Glory to God for All Things

History, Post-Modernism, and Orthodoxy

A first glance – history would seem to be straightforward. As one wag put it, “It’s just one darned thing after another.” But history is, oddly, a rather modern thing. Histories have been written for a very long time. Pharaohs described their exploits and had them carved on stone steles. Herodotus recorded the Persian Wars. Plutarch described the lives of the Roman Emperors. Caesar gave an account of the Gallic Wars. The court history of Israel is recorded in the Old Testament. The list could be greatly enlarged. So what is so modern about history?

It is interesting that the word “historical,” first appears in English in 1661 (as best can be determined). Something was happening in the 15th and 16th century that moves history to a place beyond mere memoirs. The cultural revolution that is known as the Protestant Reformation was an upheaval without parallel in the events of Western civilization. The place of the Church, the nature of authority, the relations of individuals to Church and state, the very fundamentals of religion, were all shifting and changing. Where they were not shifting (in areas that remained Roman Catholic), they were nevertheless undergoing change as Counter-reformation and reassertion of the Catholic faith were being tested to their limit.

A primary tool in this “culture war,” was history and the re-telling of history. The Reformers put forward an account of the history of the Catholic Church that included the story of its corruption (morally and doctrinally). The Counter-Reformation described the Reformation within the confines of history’s heresies. Unlike the previous heresies, however, the Reformation did not recede – it survived. Along with it, there survived a new reading of Western history.

That new reading was the birth of critical reading, the hallmark of the modern world. Though many conservative Christians today balk at Biblical studies that use the “historical-critical method,” nothing could actually be more Protestant. The re-writing of history is as old as “history” itself. The ancient Roman poet, Virgil, created a myth of the creation of Rome (the epic poem The Aeneid) to link its story to that of ancient Greece. However, in the divisions of the modern world (more or less contemporary with the Reformation), the re-writing of history was not sufficient. The critical re-writing of one’s opponent’s history became necessary as well. History moved from story-telling to pseudo-science. History became more than the way the tell ourselves our own story: it became a means of ascertaining “facts,” and grounding various truth claims.

The rise of post-modern historical work has come about with an additional twist to the story. The critical work of the historian turned from looking at the “facts” of history, to looking critically at the historian himself. The result has been the assertion that there are no “objective” histories – just different ways of telling stories. For some this assertion challenges the very idea of “truth.” If all versions of history are simply different ways of telling stories – is there no way to know the truth?

This is one of many crises in our “post-modern” period. We live in increasingly multi-cultural societies with many competing versions of history (and thus of “truth”). Our present experience is that whoever’s history shouts the loudest and longest wins.

It is in this fragmented world that Orthodoxy finds itself today. The story of Orthodoxy, its history and view of the world do not fit within the stories of either Catholic or Protestant. History books and classes in the Western world (America and Western Europe) often make little mention of Eastern Europe or of Byzantium. I was taught that the Renaissance was an invention of the West (with no mention of the exiles from Byzantium who brought their learning to Italy). That the Roman Empire (in the East) did not fall until 1453 is not part of Western consciousness. Rome fell in 476 a.d. and was followed by the Dark Ages. Then came the Middle Ages with knights and kings. People rediscovered art and science and it is called the Renaissance. Protestant and Catholics divided and we discovered science. We’ve been making progress ever since. If you are an educated person in America – that would be a very thorough knowledge of history. Most adult Americans whom I know (and I mostly know educated people) could not recite even that highly Westernized version of history.

Today’s Orthodox (in the West) find themselves in a world whose dominant stories do not include Orthodoxy. Where do the Orthodox fit? What do converts to Orthodoxy do with their own self-understandings?

It is here that Orthodoxy and Post-modernism have commonality. Fitting within the “modern” world, Orthodox find it necessary to critique and modify the dominant stories of their culture (and often of their own past). There is a website (very well done) called, “Byzantine Texas.” The odd positioning of those two words speaks volumes. Where does Byzantium fit? Of course, no 21st century Orthodox believer is particularly “Byzantine,” but such a person will have a consciousness about the Byzantine world that no one else around them shares. Thus, we should forgive the enthusiast for writing nostalgically on facebook about the “return” of Constantinople and weeping over Hagia Sophia.

In many ways nostalgia is an easy substitute for the spiritual work required in the present. We do not live in Byzantium (though we owe far more to it than most know). We live at the end of the Modern West and at the beginning of something else (your guess is as good as mine). Fr. Georges Florovsky, perhaps better than any other in our time, spoke of the spiritual task of the Orthodox in this part of the Modern Age.

Florovsky was an exile from Bolshevik Russia (as opposed to later Soviet Russia). He witnessed the end of the West in his own world, and the early construction of a devilish Post-Modern world. History was re-written at a pace unknown to any people before. Today’s allegiance could be tomorrow’s sentence to the Gulag. From that fragmented world he was thrust – not to lands of freedom and homes of the brave. He traveled to Eastern Europe, Western Europe and finally to America. The seeds that produced the madness of Bolshevism had actually been transplanted from Europe, though only beginning to germinate. The Churches of Europe were weakening daily and their place in the culture eroding. Florovsky spoke of the “religious tragedy” of the West – born of its own internal contradictions (primarily those begotten of the divorce between rational theology and religious experience).

Florovsky’s magisterial Ways of Russian Thought, ends with a call for Orthodoxy to bear witness to the “religious tragedy” of the Christian West. He speaks of an exegesis of Western Christian history, but says:

This tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now… The Orthodox theologian must also offer his own testimony to this world — a testimony arising from the inner memory of the Church — and resolve the question with his historical findings.

This is not the same as the present Post-modernism found in popular culture and academia. This is not an effort to deconstruct and demolish. It is an effort to understand, diagnose and heal. Knowing Florovsky’s personal history, I think he imagined this task to be something that might occur in a more formal level. He was, after all, deeply involved in dialogs with Western Churches and theology. But I think such a moment has passed – if only because of the passing of Christian institutions. The institutions that remain are largely estranged from their own people. The Western Christian is often a “Churchless” Christian.

The task enjoined by Florovsky is something that is gradually being taken up by converts and immigrants in their Orthodox life within the West. I am a Western man and a modern man, as much as any man can be in a culture that is itself becoming post-modern. The religious tragedy of the West lives within me. Belief and unbelief live side-by-side within a soul that is somedays Russian peasant and other days German Rationalist – and almost always drawn by Scots common sense. I can no longer tell the story of my faith without reference to Byzantium. I hum her tunes unconsciously.

Sometimes the tragedy, reendured and relived, becomes comic. Arguing about the Council of Florence as though it happened yesterday, as though the insults of Pope and bishops heaped upon the weakened Emperor of New Rome and his court still stung. But the questions of Florence (to use only one of many historical examples) must indeed be relived and reendured. We cannot live as though they were not asked. To do so is to simply Balkanize the truth and enact our own tragic version of the Last Days of Byzantium.

I use the verb “Balkanized” in a very conscious manner. For the tragedy of the Balkans – born in the failure of the West to honestly assess the rightful needs and claims of Orthodox Christians coming out from under the “Turkish Yoke,” and creating a fatally flawed political reality for the colonial and commercial interests of the West, is as much a failure of Western religious consciousness as of political blindness. The same mistakes created many of the tragically unstable regimes and political boundaries of the Middle East – and in the same period. The First World War (which is arguably the close of the “modern age”) has never ended.

Orthodox Christians in the West, both convert and transplant, represent ambassadors from the Christian past (and a forgotten present). I do not think the healing of the tragedy comes as a combination (as in “two lungs”). The Orthodox East and Christian West cannot be combined. I think it is rather as Florovsky said: the tragedy must be reendured and relived. The peace can only be found within the one who does so.

There is no formula for how this works or what it looks like. In a very small way, it is what I think takes place on this blog (or so I intend). I write from within my own experience of the tragedy. I have been through various permutations of modern religious experience. Born a Baptist, convert to Anglicanism, 3 years among the Charismatics (two of which were in a commune), educated by liberal Anglicans, serving as Episcopal priest among high, low, evangelicals, liberals and charismatics, studying Orthodox theology in a post-modernist institution, convert to Orthodoxy and re-ordained. I’ve never been a Calvinist or handled snakes. Otherwise, the tragedy is mine.

Like many similar men and women, I breathe Florovsky’s religious tragedy. I converse with it every day in my ministry and revisit it in my dreams at night. I write about it and listen to others. We argue and berate, listen and repent. And somehow, I know more and am yet more reconciled to all of it than I have ever been. And I know that I am not alone.

The difference between Orthodoxy and post-modernism is that the former exists to live and to heal. It does not hate its own father and mother and need not hate its estranged brother and sister. But neither can it be something that it isn’t. It is not a new denomination imported from the East. It is not an alternative. Orthodoxy is the elephant in the living room of the Christian West. And it has come to stay.

 

97 Responses to “History, Post-Modernism, and Orthodoxy”

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  1. Karen says:

    Father, bless!

    I am reading *The Triumph of Christianity* by Sociologist, Rodney Stark. I also read *The Rise of Christianity* by him. In these works, he exposes some of the myths perpetuated about Church history, and also examines the birth and growth and development of the Church and then post-Schism Western Christendom from a sociological perspective, which is quite interesting. You are a much more well-educated historian than I am, so you would have a better idea of how accurate Stark’s correctives and perspectives are, but I’ve enjoyed reading nonetheless. One segment deals with the realities that have come out now that the Vatican has released records of the Spanish Inquisition vs. the Protestant propaganda that passed as historical record for much of Reformation and post-Reformation history (at least for Protestants!). Stark’s analysis shows the Inquisition was quite humane and very restrained–especially compared to Protestant purgations of the era and definitely compared to secular efforts of the time). As is typical of Western scholars, of course, he completely leaves out Eastern Orthodoxy (just not on the radar, apparently), but rather follows the Roman Church and Protestantism.

