Differences Between Western and Eastern Theological Perspectives

Western Christianity is marked by a cerebral quality. Orthodoxy is marked more by intuition.157 In the Western Church, the focus is on getting meaning from words – from a book. Western educators fear that meaning will be lost if the text is lost. The text is central to meaning.158 For the Orthodox the word is communally celebrated rather than individually encountered. “The Book is the repository of meaning, yet the Book is regarded and treated as if it were itself an image begetting images.” It is image producing – “…transforms dead matter into the reflected image of Jesus Christ.”159

“The American Protestant mind is culturally and literarily disposed to envision the Word in terms of a book, the “text” of creation. The Russian Orthodox mind, through the veil of its own culture, interprets that Word in light of the images that reflect it.

157 Baggley, 1988, p. 2.
158 Ugolnik, 1989, p. 49.
159 Ibid, p. 50.

American Christians obey the Augustinian injunction “Take up and read!” Their Russian counterparts are apt to concentrate upon the insight that follows the imperative “Look up and see!”.”160

This has radically affected the understanding of the role of the artist in the church. “In the West, the theologian has instructed the artist. In the east…the iconographer instructs the theologian.”161 In this sense, the Orthodox Church fuses the aesthetic with the theological.162 This is in sharp contrast with an Evangelical context “…a church with four whitewashed walls, a slightly out-of-tune piano, and a leader whose expressed intent is ‘to share a few thoughts from the Word.’”163 In the Orthodox Church, seeing is valued above hearing.164