With its many denominations Protestantism is no stranger to people changing churches, but there is something deeply unsettling about a Protestant family deciding to move over to a nearby Orthodox parish. The phrase “swimming the Tiber” or “crossing the Bosphorus” alludes to the deep chasm separating Protestantism from the two ancient traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Constantinople, the site of Orthodoxy’s leading patriarchal see, is located next to the Bosphorus, a narrow strait that separates Europe from Asia. Thus, there is a certain aptness to the Bosphorus as a symbol of the divide between Orthodoxy and Protestantism.
In this blog posting I will discuss the significance of switching over from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. I will be using three issues to explore the Protestant versus Orthodox divide: the authority to interpret Scripture, the visible church as the true church, and the meaning of Communion. I will also discuss the reactions Protestants looking into Orthodoxy may encounter from their fellow Protestants and give advice to Protestants thinking about becoming Orthodox.
Relinquishing Sola Scriptura
Protestantism is based on the doctrine of sola scriptura (the Bible alone). A corollary to sola scriptura is “soul competency,” the notion that the individual Christian is competent to interpret Scripture for themselves because they have the Holy Spirit in them as a result of the born again experience. While historic Protestant churches have tempered this view by insisting on a learned clergy and confessional statements like the Westminster Confession, all these were jettisoned on the American frontier in the early 1800s. This gave rise to an extreme version that eschews learned clergy and creeds. This view is popular among Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants today. All across Protestantism, regardless of denomination, the authority to interpret Scripture is assumed to rest with the individual. You join a church because they have the same understanding of the Bible as you do, and because doing so is consistent with your conscience. For Protestants there is no universally binding doctrinal authority apart from Scripture.
One reason why converting to Orthodoxy is so unsettling lies in the fact one must reject the notion of soul competency which accompanies sola scriptura and submit to the Church’s teaching authority. Orthodoxy claims that because it has received and preserved the Apostolic Tradition it has the right interpretation of Scripture (II Thessalonians 2:15). This claim is supported by the lists of episcopal succession for the various patriarchates such as Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church claims that Christ’s promise that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13) was fulfilled in the formation of the biblical canon and the Ecumenical Councils. It was at the Seven Ecumenical Councils that the Christian Faith was affirmed and heresy rejected. And it is thanks to the early Church that we have the Bible we have today.
Many Protestants troubled by Protestantism’s doctrinal anarchy have reached the conclusion that sola scriptura as a theological method is unworkable. This has led them to seek doctrinal stability in the older Christian traditions. This quest for doctrinal stability has led many to the Orthodox Church. Questions about sola scriptura were what precipitated the theological crisis that led this author to Orthodoxy.
Accepting the Visible Church
The Orthodox Church’s claim to be the true Church is a second reason why Protestants crossing over to Orthodoxy is unsettling. This is contrary to the widespread belief among Protestants that the true church is the invisible church comprised of all born again Christians. Basically, it means that the true Church is everywhere and nowhere. In contrast, Orthodoxy asserts that the true Church can be found in the visible entity called the Orthodox Church.
Orthodoxy believes that there has always been one Church. The Church has never been divided into two or many branches. Such a notion contradicts Christ’s promise that he would build the Church upon the rock (Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ) and that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). For this reason the belief by some Protestants that the early visible church fell into apostasy and corruption leaving only an invisible faithful remnant is heresy. Similarly, Orthodoxy rejects the branch theory that the true Church can be found among either Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, or Anglican churches.
The troubling implication here is that Protestant churches are not really churches and that to be a Protestant is to be outside the true Church. In Protestantism if one’s belief changes then one change churches through a letter of transfer of church membership. This is a common practice done all the time. But in the case of a Protestant becoming Orthodox, a letter of transfer is null and void. To become Orthodox one must go through the sacraments of conversion: baptism, chrismation, and Communion.
Recently many Evangelicals have reacted to the extremes of the invisible church view and embraced the high view of the church espoused by Calvin and other Reformers and the ecumenical movement’s vision of restoring visible church unity. Among them are some who claim to be more “catholic” than the Catholic Church! They view doctrinal differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy as arbitrary lines drawn in the sand, unnecessarily divisive and obstructive to “true” church unity. They believe that we can enter into ecumenical dialogue, negotiate our differences, and make compromises and adjustments that will result in church unity. An Orthodox Christian can only be skeptical of such a claim. To take this route is to define the Church according to what we want rather than following Apostolic Tradition. Because Orthodoxy will never compromise Holy Tradition this kind of ecumenical venture is unfeasible.
The Meaning of Holy Communion
There are two things Protestants find disturbing about the Orthodox approach to Holy Communion. One is that Orthodoxy believes that in the Eucharist we feed on Christ’s body and blood. This is something all the early Christians believed, but sadly many Protestants today believe that Holy Communion is just a symbolic reminder of Christ’s death. More traditional or high church Protestants might protest that they too like the Orthodox Church believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But this claim is highly suspect in light of the fact that they lack bishops and have no apostolic succession. Without apostolic succession there is no covenantal authority to perform the Eucharistic sacrifice.
When I was a high church Calvinist (Mercersburg Theology), I strongly believed in the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. But one day I realized: “They’re right. It’s just a symbol. It’s a symbol because it’s not the real thing. It’s not the real thing because there’s no valid priestly authority to consecrate the elements.” I was at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship student retreat when I had this realization. InterVarsity is a parachurch organization, but as I began to think about the more established Protestant churches I realized with a sinking feeling in my stomach they were in the same boat as InterVarsity – lacking proper covenantal authority that comes from apostolic succession.
Furthermore, the claim to a valid Eucharist is suspect in light of the fact that much of Protestantism is at odds with the Seven Ecumenical Councils. For example, to use the Filioque version of the Nicene Creed is in violation of Canon VII of the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus 431) which prohibits alteration to the Creed. To refuse to honor Mary as the Theotokos (Mother of God) is to reject the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus 431). To refuse to venerate icons is to reject the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II 787). In light of these numerous deviations from the Ecumenical Councils it is highly doubtful that Protestantism can claim doctrinal agreement with the early Church. There can be no valid Eucharist where heresy is embraced and promulgated. And even if a person or a congregation did agree with all of the above points, they would need to be in communion with the five ancient patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, endorsed by the Ecumenical Councils (see Canon VI and VII of Nicea I (325), Canon III of I Constantinople (381), and Canon XXVIII of Chalcedon (451)). (Note: It is tragic that the Schism of 1054 has resulted in Rome’s departure from the ancient Pentarchy. While Orthodoxy disagrees with the Roman Catholic Church, it recognizes its episcopal lineage as one going back to Saints Peter and Paul.) Thus, unless one is in communion with one of the ancient patriarchates one’s link to the early Church is imagined and not real.
Another unsettling fact is that Orthodoxy practices closed communion, that is, Communion is reserved only for those who belong to the Orthodox Church. Lutherans or Anglicans who hold a high Christology and affirm the real presence in the Eucharist become upset when they learn that they are barred from receiving Communion in an Orthodox Church. They view this as a judgment on their faith in Christ but this is not the case. In Orthodoxy receiving Communion means that one accepts the Tradition of the Church and that one submits to the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Orthodox Church in the person of the local bishop. For me to receive Communion at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu puts me under the authority of Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco and in communion with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Therefore, communion in Orthodoxy is not just a matter of being in doctrinal agreement with the bishop but submitting to his authority as well.
The general pattern in the Greek Orthodox Church is for Protestants to be received into the Orthodox Church through the sacrament of chrismation and the receiving of Holy Communion. Prior to that the priest will ask for evidence or documentation that one has been baptized in the name of the Trinity, that is, baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Most Protestant denominations follow this practice, but some baptize in Jesus’ name (e.g., Oneness Pentecostalism); for Orthodoxy this is not a valid baptism. Similarly, a baptism done in a liberal church using inclusive language like: Parent, Child, and Holy Spirit, will be rejected. Some Orthodox jurisdictions, like the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, are especially strict and will insist that all Protestants and even Roman Catholics be baptized for reception into the Orthodox Church.
As much as one might desire to become Orthodox, the decision is made by the priest with the approval of the bishop. Some Orthodox priests will insist that one attend the Liturgy for at least a year to show one’s seriousness about becoming Orthodox and in order to learn what Orthodoxy is all about. Other priests will want you to attend a 24 week class along with regular Sunday attendance. The priest is concerned not just with how much doctrine you understand, but also with your commitment to the worship life of the Church, your willingness to accept the spiritual disciplines like fasting, and your willingness to submit to the authority of the Church.
The Orthodox attitude towards people wanting to become Orthodox is that of welcome and caution. We want people to become Orthodox, but we also want them to realize the seriousness of the commitment. We often counsel patience in the case of people who are married and have children. We prefer the whole family become Orthodox in due time rather than the father becoming Orthodox right away with the wife and the children remaining Protestant. Orthodoxy believes that God intended the family to be a spiritual unity. Conversely, a spiritually divided household falls short of the ideal. Oftentimes patient waiting can result in a greater blessing for more people. That is why sitting down with the priest is so critically important. Letting the priest guide you in transitioning to Orthodoxy is a key step in learning to humbly submit to pastoral authority (Hebrews 13:17).
The famous investment guru, Warren Buffet, before making a major purchase in a company does due diligence. He researches the company’s history, its performance record, as well as its assets and liabilities. To not do this is irresponsible. Similarly, with respect to having the right faith and ensuring the spiritual well being of one’s family, it is important that due diligence be done before converting to Orthodoxy.
I recently had pleasant breakfast conversation with ‘Jim’ who was raised in an ethnic Orthodox parish. Because there was very little emphasis on explaining the Orthodox faith in that parish, he drifted over to Calvary Chapel. Recently, he started looking into Orthodoxy and was pleasantly surprised to find the spiritual and biblical depths of Orthodoxy. While strongly drawn to Orthodoxy and thinking about returning to Orthodoxy, ‘Jim’ is at the present time still a Protestant. Some of his Calvary Chapel friends became quite concerned and warned him that he might lose his salvation. In our conversation over pancakes and coffee we talked about the Bible and the Orthodox faith. He is, as he puts it, doing “due diligence” by studying Orthodoxy and looking carefully at the Scriptural and historical evidence. I admired the wisdom of his approach and recommend this for others.
Folks considering becoming Orthodox should at a minimum do the following:
- Read basic works like Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church,
- Attend the Divine Liturgy several times,
- Meet one on one with an Orthodox priest, and
- Complete a catechism class if offered.
Joining the Orthodox Church is a lifetime commitment. It is more than agreeing with a theological system; it also entails a commitment to a way of life and submission to the teaching authority of the Church. Unlike cults, clerical authority in the Orthodox Church is circumscribed by Holy Tradition. There is no secret hidden Tradition. Neither will there be a new doctrine or a new marriage ceremony coming down from the denominational headquarters. Everyone in the Orthodox Church, from the newest convert to the bishop, is constrained by Holy Tradition. And just as important everyone, both laity and clergy, is responsible for guarding Holy Tradition.
Protestants who read a lot or have gone to seminary may find it harder to become Orthodox. They have a lot more to unlearn. It took me several years to review my Protestant beliefs and come to the point where I could sincerely and intelligently renounce my Protestant beliefs. (I could not in good conscience do a theological lobotomy.) Having gone to a leading Reformed seminary and majored in church history I knew that the core of Protestant theology rested on the five solas: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. It was the questions about sola scriptura that started my theological crisis, but it was sola fide that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When I reached the conclusion sola fide was based on a misreading of Scripture and was never taught by the early church fathers, I realized that my days as a Protestant were over.
How much does one need to know before one becomes Orthodox? If becoming Orthodox is like getting married, then the catechumenate is like courtship. During the dating phase you check out the other person, you find out what they’re like, their likes and dislikes, you spend time with them, and then you ask yourself: Do I want to spend the rest of my life with so-and-so? Becoming Orthodox is really about making a commitment to Jesus Christ the head of the Church. Everything in Orthodoxy is for the purpose of uniting us with Christ. The Liturgy is not just a beautiful ceremony; we receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Whenever we behold the Virgin Mary, we see the one who said: “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you” and whom the Church honors as the Mother of God. So the basic question is: Is this the Church founded by Jesus Christ?
Many inquirers come to Orthodoxy with theological concerns. However, it is important to keep in mind that Orthodoxy is more than a theological system. It leads us into the mystery of God. Orthodoxy teaches that beyond our conceptual understanding of God is the mystical encounter that is beyond words. We come to a true knowledge of God through worship. That is why the Divine Liturgy lies at the heart of Orthodoxy. There is an ancient saying: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly; if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” This emphasis on mystical knowledge in Orthodoxy stands in contrast to the Western Christian tradition which emphasizes scientific study of the biblical text and reliance on logic for doing theology.
Transitioning to Orthodoxy
My transition from Protestantism to Orthodoxy was gradual and low key. My former home church had several Sunday morning services. I would often attend the 7:30 service then head over to the Greek Orthodox Church for the 9:30 Liturgy. When the priest offered an Orthodoxy 101 class on Thursday night I would go without raising any eyebrows. This is the Nicodemus stage of quiet inquiry (John 3:1-2). The main value of the Thursday night class was that I could find out whether I had a good grasp of what Orthodoxy was about.
