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Tag: 1054

Review: GCTS Prof. Ryan Reeves’ lecture: “Great Schism (1054)”


Prof. Ryan Reeves

On several occasions, I have read comments by Calvinists and Evangelicals who expressed anger and disappointment on not being taught about the early Church and Orthodoxy while in seminary. I was fortunate that I had more than a little exposure to the early Church and the Church Fathers at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. So I was intrigued when a reader brought to my attention Gordon-Conwell professor Ryan Reeveslecture on the Great Schism of 1054.


Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – South Hamilton MA

As one who once identified with the Reformed tradition then later converted to Orthodoxy, I wondered how balanced the presentation would be. My intent in this article is not so much to criticize as to provide positive feedback so that Prof. Reeves could give his students a more balanced approach (at least from my perspective) to the Great Schism of 1054. It would be as if I had returned to Gordon-Conwell for a one-day visit and dropped in on this particular topic which is of great interest to Christians concerned with church history and church unity.



It is tragic that the 1054 Schism is so often ignored, or at best, given brief mention in most Protestant and Evangelical circles. It serves as evidence that in the Protestant perspective, church history is not viewed as the Holy Spirit working in the Church—at least in the sense of a continuing Pentecost. This presupposition adds up to a secularization of the Church on earth. To say the least, it inculcates a very different mindset toward Church history and the presence of the kingdom of God on earth.



Three Factors

Prof. Reeves identified three factors leading up to the 1054 Schism: (1) political, (2) theological, and (3) the “bozos factor.”

Political Factor – The Two Romes

Prof. Reeves commendably debunks the stereotype of the Patriarch of Constantinople as the pope of the East. This stereotype is contrary to the East’s principle of conciliarity or as Reeves puts it aptly: “collaborative unity.” Reeves notes that the Second Ecumenical Council—the Council of Constantinople (381)—established five principle ecclesial seats or patriarchates (12:42; chart at 13:00). The understanding was that these church leaders would supposedly be first among equals. The East’s “collaborative unity” is quite different from the West’s centralized approach to unity that would mark the later papacy. Reeves sees as the “kernel of the fight” the issue of authority, more specifically the role of the Pope—the bishop of Rome in relation to the other Patriarchs (12:42; see chart at 15:45). It would have been good if Prof. Reeves had noted how the episcopacy was foundational to the polity the early Church and how so much of present day Evangelical churches follow a radically different polity.

The roots of the East-West Schism can be seen in the rivalry between the Old Rome and the New Rome aka Constantinople. Once the center of the Roman world, Rome went into decline and in 410 was sacked by Alaric the Visigothic king–an event that shocked and horrified the whole Roman world. With the decline of Old Rome a power vacuum emerged that would be filled by the bishop of Rome, i.e., the papacy. The political gravity shifted to Gaul with the emergence of Charlemagne. In his attempt to restore the Roman Empire in the West and to consolidate his rule in that sphere, Charlemagne referred to the leaders in the East as “Greeks.” This marked the West’s attempt to withstand Constantinople’s asserting its role as the successor to Old Rome.

Charlemagne’s semantic shift in the term “Greek” was designed to make people conscious of a growing divide in the Roman world. It highlighted the fact that there were two major languages—Latin and Greek–in the Roman Empire. This linguistic difference did not matter so long as there were bilingual theologians and rulers. However as the linguistic divide grew, prominent theologians, e.g., Augustine of Hippo, would be unable to read Greek and so had limited exposure to the thinking of the Greek Fathers. This difference in language would contribute to theological differences between the Latin West and the Greek East


Theological Factor – The Filioque Clause

One of the most prominent theological issues that led to the 1054 Schism was the Filioque—the unilateral insertion of the phrase “and the Son” into the Nicene Cred. What may seem to be an arcane point of theology for Evangelicals and Protestants today is very pertinent for Orthodox Christians. The Filioque marks the parting of ways between Orthodoxy and Christians of the West: Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Prof. Reeves notes that in the West Arianism was spreading among the Gothic tribes. This gave rise to concerns that the Nicene Creed could be misunderstood to teach that the Son and the Spirit were created, not eternal (19:42). The phrase “and the Son” (Filioque) was inserted into the Creed around the sixth century (20:51) to combat the Arian heresy. Reeves explained that by affirming that the Son was of equal standing with the Father with respect to the procession of the Holy Spirit the divinity of the Son could be maintained (21:27).

Underlying the insertion of the Filioque clause was the issue of authority, more specifically, the Pope’s doctrinal authority. Prof. Reeves points out that the West—the Pope–was saying: “We’re going to change the Creed—add to it in order to clarify the theology of the Creed in the midst of our context.” (22:10-16) When the East began to notice the West’s unilateral revision of the Nicene Creed they objected vociferously (22:25). For them, it was only in the context of a council of bishops (plural) that the Creed could be modified (22:32). Reeves goes on to note that the West’s response was that the papacy had decreed this and therefore it is good theology (22:45). Here I was very surprised. I had never heard of such a papal decree or of such a claim being made. It would be good if Prof. Reeves could provide us with the supporting reference for this.

