When the Wheels Fall Off

I’ve had a long standing problem when Orthodox writers, writing about theological matters, fail to build their writings on the teachings of the Fathers, the Councils, or on the foundation of our liturgical and iconographic tradition. I need to be much more cautious about that myself. Tradition, all of those things mentioned above, connect us to the Church throughout time. Since the Church is the very body of Christ (Col. 1:18, Eph. 1:23), it is necessarily living and so adhering to tradition is not adhering to something dead. In fact, one could argue that when we don’t begin our theological musings from the foundation of tradition we separate us from the living body of Christ. The wheels fall off and it is we who are no longer moving. We become dead.

Recently, in a journal purporting to be Orthodox (I am rather unfamiliar with it so I can’t say whether or not it really is), Met. Kallistos Ware wrote an article that suffers rather severely from the problems I listed above. This article was actually the foreword to an entire issue devoted to human sexuality. I’ve not read any of the other articles, but the foreword was enough to convince me that the issue would simply be so much rubbish. Others have written about the errors of Met. Ware’s piece, but I feel there are two more key points to be made. Met. Ware is guilty of failing to adhere to tradition, not because he seems to espouse views on homosexuality and marriage that are non traditional (although he is guilty of that), but because he seems to have forgotten both Orthodox ecclesiology Orthodox view on salvation. After 60 years apart from Anglicanism, it feels as if he has returned.

The first major problem comes from his comparison of the confessional process between a “married” homosexual and a single one going through a series of affairs. The committed homosexual refuses to cease having sexual relations, and so cannot receive communion. The single homosexual agrees to not have sexual relations, but has failed several times, but is blessed to receive the sacrament. In Metropolitan Ware’s view, he is treated more harshly. Given that the goal of confession (as the Metropolitan states in his own book, The Orthodox Church) is the cure of the soul, harshness is hardly in view. The question is what is the appropriate treatment that will lead to a cure. On the one hand, we have an individual who refuses to follow, apparently without remorse, the instruction of his spiritual father (and the teaching of the Church). On the other we have someone who is seeking to follow the teaching of the Church. Who needs the stronger medicine in this case? Of note is that the rules for dealing with active homosexuals is the same as for dealing within anyone who engages in sexual activity prohibited by the Church. If I were actively engaged in an affair, or a premarital relationship, the same rules apply (Exomologetarion, Chapter 10, section 8). When Metropolitan Ware looks at the application of spiritual discipline in terms of harshness, it feels more like he is focused on the Western notion as sin being something that requires punishment so that God will be happy with us again and we can be allowed into heaven. Harshness in terms of healing seems very wrong headed.

The other major problem comes toward the end of the foreword. The Metropolitan wonders about our concern with what goes on in the bedroom. “Trying to gaze through the keyhole is never a dignified posture.” This reveals to me that Metropolitan Ware’s ecclesiology may have shifted away from that of the Orthodox Church and perhaps toward that of his Episcopal roots. The Church is not merely some organization. Nobody is peeping through a keyhole. The Church is the body of Christ – the body of God. God is everywhere present (Pentecost prayer). Therefore God is standing in the room, not peeping through a keyhole. It is God that is truth, and thus He reveals the true way of life. If He declares something we do is wrong, than that must be contrary to the true way of life. While I applaud and agree with Metropolitan Ware’s assertion that we must have a conversation around sexuality, it is not because we are wrong about it, but rather we must be able to present a solid case for our views to a modern, secular society that is largely focused on the “me” and the view that our sinful nature defines us, rather than being a temporary condition from which Christ provides a means of escape.

There are, of course, other problems. For instance, I was disappointed in the Metropolitan’s implication that the Church doesn’t believe that marriage serves as a guard against lust or fornication. While a liturgical reference to this would certainly be the strongest support for the view, one would have to ignore St. John Chrystostom, among other Church Father’s to believe that such is not in view. I am forced to believe that either Metropolitan Ware is unfamiliar with St. John’s work or is intentionally ignoring it for the sake of being a provocateur. Either would be shameful for a bishop, an overseer, of the Church.

That brings me to my concluding thought. Metropolitan Ware, while a bishop, is a bishop of nothing. Metropolitan Ware is a bishop of a non-existent state, whose borders are entirely contained within the country of Montenegro. This entire region is under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Serbia and thus has a bishop. If Metropolitan Ware had actual members of his Metropolis, we would expect him to be resident in that Metropolis, not over in the UK. If It has been the custom for some time to elevate priests to a bishopric as some sort of honor. What seems to be missed is that it is a responsibility both to the faithful as a shepherd, and to the greater Church as the protector of the faith. Elevating academic theologians to the office of bishop where they have no responsibility for souls is, to me, problematic. In this case, Metropolitan Ware demonstrates why that is the case.

After this was originally posted, I was made aware of this article, by Reader Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers.  I particularly like the following comment, made by Fr. Johannes who reposted Reader Siewers article:

Sexual identities, in contrast to sexual practices or passions, are a relatively new concept. Only recently were passions taken to define people, i.e. seen as constituting an identity or essence, such as homosexual or heterosexual—an understanding that even many secular circles now scorn as untenable. It is, then, discouraging to see a highly respected Orthodox hierarch dare to breach the unwavering moral tradition of the Church based upon such an “essentialist” notion of “sexual orientation.” Siewers argues that this step undermines Orthodox anthropology by turning the body into a thing (reification) and alienating humanity from the incarnation of the God-man Christ.

A New Lenten Fast

I was listening to the Olympics and the above commercial played.  It was, of course, selling the iPhone and using the ubiquitous selfie as the tool.  The “spokesperson” for this effort is non other than the late Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time, but also one of the least humble people of all time – especially during his boxing career.  I think Apple has, perhaps inadvertently, identified the most important aspect of the selfie, and thus identified its biggest problem.  Every selfie we post is an exercise in self promotion.  It is a demonstration of a lack of humility.