For me the biggest obstacle to becoming Orthodox were issues like sola scriptura, icons, and sola fide. I handled the problem like any good graduate student, I wrote research papers. To my great surprise Orthodoxy was indeed biblical in its teachings. I remember the moment when sola scriptura fell apart and I said to myself: “My God! I’m going to have to become Orthodox!” When sola fide fell by the wayside, I met quietly with the leaders of the church and shared with them my decision to become Orthodox. I also gave them the opportunity to talk me out of it. Part of me desperately wanted them to talk me out of it because I knew becoming Orthodox would change our relationship in very fundamental ways. Unfortunately the Evangelical response was not a vigorous one. I remember the dean of a local Evangelical seminary responding to my paper on sola scriptura by asking: “Have you read Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God?” My response was a mildly exasperated: “Yes, I’ve read Packer, so what about my critique of sola scriptura?” I didn’t hear anything more from him. My pastor wasn’t able to rebut my critique of sola fide. I remember thinking in my head in dumbfounded amazement: “That’s it!?!? You mean I’m going to have to become Orthodox?!?!” Even now I find myself baffled and disappointed by the unwillingness of many Protestant pastors and theologians to defend the basic tenets of Protestantism.
Going Through Customs
A common experience when travelling abroad is going through customs. One purpose of customs to prevent contraband items from entering the country. When I was received into the Orthodox Church the priest asked me: “Do you renounce all heresies, ancient and modern?” This was a big question because it meant not just the ancient heresies of Arianism and Nestorianism but also Protestant doctrines like sola scriptura and sola fide, dispensationalism, double predestination, congregationalism etc. I was ready for that question because I had read up on Orthodoxy, attended the Liturgy, attended the catechism class, and spoke with the priest. For me there was no surprise, I knew that there would be big changes but I was prepared. Becoming Orthodox did not mean I rejected my Evangelical past. I took with me many good things from Evangelicalism: a love for studying Scripture, the discipline of daily prayer, and a passion for world evangelism.
Once I met with a former Protestant who had converted to Roman Catholicism. For some strange reason he didn’t know about the Pope’s infallibility when he joined the Catholic Church. Later when he was reading the official catechism he learned that anyone who did not accept the Pope’s infallibility was a heretic. ‘Hank’ told me he sat there stunned with the realization that in the eyes of the Catholic Church he was a heretic, but he stayed on because of his godson. It was a short breakfast meeting, but as I drove to the airport I reflected on his perplexing story. Two thoughts came to me: (1) he was probably catechized by folks who glossed over some of the more difficult aspects of Roman Catholicism, and (2) “‘Hank’ you were snookered!” The lesson to be learned is that leaving Protestantism is going to be a costly decision and one needs to have done the necessary due diligence prior to making that change.
We live in interesting times. There once was a time when hardly anyone knew about the Orthodox Church. But that is changing as growing numbers of people become interested in Orthodoxy and even go so far as to become Orthodox. But why the change? I suspect that it is due to massive changes in the Protestant landscape following World War II. Up till then, denominational lines remained stable but that began to change dramatically. Now we have Fundamentalists discovering Calvin, and Calvinists rediscovering the church fathers; we have Pentecostals becoming Anglicans, and we have Evangelicals becoming post-Evangelicals or Emergent Christians. In addition to all this confusion is the growing apostasy among the mainline Protestant denominations.
The situation today is much like the early days of the Cold War before the Iron Curtain came down. In the early days the borders were relatively open. Many families quietly packed their belongings and crossed the border in the dark of the night. But as growing numbers of people began to leave, the authorities became alarmed and finally began erecting the infamous Berlin Wall to keep their people in.
Similarly, many Protestant families today quietly say goodbye to their friends and start worshiping at a nearby Orthodox parish. There are reports of a growing uneasiness in certain leadership circles. Interest in Orthodoxy or in icons and the saints is discouraged or viewed as drifting away from the true faith. People expressing an interest in Orthodoxy are warned that they could be in danger of losing their salvation. In such a situation a chill is in the air and a feeling of distrust comes between once close friends. In some churches they come under closer pastoral surveillance, pressured not to stray from the true faith, and even excluded from certain functions in the church for fear that they might infect others with their interest in Orthodoxy.
I am glad in that my former home church provided me with a warm Christ centered fellowship where I could study Scripture, and read up on theology and church history. I found it quite frustrating that many of my Evangelical friends were not able to understand the questions I had about the basis for Protestant theology. So when I became Orthodox, many were surprised and a little confused, but we remain friends. My experience has been more like a friendly border crossing. I picked up my belongings and one Sunday morning I crossed the border into the Orthodox Church.
I feel sad for those whose transition has been marked by suspicion and judgment. It is my hope that open relations between Protestants and Orthodoxy will not be replaced by a Cold War atmosphere marked by barbed wires and aloof guards with grim stares. Barbed wires and restricted exit are signs of defensiveness and tyranny. An open and healthy society is marked by hospitality to strangers and mutual respect among its members. More preferable is a Glasnost in which Protestants can read up on the early church fathers and the Ecumenical Councils, and investigate the issues of icons, the Virgin Mary, and liturgical worship. In this period of openness curious Protestants should feel they have the freedom to visit the Orthodox worship services and come back with questions about what they saw. The best defense is not: “Those people are wrong!” but “Come and see!”
The Pearl of Great Price
Someone reading this blog posting might be thinking to themselves: “Why would someone give up all the benefits of Protestantism to become Orthodox?”
My answer is Matthew 13:44-45:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (NIV; emphasis added)
If the Orthodox Church has kept the teachings of the Apostles intact for two thousand years, if there is only one true Church, and if the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ given for you, wouldn’t that be enough reason to come home to the Church of the Apostles?
This, sir, was an excellent piece. The Bosphorus seems wide, and as a married person with children, even wider, but this helped immensely.
Thank you! Glad you found the posting helpful.
My journey to Orthodoxy continues, I have now returned my membership to my dearly loved church family[Presbyterian Church of Australia]. Although I am still be catechised by my priest, leaving my church family was a huge but completely essential step for me. I have just experienced Theophany, and am about to have my first home blessing. Thank you for your very much appreciated blog.
I admire your courage in taking this bold step. God bless your journey!
Great post overall. Glad my friend showed it to me.
I do have a couple of minor quibbles, though.
Your description of Protestantism isn’t entirely accurate. Growing up in the Methodist church, we certainly weren’t sola scriptura. I even have some of the old pamphlets I was given as a child going into confirmation talking about how the Methodists value scripture and Holy Tradition (in their flawed understanding). Methodists don’t have the doctrine of sola fide, either.
Since I’m in the process of becoming Orthodox myself, I really don’t have much, if any, stake in this anymore, but I’ve noticed that a lot of Orthodox criticisms of Protestantism seem to neglect the nuances of Methodist theology entirely (and usually Anglician theology, although I’m not sure most Anglicans could tell you what their theology is anymore, either).
In any case, my background in Methodist theology, with its acceptance of tradition (if flawed understanding) and lack of sola fide theology has made my transition to Orthodoxy fairly smooth. I’m still grasping the icons and Marian theology, but I’m hoping to understand that fairly well soon enough.
Incidentally, my journey to Orthodoxy began when I attended a Catholic Bible Study with some of my Catholic friends. The subject was the real nature of Holy Communion as the physical body and blood of Christ. Their arguments shattered my understanding of it and knocked me loose from my old ways. I was careful not to voice these newfound issues because I wasn’t ready to begin the road toward becoming Catholic, and I knew they’d try to sway me. I decided to go home and do my own research. After a while, I realized that what the Catholic church’s claims about itself didn’t hold up and Orthodoxy’s did. The rest, as they say, is history (which is incidentally what I study)…
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!
My description of Protestantism is very condensed but, I would contend, accurate. What you call “sola scriptura” is probably closer to what Keith Mathison labeled “solo scriptura.” See my discussion of Mathison’s “The Shape of Sola Scriptura.”
I’m very aware of the fact that sola scriptura as the early Reformers understood it allowed for historic practices, the church fathers, and ancient creeds. The Methodist church can be placed under the sentence about how the “historic Protestant churches have tempered this view.” But the Methodist church is not a traditional as you make it out to be. I’m also aware of the liberal tendencies in the UMC due to my conversations with a friend who is a member there. It’s nice that you have some old pamphlets, but I lived two years at the Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA), a UMC related seminary and believe me traditional Christianity is the farthest thing from what they teach there! So the Methodist Church, especially the UMC, can be placed under the sentence that referred to the “growing apostasy among the mainline Protestant denominations.”
I am also familiar with the Anglican tradition. I have a friend who was recently ordained a deacon under PEAR (the Rwandan church). My little paragraph in the section “The Meaning of Holy Communion” about how Protestantism is at odds with the Seven Ecumenical Councils arose from a conversation with my Anglican friend. He conceded that his beliefs were not congruent with the Seven Ecumenical Councils. So, the question I would pose to him and other Anglicans is: How meaningful is it for Anglicans to claim apostolic succession if (1) they are at odds with the Seven Councils and (2) they are out of communion with the ancient Pentarchy?
Thank you for sharing how your journey arose from a bible study with your Catholic friends.
BTW, you may resubmit your addendum providing you leave out the coarse language. 🙂
Well, yes, you are right that they aren’t as traditional as they think they are. Methodism is essentially institutionalized Low Church Anglicanism. They don’t reject tradition, but their understanding of it is very, very flawed.
I believe Methodists might call their approach a watered down “Prima Scriptura”.
And yes, since this post was my first visit to this site, I was unaware of what this site was about since I spent more time reading the post than I did what was around it, heh. I’ll be back here soon, I hope!
I grew up in the Methodist Church, but left when I was 16 because I found that Methodists lack a common doctrine. I remember being told at Methodist Church Camp that I was free to believe whatever I wanted to believe. Then my parish got a youth director who was all into the 60s and had a bunch of theologically unsophisticated teenagers reading Honest to God, a manifesto of ultra liberal theology. I joined the Episcopal Church thinking that they had doctrine, but later learned to my great distress that like Methodists Anglicans lack a common doctrine. As I moved to go to graduate school in a different town, I found a different kind of Anglcianism. When I took a job teaching at a small college near Austin, I found a completely different religion than that which I was taught when I converted. Since I taught Russian history, I took my class to the Divine Liturgy at the Orthodox Church in Austin. My wife and I found the service inspiring. Later when we moved to Austin, we started going to the Orthodox Church and eventually converted to Orthodoxy after the Episcopal Church decided to reject Christian tradition and to ordain women, because we wanted to be in a Church that did not change its doctrine to accommodate the trends of secular society.
Thank you for sharing with us your journey to Orthodoxy!
Thank you , Robert, for this significant posting (which I will re-read).
I am an active Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) member who only discovered Orthodoxy because I wondered why my local church used the Filioque-altered Nicene Creed once a month in our morning liturgy. “We separated from Rome so why don’t we use the original Creed?” I pondered. My quest to better understand the Creed’s history really opened my eyes to all the beauty and continuity of the early church as established by our King.
My local Orthodox Church in America (OCA) congregation has shown me nothing but overwhelming love and deep understanding since 85% percent of the congregation are also converts from one flavor of Protestantism or another.
But there’s a rub: my lovely wife is appalled at the merest notion that I would ever consider becoming a catechumen. The OCA priest understands and counsels love & patience.
So that’s what I’m doing: being the best husband I can be, praying and waiting. I expect to read this blog frequently in the next few months leading up to Pascha 2013. Thank you for your work here! Any additional counsel or resource you can suggest for a person in my situation will be gladly accepted.
God bless you as you embark on the exciting journey into Orthodoxy! You’re doing the right thing committing yourself to being the best husband you can be to your wife. You might be interested in a guest article by Fr. Isaiah Gillette: “Called Together” which was uploaded on the OrthodoxBridge in June 2012.
John — I spoke with my webmaster and he fixed the problem. Take a look at “Called Together” and let me know what you think. Or if you have any questions or concerns I can pass them on to Fr. Isaiah.
Robert…thanks for a great post. Being a recent convert to Orthodoxy has put me in a place where I find myself often defending our truths and beliefs.
-jw…my journey to Orthodoxy took me through over 45 years of practicing my faith as a protestant. The last 4 years of my journey was in the PCA, the last 2 of which was working as a fulltime missionary in Haiti. My wife converted to Orthodoxy before me and our priest also counseled her to be patient and to do all things in love. Let me know if you would like to talk sometime.
Thank you for sharing your story!
jw, if you are interested I can put you in touch with David. Just let me know.
Yes, please put me in touch with David Short. My personal progress toward the OCA continues slowly; my lovely wife remains in shock. I love her more and more and trust God for His leading.
OK. I just sent him an email.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Robert – well done! this is just to reinforce all that you said in your wonderful article…
I have been an Orthodox Christian for a little over fifty years (since 1962). I was raised in the Roman Church, but found myself with lots of questions that eventually challenged my conscience – which I pursued (before Vatican II) with due respect for Canon Law… Through that study, I became convinced that I had a perfect, certain conscience, that I had to act, and was therefore required to become Orthodox. The local Roman Catholic Bishop reviewed my situation and agreed to my leaving the Roman Church, saying (among other things) that as far as the Roman Church was concerned, “I had been Orthodox since my Baptism, that I was to go in peace, and not give scandal to the Roman Church… and that I would not be considered excommunicated when I was Chrismated Orthodox” – I received this news with great joy, and profound respect for the wisdom still clearly found in the Roman Church.
