Orthodox-Emerging dialog

February 13, 2009

In the South-African emerging conversation, especially up here in Pretoria, we have the honor of Steve Hays, a deacon in the Orthodox church, taking part regularly. At the last Pretoria Emerging Cohort, I at one point said that Steve probably knows more about the emerging church than any of us, and I mean it! This guy has made a serious study of the emerging conversation.

So between Steve and myself we organized a meet-up between some emerging folks from up North (still much further South than most of the emerging conversation), the Orthodox congregation in Brixton Jo’burg (St Nicholas) and anyone else interested. After some facebooking on it and blogging about it, we got a fair number of people there, much more than I expected!

We attended Vespers, the Saturday evening service of the Orthodox Church, in preparation for Sunday morning. And Steve invited us for coffee afterwards – of which I must say, these Orthodox people know about food! If this is what coffee looks like, I’d love to be invited to lunch at some point!!!

Much need to be said about the hospitality of this congregation, about the way in which people coming in late (both visitors and members) can just slip in without anyone making a fuss about lateness. About the way in which they quickly afterwards linked up with the visitors, asked about our experience. I think the thing that for me stood out most, was how knowledgeable the members of the congregation was about their own theology and tradition! Father Cobus (not me, the priest of the congregation) said very little in our conversation, and in the company of a lot trained theologians (Orthodox teachers, students, priensts etc), many of the members took part in the discussion, explaining their understanding to us. About some of this I’m not yet sure whether this is to be attributed to the fact that it’s an Orthodox congregation, or a very small congregation, or both, but whatever the reason, I find this healthy.

Much of our conversation centered around the question of contextualization. The Orthodox Church hold dear the fact that they haven’t changed over the centuries, and the Emerging Church hold dear the fact that they are changing at a rapid pace (even though much of the change centers around rediscovering the ancient), and contextualizing the gospel within a post-modern environment. We have the emerging church because we have the believe that society is changing at a rapid rate, and that something is seriously wrong with the church. So, the question of contextualization seems to be of interest, but Andries have talked about that, so I’ll leave it for now.

Steve has blogged about the question of further dialogue, and the interest of the congregation that further dialogue. Within the emerging conversation there is quite an openness to listening to other churches, especially the ancient churches. The Catholics and Orthodox churches is highly respected by many who consider themselves emerging (although they will never make in in these hierarchical systems). So let me end of with a question which I think we’d need to answer for future dialogue:

Will this be a two way conversation? Does the emerging church have something that they need to learn from the Orthodox tradition? On this I can say “yes”. But does the Orthodox tradition have something to learn from the emerging conversation? The question would be whether the those who call themselves emerging should go and sit at the feet of the Orthodox tradition to learn from them, or would this be a conversation, where we learn from each other? Can the Orthodox Church ever be changed by a conversation with the emergents? At the meeting I felt like this would be impossible, but Steve has said that in some way they were challenged by our conversation.

Well, another post might appear from this on the topic of using space in our worship, but not today.

Others who have blogged on this:

Andries Louw

Reggie Nel

Steve Hays

5 Responses to “Orthodox-Emerging dialog”

  1. […] Orthodox-emerging dialog by Cobus van Wyngaard. […]

  2. […] Orthodox-Emerging dialog by Cobus van Wyngaard […]

  3. Steve Says:


    Thanks for blogging on this and taking the conversation forward.

    You ask “Where can we learn from each other?”

    As I noted in my post, one of the things that we have already learned from the encounter is the need to be more missional.

    And though it may be possible that we can learn from each other, I think a more fruitful approach is thinking about what we can learn together.

    We use big words for broad sweeps of cultural movements – postmodern, post-colonial. Perhaps for South Africa we could add post-apartheid. What does it mean to live in such a society in Gauteng? And is it as uniform as the big words suggest?

    I think we barely began to scratch the surface of that last weekend, but we did begin.

  4. […] who attended Vespers at St Nicholas Church in Brixton last week may have noticed that one of the priests present, Fr Athanasius Akunda, spent the first […]

  5. Roger Saner Says:

    Is the aim to change each other or is the aim to learn from each other? I don’t think our goal is to attempt to change the Orthodox Church – our goal is to learn from them and see what we can learn together (just like Steve said).

    I’ve blogged about the service here: http://www.futurechurch.co.za/item/it-was-all-greek-orthodoxy-to-me

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