New York, NY – The Fund for Assistance to ROCOR continues disbursing aid to our mission in Haiti one month after a series of earthquakes devastated the island nation. To date, FFA has collected over $90,000 and disbursed $30,000.
The earthquakes destroyed the local infrastructure, making it practically impossible to disburse collected aid in the wake of the disaster. The first sums of money which provided medical supplies and financial aid to the mission were sent through the deacon of St. John Chrysostom church in House Springs, MO, Fr. Matthew Williams, who travelled to Haiti to support the faithful after the quake. While there, Fr. Matthew and an associate provided medical assistance, as well as moral and spiritual support to the parishioners, and arranged access to food and water and other supplies for the mission.
Another $10,000 was distributed to the mission through IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities humanitarian aid group) who provided food and hygiene items to the faithful in six local ROCOR parishes.
Further assistance is now being sent directly to the mission.
As the country and the ROCOR mission struggle for a return to normalcy, the Fund for Assistance is working closely with the mission priests, Fr. Gregoire Legoute and Fr. Jean Chenier-Dumais, as well as the mission’s administrator Fr. Daniel McKenzie of Miami, FL to develop a plan of action so as to better address the short and long-term needs of the mission.
Among the mission’s most pressing needs are shelter, food, water and a vehicle for each priest, so they can deliver supplies and visit their parishioners. All of these things, according to Fr. Gregoire, are best acquired locally, as any imported supplies cost the mission extra money in freight and other charges.
Having lost nearly everything in the quake – houses, possessions, family – our brothers and sisters are restarting their lives from scratch. Church buildings have been damaged and are not usable. Homes have to be rebuilt.
Those who wish to assist the ROCOR mission in Haiti are encouraged to make a donation on the Website
The mission’s future existence depends on our support.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Things pretty much go the same way over at YouTube with my videos, which aren't intended to be excursions into apologetics but always somehow end up that way. I've had several rather lengthy exchanges with people of various backgrounds, including Calvinists, Muslims, atheists, and, believe it or not, even a self-proclaimed Ebionite, and they all seem to go the same direction. In the end, we either both walk away shaking our heads and wagging our tongues about how stupid and misled the other is or, occasionally, we part amicably with a "you haven't changed my view at all, but now at least I understand the other side a little better." I've had quite a few people who watch my videos send me messages or post comments along the lines of "I think the Orthodox Church is the greatest thing next to sliced bread -- it's got the Apostolic Faith, beautiful worship, and an amazing history -- but I'll never convert because..."
Like I said, I didn't get into apologetics expecting masses of people to come from all around with a burning desire for immediate entry into the Church, but I can't help but feel a little frustrated. I'm not sure what I expected, to tell the honest truth. I first started delving into apologetics back about this time last year, while I was still in Iraq.
What first motivated me to start doing it was watching Zeitgeist, The Movie (for those who don't know, part one of the movie attempts to prove that Christ was a pagan/gnostic deity and that Nicene orthodoxy was a political move by the Roman Empire). As I sat and watched this movie for the first time I kept thinking over and over how much I'd like to get the truth out there -- that if only people knew the facts they wouldn't buy into such horsehockey. Well, I was wrong, as it turns out. Since then I've had my share of run-ins with Zeitgeist supporters and I have yet to see one persuaded to abandon his support no matter how much historical documentation and logical argumentation is used to undermine and disprove Zeitgeist's claims. Perhaps I've been sowing the seeds of doubt in their heads? Sure -- why not ... ? I doubt it, though.
I think that even the Fathers hit the point, in their dealings with the Marcionites and Gnostics, of concluding that apologetics is ultimately futile in persuading anyone but those who already want to be persuaded. This always seemed to me to be the point of Tertullian's Prescription Against the Heretics. The prescription he offers is to say to the heretics, essentially, "here's the Church -- it was founded by the Apostles and it preserves their Faith: take it or leave it." Perhaps this is also what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to St. Titus (3:10) to "admonish a divisive man once or twice, then have nothing more to do with him."
I think that this point is often overlooked in commentaries and essays I've read on the interactions of the early Lutherans with Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. They sent to him a highly-edited Greek version of the Augsburg Confession. He then responded with a letter, in some parts lifted word-for-word from the Fathers and earlier Orthodox writers, which expounded the Orthodox Faith, following the same order as the Augsburg Confession, but never really interacting with it. They wrote back to him defending their position and he wrote again, doing basically the same thing as the first time. His response to their response essentially followed the same order as their response but expounds on the same topics from the viewpoint of the Apostolic Faith. They wrote again, trying to convince the Patriarch to accept their new theology. The Patriarch responded one last time, this time telling them to write no further unless it were in a spirit of friendship and on matters other than religion. I think he also understood the ultimate futility of apologetics. He had responded to them twice, thoroughly expositing the Orthodox Faith from both the Fathers and the Scriptures, refuting, while all throughout being careful to speak in a spirit of friendship, the ideas of the Lutherans. They twice refused to accept the Orthodox Faith. They were twice admonished and, finally, the Patriarch had to have nothing more to do with them, on that topic at least.
So, if apologetics is ultimately futile, what is the point? I don't know. Maybe someone here can provide me with the answer to that. Is it really useless to debate with heterodox and others or to try to correct their errors?
I think that, perhaps, the best course of action is to let the interested come to you. For that reason, I will continue to provide information, to the best of my abilities, on the Orthodox Faith, including both what we believe and why we believe it as well as what we don't believe and why we don't believe it, praying that someone like myself five years ago will come across the information that he needs to convince him to finally come home. But I think my days of debating and arguing are over.
Friday, February 26, 2010
The text, translated into English, of the Arabic inscriptions on the interior of the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim structure which stands on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (built, by the way, on top of a destroyed Christian church):
On the inner octagonal arcade:
- S In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has
- no associate. Unto Him belongeth sovereignity and unto Him belongeth praise. He quickeneth and He giveth death; and He has
- Power over all things. Muhammad is the servant of God and His Messenger.
- SE Lo! God and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet.
- O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation. The blessing of God be on him and peace be
- on him, and may God have mercy. O People of the Book! Do not exaggerate in your religion
- E nor utter aught concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of
- Mary, was only a Messenger of God, and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit
- from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and say not 'Three' - Cease! (it is)
- NE better for you! - God is only One God. Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is
- in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And God is
- sufficient as Defender. The Messiah will never scorn to be a
- N servant unto God, nor will the favoured angels. Whoso scorneth
- His service and is proud, all such will He assemble unto Him.
- Oh God, bless Your Messenger and Your servant Jesus
- NW son of Mary. Peace be on him the day he was born, and the day he dies,
- and the day he shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary, (this is) a statement of
- the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) God that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him!
