- THE SEED OF HOPE
It is not by chance that I find myself writing this preface to a theological work that presents itself as pioneering initiative  directed towards a dialogue between Orthodox and Evangelical believers. In fact, according to a Christian saying that has deep roots in the biblical text (Luke 12:7), “nothing in life happens by chance”.
Many years ago, in an entirely providential way, I made the acquaintance of Danut Manastireanu. I had been invited to an academic colloquium at the Emanuel Baptist Institute in Oradea. It was there that we met. I do not know whether we spoke to each other very much on that occasion. I do not think we did. I no longer remember. But what I do remember is what I felt then: I must meet this person again!
I did not know when or why. I had nothing in common with him: we neither came from the same place, nor had we studied together, nor did we belong to the same confession. What we did however have in common could only be felt, not seen. It was a sense of good intention whose fruits were at that time still hidden in the future. I believe that we read each other well on that first encounter and quickly understood all we needed without having to put it into words.
Thus it was that the first time an opportunity arose, Danut Manastireanu suggested that I should coordinate and deliver a spiritual programme under the aegis of CAPA Finance (World Vision). The programme was approved, and I was able to conduct a genuine Christian mission, within CAPA, for seven years – which was much appreciated and of significant spiritual value. Then, thanks to this programme, the way opened up for me to have a very large number of meetings with World Vision staff in various places in Romania where, together with Danut, I gave talks on themes concerned with the Bible and with Christian spirituality. The spiritual benefit for those attending went beyond what can be expressed in words. It was here and from these meetings, in part, that the idea of initiating an unofficial Orthodox-Evangelical dialogue originated.
Thus, we cannot yet speak of an official dialogue between the two ecclesial communities. But small step have nevertheless been made along this route. For this reason we could term them ‘steps towards an intermittent dialogue’. We know that these are small beginnings, but a little is always better than nothing. And to this ‘little’ hopes may attach. Of course, both at the individual level and in one-off initiatives, the need for such a dialogue between Orthodox and Evangelicals, whether in Romania or internationally, has been highlighted on countless occasions.
- THE GENERAL IMPORTANCE OF ORTHODOX-EVANGELICAL DIALOGUE
Dialogue is the first and most fundamental means by which people can come together, communicate and exchange information with the purpose of reaching mutual knowledge and understanding. In a sense dialogue does away with the distance that separates us. For this reason, Christian witness in a pluralist world calls for involvement in a dialogue with people of different confessions, religions and cultures (cf. Acts 17:22-28).
In some contexts, in which a period of tension and conflict has created deep suspicions and had undermined trust both within and between communities, only inter-religious dialogue can offer new prospects for conflict resolution by re-establishing justice, healing the painful memories of the past, bringing reconciliation and establishing mutual trust.
Although, in certain circumstances, it is difficult to live and proclaim the Gospel, particularly when this is restricted or even forbidden, Christ the Redeemer commands all Christians to continue to faithfully, courageously and in solidarity one with another, bear witness to Him and His Gospel (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:14-18, Luke 24:44-48, John 20:21, Acts 1:8).
With reference to dialogue between Orthodox and Evangelicals, this needs to be characterised, in the first place, by a practical theology of ecclesial and missionary experience and not by an abstract and conceptual theological approach. It is true that we are predisposed – as is becoming ever more clear, and sometimes even aggressively so – to interpret the situation around us, the Christian bona fides of the other, and the religious landscape, through the lens of our own history, of the truth in which we believe we have been standing firm for a thousand years, and this interpretation is also shaped by our educational, cultural and religious context and the way we have grown up within the framework of a particular denomination and religious tradition. The problem is that this kind of interpretation of the tradition of the other, lacking as it does the flexibility that would make it possible for us to understand the fact that the other, too, lays claim to the same truth, leads to religious intolerance and consequently to the development of an aggressive, proselytising kind of mission that suffocates any dialogue or attempt at it, or any venture at communication.
In such a religious context, dialogue becomes nothing more than a way of placarding your own exclusivist truth, your own religious and ecclesial identity, to which the other can have no access unless he admits that his own truth is no truth and that his own religious and confessional identity is but a fragment of identity. Sadly, Christian inter-confessional dialogues have tended to take place in this kind of frame of reference.
Revd Professor Stelian Tofana, PhD
 Page references given in parentheses show cross references to, or citations from, the book, passim. [Ed.]
(English translation by Stuart & Dorothy Elford.)
To be continued…