“I am an Orthodox Christian, but not a believer”

“I am an Orthodox Christian, but not a believer”

Dear C.,

Some time back we had a phone conversation about our faith and our hope in the risen Lord. Although you've been an Orthodox Christian all your life and are active in your church, you dismissed it all. It seems that to you “being good and doing good” is all that counts. Of course, you are to be commended for the good you have done all your life, and for what you continue to do; however, stating that you believe in God, as you do, is not enough—not for us, Orthodox Christians anyhow. If you had never heard about Jesus Christ, if you had not grown up in the Church, if you had never received the holy sacraments and instruction over the years, one could say that you are excused. However, since you don't have this defense, it is incumbent on you to confess the faith of the Church and to live a Christian life, in accordance with the commandments of the Lord. Still more, you dismiss the historicity of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead – the foundations of our faith as Christians – as paramythia, “idle tales”. They are not made up, as you state, but are historical facts. I know that you, like your husband, are scientists and therefore your mind needs facts. I intend to provide these to you for your examination.

Since you are not up to reading the holy scripture right now, I will direct you to at least a few biblical passages which are historical accounts of eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ and of His resurrection, hoping that you'll give them serious consideration. I hope these passages will urge you to read the entire holy scripture, so that, by God's grace, you will regain your faith. I care more for you, because you have been a good friend over many years.

Historical, eyewitness accounts of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection

The quotations below are from three eyewitnesses, the holy Apostles Paul, Peter and John, according to the approximate date in which the texts were written. With one exception, I have not commented on these passages, leaving it up to you to draw your own conclusions.

The first author, Paul of Tarsus (better known as “Saint Paul”), was not even one of Christ's chosen 12 disciples. So how is he said to be an eyewitness of the Lord and of His resurrection? We'll let him answer this question himself... But first, I would like to point out that Paul was an educated man, having been a pupil of the illustrious teacher of Jewish law, Gamaliel, who was a Pharisee (a specialist in the Laws given through Moses – a theologian more than a lawyer). Paul too became a Pharisee. He was also proud to be a Roman citizen from birth. He went from being a zealous persecutor of the Church to become its leading missionary, who preached Christ as God to the non-Jews, the Greeks.

Paul's conversion is narrated by his later missionary companion Luke (cf. 2 Tim. 4:11), whom he called “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) and “my co-worker” (Philem. 24), in his letters. St. Luke followed the Apostle Paul, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9, when he begins narrating the events in the first person plural. According to solid tradition, Luke is also the author of the book in the Bible that carries his name, “The Gospel According to Luke”. He introduces what he wrote about Jesus' life, calling it “an orderly account” (Lk. 1:3) so that we “may know the full truth about everything which you have been taught” (Lk. 1:4). This is precisely the purpose I write these words to you, dear C., hoping that you will be convinced about the truthfulness of what they have written, and that you too will become a believer.

I've marked in red the most pertinent passages, and in bold, words to which you should give special attention. The translations are those that I had handy. (Since you are a Greek language teacher and you know it well, it would be good for you to also look up and read the following passages in the original Greek as well, your maternal language that speaks more to your heart.)

Paul the Apostle

1) PAUL (+c. 64 AD)


(To the Hellenized people of Galatia who had become Christians)

Chapter 1
1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ Himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.
11 Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. 12 I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.
15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by His marvelous grace. Then it pleased Him 16 to reveal His Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.


(To the Christians living in Rome)


1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle, and sent out to preach His Good News. 2 God promised this Good News long ago through His prophets in the holy Scriptures. 3 The Good News is about His Son. In His earthly life He was born into King David's family line, 4 and He was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey Him, bringing glory to His name. 6 And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.


(To the Christians living in Corinth)


3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

The appearance of Christ to over 500 people, who witnessed the Lord's resurrection, is a startling revelation. Although unique, we must not doubt the Apostle's word that he probably knew and met a number of them. A full analysis of this testimony is given here.


(Written by Luke the Evangelist, much of which is about Paul's “acts”)


3 As he [Paul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around Him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"
"Yes, Lord," he answered. 11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." 13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.


(Paul's words, recounted by Luke)

4 "I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished." 6 "About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' 8 'Who are you, Lord?' I asked.
'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of Him who was speaking to me. 10 'What shall I do, Lord?' I asked.
'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me." 12 "A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see Him. 14 Then he said: 'The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from His mouth. 15 You will be His witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.'"


(Paul giving a defense of his faith before King Agrippa (AD 27/28 – c. 92 or 100), as narrated by Luke)

9 "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. 12 "On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' 15 "Then I asked, 'Who are you, Lord?' " 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. 16 'Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'
Peter the Apostle

2) PETER (+ c. 64 AD)



22"Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. 24But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him." 29"Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised Him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."