Now, of course, we all lack humility at times, and the posting of an occasional selfie may not be indicative of some serious spiritual malady, but I think the habit that many, especially our youth, have gotten into of constant posting of selfies leads to a habit of pride.  The most popular social media outlets for youth (I believe) at the time of this posting are Instagram and Snapchat.  Both of these largely invite selfies.  Especially snapchat.  We see a great many celebrities maintaining their fame via selfie, and a number of their fans follow suit, assuming that this is the new proper way to behave.

I’ve seen occasional articles arguing against smart phones, especially among youth.  I’ve argued elsewhere that we may be looking at the topic incorrectly.  I don’t think kids are being less social.  While online bullying has certainly grown, I think that is a symptom of the underlying problem, not the problem itself.  We see a great deal of good coming from the online experience, but where we see negative, it is undoubtedly pride that is underlying that problem.  People are offended by those who disagree with them, they feel they have something useful to add on virtually every topic, and know better than those who disagree with them.  Pride.  Simple, nefarious, pride.  Selfies are simplya more frequent demonstration of pride.

If you look at the Instagram feed of many girls from teenager to young adult, you will undoubtedly see a selfie, with a string of comments telling the poster how perfect, hot, beautiful, etc. they are.  Their pride is being fed.  Since we know what the reaction is going to be, one has to assume that anyone posting a selfie is, at least a little bit, looking for that reinforcement of their pride.  When “Snapping” to one another, I doubt that we see those sorts of comments, but the snapper is still frequently taking pictures of themselves and sending them.  They want just the right look, and are unhappy if the picture or video isn’t what they were looking for (retake, after retake, and occasional frustration when the picture isn’t right).  Even complaints of being ugly come off more as complimenting fishing exercises (or disappointment that they aren’t as good looking as pride tells them they should be).

St. Timothy warns us of the way people will be in the last days.  The first item on his list is love of self, the third is boastful, the fourth is proud.  Do we see a pattern here?  The Fathers refer to Pride as the mother of all sin.

There are those who take a fast from the internet or computers for part or all of Great Lent.  I think that is fine if that works for them.  In my job, that is decidedly not an option.  For a great number of youth, we would be asking them to disconnect from their community.  I’m not entirely sure that is the right idea.  Perhaps, instead, we should challenge them to take a selfie fast.  Instead of selfies when you are snapping to a friend, take a picture of a flower, your pet, a cloud outside. Anything but yourself or something you’ve made.

Someone who’s spiritual insights I respect has mentioned that he thinks there is more to the selfie than just pride.  As I pondered that, I think one such thing is the sense of belonging.  My wife mentioned to me this morning an article that girls are pressured into posting sexualized pictures of themselves.  The “like” becomes a sort of validation of themselves, and solidifies their standing within their group.  Man was created to be communal, and so it is inherent in our being to want to belong to a group.  Over the years, this need to belong has been warped at times to the detriment of mankind.  The mob mentality is such an example, whether it be the local mob, or the mob at a state level (think Nazi Germany, among many other examples).  I think the selfie as the “like” become tools in the hand of the enemy to use the proper need to belong to a community and warp it into, yes, a source of pride, and, at the same time, a source of fear and despair.  I realize I don’t have much of a following, but if you have insights to add, please do.  I’ll ponder this some more and hopefully post some additional thoughts on the topic.

What would you do?

I recently saw Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Silence.  Its a movie that is broadly about the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan.  Specifically, though it is about the search of two priests for their spiritual mentor who was a priest in Japan and rumored to have apostatized.  With that as a foundation, the whole movie becomes an exploration of the spiritual struggle that people make when faced with the choice to undergo punishment or renounce the faith.  What follows are some thoughts on the central issues of the movie.  I must provide the caveat here that I would undoubtedly fail miserably, so my analysis is more from a academic perspective than a judgmental one.

In the film, we are faced with two circumstances.  In one, individuals are physically tortured for failing to apostatize.  For most of us raised in Churches where the stories of martyrs are told, we are familiar with this circumstance, and we all hope to be strong enough to remain faithful to the end, although we often suspect that we are not that strong.  If we don’t suspect that, we probably should.  To underscore this point, we are faced, throughout the film, with a character who repeatedly apostatizes or betrays the priests and then comes to confess his sins.  The reality is that this represents many of us, who sin in some fashion, go to confession, and yet return to the same sin.  Every time we sin, we are, to at least a small degree, renouncing the faith.

The other circumstance, which becomes the predominant theme of the movie, is when an individual is presented with the opportunity to relieve the suffering of others by apostatizing.  In many cases, those being tortured have already apostatized and yet they are being tortured because someone else has not.  Time and again in the movie, the priests do not apostatize, regardless of how strongly they are tempted.  One of the two priests is killed while trying to save Christians being martyred, so he is ultimately relieved of the need to make this most difficult moral choice.  The other priest is not so lucky.  He remains relatively strong, even though he hears a voice telling him that it is okay, until he discovers that his spiritual mentor has, himself, apostatized and is now writing against Christianity.  That seems to be the proverbial straw that breaks his back, leading him to finally apostatize.