  2. Laura says:

    This is right on. Thank you. It’s helpful to think about what my role is in the history – reliving, and making peace.

  3. PJ says:

    The Inquisition wasn’t nearly as brutal or cruel as it is typically portrayed by secularists and Protestants. Nonetheless, it was unbecoming of a Christian society (for the most part). Christians don’t kill in the name of Christ, we die in the name of Christ. Of course, it was a very different world, wherein the death of souls was taken as seriously as the death of bodies, and so heresy was viewed on par with murder, if not worse. Hard to imagine …

  4. dee says:

    Thank you again Father!

  5. dee says:

    This a fantastic article Father.
    The re-writing of history we now see is closely linked to the doubting of parts of history – a cornerstone of those who deny the resurrection of Christ.
    I remember Father Epiphanios (Theodoropoulos) discussing this concerning the Apostles and how their historical witness is entirely different to (and through God’s providence, ultimately the most reliable of) all other historic testaments or ‘discovered manuscripts’ or ‘scientific evidence’ to the contrary…
    I think I have posted this in the past but, here is a short excerpt discussing the Apostles’ supreme form of testimony (signed in blood):

  6. dee says:

    “In an ideology, it is easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why others too, might have died for what they “believed in” -their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept those ideologies as something true in a similar way to what the Apostles testified to. Their testament is compelling.

    It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. (that death/sacrifice is the most reliable of all possible testimony guarantors) The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is fully comprehended through them. (The risen Christ)

    The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1)

  7. dee says:

    Just like a clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.
    Take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of ALL those things. (Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected).

  8. dee says:

    And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow. It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high”, that they became the teachers of the universe.

  9. fatherstephen says:

    Dee,
    I haven’t got a clue about why my spamfilter is going crazy with your posts. I’ll be seeing what I can find out. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  10. Paula Hughes says:

    Thank you Fr Stephen,
    I often feel like some sort of ‘throw back’ in this world. I feel as if i have struggled through all the available religions and non-religions to no avail, until I came to Orthodoxy, which is ancient yet ever new at the same time.
    There was always something bigger ,deeper, unchangeable and profoundly true just out of reach and that was what I found in Orthodoxy.

    Very few western people have even heard of our Church ,let alone know any history of it, except some of my Catholic friends, and what they have been taught is from a marked bias or so it seems to me. Some people have a vague idea of Byzantine Art and about the Crusades, but most see it as ‘history’ which these days means something not worth looking into,

    All I can say is it is a good thing I have always been an oddball in this world and have found my home with all the other oddballs in Orthodoxy!

  11. Andrew says:

    Orthodoxy — best understood as a living icon of the Triune God who is both far and near..

  12. Rhonda says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen :-)

    I have been looking forward to this series & your 1st installment is definitely up to snuff!

    I got a chuckle over the “Russian peasant…German rationalist…Scots common sense”. Oh, I can so relate as my own mix includes tendencies from Native American, German, British & Scots Irish ancestries with almost the full amalgam of American religious denominations. Yes, I too am a product of the Western religious tragedy that is slowly & steadily being healed through the truth of the Orthodox Faith.

    I especially like your starting this series with history. When I deal with heterodox, skeptics & unbelievers, I strive to remove their blinders regarding history very early in the discussions. Many are so ingrained that history does not exist outside of that of Western Europe & even Protestants have a hard time getting past Rome despite their total rejection of all things RC. FWIW, the Orthodox can also fall victim such historical blindness as well.

    Thanks!

  13. dinoship says:

    Father,
    if it wanted me to post longer posts it would have allowed me to, it must me be for a good reason I am having such problems ;-)

    On the other hand, I love seeing a long comment by Yourself Father,-like a bonus post based on a v. specific issue…

    :-)

  14. Dana Ames says:

    Dear Fr Stephen,

    This is, to me, one of your finest pieces. Thank you. Very much needed reality check for us coming to Orthodoxy in this time and place. There is a burden to bear, which we may not fully understand, and cannot escape -though we may try- but which is meant for healing. Lord, have mercy and help us.

    Dana

  15. SteveL says:

    The spam-filter may just be complaining that dee is posting multiple posts in a row. That’s something a robot/spammer would do, and it may not be able to differentiate.

  16. John Shores says:

    The Reformers put forward an account of the history of the Catholic Church that included the story of its corruption (morally and doctrinally). The Counter-Reformation described the Reformation within the confines of history’s heresies. Unlike the previous heresies, however, the Reformation did not recede – it survived.

    Are you saying that reading into history the corruption of the RC (which was there) was heretical? I don’t quite understand this.

    That new reading was the birth of critical reading, the hallmark of the modern world.

    This sounds as if you mean the word “critical” to be equated with “bad.” Am I misreading that?

    the historian turned from looking at the ‘facts” of history…If all versions of history are simply different ways of telling stories – is there no way to know the truth?

    But isn’t this how facts are arrived at? There are four different accounts of the Gospels. Why not just one authoratative account? Why call multiple witnesses to a trial if any one witness was reliable? (I would also question the assumption that “fact” = “truth”.)

    This is one of many crises in our “post-modern” period. We live in increasingly multi-cultural societies with many competing versions of history (and thus of “truth”). Our present experience is that whoever’s history shouts the loudest and longest wins.

    Can you cite examples? No one denies that WWI and WWII occurred or what caused them. No one denies that 1066 was an important year in England that saw three kings in one year. To what are you referring?

    The difference between Orthodoxy and post-modernism is that the former exists to live and to heal. It does not hate its own father and mother…

    Why do you presume that motive of secular historians is hate? Is it not possible that there is another motive behind “post-modernism”?

    Is it not possible that rather than “hating”, the real motive is distrust? The Dark Ages were years in which the RC was the intellectual aristocracy that ruled the masses. A great deal of the Reformation was a reaction to having been thus ruled. The natural result would of course be to mistrust anything the spiritual authorities claimed. Indeed, isn’t distrust what brought about Protestantism?

    It seems to me that the mission of the Orthodox church is to demonstrate that A) it can be trusted and B) it holds the unvarnished, unrevised history of the faith? Having established this, rather than telling people what to believe, it should simply open its documents to those who seek the truth. If those documents contain truth, seekers will find it. Only then will Westerners be willing to submit to the authority of the Church with a confidence that its leaders are going to lead well.

    Then again, hasn’t the Orthodox church survived through all these thousands of years? It seems to me that if it has managed to stay healthy all this time, there is no cause to feel that it is facing a crisis now.

  17. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores, I’ll do my best here.

    The Reformers put forward an account of the history of the Catholic Church that included the story of its corruption (morally and doctrinally). The Counter-Reformation described the Reformation within the confines of history’s heresies. Unlike the previous heresies, however, the Reformation did not recede – it survived.

    Are you saying that reading into history the corruption of the RC (which was there) was heretical? I don’t quite understand this.

    I’m saying (my sentence structure could have been clearer) that the corruption was there. And that the Counter-Reformation (Catholic) described the history of the Protestants as being just one more heresy – but that unlike the heresies – the Protestants didn’t disappear.

    That new reading was the birth of critical reading, the hallmark of the modern world.

    This sounds as if you mean the word “critical” to be equated with “bad.” Am I misreading that?

    Here, “critical” means reading in a manner that critiques everything – doubts – questions – etc. It doesn’t mean bad. It’s the academic meaning of “critical.”

    the historian turned from looking at the ‘facts” of history…If all versions of history are simply different ways of telling stories – is there no way to know the truth?

    But isn’t this how facts are arrived at? There are four different accounts of the Gospels. Why not just one authoratative account? Why call multiple witnesses to a trial if any one witness was reliable? (I would also question the assumption that “fact” = “truth”.)

    The “modern” notion of history, was that “fact” equals “truth.” The post-modern (which is not particularly Orthodox) would say that the “truth” is only the point-of-view of the one arranging the facts and that the truth is thus always relative.

    As for the gospels – they are not four versions of eye-witness accounts. They are the story of Christ – told four ways – often using similar material – but giving – four “icons” or “images” of the ministry and event of Christ/God. But it’s a “Modern” mistake to treat them like “fact” accounts. They certainly have “facts” within them – but they are Gospels and function in a manner different than a merely objective (if there could ever be such a thing) account of a historical series of events. These are the gospels – sacred writings of the Church – and they have a function within the Church. They are not written to prove anything to non-believers or to serve as a historical record that historians can use to examine “critically” and judge whether they think they are true (“did this really happen?”). Of course, my saying this will create a certain discomfort among those who are married to a “modern” reading of the Scripture. They want to argue about facts and objectivity, etc. The gospels (indeed the Scriptures) function in a different manner. Jack Webb was not one of the Apostles. :)

    And I would add for readers – I am not a liberal who uses the historical-critical method to arrive at another version of the facts. I read like an Orthodox priest – which means – I read the Gospels as the Word of God and the written presence of Christ in the Church. “These things are written so that you might believe” (Jn. 20:31). How we read Scripture will be the next article in this series.

    This is one of many crises in our “post-modern” period. We live in increasingly multi-cultural societies with many competing versions of history (and thus of “truth”). Our present experience is that whoever’s history shouts the loudest and longest wins.

    Can you cite examples? No one denies that WWI and WWII occurred or what caused them. No one denies that 1066 was an important year in England that saw three kings in one year. To what are you referring?

    Bless you, John. You’ve evidently not had to endure life in a post-modern University setting. :) When I was at Duke, some of the radical students thought nothing of inventing and re-inventing history. Thus I was once told that over 3 million women were burned as witches in the Middle Ages (that’s probably more women than lived in Europe). The point was to create a historical instance of an anti-feminine holocaust for the purposes of rhetorical power. It’s like living and studying with conscienceless Marxists (exactly the same).

