Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Living Scriptures, once again

I decided to rework my original post into a homily format. It contains much of the same material as before, but is somewhat revised. I thank my readers for their comments and input!

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

In last week’s homily, I made brief mention of the saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church as “living scriptures” whose lives manifest God’s self-revelation to us in flesh and blood rather than paper and ink. I thought perhaps I should speak further on this topic, since it may represent a rather new concept to some of us, particularly those just coming into Orthodoxy.

We must begin on something of a sad note, lamenting the fact that the saints of the Church are almost entirely ignored by contemporary Christendom. Christians will spend a great deal of time reading from the Old Testament about the ancient saints of Israel, and love these stories, even naming their children after many of those people. This is a very human characteristic; we naturally look up to our heroes in the faith and desire to learn from them and emulate the best qualities of their lives. Yet very oddly these same believers are almost entirely unaware of the saints of the Church era and virtually never read about their lives. From this response, one would think that God has been left entirely without a people to bear witness to Him for the last 2000 years!

How could there exist such a gap in the minds of people? How is it that folks who teach the stories of David or King Solomon in Sunday School so often neglect telling their children about St. Ignatius of Antioch, Mother Mary of Egypt, or St. Seraphim of Sarov? The answer can only be that these saints represent a church tradition that is completely foreign to the mindset of contemporary believers, despite its spanning the entire history of the Church era.

Since most of us originally came to Christ within the Evangelical paradigm, we know from experience that the true history of the Church and her saints is largely ignored. The early Reformers knew very little about Eastern Orthodoxy, since Rome had divided from the other Patriarchates centuries before, and had continued to evolve its own peculiar and divisive doctrines ever since. It was these abuses that the Reformers were rightly objecting to, just as the Eastern Orthodox Church had also done in its time. One would think that the opportunity for cooperation between the Orthodox and the Reformers would have been great, but it didn’t work out that way. Seeking some tool of leverage to use in their arguments against the Roman Catholic church, instead of turning to the Eastern Church which had stayed true to the apostolic tradition without corruption, the Reformers turned instead to the scriptures and, at least at first, Christian Patristics. The early Reformers were not all a bunch of bible-waving, bomb-throwers. Their use of Patristics to demonstrate how the Roman church had changed was quite valid.

However, such regard for Christians of an earlier age was not to last. The more that “Sola Scriptura” emerged as the dominant factor in shaping Protestant thought, the more divided it became and the greater the distance grew between it and the early Christianity it had once respected. Today, Evangelicals almost entirely ignore the historic Church and its teachings, which makes them something of a living contradiction as one friend of mine observed: the best of their theology they derive from a church tradition they no longer accept, and the more they adhere to their own foundational principle of “Sola Scriptura” the more fragmented and isolated they become.

In contrast with this, the saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church demonstrate a remarkable unity of faith and doctrine regardless of era, as well as providing us with a well-formed and clear vision of God that is consistent from generation to generation. How is this even possible? Ultimately it is made possible by the fact that the saints had so purified themselves through their many struggles, that God was able to clearly inscribe His image upon their very humanity. When we look at the saints, what do we see except the life of God formed in them? And when we see that, what do we want except that same life formed in us. Thus the saints truly are “living scriptures” revealing God, and drawing others to Him.

When you think about it, how did the New Testament scriptures originate? The apostles who wrote the epistles didn’t fall into some sort of hypnotic trance and “spirit write” them, unaware of what they were doing. These were men in whom the image of God had also been formed, and who each wrote from their own personal experience of God. Because each of their experiences of God were genuine, what they wrote matched up in essential content, revealing that one true God behind them. The scriptures were inspired—literally “God-breathed”—because it was the life of God that was within the men who wrote them.

In trying to get away from such an obvious synergy between God and the writers of the New Testament in order to remove the “taint” of man’s involvement, today’s Evangelicals have a notion that God simply “came upon” the apostles and virtually forced them to write these words. The scriptures weren’t “God-breathed” by a gentle breath; it was more like a violent hurricane, bending everything in its path! And why would God do this? So that we today would have the perfect word of God, the bible, untouched by human influence, armed with which we can announce our independence from the Church and the witness of all her saints throughout time.

But here’s the problem. The image of God is not found in a book, but in man himself. It is man whom God created to bear His divine image and reveal that to all creation. It is man who the Word of God Himself became and also dwelt among, so that the greatest and ultimate “Living Scripture” might be seen and men might unite with Him in His Body, the Church. The “Word of God” is not a book; He is the Son of God incarnate, revealing God in flesh and blood, and offering man precious union with Him that we might also become living reflections of the true God.

Because of this glorious incarnation of the Word of God, men can also become the words of God, reformed in His image and demonstrating truth to a dark and fallen world. This is why the lives of the saints in Eastern Orthodoxy are “living scriptures” for us to study and learn from and emulate, and why there is such great consistency in what they reveal to us of God from generation to generation. It is this great inheritance that so many have abandoned, but we hope will one day reclaim. The Christian saints should mean every bit as much to us today as the saints of Israel, and (wouldn’t you think?) even far more, since they each had Christ formed in them. It is simply not right that they are ignored.

If by some miracle there is to be any recovery of traditional Christianity by Evangelicals today, it will never happen through yet more bible study. They have so twisted the meaning of the scriptures as to no longer see the Church and her beliefs so plainly revealed there. Recovery will only happen when they rediscover the lives and teachings of the saints, and find that these wonderful people they have so long ignored were indeed shining beacons of a faith strange yet somehow familiar, whose lives truly revealed God in ways rarely seen today.