- W When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.
- Lo! God is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path. God (Himself) is witness that there is no God
- save Him. And the angels and the men of learning (too are witness). Maintaining His creation in justice, there is no God save Him,
- SW the Almighty, the Wise. Lo! religion with God (is) Islam. Those who (formerly) received the Book
- differed only after knowledge came unto them, through transgression among themselves. Whoso
- disbelieveth the revelations of God (will find that) lo! God is swift at reckoning!
- S In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has no
- associate. Say: He is God, the One! God, the eternally Besought of all! He begetteth not nor was begotten. And there
- is none comparable unto Him. Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be on him.
- SW In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God.
- He is One. He has no associate. Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
- Lo! God and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet.
- W O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a
- worthy salutation. In the name of God, the Merciful
- the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. Praise be to
- NW God, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath
- no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend
- through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence. Muhammad is the Messenger of
- N God, the blessing of God be on him and the angels and His prophets, and peace be
- on him, and may God have mercy. In the name of God, the Merciful
- the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has no associate.
- NE Unto Him belongeth sovereignty and unto Him belongeth praise. He quickeneth. And He giveth death; and He has
- Power over all things. Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be
- on him. May He accept his intercession on the Day of Judgment on behalf of his people.
- E In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One.
- He has no associate. Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be
- on him. The dome was built by servant of God ‘Abd
- SE [Allah the Imam al-Ma'mun, Commander] of the Faithful, in the year two and seventy. May God accept from him and be content
- with him. Amen, Lord of the worlds, praise be to God.
"Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son." - 1 John 2:22Just a thought...
"'Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place' (whoever reads, let him understand), 'then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.'" - Matthew 24:15-16
Thursday, February 25, 2010
"A common opposition to what they regarded as papal pretensions led the Protestant Reformers to make use of Eastern Christianity for propaganda and polemics. At the Leipzig debate in 1519, Martin Luther, pressed to defend his view that the authority of the pope was not normative for Christian doctrine and life, cited the example of 'the Greek Christians during the past thousand years ... who had not been under the authority of the Roman Pontiff.' The following year he declared that 'Muscovites, White Russians, Greeks, Bohemians, and many other great lands in the world ... believe as we do, baptize as we do, preach as we do, live as we do.'" - Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700)
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
[Came across this the other day and thought it might help in answering some of the questions that have been raised in recent discussions in the comboxes here.]
(h/t: John Sinadopoulos at Mystagogy)
by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
Among the biblical concepts supporting St. Paul’s theology of atonement, one of the most important, surely, is that of expiation. What does the Apostle mean when he writes,
“God set forth [Jesus Christ] as the expiatory in His blood” (Romans 3:25)?
Although this is the only time St. Paul uses the noun hilasterion, I believe that the full context of his epistles, along with the Old Testament substratum on which they depend, provides the correct and adequate meaning of that term.
If I seem to belabor an obvious point–that we should go to the Bible for enlightenment on the subject of expiation – let me say that I do so from a sense that some readers of Holy Scripture in recent centuries either have not done so, or have done so inconsistently. They have borrowed misleading ideas from elsewhere.
In classical and Hellenistic Greek, the verb “to propitiate” (hilaskomai), when used with a personal object, normally signified the placating of some irate god or hero. It is a curious fact that since the rediscovery of ancient Greek literature in the West, beginning from the Renaissance, there has grown a strong tendency to impose this pagan meaning of “expiation” on the teaching of the Bible.
Understood in this way, Paul is presumed to teach that Jesus, in His self-sacrifice on the Cross, placated God’s wrath against sinful humanity. That is to say, the purpose of the shedding of Christ’s blood was to propitiate, to assuage an angry Father.
Let me say that this interpretation of the Apostle Paul is very erroneous and should be rejected for three reasons.
First, this picture is difficult to reconcile with Paul’s conviction that God Himself is the One who made the sacrifice. How easily we forget that the Cross did cost God something. He is the One that gave up His only-begotten Son out of love for us. It was Jesus’ Father
“who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
Sacrificial victims are expensive, and in this sacrifice the Father Himself bore the price. He gave up, unto death, that which was dearest and most precious to Him. In the death of Jesus, everything about God is love, more love, infinite love. There is not the faintest trace of divine anger in the death of Christ.
Second, in those places where Holy Scripture does speak of propitiating the anger of God, this propitiation is never linked to blood sacrifice. When biblical men are said to soften the divine wrath, it is done with prayer, as in the case of Moses on Mount Sinai, or by the offering of incense, which symbolizes prayer. Because blood sacrifice and the wrath of God are two things the Bible never joins together, I submit that authentic Christian theology should also endeavor to keep them apart.
Moreover, when the Apostle Paul does write of God’s anger, it is never in terms of appeasement but of deliverance. At the final judgment, when that divine anger, far from being placated, will consume the realm and servants of sin, Christ will deliver us from it, recognizing us as His faithful servants (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9). There will be not the slightest hint of appeasement at that point.
Third, the word hilasterion, which I have translated as the substantive “expiatory,” seems to have in Paul’s mind a more technical significance. In Hebrews 9:5, the only other place where the word appears in the New Testament, hilasterion designates the top, the cover, of the Ark of the Covenant, where the Almighty is said to throne between and above the Cherubim. In this context, the term is often translated as “mercy seat,” and it seems reasonable to think that this is the image that Paul too has in mind.
On Yom Kippur, the annual Atonement Day, the high priest sprinkled sacrificial blood on that hilasterion,
“because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions of all their sins” (Leviticus 16:16).
Therefore, by saying that God “set forth” (proetheto) Jesus as the expiatory, or “instrument of expiation,” for our sins, Paul asserts that the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the Cross fulfilled the prophetic meaning and promise of that ancient liturgical institution of Israel, reconciling mankind by the removal of the uncleanness,
“their transgressions of all their sins.”
The Cross was the supreme altar, and Good Friday was preeminently the Day of the Atonement. The removal of sins was not accomplished by a juridical act, but a liturgical act performed in great love:
“Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).
Loving both the Father and ourselves, Jesus brought the Father and ourselves together by what He accomplished in His own body, reconciling us through the blood of His Cross.
In the Bible,
“the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11).
The victim slain in sacrifice was not the vicarious recipient of a punishment, but the symbol of the loving dedication of the life of the person making the sacrifice.
This sacrificial dedication of life is the means by which the sinner is made “at one” with God.
Such is the biblical meaning of expiation and the proper context in which to interpret Paul’s teaching on the sacrifice of Christ.
