America and the Perversion of Christianity

Many people in our modern cultures have only a vague or non-existent knowledge of history. This is especially true of Americans. The downside of such ignorance should seem obvious. Most modern Christians have very little acquaintance with Christian history – and strangely – even less with modern Christian history. Though some might be aware of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, or even the Great Schism, they know almost nothing about American Church history over the past two-centuries, much less the utter dominance that history has in much of present-day Christianity. I offer three examples coming from that history – with the general point that many things people take for granted (within Protestant, Catholic and even Orthodox circles), have a very questionable origin, and in some cases represent a hi-jacking of the Christian gospel.

Background

The importance of evangelism is taken as an essential element of the gospel by virtually all modern Christians. The importance of “sharing the faith” would be met with universal agreement – even if the content of that faith would not. Strangely, evangelism was not a common topic in Christian writing and discourse prior to the 19th century.

A revolution in evangelism took place as a result of two religious movements: the First and Second Great Awakenings. The First, beginning in the mid-18th century in both Europe and British America, was largely confined to Churches and represented a movement of renewal and “enthusiasm.” It emphasized the importance and power of immediate, personal religious experience. Many aspects of this movement (particularly the “Whigs” in British political life) eventually brought about a transformation of culture in addressing many social ills (slavery, women’s suffrage, alcoholism, etc.). The movement challenged the established Churches. In New England, Congregationalist Churches saw 98 schisms within this period, as divisions between “New Lights” (those who favored the new preaching and the emotional quality of religion) and the “Old Lights” (traditionalists who preferred a more doctrinal, sacramental approach) fell out with one another. At the same time, non-establishment groups, such as the Baptists, began to multiply across the Southern colonies at the expense of the more establishment-minded Anglican and Presbyterian Churches.

The Second Great Awakening, beginning in the early 19th century, turned more strongly away from established Churches. It’s revival-style preaching was, in many respects, “para-Church,” often having no association with any particular denomination or parish. Many of its leaders, though nominally ordained within denominational structures, operated independently. Large revivals and “Camp Meetings” were a hallmark of the movement. Those groups that were able to conform themselves to the shape and content of the movement benefitted greatly (primarily Baptists and Methodists).

The Imperative for Evangelism

Both movements shared a growing theology of personal experience. True Christianity was increasingly identified with a describable experience, marked by strong emotion, a deep sense of personal sin, and a confidence in God’s forgiveness. Sacramental theology was devalued in the extreme (hence the rapid growth in Churches practicing adults-only Baptism). The First Great Awakening had as its “target” audience, those who were already “churched.” The Second focused more strongly on the “unchurched.” Para-church revivals and tent meetings quickly gave rise to new frontier Churches. New denominations arose (the Restoration Movement is a notable example).

The result was a new imperative for the Christian: evangelism. The proclamation of the gospel now meant the proclamation of a message geared towards a specific experience with a specific result. The audience included both the churched and the unchurched. The social movements associated with these revivals were interpreted as manifestations of the Spirit. Revivalism, in a wide variety of forms became the hallmark of modern Christianity. The variety of “renewal” programs across Protestant denominations is almost legion. The mega-church is specifically designed by modern revival technology and media-savvy. The Roman Catholic Church has a history of revival within its own modern history. The charismatic movement within Catholicism as well as Cursillo and other efforts (regardless of their Catholic origin) make use of revival-inspired technique.

The Imperative for Mission

Christ told His disciples, “Go into all the world and make disciples….” The missionary imperative that has become a standard in modern Christianity was certainly a major part of the life of the early Church. Every reachable continent was evangelized. The Church in Ethiopia is Apostolic in origin. The Church of Georgia and Armenia as well as Ireland and Scotland point to mission beyond the bounds of empire. Nestorian Christians had a very significant presence in China in the latter part of the first millennium. The Church of India traces its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle. Missionaries traveled, proclaimed the gospel and often died as martyrs as part of their efforts.

In the Colonial Age, mission took on another role. Missionaries became tools for “civilization” as well as supports for the spread of empire. On occasion these efforts created some of the saddest points in Christian history. The evangelization of Native Americans comes especially to mind (in contrast with an almost ideal evangelization of Native Alaskans by the Russian Orthodox).

America made its own contribution to this period. The 19th century was both a time of “revival” in American Protestantism, but also a time of American expansion across the world. The Monroe Doctrine (1823) declared the Western Hemisphere to be America’s sphere of influence, exclusive of European powers. The same doctrine led to the war with Spain at the end of that century and the acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and Cuba (for a time).

Protestant denominations in America began missionary work in Central and South America early in the 20th century. Articles from that period document the clear understanding that Protestant mission work had a political objective as well: Catholic countries were considered incapable of democracy. Protestantism alone would produce democratic results. That same missionary imperative has slowly born fruit with Evangelical and Pentecostal movements spreading rapidly in formerly Catholic cultures. As American globalism spreads, so American forms of Christianity spread.

As a side note. One of my daughters lived in Siberia for a year. She had a college friend who announced she was attending a mission being run in a theater by the Vineyard. It used large icon prints on stage but with the normal American-style mega-Church. My daughter said to her friend, “Why are you going there? You’re Orthodox!” Her friend said, “There’s no difference. And they have rock-and-roll.”

Ecumenical Anxiety

Contrary to modern Orthodox conspiracy theories, ecumenism was not invented in the Vatican. It was invented on the frontiers of 19th century America. The Second Great Awakening was largely a para-church movement. It did not take place within denominational structures – if anything it created more denominations. It was the single most entrepreneurial moment in all of Christian history: anybody could have his own denomination!

But the phenomenon of common experience created a new question and a new anxiety. Why were Christians divided? Why, if they could meet on common ground in a common experience were they not together in a common Church? The result of this anxiety was an explosion of solutions. The Restoration Movement (origin of the Churches of Christ, Christian Church, etc.) was one solution. It sought to create the “New Testament Church” through a strict application of sola scriptura and reason. Created as a rallying point with a view to uniting all Christians, it produced its own set of denominations. Cult-like solutions arose as well. Mormonism comes from this period. The heart of its message was a “fresh start” for the Church. God makes a prophet out of a huckster in New York State, shows him golden tablets with magical spectacles, ordains new apostles, etc., and re-creates the Church. It was bizarre, but its success demonstrates just how bizarre the American frontier became (and still is). The same foment produced Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. None of these solutions relieved the ecumenical anxiety – they only increased the problem.

The drive for mission created a different solution. A good measure of the work done in “foreign” mission fields had ties to the revival movement. This included a strong representation of non-denominational mission agencies. The threadbare theology of the Second Great Awakening saw denominational polity and doctrine as a stumbling-block for mission and coordinated efforts. The 19th century saw a growing popularity of large conferences organized to promote and coordinate Protestant Christian missions. The World Missions Conference in Edinburg, 1910, was considered the crowning achievement of these meetings. That conference became the springboard to the eventual creation of the World Council of Churches. Such groups as the YMCA and the Student Christian Movement were major players in these meetings.

The Protestant Evangelical consensus, in which doctrinal differences were minimalized and common efforts for the “conversion” of non-Christians maximalized, were typical of this work. The missions effort included a strong sense of millennial expectation (the watchword was “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation”). That same urgency was a driving force in ecumenical thought. The work of world mission was too important for the confusion of denominations. Unity was a requirement for the Great Commission.

Reflection

The missions movement was not uniquely American, but the simplicity and drive that characterized it were born in the American revival movements. The same urgency that powered early ecumenism continues to drive modern Evangelicalism. Mainline Protestant denominations have largely lost themselves in the eddies of these forces. Evangelism and Renewal have generally become programs for the general morale, ecumenical anxiety has yielded to ecumenical bureaucracy and institutionalism, missions have often been replaced with political action.

But the legacy of these Americanized Christian ideas remains very powerful. The drive for evangelism in its modern form was always somewhat heretical. The gospel was mutated into a Churchless Christianity, devoid of sacrament and structure. This minimized gospel was easily and quickly adaptable to various cultural needs, but for the same reason, completely vunerable to cultural forces. Evangelism is a gospel imperative, but the “making of disciples” entails their full enculturation into the Christian faith and not a single experience. Walking the aisle does not make you a Christian – it requires walking the way of the Cross. Mission is equally a gospel imperative, one that the Church has slowly and steadily fulfilled. Some areas where the Church was once planted now require the Church to be replanted. Some places, such as America, where a gospel has been preached, is almost entirely ignorant of the gospel – this will be proclaimed in time by the Church. There is no need for an ecumenical anxiety. Christ’s prayer for His disciples to be One has nothing to do with ecumenism and has no reference to present ecclesiology. The Eucharistic community of Christ, the ecclesia, is One and cannot be otherwise. We do not have a failure of ecumenism. We have long had a failure of ecclesiology.