14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.


12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved."


27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." 29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging Him on a cross. 31 God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him."



1 And now, a word to you who are presbyters in the churches. I, too, am a presbyter and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in His glory when he is revealed to the whole world.



1This letter is from Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.
12 I will always remind you about these things—even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. 13And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live. 14 For our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, 15 so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18 we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.
John the Theologian




9 The true light [Christ] that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. 11 He came to that which was His own, but His own [the Jews] did not receive Him. 12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 14 The Word [Christ] became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified concerning Him. He cried out, saying, "This is the one I spoke about when I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' "16 Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known.


16 For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.


26 After eight days [after finding the tomb empty, after the Resurrection] His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. 30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.



1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. 2 The Life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.


23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us –eternal life.


1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is.


8 God is love. 9 This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.


11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

My Comments

Please bear in mind, dear C., that the selections from the historical documents quoted above were written 20 to 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by eyewitnesses of the events they describe. They have been preserved by His followers and guarded with their own lives — in many cases quite literally. Therefore anyone who questions their authenticity should consider that we accept other historical figures without question.

Alexander depicted in a Roman Mosaic

For example, if we examine the historicity of Alexander the Great, what historical documents will we find that narrate the events of his life? The earliest source is the historian Callisthenes who accompanied Alexander, but his unfinished history Deeds of Alexander (327 BC) is lost to us. Cleitarchus wrote his History of Alexander (c. 300 BC), and Ptolemy, Alexander's general, also wrote his Memoirs of Alexander's campaign at about the same time, but both of these accounts are lost as well. The writings of Aristoboulos, Onesicritus and Nearchus, officials of Alexander, had the same fate. Diodorus's The Library of History is the oldest surviving source (c. 35-30 BC), written some 290 years after Alexander's death, followed by the History of Alexander the Great, written by Quintus Curtius Rufus c. 30 AD (353 years after Alexander's death). For the most part we rely on the accounts of Plutarch's Parallel Lives (written during the last 10 years of his life (died 125 AD), some 448 years after Alexander's death) and Arrian's Anabasis, written about 20 years later (c. 145 AD). The latter is the most reliable source of Alexander's life and deeds. The recently discovered Astronomical Diary is the only contemporary source on Alexander, which places his death on June 11, 323 BC. (See other online sources, including, this source)

The accounts of the eyewitnesses presented here, as well as of the other writers of the New Testament, which include names of places, people and events, have been confirmed by archeological findings. For example, Paul's tomb with his relics were discovered during excavations. Archeologists confirmed it was the tomb of Apostle Paul in 2005 (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle). The universal acceptance of the New Testament writings and the universal transmission of Baptism and Eucharist are also a testament to the authenticity of the texts. These are not cleverly devised myths, but true and real historical accounts, therefore to deny them would show a lack of good will.

Faith is not a conviction based on unproven stories, or on private, baseless convictions that have no security. This is how St. Paul describes faith:

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

Faith gives us assurance, a certainty of things we hope for; faith convinces us about things we have not seen ourselves, that we have not experienced with our own senses, but we believe in them based on the witness of others. We have not seen Jesus Christ, we have had no first-hand knowledge of His life and His deeds, we did not see Him die and rise from the dead, neither has He appeared to us. Yet we have a certainty about these things, based on the testimony of those who have seen Him, and all the marvelous things they describe. Our faith is not based on falsehood nor is it in vain. Why does having faith in Christ matter? We believe, because by doing so we receive the blessing of the Lord, who said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)

The conclusion we draw from all this is that we need to strengthen our faith in Christ, that He is the Son of God in the flesh, that He became human so that we could become divine, that He freed us from sin, suffering and death with His death and resurrection from the dead, that He will come again in glory to raise us from death and grant us His life – as long as we remain united with Him and live His life, a life of complete obedience to God.

We set our hopes in our Savior. We hope and trust we won't be disappointed: “Glory to You, O Lord and God, our hope, glory to You.”

Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis
(edited by AH, 9-2022)

1 thought on ““I am an Orthodox Christian, but not a believer””

  1. Your answer to your friend is excellent as is your use of the Holy Scriptures. However, I have to ask myself how a man who calls himself a life-long Orthodox Christian can possibly say that and yet state that he is not a believer! Could this be because he identifies as Orthodox because he is Greek or Greek-American? Has he confused ethnicity with Christianity? This reminds one of that scene in the movie “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” when the man who is the future spouse of the Greek-American woman is baptized and, upon rising up from the baptismal font declares “I’m Greek now!” This kind of confusion – unfortunately often abetted by some of the clergy – is typical of “ethnic Orthodox” especially, I’m sorry to say, of Greek origin. A great deal of theological education and spiritual formation is needed here!


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