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.

Response to a Request

On the Facebook page for my parish (which I help manage), we received this recent post:

Please read and answer the verse in the Holy Bible Exodus 23;20-21, John 5;43, Proverbs 30;4 and Micah 6;9, Isaiah 24;15, Malachi 1;11 KJV.

I will admit that I’m not entirely sure what the poster is after, but I will do my best.

Here is the first passage, from the KJV:

20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

Of course, the Orthodox Church doesn’t follow the Masoretic text for the Old Testament, which is the basis of the KJV Old Testament (although the KJV as an overall translation is used).  Instead, we use the Old Testament of the ancient Church, which is based on the Septuagint.  However, for the sake of this first passage, the translation is largely the same, so we can work with it.  The biggest difference is that the word “place” is actually “land” which makes more sense in the context.  The “Angel” from the Greek Αγγελοσ, means messenger, so, of course, this passage refers to Christ, who is the messenger who is to bring us into the land God has prepared, and, at the same time, is able for forgive our transgressions.

The next passage is from the Gospel according to St John,

 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.

This passage is from Christ speaking to the Jews, and essentially chastising them for not receiving the messenger (referred to in the Exodus passage above).  Blessed Theophylact provides us with this:

The Lord continuously exalts the Father, saying that the Father has sent Him, and that He can do nothing without the Father.  He does so to disprove every allegation that He is arrogant.  But another shall come, the Antichrist, who will attempt to show that he alone is God.

Proverbs 30:4, again, is one of the Old Testament prophecies of Christ.  As the OSB notes, this verse asks six questions.  The answer to the first five is Christ, and the answer to the sixth is Christian.  The verse in the LXX is, “Who ascends into heaven and descends?  Who gathers the winds in His bosom?  Who wraps up the water in a garment?  Who rules over all the ends of the earth?  What is His name, and what is the name of His children, that you might acknowledge it?”

The Masoretic text of Micah varies a bit more extensively from the LXX for this verse, with the Masoretes having, “The Lord‘s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” and the LXX having “The Lord’s voice shall be proclaimed in the city, and He shall save those who fear His name.  “Hear, O tribe, who will put the city in order?””  Regardless of the translation, the answer to the question is, again, Christ.

Isaiah, similarly, diverges a bit from the LXX, with the LXX reading, “Therefore the glory of the Lord will be in the islands of the sea: the name of the Lord, the god of Israel, will be glorious.”  The islands are the churches that will be established in the sea of lost humanity, with the name of the Lord being proclaimed by them.

Finally, we have Malachi, 1:11, “For from the rising of the sun even to its going down, My name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering, for My name shall be great among the Gentiles, ” says the Lord Almighty.”  This, of course, speaks of the time when Christ’s Church will be established, where incense will always be offered (as it continues today in the Orthodox Church).

I suspect that the individual posting the question was after the “name of God”, in the sense of the tetragrammaton of YHWH.  The actual pronunciation of this name, of course, is lost to history, although Greek texts, where the pronunciation was indicated, seem to lean toward Yahweh.  Later, during the development of the Masoretic text, scribes added the vowel points for the “Adonai”, which made the name render more like the Jehovah that the Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer.  Of note is that the translators of the LXX opted, instead of transmitting the tetragrammaton to use the Greek word “Kyrios” or Lord.  Rather than just a title, it became used as the name of God.  The New Testament authors continued to follow this pattern.  Of course, with the incarnation, we have a very specific known name for God, which is Jesus Christ.

Of course, the other aspect of the word “name” is that it implies a personal knowledge of the person because you know their name.  This comports well with the Christian understanding that we are to develop an actual relationship with Christ.  The Orthodox Church continues to hold the name of God in high honor, as well.  Of particular note is that the Church prays without ceasing (per St. Paul’s instructions) by invoking the name of God, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

Apostolic Succession and Anglicans


The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) recently was invited to Russia to meet with the Patriarch.  Kevin Allen at Ancient Faith Radio, after this meeting, interviewed Keith Ackerman, a bishop in the ACNA, and Fr. Chad Hatfield, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary.  Both are actively engaged in interfaith dialogue between Anglicans and the Orthodox, and Ackerman had attended the meeting in Moscow (I’m unclear as to whether Fr. Hatfield attended or not).  As time permits, there are a few points raised during the interview, that I hope to address.  For now, I will limit myself to one point.

Kevin raises the question of the branch theory and Apostolic Succession.  He wonders if the ACNA still holds that it is, in fact, one of the branches of the original church.  This theory is widely held by Anglicans, and in particular by Anglocatholics, of which Ackerman is one (or at least used to be, I haven’t spoken with him in years).  Ackerman responds by saying he is, in fact, looking at his apostolic succession while participating in the interview.  That is, he is looking at the line of bishops, presumably leading back to the apostles, and beginning with the bishop who ordained him as a priest in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) many years ago.