    That WWI happened, sure. But what was it about and why? It was fought (by the allies) as the ‘War to end all Wars.’ Was the peace treaty at the end and the failure to continue the aid to the White Russians, simply a way to keep there from being a resurgence of Byzantium (a united Russia/Greece/Balkans/Asia Minor)? I could go on and on.

    Same with WWII. How we view WWII and how Russia views it are completely different. They believe (with some justification) that it is Russia that defeated Germany, while the West only distracted the Axis. Russia lost 30 million of its people. It’s very doubtful we could have successfully invaded Europe had Russia not been engaged in such a massive engagement with Germany in the East. Just another example.

    The difference between Orthodoxy and post-modernism is that the former exists to live and to heal. It does not hate its own father and mother…

    Why do you presume that motive of secular historians is hate? Is it not possible that there is another motive behind “post-modernism”?

    Is it not possible that rather than “hating”, the real motive is distrust? The Dark Ages were years in which the RC was the intellectual aristocracy that ruled the masses. A great deal of the Reformation was a reaction to having been thus ruled. The natural result would of course be to mistrust anything the spiritual authorities claimed. Indeed, isn’t distrust what brought about Protestantism?

    It seems to me that the mission of the Orthodox church is to demonstrate that A) it can be trusted and B) it holds the unvarnished, unrevised history of the faith? Having established this, rather than telling people what to believe, it should simply open its documents to those who seek the truth. If those documents contain truth, seekers will find it. Only then will Westerners be willing to submit to the authority of the Church with a confidence that its leaders are going to lead well.

    Then again, hasn’t the Orthodox church survived through all these thousands of years? It seems to me that if it has managed to stay healthy all this time, there is no cause to feel that it is facing a crisis now.

    I’m not certain that you understand who is meant by ‘post-modernists.’ It is a fairly radical way of reading things and dealing with the world. It is becoming quite the fashion in university settings and having a lot of ‘trickle down effect in the culture. Post-modernism does indeed despise its heritage. The modern period is seen as deeply flawed. The position of the post-modernist is to suspect everything and everyone (except him/herself). Maybe it’s justified.

    As for Orthodoxy – it’s not telling anybody what to believe. It bears witness to what it has been given and knows. It’s documents are open and always have been (it’s not the Vatican). Nothing is secret. But the “truth” of many things is never really known by simply looking at facts. What happened at some point in history is never able to be examined like taking a trip to the moon and looking around. And if the thing you are looking for has to be known in a many that is deeply different than something you would know as a “fact,” then what good would the “facts” do?

    I would contend that knowledge of God, and of the risen Christ, cannot be known as a fact. A fact is something that is inert. It behaves itself and stays still while we manipulate and examine from all angles, etc. We don’t know other persons like that – and we certainly can’t know God like that, as if He were a rock or something. And if that very knowledge is itself a “saving” knowledge (“this is eternal life, that they might know Thee” Jn. 17:3), then it’s a different kind of knowledge than the sort of knowledge we have about “facts.” In your comments, it seems to me that you’re waiting for a fact to kiss you – but the kiss of God will not be like a fact. And what it is like changes the entire basis of how we know (and much more).

    I hope some of this is helpful. For others – my response is in italics and the questions are in blockquotes.

  18. Andrew says:

    JS

    In fact, the “history” of the Orthodox Church is none other than the history of the Eucharist; to partake, one has to be chrismated I believe..

  19. PJ says:

    “The Dark Ages were years in which the RC was the intellectual aristocracy that ruled the masses.”

    This is a perfect example of what Father is talking about methinks. This statement is not factual but interpretative. Even the term “Dark Ages” is inherently judgmental. I myself have a radically different view of this time period. History is not so much the study of events, but of the meaning of events. And therein lies the trouble, because therein lies the human element.

  20. Rhonda says:

    PJ,

    I agree. I too was raised under post-modern Protestantism’s fact of the corrupt RCC of the Dark Ages. What has been termed “intellectual aristocracy that ruled the masses”. In reality the RCC kept education, government & economics going after the secular power that formerly had been Rome collapsed. The inquisition too has been greatly legendized as being unbelievably brutal when in reality criminals would intentionally “blaspheme” during trial in order for their cases to be tried under the RCC. Why? Because the RC investigators & judges were fair at documenting the facts, conducting the trials & meting out justice whereas the secular judicial system of that time was not.

    Did abuses & corruption creep in? Yes & there are many canons now as a result (such as unmarried clergy). It was these abuses & corruption that the Protestant Reformers were rejecting. But the Reformers also went too far in their rejections (such as ecclesial hierarchy). Now many a Protestant preacher would love to exercise a little bit of authority to correct abuses & corruption within his/her church, but they cannot because they have thrown out any notion of higher authority. Many a Protestant church would love to be able to rid themselves of an abusive & corrupt pastor, but they cannot as there is no higher authority to report to. Despite our thoughts otherwise, we all are the product of “history”.

  21. William Dalebout says:

    Americans just don’t think historically. Before I was Orthodox the 1950s were before the beginning of time. Now a century seems like a tiny blip. Embracing a tradition and a history was a significant turning point in my life.

  22. Michael Bauman says:

    Father and Dee, this was suggested on another thread, but Dee’s posts are serial posts, one coming right after another from the same IP address. Dee, I would suggest either making longer posts or waiting several minutes between your posts.

  23. PJ says:

    Rhonda,

    It’s worth noting that many of late 15th/early 16th century reformers remained Catholic. For instance, Erasmus. Also, Thomas More, who was quickly turned into a pillar of Counter-Reformation reaction. Really, that’s a perfect example of the malleability (and complexity) of history.

  24. Michael Bauman says:

    A thought I ponder from time to time: One of the distinctive qualities of the ‘old way’ was the inherent belief in the sacred. The ‘new way’ is characterized by the desacralization of everything. The birth of the critical faculty and its use in deconstructing the sacred and demystifying the world and creation is a result of that.

    The myth of progress that was born out of that desacralization is an attempt to reclaim some sort of telelogy without which man cannot live.

    The ultimate expression of such false teleologies is utopian fantasies turned into political ideologies all across the political spectrum. In response, many traditional faiths have retreated into a some sort of veneration of a golden age that never was.

    The genius of the Church is her ability to mine the worldly ore and refine it to produce the gold in it. It is the task with which the Church is faced in every age and generation no matter what the ore is labled or its actual content.

    It takes both a dedication to deepening our union with Christ and the strength to speak with a prophetic voice…”Thus saith the Lord….”

  25. Rhonda says:

    PJ & Michael,

    Well said!

  26. dinoship says:

    Michael,
    the problem I encounter is that my originally lengthy posts never get published for some unknown reason; and, as the only solution that I discovered (through trial and error) is breaking them up into bitesize chunks, you obviously see here these serial small posts instead. They were all meant to be one lengthy post, plus a fair bit more than what you see here. Not to worry. Thanks

  27. dinoship says:

    It is my testing to find a solution to this problem that has led me to try different names (like dee, dinship etc.) too.
    :-)

  28. Bob Chapman says:

    About 10-15 years ago, I was in the audience when the Rt. Rev. John Spong was talking about one of his books during a book tour. After he said he came from a fundamentalist background, and having listened to what else he said, I realized that he was still a fundamentalist. However, he had switched from “scripture” fundamentalism to “reason” fundamentalism.

    Since that time, I’ve discovered that there are all sorts and conditions of fundamentalists out there. Only some of them are scripture fundamentaists, although many of them seem to be responding to scripture fundamentalism. It is a mindset that is difficult to shake, once you start thinking that way.

    The fullness of all truth lies in Jesus Christ. Those of us following him cannot comprehend it all, leaving what we do comprehend to be incomplete.

    It can be dangerous to think in absolute terms.

  29. Dino says:

    Very well said (re: “reason fundamentalism”) Bob Chapman!

  30. John Shores says:

    Fr. S:

    As for the gospels – they are not four versions of eye-witness accounts. They are the story of Christ – told four ways – often using similar material – but giving – four “icons” or “images” of the ministry and event of Christ/God. But it’s a “Modern” mistake to treat them like “fact” accounts. They certainly have “facts” within them – but they are Gospels and function in a manner different than a merely objective (if there could ever be such a thing) account of a historical series of events… They are not written to prove anything to non-believers or to serve as a historical record that historians can use to examine “critically” and judge whether they think they are true (“did this really happen?”).

    It seems that it all comes down to being presented a story, being told that it’s from god, and requiring the person to whom it is offered to accept it on that basis alone. Either you believe it or you don’t. There is no way to examine the veracity of the claim.

    I was once told that over 3 million women were burned as witches in the Middle Ages… The modern period is seen as deeply flawed. The position of the post-modernist is to suspect everything and everyone (except him/herself). Maybe it’s justified.

    I’ve heard similar things as well and read all of Dan Brown’s books in which he laments the death of the “sacred feminine.” There were many “witches” executed during that period (the actual numbers are irrelevant) and so it is important to take that fact into consideration.

    Then again, there are people on the opposite end of the spectrum who want to downplay anything that threatens their ideology. Any version of American history that does not include facts such as that the federal government subsidized the purchase of Indian scalps (paying out over $1 million to the State of California alone), is just as blind, in my estimation, as the radicals you describe.

    I think that we have a long way to go before we can arrive at anything like “historical truth.” Even so, I again would say that the Orthodox church has less of a challenge than you seem to indicate. The intelligentsia are easily duped. The common man is less gullible. At least, this is what C.S. Lewis seemed to espouse. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been that smart.

    PJ:

    “The Dark Ages were years in which the RC was the intellectual aristocracy that ruled the masses.”

    This is a perfect example of what Father is talking about methinks. This statement is not factual but interpretative.