The question arises, of course, of whether or not it is the right thing to do.  The priests and others are constantly told that it is only a mere formality and that it doesn’t necessarily reflect a real renunciation, but it will be sufficient.  The question becomes, then, why is it so important to the Inquisitor that this action be taken.  I think the answer to that is the key.  Even though it may only be a formality, the act of renunciation, at the very least, becomes a means of leading others to do the same.  We see that with the apostasy of Fr. Ferraira.  His renunciation of the faith becomes the basis for Fr. Rodriques’ renunciation.  It is interesting to note that throughout the movie we are reminded, frequently by Fr. Rodrigues himself, that the Christians in Japan have a stronger faith than him.  However, they all look to him as spiritual father.  When he falls, how many ultimately fall with him, I wonder?  The movie never reveals that.

The thing that struck me in the movie, and I’m led to understand was a bit of a theme in the book, was the reaction of the priest to the martyrdom of fellow Christians.  One of the points of the book, at least, and so it carried over to the movie, was that the process of martyrdom was not as glorious as Fr. Rodrigues supposed.  As the Christians in the movie are brutally tortured and killed, they frequently (although there are exceptions) scream in anguish, which stands in contrast to many of the stories we read of the great martyrs in Christian history.  One of the exceptions was during the slow drowning of the Christians on the crosses at the beach.  Granted its very much a different scenario than burning, but these were particularly fervent members of the local Christian community, and we see, at some level, the peace that comes from a deep faith.

If we reflect on the fact that martyrdom is a glorious event from a spiritual perspective (after all, it is the martyrs that live under the altar in the book of Revelation), then apostatizing to keep others from experiencing martyrdom is depriving them of something great, in spite of the temporal suffering they must undergo.  Of course, when Fr. Rodrigues actually sees their suffering, which is far more real than the descriptions from the martyrologies,  he appears to only see the suffering, and perhaps his own spiritual blindness prevents him from seeing the greater glory they will experience.  Again, I would probably fall faster than he, so this is not so much judgment as analysis.  Of note in all of this, as well, is that the voice of Christ he thinks he is hearing, is fundamentally telling him the same things as his captors.  Whether or not this was intentional I do not know.  If intentional, its an interesting indictment of Roman Catholic spirituality, which at times is very much focused on visions and the like.

As an interesting final note, the reading for the Monday after we saw the movie is either for St. Clement in some jurisdictions, and in others would be the reading for the Monday of the 32nd week, which is from St. James Universal Letter discussing faith without works.  At the end of the movie, Fr. Rodrigues is shown as his body is taken away to be cremated, holding a crucifix, apparently indicating that he retained his faith.  However, given St. James’ admonition that “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, s faith apart from works is dead,” one is left wondering, given that he had spent decades by that point working against the faith, exactly what faith he really had.

Why a Spiritual Father is a Good Idea

The spiritual father is supposed to be a standard part of our Orthodox life, but in North America there are vast numbers of Orthodox who don’t work with a spiritual father.  I was reminded of this when listening to a podcast this morning about a new offering from Holy Trinity Publications.  The person being interviewed recommended that before anyone reads the book then sets off on some new ascetically undertaking, they should consult their spiritual father.  In the US, in particular,  many parishes rarely offer confession, and many parishioners rarely seek it out.  This is in keeping with the American tendency toward self-help, which is often just thinly veiled egotism.  The advantage of working with a spiritual father is that they both have experience in the spiritual life, which means they likely know more about it than you do, and they can often see through some of the false assumptions you as an individual may be operating under.

I had a recent circumstance which very much goes to the issue of getting an expert guide.  I’m an avid wheelchair tennis player (if not a particularly good one), and recently participated in a tournament in Arizona.  My wrist had been a little bit sore going into the weekend, then became increasingly “cranky” in the midst of a Saturday full of matches.  I approached the trainer, who has been fixing people’s physical ills for many years, and asked him to work on my wrist.  His response?  “Let me work on your shoulder first.”  I looked at him a bit odd, as my shoulder felt fine.  I mean, really fine.  So, I restated my desire for him to work on my wrist.  He repeated that he wanted to work on my shoulder first, so I acquiesced.  As he worked on my shoulder and the incredible tightness began to release, a tightness that I hadn’t noticed at all, he explained that my reduced range of motion in my shoulder was putting an excessive load on my wrist.  He finished with my shoulder, worked on some forearm tightness, then taped my wrist.  As I was leaving to go play my next match, he simply said, “yeah, it was just your wrist.”

We do the same with our spiritual life.  We don’t notice things that are seriously wrong, and focus on symptoms instead.  Unfortunately, it is often the case that without fixing the bigger issues, the symptoms will never really go away.

A Review of Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Movement

A friend of mine, along with a large number of people in various church organizations (especially the Orthodox Church) have become enamored of Rick Warren, of Saddleback Community Church, and his Purpose Driven program.  Over the past few years I finally made an effort to read his Purpose Driven Church and wanted to express my opinions based on this book.

Before getting into his book, I have to say that I almost immediately had a negative reaction to him and the entire movement.  I hesitate to claim some great level of discernment, but I have to admit to a long standing aversion to slick salesmen and the marketing of the Church as if it was just another consumer product.  Warren’s first impression is that of a slick salesman.  His writings are just filled with very glib, catchy sayings.  This already made me suspicious that he was not necessarily the most honest or forthright person in the game.  As you read his writings, this suspicion becomes confirmed when you see the way he utilized Bible translations.  He doesn’t just stick with one preferred translation, as most people would, but he changes around chapter after chapter.  The reason for this is he mostly utilizes thought for thought translations, a particularly poor form of translation, and this allows him to find a translation that agrees with whatever point he is making, even if the translation is incorrect.  For instance, he cites Colossians 2:19, which says:

“It is from him that all the parts of the body are cared for and held together. So it grows in the way God wants it to grow”

Warren, Rick; Warren, Rick (2007-09-04). The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Kindle Locations 319-320). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

At least, according to the NCV.  The NCV, or New Century Version, is a fairly obscure translation.  However, he needed a translation that supported his point that God wants the Church to grow.  Although that is an argument that could be made in a number of ways, he needed a single verse.  However, more traditional translations, such as the NKJV, would not really lend themselves to this interpretation: “and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God,” which speaks to the individual believer staying connected to the true Church.