This points to an issue that will prove to be a major problem.  You see, the Orthodox Church does not accept that Ackerman, or any Anglicans are in the “Apostolic Succession.”  Even Rome doesn’t accept it, and they hold to a view of Apostolic Succession somewhat more in line with the Anglican view.  The Anglican perspective is that Apostolic Succession is merely about the laying on of hands by subsequent generations of bishop.  That there is something magical in that act that keeps one perpetually a member of the historic church.  This goes along with their belief that once you are ordained a priest you are always a priest.  Nothing you do changes this.  If you were to become a bishop, then decide to become a buddhist, you would still have the ability to pass along this apostolic succession to someone else – even, presumably, if they were not Christian.  Anglicans would argue that it is nothing “magical” but rather God’s grace, but the Orthodox don’t believe that God’s grace is permanently affixed to someone such that they can’t turn away from it and leave it behind.

The Orthodox perspective on Apostolic Succession includes the laying on of hands, but also requires a continuation in the teaching of the Apostles.  Following is from a piece by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Vlachos on Rome, but it applies here:

Apostolic Succession is not simply a series of ordinations, but at the same time it is the sharing of revealed truth.  When a church cuts itself off from the trunk of the Orthodox Church because of doctrinal differences, this means it no longer has the mystery of the priesthood.  That is, when revelatory truth is lost and heretical opinions are adopted, this has implications int he Apostolic Succession.  The Apostles transmitted the gift of the priesthood, but at the same time they gave, through regeneration, the entire revelatory tradition.

In his book on the Person in the Orthodox Tradition, he goes into some more detail, and I will attempt to post some of that later.  However, this requirement to continue in the revealed truth is then problematic for the Anglican churches.  Ackerman can claim that he holds entirely Orthodox beliefs (which obviously he doesn’t, at least not on this count), but in order for him to still be in succession, the requirement is that he be continuing in that stream.  That is, nobody in his line of succession cut themselves off from Orthodox doctrine prior to their laying hands on him.  I think he would be hard pressed to establish that all of his predecessors held even AngloCatholic beliefs, let alone Orthodox, so there is no practical way for him to still be in that line of succession.

As an addendum, we have several instances that I was aware of back in my Anglican days, where an individual would wander off and establish his own branch of Christianity that bore little semblance to historic, Orthodox Christianity.  For amusement, you may want to read this.  You can see several examples of sects arising out of this mistaken notion of Apostolic Succession, to whom the word heretic could be applied, but that might not go far enough.

Orthodox Fundamentalism, A Response

Recently a friend pointed out this article, by a George Demacopoulos, who is a professor of Historical Theology and the Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University.  His position and title are somewhat germane to the following analysis.

When I asked about what I thought regarding the article, I was going to write up a response, then decided not to when I ran across this response posted by Fr. John Whiteford.  My friend has since posed the following response:

I went back and reread Father Whiteford’s response. I didn’t read Democopoulos’ piece as if it were a piece of systematic theology. It was only a couple of pages long, more of an essay or a precis to an essay. I think W. Is taking D. a little too literally. I think D. was trying to relate to the reader some of his reservations with Orthodox fundamentalists (I think you and I probably agree on who he’s talking about without putting too fine a point on it). Speaking as a convert, I agree with D., generally speaking. But if I interpreted D. In W’s terms, I wouldn’t agree.

Perhaps D, could have been a little less polemical with his terms, but don’t you think D. got most of it right?

I’m going to come right out and say that, no, I don’t think he got most of it right.  Before I commence, a few caveats are important.  One is that I lean toward the traditional side in my Orthodoxy.  I have a great number of friends who are likely the targets of Demacopoulos’ piece, and I may be classified in the same group by him.  I suspect I would be.  I’m sure Fr. John would be.  The other is that Fr. John and I are both survivors, not without some injury, of the Episcopal wars that have led to an increasingly irrelevant religious body that stands for nothing except for what is in opposition to the history of the faith.  We see individuals within the Orthodox Church who make statements that are very similar to the sorts of things one would hear out of so-called Episcopal theologians say 20 or 30 years ago.  Thus, we are likely a bit sensitized to such things.  Finally, I will say that I know nothing much about the Volos conference, although I guess I’ll have to look further into it, and perhaps post back more regarding it.  My difficulties with the Demacopoulos piece are with the piece itself.


I will agree that the piece was not meant to be a significant theological treatise.  However, it is much more than an offhand remark made in passing or during some form of interview.  Rather, this was a widely posted essay (and yes, really more the introduction to what could become a much longer piece) meant to effectively belittle the more traditional Orthodox.  If it was merely an introduction, followed by a more detailed essay with citations, I could accept it a bit more, although it is still replete with errors.

I think that people some times have more that should be demanded of them because of the position they hold.  Professional athletes, for instance, are chastised for behaviors that are not entirely uncommon in our society (drug use, dishonesty, etc.), and are in fact, somewhat accepted by many, precisely because of their position as role models for young athletes.  They may not have specifically set out to be a role model, but it is a necessary part of their job.  Professors and other academics have an expectation placed upon them for a certain amount of intellectual rigor.  Straw men, broad generalizations, and blatant untruths are the things of politicians, and we are right to expect better out of those charged with educating our children and our future leaders.