    Granted. But it provides context that the facts themselves do not. To say that Herod sent soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the young boys is a fact. But that is not the whole story. The story that precedes it is interpretive as well and adds to the narrative of the advent.

    One may look at the “Dark Ages” and get the facts but humans want to know why things happen. Astronomy was completely stagnant during this period. Indeed, a case can be made that much astronomical knowledge was lost in Europe during this period. That is a fact. But that is not enough. It is important to know why. That the Church played a major role in this is relevant. And once we know that this is true, we begin to find other things that were lost for similar reasons and eventually we gain understanding that there was a great disparity between the (poorly) “educated” clergy and the (almost completely) ignorant masses. Eventually, people like Luther felt it necessary to remove that power from the church and place the knowledge of the Scriptures (for example) into the hands of the people. Secular scientists had to contend against the church as well.

    I have no idea what role the Orthodox church played during this period but by and large this is the history of the RC in Europe. But the interpretation is simply introductory context derived from the available data. The actual facts are all there for anyone to see. No one is trying to hide them. But to fail to provide a summary or context is a disservice to any student.

    Rhonda:

    Because the RC investigators & judges were fair at documenting the facts, conducting the trials & meting out justice whereas the secular judicial system of that time was not.

    There is nothing in Christian doctrine that justifies the church presiding over the civil justice system. The point at which the church “metes out justice” is the point at which it stops being the church of Christ and begins to be something else entirely.

    Did abuses & corruption creep in?

    “Creep in”? Isn’t this rather downplaying the atrocities committed by the church (both Catholic and Protestant) not only in Europe but in the Americas?

    the Reformers also went too far in their rejections.

    No argument here!

    Michael: Well stated.

  31. fatherstephen says:

    Bob,
    I actually had opportunity to say this to Bp. Jack Spong’s face. He was simply clueless as to what I meant. I have described this as “linear” truth. It’s about as one-dimensional as it comes. Jack Spong would have made a lousy believer even if he had been a believer – for such a “linear” account is true not of the world in which we live, nor theology, or anything. Perhaps math on its simplest level.

  32. fatherstephen says:

    JS,
    My next article will look at text and how we read it. One of the problems is that you’ve set up a model about how truth “historical” truth works that I suspect will never be satisfied. It is simply not the nature of any text to grant that kind of certitude. Some Protestants are the ones who say, “this story is sent from God.” That’s not how the Orthodox would describe Scripture. That we believe the Scriptures to be inspired? Yes. But the nature of their inspiration is not about history, particularly. They certainly do touch upon what is termed history. But they touch upon it in the manner of Scripture – and that’s another thing altogether. The “sent from God” historical account is merely saying that someone thinks these texts are “correct” in a historical sense, and can serve as evidence that anybody can look at, examine, critique, etc., and agree that they are truth. Then they can decide what they want to do with that evidence (what happens as a result in their lives, etc.).
    This just imagines people as “independent agents,” “arbiters of truth.” We would be like customers in the marketplace of truth, God is simply one of the vendors. We examine His product, compare it to others and decide.
    It would be an interesting way to run the world (and some think the world runs that way) – but this is not an Orthodox Christian understanding of how the world works.
    How we come to know God, to believe in Him, is not contrary to reason per se, but neither is it on account of reason. It is something that works on many, many levels – even on all levels. Most of those levels can’t even be articulated.
    C.S.Lewis is a good example. Tolkien was his primary contact for discussions of the faith. Tolkien’s arguments and points were not unreasonable, but they were not in and of themselves convincing. Lewis describes his conversion to Theism as happening on a bus trip in Oxford. He got on the bus as an Atheist (or at least agnostic) and he got off as a Theist, and he does not know when on the trip that happened.
    I would observe that Lewis, prior to that point, had become a champion of reasoned argument (he had learned it as a teen and polished it as an undergraduate – it was typical British Empiricism. But he was not going to become a believer as an Empiricist. He got off the bus as a Theist, but he also got off the bus not an Empiricist. Not just that, but over the course of his life, some of his worst character habits drew him back towards the Empiricism. He acknowledges this at many points. He knows that he can be so busy proving God that he doesn’t take time to know him.
    I personally believe that the whole thing with the marriage to Joy Davidman, his falling in love (very non-Empirical), her disease, suffering and death (this was a man’s whose deepest wound was the loss of his mother), followed by his own grief, served to make him more of a man, less of an Empiricist, and into a very whole Christian. There would never have been an argument that could have done that. But it was “that” that God had intended all along.
    It is my observation that how the Church views scripture belongs much more to the category of Lewis’ life-experience, and less to the category of Tolkien’s arguments (or Lewis’ for that matter). I describe this in greater detail in the next article.

  33. John Shores says:

    Fr. Stephen: You always make me feel like my head is expanding. I mean this in the very best sense.

    It is my observation that how the Church views scripture belongs much more to the category of Lewis’ life-experience, and less to the category of Tolkien’s arguments (or Lewis’ for that matter). I describe this in greater detail in the next article.

    I am looking forward to reading it.

  34. Bob Chapman says:

    Remember that a person can be a Tradition fundamentalist, also.

  35. Dino says:

    “It is something that works on many, many levels – even on all levels. Most of those levels can’t even be articulated.”
    I find this to also be true of Orthodox understanding of Scripture, (St. Maximus the Confessor is a prime example) especially Church hymnography.
    For instance: Abel, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel and many more can all be contained in one very short hymn about the mystery of the crucified Christ…
    This “fractal iconicity” on multiple levels (for lack of a better word) is not dissimilar to a similar “fractal iconicity”, that of creation -from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic scale…

  36. Andrew says:

    I look forward to reading it too Father, and I will take off my shoes. Very clear thinking from JS, thanks there.

  37. PJ says:

    “One may look at the “Dark Ages” and get the facts but humans want to know why things happen. Astronomy was completely stagnant during this period. Indeed, a case can be made that much astronomical knowledge was lost in Europe during this period. That is a fact. But that is not enough. It is important to know why. That the Church played a major role in this is relevant. And once we know that this is true, we begin to find other things that were lost for similar reasons and eventually we gain understanding that there was a great disparity between the (poorly) “educated” clergy and the (almost completely) ignorant masses. Eventually, people like Luther felt it necessary to remove that power from the church and place the knowledge of the Scriptures (for example) into the hands of the people. Secular scientists had to contend against the church as well.”

    This is an absurd caricature.

    The Catholic Church, with the various courts, spent untold amounts of money and energy establishing and supporting a thriving network of educational institutes throughout Europe. The papacy alone had dozens of chartered universities by the Reformation. Monks preserved hundreds of ancient texts across the centuries. Priests and lay masters taught the sons (and, occasionally, the daughters) of nobles and burghers alike. The study of medicine, law, philosophy, theology, and the natural sciences flourished in all of these universities.

    Have you ever seen a medieval curriculum? It puts to shame those of many modern so-called “institutes of higher learning,” both in terms of depth and rigor. And as a student progressed from his bachelors degree to more advanced studies, things only became more intellectually challenging. Consider the syllabus for the licentiate:

    “After his bachelorship, and before he petitioned for his license to teach, the student must have “heard at Paris or in another university” the following Aristotelian works: Physics, On Generation and Corruption, On the Heavens, and the Parva Naturalia; namely, the treatises of Aristotle On Sense and Sensation, On Waking and Sleeping, On Memory and Remembering, On the Length and Shortness of Life. He must also have heard (or have plans to hear) On the Metaphysics, and have attended lectures on the mathematical books. [Historian Hastings] Rashdall, when speaking of the Oxford curriculum, gives the following list of works, to be read by the bachelor between the period of his determination and his inception (mastership): books on the liberal arts: in grammar, Priscian; in rhetoric, Aristotle’s Rhetoric (three terms), or the Topics of Boethius (bk. iv.), or Cicero’s Nova Rhetorica or Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Poetria Virgilii; in logic, Aristotle’s De Interpretatione (three terms) or Boethius’ Topics (bks. 1-3) or the Prior Analytics or Topics (Aristotle); in arithmetic and in music, Boethius; in geometry, Euclid, Alhacen, or Vitellio, Perspectiva; in astronomy, Theorica Planetarum (two terms), or Ptolemy, Almagesta. In natural philosophy the additional works are: the Physics or On the Heavens (three terms) or On the Properties of the Elements or the Meteorics or On Vegetables and Plants or On the Soul or On Animals or any of the Parva naturalia; in moral philosophy, the Ethics or Economics or Politics of Aristotle for three terms, and in metaphysics, the Metaphysics for two terms or for three terms if the candidate had not determined” (http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0321.htm).

    Or consider the achievements of *ONE ORDER,”* the oft-maligned Jesuits. By the 1700s, they had “contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter’s surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturn’s rings. They theorized about the circulation of the blood (independently of Harvey), the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon effected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light. Star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics — all were typical Jesuit achievements, and scientists as influential as Fermat, Huygens, Leibniz and Newton were not alone in counting Jesuits among their most prized correspondents” (Wright, The Jesuits).

    Was everything perfect? No. But the Church — and Europe in general — dealt the hand it was given after the Muslim invasions shattered a civilization that had endured around the Mediterranean for more than a millennium, cutting the continent off from the greatest centers of learning in North Africa and Syria. You also have to understand that Europe was a feudal society with extremely limited capital, both social and economic, thanks to its largely agrarian nature. It wasn’t the Church holding back education and literacy: it was the hard realities of a rural, agrarian society.

    The modern world — adopting a prejudice of the Reformers — has nothing but contempt for the medieval world, which had just as much light and darkness as any other period. You seem like an intelligent man: Why drink this Kool-Aid? As I mentioned before, Thomas E. Woods’ book “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” is an excellent primer, though only a start. It is full of citations, and the bibliography should take you from there.

