Glory to God for All Things

Where Orthodoxy Stands

Many of the postmodern challenges to the modern perspective are questions about the character and nature of knowledge. A particular focus has been on the concept of objectivity. When we view something objectively, we think of ourselves as standing outside the thing being observed. We are able to “walk around” it and examine it from all sides. We remove our prejudice and assumptions and simply observe. The result of this process is what we generally think of as “facts.” This exercise is a function of reason and mutually-agreed standards of acceptable objectivity. The postmodern critique is of the very concept of objectivity. “Where do you stand to be outside of something?” goes the question. In its most extreme forms, no objectivity, no facts are possible. Everything we know is merely prejudice and point-of-view. One result of this model is the current point-of-view news reporting that the culture finds polarizing in the extreme. Orthodoxy does not embrace such a radical stance – but it would agree that it offers valuable insights.

The radical claims of the postmodern critique (such as those of the “Antifoundationalists“), are, it would seem, correct. There is no absolute objectivity. We have no where to stand outside the world in order to observe the world. But this radical critique is only suitable as a refutation of a radical claim. If the modern world does not make claims to absolute objectivity, but an objectivity that is reasonable and mutually-agreed, then the critique becomes little more than an artifact of philosophical logic. After all, reasonable and mutually-agreed forms of objectivity have successfully landed men on the moon. It may not be perfect, but it demonstrates its power outside the realm of philosophy.

I imagine Antifoundationalist scientists (if there were any) shaking their heads and saying, “A man on the moon? We can’t even agree on where the moon is!”

Modern Christianity has often adopted the model of “reasonable and mutually-agreed” forms of inquiry. Some of these efforts were monumental. The philosopher Emmanuel Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone is perhaps one of the watershed moments in modern religion. Despite such works of genius, the story of modern Christianity is one of continual fragmentation of the faith with ever-shrinking areas of agreement. Within religion, the modern project has failed.

It is this failure that lends strength to the postmodern critique of religious knowledge. It is this same failure that amplifies the place of Orthodoxy in the modern world. The Orthodox faith with its grounding in a pre-modern world, has never subjected itself to the constraints of modern rationalism. There has always been a recognition that the life of the Church is a reality, rooted in the very existence of God and His love for humanity, transcending our comprehension. There is nowhere to stand “outside” God in order to subject Him and His actions to rational analysis. We stand within His grace, His life, at all times. “For within Him we live, and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Orthodoxy contends that the faith cannot be understood from outside the living reality of the Church itself. This creates problems for the habits of modernity. Our modern habits want to consider claims, make comparisons and judgments, and weigh the options before we conclude anything. We want to subject our world to the habits of mutually agreed rationality. Orthodoxy can, of course, be studied in such a manner, and it’s claims concerning itself hold-up reasonably well. Historically, the Orthodox Church has continuity with itself going back to the earliest point of the Church’s beginning. The Roman Catholic Church (or the Oriental Orthodox) can, more or less, say the same. Orthodoxy continues to preach and teach and liturgize in a manner that is consistent with that continuity.

But claims concerning the “fullness of the faith” cannot be examined on the grounds of mutually agreed rationality. Such a reality (fullness) transcends rationality. More than this, the reality that is Orthodoxy, particularly as a “way of life,” does not function under the rubrics of a mutually-agreed rationality. Thus, how Orthodoxy understands God, how it reads the Scriptures, how it regulates its life and communicates the gospel (indeed the very gospel that it preaches) are not items for rational consideration. Here the kinship with postmodern thought is most apparent.

The understanding and knowledge of God, the reading of Scripture and such things cannot be seen or known from the outside. There is no adequate description for the nature of this life. The New Testament has a name for this life: the Church. The Church is not an organization or a movement. Despite the institutional aspects of its life that can be described and analyzed – its life remains opaque to those outside it. History has ravaged the institutional aspects associated with the Church. It’s buildings have been sporadically closed, gutted and turned into profane or heterodox structures; its members have been tortured and decimated; its hierarchy has at times been martyred and at times wooed by political leaders who sought to use them. There have been saints, heroes, martyrs, scoundrels, thieves and betrayers – the whole mix of humanity. But the inner life of the Church abides. Nothing has happened that so disrupted Orthodoxy that it became something other than itself. Life in the monasteries of Mt. Athos is not unlike the life there a millennium before.

Parish life has changed in many places. Modernity is no stranger within Orthodoxy – but its presence is felt. There is no seamless relationship between Orthodoxy and the modern world. It is not inaccurate to say that the greater modernity’s inroads are in the life of an Orthodox believer, the more opaque his own faith remains to him. For some, Orthodoxy simply seems like an alternate ethnic version of institutional Roman Catholicism.

However, the Orthodoxy of the sacraments, the relics, the icons, the monks, the music and the saints – in sum, the Orthodoxy of the inner life and experience of the Church remains foreign to the modern world. It is not inaccessible, but it requires a journey in order to reach it. That journey need not be to the Holy Mountain. It is best traveled as an inner journey to the heart. I should say that I have seen some who collect the accoutrements of Orthodoxy like a tourist’s souvenirs. Knowledge about things (regardless of how enculturated they may be in the faith) is not the same thing as the faith itself.