Professor Demacopoulos comes across in this piece as either a standard issue politician or a petulant child who’s favorite toy (in this case a conference his university hosts) has been broken by some neighborhood children.  Frankly I expect better.

The Bogey Man

Demacopoulos starts out aiming his piece at a Orthodox fundamentalist.  While Fr. John is correct in pointing out that the term is technically inaccurate, I think he gets a bit carried away.  We know precisely why Demacopoulos chooses the term.  It is because the best connotation it brings is Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, which are largely held in low view throughout this country, and certainly amongst the intelligensia, while the worst connotation is that of ISIL and their current campaign to send the Middle East, and frankly the rest of the world if they have their way, back to the stone age.  By tarring Orthodox Christians who disagree with Demacopoulos and those of his view as fundamentalists, he is seeking to shut down argument immediately.  It is polemic at its very lowest.

Orthodoxy does change over time, but quite slowly.  New hymns are introduced, but slowly.  Vestments have morphed, the structure of the service has both contracted in some places and expanded in others.  All of this, however is done very slowly as we are necessarily cautious.  The controversies that led to the early church councils are the reason.  We know that something new needs to be evaluated to ensure that it is in keeping with the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”  We’ll come back to this specific point later, but it is important to note that within Orthodoxy there are those who are very hesitant to accept things that appear to be new, and in particular that appear to contradict the faith.  At times, this can take the form of unnecessary polemic, and there are certainly those who are too ready to trot out the term heretic and apply to thus and such a person.  I think that labeling a person as a heretic is best left to Ecumenical Councils, but I think it is appropriate to use the term heresy or heretical teaching.  That being said, those of us who are traditional should show more than a bit of restraint and analyze new teachings with a spirit of charity before assigning labels.

Demacopoulos attributes several statements to this fundamentalist bogey man in his piece.  However, since we have no references, citations, links, etc. to anyone or any organization actually making these statements, we are left to take him at his word (for instance, when he says “radical opportunists in the Church of Greece accused it and its bishop of heresy”, it would be nice, given the tone, for him to provide some backup).  Given some issues he has with accuracy elsewhere in his piece, I’m not entirely sure why anyone would take him at his word.

The Bogey Man made of Straw


The bogey man is claimed to hold four specific positions.  The first, and apparently the key error, is that he believes that “the Church Fathers agreed on all theological and ethical matters”, and that Orthodoxy has never changed.

The second is that the monastic community has always been the guardian of Orthodox teaching.

The third is that the Church Fathers were anti-intellectual.

The fourth is that adhering to the teaching of the Fathers requires resisting all things Western.

Again, we have no actual examples of anyone holding these views.  I will say that I know of no one who actually holds even one of these views.  The great modern teachers that those of us of a more traditional approach like to read, such as Fr. Romanides, or Metropolitan Hierotheos, never make such claims.  I’d have to go back and look, but if ever these topics arose, I’m sure they would argue against them.  Amongst the rank and file  traditional Orthodox, I similarly have never heard such statements.

As my friend points out, we know to whom Demacopoulos is referring.  People who criticize a priest because of the lack of a beard, or who doesn’t push adherence to the fasts, or who tends to cut services short at times.  At times the priest can be accused of heresy (and similarly bishops) for these sorts of “infractions”.  Some of these represent reasonable criticisms, although there is often examples of a judgmentalism that is, itself, not Orthodox, and we all must remember to tend to our own failings first.  However, Demacopoulos, by constructing this straw man and knocking it down, seeks to dismiss traditional Orthodox out of hand.

Errors and Weak Foundations

Demacopoulos uses his straw man as the basis for arguing for the truth of the matter.  However, he is guilty of some rather significant errors, some of which Fr. John highlights.  In other cases, he is not so much in error, but there is left an ambiguity which can then become the foundation for error, as the foundation itself is in error.

The first error is the assertion that Sts. Peter and Paul disagreed over circumcision.  Orthodox and Catholics are often accused by protestants of not reading the Bible, and I fear that Professor Demacopoulos comes across in that statement as someone who has not read the Bible, and is, instead relying on someone else’s interpretation.  Acts 15 records the very first Church Council.  As we are told, St. Paul and St. Silas go to Jerusalem to address adherence to the Old Covenant practices with regard to Christians.  St. Paul clearly is of the opinion that the faith that was revealed to him by Christ after his conversion experience does not require adherence to the Jewish practices.  St. Peter arises, during the council, and makes a brief, but eloquent speech, in which he agrees with St. Paul.  The Apostles and Elders determine, based on the revelation that had been given them, that circumcision was not to be required.

Subsequent to this event, St. Paul describes an event in Galatians 2, where, unfortunately, St. Peter appears to be playing the part of the hypocrite.  It is not that he believes differently about circumcision, witnessed by the fact that he will eat with the Gentiles, but that instead of standing up to the Judaizers, he acquiesces when they are around and withdraws from the Gentiles.