Becoming Orthodox is a most wonderful thing in my life… I fell in love with the prayers of the Divine Liturgy, early Church Architecture and iconography, and the authentic, comprehensive view of Church history and organization…
enough! I could go on and on…
Pat Mangan AIA
Thank you for sharing your story with us!
I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs. As a Catechumen convert from Evangelicalism, your posts and engaging dialogue have been a refreshing source of inspiration and information.
There remain many probing questions in my spiritual journey in Orthodoxy. For example, when exposing “sola Scriptura” as an individual’s interpretation, it was pointed out that listening and learning from the Orthodox Church and the Church Fathers imposes one’s own interpretation of the interpretation.
This questions could be easily refuted by the historical examples from both traditions (Protestantism continues to exponentially divide while Orthodoxy has remained constant) but this refutation does not seems satisfactory to me, especially given areas in theology and morality that are not so black and white.
I’m glad you find the OrthodoxBridge helpful.
Your question about sola scriptura and the interpretation of Scripture are philosophical in nature. Rather than get bogged down in epistemology (how we know what we know) or hermeneutics (how we know we have the right understanding of the text), I approach the issue from the standpoint of sociology of knowledge. Basically, our knowledge is shaped by the group we are part of. In the case of Protestantism the problem of your interpretation of someone else’s interpretation of the Bible can indeed be a problem in light of sola scriptura. Because Protestantism is not constrained by tradition there is considerable liberty with respect to doctrine, worship, and lifestyle. The absence of external constraints allows personal interpretation to take a bigger role in Protestantism. One can jump from one denomination or church to another as one’s interpretation changes. This is not the case with Orthodoxy where there is considerable consensus on core doctrine and liturgical practices. Personal interpretations at odds with Orthodoxy is going to run up against the wall of Holy Tradition.
In the case of Orthodoxy, Scripture is framed by Holy Tradition: the Creed, the Liturgy, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Church Fathers. But beyond that is the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. I would say that the problem of your interpretation of the Church’s interpretation only goes so far because the pedagogical influence shapes one’s thoughts, vocabulary, and lifestyle. Where worship in Protestantism tends to be expressive in nature (expressing what one believes), worship in Orthodoxy tends to be disciplinary inscribing the Church’s beliefs and values on its participants. If you have a teachable spirit the Liturgy and the Orthodox Church’s liturgical cycle, especially Lent and Holy Week, will gradually shape your understanding of Scripture and of the world overall. The problem of your personal interpretation being at odds with Orthodoxy is not likely to last long; if there is a discrepancy one can either accept what the Church teaches or one can leave the Church. Of course one should discuss the matter with one’s priest before taking such a drastic step. That is why doing due diligence and attending the Liturgy is so important before one enters the Orthodox Church. And that is why exposure to the Orthodox lifestyle is critical to the catechumenate. There are certain areas that where things are not black and white, where there is some ambiguity; that’s okay because the major issues like the nature of Christ and the Trinity have been settled once and for all.
I hope this answers your question.
But how do the Orthodox prove that their extra-Biblical traditions are identical to the apostles’ oral traditions? Unless this point can be proven, we are left with sola scripture, for the sola scriptura principle is based not so much on prooftexts as on the fact that in the Scriptures we have available undoubted apostolic and prophetic teaching. The teaching of post-apostolic bishops, by contrast, is not necessarily free from error or imperfection.
Good question! I would say that the starting point should be: What does the Bible teach about extra-Biblical tradition? It may come as a surprise to you that the Bible supports oral tradition and that we are commanded by the Apostle Paul to hold fast to the Apostolic tradition whether written or oral (II Thessalonians 2:15). I did a review of the biblical teaching on oral (extra-biblical) tradition. You might find my blog posting “If Not Sola Scriptura, Then What? The Biblical Basis for Holy Tradition.” For a more detailed discussion about what is extra-biblical tradition you might find another blog posting of interest: “A Response to Tim Enloe’s ‘An Interesting Defense of Sola Scriptura‘.”
I encourage you to read the postings with an open mind and consider the evidence. When you are done, feel free to ask follow up questions. The situation is not as simple as one may think.
Robert, thanks very much for your gracious reply. At your recommendation, I read or re-read the articles. The Scripture verses you cited show clearly that Paul expected his teachings, both oral and written, to be kept. What I noticed also was that the oral teachings referred in those verses were teachings heard directly from the apostle himself, and so these teachings were unquestionably true. However, the teachings of post-apostolic bishops are liable to error. For some distinctive Orthodox doctrines, all we have is the word of some fallible post-apostolic bishops to go by.
What I also noticed, particularly from your quote from Luke 1, was that “many” had taken pen in hand to write down the teachings of the Faith, and that this was during Luke’s time, the apostolic era itself. This fact would seem to contradict the notion that the Church was so satisfied with oral teaching at first that written teaching was practically an afterthought. Luke wrote so that what Theophilus had heard from oral tradition would be “certain” in his mind. It would seem that the weakness of oral tradition, when not derived immediately from the lips of inspired apostles, was felt early on. Scripture was soon needed for “the certainty” of what was taught in the Church.
Thank you for taking the time to read my articles. Orthodoxy does not attribute infallibility to individual bishops. Rather it emphasizes the need to find the patristic consensus. I think you are overly worried about the fallibility of the early bishops. There is a story about how Polycarp sought to learn and commit to memory the teachings of the Apostle John. Also Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13).
For me the bottom line is whether or not the early Christians maintained continuity with the Apostles’ teachings. My reading of church history leads me to believe that there existed substantial continuity between the early Church and the Apostles. There are Protestants who believe that this continuity was broken by massive apostasy early on, something which I believe has no historical grounding. You seemed to be concerned about the post-apostolic bishops falling into “error,” but how do you know whether a particular teaching was erroneous? Because it contradicts your Protestant reading of the Bible? It might help if you could point to a specific example. I would encourage you to look further into the early Church and find out how the early Christians maintained the Apostolic teachings for several centuries until the biblical canon was formalized in the fourth century.
In light of the fact that the biblical canon was finalized until around the fourth century, sola scriptura — if it did exist back then — would not have been a practical possibility until canonical Scriptures were in place. This means that Protestantism’s sola scriptura could not have existed in the early Church. I believe what did happen was that the local churches under the authority of the local bishop safeguarded the Scriptures and interpreted Scripture in light of the received Tradition.
You seem to allow St. Paul the ability to participate in the infallibility of God and teach without error whether by scripture or tradition, yet it seems inconsistent to grant this to him or other apostles yet not allow the post apostolic church a similar participation in God’s infallibility. As per the guarantees and promises of Christ to his church, why would this be entirely removed after the apostles? You will not find persons claiming infallibility in Orthodoxy (unlike Rome) but you see the Ecumenical Councils claiming it, trusting God is fulfilling what He did in Acts 15.
what promises of infallibility do you find that apply to the post-apostolic Church? Orthodox and Protestants agree that individual bishops did not inherit the infallibility possessed by individual apostles. We also agree that councils even composed of bishops in apostolic succession and consciously modeling themselves on the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 are also subject to error. As far as I am aware, only Roman Catholic apologists claim that a council or individual bishop possesses an automatic or a priori infallibility under certain circumstances.
When we say the creed we affirm that we BELIEVE IN one, holy, catholic and APOSTOLIC church, just as we believe in one God. The church is affirmed by an apostle to be the pillar and foundation of the truth. The apostles themselves were not infallible persons (Peter in Galatians), but they participated in God’s infallibility at certain times. An infallible Council, like inspired scripture, must be recognized as such by the faithful/her bishops/patriarchates and may not be automatic or instant, but our unity being eucharistic (1 Cor 10:16-17) is not naturally but supernaturally preserved. According to Christ’s promises, she will be led into all truth by the Spirit of truth, the gates of hell not prevailing, Christ remaining with her until the end of the age (without interruption). In Acts 15 after it seemed good not just to the apostles but also the “elders” present, the Council’s decision (not just the apostles decision) became binding and normative for all (Acts 16:4).
thank you for your reply. I have no desire to be contentious but would gladly embrace the doctrine of the infallibility of the church if persuaded. What you mentioned in support of ecclesiastical infallibility were general premises–the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, the Holy Spirit guides the Church, etc. But general premises allow for exceptions. Also, general premises do not necessarily prove particular conclusions.
For example, individual believers are led by the Spirit, indeed they may have an unction from above that teaches them all things. And yet individual believers may err. Just so the whole Church’s being both the pillar and ground of the truth and led by the Spirit does not necessarily mean the Church is infallible, much less that a particular group of bishops within Christendom are the exclusive heirs to that infallibility.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, but I do not see how it follows from this promise that post-apostolic bishops are necessarily inerrant in their teachings. Gates are not offensive weapons, after all. Scripturally speaking, the metaphor seems more suitably predicated of the Church’s inexorable advance, whereby she will possess the gates of her enemies.
The decision of the elders in Acts 15 was binding on all. I agree there is a hint of apostolic succession there. But where is the promise of future infallibility and under what circumstances? Later councils of elders/bishops were subject to error, as we all agree.
On Galatian 2, I do not see it as detracting from the inerrancy of Peter’s teaching. His positive teaching was not in error. Only his practice. There is other evidence in Scripture that inspired teachers could be inerrant in teaching while faulty in practice: Balaam, David, Jonah, e.g.
Thanks again. For the record, like you I don’t believe the Church established by Christ fell into apostasy. I regard Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches all as being more or less in doctrinal continuity with the apostles. Of course, error can creep into the Church, and that is the problem. How do we detect error? We need an infallible standard of truth as a touchstone to assess whether what we are hearing taught in the Church is true or false. As you stated, individual bishops (and I would add, groups of individual bishops as well) are fallible. Therefore their teachings are not that needed infallible touchstone of truth. The only source of infallible, inerrant truth that I am aware of is Holy Writ. Even a consensus of fallible post-apostolic bishops does not equal the authority of infallible Scripture.
Given that the writings of the early church Fathers frequently contain quotes from and allusions to the NT books, it is clear that the Church recognized the authority of the NT Scriptures from the start, long before councils got around to drawing up official lists. Therefore using the Scriptures as an infallible check on the teachings of fallible, post-apostolic bishops was not necessarily a practical impossibility. Already around A.D. 180, Irenaeus in Against Heresies recognized the Scriptures as “the ground and pillar of our faith.”
My point is that some Orthodox doctrines are not derived solely from inerrant Scripture. If these extra-Biblical teachings can be traced only to the teachings of fallible post-apostolic bishops, how can one assume those teachings are unquestionably true and indispensable?
Infallibility is not intrinsic to the Bible, but is a consequence of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. Infallibility is intrinsic to God who is Truth. Just as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostles in their teaching ministry, including their writings, so the Holy Spirit guided the Church. For this reason the Church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (II Timothy 3:15). You need to take a broader view of infallibility rather than restricting it to Scripture. The Holy Spirit was with the Church to guide her into all truth and to protect her against heresy. The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church to the present day.
You seem to be very concerned about very concerned about extra-biblical error creeping into the early church, but that is a criterion alien to the early church. The early Christians were more concerned with apostolicity: Was this teaching part of the received tradition? And, is my bishop able to trace his lineage back to the Apostles? If the bishop was part of the chain of apostolic tradition then one could be assured that one had the true faith.
And with respect to your claim Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are more or less in doctrinal continuity with the apostles, I would have to disagree. Many Protestants today deny the real presence in the Eucharist and view it as just a symbolic reminder. Also, many Protestants deny the episcopacy based on apostolic succession. As far as the Church of Rome is concerned Orthodoxy was in agreement with her until the Great Schism took place. Much of our differences is with the post-1054 Roman Catholic Church.
I am curious as to what you had in mind when you wrote that not all Orthodox doctrines are derived solely from inerrant Scripture. Could you give an example or two? It’s hard for me to engage you when you speak in vague generalities.
It is a rather circuitous route that brought me to Orthodoxy and a story too long to tell here. I’ll just say that it was the only option left after I had investigated Roman Catholicism and many, many Protestant denominations. I could see problems in each one, but was certain that when Jesus prayed, “Father, let them be one as you and I are one,” that His request was not ignored. I just had to find the “one.” Once I did, I knew it was not whether or not I’d become Orthodox, but when. My husband saw no problems with my converting and so I was chrismated. Now, over a decade later, he is upset that we cannot take communion together.
Your advice to be patient and wait for a spouse was never suggested to me by the priest (who knew us both). Perhaps that would have been better in our situation. But due to my husband’s job, we moved frequently and I’m not certain that I would have ever become Orthodox if it hadn’t been then and there. Would I change the past if I could? As I look back, I am so grateful for my years in the Church – how could I give that up?
My husband has one toe in, but thinks the water is too cold for swimming. His problems are with the ideas of the visible church and closed communion. I am now waiting for the Holy Spirit to guide me as to the proper time to show him your blog post. Perhaps your words will be the ones God uses to bring him home to the Church that I know he will love. Please pray for him!
Dear Anam Cara,
Thank you for sharing your story with us. I will be praying for you and your husband.
May I also suggest you read Fr. Isaiahs’ article: Called Together? I think you might find the article encouraging and the picture of the happy couple crossing the bridge hand in hand is one of my all time favorites on this blog.