And this faith, because it is a way of life, does not yield to rational analysis. There are things that are known because you have been permeated by the liturgical cycle of the Church. The layers upon layers of meaning, reference, cross-reference, image, icon, shadow, text and hymn relate in what seems an infinite series of associations and connections. The result is a gradual flooding of the soul. A person finds that they have a place within that infinite series – gathered in the heart of Christ Himself and His redemptive work. The revelation that accompanies this way of life is not about an object or objects – not about an idea or ideas. Its epiphany is a revelation about the self that has been united beyond the self and become Christ’s Pascha.

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

From where I stand, I can see that there is way in that goes much further than I have come. I cannot see a way back.

 

 

 

 

 

72 Responses to “Where Orthodoxy Stands”

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  1. mary benton says:

    Father Stepehen,

    This is a marvelous and thought-provoking article. However, I had some trouble understanding your meaning in this paragraph:

    “Parish life has changed in many places. Modernity is no stranger within Orthodoxy – but its presence is felt. There is no seamless relationship between Orthodoxy and the modern world. It is not inaccurate to say that the greater modernity’s inroads are in the life of an Orthodox believer, the more opaque his own faith remains to him. For some, Orthodoxy simply seems like an alternate ethnic version of institutional Roman Catholicism.”

    I would be most grateful if you could clarify your meaning a bit. I’m not sure why it isn’t sinking in but several readings and I’m still puzzled. Thanks.

  2. Perry says:

    Thank you Father!

    “The Orthodox faith with its grounding in a pre-modern world, has never subjected itself to the constraints of modern rationalism.”

    I have been saying to Protestant friends that as a means of approaching the Godhead, reason is vastly over rated.

    You have stated it much more clearly and elegantly. This is a wonderful article.

  3. Anna says:

    Father, bless!

    The words “a gradual flooding of the soul” are inspired. For myself, I like the word “immersion” in order to signify the “knowledge” of Orthodoxy that we are supposed to acquire, as opposed to the supposedly objective way of knowing by standing outside things, as it were on the shore. But unlike immersion in water, this immersion in Orthodoxy permeates the soul (and the body, which is not left out) and transforms it, hence the “flooding”.

  4. davidp says:

    http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/carlton I thought Dr Clark Carlton compliments insight adds alot to Fr Stephen´s article. Check it out and click on “Understand the Modern and Post Modern Mind…part 1. Blessings,

    david

  5. dinoship says:

    Father,
    I am very grateful for your eloquent & succinct elucidation! I shall memorise the following in particular:
    “The understanding and knowledge of God, the reading of Scripture and such things cannot be seen or known from the outside. There is no adequate “description” for the nature of this life. The New Testament has a name for this life: the Church…
    …the inner life and experience of the Church remains foreign to the modern world. It is not inaccessible, but it requires a journey…
    …this way of life is not about an object or objects – not about an idea or ideas. Its epiphany is a revelation about the self that has been united beyond the self and become Christ’s Pascha.””

  6. henry says:

    I rejoice when a brother finds certainty in Christ. Yet I am troubled, since I am thoroughly post-modern in so many ways; a mid-20th century industrial man, a dinosaur in others. Once upon a time I had that kind of certainty in my faith. Now it is long gone. I listen to that brother in respectful silence and think, “This too will pass.”

    Another brother wrestling with the same dilemmas observed, “I believe in absolute truth, but how can I know absolute truth….absolutely?”

    Claims of the “fullness of faith” or the “fullness of grace” worry me. I have heard such claims many times from all sorts of Christians as well as those who do not name Christ as Lord. History indicates that such claims can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

    I have worked as an experimental engineer for many years. We are taught that we really can’t say where a data point lies on a graph with certainty. All experiments contain both systematic and random error. Really, our point is a small fuzzy blob. More money and math can make the fuzzy blob smaller, but we can never really claim it is a point.

    Physicists note that certain physical properties can not be measured at the same time. They even take uncertainty a step further declaring that experimental observation is actually a part of the experiment. How we construct the experiment, changes the outcome.

    I am part of the experiment. My understanding of the Faith has changed over the decades. Thirty five years ago I was so certain I was close to locking down truth. Today my confession, my hope, my prayer is, “His Grace is sufficient. May His strength be made perfect in my weakness.”

  7. SteveL says:

    My concern is that this same argument can be made by any cult. “Trust us, it’s great in here! You just have to experience it!” The internet is littered with blogs describing the harrowing experiences of people who thought they were doing the will of God, only to be fleeced.

    To me, lately, I’ve been asking myself, “In what ways has Orthodoxy proved itself trustworthy?” Because there is a lot of rah-rah to get a person into Orthodoxy, and once I was in and started wondering why things were so messed up, I was basically told my expectations were unrealistic. There was so little attempt by anyone, the priests, converts, etc. in warning me about the downsides that I cannot imagine I’m the only one. But Orthodoxy is trustworthy on doctrine and the Eucharist, so I’m staying.

  8. fatherstephen says:

    Mary,
    I probably could have phrased it better… The modern world has certainly crept into Orthodox parishes in many ways – our people (priests like me included) live in a culture that is formed and shaped in the modern world view. We can help but bring it with us to Church. One way that looks is our tendency to see the Church as a place to go and accomplish our religious duties. The sacraments are “shrunk” into Holy Things in such a setting. So we go and get our blessings and return “to the real world” (for so our modern minds think). Instead, Orthodoxy should see the Church not as a “religion shop” or “institution,” but as the Gate of Heaven transforming everything around. The sacraments point not just to themselves, or only to God, but to the entire relationship we have with God. “The whole world is sacrament.” There is no “real” world to which we return – for the world revealed to us in the sacraments is, in fact, the “real” world. In our culture, I pointed to the Roman Catholic Church, when viewed in an institutional manner as an example of this. It need not be viewed that way, but very often is. I only used that example because people are very familiar with it – it’s the sacramental Church you see in the movies. Protestant Churches don’t even get as far as that – they’re “meeting houses.” I meant no critique of Rome per se, only to use a familiar example. The modern world absolutely wants to reduce the Church to it’s four walls and reduce our faith into something that happens inside the building. It wants to claim that it, itself, is the real world and that religion is merely a “frill” or a luxury, a mental construct. Hope that helps.