A similar error, as Fr. John points out, exists in the description of what St. John of Damascus did with the hymnography.  For the Orthodox, the hymnography is one of the safeguards of theology, so messing with it would be significant, and abandoning it would be unthinkable.  What St. John did was to add some hymns into the mix.  Over time, the Biblical odes fell into disuse in most churches, and only those additional hymns remain.  I suspect this was acceptable because the hymns provided a summary teaching of the odes that preceded them.  The assumption is likely that people are familiar with the odes and their contents, and so the summary teaching, the interpretation, is more critical.

None of this is to argue that the Fathers were in complete agreement on all things.  However, what tends to happen is that people like Demacopoulos take the idea that there are disagreements in the Fathers at times, and thus all things are open to revision.  Now, this is decidedly my assertion about where he is heading, and so is necessarily unfair as he has said nothing directly like this in this article or elsewhere.  He may not even believe it, but there are those who will take what he says as the foundation for such a teaching.  This is where my history in the Episcopal Church comes into play.  I’ve seen this very thing argued.

Demacopoulos further supports my assertion when he says “The significance of the Fathers lies in their earnest and soul-wrenching quest to seek God and to share Him with the world”.  Really?  I would challenge Demacopoulos to support that assertion.  I’m a chanter (or at least I try to be), so I can say that over the 8 years or so that I’ve been involved in that ministry I have chanted a great number of hymns about various Fathers of the Church.  For many/most bishops among the saints, the hymns read similar to this one for St. Athanasius:

You were Orthodoxy’s steadfast pillar, holding up the Church with godly dogmas, O great Hierarch, for you did preach unto all that God the Son is one essence in very truth with God the Father; thus you did shame Arius.  Righteous Father Athanasius, do you entreat Christ God that His great mercy may be granted unto us.

Or, this one, for St. Basil

Your sound has gone forth into all the earth, which has received your word.  Thereby you have divinely taught the Faith; you have made manifest the nature of all things that be; you have adorned the ways of man.  O namesake of the royal priesthood, our righteous Father Basil, intercede with Christ God that our sould be saved.

For others that were either monastics of great piety or martyrs (that is, we know of them primarily from their martyrdom), the hymns have a different flavor, although typically it is that they were deep in piety and adherence to Orthodoxy, such as St. Pelagia.  The “soul-wrenching quest to seek God” isn’t a process for these saints of starting from something new, or attempting to create something new, but rather is a process of deep adherence to Orthodoxy and its ascetical disciplines.  While their quest is a great example, and is significant, it is not “the signficance,” or the hymnography for those concerned with dogma would be quite different.  Demacopoulos reveals a bit about himself on this point that underscores the opposition he has received.

His final major error, I would argue, is his views of Ecumenical Councils.  He asserts that Orthodox Theology has changed “or else there would have been no need for the Fathers to build consensus at successive Ecumenical Councils.”  I look to a distinction that Metropolitan Hierotheos uses in his book on the Person in Orthodox Theology.  There is an experiential theology, which is the actual theology of the Church.  It is the experience of God that the saints of the Church have had.  It is this that comprises the Faith once delivered.  Over the centuries, when you read the stories of the great ascetics, you find remarkable unity, from the earliest desert Fathers up to St. Seraphim of Sarov.  Then there is dogmatic theology.  As Met. Hierotheos states, this is necessarily more polemical.  It’s purpose is to express the experiential theology in dogmatic fashion.  It is where the Fathers have had to adopt various philosophical terms and at time get quite technical.  This is what was happening at the councils.  It was not a consensus building exercise in order to develop new teaching – or worse yet, revise teaching.  It is commonly taught among certain Orthodox (and it is positively dogmatic in the Episcopal church at this point), that since the councils were constructing new teachings, we can construct new teachings now, which might necessarily mean we strike down old teachings.  Finally, it is hard to describe the entire process as one of consensus.  Certainly the dating of Pascha was essentially consensus building and harmonization.  Likely the punishments for those involved in the Arian heresy was probably consensus as the subject is quite pastoral in nature.  However, with regard to the main issue, that of the teaching of Arius, it is hard to describe the process as consensus building when the following is stated in a letter to the Church in Egypt from the council:

The holy Council has anathematized all these ideas, barely able to endure it as we listened to such impious opinions (or rather madnesses) and such blasphemous words.

Yes, as I indicated before, I am reading into some of this essay, and so perhaps I’m being unnecessarily critical.  But I hear the not so faint echoes of the sorts of things that were being taught by leaders in the Episcopal Church not so long ago.  If I imply that the Fathers are only significant as pious examples, I exclude them as sources of dogmatic teaching.  If I imply that the councils were developing new theology through a process of consensus building, I open the door to simply creating new theology now.

So, to reiterate, I find that Democopoulos got his letter mostly wrong, not mostly right.




The Blind Man

In the Orthodox Church, the sixth Sunday of Pascha is the Sunday of the Blind Man from the Gospel according to St. John.  This year was a bit different, as the sixth Sunday landed on May 25th, which is also the celebration of the third finding of the head of John the Baptist, but we still sing and read the hymns of the man born blind.