A Christianity that is largely without doctrine and sacrament is a Christianity of slogan and extravaganza. A “Churchless” Christianity is simply, a heresy. It is a strange reading of the New Testament with conclusions as novel as they are effective. It is also destructive of the long term health of the Christian faith. Many who grow tired of its slogans and extravaganza do not turn elsewhere – they turn nowhere. The fastest growing religious group in America is the unchurched.

The truth and richness of the Christian faith is only found in the deep-woven fibers of the historic Church. The life of sacrament, rooted in a thoroughly Christianized network of families, parishes and monasteries, is the normative existence of the Christian faith. This is the faith that converted the Roman Empire and the barbarian ancestors of people like myself. From it grew a great civilization, one that has been challenged and dismantled at many points, but which has yet to disappear.

It is probably the case that only a vibrant fullness of the Christian Church, that is itself sufficiently mature to be the bearer of a Christian ethos, is capable of surviving the onslaught of modern secularism. A Christianity of slogan and style will find itself swept away by more attractive slogans and styles. The promise of God regarding the gates of hell is given only to the Church – not a parachurch movement.

For some, this reflection and its small history lesson will seem “old hat.” For many, this history isn’t known at all. Things have not always been as they are now, nor is everything now to be accepted at face value. To be the true disciple of Christ requires discernment and the acceptance of the gospel. It may also require the renunciation of modern attempts to reshape that work.

 

 

 

 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


Comments

138 responses to “America and the Perversion of Christianity”

  1. Rhonda Avatar

    I just love history! Thank you, Fr. Stephen for the reminder.

  2. sergieyes Avatar
    sergieyes

    This sounds like a vague gesture towards James Arminius and his followers John and Charles Wesley. Here is a strong theology (or a large movement, that is) based on some biblical verses such as Isaiah 45:11 Isaiah 45:11 KJV
    “11 Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. ” There are a lot of such verses mentioned here: <>. And the Vow of a Nazarite should not be forgotten:http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0406.htm. This is a rather large subject with several examples of varieties of Nazarites.
    Here is Arminius, the God father of modern enthusiasm:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminianism.
    Much that is important to John and Charles Wesley derives from Arminius and his movement:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wesleyanism. Christianity Today, a journal of Protestantism, has stated that Arminianism has won in America a massive battle against Calvinism. I hope this helps understand American Protestantism.

  3. Brian Avatar
    Brian

    Some time ago when I was doing work in certain area every two weeks, I used to drive by a church building that was under construction, noticing its progress as I passed it each time.

    One day as I drove by, I noticed a new sign that read, “New Church dedication this Sunday at 10:00am. Revival Monday at 7:00pm.”

    I know they mean well, and it is sad in reality; but the irony was just too much to keep me from bursting out in laughter.

  4. Greg Avatar
    Greg

    Yours is a thoughtful and much appreciated analysis. I was struck by your statement to the effect that “anybody could have his own denomination.” As a Baptist (autonomous congregations with no centralized hierarchy) I would add that anybody can have their own church even within the denomination. I have many times pondered the tension between the abuses and errors that can arise as a consequence of the largely unrestrained liberty which characterizes autonomous congregations and those that can arise among the tightly structured ancient institutions. Obviously, as a Protestant, I am sensitive to the circumstances which led to the Reformation, but at the same time I am concerned about the potential for error to be taught in congregations devoid of oversight. I appreciate the Charismatic Renewal, but completely understand your concerns relative to a “Christianity of slogan and extravaganza.” A Christianity devoid of community, a changed life and sound doctrine is no Christianity at all.

    In my denomination salvation is all too often perceived as an event. We often see our job as essentially complete once the emotional moment of one’s salvation “experience” has passed. People “get saved,” but frequently fail to get “delivered.” As a Protestant who has had the blessing of having worshipped in a Catholic environment I find the sacramental setting moving and powerful (perhaps more so than do many Catholics). In a very real way I find tragic the divisions which exist within the Christian community. It is entirely beyond my intellect to perceive how the tension I mentioned might be overcome and Christendom established in a genuinely sacred unity, but I pray that one day perhaps we might all be brought back together in such a way that Christ can be at the center of our relationship with each other and with a lost and dying world.

  5. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    I think this is a very urgently needed clarification, and knowledge on a very important subject. Thank you.

  6. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    I actually learned much of this, specifically the First and Second Great Awakenings, in a college- level course on American History 40 years ago.. Sad that it can no longer be taught in college – so much of basic American history revolves around its Protestant (and “protest-ant”) origins.

  7. Dave K. Avatar
    Dave K.

    Mrs. Mutton –
    Good news! I had American History at the University I attended (a public university) in the 1990’s and this was included in the content of the course. What I found very interesting was how similar the millenialist movements of the late 19th century were to many of the TV Preachers of the late 20th century as we were approaching the year 2000.

    It is also worth noting how this influenced the Nativist Movement of the late 19th early 20th century as a new wave of immigration brought southern and eastern europeans (and Irsih) to America. The Nativist Movement saw northern, white europeans as the only true “Americans” and the new immigrants as a threat to the “American Way.” As a result this also was reflected in the strong anti-catholicism and anti-intellectual tendencies of many of the Christian groups that Father Stephen refers to in this article.

  8. salih kurtbas Avatar
    salih kurtbas

    l am living Turkey and l became a Christian with this Evangelist movements. We dont know many thing but we are trying to learn Church and history and we have a great difficulties. Orthodox church has a wonderfull history but we need to some one a living with us not just history. Turkish Historical churches they are like sleeping and the door close for native people. Please pray for us.

  9. dino Avatar
    dino

    Salih Kurtbas,
    the land you live on has been watered with many centuries of martyrs’ blood. God will surely take care of you. There are many crypto-Orthodox already living there right now…

  10. Jeff Tomlinson Avatar
    Jeff Tomlinson

    Fr. Stephen,

    I appreciate your writing and the subject of this article. As one who is part of the Restorationist movement and yet a person who has been reading and studying the Orthodox faith and its history, I really was caught by a sentence under the Reflection part of your article: “Walking the aisle does not make you a Christian–it requires walking the way of the Cross.” One of the failures I see from my perspective is that we have placed all the emphasis on a “decision” for Christ; a one time event, but we have failed miserably at fulfilling the Gospel imperative of making disciples. Thanks for a much needed reminder for me.

    Blessings,
    Pastor Jeff Tomlinson
    Baltimore, Maryland

  11. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    “l am living Turkey and l became a Christian with this Evangelist movements. We dont know many thing but we are trying to learn Church and history and we have a great difficulties. Orthodox church has a wonderfull history but we need to some one a living with us not just history. Turkish Historical churches they are like sleeping and the door close for native people. Please pray for us.”

    Very interesting testimony. I’ve heard this complaint before: that the ancient churches — Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental alike — are silent in Muslim lands, having learned to accept their servile position of dhimmitude after so many centuries of persecution. I know that my own Catholic Church is very hesitant about open evangelization in the Muslim world.

    Yet the evangelical Protestants are making significant strides there. They are preaching and teaching — taking the Gospel (or, Father might say, a gospel) directly to the Muslims.

    I know that there are exceptions to this rule, but the exceptions prove the rule, no? Just because Turkey used to be an Orthodox land doesn’t mean it always will be. Its small Christian minority may one day be comprised mostly of Baptists! Hard to imagine, but what else are we to expect? He who does not sow does not reap.

    I’m certainly not happy to see the spread of Protestantism, but to know Christ a little is better than not knowing Him at all. I just wish the ancient churches would step up. Though I guess it is very easy for me to say, from the comfort of America (though who knows where we are heading…).

  12. Arnold Avatar
    Arnold

    My broad-brushed understanding of Christian history is that there are four groups who can claim some form of historical primacy as “original Christianity:” Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, Maronite and Roman Catholic Christians. I considered myself Roman Catholic (post Vatican II) for about 20 years, have attended a few Orthodox liturgies, know essentially nothing of the Coptic and Maronite communions. I doubt any of them is quite as old as the “Since 33 A.D.” bumper sticker suggests and suspect the differences are mostly a function of the cultural environments in which they developed.