Neither can we Orthodox believers afford to neglect so bright a light as our saints. We also need to make a habit of reading their lives and thus be even further drawn to God by their example. May God so help us and guide us.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 7/26/2006 4:12 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

Bravo! (Sorry--Axios!) I don't know if it fits into the homily very well, but you might try to mention that, in addition to the Reformers' appeal to patristics, they also found it convenient to mention Eastern Orthodoxy as evidence that papism was not universal in the Tradition of the Church. When it came to actually addressing themselves to Orthodoxy, however, the two sides found little common ground.

At 7/26/2006 11:04 PM , Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

"De t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible—
It ain’t necessarily so." Ira Gershwin

At 7/29/2006 6:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "protestant" movement at first was not against the RCC per se, rather against the abuses that were occuring in the Church at the time. To appeal to the EO would be "more of the same" (IMO) for the reformers (Wycliffe, Luther, and dare I post Zwingili)

The fact (or perception) that the old line churches had departed fromt he plain teaching of the bible still exists. As I once read "The bible is more or less a paper weight for them"

As has been put forth, "The scriptures in Romans may seem to speak to the indidvidul"

Yes, in fact, they do.

At 7/29/2006 6:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or did not Jesus not say "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am amongst them"


At 7/30/2006 4:32 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Actually, it is precisely because the Reformers were against the RC abuses that EO was a worthwhile consideration. Clearly, they liked the fact that EO had never accepted the kind of papal authority that was prevalent in the West. What they may not have realized (perhaps because they didn't take the time to find out) is that most of their key objections to RC theology and practice were also points where EO would object. Sale of indulgences, purgatory, and that whole legalistic ball of wax--basically, the point of the 95 theses--may have had their roots in Augustine, but even his overemphasis on forensic metaphors was nothing compared with the developments in Western theology that *followed* the schism and that EO never embraced. Also, because the main problems with tradition that the Reformers observed in the West were intimately linked with the unique Western take on tradition, it would have been a useful corrective to appeal to the EO notion of tradition.

But what is also clear is that the Reformers were not prepared to change much of the Western paradigm. Instead of correcting the overemphasis on legal metaphors, they quibbled over the implications--they came up with their own version of Augustine, where the legal transactions were removed from the human sphere to avoid any implication of works-righteousness. In so doing, they missed the Eastern solution--that it was an insufficient paradigm to begin with that made it look like works-righteousness in the first place. Legalism wasn't a problem that needed solving. It was a bad idea that needed refuting.

The Reformers also, in their fight against papism, ironically used the outcome of papism that was popular in their day to fight the very notion of tradition. Again, they missed the forest for the trees. Tradition was actually the one thing that could correct the abuses of papism. Instead of finding the true tradition of the Church (providentially still available to be found in the East), they took the original abuse of the RCC--individualistic interpretation that contradicts and fails to submit to tradition--and transferred it from one hierarch at the top of the church to every individual who opens a Bible. It was a coup because they exploited an inherent weakness in the RC approach--that once you allow individual interpretation to overthrow tradition, you undermine the authority of that interpretation and the tradition that it has now compromised. But collapsing a bad paradigm doesn't equal finding a better paradigm that is less susceptible to problems. At best, all they did was mitigate the effects by removing the ability of any one person to force their views on everyone else. But in the process they put the Church even further out of reach for everyone who would come after them.

I'm not too hard on the Reformers for all of this. Like everyone else, they had their cultural biases. It is a rare thing to step outside one's own paradigm and see value in someone else's. And I don't think we're any better than them now. We have some advantage of hindsight, to look back on what they did and analyze it from a distance. But our circumstances are also different. For one thing, our world has shrunk, and it's a bit easier for us to accept truth where we see it, even in another culture. For another thing, we've reached the bitter end of the Western experiment that started well before the 11th c. and found it to be a rather bankrupt system. In the end, all it gets us is chaos. That realization is enough to make at least some of us go in search of a better way.

At 7/30/2006 7:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We've reached the bitter end of the Western Experiment"

Could you amplify that?

And fundamentally I disagree with your assertion that "opening a bible=legalism" If it weren't for Evangelicals, there would be almost "no" outreach by eitther the RCC or the EO.

It could be that EO looks at Christianity and sees chaos. Once again, the ability og Joe Average to open the Bible and discover that there is a plan of Redemption for the individual, that God the Father sent God the Son to establish the new covenant by the Son's death. Is a inherently Good thing. No year long training is required, no fasts are pronounced, rather "whomsoever will".

Now whether that confession of Faith in Jesus, as rudimentary as it is leads logically to the EO denomination is for myself, the real question.
Does a beleief in Jesus lead one logically to join say the RCC or a EO congregation?

Perhaps strangely ( to you maybe) the individual's ability to merely read the Bible and understand what is inside may seem "legalistic" to the EO, the opposite is true. The individual's ability to read the Holy Scriptures has saved countless multitudes of people. Perhaps there doctrine is flawed with no knowledge of Christianities Traditions. But they have pledged there immortal selves to Jesus, and that is what Evangelism is about at it's core. Not denegrating a tradtion, rather bringing mankind to Christ, one soul at a time.

At 7/30/2006 8:49 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

What I mean is that, what started with the claim that interpretive and doctrinal authority could reside in a particular individual (the pope) progressed naturally into the Renaissance (and later the Reformation) democratization of individual interpretive authority. All it took was to rebel against the hierarchical structure and set up every individual as his own pope. This individualistic, anti-traditional approach to authority and interpretation has led in Protestant culture (and to a great extent in Western Catholicism as well) to confessional anarchy, where everyone practices in essence his own religion. There may be fellow-travelers, but there is no Church. What the West now knows as Church is and can be nothing more than a group of individuals who happen to believe more or less the same thing.

