Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Orthodox Evangelism

Several odd echoes were heard bouncing around the eroding walls of The Abandoned Mind last week that seemed to converge into a single thought pertaining to Orthodox evangelism. Ideas which seem simply brilliant in that poorly-illumined environment are frequently revealed as mere smoldering wicks when brought out into the harsh light of day. Thus I present this offering to you who dwell above ground to determine if its nature is more of light or of smoke.

The first echo was heard as I was putting the finishing touches on a new paper entitled “Askesis in the Ordinary Orthodox Life” which is intended for people new to our faith as an introduction to the simple asceticism of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and works of charity, the study of Scripture and of Orthodox spiritual writings, the continuous remembrance of God, and the general metanoia (repentance) of the Orthodox Christian life. Although infinitely less intense than monastic asceticism, even in the relatively toned-down form commonly practiced at the parish level, the disciplines of Orthodox askesis seem very difficult to Christians used to an entirely different system of spiritual pursuit mostly centered on Bible study alone. This paper was written to explain the importance of askesis and why it often seems to be such a difficult way of life to us.

To put it simply, Orthodox askesis seems hard because it reveals to us (surprise!) that we are truly fallen human beings after all. If we try to keep even a minimal daily rule of prayer we quickly find ourselves stymied by a strange and deeply-rooted resistance to it. Our excuse is that we can’t find the time to pray or have too much else to do, but on the inside we know that the real reason we don’t pray is simply because we don’t want to. One of the causes (as well as a continuing consequence) of the fall is that man craves complete autonomy from God. Oh, we want God to save us from hell or to bless us from heaven with good health and prosperity, but beyond that we would really much prefer to be our own gods and live without dependence upon any other. Infecting our darkened hearts is an idolatrous and shameful self-reliance that rankles at the idea of offering praise and thanksgiving to the almighty and adorable God such as is fitting for mere creatures like us to give. Like the Serpent before us, we want independence from God and we indeed want to be above God. It is hard for people with such ambitions to humbly prostrate themselves before the true God in prayer. On the plus side, the chances are that we would never become aware of this impulse in us unless we were given a rule of prayer to struggle with in the first place.

We learn similar terrible truths about ourselves when we try to fast. The Genesis story tells us that Adam fell from grace by breaking his simple fast. Turning aside from dependence upon God, he looked to the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to give him something immediately that he did not have the patience to wait upon God to receive. He wanted his “eyes to be opened” and to “become like God,” not through God’s process of spiritual illumination and theosis, but through a quick and earthly means which “seemed good” to his rational mind. He said “no” to God and “yes” to this food as the means to obtain what he wanted. Orthodox spirituality recognizes that this damning tendency still resides in us, and not just regarding food only, but also in all the other earthly things that we turn to expecting to receive from them a satisfaction and contentment greater than that which God gives. By imposing upon us a regular and regulated fasting, the askesis of Orthodox spirituality challenges us to say “no” to food and to learn to say “yes” once again to God. By learning to say no to food and control our bodily appetites, we also learn to say no to the many other bodily sins and passions which might otherwise overcome us. This is why the Desert Fathers taught us that the greatest weapon against the temptation of fornication is diligent fasting from food. At first blush we may not see the connection between the two, but again it gets down to the idea that if we are so easily overcome by the simple lust for a cheeseburger on a fast day, how will we ever learn to control the far greater lustful temptations of the more devastating sins of the flesh? We fallen human beings need to learn to care for our souls and strengthen them by disciplining our bodies and denying them that which they blindly and foolishly crave.

The second echo came as the result of a conversation with a new inquirer into Orthodoxy who commented to me how startled he was to discover how difficult the askesis of Orthodoxy is. Although he had been a Protestant believer for many years, and would truthfully be considered a “mature Christian” in that environment, he found the askesis of Orthodoxy very humbling by virtue of the fact that it introduces a struggle seemingly way out of proportion to the simple demands it makes. He was finding it difficult to keep the basic rule of prayer and the very simple fast I had prescribed for him to begin with. He therefore wondered if he was “cut out” for life as an Orthodox Christian because of this. I don’t know a single experienced Orthodox Christian who wouldn’t be sympathetic to these feelings! I explained that he was simply making the basic discovery that we have all made, namely that we are surely forgiven by God, but still fallen in our humanity. Orthodox askesis comprises the essential elements of the long and often painful road back to a life directed not by fleshly passions and cravings for comfort and pleasure, but by the Spirit of God and the fruits that obedience to Him brings into our lives, such as self-control, patience, and godliness.