He follows this same pattern in all of his writings.  He develops an opinion, then searches around for a Bible translation that supports his opinion.  This is disingenuous to say the least, and decidedly egotistical.  However, his ego comes out in all of his writings, so this is no surprise.

I will acknowledge that there are a number of valid points in his book, but the points I agree with are really no different than what I, and many others like me, have been saying for years.  The question is, are these points, and Saddleback’s execution regarding these points, the reason for their tremendous growth?  My friend sent out another email this morning, requesting that our parish pursue the “5 Renewals” that Saddleback publishes.  His justification for pursuing this was Saddleback’s success, defined as “Saddleback has over 50,000 members around the world at 9 church campus locations, planted 197 churches around the world in one year,etc”.  In other words, success is entirely based on numbers.  I challenged him on this point, and his only response was that Warren argues that health comes before numbers.  He never clarified his view of what success was defined by.

He also argued that we don’t need to adopt Warren’s theology in order to adopt his techniques.  I’m not at all convinced that this is so.  I think Warren’s theology drives the particular reasons he has been so successful.  We can see three aspects of his theology that drive the key elements of the growth experienced at Saddleback.

The real question is, what is driving the growth they see at Saddleback?  We know from the outset (as stated in PDC), that he was starting a Church that was not going to have traditional worship services.* I think here we see part of the real secret for his growth.  A charismatic preacher offering something new and more entertaining.  Several times in his book, he suggests modifying worship to make it more attractive.  While such a notion is fairly consistent with the overall Protestant/Evangelical approach to things, it seemingly ignores the attitude God has in the Old Testament with regard to worship.

A recent podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, on the topic of Pentecostalism noted that modern Evangelicals, and, in particular, the seeker sensitive movement, of which Warren is a prominent member, focuses on emotionalism as a means of drawing new members in.  Warren’s theology places the structure of worship as merely incidental.  It can be appealing to potential converts or not.  Of course, Protestant theology, and particularly the Evangelical perspective on a “decision for Christ” means that once you’ve made the decision, nothing after that is particularly relevant.  So, worship really serves no purpose as far as the growth of the believer.  Given that, you can adjust your worship to attract non-believers (or more likely, non-active Christians).

However, in the Old Testament, we see a distinctly different view of worship.  Of particular note is the entire book of Leviticus, and the rules God put in place around worship, and then the rebellion of Korah.  In the interest of space, I won’t go into elaborate details, but anyone with even a passing familiarity with the OT, will know how obvious it was that God took the order of worship very seriously.

Warren and his organization provide a number of other things that they do at Saddleback, but it seems, again based on PDC, that these things are not really causative to their growth.  For instance, they will take you off of the membership rolls if you don’t give regularly.  However, it is unclear what the real impact of that removal is, nor is it clear how much you really have to give.  They also speak of the importance of having members who are growing in order to attract new members.  While I agree with that, their initial growth can’t really have been attributed to that, and when Warren really gets down to brass tacks in his book, he returns to the theme of modifying the worship.  Adjust the style, and adjust the time.  In addition, he tendency toward dishonesty and saying what he thinks people want to hear, makes me question his honesty regarding anything he states regarding the methods he uses and how successful they may or may not be on an individual basis.

One final note on Warren and honesty.  Back when California was debating proposition 8, that would have firmly established marriage in the state to be only between a man and a woman, Rick Warren related to his parishioners his views on the subject.  When the leader of a church communicates a view to over 20,000 of his followers, any reasonable person can conclude that this qualifies as a teaching from this leader.  However, when this support went public, which would undoubtedly impact Warren’s ability to market himself, he backpedaled.  In other words, you never really know what the truth is with him, because at the end of the day he is all about marketing.  Following Christ is supposed to be about following the Way, The TRUTH, and the Life.  Warren doesn’t seem to have much need for the truth, so I wonder who, exactly, he is following.  In turn, should we really be following him?

*The first sentence of that letter clearly stated our focus and position. It said: “At last! A new church for those who’ve given up on traditional church services.”

Warren, Rick; Warren, Rick (2007-09-04). The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Kindle Locations 630-631). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


Why I Did Convert to Eastern Orthodoxy

An article  recently started making the social media rounds, that describes the reasons why an individual elected to not become Orthodox. I started writing a response that was going to argue against his piece.  It then dawned on me that perhaps the better approach would be to simply capture why I did convert and how to address the Episcopal Church from which I had come.  In that, perhaps I could address some of his concerns.

My conversion process was ultimately a conversion from pretty serious agnosticism.  The conversion began when, during a particularly difficult period in my life, I decided to go to church one Sunday morning.  As it turned out, there was an Episcopal church in walking distance from where I lived at the time.  Since I was raised in the Episcopal Church, it seemed like a reasonable place to go.  I became a member and joined the choir along the way.  Fast forward a couple of years, and I started dating a girl who challenged my level of commitment as a Christian.  I took that as a challenge and began to attend bible studies with her, and started digging deeper into the historic faith.  Since the Episcopal Church, and in particular, the AngloCatholic subset to which I belonged, expressed a strong belief in Tradition, I felt it appropriate to begin studying history.  This all led to me ultimately joining the catechumenate program as, at first, a student, and ultimately as the lead instructor.  During that process, we changed the program from a long weekend to almost a full year with multiple retreats.