Senior Editor of Touchstone Magazine, and archpriest of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL, Fr. Patrick is, perhaps, the most erudite writer in the Orthodox Church in North America today. This article, one of his Pastoral Ponderings, was published by Orthodoxtoday.org.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
For me, a more than timely reminder from Fr. Seraphim Rose.
The ancient Fathers had five categories for the non-Orthodox: schismatics (that is, those who have broken from the Church -- they are not always heretical, but certainly never Orthodox as one must be a member of the Church to have that title), heretics (those who were formerly Orthodox but chose another belief than that of the Church), heterodox (those who were never Orthodox themselves, but have chosen another belief than that of the Church), Jews (those who still live as if they were under the Old Covenant), and pagans (non-Christians, non-Jews). Perhaps in this day and place (I speak here of modern America, but many other places around the world today equally qualify) when "Christianity" is there, but not the Church, and so there is no "choice" being made per se we may need to add another category: the not-yet-Orthodox. And, as Orthodox Christians, we need to be conscious of the fact that most of the people we encounter on a daily basis have probably never heard of the Orthodox Church and so our actions and attitudes represent the Church to them. I remember hearing a Protestant song not long ago, the chorus of which was "we may be the only Jesus they ever see" -- a heavy burden we bear, and one we have to keep in mind at all times.
About those Christians who are outside the Orthodox Church, therefore, I would say: they do not yet have the full truth—perhaps it just hasn’t been revealed to them yet, or perhaps it is our fault for not living and teaching the Orthodox Faith in a way they can understand. With such people we cannot be one in the Faith, but there is no reason why we should regard them as totally estranged or as equal to pagans (although we should not be hostile to pagans either—they also haven’t yet seen the truth!). It is true that many of the non-Orthodox hymns contain a teaching or at least an emphasis that is wrong—especially the idea that when one is “saved” he does not need to do anything more because Christ has done it all. This idea prevents people from seeing the truth of Orthodoxy which emphasizes the idea of struggling for one’s salvation even after Christ has given it to us, as St. Paul says: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Phil. 2:12]…
…The word "heretic" is indeed used too frequently nowadays. It has a definite meaning and function, to distinguish new teachings from the Orthodox teaching; but few of the non-Orthodox Christians today are consciously “heretics,” and it really does no good to call them that.
In the end, I think, Fr. Dimitry Dudko’s attitude is the correct one: We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, and recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families.
- Blessed Father Seraphim Rose, Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works.
(h/t: Leah at Christ is in our midst!)
Monday, February 22, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Jnorm, one of my co-conspirators at the Society for Orthodox Apologetics, posted links to these two pages from a Roman Catholic apologetics website a few months ago at his blog Ancient Christian Defender. I've been intending ever since then to share them here, but I have a terrible memory. So, a little late but just as great, here they are:
- St. Athanasius on Scripture, Tradition, and Catholic Doctrine - Exposing just a few of the things that the great Athanasius of Alexandria had to say -- and William Webster and David King forgot to mention (oops, right?). Here's a sample:
"Tradition is recognised [by Athanasius] as authoritative in two ways: (1) Negatively, in the sense that doctrines which are novel are prima facie condemned by the very fact (de Decr. 7, note 2, ib. 18, Orat. i. 8, 10, ii. 34, 40, de Syn. 3, 6, 7, and Letter 59, §3); and (2) positively, as furnishing a guide to the sense of Scripture (see references in note on Orat. iii. 58, end of ch. xxix.). In other words, tradition with Athanasius is a formal, not a material, source of doctrine. His language exemplifies the necessity of distinguishing, in the case of strong patristic utterances on the authority of tradition, between different senses of the word. Often it means simply truth conveyed in Scripture, and in that sense 'handed down' from the first, as for example c. Apol. i. 22, 'the Gospel tradition,' and Letter 60. 6 (cf. Cypr. Ep. 74. 10, where Scripture is 'divinae traditionis caput et origo.'). Moreover, tradition as distinct from Scripture is with Athanasius not a secret unwritten body of teaching handed down orally, but is to be found in the documents of antiquity and the writings of the Fathers, such as those to whom he appeals in de Decr., &c ....Connected with the function and authority of tradition is that of the Church....But Athanasius was far from undervaluing the evidence of the Church's tradition. The organ by which the tradition of the Church does its work is the teaching function of her officers, especially of the Episcopate (de Syn. 3, &c.). But to provide against erroneous teaching on the part of bishops, as well as to provide for the due administration of matters affecting the Church generally, and for ecclesiastical legislation, some authority beyond that of the individual bishop is necessary. This necessity is met, in the Church as conceived by Athanasius, in two ways, firstly by Councils, secondly in the pre-eminent authority of certain sees which exercise some sort of jurisdiction over their neighbours...The page's primary focus, though, is the dozens of quotes it features from Athanasius' writings; these must have just slipped the minds of Webster and King. Here's a few:
See, we are proving that this view has been transmitted from father to father; but ye, O modern Jews and disciples of Caiaphas, how many fathers can ye assign to your phrases? Not one of the understanding and wise; for all abhor you, but the devil alone; none but he is your father in this apostasy, who both in the beginning sowed you with the seed of this irreligion, and now persuades you to slander the Ecumenical Council, for committing to writing, not your doctrines, but that which from the beginning those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word have handed down to us. For the faith which the Council has confessed in writing, that is the faith of the Catholic Church; to assert this, the blessed Fathers so expressed themselves while condemning the Arian heresy; and this is a chief reason why these apply themselves to calumniate the Council. For it is not the terms which trouble them, but that those terms prove them to be heretics, and presumptuous beyond other heresies. (De Decretis 27)
For who was ever yet a hearer of such a doctrines? or whence or from whom did the abettors and hirelings of the heresy gain it? who thus expounded to them when they were at school? who told them, 'Abandon the worship of the creation, and then draw near and worship a creature and a works?' But if they themselves own that they have heard it now for the first time, how can they deny that this heresy is foreign, and not from our fathers? But what is not from our fathers, but has come to light in this day, how can it be but that of which the blessed Paul has foretold, that 'in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, in the hypocrisy of liars; cauterized in their own conscience, and turning from the truth?' (Discourse Against the Arians 1.8)
The blessed Apostle approves of the Corinthians because, he says, 'ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you' (1 Cor. xi. 2); but they [the Arian heretics], as entertaining such views of their predecessors, will have the daring to say just the reverse to their flocks: 'We praise you not for remembering your fathers, but rather we make much of you, when you hold not their traditions.' And let them go on to accuse their own unfortunate birth, and say, 'We are sprung not of religious men but of heretics.' For such language, as I said before, is consistent in those who barter their Fathers' fame and their own salvation for Arianism, and fear not the words of the divine proverb, 'There is a generation that curseth their father' (Prov. xxx. 11; Ex. xxi. 17), and the threat lying in the Law against such. They then, from zeal for the heresy, are of this obstinate temper; you, however, be not troubled at it, nor take their audacity for truth. For they dissent from each other, and, whereas they have revolted from their Fathers, are not of one and the same mind, but float about with various and discordant changes. And, as quarrelling with the Council of Nicaea, they have held many Councils themselves, and have published a faith in each of them, and have stood to none, nay, they will never do otherwise, for perversely seeking, they will never find that Wisdom which they hate. I have accordingly subjoined portions both of Arius's writings and of whatever else I could collect, of their publications in different Councils; whereby you will learn to your surprise with what object they stand out against an Ecumenical Council and their own Fathers without blushing. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 14)
- St. Athanasius vs. William Webster: The Ground and Pillar of Whose Faith? - A debate between Webster supporters and detractors (that is, between those who would bastardize the writings of Athanasius and those who would allow the man to speak for himself), in which the truth of the situation becomes very clear (that, his supporters get pwned). A short extract:
Another clear way to demonstrate what I have been saying... Does St. Athanasius mean by the following:
Quote: "But after him [Satan] and with him [Satan] are all inventors of unlawful heresies [the heretics], who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power." (from Festal Letter 2.6)
SUBSTITUTE "hold such opinions as the saints have handed down" with "hold to the Scriptures as the apostles have handed down" as Webster and you guys are suggesting and we have....
