Archive for the ‘Truth of Our Faith’ Category


For Greek original see: http://www.impantokratoros.gr/42D5D1B1.el.aspx

Observations on the text: “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”

Professor of the Theological School at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Dr. Dimitrios Tselengidis has sent his first theological observations to the Orthodox hierarchs of several Local Orthodox Churches (including those of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Alexandria, and Antioch) concerning the text: “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”

Thessaloniki, 03 Feb 2016

This text displays recurrent theological inconsistency and contradiction. Thus, in the first article it proclaims the ecclesiastical self-identity of the Orthodox Church, considering Her—and very rightly—as the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” In article six, however, there is a contradiction with respect to the formulation of the above article (1). It notes characteristically that the “the Orthodox Church recognizes the historic existence of other Christian Churches and Confessions not in communion with Her.”

Here the reasonable theological question arises: If the Church is “One” according to our Creed and the Orthodox Church’s own self-identity (art. 1), then how is there mention of other Christian Churches? It is clear that these other Churches are heterodox.

Heterodox “Churches”, though, cannot at all be called “Churches” by the Orthodox. Considering things from a dogmatic perspective it is not possible to speak about a plurality of “Churches” with different dogmas, and this, indeed, with regard to many different theological issues. Consequently, as long as these “Churches” remain firm in the erroneous beliefs of their faith, there is no theological justification to grant them ecclesial recognition —and this officially —outside of the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

In the same article (6), there is another serious theological contradiction. At the beginning of the article the following is noted: “According to the ontological nature of the Church, it is impossible for [Her] unity to be shattered.” At the end of this same article, however, it is written that, by Her participation in the Ecumenical Movement, the Orthodox Church has as its “objective aim the paving of the way which leads toward unity.”

Here the question is put: Given that the unity of the Church is an acknowledged fact, what type of unity of Churches is being sought in the context of the Ecumenical Movement? Does it perhaps mean the return of Western Christians to the ONE and only Church? Such a meaning, though, does not emerge either in the letter or the spirit of the entire text. On the contrary, indeed, the impression is given that there exists a long-established division in the Church and that the prospects of the [Ecumenical] dialogues focus on the disrupted unity of the Church.

Theological confusion is also caused by the ambiguity in article 20, which reads: “The prospects of the theological dialogues of the Orthodox Church with the other Christian Churches and Confessions shall always be determined on the basis of Her canonical criteria of the already established ecclesiastical tradition (canon seven of the Second Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the Quinisext Council).”

But, canon seven of the Second Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the Quinisext address the reception of specific heretics that had demonstrated their desire to join the Orthodox Church. However, it is apparent from the letter and spirit of the text, as judged from a theological perspective, that there is no discussion whatsoever of the return of the heterodox to the Orthodox Church, the only Church. Rather, in the text, the baptism of the heterodox is considered an accepted fact from the outset—and this without a Pan-Orthodox decision. In other words, the text endorses “Baptismal Theology.” Simultaneously, the text deliberately ignores the historic fact that the contemporary heterodox of the West (RC & Protestant) have not one, but heaps of dogmas that differ from the Orthodox Church (besides the filioque, created grace in the sacraments, the primacy of the pope, papal infallibility, the rejection of icons, and the rejection of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, etc.).

Article 21 also raises appropriate questions, where it notes that, “the Orthodox Church … has a favorable view of the documents adopted by the Commission [referring to the Committee for ‘Faith & Order’] . . . for the rapprochement of the Churches.” Here it must be observed that these documents [of the Committee] have never been adjudged by the Hierarchs of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Finally, in article 22 the impression is given that the Upcoming Holy and Great Council is prejudging the infallibility of its decisions, since it considers that, “the preservation of the authentic orthodox faith is ensured only through the synodical system, which has always rested in the Church and which constitutes the appropriate and final judge on all matters of faith.” In this article, the historic fact is ignored that in the Orthodox Church the final criteria is always the living dogmatic consciousness of the fullness of the Church, which in the past confirmed even Ecumenical Councils considered robber councils. The synodical system by itself does not mechanically ensure the correctness of orthodox faith. This only happens when the Synod of Bishops has the Holy Spirit and the Hypostatic Way—Christ—working within it, and thus as “syn”—“odikoi” [i.e., “traversing together on the way”] they are, in practice, “following the Holy Fathers.”