It would have been good if Prof. Reeves had noted that early on there were Popes—Leo III (795-816)—who had objected to the insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed and that it was not until 1014—at the coronation of Henry II as Holy Roman Emperor—that the Filioque was inserted into the Creed at a papal Mass. In other words, there was a time when the popes held views similar to the East on the Filioque. Since this was a church history lecture, Prof. Reeves should have mentioned that the Filioque clause was first inserted into the Nicene Creed at the Council of Toledo in 589 at the prompting of King Recared who had just converted from Arianism and embraced Nicene Orthodoxy. The revision of Nicene Creed in 589 was done by a minor regional council. This contrasts with the Nicene Creed which was formulated by the numerous bishops at two Ecumenical Councils: Nicea I (325) and Constantinople I (381).


Bozos Factor

In 1053, Western cardinal of Silva Candida, Humbert, received a letter from an Eastern bishop, Leo of Ochrid, who condemned the West for the Filioque clause and for their practice of using unleavened bread for the Mass (27:28). Humbert then makes a trip to Constantinople to present his objections to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. Reeves describes the 1054 event as “two egomaniacs throwing temper tantrums at each other” (28:10). Granted that both parties behaved deplorably and inexcusably, however, Prof. Reeves’ colorful characterization of what he calls the “bozo factor” is unfortunate. While caricature can be entertaining and memorable, it is similar to ad hominem attacks.


The Final Blow — Sack of Constantinople (1204) Source

Closing Thoughts

The 1054 Schism was more a paradigmatic event than the actual breaking point. What happened that day—Saturday, 16 July 1054–highlighted the differences between the East and West, burning them into the collective memory. Towards the end of his half-hour lecture Prof. Reeves drastically compresses the unfolding of the Schism—apparently he is rushing to windup his lecture. He notes that the participants in the 1054 incident did not view it as a momentous act that would sunder the West from the East. He mentions the Fourth Crusade (30:10)—a far more disruptive event for West-East relations. One could say that the pillage of Constantinople by the western Crusaders in 1204 was the straw that broke the camel’s back estranging the East from the West. What happened in 1204 was more a political act than a theological one. Kallistos (Timothy) Ware wrote concerning the aftermath of 1204:

The long-standing doctrinal disagreements were now reinforced on the Greek side by an intense national hatred, by a feeling of resentment and indignation against western aggression and sacrilege. After 1204 there can be no doubt that Christian east and Christ west were divided into two. (The Orthodox Church p. 60).

Prof. Reeves might also have touched on the influence of Augustine of Hippo’s teaching on the double procession of the Holy Spirit as the reason why so much of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism hold on so tenaciously to the Filioque clause. However, Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity does not represent the patristic consensus. His understanding differs from that of the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen, who stressed the monarchy (monos = sole + arche = source) of the Father, that the Son being eternally begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeding eternally from the Person of the Father. In other words, the understanding of the Trinity found in Augustine and the Filioque clause represent a minority viewpoint in the early Church.

Any good church history professor worth his salt will seek to relate the past to the present. The importance of the Nicene Creed—more accurately the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed—is that if was the Creed for all Christians—East and West. For the students at Gordon-Conwell the question must be posed: Why is it that so many present-day Protestants and Evangelicals do not say the Nicene Creed in their Sunday worship when it was the standard practice back then? And for the Protestants and Evangelicals who do recite the Nicene Creed the question must be posed: Why do they use the version with the Filioque clause? I often tease my Anglican friends for using the papal version of the Nicene Creed. But I am mystified by the reluctance of so many Anglicans to relinquish the Filioque clause and return to the original version of the Nicene Creed.  The return to the universally recognized Creed of the early Church would mark a significant step towards church unity. This tenacious adherence to the Filioque shows how much the 1054 Schism continues to influence relations among Christians today.

In closing, I appreciate Prof. Ryan Reeves presenting the complexity of the 1054 Schism. The only major disagreement I have with his lecture is his characterization of Cardinal of Silva Candida, Humbert, and Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, as “bozos.” I have three suggestions for his 1054 Schism lecture: (1) placing greater stress on 1054 as a paradigmatic event, not as the moment of actual schism, (2) showing how the events of 1054 affect twenty-first century Christians, and (3) using the 1054 Schism to help Gordon-Conwell students become aware of how far present-day Evangelicalism and Protestantism have parted ways with early Christianity.

Robert Arakaki



Athanasios Philippides. “The Days of the Schism of 1054.”
Orthodox Church in America. “The Great Schism.”
Steven Runciman. The Eastern Schism.
Timothy (Kallistos) Ware. The Orthodox Church.



Is Orthodoxy Eastern?


image-03-smallA reader recently commented on the article “Crossing the Bosphorus.”

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.

I coined the phrase “crossing the Bosphorus” (becoming Orthodox) in imitation of the more widely known “crossing the Tiber” (becoming Roman Catholic).  I like the phrase partly because the image of Hagia Sophia (the Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople has long captured the imagination of many, drawing them to Orthodoxy.