  9. fatherstephen says:

    I like Dr. Carlton’s work. He is a fellow Tennessean and a good friend.

  10. fatherstephen says:

    Henry,
    It’s hard to be certain about the data point, but do you doubt that entire context where the data point exists? I think that is the contention of the article – that the “fullness” is the whole thing and that the whole thing is permeated with God, shaped by Christ’s Pascha. Sometimes the modern world’s data points are just to small. I cannot be certain of Orthodoxy as a data point. That’s sort of the problem about denominationalism – things are made into opinions and points. Orthodoxy is simply “everything.” Never anything less.

    On facebook recently, someone suggested that the Orthodox Church claims to have begun at Pentecost. I said, “No, it began at creation, Adam was the firsts priest.” This is actually more accurate theologically. The Church, ultimately, is the whole of creation and not an institution. “Adam,” as first man, is priest of creation, created to offer God thanks always for all things. His naming of the animals, for instance, is a profoundly priestly act. But instead, he eats the only thing in all creation for which he could not give thanks, for it was the only thing that had not been given him to eat. The first sin is to cease being a priest, to eat without thanks, to turn creation into a “thing that is good itself,” rather than receiving it as the gift of God.

    My task as an Orthodox Christian (just “Christian” if you prefer) is to live the priesthood that is restored to us in Christ, giving thanks always for all things unto God. When everything is properly perceived as the Church, certitude is less of a question. I just walk and live in the Church always and give thanks. No data points.

  11. fatherstephen says:

    Steve,
    I’m not certain about the “rah rah.” For myself, I was very clear about the “downsides” before I converted. And I think that I’m very clear in catechetical situations about this as well. I think in the process of conversion, it is very easy not to hear statements about downsides (not unlike the warnings we’re given about marriage). My own thought would be to say, “Don’t expect life in the Church to be better than marriage” :) That would be realistic (even Scriptural).

    But freedom remains. We are created free in Christ. No one constrains us to be Orthodox – and we only remain so because we freely choose to be (like marriage). Cults not only make outlandish claims, they emotionally and psychologically seek to constrain us. Orthodoxy has persisted through centuries, not because it has constrained, but despite its lack of constraint. Why do people remain Orthodox when doing so would have gotten them killed? Were the Orthodox in Russia aware that some priests and bishops were collaborating with the KGB? Of course. And they were not constrained, but they remained. What they perceived was the reality of the Church that somehow exists beyond the scandals of man. I think that if Orthodoxy existed and had no scandals it would be weird in the extreme. There are no scandal-free anythings. There is only scandal that is known and scandal that is not known. On scandals, Christ says this (I am translating the word “offense” here as “scandal” for the Greek is the word “skandalon”).

    Woe to the world because of scandals! For scandals must come, but woe to that man by whom the scandal comes! (Matt. 18:7)

    “Scandals must come.” Those are the words of Christ. There will not be a time until His coming that the world and the Church are free of scandals. It’s His promise. :) “Woe to the Church that claims to be scandal-free.” Such a Church would not be one with which Christ is familiar. As a causer of scandal, I take His words to heart and beg for His mercy.

  12. PJ says:

    Father,

    You write, “On Facebook recently, someone suggested that the Orthodox Church claims to have begun at Pentecost. I said, ‘No, it began at creation, Adam was the firsts priest.'”

    I’m reminded of a verse from the Shepherd of Hermas:

    “Now, brethren, a revelation was made unto me in my sleep by a youth of exceeding fair form, who said to me, “Whom thinkest thou the aged woman, from whom thou receivedst the book, to be?” I say, “The Sibyl” “Thou art wrong,” saith he, “she is not.” “Who then is she?” I say. “The Church,” saith he. I said unto him, “Wherefore then is she aged?” “Because,” saith he, “she was created before all things; therefore is she aged; and for her sake the world was framed” (8:1).

  13. John Shores says:

    The Orthodox faith… has never subjected itself to the constraints of modern rationalism.

    Is there then another kind of rationality from which it sprung? There is little point in any writings of any church fathers (or in any homily or sermon) except as an attempt to explain the faith in a way that seems reasonable either for the purpose of evangelizing or teaching those on the inside.

    Orthodoxy contends that the faith cannot be understood from outside the living reality of the Church itself… the Orthodoxy of the inner life and experience of the Church remains foreign to the modern world.

    I’m a white guy. I had always thought myself to be open-minded and understanding. My friends have always been of various races.

    Many years ago, I was at work and chilling out with my fellow Air Force Medics. I mentioned a story I had heard on the radio about a man who had been arrested for murder in Saginaw (the closest city to where we were stationed). My friend Gina asked, “Was he black?” to which I replied, “Does it matter?” She said, “Yes, it does.” Gina is black and her comments caught me off guard. She went on to explain that when a black man is trotted out on the news as a criminal, the entire “black community” feels a sense of shame and embarrassment.

