Monday, July 24, 2006

Living Scriptures

In a previous post, I referred to the historical 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. While I believe this to be a valid claim, I realize that it may not land well with many contemporary Evangelical/Charismatic believers.

One reason for this is that people of such traditions generally ignore Christian history. They spend a great deal of time reading about the ancient saints of Israel, and uphold them even to the point of naming their own children after them. This is of course 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 ignorant of the saints of the Church era and know very little to nothing 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!

Evangelical/Charismatic believers, over the short period of their existence, have systematically reduced the role and meaning of the Church until they have evolved an essentially “churchless Christianity”. In their myopic view there remains no remnant of apostolic teaching outside of the bible as they interpret it, no liturgical tradition, no creeds or canons of any authority or contemporary significance, no witness to God in the lives of any saints, and no sacraments except in symbol only. Even the Church itself is redefined to become nothing more than an invisible roster of all true believers, regardless of affiliation or denomination. One might ask how such a definition could possibly be biblical when no such denominations existed at the time that the NT scriptures were written, but even that historical detail is ignored.

All of this has been engineered to leave the bible as the (alleged) sole source of faith and doctrine for the modern believer. But without any of the above mentioned God-ordained elements to constrain them or provide a context for their understanding of the bible, they are conveniently left with nothing but their own opinions to guide them in their interpretations of scripture. What this gets down to is that the individual has been installed as the sole authority in determining what the bible says. The Reformation did nothing to remove the blight of papal infallibility; it simply cast down one pope and elevated a million more to his throne, granting each the “ultimate authority” to define doctrine. As my new friend Abuian has noted, this makes the Evangelical/Charismatic movement a living contradiction, as the best parts of their theology they have inherited from a tradition they no longer accept, yet the more they adhere to their own foundational belief in “Sola Scriptura” the more fragmented and marginalized they become.

In this modern wasteland of human opinion and division, the lives of the saints of Eastern Orthodoxy provide a welcome relief. In contrast with the confusion of opinion within contemporary Christendom, they demonstrate a remarkable unity of belief and confession regardless of era, as well as providing us with a single, clear vision of God consistent from generation to generation. How is this even possible? Ultimately this was made possible by the fact that the saints had so purified their lives that God was able to inscribe Himself upon their hearts. Is this not what we see in the lives of the apostles who wrote the NT scriptures in the first place? St. Paul, St. Peter and the others did not fall into some sort of trance and “spirit write” their epistles; they each wrote from their own experience of God, and since their experiences were genuine, their writings matched up in essential meaning and revelation.

In the lives of the saints we see this very same thing. These men and women of the Church era so purified themselves from all human ego and opinion that they became living parchments, free of stain, upon which God could draw His own image and grant a revelation of Himself to the world. This is perhaps the component that Evangelicals and Charismatics have forgotten in their efforts to enshrine the bible as God’s ultimate self-revelation. It is man himself who is made to bear the image of God and to reveal that to the world. In most men that image is largely obscured by the agitation of sin and confusion. But in the lives of the saints, the waters are stilled and the reflection of God can more clearly be seen. In this respect the saints truly have become living scriptures, revealing God to the rest of us.

The Evangelical and Charismatic movement is largely based on the precept that the bible is God’s sole and final revelation to man. Imagine, all there is to know about the uncontainable and indescribable God found in one book! Perhaps because of this, those folks indoctrinated in this view feel free to ignore all the evidence to the contrary found in the life and history of the Church. Or is the other way around? Could it be that because they have ignored the 2000-year history of the Church and the witness of the life of God revealed in His saints, that they are left with the strange opinion that one book contains it all?

I am deeply struck at how a supposedly Christian people could so blithely ignore the true history of the Church, and even rewrite that history in their minds until the Church itself simply fades away, together with the testimony of all the saints over that time. No wonder they are so fascinated with the OT scriptures and saints! While responding to the human desire for a sense of connection with those who have gone before, the Evangelicals and Charismatics apparently believe that the OT saints were the last faithful people on the face of the planet and everything which happened since Christ founded His Church is tainted and irrelevant. Surely any thoughtful person could see the error of this view. Yet the life of the Church and the image of God written on His NT saints continues to be ignored by so many today. This is a very sad situation and the exact opposite of what is needed to restore some light of revelation in these dark last days.