But the underlying point of the comment contains an important truth – Orthodoxy cannot and must not be confined to a particular city, region, or ethnicity.  Orthodoxy is catholic.  The word “catholic” comes from the Greek καθολου for “all together” or “general.”  In the early creeds the term “catholic church” was used to describe the Church’s universality as opposed to the individual local congregation.  Later the term “catholic church” came to denote the true Church as opposed to the various heretical or schismatic off shoots.  (See JND Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrine p. 190)

The Church’s catholicity is grounded in the Great Commission when Christ sent the Apostles into all the world to disciple nations and to baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).  The late Metropolitan Philip on the occasion of the receiving the 2,000 Evangelicals into Orthodoxy declared in his homily:

And he commissioned the disciples.  He said to them: Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . .  Not only Greeks.  Not only Antiochians.  Not only Russians.  Or Serbians or Romanians.  Go and make disciples of all nations.  Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.   (0:54-1:24)

So in light of the Church’s catholicity “crossing the Bosphorus” captures only a small part of Orthodoxy’s universality.  “Crossing the Bosphorus” (the Patriarchate of Constantinople) can be substituted with “crossing the Orontes” (the Antiochian Patriarchate), with “crossing the Dnieper” (Kiev, the ancient capital of Slavic Orthodoxy) or with “crossing the Moskva” (the Patriarchate of Moscow).

Protestant inquirers into Orthodoxy can easily get distracted by the variety of ethnic representations. This is especially so in the US where various ethnic branches of Orthodoxy are zealous to preserve their own particular heritage — the small “t” traditions.  It is critical for Protestant inquirers to realize Orthodoxy IS the Christian faith in the best “universal” or catholic sense. Centuries before Rome broke away in 1054 there was a great unity amidst all the diversity. The faith Tradition passed down by the Apostles was believed from Britain, France, Russia, Syria, Africa, Greece and Italy. Do not let the ethnic trees cause you to miss the beauty and unity of the Forest!



The term “crossing” can have more than one meaning.  In one sense it can refer to people converting to Orthodoxy.  In another sense it can refer to Orthodox missionaries going to lands where Orthodoxy is non-existent or barely known.  In the 1700s Orthodox missionaries – Saints Herman, Innocent, Jacob, and Juvenaly — traversed the vast Siberian tundra then crossed the Bering Strait to bring Orthodoxy to the native peoples of Alaska.

Saint John Maximovitch

Saint John Maximovitch

Another example of crossing is Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966).  In the 1930s and during World War II he served as bishop of Shanghai.  Then when the Communist took over China he was forced to flee.  He spent a short time in a refugee camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines.  Eventually, he became the bishop of San Francisco.  What is remarkable about Saint John Maximovitch’s ministry is how it spanned the vast Pacific Ocean, encompassing both Asia and America.  Another remarkable ministry by Saint John was his collecting the lives of the saints and his desire to make known the ”western” saints.  Thanks to him many of the pre-Schism Western saints became known to the Orthodox faithful.


Bishop John in Tubabao, Philippines

Bishop John in Tubabao, Philippines










One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

A useful rule of thumb is whoever was recognized as a saint prior to the Schism of 1054 regardless whether they lived in the western half of the Roman Empire or its eastern half is an Orthodox saint.  This is because they were part of the one Church.  Rome’s departure in 1054 was a great loss but the Church continued to be the one Church, not two churches or two halves.  We ought not let the more recent antagonisms with Roman Catholicism obscure the fact that at one time the Pope was an Orthodox patriarch and the Latin West was Orthodox.  As Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco said: “The West was Orthodox for a thousand years, and her venerable Liturgy is far older than any of her heresies.”  source

In Orthodoxy a saint is recognized as a saint through a designated feast day in the Church’s liturgical calendar, a troparion (hymn) in honor of the saint, and an icon of the saint.  When one is baptized or received into Orthodoxy the common practice is to take on the name a particular saint.  The patron saint becomes a model of Christian discipleship and one’s prayer partner.


Latin Fathers

Among the Latin Fathers are Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, and Jerome.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397) was the bishop who brought Augustine to Christ.  Augustine in his Confessions (6.4.6) recalls how Ambrose’s powerful sermons and his exegesis of the Old Testament brought a pagan skeptic to faith in Christ.  Ambrose persuaded Emperor Gratian to remove the statue of the pagan goddess Victory from the Senate halls.  He excommunicated Emperor Theodosius for his role in the massacre in Thessalonica, putting the emperor under discipline until he did public penance.  He also introduced antiphonal chanting into the Latin church.



It may come as a surprise to some that despite the many criticisms made of Augustine, especially in discussions about Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, he is recognized as a saint in the Orthodox Church.  Fr. George Papademetriou wrote “Saint Augustine in the Greek Orthodox Tradition” in which he explained how Augustine is a saint of the Church despite the numerous recent criticisms of his theology.  For example, while Augustine may have taught the double procession of the Holy Spirit in no way did he ever advocate changing the Nicene Creed.  Saint Photius pointed out that Augustine’s understanding of the Holy Spirit’s two fold procession was a minor position and that we are obliged to follow the consensus patrum (consensus of the Fathers).

Orthodox readers who question whether Augustine is recognized as a saint need to keep in mind that his feast day falls on June 15 of the liturgical calendar.  The dismissal hymn for that day goes:

O blessed Augustine, you have been proved to be a bright vessel of the divine Spirit and revealer of the city of God; you have also righteously served the Saviour as a wise hierarch who has received God. O righteous father, pray to Christ God that he may grant to us great mercy.   source

Interested readers can read John Stamps’ “When Tradition Fractures” for an insightful discussion of Orthodoxy’s fraught relations with Augustine of Hippo.