    I thought this was a bunch of pish-posh – until I fell in love with my wife who is also black. Over the course of a couple years, my definition of a “beautiful woman” changed; she had become the ideal against which I compared all other women. It was only then that I began to comprehend how white I am. My perception of the world excluded the “inside knowledge” that I began to gain from being in love with her. I began to also realize how white our society is in general. And eventually I began to understand Gina’s comments. There is, to this day, an undercurrent in our society that denigrates black people. I could point to facts (e.g. ever notice how often it is a black man who is the first to be killed in a movie?) but facts can be dismissed by people on the outside. The reality is that you cannot understand something unless you are on the inside. You cannot determine whether or not Disneyland’s Star Tours is a good ride just by watching people’s reactions. You’ll never know until you ride the ride.

    I think this is the point that you are making.

    That said, the question that springs to mind is, “Is it even possible for anyone in any religion to claim to be the way to god?”. How can one make such a claim unless they have been in other religions and truly understood them from the inside? And how can one find the truth unless they have searched each religion from the the inside? To say that “the Holy Spirit reveals all truth” is an insider view from Christianity. An insider from Islam will have another take, as will a Buddhist or a Wiccan.

    The thing is, just as I had no idea how white I was (and still am), most people have no idea how their viewpoints and ideologies are not as informed as they may think. An Orthodox Christian who understands Protestantism from the inside is able to compare the two. A Christian who has never been inside Islam or Judaism (etc.), on the other hand cannot even make an honest assessment between the two except by the use of a “postmodern critique.”

    As StevenL says:

    this same argument can be made by any cult. “Trust us, it’s great in here! You just have to experience it!”

    (I wonder how much of the “postmodern critique” is a reaction by people who have been duped and abused by religious groups…)

  14. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores,
    It’s a very good point. The modern context includes a multicultural world – not Buddhism in the abstract – but with a temple down the street and Buddhist friends at work.

    A problem of the postmodern world is that it would ask everyone to hold everything in a “relative” manner. To not hold Orthodoxy as the Truth, is to not hold Orthodoxy, or to hold it in such a nuanced manner that I do not really hold it. If I do not hold Orthodoxy to be the Truth, then I’m holding something else to be the Truth. We have to live somewhere. Of course, we could try to live everywhere as though it’s not the Truth, to embrace the world lightly. But it would be loving your wife at arms length instead of as the Truth you know her to be. We have to live.

    I would suppose that every “way” of life that someone leads, whether Islam, Buddhist, Orthodox, etc., they lead it as the Truth, or the path to the Truth, or they wouldn’t bother leading it. It is certainly how I live my Orthodoxy. But accepting Orthodoxy as the Truth, is not to be confused with thinking myself to be the Truth. The Truth of my faith tells me not to kill or hurt, not to judge. Another man’s path is his path, and God alone knows how he will be saved. That Orthodoxy is the path to salvation, I believe. How that path may be woven into another man’s life, God alone knows. All I can share is what I’ve been given to share. But just because I do not know what God is doing in another man’s life doesn’t prevent me from sharing what I have and sharing it as the Truth.

    In my response to Henry, I wrote about the Church as being the whole of creation. That makes it possible to speak in this manner.

    But what Orthodoxy says, including its self-description as the Truth, is not a means of comparing itself or competing with others. When it’s used that way it changes it’s meaning. I wrote on this some time back. I recommend the article, particularly Part I as an explanation of how these words should be understood.

  15. PJ says:

    “That said, the question that springs to mind is, “Is it even possible for anyone in any religion to claim to be the way to god?.”

    It’s an outrageous claim, isn’t it? A vivid sense of “shock and awe” pulses through the patristic writings, especially those of the first four or five centuries. The fathers are constantly in a state of, shall we say, “joyful bewilderment,” as they consider the revelation of Jesus Christ.

    That fact that Christians are no longer astounded by their faith’s confounding claim — that the Son of God became man so that men might become sons of God — just goes to show the sterility of the modern church.

    We Christians claim to be sons and daughters of God, participants in the Divine Nature, heirs of all that exists. If you aren’t astounded — you aren’t thinking.

    “LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him, or the son of man, that thou makest account of him” (Psalm 144:3).

  16. PJ says:

    “I would suppose that every “way” of life that someone leads, whether Islam, Buddhist, Orthodox, etc., they lead it as the Truth, or the path to the Truth, or they wouldn’t bother leading it. ”

    No, I don’t think this is the case. It seems that many people in my generation (early part of Y) are totally oblivious to Truth. They are somehow immune to the desire which gripped me in childhood: to discern the Reality of Realities. If they believe the Truth exists, they don’t think it can be known for sure. They manage even to be blase about their agnosticism. They aren’t proud about their lack of wisdom: they’re more ironical, even coy. They oscillate between hedonism and cynicism. It’s a sad state.

  17. Steve L says:

    Then it was my fault. I was not clear about the downsides before I converted. I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to believe. Now, I regret that.

  18. PJ says:

    Steve,

    It’s hard to imagine what could be so bad as to exercise you thusly. If you are really suffering, simply move parishes. I’m not one for parish shopping, but sometimes it’s necessary to move: Some churches are downright unhealthy and unorthodox, and oftentimes they cannot be fixed.