Quote: "But after him [Satan] and with him [Satan] are all inventors of unlawful heresies [the heretics], who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold to the Scriptures as the apostles have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power." (revised Webster version of Festal Letter 2.6)
The key phrase is "receiving them as the TRADITIONS OF MEN...." If the above is the correct understanding as you guys insist, my only question is: Did the heretics (for example, the Arians) receive the Scriptures as "THE TRADITIONS OF MEN?" Did they reject the Scriptures as FALSE? Yes or No? Historically, the clear answer is NO.Even St. Athanasius acknowledges the Arians believed the Scriptures were true, that they were "inspired of God." Where they differed was over the correct interpretation of Scripture. THAT -- the orthodox or correct interpretation of the Scriptures -- is what was handed down in the Church by the "saints" (orthodox Fathers). THAT -- the orthodox or correct interpretation of the Scriptures -- is what was rejected by the heretics as the "traditions of men" NOT the Scriptures themselves or the apostles! Hence, Webster is incorrect and Gallegos nailed another one!
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I want to express that whatever in my posts was good and true was from God, and I thank him for whatever work he's done through me, a sinner. Whatever in my posts was ignorant or malicious came from me; for this I humbly apologize. I'm young, I have a bad temper, I'm sarcastic and often disrespectful, and I'm a Soldier -- I've got a million excuses, but no good reason other than to say that I feel deep sorrow for those who willfully reject Christ, and sometimes I allow this sorrow to express itself as frustration and mockery. For that I ask forgiveness from Rhology and all who've been following this debate.
I apologize to Rhology for all of the many ways I have fallen short in love and knowledge. Rhology, I want you to know that you have been and always will be in my prayers. It's been a privilege to participate in this debate with you.
It's a privilege for which I'm eternally thankful. I've learned many things during the course of this debate. I more clearly understand my own position and the reasons I hold it and more clearly understand the position I disagree with and why I disagree. The things I've learned in this debate about both positions have significantly strengthened my conviction in my position, or, rather, the Church's position.
I'll now recap some of the reasons I reject Sola Scriptura, then I will discuss some of those things I've learned during the course of this debate.
I think that I've successfully shown that SS cannot stand up on history, logic, or Scripture itself.
SS fails historically because it would've been impossible for early Christians to practice it; there's got to be Scriptura, all the right Scriptura and none of the not-Scriptura, in order for SS to work, and these conditions were not met until 367, and, then, only in a small part of Christendom. If the early Christians, including the Apostles, couldn't and didn't practice SS, they couldn't have taught it. Therefore, it's not part of the "faith once for all handed down to the Saints" which Scripture tells us to "cling to" (Jude1:3).
SS also fails historically because it disregards the reasons we have a canon of Scripture at all. Even a cursory reading of the various canon lists of early Christians reveals that the library of Apostolic writings called the "New Testament" wasn't intended by those who compiled it to be an exhaustive exposition of the Faith. It wasn't intended to include everything Christians believed and did; it was intended to be a library of authentic Apostolic writings, compiled and given approval by the Church, standing against the pseudographic heretical writings of groups like the Gnostics. The early Christians' primary means by which they determined whether a writing was authentically Apostolic was that it agreed with the Faith as taught by the Church; if it didn't agree with the Apostolic Faith as preserved in the Church they said it wasn't Apostolic.
SS falls logically in its strange assumption that the Apostles wrote down everything they wanted preserved. This is, of course, in stark contrast to an actual reading of the New Testament, in which one discovers that the Apostles wrote to churches in order to correct misunderstandings and encourage them in the faith they had already received.
Finally, SS falls flat on its face in the light of Scripture itself. The New Testament continually tells us to remain faithful to the Apostolic Faith -- both those parts of it that were written down and those parts that were delivered by word of mouth. In the end, to embrace SS and trim down the Apostolic Faith to only what was recorded on paper by the Apostles is to betray and abandon that Faith entirely.
Now I'd like to discuss the things that I've learned during the course of this debate.
First, I've learned that tradition is an inevitable reality. In a dictionary published by Princeton University, tradition is defined as "an inherited pattern of thought or action." Calvinists have their "inherited pattern[s] of thought" about Scripture just as much as the Orthodox. We can't avoid it -- we learn to interpret the words and passages in a certain way and that's how we read it.
Nobody really adheres to SS in a strict sense. Nobody comes to the Scriptures tabula rasa -- it's impossible, as human beings are not blank slates; when we come to the Scriptures we bring with us all of the baggage acquired over a lifetime telling us how those Scriptures should be interpreted.
The issue in our debate hasn't been one of "Scripture alone" versus "Scripture and Tradition." It's been one of "Scripture with a Calvinist thought pattern" versus "Scripture with an Orthodox thought pattern." The real question now becomes: whose thought patterns are the correct ones? I think the best I can do here is to point my finger in the direction of the Fathers -- men who didn't sit idly behind computer screens in their safe homes and post to a blog as I'm pitifully doing, but spent their lives suffering for the Faith and often had those lives ended for the Faith.
