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.

“I have a great devotional bible…”

These are words I hear periodically in our parish bookstore (which I manage).  Typically it is in the context of me attempting to sell them an Orthodox Study Bible.  Certainly I have as a goal the desire to sell product as we try to make the bookstore successful, but my primary goal is that the customer get something that will be edifying.  Since there is currently  no Orthodox Study Bible, I know that the devotional will either be Catholic or Protestant, and most likely Protestant (just based on numbers).  In either case, the theology in the devotions will likely then be erroneous at times.  As long as the reader is aware of that it might not be much of a problem, however that is sufficient for me to simply stay away.  Some people have the bible and simply use it as a bible, ignoring, for the most part, the devotions.  This would generally be okay, but if the bible is a Protestant devotional bible, then I know it is very likely one of the most insidious translations out there.  My goal in writing this post is to provide some basic reasons as to why all Christians should avoid the NIV, as well as why they should prefer a Septuagint based translation over any other.

The translators of the NIV are guilty of a certain level of intellectual dishonesty.  It is a common view of Protestantism, held by both Protestants and non-Protestants, that it promotes the idea that all people can read the bible for themselves and reach their own doctrinal conclusions.  To some degree, this is what the reformers and proto-reformers (Wycliffe, etc.) were after, although the classical reformers did understand that the me and my bible attitude of modern evangelicalism would not fly.  The NIV seeks to effectively limit people from truly exploring the scriptures themselves by pursuing a translational approach known as “thought for thought.”  That is, the translators give us, as readers, what they believe the idea was that a particular author was trying to get across.  What this means is that the translators will give us their doctrine disguised as Scripture.

Selective and Misleading Translation

What happens because of this?  The first thing is that the translators will translate identical Greek words quite differently in order to support their doctrinal positions.  The most cited and perhaps egregious example is the handling of the Greek word παραδόσις.  The word means tradition, and appears in the NIV New Testament as tradition whenever tradition is spoken of in a negative light (Matt 15:2, 15:3, 15:6, Mark 7:3, 7:4, 7:5, 7:8, 7:9, 7:13, Gal 1:14, and Col 2:8), and only once when it is spoken of in a positive light (1 Cor 11:2), and this appears to be only in more recent editions, as originally it was translated as teachings in this verse, as it remains translated in 2 Thes 2:15 and 3:6.  In the latest editions, it appears that at least a footnote is used to indicate that the word could be translated as tradition, which is something of an improvement.

Similar things are done with the Greek word σαρξ which literally means flesh.  The translators of the NIV insert their theology by at times changing the translation to sinful nature, which alters the actual meaning.  Also, the word εργον, which means works is only translated as works when it appears in a negative sense, and to something else (things I have done or some such).

Mistranslation seems to infect the entire book, and you can read more about that here.  This is, in my opinion, the number one reason to avoid the NIV.

The Septuagint

Virtually all English translations of the Bible have, as the basis of their translation, the Masoretic text (MT).  The MT was produced beginning in the 7th century but was based largely on a particular text type of the OT that had existed at least as far back as the Qumran community.  It was the case that there were many different variant forms of the Old Testament.  Of those, one was the MT or proto-MT, and another was the septuagint, or LXX.  There were other text traditions as well.  We know from its use by New Testament and from statements by Jewish scholars and historians (most notably Josephus and Philo) that the LXX was widely used throughout the Jewish world up through the beginning of the Christian era.  It began to be jettisoned in favor of the MT text type by Jews as the LXX provided much more scriptural support for the Christian claims about Jesus than the MT.

The LXX itself is a translation, but its roots lie in the second or third century BC.  It then reflects another textual tradition.  The legend is that a group of 70 scholars (hence LXX) was assembled by Ptolemy II to produce a Greek translation of the Torah for use by Jews (in particular in Alexandria) who were no longer fluent in Hebrew, but well understood Koine Greek.  It represents a different text tradition from that behind the Masoretic text.  Not only are there some verse changes, but the canon (or list of books) is more extensive in the Septuagint than in the Masoretic text.

For the Orthodox Christian, it is sufficient to say that the LXX is the Old Testament of the Orthodox Church.  Thus, it is the text that should be first and foremost used by Orthodox believers.  However, it is worthwhile to explore issues related to both the canon and the textual variants.