  38. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    Good material. This is not polemical – but Luther’s dilemma in the Peasants’ Revolt is interesting history. The logic of Luther’s reforms were not lost on many German peasants. They rose up in a fairly spontaneous demand for workers’ rights (or so we would describe it today). It threatened the whole feudal social order. Luther was caught between the logic of his ideas and the threatened loss of political support by the rulers. There was also the danger of social chaos. He came down on the side of the rulers. The result was a slaughter of many peasants. The event is memorialized in former E. Germany (the communists were not immune to seeing themselves in the slaughtered peasants). It’s a point to ponder in the reformation.

  39. PJ says:

    To be fair, the Jesuits are Reformation-era (early modern), but this makes their scientific achievements all the more relevant. If the Church was ever suspicious of or hostile toward the natural sciences in specific or higher learning in general, it was during the Counter-Reformation, when Protestant fundamentalism forced it (half-consciously) toward a literalistic reading of Scripture. The papacy’s unusually stern (but still quite humane) treatment of Galileo was partially influenced by a desire to deflect the reformed accusation that Catholics privileged reason over revelation.

  40. Rhonda says:

    Thank you, PJ!

  41. Karen says:

    PJ, re: the so-called “Dark Ages,” in *The Triumph of Christianity,* Rodney Stark dispels a lot of the myths that prevail about this period. With the demise in the West of the Roman Empire, the shackles of a parasitic and lazy aristocracy fell off, and this gave greater opportunity to common people as well as contributing to a time of great learning (as you point out), creativity, enterprise, and industry. Most don’t realize the monasteries gave birth to a form of capitalism during this period as well.

  42. PJ says:

    Interesting but not surprising. The Dark Ages have been growing both shorter and lighter for some time now. Originally thought to have begun in the fifth century, the date has now been pushed back as late as the eighth century. And the cause has moved east, from the Germans to the Arab Muslims. Europe depended on the east for those products and resources which allow for an affluent, educated urban society. Muslim (and to a lesser extent Viking) piracy is far more responsible for the darkness of Europe than any obscurantism on the part of the Church. Intriguingly, at the same time that Europe is being seen in a brighter light, the notion of an Arab Muslim Golden Age is beginning to fall apart. This is painstakingly demonstrated in “Charlemagne and Mohammad: A Controversy Revisited” by Emmet Scott. Worthwhile reading for anyone who isn’t satisfied with the secularist and fundamentalist Protestant propaganda.

  43. Andrew says:

    PJ if I may,

    Would you kindly substantiate the following (in particular the italicised):

    Muslim (and to a lesser extent Viking) piracy is far more responsible for the darkness of Europe than any obscurantism on the part of the Church.”

    To clarify — are you suggesting that there were simply more practicing Muslim pirates, than Viking?

    Historical records suggest that the former were prevalent in the Mediterranean and approaches, with the latter being the dominant “brand” in North West Europe. Christian piracy was also widespread in both these regions, I hesitate to say; an interesting point of discussion, though not perhaps on Father Stephen’s website :).

  44. PJ says:

    Andrew,

    There’ve been pirates of all creeds and colors, but Muslim piracy is remarkable in terms of intensity and longevity.
    Islamic pirates harassed Europe for nearly a millennium. Southern Europe and Greek Asia bore the brunt of their pillaging, but northern Europe was not immune. Case in point: About 500 men, women, and children were stolen from Iceland — yes, Iceland — in the 1627! Ireland, England, Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands: there’s nary a European nation that escaped their lust for treasure and human flesh. The Barbary corsairs alone abducted in excess of a million Europeans. (Slavs and Africans were also enslaved by the millions.) Hundreds of miles of coastline in Spain, France, Italy, etc. were deserted, so overwhelming was the menace. Muslim piracy was a significant problem as late as the middle of the 19th century.

    And it’s rearing its head again in places like Somalia. Its endurance is thanks, at least in part, to the ancient Arab tradition of ghazu, or raid against infidels for treasure or territory. The book I mention above “Charlemagne and Mohammad…” has an excellent analysis of the damage — both psychological and economic — inflicted by this millennium’s worth of plundering.

  45. fatherstephen says:

    To discuss pirates, you both should write in “pirate speak.” “Arrgh…”

  46. I wonder how we in the last throes of the Imperial West will ever find the resources we need to become fully Orthodox. I myself am the first Orthodox person in my known gene stream since the Schism, so I have no ancestral wells from which to draw.

    I try to pick up queues from the older parishioners, especially those who grew up in an Orthodox country, but a lot of it feels like ‘playacting’ to me. I’ll never be Greek, or Russian, or even Aleut.

    What I am is a Midwestern American with a mixed Northern European ethnic background, and a lot of sympathies for the 60s-70s counterculture and a lot of corresponding antipathies to the hegemonic homogenized Chilis-Walmart-BestBuy-Home Depot-Bed,Bath, and Beyond culture which is tapering off to a money laundering Mexican restaurant-nail salon-liquor store-title loan-check cashing culture in my district.

    If that can’t be Orthodoxified, then I’m doomed, but yeah, the path to salvation for me lies through all of this, not around all of this.

  47. JWM says:

    Mule Chewing Briars, I think you really captured some of the anxiety at being Orthodox in comtemprary American culture. I feel it too. Some observations: 1. We have to relax. We are already Orthodox and don’t need to be Orthodoxified. As long as we are in touch with our church community and attend liturgy and pray, then we are Orthodox and what we believe is Orthodoxy. 2. We don’t need to play at being Russian or Greek; we are White Anglo-Saxon Orthodox Christians (WASOC). There are plenty of us. 3. We are what the rest of the West once was. We’re not calling them to accept something new and exotic. We’re asking them to become who they really are and come home. At least we celebrate Christmas on the real date, just like our colonial ancestors did.( At least those of us on the old calendar).

  48. PJ says:

    “We are what the rest of the West once was.”

    What does this mean?

  49. dinoship says:

    Mule Chewing Briars, JWM,

    I deeply sympathise with your comments here.
    I think “salvation through all this” is particularly germane, as globalisation/westernisation has taken over the traditionally Orthodox countries too. We do have the weapons in our arsenal though!
    I am grateful for the accessibility of Orthodox books, from the Philokalia to the contemporaries! They can be a huge help in the current situation we find ourselves in, and can be used to stoke up the “fire” every day.
    I think the most important element however, in our current predicament (a weapon available to all) is Νήψις:
    What we describe as ‘watchful vigilance’ in English, the state of constantly being aware of God and not allowing thoughts/distractions to captivate the mind’s eye.
    It is commonly confessed that any lapse we are in danger of suffering or even worrying of potentially suffering, is simply inversely proportional to our constant application of “Νήψις”. So, we HAVE to let go of it first in order to suffer a fall…

  50. JWM says:

    PJ, I simply think we have to present Orthodoxy to the post modern West as both a recovery and a continuity. We cannot draw an arbitrary line and say from this point onward the West was no longer Orthodox. Yes, Bishops were out of communion but what about the ordinary Christians in say, Wales ? Of course over time the West lost more and more of its Orthodox perspective. St John of San Francisco had some interesting things to say about this.

  51. John Shores says:

    Rodney Stark dispels a lot of the myths that prevail about this period.

    The Dark Ages have been growing both shorter and lighter for some time now.

    OK. I’m officially confused now. How can this be unless those who are doing the dispelling are engaging in the same revisionist practices in which the “post-modernists” are allegedly engaging? There really can’t be that much new information that would suggest that the people living in the Middle Ages in Europe were in fact more advanced than we had thought.

    Muslim (and to a lesser extent Viking) piracy is far more responsible for the darkness of Europe than any obscurantism on the part of the Church.

    Again, I am confused. During this same period, the Muslim world was the center of scientific knowledge, was it not? (Perhaps the Muslim pirates had pilfered all the European’s text books?)

    I find it strange that there is a correlation between Islam and their “golden age” of scientific knowledge but if one attempts to make a connection between Christianity and the lack of scientific knowledge in Europe during the same period, they are dismissed. Similarly, if we look at Islamic nations today, we find that there is virtually no contributions to the sciences coming from that quarter.

    I wonder how much of this has to do with religious affiliation (either by crediting Islam in their “golden age” and discrediting Christianity in the “dark ages”) or if it would be more accurate to say that :::these regions::: happened to hold to :::this belief system:::.

    Rodney Stark dispels a lot of the myths that prevail about this period…he exposes some of the myths perpetuated about Church history.

    There is something very odd to me about Christians (or any religious persons) seeking to dispel myths, particularly as it pertains to their religion. Isn’t this precisely what leads so may people to become agnostics/atheists? Who is the arbiter of what is valid and what is myth? I am, admittedly, quite jaded in this regard; I think that people with an agenda cannot be objective (just listen to any liberal or conservative radio talk show for examples).

    From what Fr. Stephen has said:

    One of the problems is that you’ve set up a model about how truth “historical” truth works that I suspect will never be satisfied. It is simply not the nature of any text to grant that kind of certitude…That we believe the Scriptures to be inspired? Yes. But the nature of their inspiration is not about history, particularly. They certainly do touch upon what is termed history. But they touch upon it in the manner of Scripture – and that’s another thing altogether. The “sent from God” historical account is merely saying that someone thinks these texts are “correct” in a historical sense, and can serve as evidence that anybody can look at, examine, critique, etc., and agree that they are truth. Then they can decide what they want to do with that evidence (what happens as a result in their lives, etc.).

    I have read this reply several times and keep coming to the same question . You say that the Scriptures are inspired and “touch upon history.” How much of what we call “history” is simply perspectives based on interpretive data? It seems that anything outside of bare facts (dates and events) is understood strictly from an individual’s perspective.