Rhology has dragged their name through the mud throughout this debate, ridiculously claiming they didn't agree on much more than monotheism and even calling them heretics. Apparently, Rhology has forgotten that if it weren't for these holy men and their extraordinary dedication to Christ, the Gospel would have disappeared hundreds of years ago. These are the men who compiled the Scriptures Rhology holds so dear. If it weren't for men like Irenaeus, Polycarp, Ignatius, Athanasius, and Justin, there'd be no Bible and no Christianity today.
These men loved the Lord and his Gospel more than I ever could. To believe that these men who were so ready and willing to suffer and die for Christ would in any way distort his message as it was delivered to them by the Apostles is too terrible a thought for me to entertain for long without feeling sick.
I admit that I've made a mistake in this debate in referring to Holy Tradition as "extra-biblical Tradition." Holy Tradition is not extra-biblical at all, even if certain aspects of Holy Tradition are not to be found explicitly (or even implicitly, in some cases) in Scripture. Father Georges Florovsky wrote, on how the Fathers (specifically St. Vincent of Lerins, whom we've discussed in this debate) viewed Tradition: "Tradition was, in fact, the authentic interpretation of Scripture. And in this sense it was co-extensive with Scripture. Tradition was actually 'Scripture rightly understood.' And Scripture for St. Vincent was the only, primary, and ultimate canon of Christian truth."
In a sense, Orthodox Christians are the real followers of "SS." Rhology has spoken in previous discussions with me about allowing Scripture to speak for itself -- I wasn't sure what to say then, but I now know the proper response: exactly!
Irenaeus, writing against the Gnostics, told a parable concerning what heretics do to Scripture. He compared the Scriptures to a beautiful mosaic of a great king. The heretics, he said, then take the stones of this mosaic and rearrange them into the shape of a dog, not even a very good depiction of one at that, and proclaim that this is the "real" picture of the king. This is exactly what Calvinists and other Protestants do to Scripture.
They take the beautiful writings which God gave us through the Apostles and Fathers, which contain the Words of Christ, the words of salvation ... and they make it into a picture of a dog. This is accomplished through their "traditions of men" (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) by which they "make the word of God of no effect" (Mark7:13).
The only answer to these distortions of Holy Writ is to "cling to the Faith which was once for all handed down to the saints," the Faith uniquely found in the Church founded by the Apostles.
Rhology, you've told me that you once considered conversion to Orthodoxy, and yet you do not seem to have understood the Orthodox Faith at all. I don't say this to insult you, but with hope it will encourage you to investigate Orthodoxy again, making a more informed decision. I encourage you, and everyone reading, to learn about Orthodox faith, practice, and history on Orthodoxy's terms rather than obfuscating it with presuppositions and comparisons to Roman Catholicism. I also encourage you and everyone reading to read the writings of the Church Fathers for yourself rather than relying on liars like White and Webster. But these two desires are the same thing; the Orthodox Faith is indeed the Faith of the Fathers, found in its fullness only in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church -- the Orthodox Church.
[word count: 1500]
[comments go here]
Friday, February 19, 2010
We know from the Pedalion of our Church that the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod had canonized that Easter should be calculated on the basis of the spring equinox, given that the spring equinox at the time was on the 21st of March. This is stated in the Pedalion (check page 9). However, approximately 1600 years later, from then to this day, we have digressed from that date because the spring equinox now takes place on the 8th of March. This too is mentioned in the Pedalion. So, with a 13-day leap, we so-called “New Calendarists” again have the same spring equinox that the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod had. We now have the old date of the spring equinox, the 21st of March, while you have the contemporary date of this equinox, the 8th of March. Consequently, we are fully aligned with the old date, and you with the new. We are aligned with the Old Julian Calendar of the First Ecumenical Synod, and you are aligned with the New Julian Calendar. Consequently, we are the ones who are actually the “Old Calendarists” while you are the “New Calendarists”, because – I will repeat it once more – we acknowledge the 21st of March as the spring equinox, just as the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod had, while you have lapsed, and have retained the 8th of March.
. . .
During the time of Chrysostom there lived certain Christians who, in observing the older tradition of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna and basing themselves on the words of the Apostle Paul “…for during our Passover, Christ was sacrificed for our sake” (1 Cor. 5:7), they used to celebrate Easter on the 14th day of the month of Nisan – March, when Christ was crucified. The First Ecumenical Synod ordained that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover, because Christ was resurrected after the Jewish Passover. In this way, those Christians who celebrated Easter on the 14th of March, the so-called “fourteenists” (Stefanides, History 1, 101), celebrated it together with the Jews, and thus had themselves a "crucified Easter". The First Ecumenical Synod ordained that Easter be "resurrectional", on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover. This blessed Father wanted to distance the Christians from the crucifixional Easter and lead them to the resurrectional Easter, but they persisted in celebrating the Christian Easter simultaneously with the Jews, and it was for this reason that the blessed Father checked them. Here is what he said: “…Behold how, during the current year, the first day of the unleavened bread falls on a Sunday and there is every need to fast on that week…” (Against the Jews, Homily 2).
But they didn’t want to fast, and so they replied to him: “I have fasted for such a long period of time, and now I must be transferred?” They had fasted all of the forty days of Lent, and now they had to change the feast-day of Easter? The First Ecumenical Synod ruled that Easter should fall on a Sunday, after the Jewish Passover. Then the Father checked them: “If the Church had made a mistake, it was not of such importance, as compared to the crime of division and schism.” It is obvious that the Holy Father was reprimanding the “Old Calendarists” of his time, because they did not want to observe the Canon of the First Ecumenical Synod regarding the celebration of Easter on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover.
(These quotes are from Old Calendar - New Calendar: The Facts by Fr. Joel Yannakopoulos)
The genuine Orthodox Christian is the Christian who has steadfast Faith and fervor towards God; love from all his heart and soul towards God and neighbor; humility and meekness, truth and sincerity. When our Lord Jesus Christ sent the disciples into the world He told them to preach the Gospel. He didn't tell them to preach the Old Calendar.
He told them, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved," that is, the one believing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not the one baptized in the Old Calendar. The beloved virgin and eagle of theology, St. John the Evangelist said:
"God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him” (Jn. 4:8).
He did not say the Old Calendar is God and the one abiding in the Old Calendar abides in God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ--perfect God and perfect man--said, "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls"(Mt. 11:29). He didn't say learn from Me for I am an Old Calendarist--as some Old Calendarists say that Christ was an Old Calendarist out of their excessive zeal.
O Lord, deliver us from such a foolish mindset.
(This from a letter by Elder Philotheos)
Thursday, February 18, 2010
They are possessed with a strange notion that they are the only true Christians in the world; as for us, they shunned us as heretics, and were under the greatest surprise at hearing us mention the Virgin Mary with the respect which is due to her, and told us that we could not be entirely barbarians since we were acquainted with the mother of God. It plainly appears that prepossessions so strong, which receive more strength from the ignorance of the people, have very little tendency to dispose them to a reunion with the Catholic Church.