    Which ever group came first, they all were something else before being the first Christians because they had no choice: Christianity did not yet exist. They responded to some impetus, perhaps the leading of the Holy Spirit, to call themselves by a new name and practice an altered way of life.

    As one who now calls himself a Quaker, I do not attempt to show my unity with Friends of the last four centuries by emulating their speech, dress or customs, but rather by claiming as addressed to me what George Fox heard some 360 years ago: “There is One … who can speak to thy condition.” I share this, not to convince anyone to become Quaker, but to say that religion must speak to one’s condition, else it is best left alone. This is what I heard in Salih’s comment about historical churches.

  13. TLO Avatar
    TLO

    It is a strange reading of the New Testament with conclusions as novel as they are effective.

    Resulting in people placing a premium value on profundity rather than substance.

    The fastest growing religious group in America is the unchurched.

    I always find this difficult. The “unchurched” (agnostics and atheists) are not religious (by definition) except that they religiously avoid religious organizations.

    I’d be interested to know what ceremonies or seminars are weekly attended by agnatheists (new word score – 100 points) to reinforce their non-belief system.

  14. Jessica Avatar
    Jessica

    Very interesting. I came to Orthodoxy from the Nazarene church, one of those smallish, youngish denominations, a spinoff from Methodism. They are by and large kind, diligent people and I have nothing bad to say about them. But two things I can say from my time in evangelicalism: 1) That spinning off and dividing into many denominations is considered completely normal and natural among evangelical Christians. They rarely even question it. 2) I definitely remember a lot of pressure to “witness to” as many people as possible. I often felt intensely guilty about not making many (any) converts, but I also felt a total lack of inner power and motivation to convert people.

    So, I came to Orthodoxy, where the focus is more on working out my own lifelong conversion. And it just makes more sense. I can’t say that it’s perfect — I know Orthodoxy gets accused of being insular, and I don’t know if I can defend it. But one thing the Orthodox say a lot is that the church should be a hospital for souls, and from my own experience, the Orthodox Church’s overall quietness makes it feel like a safe place to begin to work your stuff out.

  15. […] America and the Perversion of Christianity (glory2godforallthings.com) […]

  16. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Arnold,

    Maronites are Catholics, they just don’t use the Latin rite for the divine liturgy. However, they are in communion with the See of Rome, and have been for some time.

    Which gives me an opportunity to ask the prayers of everyone here for Pope Benedict XVI during this time of trial. Thank you.

  17. Alyssa Przystawik Avatar
    Alyssa Przystawik

    Former ecumenical church-goer and InterVarsity student and staffworker entirely agrees with your assessment of the ultimate problem:

    “But the legacy of these Americanized Christian ideas remains very powerful. The drive for evangelism in its modern form was always somewhat heretical. The gospel was mutated into a Churchless Christianity, devoid of sacrament and structure. This minimized gospel was easily and quickly adaptable to various cultural needs, but for the same reason, completely vunerable to cultural forces.”

    Nail, meet Hammer. As always, Father, I am grateful for the clarity you give!
    Sophia

  18. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    You said:
    “The Eucharistic community of Christ, the ecclesia, is One and cannot be otherwise.”

    i’m curious–when Jesus asked the Father “that they all may be one,” what oneness was He praying for? i take it from your statement that He wasn’t asking for a oneness that can’t fail to obtain. So it must be “oneness” in some other sense?

    –guy

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Arnold, historically there was one Church until roughly the 5th century. After the Council of Chalcedon in A.D 451 the Copts and others who did not accept the doctrines articulated at that Council split.

    The Roman Catholic Church split in 1054. The Marionites came even later and are in communion with the Pope.

    The Eastern Orthodox have maintained a continuity of doctrine and faith that the others don’t have.

    Of course the Copts and the Roman Catholics consider that we Orthodox are the schismatics and/or heretics.

    My study and experience led me to the Orthodox Church as being the more authentic and where I could connect to Jesus Christ. I can’t even imagine being anywhere else.

  20. Davi Avatar
    Davi

    Dear Father Stephen,

    God bless you for this wonderful website. I can’t wait for the next post. I just love your insights and advices. Please pray for me, that I may “live” them, instead of “thinking” them.

    Davi Dias
    Belo Horizonte, Brazil

  21. Gregory (a.k.a. Ed Smith) Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    As you mentioned, the great American heretical sects came out of the environment of the second great awakening when there was a movement away from church and “tradition” and, as you put it, “everyone could have his own denomination.” I am concerned we are today ripe for a huge explosion of heretical sects. Have you noticed new evangelical churches almost never publicly claim any theological heritage? They may be Southern Baptist or Presbyterian, but you will have to dig to find this out. Many even of your well established churches have dropped their public denominational label. For example, I noticed a while back that Perimeter Presbyterian in Atlanta had become “Perimeter Church.” I have had a hobby of exploring the websites of evangelical churches and many times, especially among the more fashionable, there isn’t any statement of faith at all and those which are there are very general. Some of them are showing some “originality”–twice, I have noticed (one a SBC church) “God exists in 3 personalities” as opposed to the more traditional “three persons.” Many of these generically labeled churches are truly generic. I don’t know how many or how many of their pastors had any theological training at all. If anyone today decides he wants to be a pastor of some new church, he can rent a building, advertize it locally as “Freedom Church” or something, do anything he wants with it, and no one will consider it out of the ordinary. This genericalism seems like it is the perfectly fertile ground to grow heretical sects, giving them excellent cover and plenty of freedom from the traditions passed down.

    It also seems to be part of a wish and pretense that there is unity among those who “follow the Bible.” Of course, the greatest variation is among those who most strongly hold to the Sola Scriptura approach and they can be anything from Calvinist, to Arminian, to Sabellian, to Arian. Christology is rarely brought up in Evangelical churches. Over the years, when finding myself in a certain kind of conversation with a very active and enthusiastic layperson, I often had the experience of discovering that this person’s understanding of the Trinity was not Trinitarian at all. I recall one of my fellow Campus Crusade leaders on a summer project having it occur to him that Jesus was created by God at some point. He was quickly corrected on this speculation, but one has to wonder how many have had such thoughts not corrected because they weren’t voiced to the right person. I think leanings toward Sabellianism are actually pretty common as a reaction against JW’s and “accidental Arians” such as my fellow Campus Crusader.

    One thing I’ve often noticed in Statements of Faith is that faith is said to be in “Christ’s finished work on the cross.” Specifically, many consider the object of their faith to be a theory of the atonement (a false one, normally) rather than Christ Himself. This is apparently why Christology, in which we correctly identify the object of our faith, is not considered important.

    Though I have much respect for many evangelicals in their sincerity and commitment, Evangelicalism seems to be in a rather unhealthy and precarious state at present.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Gregory, How many Orthodox will understand what Sabellianism and Arianism and why they are heretical. I have long felt the need for parishes to inform their people on the nature of heresies and why they are wrong; not as some eye-rolling history project, but as a vaccine against the wave of heretical thought that surrounds us.

    Certainly many who have grown up in the Church can be accidental Arians too or defacto Sabellians.

    A few years ago I was in a hospital waiting room and there was a Roman Catholic priest their with some of his people. One of the ladies asked in all sincerity: “Father, why do we need the Holy Spirit, isn’t Jesus enough?” To my way of thinking he was unable to answer her question. I think this was due to his life long assumption of the faith without the practiced tools to respond to such a question.

    I also feel like we need to do more to win back the name Christian by re-emphasizing patristic Christology (as you suggest). These days anyone can call themselves Christian founded on nothing at all and no one will challenge them even if they believe and proclaim that Jesus was simply a man. Nestorianism abounded(s) in the “New Age” movements.

    There is a saying in economics that bad money drives out good. It applies even more to sound doctrine. We have to be much more proactive (yes irenically so). One of the reaons I like this site so much.

    Thank you Father Stephen.

  23. Gregory (a.k.a. Ed Smith) Avatar

    “Gregory, How many Orthodox will understand what Sabellianism and Arianism and why they are heretical. I have long felt the need for parishes to inform their people on the nature of heresies and why they are wrong; not as some eye-rolling history project, but as a vaccine against the wave of heretical thought that surrounds us.

    Certainly many who have grown up in the Church can be accidental Arians too or defacto Sabellians.”