There is a need for Orthodox scholars fluent in Latin.  Orthodoxy needs multilingual theologians fluent in both Greek and Latin.  The patristic consensus cannot be confined to any one language or region.  For example, the Vincentian Canon is a Latin phrase: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (i.e. only “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”) is the catholic Faith of Christianity.  Saint Vincent lived in the town of Lerins (near modern day Marseilles, France).  Orthodox theology being grounded in the patristic consensus will be enriched as scholars, hierarchs, and laity read the Latin Fathers.  The same can also be said of the Orthodox understanding of the patristic consensus being enriched by Syriac Fathers like Saints Ephraim the Syrian and Isaac the Syrian Bishop of Nineveh.


Celtic and British Saints

Icon - St. Patrick

Icon – St. Patrick

In addition to Saint Patrick – Enlightener of Ireland, the Orthodox Church honors Brendan the Navigator, Venerable Bede, Saint Columba – Abbot of Iona.  For those of us who live in the English speaking world one of Orthodoxy’s hidden treasures lies in the numerous Celtic and British saints.  As I read through the list of names I was surprised to see so many familiar names that I never associated with Orthodoxy.



It is the practice in Orthodoxy that when one becomes Orthodox one takes on the name of a saint.  Many recent converts have taken on the names of “eastern” Orthodox saints being unaware of the “western” Orthodox saints.  Those presently inquiring into Orthodoxy or about to become Orthodox can reaffirm their western cultural roots by taking the name of a “western” Orthodox saint.


Icon - All Saints of the British Isles

Icon – All Saints of the British Isles   Source

Saint Alan (Eilan), Hermit of Cornwall (d. circa 7th century)

Saint Brigid of Kildare, Ireland (d. 523)

Saint Chad (Caedda), Missionary, Bishop of Lichfield and Mercia (c. 672)

Saint David of Wales, Archbishop of Mynyw (Menevia), confounder of Pelagians (d. 601)

Saint Donald of Scotland, Holy Confessor (d. circa 8th century)

Saint Dorothy (Ida, Ita), Hermitess in Limerick, Ireland (d. 570)

Saint Edward the Passion Bearer, King of England (d. 979)

Saint Edwin Martyr, King of Northrumbia (d. 633)

Saint Gerald, Abbot, Bishop of Mayo, Ireland (d. 731)

Saint Gwen (Teirbron) of Britain, evangelist of Brittany (d. 5th century)

Saint Gwen (Wenna) of Talgarth, Martyr, Evangelist of Cornwall (born circa 463)

Saint Herbert, Hermit of Derwentwater (d. 687)

Saint Kenneth (Cynedd), Hermit Confessor of Wales (d. circa 6th century)

Saint Kevin (Caoimhin), Abbot of Glendalough, Ireland (d. 618)

Saint Laurence, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 619)

Saint Mildred, Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet (d. 732)

Saint Richard, King of Wessex (d. 772)

Holy Virgin Martyr Winifred of Wales (circa 650)










Moses the Black

Moses the Black

African Saints

One of the more well known African saints is Moses the Black.  He lived a life according to the passions of the flesh until his conversion to Christ.  After his conversion he lived as a monastic and served as abbot of a monastery until his martyrdom by Berber pirates.

Also among the African saints is the pair: Irene and Sophia.  Little is known about them but the Church remembers them.  More well known is Mary of Egypt.  One Sunday during Lent is designated the Sunday of Mary of Egypt.  On that day the Orthodox Church remembers how God’ grace transformed a woman caught in the pleasures of the flesh into one of the greatest saints of all time.  Other well known African saints include Athanasius the Great, Saint Katherine, and Anthony the Great.




Child Honoring the Chinese Martyrs

Child Honoring the Chinese Martyrs

China and Japan

China has the honor of the Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion (1900).  The icon of the Chinese Martyrs show a large group comprised of adults and children.  Standing in the front is Father Mitrophan (Ji Chong or Tsi Chung) with his wife Tatiana and their three sons: Isaiah, Sergiy, and Ioann.  The oldest son was 23 years old at his death and the youngest 8 years old.

Another Asian saint is Saint Nicholas of Japan, Equal to the Apostles.  Born Ivan Kasatkin in 1836 in the province of Smolensk, he later studied in St. Petersburg.  He received his missionary calling in the form of a request from the Russian consulate in Japan for a priest who would minister to the spiritual needs of the Russian community there, the Japanese, and other foreigners stationed in Japan.  He translated the Bible and Liturgy into Japanese.  After more than 50 years of missionary labor he planted 266 Christian communities before he reposed in 1912.


Crossing the Bering Straits

Orthodoxy first came to the American continent from the west, that is, from Russia.  The early Orthodox missionaries “crossed the Bering Strait” in order to bring the Good News of Christ to the native peoples of Alaska.  The Alaskan saints comprised four missionaries (Saints Herman, Innocent, Juvenaly, and Jacob) and one native born martyr (Peter the Aleut).

Martyrdom of Saint Juvenaly and his native guide.