The third echo reverberating off the walls of The Abandoned Mind was the reminder to me that both Evangelical and Charismatic Christians have largely abandoned physical disciplines and elevated Bible reading to the status of being the primary and all-in-one sacrament and tool of spiritual growth. Among such folks, spirituality is often foolishly gauged on the basis of how many Bible verses a person has memorized and can seamlessly insert into a conversation, as well as his overall proficiency in utilizing selected verses to proof-text his chosen theological views. A knowledgeable and persuasive man is therefore perceived to be a spiritually mature man more often than not. In that context, purity of belief is seen as being more important than purity of life, for we are all sinners after all, and no one is perfect (“Christians are not perfect, just forgiven” is the bumper-sticker expression of this popular concept). Thus not only are the evangelical/charismatic camps heavily weighted toward a strictly cerebral approach to God, but they also view the ancient Christian disciplines of traditional prayers, fasting, almsgiving, and etc. that make up Orthodox askesis with suspicion, on the basis that they seem to detract from the all-important business of attending to the mind alone and filling it with postmodern Protestant dogma.

So what does all this have to do with Orthodox evangelism? Simply put, I have my doubts that Orthodoxy is poised to become “the next great religious movement” of America. By virtue of their unprecedented prosperity, Americans have become soft and flabby, and lovers of pleasure, comfort, and convenience. Evangelicalism and its offshoot, the Charismatic movement, have made great inroads into the American culture, not because they represent truth, but in large part because they have made Christianity “convenient” for so many Americans.

In the early centuries of the faith, Christianity was not presented as a set of beliefs but as a way of life. Seen as the fulfillment of Judaism and incorporating its core practices, Christianity soon spread beyond that environment and ethos to the pagan worlds outside. This required there to be extensive catechisms, often lasting for three years, to introduce pagan converts to the mindset and lifestyle of the Christian faith. It wasn’t simply a matter of presenting folks with “The Four Spiritual Laws” and leading them to accept Jesus. They needed to be taught how to live out a genuine metanoia leading to spiritual illumination and growth in the likeness of God in Christ. Christian practice centered on the liturgical worship and sacramental life of the Church which, existing prior to the advent of Zwingli in the 16th century, had not yet been explained away as purely symbolic and cerebral. In short, Christianity was a real commitment to a real way of life, and not just a set of principles that one intellectually accepted in order to “get saved”.

Eastern Orthodoxy remains a serious commitment, and our catechisms still often last at least a year or more, largely to undo the effects of Western rationalism which was responsible for leading the later Reformers away from belief in the “mystery” of the Church and its sacraments toward the resulting exaltation of “reason” and sensible religion, and of course the cheap grace mentality of contemporary Christendom. Orthodoxy, while remaining a truly universal faith, is still not everyone’s cup of tea. Persons wedded to their modern doctrinal systems, and wielding their Bibles to declare their complete independence and autonomy from the historic Christian Church, will not likely be attracted to it. We fallen humans like to be self-reliant, remember, and in the minds of many the Bible grants them that exact desire. Also, Americans who simply want a convenient religion that does not make too many demands on them will never find Orthodoxy appealing.

In considering these things, I wonder if Orthodoxy should not be thought of as just another option on the American religious scene, another choice as it were, but rather as a calling from God. While that may sound dreadfully pretentious to some, to those who have entered into the Orthodox life and its narrow and difficult way of askesis, there may appear to be an inkling of truth to the claim. Surely no one would choose to voluntarily lay down his life, take up his own cross daily, and follow Christ on a path of constant self-denial and a kind of “living martyrdom” unless he were called to that by God. There are so many easier, or more “self-affirming,” or frankly entertaining forms of Christianity to choose from. Churches today are practically scrambling over themselves in the effort to become “seeker-sensitive” and offer folks the religion that they want. Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will find infinite shelves of self-help books putting a Christian spin on the nation’s desire for self-fulfillment, or as it is expressed in the religious jargon, the “abundant life”. Where are the books on metanoia, on the voluntary self-cancellation inherent in the traditional Christian way, leading to exaltation by God? Good luck on finding those, as this is not what is appealing to the majority of American Christians.