The story is, on a factual basis, about the healing of a man born blind, the nature of sin, and the ability of Christ, as the Son of God, to forgive sins.  Although one could argue that this has impact on our lives, after all, the ability of Christ to forgive our sins is significant, there doesn’t seem to be much application of this story to our lives.  However, the hymnography of the Church once again provides us with the deeper meaning of this story, and its impact on our lives.  The kontakion for the day goes as follows:

In the eyes of soul have I become unseeing.  Unto You I come, O Christ, as did of old the man born blind, and in repentance I cry to You.  For those in darkness You are the most resplendent light.

The key to this passage is not that Christ is able to heal us physically (which he is), nor that he can forgive our sins (which he can and does), but rather that he can provide us with the ability to clearly see with the eyes of our soul.  The eye of our soul is known as the nous, and is that aspect of humanity that permits us to attain knowledge of God.  While the nous is blind, we can see either not at all or, at best, as St. Paul puts it, dimly.  However, as our nous becomes healed by our relationship with Christ, our ability to perceive God, and enter into communion with Him, grows.  That is the goal of the Christian life, to become deified via communion with God.

And that is the point of that particular Gospel story.

A Critique of “Seeds of the Word” by John Garvey

Fr. John Garvey has written a book on Orthodoxy and other world religions that has apparently become quite popular in various parishes in the United States.  A friend had suggested that we should carry the book in our bookstore, which led me to obtain a copy to review before placing in the store.  We generally don’t carry books we haven’t read in the store, with a few exceptions (mostly among some of the children’s books where we know the work of the publishing company well).  While we don’t have a specific set of criteria for any book to be included, I can summarize the basics of what we are looking for.  The book should be about some aspect of Orthodoxy, reflect the teaching of the Orthodox Church, and should be something we are comfortable with placing in the hands of our parishioners.  This last category is a bit fuzzy, but we avoid selling books that would make us feel as if we need to provide a warning with the book.  Unfortunately (I say that somewhat tongue in cheek, because I think actually that it is quite fortunate), there is nothing akin to an Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat within the Orthodox world.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer my thoughts, both after an initial read, and after a deeper reading of specific sections of the book.