    When I was 16, I was asked by a Japanese foreign exchange student from Hiroshima, “Why did your country drop the atomic bomb on us?” The events of the war were very different from his perspective largely because he understood the Samurai spirit and the history of his people in a way that I simply cannot. Also, at the time, I had very little understanding of the particulars of the behavior of the Japanese (the Bataan death march, cannibalism, barbarism in China, etc.). But even if I had all that information at hand, is it likely that he would have believed me? I rather think not. Few people are willing to be objective enough to admit that their people group might have been in the wrong.

    I guess what I am trying to determine is whether or not there is such a thing as “historical truth.”

  52. Rhonda says:

    Mule Chewing Briars:

    I fully understand where you are coming from :-) I agree also with SWM. We are Orthodox as long as we remain faithful participants in the Church. All we can do is live our faith & communicate it the best that we are able to those that are willing to hear it.

    I had a discussion on ethnicities with an Orthodox deacon recently while on a trip. We both agreed that it will be interesting to see how the Orthodox Church integrates all of the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Antiochian & all the rest into a uniquely American Orthodox church. Do not try to be Greek, Russian or whatever; be you…an Orthodox Christian who is also American. That being said, we should not disparage the many ethnicities that have historically comprised the Orthodox Church. We have unity of Faith yet diversity of peoples. In my opinion we should be neither Russo-philes nor Russo-phobes; we should be Orthodox.

    American also is an “ethnicity”. My ancestors may have been Native American, German, Irish, British, but I have no desire to grab my bow & arrows, trek to London via the scenic route through Berlin to sing “Danny Boy” at the top of my lungs at the base of Big Ben. I am an American, an American that God Himself has led & guided into the Orthodox Faith despite my unworthiness.

    As far as Christmas…still Dec 25 here. Growing up Christmas was fun. How could it not be when a bunch of Southern Baptists packing Scofield KJVs & Roman Catholics packing rosaries get together! My mother & I were Presbyterians so we sat back & watched the entertainment ;-)

  53. PJ says:

    Can I level with you all?

    If the new Orthodox of western Europe and the Americas are really committed to “recovery and continuity,” why do most apparently prefer distinctly eastern liturgies? Am I wrong, or do very few occidental converts embrace the western rites which are their patrimony?

    Furthermore, if “recovery and continuity” is indeed the goal, why is there so little effort to take seriously any western theology that occurred after the schism? Heck, even much of the pre-schism corpus is ignored or outright condemned.

    If Orthodoxy cannot embrace western (and especially Catholic) Christianity with sympathy and understanding — cherishing that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and excellent while rejecting that which is not — then the vision of an Orthodox West seems laughable.

    I say this as a Catholic who has studied Orthodoxy for years and has seriously considered converting. I’ve been mulling these thoughts for some time, and I hope they prove to be worthwhile food for thought. Orthodoxy, if it wants to be an agent of healing and reconciliation, of rebirth and renewal, cannot adopt its own attitude of chauvinistic imperialism. It must give the west a sympathetic hearing.

  54. JWM says:

    PJ: You are mostly correct. As for liturgy, I’m not a liturgist but I suspect that at the time of the Schism the differences were not as great as they are now. At any rate Orthodox liturgies in this country are looking and sounding more “western” as we sing more in English even if the tunes are still Russian or Greek. The Catholic west itself is recovering more of its early theology (John Scotus Erigena)which is Orthodox, even as Orthodox philosophers interface with western post modern philosophy (Berdaeyev).Things are changing. The vision of an Orthodox West is here.But you are right. Unfortunately we Orthodox practically invented chauvinistic imperialism.

  55. PJ says:

    “OK. I’m officially confused now. How can this be unless those who are doing the dispelling are engaging in the same revisionist practices in which the “post-modernists” are allegedly engaging? There really can’t be that much new information that would suggest that the people living in the Middle Ages in Europe were in fact more advanced than we had thought.”

    Actually, there’s always new evidence coming to light. There’s also new paradigms, paradigms that are actually supported with documentation and archaeology and numismatics, to replace those paradigms which are largely the fictions of anti-Catholic Protestants and secularists.

    “Again, I am confused. During this same period, the Muslim world was the center of scientific knowledge, was it not?”

    The Muslim world was rich with scientific knowledge, but little of it was original. It was mostly the legacy of conquered civilizations: Zoroastrian Persia and the pagan/Christian Greco-Roman ecumene. With few exceptions, those parts of the Greco-Roman world that came under the control of the Muslim saw huge declines in literacy, technology, education, urbanization, agriculture. Literally hundreds of cities disappeared. Countless acres of irrigated land turned to desert. Innumerable public and private libraries were razed. Whole legions of writers were lost to history.

    Europe depended on the fruits of the urbanized, educated eastern half of the empire. The decline of living standards on the continent is directly tied to the disruption of the Greco-Roman ecumene.

    “I find it strange that there is a correlation between Islam and their “golden age” of scientific knowledge but if one attempts to make a connection between Christianity and the lack of scientific knowledge in Europe during the same period, they are dismissed. Similarly, if we look at Islamic nations today, we find that there is virtually no contributions to the sciences coming from that quarter.”

    Islam is deeply inimitable to science, because natural laws are rejected as offenses against God’s omnipotence. More importantly, God is thought to transcend even reason, and thus reality is not logical but utterly arbitrary.

    At least, this has been the consensus for the last 1100 years, since the Asharites decisively seized control of Islamic thought, routing the Hellenistic Mutazilites.

    Christianity, on the other hand, is fundamentally committed to the reasonability, steadfastness, and constancy of God. After all, the cosmos was created by and through the Logos, and in Him all things consist. These theological commitments mean that Christians can, for instance, take confidence that the sun will always rise in the east (a notion explicitly ridiculed by Mohammad in the hadith).

    Sacred order always sets the boundaries and establishes the rules for social order. This is one of the primary theses of Pope Benedict XVI’s much maligned Regensburg Lecture. It’s short: You should read it.

    “I wonder how much of this has to do with religious affiliation (either by crediting Islam in their “golden age” and discrediting Christianity in the “dark ages”) or if it would be more accurate to say that :::these regions::: happened to hold to :::this belief system:::.”

  56. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    There is no such thing as a truly objective author, or at least I have never come across one. This is impossible because we human beings are not objective beings ruled only by logic & rationality & making our decision strictly based on facts, figures &/or dates. Thank God for that!

    I understand where you are coming from. You are where I was 15 years ago, which is 5 years before I became Orthodox. Keep looking for truth & do not give up–you will find it. I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as “historical truth”…only Truth.

    Too many religious today critique, analyze, hermeneuticize, historicize & etc. the Holy Scriptures literally to death. In their search for deeper or more accurate meanings they will expend great effort & much time hunting down the original meanings of the original words in the original languges & delve deeply to learn all about the historical context, time & culture. In the process though they literally strip the Holy Scriptures of all of their majesty, beauty & glory.

    In my opinion (I admit that’s not worth much) it is this majesty, beauty & glory that is the “true inspiration” from God that “touches upon history” as well as touches upon our hearts which are constantly searching for Truth. The fullness of this Truth is what I, among many others, have found within the Orthodox Church.

  57. If the West returns to Orthodoxy, it will be the Church of Rome that leads the way. I believe this with all my heart. Western Orthodoxy is down there, somewhere, as it is in many, many other Western traditions

    As for myself, I grew up in a non-liturgical milieu so going Byzantine wasn’t any more difficult for me than going Benedictine would have been. It was a matter of propinquity,

    There are not that many Western Orthodox parishes.

  58. Devin says:

    There are some issues being raised here in the proceeding comments that I’ve really wrestled with/wondered about. What does it mean/look like to be “western” Orthodox? I often wonder (as a catechumen) how much of what I’m reading about Orthodoxy is more ‘Eastern’ than ‘Orthodox’ per se. Not to say that it’s wrong, but it’s contextualized in eastern culture from whence it came is it not?

    Forgive me if this ruffles the feathers of any Catholic readers of this blog; If we hold that the churches in the west is in schism from the east i.e. not in communion, then is there an expression of Western Orthodoxy?
    One could be forgiven for getting the impression sometimes that ‘east’ = good and ‘west’ = bad. Should the Orthodox Church in the West look just like the Church in the East? Or is there room for a Western expression of Orthodoxy? Obviously not compromising Holy Tradition, but just contextualized for the west.
    There’s more I’d like to ask/express on this front but I’m having trouble articulating it right now. Perhaps I’ll chime in more later on.

  59. PJ says:

    “Perhaps the Muslim pirates had pilfered all the European’s text books?”

    Actually, John, this isn’t all that far from the truth.

    The vast majority of ancient texts were composed on papyrus. Unfortunately, papyrus disintegrates after a couple hundred years without proper care. This is why there existed in the late antique world an entire industry devoted to manufacturing papyrus and copying texts. This industry largely and suddenly evaporates during the 7th and 8th centuries. Any remaining papyrus circulates in the east, not the west. Entire libraries literally crumbled to dust.

    The Church alone, through its heroic efforts, saved Europe from totally illiteracy. Indeed, the only major ancient library to survive the shattering of the Greco-Roman ecumene was that Vatican’s. Similarly, it was Christians (and Jews) who, under the Muslim yoke, preserved and transmitted the ancient Greco-Roman wisdom. “The whole corpus of Greek philosophical and scientific learning was translated into Arabic by Nestorian Christians” (Thompson and Johnson, Intro to Medieval Europe). “The leading figure in the Baghdad school was the Christian Huneyn ibn Ishaq, who translated many works by Aristotle, Galen, Plato, and Hippocrates into Syriac. His son then translated them into Arabic. The Syrian Christian Yahya ibn ‘ADi also translated works of western philosophy into ARabaic.” (Scott, Charlemagne and Mohammad…).

  60. PJ says:

    Obviously, it should read that Islam is “inimical” to science, not “inimitable.”