And so, if indeed Orthodoxy is a calling, in order for Orthodox evangelism to be effective it requires that we Orthodox believers ourselves fulfill that calling to live our faith to the maximum of our ability. What good is there in asking others to embrace a lifestyle that we ourselves live only marginally? We cannot afford to offer the insipid counsel to “look upon the message, not the messenger” in our dealings with others. Orthodoxy is an incarnational faith; it must be fleshed out and lived, otherwise it is simply another cerebral exercise with no merit, and an unnecessarily complex one at that!

Yes, the Orthodox way is difficult. But that is because we are truly fallen and thus for us, the way leading to destruction is far easier than the way leading to God. Though difficult, Orthodoxy is also the way of true joy, for it actually and literally delivers people from the tyranny of sin and forms the holiness of God within them. Orthodoxy does not try to shortcut the process to joy by ignoring our sins and simply “praising Jesus”. It recognizes that our Lord indeed taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. The difficult struggle to defeat our sins causes much mourning along the way. But it leads to the true joy of victory over them and unhindered communion with God.

This is the life that God has called us to, and perhaps will call many others to as well. Let us do our best to see our life as a calling and fulfill it, not only for our sakes, but for the sake of any others whom God may call into communion with Himself through the ancient and holy way of His Orthodox Church.

There you have it! I will leave you who dwell in the land of bright sun and blue sky to decide whether this thought is more of light or of smoke, while I return to my labors deep within The Abandoned Mind.


At 7/11/2006 11:58 AM , Anonymous Fr Michael Laffoon said...

Dear Fr. Michael,

Nice summary of what many of us have concluded about "converting American to Orthodoxy." There will always be those who sense that there is something better than the thin milk they have been fed, but "converting" people cannot be a real Orthodox goal. Our job is to bear witness, and God will convert those who have "ears to hear and eyes to see."

Fr Michael Laffoon

At 7/11/2006 5:18 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

I must say, although I find a lot of truth in this post, I also find it a bit distressing. Are you saying that America is inherently less ready to receive the gospel than the Jewish and pagan worlds that converted in droves under the ministry of the apostles and then accepted Christianity on a national/imperial level? Or is it that the presence of an easier alternative in Western forms of Christianity diverts the flow of those who would otherwise enter the true Church? Is there something unique about this particular blend of giving people what they want and preserving a form of the truth--something that sets it apart from the options that existed in the past (paganism, heresies)?

The other issue I would bring up here is that, although I have certainly encountered my fair share of intellectually-oriented Evangelicals (indeed, I was one), there are also many Evangelicals who focus more on the practical outcomes of faith (my wife, for instance). Yes, they still have an intellectual bias in the shape of their worship and the approaches they take to spiritual growth, but they would consider it all worthless if it did not produce fruit. They measure their success not in terms of how many verses they've memorized but in terms of how obedient they are to God's will, how well they resist sin, how effectively they show the love of Christ in their lives, and how their lives complement their words in reaching the lost. I'm not saying they have it all together, but it seems like a significant omission to leave them out of the picture. And I should add that they can be just as skeptical about Orthodoxy as any other Evangelical.

At 7/11/2006 7:42 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Thank you, Fr. Michael for your kind comments.

And I apologize to you, Abuian, for any distress I have caused. If you are an Orthodox Christian, perhaps you remember the story of the elder monk who wondered if he and his fellow monastics had reached the limits of their spiritual endeavors. God directed him to an untrained peasant who lived in a local village, and who was exceedingly devout and had attained to an advanced spiritual level, while remaining extremely humble. The elder returned to his monastery announcing to his monks that he had found someone of great holiness exceeding their own, despite his living “in the world” outside the monastery. They all were thus motivated to pursue their communion with God with an even greater fervor, seeing the goodness of God to those outside their discipline.

