After having some in-depth discussions with people like Justin recently about the emerging church/"alternative worship" movement, I found James' new post....well, to use a popular phrase, "relevant" to the discussion.
In the comments, Seraphim conveys something I had tried to get across in my earlier discussions. He writes,
"The [emerging church] movement, while promoting so many good, beautiful categories of renewal, still seems rooted in two protestant distinctives: the hermeneutic of the individual and the 'protest' of Protestantism. and it all feels so awkward because the protest is (this time) not against Rome of course, but against Protestantism itself. It is a dead-end to use the core distinctions of a faith to critique that faith. There is nowhere to go... [a] snake eating its tail."
I like his analogy here. This is very similar to what I wrote to Justin about why the borrowing of Orthodox "trimmings" and transplanting them into a totally different context doesn't work. I wrote,
--Everything in the Orthodox Faith is holistically connected to everything else. So much so, that to take parts of it and place it in a different context isn't something we can do. Now, you can like candles, and Byzantine chant, and all that. That's great! But to incorporate iconography into a church that formally doesn't accept, say, the 7th Ecumenical Council seems rather disingenuous. It would be like reading 1 Cor., Romans, but never reading the book of James. (Sound familiar?)
Fr. John Breck puts it well: 'A hermeneutic that is not grounded in worship will inevitably limits its field of interest to the "literal sense" of the faith [Fundamentalism]; just as worship that does not ground itself in the fullness of the faith's theology will inevitably degenerate into pious noise void of serious content or transcendent purpose [Emerging/Alternative].'
This is why I've said that [the emerging church types] and [mainline/Fundamentalists] really share much more in common than they realize. They gut the faith; just from different sides.--
I found this article linking Kurt Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, the differences between Occidental and Oriental visions of divinity, and a very theologically driven plot prediction for "The Matrix Revolutions" (coming this Novmember!) totally fascinating. (Props to, ironically named, NeoTheologue). The article has a very unique take on the true nature of the Matrix and Zion. Matrix manaics will want to check it out....
A new blog friend of mine referred me to this article by Todd Hunter, which I have found encouraging and intriguing. The search for holism is dangerous because you might just find it if you look hard enough!
Hunter's thesis is "that something went drastically wrong when a reductionistic rendering of the Gospel got married to the American marketing machine" and that the way we live out and understand the Christian meta-narrative is directly related to what our churches will be like. In many ways this article reminded me of Robert Jensen's classic essay, "How the World Lost Its Story." One of the questions that unites the two is how do we recover an authentic story, one that allows us to participate in it?
Here are some great quotes from the Hunter article and a few observations:
"The church is in serious trouble when discipleship (apprenticeship to Jesus) is viewed as extracurricular or optional."
I was talking with a Protestant friend the other day who asked, "Why is it that nobody in my church seems to be getting better? Why is it that once we "get saved" nothing else ever needs to change in our lives?" It is the heartbreaking nature of questions like this that prove why soteriology matters. This is why theology matters. What we believe will shape who we become. And vice versa.
"On the cross Jesus is Lamb, but also model and teacher for the servants of God. He is humanity (Adam and Eve), Israel and the church as God intended it. For all the last 400�500 years of trying to nail down a theory, we missed that Jesus himself�virgin birth, life, ministry, teachings, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension and present day ministry at the right hand of the Father�the Christ event�is the atonement, not merely one thing he said or did. This is important because it gets to the root of our lack of imagination for walking in the Kingdom on the other side of conversion."
This is why keeping all the Great Feasts is so important for the Orthodox. It helps us enter into and truly participate in the entire saving life of Christ, not just the last 12 hours of his earthly life. In the homily last week, my priest noted that there was not a single word, thought, or action of Christ's that was not for us and our salvation. Truly mind-blowing to think about....
"there is something for us to do [in the Christian life]; but it is simple cooperation. It is not meritorious."