In Evangelicalism, the chaos is masked by a semi-traditional facade. As I've said before, the inherent contradiction of Evangelicalism is that it weds confessional relativism to theological conservatism. Although it affirms that the sole basis for faith and practice is Scripture plus individual interpretation, it actually maintains rigid boundaries (unique to each confessional association), outside of which is heresy. The only thing that allows it to sustain this contradiction is its methodology of separatism. Whenever the tension becomes too great, the solution is to separate. Whether this happens on the level of an individual or family leaving a congregation because they no longer agree sufficiently to maintain fellowship, or on the level of a subgroup within a congregation leaving to start or join another denomination, the strategy is the same. Real agreement never goes beyond the individual congregation, because by definition it cannot be expected to.

Liberal Protestantism differs from Evangelicalism in its rejection of the conservative impulse. It relieves the contradiction, but it ends up with no basis for any collective action. The chaos is the same, but in liberalism it is visible to all. Postmodernism does not break the Western paradigm, but it takes a new attitude toward it. It recognizes and accepts the bankruptcy of the whole Western intellectual approach and is currently experimenting with ways to modify the system. This experimentation opens up some interesting windows to the traditional past, but as long as it remains experimentation, it is still the same paradigm.

I never equated reading the Bible with legalism. I was talking about Protestant soteriology which did not fundamentally change the RC paradigm. It retained the legalistic metaphor, even though it came up with different details.

I also don't question that Evangelicalism has been an important gateway to Christ in the Western world. How could I? It was my own point of entry. My parents grew up in basically atheistic homes and both converted to Evangelicalism as adults. They raised their children in this tradition. I think the problems in the RCC to which the Reformers were responding were real. They used the tools that were most readily available, and some of the outcome was good. (Some was not.) One important effect of the trajectory taken by Evangelicals in particular has been their desire to reach out with a form of the gospel. They have been able to speak within Western culture, and the type of Christianity they offered has been uniquely suited to Western sensibilities. This was natural, since Evangelicalism grounded itself in the Western mentality. The positive side was that it kept a form of Christianity alive in the West. The negative side was that that form of Christianity was impoverished. If I can't read, Dick and Jane may be useful, but if that's all the books I have available, my reading skills will never progress very far. Evangelicalism has upheld an important distinction between non-Christianity and Christian immaturity. It is simply time to repair the damage and begin to move forward.

At 7/30/2006 10:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course saying that "there is no church" is not agreeable with almost any Christian sensibility.

The Churches may differ in practices (there are even variations in Orthodox Churches) the message remains the same. It is also rightly said that what is lacking in Tradition in Protestant/Evangelical/Charismatic congregations is made up for with simple knowledge of the Scriptures especially in none homilical applications. It would seem that "living scriptures" are being written in many evangelicals lives. The Word of God is sufficent for all things sans icons etc.

It also would seem that the divisions in protetantism are mainly Rome centered as if in seeking to move farther away from RCC beliefs, the Protestants are laving sound doctrine. Of course that canot be agreed with as well. Protestantism in seeking to return to a more primitive simplier liturgical requirements is a refreshing change in pprocedures (not in the Faith, that never changes)
One will not see Icons of Saints being paraded thrugh the congregation in the Freewill baptist Church anytime soon. One will see lives changed however. And that is the essence of Jesus's message to mankind.

Shunning the rich history of the church is not wise.However the goal of Christianinty is bringing mankind to faith in Christ and his actions, not the establsihment of a church that then leads to reconciliation to Christ. INOW, it seems the EO cannot or chooses not to seperate the two. Bringing mankind to Christ is the responsibility of Christians, whether they then join the EO is a seperate issue.

thatis the difference at it's core betweenEO and Evangelicalism. IMO of course.

At 7/30/2006 2:06 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

I realize, of course, that Evangelicals view their groups as churches, and in some abstract sense they acknowledge a universal Church, but my point is simply that by Orthodox standards (which, I must say, is how I'm going to measure these things) what passes for church in Evangelicalism is not. Call it a natural consequence of their individualistic soteriology and bibliology, but any way you slice it, it falls short. This is not to say that some vestige of the notion of what church ought to be does not exist in Evangelicalism--like everything else, it is retained to some degree, albeit in a stripped-down form. You might compare it with the iconography of Evangelicalism, which has been reduced to a cross and, to a limited extent, sometimes a Bible.

The message remains the same only to the extent that Evangelical churches reduce the gospel to the smallest possible kernel, and even then, there is not full agreement. Witness the Lordship Salvation controversy, which is confined to non-Charismatic Dispensationalists, but even within that narrow group has produced bitter dissension, even to the point of charging heresy. (I personally knew a theology prof who was fired for the very reason that he would not stop teaching his personal conviction on the matter, and this in a college that did not actually stipulate a position one way or the other in its doctrinal statement.) Do they believe that a person who was apparently saved by faith in the "wrong" form of the gospel is not truly saved? In many cases, the answer is "yes." A close relative of mine was "saved" while in the middle of his third pastoral ministry, because he suddenly changed his position on this issue and was convinced that his prior salvation had been false.