    Michael, that is true and I share your interests and concerns regarding this. Having spent 40 years in evangelicalism, certainly I think it is a much larger problem there than in Orthodoxy. One of the most common manifestations of this was when Christ was referred to as God and some others actually seemed a bit shocked and objected saying, “he isn’t God, he’s just the Son of God.” I saw this reaction many times. In Orthodox services, the phrase “Christ our God” is so prominent that I think it would be hard for an Orthodox Christian to react in a similar way. It is common for Evangelicals to object to Mary being referred to as “mother of God,” though they know she is the mother of Jesus, but Orthodox Christians, again, are exposed to this constantly. Our services harp on proper descriptions of the Trinity, so the list could go on. My impression is that these kinds of heretical ideas would only be found among the nominally Orthodox, while they often are found among very active Evangelicals and even among clergy sometimes. Of course, as you say, it would be good for many to be more educated about the major heresies, how they arose and tend to arise again, because they are out there in our culture, often in subtle ways.

  24. mushroom Avatar
    mushroom

    Great insights, Father. I really appreciate it. The lack of discipleship and structure in evangelically-oriented churches has resulted in much hardship for many sincere individuals. This is the reason we can have people who call themselves Christians while clinging to bizarre, destructive beliefs and lifestyles.

    Walking the aisle does not make you a Christian – it requires walking the way of the Cross.

    Well said.

  25. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Gregory writes:

    One thing I’ve often noticed in Statements of Faith is that faith is said to be in “Christ’s finished work on the cross.” Specifically, many consider the object of their faith to be a theory of the atonement (a false one, normally) rather than Christ Himself. This is apparently why Christology, in which we correctly identify the object of our faith, is not considered important.

    Well said, Gregory. So true about what is the real object of faith in Evangelical denominations (and non-denominations) vs. in the Church.

  26. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Father, bless!

    I would like to see you follow this up and delve a little deeper into modern American Protestant vs. Orthodox ecclesiology (or perhaps there’s already another post or someone else’s work that does this?).

  27. sergieyes Avatar
    sergieyes

    Start here. It demonstrates the slippery slide into Nihilism we have taken:

    http://www.archive.org/details/AllanBloomTheClosingOfTheAmericanMind.

    This link gives you MOST but not all of the text. The balance is present above site.

    http://books.google.com/books/about/Closing_of_the_American_Mind.html?id=cfr2ePZfFC4C

    This is Google Books, and please copy the entire link. Or go here

    Closing of the American Mind – Allan Bloom – Google Books
    books.google.com › Social Science › General
    Rating: 3.5 – 398 reviews
    The Closing of the American Mind, a publishing phenomenon in hardcover, is now a paperback literary event. In this acclaimed number one national best-seller, …

  28. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Guy,
    may the Lord be with you!

    i’m curious–when Jesus asked the Father “that they all may be one,” what oneness was He praying for?

    The oneness we aspire to and which Christ refers to is, of course, that oneness of the Holy undivided and consubstantial Trinity. It refers both to our personal union with the Personal God, as well as our union with all other persons -“all of Adam” as Saint Silouan used to say. It refers to both. The reason it refers to both simultaneously is, as Saint Dorotheos says, that we are radii starting from the same centre (that centre is God) of a circle, and we inevitably cannot get closer in unity to God without also uniting to others as well as vice versa. I hope this helps.

  29. Rhonda Avatar

    Gregory/Ed:

    I am concerned we are today ripe for a huge explosion of heretical sects.

    The “explosion” is & has been happening all along; it is gaining momentum. When I was Chrismated in 2002 there were a projected 28,000 non-RC/non-EO Christian groups-denominations-organizations world-wide with most being in the US. Just a decade later in 2012 there were 38,000. Fr. Stephen & other Orthodox writers have commented about Churchless Christianity. We now add to that Christless Christianity as well. I recently came across a website declaring that one now does not have to accept or follow Christ in order to be a Christian.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Guy,
    Note that the Creed professes faith in “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” It does not profess faith in the idea that the Church ought to be one. The Church is One, is a cardinal matter of the faith.

    That unity, describes its character. We are one, just as Christ and the Father are one. Our unity is many persons in one essence. We share a single, common life, expressed in many persons. Thus we love one another as ourselves. The Eucharist is not a symbol pointing towards a unity, but is a meal in which we actually share in a true unity.

    The Church does not celebrate or have a Eucharist – the Church is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the Church. If the Eucharist is not truly the body of Christ, then the Church is not the Body of Christ. This is also one of the essential reasons why there is no so-called “open communion” in Orthodoxy. Those “Churches” that practice “open-communion” demonstrate that they do not believe the true nature of the Eucharist and have no proper ecclesiology. In this matter, Orthodoxy and Rome have some common ground (with the exception of Rome’s willingness to extend Eucharistic fellowship to the Orthodox – which is “nice” but mistaken and premature).

    The unity of Protestantism is either purely theoretical – “we’re all one” as a slogan – or political – in which everyone agrees to get along despite the fact that they believe and practice different things (so-called diversity). Both are a mockery of Christ’s words – bordering on blasphemy.

    In Orthodoxy, the One life of the Church is manifest in One common belief, One Baptism, One obedience, One Lord shared in the One Cup. To share in the One cup there must be all these things. Thus, for us, “Orthodox” means “Right Worship,” meaning a koinonia in the One Cup. We are One with those with whom we share the One Cup. This is the recognizable boundary of the Church. Every priest manifests that boundary as he administers communion. At his ordination, the consecrated Lamb is placed in his hands and he is told to guard it until the coming of Christ.

    In addition, we require that people be in love and charity with the neighbors and to have made proper preparation for communion, through fasting and repentance. When we sin, we sin against Christ’s body and should be reconciled. This, too, is manifest in the One Cup.

    Those who are in schism, do not share in the One Cup. Whatever their status might be (in some ways, God only knows) but it is not true and proper union in the One Cup. Orthodoxy’s life in the One Cup is a proclamation, with whatever humility we can bring, that this is indeed the One Church and the One Communion of Christ. If it weren’t, then we should repent and go find where it is.

  31. […] America and the Perversion of Christianity – Glory to God For All Things (OX) […]

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My dear wife, 3.5 years since Chrismation puts it this way: You don’t join the Orthodox Church, you become Orthodox.

  33. guy Avatar
    guy

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. But my question was–what was the “oneness” that Christ was praying for in John 17? i understand you to be saying that oneness is an essential condition of the Church; it cannot be otherwise. Was Christ making supplication about something that could not be otherwise? (i guess it strikes me as strange to ask God to ensure the occurrence of what is already a necessary state of affairs.)

    –guy

  34. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Guy,
    Yes, it is what I am saying, and I think it is not so strange. The prayer (particularly as given in John’s gospel) is as much commentary and definition of the Church as it is prayer. Of course, like the Eucharist, our unity is the gift of God – it cannot exist except as God’s gift. Thus, what I am saying about Christ’s words is that they are saying the same thing, as if He had said, “Father, make them the Church.” For the Church is not an institution or an assembly of people trying to be something (like “one”). We cannot make ourselves “one” any more than bread can make itself flesh. The Church is the Body of Christ and this is a miracle. As Church, we exist as One Body, as Christ describes in His prayer to the Father. He does not pray that we should be taken out of the world, but that we should be protected.

    And, in the prayer, it is clear that the existence of the One Church, the ecclesia, the eucharistia, is the gospel given to the world. “That they might know that Thou hast sent me…that they might know that we are one…etc.”

    The Church is the gospel. This is part of the Protestant heresy (if I might boldly use that word – not to condemn but to underline just how great is the error). The gospel is not a set of words alone, it is certainly not an emotional message – the gospel is the manifestation to the world of the Father in the Son by the Spirit through the Church. If the Church is not this – then everything Jesus said and did is bogus, I write with fear and trembling. But this is the message of the gospel.

    To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the communion of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Eph 3:8-12

    St. Paul is bolder still.

  35. Rhonda Avatar

    …the Church is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the Church. If the Eucharist is not truly the body of Christ, then the Church is not the Body of Christ.

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, this as well as all of your comments 🙂

  36. Rhonda Avatar

    I meant:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this as well as all of your comments 🙂

  37. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for sharing this history – and I hope you will give us more. I find it ironic that, having attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college, I never had a course on church history! I got a little introduction to some of the non-Catholic faiths, but not even a good history of my own church.

    I was never taught about the early Councils or schisms, much less what you have presented here. Growing up with Vatican II, I learned a bit of it but not really much. Odd, but true.