My question has more to do with the rule of faith than with specific doctrines. But perhaps an example can help. Let’s take the Orthodox doctrine that Mary is ever-virgin. I see our Lord’s virgin birth taught in the Scriptures, but I do not find there the doctrine of Mary’s ever-virginity. The doctrine’s origin is unclear. How do I know that it can be traced back to our Lord or His apostles?
Great question! I am currently working on a blog posting dealing with Mary being ever virgin. But I have a question for you: Can one be a good Protestant and affirm Mary being ever virgin? Or do you see the two positions as incompatible?
Didn’t both Calvin and Luther affirm the Mary being ever virgin?
As a matter of fact they did!
As you are probably aware, some Protestants have affirmed the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. I think it would only be incompatible with Protestantism if a pastor required belief in the doctrine as necessary to salvation or to continued membership in the church.
Thank you for your answer. I put out that feeler question in order to find out where you stood on the issue and how much church history you knew.
But let me cut to the chase and ask you which particular church tradition do you belong to? Are you Reformed, Anglican, Lutheran or something else? Also, do you believe that the Holy Spirit guided the 7 Ecumenical Councils? Knowing where you come from will help me in formulating my replies to your questions.
I think something needs to be cleared up: the Orthodox do not recognize Sacraments outside of the Church (we don’t determine whether God’s grace was really there or not). A person received by the Holy Chrism is not said to have been previously baptized, but the Chrism makes up for anything lacking in the previous baptism. This is extreme economy, and in my humble opinion should only be extended to those who are closest to the Orthodox in belief: Roman Catholics and High Church Anglicans. The rest have differing views on baptism, nature of the Church, Christology, soteriology, etc. In my case, I was baptized Methodist as a child, received into the RCC at 17 by Confirmation and baptized into Orthodoxy at age 20. The Methodist understanding of Baptism and their other beliefs did not convince my bishop that reception by Holy Chrism was adequate. There are different practices out there and I’m not saying the way I was received should be the only way, but I think baptism should be a general rule for all converts.
Thank you for your insight! And thank you for sharing with us your journey to Orthodoxy.
It seems to depend on the Bishop. My Priest has indicated to me that my baptism (Brethren) was valid, because it was trinitarian. But I have not had a full discussion about chrismation with him as yet, so we shall see.
well played chase cutting! My church background is varied. I identify mostly with Lutherans and Anglicans, small ‘c’ catholicism, but grew up Baptist. I’m fairly familiar with church history and have read a bit of the Fathers. On the councils, I discern the Holy Spirit’s leading when I see the Scriptural basis for the councils’ doctrinal decisions. However, I have misgivings about the seventh council.
Hope jumping in isn’t too much of a problem.
I think that my difficulties at this point with joining the Orthodox Church are partly due to the great schism. I’m unsure that Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism have maintained their doctrine since the split. The clarification of the Orthodox Church on the distinction between God’s essence and his energies are difficult for me to glean from early church writings. As I understand it (and this is just me grasping for understanding), God-in-himself will never be known by us. But God-as-he-acts is known by us (what theologians call economic Trinity). I wonder, does this mean something like what St. Paul means when he says that no one knows a man except his spirit? In that sense, I really do know people from how they interact with me, but not as they know themselves. To extend the analogy. If people are acting falsely towards me, I only know them inasmuch as they reveal themselves truly. God we know truly because he never is false.
Anyway, back to my main point. It seems that Catholic tradition has not been the only one to “develop” its theology. It seems that Orthodoxy has also developed, and possibly in ways that those on both sides of the great schism would not have fully understood.
Funnily enough, I see myself as Protestant not because I agree with reformation theology such as the Solas but because there I still have room to Protest! That is, in terms of soteriology I have much more in common with the Orthodox than with the Protestant. Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide (at least as many reformed protestants understand it) is already far behind.
I find myself wrestling with two extremes: Liberal Protestantism and Orthodox/Catholic claims to being the one true church. I am attracted by the latter because I would like to rest on the authority of someone above me to tell me what to believe. On the other hand, I am attracted by the former because I already know that Sola Scriptura is flimsy. So I start with the question “do I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” In other words I start with an historical question. Then I move on. What is our earliest evidence about Jesus and his followers. Obviously the documents of the New Testament become primary sources. But they lack the infallibility that Conservatives give them and it is hard to keep going in that direction without reinventing Jesus!
Anyway, I’m not sure if that has contributed anything, but I am on a journey, too, and wanted to express where I am.
I am very thankful for your suggestion to be patient, as I have a family, and that is slowing things down, I think.
I might be repeating myself here, but my advice to you and others in your situation is to familiarize yourself with the early Church and on that basis assess which of the major traditions — Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox — mostly closely resemble the early Church. That’s probably the easiest way to check out the claims made by Orthodoxy to its having kept the Faith intact.
As far as your question abut Orthodoxy maintaining doctrine and its distinction between God’s essence and his energies, this forms part of a long discussion about God and the Trinity. For most people my advice is that they shouldn’t worry about the difference between cataphatic theology and apophatic theology. I don’t expect inquirers to become familiar with the theological issues underlying the Arian controversy or with the enhypostatic union and the two natures of Christ. So I’m going to ask some personal questions of you. Did you go to seminary? Or are you a philosophy major? Are the issues of the nature of God, the Trinity, and epistemology burning issues that need to be resolved if you are to become Orthodox? I’m asking because your concern about the distinction between ousia and energeia strike me as being quite unusual from the usual questions I get on the OrthodoxBridge. Most people making the journey to Orthodoxy do not wrestle with these issues. Just as a heads up, the Orthodox Church does regard Gregory of Palamas as a saint and we honor him during Lent on the Sunday of Gregory of Palamas. So if the divine energy issue is important for you then, yes, it is imperative that your questions be answered. You should have a talk with a local Orthodox priest about these concerns.
As far as locating early references to the divine energy, I would suggest that one begin with the biblical data like passages about the divine light, e.g., Psalm 36:9: “in your light we see light” and John 1:4: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men,” and the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Transfiguration (e.g., Matthew 17:1-2, cf. John 17:22). When we look at the Nicene Creed we find the phrase: “light from light, true God from true God.” When we come to Basil the Great we find this statement: “God’s energies descend to us while his essence remains inaccessible.” (in Christ in Eastern Christian Thought by John Meyendorff, p. 144). If you look at John of Damascus‘ “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” you will find 35 occurrences of “energy,” most of which refer to God. It is wonderfully deep and inspiring!
As far as modern Orthodox writings are concerned, you might find Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church helpful.
Hope this helps.
Thanks for the advice. The οὐσία / ἐνεργεία issue seems pertinent to me because it seems to be one of those issues that divides East from West. The West doesn’t seem to distinguish between essence and energies. Particularly frustrating in the whole set of arguments is that people from the Orthodox Church tend to complain that the Western Church is too philosophical in its theology. However, what I tend to see when I read Orthodox Theology is that it often makes distinctions in theology (unnoticed in the west) that are philosophical in nature. So it is hard, sometimes, to feel that the Orthodox are truly apophatic in the way they describe God. They have so much to say about God. Of course, I realize that Protestants often have difficulty in understanding “negative theology” without making it something absurd.
Anyway, you asked about my background. I majored in Ancient Languages for undergrad at an evangelical college and Classical Studies for my masters. I have interest in philosophy and epistemology, but most of my reading these days is in theology, church history, canon studies, and ancient Greek and Latin texts (mostly classical and biblical).
My typically Protestant problem, however, probably stems from the fact that the Orthodox Church seems to claim truths about the faith that seem unlikely to have been in the mind of the Biblical writers, and this seems to be one of them. But, if I came to the conclusion that the Orthodox Church was the one true church I would have no problem accepting these philosophical distinctions of the faith.
My real issue, it seems, has to do with the fact that I am as yet unclear that the Orthodox Church has more legitimate claim to be the one true church than the Roman Catholic Church.
Your explanation of your background is enlightening and helps me to understand the motive behind your questions. Thank you!
I think what sets Orthodoxy from the West is the role of the Liturgy in our knowledge of God. My impression is that the philosophical understanding of God is much more prominent or dominant in the internal culture of Western Christianity and that the mystical encounter with God is not as prominent in Western worship. In Orthodoxy the mystical (apophatic) encounter with God seems to stand out more. Oftentimes after a long hard day of doing theological research for this blog I will visit a nearby Orthodox Church and upon entering the sanctuary I feel like I’ve entered into a sacred space of divine Mystery. So for me “negative theology” is not so much something to read about as something to be experienced through exposure to Orthodox worship.
God bless you on your journey to Orthodoxy.
Thank you, Robert.
It sounds like aphophatic or negative theology is not so much about saying that we cannot know God, but that knowing God is about experience that cannot be encompassed by words. Cataphatic theology would claim (according to Orthodox perception) to explain God fully. Aphophatic theology claims to make statements about God that are a) not exhaustive and b) more of boundaries for understanding God rather than definitions of God. Am I right in my read of this?
Also interesting is the way my Catholic colleagues experience God. While Catholic theology is often characterized by the Orthodox as scholastic, one of my colleagues describes worship purely in terms of the Mass. Moreover, Thomas Aquinas after writing his Summa had an encounter with God that made, according to him, all his writings nothing in comparison. The Catholics have their mystical saints, too. Besides which, in Catholic theology, our actions, our life, our obedience is as important as right belief. Could you expand on how the Orthodox understanding of life and theology differs from the Catholic in this regard?
I like the story you mentioned about Thomas Aquinas’ end of life mystical experience. It’s one of those little nuggets that church history majors like me enjoy.
Regarding your request that I expand on the differences in the way Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism understand life and theology, I would have to say I’m not qualified. You would need to talk to someone who is familiar with both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, as a former Protestant I am much more familiar with Calvinism and Evangelicalism.
But let me mention two modern theologians you might find interesting. One is the Orthodox bishop John Zizioulas who wrote: Being In Communion. The other is the late Roman Catholic theologian Catherine Mowry LaCugna who wrote: God For Us. I find these two books stimulating for my understanding of the Trinity and theology as an intellectual discipline. I suspect you might too.
If you already agree with us in regards to the doctrine of Salvation then it would be more natural for you to come this way than Rome. Back when I had to choose which way to go, I chose EO over Rome because I already believed in one of the Eastern Christian interpretations of the Trinity. I knew I would get ulcers if I went to Rome, for I would have to defend an Eastern Trinitarian interpretation in a place that really didn’t accept it. Plus I was sick and tired of fighting all the time. I needed a place to rest my head and partake of the mysteries. I needed a place that would fight the battle for me. And so EO was a more natural fit. Both EO and Rome can make the same claim because there was never a time in which both didn’t make the claim.
One of the things you will find out about us and Our development, is that our development is not isolated from the rest of the Tradition. Saint Gregory Palamas was building upon the Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Maximus, as well as a number of others when it comes to the Essence vs Energies distinction. It’s not like this concept just fell from the sky from out of nowhere. Also, Judaism has it’s own tradition of an Essence vs Energies distinction.
In regards to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, you will find the view that the Godhead is united or One in two different ways.
1.) One in Essence in regards to Nature
2.) One in Communion as Persons
Saint Cyril feels that Jesus is One with the Father by Nature in both #’s 1 and 2
However, he feels that we can only be One with God by way of adoption / Grace by way of # 2 only. That is, by being in communion with the Glorified humanity of Christ.
And so even Saint Cyril of Alexandria believed in an Essence vs Energies distinction. It was just more primitive / less developed.
Other primitive forms can be seen here (from CCEL):
“He can neither be seen—He is brighter than light; nor can be grasped—He is purer than touch; nor estimated; He is greater than all perceptions; infinite, immense, and how great is known to Himself alone. But our heart is too limited to understand Him, and therefore we are then worthily estimating Him when we say that He is beyond estimation. I will speak out in what manner I feel. He who thinks that he knows the magnitude of God, is diminishing it; he who desires not to lessen it, knows it not.” Minucius Felix around 200 A.D.
“But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten there is no name given. For by whatever name He be called, He has as His elder the person who gives Him the name. But these words Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions.” Justin Martyr around 160 A.D.
” Having refuted, then, as well as we could, every notion which might suggest that we were to think of God as in any degree corporeal, we go on to say that, according to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured. For whatever be the knowledge which we are able to obtain of God, either by perception or reflection, we must of necessity believe that He is by many degrees far better than what we perceive Him to be.” – Origen
The idea that God is only fully known by Himself is not new. And so the Essence vs Energies distinction is a development from within the Tradition itself (something internal from within the actual tradition itself). It didn’t fall from the sky from nowhere. It’s our way of explaining two basic truths, the Transcendence and Immanence of God. Or God Ad Intra vs God Ad Extra.
Thank you, JNorm.
It seems that my understanding of the difference between essence and energies is not all that different, then. It seems to me that most Protestants and Catholics would agree with the statements you quoted from the fathers. That we cannot know him fully (because we are creatures and he is creator) seems to be a truism.
Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t Palamas have to clarify the meaning of the energies of God because his opponent was claiming that our experience was not actually God? So while I believe Westerners would suggest that his distinction between essence and energies widens the gap between us and God, he was, in fact, trying to argue the opposite – that our experience of God actually is God and not some created light.