  61. Andrew says:

    Devin,

    In response to your excellent question:

    What does it mean/look like to be “western” Orthodox?

    Perhaps one can turn this around and ask:

    What would “the west” look like if viewed through the prism of Pascha?

    It really is Pascha that defines everything. All things are thus approached from an entirely different angle. St Paul speaks of a veil. It is exceedingly thin..

  62. John Shores says:

    The Muslim world was rich with scientific knowledge, but little of it was original. It was mostly the legacy of conquered civilizations

    Granted. And yet, unlike in Europe, that knowledge was not lost during those many centuries, which says something important I think.

    Islam is deeply inimitable to science, because natural laws are rejected as offenses against God’s omnipotence. Christianity, on the other hand…

    Not to be argumentative but there was a reason for the existence of the Invisible College. Clearly there were things about the sciences that threatened the RC establishment. The attitudes of the RC in this regard did not spring up overnight. I think it is disingenuous to exclude Gallileo, Bruno and others and try to cast Christianity in a light that embraced the sciences. It is because they are overlooked that the secularists like to scream about them. If the church would be honest about its flaws, its virtues would be more readily received methinks.

    is there room for a Western expression of Orthodoxy?

    Doesn’t the word “Orthodox” imply that this is the correct system/tradition? How can there be different expressions of the correct traditions? Perhaps I am reading the word “version” into “expression” but it seems to me if there is one true faith, anything outside of it is false to some extent.

  63. John Shores says:

    Devin – you more clearly expressed my last comment. Thanks for the clarity.

  64. PJ says:

    John,

    ” that knowledge was not lost during those many centuries, which says something important I think.”

    The knowledge was not lost for lack of effort.

    As I said:

    The vast majority of ancient texts were composed on papyrus. Unfortunately, papyrus disintegrates after a couple hundred years without proper care. This is why there existed in the late antique world an entire industry devoted to manufacturing papyrus and copying texts. This industry largely and suddenly evaporates during the 7th and 8th centuries. Any remaining papyrus circulates in the east, not the west. Entire libraries literally crumbled to dust.

    The Church alone, through its heroic efforts, saved Europe from totally illiteracy. Indeed, the only major ancient library to survive the shattering of the Greco-Roman ecumene was that Vatican’s. Similarly, it was Christians (and Jews) who, under the Muslim yoke, preserved and transmitted the ancient Greco-Roman wisdom. “The whole corpus of Greek philosophical and scientific learning was translated into Arabic by Nestorian Christians” (Thompson and Johnson, Intro to Medieval Europe). “The leading figure in the Baghdad school was the Christian Huneyn ibn Ishaq, who translated many works by Aristotle, Galen, Plato, and Hippocrates into Syriac. His son then translated them into Arabic. The Syrian Christian Yahya ibn ‘Adi also translated works of western philosophy into ARabaic.” (Scott, Charlemagne and Mohammad…).

    “Clearly there were things about the sciences that threatened the RC establishment.”

    This is simply false. The sciences were funded and encouraged the Church in myriad ways and on various levels. You are repeating a myth that has been told so many times everyone believes it.

    ” I think it is disingenuous to exclude Gallileo, Bruno and others and try to cast Christianity in a light that embraced the sciences. It is because they are overlooked that the secularists like to scream about them. If the church would be honest about its flaws, its virtues would be more readily received methinks.”

    John, look, you’re just not seeming to get this: The Church ACTIVELY and OPENLY funded scientific ventures of exactly the sort undertaken by Galileo. The “Gregorian Calendar” (1582) is so named after its chief benefactor — Pope Gregory! Pope Clement VII approved of Copernicus’ work. The Jesuits were heavily involved with the “New Science” of the early modern era, and were especially proficient astronomers. Think of Giovanni Riccioli, Christopher Clavius, Gisueppe Biancani, etc. Pope Urban was even initially quite fond of Galileo!

    Galileo was not censured because of his science, but because he mixed science with theology and philosophy, and because he was reckless and sloppy in his conclusions, which even the likes of Tycho Brahe found wanting. Had he not antagonized Pope Urban — with whom he had previously been friendly — then he might never have ended up under house arrest.

    As for Bruno: Again, it was his theological ideas that were such trouble. Many of his ideas were frankly bizarre (not to mention highly unorthodox). To make him into some sort of martyr for science is laughable.

    Anyway, I don’t want to sidetrack Father’s thread on this subject. If you’d like to discuss this, we can take it up over e-mail.

  65. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    Orthodox (greek: ὀρθόδοξος): from the greek ὀρθός meaning true & the greek δόξα meaning glory. Common “street” meaning would be right belief rather than “correct system/tradition”.

    Orthodoxy is not merely another religious system or another religious tradition amongst just a bunch of other systems/traditions. The Orthodox Church has faithfully transmitted the Faith as taught by the Apostles. Doctrine has not been added to nor subtracted from nor developed unlike other systems/traditions out there.

    Alexander Schmemann: “The Church is not an institution with sacraments, She is a sacrament with institutions.”

    Steven Robinson: “The Orthodox Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn’t non-denominational; it is pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago.”

  66. Devin says:

    This may be a hold out idea from my evangelical experiences, but it’s always seemed to me that the Gospel is not proclaimed in a vacuum. It’s always received within a cultural context. While the message is the message and never changes, it seems impossible that it won’t be flavored to some degree by the cultural context in which it is preached (and I’ve generally thought this was ok, good even).
    Would it be incorrect to say that at least on some level Eastern Orthodoxy looks that way it does because of the cultural context in which it was ‘birthed’ if you will? The very fact that we call it ‘Eastern’ would seem to indicate as much. I wonder, if Christ came today, to America (my context) what would the faith look like? While the truth, the message of the Kingdom, the Trinity, Incarnation, the Eucharist etc would be the same, the expression would probably look different wouldn’t it? Are we locked into an Eastern expression because that’s the context in which the Church came to fullness?

  67. David Brent says:

    Father Stephen,
    The last paragraph in your post is beautiful. I am glad to hear you say that Orthodoxy is here to stay. The witness of Orthodoxy is needed in America. I needed it. I still need it and have come to love it. May God bless Orthodoxy in America!

  68. Andrew says:

    JS

    Quick further comment on:

    ….is there room for a Western expression of Orthodoxy?

    A: Plenty – roughly in line with the boundaries of an expanding universe (though lagging one must also say, by a few thousand light years).

    Love the fact that you linked “tradition” to system. Smiley. Perhaps Fr Schmemann’s famous quote should be read simply as “The Church is a sacrament”.

  69. dinoship says:

    “what would Orthodoxy look like in the west?”
    Althouth it is true that, “the context in which the Church came to fullness” is connected -to most minds- with the East; is this not a matter of semantics to a degree?
    How could the core of Orthodoxy be different anywhere else?
    The outward appearance shapes up correctly (automatically) once the core is healthy.
    Eg: A ‘western’ Orthodoxy would still have “hesychasm” as its heart of hearts for instance…
    Based on St John of Climacus’ famous saying for example, (that monks should imitate the angels while laymen imitate monks), this seems quite simple. Is it not like when you want to try out a sport along with its relevant diet (as a hobby) you look at the professionals for the most reliable, tried and tested advise; so too, no matter where Orthodoxy develops it looks at the monastic ranks. The most inspiring ones have always been ‘out of this world” -western or eastern.

  70. Andrew says:

    I would say entirely out of this world Dino(as it would appear to us) and understood incarnationally..

  71. PJ says:

    “Based on St John of Climacus’ famous saying for example, (that monks should imitate the angels while laymen imitate monks), this seems quite simple.”

    This seems rather strange. Imitate angels? How so? Shouldn’t laymen and clerics alike imitate Christ? I’ve never seen an angel offer himself up for crucifixion.

  72. dinoship says:

    PJ,
    that is a Classic of lived out Christianity (“The Ladder of Divine Ascent”), I am surprised you, of all people, misunderstood that quote! I might have translated it poorly here…

  73. PJ says:

    I know the text well. It contains much wisdom. This notion that we should imitate angels, however, strikes me as wrongheaded. Humans are not angels; angels are not humans. We are different kinds of creatures and we are meant to lead very different types of existences. God became a man, not an angel. Even the greatest fathers aren’t without their weaknesses, like a certain Platonic contempt for the body.

    Perhaps you translated poorly. I don’t know. Or perhaps I don’t fully understand what he’s saying. That might very well be the case! ;-)

  74. @PJ

    Perhaps the good father had in mind Luke 20:34-36

    Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.

    Now, it is clear to me that our Lord is speaking of a future state, but boundaries between our present state and our future state appear to me more porous in Orthodoxy than in the Calvinistic Evangelicalism from whence I fled.

    And is not monastic life often referred to as “the angelic life”?

  75. John Shores says:

    It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago.

    I have often wondered if any of the Apostles were to walk among us today if they would recognize Christianity as it is practiced (even among the Orthodox) as being the same faith that they held. They well may, but I still wonder simply because there is no one source for the faith’s doctrines.

    Unlike the books in the Pentateuch, there does not seem to be one clearly defined document outlining the forms and meanings of the Christian faith. Rather, it has been “interpreted” or clarified so often that I cannot help but wonder how much of what is considered “Orthodox” is something that Peter or Paul would embrace.

    Then again, Peter’s understanding seems to have been a journey of discovery more an experience such as that of Moses where god told him flat out wassup. Even the Quran was written by one person (although this also seems a journey of discovery over a couple decades). But the doctrines of the Christian faith come from multiple people and so there is bound to be some measure of obscurity.

    Perhaps this is part of the root of why it is difficult to accept.

    But I suppose this is an unfair assumption. There are sects within Islam and Judaism despite their singular sources.