General Assessment of the Text

With all that is written and what is clearly implied in the text above, it is clear that its initiators and authors are attempting the institutional and official ratification of Christian Syncretistism-Ecumenism by means of a Pan-Orthodox Synod. This, however, would be catastrophic for the Orthodox Church. For this reason I humbly propose the text’s total withdrawal.

In closing, one theological observation on the text, “The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments” (See: https://mospat.ru/en/2016/01/28/news127389/). In article 5.i, it notes: “The marriage of an Orthodox person with a heterodox person is not permitted according to canonical akrivia [the ‘rule’] (canon 72 of the Quinisext Council in Trullo). However, it is possible to be blessed through condescension and love for man under the express condition that the children of this marriage will be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church.”

Here, the express condition that, “the children of this marriage will be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church” clashes with the theological guarantee of marriage as a sacrament of the Orthodox Church. The reason for this: because child-bearing shows itself—in connection with the baptism of children in the Orthodox Church—to legitimize the service of mixed marriage, something clearly forbidden by a Canon of the Ecumenical Councils (canon 72 of the Quinisext). In other words, a synod that is not Ecumenical, such as is the upcoming Holy and Great Council, explicitly turns a decision of an Ecumenical Council into something relative. This is unacceptable.

And finally this: If the blessed marriage does not provide children, is this marriage theologically legitimized simply on account of the intention of the heterodox spouse to place any possible children in the Orthodox Church?

For the sake of theological consistency, article 5.i, needs to be removed.

+  Translation by: Rev. Fr. Matthew Penney, Feb. 7th, 2016, with assistance by Fr. C. A, and edited by Fr. Peter Heers.

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“A sinner can easily repent, but it is difficult for one in delusion…” (Elder Daniel of Katounakia, Contemporary Elders, p. 258).

“All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. We are all deceived, all deluded; we all find ourselves in a condition of falsehood; we all need to be liberated by the Truth. The Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:32-14:6)… With tears let us cry out to the Lord Jesus to bring us out of prison, to draw us forth from the depths of the earth, and to wrest us from the jaws of death! ‘For this cause did our Lord Jesus Christ descend to us,’ says the venerable Symeon the New Theologian, ‘because he wanted to rescue us from captivity and from most wicked spiritual deception.’” (St. Ignatius, On Spiritual Deception).

The following is a story about Elder Daniel of Katounakia’s spiritual insight into delusion, from the book Contemporary Elders written by Elder Cherubim and published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (pp. 259-260). May God protect us from similar delusions and spiritual deceptions by granting us the virtues of humility and obedience!

When Elder Daniel Katounakiotis (+1929) was in the Russian Monastery, he observed that a certain monk living in asceticism in a kathisma outside the Monastery played a role of a great ascetic. He fasted severely, wore the most wretched clothes, walked around barefoot even in winter, etc. Among other things, while the rule called for 300 prostrations a day, he made 3000. For this reason the other monks marveled at him.

Elder Daniel, even though he was younger at the time, displayed no enthusiasm. His clear-sighted eyes discerned a situation that was not pleasing to God. He noticed that the door of his kathisma contained an opening which allowed the passers-by to look in and praise his great asceticism.

His love moved him to report the situation to the abbot, and thus save the brother from delusion. The abbot set out for the kathisma of the “super-ascetic”.

“How are you doing here, father?”

“By your prayers, Elder, well. I struggle and weep over my sins.”

“Only you never come to tell me your thoughts.”

“What could I tell you, Elder? You know them all. I am a sinner who struggles.”

“How do you struggle? Tell me, do you make prostrations?”

“Yes, Elder, I make a few.”

“How many?”

“By your prayers, 3000 a day.”

“What! Why 3000? Who gave you a blessing to do so many? No, don’t ever do 3000 again. What are you trying to portray – a ‘super-ascetic’? From now on do only fifty, so you won’t get proud.”

With that the abbot left. The incision had been made, and the abscess soon revealed its foul contents. For the former “great ascetic” made a 180-degree turn. He was unable to make even fifty prostrations. Instead of ragged clothes he now wore whatever was most expensive, and had the choicest foods brought to his poor table. Naturally, the other fathers were astonished, and they understood that his excessive ascetic practices had been fed by the spirit of pride. This explained this surprising change, for the spirit of delusion runs after extremes. According to Patristic wisdom, the extreme, the superfluous, and the excessive are “of the demons”.