Saint Juvenaly was born in Nerchinsk, Siberia in 1761.  He worked as a mining engineer and was married.  After his wife died in 1791 he entered a monastery in St. Petersburg.  In 1794 Fr. Juvenaly and others had reached Kodiak.  The following year Father Juvenaly baptized some 700 Chugatchi then crossed the Kenai Bay.  In 1796 he and his native assistant were martyred by the Yup’ik.  He was the first Orthodox Christian to receive the crown of martyrdom and is remembered as “Protomartyr.”


Peter the Aleut

Peter the Aleut  source


Another Alaskan saint is Peter the Aleut.  He was born in Kodiak in the late 1700s.  While in his teens he accompanied Russian fur trappers to northern California.  In 1815, while hunting in his kayak south of San Francisco he was captured by Spanish soldiers.  He refused to be rebaptized insisting that he was already a Christian.  In their zeal to convert Peter the Roman Catholic priests cruelly dismembered his hands and feet.  Today he is known as the “Martyr of San Francisco.”



It may surprise some to learn that Orthodoxy has American saints.  In addition to Saint John of San Francisco, there is Saint Raphael of Brooklyn and Saint Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  Saint Tikhon before he became Patriarch of Moscow served in North America striving to build up the scattered Orthodox immigrant community into a strong self-sustaining church.  Saint Tikhon is known as ”Enlightener of America and Confessor of Moscow.”  In his last sermon in America he said:

The Light of Orthodoxy is not lit for a small circle of people…. It is our obligation to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light, and our joy with those who do not have these gifts. This duty lies not only on pastors and missionaries, but also on lay people, for the Church of Christ, in the wise comparison of St. Paul, is a body, and in the life of the body, every member takes part.  source


Is Orthodoxy Eastern?

In conclusion, Orthodoxy is more than eastern, it is a universal faith.  To say Orthodoxy is eastern is often a shorthand reference to Orthodoxy’s deep roots in Byzantine culture and its indebtedness to the Greek Fathers.  In that sense one can use the phrase “Eastern Orthodox.”  But to imply that Orthodoxy is restricted to a particular region or a particular culture is misleading and can lead to a distorted understanding of Orthodoxy.

So, “No, you don’t have to ‘cross the Bosphorus’ to become Orthodox.”  That’s one way.  Many have entered into Orthodoxy through Greek Orthodox parishes that are under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.  Another way is to “cross the Moskva” by converting to Orthodoxy through a ROCOR parish.  Or “cross the Orontes” through the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese.  This is what the two thousand Evangelicals did in 1987.

Unlike Roman Catholicism which has one spiritual center: Rome, Orthodoxy has many spiritual centers.  What unites us is the Apostolic Faith – “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”  Orthodoxy in the US has an opportunity to manifest the catholicity of Orthodoxy.  The challenge for many Orthodox parishes founded by immigrants is to go beyond their ethnic roots and embrace the larger Orthodox Tradition.  One small step can be the inclusion of icons of American, African, or Asian saints in the sanctuary.  Another small step can be children or adult class presentations on the lives of the saints.  The honoring of the saints on their feast days requires the blessing of the bishop.  The honoring of the North American saints is an important step towards a unified American Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Church in America honors the North American saints on the second Sunday after Pentecost.  The kontakion (hymn) for that day goes:

Today the choir of Saints who were pleasing to God in the lands of North America

Now stands before us in the Church and invisibly prays to God for us.

With them the angels glorify Him,

And all the saints of the Church of Christ keep festival with them;

And together they all pray for us to the Pre-Eternal God.



The Twelve Gates of New Jerusalem

A prophetic description of Orthodoxy’s catholicity can be found in Revelation 21:13. In that passage New Jerusalem is depicted as having twelve gates: three on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west.   Access to New Jerusalem from all four points of the compass points to the universality of the Gospel and Christ’s reign.  They also point to the catholicity of the Church as it welcomes peoples from all over the world into the kingdom of God.

Robert Arakaki


Why I Did Not Become Roman Catholic — A Sort of Response to Jason Stellman

Hagia Sophia – Church of Holy Wisdom

I recently read Jason Stellman’s explanation for why he decided to head towards Rome.  As I read through his “I Fought the Church, and the Church Won” I was struck by the absence of any mention of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  It is as if he had no awareness of the other major non-Protestant option – the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Rather than critique Stellman’s reasons for becoming Catholic, I will be describing a side story of my journey to Orthodoxy.  I did not default to Roman Catholicism simply because it was convenient, or because it was a readily accessible option, or because of the persuasive arguments presented by a brilliant convert to Catholicism. By God’s patience and gentle mercies, I slowly and carefully explored both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox possibilities. I took my time – 7 years — to really understand them both, before committing myself to the Orthodox Church.


Early Encounters with Catholicism

Early on as an Evangelical I found myself caught up in the controversy over the baptism in the Spirit and the charismatic gifts.  I was uncomfortable with the extremes of Pentecostalism, but found much of the Evangelical anti-charismatic arguments unconvincing.  But when I read the literature from the Catholic charismatic renewal I found there a spiritual balance and theological sophistication lacking among Protestants.