My post was as much intended to inspire Orthodox Christians to pursue their beliefs with zeal, as it was to reach out to God-seeking non-Orthodox to consider the deficiencies of their own beliefs. No doubt there are some Evangelicals and Charismatics who far surpass many Orthodox Christians in true spirituality. But they have done so in excess to their system of faith, whereas the Orthodox have lagged behind by not living up to their system of faith. God is good, and will impart a measure of His grace to all who seek Him with their whole heart. Perhaps your wife is one such blessed person. But how much better is it to be a God-loving Orthodox believer, in communion with the fullness of His grace in His Church?

Forgive me.

At 7/11/2006 7:58 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...

Fr. Michael,

I appreciate this post. Especially the idea of the Orthodox life as a "calling", rather than a choice between many "equal" options. All things being "equal", who WOULD choose a life of prayer, struggle, repentance, fasting, self-sacrifice, etc. with so many "easier", more "attractive" Christian "choices"? That's one reason why our parishes have as few as fifties to hundreds on a Sunday and some of the mega-churches have thousands!

I have likened the Orthodox life to chemotherapy for one who has advanced cancer! If you really KNOW you are dying, you are willing to go throught the nausea, hair loss, weight loss, etc. in order to live!

I am coming to agree with you that Orthodox evangelism cannot use the same paradigms as other Christian traditions.

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At 7/12/2006 5:06 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

I'm just trying to understand. I have no problem with the notion of Orthodoxy as a calling, or the idea that Orthodox evangelism is going to look quite different from Evangelical practices. But does raising the bar in terms of lived faith have to mean lowering the bar in terms of anticipated response from those currently outside Orthodoxy? If Orthodoxy is still the apostolic Church, why should we expect so little?

My comment about Evangelicals who believe in living their faith was not meant to hold them up as better than Orthodox; rather, it was to observe that we cannot always make a clear distinction between those who are attracted to Evangelicalism and those who are interested in something more than just head knowledge. Yes, Evangelicalism offers an easier option, and this is why I suggested in my earlier comment that perhaps the problem for America is the variety of ways to go half-way with one's faith. But hasn't this always been the case? When has there not been some easier alternative to draw people away from the truth?

My gut reaction is to chalk up a lot of the American situation to ignorance. For centuries, Westerners have known almost nothing about Orthodoxy, and it's really not much better now. For two years I've been exploring Orthodoxy, and in that time I've talked to several Evangelicals--friends, pastors, seminary professors--anyone I could find. I'm practically begging for someone to talk me out of it, but almost invariably they have nothing to say. Why? Because they know almost nothing about Orthodoxy. All this ignorance combines with a high level of comfort and familiarity with Western faith traditions to give Orthodoxy the appearance of something pointlessly exotic.

But if Orthodoxy is the truth, if it is the Church, if it is Christianity as Christ intended, then why should those who already display a love for Christ not truly in their heart of hearts be seeking the Orthodox Church? Everywhere I go, I find sensitive Evangelicals who feel like their faith is lacking something. I agree that seeing the transformed lives of Orthodox believers living out their faith would be critical to showing them the answer. But rather than assuming that Orthodoxy will never really attract very many people in America, I feel like they're on the verge of waking up. I'm not sure what will best help them along, but it might take only the smallest thing to bring them knocking by the thousands. And that's to say nothing of Orthodoxy's ability to reach those who so far haven't found any church that really does it for them.

Maybe I feel this way because of the many times that I've wondered what God is trying to do with me where I am right now. Because my wife is uninterested, no priest seems particularly excited about bringing me into the Church without her. Honestly, I don't relish myself the thought of going regularly to separate churches. Is God keeping me here to help bring other Evangelicals along? Or am I simply suffering the consequences of my own pathetic witness? I don't have an answer, but I do have hope, that whether he lets me enter the Church or keeps me standing on the doorstep, he will use me for his greater glory.

At 7/12/2006 10:52 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Abuian, thanks for sharing those thoughts with us.

I am attached to a parish whose population is almost entirely made up of converts from Evangelical or Charismatic backgrounds. Each year for several years now we have chrismated anywhere from a dozen to over 20 new converts from such churches. We have outgrown our present facilities faster than we anticipated and are presently in the process of purchasing the adjoining property to expand and accommodate our needs. Obviously the Holy Spirit is at work in American Christendom and drawing the hearts of many to a deeper Christian faith and experience. Thus despite the apparent pessimism of my original post, I do believe there is tremendous potential for the growth of Orthodoxy in America today and in the years to come.