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St. Sisoi contemplating death.


Below is an excerpt from a lecture given by A.I.Osipov on the Fundamentals of Theology, held in the Sretenskaya Theological seminary on September 13, 2000. In this particular passage he posits the easiest method of comparison between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths is to examine the saints of each.

Now I enter the next room, and again there are lots of people, and again I hear shouts: My Christian faith is the best of all. The Catholics invite: Have a look, we are 1 milliard 45 million in the world. The Protestants of various denominations say they are 350 million. The Orthodox are the fewest of all – only 170 million people. Somebody gives a prompt the truth is not in numbers, but in essence. Still the question is extremely serious: “Where is it, the true Christianity?”

There are also various ways to solve this question. At seminary we made studies of dogmatic systems, comparing Catholicism and Protestantism with Orthodoxy. This way is interesting and trustworthy, but still in my opinion it is not perfect, because for a person without profound education and knowledge it is not easy to get to the bottom of dogmatic disputes and clear up who is right and who is wrong. Moreover, quite often the opponents use strong psychological tricks that can be very confusing. For example, we discussed the problem of Pope’s primate with the Catholics, and they say: “Pope? Well, this primate and infallibility of Pope is such a trifling, you know. It is the same as the Patriarch’s authority with you. Pope’s infallibility and power is not actually different from the authority of statements and the power of the Head of any Local Orthodox Church”. Though in fact we have to deal with absolutely different dogmatic and canonical levels here. So the comparative dogmatic method is not that simple. Especially when we face people who not only know the field, but try to convince you at any price.

But there is a different way, which shows apparently, what Catholicism is and where it leads one to. This is also a method of comparative investigation, but investigation of the spiritual sphere of life, demonstrated in the life of saints. Here the whole deception (as it is called in the ascetic language) of the Catholic spirituality gets revealed, the deception fraught with very grave consequences for an ascetic who chose this way. You know, sometimes I give public lectures, attended by different people. Frequently they ask me the question: “What is the difference of Catholicism from Orthodoxy? What is its fault? Is it not just a different way to Christ?” Many times I saw it is enough to give a few examples from the life of catholic mystics for the inquirers to say: “Thank you, now it is clear. It’s enough.”

Indeed, any Local Orthodox Church or non-Orthodox church can be judged by her saints. Tell me who your saints are and I will tell what your church is. Any church calls as saints only those who realized in their life the Christian ideal, as this Church understands it. That is why canonization of a certain saint is not only testimony of the Church about this Christian, who according to her judgment is worthy of the glory and suggested by her as an example to follow. It is at the same time a testimony of the Church about herself. By the saints we can best of all judge about the true or imaginary sanctity of the Church.

I am going to give you a few examples to illustrate the idea of sanctity in the Catholic church.

One of the great Catholic saints is Francis of Assisi (13th century). His spiritual mentality is revealed through the following facts. Once Francis prayed for a long time (the subject of his prayer is very indicative) “about two mercies”: “The first is … that I can go through all the sufferings that You, O Sweetest Jesus, have gone through in Your excruciating passions. And the second mercy… is that I could feel the infinite love, with which you, Son of God, were burning.” As we see, Francis was concerned not about the feeling of being sinful, but he openly claimed for equality with Christ! During this prayer Francis “felt absolutely turned into Jesus”, Whom he saw at once as a six-winged Seraph, striking him with firing arrows at the points of cross wounds of Jesus Christ (hands, feet and the right side). After this vision painful bleeding wounds (stigmata) appeared – the traces of “Jesus’ passions” (M.V.Lodyzhensky. Invisible light. – Pg. 1915. – P.109).

The nature of such stigmata is well-known in psychiatry: permanent concentration of attention on the Christ’s passions excites nerves and psyche of a person and may cause such effect after long exercise. There is grace-giving in it, because in such compassion with Christ there is no true love, about which the Lord directly said: He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he is the one who loves me (Joh.14:21). That is why substitution of struggle with one’s old man by imaginary emotions of “compassion” is one of the gravest mistakes in the spiritual life, who leads many ascetics to self-conceit, pride – to apparent spiritual deceit accompanied by direct mental disorder (comp. Francis’s “sermons” to birds, wolf, turtle-doves, snakes, flowers, his awe of fire, stones, worms).