As a curious and voracious reader I read spiritual classics like John of the Cross’ Ascent on Mt. Carmel, Augustine’s Confession, and St. Francis’ Little Flowers.   As my interest in Catholicism grew I began to look into the official teachings of the church, e.g., Documents of the Vatican II edited by Walter Abbott and John Hardon S.J.’s The Catholic Catechism.  While I found the literature interesting, I also found them alien and exotic.  It was like looking over a high wall and looking into a strange house next door.  I continued to be happy to remain an Evangelical.

The 70s and 80s were a time when divisions between Protestantism and Catholicism began to soften.  I found myself subscribing to both Christianity Today, the leading magazine for Evangelicals, and New Covenant, the flagship magazine for the Catholic charismatic renewal.  In New Covenant I found articles about personal conversion to Christ, life in the Spirit, and faithfulness to the church.  I found much to admire in the newly elected Pope John Paul II.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading his encyclical Dives in Misericordia Dei (Rich in Mercy) which I thought could have been written by an Evangelical theologian.

The 80s was also a time when John Michael Talbot, a former Evangelical musician turned Franciscan friar, released several albums that spanned the musical worlds of Evangelicalism and Catholicism.  These included his Light Eternal, The Lord’s Supper, and Troubadour of the Lord.  The Lord’s Supper was the Catholic Mass set to contemporary folk music.  It highlighted the beauty and dignity of liturgical worship, something I rarely experienced as an Evangelical.  This was before the ancient-future worship movement emerged within Evangelical circles.

So why didn’t I become a Roman Catholic?  One reason was that I didn’t want to abandon friends in the Evangelical circles.  Another reason was my study of Mercersburg Theology which turned me into a Catholic and Reformed Evangelical.  I innocently and sincerely believed I could be rooted in the Reformed tradition while exploring the riches of the early Church and ancient liturgies.  With Mercersburg Theology I could enjoy the best of both worlds on my own terms.  This was a time of childlike innocence before I came to grips with the radical and costly discipleship taught by the early Church.


Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

When I came to Gordon-Conwell in the early 1990s, the theological and spiritual currents running through Protestant Evangelicalism were already shifting in subtle and surprising ways.  In my first week at seminary I was surprised to see an icon of Christ hanging on a student’s door in Main Dorm.  Later I met a fellow seminarian who converted to Catholicism while at Gordon-Conwell!  Gary and I met for coffee to discuss his conversion.  When I asked him for his reasons for the supremacy and infallibility of Pope I found his answers less than compelling.

While at Gordon-Conwell I was deeply involved in the Evangelical renewal movement in the United Church of Christ.  Soon after I arrived at seminary I was invited to a meeting of UCC pastors.  I remember standing with the pastors and being slightly bewildered by the dark mutterings about some guy named Scott Hahn, apparently he did something terrible like becoming a Roman Catholic.  I have never met Scott Hahn but I am deeply indebted to him.  Once when I was wrestling with the doctrine sola scriptura, the question popped into my head: Did the Bible ever teach sola scriptura?  I couldn’t come up with a convincing answer which led to the question: So how did the leading Evangelical theologians deal with this?  A few days later I bought a tape by Scott Hahn and got my answer; none of the leading Evangelical theologians have been able to answer this question!  [See my blog posting on the biblical basis for Holy Tradition.]


Catholicism in Liberal Berkeley

UC Berkeley

After Gordon-Conwell, I headed to Berkeley to do doctoral studies in history of religions at the Graduate Theological Union.

I came to Berkeley a post-Evangelical open to change.  By then I had become weary of the fluidity and superficiality in Evangelical theology. During my first year, I found myself drawn to the rich liturgical tradition of Roman Catholicism.  This attraction to Roman Catholicism held my attention for a short while until I was providentially introduced to Eastern Orthodoxy.



Taize style worship

Taize style worship

In my first year, the candlelight Mass at the Newman Center was my regular place of worship.  It was a moving sight seeing the church filled with UC Berkeley students singing songs of worship in the soft glow of candles around the room.  It was also profoundly edifying to be at a church where the center of Sunday worship was the Lord’s Supper.

But I also found it a jarring and sometimes disturbing experience.  After becoming familiar with the pattern of worship, I noticed priests would drop parts of the Mass like the Nicene Creed and the Confiteor (the Prayer of Confession) which according to the official rubrics is not supposed to happen.  Keep in mind that the Mass is not just a Sunday ritual but a powerful means of shaping the faith and spirituality of the Catholic masses.  According to the theological principle of lex orans, lex credens (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith), the Mass forms the church in its faith and worship of God.  But here it seemed that the Mass had become a flexible tool that reflected the individual whims of priests.  In other words a have-it-your-way mentality among the Catholic clergy will eventually trickle down to the Catholics in the pews with devastating results.  And when the service was over, I was often surprised to hear announcements for upcoming meetings for the Gay-Lesbian fellowship.  I was coming face to face with the fact that real Catholicism was quite different from the official Catholicism I had been reading about.  Cafeteria style Catholicism was a very real and uncomfortable reality I had to face up to in Berkeley.