I would love clarified, then, how the Orthodox can speak of the Trinity as God-ad-intra (essence) and not only of the Trinity as God-ad-extra (energies). That is, how does the distinction between essence and energies not turn into an agnosticism about whether or not the Trinity is merely economic or also immanent. If we cannot know God as God knows God, how can we be sure that, say, modalism is not true.
Prometheus, with regard to your second paragraph, I believe you got it. My understanding is that following some of Augustine’s speculative thought, Barlaam was arguing that when we experience God’s grace, we are not actually experiencing God Himself (even in His divine energies), but a secondary created effect He gives; therefore, “grace” and all the gifts of God, the Holy Spirit, here are conceived of as commodities separate from God Himself. As you note, Palamas was arguing opposite this.
On a personal note from my Evangelical background experience, I suspect there is a connection between this philosophical divide between East and West and my former Protestant Evangelical definition of God’s “grace” as His “undeserved favor.” Rather, the reality is that salvation and grace are not “divine favor” in terms of a legal pass out of hell (a sort of spiritual “commodity?”), but rather a real life-giving spiritual union with and participation in Christ (ever increasing as my heart is purified to let in more of His Light/Presence).
Thank you, Karen,
It seems to me at this point that grace is not limited to one definition. I was talking to my students the other day about grace as a) God’s favorable disposition towards us – uncreated (?), since this has always been his disposition towards us from eternity, b) God’s give to us (and if the gift is himself, then it is uncreated, and c) the Holy Spirit, God’s greatest gift to us. I fully agree with you that it is not some spiritual commodity. To see it as such we might try to describe eternal life apart from God (who is life) or salvation apart from being saved, or repentance apart from repenting, faith without trusting.
With regard to Palamas and Barlaam, what you say resonates. The Catholic notion of justification in terms of impartation seems off. I believe that it is better than imputation in one sense, that is, that when we are justified we are actually made just, not just “declared just.” Luther’s “simul iustus et peccator” is something I’ve been critical a long time. But to say that being justified means we have some sort of intrinsic justice imparted to us also seems foreign to the Biblical message. It seems, rather, that the reason we have justice is because The Lord is our Justice (adonay tsidkenu, as the Jews would say). This mystical union with Christ seems to describe it much better than the forensic debates in the Western church. Lutherans historically have believed that we maintain our salvation by fiduciary faith (conviction that we are saved, apart from obedience). Catholics believe that we maintain our salvation as long as we do not commit mortal sin (i.e. loose the grace of justification). How would you say the Orthodox would view justification, salvation, and assurance of being in Christ?
Prometheus, your last question is really well above my “pay grade,” but I’ll try. Better to get the full scoop from an Orthodox Priest, though. (In that regard, I find Fr. Stephen Freeman’s site a veritable treasure trove of Orthodox theology in language everyday Christians raised in the western Christian traditions can begin to get a grasp of. Go here to read him: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/)
Salvation, in both its aspects of justification and sanctification, as you have noted in Orthodoxy is a real ongoing ontological transformation and participation in Christ. Justification, it seems to me, refers to the reorientation of our life, heart and will toward Christ and His will; sanctification is the transforming effect of Christ’s indwelling on our body and soul (and both are dynamic and progressive processes). Assurance also is a dynamic process directly related to the real depth of my experiential union with Christ.
What’s wrong with the idea of being simultaneously an agnostic as well as a Theist? When it comes to the Godhead Ad Intra I am an Agnostic, but when it comes to the Godhead Ad Extra I am a Theist. You asked how do we know Modalism isn’t true. We know because of Ad Extra! Ad Intra is unknowable.
I suppose what I am saying is, how do we know that what we see of the trinity Ad Extra has anything to do with God Ad Intra? How do we know it is not really a charade? (Unless by Ad Extra we mean that it is God’s revelation of himself through his activity (energies), and since he is always true, it accurately reflects him as he is (essence))
Also, if deification/theosis is true, does that not imply that we participate in God by grace in a similar way to how the Word participates in humanity? He united deity with humanity so that in him we humans might be united to his deity. While we may not be able to circumscribe or describe his deity, we are to participate in it, are we not? Is this the apophatic way? Or is the apophatic way to deny all knowledge of God, even by experience?
I have no problem with being an agnostic where we cannot have knowledge. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of the impassable divide (at least for creatures) between energies and essence.
Also, Paul says somewhere “who has known the mind of a man except his spirit” and “who has known the mind of God [except the Spirit of God]” “but we have the mind of Christ.” So there seems to be a sense that we actually come into a mystical understanding of God as he is(?).
Finally, there is a passage that I’ve seen much quoted by the Orthodox that “no one has seen the father except the son [and the spirit]” but they neglect the conclusion to the verse “and those to whom the son chooses to reveal the father.” The Orthodox I’ve read have used it to show that we can never see God, but John seems to be using it for the opposite purpose – to show that if we are in the Son, we will see the father. However, I am aware of the scripture that says, “no one has seen God ever.”
It is very interesting to read all of these stories of people who have made the change and are in the process of making it.
My fascination with Orthodoxy began five years ago, and in the last two years I have been increasingly drawn to the Orthodox Church in a personal way, to the extent that I think I would likely have converted by now if it were not for family concerns. My husband is very much opposed to the idea of me converting, although he has been tolerant of my exploring and occasional attendance at Liturgy.
Recently he told me that he objected to the idea of a church that made participation in the sacraments and other rituals and traditions conditional for acceptance as a Christian, rather than profession of a simple faith in Christ. I asked him why he would (theoretically) object to participating in the sacraments, and he said that really wasn’t the point. It seems the main trouble is that he perceives the Church as exclusive and rejecting.
I found myself at a loss for a good response to this. We are not theologians, just ordinary evangelicals. I’ve been drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church largely because of all the peace I’ve felt there, in contrast to my experience in fundamentalist Protestant Christianity, which has included a lot of spiritual chaos and oppression. Stability and serenity seem good. Although I’ve read a number of books recommended by “my” priest and other Orthodox friends, my basic motivation is not much more complex than that.
I have talked with the local priest about all of this at length and he has counseled continuing to pray, wait, and seek. He says if God is leading me to convert than that will become clear, and that if it’s “just a phase” as I’ve feared, it will pass. I’m hoping for one or the other. This in between place is a bit tiresome.
Meanwhile, I’m really enjoying your blog! Thanks as always for the thoughtful and gracious post.
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!
And thank you for sharing your story. I know of other people who struggle with being in an in-between place. It’s not easy but it can also be an opportunity for spiritual growth. Keep talking with your priest and trust the Holy Spirit to guide you.
As far as the Orthodox Church being exclusive and rejecting, I would say that people are welcome to join the Orthodox Church, but not on their terms but on her terms. That is how we have kept the Faith for two thousand years. If your husband wants to hold on to certain beliefs and reject others that he doesn’t care for, he is defining the church according to his own standards. I can’t define the Orthodox Church according to my terms, it is defined by Apostolic Tradition. You might want to point out that we don’t force people to join the Church. Orthodoxy is welcoming like a hospital. You have to be want to follow the diagnosis of the medical team (the priests) and adhere to the healing regimen of prayers, fasting, Scripture reading, and the Eucharist. But we are going to reject heresy and immoral behavior because not to do so is irresponsible and endangers the wellbeing of others in the hospital. Hope this helps.
Prometheus wrote (correctly):
***I suppose what I am saying is, how do we know that what we see of the trinity Ad Extra has anything to do with God Ad Intra? How do we know it is not really a charade?***
That is a legitimate concern voiced by McCormack and others. It gets even worse when we factor in the following propositions, all affirmed by Palamas (a-c, but not d):
a. God is hyperousia (beyond being/essence)
b. Essence and energies are distinct.
c. God’s simplicity is an energy
~c. Simplicity applies to the essence.
d. God’s energies is his essence!
To put it in layman’s terms: If God is beyond being–including essence, persons, and energies–then how can you know him? How can God be both beyond-being and not beyond-being, for he has to be the latter if you are to know him?
Unfortunately, this doesn’t follow. If simplicity is true of both energy and essence this doesn’t make them identical anymore than say the hair on my arm is brown and the hair on my head is brown makes my arm and head identical. Simplicity by Palamas is to pick out a form of unity. the energies are united and the essence is united. That doesn’t make the essence identical to the energies, especially when Palamas specifically denies as much.
The supposed problem you pose is not difficult. No one thinks the energies are beyond being, that is because energia is being, be-ing is a verb. The persons that are huperousia reveal themselves through their actions. How can you reveal your character through your actions and still not be exhausted by them? The principle is the same here. Besides, you pose a question when you need an argument.
Why wouldn’t the incarnation clear this up. It seems Philip agonized about the same things y’all are pondering…saying:
“Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us. Jesus said to him, “Have I been wit you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?”
It seems y’all are determined to tie yourselves into gnostic-knots wanting to “see” the essence of the Father. Why is the incarnate Christ not enough? Are not Icons forbidden to portray the Father?
In a related vein, would not a real belief/resting in DT. 29:29 bring comfort. Do we not believe that “the secret thing” really do “belong to God”…not us? While those things that are revealed (incarnate Christ) are “for us and our children….”?
did Palamas really intend his essence & energies distinction to lead to this?
in His tender mercies,
David, thanks for that verse–I was thinking of that, too. I have heard it explained within Orthodoxy exactly as you suggest. We can indeed see God, the Son/Word, as He became a human being (and ever will remain so), but we will never “see” the Father in any other way. This communion with the Son, however, is quite sufficient to bring us into full communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit as well, because all three Persons of the Trinity, by definition, indwell One Another (John 17:20-23).
I’m not sure that you all (David and Karen) are understanding my question. I am not asking to “see the father.” I am asking whether and if and how one can know that God IS Trinity. Or when we are distinguishing between ousia and energeia does ousia mean the unity of the God (obviously undivided) while energia refers to the persons of the trinity (three). In addition, do we experience the activity of God in all his persons (the energeia of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) or just of some of them? If we experience the energia of God in all three persons, does this mean that God is actually three persons in his inner being or just externally? Orthodox also speak of the Father as being the source of the Trinity. Is this what they mean when they speak of his essence as opposed to his energies? And when we say that the Son is begotten of the Father, are we speaking of only energies or essence? Ditto with the procession of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus says, that in seeing him we have seen the father, are we actually seeing the divine or just the human? And if only the human, in what sense are we actually achieving theosis? From what I gather, the energeia, being uncreated, are God. So if we experience Jesus in his divine energeia and through that know the Father in his energeia, I think I might understand.
David, your suggestion that I not try to look into the hidden things of God is the exact same response that Calvinists give regarding the hidden decrees of God. “Do your own job, focus on what is revealed” is the standard reply. Well, in both cases I would say a) apparently it has been revealed that either there is a divine decree who will be saved (in the case of Calvinists) or that God has essence and energies (in the case of Orthodoxy), but b) that doesn’t make either claim correct. It seems to me that the result of you using the command not to inquire into the hidden things of God to avoid explaining your position. I am pretty sure I know what the Calvinist position is (regarding hidden decrees). I am not sure I understand what the Orthodox mean with regard to the distinction between essence and energies. Does one reveal the other or are they totally separate? And in addition, if they are totally separate, is the comparison with Father and Son a good one (i.e. is the father essence and the son energy?)? Or is the issue of essence and energy totally separate from the question of the relations in the Trinity.
Also, your response seems to address those already convinced of Orthodoxy. “Is it not forbidden to show God in Icons?” is a question for the Orthodox. For the Catholics and many Protestants the answer is, “no it is not forbidden.” In this forum, explanation, defense, and argument would be more helpful to someone like me. [But, according to my understanding, it is not forbidden to depict all the persons of the Trinity (even apart from the Old Testament Trinity icon) except officially in Russia. See the Wikipedia Article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Trinity_Icon. So if that is meant as a rhetorical question, I’m not sure of the answer.]
Thanks for clarifying the technical nature of your question (which not being an academic in theology or philosophy, I cannot answer on that level). In what sense do you want/need to “know” God is Trinity? I can tell you that in the Orthodox Liturgy, there are some Feasts related to Gospel events in which a significant aspect the Church asks us to notice is that they reveal the Holy Trinity. We just celebrated one of those Feasts–that of Theophany–where we commemorate Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. One of the major hymns goes as follows:
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest,
For the Voice of the Father bore witness to Thee
Calling Thee His beloved Son.
And the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His words.
O Christ our God Thou has revealed Thyself and enlightened the world. Glory to Thee!
The Feast of Pentecost also represents in the Church the culmination of the revelation of the Trinity.
Perhaps others more conversant with the philosophical arguments, East and West, can help with your questions on that level.
Concerning whether when you regard Christ you see His divine or only His human nature, I think the Orthodox answer would be that you see both. What you see is His Person (Gk. “hypostasis”= the unique individual person), and both natures, according to Orthodox theology, are fully resident in His Person. You can observe His Divine Nature because it is fully incarnate in human form. Whether you can comprehend that, is a whole other question, however! 🙂
Like Karen I don’t think I would be able to answer the question on your level. That’s why I haven’t join this particular conversation.