The goal of life set by Francis is also very indicative: “I laboured and want to labour further…, for it brings honour” (St. Francis of Assisi. – M., Izd.Frantsiskantsev, 1995. – P.145). Francis wishes to suffer for the others and atone their sins (P.20). And at the end of his life he frankly said: “I do not know any transgression of mine that I have not atoned by confession and repentance” (M.V.Lodyzhensky. – p.129). All this testifies for his not seeing his sins, i.e. his total spiritual blindness.

For comparison I’ll describe to you a moment from life of St. Sisoi the Great (5th century). “Just before his death, surrounded by the brethren, when Sisoi looked like talking with invisible ones, to the question “Father, tell us, whom are you talking with?” he said: “The angels have come to take me, but I pray to them that they let me stay here for a short time for repentance”. Knowing that Sisoi was perfect in virtues the brethren objected to him: “Father, you have no need in repentance”, and Sisoi answered like this: “Verily, I do not know, if I have at least started the cause of my repentance” (Lodyzhensky. – p.133). This deep understanding, sight of one’s imperfection is the main distinctive trait of all true saints.

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Below are excerpted sections from an article written by Rev Dr John Palmer entitled “Gennadios II Scholarios’ Concerning our Faith: Introductory Notes and Translation”. A translated portion of Scholarios’ text is found at the end in bold.

…While the precise details surrounding the authoring of Concerning our Faith are still debated, there exists general agreement concerning the circumstances surrounding its composition. It is certain that the text arose out of a series of discussions between Scholarios and Mehmed II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and conqueror of Byzantium. It seems that these discussions were initiated by the Sultan himself, who was possessed of a genuine desire to learn something of the faith professed by his new subjects. Convicted that the Patriarch was a man of great learning and virtue, he therefore set out for the Patriarchate – at that time situated in the Pammakaristos monastery – in hopes of having his questions answered.

Michael Cacouros effectively argues that notes authored by Scholarios himself reveal the following series of events: after an initial discussion, or series of discussions, Scholarios penned a twenty-one article synopsis of the session entitled Concerning the Only Way of Man’s Salvation, which he immediately, “…had translated into Arabic, and delivered to he who had requested it [i.e., the Sultan].” While all sources agree that the Sultan’s request lay behind Scholarios’ production of this synopsis, some have traced the causal chain back further, suggesting that the Sultan’s request may have been motivated by others. Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis, for example, suggests that certain Muslim scholars traveling with the Sultan – ignorant of the Greek language – complained of their being unable to participate in the discussions and that it was for this reason that he commissioned Scholarios to produce a text that might be translated into Arabic…

While it is clear that Concerning our Faith is an apologetic work, it is also clear that Scholarios approaches his task with a great deal of discernment. On the one hand he firmly and honestly presents the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, going even beyond this to unflinchingly present these truths as fundamentally true, informing the Sultan that the Christian faith has weathered all manner of persecutions, adding that, “If this faith were not in accordance with God’s will, then it would have easily been put asunder.” According to Papadakis this is, “…an indirect reference and attack on Islam’s claim to be the definitive and final revelation of God.” On the other hand, he avoids the type of polemics one might normally associate with such a text: the work clearly differs in tone from the confessions of the hierarchs of the ancient Church before the Roman Emperors. Scholarios undoubtedly recognizes the good disposition of his interlocutor; that he stands not before a man who would judge him for his Christian faith, but rather before a man who of his own will sought to learn something of this faith, and who some say, “after having listened carefully and having learned about the faith of the Christians, came to harbour doubts concerning his own [beliefs].”

…First, that the prophets of the Jews (whom we also reverence) prophesied concerning Jesus; all that he did, all that he suffered, and all that his disciples did by his power in continuation. Similarly, in accordance with the divine dispensation, the Pagan oracles and the Persian and Greek astronomers also prophesied concerning Jesus with great eloquence. We have already demonstrated that all of these prophecies have proven true.

Second, that the scriptures of our faith are in agreement in all things because those who wrote them had a common teacher: the grace of God. Were it other than this they might disagree.

Third, that this faith, though strange and newly-revealed, was accepted eagerly and at great risk by men everywhere, and not only by the simple, but also by the prudent and wise. Thus the delusion of the Greeks was entirely abolished.

