The first time I heard anything substantial about the Eastern Orthodox Church was in the fall of 2000. I was a student in a ministerial training program at local megachurch. My favorite class was church history, and much of it was good.
The teacher of this particular class was gifted at vividly describing the events of church history, as well as being engaging and humorous. He was not, however, adept at describing other Christian denominations, movements, or communities that differed from his own without betraying a strong bias against them. This constantly bugged former Catholics in the class, who knew that he was painting their previous communion in the worst possible light. His bias against Calvinism (a system that I held to at the time) was apparent as well, with his claim that John Calvin personally drowned many Anabaptists.
I became accustomed to taking his claims with a grain of salt, and began to do my own research whenever a different group was taught on.
The teacher spent only one class describing his version of the history and practice of Eastern Orthodoxy. He started it by recounting the conversion of a friend, who was once an Assemblies of God minister. He had become disillusioned with his current theological system, and was searching for truth. Apparently the teacher and the searcher lost contact for a time, because the next time they saw one another the searcher was decked in a black cassock, had a large cross about his neck and had let his beard grow long. He was no longer a searcher but had become a priest-monk in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
For the teacher, this was apostasy. He felt that this hieromonk had left the free grace of God and enslaved himself to a religion where one had to earn one’s way to God by standing in long liturgies, fasting excessively, and praying to the Virgin Mary for extra merit.
He went on to describe a religion that looked nothing like the Orthodox faith, in fact, he was repeating much of what he said about Roman Catholicism.
I knew that much of what he said must be inaccurate. So I got every book I could find on Eastern Christianity from the church’s bookstore (there wasn’t much), pulled out all my church history resources, fired up my computer and connected to AOL via 56k modem, and started reading.