I do not need to know that he is Trinity through liturgical or Biblical proofs. I am already convinced that God is Trinity. My difficulty was to see how essence and energies relate and if the God we experience in his activity is the same as God in his being. I believe that Jnorm is addressing these questions pretty well . . . but when I start to think I understand what is being said sometimes I lose grasp of what is being said. It may take me some time to digest and think. Probably I should spend some time reading Palamas and Cyril, and some well-known Orthodox writers on the issue. 🙂
God bless you in your efforts to come to terms with all the technical language that has been used to try to explain how we may experientially know and commune with, and yet can never comprehend the Godhead. I’m glad folks like JNorm have interacted with some of the source material and can help you with some of your exploration. May your efforts, with the help of God’s grace, bear abundant good fruit!
Prometheus, JNorm, and Karen,
Just wanted to let you know that I’m pleased with the positive tone of the discussion. I think an open and receptive attitude on our part will allow the Holy Spirit to bring us closer to Christ.
Energeia does not refer to the Persons. Energy is the activity of an essence and the Trinity all share identical essence, will, and energy, though their Persons are different.
The Persons are not external to God because God is Trinity, not just essence. The Persons are not the manifestation of his essence (Sabellianism), that is what his natural energies are but his energies are manifested by each Person in various ways. The Father begets the person of the Son and the person of the Spirit proceeds from him, and he confers on them his essence which he alone has without cause but is identical among them. Any interaction with the Trinity is with the natural energies as they come through the divine Persons. No one sees the Father but the divine person of the Son is seen because his is incarnate. We don’t see the essence or two of the Persons but that does not mean they are to be equated, rather the distinction between Person and Nature will solve most theological problems.
Jesus says the Father himself loves us so the energies come to us through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not just through the incarnate Son. Sometimes, saints see the energies of God as uncreated light, but not his essence. Theosis is by energies not essence. Person is not nature so the Father is not essence and the Son is not energy, as you questioned. Essence and energy both pertain to nature which is identical in the 3. Father, Son and Spirit are Persons and are not identical to each other or the essence. The energies manifest the essence like the suns rays. The rays are not the essence but the activity of that essence and the rays differ from the essence and from each other (heat, light, radiation etc). This rules out Absolute Divine Simplicity. That’s a bit choppy, sorry.
Your explanation seems far more like what I had thought before I started this inquiry. What confused me was what one of the commenters said that made it sound like we know God is Trinity in his energies but we have no idea what he is in his essence. I believe, though, that there has been some sort of category mistake. Essence is what it means to be the uncreated God. Energies are the activity of the uncreated God (but are uncreated and therefore God himself – the hardest part to get one’s mind around). Am I right so far?
You mentioned Sabellianism, and that is exactly what concerned me about what seemed to be communicated at one point by one of the comments – that what God is we do not know, even whether he is Trinity in his internal relations.
It seems that what his essence is, then, is unknowable, but that God is Trinity and the relations of the Trinity and how the father IS or participates in essence in an uncaused way (i.e. unbegotten), the son IS by begetting, the Spirit IS by procession. But the ISness of God is different than the ISness of man because God is uncreated (so while the Son is begotten he is not made, etc.). The ISness of man is a created “being.” Therefore it cannot know the “being” of God or participate in it. Otherwise we would become God (i.e. pantheism). How am I doing so far?
But we can know God as he truly his through his energies/activity (though by activity we do not mean something external to God, but God himself as he relates to us). So when we say that we experience God, we actually are encountering God, not some created intermediary (much like the Arians(?) understood the role of Jesus).
I’m going to risk going on, since the thoughts are in my mind. What would you say the energies are? Are they only the activity of God to us or also the way the persons of the Trinity relate to one another?
BTW, thank you for ruling out absolute divine simplicity. That is what I was afraid of being the implication of some of the other comments above.
God has energy as part of his nature from eternity. Even if he never created, he is complete with
natural will and energy which are shared by 3 Persons. The relations of the Trinity are mind boggling to think about.
The Trinity relates Personally in a communion of love. Interestingly, Jesus prayer for unity in John 17
asks the Father that the church may be one as they are one. We are not one with God by essence but
one in an undivided communion of persons, just like the Trinity. I often say to my Protestant friends that
this is precisely the type of unity they do not have and why schism is so serious. This is also why 1 Cor 10
says our unity is eucharistic because we partake of that one bread, a personal communion.
You said “Essence is what it means to be the uncreated God.” I think I know what you are meaning but
it may be more proper to say the Father is the uncreated God, though the Son and Spirit are also uncreated
but they come from Him who is unbegotten. I believe in one God…..the Father.
The essence is not the source of the Persons, the Father is the source of the Son and Spirit and gives
them his essence.
Glad to see the info and good spirit of this discussion below, and sorry I wasn’t much help. Looks like Norm/Canadian far more competent to address your issues. I have to admit thinking God poured me out of my So-Bapt/Navigator swimming hole 30+ yrs ago into a Reformed Lk Superior…in which I’ve delighted to swim for 30+ yrs. The past 2.5 yrs I’ve more than once thought God has poured me out of the Reformed Lk Superior…into the Orthodox Pacific! Which means about the time I think I’ve grasped the energies & essence distinctions…I’m lost again in deep & unfamiliar waters (out of my depth)! So be it. Lord have mercy on me. Thanks again to JNorm & Canadian for their help. Good stuff.
This was written/reply right after the 30 Jan Prometheus reply to me above…How it got stuck way down here is a cyber-mystery to me!
Great water analogy.
More often than not, I give myself and others a cataphatic stomach ache by my own words, like above where
I said “God has energy as a PART of his nature.” His nature has no parts, but how the heck am I supposed
to describe that!? We say the will is a faculty of nature not a part, so what I am trying to say is energies pertain to nature and not Person. Perhaps that is a better way to speak of the unspeakable.
Thank you David.
***while energia refers to the persons of the trinity (three). ***
Take it one step further: how can we even speak of energies, since all three persons share one nature, which has one faculty of operation (energy). At best we can say essence and energy (singular)
“If the divine energies do not differ from one another, then God’s creative power is not distinct from His foreknowledge. But in that case, since God began to create at a particular moment, He also began to foreknow at a particular moment. Yet if God did not have foreknowledge of all things before the ages how could He be God? If God’s creative energy does not differ in any respect from divine foreknowledge, then created things are concurrent with God’s foreknowledge. Thus because God unoriginately has foreknowledge and what is foreknown is unoriginately foreknown, it follows that God creates unoriginiately, and therefore that created things will have been created unoriginately. But how shall He be God if His creatures are in no way subsequent to Him? If God’s creative energy in no respect differs from His foreknowledge, then the act of creating is not subject to His will, since His foreknowledge is not so subject. In that case God will create, not by an act of volition, but simply because it is His nature to create. But how will he be God if He creates without volition?”
St Gregory Palamas Chapter 83: “Topics of Natural and Theological Science” in The Philokalia Vol 4.
The above quote not only affirms differing energies but notice the energies St. Gregory discusses. The Reformed affirm that God only foreknows precisely what he causes to occur. For Calvinists, His foreknowlege IS his determined creative act. Yet a proper distingishing between the manifold energies of God makes this unnecessary and untenable. God can foreknow without causation.
Excellent. Sounds like God does not have absolute simplicity, yet he is absolutely one.
Question. It seems to follow from that excerpt from the Philokalia, that God’s creative energies could not be God himself if they are not eternal. How then can creation not be eternal? Is the answer that his creative energies are only creative in potential rather than actuality? Are they, so to speak, his ability to create?
I didn’t ask whether God had creative energies. I asked whether, given what we all believe about Chalcedonian Christology, how we can speak of a plurality of “energies” in the Godhead since the divine nature, strictly speaking, has one energy. To argue, pace Farell, that the Logoi = Basil’s operations = Palamite energies = energy in the Chalcedonian formula is to beg multiple questions (though to be fair, Farrell has backed off this claim).
*** It seems to follow from that excerpt from the Philokalia, that God’s creative energies could not be God himself if they are not eternal. How then can creation not be eternal? ***
You’ve hit the nail on the head. The energies though pertain to the economia on this view (E/e) and so one wonders, if there were no creation would God’s nature be the same? On the Eastern view, no. On said view, in order for God to have the nature he does he must create. Thus creation is a necessity of nature. This is the exact Neoplatonism that the East claims to reject with Filiqoue.
Here is St. Gregory Palamas, Triads p.96.
“….while all the energies of God are uncreated, not all are without beginning. Indeed, beginning and end must be ascribed, if not to the creative power itself, then at least to its activity, that is to say, to it’s energy as directed towards created things. Moses shows this when he said God rested from all the works which He had begun to do.”
So his creative energy is subject to his free volition. His natural creative power does not make the act of creation eternal or necessary, otherwise we are also pre-existant and necessary for God to be God. Here we see the different energies manifesting God as he pleases and not of necessity.
If God is redeemer and creator by natural necessity and not free volition, all men must be redeemed just as they all are created.
Creation and redemption don’t change God’s nature, they manifest the free activity of his nature.
Whatever Farrell has backed off from is irrelevant, particularly since he rejects any form of Christianity. What would be relevant would be an argument for doing so, but none is offered.
If the energies in Basil and company are not substantially the same as what palamas has in mind, then we are owed an explanation of what the Cappadocians meant. Let me know when you have an account at hand that does that actual work showing how the two are different conceptually.
If you think such an identification “begs multiple questions” which questions does it beg? How is the fallacy of question begging being committed here as you claim?
There is no “strictly speaking” with respect to the one energy of God. And that is because the authors who speak of there being one energy speak of it in a non-strict sense, namely that there is only one power and one united activity. This doesn’t pick out some reductionistic gloss where all plurality is merley apparent.
As to creation, we can think about it in two ways. First, Palamas says some energies have a begining and some do not. The ones relative to creation then would be the only ones that would have a begining. This would only imply a change in God if we took the energies to be substantial constituents, but Palamas explicitly denies that they are such, that is, they are neither accidents nor substances. Furthermore, we could think of it in terms of the logos of human nature, which while an eternal activity in its own right is only instantiated at a certain point. So while the prototype is eternal, its instances are not. It isn’t that hard to read Palamas and other figures this way and so get around problems generated by unchariatble and polemical readings.
I suppose what I am saying is, how do we know that what we see of the trinity Ad Extra has anything to do with God Ad Intra?
Let’s look at the Truism you stated previously:
“”That we cannot know him fully (because we are creatures and he is creator) seems to be a truism.””
If this is really true then the created can’t know the uncreated fully. This also would imply that there is something about the uncreated that the created can’t know at all.
“He is greater than all perceptions; infinite, immense, and how great is known to Himself alone…..” Minucius Felix around 200 A.D.
If what Minucius Felix said is true, then there is something about God that only God knows.
“He is incomprehensible and unspeakable. He is fully known to no one other than Himself.” Lactantius
If what Lactantius said is true, then there is something about God that only God knows.
Now let’s go back to your question; however, I’m going to add something to it so that I can answer your question more clearly.
“”I suppose what I am saying is, how do we know that what we see of the trinity Ad Extra(The Trinity as seen by the created) has anything to do with God Ad Intra?(The Trinity as seen by itself…..the uncreated)””
Why should the Godhead’s dealings with Creation be exactly the same as it’s dealings with Itself? If the uncreated can’t really be compared to the created then why should the Ad Intra(not dealing with the created) have anything to do with what we see in the Ad Extra(dealing with the created)?
How do we know it is not really a charade?
Because His Energies are Truly Him too! Just Him in relation to the created. But since the uncreated can’t really be compared to the created, His relation with the Uncreated has no comparison in creation. It’s indescribable!
And so how he deals with us (created) is one thing. For we have things in creation to partially describe what’s going on…..and only partially. For God allows us to make use of words that have meaning within creation. We don’t have any of that when it comes to God’s relations internally outside of the realm of creation. There are no words to describe any of it. For it is the uncreated dealing with the uncreated. All the words we have is within the realm of creation. I don’t know if this makes sense or not, but our bubble is creation. Our understanding is trapped within this bubble. God’s understanding is not.
” (Unless by Ad Extra we mean that it is God’s revelation of himself through his activity (energies), and since he is always true, it accurately reflects him as he is (essence))”
But God is both Essence and Energies. And so He truly “is” both.
His activity towards the created can’t really be compared to what things are like outside the bubble. For there is nothing within the bubble that could describe the uncreated’s dealing with itself. We are created, the Trinity is not.
I’ll deal with the rest of your post later. I have to run at the moment.
JNorm, thanks for responding. I am looking forward to what you have to say next. By the way, the way you described the difference seems obvious. Would anyone from the West disagree, if this is all that is really meant? Also, it sounds, then, that Trinity is a description of God in his essence as well as his energies . . . but I cannot tell. I’m sure you have seen my reply to David. Feel free to add thoughts on that in your next response. 🙂
Also, if deification/theosis is true, does that not imply that we participate in God by grace in a similar way to how the Word participates in humanity?
I’m going to quote a reformed scholar of Saint Cyril if you don’t mind.
In regards to adoption and Sonship in Saint Cyril of Alexandria by way of inter-communion (perichoresis)
from page 100 – 101 “Grace and Christology in the Early Church by the protestant Reformed scholar Donald Fairbairn (I didn’t include the greek for I don’t know how to do the accents on my greek font)
“One should note the precision with which Cyril explains the dynamics of salvation. As he emphasizes repeatedly elsewhere, there are two modes of sonship, natural () and by grace(). But here Cyril indicates that humanity has sonship in both these ways, although he must make a subtle distinction between Christ’s humanity and ours in order to argue this. Only Christ’s humanity becomes a son of God naturally, because his humanity is the Logos’ own, and the Logos is the natural Son of God. But through Christ and in the Spirit, each Christian gains sonship by participation and Grace. Cyril explains this bold assertion by describing the way the Logos makes his humanity his own (the part of the passage that I discussed in sect. 3.5.2).