The fundamental purpose of this book is to provide both a guide, if you will, to the manner in which Orthodox Christians should approach other religions, and a primer on many of the major world religions.  The author plans on addressing how we should approach other religions by providing a survey of historical contacts between Orthodoxy and these other religions, as well as looking at some modern interactions.  Fr. Garvey is careful to never suggest that he will establish “the” Orthodox approach, as there are not many situations where there is a singular Orthodox approach – as his historical analysis reveals.  It is, perhaps, somewhat interesting, however, that the friend that recommended the book feels that this is precisely what he did, and thus it is disappointing that we wouldn’t carry a book that establishes the Orthodox view on any topic.  This speaks, to some degree, on precisely why we try to be a bit cautious about the books we carry.  After I discuss the areas where I feel the author to be mistaken, I hope you can understand why I wouldn’t want people to buy this book from me with the mistaken view that Fr. Garvey’s perspective is historically Orthodox or worse is “the” Orthodox perspective.  I should note that Fr. Garvey, while not directly purporting to establish “the” Orthodox approach, does intend to demonstrate what he feels is a consistent Orthodox approach.  I agree that he does that, but the approach he demonstrates is not entirely the one he intends.
The book is clearly not intended for an academic audience.  It is fairly short, covering a mere 126 pages, and although has a decent sized bibliography, no attempt is made to footnote the many quotes and assertions in the book.  Further evidence of the intended audience can be found in the numerous caveats and qualifications placed in the book anytime the topic of interfaith dialogue comes up.  Fr. Garvey knows that the readers of his books would not be academically trained theologians, so he is clear to reiterate, again and again, that we are not to adopt a relativistic approach.  However, it is the very need for so many warnings that indicts this text as one that perhaps should have been left unwritten.  If a product needs too many warnings in order to be used safely, the benefit better be significant.  In my opinion, one of the reasons for the warnings is that Fr. Garvey is proposing, at least in part, an approach to interfaith relations that is beyond what we have seen historically.
My Issues with the Book
In the introduction, Fr. Garvey reveals what he believes is one purpose for interfaith dialogue, which is to help us learn more about our faith, and to possibly even learn new truths which can be absorbed into Orthodoxy.  At one point we are promised that, “as we will see, the history of Judaism and Christianity has shown that the Christian tradition can absorb truths from other religions and grow from that contact.” (p. 18) , and then we are told that  “a dialogue is necessary and can help us to sharpen our appreciation of our own Orthodox heritage.”  Of course, this is followed with another warning that we can’t be relativists.  That is, we can learn new things from other religions, but we need to do so while reminding ourselves that our religion has the fullness of truth, and theirs doesn’t.
I have three major problems with this perspective(beyond the incoherency of the position).  The first is that such an approach to other religions is not at all reflected in the history of Orthodox relations with other religions that is surveyed.  Although there is a promise to demonstrate how Christianity has absorbed truths from other religions, it remains unfulfilled throughout the text.  There are three different events he brings up that he might think fulfilled this promise, but none of them actually do.  One of these is a story, taken from one of the several collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers:
Abba Olympus said this, “One of the pagan priests came down from Scetis one day and came to my cell and slept there.  Having reflected not he monks’ way of life, he said to me, ‘Since you live like this, do you not receive any visits from your God?’ I said to him, ‘No.’  Then the priest said to me, ‘Yet when we make a sacrifice to our God, he hides nothing form us, but discloses his mysteries; and you, giving yourself so much hardship, vigils, prayer and asceticism, say that you see nothing?  Truly, if you see nothing, then it is because you have impure thoughts in your hearts, which separate you from your God, and for this reason his mysteries are not revealed to you.’  So I went to report the priest’s words to the old men.  They wee filled with admiration and said that this was true.  For impure thoughts separated God from man.” (p. 87)
Fr. Garvey interprets this to mean that the elders needed to learn something from the pagan priest, or that the monk in the story needed to.  I did not read that story as meaning that at all.  Instead, it seemed to me that they elders were filled with admiration that a pagan had such insights.  That impure thoughts were preventing the monk from seeing God was hardly a new concept to the men and women of the desert.  It is found throughout their writings.
Another event might be the legend of Sts. Barlaam and Josaphat, which, it is purported, is simply a re-telling of the story of Sidartha. Although now accepted by academics, I find the foundation for this view to be a bit tenuous. Be that as it may,let’s assume that it is the case.  It still doesn’t point to some deep truth that Buddhism holds that we needed to learn.  Rather, it is a useful sort of morality tale where, in spite of a fathers desire to keep his child away from Christianity, the child becomes a Christian and converts the father.  I suspect there are many such stories within Christian history,
I think, however, that the event that is being proposed as an instance of Christianity learning from another faith, is the possibility that the concepts of life after death and resurrection entered Jewish thought as a result of contact with Zoroastrianism (p. 55 ff).  He is clear to point out that this is still only a theory, but let’s assume that it is, in fact, true.  Can we then proclaim that Christianity learned of the resurrection indirectly from Zoroastrianism?  I have two issues with this.  The first is that there was not one monolithic view within Judaism regarding life after death.  Thus, there was no necessity that Christianity should follow one school or the other.  More importantly, though, is the fact that Christianity learned about life after death and resurrection from Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We cannot suggest that Christ needed to learn something from Zoroastrianism.  If he did, then he clearly wasn’t the Son of God.  No, Christianity is a revealed faith, not one that grew from something else.  Remember that the apostles, all of them (including Paul, just later) spent several years learning from Christ himself.
What we see in the history of interaction between Orthodoxy and other faiths is not an interest in learning, but either a defense, or an attempt at evangelization.  St. Paul does not engage the philosophers at the Areopagus because he thinks they have something to teach him.  No, he engages because he has a gospel for them to hear.  If we move forward in time, skipping perhaps over the more polemical writings, we never find a case where the Orthodox were seeking to learn about another religion to enhance their own understanding.  Perhaps one of the longest interfaith exchanges we have in history is between the Tubingen Scholars and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople.  As we read through the exchange, we are never left with the feeling that the Patriarch is seeking to learn something from the Lutherans at all.  Rather, he is politely engaging them and attempting to correct their mistaken notions so that perhaps there can be a restoration of them to Orthodoxy.  The first instance that I’m aware of, and that Fr. Garvey refers to, of Orthodox dialoguing for the sake of dialoguing, or for the sake of learning something new, is in the 20th century ecumenical movement, which is precisely why it is viewed so suspiciously by a large number of Orthodox.  It is interesting to note that among all of the quotes we find from Archbishop Anastasios, a representative of modern Orthodox views on interfaith relations, we never see any sign of such a belief.  He only seeks a more irenic approach when we are interacting with, and hopefully evangelizing, others.