(from Father Jerome Lobo's "Voyage to Abyssinia")
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
In this video, I discuss the ancient Christian tradition of displaying and venerating the Holy Icons, images of Christ, the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), and the Saints and Angels. I briefly go over the history of Iconography, discuss Iconography in the context of the Second Commandment, and explain a little about how the Holy Icons are viewed and used in the Orthodox Church today.
For more information about Icons, see the article "Holy Icons: Theology in Color" by Daniel Bell featured on the website of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America: http://www.antiochian.org/1103744287
To view and/or purchase Holy Icons, both painted by modern Iconographers as well as reproductions of ancient Icons, visit either Come and See Icons at http://www.comeandseeicons.com and/or St. Isaac of Syria Skete at http://www.skete.com
To view more of my YouTube videos, click here.
Script for this video:
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Now is about the time that those of us far, far away and quite safe and comfy start to forget. We either forget that it happened altogether or else we act like it was something that happened long, long ago and it's all over now (thank God). DON'T DO THAT! Haiti still needs all the help we can give.
A recent letter from Fathers Jean and Gregoire, the Priests of the ROCOR mission in Haiti, to Archbishop Hilarion, first hierarch of the ROCOR, recently posted to the Mission's website (from which you can still donate to help them rebuild and also build a new clinic):
Port au Prince 27 Jan/9 Feb 2010Don't forget to pray for Haiti, for the Orthodox there, and for the Reader Vladimir, departed in Christ. Help however you can.
To His Emminence Vladika Hilarion
Of Eastern America and New York
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox
Church Outside of Russia
His Eminence Vladika Hilarion,
We ask your blessings while kissing your right hand. We salute you in the Name of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Three weeks after the violent earthquake that devastated Haiti and, according to the latest bulletin from the Haitian Government, caused 212,000 deaths and injured more than 194,000, 4,000 people have become amputees of one or more limbs and a million have become homeless. We of the Orthodox Mission in Haiti are expressing our gratitude for your active solidarity to the victims of the earthquake on Jan 12, 2010. We are sending our thanks to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and especially to Bishop Michael who was so worried about our lives and the lives of our flock. We also thank Father Victor and Matushka Maria; our administrator Father Daniel and Matushka Sophia; Father Raphael I Martinez Gonzalez of the delegation from the Dominican Republic. Also Father Deacon Matthew Williams and his family; Martin Naef and all the priests, deacons, monks, nuns and laymen that sympathized with us. Thank you for your support.
Three million people find themselves in great difficulty in Haiti and need your help. In the three cities that are most devastated, Port au Prince, Jacmel, and Leogane, half of the homes of our parishioners were destroyed, the reader Vladimir perished in the ruble, and five of our parishioners are reported missing. The church parish, Our Lady of the Nativity of the Mother of God, and the Chapel of St. Moses the Ethiopian, are dangerously fissured, the Church of St. Peter and Paul is destroyed, the temporary Church of St. Augustine in Jacmel is in very bad condition. The School of Our Lady of the Little Ones, directed by Father Jean Chenier Dumais, was destroyed and the School "Home of Love in Haiti" for handicapped and retarded children is seriously damaged. These spaces are no longer usable and need reconstruction.
The needs are immense. We need help in rebuilding our churches, rebuilding our schools and a clinic, making temporary lodging for our flock with food, clothing, toiletries, medicines and financial assistance. We continue to count on your spiritual help (liturgical books, vestments for clergy and acolytes, liturgical materials and icons) as well as the formation of future clergy. Vladika, we would like to find international financial organizations in Russia, in France, in Switzerland, and in the United States capable of organizing reconstruction and other projects with us.
We seize this occasion to repeat our greetings and take this opportunity to again consecrate ourselves entirely to the spiritual and material well-being of all the parishioners of the Mission.
We count on your prayers Vladika. We are so shaken, shocked, anguished, traumatized and beyond by the situation. Pray for us.
In the love of Christ,
Pere Jean and Pere Gregoire
Friday, February 12, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Read this from John Sinodopoulos' blog Mystagogy.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Origen lived and wrote prolifically in the first half of the 3rd century. He had been a disciple of St. Clement of Alexandria, and assumed many of his master's theories and habits. Unfortunately, taking some of these theories and habits to an extreme conclusion is what eventually got him condemned, 300 years after his death, by an Ecumenical Council. Among his teachings that were condemned included a belief in a hierarchy within the Trinity, the preexistence of souls, and possibly even reincarnation.
Be all that as it may, most of his writings are Orthodox in nature and were an influence on such great later figures of the Church as St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil the Great. Origen eventually, in AD 254, was tortured to death and martyred for his Faith in Christ.
I'm very happy to be able to announce that, search high and low as I might, I was not able to find a single viable Protestant proof-text in favor of Origen believing in Sola Scriptura. Happily, Origen was generally precise enough not to lend himself to this kind of quote-mining.