If there is anything in western Christianity that needs transfiguring it is our slavish addiction to the judicial (Anslemian) models of atonement that are the roots of so many heresies. Union and communion with God can never be "merited" either by us or by Christ! Although not in so many words, the article certainly supports the more synergistic model of Orthodox soteriology.
"The Gospel is not, of first importance, all about us. It is of God. It is about his ever�unfailing plan for man. It is not another consumer item to acquire, securing us a blissful happy�ever�after eternity. It is about the present reality, through the person of Christ (not simply something he said or did), of the Kingdom�the rule and reign�of God."
This is a truly Orthodox sentiment. This reminds me of why we Orthodox need to be careful not to get caught up in trying to "sell" Orthodoxy. I'll be the first to confess this modern tendency. While we may not dress it up with big stadium seats, dramatic skits, and slick advertising, we American converts still try and sell the Church in other, more subtle ways that may in fact neuter the very story we are trying to live out. We would do well to remember St. Philip's classic and simple, yet firm evangelistic message: "Come and see."
"...men do not make good use of all the noetic equipment they do have. Remarkably, the men never try listening or tasting."
The holy fathers teach us that we come to "know" God, not merely through study but through the prayer of the heart, silence, and participation in the Eucharist. ("Taste and see that the Lord is good.")
As individuals we see through glass darkly, but through prayer and communal worship, we can see and truly know God in His Energies. Like the Psalm refrain in Matins says, "God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
Christianity Began in the 16th Century, Don't You Know!
I started to do an in-depth analysis of this site, optimistically thinking that the author was attempting to honestly and thoughtfully engage the Orthodox in dialogue. Silly me.
So rather than post my original thoughts and research, I'll leave you to chuckle over the two most outlandish claims made on the website of this alleged "ex-Orthodox." Here is the first:
"The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that its rituals are handed down from eons past, in holy reverence with great care taken to preserve the original and authentic liturgy of the past. The historical record constantly contradicts this, and continues to demonstrate that most of the Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church dates to not earlier than the 1600, even after the time of the Protestant Reformation."
Somebody should tell St.'s John Chrysostom, Basil, and James that they only *thought* they lived in the 4th century. In reality they lived in 16th century Germany like every other Christian who ever walked the face of the earth. Those poor, deranged Byzantines: if only they would have known that for all those centuries their liturgies were actually brought back in time from the 16th century by aliens....
But my favorite is this gem:
"The Eastern Orthodox Church fosters the impression that the Orthodox Church of American is independent or "auto-encephalitic" (their term - not ours), without disclosing the fact that the Orthodox Church of America is little more than a rubber-stamp of the Greek Orthodox Church ruled as an Autarchy from Mt. Athos."
Goodness sakes! Somebody tell Metropolitan Herman and the gang that the hesychasts are secretly controlling their minds! Yo, OCA! It's a trap...Run!!
It continues to amaze me how many correlations there are between what we know about cellular health in the body and what the Fathers show us about the health of the soul. Consider the following quote from a pamphlet on about how vitamins work together:
"[Vitamins] work together-synergistically... Medical research separates these nutrients out and tries to study their individual effect. The amazing fact remains that the overwhelming majority of studies actually does show a health benefit with even an individual nutrient. However, since oxidative stress is the underlying problem we must concern ourselves with, it is important to realize that all of these nutrients work together-synergy."
Several months ago I wrote in this post about how funny it is to hear the same people who despise words like "tradition" or "authority" doing *exactly* what their medical doctors tell them without question, trusting in the authority and tradition of the doctor. We believe the pedigree of the earthly doctors who can cure our bodies--why do we look upon the spiritual doctors of the Church with such suspicion and hostility?
One reason we don't like the answers and advice the Church has to offer is that, just as in naturopathic health, the Church doesn't have a "magic bullet" solution for our problems. It takes a holistic lifestyle with continual repentance to bring reconciliation and wholeness. Brian D. McLaren has picked up on this truth when he asks,
"If Christianity isn't the quest for (or defense of) the perfect belief system ("the church of the last detail"), then what's left? In the emerging culture, I believe it will be "Christianity as a way of life," or "Christianity as a path of spiritual formation."
