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Archive for the ‘Truth of Our Faith’ Category

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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Our Orthodox faith,

our wealth, and our glory,

our stock, our crown,

our pride.

We will never deny you, O beloved Orthodoxy,

nor lie to you, O time-honoured reverence,

nor walk away from you, O mother piety.

We have been born in you, we live in you,

and we will die in you.

If time asks for it,

we will sacrifice ten thousand times our lives for you.

-Joseph Vriennios (Spiritual Father o f St. Mark of Ephesus)

For the third year in row lessonsfromamonastery will publish a post each day in the Truth of Our Faith series for this Lenten week following the Sunday of Orthodoxy. It is a week of posts both honouring the confessors of Orthodoxy who did/do not shy away from preaching the truth of our faith, as well as writings that enlighten the darkness of ignorance by addressing the fruitlessness of heresy.  I hope and pray that we all have the courage and conviction to live the words of this poem. If we lack the courage, may we strive to acquire it during this time of prayer and fasting.

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Who is so great as our God? Thou who art God; Who alone workest wonders!

To finish our week of the Truth of Our Faith series I wanted to post my favourite hymn. This is in Arabic, English and Greek. For me this hymn represents all the greatness God has given us in our Orthodox faith (including the Byzantine chant melody!). May we always treasure and protect it as our most prized possession!

 

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(From the Chapter entitled “Defender of Tradition” of Elder Paisios of Mount Athos by Hieromonk Isaac)

The elder had an innate love and deep respect for the ecclesiastical traditions instituted by the holy fathers. He was – in the proper way – a zealot for the traditions of the Fathers. He rejected and condemned every modernistic proposal, such as doing away with the cassock, translating the liturgical texts into modern Greek, and modifying the fasts. Holy tradition in general was a matter of dear concern to the elder… (p. 644).

The elder’s stance on tradition wasn’t strict, rigid, and unyielding – he sensed the value of tradition, he lived it, and he foresaw the fruits it would produce in the long term. He had the discernment to condescend to human weakness, though without going too far, “For someone to add a spoonful of oil when they feel weak [during a fast], I can understand that… But we’ve overdone it…” (p. 653).

“The Church,” he would say, “isn’t the ship of each bishop to do with as he pleases.” These reactions of his were accompanied by much prayer and love, not only for the Church, but also for those who were deviating from the faith; and all was the fruit of dispassion, discernment and enlightenment from above (p. 661).

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(Image retrieved from here)

There is a close relationship between Orthodoxy, the Church and the Divine Eucharist. Orthodoxy is the true faith of the Church and the Divine Eucharist is the true act of the Church. If there is a Church without Orthodoxy and the Eucharist, it is not a Church. If there is Orthodoxy outside the Church and the Divine Eucharist, it is not Orthodoxy. Moreover, if there is Divine Eucharist, without Orthodoxy and the Church, it is not the Divine Eucharist. This is why we maintain that outside the Orthodox Church there is no other Church, only heresies. Thus, the return of the heretics to the only true Church, the Orthodox Church, is needed.

-Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Entering the Orthodox Church: The Catechism and Baptism of Adults, pp. 138-139.

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AncientFaithTodayI listened to this interview last year and found it very enlightening. In a respectful manner the heresies of Mormonism (and even its links to Freemasonry) are explained in detail. I thought it would make a great edition to the Truth of Our Faith series.

Listen here.

Chris Ionna Holland, an ex-Evangelical who was drawn to Mormonism as a teenager and (later) returned to her traditional Christian roots before becoming an Orthodox Christian (and taught how to evangelize Mormons), and Andrew Gusty (M.D.), a cradle Mormon, Temple worthy, an LDS High Priest, and Second Counselor to the Bishop, discuss their unique perspectives with Kevin Allen about Mormon theology, doctrines, and practices, as well as why they left the Mormon faith and became Eastern Orthodox Christians.

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