And this is to say nothing of the many areas of theology that they would call non-essential to the gospel itself. (Here is another question to ponder--why is it that in Evangelicalism there are so many separate compartments of theology that apparently have little effect on one another? In Orthodoxy, it's all inter-related.) We're not just talking about differences of practice, like mode of baptism or choice of hymnals. We're talking about Reformed folks who would likely spit at Tim LaHaye if they happened to pass him on the street, for his popularization of what they would consider Dispensational heresy. We're talking about substantive differences in theology of spiritual gifts between Charismatics and those who disagree with them. We're talking about the understanding of baptism's significance, where some hold a semi-sacramental view, some think it's just a profession, and baptism of children either makes sense or is abhorrent based on the underlying theology of what baptism really means.

Yes, on some level, they all just get along (well, a lot of them anyway). But on some level the Russian Orthodox Church is willing to cooperate with the RCC. On some level Christians and Muslims can work together against the decadence of secular society. But most of the serious cooperation that you see between Evangelicals of different faith camps comes expressly from setting aside their theology to focus on something else--maybe it's the methodology of the purpose-driven (fill-in-the-blank), maybe it's the drama of a Billy Graham crusade, or the euphoria of a Promise-Keepers event. But it's precisely in these situations that you can't bring up theology.

What I'm saying is not exactly that Evangelicals err to the extent that they depart from Rome. As I've said, I think the problems the Reformers sought to address were real. What I'm saying is that Evangelicalism is conservative by nature. The Reformers would sooner persecute Anabaptists than allow things to go too far in following Scripture alone. Their strategy instead was to keep whatever did not seem to contradict Scripture, and this tendency has saved Evangelicalism from the excesses of its liberal cousins. But it is precisely on the points where sola scriptura has prevailed, where Evangelicalism has departed decisively from the theology it inherited from Rome, that divisions have occurred within the ranks. This doesn't necessarily mean that Rome had it right, but it shows the weakness of the Protestant model--that it cannot produce a convincing answer, that everyone can accept. Wherever it has struck out on its own, it has had to split over competing interpretations.

Yes, on the simple things, there is somewhat less room for error. And yes, you can observe true godliness in the lives of some Evangelicals (just as you can observe selfish twisting of Scripture to justify just about anything, but we all have our bad apples). Again, I do not deny that God has used Evangelicalism in important ways. The problem is that it cannot sustain communal maturity, precisely because its understanding of the Church is flawed.

I should not be surprised that you think the Church is non-essential to the goal of Christianity. This is precisely the problem with much of Evangelical theology. But even the best of Evangelical theology would disagree with you here. The Church is a mystery hidden in God's plan from ages past. It is the community of all believers. How is that separate from the goal of Christianity. I realize there may be some Evangelicals out there who teach otherwise, but most that I've encountered realize that conversion is only the beginning. Read, for instance, the purpose statement of my wife's Evangelical church: "to help people begin and grow in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ." And after years of hearing it expounded, I know what the second part of that means to them. Yes, beginning the relationship is important, but the church is there so that the second part can also happen--their growth will come as part of the body. Yes, it's easier to separate these things in Evangelicalism than in Orthodoxy, but again, I would say that the germ of truth has been preserved even there. Lord grant that it might never die!

At 7/30/2006 6:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether you feel that a average protestant church is a church at all is of no moment. As has been said before "God knows His sheep".

Perhaps one sees too much of Christiainity through the lens of the repudiation of much of what the RCC taught. I see something entirely different. A Church that moved in a different direction from it's older brothers.

Albeit much of western christianity has basically dispensed with "the mystery of Faith" in favor of more certain Biblical footing and theology.

Now whether that means that Evangelical Churches or Charismatic Churches are missing out on something by approaching faith in Christ from that angle is a matter of debate.

It is interesting to note that while Evangelical/Charismatic churches are growing, many of the old line churches are shuttering. And that is sad, Anglican churhces in England are being converted into Mosques, not for use by different congregations of the same faith. ditto the RCC in manyparts of the US.

IMO, this is due to the offices of the churches being disfunctional. Another outgrowth of the splits and divisions that came from the birth of Protestantism. which really was inevitable.

A RCC preist recently opened a service were the President of Jordan was atteneding, his opening prayer was "in the name of Allah" the RCC hierarchy removed the priest (McCarrick?) but the essence was there. A church that doesn't preach righteousness will fall into severe error.

A pity really that the zeal for Evangelism cannpt or has not been grafted into the older denominations, that is the message that the world wants to hear actually.

To the last beacons of moral clarity left in the western world...

At 7/30/2006 6:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW Abuian,

My only denomination is Christian. I claim no other denomination as of yet so the expostion into the "slicing of the pie" sa practiced by some in the Evangelical/Protestant community is rather lost on myself.

I do enjoy it however,but professors being fired for whatever means not much to myself.

At 7/30/2006 7:49 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

Actually, as an Evangelical friend of mine pointed out, Evangelicalism is stagnating in the West (Europe and America), along with just about everything else. The real action is in areas that used to be considered mission fields, like Africa and Asia. I might add here that Anglicanism is alive and well, and in fact dominant, in Africa. As for Orthodoxy, it is growing in the West, and in much of Eastern Europe, where Communism has finally fallen into the abyss, it is experiencing a resurgence. Churches are being opened daily throughout Russia, the rift between the exiles and the homeland is healing, and the government is largely supportive of what's happening.

It makes me sad to hear you talk the way you do. My wife's church wants nothing to do with denominations either, but they see themselves as part of a larger whole. If you don't care when you hear of Evangelical denominations and institutions ripped apart by petty doctrinal squabbling, what exactly is your notion of the universal Church? I've lived through these things (in addition to my perspective as a student when my favorite prof lost his job, I experienced a similar rift in another school where I taught for a while--professors in one institution on opposing sides, even preaching in area churches that the other side's position was heresy), and they're heartbreaking. They still break my heart when I hear about them.