May God have mercy on us!


At 7/24/2006 5:38 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

I'm flattered to be featured so prominently in your latest post :-) A couple of thoughts:

1) It seems an exaggeration to say that Evangelicalism acknowledges only OT saints. What about the NT saints? There are plenty of Evangelicals named Philip or Paul or Mark, and the apostles are widely recognized as the founders of the Church.

2) Although I don't happen to disagree with the substance of your post, one response I would expect from most Evangelicals is that the saints only appear to agree so much with each other because the human tradition of the Church conforms the stories about them to its own theology.


At 7/24/2006 6:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The offices of the Church are "broken" so to speak.

In the Body of Christ the 12 offices of the Church are meant to work together as Paul plainly states "The eye cannot despise the foot" (paraphrase).

This is what we see happening, what if the gifted Evangelists were also able to spread teaching? What if able administrators could help the evangelists?

And almost any "sola scriptura" beleiver can certainly speak on the first Martyr Stephen the Deacon.

However, It must be admitted that the early Church Saints who were martyred outside of the New Covenant remain largely unknown to the average evangelical.

At 7/24/2006 7:42 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Yes indeed I have thoughts, my friend!

1) While Evangelicals may sometimes name their children after saints in the NT scriptures, what about the saints after that? My point is that the saints from the late first century to our present time are virtually ignored. Perhaps entirely ignored. Does the Church during this time period have no history worth recording?

2) I’m sorry you disagree with the substance of my post. I would welcome your elaboration as perhaps I have overlooked something, and I am always willing to learn. As to the idea that the saints only “appear” to agree with each other because the human tradition of the Church has conformed the stories about them to fit its own theology, I would have to say that such an effort would have represented a hell of an undertaking…pardon my French. There exist SO many records of the lives of the saints and so much localized, regional testimony of them throughout the history of the Church, that to track down and edit all these individual accounts in order to standardize them to some accepted Church theology would represent an amazing operation. It is akin to saying that the early Church did not believe in the deity of Christ, but later changed that after the Council of Nicea, and further rewrote all the preexisting writings of the earlier Fathers and testimony of the saints to support this later view. Can we accept that an effort impossible even to us with all our modern technology today was easily within the reach of an earlier, much more primitive Church hierarchy? Furthermore, can we accept that every outcry against such a blatant change of accepted traditions and beliefs would go unrecorded by history?

If you know anything at all about the history of Orthodoxy, you know that it has always (and purposely) lacked the “centrality” of governance that characterizes the modern Roman Catholic church, and that because of this, any such universal manipulation of tradition is quite impossible. If anything, this lack of a central, all-controlling hierarchy is a testimony to the authenticity of the Orthodox tradition and the testimony of the saints in all ages. The very diversity of Orthodox in its hierarchy lends credence to the universality of its articulation of the one God, and the common experience of Him in the lives of the saints.

I welcome your comments, Abuian, and apologize if I have taken your comment out of context to support my own views.

At 7/24/2006 7:59 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...


It is not only the martyrs outside of the NT scriptures who are unknown to contemporary Christians, but all of the saints and the Church as well.

Evangelicals typically ignore everything and everyone outside of their own modern traditions. The Christian faith, some 2000 years old, has a rich tradition to impart to us, but this also is ignored. Today the accepted norm is every man with his own bible, and nothing else matters. It is tragic indeed.

At 7/24/2006 8:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Tis a poor musician that blames their instrument Ere.

At 7/24/2006 9:46 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...


A person who attempts to play an instrument he is untrained in can only make a cacophonous sound. When people who are not knowledgeable in the areas history and Church theology attempt to interpret the bible for themselves, they can only fall into error.

At 7/25/2006 4:12 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Now see, this is a perfect example of what happens when you don't follow sola scriptura. There are at least two important clues that I would have expected any first-year Bible college student to identify. One is the word "don't" in my original comment, which you seem to have missed altogether; the other is the word "although," which should have suggested that what follows ought to contrast with the first clause. Language! What do they teach them in these schools? If you can't interpret a simple blog comment, how do you expect to understand Scripture? (I hope you can see me smiling and winking throughout this whole paragraph.)

