Daniel Clendenin is a protestant who lived and taught in Russia, trying to think about Protestant views of Orthodoxy, explaining also why he couldn’t become an Orthodox. Excerpts of his article are inside angle brackets, my comments in brown color. Full text of the article can be found here.
[ Is it wrong for Western missionaries to seek to convert the Orthodox in lands like Russia, Romania, or Greece? Has Orthodoxy in these lands obscured the gospel, becoming merely a "cultural" religion thoroughly assimilated to ethnic identity?]
It is wrong, not only in traditionally Orthodox lands, but anywhere, that is regardlessly of how mixed faith might be with ethnic identity – unless they clearly state that the Orthodox faith and tradition is un-Christian, and they are welcome by those they wish to convert. Otherwise they try to convert Christians to Christianity, which is absurd, or, in case they are not welcome, they act in violence.
[ One need not join Orthodoxy to immerse oneself in the patristic past with joy, gratitude, and a sense of accountability to that "great cloud of witnesses" of the last two millennia. Oden, for example, who delights in referring to his theological method as "paleo-orthodox," is now working on a comprehensive patristic commentary on the whole Bible to be published by InterVarsity Press. Thumb through Calvin's Institutes or a volume of John Wesley's Works and you will see our Protestant forebears thoroughly engaged with patristic tradition. As with liturgy, conversion to Orthodoxy is hardly a prerequisite for a renewed engagement with apostolic tradition.]
Correct. Orthodoxy is not a body of texts, which you can study at will. Orthodoxy is the experience of the life of the Saints inside which these texts are also used. “A renewed engagement with apostolic tradition” is not a study of ancient texts. What is the reason of you having lost contact with this tradition? Is it ignorance of some texts, or lack of participation in the Church where these texts were written? This leads us to the next problem:
[ Is the church made up of those who have been "regenerated" by infant baptism in an Orthodox church institution, or by those who have experienced new birth and been justified by grace through faith? True, Luther and some other Protestants have not viewed baptismal regeneration and justification by faith as mutually exclusive. But whether a non-Orthodox person can even be saved is an open question in Orthodox ecclesiology.]
Faith is not born in the void. There are stages and degrees, and Baptism, all the Sacraments and institutions of the Church, are means to help one gain a living faith. They are not irrelevant or ‘external’ customs, which can be discarded or changed at will, they are formed inside the living faith of the Church, that themselves express too. This we can understand in the following issue:
[ Orthodox spiritual life gives central prominence to the sacraments. These sacraments are not mere signs, symbols, or reminders. They are the efficacious means by which God transmits his salvific and sanctifying grace to us. ... Like baptism, the Eucharist is administered to infants. While Protestant evangelicals have never agreed on the precise meaning or mode of the sacraments, they have historically emphasized two related truths that diverge from the Orthodox understanding of the sacraments. Evangelicals urge the necessity of personal conversion through the faith and repentance of the individual believer, as opposed to the Orthodox idea of regeneration by the sacraments.]
Sacraments can remain mere symbols to those who will not gain living faith, but in themselves they are not mere symbols. Infants participate even in Eucharist, because faith is not a rational choice, or, to put it otherwise, ‘personal conversion’ involves much more than ‘deciding’ the ‘correct’ faith. In Orthodoxy we presuppose that this conversion will be confirmed by each baptised infant, brought by his parents to the Church. The Sacraments are not magical acts; their power is real, but not all will receive it. Participation of infants does not mean that they receive necessarily the power of the Sacraments, but that we give them all the help that we can, in order for them to gain living faith, that is the experience of God himself.
[ In the history and theology of Orthodoxy it is startling to observe the nearly complete absence of any mention of the doctrine of justification by faith. Rather, "theosis" (literally, "deification"), or the progressive transformation of people into full likeness to God, in soul and body, takes center stage. (2 Pet. 1:4). Further, the Orthodox reject the idea of inherited guilt; we are guilty only for our own sins rather than for the inborn consequences of Adam's fall. Conversely, evangelicals argue that this forensic framework for sin and salvation is not merely a historical and unduly negative carryover from Augustine and Anselm, but rather is the clear teaching of Paul in his Letters to the Romans and Galatians.]
What could be the meaning of salvation without deification? Even heretics invoke the Scriptures in order to support their ideas. Whether Augustine, or Anselm, or even Paul, provide arguments favouring the justification theory, the question remains: what is the meaning of salvation without deification? Did Christ became a man just to have us feel innocent? To put it otherwise, can we really become innocent or justified, without having His Spirit, that is without being deified, without knowing Him in person?
[ Orthodoxy is a thoroughly aesthetic tradition, as attested by the central role played by icons. Orthodox churches are full of them. Worshipers prostrate themselves before them and kiss them. The priest censes them and elevates them in processions. Whereas Western Protestants want to hear the written Word spoken in the sermon, Orthodox believers want to see it in the visual images of icons—as well as hear it in the spoken word. Icons are absolutely central to Orthodoxy, distinguishing it from both Catholicism and Protestantism. ... Icons are not merely sacred art. Rather, they are a source of revelation. According to the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 787, icons are of equal benefit as Scripture in presenting the gospel message. What Scripture proclaims by word, the icon proclaims by color. Thus, when an Orthodox believer once asked why his church did not do more doctrinal teaching, his priest responded, "Icons teach us all that we need to know." Icons are, quite literally, a "theology in color."]
Although schematic (‘Orthodoxy is a thoroughly aesthetic tradition’), this claim has a basis. There are Fathers of great philosophical and theological importance, the Cappadocians, Denis, Maximus..., yet reasoning, even in the service of understanding faith, is not the main task of a Christian. The central role of icons corresponds with the general orientation of the Orthodox to be united with God – not to study Him, as if He were a scientific object. As a man is not just thoughts, but a whole Presence, the same God incarnated as well as His Saints are not to be approached by thinking alone, but in their complete Presence, which includes a bodily dimension. Refusing the icons is equal with maiming God and man, that is a proof of not loving them.
[ While the Protestant principle of sola scriptura places Scripture above tradition, for Orthodoxy the two are complementary means of one organic whole through which the Spirit of God speaks. Second, in biblical interpretation the Reformers placed the Scriptures above the church. They insisted that the Bible interprets itself, and through the Holy Spirit, God instructs its readers in a direct and individual manner rather than binding their consciences to the supposedly reliable teaching of the church. It is precisely this view that elevates Scripture above the church and actually encourages private interpretation that the Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky once called "the sin of the Reformation."]
The Church decided the Canon of Scriptures, therefore Scriptures are to be understood by the Church and inside the whole tradition of the Church. To reverse this order is a foolishness proving lack of faith and love. It proves lack of faith, because if there was faith, there would also be recognition of those who kept and taught this faith, that is the Fathers. It proves lack of love, because if you don’t have Fathers, how can you love an abstract God of a book? Living in the Church, loving the members of your Church, that is loving the God living in your neighboor and in your personal spiritual father(s), gives you also love for the Fathers you have not known in person, and in consequence it gives you love for the whole historic Church and also her monuments, one of them being the Scriptures. Not loving the historic Church proves that you have not loved neither God, nor your neighboor, which leads to alienation also from the Scriptures. This is why many protestants came even to the point of speaking about the 'muth' of incarnation... A really “renewed engagement with apostolic tradition” can not be re-gained by means of the deadly spirit of books.
Plato : Books can be your worst enemies