It’s a line of thought I’ve come across frequently from Western Christians: that the Orthodox are so “stubborn.” I’ve even heard one Protestant refer to the Orthodox as “bigoted.” To be honest, I had similar thoughts as a former Roman Catholic investigating Orthodoxy. It seemed to me like the dialogues between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches were largely one-sided; it seemed like the Roman Catholics were making all the concessions and the Orthodox were making few, if any.
Since becoming Orthodox myself, though, I’ve realized something: this is exactly as it should be; and, to the thinking mind, it stands as a testament to the Truth of Orthodoxy. Whereas I was formerly disturbed by the unwillingness of the Orthodox to budge on even seemingly inconsequential matters, I’m now deeply disturbed by Western Christians’ insistence that the Orthodox should compromise on anything, or that they themselves should be willing to compromise in any way what they consider to be the Gospel.
Relativism is an ugly thing, especially amongst Christians. Unfortunately, though, the Protestant Reformation, and ensuing large-scale break-up of Western Christendom, has necessitated a form of “Christian” relativism. Outside of the Restorationist movement, each individual Christian sect knows that it individually has no legitimate claim, theologically or historically, to being the One True Church, and so they’ve had to invent the patently false doctrine of a “Church of all true believers,” in which all true Christians of whatever sect are the “real One True Church.” This, though, is a stark departure not only from historic Christian thought on the subject, but Scriptural injunctions demanding visible unity and commonality of doctrine.
Pentecostals, Methodists, and Baptists, to compare just three of the dozens of strains of thought in Protestanism, each hold to doctrines and practices, both essential and non-essential, in mutual contradiction to the others. Historically, Scripturally, and logically speaking, then, they cannot be members of the same Church.
And this is why the Orthodox are just so darn stubborn and bigoted. We’re so stubborn because we’re just not willing to compromise the True Faith; when we say we’re Orthodox (“right-believing”) we really mean it. And this is why we’re so bigoted; when we say we’re Orthodox (“right-believing”) we take this to its logical conclusion: if we’re right, anyone who disagrees with us is, necessarily, wrong.
I’ll admit; it sounds stubborn, even a little bigoted. But it’s how we’ve guarded the Gospel for the last 2000 years, and it hasn’t failed us yet.