The next problem I have is that such an approach presumes that the person engage in the dialogue is well schooled in their own faith, so that they can discern the truth in the other religion from the falsehood.  If we grant that, regardless of the historic approach of our faith, that Orthodox should talk with non-orthodox for no other reason than to learn something new, then shouldn’t such dialog be restricted to those who know their faith well?  We occasionally receive works by non-orthodox from some of our friends on various topics.  Sometimes, much of what is said can be consistent with Orthodox teaching, sometimes, much of it isn’t.  It is important, then, for me to sift through these items and separate wheat from chaff.  What if I don’t know my Orthodoxy that well (and to be honest, I have a lot to learn)?  What if I read something, think that it sounds good, and yet it is somehow in contradiction with Orthodoxy?  Is it healthy for me to have read that?  Or should I, rather, focus my spiritual reading on Scripture, the hymns of the Church, the Fathers, etc.?  Once I’ve exhausted all of those resources (which I suspect would take me the rest of my life, and then some), then I can read through writings from other religions.
The third problem I have is perhaps just an extension of the previous issue.  That is, the thought that we, as Orthodox generally, have anything to learn from other religions.  Certainly, they may have elements of the truth, but the only way we know that is by vetting a belief or insight against the vast deposit of faith that is Orthodoxy.  But then, this wouldn’t be a new truth.  Of course the argument will end up being more nuanced.  The truth from the other religion merely helps us see what we already know more clearly.  Perhaps this could happen, but again, I would be hard pressed to imagine the case where the same insight and more cannot be found within the vast resources available to the Orthodox.  At the same time, one would need to be cautious that the new insight isn’t, in fact, a movement away from the truth.
I was also a bit bothered by the handling of Islam, and in particular the term jihad.  When he introduces the term, he immediately implies that only extremists hold the view that jihad means holy war.  By doing so, he therefore implies that it has never legitimately held that meaning, but that the term was hijacked by Islamic extremism that arose in the 20th century.  Yet, two sentences later we learn that, in fact, “jihad can refer to a war waged for a religious cause”(p. 47).  I fear that the casual reader will be left with an incorrect notion that only some small group of extremists have held the view that jihad is related to a notion of holy war.
However, jihad clearly meant holy war, or at least armed struggle, and perhaps only meant that, for at least the first three centuries of Islam’s existence,  as we can see in this intelligence analysis,* and is frankly obvious to anybody with only the barest knowledge of world history.  After that time, we see the rise of those proposing an alternate sense for the word.  That this represents a feeling that the word was misunderstood before, I doubt somehow.  I suspect, rather, that it represented the reality that as the borders of the empire grew, greater and greater numbers of Muslims would never have the opportunity to engage in armed conflict, so an alternative meaning was needed.
Although there is a limited amount of depth that anyone can go into with any sort of survey text, this is a case where the topic could have largely been left alone.  Instead, a mistaken impression is created about what is a key piece of Islamic history.  Are similar mistakes present elsewhere in the text regarding other religions?  Again, such an issue gives me pause regarding a book we will sell within out store.
Is There Nothing of Value?
So, does this mean that the book is of no value?  Not at all.  All in all, I think it does an adequate job giving at least a broad brush overview of other world religions.  Of note is that he addresses Sikhism and B’Hai, both of which are probably fairly mysterious and relatively unknown religions to most people.  While everyone by now is probably familiar with the Sikh turban, which has led them to be viewed by the uninformed as possible terrorists, few probably know much about their faith.  Additionally, to the degree that I have much understanding of either Buddhism or Hinduism, I found his treatment accurate, and sufficient for what is clearly a book aimed at providing an overview.
One area which he addresses in some detail, and think quite correctly, is when he juxtaposes to different potential approaches to other religions on the part of the Orthodox.  One, as I have noted is basically a relativism which sees other faiths as merely other equally valid paths to God, which he is quick to point, is not a valid Orthodox position.  The other approach is the one that states that all other faiths are entirely wrong and potentially evil.  While you would like to think that such a view is more of a caricature than a view legitimately held by anyone, it is, in fact, not entirely uncommon, especially within more conservative branches of American Evangelicalism.  Holding to such a view, besides simply being incorrect, has two fairly negative outcomes.  The first is that you effectively remove a key avenue of evangelization, as I noted earlier.  A more Orthodox approach, exemplified in this book by Archbishop Anastasios, and exemplified elsewhere by this great book on Taoism (written by a monk from a very traditionalist monastery here in the US), is to see where an understanding of God, because it exists at a basic level in all humans, is present in other religions.  St. Paul tells us that Christ came when he did, in the fullness of time.  The time when humanity was perhaps more ready to hear His message, than at any time prior, or any time since.  The time, of course, was one devoid of any universal religion.  Instead, there was an abundance of religions that all intersected within the Roman Empire.  It was the presence of some element of truth in each of these, that allowed the seed of Christ’s teaching to take root and grow.
The other outcome is that such a view can easily lead to a dehumanization of adherents of other religions.  In the worst case, it could lead to persecution, either directly or via some tacit approval of the actions of others.  It doesn’t take long in a history book of the 20th Century to find examples of this.  Even if persecution isn’t the outcome, the dehumanization is an incorrect Orthodox perspective.  If we fail to accept the fundamental humanity of all persons, what would be the point of the Divine Commission?
So, the book is worth reading for these elements, it is just important to be aware of those areas of concern I addressed earlier.  As I said at the outset, we do not sell books with warnings, so we avoid those texts.  This has even led us to not carry books I really like, such as this one, even when it is the only text in English on a core Orthodox teaching, simply because the way the text is written could easily lead to erroneous conclusions.
*It’s important to note that the analysis begins by saying that jihad does not mean holy war, by which, the author is pointing out that the word does not directly translate to “holy war”, but rather translates to the word “struggle” with the implication that it is struggling in the way of Allah.  However, that the term had the sense of holy war, is made clear shortly thereafter:
Muslims themselves have disagreed throughout their history about the meaning of the term jihad. In the Qur’an (or Koran), it is normally found in the sense of fighting in the path of God; this was used to describe warfare against the enemies of the early Muslim community (ummah). In the hadith, the second most authoritative source of the shari’a (Islamic law), jihad is used to mean armed action, and most Islamic theologians and jurists in the classical period (the first three centuries) of Muslim history understood this obligation to be in a military sense.