This is not to say that Orthodoxy is without its internal problems, but this kind of thing is inherent in Evangelicalism. Your refusal to associate yourself with it does not change the reality. You can't even escape the reality of these effects within Orthodoxy. Even if the jurisdictional problems in America could be fully sorted out, don't think people would abandon the voluntary church mentality of Protestant culture. If I don't like the parish on my block, I'll just go to one that I like better in the next town over. It's part of the world that we've inherited for better or worse. We all have to live with it to one degree or another, but denying it is hardly the way to start addressing the problems.

At 7/30/2006 8:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We'll see, let me do some research on which churches are growing the "fastest" in the US it more than likely will be mormonism.

It is vaguely strange to myself that you think strictly along denominational lines.

What is also strange is the churches that are claimed to be growing find there "sees" in lands that are hostile to them.

And sadly for myself, the people i have chatted with from eastern europe depcit the EO priests of there nations as fat cats who drive mercedes benz's.

(I only add that to give you the persepctives that I have enocuntered online, not as a slander or dig at the EO)

As far as the interminable doctrinal squabbles, Paul was correct, there will be divisions. Were the trouble comes in is when akum's razor is not applied with a view towards "economy".

the essential Truths (and secrets according to Paul) is found in the Birth suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. As i recall one of the huge sticking points between the EO and the RCC (besides Rome's Authority) was the addition of the word "filoque" in the Nicene Creed.

That led to the sad spectacles of dual "anathema's" and "ex communications".

That was the surface reason, the other reasons i suspect were more practicle and substantive.

At 7/30/2006 8:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If surveys are to be believed then the "fastest growing" denominations in the US are:

Church of God

Perhaps self serving, I would suspect that the RCC is counting all of the Mexican immigres as "members" when they are Baptized.

the growth of the unchurched is startling and rather disappointing to myself. A good church is a real blessing. i've yet to find one.

and once again, I was not trying to take a swipe at the EO by posting about chatting with eastern europeans so whomever reads that please do not take it that way.

At 7/31/2006 1:31 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Indeed, the filioque was tied up with a lot of other issues. The filioque itself had been around for centuries before the schism, but its use was restricted. It was considered an acceptable option in the West, but never mandatory. Its use in Rome was forbidden, for instance. With the rise of the Carolingian empire (the so-called Holy Roman Empire), the filioque was embraced as a distinctive of Western Christianity over against Eastern. Eventually this led to the imposition of the filioque on Slavic churches, which were disputed territory as to whether they should answer to Rome or Constantinople. That's when it became an irreconcilable sticking point.

Beyond that, the filioque is actually more important than it might seem at first glance. It was hardly the first time a single word caused intense debate and for good reason. It only takes a word to diminish Christ's deity or humanity, for instance. In this case, the problem was with the Holy Spirit, but it had to do in general with the strucure of the Trinity. Eastern apologists will argue that the Western concept of the Trinity is overly hierarchical, which naturally led to its concept of papal authority and undermined the Tradition of the Church. I'm not sure we can sort out the chicken from the egg in this case, but there does seem to be a correlation of sorts.

In any case, I think the bigger problem between East and West was political. The East could tolerate papal authority in the West as long as the two sides still worked on substantially the same page. It was even advantageous to the Church in many cases to have the authority of the pope to counterbalance that of the emperor (although the Eastern Church never really acknowledged the same degree of authority that the popes eventually claimed). But that was when everyone still felt they were part of one empire, even if it had been centuries since the emperor wielded any real power in the West. The notion was still there that he was their emperor. The Carolingian Empire marked the end of this relationship--the Frankish kingdom claimed to be the true successor of Rome and became a natural rival of Byzantium. As Western strength grew (now that the former barbarians were in charge, they had no immediate threats) and Eastern strength waned (pressure from both Islam in the East and the new empire in the West), the attacks became more direct. The schism might have been reversed, as had others before it, if the Western crusaders had not sacked and taken over control of Constantinople. From that point on, the tendency in the East was to prefer Muslim conquest to Western "help." Culturally, the rivalry has never really ceased since then.

But it is not just a cultural and military issue. Ever since then, Rome has actively pursued conversion of Eastern Christians to RC. Protestants have been little better. So the religious differences have been bound up with the cultural. Today, the West continues to assert its will over the East, and as long as that tension remains, it will be difficult to repair the damage.

At 7/31/2006 5:54 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

I also wanted to comment on denominations. While I understand your reluctance to ascribe them significance, I don't think their reality can be escaped as part of the Protestant culture. Yes, there have been grand notions of a non-denominational Evangelical movement that brings everyone together, but if you go to Evangelical gatherings, you will still find that almost everyone comes from some kind of denomination or affiliation.

It's an inherent part of the system, really, as I explained earlier that the contradiction of Evangelicalism is only sustainable if affiliations are allowed to re-divide whenever significant disagreement arises. it doesn't have to run along strictly denominational lines. In fact, at some point the framework of denominations becomes too cumbersome a mechanism to accommodate the need to separate. This is why local churches have to be independent, and why a significant proportion of Evangelical churches have formed out of splits from earlier churches.