Actually, another way to approach all this, and what I would say and believe now, is that it shows how important the role of the Church is in interpreting the text of Scripture. In this case, the damage was reparable, because the writer of the text you were trying to interpret (that's me) is here to correct your mistake. It's part of the normal give-and-take of human communication. With an ancient text like Scripture, the human writers are no longer around; but the Holy Spirit is, and is present in the Church, so that the authoritative, inspired voice of Tradition provides the necessary corrective--the element of real conversation--that turns an exchange between a modern reader and a dead text into a living dialog. This is precisely what sola scripturists fail to realize.

I do, in fact, agree with your original post. I was just raising some objections that would have seemed pressing back when I considered myself an Evangelical--playing devil's advocate, if you will.

Yes, your argument does work better if you move the boundary out to the end of the first century. Even then, however, it does need some further qualification. While the rank-and-file Evangelical may not have much awareness of these things, Evangelical theologians generally recognize the importance of thinkers like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. They accept the doctrinal conclusions of the first six Ecumenical Councils, thereby implicitly recognizing wisdom in the Fathers of the Councils. This is not to say their approach is consistent (why not the seventh?), but there is something going on here. Still, they pick and choose what is valuable according to their own understanding, and they focus primarily on the writings and teachings of these Fathers, not so much on their personal, spiritual example.

Now, what about the grand conspiracy that must have been pulled off to make the lives of the saints conform after the fact to Church teaching? Well, I should point out first of all that most Evangelicals couldn't begin to articulate the difference between the authority structures and internal dynamics of Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism. Second, I'm not even sure that most of them wouldn't accept such a conspiracy. Remember that most Evangelical scholars have embraced the notion that sometime in the fourth century the text of the Greek NT was standardized to conform with the demands of the Eastern Church. And that's about Scripture itself, which is supposed to be the infallible basis for everything else. Third, I doubt that it would be envisioned in terms of a conspiracy that cleaned things up after the fact. The explanation I would expect is that these vitae were mostly popular stories about saints, often forming over time, reaching a settled form long after the saints themselves had died, and expressing more about the communities that circulated them than any factual information about the subjects of the accounts. With such a process (and of course, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit like we have with Scripture, to protect the end product), it's inevitable that the stories would reflect norms and beliefs of those communities--no conspiracy from above or after the fact, but a sort of group-think that shapes the way these things are idealized.

At 7/25/2006 8:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps, but the "orchestras" for both the EO and the RCC claim that they are playing the proper song.

Which of course leads to conclusions that both the RCC and the EO are "God's only true Church on Earth"

So BOTH claim supremecy using the same Authority. And we know that cannot be so, as there is only one Authority. So while that is sorted out, I suppose the only thing that a one who is Faithful to Christ (not a corporate body) can do is lean on God's word.

It is after all complete and contains God's plan for Salvation.

I did not ponder your entire post Abuian, it was long and staring at a screen does wear out the eyes.

At 7/25/2006 9:26 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Regarding the competing claims of RC and EO, I would disagree with the notion that all we can do is appeal to Scripture. Certainly an appeal to Scripture can be part of the resolution. If a tradition blatantly contradicts Scripture, that should be a red flag at least. But personally I consider it arrogance (now--I didn't always) to set myself up as the one who can interpret Scripture better than the traditions I'm judging. On the other hand, I try to be understanding of Protestantism in this respect. The Reformers were in a bind. They found themselves subject to a church with a corrupted tradition, and they chose to combat it by the means most readily at their disposal--an appeal to Scripture and personal reasoning. The only real alternative available was to align themselves with EO, but East-West relations weren't exactly conducive to that solution.

When it comes to comparing the two, I think we have to come at it from their definitions of Tradition. Yes, they both claim to be the heir of the Apostolic Tradition, but there are clear differences in the way this is envisioned. The West, from what I can tell, accepts the idea of doctrinal development, in the sense that papal authority has at various times introduced new doctrines (rather than new articulations of doctrines that were already believed). The East denies this kind of authority. The West places Tradition in the hands of the pope, to stear the church top-down; the East places it within the whole body of Christ. Yes, the clergy are to guard Tradition, but it is really what the people believe. These are not insignificant differences. They seem to have been tendencies in East and West throughout their history, but at some point the West stopped trying to align itself with the East. That's when the innovations really got going, and I think both sides can see the difference, even if their evaluations of it run in opposite directions.