Nevertheless, as your own experience would seem to verify, conversion to Orthodoxy is not exactly a painless process. People who are drawn to it often experience much grief from fellow Evangelicals who, as you say, are ignorant of historic Christianity and are deeply prejudiced against it. But there is more than mere ignorance at work here; Evangelicals are inheritors of a modern worldview radically different from the one Christianity was born in, and have built upon that a belief system which is entirely out of step with apostolic Christianity in many areas. From my perspective, Evangelicals lean heavily toward Gnosticism in many of their core beliefs, having systematically excised the many practical outworkings of the Incarnation of Christ from their largely cerebral faith. Thus it takes considerable time and a complete immersion in Orthodoxy to undo this and help people begin to think and live as Eastern Christians. It really requires a true conversion of thought and orientation to become Orthodox in America today. This is why long catechisms are still required, even in the “Christian” environment of America. In fact, it has been my experience that the conversion process continues long after a person is chrismated. It often requires many years for Orthodoxy to “take root” in a convert’s soul and bring about a truly Orthodox ethos and lifestyle.

It is clear that a growing number of Evangelical and Charismatic believers are willing to undergo this process. Yet the numbers presently are still small. On top of this, there are many more Christians who simply prefer an easier or more entertaining faith and will never find Orthodoxy attractive. For those who are “on the cusp” so to speak and wondering if becoming Orthodox is worth the effort, I think that the greatest contribution Orthodox believers can make to aiding them in their decision is to live their faith to the fullest and demonstrate the true power of Orthodoxy. God-loving believers are not and should not be attracted by mere words and arguments. What they want to see is if Orthodoxy really “works”. How are they going to see that if there is no one to show them? This is why I think that Orthodox evangelism should start by being “incarnated” in the lives of Orthodox believers, for this really is our most powerful outreach tool.

At 7/12/2006 5:48 PM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Ouch!! What you say in these last comments rings painfully true!! If I can just close this gap between what I say I believe, and how I speak and live, this will help Orthodoxy, not hinder it.

God have mercy on me

At 7/13/2006 7:44 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Thanks, Father. That does help to clarify things.

At 7/13/2006 8:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should be pointed out that Eastern Orthodoxy has a long and very solid history. The teachings of the EO Church are solid as well and offer a more spiritual Faith by one's own activities. Fasitng, Prayer etc.

If the Orthodox have such a wonderul history, then why aren't the "cerebral" solutions that Orthodoxy offers better in comparison to modern Evangelicalism?

To try and be clear, Orthodoxy should be more cerebral than the most Cerbral of Evangelicals just because the original Bible was in Greek the "native tongue" of the Church so to speak. Should not Orthodox teaching be the apex of Biblical Teaching rather than a footnote to it?

Much Respect Fr. Reagan.

At 7/14/2006 7:48 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

Regarding what "anonymous" said, it is actually interesting that, while I am drawn to Orthodoxy in large part because of the way that it extends beyond the mind to the whole person, one of my wife's major objections is that it is too intellectual. I think the issue here is that Orthodoxy is intelletual (indeed, quite a bit more intellectual, for instance, in its liturgical songs, than you'd typically find in Protestant worship) without abandoning the rest of the human person. Evangelicalism is intellectual in its de-emphasis of the physical, but even so it is intellectually shallow. (Not that there can be no intellectual depth in Evangelicalism, but it normally does not carry over from the classroom into worship.) Orthodoxy fulfills one without neglecting the other.

Another interesting thing in this dynamic is that, although my wife objects to how intellectual Orthodoxy can be, her response to things like myrrh-streaming icons and hundreds of thousands of Russians flocking to see John the Baptist's right hand is overtly skeptical. I think calling it too intellectual or not intellectual enough oversimplifies the situation. The bottom line is that Protestantism has stripped away too much from the Christian life. It has become very narrow in its view of acceptable religion, and anything outside of its own comfort zone is considered eccentric.