  38. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Irenic, would you care to elaborate your comment?

  39. […] (Source: Glory to God for All Things) […]

  40. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    Guy,

    I remember attending a Protestant service a few years after we became orthodox, and listening to how earnestly the pastor urged the people to be a community. The church was using so much energy to create programs and groups to create a sense or perhaps reality of oneness. It seemed exhausting and also ineffective considering how passionately the pastor was asking people to get involved.

    I remember thinking how strange it seemed in light of the gentle community that we had entered into at our new Orthodox parish. The parish is full of people from various cities, ethnicities, ages, financial backgrounds, and job situations. And yet somehow there I truly feel as though I share something deeply common with these people. I don’t know how to describe the connection and closeness I feel to them, many of whom I still haven’t had a chance to know well at all. But they seem joined to my life and my suffering so deeply. And all I’ve done with them is shown up at church together and shared a common cup.

  41. Arnold Avatar
    Arnold

    I had to deal with the designation of Mary as Mother of God when I decided to become Roman Catholic. The understanding that worked for me, coming from a fundamentalist background, was to appreciate it as a paradox. Mary, on the one hand, as a created being could not possibly be mother to her own creator, any more than a hen can lay the egg from which it hatched. Yet, if Jesus is the unique Son of God (and therefore himself God, since like begets like and only God can be like God) then Mary, having given birth to Jesus, gave birth to her creator. One weakness I find in overly doctrinaire religion – fundamentalist, evangelical or orthodox – is the willful suspension of any sense of the poetic.

  42. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Arnold,
    You lack knowledge of Orthodoxy if you think it either “doctrinaire” or lacking in any sense of the poetic. Friend to friend – not arguing. Its doctrine is not a collection of rationalized propositions, but “verbal icons” of the faith. As for the poetic – I offer as a poor sample, texts from the Mother of God’s feast of the Dormition (Aug 15). Such texts are a daily part of the Orthodox life of worship – a theological feasts of such verbal icons – setting Scripture with Scripture and drawing out images and paradox to yield up their treasure.

  43. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Irenic, truly I don’t mean to disparage my roots and I’m sorry that my comment could have been construed that way. Do you disagree that putting one’s faith in a dogmatic system is sometimes the unfortunate result of the distortions that have crept into non-Orthodox theological systems and understanding of our salvation in Christ? This was just one of the “eureka moments” for me when I began to explore Orthodoxy and was deeply examining the seat of trust in my own heart, and that’s all I meant to affirm in my comment. I have great respect and love for the folks in my former Evangelical tradition(s). Their love for Christ, for others, and for the Scriptures were and are in many cases exemplary. Were it not for their devotion to the Scriptures and to clearly communicating the message found in the Scriptures (such as they understand that–and there is much they do understand aright), I would likely not have the great appreciation that I do for all that I experience in Orthodox Liturgy. I also heartily agree with Abp. Dimitri’s comment.

    Unfortunately, this past week Baptists like that depicted in this short video snippet have also come to my attention (and members of my family have been damaged in their faith by people like this–and have not yet recovered to this day):

    and I admit it has soured my attitude. But, I freely admit also that this sort of sin is not unique to the non-Orthodox.

    Forgive me, a sinner.

  44. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    I have blocked and eliminated the comments from “Irenic” for the use of a false email address in the com box. The author can use a correct address – and post after contacting me at email hidden; JavaScript is required

    As far as I can see, the author of this string has used multiple identities with false email addresses. I apologize for not catching this. Identities are protected here (we’re free to use nicknames and the like). It is, however, inappropriate to switch identities with no head’s up to others, as though the conversation were with another person.

    Email addresses required for participating in the comments are not made public, but are visible to the site manager (Fr. Stephen). Use of a false email address is the equivalent of spam, regardless of content, and will be blocked if it is detected. These are rules that are common across the blogosphere.

    Thank you for your patience. No embarrassment meant for the author of these comments. But I will require some explanation, since this has been a very long practice by the author. Many of our commenters are extremely forthcoming and trusting in their conversations. To share in those conversations does not require that any of us be equally forthcoming, but anything less than candor in the registration of a comment seriously undermines the credibility required for conversation.

  45. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Karen,

    Thank you for your answer!

    Do you disagree that putting one’s faith in a dogmatic system is sometimes the unfortunate result of the distortions that have crept into non-Orthodox theological systems and understanding of our salvation in Christ?

    I completely agree. Archbishop Dimitri’s comment was edifying to me, personally. I should have made this clear in my post. I do beg forgiveness for the oversight.

    This was just one of the “eureka moments” for me when I began to explore Orthodoxy and was deeply examining the seat of trust in my own heart, and that’s all I meant to affirm in my comment. I have great respect and love for the folks in my former Evangelical tradition(s).

    There is no need to explain yourself. Your commentary has been exemplary.

    Unfortunately, this past week Baptists like that depicted in this short video snippet have also come to my attention (and members of my family have been damaged in their faith by people like this–and have not yet recovered to this day).

    I understand. I will remember your family in my prayers.

    Steven

  46. guy Avatar
    guy

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for the reply.

    i wonder if you still intend to write something further about one/two story issues or perhaps Fr. Schmemman’s book? i still have lingering questions about both.

    Best,

    –guy

  47. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Steven, check your email.

  48. Eugene Avatar
    Eugene

    Fr. Stephen, Bless!

    I really like your replies regarding the One-ness of the Church. It’s exactly how I at least used to think, as an Orthodox Christian. I’m in a current dilemma, because I have seen that Orthodox leaders lie, sexually abuse people, embezzle, and commit as many crimes as people who are not Orthodox. On a less serious side, they also — as our Turkish friend pointed out — persist in holding Liturgies in languages even their own faithful can’t understand. This is profoundly alienating.

    I have a developing sense that one can get along with this mystical idea of One-ness, and One True Church, for only so long. It’s a nice idea; it can be “backed” by any kind of reference to Patristics or Scripture (everyone who reasons well can “back” their arguments, whatever their affiliation.) But it may just not matter, outside of a theological blog. It’s a great idea. Does it have any more impact than, perhaps, another person’s “decision for Christ?” It probably depends on the person, God’s grace, and a whole lot of other factors.

    I’m not sure I any longer trust people who lie, embezzle, abuse — or who just can’t seem to be polite, even — to pass on any kind of “true” message. Or at least, I would trust those people no more than any others. My growing sense is that “it is what it is.” People are who they are, regardless of affiliation. I’m gradually being converted away from Orthodoxy to the idea that maybe the only true church we have is the human race. Maybe Orthodoxy will provide a framework for my prayer. Maybe some other church will. It’s getting hard to take any of them seriously.

  49. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Eugene,

    Fr Stephen’s entry from 7 March 2011 titled “The Temptations of Church” might be helpful for you.

    I was received into Orthodoxy as an adult, having “been around the block” with church experiences my whole life; nothing that hurt me terribly deeply, but plenty that affected people I loved. In her last years, even my devout mother quit going to Mass altogether because of the pile-up of scandal in the Catholic Church. As I was inquiring into Orthodoxy, I prayed that God would let me see the good, the bad and the ugly, as it were… And that prayer was answered, in that at the time, the jurisdiction of my parish was dealing with a huge financial scandal and some other scandalous things as well. Although I couldn’t articulate it as Fr Stephen did in that blog post, I came to the same conclusion. I trusted God that if this was where He was leading, He would help me with the ugly stuff. But it’s not easy, that’s for sure.

    Sending you a hug.

    Dana

  50. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Eugene,
    If we confuse our appreciation for an institution with our appreciation for the agents of that institution we are bound to reach erroneous conclusions. There will come a time, according to the Saints prophesies, that we will be severely tempted in that very respect – in fact that time is already upon us to some degree. A time when most of the clergy will be in apostasy… But should that change what we think of the true Church, founded in the Holy Trinity?
    We can be wise like the bees and ignore the excrement while concentrating on the lovely flowers, the honey, the sweets; or we can be like the flies and ignore all this concentrating on the abundant excrement – it is our choice. You ask a bee and all she has seen is flowers, you ask a fly and all it has seen is excrement and garbage – they were flying in the exact same field!

    …the Church is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the Church. If the Eucharist is not truly the body of Christ, then the Church is not the Body of Christ

    Fullness of humanity is achieved only in eucharistic communion with the Personal Triune God. And, as Met. J. Zizioulas explains, it is the communion itself that is constitutive of Christ.

    …as if He had said, “Father, make them the Church.”