I explored the history of the Church in more and more depth, and kept landing first in the Roman Catholic Church, then the Orthodox Church.  Without getting into a lot of detail, the Orthodox Church won out on the basis of Tradition.  Rome had been guilty of changing doctrine.  Not simply clarifying, but actually changing.  Although it is frequently related that at the various Ecumenical Councils doctrine was being established, what was happening was doctrine was being declared based on what had been handed down.  New doctrines were not created.  When England broke with Rome, they didn’t return to Orthodoxy, they established their own Church with new doctrines.  Some remained the same as with Rome, others were derived from the various Reformation groups on the Continent.

So I became convinced that the Church of England and the Episcopal Church needed to return to Orthodoxy.  I attempted this on the inside, but was ultimately led to the conclusion that I needed to leave.  I addressed this many years ago in this article.  You’ll note at the end of that article that there was a vast theological chasm between the two Churches.  That is quite true.  The question is, is the chasm one of full vs. not full (i.e., where one faith has simply not developed all the way), or is it a matter of contradiction?

If you read my old article, you’ll find many examples of teaching in our parish that was at odds with Orthodoxy (or even historic Anglicanism).  Anglicanism, itself, teaches things contrary to Orthodoxy.  Whether its the filioque (which is, simply put, erroneous), the canon of Scripture (the Anglican Church argues that the so-called Apocrypha are not scripture) or the nature of salvation, or any one of a number of doctrines, there is conflict between the two.  It is not a case of Anglicanism having a more primitive type of the faith and it simply has not developed all the way, so Orthodoxy completes it, or fills it.  Rather it is mistaken.  If you convert to Orthodoxy, you must, in the interest of intellectual and spiritual honesty, reject the doctrines of Anglicanism that are incorrect.  That is not to say that everything they teach is erroneous, but you cannot agree to the doctrines of both churches.

The same is true for Roman Catholicism and every variety of Protestantism.  The author of the article belongs to a reformed church.  That means he believes in sola scripture, sola fide, and predestination.  All of these are incorrect.  If he attempted to join the Orthodox Church and still hold to these teachings he would have been living a lie.  Unfortunately, as much respect as I have for Met. Kallistos, he and others who play the “fullness” card in the interest of not offending non-Orthodox do both sides a disservice.




Of Dunghills

A friend and I were discussing Luther’s views on salvation vs. Orthodox.  I mentioned, during that conversation, Luther’s analogy about the dunghill, which is debated as to whether it exists.  However, I came across the following two quotes:

Therefore let us embrace Christ, who was delivered for us, and His righteousness; but let us regard our righteousness as dung, so that we, having died to sins, may live to God alone [LW 30:294].
Explanation of Martin Luther: I said before that our righteousness is dung in the sight of God. Now if God chooses to adorn dung, he can do so. It does not hurt the sun, because it sends its rays into the sewer. [LW 34: 184]

It is the latter quote which implies that our sins are covered over in the eyes of God, perhaps covered in snow, or maybe whitewashed.  This morning, the daily gospel reading was, interestingly enough, from Matthew.  Within the reading is the following passage:

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’sbones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

It’s interesting to me because Christ doesn’t seem to look very fondly on the notion of whitewashing the outside.  In other words, would God really participate in a fiction where he pretends that we aren’t sinners?

Polemics vs. Theology

Recently, in response to a document promulgated prior the Great and Holy Council this summer, two Metropolitan Bishops of the Orthodox Church in Greece published concerns.  Both of these bishops would be considered traditionalists, and by some “fundamentalist”.  In particular, George Demacopoulos, a professor at Fordham University.  Some day, when I have nothing better to do, I might want to see some of his academic work.  However, based on a couple of samples of his public writing, I don’t hold out a lot of hope.  His expertise appears to be in polemics, although he is apparently a theology professor.  I’ve addressed one of his public diatribes previously, and now am faced with another.  Rather than the lengthy response the last one elicited, I’d only like to make a few comments.  I will say that I actually agree with him that the objections are ultimately incorrect, but I disagree entirely with his characterization of them as “innovations,” which is tantamount to him declaring the two bishops to be heretics.  I’ve said it before, but I expect better from a supposed academic.  At the end of this post, I’ll link a piece that treats the overall subject in a manner much more appropriate to an academic and Orthodox Christian, IMO.

The two bishops in view are Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus and Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos.  The latter was, I believe, the target of the previous piece, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he is the target again.  However, let me briefly address Metropolitan Seraphim first.  Unfortunately, his objections, characterized by Demacopoulos as a “wide ranging condemnation” are in Greek, so my unfortunate lack of effort toward mastering Greek leaves me unable to speak to his view directly.  However, Demacopoulos takes particular note of the Metropolitan’s objection toward the use of the term “church” regarding other Christian denominations.  He links, as his argument, a video by Sister Vassa on the subject.  Much of her objection is grounded in the usage of the term church regarding heretical groups in the Church Fathers.  While I agree that looking to the Church Fathers for information is critical, there is always a risk of relying entirely on what is essentially proof texting.  I find it interesting that nobody appears to really address the Metropolitan’s objections head on.  His objections are not even particularly detailed by his detractors, which makes this discussion really quite challenging.