At 7/14/2006 2:19 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

For anonymous’ benefit, perhaps I should define my terms. When I assert that modern Evangelicalism has become little more than a “cerebral” faith, what I mean is that it has systematically “symbolized” virtually every physical element of traditional Christianity until it has arrived at a religion that is actualized entirely in the mind of the individual believer. Despite frequent comparisons of their movement to a self-defined and highly-romanticized version of “The New Testament Church” (the actual historical details of which they ignore and the remaining vague concept they idealize in order to fabricate a false dichotomy between the early Church and the exact same Church in the centuries which followed), in fact Evangelicalism is more closely related to Gnosticism than Apostolic Christianity in its efforts to “spiritualize” the faith and distance itself from all the practical, incarnational aspects of it.

Thus the Church itself, its divine life and sacraments, our organic union with Christ’s glorified human nature, and the “narrow and difficult” ascetical path of the Christian life have all been redefined by Evangelicalism to arrive at an understanding of them that is purely figurative in nature and agreeably acceptable to a belief system artificially limited to human reason and closer in content to pagan dualism than incarnational Christianity.

In this context we should not confuse “cerebral” with “intellectual”. An intellectual approach to the faith would surely not dismiss the witness of historic Christianity or refuse to explore it for fear of uncovering the inadequacies in ones own faith. Rather, such study would be pursued in the hope of gaining a better understanding of what the real New Testament Church actually believed and passed on to successive generations of Christians, regardless of the consequences such discoveries will bear upon ones present assumptions.

Perhaps this is why many converts to Orthodoxy today are somewhat “bookish” people. These are the folks who do the study and arrive at the inevitable truth of Orthodoxy. Nevertheless I think it is incorrect to portray Orthodoxy as a strictly intellectual faith. Let us not forget that the vast majority of Orthodox believers over the last two millennia have been simple people; down-to-earth peasant folk in many cases. This is one of the wonderful things about Orthodoxy that most reflects its direct connection to God Himself. At once it offers a depth infinitely beyond the limits of even the most refined theological mind, yet at the same time it consists of a simple and practical way of life that anyone can embrace and be transformed by into sainthood. We might even say that simple people have a distinct advantage over their more learned friends, for the latter often have much intellectual baggage to overcome in order to embrace the mystical theology of Orthodoxy which simple people often seem to take to more naturally.

Finally, I am a bit confused by the concluding statement of “Anonymous”. I take his meaning to be an implication that Evangelicals understand the teaching of the Bible better than the Orthodox. If this is indeed what he means, nothing could be further from the truth. Evangelicals claim to know the Bible better simply because they have imposed upon it so many convoluted twists and rationalistic interpretations that any other Christian who does not do the same to arrive at the identical conclusions as a result are said to “not know the plain teaching of Scripture”. In my personal experience, one needs to break free from the Evangelical matrix before he can begin to read the Bible with understanding and stop explaining away the majority of its content.

At 7/14/2006 4:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course to respond in kind to the suppostions put forth would not be gracious or even kind.

Eremitike did pose a very valid question concerning my reply. While meaning to speak highly of the Orthodox teaching tradition, and the fact that most "teachers" in the Evangelical movement go to Greek meanings to explain difficulties. the exact opposite of speaking highly of has occured, as if a challenge has been broached.

That is not the case, rather perhaps the Orthodox should make use of the fact that Greek is the tool used ot try and explain the Bible "better". Who knows Greek better than the Orthodox Church?

How uplifting it could be if the EO would dispell some bad Evangelical teachngs merely by understanding the meanings of the original passages better than almost all of the Evangelicals.

As has been said "Correct a wise man once, and you'll never have to do it again" and in so doing introduce EO to American Evangelicalism.

At 7/14/2006 5:06 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Sure Anonymous, but isn't that what the Orthodox Church has been doing since long before Protestantism even existed? There are lots of valuable Orthodox resources to explore, as well as the Church itself. The problem is that Evangelicals in particular have not bothered to look into these things, as they believe they have things all sewn up.

It can be difficult to reach a people who assume they already have all the answers.

At 7/14/2006 5:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it assumed that all the answers are known? My "denomination" is Christian not a hyphenated one at that, merely a Chrsitian.

