Saturday, December 24, 2011
He Who holds the whole creation in the hollow of His hand is born of the Virgin.
He Whose Essence is incomprehensible is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mortal.
God, Who in the beginning formed the heavens, lies in a manger.
He Who rained down manna on the people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His Mother's breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church summons the Magi.
The Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
Show us also Thy holy Theophany!
Sunday, October 23, 2011
It is also the 20th anniversary of the autocephaly, or independence, of the Antiochian Catholic Church in America.
Axios! Many years!
The following are Prayers-Hymns from the Byzantine Rite, used at the Liturgy (Eucharist) in honor of St. James:
Troparion Tone 4
Thou hast received the Gospel as a disciple,/ thou art invincible as a martyr,/ and bold as the Lord's brother,/ thou dost intercede as a hierarch./ O righteous James, pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls.
Kontakion Tone 4
God the Word, only-begotten of the Father,/ came to us in the last days./ He has made thee first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem/ and a steward of spiritual mysteries./ we honour thee, O Apostle James.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
In his homily, Mar Cassian noted that "antichrist" means not only "against Christ" but also, "in place of Christ".
Here is the note:
The language of Orthodox Christianity is not that of substitution and re-presentation. It is, rather, the language of participation and communion. The former is opaque, solipsistic, iconoclastic, and nominalistic. The latter is transparent and iconic. The latter is the language of interpenetration and perichoresis. It is the language of Trinitarianism and therefore, of human community and sobernost, the language of counciliarity.
Thus, as priest, I am not "another Christ". If I am, I am in fact "antiChrist". However, my priesthood, by participation, is that of Christ Himself.
Monday, May 9, 2011
An Urgent Message from ACCA Bishop Victor Mar Michael
Mar Michael now writes that enough money has been raised over the last two weeks to resolve the immediate crisis, as outlined in the previous post. For this we are all grateful to God and to all how helped.
However, he also writes that he, Avva Zakkai, Sister Miriam, and the St. Demetrios parish community are looking for a more affordable alternative with regard to a venue for worship and service. However, given the relative little that they are currently paying, it is hard to envision such an alternative, at least one that would allow for 24/7 access and use.
They could probably once again return to using the sanctuary of another congregation for weekly worship, but that would mean only having access to that space for a couple of hours on Sunday and it would make continuing the ministry to the homeless extremely difficult if not impossible.
If you gave, thank you. If you can, please contact Mar Michael at the E-mail address below and pledge your ongoing support. Even few dollars a month, each and every month, would make a significant difference. Thanks.
Mar Michael's E-mail address is: mar[dot]michael[at]juno[dot]com
Checks may also be sent to the following address, made payable to the St. Demetrios or the ACCA.
St Demetrios Antiochian Catholic Church
2001 Middlebrook Pike
Knoxville, TN 37921
Anyway, it is almost three years later, and wouldn't you know it, once again as we prepare for a 2,000 mile road trip, gas prices have increased drastically. Murphy was a very wise man.
But anyway, Cary is now graduating with a GPA just a tick or two below 4.0. So congratulations, girl! Can't wait to see you in Chicago!
Monday, April 25, 2011
Some seven years ago, St. Demetrios ACCA parish in Knoxville began worshipping in this little church building after having spent nearly 15 years renting worship space on Sunday evenings only from another congregation in a better part of town. From this location, St. Demetrios has been able to minister to many of Knoxville's poorest people, chronically homeless folks who are frequently addicted to alcohol or other chemical substances or experiencing other forms of mental and emotional illness. This ministry has taken the form of a food bank and soup kitchen; it has included inviting them to worship with the parish community, and some have chosen to do so. During the course of that time, finances have always been an issue, but Mar Michael, our bishop and the parish Senior Pastor, found it necessary to send out the following E-mail on Holy Saturday, April 23, 2011, a few days ago:
Dear Friends:Mar Michael's E-mail address is: mar[dot]michael[at]juno[dot]com
On this eve of glorious Pascha, I must inform you of an urgent situation that has arisen and ask for your help. As many of you will know, St Demetrios parish church (the property and building, that is) is not owned by us, but is leased from the owner, a businessman of my long acquaintance. Many times over the more than seven years we have been worshiping, preaching the Orthodox faith, and ministering to the homeless in this former Baptist Church building, we have fallen behind on our rent, but our landlord has always exercised great patience with us, and we have always been able to eventually get caught up. Often, money would just "show up" quite unexpectedly and just in time. God has certainly blessed us.
The last three years or so have been rather difficult, but 2010 was the hardest. As the economy has worsened, so have our contributions. In 2010 only about half of our basic expenses were covered by routine contributions. The rest was made up by the St Demetrios clergy. I sold a number of heirlooms and begged money from a few old friends. Father Zakkai and Sister Mariam were very generous as well, as generous as they are dedicated to our ministry, and most of you know how dedicated they are. They and just a small handful of others have also been personally defraying all the expenses of our soup kitchen ministry for the last three years or so. One could not hope for more dedicated workers in the vineyard of the Lord.
We were able to finish last year without owing the landlord money, thanks be to God. But 2011 is shaping up to be worse for us financially than even last year. We are already two months behind on rent and utilities (only one month behind on telephone service), and our landlord has finally lost his patience with us. We must pay March, April, and May's expenses owed him by May 1 or he will insist we leave. That gives us about a week.
Friends, I am out of heirlooms to sell. We need your help urgently if St Demetrios is continue as we have. We have only a few hundred dollars. We need to acquire about $2,020 within a week to prevent eviction.
Most of our regular parishioners have always been very generous, but there are just so few of them. I need for our ir-regular parishioners -- those of you whom we see a few times a year -- to know that while we certainly do appreciate your generosity on those occasions, we need your support all the time. In order for St Demetrios to always be there when your schedule permits attendance, we need your ongoing support.
And those of you among our more far flung friends who only know of St Demetrios by reputation, if you value what we offer and what we represent, please help us keep our precious temple. It's pretty shabby, I know, but even the shabbiest corner of Paradise is still Paradise, and it would break my heart to lose it over a matter of a couple thousand dollars. We have only a few days to make this happen. Please help us if you can and give God the glory.
I leave it in your hands, please prayerfully consider what I have written. Contributions are certainly tax-deductible. And if you are going to drop us a check in the mail in the next few days, please let me know by email [See E-mail address below].
In abject humility, I remain yours in Christ Jesus.
Victor Mar Michael, Senior Pastor
St Demetrios Antiochian Catholic Church
Please help if you can. Thank you. God bless you. Christ is risen!
Sunday, April 24, 2011
If anyone be devout and love God, let them enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If anyone be a wise servant, let them rejoicing enter into the joy of the Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have struggled from the first hour, let her today receive her just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at noon, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let her draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has worked from the first hour.
He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, all of you enter into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; all of you feast sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy the feast of faith, all of you: Receive the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for her iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of death has annihilated it. By descending into Hades, He made Hades captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hades, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
Hades took a body, and it met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.O Death, where is your sting? O Sheol, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and none of the dead remain in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
John, I am pretty sure that others have wondered about these things as well, so I thank you for giving me the opportunity for further clarification and explanation as to our stance on these matters.
APOSTOLIC vs. ORTHODOX
To begin, and as background, let me draw a distinction between "Orthodox" and "Apostolic". In speaking of the four communions, I am speaking primarily of the quality of apostolicity, as manifested in the presence of the apostolic succession of their bishops which, in each of these communions, comes down directly from the Apostles. Further, in speaking of the very high level of consensus that exists between them (even higher when one takes Rome out of the discussion), I was not thereby defining the Tradition. I was countering the argument that there is no intrinsic organic continuity, especially in belief and practice, between the Church of the Apostles and any community which exists today and that whatever traditions any such communion may hold are not necessarily helpful in understanding the Scripture, especially the New Testament. I was also showing that these four communions pretty much always agree with each other over against Protestantism. Obviously, a large segment of Anglicanism could be included in this consensus, but the problem there is that Anglicanism is so heterogeneous. So, no, I do not think this gives us a useful definition of "tradition" in this context.
In any case, "Orthodoxy" would be a sub-category. It is characterized in relation to Roman Catholicism and/or the Church of the East by adherence to either three or seven "ecumenical" councils; by an insistence that the Filioque, if not heretical, distorts the doctrine of God and was, in any case, added to the Creed improperly, only by papal fiat; by an ecclesiology that is counciliar from top to bottom; by an existential, non-legalistic, therapeutic approach to salvation which focuses on restoring communion with God and the healing of human nature damaged by sin and death: this process of salvation, of restoration, healing, and re-entering communion with God is summed up by the word "theosis" and is made possible, in the first instance, by the Incarnation. If this list is not exhaustive, it covers the main points of difference, particularly between the two types of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. So then, the question of the ordination of women aside, it should be clear that the ACCA is, indeed, "Orthodox." In what follows, I shall argue that far from compromising our Orthodoxy, the fact that we ordain women in fact enhances and confirms it.
TRADITION AND DEVELOPMENT
But back to the question of tradition: the word itself is defined as "that which is passed on, handed over". But, when we come to the central question of this discussion, the possibility of women being ordained and functioning as priests and bishops, one must address the question of what COULD have been passed down and why it was not. We therefore also have to address the matter of "development".
The Orthodox, especially among the Byzantines, are often quite allergic to that word, and understandably so, in that it is usually associated with changes in Roman Catholic dogma and practice, especially in terms of things that the Orthodox find inherently unacceptable, even heretical. These issues include the addition of the Filioque to the Creed; the growth of papal authority and power, culminating in the decrees of the First Vatican Council; and "ex cathedra" statements made by Popes, statements which, according to Vatican I, are in and of themselves "irreformable" and thus, infallible. The one which the Orthodox find most problematic is the statement which defines that Mary was conceived without original sin, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
However, as the late J. Pelikan points out, if one considers Church history, one must acknowledge the presence of development, but development of an organic sort. He compares the development of the Church to the development that occurs when an acorn becomes an oak. In contrast, I would speak of the development that has happened within the Roman Catholic Church, especially with regard to the Filioque and the Papal claims, as not being organic, but rather, as being "mutations" meaning that they at best distort that which has been handed down and, at worst, depart from it.
So then, if we admit the notion of development, we can look at the development that occurs in the early Church, say from the beginning to perhaps 200 CE. We will immediately notice much direct continuity: in comparing the New Testament with the writings of the early Fathers, we find nothing that is, in the final analysis, contradictory, either in terms of belief or in terms of behavior, either moral behavior or liturgical behavior. The question of Church order is more complex, but the bottom line is that the Bishops succeed the Apostles, first, while the Apostles remain on earth, as a college in each local Church, a presbyteral body under an Apostle and assisted by deacons; however, already in Acts, we find James the Brother of the Lord acting alone in overseeing the Church in Jerusalem, assisted by presbyters and then, served by deacons as well. As the Apostles depart this life, the model of "one bishop in one city" prevails, and we see that concept already firmly in place in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. In a sense, this is not necessarily developmental, in that, along with the Apostles, Jesus had also appointed the Seventy to assist them.
But what of discontinuity? Well, it seems that the practice of communal living, found in Acts, was short-lived, perhaps never leaving Jerusalem. It is significant, I think, that in the Fourth Century, St. John Chrysostom deplored this fact, even maintaining that the Church of his time saw few signs and wonders precisely on this account. There is the also the matter of the status of Jews vs. Gentiles. In the earliest Church, Gentile male converts were first circumcised, converted to Judaism, before being baptized. However, according to Acts, this was changed at the "Council" of Jerusalem, as described in Acts 15, after Peter receives a vision from God telling him to preach to a group of Gentiles and, in the aftermath, he witnesses them receiving the Holy Spirit. Paul, also, is already routinely preaching to and baptizing Gentiles without requiring they be circumcised. While it occurs very early in the life of the Church, it nevertheless represents development, even as the Church's creation of the diaconate does, as recounted in Acts 6:1-6.