"The switch suggests a change in the questions people are asking. Instead of "How can I be right in my belief so I can go to heaven?" the new question seems to be, "How can we live life to the full so God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven?"(Props to Cory)
That last question is a great one. And, if we have the humility, we will see that the Church has much to say about it. In some cases, much more than we sometimes want to hear!
Update on the Future of an Orthodox Cache at Blogs4God
For those of you wondering about the future of the E.S.O.B. I have some good news! Dean has been on vacation and didn't have time to write back until today. He is working on setting us up in the coming week or so. Stay tuned for more info....
* For the life of me, I can't remember either the title or the author of a scifi short story and I'd really like to find a copy of the book.
However, I do remember the basics of the plot. In the future a group of people travel back in time to "fix" the future. However, so as to not disrupt the space-time continuum, they do as little as possible to get their desired result. So for example, rather than killing a future enemy before he rises to power, they simply move a book on a bookshelf, or switch a personal item for another, knowing that this will be enough.
During the conversation, someone noted, "It seems to me that putting all of your theological eggs into the basket of correct ecclesiology is not ultimately a very helpful move, especially if shouting at each other is indeed 'a waste of time.' It ends up making your position only marginally different from the KJV-only fundamentalist who ends every argument with 'the Bible says so.' Is the opponent of that argument ultimately convinced? Of course not. So at what point is theological dialogue possible?
This is my response: I was simply trying to answer your question of why it seems that so many of these discussions begin at one point but eventually settle on matters of epistemological authority and, by extension, ecclesiology.
I do think ecumenical dialogue is possible and can even be fruitful for all involved. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here. However what happens so often is this type of dialogue:
Non-Orthodox: "I think this is the correct and best way of understanding [insert theological position/opinion/thought]..."
Orthodox: "Ok. But for 2000 years the Church believed something very different. Here is the Church's teaching and experience and why it matters....."
Non-Orthodox: "Whatever. I still think that I'm right. Why are you being so mean as to tell me that my 21st century, novel concept is wrong/heretical/evil etc."
Orthodox: "I'm not trying to be mean. I'm just telling you that it is a historical, verifiable, clear *fact* that this particular question or issue has already been worked out within the Church. What you espouse, and more importantly, the foundational assumptions behind your belief, have already been discredited. I'm not making this stuff up!"
Non-Orthodox: "Ok. Fine. Put your eggs in one basket. Be a legalist. Be triumphalistic." Storms out of the cyber-room. [End of discussion]
This fictional conversation is an exaggerated example, but do you see why, on so many levels, it seems to us that it is the *non-Orthodox* participants who have put their eggs in a basket: the thinly woven basket of solipsism and the right to my own private opinion on matters of ultimate truth in clear defiance to the historical witness and reality of the Church?
Just as you may not be impressed with "The Church says so" as a trustworthy foundation for belief, we are not impressed with the relativism of "just because I think it, it must be true" that is so often the modus operandi of the modern Christian. Will you be convinced by our witness? Maybe, maybe not. I'll leave that up to the Holy Spirit. You, I hope, will do the same for us.
What seems to happen so often is that people refuse to understand WHY the other person believes as they do, and WHERE their foundations for their belief come from. This is the only goal of ecumenical dialogue. The only Person who convicts or convinces anyone of truth is the Holy Spirit. All we can do is present, to the best of our ability, what we have been entrusted with. For the Orthodox, this is an immense task.
Bottom line: What we all need to do is to make our positions as clear, as charitable, and with all humility while at the same time committing ourselves to uncovering and obeying the Truth of Christ. And this is something the Orthodox are not perfectly doing, I'll be the first to confess.
Update:Alana shares similiar frustrations in her last couple of posts.