When it comes to comparing the two now, looking back over the centuries, we have to make our own judgments about which way we think truly preserves Tradition and which opens the door to corruption. Personally, I think the trend from Western papism to Protestant chaos is pretty straightforward, but that's me. We all see these things from wherever we sit at the moment.

At 7/25/2006 9:27 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Abuian, thank you for such a delightful response! Of course I misread your original comment. It’s dark down here in The Abandoned Mind and the kerosene-powered monitor is hard to read sometimes…

From your description it seems that Evangelical theologians take the same approach to Church history that they apply to biblical interpretation, that is to say, pick out the bits they agree with and ignore the rest. Thus they might highlight some of Augustine’s theories to show support for the basic ideas of John Calvin, and congratulate themselves for being so historically balanced, while at the same time entirely ignoring all the Fathers whose writings overwhelmingly refute the errors of Augustine, and by extension, Calvin.

The “pick and choose” method works great at a Smorgasbord, but represents a disastrous approach to history and theology since, as we all know, the root meaning of the word heresy is “to choose”.

As to the “groupthink” factor in shaping the stories of the saints and their experiences of God, I have a couple of further thoughts. First, it seems to me that St. Peter addressed a similar charge when he wrote, “we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16). Perhaps then as now there were people who asserted that the apostles simply made up the stories about Christ’s resurrection and ascension. We believers will then point to St. Paul, who received a completely independent, though identical, revelation of the gospel, verified some 14 years later by the other apostles. “Aha!” the skeptics cry, “This is when they collaborated!” I suppose we can either accept that the apostles conspired to align their stories, or that each revelation was genuine, coming from the same source which was God.

It is of course this latter contention that forms the basis of my “Living Scriptures” post. I assert that there exists such a great consistency in the articulation of the vision of God in the lives of the saints because in each case the person was shaped by a genuine self-revelation of God. Further, it is this consistent confession of God that forms the basis of the Church’s theology, and not vice-versa. Orthodoxy believes what it believes about God because of what God has revealed of Himself in the lives of His saints. The NT scriptures themselves are an example of this self-revelation of God in the lives of His holy ones. Thus (and at the risk of being grossly misunderstood) we might even say that Orthodoxy is not based on the scriptures, but rather that the scriptures are based on Orthodoxy, or that essential kernel of “right belief” that is itself based upon God’s self-revelation to His people.

This is not to imply that there exists no diversity in the saints, nor that at times strictly human opinion has not colored or skewed the revelation (Augustine and Origen come to mind). But these divergences are clearly revealed when one takes the whole spectrum of the confessions of the saints into account and finds one God revealed in all.

But getting back to the idea that individual Orthodox communities may have tinkered with the lives of the saints to some degree to conform them to a groupthink ideal, this has no doubt happened in some cases. Embellishments have surely been added to some stories; sometimes this is more obvious, sometimes less so. If we look at the story of Mother Mary of Egypt, we can see that there are many variations of it that have evolved over the many centuries since her time. But the core of the story remains the same. Further, there are so many saints from so many different cultures and eras that no amount of manipulation could ever alter the overall witness. To me, this is the important part. For “God is glorious in His saints” and reveals Himself to the world through their holy lives.

Thanks for the discussion.

At 7/25/2006 9:53 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...


I can’t say I entirely agree that the only resource available to someone trying to sort out which church is the True Church is the scriptures alone. As Abuian says, you can indeed use the scriptures to compare the two, but stand the danger of injecting your own opinion into the process. Another readily available resource, less familiar to modern Christians and therefore less “tainted” by personal opinion, is simple Church history itself.

You can start by reading the earliest of the Christian Fathers, many of whom were contemporaries of the apostles and were appointed by them, and then continue on from there. This will give you the best picture of the early Church and what it believed, and may help you better understand why the Christian East and the Christian West grew apart and eventually divided, and which of the two is still grounded in the tradition of the early Church.