On a Facebook thread regarding these documents, I argued that the context for the objections needs to be, at some level, the broader view, especially in the West, and especially in other denominations, that all churches are largely the same.  This perspective has apparently become a bit of an issue in Greece, as other Christian groups as well as non-Christian groups have made some inroads into the traditionally Orthodox country.  This makes the terminology used by the conciliar documents of concern from a pastoral perspective for the Metropolitans.  I would argue that a great many of the canons of the Church are fundamentally pastoral in nature.  The pastoral situation is different now than it was in the past, so I can understand a bishop being particularly concerned about it.  I was taken to task in the post that the context is really the conciliar document, but I think that is absurdly narrow.  I think the bishop is mistaken, and that the use of the term is acceptable, but it may not be desirable.  I’m a former Anglican, and many of my former fellow parishioners see themselves as a church with the same meaning that being a member of “The Church” holds.  Thus the term for them carries meaning that I wouldn’t agree to.  Isn’t it wiser, if I avoid using it?  The rector of my former parish is a Priest in that denomination who is called “Father”.  If I address him as “Father,” am I leading him to believe that I view him as an actual priest in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?  That’s what he thinks he is, and all I would be doing is supporting that belief.  That is the reality many of us face, and that I suspect the Metropolitan is facing.  Is he going a bit too far?  Perhaps.  Innovating?  Well, not necessarily.  Now, let’s discuss Metropolitan Hierotheos.

Demacopoulos sinks to new lows in his argument with Metropolitan Hierotheos.  Metropolitan Hierotheos bases his views on the Council of 1756.  That council, held in Constantinople and including two other Orthodox Patriarchs dealt with several issues regarding the Roman Catholic Church.  Principal among them was the rite to be used when accepting converts from Rome.  It is interesting that Demacopoulos insists that it was simply a letter issued by the one Hierarch, Cyril, which is supported by Wikipedia (and the document is known as the Oros), but a quote from an early 20th century text on canon law, cited here, indicates that this was a finding agreed two by more than one Patriarch.  Demacopoulos also asserts that Patriarch Cyril was deposed by his own synod for having issued the Oros, but all I can find is that (perhaps) his synod objected to the Oros and declared it invalid, following which he exiled all of those bishops who disagreed with him.  Cyril was ultimately deposed, but that was in response to his deposition of the other bishops.  Rather papal if it really happened that way.  Regardless, we can see that the history is a bit muddled, and it is telling that Demacopoulos doesn’t even begin to address the fact that there appear to be differing view on what took place at that time in Constantinople.  If he was just some rank and file layman, I could understand the errors, but for a supposed professor of theology, I expect more academic rigor in his writings.

I had actually ceased work on this post a while back, but then this response was posted to Demacopoulos’ work.  I applaud the fact that he linked to it on Facebook, as a good scholar welcomes debate.  In particular, he is to be applauded, because the piece really highlights his complete lack of knowledge in this area.  Apparently the practice of rebaptizing Latins was not uncommon and dated back to the time of the Great Schism.  It was even supported by at least one saint of the Church.  Hardly is this a novelty being proposed by Demacopoulos’ favorite target, Metropolitan Hierotheos.

Clearly, this is a topic that merits actual discussion among the hierarchs.  Personally, given how far away from the ancient Church much of Western Christianity has drifted, I think it safer to err on the side of rebaptism, but thankfully I am not one of the hierarchs so my opinion doesn’t much matter.  Thankfully, Demacopoulos is also not one of the hierarchs either.

What Debates in Other Faiths Reveal About Their Theology

I’ll begin this by saying that I mostly try to ignore what is going on in the Anglican world.  I am no longer a member of the Episcopal church(ECUSA), so I have no stake in their internal disagreements.  On the other hand, perhaps mine is not the right attitude.  I still have a number of people that I care about who are still in that group, and so, perhaps I should care about what is going on there more, especially as it pertains to mistaken doctrine, and even simply mistaken attitudes that would be dangerous for those still there.

At the same time, reading things coming out of the ECUSA can also provide an opportunity to reflect on what the Orthodox perspective would be, both on the subject, and on the arguments being made.  Just such an opportunity was afforded me last week when the latest issue of the Diocesan Messenger from the San Diego diocese arrived (for some reason, I seem trapped on their mailing list in perpetuity).  Apparently there is a topic up for debate, at least at the Diocesan level, or perhaps at the national level, and the Diocese felt it appropriate to have several pastors from different parishes in the Diocese write their  arguments regarding the topic.  As they were not responding one to another, you were presented with four different position papers, which seems like a reasonable way to hold a discussion without it devolving into an argument.

The topic being discussed is what they are describing as “Open Communion”.  I’ll start by noting that Open Communion, as commonly understood, refers to permitting Christians who are not members of that particular denomination to receive Communion.  When I was young, that was the debate ongoing in the ECUSA.  However, in 2016, to the ECUSA, the term refers to permitting non-Christians to receive communion.  The four pieces revealed some interesting insights, both into the theology of the four pastors, as well as the position of the ECUSA within the Christian milieu.

Some Background on the Parishes Involved

The four parishes involved, or rather the three parishes and mission, are Holy Cross and St. Michael’s in Carlsbad, All Soul’s in Point Loma, and St. Andrew’s in Pacific Beach.  Given the level of theological diversity allowed within Anglicanism, it is not surprising that these parishes represent very different theological foundations.  For instance, Holy Cross, which was founded as a mission by St. Michael’s was, like St. Michael’s used to be, rather Anglocatholic.  That is, believing in doctrines that would cause little to separate them from Roman Catholics of perhaps two or three centuries ago.  Since I left the Episcopal Church a decade ago, Holy Cross underwent a significant shift when its Vicar and many parishioners left for the continuing Anglican movement in 2006.  Similarly, St. Michaels also shifted.  Although their rector is a graduate of what historically had been an Anglocatholic seminary, the seminary has been under the leadership of a priest who had come from the Charismatic (i.e. Evangelical) movement.  Drawn to the conservatism, I suppose, of Nashotah, he really had never been an adherent to Anglocatholicism.  I’m not sure that he changed the seminary as much as his being hired reflected how much it had changed.  At any rate, the current rector at St. Michael’s never really struck me as particularly Anglocatholic.  Yes, he likes “tradition”, yes he is a bit conservative, but like Munday, his perspective always felt more Evangelical than Catholic.  When the more Catholic elements in the parish either left for Orthodoxy (at least a handful) or the larger exodus to Rome, all that was left was basically Evangelical leaning, or, more traditionally Protestant if not Evangelical.  Holy Cross now appears to be a typical modernist mission, St. Michael’s a traditional leaning Evangelical parish, and the other two I’m not entirely sure of.  Their pastor’s positions then reflect this diversity.