I had lunch with two co-workers yesterday and, once again, found myself deeply engaged in a theological dialogue. One co-worker is a very young and fervent non-denominational Protestant and the other is a 30-something secular materialist who sporadically attends a church and is interested in "spirituality." During the course of our meal the topic of conversation settled on the Bible, philosophy, and the nature of faith.
Consider the following quotes. A prize to anyone who can correctly identify the correct speaker in each instance:
"Faith is something unique to each person and is different for each person. My faith and what I believe does not depend on anyone else telling me what to think."
"There is no way to know for sure if everything in the Bible is totally true. There is no authority that will prove that Jesus physically rose from the dead."
"What the Bible says to me may not be what it says for you. And that is ok."
"The Bible doesn't tell me what church I need to belong to. Each person has to make the decision for themselves and should be free to pick whichever one best fits their needs."
Can you see a common thread? I sure did. My two co-workers differ on a few points (of course) but they share a disturbing number of foundational assumptions about the nature of faith and truth. It never ceases to amaze me how, on paper, one would think two people would have very different views of reality, but when closely examined turn out to be almost carbon copies of each other.
1) You just started your first year of seminary this month. Thus far, what experience there has made the most profound impression on you? What is your first semester class load?
2) You link to an "Existentialist" blog What do you think of Existentialism as a philosophy? Have you read "Freedom to Believe: Orthodox Christian Existentialism" by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo?
3) What is your favorite comic strip of all time?
4) Have you ever had a serious illness or surgery? If so, how did it help shape your faith?
5) C.S. Lewis once said that there are only 4 noble professions; ones that had intrinsic value: farmer, priest, doctor, teacher. Do you agree? How would you describe the Orthodox theology of work?
C.S. Lewis, in his classic essay "The Trouble With 'X'", points out a major truism of the spiritual life: What we despise or find repulsive in others, we ourselves (in some way, even if hidden from view) also do.
Like Lewis, the Church Fathers have a way of hitting you in the proverbial mouth. Here is a classic:
"Do not pay attention to the words of an arrogant man, but rather to their power. It often happens that words that appear harsh at first sight, do not proceed from any harshness of the heart, but only from habit. How would it be if everyone paid strict critical attention to our words, without Christian love, indulgent, sheltering, kindly, and patient?"
--Saint John of Kronstadt
We recently hired a new girl in my office who has a large chip on her shoulder. I've found myself resenting her attitude and her way of speaking but as I thought about it, I realized that what I am really upset about is that I do the same thing: offer up words from an arrogant heart.
Then the questions began to flow like rain: Do others think of me the way I think of her? Do I show her the same patience and longsuffering that both God and my neighbor must for me? Do I realize that she, with her horrible past and cross to bear, may be speaking out of habit and not with intent to harm whereas I speak not from habit but with reasonable knowledge?
I'm tempted to defend and expand what I wrote, but Mr. Jones seems to be handling things well. In any event, it is a good discussion. Lutherans may wish to enter the fray to help Josh out!
Even though Josh thinks the only thing Orthodox do is paint icons and dream up new feast days to impose on the laity, all is not lost; he does have a wicked sense of humor. The following are a couple of his pet peeves and how he thinks they can be fixed:
"6. Corner preachers bellowing and shouting. They make Christianity look retarded and further just plain annoy me. The solution is for Calvinists to wage holy jihad against the Baptists, Pentecostals, and any other denomination known to produce street preachers. When the jihad is over, all the Calvinists would then be required to move to the Yukon until we needed them for something later."
"7. When people say 'Islam is a peaceful religion.' Uhhh...not according to the Koran, the vast majority of people who practice it, and the entire Arab world. Maybe liberal Islam is peaceful, but most (if not all all twelve) peaceful Moslems (and by 'peaceful,' I mean don't advocate violence as a means of promoting, establishing, protecting, or practicing their religion) live in the West. Solution: Conquer the Middle East and ship all the Arabs to Australia and take away all their boats and planes. They've pretty much proved they're incapable of designing and manufacturing vehicles, so they should be pretty safe there."