On the other hand, perhaps you don’t care about such things. To say that the RCC and the EOC both make mutually exclusive claims to being the True Church and thus you reject both, is like someone contending that one Christian says one thing about the bible and another says something else, so he will reject the bible entirely and become a Buddhist instead. I might tend to think that such a person was not really concerned with discovering the truth of the bible at all.

At 7/25/2006 11:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have looked into the history of the EO through it's seperations and the original split with Rome.

Moscow for isntance leaving the Authority of Constantinople just on it's own. Micheal III (the drunkard) and the latin evangelism of Bulgaria. The EO going to rome for help and rome conditionally if they accepted the supremecy of Rome. The third law of thermodynamics applies to even Churches i suppose.

As the famous Lutherian quote says "The just shall live by Faith". The flip side of that is the eschewing of ALL Traditions and History and that I am more than a little reluctant to do.

Strangely the history gives a great claim to traditons that should be respected, it should not however overwhelm the simple beleiver's Faith in Christ as stated in Scripture.

At 7/25/2006 2:32 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

I can only hope you will invest the time to study the history of the Church and its scriptures a little more thoroughly, Anonymous.

If you start from the beginning as I suggest you may make some startling discoveries, such as the fact that no early Christian would ever have accepted the idea that it would be possible to gain the fullness of Christ without also being in communion with His Body, the Church.

"Churchless Christianity" is an oxymoron and a modern myth.

At 7/25/2006 3:18 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...

I agree with "anon" that tradition(s) shouldn't "overwhelm the simple believers' Faith in Christ as stated in Scripture". But we've just done a "loop-de-loop"! Where did Scripture come from? Where did our foundation of faith come from(how we understand Scripture - the Mormon's read the Bible; the Muslims read the Bible too, etc.)?

We're now back again to the role of Tradition and the relationship of Scripture and Tradition. Scripture - historically speaking, as opposed to dogmatically speaking - came from somewhere, or it came from nowhere!

The "somewhere" it came from was from the Church, that existed when the Scripture was brought into a canonical form (and edited thousands of times, through the hand-copying of manuscripts from one place to another, and from one era to another, by "church men"! Our oldest NT manuscript BTW is only goes back as far as 200 AD). To accept the Scriptures as we have them today - and textual historians point to MANY variations between ancient manuscripts and from earlier manuscripts still extant - you have to "have faith" in the Church that produced it, and made the innumerable copies that came down before the printing press!).

It's always so interesting to me how we as contemporary Christians are so willing to accept the Scripture that emerged from the Church (and the copyists), but pay no attention, or know almost nothing about the Church that produced it! Or, understand - or care! - how that Church viewed the Bible!

For example, no one prior to the 16TH century ever conceived that the Holy Scripture was self-interpreting or stood outside the Church. For the 1500 years prior to Luther et. al., the Scripture, which we as contemporary Christians have wrenched out of its context and setting - in space, time and ecclesiology - was an integral part of the Body of Christ. To understand them it had to be understood within that Body, which btw also believed and practiced the Faith very differently from the way Evangelical Christendom does today.

So one winds up in an untenable position:

*I accept the Bible alone as my source of authority on all matters.

*I reject the authority of the historic Church which formed and canonized the Scriptures.

*I reinvent "church" based on the 'authority' of a self-authenticating, 16Th century, ex-Catholic monk and those who followed him (because Luther would be turning over if he saw what happened to his so-called 'reformation').

*I reinvent my understanding of the Scriptures (IE., the "rapture", "dispensationalism",etc.) every generation, moving farther and farther away from the moorings of the Tradition from which it originally emerged.

At 7/25/2006 3:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The abuses that the RCC did to lead Luther to his "diet of Vorms" posted on that stout oaken door, were breathtaking in there scope.

To go scriptural in this discussion Luke 9:50 does come to mind "whoever is not agianst you is for you"

Is the average Evangelical Christian "against" either the EO or the RCC? I would say "no", that time has passed. Now whether it is the Pope's postion or whether Icons should be revered, that is a different question.

the Ecumenical Council that agreed with "reverencing Icons" never said that one who didn't reverence or were neutral on them were in fatal error. As to whether the Pope is the actual heir of Peter, they rather lost that with the spectacle of two different "legal" popes and moving the "eternal city" from Rome to France.