God the Logos gives himself(primarily his ……with the Father) to the concrete humanity that he makes his own at the incarnation, thereby bringing that humanity into natural sonship with God within the Logos’ own person. But that humanity also represents our humanity (Christ is ‘firstborn among many brothers as man’), and so what happens naturally in Christ takes place by grace through Christ in the life of each Christian.
This passage also helps to fortify my case for understanding sonship primarily as (I don’t know how to do the accents with the greek font and so I’m skipping it), the communion that the Son naturally has with the Father.If Sonship were largely a matter of status, then there would be little need to make the distinction that Cyril makes here between natural and adopted sonship; an adopted son usually has the same legal status as a natural one. On the other hand, if sonship were primarily a matter of consubstantiality with God the Father, then it would be unthinkable to say that even Christ’s humanity has divine sonship naturally. In order for passages such as this one to be comprehensible, Cyril must mean by sonship something more than mere status but less than the possession of God’s very substance.”
(How I interpret what Donald Fairbairn is saying in the quote above)
The Father and Son are one in two ways:
1.) One in Essence and Nature
2.) One in Communion as Persons or perichoresis
And so, the way I understand Donald Fairbairn is that Jesus is naturally a Son in both #1 and #2
Whereas we will only be sons by Grace by way of #2 only (our actual communion with the Son, another form of perichoresis if you will)
Thus the humanity of Christ is a Divinized / Glorified humanity through participation in the Uncreated Energies that are naturally radiant from the Eternal Word.
We are able to participate in God’s Energies, but not His Essence (which is also present, just totally transcended). We are able to do so by being in communion with the Eternal Word Incarnate.
His Divinized/Glorified humanity is what allows our humanity to eventually become Divinized/Glorified. Thus, He came down to raise us up!
I’ll have to answer your other questions at a later time. Your questions are extremely tough and it’s taken alot out of me……in reviewing, thinking….etc.
Thank you for your thoughtful replies. I think I am beginning to understand. I think that it also seems to fit with some of what I already think. Probably the biggest difficulty is the terminology. Still, I am really grateful that you have been willing to engage these issues.
In #2 you said that the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (perichoresis) is what we enter into through participation in Christ’s divinized humanity (as I understand you). Is this perichoresis of persons the same as or different than the energies? If no, then how does it relate to energies. If yes, is sounds like it is the relationship of the persons of the Trinity to one another (uncreated relations) and seems to contradict your previous comments that energies are how he relates to created beings. Could you clarify?
Here’s a thought: if the term “Trinity” is a description of God’s essence,then God’s essence has a three-ness to it, which is problematic.
Canadian has described things fairly well above.
In addition, I think I get what is being communicated. Essence, is not the same as persons. What the father is, the son is by begetting, the spirit is by procession. So the ousia doesn’t sound like it has three-ness after all. The members of the Trinity all have the same being/essence, but are different persons.
There are some books to buy, as well as some podcasts to listen to, for I’m only going to repeat what’s in the books and podcasts anyway.
I realize I could read books and listen to podcasts . . . but there is nothing like interacting with a real person! Plus, I personally learn better by interaction . . . so as long as you are willing to interact, I am grateful – not that I won’t go and read Palamas and Cyril and others. I realize how important that is.
If God is redeemer and creator by natural necessity and not free volition, all men must be redeemed just as they all are created.
Creation and redemption don’t change God’s nature, they manifest the free activity of his nature.***
But do the energies flow from God’s nature (which, pace Chalcedon, you have to answer yes, and even then you can speak of only one energy, since there is only one energy in the Godhead)? Is God’s nature “natural” and “necessary?” It’s hard to avoid the conclusion, yes.
But that isn’t even the heart of my objection. If the energies fall under the category of economia, which can only relate to the created world, and the energies manifest “God” to us (which I can agree with), and if God didn’t create the world, there would be no energies, which means God would be different.
Speaking of one energy is, I think, for distinction between essence and power of operation in the Godhead. Palamas in the Philokalia emphasises the single and unified energy of the 3 hypostases, yet immediately after discusses at length the differing energies that come forth from all 3 in unity. Just as the Councils say there is one human energy in Christ and in us (for distinction from our essence), but it is clear that we do not actually have a singular and simple human operation but our energies are also multiple. Palamas in the Triads quotes St. Basil “Is it not ridiculous to say the creative power is an essence….that providence is an essence, and foreknowledge, simply taking every energy as essence?”
God’s energies do not only relate to creation. The mutual communion of the persons experience love, immortality, invisibility, goodness, wisdom and each of these do not constitute the essence itself, otherwise there are many essences. God’s creative and redemptive energies have a beginning in time but are subject to his free volition. So no, God always has energy and energies as well as an unchanging essence.
Lossky in his Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church discusses the fact of God’s energy without need of creation pages 74-75.
Quoting Philaret of Moscow he writes “His glory [an energy] is the revelation, the manifestation, the reflection, the garment of His inner perfection. God reveals Himself to Himself from all eternity by the eternal generation of His Son, and by the eternal procession of His consubstantial Spirit; and thus the unity within the Holy Trinity shines forth imperishable and unchangeable in its essential glory…..In this glory, uniquely proper to Himself, God dwells in perfect felicity above all glory, without having need of any witness”
I know Lossky says that. My question was that is he warranted in saying that?
Further, and I didn’t make this clear last time, but do you guys posit a distinction between essence and nature, with the energies relating to the latter? I ask that because I know you say the essence is hyperousia, and so the only way you could legitimately speak of anything of God is by positing a realm on “this side of being.”
***yet immediately after discusses at length the differing energies that come forth from all 3 in unity***
And my question is whether that is coherent.
***St. Basil “Is it not ridiculous to say the creative power is an essence….that providence is an essence, and foreknowledge, simply taking every energy as essence?” ***
He’s referencing letter 234. The problem, as most modern interpreters of Basil admit, is that Basil comes very close to positing a divorce in the knowledge of God–which brings us back to Prometheus’ original questions.
Thanks for your contribution. I wish you would elaborate more, but what I think you are getting at is the question of whether cataphatic and apophatic theology address distinctions in the “nature”of God. Could not cataphatic theology refer to what is revealed and able to be described by human beings and apophatic refer to the fact that as creatures we cannot circumscribe God in either our words or our understanding. [Besides the fact that while the Orthodox spend so much time talking about the apophatic in apologetics, they spend a whole lot of time making cataphatic statements about God. Orthodox apologists, in my opinion, overemphasize the apophatic (unless, again, I am misunderstanding the meanings of these terms – as Robert has said somewhere, a Protestant-Orthodox glossary would be great!)]
The westerner in me would like to say that we do truly experience God through his Holy Spirit because of the Incarnation without saying that somehow this means God is ultimately unapproachable. The dichotomy between essence and energies does seem too stark (a divorce as you say, if I understand you correctly).
Also, again from a western perspective, while I believe that God dwells in light unapproachable (to mortals at least), I believe that our mortal bodies will be clothed in immortality. Until encountering Orthodoxy, I suspected that that meant that our new immortality would allow us to “see God.” Of course, there is no New Testament, much less Old Testament, passage which shows God, even in visions. All we see is the glory of God, so I must admit that the distinction between our seeing God the son and God the father exists . . . though we do see the father in seeing the son. I just am still uncomfortable with a) the essence vs. energies distinction and b) the sense that using such terminology is required for Orthodoxy. It appears that there could be other ways of talking about the distinction between what we can know and what without using the terms essence and energies.
I am with you on the question of “hyper-being.” I always thought that “ousia” was the term for essence, which roughly translates as “being.” But you are right that the Orthodox sources often talk about “hyper-being.” It starts sounding speculative rather than Biblical. Perhaps it is not the ideas but the terminology which is difficult (once again). For me, God is the only being, in the fullest sense. Created being is necessarily different because it is derived. So I would define God as “being.” But perhaps (?) the Orthodox define created orders as “being” and therefore God has to be termed “hyper-being.” But if “ousia” is hyper-being, what is “energeia?” Is it not still God. If so, then is it not other than creation? And, again, then is it not other than the “ousia” that is in creation? Confusing.
The Greek/Latin terminology itself is still quite difficult to grasp for another reason. “ousia” or essence looks like being, or reality. “energeia” or energies/activity looks like an effect or act of God. It is hard to see these words and not think a) essence is God as he is and b) energies are what God does, i.e. created effects. What the Orthodox seem to be saying (please correct me if I’m wrong) is that a) essence is God as he is and knows himself and b) energies is God as he is and relates both among the persons of the Trinity and to his creation.
It is hard as a westerner not to think that the easterners have unduly complicated things through their terminology and then speak of westerners as a) heretics (sorry to use such a strong word) for not using their proper but misleading (again, sorry) terminology and b) that these same westerners are the ones being overly philosophical in their theology!
This is to all you Orthodox. It feels to me that the Orthodox are often too hard on westerners for not following the complexities of their theology, when they seem to be unable to translate Greek language into English. 🙂 This may because these doctrines are too complex for even the Orthodox to explain (?). But I’m hoping that an attempt to do so will allow for true dialogue and communication to take place. It is hard for me not to feel as though some of the impasses are not just an Orthodox unwillingness to say, “yes, that what you have said is basically what we mean by essence and energies” or “here is what we really mean – in plain language.” The insistence on Orthodox terminology based on Greek and Latin without the ability(?) to translate them into another language seems a little esoteric.
Right now I’m scratching my head wondering where I called for a Protestant-Orthodox glossary. I can’t see myself having said that because in my blog postings I pointed out numerous times the different paradigms Protestants and Orthodox use for talking about God, reality, Christ, and theology. My understanding is that Western Christianity has been profoundly shaped by medieval Scholasticism and that this has made it difficult for Western and Eastern Christians to communicate as evidenced by difficulties encountered at the failed conference of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1445). Behind the terminological differences lay quite different theological methodologies. I suppose that a glossary of sorts is possible. I think it would help clarify the paradigmatic differences, but I don’t think it would lead to a common theological vocabulary for Protestants and Orthodox which I think is what you are hoping for.
Perhaps Outlaw could write up a detailed analysis of the issues you are concerned with and post it on his blog site. 🙂
Thanks! I appreciate your quick response. Please see my response to Prometheus.
Nature is generally a cover all term for essence and energy though it can vary depending on the author.
You question whether Lossky’s account is coherent, but questions don’t dmeonstrate anything. If you think it isn’t produce a demonstration that it isn’t. if you aren’t clear about some part of the explanation that you worry implies some kind of incoherence, then bring it forward for discussion.
When you say that most commentators on Basil think that this implies some kind of divorce about knowledge of the divine, what do you mean by this and what commentators count as “most?”
Thanks for joining the conversation! Your insights are appreciated.
The idea that the energies “flow” from the divine essence would only be contrary to Chalcedon if we take “flow” as some kind of natural necessity. But I see no reason to read various Orthodox writers that way. And “flow” is a rather ambiguous term. So until you present an actual argument to demonstrate that one is committed to the idea that the energies are some kind of anhypostatic activity, there is no reason on the table to agree with your assertions.
There is one energy in the sense that they are united. It is important to remember that unity can be said in many ways. Unity here shouldn’t be taken in some strict sense.
You may find it difficult to avoid a certain conclusion, but that biographical information isn’t a reason to think it is difficult to avoid. If God is huperousia, then as Athanasius says he is beyond necessity. So necessity isn’t even applicable in terms of categories to God. God’s nature is neither necessary nor contingent, but eternal.
Why think that all of the energies are related to the economia? Who says that? How could there be an energetic procesison of the Spirit through the Son if all the energies were economical? This looks like shadow boxing.
And just for amusement, sine you agree with some form of the doctrine of the energies, which Reformed confession per chance teaches it and the attending doctrine of simplicity to go with it I wonder?
Sorry if I misquoted you. I thought I read somewhere on this blog that someone suggested an Orthodox-Protestant glossary, and that you had agreed that might be a good idea.
Benjamin Cutler found my 12 December 2012 reply to Paula. So you were right in your earlier comment. I found in the back of Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes a short glossary of theological terms. As I looked over Letham’s glossary I became aware of certain limitations. One, he does not note where Protestantism and Orthodoxy have the same understanding, where they differ, and why they differ. Two, no sources are provided which is especially needed when dealing with two quite different theological traditions.
But in light of the complex discussion we’ve been having here on the Palamite controversy why don’t you or someone compile a short theological glossary for that particular controversy? That might help advance Protestant-Orthodox dialogue. If you do make one, please let me know.
I would love to compile a glossary. However, I’m not sure I sufficiently understand the Orthodox position to give an accurate definition of terms. 🙂
I’m glad you’re open to the idea. I suggest you find a knowledgeable Orthodox Christian to partner with. That would make for an awesome research project!
BTW, have you read David Bradshaw’s Aristotle East and West? You might find it helpful.
Bradley Nassif, a major Orthodox thinker, endorsed the dictionary of Greek and Latin Theological Terms compiled by the Reformed scholar Richard Muller.
