Eastern Orthodoxy

John Wesley, like his father, was devoted to the early theologians of the East and prescribed the reading of them for his preachers. Though he thought them non-intellectual, they were closest to the purity of Christian origins, as he idealized it, and held authentic Christian faith. He derived his account of the character of a Methodist from Clement of Alexandria's Christian Gnostic, and Albert Outler has claimed that his dynamic doctrine of Christian perfection or perfect love was influenced by the 4th-century Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa, through the so-called Macarius the Egyptian. Ephrem Syrus (c. 306-373), 'the man of a broken heart', he found 'the most awakening of all the ancients', protagonist as he was of Nicene orthodoxy who made hymns the vehicle of his theology. The example of his nonjuring mother Susanna was another factor, since those who could not accept Hanoverian allegiance, having sworn the oath of loyalty to the Stuarts, were drawn towards Eastern liturgy. The doctrine of theosis (deification), though Protestants of the Barthian school have deemed it dangerous, is found in the Wesley hymns. However, the centrality of Liturgy is not found in Methodism, nor the tradition of Prayer as taught by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.

Methodism as a branch of Western Christianity largely in the theological tradition of St Augustine of Hippo, has had little association with the East, except on the part of individuals such as Percy Ineson. But a little symposium in 1965, We Belong to One Another, edited by A.M. Allchin, showed among other things a common belief in God's Spirit inflaming the lives of ordinary people and a note of joy in worship - a perpetual alleluia in spite of the trembling awesomeness of much in Orthodoxy.

Dialogue between Orthodoxy and the World Methodist Council began in 1992. The Orthodox have participated in the World Council of Churches and shared in the Lima document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. They have shown alarm since the Canberra Assembly that syncretism is increasing and that there has been departure from the Trinitarian basis of the WCC. In parts of Orthodoxy there are disturbing tendencies: a repudiation of the accord between Pope Paul VI and Metropolitan Athenagoras, even a belief that ecumenism is anti-Christian, together with new religious discrimination in Russia. But Orthodox spirituality remains a treasure store for Western Christianity, e.g. the Jesus Prayer; and Methodists could well follow their founder's patristic precepts.

  • London Quarterly and Holborn Review, January 1964
  • Ted A. Campbell, John Wesley and Christian Antiquity (Nashville, 1991)
  • Geoffrey Wainwright, Methodists in Dialog (Nashville, 1995) pp.161-85
  • S.T. Kimbrough Jr. (ed.), Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality (2002)

Entry written by: GSW
Category: Subject
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