The Mind of the Church

The goal within Orthodoxy is for everyone to obtain and operate with the “Mind of the Church”, or phronema.  This encompasses not only the doctrinal elements but also the more practical life lived within the practices of the Church, and seeking to grow in our likeness to God, and the continued acquisition of the Holy Spirit (Met. Hierotheos Vlachos).  Decisions about what is acceptable reflect, then, this mind.  It is a common misconception that Church councils always just reflected a voted based on opinions of the bishops present.  What happened, instead, especially beginning with the first ecumenical council, was that the bishops were seeking to understand the mind of the Church as reflected by what had been believed and practiced since the time of the Apostles.  Doctrines live and die by the degree to which they reflect the received tradition across the board.  This tradition is most notably transmitted via the liturgies and hymns as those represent the communal life of the faithful.

Thus, a question such as the one posed, would be addressed by priests and bishops in the Orthodox Church by reference to the canons that had been passed at the various councils.  Then, if that was not sufficient, we look to the liturgical traditions and the hymnography for more guidance.  For instance, we know that the historical practice was for all non-baptized individuals to be sent out of the Church before the part in the service when the Holy Spirit is called down onto the bread and wine to turn them into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Although this no longer happens, the liturgy retains a call by the Deacon to attend to the doors (that is close them so that only the faithful remain) prior to the recitation of the Creed.  Given this, there is no question that non-baptized would not be permitted to participate.  Further, we also know that those who had separated themselves over doctrinal matters (heretics, although the word has become unpopular) would also not be permitted in until a suitable period of penance had occurred.  So even the question of baptized Christians who do not belong to the Orthodox Church is answered.

This answers the question in part, but of course, if one wants to understand at a deeper level, we would reflect on the nature of the Church and the nature of the Sacrament, which I will do a bit further down in response to specific points raised in the article.

I should point out here that this notion of the “Mind of the Church” figures into the question of Apostolic Succession. In order to be in that succession, besides needing to be ordained by an ordained/consecrated bishop, as agreed to universally, the Orthodox Church understands that the bishops and priests under discussion must also still exist within the Mind of the Church. That is, they cannot have left the Church in some fashion and yet still claim to be in succession.

Personal Opinion

Now that we’ve addressed the general issue of the mind of the church, we come to the first piece, which is penned by the Vicar of Holy Cross. After she finishes praising the “roominess” of Anglican theology, she then moves on to the discussion at hand. The purpose of the discussion of the roomy theology is to simply argue that there is no formal Eucharistic theology in play from an Anglican perspective and thus opens the door for her to “share my own Eucharistic theology.” Although she briefly asserts a shared perspective with Augustine (without any support), the entire article is based on her views, her feelings, etc. There is no attempt to engage the mind of the church. This is very much consistent with the modernist thread of Anglicanism, where personal opinions and feelings are as valid as any doctrine or received tradition, if not more so. Besides being inconsistent with any Christian worldview older than the 16th century, it also smacks of the sort of lack of humility that is spiritually dangerous for all of us.

Catholic or Not?

The piece by the rector of St. Michael’s also quickly touches on a personal opinion about the rightness of what he refers to as the “Anglican” view that communion is to be offered to all baptized Christians regardless of denomination. I’m not entirely sure that this is an Anglican view as much as it is strictly an Episcopalian view, but to be sure, it is not a catholic view. Yet, immediately after this comment, he trots out the famed Vincentian Canon (named for St. Vincent of Lerins), using it to state that the “catholic faith which we profess is described… as, “that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”. This then becomes the foundation for his argument that to offer communion to non-Christians would be non-catholic. He leans on Fr. Alexander Schmemann representing Orthodoxy, then St. Irenaus, representing the ancient church to defend his position. However, his argument is without merit, as he just finished proclaiming the modern and erroneous practice of communion to all baptized Christians, regardless of denomination. How can he use catholicity to prevent one practice, while ignoring it to support another one? At best, this is some form of special pleading, at worst hypocrisy. He furthers undermines his case by a veiled reference to 1 Corinthians 11, where St. Paul indicates that partaking of communion in an unworthy manner can result in illness in death. Instead of agreeing with his assertion, he creates a straw man argument that God will not strike someone dead for taking communion when not baptized (did St. Paul say that? no), but by dismantling the straw man he effectively denies St. Paul’s teaching. Once again, he seems to be disagreeing with the very catholic faith he asserts should drive this decision.

The Sacrament Itself

Both of the first two writers seem to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is at best unclear about the remaining two author. The rector from All Souls discusses what the Eucharist is at great length before finally indicating that perhaps he thinks it is the body and blood of Christ (what he actually says is the “desire … (of someone else) to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ”, so it is unclear). He discusses a great many things about the Eucharist, that it is mechanism by which we are united, by which people receive God’s grace, etc., all of which is true, but I don’t think he really accepts that God is, in fact, actually present in the Sacrament. The rector of St. Andrew’s doesn’t even come close.