Textual Variants

The first problem with the Masoretic text is that it was not the text favored by the authors of the New Testament.  Following is a table describing some key instances where a quote in the New Testament, typically regarding a messianic prophecy, comes from the LXX and the parallel MT passage is significantly different.



I wish I could recall the original source for this diagram.  I used to use it when teaching a catechumenate class in the Episcopal Church over a decade ago, but ran across it recently in a blog post from 2012.  It may have come from the Orthodox Study Bible project (lxx.org when that domain still existed).

Recently, I participated in a program where we had the goal of reading the Orthodox Old Testament in 100 days.  It was quite a task, but enormously beneficial.  There were numerous places where I learned something new by virtue of the fact that we were using the LXX.  For instance, when using the LXX we learn that Adam and Abraham were not sleeping when God interacted with them, as Masoretic based texts would have us believe.  Rather, they were in a state of ecstasy – a trance of sorts.  When Jacob wrestles with God in the book of Genesis, the Masoretic text tells us that Jacob named the place Peniel, “…because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”  That is, in spite of the fact that he saw God face to face he managed to live.  The Greek of the LXX varies on two key points.  The first is that the Greek doesn’t support the presence of the word “yet”.  Further, it states that Jacob’s soul was saved.  So instead of being preserved from physical death, we learn that Jacob’s soul is saved with the implication that his soul was saved because he saw God face to face.  The latter is definitely a Christian perspective and the former reflects the Jewish views about God.  There are numerous other examples of this sort of thing throughout the Old Testament.  Particularly fun are the places where the Hebrew word “anointed” appear.  The LXX, of course, would have the Greek word Χριστοσ, so the English is translated straight across as Christ.  Makes certain passages really stand out.

For a more detailed review of Masoretic vs. Septuagint texts, I would recommend starting here.

The Canon

The other issue with variants is the canon itself.  There is so much beauty and depth excluded from the Old Testament by excluding the books now called Apocrypha by most protestants.  In particular the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach).  Of particular note is the impact of excluding the book of Tobit.  The famed questioning of Jesus by the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-32 is not simply referring to a story the Sadducees made up in their cleverness, but, in fact, refers to events in the book of Tobit.  That book is largely a tale of redemption.  In the words of Fr. John Peck, the story is about:

A loving Father, sends his only Son, accompanied by a holy Spirit, to rescue a helpless Bride held captive by an evil spirit who fills her life with hopelessness and death. This Son defeats the evil spirit, saves the Bride, and takes her back to live with Him in the Father’s house.

When Jesus chastises the Sadducees for not knowing Scripture, he is particularly pointing to this story which is a foreshadowing of the incarnation (and note that Christ views Tobit as Scripture).


A large number of Bibles have been published providing devotionals for different groups of people based on varying needs.  Virtually all of these are based on the NIV, which is problematic for anyone wishing to really study the Word of God.  What you are presented with is a text that is both mistranslated to push a specific religious perspective and truncated to limit the reader’s ability to fully appreciate the Old Testament and both its prophecies and how it informed the writing of the New Testament.  This would be problematic for everyone, and then for individuals who are not Evangelical, you have the additional problem that the theology in any such devotions would be specifically Evangelical and thus filled with numerous errors.  For those reasons, my response when met with that phrase is that they should get an Orthodox Bible, prayer book, and maybe the writings of one of the numerous saints of our Church, and go with that.

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.”

Music and Orthodoxy

I was thinking of blogging on the exact subject of this post, but fortunately a priest already did that for me.  I hope to meet him someday, as this is spot on.

Music and Orthodoxy

by Father Michael Varlamos

Music is one of the most powerful forces known to man. It communicates in ways beyond our comprehension. The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church recognized this and were very selective in what type of music was appropriate for our worship. The same can be said for our iconography, church architecture, rubrics of our worship service, vestments, etc. In the Orthodox Church, music was used to emphasize the meaning of the words of the hymn. It was not supposed to sound similar to secular music. Hymns were written and composed to be prayed to a simple melody that can either be done by a single individual or by a one hundred-voice choir. The words of the hymn were always more important than the music. The music was there to add color, support and amplify the meaning of the text. The Church music was meant to penetrate the depth of our heart and there to “prick it,” that is, to wound it into repentance, contrition, and humility, which is the only way to bring us to pray.

That is why our holy Orthodox Church for almost 2,000 years used the type of music known today as Byzantine chant. It is a music that may not always be appealing to our “secular ear,” but is the music of simplicity, purity and prayer. It is, in the opinion of the saints of our Church, “the music of the human soul,” “the music of prayer,” and the “sound of Orthodoxy.” It is the music used in all Orthodox spiritual centers—monasteries, convents, shrines, the Greek Patriarchates, etc.—throughout the world.

From the beginning of the 19th Century and through the 20th Century, history shows us that human beings were becoming more secular and materialistic. In the world of art, music, and even architecture, there was an emphasis on external beauty and less so on the inner, spiritual nature of things in general. In painting, canvasses became huge and depicted emotional and realistic events. Eventually, art effected bold colors and abstract figures. Music became loud, filled with emotion and complexity. Even church music in our Archdiocese was affected by this Romantic trend. We tried to copy what other denominations were doing. More emphasis was placed on the music and the text began to disappear into the background.

Music was becoming more complex and intricate. It tried to affect us emotionally, and we confused this with spirituality. There seemed to be an emphasis on “feelings” in the music that was being written by our Greek Orthodox composers—that certain feelings and emotions were trying to be evoked, almost with no regard to the text, or even oblivious to it. In America, more and more people did not understand the original Greek anyway, so it seems that attempts were made to bury it in complex melodies with four and six part harmonies. It didn’t really matter what the words of the prayer or hymn meant, as long as it sounded beautiful! The music became more important than the prayer itself!

This new type of music dominated the Greek Orthodox churches in our country during the 20th century and, for the time being, continues to do so. Efforts are being made throughout the country to rediscover the ancient music of the Greek Orthodox Church—the music that was supposed to go with our hymns and prayers. More and more parishes are beginning to recognize why the Fathers of our Church selected this music instead of what we have had in the last 50 to 75 years. I’m pleased that our parish is one of these churches.

This music is not intended merely for singing, whether in the loft or from the pew, but it is to be prayed. To truly pray, we must live and approach this music the way our saints did: in a state of repentance. To repent means to change our ways, to initiate a new beginning to our relationship with God. It is living a life of faith, love, humility and obedience. It is placing our souls in the hands of our spiritual fathers who strive to guide us by the teachings of Jesus Christ and His saints.

Look at the Divine Liturgy in a different way: as a dialogue with God. Don’t only worship with your ears (that is, by the sound of music); listen carefully to the text. Internalize and strive to understand the meaning of what is being chanted or intoned. Learn to speak to God within your hearts. He is there in the depth of our being. Converse with Him in meaningful words there, first. Then raise your voice in praise and supplication.

Some people say that they do not find this Byzantine music uplifting, perhaps because it is not as emotional as the music we have become used to. Please understand that before we can be truly uplifted, we must first humble ourselves from the depth of our hearts and initiate our prayer and worship there with: humility, simplicity, purity and peacefulness. Then our uplifting is not a feeling or an emotion, but a truly spiritual experience: it is nothing less than standing before God.

This is what the Fathers of our Church taught and this is why they did not choose the emotional, complex music which, as we know from Plato, did exist in ancient times, and would be analagous to the complex harmonies of today’s church music in America; but rather they selected the simple spiritual music we know as Byzantine chant. And this is what more and more churches are discovering. As more people, Greeks and converts, are coming to appreciate the faith and traditions of Orthodoxy, many are seeing the connection between this traditional music and our iconography, spirituality and life as Orthodox Christians.

I pray on a daily basis that all our people, choir members and not, will come to see my preference for Byzantine chant not as me implementing my opinion and personal tastes on others. Quite the opposite! My personal tastes in music are quite broad, from classical to jazz to rock. But within liturgical services, I only wish to bring others closer to God in the way our Greek Orthodox Church has for almost two millennia. This matter has more to do with the salvation of our souls than it does with music. Again, I pray that people see the changes I advocate in this way and this way only. We should pray, fast, repent, live as Christ taught us with meekness and humility, read the Bible daily, be obedient to the Tradition of our Church, come to Confession for forgiveness and guidance, and praise God not only with our voices, but with our thoughts and deeds as well.