If someone asked you the question, “What do you believe?” or “What is the Orthodox faith?”, how would you respond? Could you explain the essence of our faith to someone in two or three sentences?
In this pluralistic society, with a wide variety of religious beliefs, we as Orthodox Christians are challenged to be able to articulate to others in a few sentences exactly who we are. Recently, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese conducted a contest in which participants prepared a 30-second “elevator speech” in response to strangers who would ask the question, “What is Orthodox Christianity, anyway?” The term “elevator speech” comes from the business world, and describes a clever and brief presentation of what a company is about, and articulate that message in the short time that you are on an elevator with someone.
This challenge is especially difficult for Orthodox people in a land shaped by Protestant history and culture. Americans know, or think they know, what people believe in the Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and even Roman Catholic Churches. But for many, the first word that comes to mind when they hear Orthodox is “Jewish.”
When Protestants talk about Church, they usually jump into discussions of their preacher’s pulpit skills, their children’s programs, the excellence of their gospel or rock musicians and other selling points. The Orthodox, on the other hand, need to back up a millennium or two and cover basics. Then there are the complicated histories of the Churches in Palestine, Greece, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and yes, even in North America. It is challenging to offer a succinct response about who we are without oversimplifying.
This discussion over developing a brief phrase to help others know what we believe is not new. St. Paul models the same method many times in his writings. He sums up what he wants people to know about the faith: that Christ died for our sins, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, and so on. Succinct and accurate.
As a priest walking around Lancaster, I am often asked who I am or what Church I belong to. So over the years I have been forced to develop an “elevator speech.” In fact I have offered my response numerous times in an elevator, especially at Lancaster General Hospital!
So here is my usual response: “The Orthodox Church has remained consistent in its teachings, practice, sacraments, and beliefs for two thousand years.” I phrase it such that I do not insult another believer, or imply that I am judging any other Church. I am simply stating who we are, not what anyone else believes.
How would you answer the question? The key is not to be formulaic but to be honest and speak
from your heart. You must offer accurate information about the faith, but you should convey it in your own words based on your experience of the Church.
The bottom line is that there is no one ideal elevator speech to introduce others to Orthodoxy. What works with a next-door neighbor who is already a Churchgoer would not work with a skeptical graduate student who walks in the door ready to argue. You have to be able to relate to the person who is standing in front of you. Whatever your approach, fulfill the vision statement of our parish: “Receive and Share the Light of Christ!”