of this range, focusing on certain dogmatic preferences.
Thermos is neither a Protestant nor a proponent of the Reformation, but seeks to utilize in this article the riches of its theological depths and historical experience. In a rather utilitarian fashion, the author attempts to assist Orthodoxy in eliminating its own restrictive deficiencies. Even when he seems to come to conclusions evaluating negatively a feature of Protestantism, he neither reproaches nor criticizes, but only explains in a descriptive way how a beneficial exploitation of a certain trait will be made possible by the Orthodox.
Regardless of rigid sensitivities that may regard this article as unfair toward a certain branch of the evangelical identity, Thermos’s paper is rather positive towards Protestantism constituting a bridge for dialogue, further communication and mutually beneficial influence. Thermos praises elements of Protestantism, such as: (1) its ability to converse with a (post) modern world (COVID-19 pandemic has emphatically highlighted the respective weaknesses of Orthodoxy in this matter), (2) its aptness in focusing on the existential questions of modern human beings, (3) the ability to treasure and take thorough advantage of the revealed wealth of the Holy Scriptures alongside the added value of encouraging and cultivating moral principles such as personal responsibility and accountability, (4) its flexibility and ease to coexist with other ideas in modern society, shaping its life on every possible level.
This perspective, coming from an Orthodox, should encourage all Protestants to revisit and reevaluate all these positive elements (certainly there are many other). Furthermore, it should also inspire people in ministry especially in countries where the Eastern Orthodox Church is the state religion to reflect constructively on how those principles can constitute a frontline of a dynamic and tireless presence of Christian witness. In a pure activist manner according to Bebbington quadrilateral, Evangelicals along the spectrum of Protestantism may continue laboring not only for the evangelization of their compatriots and the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ in the present, but also for the continuous reformation of the Church — even the Eastern Orthodox Church! Ecclesia semper reformanda est. For those of us operating in a predominantly Eastern Orthodox environment, the least we should keep seeking and striving for is to discuss with this part of the orthodox spectrum open to a generous understanding of Protestantism, even if we are still known in part, even if we are still seen in a mirror dimly.
 Original title in Greek: Εἶναι ἐφικτὴ μιὰ εὐεργετικὴ ἐπίδραση τοῦ Προτεσταντισμοῦ στὴν Ὀρθόδοξη Εκκλησία; Protopresbyter Vasileios Thermos is Assistant Professor at the Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens.