Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Evangelical Appreciates "Theosis"

(Phiro tip to Orthodixie)

Evangelical scholar James R. Payton Jr., professor of history at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, has published a piece in Christianity Today entitled, “Keeping the End in View: How the strange yet familiar doctrine of theosis can invigorate the Christian life”. He is also author of Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition, published by IVP Academic.

My reaction to this article is profoundly mixed. It is good, of course, whenever anyone, especially an Evangelical, says nice things about Orthodox Christianity and the patristic tradition in general, and it is to be hoped, may it please God, that Payton’s writing here will inspire many CT readers to further investigate the apostolic Christian faith in its Eastern and Orthodox iterations. Further, to be fair, perhaps Payton’s book length presentation is more complete. One hopes so. HOWEVER…

My problems with what Payton has to say in this article begin with the subtitle: “How the strange yet familiar doctrine of theosis can invigorate the Christian life.” The major thrust of Payton’s CT piece is apparently that Christians should keep the fulness of life in Christ ever in view, that fulness, of course, being experienced only in the age to come, at the end of history, in the glorified, resurrected state. Fair enough, as far as it goes, and Payton is certainly correct in criticizing the vulgar Evangelicalism, usually connected with the semi-Calvinist belief that “once saved is always saved,” in which justification, or conversion, is effectively reduced to, as Payton says, “a get–out-of-hell-free card”; however, it seems to me that Evangelical Christianity has long been looking for “doctrines” to “invigorate” it. One could even view the beginnings of the Reformation in these terms. Luther, as is well known, latched on to “the just shall live by faith” while Calvin found his starting point in the discussion of predestination in Ephesians 1. This search for a doctrinal panacea has continued until this very moment, the most well-known current manifestation being the so-called “prosperity gospel:, “blab it and grab it”, as Mar Cassian puts it. (Fr. Jon Braun’s book, Divine Energy directly engages the shortcomings of this search for panaceas.)

But, for Orthodox Christianity, theology – doctrine – is first and foremost practical: “What must I do to be saved?” The answer, given somewhat differently in different places in the New Testament, but always referring to the same reality, is clear: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”, “repent and be baptized”, “eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man,” “put to death the deeds of the flesh,” “endure to the end”. The point is, “doctrines”, even dogmas, no matter how true, how Orthodox, in and of themselves do little or nothing: “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life”, “faith without works is dead”.

The problem here is that theosis, or deification (also called union with Christ, sanctification, regeneration, and yes, justification), is not simply about ultimate salvation, resurrection, glorification. Theosis begins here and now with conversion, incorporation into Christ by way of the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and participation in the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is renewed in the Mysteries of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. It is pursued by way of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. There is absolutely no mention in this article of the Mysteries, the Sacraments, nor of these classical Christian disciplines.

There is also absolutely no mention of the fact that the Christian life, begun and lived by incorporation into Christ by way of baptism into his death, is life in the Body of Christ, the Church. This is not surprising, given that the Sacraments are not mentioned. However, it is impossible to discuss the Orthodox point of view on this apart from life on the ground, life in the Church, participating in the Mysteries, practicing the disciplines, because sanctification, theosis, union with Christ, is inseparable from this life in the Church, “the fulness of [Christ] who fills all in all”.

Payton also (mildly) criticizes Orthodox Christianity for not keeping its terms straight, for supposedly confusing “justification”, “sanctification,” and “theosis”. But, as the late Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias points out, citing I Corinthians 6:11, “justification” and “sanctification” are deeply interchangeable: they are synonyms (notice also the reference to “washing”, i.e., baptism here), related one to another by way of parallelism, each word focusing on different aspects of the same reality.

In conclusion, while it is always good to read appreciations of Christian Orthodoxy in forums such as Christianity Today, Payton’s presentation here is at best incomplete. This has been, I think, the stumbling block of Wesleyanism, Payton’s jumping off point. Wesleyanism, it seems, like virtually all of Protestantism, has split into two camps, one conservative, the other, in reaction to the shortcomings of the conservative stance, liberal. Now, in theology, liberalism is not a good thing, but perhaps worse is the conservatism from which it is born. Wesley, an Anglican priest, was both a progenitor of contemporary Evangelicalism and a proto-typical Anglo-Catholic, and he certainly sought that all of his followers – converts – should come to be “partakers in the Divine nature” (and one has to got to love that lost stanza of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" quoted at the beginning of the article). However, while he had a rather high doctrine of the Church and of the sacraments (one which, at least in the United States, did not have much effect on the development of Methodism and its Holiness and Pentecostal off-shoots), he made a very fundamental mistake: “sanctification by faith”.

In other words, Wesley failed to see the importance of the ascetic struggle, by way of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, in the transformation of believers into the image and likeness of Christ. (He failed here, perhaps, because, like Luther, earlier in his life he had pursued an ascetic lifestyle for the wrong reasons: he was seeking God’s love and favor, which are already given to all in Christ, rather than the fulness of transformation to be found by living in union with Christ.) Thus, like conversion or "justification", sanctification also became an event, a crisis, a “second blessing”. This has led to many problems on the personal and corporate levels, unnecessary psychological distress at one’s failures after having allegedly been sanctified, often coupled with a nasty legalism. One cannot separate any of this. Life in the Church and thus, participation in the Sacraments, the Mysteries, and the practice of the disciplines, is part and parcel of the path of theosis, which is nothing other than the “normal Christian life”.

Two Interesting RC posts and an excerpt from "The Church is One"

"Are you born again?"

"All sacrifices will cease but one"

and, from Fr. Stephen, the excerpt from Khomiakov:

"From Khomiakov's "The Church is One".

All three are relevant to my next post.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Election '08: What hath Washington to do with Jerusalem (or Constantinople)?

From John Allen (not my brother-in-law) at the National Catholic Reporter:

"Serious Catholics wind up 'politically homeless" in America"

On a purely practical level, Allen may be right about the need to "hijack" one of the major parties, but I have long thought that the U.S. needs a viable "Christian Social Democratic Party" precisely because of this situation. Allen is certainly right when he opines that the various factions in the American RCC need to be talking with each other as well as with others, such as Orthodox Christians.

And from Fr. Jonathan Tobias, a Byzantine Orthodox priest:

"Endorsement, and a Platform, for 2008"

which contains no endorsement, but does contain a great deal of good information as well as Fr. Jonathan's usual incisive and insightful commentary.

And, somewhat relatedly, Fr. Stephen (and the Ecumenical Patriarch) on creation:

"When Creation Speaks"

Underlying any authentic Christian approach to the environment is a recognition of the latter's sacramentality, potential and actual.

Monday, October 20, 2008

An Open Letter to a Former Member of the ACCA

My Dear Brother:

It has come to my attention that, given certain events in our little Church, you have decided that the ACCA is not “Orthodox enough” and have gone to a parish of a Byzantine jurisdiction. Further, it seems that you have taken to criticizing us publically, albeit anonymously, for our lack of “canonicity”, for our perceived failings and for what you see as a lack of ecclesiastical discipline in certain matters.

First, please be assured of our prayers and of our support in your decision to change Churches. We have nothing against Byzantine Orthodoxy, and if our Lord is calling you there, who are we to second guess that call? Godspeed! Further, I believe you are in contact with another former member, whose departure apparently helped to precipitate your own. In our humble opinion, he, too, would benefit if he were to affiliate with your new Church. If, in any way, you can help him see that, it would be good.

However, I would respectfully ask that you refrain from some of the actions in which you have been engaged, especially those in a certain Internet forum. Please remember that it was the ACCA who introduced you to Orthodox Christianity in the first place, and if you have doubts as to whether or not your actions in this regard are appropriate, please discuss them with your current spiritual father. I am quite certain that, regardless of his own feelings and opinions about the ACCA, he will tell you that attacking us will not help to advance your own salvation (or ours, for that matter).

Again, brother, Godspeed! We hope to meet you in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Avva Greg

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More from Montana...

In this case, native son Tim Montana, who appeared on David Letterman Friday night, singing "Butte America USA". I can't get the Youtube video to embed, but check out the link below. I'm a big fan of Waylon, Willie, Kris, Johnny, and outlaw country in general, and I LOVE this kid. The fact that he's from my home state (and sings about it) is icing on the cake. BTW, the "big white lady on the mountaintop" mentioned in the song is Our Lady of the Rockies, a 90-foot statue of the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, which sits atop the Continental Divide above Butte.

Butte America

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Only in Montana...

"HELENA - Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown on Wednesday accused Democrats of spreading a false rumor that he is a vegetarian in this meat-loving state."

"Brown says he's no vegetarian, decries Demos' mud-slinging"

Friday, October 10, 2008

How Did We Get Here?

Another Byzantine Orthodox priest, Fr. Jonathan, speaks to one of the roots, perhaps THE root, of our current mess:

"What old Sam Fathers said"

"Christianity cannot tolerate a culture, a way of life, so far removed from nature. If the vine cannot be remembered, nor the fields and the stone spring, then the Font and Table will be pushed off the stage. If a tree has not been climbed, its leaves unheard and its shade neglected, then the Cross becomes mere geometry, a shape not a substance, a representation not a symbol. If history cannot be remembered and story unheard and untold, then we will have on one end folk who try to be Christian without being religious, and on the other, folk who try to be liberal without being conservative. Both sides have gone off the deep end, and that is where we hunters are at, while some of us idiots are busy acting rich and secular."

Read it all, read it all.

Calls to Prayer.... the face of worldwide economic meltdown. One comes from Fr. Stephen, a Byzantine Orthodox priest in Tennessee. His post is called "When Money Fails".

Another has been issued by a traditional (but mainstream) Roman Catholic priest in the UK, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. It is found here.

To these, I can only add my own call to prayer. Let us seek the Lord, and the prayers of His Most Holy Mother, the other Saints, and the Angels. It may be that, in the persons of Fr. Stephen and Fr. John, Jonah has come to Ninevah.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fr. Dwight on Sacrifice

"The Centrality of Sacrifice"

In jumping the divide from Evangelical Protestantism to historic, Apostolic Christianity, the idea of Eucharistic sacrifice presented me with a major hurdle, if not THE major hurdle. I was raised to believe that the Epistle to the Hebrews, which presents Christ's sacrifice as fulfilling, and therefore making obsolete, the Jewish sacrificial system, applies as much to the Christian Divine Liturgy, or Mass, as it does to the sacrifices of the Jewish temple. Not so, not so.

Hebrews, in the last chapter, speaks of the Eucharist: "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" and then, later, another more oblique reference is found in Hebrews 13:16: "Do not neglect to do good and to COMMUNICATE for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Then, of course, St. Paul, by juxtaposing the Eucharist with pagan sacrifices in I Corinthians, implies that the Eucharist is inded a sacrifice.

And, then, of course, there is the Didache, written in the late First Century, which explicitly calls the Eucharist a sacrifice and states that it is the fulfillment of Malachi 1:11: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations [gentiles], and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering,....says the Lord."

In his piece, Fr. Dwight contrasts Eucharist-as-sacrifice with Eucharist-as-fellowship meal. The point is that the Eucharist is a "fellowship meal" precisely because it is participation in the sacrifice of Christ. He also speaks of the Eucharist as the first and foremost means by which we fulfill Romans 12:1, offering our bodies, as a "living sacrifice", as "spiritual worship" through, with, and in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, into whose death we have been baptized.

Finally, he speaks of the kenosis, the "self-emptying" of God as the basis for all sacrifice. This kenosis does not begin with the Incarnation, and it is not restricted to the Son. From all eternity, the generation of the Son and the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit by the Father are archetypal acts of kenosis. In emptying himself, therefore, the Lord Jesus does, as he says in John's Gospel, simply what he sees the Father doing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Parables: A Different Take on Another One

From Fr. Ray Blake, an RC Parish Priest in the UK:

"An Interpretation of the Good Samaritan"

A great thing about parables, especially Jesus' parables, is that they speak on so many levels.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Convocation: More Pictures...

Just before the beginning of Qurbana, Mar Michael (center) addresses the Assembly. Standing, from the left: Deacons Sister Jackie and Mother Shirley, Yours Truly, Mar Michael, Avva Zakkai, and Amma Caitlin.

Sister-Deacon Jackie censes the gifts during the Great Entrance

Mar Michael chrismates (confirms) Parasceve Cheryl, assisted by Avva Zakkai

Sister Luke Panteleimon is tonsured a Reader. Avva Andreas, soon to be made Andreas Mar Cassian, assists Mar Michael

Reader Sister Miriam Victoria is presented for ordination to the Sub-diaconate by the Deacons Mother Shirley and Sister Jackie, along with Sub-Deacon Yeremyah

A Bishop for Kodak...

The new bishop, Andreas Mar Cassian, on the right, receives the pastoral staff from his consecrator, Victor Mar Michael.

Another annual convocation has come and gone. Each year, the clergy of the ACCA gather at St. Demetrios, Knoxville on the first weekend of October to meet, assess the year past, and to consider the coming year. The final event, each year, is the Sunday evening Qurbana, Eucharist. This year, during Qurbana, a new member, Parasceve Cheryl Beasley, was chrismated; Sister Luke Panteleimon was tonsured a Reader; Sister Miriam was made a Sub-deacon; and Chorepiscopus (Archpriest) Andreas Richard Turner, Chancellor of the ACCA and Pastor of St. Elias, Kodak, Tennessee, was consecrated a bishop, taking the name Mar Cassian. He assumes the role of syncellus, that of suffragan, or assistant, bishop to Mar Michael. (Andreas Mar Cassian’s titular see is someplace in Palestine, a city which has been in ruins for almost two millenia.)

In the end, chains were not required. Avva presented himself voluntarily, if not altogether willingly, for consecration. Prior to that, at 2 PM Sunday, Avva Andreas taught a class in the ongoing “Orthodoxy 101” series at St. Demetrios. He spoke on a subject near and dear to his heart, that of the Didache: the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a late First Century document. It can be found online here, and a paper Mar Cassian wrote on the subject some time ago can be found here.

After Mar Cassian’s consecration, the liturgy continued with the celebration of the Qurbana proper, the most holy sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. Over several convocations and other meetings, the clergy of the ACCA have developed what seems to be a unique form of concelebration. The altar at St. Demetrios is freestanding, and during the celebration, the new bishop and the presbyters (Avva Zakkai, Amma Caitlin, and myself) rotated around the altar, each taking a portion of the liturgy, then moving to the side for the next concelebrant, and so on. All pronounced the Words of Institution and the Epiclesis together, and at the elevation (“The Holy Mysteries are for the Holy”), all participated in elevating the paten and chalice. It is always a profoundly moving experience, both for the celebrants and for those in the congregation, manifesting the inherently conciliar nature of the Christian priesthood and of the Church itself, as does the joint discernment which occurs yearly in the deliberations at Convocation. Others who participated in serving the Liturgy this year include the Deacons Mother Shirley and Sister Jackie and Subdeacon Yeremyah. Also, a big thank you to the laypeople at St. Demetrios who helped make Convocation possible, including Jeff and Anna, John and Parasceve Cheryl, Mary Lou, and Tom as well as all the members, both clerical and lay, of the Sisterhood of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women. Please forgive me, y’all, if I have failed to mention anyone that I should have.

Finally, a word of thanks to Andrew, a special friend to Khouria Susan and myself. He has been very generous to us with his time and financial contributions. This year, he provided us with transportation and financial support in attending Convocation and we are very appreciative. Thank you, Andrew, and we hope to be chrismating you soon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Off to East Tennessyria

We are travelling to Knoxville this evening for the ACCA's annual clergy convocation. On Saturday, the clergy will meet for the day. On Sunday, at Qurbana, Chorepiscopus (Archpriest) Andreas Richard Turner, Chancellor and Vicar-General, will be consecrated to the episcopate as a suffragan to the Metran, or Archbishop, Victor Mar Michael Herron (Avva Andreas will be, God willing, made a bishop, unless he decides to run away, something he has threatened; in that case, we will go find him and drag him to the altar in chains, like the Copts have been known to do). Please keep us in your prayers.

Satisfaction or Cleansing? Response to John Roop

In a comment, Pastor John Roop challenges me on my post, “Speaking of Parables…”. My response is below:

John, thanks for visiting and commenting. With all due respect, however, I wonder how much this retold parable, while not presenting a perfect analogy, really is a caricature, and I think your comment illustrates a problem that Western culture has been living with for at least the last millenium. We immediately identify the idea of sacrifice with Anselmian concepts, and then we read these concepts into the Bible. Consider, for example, the word "atonement". Originally, when the word was coined, apparently by Wycliffe, it really did simply mean "at-one-ment": reconciliation, union, communion. But when we hear it, or read it, we generally think, "make satisfaction" or "make reparation" or something similar. However, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is not propitiatory in that sense, it is not about “making satisfaction,”; it is expiatory when it comes to sin: the application of the blood is to REMOVE or "cover" the sin, not to make satisfaction for it. “Blessed is he whose sin is forgiven, whose iniquity is covered.” Consider also the fact that “Yom Kippur” literally means “day of covering” or “day of wiping away”. What God is interested in, first and foremost, is healing (“saving”) humanity, restoring human persons to communion with the Divine Community that is the Holy Trinity. Sin prevents that, not because God “cannot stand to be in the presence of sin,” but because sin, and sinful persons, cannot survive being in the presence of God. “No one shall see my face and live.”

We also, as your comment illustrates, reflexively connect "substitutionary" with "penal" or "satisfaction". Now, there is no question that Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. However, beyond defeating sin, death, and Satan, to what end? Or, to put it another way, in what sense is Christ’s death a sacrifice which fulfills the sacrifices of the Old Testament? Is this propitiation in the Anselmian sense? Or is it expiation, reconciliation? "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." “Behold the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sins of the world.”

Of course, this is far from a complete analysis, and the parable I quote is simply a preface to a long paper in which the author offers his own theory, which seems to be a recapitulation of Ireneus’ work. I think the bottom line is that Anselm, first, missed the point in critiquing what had come before him, in that “justice” is really not the issue. Of course the devil has no rights! However, because of the fall, Satan was de facto the dominant spiritual force on earth, and because humanity, given vice-regency of creation, had put the Enemy in that position, a human had to be the one to dethrone him. But this is something that only God could do. Further, as history has shown, Anselm’s work has largely served to distort our understanding of God’s goodness and love, something which was already an issue, going back to the Fall.

Again, therefore, I have to recommend "The River of Fire". While I wish it were less polemical, perhaps it cannot be, because the points it makes are so true with regard to the distortions in Western theology, going back, not only to Anselm, but, farther, to Augustine and even Tertullian, distortions which are grounded, not only in the defective soteriology of Anselm, but also in a high view of original sin and a misunderstanding of Divine sovereignty, and because it presents the only view of human damnation which is compatible with an understanding of God as philanthropos, the lover of humanity.

In any event, I am interested in the book you mention. Would you post a review/discussion of it on your blog?