Let me put it this way--there is no way, in theory or in practice, that Evangelicalism can produce a visibly united Church. To do so would require one of two things--a complete disregard for key differences of faith and practice, or a means of enforcing agreement. Evangelicalism has no recourse to the latter, and the former is all that distinguishes it from theological liberalism. It will therefore always be subject to the ebb and flow of individual believers in and out of various affiliations. When this happens at a high enough collective level, you get different denominations; when it happens a bit lower, you get churches forming for reasons that have nothing to do with missionary outreach (splits, new plants where disgruntled clergy can gather around themselves other disgruntled people, etc.); when it happens still lower, you get people who leave a church that they don't like and go find another one that suits them for now. Their freedom to do so cannot be curtailed within the Evangelical model. Witness, for instnace, the collapse of any true church discipline in Evangelicalism today. A church can only exercise discipline as long as the individual will tolerate it. It can end at any time by a unilateral decision to pack up and go somewhere else. This is not church--it is voluntary association with no strings attached.

At 7/31/2006 2:14 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

While I have no doubt that “countless thousands” have come to a kind of faith in Christ through their own private reading of the scriptures, God only knows if such an uninstructed faith was sufficient for their salvation in every case. Perhaps an even greater number of people have been led away from saving faith in Christ through misinterpreting these same scriptures. The utter uncertainty of outcome inherent in this process would surely suggest that God has provided a better means for people to find Him than to simply publish a book and hope that people read it correctly. That better method is the Church, which both wrote the scriptures and guides its people into the correct understanding of them.

The impulse to entirely divorce the scriptures from the Church is ultimately from the devil, not God, as this has led to a dismal situation our Creator never intended. It is doubtlessly an easy task for the Serpent to persuade self-willed men to trust themselves and rely on their own understanding in interpreting the Church’s bible. But if such men are indeed so certain that they have skillfully avoided the pitfalls that have destroyed so many others, and have somehow managed to independently interpret the bible correctly unto a saving faith, why are they afraid to “compare notes” with the Church to see whether or not their opinions actually align with the consistent witness of the Holy Spirit in every generation? Maybe I answered my own question. If they did so, they would not be “self-willed men”.

Our friend Anonymous has often admitted that he knows very little about Church history, Holy Tradition, and the writings of the Holy Fathers. Not surprisingly therefore, he remains unconvinced of the need for such safeguards, and thoroughly convinced that both his isolation from the Church and his independently derived views are completely biblical. It is difficult to imagine any other discipline in which the sheer illogic of such an approach would not be obvious. I guess when it comes to God one is free to simply make up any theology he desires and consider himself “saved”.

At 7/31/2006 3:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

the crux of entire matter. As has also been put forward, Salvation does happen outside of the confines of the whichever Church.

Whether one chooses to accept that or not, once again is of no moment. A thorough reading of the Scriptures especially the NT Scriptures and Salvation is individual, as Baptism is a individual meeting and submission to God's will.

Now one can and indeed should examine whether the EO is the penultimate of God's will for mankind, and that would make a different topic to be sure.

To put it another way, if the claims of Both the Eo and the RCC are to carry credence, literally millions of people have died and suffered perdition because they were"outside the Church".

So which is it? Are millions of people who professed Faith in Christa dn followed what he taguht doomed to eternal seperation from God?

At 7/31/2006 4:49 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

The scriptures are quite clear that many who profess Christ will not be saved. "Not all who say to Me 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven..."

On the other hand, if a person believes in Christ AND follows what He taught as you say, then they would follow Him into the communion of His Church, for He taught no differently.

As to what will happen to those who refuse to come into His Church, only God can decide. The Orthodox Church really can't offer many soothing words to help someone who willfully excommunicates himself feel better about such a choice.

At 7/31/2006 4:54 PM , Anonymous Bruce said...

To anonymous. What a dangerous way to live the Christian life--always looking for the dispensation. Always looking for God to make an exception for one's self. God's grace did extend to the thief who didn't have the ability to get down off the cross and receive Eucharist in an Orthodox Church. But the rest of us have been given the opportunity. Of course one may have to submit to authority if one attends a Church. How inconvenient. Easier to sit back and pontificate--alone!!!!

At 7/31/2006 4:55 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

This is an issue my wife struggles with as well. Generally speaking, the question of eternal destiny of any Evangelical individual is answered with agnosticism. (This is not terribly different from how the eternal destiny of an Orthodox individual is approached either.) God's intention is that salvation happens within the Church, but grace works outside the Church as well. Since hell is something forged by personal enmity with God, there is cause for hope that those who know only what Evangelicalism teaches and respond in faith will ultimately be saved.

Part of the problem is that Orthodoxy's understanding of salvation is quite different from that in Evangelicalism. It is not the decision of a moment but a choice of lifestyle and the relationship this forges between humans and God. This process is synergistic but not Pelagian--something the West finds difficult to comprehend or accept. This is why a yes or no answer to this kind of question would be almost nonsensical within Orthodoxy.

Speaking from the standpoint of praxis, there are a couple of useful observations. One is that, at least in the parish I frequent, memorial services for the dead are performed for friends and relatives of parishoners who are Christian but not necessarily Orthodox. I asked the priest about it the other day, and he said, "If we can't pray for them, who can?" The other is my own experience pursuing conversion. Both priests that I've talked to about it have taken a fairly relaxed attitude. Because my wife is not interested in converting, they're more interested in waiting to see what happens with her before making a move to convert me. I can't believe they'd proceed this way if they thought I would be doomed if I died before conversion.

At 7/31/2006 6:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finish the thought Ere, "Lord, haven't we cast out demons in your name? Haven't we done miracles in your name?"

If one looks at teh Sons of Sceva, the answer is clear. It is on thing to appropriate the name of Jesus and perform works with it, it is quite another to actually Believe in the Jesus. there are also commentaries that mention that these folks might have been doing miracles for money.