Fourth, that this faith contains nothing impossible, nothing inconsistent, nothing bodily; it is, rather, entirely spiritual. It is a path which leads the souls of men to the love of God and to eternal life.

Fifth, that those who took up this faith and lived virtuously, in accordance with Christ’s law, received great gifts and powers from God and did many things in the name of Jesus. These things would not have come to pass if this faith were opposed to the truth.

Sixth, that we are able to refute those who speak against this faith easily and by means of reason.

Seventh, that for 318 years kings and rulers the world over, polytheists and idolaters, warred against the faith by many tortures and murders to no avail. Rather, the faith has emerged victorious, persevering even until the present day and thus the Lord will find it when he comes. If this faith was not in accordance with God’s will, then it would easily have been put asunder. Glory to this God! Amen.


The grave of Patriarch Gennadios II Scholarios.

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st. nicholas japan(Source)

Below is a short excerpt from part two of an article concerning St. Nicholas of Japan on Buddhism.   

The saint just as negatively reacted to the idea he heard of creating a hybrid of Christianity and Buddhism, pointing out the “absurdity of such an endeavor, and the impossibility under any circumstances of comparing the truth of God’s faith with human invention” (III, 363).

St. Nicholas approved of the words of his visitors who “had compared Christianity with Buddhism and found them to be polar opposites” (III, 804). The saint at times had to disprove the then popular opinion among Western and Russian intelligentsia that Christianity was constructed upon ideas borrowed from Buddhism. He describes his conversation with the wife of Admiral Schmidt. At her remark about the closeness of Buddhism’s moral teaching with that of Christianity, St. Nicholas replied, “ ‘There is indeed some resemblance to our religion in Buddhism’s moral teaching; and what pagan religion does not have it? The moral teaching of pagans is drawn from the conscience, which they have not lost.’ ‘But they say that Christ’s teachings were borrowed from Buddhism.’ ‘Well, this is what people say who know neither Buddhist nor Christian teachings well.’ ‘No—why shouldn’t Christ borrow something from Buddhism if He liked it? He (Christ) was an intelligent man.’ ‘Christ was God and He spoke His teaching as a Divine command; Buddha, as well as everything in the world and the whole world itself, is nothing before Him’, I interrupted her, in order to stop this outflow of refuse from the cesspool of a general’s mind… So, the upper class in Russia is ignorant … in things related to faith” (II, 296).

At the same time, the saint also related skeptically to ideas expressed in response apologetics about aspects in the life of Buddha supposedly being borrowed from the Gospels. Remarking on a lecture he heard by the Protestant Spencer, St. Nicholas writes that there were “no few paradoxes; for example, the supposition that Buddha’s ‘life’ was copied from the life of the Savior. He would do well to prove that” (IV, 167).

From conversations with converts, St. Nicholas formed the opinion that Buddhism does not answer the needs of the soul that has a living religious feeling. He cites the story of one family: “Yuki and his wife were both believing Buddhists. Not having found in Buddhism a ‘personal’ God, he lost his faith in it and was extremely glad to find God the Creator and His Providence in Christianity, about which he had learned by accident, having obtained a Bible. He began to pray to the Christian God, and his fervent prayer was even crowned by a miracle: his wife had been ill to the point that she was unable to stand up. He prayed fervently for her healing, and she at once rose up healthy, to everyone’s amazement” (IV, 208). It is the fact that Christianity gives a person not simply an “idea of God”, but a living connection with Him, that in St. Nicholas’s eyes distinguishes it in principle from Buddhism. This is explained by the saint’s comment that, “Buddhism in the religious sense is essentially empty, for what religion can there be without God?” (III, 443).

St. Nicholas spoke several times about Buddhist prayer: “Their prayer is fruitless, because they pray to something that does not exist” (V, 571); “Their prayer is useless and deserves pity, for a tree and a rock or some empty space, at which they direct their calls to the gods and buddhas, which do not exist, do not see or hear them, and cannot help” (II, 175).

Unfortunately, St. Nicholas (Kasatkin’s) study of Japanese Buddhism has remained completely unnoticed by Orthodox authors, although it could substantially supplement their knowledge of the many various trends in this religion. The first attention given to St. Nicholas’s views on Buddhism came as late as the twenty-first century: A. Larionov in a short article gave an overview of the saint’s commentary, almost entirely based upon his Diaries.[5] He writes that the “comments on Buddhism are rare, and bear a purely practically character. The basic conclusion is: Buddhism had for a long time fulfilled its role as nanny, preparing the Japanese to receive the Truth… This was that “divination in the mirror”, which taught the Japanese love for each other and an understanding of the vanity of life. Now it must be set aside, because the fullness of grace has come.”[6]


Deacon Giorgi Maximov
Translation by OrthoChristian.com

[5] See: A. Larionov, “Particularities of the perception of St. Nicholas (Kasatkin) of Buddhism”, Alpha i Omega, 2005, No 3 (44).

[6] Ibid.

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Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Toronto).

Recently there has been a lot of traffic on my blog to the post “The Great Inheritance of Orthodox Theology”. I am re-posting it here for the Truth of Our Faith series because I truly believe that our faith has entrusted us a great inheritance which is an unadulterated theology passed down to us through the sanctified lives and teachings of a great cloud of witnesses – a reality that is unfortunately challenged in contemporary theological circles. If you don’t want to bore yourself with details of the two conferences I speak of in the beginning, you can skip to the sixth paragraph where I simply talk about Orthodox theology. 

On February 15, 2012, some 1,500 faithful (including myself) were blessed to attend a conference in Piraeus: “Patristic Theology and Post-Patristic Heresy,” a response to another conference held at the Theological Academy of Volos in June, 2010. A conference my husband and I had the misfortune of also attending. That conference was entitled: “Neo-Patristic Synthesis or Post-Patristic Theology: Can Orthodox Theology Be Contextual?” It was essentially an attempt to paint the teachings of the Holy Fathers as out-dated, insignificant and unrelated to modern man in modern times. (I’m paraphrasing of course.)

This conference in 2010 provoked a strong response from bishops, priests, and laity. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos wrote something challenging this approach to Orthodox theology. Metropolitan Paul of Glyfada wrote a critique of it, requesting the Holy Synod of Greece to address what was being said at the conference. Others also spoke out against the idea of neo-Patristic or post-Patristic theology.

Ultimately the conference in Piraeus was an attempt to demonstrate that many faithful, including many priests, and monastics, do not view Orthodox theology as something corruptible. “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, today, and to the ages” (Heb. 13:8) as is the Holy Spirit who inspires our Orthodox theology.

In my opinion the conference in Piraeus predominately illustrated  the following: A.) That post-Patristic theology – or heresy, as it was aptly described in Piraeus – is not a new thing, but an old heresy embodied in Protestantism and in people like Barlaam (the opponent of St. Gregory Palamas), and B.) Orthodox theology is inspired by the Holy Spirit; it is not the result of intelligent people articulating ideologies.

I have strong opinions about this topic. I had strong opinions about the topic when I was sitting through two days of lectures in Volos in 2010. However, I won’t speak about all that, I’ll simply direct you to where you can read/ view well-informed papers on the topic that, God willing, will be translated into English in the near future. (See HERE).

What I will say is this: The reaction of these bishops, priests, monastics and laity demonstrates that Greece is as much opposed to patroclasm (being against fathers) as it was in Ancient times when Plato wrote his dialogue Euthyphro in which Socrates discusses the theme of piety with a young man who sued his father. Ultimately Socrates asks: Is something good and just because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because the thing is good and just? As Orthodox Christians we believe the Holy Fathers teach Orthodox theology because it is right and proper in and of itself. Orthodox theology is not merely correct because the Fathers teach it. And so, it follows that as Orthodox Christians we accept and uphold the theology handed down to us by our Fathers because it is proper piety to do so.

Orthodoxy is philopatristic (father-loving). We have piety toward the Fathers because they acquired the Holy Spirit, and in acquiring Him recorded our faith in treatises, apologies, and confessions. Orthodoxy is not and will not ever be post-Patristic because the Holy Spirit inspires Orthodox theology, and “the wisdom from above indeed is first pure, then peaceable, equitable, easily entreated, full of mercy and of good fruits, impartial and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

Orthodox theology is not Palamite, or Hesychastic, or any other term like that, it is simply Orthodox. We do not view “Hesychasm” as something unique to St. Gregory Palamas. Mystical theologians, neptic theologians, social theologians are almost unnecessary labels, for the Fathers may emphasize certain points over others but ultimately they are Fathers, theologians, because the Unified Godhead inspires them, illuminates them, and fills them with grace. Orthodox theology is not confined to “once upon time.” It is full of life, applicable to all people in all times. It is a constant running stream of life-giving water, immeasurable in depth and limitless in width. Even in our times fresh springs arise and add to the stream of Orthodox theology. But it is not a new substance, it is the same water. It merely pours forth from new saints, new theologians, but the same theology – the same source, the Holy Triadic God.

We follow the Fathers because by living in the Light of God, they have received the dogmas, doctrines, and practices we hold dear as Orthodox Christians directly from God. And we will continue to have Holy Fathers unto life everlasting. And so this year when we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy let’s remember just how rich we are, having received a great inheritance from our Holy Fathers and let’s safeguard that inheritance by protecting it from those who would do away with it.

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fr danielby Rev Dr John Palmer

Admittedly, it was with great expectation that I first opened the English-language translation of Fr Daniel Sysoev’s book, Catechetical Talks. Around the time of his martyrdom in 2009, I began hearing reports from colleagues concerning Fr Daniel’s missionary work in Russia, praising it not only for its incredible results, but also for the fact that its achievements were born of a strict adherence to the Orthodox tradition. Shortly thereafter, brief excerpts of his writings began to circulate on the internet; then a podcast on his catechetical method; then a short book in Greek. All of these served to confirm the truth of the reports which had been circulating concerning Fr Daniel’s work, and further stoked my desire to read his more extended works for myself. Having now received a copy of his Catechetical Talks and having read it cover to cover, I am left to observe that the book has not only met, but greatly exceeded my every expectation. Before us stands no generic, academic, ‘Introduction to Orthodoxy’, but rather an authentic work of Patristic theology, flowing with words of eternal life.

Fr Daniel’s book is composed of a series of transcribed catechetical talks designed to set forth the most essential elements of the Orthodox Christian faith, aimed specifically at catechumens being prepared for Holy Baptism. He begins his series speaking about the divine attributes, exploring what we mean when we call God ‘good’ or ‘just’ in accordance with his revelation, as well as how these appellations are reconciled with the seeming evils which permeate the world around us, and with the belief that there will be a final judgement over which the just and good God will preside. Fittingly, he crowns this discussion with the apex of the Church’s dogmas concerning God: an exposition of the dogma of the Trinity. Fr Daniel dedicates his second talk to the Christian doctrine of Creation, particularly emphasizing the creation of the angels, the subsequent fall of Lucifer, and, of course, the creation of man and his fall. Naturally, this sets the table for the third talk to discuss the Incarnation of the Word of God, the key moments in Christ’s earthly ministry, the significance of his death on the Cross, his resurrection, and his ascension into the heavens to be seated at the right hand of the Father. The fourth talk is dedicated to a discussion of the birth of the Church at Pentecost and its mission in the world, that is, to unite men to Christ, specifically emphasizing the role of each of the sacraments in the fulfillment of this mission. The fifth and final talk offers a detailed discussion of the commandments of God which situates Christian morality within the broader context of morality in general, demonstrating that Christian morals differ from the ‘morals’ of the world both with regard to their foundation and their end.

Appended to these five talks are three helpful essays. The first two explore both the historical and canonical practices surrounding Holy Baptism (a topic surrounding which there is much confusion in our times on account of our ignorance of Orthodox tradition). Here, for example, we find discussions concerning the selection of godparents, whether children of the non-Orthodox may be baptized and under what circumstances this is permissible, as well as the absolute necessity that Holy Baptism be preceded by Catechism. Particularly noteworthy is his lengthy examination and critique of contemporary baptismal practice, which concludes in his affirming the absolute obligation of priests to immerse, and not sprinkle or effuse, those being baptized except under the most dire of circumstances. The final essay is a brief but useful summary of how Fr Daniel himself approached preparing candidates for the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