However, I know evangelicals, perhaps I am one, to that I would say "Of course, I Evangelize all of the time"

However, Evangelicals cling ot the Scriptures above all else, yet they (I) know that underneath is a underpinning of both Greek, Latin and Hebrew. A deent Evangelical owns a Strong's or a Schofield to try and translate English to greek and hebrew.

The EO has done that already, so the suggestion is, to be even more knowledgable than even the most devout Evangelical.

Thusly "rebuke a wise man once and you never have to do it again"

Now to be honest, the whole "John the Baptists right hand" will not fly, but EO compared to "write checks to donate, even if you don't have the money, God will cover it" is quite simply insane.

Go were they are in the Faith so to speak, a house on a forboding hill is not inviting, someone who can gently and correctly correct, is always welcome and rebukes gently at the same time.

With Love Fr Reagan

At 7/14/2006 6:31 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Scriptural exegesis based on parsing the text in its original language—while much venerated as the supreme craft of the spiritually elite in Evangelicalism—is still no guarantee of an accurate interpretation. If one is given to bad doctrine, reading the text in its original language will still yield bad doctrine. Eastern Orthodoxy does not embody true doctrine by virtue of its knowledge of the original languages alone, but by strictly adhering to the mind of the Church in all things. This mind, first revealed in those who wrote the Scriptures, has guided the Orthodox faithful in their interpretation and understanding of them ever since. This is the supremely most critical element missing from Evangelical Christianity, which has rejected the mind of the Church in favor of personal opinion influenced by the Western culture of independent reason. The Bible is not “everyman’s” book; it is the book of the Church. If one reads it without being drawn to the Church, one has grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted it, regardless of the language from which it was read.

At 7/14/2006 7:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Ere, wouldn't a Roman Catholic say the same thing though?

It would seem that Scripture leads to EO Church in that thought, instead of Scripture leading to God, who is best represented in the EO Church.

And a Roman Catholic could say the same thing.

Good Evening Ere.

At 7/14/2006 8:38 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

I just wanted to express my agreement with Fr. Michael's most recent comment. My version of Paul's "Hebrew of Hebrews" summary is that I was born to an Evangelical parent, raised in an Evangelical home, excelled in an Evangelical youth group, graduated top of my class from Evangelical Bible college, then seminary (Th.M.), won an award in college for my skill with Greek, represented my seminary at a national Greek competition, taught undergraduate Greek while finishing seminary (as well as Bible and theology courses), went on to study Hebrew and several other Semitic languages for the past six years in pursuit of a Ph.D.

But starting toward the end of my time in seminary and coming to a head as I finished my Ph.D. coursework, I learned a critical lesson--that Evangelical hermeneutics simply don't work. One of the earliest components to this realization was learning (and I should note that this was explicitly affirmed by my teachers) that knowledge of biblical languages does not clarify interpretation. In fact, it multiplies the ambiguities and questions that are normally masked by a good translation.

All that's to say that interpretation relies on a good deal more than just picking apart linguistic features of texts. There's not much point arguing on that kind of basis, especially if Orthodoxy acknowledges that the approach is deficient, since Evangelical respondents can simply turn around and give their interpretation. It gets things nowhere.

At 7/16/2006 7:56 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...

Dear Abuian:

I have been wanting to ask someone this question who is not in the Orthodox "camp", but who has broad knowledge of the scriptures, history, Greek, etc. Based on your last post and what I have read in other posts, you may be the person I'm looking for! My question will emerge from the following!

The E.O. view of "original sin" as you probably know is different from the western view, which is based on the writngs of Augustine/Anselm.

The E.O. view is that Adam's sin created an ontological-spiritual sickness leading to mortality (death) that affects all humanity and that Christ came to save us from (death).

Augustine and Anselm's view - as well as Luther's and the Reformers' - as I understand it is that Adam's guilt and sin were both imputed to the human race, so that we are not only victims of the consequance of Adamic "sin" (death), but equally guilty in an ontological sense of the "sin" of Adam. From this comes the idea that the soul is therefore thoroughly depraved or stained, so that not a speck of God's image is left! This led Anselm to conclude that man needed to offer a sacrifice to God, otherwise he could never be "right" with God. This sacrifice was of course provided by God in the form of His Son on the Cross. It is a mirroring of the sacrificial atonement rituals in the old Testament, whereby Christ is punished for our sins etc.