One of the many things I am grateful my Protestant past gave me was a deep appreciation and experience of the "high church" services of an Anglo-Catholic parish. The popular PoMo or mega church model of worship never appealed to me, even in my staunch evangelical days. While I never would have found the above sentiment groundbreaking, I am glad to see others starting to question the "rock concert" style of worship. As Leighton correctly points out,
An article in the Sept. issue of Touchstone put it well: You become "seeker sensitive" when you take your faith and worship *seriously* and *reverently* and refuse to comprise any part of the Gospel message, either in the way you worship or in your communal and personal praxis. Holiness and fidelity to Tradition will win more converts than a jazzed up worship service and a fancy program. Seems axiomatic to the Orthodox. It also seems others are coming to see this truth as well.
In a recent post, James asks how far the emerging church movement is willing to go if it wishes to authentically represent "the early Church."
"Will the post-mods begin affirming the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? The efficaciousness of Baptism? Will they fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? And the most burning question: What will they do with the ecclesiology of Sts. Ignatius, Irenaios, and [Cyprian] (to name a few)?"
Of course I keep hoping that many will find themselves "moving East" as we call it and answering these questions in the affirmative. As the western Christian world continues to collapse into moral decay and theological oblivion, many PoMo's will find themselves embracing a more patristic, holistic and ancient faith. The question is: will they realize that they didn't need to invent it from scratch in the first place? Time will tell....
However, as Justin notes, many PoMo's will fight this movement toward orthodoxy precisely because they will refuse to give up their "freedom of choice."
"It seems that much of what we within the evangelical heritage are doing in the em-church is of great interest to Anglican, Orthodox, and Catholic thinkers. This is probably due to the heightened interest in icons, symbols, ancient spiritual practices, church history, and multisensory worship...."
"The em-church is only interested in borrowing the interesting bits and pieces of their traditions, not their larger theologies and assumptions. That is, most evangelicals are not at all interested in becoming members of the Orthodox Church, but rather are expressing an interest in symbols, forms of expression and worship absent from protestantism yet alive and well within Orthodoxy."
Can you appropriate the externals without the foundation? The answer to that question seems plain from an Orthodox POV but might seem unclear from the PoMo POV. For us, there is no ontological difference between the "externals" and the foundation that gives them meaning. Thus *by definiton* it can't even be done!
But can one derive benefit from liturgy, icons, asceticism, etc outside formal participation in the life of the Church? Of course. However, as James notes, in the end all questions end up seeking the foundation and not the externals because the externals end up lacking their holistic meaning without being organically connected to the foundation.
The remainder of this post is part of a letter I sent to a friend in regards to this issue. Those who have read Matthew Gallatin will recognize this as a slightly re-written and partial paraphrase of his last chapter in "Thirsting for God." I think it sheds some light on James' question:
The main reason [why many western Christians] are not formally [capital "O] Orthodox is a powerful misconception regarding the nature of Christianity. It was given birth in the Great Schism (1054 A.D.; when western and eastern Christendom split), nursed by the Reformation, nurtured by the Enlightenment, and brought to full maturity in the atmosphere of relativism and self-centered individuality that defines much of our modern culture.
The misconception is this: Christianity is essentially a faith that one can individually interpret and live as one pleases.
To many, the myriads of Christian denominations, rather than being a sign that something is dreadfully wrong in Christendom, instead testify to the fact that there are many legitimate churches, groups, paths to union with God. In their minds, it's perfectly obvious that a person is free to choose whatever path suits his personal needs, desires, and tastes. If one doesn't like any of the existing paths, he can legitimately create his own.