    By freely participating in that relationship man goes far beyond his biological hypostasis (which ends in death), to his true hypostasis which is “ecclesial” and “eucharistic”, as well as “all embracing”.
    If we are honest with ourselves, we see that only in that mode of being one can say like the Saints “the other is my paradise”. Otherwise we might end up like Sartre, thinking -a classic demonic thought- “L’enfer c’est les autres” (Hell is the others)
    Such being, born from above during this life, is eschatological, -paradoxically acquiring its completion (of this rebirth from above) on the day of resurrection when our biology is no longer subject to death.

  51. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Eugene, I think a lot of us can relate to the temptations and discouragement you are facing. It is a reminder that although the Church has institutions, it is not, strictly speaking, perfectly contiguous with those institutions understood on the merely human level, but rather is to be found as Dino was reiterating from Fr. Stephen’s post in the Eucharistic Mystery. I have chosen of late to focus on the words and lives of the Saints (historic and contemporary) because it is here we see the life of the true “ecclesia” in the fullness of its earthly manifestation. Even though my jurisdiction is struggling with apparent lapses of integrity in members of its hierarchy, I’m blessed with a wonderful local parish and understanding Priests. It helps a lot. May God grant you His grace.

  52. Eugene Avatar
    Eugene

    Dana and Dino (gee, are you guys related?!), thanks for both of your comments — both are very helpful, the thoughts as well as the hugs. I will take them to heart, re-read them as well, and look for the link to Fr. Stephen’s earlier post. Yes, I have a very limited, fly-like view of things lately, and do recognize it — very much — as a deformed spiritual condition.

    That being said, I am (again) becoming suspicious of the distinction made between “an institution and… the agents of that institution.” The Sadducees were the representatives of the Divine Institution of that time. They also locked up heaven; didn’t let anybody in, and didn’t go in themselves, either. I’m sure the Savior recognized the distinction between the Temple and them; but His preaching and Resurrection led to the dissolution of both. I’m wondering if we as a culture aren’t heading in the same direction. And maybe it’s necessary?

    The beauty of the Eucharist is that it is enacted in us; by priests who are given the authority to effect it. And when ordinary, messed-up people are given the keys; when they make up the rules for behavior, or decide which rules take precedent, include and exclude, censure or praise, open or shut, and then claim they do it because it’s from God; one is going to have problems.

    Meanwhile, thanks, I’d appreciate any encouragement I can get.

  53. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Eugene said:

    I’m sure the Savior recognized the distinction between the Temple and them; but His preaching and Resurrection led to the dissolution of both.

    Actually, this is what the Saviour said: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19, DRB).

    Dino said:

    We can be wise like the bees and ignore the excrement while concentrating on the lovely flowers, the honey, the sweets; or we can be like the flies and ignore all this concentrating on the abundant excrement – it is our choice. You ask a bee and all she has seen is flowers, you ask a fly and all it has seen is excrement and garbage – they were flying in the exact same field!

    Love it. Orthodox bees & ecumenical flies – who will know this? Wonderful!

  54. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Eugene,
    Christ said that there not only would be scandals within the Church, but that such things “must” be. I recently wrote on this. Of course there are scoundrels, etc. in the Church, they are everywhere. Those who’ve left Rome recently because of sex-scandals puzzle me. Wasn’t the stuff with the Borgias a deal-breaker if scandals are enough?

    Scandals are universal. And righteousness is also universal. God is good and He pours out His grace everywhere. But none of that makes the Church and the sacraments to be somewhere they are not. It only ups the ante on those who are truly the stewards of His grace – they will bear a greater judgment.

    There are circumstances in which it is difficult to live the fullness of the Orthodox life. I would counsel someone to move elsewhere if this is truly the case – because it’s worth relocating for (people relocate for jobs all the time and a job isn’t nearly as important as the Kingdom of God). But having said that, God will still make provision for us anywhere, if we are willing to endure the provision He makes.

    To survive in times like ours – where stumbling will be magnified through the gossip of the internet and the schadenfreude of unbelievers and the envious – requires that we keep our heads down and our eyes on Christ. And it is difficult. It is also hard because we are often quite spoiled and have unrealistic expectations.

    Hunger for God and His kingdom and you will be filled. All of us will be.

  55. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Not that ecumenism is bad per se. It’s not. It just follows biology, blindly.

  56. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    “Those who’ve left Rome recently because of sex-scandals puzzle me. Wasn’t the stuff with the Borgias a deal-breaker if scandals are enough?”

    Thank you! I keep saying this.

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I think those who left the RCC solely because of the sex scandals are in the minority. If they did, they will be sadly disappointed anywhere else they go.

    However, I think that the eccesiology of the Orthodox Church give us somewhat of a more realistic expectation as we are supposed to look past our priests to Jesus Christ. The RCC tends to make the priest what it is all about (at least in the common understanding of the Catholics I have known in my life).

    In any case, the kind of dedication and single mindedness that is required to manifest the grace of God in obvious ways is thought of as exceedingly odd my most folks today.

    I am quite blessed, I have two excellent priests who serve my parish and a wonderful bishop who serves them and a loving community that welcomes everybody. I am constantly amazed and thankful that God let me in His Body. I am even more amazed that I’m in a very healthy part. In the course of justice, I would not be where I am.

  58. dinoship Avatar
    dinoship

    This is the most beautiful advise indeed:

    Hunger for God and His kingdom and you will be filled. All of us will be

    That is what it all boils down to and all the rest is mere logismoi

    Steve,
    the Fly/Bee analogy was a favourite of Elder Paisios

  59. Eugene Avatar
    Eugene

    “Spoiled and have unrealistic expectations,” yup, that’s me, I can see that. My long range goal is to be like Scrooge when he wakes up and finds out it’s not too late, but so far, no dice. I’m harder on myself than on anyone.

    I guess my point, or my question lately, is: if the Councils made the rules, and established the boundary of where the Church and the Sacraments are; and if those Councils were made up of human, messed-up people; then to trust that despite all that, it was the Spirit that actually made the rules and the boundaries, requires an incredible act of faith. People have faith in all kinds of things. There’s no real rational reason to believe the Orthodox Church over, let’s say, a Buddhist sangha. It’s purely a mystical, para-rational thing, a thing between Christ and the person.

  60. dino Avatar
    dino

    Eugene,
    That would be the thinking that would liken me to Judas (doubting God’s effective ‘usage’ of “human, messed-up people”), whereas the “incredible act of faith” would liken me to all the apostles and martyrs, they also knew of other “sanghas” but discerned the fullness of the Truth only to be found in what they shed their blood for. Man is fallen, but only in the communion which constitutes Christs Body one can “taste and see” the liberation from that falleness.

  61. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Eugene,
    You have some misunderstandings of Orthodoxy. We do not believe that the canons are authoritative because they were written by the Councils of the Church – indeed many of them were merely “ratified” by the Councils. They reflect a consensus of many generations of many, many people, and in some cases are of Apostolic origin. But, even so, canons could be changed. They are a description of our life, not a divinely revealed prescription.

    Of course the life of the Church is and always has been manifest in and through fallible human beings. There are no other kind. Even the Scriptures have a “human” element and their truth is recognized “mystically” rather than in a merely literal manner. The truth of my existence and yours is rather “mystical” than “literal” for that matter.

    And every one of us has to make his/her way forward as an individual (we can choose to accept whatever we like – declare it to be authoritative for us or not, etc.). No one forces any of us, and no one can appeal to a truth so transcendently that our freedom to declare it flawed is overwhelmed. That’s how life really is. If anyone ever taught you that it was otherwise, then they did a poor job of teaching the Orthodox faith. There are some who teach Orthodoxy like some sort of Eastern fundamentalism, but their work will not last.

    Having said all of that, I think we have to make our way forward. Only the reasons are richer and our conclusions are vulnerable.

    Now a real question come up. Why would someone (such as myself), knowing all of that full well, give himself over to such a thing, indeed, submit my daily life (as a priest) to the authority of fallible men and canons, etc. And trust in all of that for my salvation?

    I warrant that my reasons are no different than those that led a handful of men to follow Christ in the first place.

  62. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Dino,
    Sometimes I think there’s a demon in my spam filter. Anyone have exorcism software for akismet spam filters?

  63. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    “God will still make provision for us anywhere, if we are willing to endure the provision He makes.”

    Fr Stephen, that’s a keeper!

    Dana

  64. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Dino says,

    {…] only in the communion which constitutes Christs’ Body one can “taste and see” the liberation from that falleness.

    Bees and flies again!

  65. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Or, in the words of St. Cabasilas:

    The Lord allowed men separated from God by the triple barrier of nature, sin and death to be fully possessed of Him and directly united to Him by the fact that he has set aside each barrier in turn: that of nature by His incarnation, of sin by His death and of death by His resurrection.

    The “ecology” of garbage is fundamentally different to the ecology of flowers, honey & the sweet things of heaven.

  66. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Elder Paisios sometimes took his bees & flies analogy even further with this picture: an machine that produces beautiful candleholders will produce metal, plastic, wooden or even golden candleholders dependant on what it is being fed, a machine that produces bullets however, will always come up with bullets, whether they are metal, plastic, wooden or golden. The intellect that has been trained to produce “good thoughts” (καλούς λογισμούς), as well as the one that has been left to and accustomed to producing “bad thoughts” will produce either the good or bad judgements irrespective of the situation.
    It is another take on the following by Epictetus (adopted early by Church Fathers) :
    “It is not things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about these things…. When, therefore, we are hindered or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves, that means our own judgments.”

  67. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Dinoship says:

    the Fly/Bee analogy was a favourite of Elder Paisios

    Amen! Truly there is such a thing as cosmic liturgy!

  68. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Steve,
    the Fly/Bee analogy was a favourite of Elder Paisios

    Cosmic liturgy!

  69. Arnold Avatar
    Arnold

    I did not mean to accuse all Orthodox, Evangelical, Fundamentalist or Catholic Christians of being doctrinaire or lacking a sense of poetry. I do believe it is a pitfall of which we must all beware.

  70. Eugene Avatar
    Eugene

    HI, all,

    Fr.Stephen, I think what you said here is brilliant:

    “No one forces any of us, and no one can appeal to a truth so transcendently that our freedom to declare it flawed is overwhelmed. That’s how life really is. If anyone ever taught you that it was otherwise, then they did a poor job of teaching the Orthodox faith.”

    That’s really eloquent, if you don’t mind me saying so, and I appreciate it. It’s not what I was taught,though. I had good teachers, for the most part. It’s a malady I have. For some reason, I have this obsessive trait (a control thing, I think, developed in the face of some chaos in my early years), that drives me to require “a truth so transcendent that (my) freedom to declare it flawed is overwhelmed.” For some reason, I seem to require that certainty, that lack of freedom. I’ve been praying and thinking about that for some time, and hope God will heal me.

    Meanwhile, Dino: when you say, “Man is fallen, but only in the communion which constitutes Christs Body one can “taste and see” the liberation from that fallenness.” I can only say: you don’t know that, at least in the way that common things are known. Many people — Buddhists, for instance — would disagree. They are informed by experiences as “deep” or as “real” as we have. Likewise, Father, when you say: “But none of that makes the Church and the sacraments to be somewhere they are not;” I would ask: how do you know where they are not? You don’t know it in the way that common things are known. It’s an opinion you have. It may be informed by a personal experience of some sort, in church or out of it; but you don’t know.

    Likewise when you say “my reasons are no different than those that led a handful of men to follow Christ in the first place,” what would those reasons be? There might be many. I’m sure the Apostles had many. Sadness? Desperation? Love? Greed for gain? Lust for power? It could be anything that made them decide; although clearly, they were transformed in the end into glory.

    Anyway: the obsession to be certain is a malady of mine, and I would like to cure that. What’s hampering me from giving my heart over, is that this act necessarily entails giving it over to a particular community, and many people — in many communities — I don’t see as particularly trustworthy. Or untrustworthy. They’re just people. But there really is no such thing as “giving one’s heart to Christ” without making a decision to give it to a community, and when that community is no better or worse, on the face of it, than any other, it makes it hard to decide. Particularly if that decision places one at odds with one’s family, one’s wife, and one’s friends; or at least, out of essential Communion with them.

  71. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Eugene,
    There’s such wisdom and self-knowledge in what you say. It’s truly valuable. To recognize a “flaw” (a tendency, a wound, even a way we’re “wired”) is really important. It can have value in our lives (it’s not worthless). It’s just a problem if it becomes an ultimate value. If I refuse to tolerate any uncertainty, my life will be tragically diminished and relationships will suffer.

    I have some “spiritual children” who are OCD, and they wrestle with this sort of thing. Some people have problems of other sorts. Everybody has something. Vulnerability is very difficult – because we allow ourselves to be hurt. And yet vulnerability is one of the few interior weapons against the power of shame to control us. So we slowly have to learn to practice vulnerability. That means learning to trust that God won’t hurt us and that the things that do hurt us, will be used for our salvation. Therefore, no need to fear.

    May God us all grace!

  72. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Amen!

    OCD is decidedly loaded, Father. Having known thine ways for 5 years and more now, I feel comfortable in saying this. DAR = Deliberately Assertive Reordering is probably a more accurate way of saying what amounts to the same thing. Particularly since the darned hermeneutic actually works 100% of the time 🙂

  73. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Or even better, ET (engagement therapy) or pET/P (person engaging Trinity of Persons. 🙂

  74. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Eugene,

    I can only say: you don’t know that, at least in the way that common things are known. Many people — Buddhists, for instance — would disagree. They are informed by experiences as “deep” or as “real” as we have

    there are extremely reliable criteria( “tests” if you like) in Orhtodox asceticism to differentiate a delusional, a psychological, a demonic etc “deep” experience from a genuine experience of God’s Grace.
    Some are as simple as how a person reacts to a slap on the face after such an experience – is his reaction that same kind of meekness as we see in Christ? for instance, there are also discerning spiritual Fathers with even more reliable such criteria…
    I will write when I get some more time as I am v. busy today….
    🙂

  75. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    There you go, the bees again 🙂

  76. Eugene Avatar
    Eugene

    Thanks for all the comments. I wouldn’t really say I was OCD, but that’s sort of the right idea. I see this malady a lot in Orthodox people, though. The Church seems to be full of people who really want to know that they’re right. This is part of what bothers me. “It takes one to know one.”

    My strategy, if I have one at all, is just to try to focus on Christ. The Quaker line is a good one: “The is One, even One, Who can speak to thy condition.”

    I also have given up hoping that I will die smart. I’ll probably die as perplexed and afraid as the next person. But that might not matter. It’s sort of liberating to think that I really will never KNOW in the way I had hoped.

  77. Eugene Avatar
    Eugene

    I mean, THERE is One, even One…

  78. davidp Avatar

    A friend and his wife translated and edited a book called, They Lived in the Power of God. It is about the Pietist Movement in Northern Europe. It was when priests and pastors called for a life of repentance, scripture reading and prayer and simply living the christian life centered in Christ and away from worldliness. All of these priests or pastors were one way or another had opposition from the heads of the church because these pastors or priests who had a born again experience and found a new life in Christ were thought of disturbing the “peace” of the church. I.E…the prevailing church had a formalism and a false peace that made most of the “in name only ´christian´ uncomfortable.

  79. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    David,

    I readily admit that Pietism had positive aspects, but it was ultimately poisonous to the Christian faith, for it gave birth to emotional, enthusiastic, sentimental religion — “religion of the heart,” where “heart” means “feelings.”

  80. Marjaana Avatar
    Marjaana

    To Eugene,

    Sometimes you just to have jump in whether you’re certain or not and see what happens.

    There are many times when I have to “choose” to believe or accept something even when the rational part of me doesn’t really get it. Many of the issues that I struggled with have either become non-issues or I’ve understood them later on. Not in any dramatic epiphany but in a calm recognition, in an “OK, OK you were right” kind of way.

    But yes, it requires a willingness to trust in the face of uncertainty.

    I hope you find your way sooner rather than later.

  81. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    I readily admit that Pietism had positive aspects, but it was ultimately poisonous to the Christian faith, for it gave birth to emotional, enthusiastic, sentimental religion — “religion of the heart,” where “heart” means “feelings.”

    Nicely put PJ.

    I also have given up hoping that I will die smart. I’ll probably die as perplexed and afraid as the next person. But that might not matter. It’s sort of liberating to think that I really will never KNOW in the way I had hoped.

    Humm. In this context, to understand is to relate. Mankind’s existence is marked primarily by relationship. Simply put, we are not given to know very much at all. But…what we are given to know, we protect.