In a way, I can agree that the EO is the "true" Church, why else would it have been so persecuted over the centuries?

that being said, if one is not "against"that Church, then is one "lost"? No, because the just live by Faith.

At 7/25/2006 4:17 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

Just a quick correction. Luther nailed his 95 theses (propositions for debate) to the door of the church, in hopes that there would be open dialog among the scholars of the church. He was later summoned to the Diet of Wurms (W pronounced /v/ in German), which was basically a tribunal to call Luther to account for his heretical views. In a sense, the Diet was where the Reformation ended and Protestantism began, in that the RCC condemned Luther, and he refused to repent. From that point on, there was no real hope of reforming the RCC; instead, the Protestants began to go their separate way.

At 7/25/2006 4:57 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Anon, I can appreciate your desire to appear neutral in claiming that you are not against the Church, you just don’t particularly want anything to do with it. But isn’t that rather like the neighbor of Noah saying, “I’m not against your Ark; I just see no need to go aboard it.” It wouldn’t matter how confident that man was in his swimming abilities, or how convinced he was that the rain would soon stop. Apart from the Ark of salvation, he would only die.

You say you are confident that Christ will save you, because you believe in Him according to the scriptures. But there’s the rub. All the scriptures point to the Church, as does Christ Himself. There is no “invisible church” in the scriptures, neither do the scriptures teach a churchless salvation as the norm, and they certainly never present it as an option. Can you honestly say you are saved “according to the scriptures” when you simply set aside all the scriptures that don’t fit with your preferred opinion, and hold fast instead to an entirely unscriptural view of the Church?

We Orthodox are not against Evangelicals. I will always be grateful to Evangelicalism for bringing me to Christ. But Christ brought me to His Church, and this is what we wholeheartedly desire for all our Evangelical brothers, and every believer. Sadly there is much false teaching and deeply-implanted prejudice to overcome before contemporary believers can gain eyes to see what they are missing. The very fact that you so resist the idea of the Church is evidence of this in your own life. Why else would modern Christians be so against the historic Christian Church that they know almost nothing about, unless they had been indoctrinated into such a view, and further, been provided with a false, invisible church which one is said to become a member of by "simply believing in Jesus"?

At 7/25/2006 5:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hardly Ere, as the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior has very lttle to do with a corporate body. Salvation is individual not corporate soul by soul.

"Neutral"says whom? Like I have posted (and was ignored) the classical offies of the body of believer are not functioning the way that thye should be.

And Ere, as must be pointed out, if there was some disdain for the EO Church, then why am I posting here? It is written that "we are all in the Body of Christ" so that being true, how did we get there? Through a Church Incorporated? Or through Faith in Christ and his actions?

BTW I have no confidence in my swimming abilities, if I relied on them i would be lost. However the One that I rely on is more than sufficent.

It is a very firm and reliable teaching that there is tares among the wheat, a plain reading of that is obvious and sets much theology on it's ear.

INOW, did you believe in Christ as Saviour before you became a EO? or After?

At 7/25/2006 5:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abuain, of course you are correct, the Diet of W(V)orms was the hearing into his 95 thesis. Luther after scrubbing the floor of the monastery for the thousandth time began to realize how important Faith realy was over tradition.

The debate contiues in a way over the internet..


At 7/25/2006 6:07 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

The debate does continue, but frankly I think we need to redefine the terms of the debate. The Reformers reacted against the corrupted tradition that they knew and chose a weapon available to them. Just as Renaissance thinkers found new meaning by studying the Classics directly instead of in terms of the tradition in which they had been handed down, the Reformers saw that they could combat RC tradition by appealing directly to Scripture. It made sense in their early modern way of thinking, but we've had centuries to see the outcome of this strategy--a quagmire of aimless subjectivity. No one in good conscience today could pull off another Reformation, because there's no longer a consensus that sees texts as the way to truth.

What, then? We respect their concerns and their efforts to overcome the problems of the RCC, but we lament the way they chained those efforts to an intellectual fad. If only they had been humble enough to see the truth where it existed in the East. Worse yet is the way Evangelicals continue to apply the same, old, tired methods in their new encounter with Orthodoxy, which is not RC and never was. We have an outdated argument designed to answer a different set of questions, and it just doesn't work anymore. It's time to revisit the questions of the Reformation through the lens of hindsight and see that the answers were always there to be found. How fortunate for us, that we can occasionally step outside our own culture and see wisdom elsewhere. Are we ready to accept what we find?

At 7/25/2006 8:09 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...


Along the lines of your comment on "step(ping) outside our own culture" to see wisdom, I just read a great quote in "Touchstone", that could be said about Orthodoxy:

Speaking of the early church fathers, the author wrote:

"If we read them the way they intended to be read, we will hear a gospel spoken with a different accent, with the emphasis on different syllables with new isights into Scripture's meaning. Extended exposure to their way of thinking will enable us, eventually, to hear the whole language anew. Then we might be able to hear and articulate truths of the gospel to which we were deaf and dumb before."

At 7/25/2006 8:37 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

I am enjoying this discussion, brethren; thank you for your comments.

Anonymous, you assert that salvation is individualistic, not corporal. On what do you base that notion? There is nothing in scripture that tells us we are saved individually, apart from the Church. I think what you’re missing in your reading of the scriptures is that personal faith is meant to lead to communion with the Body of Christ, in the context of which salvation takes place.

The entire history of God’s people is one of corporate inclusion, not individual isolation. God’s good will formed the nation of Israel, which in time became the Church. Communion with God took place within these entities, not outside of them. No doubt God understands our predilection as fallen humans to “chart our own course” and choose our own way, leading ultimately to delusion and death. This is likely why God has always operated within the context of a nation or body which assures some degree of compliance and fidelity among its members.

When there was one nation of Israel, and later, one Church, perhaps this reality was easier to recognize. In today’s world of divided Christendom and many different groups all claiming to be “church” it is much easier to be deceived. It seems that despite God’s good will toward men in providing a Church and Ark for the salvation of the world, men still choose to be outside that and rely on themselves and their own wisdom, even demanding that God submit to them in their view of how things ought to be.

At 7/25/2006 9:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eremitike, i find it passing strange (again) that you speak of "no isolation" and yet enjoy your time at monasteries..

what did you expect a reed that bends easily in the wind?

The history of Christianity is rife with individuals who sought the face of God, through fasting and prayer. What makes one think that EO is the only ones who practice those things?

Communion with Christ, we should not have to rehash what was said before (on KF) on the subject. Communion is life, no Communion no life. consider Acts 2:46.

At 7/26/2006 4:22 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Anyone who thinks that monastic life is one of isolation has not spent time at a monastery. These men are anything but isolated. They must live quite closely with one another.

By the way anonymous, who are these groups you speak of who fast, pray, and practice these things? Oh yeah, there are no groups in your world, just individuals being led how God leads them. Give me a break! Again, you prove your belief to be much more than sola scriptura, you are sola!!

At 7/26/2006 6:59 AM , Anonymous Kevin said...

2nd Anonymous,

In terms of "individualistic" salvation...The epistles of St. Paul sound like they are written to "individuals", and we take much of our instruction from them, AS IF they were written to each of us individually. So when we read "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved", we often read that as a personal instruction.

But to whom did St. Paul write that Epistle? "To all who are in Rome, Beloved of God, called to be saints". THE CHURCH!
1 Corinthians: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus..."

At 7/26/2006 7:34 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

As per Anon's request, Acts 2:46: "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,…"

Imagine; all Christians in one accord, worshipping God in His holy temple, partaking of one meal together in gladness and singleness of heart! Can the modern Evangelical even conceive of such a thing? Such unity and singleness of heart was long ago sacrificed on the altar of personal opinion and individual interpretation of scripture. And what about that “breaking of bread and eating in gladness” bit? That sounds suspiciously like the Holy Eucharist which also has been gutted of all original meaning and reduced to a merely symbolic memorial by the Evangelicals. Symbolic communion, lacking any real substance; that seems like a fitting description of Evangelicalism itself.