  19. fatherstephen says:

    Steve,
    I think this is almost always the way of things. It creates a disappointment within us – but, I think it’s a false disappointment – not to discount the fact that it hurts – for it does. But, like marriage, we always wake up to the fact that life, though good, is not perfect (nor is our spouse). But we do not need to be disappointed, or even to regret decisions we’ve made. Only to regret the fact that we do not always live with “eyes-wide-open” (no one does). But as our eyes do open, we should not flee the scandal (for there is no where to flee where there will not be scandal). But we run deeper into Christ and, hopefully, deeper into a greater understanding of the Church, such that we not only survive scandal, but we help others as well. Some of what you feel, no doubt, is the anger that comes with disappointment. If you let it, it will pass. God give us grace.

  20. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    Some of the great existentialist philosophers would say that they fail to live authentically. Alas, we cannot all live in Paris!

  21. PJ says:

    Hey, no one’s perfect. I’m just asking for something more than “meh” and a shoulder shrug from my fellow children of the Millennium.

  22. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    I think Steve is referring to scandals and things larger than the parish. We’ve had difficulties in the past few years within Orthodoxy in America.

  23. PJ says:

    Father,

    It’s possible that Steve is in a seriously dysfunctional parish though, isn’t it? Every congregation has its problems, but there are cases that cross the line into spiritual abuse and disease. No? Certainly, our first instinct shouldn’t be, “Blame the pastor/parish!”, but church life can be vicious if Christ is not at the center.

  24. SteveL says:

    PJ,

    My parish is fine. It’s the other stuff that concerns me, the stuff I did not see at the parish level. The truth claims start above the parish level (e.g. the bishop is the Church), and trickle down.

  25. PJ says:

    Oh, I didn’t realize. Sorry.

  26. fatherstephen says:

    Steve,
    I think it’s also the case that we “hear” the downsides that are given to us, but that they don’t register. Theory and practice are very different experiences. I converted in the teeth of a scandal in 1997-98 that affected my situation directly. It was hard, but perhaps it needed to be that way for me.

  27. PJ says:

    Well, it’s nothing new, Steve …

    “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” –St. John Chrysostom

    ;-)

  28. Steve L says:

    PJ,
    You couldn’t have known, there’s nothing to apologize for.

  29. Steve L says:

    I am currently retracing my steps. I wasn’t objective when I came in. I was pretty resentful at the Protestant churches for not living up to my expectations. No one knew that, not my priests, and I didn’t consider that particular resentment as something that should sway me. If anything it fueled my desire to join Orthodoxy.

    I want to add scare quotes to “not living up to my expectations” because it was an immature point of view, and insofar that anyone still fails to “live up to my expectations” I am still immature.

  30. Steve L says:

    Also, I want to be clear: Orthodoxy has not abused me. I don’t consider it a cult. Orthodoxy has been very good to me. However, that has very little to do with the truth claims the bishops are offering.

  31. John Shores says:

    Steve – it was (yet another) church scandal that led me to the path that ultimately drove me away from faith.

    It wasn’t that I didn’t think that church leaders are infallible. I think my biggest issue was a kind of self-delusion that “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” meant what it said.

    What I discovered was not “a new creature” but rather the same old creature in different clothes. If god were to change a koala into a dolphin, one would not find the dolphin on a branch eating eucalyptus leaves. The whole notion of a “new creation” seemed to be lacking in evidence.

    This led me to asking whether or not I could be moral on my own without the aid of Christianity. Thus far, I am certainly no worse than I was when I held to a faith. But then, I never had the benefit of even semi-rational theology or even encountering church leaders who are able to think and communicate as clearly as I am finding within this community.

    I am not entirely sure that I should have taken 2 cor 5:17 so literally. I think that doing so has led to all manner of expectations that, frankly, are unreasonable. Perhaps this is simply a side-effect of having been raised in the anarchy of Protestantism.

  32. Steve L says:

    John,

    I couldn’t be driven away from faith. I was a Christian before Orthodoxy, and I don’t doubt the goodness of God. If anything, for me, scandal reinforces the goodness of God. He is better than any bishop.

    I agree with you on 2 Cor 5:17. It’s a toughie, though.

  33. PJ says:

    “I am not entirely sure that I should have taken 2 cor 5:17 so literally.”

    Well, if you were expecting to turn into an koala … ;-)

    What does it mean to be a “new creature”? This is a deep mystery. It refers not so much to behavior as to a way of existence. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

    Those who put on Christ put on charity, tender-mercies, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, meekness, pure language, hope, peace, sobriety, chastity. But more importantly, they enter into a eucharistic existence — a life characterized by the constant offering-up of the self as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). They participate in the eternal sacrifice of Christ, in which and through which all creation is sanctified and redeemed.

    This transformation — this metanoia — can happen instantly or take decades. For some, it is not outwardly (perhaps not even inwardly) apparent until they stand before the Father in the Son. But the promise of the Father never fails — the pledge of the Word is never violated — the pact of the Spirit never broken. Those who are truly in Christ *are* new creatures, to the glory of God, amen!

  34. fatherstephen says:

    Yeah, I’ve got the old dead man down pat. I drag him around and he stinks up the place… But if there were no “new man,” I’m not sure I’d even be aware of the old, dead one. The “new man” who exists in the image of Christ is present, but it takes a lot of discernment sometimes to be able to see him.

    If it were as clear as “literally” then the arguments, discussions, and the journey would be over. We would just see Christian saints around us, etc. Obviously Paul had something else in mind when he said this. Based on his letters, it looked a lot like what we have at present.

  35. John Shores says:

    Well, if you were expecting to turn into an koala…

    Don’t I wish!