To Bruce,

Not really, God's Grace is available to all who seek him. Do not many denominations offer confession for just that purpose? Does not repentence bring forgiveness? Of course it does.

At 7/31/2006 6:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If we can't pray for them, who can?"

Why couldn't they be prayed for? Oh that's right a EO teaching. And thusly another reasons is added to a long list.

And Bruce, of course I knew beforehand that in the EO, you are not doomed to perdition, one cannot however take communion in a EO Church. Funny, my bible says nothing of the sort, yet another EO teaching.

"You lock the door to the Kingdom of Heavan in men's faces, but you yourselves will not go in, and neither will you let people in who are trying to go!"

This blog entry has once again gotten to large to effectively (or not..) try to respond to the give and take.

Good evening then...

At 7/31/2006 6:31 PM , Anonymous Bruce said...

So who do you listen to? I guess you're the Bishop!!

At 7/31/2006 6:56 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

OK, I will complete the thought. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” That verse makes it clear that belief in the Lord is insufficient for salvation. One must do the will of the Father.

Now let us ask who gets to speak for the Father as to what His will might be? Shall one lone man who chooses to forsake the assembling together of the brethren in direct violation of the scriptures, chooses to remain ignorant of what God has revealed in the midst of His Church over the last 2000 years, chooses to appoint himself as the final authority in terms of which bible verses to emphasize and which to symbolize based on nothing other than his own grossly limited understanding and personal preference, be considered a reliable judge of the Father’s will?

When I asked myself these same questions many years ago, the answer came back a resounding “No!” and that is what began my journey to the Orthodox Church. But I was motivated by a sincere interest in discovering and doing the will of the Father, and not by some desire to merely justify myself.

At 7/31/2006 7:25 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Some quotes and responses:

“Why couldn't they be prayed for? Oh that's right a EO teaching. And thusly another reasons is added to a long list.”

Protestants do not generally pray for the departed. The historic Christian Church always had, as witnessed to by inscriptions on the earliest catacombs. Something else to add to the list of why Protestants are wrong.

”And Bruce, of course I knew beforehand that in the EO, you are not doomed to perdition, one cannot however take communion in a EO Church. Funny, my bible says nothing of the sort, yet another EO teaching.”

The early Christians most definitely practiced a closed Communion. The whole prerequisite for taking Communion is that those who partake must share a “common union”. Where no such union exists, Communion cannot be not shared. The fault is not with the Orthodox Church, but with those who are outside Her communion of faith and life.

"You lock the door to the Kingdom of Heavan in men's faces, but you yourselves will not go in, and neither will you let people in who are trying to go!"

So now you have decided that the Orthodox lock people out of heaven exclude themselves as well? At least we are finally uncovering your true agenda.

”This blog entry has once again gotten to large to effectively (or not..) try to respond to the give and take.”

I’m going to take that to mean you are having a hard time following the discussion and responding to what is being said to you. That’s too bad. I frankly am impressed by the folks who are willing to take the time to write out thoughtful and informative responses to your rock-throwing. It’s too bad you cannot appreciate the wisdom they are sharing, and offer a reasonable gratitude or answer in return.

At 7/31/2006 7:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It akes me almost a 2 minutes to scroll down to answer, so this time with feeling...

And what did Jesus command?

"To love God with all of you heart mind and soul, and to love thy neighbor as you love yourself"

The Holy Spirit is tasked with teaching Believer all things, not a corpral Holy Spirit that cannot reside in a dwelling, rather the Holy spirit dwells inside the temple that god himself built.

Mankind. And what justification can there be apart form Christ with the Holy Spirit convicting one of their Faith in him? Should that individual meeting be forsaken for a EO teaching that says "Don't pray for them?"

No Ere, that is not so, if that is what your Tradition leads to then what good is it? Is this the sort of thing that I am missing out on?

"Foolish Galatians who has bewitched you? Right before your eyes you had a plain description of the Death of Jesus Christ ont he Cross!"

A man? merely a man? Or the Son of the Adoption?

Sorry Ere, and may you prosper.

At 7/31/2006 7:46 PM , Anonymous Bruce said...

The Desert Fathers said, "he who chooses himself as his own spiritual guide and leader has chosen a fool and a blind man"

At 7/31/2006 8:47 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

No apology is needed, Anonymous, mostly because with all your misspellings and broken sentences, I simply have a hard time understanding what you are saying.

The Holy Spirit guides every true believer into a measure of the truth; some greater, some lesser, depending on the individual’s calling, capacity, and relative purity to receive what God has to give. Not all people receive the Holy Spirit to the same degree or receive the knowledge of truth in equal measure. But it was to the apostles that our Lord said, “When the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide you into ALL truth”. God never promised this to all believers, but He did promise it to the apostles.

It was the apostles’ teaching, this fullness of truth they were guided in by the Holy Spirit, that is the foundation of the Church. It has been enlivened by the Spirit within the Church, and preserved through the Spirit by the Church ever since.

Protestants ignore the context of this verse, overlook its historical application, and inappropriately apply it to themselves. “The Holy Spirit will lead ME into all truth! Therefore I have no need of Church or Fathers or historical knowledge or theological instruction or any other such thing. I know ALL truth by the Holy Spirit alone!”

Such an arrogant maneuver underscores the ego-centric nature of modern Protestantism, and explains why it is so filled with error and heresy.

At 8/01/2006 1:27 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

I think Fr. has responded to most of what I would have wanted to comment on, so let me just re-clarify (because I'm not sure it got through the first or second time)--when I referred to the memorial service in the Orthodox parish, I was talking about a standard service that is performed for departed believers--to put it bluntly, for those who are dead. So, one side of this is that most Protestant churches would not perform such a service, so there's no room to scoff at Orthodox who would think carefully about whether it is appropriate to do so in this case.