  76. Rebecca says:

    Perhaps St. John Climacus got the idea not from Plato but from Jesus’ words: “In the resurrection, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven.” ?

  77. Rebecca says:

    Ha, MCB beat me to it. :)

  78. Rhonda says:

    PJ:

    People are an odd lot. We question motives. We question & examine with a microscope those in authority, not to mention the very concept of authority. We, especially Americans, are very head strong, pick yourself up by your boot straps, & I do it my way. We covet power & authority for ourselves.

    This is not the way of the angels. The angels are always at the throne of God; ready, waiting & willing to serve him. Their love & loyalty is unswerving & unquestioning, their obedient service is sure & immediate.

    In my opinion, this is what St. John Climacus meant. He was not insinuating that we should follow angels rather than Christ. Do you as a RC substitute the Holy Virgin instead of Christ for your salvation when you pray the rosary? No, you don’t.

    The Ladder of Divine Ascent shows us how to overcome the passions & purify ourselves so that we may follow Christ. Following Christ means to serve Him. We are called to be the servants of God throughout the Holy Scriptures. The angels already do this & quite well, I might add.

  79. dinoship says:

    I believe it is far simpler than that: it is based on Saint Paul’s admonition that he would rather that one remained like him, as the married life means you must take care how to be liked by your ‘other half’, while the unmarried, the consecrated, the monastic has a single “Distraction” (it is interesting that some later fathers use this exact word…) that of God. So, the potentiality for absolute, complete and total offering of all I have, truly given to God in such a singular fashion, is not found on earth but, only in the angelic world, and when someone opts for monasticism he adopts that way of living referred to as the angelic life.
    The words of the tonsure service clearly describe it as that, it is an expression from as far back as the times of St Pahomius and Anthony the Greats.

  80. PJ says:

    The expression seems to refer to much more than chastity.

  81. I’m going to speak frankly here.

    The reason I chose Orthodoxy over Catholicism is becasue I saw in Catholic ascesis this very same “certain Platonic contempt for the body” you mention. Flagellation, for example, seems very un-Orthodox to me.

    Orthodox ascesis seemed to me, on the other hand, to be more the body coming into its own.

    Please remember that this is just my personal opinionm although I have staked a great deal on it.

  82. dinoship says:

    Yes, indeed, it actually refers to different levels of understanding of the notion of chastity, even the totality of spiritual chastity.
    Saint Maximus, -without denying it-, goes way above and beyond what the obvious understanding of Scripture refers to here, as he does time and again in virtually all of his writings.

  83. RiverC says:

    The inspiration of scripture is somewhat like the ‘muse’ of poetry – though certainly not coeval. The ironic part is, then, that those who think of ‘the Bible’ as poetry have said something they perhaps do not understand about scripture that is very profound, and they do not understand what they have said because they do not understand poetry. The misunderstanding of poetry is also not their fault, but the fault of modern and postmodern poets. If a man turns an account, let’s say, Yeat’s account of a dream in the poem ‘The Cap and Bells’, it is not merely that this a story, or that it is ‘poetic’, i.e. it’s pretty and inspirational. The great poems cut through the limited human perspective and see things in a radically different, but (if they are to be true poems) true way. In this, the brute facts of the situation may be bent to the point of breaking in actuality — a person who had been there might have not seen it that way. But regardless, when you are dealing with present but unseen things, who can account for the historical-critical method as the end-all-be-all? Either the intuition and the nous align with and see the true in the work, what was sometimes called ‘authoritas’ by the medievals, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, it could be that the soul is blind, or that the truth isn’t there. At times it is the faith that Abraham had – almost a species of courage more than anything else – that can divide the waters for the soul.

  84. Eleftheria says:

    John Shores wrote:
    I have often wondered if any of the Apostles were to walk among us today if they would recognize Christianity as it is practiced (even among the Orthodox) as being the same faith that they held.

    Yes, they would. In the Revelation of John (4&5), just before the opening of the seals, there is a description of the vision of God on His throne. Many Orthodox elders, in their exegesis of this section, refer to this as a description of an Orthodox Divine Liturgy.

    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  85. dinoship says:

    Mule Chewing Briars,
    correct as you may be, we cannot criticise another’s ways unless we know the time, place, circumstances, background and above all:
    the r e a l m o t i f behind them.
    To our mollycoddled way of life and our “Cross-less” existence many ascetics ways can seem unduly harsh, but to judge them from our point of view would be presumptuous folly.
    We have a saying in Greek “when not on the dance-floor everyone claims expertise in dance (and judges those who dance)…”

  86. RiverC says:

    @dino

    Or as in past times:

    “Criticism about music is like dancing about architecture.”

    Probably meant in the sense that you can’t critique music at all, but it rings true mostly because nearly all music criticism is of the species you describe, which could aptly be described as dancing about architecture.

    This is to be made distinct from the other implication of ‘about architecture’; I should make it clear that as certain musicals have shown dancing around parts of buildings is in no way irrelevant or fruitless, even if slightly frivolous.

  87. Andrew says:

    Then again, Peter’s understanding seems to have been a journey of discovery more an experience such as that of Moses where God told him flat out wassup.

    Love it.

  88. @dino

    I was hoping that I had qualified myself sufficiently. The mere fact of my choosing Orthodoxy over Catholicism when departing Protestantism was enough to alienate one dear Catholic friend of mine. It is not my place to judge St. Ignatius Loyola, for example. That would be for a flea to judge a mountain. But a flea does not have to visit every mountain.

  89. Andrew says:

    Eleftheria

    In the Revelation of John (4&5), just before the opening of the seals, there is a description of the vision of God on His throne. Many Orthodox elders, in their exegesis of this section, refer to this as a description of an Orthodox Divine Liturgy.

    Simply put, we would not know where to look for God less still worship Him, unless we first met Him and perceived His immeasurable grace and power, let it be said.

    C.S. Lewis puts it very nicely:

    All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.

    All of God’s gifts come through the Holy Spirit.

  90. dinoship says:

    Mule Chewing Briars,
    well, you might come across similar or even more extreme instances in many of the lives of the Orthodox ascetics, both ancient and contemporary – don’t be shocked when encountering them. It is usually quite a distinct application. It is certainly not the norm but there can be situations that call for something that is not the norm. Nevertheless, I do believe that there is a difference in motives in Orthodoxy. (And there is an even bigger difference in motives between Orthodox ascesis and Far eastern ascetic practices)

  91. fatherstephen says:

    PJ and John Shores,
    On the Islam and Science thing. What is left out of this history sidebar is that the “science” that Islam knew, what learned through its contact and conquering of Byzantium. All of that science and learning continued in the Eastern (Orthodox) Christian Empire which had no “Dark Ages.” When Byzantines came to the West (Italy) the result is what we call the “Renaissance.” Science and stuff doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It was a direct continuation of the ancient world, which never ceased in Byzantium. There the Roman Empire did not fall until 1453. You all are illustrating one of my points – the West (us guys) were not taught about Byzantium (the East) in our history books, and you’re discussing things as though it did not exist instead of being the reason for things are as they are.

  92. fatherstephen says:

    Devin,
    Eastern Orthodoxy is not so foreign to the West. It’s Church services are sung (so were “high masses” in the West). It’s liturgical, so was most of Western Christianity until the past century or so. It’s not “frontier American” which is the very, very recent origin of Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism looks “Western” because it has evolved at the same time and in the same manner as Western commercialism. But commercial Christianity is not a “Western Christianity.” It’s just degenerate Christianity.

    Orthodoxy is not very different from classical, Western forms of Christianity, if we read a little history. I would contend that much of Orthodoxy as it exists in America today is already quite “American.” My parish is decidedly American although we have plenty of non-Americans in the congregation. We speak English, our music, though using traditional Russian tunes mostly, sounds pretty American to me. It’s not Rock n Roll, has no instruments, but is the normal 12 tone scale and its harmony patterns are standard.

    When we speak of an enculturated version of Orthodoxy in the West, we’re usually too provincial, lacking in imagination for just how broad the West is. Having been an Anglican priest for 18 years, I can tell you that converts to Anglicanism from evangelicalism had an adjustment period. But before long they acclimated and began to prefer PBS to NBC and to think of Britain as the source of all civilization. Orthodoxy will do fine, even though we’ve come late to the dance.

  93. Lynne says:

    Father Stephen,
    A story on this week’s Planet Money on N.P.R. seems to corroborate your view that “when the Byzantines came to the West, the result is what we call the Renaissance.”
    The story is called “The Accountant Who Changed the World,” about a monk, Luca Pacioli, who “discovered” double-entry bookkeeping using arabic numerals in Venice and published a book about it in 1494. I haven’t read the new book that tells this story, Double-Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance, by Jane Gleeson-White, but I wonder if the merchants created it, or learned it from Byzantine refugees?

  94. drewster2000 says:

    Devin,

    I can sympathize with your position – probably because I’m in a very similar one. I have asked Fr. Stephen the same questions. What I’ve come to understand is that he cannot grant me what I truly seek – that is, for us all to be one.

    Even if everyone involved desperately wanted this outcome, it is not to be in this life. The differences that divide us (the human race) are deeper than just conscious ideologies. Even if Fr. Stephen were to lay hands on us, declare us to be in communion, and let us eat from his table – and he was allowed to do so – the joy and peace we would gain from this would be short-lived. We would look around to discover that we hadn’t arrived; we’d only come to another level of struggle – not particularly better or worse than the last one.

    We must be content to serve God where He’s put us. If that’s in a canonical Orthodox church, we’ll join without concessions or westernizations and take what comes (inevitably flavoring it simply by our existence in their midst). If He does not call us there, then nothing they can do for us will make us feel at home.

    And I can confirm Fr. Stephen’s statement that the Orthodox Church in America already DOES look vastly different than it would in the original cultural settings.

    hope this helps, drewster

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