Every so often it seems that a bunch of “events” – in this case news events, blog articles, and podcasts – all occur at about the same time and all have to do with the exact same thing. The piece that actually pulled it altogether was this one, in which the writer states, “Orthodox Christianity has much to give secularized America especially to the young who, as I said at the outset, are searching for authenticity and communion. What are they waiting for? In a word – anthropology.”

A couple of weeks ago, I had listened to a wonderful radio show on the Orthodox view of Scripture, featuring Prevytera Jeannie Constantinou, which then led me to start listening to her podcast called Searching the Scriptures. As she was progressing through Genesis, she spent a couple of episodes on what she feels (and I think rightfully so) may be the most important verse in scripture, regarding man being made in the image and likeness of God. Her sources were St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Basil. Although it was not practical to discuss all of the ways in which man is made in the image of God, she hit on some key aspects. In the interest of blogging only highlights, I’ll address even fewer. There were two aspects that are key to my discussion. The first is the concept that man is made in the image of God because he has been made ruler over creation – that is, he has dominion over it. St. Gregory of Nyssa declared that man is therefore royal (or royalty to use my term, and I’ll get back to this in a bit). This dominion, however, does not give man the right to do whatever he wishes with creation, in the interest of satisfying his passions. In fact, being in dominion over nature leads to other conclusions, one of which is that man must therefore be above nature. The Fathers added to the list the fact that man, unlike animals, does not need to operate on instinct. He does not have to do what his passions tell him. He has the free will to act in a morally correct manner. He is a moral agent. These are two key elements of Orthodox anthropology. Man is royalty, and he does not need to be a slave to his base instincts. He has the ability to act in a morally correct way. When he does so, he is then growing in the likeness of God (I’d recommend listening to the whole podcast to really explore this).

I was then listening to the next Ancient Faith Today episode, which was addressing the subject of human exceptionalism. I won’t go into this in much detail, but one of the key elements to this show was pointing out that they too addressed the idea that man is a moral agent, and does not need to behave according to his passions. Again, the core principle in play is an anthropological one. This key, then unlocks the door to a lot of questions about how we should act in certain situations and how we should treat our fellow man (a host of other issues are addressed with this key as well).

Shortly after reading Fr. Jacobse’s piece, someone had posted a piece regarding the rape case in Steubenville. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that, although I was peripherally aware of some issue regarding a football player raping a girl, I was largely unaware of the specifics. As it turns out, at least two, perhaps more, football players got a girl roaring drunk, raped her, and posted pictures of her on Facebook, then went on to brag about it in videos (or some such, I have to admit I’m still not up to speed completely on this, nor do I want to be). Now, we can ask all of the usual questions about where the parents were, why did the girl allow herself to get drunk, and the like, but we’d be avoiding the more fundamental question about what has gone wrong in our society, and what can we, as Orthodox Christians, do about it? Fr. Jacobse holds the key. We can provide the anthropology that this society so clearly needs. If the football players understood this girl to be royalty, would they have thought it appropriate to treat her as a mere object for their gratification? If they understood that they are moral agents, capable of not responding to their baser instincts, and that they even have a responsibility to act morally, would this event not have happened at all? If the girl in question understood herself to be royalty, to hold a special place in the created order, that she, too, could operate above her passions (the one that drove her to over-imbibe), would she simply not have even been in that place?

The remaining question is, how can we present this anthropology to this society? We can certainly write about it, speak about it, do things of that sort. However, I think the most important thing we can do, which is what the early Christians did, is to live it. You can tell from the writings of non-Christians from the days of the early Church, that they understood Christians to have a very different world view. The knew that from observing their behavior. As I related in an earlier post, the best way for us to present the Gospel is to actually live it. I’ll leave it to the reader to ponder what sorts of changes in their behavior would be necessary to better present Orthodox anthropology. I know I have my list.

Special Treatment

In the few years I have been Orthodox, I have seen, mostly through stories told, how God seems to provide special treatment for certain individuals at the time of their repose. I don’t pretend to understand why, but the people involved are always special in some way.

Today I was privileged to witness one of these events. A beloved member of our parish, whose children (in particular her son-in-law) have been dedicated tireless workers in our parish, reposed. She was expected to pass away several months ago and miraculously recovered after receiving the mysteries from one of our priests. She had always been one of the few people to show up for Sunday morning Orthros, and after her recovery, she returned. The Orthros service is a very important service, containing a significant amount of teaching, but it is sorely under-attended. As one of the chanters who too frequently finds himself chanting to a church empty of anyone among the living (of course I know that the angels and saints are present), I really appreciate those few who do show up.

The Orthros service begins with the recitation of the “six psalms”, that is Psalms 3, 37, 62, 87, 102, and 142 in the Orthodox numbering. This morning, our priest, who had been planning on visiting this parishioner (who lives across the parking lot in the apartments owned by the parish) after Liturgy, had to leave suddenly to be with her as her time of passing had apparently arrived. He left to anoint her before her departure. What was particularly appropriate is that these psalms are read every Sunday because they are the psalms that are to be read over us at the last judgement. This parishioner reposed at some point during the divine services, with the whole community in prayer. There is no more appropriate time for one to depart this life, and I thank God that I was able to participate in some small way in the departure of this beloved member of our community to be with our Lord.