While The E.O. do not deny the crucial importance of Christ's death as an offering for sins, it doesn't confine God's redemptive ministry to Golgotha alone; nor does it tend to view the atonement in this legalistic way ("justice", "penalty" etc). rather it sees Christ's entire ministry (incarnation-ascension) as a deification-restoration of human nature.

The E.O. argument for the Augustinian "error" (as it is often stated) is that his interpretation of the Fall was based on a faulty Latin translation of Romans 5:12. It was from this text that he read his interpretation (the argument goes) into the Genesis account.

His version of the passage supposedly reads: "Therefore, just as through one man death entered into the world, and that through sin, so death spread to all men *in whom* [Adam] all sinned."

The more accurate Greek translation of the text reads: "Therefore, just as through one man death entered into the world, and that through sin, so death spread to all men *for that* [or *in that*] all sinned."

In Augustine's version of the passage states that all humanity had sinned in Adam's sin and creation was therefore *stained* ontologically from that point forward.

The correct text reads that Adam's sin carried death to humanity and that although our sin is evidence to this death, it is not Adam's specific transgression that we have inherited.

My question: did you learn about this in your studies? Did this ever come up (IE this argument?). Have you read the Latin text and compared it to the Greek?

At 7/17/2006 1:31 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

It would probably be better to ask a Catholic scholar about this, or at least someone whose background is higher-church than mine. Latin was never emphasized in my training, since it is not an "original" biblical language, and I was not a specialist in patristics. My wife's Catholic boss was always horrified that I was at a Catholic school (for my Ph.D. work), studying what appeared to be a subject of religious interest, and was not required to know Latin.

Add to this that for the most part Orthodoxy is completely off the radar for Evangelicals, and finding an answer becomes even less likely. When I started trying to seriously wrestle with Orthodoxy, my pastor recommended that I talk to some of my old seminary profs. I've also tried talking to a lot of Evangelical friends about this stuff--basically, no one has much grasp of what Orthodoxy is about. I went back and looked at my notes on historical theology, and there were specific remarks in them to the effect that we didn't have time to cover everything, so we would only look in detail at the Western view.

All that's to say that, no, I never came across the debate in school, and although I might be able to muddle my way through the Latin, my understanding wouldn't be anything authoritative. Sorry I can't be of more help.

At 7/17/2006 9:19 AM , Anonymous Kevin said...

I find that interesting. If in fact the Latin translation (Augustine') was/is incorrect; and if that can be verified (along with the Greek); wouldn't you think that would be a point of interest to western theologians? And, if this pov is correct, how could and would a long line of western theologians not pick up on that and in fact continue to build on this Augustininan foundation of "original sin"? It's a very well known idea in the east. The reason the east never accepted Augustine's pov is that they read the Greek text which was clearly different. Given that "original sin" is perhaps th single most important distinction between east and west, one would think this would be a major topic of interest and debate. If the argument hinges on something as verifiable as checking the Latin translation of the time and the Greek text, and this is true (or false for that matter) this subject would be resolved. But I agree with you: the E.O.C. is a non-event for Evangelicals, who assume they've got all matters of faith "locked up".

At 7/19/2006 8:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if a man pledged to Christ on his deathbed, somehow, even that amount of Evangelism is not acceptable.


Good Evening.

At 7/20/2006 4:22 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the previous anonymous, How can you come up with a statement like this from this dialogue? I am missing something.

At 7/20/2006 9:59 AM , Blogger Aaron said...


To paraphrase Father Patrick Reardon...of course we believe in deathbed conversions! Only bitter, hateful folks will reject the notion of the possibility of a sincere awakening at the hour of death. There is hope, even for me...which is why we pray to be delivered from sudden death, in order that we may have the opportunity to repent.

but i'm with the "other anon", I'm not sure how you gleaned that from the current discussion.

At 7/20/2006 8:15 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...

I think the first "anonymous" is back to the "direct connection" to Christ via the Bible, versus needing-the Church issue!


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