There is a temptation to think that because Fr. Daniel is addressing himself to catechumens, his book will only be useful for those who are new to the Orthodox faith. Any such temptation ought to be immediately alleviated by a moment of honest self-reflection. Let us ask ourselves: who among us is capable of giving even the most basic account of our faith if asked? As Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain writes in his work Christian Morality, “Many Christians if asked about Greek, Jewish, or Pagan myths, are ready to respond openly. But if one asks them to give an account of what they believe, how many articles of faith there are, how many are the Mysteries of the Church, how many commandments there are… if, I repeat, one asks them these and similar questions, which every Christian who desires to be saved ought to know how to answer, then they are silent, dumbstruck, and totally incapable of giving any reply” (p. 188). A refresher course in the fundamentals of our Holy Orthodox Faith – a sort of spiritual return to the catechumenate – is something each and every one of us needs.

frdanielIn terms of the book’s ethos, it becomes immediately clear that Fr Daniel has avoided producing yet another dry, textbook-style introduction to Orthodoxy. He avoids this first by frequently indulging a clear desire to be contextual. He is not contextual in the sense of renovating the theology of the God-inspired tradition in order to make it conform to, and justify the passions, but rather contextual in the true sense, in the Patristic sense, whereby he directly engages modern culture, answering its questions and challenges on the basis of the Church’s tradition. We see examples of this in his treatment of the questions surrounding the theory of evolution and practice of abortion, but also in his treatment of Islam, where he pays special attention to situate its claims with the context of the Patristic tradition. Second, Fr Daniel carefully interweaves the dogmatic and moral throughout the whole of his text: nothing is treated purely abstractly. Last, because the book is a series of transcribes talks as mentioned above, the work is very conversational in tone. Fr Daniel asks many rhetorical questions, takes comments and questions from his audience, and recounts personal stories, all of which give the reader the sense of being present in a parish hall, hearing Fr Daniel himself speak.

The translation of the book is near-flawless: it reads like a work originally written in English. I noted only two or three typographical errors in the course of my initial reading. In addition it is solidly-bound and typeset in such a way that it reads very comfortably.

Beyond all that has been said above, what is most encouraging about the Catechetical Talks is how uncompromisingly Orthodox it is. In Fr Daniel, we find one who is at once sensitive, yet firm in his presentation of the Orthodox Faith. A prime example of this is his completely unadulterated, unqualified presentation of the Orthodox Church’s claim to be the, “One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church,” through which saving grace flows, and outside of which those in heresy are found. He also unapologetically presents the extensions of this belief: that non-Orthodox cannot be commemorated in the Church’s liturgical prayers, that they must depart at the exclamation, “As many as are catechumens, depart” during the Divine Liturgy, and that they cannot be given antidoron, truths which are shocking to many because they have never been taught authentic ecclesiology. The book’s final chapter tells us that Fr Daniel ultimately baptized only about 60-70% of those who attended his catechetical school: “There have been cases,” he writes, “when people consciously refused to receive baptism, once they learned the faith of the Church because Christianity goes against their convictions. I think their separation only benefited the Church, and even those who refused to be baptized for they realized that their views contradict the Word of God. When they come to their senses they will be able to consciously accept the faith.” (p. 341) Spiritually speaking, this is the safest method for all involved. What is deeply impressive, and what should give us courage, is that despite his strict adherence to tradition, he yet baptized over 100 individuals per year during the course of his priestly service, a service which was ultimately crowned with martyrdom.

Contrary to Fr Daniel, we are taking an almost Jesuitical approach to presenting the Orthodox Faith to inquirers. Rather than tempering our honesty with an appropriate sensitivity to inquirers’ backgrounds and experiences, we instead lightly skim over, or even hide difficult truths from them, hoping to simply ‘get them in the door’. This approach bears bad fruit. Individuals who are catechized in this way not only unintentionally harm other faithful, spreading their uncorrected, unorthodox beliefs to those around them, causing scandal and confusion, but they often become scandalized themselves when they encounter authentic Orthodox teaching at a later stage in their spiritual journey. In some cases such individuals even wind up leaving the Orthodox Church altogether.

At a time when increasingly silly things about our holy Orthodox faith are gaining wide circulation (see, for example, George Demacopoulos’ recent piece entitled, ‘Orthodox Fundamentalism’), it is greatly refreshing to find a book which is entirely free of this spirit, and which from cover-to-cover deserves commendation. Fr Daniel has left us a great inheritance. I can only hope that more of his work will be shared with us in the future. May we have his blessing!

You can find a list of Fr Daniel’s translated works here.

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