Now, the spirit of the age would have us all believe that it's actually God's will that we exercise our "spiritual freedom" by recreating the Church, or by believing and fashioning our own doctrines and practices in the spiritual life. Its deceptive voice would convince us that they way we practice our Christian faith should be-no, MUST be-conformed to our own will, and to our own desires. God's primary concern (the world assures us) is that we be individually comfortable in our faith. If we don't find a practice or belief held for 2,000 years in Orthodoxy personally meaningful, then we should not feel obligated to it or to the Church.
This choosing is the root of our word "heresy." In fact, the word in Greek literally means "choice." To be a heretic is to willfully, knowingly, and unrepentantly choose to teach, practice, and participate in something foreign to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Is it laudable that many in the Emerging church movement are trying to reclaim their spiritual heritage by capturing "little-o orthodoxy"? Of course! But once they realize that the foundation can't be created by man, will they be willing to enter more fully into union with the same Church which they so desperately wish to re-create? I hope so.
There are times when I wonder if I may someday be called to the priesthood. This thought, when it happens to wander my way, is usually followed closely by the kind of realization Anthony writes of in this excellent post. Take this paragraph for example:
"My concern is that I do not possess the proper dread of the lofty calling I seek. St. John Chrysostom fled ordination--I am seeking it, and that blithely, regardless of my many sins and failings. In every way, I am utterly unworthy. Yet these are merely words which I write because I know in my mind that I should say them. They do not flow from my heart. That lighthearted approach to such a weighty office is perhaps the single greatest barrier to my eventual ordination."
A priest I know tells of what a joyful, but heavy responsibility fell on him on his ordination. "Take this charge," said Met. Theodosius as he put Holy Communion into the new priest's hands. "You will be held accountable for it on that Great and Terrible Day." The charge being not only the Holy Gifts, but the people under the new priest's spiritual care. That statement was, as the priest put it to me, "a double whammy."
Let us keep all the seminarians in our prayers as this month many will begin or continue to pursue their calling. It is both a dangerous and profound journey. It is one, that on some days, I find enticing yet terrifying to think about.
I had the pleasure yesterday of meeting and spending some quality incarnated time with John. This was very exciting for me, as he is the first blogger I've met in person with whom I've corresponded with previously. Right off the bat we both had to tweak the "digital image" we had of each other to better match the actual human being!
I was impressed with how humble and meek he was in person. Now before you think that is a horrible thing to say, it's not that I expected him to be arrogant. His writing is so well-crafted I just automatically expected him to be a bit more opinionated in person. (Perhaps he was just holding it in!) Since I am so brash, I assume others who also take firm, reasoned positions in their writing will be just like me. How silly.
He was surprised to learn that not every Orthodox guy wears a cassock and sports a foot-long beard! Although I didn't ask, I wouldn't be suprised if there were other impressions of me that were shattered once I became a human being and not just a blog.
For John the day was filled with new experiences. After picking him up at his college, we drove across town for Matins and Divine Liturgy at St. John the Baptist.
It was his first time being at an Orthodox Church. Like many of us, John came away from his first Liturgy impressed but curious about many unfamiliar practices. "I'm not used to people kissing things," he said with a smile as we discussed the veneration of icons. Later, over lunch, we covered a wide variety of topics: his life in Haiti, college, amillennialism, covenant theology vs. dispensationalism and more...
Hopefully the two of us can continue our theological conversations both on the blogs and in person. Since he is working toward a Bible college degree, I expect some strong challenges from him in the future!
1) I have written in the past about my desire to live in a more intentional community; specifically a "lay ascetic" co-housing situation. In your 9/5 post, you wrote about "urban monastic communities" saying, "I wonder if community is possible at all in our self-centered culture, without intentionality, without my intentionally working to remain in �communion� with you, and you with me?" Can you expand your thoughts on this?
2) What are the 5 most influential books you've read this past year?
3) How do you see your life mirroring the sentiments expressed in the quote from T.S. Eliot that you have on your mast head? In terms of theology or ecclesial issues, do you think there will be a time in your life when intense exploration might cease or at least make way for a more focused pursuit?