The sense that God is truly present in the Sacrament would, you think, give everyone great pause and concern that people are prepared to receive it. In the Orthodox Church, even though we are baptized members of the Orthodox Church, we are expected to prepare to receive the sacrament each week, by special prayers, fasting, and periodic confession. Such practices are consistent with the view that God is present.  The issue is not so much that God would “strike us dead” as St. Michael’s rector asserts, but that our state would mean that we would not react well to His holiness.  Following is a quote from a lecture given several years ago by a doctor and lay theologian from Greece that expresses the essence of the Orthodox view of judgment:

God is Truth and Light. God’s judgment is nothing else than our coming into contact with truth and light. In the day of the Great Judgment all men will appear naked before this penetrating light of truth. The “books” will be opened. What are these “books”? They are our hearts. Our hearts will be opened by the penetrating light of God, and what is in these hearts will be revealed. If in those hearts there is love for God, those hearts will rejoice seeing God’s light. If, on the contrary, there is hatred for God in those hearts, these men will suffer by receiving on their opened hearts this penetrating light of truth which they detested all their life.

All four authors support some level of open communion. the Vicar of Holy Cross is the most clearly in support of this. I was pondering why this was the case. Especially since she proclaims a belief in the real presence. Then it occurred to me, after listening to a talk on heresies and their manifestation today, that perhaps she doesn’t actually believe that Christ is God. Then his presence in the Eucharist wouldn’t raise questions about being worthy to approach.

Patristics and Context

As a final note, a couple of different quotes of St. Augustine are trotted out. In both cases, I’m pretty certain that the authors have not actually read the sermons that those quotes are from (the Vicar from Holy Cross wrongly asserts that her quote was a standard part of St. Augustine’s liturgy). Both miss the fact that the reference to becoming what you see is in fact a reference to the Orthodox understanding of theosis. The rector of St. Andrew’s asserts that St. Augustine’s phrase “Behold what you are” indicates that we are “fully accepted” by God, the phrase fully accepted is usually taken to mean, wallowing in our sins without need of repentance. Instead, he misses that the “Behold what you are” is a reference to the body of Christ, which is what we, as baptized, professing members of the Church are.

Children’s Liturgy

On my morning commute, I frequently listen to offerings from Ancient Faith Radio.  I try to always start with The Path, so I get the daily readings, then I might listen to something else, like the latest from Ancient Faith Today.  This morning, I opted to listen to a podcast I hadn’t heard of before (I’ve since returned to attempt to locate it, as I wasn’t originally going to link to it, then changed my mind and I can’t seem to find it).  Of note is that the podcast is by a lay person with no apparent theological training (or ordination reflecting preparation to teach).  The particular episode had a title that sounded a bit protestant, so I was already prepared to some degree for what was coming.  I still haven’t finished listening to the episode, but something was mentioned that almost caused me to drive off the road.  The host mentioned that, at his parish, for 9 months out of the year they have a children’s liturgy, which separates the children from the parents until they graduate from high school.  There are two major flaws with this practice, that render it completely problematic.

The first major flaw is that the very groups which first developed this concept, the seeker sensitive evangelical Churches of the 60’s and 70’s, are now beginning to eschew this very practice, as they realize that the practice, while well intentioned, has been contributing to the increasingly low attendance number among later and later generations of Americans.  Read here, here, and here, for instance.  When digging around for articles about Children’s Church, one of the voices against came from the Roman Catholic world.  It wasn’t that they hadn’t done it and were opposed to begin with, but rather that they had done it and then realized that it was a bad idea.

This reflects one of the fundamental flaws of the Ecumenical movement, in my opinion, which perhaps I’ll explore in greater depth elsewhere.  One of the points of Ecumenical dialogue is the sharing of ideas with one another.  This was one of those situations.  We look to what the rapidly growing evangelical churches are doing, and then adopt some of their practices.  Rome was notorious for that, with guitar masses, and all manner of mega-church adaptations that are, realistically, the result of the deeply flawed theology of protestantism.  It is sad to now see Orthodox traveling that same path.  It’s bad enough to put up with organs in church on Sunday morning, but at some point (if it hasn’t happened already) I expect an Orthodox parish somewhere will have a guitar player on the Solea, strumming the cherubic hymn during the Great Entrance.  Now we see that at least one Orthodox parish has adopted the failed Children’s Church idea, I’m sure the guitars won’t be far behind.

The second major flaw with Children’s Church is that reflects a deeply flawed, perhaps even heretical, understanding of Orthodox notions about worship and community.  Prior to the 20th Century, it was generally unheard of for any average church, of whatever denomination, to have more than one service/liturgy on Sunday (I’m not referring to having Matins then Liturgy or Morning Prayer then Eucharist, or whatever other denominations may do along those lines, but rather having two Eucharist services or two Masses, or two Sunday Worship services for the non-liturgical churches).  For the protestants, this was largely just a left over traditional behavior that probably hadn’t been given much thought.  For Catholics and Orthodox, it reflected a deeper understanding of the nature of liturgy.  During the 20th century, Protestant churches began to offer  multiple services on Sunday.  This was to provide a convenient time for people to attend Church.  Over the years this led to everything from a Saturday evening service, to several Sunday morning and Sunday evening service.  Given that Protestant theology of worship has generally entirely abandoned the thinking of the early church, there was no apparent reason to not do this.

Orthodoxy, on the other hand understands that Sunday morning liturgy is, in fact, meant for the whole community.  In fact, it is rather an exceptional situation where a church has more than one liturgy in a day, and that requires two priests (as one can server only one liturgy in a day) and two antimensions (the cloth upon which the gifts are consecrated).  An antimension is given to the parish by the Bishop, which points to the fact that serving more than one liturgy on a Sunday would require the Bishop’s blessing.  I hope, in this case, that the Bishop will bring an end to the practice in this parish.

It is hard for me to imagine what value is derived from training children that they aren’t part of the community, that somehow they need to be separated from the rest of the community.  Regardless of how noble the motivations were behind starting the practice, that is precisely what is being done.