Origen's ideas on Scripture were much like those of his teacher, St. Clement of Alexandria. First, he had a much wider canon than most Christians even in his own time had. Like Clement, whom we've already covered in this series, Origen believed that pretty much anything that agreed with the Orthodox Christian Faith was Scripture. He refers, for instance, to the following writings as "divinely inspired":
- Gospel of Peter
- Gospel of the Hebrews
- Acts of Paul
- First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians
- Letter of St. Barnabas
- Shepherd of Hermas
We also find, in common with his teacher (and with all of the Fathers, for that matter) that Origen considered Apostolic Tradition to be the correct interpretation of the texts of Scripture, which had been passed down from the Apostles alongside Scripture and which was indispensable to a correct reading of Scripture. He also, like his teacher (and, again, all of the Fathers) is unequivicle about that fact that this Holy Apostolic Tradition has been passed down through Apostolic Sucession and is found only in the Church. Here's Origen, in his own words:
"When heretics show us the canonical Scriptures, in which every Christian believes and trusts, they seem to be saying: 'Lo, he is in the inner rooms.' But we must not believe them, nor leave the original Tradition of the Church, nor believe otherwise than we have been taught by the succession in the Church of God." - Origen, Homilies on Matthew, 46, 13, 1667 [emphasis mine]And again, elsewhere:
"Now the reason of the erroneous apprehension of all these points on the part of those whom we have mentioned above, is no other than this, that Holy Scripture is not understood by them according to its spiritual, but according to its literal meaning. And therefore we shall endeavor, so far as our moderate capacity will permit, to point out to those who believe the Holy Scriptures to be no human compositions, but to be written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and to be transmitted and entrusted to us by the will of God the Father, through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, what appears to us, who observe things by a right way of understanding, to be the standard and discipline delivered to the Apostles by Jesus Christ, and which they handed down in succession to their posterity, the teachers of the Holy Church." - Origen, First Principles, 4, 1, 9 [emphasis mine]I've found that this is the common strain that connects and unites all of the Fathers in their interpretations of Scripture, no matter how different their approaches are in other respects: they one and all agree that alongside Scripture has been passed down a certain understanding and interpretation of that Scripture; that this understanding and interpretation is divinely inspired and equal to Scripture itself; and that this understanding and interpretation is found only in the One True Church, which has preserved it through Apostolic Succession. This understanding and interpretation is Holy Tradition, and without it one does not have the Scriptures at all even though he might be able to read the texts. This point seems lost on Protestant apologists who would like to quote-mine both the Scriptures and the Fathers in favor of their own innovative positions. I have to be honest, I'm not sure, after doing the research only this far on the Fathers and their possible adherence to Sola Scriptura, how it is that Protestants can read the Fathers and not feel indicted by them.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Sunday, February 7, 2010
"... 'The whole world is gone after him.' Did all the world go after Christ? 'Then went all Judea, and were baptized of him in Jordan.' Was all Judea, or all Jerusalem baptized in Jordan? 'Ye are of God, little children', and 'the whole world lieth in the wicked one.' Does 'the whole world' there mean everybody? If so, how was it, then, that there were some who were 'of God?' The words 'world' and 'all' are used in some seven or eight senses in Scripture; and it is very rarely that 'all' means all persons, taken individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts—some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted his redemption to either Jew or Gentile." (Charles H. Spurgeon, Particular Redemption, A Sermon, 28 Feb 1858).
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Friday, February 5, 2010
My friend Wan Wei Hsien (his blog: Torn Notebook) posted this icon to his Facebook about two months ago and it's been on my mind since then. It really is the most interesting icon I've ever seen, and probably because Origen of Alexandria has for some time stood out to me as the most interesting figure of early Christianity.
Origen was the most prolific early Christian writer, by far the greatest theologian of those early years, a martyr for the Christian Faith, perhaps the single greatest influence on what would later become the Nicene Orthodoxy of the 4th century, and, in spite of that all, a condemned heretic, according to the decrees of an Ecumenical Council. What intrigues me even more are the circumstances surrounding the Council's condemnation and the Council's stated reason for condemning him.
By the time of the Second Council of Constantinople (the Fifth Ecumenical Council), held in 553, Origen had been dead for about 300 years. Why take so long to finally get around to condemning him? If he was indeed a heretic, why the long delay?
Then there is the question of why the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils were so inconsistent (read, perhaps: unfair) in their proclamations of such retroactive anathemas. The First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (the Second Ecumenical Council), held in 381, for instance, condemned the heresy of chiliasm (belief in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth prior to the Final Judgment), and yet seems to have found no need to condemn either St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 120-202) nor his disciple St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-236), both believers (and sainted Church Fathers) of an earlier age who had both been adherents of this now-condemned heresy. So why does Origen get an anathema 300 years after his death for something he certainly never knew during his lifetime would be declared heretical at that much later date?
In addition, many scholars of the last couple of centuries have put forward the triple theses that 1. Origen, because he was a martyr, may have been venerated as a saint during those intervening 300 years, 2. the writings which contain the ideas for which he was supposedly condemned may not have been written by him at all, and 3. even that the Council itself may not have actually condemned him, but that the anathemas we have against Origen which seem to come from the Council are not really from it at all! Some other scholars take a view a bit closer to the middle of the road and acknowledge that the anathemas were proclaimed by the Council, but not written by it nor possibly even reviewed by it, but simply endorsed in passing.
There also seems to be a movement in some quarters of Christianity today, drawing on the work of these scholars, to redeem Origen. While looking for the actual text of the anathemas for this post, I came across this statement at a Roman Catholic site which featured a translation of the statements of the Council:
Our edition does not include the text of the anathemas against Origen since recent studies have shown that these anathemas cannot be attributed to this council.Origen's redemption makes sense if this is the case. If he wasn't condemned by this Ecumenical Council, then he was never anathematized by any Christian body with the power to do so infallibily. If the writings which contain the questionable doctrines were not actually written by him but by others in his name, he wasn't a heretic. But he most certainly was a martyr, so ... shall we call him St. Origen of Alexandria???
Well, not so fast; I'm not entirely convinced that the heretical writings in question, at least some of them, are not the work of Origen. And I think also that an important point of difference between Ss. Irenaeus and Hippolytus who were not condemned for their chiliasm of an earlier date versus Origen who was condemned for his speculations is that Origen's beliefs are easily corrected with a clearheaded reading of the Holy Scriptures, whereas chiliasm is a bit more forgiveable in that sense. The Marcionites, for instance, never need an Ecumenical Council to condemn them, as they stood self-condemned due to their stark departure from Apostolic Tradition. Similarly, Origen took the love of allegory typical of the Alexandrian school just a little too far in some cases and ended up forgetting that the plain meaning of the text is just as important.
But an acknowledgement that Origen really was the author of heretical writings, whether those writings were actually condemned by an Ecumenical Council or not, leads to another intriguing set of questions; the icon above should give an indication of just what those questions are.
While most of Origen's writings were entirely Orthodox and while most of his condemned ideas, such as the pre-existence of souls and the final annihilation of the material world, never got much wind behind them, one later-to-be-condemned belief in particular seems to have caught fire: the idea that we now call universalism, the belief that all (even, in Origen's scheme, Satan himself) will eventually be saved.
All three of the Cappadocian Fathers, Ss. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus, those great 4th century defenders and formulators of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Orthodoxy, seem to have supported it. And it's fairly certain that they did so under the influence of Origen's writings. In fact, Ss. Basil and Gregory Nazianzus had created a compilation of Origen's writings to be used in their monastery.
So, why weren't they condemned along with him?
In fact, the possibility of an eventual universal reconciliation has its modern proponents amongst Orthodox hierarchs and theologians as well. I'm thinking here especially of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and Archbishop Hilarion (Alfayev).
So why aren't they being anathematized too?
The answer, I think, lies in the approach. As Archbishop Hilarion wrote of St. Gregory Nazianzus:
‘Restoration of all’ is an object of hope rather than a dogma of faith. He rejects neither the idea of eternal Hell, nor the idea of universal salvation: both concepts remain for him with a big question mark. Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, Gregory asks: ‘Is it that all will later encounter God?’, and leaves this question unanswered.In the end, the difference between an anathema and a canonization could come down to the difference between a question mark and a period. Origen ended his sentences with periods (and a few exclamation points) about universal restoration. Ss. Basil, Gregory, and Gregory, and the modern Orthodox theologians who follow in their footsteps, on the other hand, end their sentences with question marks.