4) Tell us a little about what you've learned about being a husband and father. How have these relationships challenged you?
5) I originally came across your blog about 9 months ago through James Ferrenberg. Over time, I've noticed that he is the lone Orthodox link on several Protestant blogs, including yours. What is your relationship with James? How did you find his blog?
1) What is your favorite fiction book of all time?
2) Did you play a sport in high-school? If so, what was your experience like? If not, do you wish you had?
3) You battle with shyness and have written extensively about this battle. How have you grown in this over the past year? Since becoming Orthodox?
4) It has been several months since you lasted updated your fiction blog. Are you still writing?
5) What are your impressions and views of blogging?
1) Why did you pick St. Basil as your patron saint?
2) As a teen you were involved with, as you put it, "the popular format of Pentecostal, charismatic, and "non-denominational" churches" but later realized that they were unable to create authentic unity amongst members. As a former Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic, how has your understanding of the importance of unity changed since becoming Orthodox?
3) How did you get involved with computers and web design?
4) Do you think that God is calling you to the priesthood? Tonsured monastic life?
5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?
There was something else that was puzzling about the essay by Fr. Davis. He cites 1 John 1:8 as a proof text for our ability to confess to Christ alone. The verse reads thus: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
I am very curious to hear how this particular verse proves that, as he put it, "all will receive forgiveness when praying to Christ alone."? It doesn't seem to speak to the issue at all. If the author meant 1 John 1:18, that makes a little more sense, but doesn't really prove that confession can or (more importantly) *is even able to be made to Christ alone*.
My objection to this is that the Orthodox Christian never does *anything* alone or privately. I need to remember this more often! All of our actions are done in the presence of not just God but before the angels, saints, and all the heavenly hosts. We are never alone.
Our actions, especially prayer and confession, are also done (as St. Isaac once said) in the presence of all the demons! If the eyes of our nous could be opened for just a few moments to the spiritual reality that constantly surrounds us, we'd probably faint from fear! Or else, like many of the saints, we would simply weep for our sins.
So, whether we are sacramentally repenting or simply asking for forgiveness in the moments following a sin (and, lest it be misunderstood, continual repentance should be our lifestyle!), we never confess our sins "privately."
Not only are we never alone in anything we do, God Himself does not do anything "alone"! All of the actions of God are done in divine community. Thus, we experience the divine energies of God in a Trinitarian manner. God can and does forgive sins, but he does this through Christ and the Holy Spirit and within His Church.
The article is written by Glen Davis, a Charismatic Episcopalian and, on the whole, it has many good things to say. It is a worthy read especially for the many young evangelicals who frequent the webzine and who have little experience with historic Christian praxis. However, in the middle of the essay one will find this disturbing paragraph:
"It is important to avoid the extreme of some Orthodox and Roman Catholic teaching that only a priest can forgive sin. The Orthodox Study Bible says, 'People ask, �Can�t I confess to God privately?� Certainly, though there is no clear biblical basis for it.' Of course, this is nonsense, 1 John 1:8 makes it clear that all will receive forgiveness when praying to Christ alone."
Many things could be said. These were some of my initial thoughts:
First of all, IMO, the Orthodox Study Bible is not the best source of Orthodox teaching due to a variety of factors which I don't have space to delve into here. While I would concur one will have a difficult time proving, *apart from Holy Tradition and Church history*, that the individual Christian can make any kind of *sacramental* confession "privately," I do not think the flippant way the OSB responded to this was well thought out.
Second, as the absolution prayers make perfectly clear, the priest is not the one who does the forgiving! (*)
"We do not confess "to" the priest; rather, we confess to God "in the presence of" the priest who, as the prayer before Confession clearly states, is God's "witness" and who, having witnessed our confession of sins offers pastoral advice on how we can better our lives and overcome the very things we can confess."
This is an incredibly important distinction.