And what about the following verse, Acts 2:47? “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Oops! Isn’t that what we were talking about earlier? Personal faith brings one to the Lord, and the Lord brings the same one to His Church. The “church” spoken of here is not some invisible roster; people didn’t stay home and count themselves as members of it. It was very much a visible, locatable Body into which one was baptized and within whose communion salvation was lived out and realized.

It seems like every verse you quote only undermines your own position, Anonymous.

At 7/26/2006 8:26 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Don't you know, that breaking bread thing is about the origins of the church potluck? ;-)

A word about fasting in the Evangelical tradition. I suppose maybe there are Evangelical churches that practice regular, communal fasting. If there are, I'd like to know about them, because this was one of those milestones for me on the way to becoming Orthodox. I got interested in fasting and discovered that Orthodoxy had one of the most rigorous fasting traditions in Christendom. (Make that, in all Abrahamic traditions--it beats anything in Judaism or Islam, too.)

For a year, I followed the practice as thoroughly as I possibly could. After that, I decided to stop, because I was the only one I knew who was doing it. Sure, I got some benefits from fasting on my own, but something was lacking. I couldn't get past the fact that it damaged my social interaction (and interaction with my wife), without the payoff of fellowship with a community. I mean, it's one thing to accept that rigorous fasting is going to hamper your participation at Christmas parties and family get-togethers, if you know everyone else in your church is going through the same thing. It's another if you also can't participate fully in church social events, because they're not even remotely on the same page with you. I realized that this was really something meant to be experienced as a community.

The same realization came up in other ways. One of the things I used to appreciate about my particular Evangelical church was that it allowed me quite a bit of freedom to experiment with various beliefs and practices on my own. But whether it was a fasting discipline or a prayer rule or a particular theological conviction, the fact that I was always *on my own* became a source of frustration for me. Indeed, it was the realization that I needed to be on the same page with a community that got me looking seriously at finding something else. Orthodoxy wasn't my first choice at that point, but after bouncing around a few other options, I found in Orthodoxy the community--the Church--as it was meant to be.

I might add that I was missing other key elements from my fasting practice back then. I had tried to isolate it from its natural context. Something I ran across recently explained that in Orthodoxy, it's not about the fasting--it's about the feasting. The fasting prepares you for the feast. I think that's an oversimplification, but it is an important point, and one that I hadn't learned yet on my first pass. Without the rest of the liturgical cycle, it becomes rather arbitrary.

At 7/26/2006 2:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To ALL" think about that for a moment and then comment on "the church".
Communion was taken in beleivers homes, not at the local synagoge.
Not to those who attended the synagoges only rather "To All".

And therien lies one of the huge differences between the two groups.

As far as "corporate fasting I alos know of know denomination that makes it one of it's tenenants, however one of the terms used to discribe a Bpatist Church is "independent". It should also be pointed out (again) that the OT and NT saints all fasted individually.

"Sola" one, only "scriptura" writing,

Solely the Writings. Not the people.

At 7/26/2006 2:27 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...


"Say what"?

At 7/26/2006 2:55 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

I don’t think Anonymous will respond to this, but likely just flit on to whatever other subject momentarily catches his interest. But for the sake of any others who have read this far, let me answer his latest assertion.

The reason the earliest Christians took communion in homes, and not in the Temple or the synagogues, was that it was a private rite, reserved for Christians alone. It was not something they were going to sit down in the midst of the unbelieving Jews and eat. Later, as Christians were able to construct their own church buildings they took communion there, only behind closed doors, as it was still a rite kept private from a largely non-Christian Roman world. Eventually, visitors and catechumens were allowed to witness the communion rite, but they were still not allowed to partake until they became full members of the Church. That is still the way it is today in the Orthodox Church.

Anyone who took the time to actually study church history instead of making things up in his head would know this.

At 7/26/2006 3:48 PM , Blogger Aaron said...

Father Bless...

My dear Father Michael...

I'm glad you started blogging.

At 7/26/2006 4:03 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

Regarding the notion of communal fasting, I'd like to see anon actually defend the assertion that people in the Bible only fasted as individuals. Daniel and his three friends fasted as a community. Israel fasted together for the Day of Atonement. The NT implies the known Jewish practice of regular, weekly fast days, and there is no reason to think that NT saints, many of whom were devout Jews, would have abandoned the practice.

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