In my third year, I rented a room at a Benedictine retreat house near the university.  The monks there frequently talked about the need to unite Protestants with Catholics, and how they offered Holy Communion to Protestants as a gesture of unity.  Once when I attended their service they gave me the opportunity to receive the Host but I declined.  The reason I declined was because I had read an article by Fr. Edward O’Connor who explained that receiving Holy Communion in the Mass meant two things: (1) that one accepted the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation and (2) that one accepted the teaching authority of the Pope, that is, one was willing to come under the Pope.  My Catholic friends thought church unity easy to pull off, but I was very conscious of the big price tag attached to the Communion wafer.  [See the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition) §1354, §1369, and §1374.]

In my second year in Berkeley, I discovered a tiny Bulgarian Orthodox Church that met across the street from the university.  For nearly two years I attended the Orthodox Liturgy.  It was good that the Liturgy was all in English.  Up till then I had found mixed language liturgies to be off putting and incomprehensible.  At Saints Kyril and Methodios I found myself drawn by the Liturgy.  After a long hard week of intense studying, I found it soothing and healing to stand during the Liturgy and let the ancient prayers flow over my soul.  It was a formative time for me spiritually.  I became immersed in the flow of the Liturgy and after a while became familiar with the pattern of the Liturgy.  There were no surprises like at the Newman Center.  I came away with two powerful impressions: (1) what I saw at this tiny Orthodox parish matched what I was reading and (2) Orthodoxy was capable of withstanding the liberal ethos of Berkeley.


From Post-Evangelical to Orthodoxy

I very much appreciate my time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  Having studied there I can say that I know firsthand the best of Evangelical scholarship.  However, my time there was when fine hairline cracks began to appear in my Evangelical theology.   In time the tiny cracks became major fissures leading to a theological crisis especially over sola scriptura then sola fide.  Yet as my Protestant theology began to fall apart I found myself increasingly drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy instead of Roman Catholicism.  Below are some of my reasons:

  • There is no evidence of the Bishop of Rome as the supreme head and infallible magisterium in the early Church.  The current form of a supreme and infallible Pontiff is a recent innovation!
  • The Papacy’s autonomy from the ancient Pentarchy violates early Christian unity.  The Rome versus Constantinople frame falls flat in light of the fact that the other major patriarchates sided with Constantinople.
  • For all the elaborate rationales advanced by Catholics to justify the Filioque, it is an indisputable fact that the Papacy’s unilateral insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed runs contrary to the conciliarity intrinsic to the seven Ecumenical Councils.  Canon VII of the Council of Ephesus instructs:

When these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέραν) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa. (Source)

  • What we understand to be the Catholic Church is really the Medieval Catholic Church, a product of the Middle Ages and the Scholastic movement.  The doctrines of purgatory and indulgences are medieval innovations that have no basis in patristic theology.  This helped explain the gap between the Roman Catholic Church and the early Church.  It also helped me to view with sympathy Protestants as innocent victims of Rome’s willful aberrations.
  • The dogma of Transubstantiation is a doctrinal aberration that is at odds with the patristic consensus.
  • The Novus Ordo Mass (the Vatican II Mass) marks a major break in the Catholic Church’s liturgical continuity with the early Church.

In addition to the above theological issues were the practical issues based on what I mentioned earlier.  The liberal Catholicism in Berkeley was not a fluke but part of larger struggle taking place in Catholicism.  Ralph Martin’s A Crisis of Truth describes in some detail the attempt by priests, theologians, and laity to redefine the Catholic faith.  As an Evangelical in a liberal Protestant denomination, I did not want to go through that painful experience again.  I was also struck by the fact that while Catholicism claims to be one church, what I had seen pointed to a church that operated on two quite different parallel realities.


Protestants at the Crossroads

An Evangelical who finds himself in the midst of the rubble of a shattered Protestant theology needs to consider carefully what his options are.  There exist not one but two options.  The Church of Rome may claim to have been founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul, but the same claim can be made by the Church of Antioch (see Acts 13:1 for Paul and Galatians 2:11 for Peter and Paul).  So while the Church of Rome may seem to be most obvious option there is another option. But there is another historically and biblically sound option: the Church of Antioch, that is, the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The Church of Antioch can claim a chain of apostolic succession that is equally valid and older than Rome’s.  The early Councils did not assign the Bishop of Rome an authority greater than the other bishops.  Rome’s claim to supremacy over the other bishops and patriarchates is a later development and is at odds with the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

Two Peas in a Pod?

CC7FF5E3-E542-1280-C75510D9603A3580As the crisis in Evangelicalism intensifies, many Evangelicals will find themselves in a state of vertigo and confusion.  They must not make the mistake of thinking that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are two peas in a pod.  The two may look superficially similar but under the surface are profound differences.  One crucial difference is the way they do theology.  The Roman Catholic Church bases its theology on the infallible Pope.  The Pope is the monarch of the Catholic Church.  According to Catholic theology the Pope can unilaterally amend the Nicene Creed, order sweeping changes in the Sunday Mass, and issue dogmas — essential and non-negotiable doctrines binding on all members of the Catholic Church.