A priest once gave me an interesting choice as a way to highlight this truth. He said, "You can say your confession to God with me as a witness and representative of the Church; or you can say your confession to God, but publicly in front of the whole parish during coffee hour! Your choice!"
He was kidding of course, but his point was clear. The act of making a sacramental confession is not made to the priest but to God. However, not to God alone but rather to God, in the presence of the whole Church, with the priest as a witness. Confession is always a communal act and thus it is an *ecclesial event*, not a private transaction between the individual believer and God.
In Part II, I'll look at Fr. Davis' phrase "Christ alone" a little bit and continue to explore why, from the Orthodox POV, there is no such thing as "private confession" (even as we attempt to live in continual repentance).
(*) For those interested in one of the more stark examples of the "Western Captivity" of Russian Orthodoxy, this is prime example. The wording of the prayers of absolution became increasingly influenced by Roman Catholicism during the era of Peter the Great and in some places one might have heard the words "I forgive you" rather than the historic "God forgives you" at the end of the absolution prayer. Interestingly, one can see this played out in the book "Fr Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father."
Paul, James, and Basil:
I have not forgotten you. Your interview questions are coming soon. Look for them over the weekend.
For The Tower and Christine:
The Sphere is breathlessly awaiting your answers to interview questions posted during the latter part of August. Some of us are starting to asphyxiate with anticipation.... *smile*
Also, after reading an interesting essay posted at a popular webzine, I hope to soon post Part I (of II) about the communal foundations of the sacrament of confession.
The following quote can be found in the July 31st post of this blogger. The last sentence grabbed my attention.
"Vice is justifying your sins, and, as a result, continuing to commit them.... But the secular world, swept along by the 'winds of progress'(and we all know the diabolic source of these) is now conducting a campaign to legitimize the vice of sodomy. Where is the outcry? Where would one expect it to come from? Not the protestant sects (the pathetic, inconsistent statements of the 'church' of England show how far the protester's religion(s) have strayed from God's will). Nor from the Orthodox 'church(es)'."
Apparently the author has not read the recent statement from SCOBA (The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America). A very short, yet concise piece of pastoral direction, ISTM. The money quotes:
"The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, 2000 years of church tradition, and canon law, holds that marriage consists in the conjugal union of a man and a woman, and that authentic marriage is blessed by God as a sacrament of the Church. Neither Scripture nor Holy Tradition blesses or sanctions such a union between persons of the same sex....."
"The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions. Whereas marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution ordained by God, homosexual union is not. Like adultery and fornication, homosexual acts are condemned by Scripture (Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:10). This being said, however, we must stress that persons with a homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed by our Lord Jesus Christ upon all of humanity. All persons are called by God to grow spiritually and morally toward holiness."
I don't know if this counts as an "outcry" but it certainly reaffirms the Orthodox Church's 2000 year-old position on the matter.
** September 1st is the first day of the ecclesial new calendar. I like this particular troparian for the day:
O Creator of the Universe,
You appointed times by Your own power,
Bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord.
Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities:
And through the Intercessions of the Theotokos, save us!
** My dad made this humorous comment in a recent email he sent me:
"Have you _really_ looked at the automatic signature that gets appended to your email from hotmail?"
Get MSN 8 and help protect your children with advanced parental controls. http://join.msn.com/?page=features/parental
"The notion that the world's foremost vector for computer viruses, worms, and Trojan horses should be trusted to protect *the children* is surely an exercise in unreflective postmodernist irony. Don't you think?"
** Tell me what you think of this: "When the Father offered his Son for the life of the world, He offered to us the ultimate gift of His love. With the death of Jesus, the Mother of our Lord knew infinite grief and sadness. And His Father did, no less."
These were the concluding remarks made in an essay on the Nativity by Fr. John Breck. Maybe it is just early this morning, but that last sentence of his sure smacks of patripassianism to me. Maybe I just need another cup of coffee.