Paradigm shifts are rare occurrences that are either the fruit of long-held study or akin to the slamming of one’s head against a kitchen cabinet. The latter is true of Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church. I sat down to read what I assumed would transpire into an interesting theological study of a cousinly faith tradition. What I found, instead, was a book not arguing for one theological point of view, but rather one that assumes the truth of its dictates as from an older, wiser brother to a younger, wayward brother.
In other words, and according to Ware, the East has both tradition and history on its side and is, therefore, the one true church. For a western, post-reformation protestant this is a jarring conclusion. Not only—according to Ware—am I not a member of the one true church, I may not even be a Christian. Ware, the metropolitan bishop of Dioklea and former lecturer at Oxford University, is in no way rude or offensive in his assertions, but rather both honest and heartfelt. He is writing for readers blind to the Orthodox tradition and who are seeking to understand what is oftentimes viewed as a cloistered and mysterious faith tradition, at least in the West. Ware’s book is informative, challenging, and a wonderful point of entry for anyone seeking to discover the Orthodox Church’s rich-faith tradition.
The Orthodox Church is split into two parts: one, history; two, faith and worship. Ware begins by discussing the history of the Orthodox Church. He methodically, though not exhaustively, walks his reader through the Byzantine years, the Islamic years, and the Russian years. He explains the various church councils that resulted in Christianity’s commonly held creeds, and he provides his readers with a short survey of the Orthodox Church in the twentieth century. While the historical sections read as fascinating narratives, the latter sections, which summarize contemporary Orthodox hierarchies, are laborious.