The theological method of Eastern Orthodoxy is based on Apostolic Tradition. Both clergy and laity have been entrusted with guarding and passing on Holy Tradition (II Thessalonians 2:15, II Timothy 2:2).  The Orthodox theological method is based on Christ’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13).  Unlike Catholicism which rests on one man (the Pope), Orthodoxy does theology collegially, that is, as a body working in unity.  In Acts 15 we read how the early Church came together and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit resolved a major theological crisis.  There was no evidence of a unilateral papal decree here!  Acts 15 provides the biblical basis for the Seven Ecumenical Councils, a key component of Orthodoxy.  It is important for Evangelicals to remember that they owe their core Christological and Trinitarian doctrines to the Ecumenical Councils.  The Bishop of Rome collaborated and supported these Councils.  He exercised authority with the Ecumenical Councils, not over them.  The theological unity of the early Church was conciliar, not papal.

One thing that struck me about Orthodoxy was the continuing relevance of the Seven Ecumenical Councils to current debates within Orthodoxy.  One example is Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon and the role of Patriarch of Constantinople with respect to the modern Orthodox diaspora.  When I read Roman Catholic literature the overall sense I got was that the Ecumenical Councils belonged to an earlier stage of development and that the Catholic Church had evolved to another level.  I sensed a subtle disconnect between the Catholic Church and the early Church.


Advice for the Lost — Retrace Your Steps

My advice to Protestants standing at the crossroads looking at the Catholic and Orthodox options is to do what people often do when they realize they are lost – retrace your steps.  Read the book of Acts, then the Apostolic Fathers and Eusebius’ Church History.  Study how Irenaeus of Lyons combated the heresy of Gnosticism.  Also study the Arian controversy and the making of the Nicene Creed.  Become familiar with the early Church before the Schism of 1054.  I also recommend they read the fourth century Catechetical Lectures by Patriarch Cyril of Jerusalem which describe the Holy Week services in Jerusalem.  When I read Cyril’s lectures I was struck by how much they can be used to describe the Holy Week services of Orthodoxy today.  I don’t think the contemporary Roman Catholic approach to Lent and Easter much resembles the liturgical celebrations of the early Church.

My advice to Protestants in the middle of a theological crisis is this: Don’t rush, take your time.  Carefully study the Church Fathers, learn the ancient liturgies, and unlearn the modern habits of thought which have entangled the minds so many Protestants and Evangelicals.  Then ask yourself which church today bears a closer resemblance to the early Church.


You Must Give Up Your Catholicism

A Protestant ran up eagerly to an Orthodox priest and asked: “Father, what must I do to become Orthodox?”  The priest answered: “You must give up your Roman Catholicism.”  That anecdote made a powerful impression on me for it illustrated how much Protestantism has in common with the Roman Catholic Church.  Protestantism has its origins as a reaction to medieval Catholicism.  This probably explains why modern day Protestants who seek to recover a historic and sacramental theology have started wearing Roman Catholic collars and white robes.  Many will incorporate the “ancient” Nicene Creed into their church services, not realizing that they are using the version that has been tampered with by the Pope.  The Nicene Creed endorsed by the Ecumenical Councils did not have the Filioque clause (“…and the Son”).  These small “c” catholic Protestants have unwittingly biased themselves towards Roman Catholicism.

If one wants to go beyond medieval Catholicism to the early Church Fathers one must study the Church prior to the Schism of 1054.  A Protestant who lays aside not only their Protestant innovations but also the accretions from medieval Catholicism will be able to accept Holy Tradition as given by Christ to his Apostles and which has been faithfully safeguarded by Eastern Orthodoxy for the past two millennia.  This is the Pearl of Great Price.  It is recommended that the reader read Prof. Jaroslav Pelikan’s excellent The Vindication of Tradition which explores the value of tradition for the Christian faith and his five-volume The Christian Tradition which is likely the best work on historical theology today.


The Tragedy of the Best Kept Secret in America

Ethnic Festival

So, why did Jason Stellman make no mention of Orthodoxy?  Sadly, I believe that he has not taken the time needed to become acquainted with the Orthodox Church by attending her Liturgy (Sunday worship services), sitting down with her priests, talking things over with former Protestants who became Orthodox finding out from them how the wisdom of the ancient Church can be found in Orthodoxy today.

It is also a sad fact that many Americans have no awareness of Orthodoxy’s presence in America.  Much of this ignorance can be attributed to Orthodox Christians themselves.  We need to increase Orthodoxy’s public profile.  We need to go beyond ethnic festivals and ethnic parishes with Sunday services in incomprehensible languages.  We need Orthodox priests who like John Wesley have an evangelistic outlook:

I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.

Orthodoxy in America needs to take our candle out from under the bowl and put it on a lamp stand for all to see.

You – the Orthodox Church – are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 6:14-15 paraphrased).


Metropolitan Philip

We need bold visionary Orthodox hierarchs like Metropolitan Philip who proclaimed: Come home America!  His Eminence also rebuked the Orthodox for making “Orthodoxy the best kept secret in America” because of their laziness and their being “busy taking care of their hidden ethnic ghettoes.”

It is time for Orthodoxy to stop being the hidden option for inquiring seekers.  People need to see the light of our Faith and to find a welcoming hand of greeting at the doorsteps of our churches.

Robert Arakaki





See also:

Michael Whelton’s journey from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Christian Information Center’s page “Orthodoxy and Western Christianity: For Roman Catholic.”