In the Byzantine Churches on Good Friday you wake up early to start observing the crucifixion of Christ. This starts with the Royal Hours in the morning, the decorating of the Kouvouklion, the un-nailing from the Cross and finally, at night, the Lamentation Vespers with the procession of the Kouvouklion around the church. It was during the Lamentation Vespers that Fr. George talked to the small congregation about how Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians are viewed in the culturally Evangelical dominated South as being a cult.
Hank Hanegraaff, also known as the ‘Bible Answer Man’, a recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy from Evangelicalism, was the center of Fr. George’s message. The Evangelical world, as Fr. George noted, has long viewed Eastern Orthodoxy, Eastern Catholicism and, to an extent, Roman Catholicism as mere cult worship rather than the expression of true Christianity. Non the less, when Hank Hanegraaff left the Evangelical church for Orthodoxy, Evangelical leaders across the country started accusing Hanegraaff of leaving true Christianity for a cult.
As Fr. George pointed out, this is the reality that many Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, live in. We were reminded that the Orthodox leadership and faithful need to educate our surrounding communities and doubters about Eastern Christianity with opens and love. We shouldn’t act like the leadership at the church where Hanegraaff was chrismated, who, after learning that leaders from the Evangelical church were present and later wrote very negative statements about the Orthodox Church, have been caught up in their own anger about the injustice of the false statements leveled at the Orthodox Church. Instead we need to approach with love while also defending our tradition. At the end of the day this means continuing with our traditions no matter how cultish for foreign they may look to outsiders. We cannot compromise who we are for the sake of making outsiders comfortable. Instead we should use our traditions as a learning opportunity that will and can help educate others about Eastern Christianity.