Another important point in this regard is that, after reading several times through the famous 15 anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (?) against Origen, I don't see in the anathemas an excommunication of those who hold to universal reconcilation itself, but of those who hold to the rather complex theology of Origen which results in a supporting a rather extreme form of universal reconciliation (this reconcilation including even the evil one and being purely spiritual in nature, as all material will be ultimately annihilated, according to Origen's scheme).
That said, though, the last of the nine anathemas issued against Origen by the Emperor St. Justinian at the same Council leave little wiggle room on the issue:
If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.I can think of a few ways that one could get around the wording here, but not many that adhere to the spirit and don't simply circumvent letter.
David Bentley Hart, in his book The Story of Christianity, has pointed out that much of the theological speculation and adventurism that characterized first 300 years of Christianity largely died out once the age of the Ecumenical Councils began. As the Ecumenical Councils defined dogma and heresy with increasing detail, many of the topics that seemed ripe for exploration in early Christian thought, such as the nature of the Trinity and the person of Christ, largely dried up, becoming out-of-bounds territory for anyone who didn't want to draw the ire of the Church. I think, though, that there is still a certain amount of theological exploration to be had for those theologians and philosophers who are tactful enough to theologize and philosophize as if they were playing Jeopardy, answering questions with questions and never with statements. Perhaps that's why the question-mark theology pioneered by the Cappadocian Fathers is so popular amongst Orthodox theologians of the later periods and even of today: it's safe; you can't condemn a man for just asking a question -- can you?
I think I've found the answers to some of the questions that revolve around Origen, but there are still a lot of questions I haven't been able to find the answer to, and which we may never be able to answer in this lifetime. Were the anathemas really issued by the Fifth Ecumenical Council? Just how much of those heretical writings can really be attributed to Origen? Was he really venerated as a saint for 300 years before being declared a heretic? How did a man sometimes called "the Father of the Fathers" come to be labeled as a heretic anyway? I'd also be very interested to know what basis the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Assyrian Church of the East, neither of which officially recognizes the Second Council of Constantinople as an Ecumenical Council, use to reject his teachings and refuse him veneration. Perhaps some of you might know the answer to that question.
The question I most want answer is why? I'm not sure I fully comprehend the point of an anathema -- an ecclesiastical curse (you might say excommunication plus) -- being applied posthumously to an individual. I can see the point in condemning the ideas, that is, to prevent others from picking them up later. I'm not so sure I can see the point in condemning a man who can't defend himself or recant his previous statements.
I have little doubt that Origen's condemnation at the Fifth Ecumenical Council was influenced, in some measure, by the anti-Alexandrian feelings floating in the air amongst the other Patriarchates after the Coptic Church's rejection of the Council of Chalcedon (the Fourth Ecumenical Council, by the reckoning of most Christians) in 451, and the subsequent break in communion between the Copts and the rest of Christendom. What better way to spite the Alexandrian Church than to condemn their most famous and heralded theologian as a heretic?
I don't think that a simple low-blow was the only motivation though. I wonder what the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council thought they were accomplishing by anathematizing Origen -- if they thought that it somehow affected his eternal state, or if it was simply an extra measure against his ideas, that condemning the man was the natural extension of condemning his theology. Perhaps the New International Version's (in)famous (mis)translation of St. Paul's use of the word "anathema" in Galatians 1:8-9 as "let him be eternally condemned" wasn't so off the mark? If anyone knows more about the use of the word and its intended purpose, I'd love to hear it.
But, for now, I think I will have to follow the lead of the illustrious men I named above and end with a question mark: ?
Thursday, February 4, 2010
I am inclined to take the view that this historical evolution of Christian thought is the single strongest and most compelling evidence against Penal Substitutionary atonement. Namely its virtually complete absense in the Greek Christian writings of the period 100-500AD seems pretty decisive. If the apostles taught Penal Substitution as a central part of their gospel, then it seems almost entirely inconceivable that the generations that came after them and spoke the same language had, worldwide, managed to universally forget the major and central part of the gospel and replace it with something else entirely.This is from the now (apparently) defunct blog Theo Geek (whose author, I'm fairly certain, was/is not Orthodox), which I came across entirely accidentally a few nights ago. The whole post, on the history of various theories of the Atonement, is an excellent read.
. . .
I consider these facts to be easily the clearest and most definitive evidence against holding a view of Penal Substitution. It is a modern doctrine which has evolved over the course of comparatively recent centuries and was not taught in the period of 100-500 in Greek Christianity. If we think we can find it in the bible we are therefore probably kidding ourselves, since those native Greek speaking Christians who lived with the same culture, in the same world, with the same language as the apostles never saw it as present in the same bible that people today claim to find it in.
My point here is a different one than that particular issue (which I'll explore, I think, later, as it is a very interesting one); my point here is that with that statement he hits the nail right on the head. I say this exact thing (though rarely as tactfully and never as eloquently) so much that I'm starting to feel like an actor repeating well-rehearsed lines, chanting the same refrain over and over again.
Yet there seem to be an awful lot of people who just don't get it. There are serious historical and logical issues when it comes to supporting doctrines like Total Depravity and Penal Substitution and the same issues when it comes to denying doctrines like the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and Baptismal Regeneration.
I've written here previously about how Blessed Augustine of Hippo derived his false doctrines which would later become so important in the West. So, let's talk pre-Augustine; let's talk non-Gnostic; let's talk about the Fathers, those holy men who suffered and died for the Faith, who preserved the Church and its Scriptures, and who were appointed as heirs of the Apostles to be guardians and overseers of the Churches.
And when we talk about them, we encounter a startling fact that should make every Protestant stop dead in their tracks (but, strangely, probably won't). We encounter the fact that not a single one of them held to the foundational beliefs of Protestantism, such as Original Sin, Penal Substitution, and Predestination, and that a great many of them actively wrote against the Gnostic doctrines that would later develop into doctrines like Total Depravity and Limited Atonement. We also encounter the startling fact that they each and all held to a great many beliefs which are considered heretical by modern Protestants, such as Christus Victor, the Real Presence, Apostolic Succession, and Baptismal Regeneration.
It should be deeply disturbing to a Protestant to read the writings of the first 500 years of Christianity and see not a single trace of his own religion. It's simply illogical to assert that the collective memories of thousands of people across Europe, Asia, and Africa failed them so quickly. But that only leaves us with one possible conclusion to take from this. And I'm sure you can figure out what that is.