  36. Michael Bauman says:

    Ah the seemingly idyllic life of the koala…trouble is that God made us to be in dominion over even the koalas and their life as idyllic as it may seem is far short of what it could be if we would allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into that ‘new man’

    I settle for so little, even worse than Esau really. I don’t usually get a pot of porriage out of it.

    What ever someone else does need not determine what we do.

    That was, in part, Jesus point in telling Peter not to worry about what He had in store for John.

    If our leaders are weak or worse, it is not plesant and can be hurtful and difficult. I’ve seen people react to such leaders and fall away. I’ve also seen people, as Fr. Stephen says, go more deeply into Christ. I’m not sure how I could do that in a non-liturgical/sacramental tradition, but in the Orthodox Church it means examining my own heart more deeply, confessing my sins, partaking of the Eucharist and the on-going work of forgiveness. Almsgiving and fasting are both hard works for me. Praying for those in authority, not at them, for for them.

  37. fatherstephen says:

    Koala….very mellow bear…

  38. Andrew says:

    Indeed. The koala’s relationship with the eucalyptus tree rightly ought to be examined Father…It is after all, a tree…What would Pascha look like for a koala?

  39. Andrew says:

    Or to a koala, I should say…

  40. John Shores says:

    Ah the seemingly idyllic life of the koala…trouble is that God made us to be in dominion over even the koalas…

    Too right, mate!! That is the trouble. Seems we drew the short straw there. We should have never come down from the trees ourselves…

  41. SteveL says:

    The koala’s life is still brutish and short, especially with human development into their habitats. I saw a PBS special on it once.

  42. SteveL says:

    John Shore:
    I wonder what St. John Chrysostom said on your 2 Cor. verse.

  43. SteveL says:

    Shores. Sorry.

  44. SteveL says:

    John Shores:

    I’ve looked up what St. John Chrysostom said on 2 Cor. 5:17 in his homilies on 2 Cor, but it’s not as helpful as I’d like (he spends very little time on it there). However, he does spend some time on it in his homilies on John:

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/240126.htm

    I think this is a verse I’ve struggled with as well. Chrysostom discusses what our old creature deserved (hell, punishment, separation with God), and what occurs for the new creature: heaven, the indwelling Holy Spirit, even the possibility of overcoming sin, which is impossible in the Old Testament.

    One thing Paul never promises is improvement in one’s behavior. Paul spends a ton of time on the Corinthians behavior, so whoever gave you the impression that being saved was going to immediately help was so, so wrong.

    So hopefully this helps, I’m attempting to write it in a spirit of helpfulness, and not preachiness, at least. I need new perspectives everyday to keep from getting bogged down. It’s so easy for me to get stuck on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation, myself.

  45. Andrew says:

    We should have never come down from the trees ourselves…

    Climb back up you mean, surely son of man?

  46. Peter says:

    @Henry
    Werner Heisenberg gets pulled over for speeding. The cop asks him “Do you know how fast you were going?” “No, but I know where I am”, says Heisenberg.
    Postmodernist thought might share a thread with Orthodoxy in its recognition of fallenness in the created order. Does our inability to create or observe a straight line lead us to believe with certainty that a straight line doesn’t exist? If a straight platonic line can exist only in the intelligible realm, does that not transcend the fallen, created realm?
    How much more then does the Truth yet transcend our intelligible, discursive capacity?
    We must not get too caught up in this world. It is fraught with uncertainty, but is imbued by God with a rational quality that we might attain to His likeness through faith.
    If we were absolutely certain, we would be intellectually forced to believe, but God respects our freedom and does not force or coerce us. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

  47. Brian Van Sickle says:

    SteveL,

    For what it’s worth, I know where you’re coming from when you write about those (thankfully few) who sort of ‘sell’ Orthodoxy and try to convert others almost as if it were an ideology (such as liberal or conservative) that is smarter, truer, better, more ‘right’…you name it…than every other Christian tradition. I’m glad it didn’t keep you from the Truth Himself, and I’m grateful that such an attitude has no place on this blog.

  48. dinoship says:

    “Is it even possible for anyone in any religion to claim to be the way to god?”
    reminds me of the unbelievable “research” of the autobiographer of a book (german originally, I read the Greek translation) called “thousands of miles to the place of the heart” by Kenneth Klaus.
    It is very harsh but in a nutshell is the story of someone who tried in absolute depth all religions and ended up Orthodox…
    He started Catholic but had to try all non Christian religions -before coming to Christian denominations- first (an equivalent of a monk in all Islam, Hindu, Buddhist etc etc…) as he hated Christianity having been repeatedly raped as a child by a priest belonging to Catholicism.
    He came to Orthodoxy at the end of his life, and is still alive, through Elder Sophrony.

  49. Andrew says:

    JS,

    If I may. This delightful allegory well illustrates the limitations of human observation and objectivity.

    Enjoy!

    Andrew

  50. SteveL says:

    What I meant by rah-rah .. well, it encompasses a few things:

    First, those who argue for the truth of Orthodoxy endeavor to put it in the best light possible. Even if they mention “of course so-and-so are sinners, too” there is very little light shown on any really seriously negative aspects of Orthodoxy. No blog ever begins, “Let me tell you about the time when this particular Orthodox organization in X country become so absolutely corrupt it wasn’t funny. I tell it to you as a warning and something to learn from if you ever have to deal with it.”

    Secondly, there’s sometimes a focus on the fantastical. Divine light, flames sprouting from fingers, etc. 99% of Orthodox Christians, no matter how much they practice theosis, will ever experience anything of the sort. Most will die finding a peace with God and themselves and their brothers that will still be enviable, however.

  51. mary benton says:

    Father Stephen,

    The clarification you gave me (many comments ago) was very helpful. I wasn’t at all offended by your reference to the RC Church – I just didn’t get what you meant. Now I do and I agree wholeheartedly.

    It seems to be one of the challenges of church as an organization – start erecting buildings, creating hierarchy, etc. and often people start treating Church as church. I go to church like I go to work or the store.

    However, without the organization and hierarchy, there is a loss of continuity in many Protestant Christian churches. Whatever human organizations we have, they cannot themselves be Church (note the scandals). Yet any of them, even the poorly organized, CAN be Church if approached with a pure heart.

    Added note to Steve L.,

    I am not familiar with the scandals of the Orthodox church but I am quite familiar with those in the RC church – and they are hard to beat.

    I suspect that the joy of a conversion experience can often set one up for some disappointment because human frailties always make themselves known. I have known many who dropped AA because they saw hypocrisy among some of its members – and they did not get sober as a result.

    Getting “sober” requires us to look past the hypocrisies and sins of our fellow church members (even in the leadership – they are sinners too) and stay focused on the truth that draws us to believe with a community. While a Christian before, it sounds like you saw something in Orthodox teaching that drew your more deeply into a life in Christ. I hope the faults of others do not distract you from that journey.

  52. henry says:

    Peter

    Thanks for the Heisenberg joke. I will use it at work.

    Your post reminded me Wittgenstein believed that language could only represent the phenomenal. Verbalization could not be used to describe the unknowable. His quote “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,” Ultimately, from the little I have read about old Ludwig, it seems that in an attempt to define the world in a web of words, he negated the value of the tools he was using in the attempt.

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply. I am left with the question, How do I argue with a man of God lost in his love of the Bridegroom?

  53. fatherstephen says:

    Steve,
    One of the rules for my blog, is to refrain from discussing Church scandals. And there are a number of other similar rules. The meaning of “scandal” in the Greek is “stumbling block.” These things make people stumble and fall, even the innocent. There are such blogs (scandal sheets). Any history book is replete with the scandals within those times. This information isn’t hidden. As I’ve stated earlier, good catechesis, in a proper pastoral setting does do this.
    I agree there can be an overemphasis on the fantastic – or an emphasis that only dwells on the fantastic. That’s a lack of sobriety. Some ethnic groups within American Orthodoxy (and some convert groups as well) seem overly fascinated with such things. Both are functions of culture. The meaning of “flames sprouting from fingers” (St. Macarius), is not about “hey, flames!” but “why not become all fire!” Which is a completely different matter.
    I’ll take a peaceful end…last time I checked it was what we pray for. May God make the burden in your heart lighter.

  54. SteveL says:

    I don’t expect your blog to become a discussion board for scandals. I honestly don’t think the “scandal sheets” are really helpful. They are so, so rancorous and there is very little sobriety found there. When I read them I have “a plague on both your houses” reaction to both the bishops and the scandal sheets.

    What I long for is a tutorial of “how not to become scandalized when you see crazy stuff.” Just reading the history books, on my own, would not teach me that. It would include case studies from the past, how the laity responded (i.e. “Did the laity go nuts over this particular decision? Was that helpful? Why or why not?”), and how things moved forward.

  55. PJ says:

    Steve,

    As a Catholic who loves the Church very deeply, I can obviously sympathize with your pain. There is scandal everywhere in Catholicism: from ridiculously impious liturgies to abusive priests to nuns in open rebellion against the bishops to a laity that is largely ignorant and widely disinterested in the substance of the faith.

    However, even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that the Church has always been full of scandal and disappointment. Christ was betrayed by one of his best friends. Most of his other closest comrades turned their backs on him. Perhaps that’s worth meditating on. Keep praying.

  56. SteveL says:

    PJ,

    That is helpful. I am saddened, but I am trying to work on the things I can control: praying, trying to be more kind to my family, paying attention to the little, joyful things in life.

  57. Fr. Stephen says:

    Steve,
    That’s a helpful summary of real needs. I’ve been thinking this morning about a possible post on the topic. I think it might be of use to many of us.

  58. PJ says:

    And, surely, the greatest scandal in all churches is the lack of charity which befalls us all sometimes. As GK Chesterton wrote, the greatest argument against Christianity is Christians.

  59. Burckhardtfan says:

    Dear father,

    I am thinking seriously about converting to Orthodoxy. Can you recommend any books/resources that will help me make a decision, i.e. especially for an evangelical Protestant like myself? Most importantly, do you know of any Orthodox books that make a case on why it is the true Church and the ‘ground and pillar of truth’? I suppose I’m asking you to CONVINCE ME why it’s worth looking into Orthodoxy. God bless!

    P. S. I say this because I’m very dissatisfied with Evangelicalism. But I need to be sure that, whether I stay a Protestant or convert to Orthodoxy, I will be making the right decision.

  60. Westy Goes East says:

    I don’t want to speak for Father Stephen, but I converted to the Orthodox Church almost two years ago, from a non-denominational charismatic evangelical church (and Presbyterian before that from my childhood), and these are some books that really helped me:

    Father Thomas Hopko’s “Orthodox Faith” series. There are four volumes, but they’re not very thick books (it sounds daunting when you say “there are four volumes”).

    Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy Ware) has two great books, “The Orthodox Church” and “The Orthodox Way”.

    Father Peter Gillquist’s “Becoming Orthodox”.

    I only read Archimandrite Meletios Webber’s wonderful book “Bread and Water, Wine and Oil” over the past summer, but it seemed to me that it would have helped me in my journey to Orthodoxy.

    Anything by Father Alexander Schmemann, especially “For the Life of the World”.

    Matthew Gallatin’s “Thirsting for God in the Land of Shallow Wells”. (This book’s title is the perfect metaphor for how I ended up feeling in the land of evangelicalism.)

    Dr Peter Bouteneff’s “Sweeter Than Honey”.

    I’m sure that’s much more info than you wanted, but hopefully there’s something helpful there.

    May the Holy Spirit guide you in your journey!

  61. the pilgrim says:

    My suggestion would be frederica Matthews Greene’s book “Facing East.”. It is one person’s personal story of her journey into Orfhodoxy.

  62. fatherstephen says:

    Coming from an Evangelical background, the best, most readable place to start is Gillquist’s “Becoming Orthodox”. The great standard introduction to Orthodoxy in English is still Met. Kallistos’ (Timothy) Ware’s The Orthodox Church, the small book the Orthodox Way is also good. Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World” is perhaps the best introduction and reflection on the sacramental life – the heart of Orthodoxy. Gallatin’s “Thirsting for God…” also mentioned is the reflection of an evangelical who is now an ORthodox priest. Clark Carlton’s series is good, particularly, The Way.

  63. Ioann says:

    Father, I was wondering if you could help me with a question, as you have time, and this post seemed like the best place to ask it.

    I’ve been in dialogue with a close Anglican friend over the claim of the Orthodox Church to be the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”, and tried to explain this in terms of the idea of “fullness” – that the Orthodox Church has alone preserved, taught, and lived the fullness of the Christian faith (which doesn’t mean that the Anglican Church has no truth, just that they’ve strayed from the fullness of the faith).

    The question now, though, is, “Of what does this fullness consist?” Or put another way, if the difference between Orthodoxy and heterodox churches is that the Orthodox keep and live the true Christian tradition, where do we draw the line between capital “T” Tradition and little “t” tradition? Surely the “fullness” of the true Church does not mean keeping an extensive set of rules touching on every part of Church life – how to prepare for communion, the beardedness of priests, the tones that we sing in… but surely all these do have something to do with “fullness”?

    I don’t think I’m asking this very well, but perhaps you could steer me in the right direction?

  64. fatherstephen says:

    Ioann,
    Many things are clearly more important than others – but the nature of the “fullness” is, to a degree, not needing to be terribly concerned about tagging all of them. Tradition is a living ethos, an environment in which doctrine, Scripture, the fathers, iconography, liturgies, music, devotional practices, etc., all work together as the place where we are formed and birthed into the fullness of the faith. It will vary in small ways from culture to culture, but still have that same fullness.

    In Protestantism, including Anglicanism, everything has been subjected to reason at some point. Things are removed that, at the time, seem less useless. In time things lose their context. Modern Christians have lost the living context of their faith and see it distorted repeatedly through ignorance.

    From the outside, the non-Orthodox will never see what we see from the inside. Orthodoxy cannot be “cherry-picked” as some Anglicans (and a few others) would like to do. It is the whole of a life, within a Whole Life. Beards are very minor things. Some priests don’t have them and nothing particularly is lost. If that became the norm, I think something would be lost, but I’m not certain what it is. I watched over the period of 30-40 years as Anglicans, to a large extent, jettisoned many “minor things” of their “tradition.” Now they can’t get them back and the whole ship seems to be sailing off a cliff. In fact, the ship looks fairly silly as the most extreme anti-traditionalists dress themselves up like medieval bishops and pretend to be the apostolic church.

  65. Burckhardtfan says:

    Dear Father Stephen,

    I am seriously considering converting to Orthodoxy. Bur there is one important issue I need to resolve before I can fully make my mind up. Since we’re on the subject of Orthodoxy’s relationship to the modern world, I have one question to ask you:

    What is the Orthodox Church’s attitude to the theory of evolution? Specifically, how does an Orthodox Christian square the findings of modern biology (i.e. primate descent of humans) and paleontology (i.e. that death has existed LONG before human beings existed). From what I understand of Orthodox theology, human sin somehow corrupted God’s creation. But how can this be, as animal/plant death has been around before human beings even existed? All scientific evidence shows a world that’s been at war with itself from the very beginning. There is nothing ‘idyllic’ about the world before the first homo sapiens. I know this question is not you specialty, but it’s a major obstacle to my conversion. I don’t want to make a decision to enter the church only to be forced to make a decision between either faith or science.

  66. fatherstephen says:

    Burckhardtfan,
    Orthodoxy has no “official” position on evolution. There are, among the Orthodox, those who criticize various aspects of evolutionary theory. Those criticisms vary in form and sophistication. Nonetheless, there is no “official” critique of evolutionary theory. There is a short article on the topic here that whose link I’ve included. It is written by Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev who is also a professor at Moscow University. There is a very clear, balanced article on the topic in OrthodoxWiki.

    As an Orthodox Christian you would be free to debate the topic, think about it however seems most plausibly, etc. You’d find some who agree with you and some who disagree with you. Hope that’s helpful.

  67. dinoship says:

    Burckhardtfan,

    you might find this answer by Metropolitan Kalistos quite helpful:

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