Another side, and the point I was trying to make, is that prayer for those who have already passed on is not done for two groups (at least, not in public, corporate services--one's private prayers may have greater flexibility)--saints, and non-believers. The point is that prayers are offered for the continued spiritual growth of believers who have gone on and are awaiting the resurrection and final judgment. So to perform these services for non-Orthodox Christians is an indication of how their spiritual condition is viewed.

At 8/01/2006 9:04 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Something else that might be useful. From St. Nikolai's Prayers by the Lake (#76):

"Thousands upon thousands of souls bid farewell to their bodies at dawn. And when the sun is born, it will burn like a funerary candle over the thousands of deceased.

"And I watch You, my love, keeping vigil beside the thousands dying as you wait for them to call upon Your name. And behold, some of them repent for the whole slumber of their life and cry out to You for help.

"Bless, O Lord, all penitents at death, and respond to their cry."

Why pray for what cannot be? This prayer is meaningless if there is no hope in Orthodoxy for those who are not formally part of the Church.

At 8/01/2006 5:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the thousandth time Christian not Protestant.

Let me apologize for the mispellings, 44k dial up and long posts make spell checking a bear. Broken sentences? Those are in reply to points brought up in others responses.

"True Agenda?"

That is unfair, "Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of spirit, and you will find rest"

I was referring to how difficult the EO makes Salvation, not that the EO was trying to deny people heavan, rahter the EO perhaps overly complicates simple Faith in Christ.

Once again I have no axe to grind against the EO, you have your rules and procedures and if I were EO I would follow them to the "T". However Salvation is simple, living in Christ is much harder.


At 8/02/2006 8:39 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

For the thousandth time Christian not Protestant.

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…” You know the rest. I understand that people today try to shirk off the “P” label, but if their foundational approach to the faith is strictly protestant in origin, and all of their beliefs reflect that and align with it, then that is what they are regardless of what they choose to call themselves. Let’s get real.

Let me apologize for the mispellings, 44k dial up and long posts make spell checking a bear. Broken sentences? Those are in reply to points brought up in others responses.

Understood. It still makes your posts a bit difficult to understand at times.

"True Agenda?"

That is unfair, "Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of spirit, and you will find rest"

I was referring to how difficult the EO makes Salvation, not that the EO was trying to deny people heavan, rahter the EO perhaps overly complicates simple Faith in Christ.

What you may have meant and what you actually said were two different things. Glad you retracted your previous condemnation.
Nevertheless, the Orthodox Church does not overly complicate salvation; neither does it reduce salvation to a “thing” to be “instantly obtained” through saying a little prayer or making an intellectual consent toward belief in Christ. Jesus Himself said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Salvation is difficult because men would rather follow their own ways than follow God.

Once again I have no axe to grind against the EO, you have your rules and procedures and if I were EO I would follow them to the "T". However Salvation is simple, living in Christ is much harder.

Salvation is the result of a life lived in communion with God and in obedience to Him. If by some miracle you were to become Orthodox you would begin to grasp what you do not now see, that Orthodoxy is not about following rules to the “T” but about truly fallen and sinful people learning to synergize with God to be purified and lifted up by Him to the glory from which we all have fallen. Such things are not easy, but represent the narrow and difficult way of which Jesus spoke.

It is modern Protestantism that claims salvation is easy, by mistakenly separating it from the Christian life itself. Further, within that paradigm, it is the individual who decides entirely for himself what represents “obedience” to God. Thus he chooses whether to go to church or not, whether to be baptized or not, whether certain personal behaviors are “sinful” or not. It is a completely relativistic approach making the individual his own “lord” rather than God.

At 8/02/2006 11:21 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

It might be relevant to refer to the initial post from my own blog, particularly to the quote from Khomiakov about baptism. As it relates to our discussion here, the desire is enough, but it is only a true desire, if it continues to fulfillment in the real thing. Granted, someone might run out of time (die) before reaching the destination, but the fact that they were heading in the right direction shows their heart's intention.

Although it may seem like Orthodoxy adds to what salvation requires, this is a misperception. It simply refuses to separate the beginning of the process from its end and chooses instead to see the goal as the thing. Death might catch us short of the goal, but God knows our heart's intention and blesses us anyway for where we were heading.

At 8/03/2006 5:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Ere, if you are faced with George Mueller's dilemna were a little girl was pleading for help the Eo tradition would take precedence?

Mueller eschewed the collar and started a huge orphanage, at it's height he took in almost 1,500 orphans just on Faith.

Two things stirke me about Eo

1. paranoia. Everyone ahs an agenda to disprove the EO teachings.
2.They make themselves Arbiters of the Holy Spirit, nothing can happen in protestantland that is not deceit.

"I will not leave you as orphans, the comforter will come and instruct you in all things"

At 8/03/2006 8:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the previous anonymous- Did you hear ANYTHING ere said?? I'm just coming in to this site, and don't see or understand your connection and responses.

At 8/04/2006 1:35 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

I wonder how many times it takes of Orthodox clergy and laity saying and Orthodox writers writing, that Orthodoxy claims no monopoly or even constraint on the Holy Spirit's ability to work outside the Church. I was just talking to an Orthodox couple last night about something else, and without any prompting on my part, they brought up this idea. In fact, I can't remember ever having a conversation with an Orthodox person about their view of Evangelicals when this did not come up. I don't know why people find it so hard to accept that this notion is a part of Orthodoxy.


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