  82. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Nonetheless, it is Who we know that matters…

  83. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    “Mankind’s existence is marked primarily by relationship”
    Indeed Steve!
    Concerning those “informed by experiences as “deep” or as “real” as we have” again Eugene, as well as the “distinguishing by their fruits ‘method’ “, there are also certain ‘preconditions’ for genuine, as opposed to bogus experiences of God.
    This really is a central part of Orthodox Christian spiritual struggle, however, and has always been so: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out”
    That’s why the gift of “distinguishing of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10) is so highly regarded in Orthodox Spiritual Fathers…

  84. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ and Davidp

    I would also say that the pietism as differentiated from rationalism was the creation of a false dicotomy which has bedeviled western civilization every since and a personal internal stuggle that never resolved itself for me until I was received into the Orthdox Church.

    As nearly as I can tell the Orthodox paradigm is never either/or it is always both/and. That begins with the Incarnation itself that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man without confusion or mixture.

    The Church is both human and divine (much to our consternation)

    It is the attempts or expectations that we humans make to have one or the other that leads to so much of our confusion, pain, heresy and eventually apostasy.

    I still remember when this first became clear to me. It was in my early instruction when I first approached the Church. I saw that St. Paul often declared that there was only one way to believe and act. At the same time he repeatedly stressed that when we were unable to do so, we should go boldly before the throne of grace. We are ever living the life of the prodigal son.

    My wife looks at confession much that way, except the priest is the older brother who comes out to meet us and to go with us to the Father and be restored through the grace of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is the feast of the Kingdom right now.

    All the while we pray that our death be “painless, blameless with a good defense before the dread judgement seat of God”; and costantly implore His mercy.

    Healing occurs when we enter into the oneness that is the community of love, the undivided Trinity. “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity who has saved us.”

    We are broken and in pieces. Let to our own devices, we remain broken and in pieces. That is why we tend to see muliplicity where there is none. That is why we create such false constructs as the Two Storey Universe of which Fr. Stephen speaks so eloquently.

  85. Eugene Avatar
    Eugene

    Thanks, all, and Marianne, I like your comment about jumping in. I should say I’ve found Orthodoxy (over the last 28 years, which is how long I’ve practiced the faith), full of people who want to be CERTAIN; also full of people who like speaking foreign languages. I’m kind of tired of both, but perforce I’ve jumped into the only game in town, a GREEK Orthodox church, where the emphasis is on being Greek; though I don’t think even many of the Greeks understand the liturgical language, and it alienates the young. Oh well: I CAN read and chant Byzantine Greek, so I make some people happy, I guess, mainly the old ladies. Maybe it’s my role.

  86. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Dino, the gift of the discernment of spirits is indeed central to Holy Orthodoxy. It teaches us where the ground of truth actually is. Important, for on that very ground is laid the pillar upon which the entire edifice is supported. Imagine planting it on clay!

  87. davidp Avatar

    PJ writes about pietism….but it was ultimately poisonous to the Christian faith, for it gave birth to emotional, enthusiastic, sentimental religion — “religion of the heart,” where “heart” means “feelings.”

    I know groups of Pietism that wasn´t this way..but more to the Orthodox understanding of heart…the center of man´s life and being. It was a deep contentment living a Christ centered life. A life of love without the emotional, enthusiastic sentimental religion as you describe

  88. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    That’s fine David. So long as the Lord builds the Temple….

  89. Brian Avatar
    Brian

    Christos Yannaras wrote about the dangers of Pietism in his book, The Freedom of Morality.

    The entire chapter can be found here:

    http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/YannarasPietism.php

    It is well worth a read, as is the entire book.

  90. Joseph Avatar
    Joseph

    Father Stephen,
    I posted on your blog a couple of years ago, since then I have experienced quite a bit in my life. I became Orthodox 6 years ago. Reading the comments, especially from Eugene all I can say is that I agree with him. I decided to check out a Bible Study about Orthodoxy in ny last night. It was a great experience, the priest clearly knew and studied history, but I was disappointed in seeing no people my age in church and at the study. When I first discovered Orthodoxy I loved it, but now I often wonder if it just becomes a ethnic group for many people, someone asked me last night what ethnicity I am. There were no people of color at the church or bible study, it puzzles me why not? What Eugene bought up has much insight into the modern living of our faith. I am often tempted to leave and join a more diverse group of people, yes such as your former Anglicans! Any insight would be very helpful
    Thank you

  91. sergieyes Avatar
    sergieyes

    Joseph, with reference to Anglicans, my uncle, the Right Reverend Theodore Payne Thurston, was Bishop of Oklahoma, about a century ago. he would not recognize present Anglicans. In terms of finding a friendly congregation, here is the shiboleth required of you: you must accept the rites and rituals of liberal culture such as homosexuality (and lesbianism of course), multiculture, environmentalism, hate-State-Of-Israel, etc. One word against these shiboleths,and you are outcast, marooned. So enter prepared for simply another wrinkle on ethnicity–left-culture ethnicity.

  92. sergieyes Avatar
    sergieyes

    I should have mentioned that there are Western Orthodox Rite congregations run by several jurisdictions, ROCOR, the Antiochian Archdiocese, the Serbians, and recently, even Rome is reviving a rendition of Western Orthodoxy. This Western Orthodox Rite is based on the Rite of Sarum (Canterbury), and is distinctly reminiscent of Anglican services sans the left culture shiboleths.
    http://orthodoxwiki.org/Western_Rite;
    here are several resources:
    http://www.westernorthodox.com;
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Rite_Orthodoxy

    You may write me here if something confuses.

  93. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Joseph,
    I guess the question that strikes me is “What does the ethnic makeup of a Church have to do with anything?” I’m a Southerner. Growing up here there were 4 kinds of people: white Anglo-Saxons, white Scots-Irish, Blacks, and Yankees (anything other than the first 3). But, on reflection, it was not only ethnic, it was often racist. But why should I be surprised when entering the Eastern Church that most of its members are from an Eastern country. Nobody’s surprised to discover that most Anglicans are, well, Anglo (and it’s very, very Anglo).

    I’ve learned a great deal about history that I never knew before. I’ve studied the late Ottoman Empire and the history of Eastern Europe, both medieval and modern – same with Russia and the Middle East. It’s broadened my understanding of the world (including my own narrow world). It’s just luck of the draw on my historical setting.

    I became Orthodox for good and right reasons and there are very natural consequences. You shouldn’t be upset that someone would ask what your ethnicity is – it’s a common Orthodox question – indeed – it’s a common immigrant question.

    But if we choose our Church based on a better experience, or some such criteria, then we’ll find what we want. Be we will not find the truth. Some of those Russians and Greeks have kin-folk who were tortured for the faith. And we can’t suffer a few Greeks?

  94. Rebecca Avatar
    Rebecca

    Perhaps it is an advantage of living on the frontiers of Orthodoxy that my experience is nothing like what Eugene and Joseph describe. Out here, there isn’t enough of any one ethnic group for anyone to have their own church, so we are very pan-Orthodox and age-diverse, over half converts, with more trickling in all the time. Where we converted (Louisville, KY) is also blessed with a large pan-Orthodox parish- large enough that ethnic cliques can happen, but there are many who fellowship across racial lines. Just to note that while the ethnic “problem” exists, it is not universal. But it seems to me to be asking the wrong questions. Every parish has its struggles, and the only reason to convert, the only thing that will keep anyone from leaving in disillusionment is the belief that Orthodoxy is the Church- not the best church among many, but The Church, Body and Bride of Christ. If there are many churches, of which Orthodoxy is one, then it is easy to find one that is “better” by many standards of measurement. But if there is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, then you stick with it, warts and all.

  95. Marjaana Avatar
    Marjaana

    In response to Joseph

    I’m sorry if you had a disappointing experience! I am on the parish council of one of the NYC churches and believe me, if only we could figure out how we could get more young people and people of color to attend without compromising the integrity of the faith! Or have more people attend more weekday services (myself included). I don’t know what age you are but certainly on any given Sunday we have people of all ages from all kinds of backgrounds. As you would expect our parishioners are Russians, Ukrainians Georgians, Greeks, but also Antiochian, American mid-westerners, Finnish…

    Please don’t give up so fast. And if you come to our church (The Cathedral on 2nd Street at 2nd Avenue)on a Sunday, I will introduce you to some of our folks. If you let me know I will come and find you after the service (I’m in the choir)

    Also, I’m sure the ethnicity question was mere curiosity, not an effort to put you into any specific group or category.

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