Interesting work, but its subtitle is “drawn principally from protestant scholastic theology.” I was not able to find “energies” when I searched the book at Amazon.
Yes, and Nassif has made some rather lame claims, like that the Orthodox teach Sola Fide too. He didn’t even seem to know what the doctrine was. While Muller is a good scholar, Nassif doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about at times.
It would be good to read a scholar discuss some of these issues, so Robert’s recommendation of David Bradshaw is prudent. You might want to check it out considering our friend Outlaw Covenanter himself gave it the highest recommendation and a glowing review affirming the eastern position.
Thank you. I will check it out.
I think you would need to look under the term “operations” or “energein.” Bradshaw makes the claim that operations = energies. I am not so sure that’s right but it’s close enough for our purposes.
If you hae the money Bradshaw is worth it.
I’ve explained to some of this forum in private venues about time limitations (no more than fifteen minutes a day can I be on the computer for various reasons). I have no problem here conceding the rhetorical debate to Perry. He is way smarter than I am. He is in the same league with Paul Manata, and if I can’t compete with Manata, then I can’t compete with Perry (with all due respect).
The deal is, not only do few people have the ability to debate Perry, I suspect that even fewer have the ability to follow such discussions. By contrast, I think my own formulations are simpler and easier to follow.
I’m happy letting him have the last word. I will cheerfully link to his replies on my blog and let the fifteen readers a day who read my blog judge for themselves.
Touche Outlaw! 🙂 Of course most of us are just trying to talk & understand each other…not so much debate/argue. But then…with this post you just stoked Perry’s zeal and attention to become an even better, simpler, easier to follow writer/speaker — & we ALL thank you & raise a toast to that! 🙂 Lord have mercy on us all.
We all have our time limitations to be sure. But for some strange reason you’ve seemingly had sufficient time to post these and other arguments both here and elsewhere cobbled together from Drake for the better part of a year. And somehow these seemingly unanswerable problems get answered in about ten minutes.
The debate isn’t rhetorical unless the only thing you were offering in the first place was rhetoric.
Whether my statements are more difficult to follow and yours easier says nothing either way to their standing with repect to logic or their truth. And I am not the standard. There are people far more capable and intelligent than myself who do work in Late Antiquity and philosophical theology.
I have no doubt that you’ll happily post them on your blog so others who are banned from this and just about every other forum of any theological stripe can misconstrue them and heep all kinds of foul words upon them. Tht says nothing about me though or what I’ve written.
I expected more like a direct engagement with the replies to your unanswerable problems than a concession and backhanded compliments.
I post all the stuff I do within said fifteen minutes. I type very rapidly and I usually remember most of what I read/process.
You want a direct engagement? You won’t get it in the next three months, at the very earliest. I wish I could bend time but I can’t.
I say it like that because to interact with you I would have to a) dissect everything you say to make your I am engaging what you are conveying, b) bring my copies of Galwitz, Bradshaw, Bulgakov, etc out of storage units and go over old notes, etc. If you want I can give you one liner responses, but that would leave all sides unsatisfied.
Outlaw Covenanter and Perry,
May I suggest you guys take your discussion some place else? The conversation has going far away from the original blog posting. Outlaw, why don’t you write an article and post it on your blog site and invite Perry to respond there?
Sorry to derail, but this post has over 100 comments. Derails happen even with the best of intentions. But I will do as you say.
Don’t worry about it. I was more concerned about the increasingly contentious tone between you and Perry. But please develop your thoughts about energy and essence on your site. I’m sure others will be interested.
I guess this is as good a place as any to ask the question:
1. If one were to write a monograph about EOdoxy from a Reformed Protestant perspective, and knowing that one of the requirements is to review the current literature on the topic, what is the “best” literature from an EO standpoint? I’ve read about 10,000 double-columned, small font pages of the church fathers, as well as the leading interpreters of them.
2. Is Franky Schaeffer considered a fair representative? I know a lot of EO like him, but most in the Evangelical world see him as clinically insane. I don’t mind critiquing his works, but I fear that some would (understandably) see it as shooting fish in a barrel. That and I don’t even think he is a theist anymore.
1. Probably the best contemporary Orthodox presentation would be Kallistos (Timothy) Ware’s The Orthodox Church. For most Evangelicals I would recommend the late Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox. While Ware’s book is a ‘classic,’ many people find it over their heads. Gillquist’s book is more accessible amd offers a balanced perspective like that in Ware’s book.
2. I would not consider Frank Schaeffer a fair representative of contemporary Orthodoxy.
Thanks. I’ve read through Ware’s book twice. McGuckin’s book on Orthodoxy is a lot better, but is academic and its price is prohibitive for all but university libraries.
I will look into Gillquist’s book.
Jacob, I would second Robert’s perspective on both points.
To add another suggestion to Robert’s, a book I found helpful, and one I’ve not heard many others mention (though the EO priest who received me into the Orthodox Church said it was a good and reliable resource), is a book called Common Ground: Eastern Christianity for the American Christian by Jordan Bajis and published by Light & Life Publishing. (Forgive me, Robert, I think I did throw this information out there already on another thread.) It’s good for giving the big picture and situating EOrthodoxy vis-a-vis the highlights of philosophical and theological developments in the West. It sounds like you have done a lot of detailed reading, Jacob. My experience is that it can sometimes be very easy to get lost in the details, so perhaps a big picture approach (with lots of footnotes for further study if you want it) would give comparative frameworks to hang all that detail on. As a graduate from a Christian college, but not philosophically or seminary trained, I found the book highly accessible.
One caveat to my comment above is I should admit I was a bit disappointed with Becoming Orthodox, both as a memoir and also in terms of providing the kind of theological and historical details I was looking for as I was trying to understand the appeal of Orthodox Christianity to Evangelicals. Common Ground was a more satisfying read for me, particularly on the latter point (it is a completely different genre than Becoming Orthodox–not a memoir). As a “journey to Orthodoxy from Protestantism” memoir, Matthew Gallatin’s Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells was also informative (and challenging). He wasn’t Reformed, though, so it might not provide the kind of perspective you’d find most relevant. Fr. Josiah Trenham, an Orthodox priest and podcaster on AFR, was formerly a Reformed Christian, so he might be a better resource on that count. I don’t believe he has published any books, however. Here is one of his sermons:
I think Jordan Bajlis’ Common Ground is a fine book and would fit what Jacob is looking for. The main thing here is not the scholarly apparatus but how well the author presents Orthodoxy in content and tone.
I am familiar with Gallitin. I have listened to all of his podcasts. I’ll probably get his book. I respect Josiah Trenham and have actually communicated with him via email.
I’ll look at Common Ground
The Orthodox Christianity series by Met. Hilarion Alfeyev would be one of the best, although not all of it has been completed and translated from the Russian.
SVS Press has parts 1 and 2 available here: http://www.svspress.com/orthodox-christianity/
I have another question (and it seems as good a place as any to ask),
“What is Orthodox Christianity’s take on the Law of God as it relates to the life of the believer?” The Reformed–and to a much less extent Lutheranism–have the 3 Uses of the Law. Is there anything analogous in EO?
“One reason why converting to Orthodoxy is so unsettling lies in the fact one must reject the notion of soul competency which accompanies sola scriptura and submit to the Church’s teaching authority.”
But I am troubled even when I sit back and try to evaluate Orthodoxy. I am beginning to feel that judging Orthodoxy the way I chose a tradition within the Western Church is wrong. It’s like I have to reject the notion of soul competency to even contemplate Orthodoxy, because soul competency is itself a prideful assertion. So even the tools to evaluate a Christian tradition are prideful. As I stand before the Bosporus I am left with nothing.
I wouldn’t say that the idea of soul competency is all wrong but I would say that it can only get you so far. I learned a lot from reading the Bible in my Evangelical days and I value that. Also, God has given us a capacity to reason by which we can study the issue and come to a conclusion on the matter. I think another way to put it is that I was criticizing the notion of individualized soul competency. We are to read Scripture together as a community guided by the Holy Spirit which leads us to the Church.
Soul competency is not necessarily prideful; I sincerely followed soul competency as an Evangelical but I was also open to learning from others. Soul competency becomes prideful and dangerous when one has the arrogant attitude of knowing better than others about what the Bible means. Even among Evangelicals reading the Bible apart from Christian fellowship and church membership is discouraged.
As for your image of standing on the edge of the Bosphorus with nothing, I would say that’s not exactly true. Before I crossed the Bosphorus I already had with me the rich heritage of American Evangelicalism, New England Congregationalism, and the Reformed tradition. I’m sure that you too have a valuable spiritual and theological heritage from your time as a Protestant. When I crossed the Bosphorus I united myself with a Church whose ancient lineage included the early Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils. Orthodoxy is not a repudiation of Evangelicalism but rather its fulfillment.
Don’t give up hope! Give thanks to God for the way God has blessed you as a Protestant and consider whether there is a greater blessing on the other side of the Bosphorus.
Thanks Robert. I’ll try to separate the bathwater from the baby.
So, some months later, I get in a fuller sense what you were saying. But I think that the idea of crossing the Bosphorus is perhaps overly dramatic and may not be an entirely helpful metaphor. We need to remember that the Orthodox faith was at one time not confined to the East, where it has been faithfully kept, but that it was also once upon a time the faith in the West. All of the Celtic saints, for instance, are Orthodox Christians. The Venerable Bede is venerable both east and west.
Orthodoxy is quite simply Christianity stripped of scholasticism and the Blessed Augustine’s thoughts about original sin. It is simple, despite the complexity of its unending and multi-sensorial worship.
I never understood the Incarnation before. I never understood the Trinity before. I had been living in the ontological flatlands, now I can see the mountains.
So you will excuse me for not waiting seven years as you did to embrace the Orthodox faith. I may not have seven years on this earth, and we all approach things in our own way.
Good point! I thought the title “Crossing the Bosphorus” would serve as a catchy way of describing the process of becoming Orthodox but in hindsight it does oversimplify how one can become Orthodox.
My patron saint is Irenaeus of Lyons. He was born in Asia Minor in the eastern end of the Roman Empire and studied under Polycarp. He then migrated to the western end of the Roman Empire to Gaul (modern day France). It was his observation that one could go from one end of the Roman world to the other end and find Christians everywhere confessing the same faith that drew me to Orthodoxy. For me Irenaeus embodies the catholicity of the Christian Faith. His life embraces both the east and the west in Jesus Christ.
I guess I’ll need to do a followup article on Orthodoxy’s ethnic and geographic diversity. Thank you!
Alan, I agree that relegating Orthodoxy to a specific geography sometimes reinforces wrong thinking in the west about what Orthodoxy is. Although I would add that Orthodoxy is not “stripped” of the things you point out, but rather was saved from those accretions.
Reading this blog has filled my heart with great happiness. Welcome to you all! If I can give a small suggestion, it is not to get buried in details, or the things you don’t quite understand; just go to the holy liturgy and join the host of angels there. Oh, they are there and how. And just sing along in your heart with them. Sing along!
Please tell me where was the apostolic succession at Corinth? It seems that there was no priest (pastor/elder) yet among the Corinthians (see chapter 1 no mention or greeting of elders or deacons as well as 14:27-32 which seems indicate more of a “any man ministry” until a ministry of a priest was put in place via ordination/apostolic succession) at all. Yet, the Corinthians celebrated the Eucharist, partook of the mysteries and was therefore a legitimate sacrament of communion. We are not talking 2nd century either; it doesn’t get more ancient then 1st century Corinth! We are talking 1st century here. Please explain?
1 Corinthians is considered to be among the earliest of the New Testament writings. It gives us a peek into the very early Church. There’s a lot we don’t know about how the early Church functioned. Also, we should be careful about expecting the early Church to be like the Church of today. From 1 Corinthians we know that the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist. They did so based upon a tradition received from the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23). I would be careful about concluding from silence that there was an “any man ministry” in those days. It may be instead that the host of the house where the Eucharistic celebration was held was the one who presided over the sacred meal. Christianity in the very early days was quite fluid. This was offset by the living presence of the Apostles like Paul and apostolic delegates like Timothy and Titus who helped maintain proper order. After the original Apostles died, the Church became more hierarchical and formalized in leadership. In the same way faith in Christ became more structured and formalized with the formalization of the biblical canon, a formalized liturgy, and a creed that all baptismal candidates were expected to have memorized by heart. A common mistake among Protestants, especially the restorationists, is the assumption that the earlier, the better. Another similar belief that is that the New Testament period is to be the norm. This denies the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church into the fullness of truth (John 16:13). As an Orthodox Christian I believe that just as the Holy Spirit guided the early Church in the formation of the New Testament canon, so also He guided the Church in the development of the episcopacy (the office of the bishops and priests). The institution of the church leadership is not man-made but Holy Spirit inspired.
I found this post very encouraging, as I am finding myself drifting gradually away from the Lutheran Church (of which I am a member) toward the Eastern Orthodox Church.
One of the things you wrote in this post caught my eye. You wrote, “When I reached the conclusion sola fide was based on a misreading of Scripture and was never taught by the early church fathers, I realized that my days as a Protestant were over.”
Could you elaborate on that, or point me to another blog post of yours that does so? The issue of justification is probably the chief reservation I have.
I’m glad you found the article helpful and encouraging. With respect to sola fide, please see my response in “Orthodox Christians on Penal Substitutionary Atonement.” Please let me know if you need further information.