The Role of Women in the Earliest Churches
And the role of women? It is clear that women served the early Church in leadership roles, roles that would have included presiding at the Eucharist. There is Prisca, the "fellow-worker" of St. Paul, along with her husband, Aquila (interestingly, the Byzantine Church lists Aquila among "the Seventy" but not Prisca (diminutive: Priscilla). However, from the NT, it seems that she had the more prominent role in the Church. There is a growing body of literature dealing with this, but for now, I will mention only Ben Witherington's Women in the Earliest Churches which clearly demonstrates that women had leadership roles, and therefore sacerdotal functions, in the earliest Christian communities.
I don't think that Witherington deals with this example, but it is clear that there were female prophets in the earliest Churches. (See Acts 21:9) Indeed, according to the words of the Prophet Joel, which Peter quotes in his sermon at Pentecost, in the "last days," beginning at Pentecost, "God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18) The equality of women in ministry is a sign of the last days, both in general and in particular.
Now, we turn to the Didache, written before 100 CE. In it, we see Church order in transition. On the one hand, we note that the old ministries of Apostle (presumably in the broad sense) and Prophet are still around, and are still held superior to that of "bishops". However, all of these are Christian "High Priests" and all are, as one therefore might expect, authorized to preside at the Eucharist, the sacrifice mentioned in Malachi 1:11. But wait: we have just noted, have we not, that the early Church recognized the ministry of female "Prophets"!
This is but one indication of a relative equality in ministry in the earliest Christian Communities. Witherington discusses Prisca, and he notes that she is not the only woman that St. Paul refers to "fellow-worker," a term he uses for men like Timothy and Titus. Also, there is the matter of the unquestionably female Apostle Junia, and the fact that St. Paul, even while requiring that women have their heads covered in the Assembly, acknowledges that they "pray and prophesy" during worship, as he writes in I Corinthians 11:5.
So what has happened? Well, first, women continued to be called and ordained as Deacons until relatively late in the First Millennium, and the Greek and Coptic Churches have indeed revived that practice, although their ministry tends to be restricted. Also, in the First Millennium, there are sporadic denunciations of a bishop here, a bishop there, who is ordaining women as presbyters. What is noteworthy, however, is that it is not until the work of Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, early in the Second Millennium of the Christian Era, that anyone suggests that it is impossible to ordain women; rather, the denunciations say that women SHOULD not be ordained. Aquinas, for his part, says that women cannot be ordained because they are "defective males"; they are not, in effect, fully human. Of course, aside from any other consideration, this position is easily refuted by the most cursory glance at the first chapters of Genesis, which clearly indicate that both male and female are created in the image and likeness of God and that both together as well as distinctly, are called "Adam," meaning "human" (Genesis 5:1-2) Therefore, even though Aquinas is clearly basing his argument on a false ontology, Rome has uncritically followed him in this at least insofar as the RCC maintains that it is impossible to validly ordain a woman, to confer upon her the sacrament of ordination. We also note that none of the other sacraments are gender specific with the exception of marriage, and marriage requires one member of each gender.
Therefore, the question is not, "Can women be ordained to the presbyterate or episcopate?" but "Should women be so ordained?" Perhaps, between c. 100 CE and c. 1940, the answer was always "no", and today, it may be the case that in one place, one situation, a female priest is needed, while in another, one is neither needed or desirable. Along with the Byzantine theological writer Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, I advocate pluralism in this matter even as, after the Council of Jerusalem, the Messianic Jews continued to live according to Torah while recognizing that the Gentiles who were converting to Christ were not so bound.
There is also one other alleged basis for denying ordination to women, the "argument from ikonography". This refers to the biblical image of Christ as the bridegroom of the Church, his bride. The argument states that since the priest is alter Christus, he is, in a sense, married to the Church he serves. However, using this image in this way ignores the contrasting image, also found in Scripture, which is that of the Church as the "Body of Christ" and therefore, "the extension of the Incarnation". Obviously, neither image can be taken to the extent of excluding the other. To do so would be akin to arguing that since the Church is the ikon of the Trinity, it must have Three and only Three members!
Then, there is a consideration that has yet to be mentioned, the role of the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Beginning with the Annunciation, she shares in all aspects of her Son's ministry. She is Prophet, she is Queen, and yes, she is Priest. Together with her Divine Son, she offers Him in sacrifice to the Father as she stands at the foot of the Cross. She receives her ordination to the priesthood at the Incarnation even as she shows herself to be prophet in her utterance of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
We have seen that the earliest Churches included women at all levels of ministry but that this did not become part of the Tradition, that which is passed on, except with regard to women deacons, or deaconesses, but that it could have. But why was it not passed on? And, since it did not, can we justify the practice today? I believe we can.
As noted above, there is indeed progress, development within the life of the Church. This begins with the decision of Acts 15 (or even, with the creation of the order of Deacons). With this decision, one matter of division and domination, that of "Jew and Greek" in the words of St. Paul, is overcome. Over the next centuries, the Church and Christendom progressively address the matter of "slave and free". Until it raises its ugly head again in the early modern period with the European enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans, slavery all but disappears from Christendom. However, of these three divisions within humanity, all the result of the fall, it is clear that "male and female" is most basic. Humanity is created male and female but is not created, in the first instance, "Jew and Greek" and certainly not "slave and free" However, as a result of the fall, according to Genesis 3, patriarchy becomes the normal relationship between men and women. But, according to St. Paul, these three basic fault lines of humanity, along which not only division, but also oppression and domination arise, are overcome in Christ. And, the result, in the end, is the perfect freedom and equality of the Kingdom of God "which is to come" wherein God will be "all-in-all" and "everything to everyone". Thus, following Bishop Zizioulas, the life of the Church is not only grounded in that which is instituted by Christ in the past, but is also constituted, being pulled into the future by the Holy Spirit.
Now, as it happens, the first purpose of the Church is the salvation, the making whole, of distinct human persons. However, in the process, the Church also cannot help but affect the culture, and its associated institutions, in which she finds herself in any given historical period. Thus, the question becomes, in effect, "How does this question, or that issue, affect the possibility of bringing human persons into communion with God?" St. Paul, for example, does not take on slavery directly, but his mission and ministry begins a process which subverts, and eventually virtually eliminates, slavery among Christians. It is this same impulse that empowers the Christian abolitionists of the early modern period even as they confront this evil more assertively. In the case of the question of Jews and Gentiles, God intervenes directly, demonstrating that Gentiles, too, were called to Christ and that apart from circumcision. In the case of women, both apply. At least in the West, it has become increasingly the case that more and more people are concerned with moving beyond patriarchy, and if the Church is to be engaged, it must address this question in one way or another. Also, Christian women increasingly testify to having a call to ordained ministry, including at least one RC Saint, Terese Martin, "the Little Flower". And, in those places where women are ordained to Christian ministry, including to the priesthood, as in Anglicanism and in certain of the Independent Orthodox/Catholic Churches, including the ACCA, the testimony of those receiving the ministry of these women is almost always positive. "By their fruits you shall know them." And, once again, we can place this in the context of the words of Joel, quoted by Peter at Pentecost: "In the last days, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."
The late J. Pelikan has famously said that "tradition is the living faith of the dead while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Because the Church moves toward the kingdom, because salvation entails the healing of humanity, both in terms of individual persons and humanity as a whole, fidelity to the Tradition must be dynamic or it, in fact, ceases to be fidelity and becomes something else. Patriarchy, ethnic differentiation and conflict, and socioeconomic stratification and oppression are all results of the fall, but in Christ, they are conquered and will eventually be completely overcome. The Church is called to witness to this, not only verbally, but also in the way in which it lives its life.
Therefore, the ACCA claims to be Orthodox in terms of a dynamic adherence to the Tradition that, I think, will eventually be found as well in the mainstream jurisdictions of the two forms of Orthodoxy, in Roman Catholicism, and in the Assyrian Church of the East. Who judges? In the end, God. Until then, however, history will judge. "By their fruits you shall know them."
Monday, February 14, 2011
Also, Derek, thank you for inspiring me to write another post here.
Derek, your last statement is to quote an aphorism often attributed, as you do, to Augustine of Hippo: "“In the essentials, unity. In the nonessentials, liberty. In all things, love”
Well, we of course agree on the priority of love. One should not call onself a Christian and disagree with that. After all, "GOD IS love." However, at the same time, we are called to "speak the truth in love."
Thus, I intend to continue to speak what I understand to be the truth, justifying my reasons for holding the positions that I do, "the hope that is within me," and yes, doing so in love. "The love of Christ constrains us" and "Woe is me if I do not preach the good news." But, beyond that, this aphorism really solves nothing. In the Preface to Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, "One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point 'really matters' and the other replies: 'Matter? Why, it's absolutely essential."
So, yes: I hold that these questions are essential, and in this I am in agreement with the four communions of Churches which can trace their ancestry directly back to the Apostles and their missions. These are: the two forms of Orthodoxy, Byzantine and Non-Chalcedonian; the Roman Catholic Church; and the Assyrian Church of the East. (Each of these also has certain off-shoots, schisms which, unlike virtually all of Protestantism, has largely preserved the faith and practice of its parent. I am a priest in an off-shoot of the non-Chalcedonian Indian Orthodox Church.) A great portion of Anglicanism would agree as well.
Of course, this begs the question: Why? WHY are these matters essential? Short answer: because God is communitarian and humanity, created in the image and likeness of God, is called to be a full and authentic community as well. Now, being a community requires that its members be SOCIAL, integrally related one to another. Thus, becoming a Christian in the full and complete sense of that word requires that one be a member of a visible, historical, social community which is, in fact, the re-creation of humanity as spiritual kindred of the "Son of Adam" (the "last Adam") and the "Second Eve." Christianity is not a "me and Jesus", a "me and God alone" religion any more than humanity is merely a collection of separate individuals. St. Paul writes that Christians "are members one of another". This is so because, first, the Divine Persons are "members one of another" and therefore, all of humanity is created for this end as well.
Again, these questions are: that of the nature and status of the Church and the status of its leadership; that of whether or not one is regenerated by the waters of baptism; that of the status of the consecrated bread and wine of the Lord's Supper; and the question of what Jesus means in John 20:21-23. We can also include here the need for a full account of what is prescribed in James 5:14-15: who are the "presbyters" mentioned here? How are they chosen? What is the criteria? Who ordains them and how? How is it that forgiveness of sins is connected with a ritual given for physical healing? On what basis can all of these questions be answered? And so on.
The original references from the New Testament, each addressing one (or more) of these questions, are as follows: Matthew 10:40; Matthew 16:18-19; Matthew 18:18; Mathew 28:18-20; Luke 10:16; John 3:5; John 6:35-58; John 13:20; John 20:22-23; Acts 2:37-38; Romans 6:1-6; I Corinthians 10:1-22 (especially I Corinthians 10:16-21); I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 5:26; I Timothy 3:15; Titus 3:5; I Peter 3:21.
I'm kind of working backward here in dealing with Derek's last comment, but I am going to skip over the matter of "haughtiness" for a moment and take up the question of the Creeds. Derek makes what is usually considered a self-evident statement, that the Creeds (or, more precisely, THE Creed, that of Nicea-Constantinople), "have been agreed upon by ALL CHRISTENDOM, not just one wing. Those Creeds reflect the core convictions of Christianity and for that reason I take it for granted that they are in union with the Scriptures."
Okay, however: there are those who profess faith in Christ but who do not accept the Creed: Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Oneness Pentecostals. We can say, as I would tend to do, that precisely because they reject the Creed, these groups are not fully and authentically Christian. I of course leave their judgment, both as to persons and communities, to Christ. However, there is an inevitable circularity there if we are going to deny that these folks are Christian. There are others who, while (usually) being at least tacitly Trinitarian, reject the notion of creeds altogether, their slogan often being, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent."
And, even, among all those who do accept the Creed, there are differences. The Filioque, for example, is perhaps the best known, largely dividing the Roman Catholic and Protestant West from the Orthodox and Assyrian East. However, when the two types of Orthodox, Roman Catholics, members of the Assyrian Church of the East, and many Anglicans profess a belief in "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" they all mean something quite different from what Lutherans, Calvinists, and other Protestants mean.
While there are some disagreements between the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and the Assyrians these groups agree about the Church 95% over against the diverse opinions found within Protestantism (and the Orthodox and the Church of the East usually agree with each other over against Rome). Confession of faith in "one baptism for the remission of sins" always carries differences in meaning between those who accept the original doctrine of baptismal regeneration and those who do not.
So, it cannot really be said that all Christendom professes the Creed or that even, all who do mean exactly the same thing in doing so. And this, of course, is where the difficulties lie. You state, Derek, that the Church Fathers are of diverse opinions. I deny that the Fathers are of diverse opinions when it comes to the central questions I raise above.
That is, all of the Fathers hold that the Church is a visible historical, organization, continuous in time and space and that, however this is specified, she is infallible, meaning that if one lives within her and follows her path, one will surely be saved in all senses of that word. "Outside the Church there is no salvation." Further, the councils all presume this as well.
The same is true regarding all the other questions. On these matters, the Fathers all agree, as do the four communions mentioned above which trace their ancestry directly to the Apostles and their missionary efforts. And guess what? To a one extent or another, Protestantism, and especially, Evangelicalism, disagrees with the four iterations of the Apostolic Tradition on these matters.
Which brings us back to the beginning of Derek's last comment. I have proposed that the passages I have cited really require very little interpretation. However, I ask, if they do require interpretation, upon what basis are we to interpret them? I then suggest that authorial intent and historical context would be the proper way of understanding these passages as with any other work of literature, and this means, when dealing with the New Testament, that we have to interpret them according to the Tradition in that it is the Tradition which seals the canon of the Old Testament and which gives us both the New Testament documents and the New Testament canon itself.
Derek responds to this by, first, saying that he does not want to chuck his brain at the Church door, and with this I agree, although I would add the caveat that the first task of anyone following Christ is not primarily a task of the intellect, but of the heart and body. (See below.) He also writes, " I see Scripture (i.e. the divinely inspired Word of God or we could word it another way: The authority of God exercised through the Scriptures – which is all saying the same thing) as primary in that Tradition must always be weighted against it and if ever found wanting, must be open to correction."
Okay, but give me an example. Where do you find Tradition wanting vis-a-vis the Scriptures? I do not know of such a place. Quite the opposite. If you cannot give me an example of this being a problem, then the question is moot, is it not? Derek wants to follow the Berean method of Acts 17:11. But this must presume that Scripture speaks clearly (as evidently it does not do so completely here: what precisely are "these things" and how did the Bereans verify them from the Old Testament?); otherwise, we have two hermeneutic problems, not just one. However, if one uses the rest of the Tradition, including the Creed (the "rule", or "canon", "of faith"), the decisions of the Councils (especially Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus), the content of the historic liturgies (the "canon of prayer"), and the writings of the Fathers, to interpret the Bible, then one is going to be certain of giving the Bible its just due. The Bible is like the bricks of a building. The rest of the Tradition is the mortar. This addresses the need that we all have, as with the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8:26-40, that someone guide us as we read (vs. 30-31).
For Orthodox Christians, regardless of nationality or any other distinguishing feature, it is all about the Tradition. We define the Tradition as the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church "leading it into all truth", and we indeed point, first, to the Bible (in its full canon, not the truncated Protestant canon) as the cornerstone and primary statement of this Tradition. However, we understand the rest of the Tradition, especially the Creed and the liturgies, to be as inspired of the Holy Spirit as the Bible itself. The fathers are secondary, yet indispensable witnesses, especially with regard to the application of the Tradition in the lives of Christians as they live it out within the Church.
So what is left to be thought about? Well, for example: "how shall we then live?" How is the good news in all its fullness to be presented in the here and now? How can the classical doctrines of the faith be restated so that their relevance is made clear to people who think in categories very different from those of the first five centuries, or even the first millenium of the Christian era? For Orthodox Christianity, doctrine is always practical. It is always related to salvation, to the communion of humans, of humanity, first, with the Triune God and then, between human persons. IOW, there is no need to reinvent the wheel of the Tradition, just as there is no need to re-write the Bible. What is necessary is putting that wheel to its highest and best use.
Then, of course, there is the question of sorting, as Vladyka Kallistos Ware puts it, "patristic wheat from patristic chaff". A closely related question has to do with distinguishing the Tradition from traditionS. The latter is complicated by the fact that traditionS, or customs, are what, in a sense, incarnate the Tradition. Thus, while one must distinguish, in theory, between the human and the Divine in Christ, one can quickly find that in so doing, the understanding of both essences is distorted.
So anyway, Derek, are you looking for some intellectual stimulation in the theological area? Got just the book for ya: It is called Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. (Unfortunately, it is apparently out of print; I found you the best price that I could.)
But beyond that, harking back to the question of what has priority, the intellect or the heart, while walking the Christian path, let me, expanding upon C. S. Lewis, offer the following suggestions to all, including both Derek and myself:
- Spend at least as much time praying as you do reading.
- Do not neglect fasting and alms-giving. They too are integral Christian disciplines.
- For every contemporary piece that you read, read two ancient pieces; this was Lewis' original recommendation upon which I am troping.
- For every secular piece that you read, read two by Christian authors.
- For every Protestant, Anglican, or Roman Catholic work that you read, read two Orthodox works.
Now, let me return to the question of "haughtiness". This is, I guess, in the eye of the beholder, and if you, Derek, feel that I am being haughty, I am sorry. That is certainly not my intention, and I do not feel that I have been writing out of such a spirit. (Albeit I have been a bit in your face if you identify yourself completely and personally with Evangelicalism. I am criticizing a theology, not any person, including you, Derek.) I have not said, nor have I thought or felt, as I myself have heard directed at me from other sources, at least in effect, "You ain't really Orthodox, so you ain't shit." Since Derek is presumably baptized and accepts the Creed, I consider him a brother in Christ. And Derek, because of this, we would indeed welcome you, invite you, URGE you even, to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament with us.
Further, I myself grew up in a spiritual millieu quite similar to his. I understand, I think, that Derek, having not yet experienced a conscious and felt need for the sacraments, has also not yet heard the call of the New Testament to live a sacramental life within a Christian community that, according to historical and Traditional standards, can call itself a ["local" or "particular"] "Church" in the full creedal and, dare I say, Biblical sense of that term.
Personally, I heard this call and experienced this need and desire at a very early age, but there were all kinds of roadblocks, existential, intellectual, and familial, which prevented me from really beginning that journey until age 19.
In any event, Derek, please know that this conversation is, for me, all about "speaking the truth in love", the truth as I have come to understand it, and as justified by, yes, the Tradition (and, in this case, that includes the experience of all who have walked this Orthodox and Catholic path before me).
I believe, I KNOW, that you, Derek, and your compatriots, are missing out on the authentic, experiential aspect of walking the Christian path in a community that is fully and authentically Church, that is called to be, and already is, an Ikon of the Most Blessed and All-Holy Trinity. If that is haughty, I am sorry. I did not create this situation. I am its beneficiary, but that through no goodness of my own. I am, with St. Paul, the "chief of sinners". "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner."