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A Generous Orthodoxy - Rick Henry - 15-07-2007 03:52 PM

A Generous Orthodoxy


Dear All,

By way of introduction, my name is Rick Henry. I live in the US in the state of Ohio. I have been Greek Orthodox for 1.5 years now (after being an 'inquirer' for about three years). Prior to that I was involved with American Fundamentalism and then Evangelicalism. Even though my neighbors have started calling me Henryopolus or Papadapahenryopolus, I have no Greek ancestry. Actually, I may be making a move to a local OCA church, so possibly my neighbors may have to come up with a Russian sounding name for me sometime soon. But, ultimately, I will share with you that as far as I am concerned, even though one cannot point to an American Orthodoxy in terms of a tangible structure, I feel that to the same degree that I am Eastern Orthodox, I am American Orthodox.

This is the second online discussion group that I have attempted to be a part of--the first one is where I met John Charmley and Peter Farrington. And, it was due to their patient 'perseverance' and balanced approach on that site that attracted me to this one. In fact as some may already know, on that site, it becomes apparent very quickly that it is *not* characterized by, as Fr. Gregory has said elsewhere:

" . . . a spirit of genuine openness, willingness to listen and preparedness to acknowledge error."

Or, much less, as Father continues, a place that demostrates:

" . . . an enthusiasm for asking (genuine) questions, and for offering (genuine) explanations, rather than for scoring debating points or ?proving? the other wrong. "

and, in spite experiencing "intolerance, ignorance and a lack of charity," while I am sure this will make both Peter and John blush, they have continued in many ways just as the Apostles Peter and John did while enduring some less than charitable situations. In situations that could easily be considered to be representative of an uncharitable Orthodoxy, whereby I would think most others would provide a justification for leaving and then fly without hesitation, there has been a steadfastness and a strong witness provided that would not have been present otherwise. There have been no beatings or scourgings, or banishments to deserted islands involved that I am aware of, but I would say that there has been a degree of suffering nonetheless.

And, I know from firsthand experience, based on private messages that I received from some community members, who were too afraid to post publicly, that because of this type of approach peoples minds were opened, and for the first time in some cases . . . people began to think. A common refrain that I heard from these was, "because of some of these posts, I have been challenged to think about things that I have never thought about before."

And, this new thread that I am initiating today is not about Peter or John, or even these people on the other site who have experienced an awakening of sorts as it relates to their theory and experience of knowing. In fact, I refuse to take part in online discussions that are about the participants themselves, instead of the intended topic. However, this thread is all about what has been called indirectly and directly by some "A Generous Orthodoxy."

Because, found within a Generous Orthodoxy is a very beautiful place. Hopefully as this thread itself will prove to be, a place that subscribes to such things as a Theology of Love, a Theology of Hope, and last but not least a Theology of Freedom wherein an historic Orthodox supra-polarity is to be found. A supra-polarity that recognizes the uselessness of traditional change and conflict principles, as it seeks to move beyond traditional polarities. And, while there is 'a desire to understand, and to be understood,' this mutual embrace is a by product of a common salvation which is realized by those whose ontology models their epistemology. And, as has been pointed out to me very recently, regardless of whether one is already standing on this christocentric common ground, or whether one is on a path towards this place, there is always an element of 'becoming' involved with one's 'being.' And, it is at this very point[!] where there needs to be an emphasis and much room allowed for the thinking behind a Generous Orthodoxy.

This is not a short conversation. And, sometimes it is hard to find a proper starting point to jump in; but, as we begin today, God willing, to explore the shape and dimension of a Generous Orthodoxy as opposed to a selfish orthodoxy, and as we possibly begin today to consider what may be called a Theology of Freedom as opposed to a Theology of Anxiety for those who are Orthodox now, and those who would be Orthodox, may God bless the dialogue in this thread so that it might be both a model and a vehicle of title itself.

There is suffering; but, may Love abide.

In Christ,
Rick


- admin - 15-07-2007 05:01 PM

Dear Rick

I'm glad that you made it here in the end (there were one or two technical issues that Rick and I struggled with for a while).

I think that the topic of a 'Generous Orthodoxy' is a good one to consider for a while. So many folk seem to have a 'Fearful Orthodoxy', or an 'Anxious Orthodoxy', as you put it. I am thinking about where and how such anxiety arises and a few provisional notes are:..

i. when faced with others who think differently

ii. when faced with new ideas

iii. when faced with challenges to what they have been taught

iv. when faced with others who are happy and confident outside of the group

I am wondering why such things would produce anxiety, and can only come up with it being because some folk have a rather exclusivist spirit which means they have committed to believing that they alone have all truth.

I guess this is why a 'Generous Orthodoxy' seems to have to do with how we deal with and relate to those who are outside our intimate group of British Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, and even the wider community of all who call themselves Orthodox. How do we deal with Baptists and Methodists and Quakers and Penecostals and Atheists and Agnostics when we meet in various places and circumstances.

I am always pleased that the Coptic Orthodox seem willing to enter into dialogue with all manner of Christian Traditions, and I think, at best, this is because there is not that fear that talking to others with dilute or damage our own faith.

Is it one of the Fathers who describes how we give our faith away like lighting a candle from a candle. The light is passed on but it does not diminish our candle.

I hope that this thread will help us to think about an important aspect of our life as Orthodox in Britain and as British Orthodox.

Peter


- Rick Henry - 17-07-2007 12:42 PM

A Generous Orthodoxy: "Food for Thought"


Dear Peter, Dear Kirk, and All,

Peter, thanks very much for your post! I think we see in your writing/thinking a great springboard, and four very fertile fields for tilling (and planting), specifically in the following [Did I just mix my metaphors again?]:

Quote:i. when faced with others who think differently

ii. when faced with new ideas

iii. when faced with challenges to what they have been taught

iv. when faced with others who are happy and confident outside of the group

but, even above and beyond what you have shared here in these notes, I am swept away to a new plane when you take us, to what I perceive to be, "the heart of the matter" in the following:

Quote:I guess this is why a 'Generous Orthodoxy' seems to have to do with how we deal with and relate to those who are outside our intimate group of British Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, and even the wider community of all who call themselves Orthodox.

and, let me tell you why please.

I am taken with any who have a heart for mission and evangelism. I think I form an instant bond with any such people who can even understand what is being shared above, and who are even willing to consider the implications and ramifications of such things, let alone lift one finger in love to reach out to those in need. For the one who understands the difference between viewing others as merely "targets of evangelism" (as you have shared so well elsewhere Peter), as opposed reaching out in a true spirit of love with no strings attached, we find a genuine place of blessing surrounding all involved.

And, I know you well enough Peter to know that you do not subscribe to or prescribe a system that seeks to draw lines between the "us" and the "them." But, I would like to use the above quote to make a point.

Yes!. . . a thousand times yes, a 'Generous Orthodoxy' has everything "to do with how we deal with and relate to those on the outside!" (as well as those on the inside). However, just to be clear here, I would like to suggest that a true 'Generous Orthodoxy,' in-practice,' transcends all such divisions as "us" and "them."

Regardless of what kind of "Orthodox" one is, and regardless of what kind of "Non-Orthodox" one is, there is a rising above all such labels, for the one who seeks to follow Christ, when we deal with and relate to each other. In other words, when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the kerygma of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven who is it that sits in the seat of superiority, as a master of sorts, when the time arises to reach out in love to your brother or sister, or neighbor?

Possibly, some who are not familiar with you Peter, could read the above:

Quote:. . . how we deal with and relate to those who are outside . . .

and, think something like, 'well, what in the world does this triumphant "we" have to do with a 'Generous' anything? Possibly, some may hear only this phrase, and could read this part of this sentence which I have 'lifted out,' and then even think something like, 'thanks, but no thanks . . . this is the kind of cultic triumphalism/mindset that I have seen before, and one that I will always opt to step over each time it is encountered.'

So, it is not such an easy thing, such a cut and dried thing to do as we consider the ways of knowing and the attitudes that are present in all such encounters as described in your four provisional notes above. Especially in i.) above! Look at this seemingly simple point offered up as 'food for thought.'

Quote:i. when faced with others who think differently

When 'relating' to others who 'think' differently.

This one thought unit incites me to riot to be honest, and if this one wasn't already too long, I would take off on what is being said here as it relates to our topic! Your post is so super Peter, it is so pregnant with meaning as it speaks to a relational epistemology or a relational ontology (which are one in the same, aren't they?).

And, Kirk, it looks like I won't have time to develop what I wanted to with the quote from your post from today in another thread. However, when you shared earlier:

Quote:Having attended RC masses I can see how complicated it would be simply from a practical point of view to concelebrate the Mass. However, it is not really for us weak human beings to think this way of difficulties, it is sufficient that we strive for unity and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.

we see at once that it is not always the theoretical that is the most complex. Sometimes the theory of a thing can be the easy part (especially when a moving beyond or above is called for), and sometimes it is the practical aspects of a dilemma that present the greatest challenge. But, more to the point, look at what is being said, even here please, as it relates to difficulties and our attitudes, our thinking about these. And, you may have to click on Kirk's name and then to the posts he has made today to see this for yourself; but this *is* pure gold to me, as I read that it is not for us to 'think this way;' but it is for us to 'trust' (betach!) in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Talk about a 'Generous Orthodoxy"

In Christ,
Rick


- admin - 19-07-2007 08:59 PM

Dear Rick

I like the challenge to confront the language of us and them.

I wonder if there is a place for it in terms of responsibility. I mean if we are talking about 'belonging' to Christ then to exclude others seems to diminish them in some way which might run the risk of excluding those he calls His own.

But what about in terms of responsibility. Do 'we' have a responsibility to 'them' who have not understood and experienced all that we have been given as an act of free and undeserved grace on God's part?

If we categorise so that we can prevent others being welcome with us in God's presence then that is difficult, but if we categorise so that we can serve others, is that a way forward.

If we speak of 'them' so that we can seek ways to help them become part of 'us' as far as they are able, is that Christian? If we speak of 'them' so we can prevent then becoming part of 'us' then that seems a bad thing.

I guess even to say 'You are welcome' sets up categories, because we do not say to each other, 'You are welcome', we say that to a guest.

Peter


On Transcending Divisions - Rick Henry - 20-07-2007 12:57 AM

Dear Peter, Dear All,

Thanks for contributing such an even handed post which, I think, makes a very helpful distinction. When you say:

Quote:If we categorize so that we can prevent others being welcome with us in God's presence then that is difficult, but if we categorize so that we can serve others, is that a way forward.

I think you take our conversation to the next level as you emphasize such things as motives and intentions. Yes, the heart of the matter! As I mentioned in my last post, "when the time comes to reach out to our brother or sister, or neighbor," are we attempting to divide and exclude, or do we desire to embrace and include? What is our motive? What is our intention?

But, even more so, I would ask when we get right down to it here, what is really going on on this level? Is there really anything more than one grateful beggar telling another beggar where he has found some bread? In other words, lets bring this down out of the clouds to where the rubber meets the road . . . I have never been to the UK. I hope to visit one day. But, in terms of "A British Orthodoxy," and in terms of what the implications of this are for those who live in the areas around the British Orthodox parishes, I am obviously completely ignorant.

But, I would think some of the things I have experienced here, in my neck of the woods, would still apply. For example, I remember when I was a Protestant, but I wanted to check out Orthodoxy. Based on my studies of Church History and the History of Christian thought, I became convinced that Orthodoxy today did provide a true link to the past. I was attracted to an historic Orthodox approach, and I wanted to find out more.

I did not want to make any commitments. In fact at one time, I did not even want anyone else to know that I was investigating the possibility to be brutally honest with you. But, even more so, as I started to visit some websites that spoke of "Orthodoxy in America," the last thing in the world I wanted was for someone to interact with me or speak to me as if I was outside of the church. Gratefully, no one overtly did this during my time of investigation and ultimately through the final stages of my journey to Orthodoxy.

Fortunately, in my case, there was no one to divide or categorize what I was or what I wasn't during my time as an inquirer. By God's grace, there were only other Christians in my local Orthodox church who spoke of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Love. I am not sure that there was a time when I was not one of them from the beginning to be honest with you in this respect.

But, I say all of that to say, as it relates to "A British Orthodoxy," I think of the Baptists and the Methodists, and the whoeverists that live around the British Orthodox parishes right now. I think of some of these folks who may be in the same boat that I was a few years back. They are steeped in their traditions and heritages (especially the Baptist and Methodists with their rich history in the UK). Possibly, even some of these folks are reading this now, like I did when I was first attempting to learn more about Orthodox--or, even back further when I was first searching and investigating Christianity for the first time.

And, it occurs to me, from the viewpoint of the one who would be Orthodox, it matters not what 'we' feel our responsibility is to "them," or even what categories 'we' may or may not see "them" in. All "they" want is to have their questions answered, and to see for "them"selves what 'we' are all about. "They" may be apprehensive about entering into one of 'our' parishes. I know I was. I was in my 40's the first time I set foot in an Orthodox parish, and I will admit that it was somewhat intimidating to me (although I was no stranger to a Protestant church by any means). But, the point is in reality there are distinctions--there is an "us" and a "them;" but, and here's the thing, in my view, when the "us" and the "them" come together in such a way as the above, when 'our' motives and intentions are coming from and inline with the motives and intentions of Christ, the language of "us" and "them" is no longer spoken--all such divisions are transcended and become really unnecessary. All of this is superseded by the Language of Love. In my view, when the real thing is going on in terms of outreach to the non-Christian, or when the work of unity/union and reconciliation is taking place within some parts of the Body of Christ, all such ways of speaking and knowing and being which utilize catagories, really are not helpful. As has been said elsewhere, "in Christian theology, particularist thinking is schismatic thinking." Especially, in the ministry of reconciliation I think we see that we must transcend all divisions in the Body of Christ.

And, I realize that we have multiple conversations going on here at the present. But, that's okay. Possibly, someone will see an aspect that he or she would like to pursue or develop further.

Or, possibly better yet, while we are on this topic we could hear from some who may be "lurking" here on this website, like I was at one time in my neck of the woods. In the past, while I just lived 10 minutes away from the little Orthodox Church in my hometown, instead of going there to visit and to inquire initially, I went online to a place similar to this site.

In my area, there is an inquirers class that is offered at the local Orthodox churches once a year, in the fall. But, that's it, nothing except in the fall of the year. But, as I wind down this post here, I am wondering if there are any here who may just be reading these posts or "lurking" like I did once? If so, I am wondering if any who may be searching or investigating an Orthodox Christian approach like I did (or even some who are non-Christians now), would care to muster up some courage, and to register and weigh in on this conversation.

If so, possibly we could all learn together here about such things as categories and divisions, and how and when to transcend such things. I will share with the community here I have a Methodist background, many of my relatives are Methodists today. And, I also have a Baptist background. I have been an ordained Baptist pastor as well. So, possibly we could have a very illuminating discussion here in this thread--all things considered.

This could be very interesting now that I think about it. I know that when I was "lurking" on sites like this at one time, I would have considered such an offer as this to be a golden opportunity.

So, as it relates to categories, in the real world--where the rubber meets the road--I guess we will see Peter, as we continue on one step at a time . . .

In Christ,
Rick


A Generous Orthodoxy - John Charmley - 20-07-2007 01:56 PM

Dear Rick,

It is good to have you here - and the questions you ask are important ones.

Elsewhere here we are discussing Pope Benedict's recent pronouncement. There was a letter in last week's Times which asked 'what are the consequences of not belonging to a proper Church?'; and that got me thinking along the lines you mention here.

I have just come back from a few days in Wales. Deep in the Brecon Beacons we came across a deserted site which once contained a Church dedicated to St Illtud (c425-c505). I knew little about him except that he had founded a college where Sts. David and Gildas were taught; but that did not matter - the place was clearly one of ancient holiness, and it needed no imaginative powers to see why one of the founders of Welsh monasticism would have thought it a suitable one.

This reminder of the longevity of Christianity in the British Isles stayed with me as we drove through the Rhondda Valley to Cardiff. In every town there were two or three great preaching houses called 'Gospel Hall' and 'Church of God'; this in addition, sometimes, to a Church of Wales Church or a Baptist or Methodist Chapel. No where here, of course, was there an Orthodox Church. My own son (whose degree ceremony had taken us to Cardiff) who is still, nominally an Anglican (he was baptised and confirmed in that Church), attends a large Church in Cardiff which was Presbyterian, but is now Independent, and every Sunday there are c.400 people at the morning service, and another 100 or so at the evening service. All in all, a great witness to the Risen Lord; but not being part of a 'proper Church' are all these people deluded and lost unless, by His Grace, God decides otherwise?

I said to my son that my poor view was that such matters lay in God's hands for us all, and that I could not presume to make any comments. But his question - which was if Orthodox people who say there is no salvation outside their Church believe what they say, why are they not night and day engaged in mission work? - was one which left me uneasy.

But breaking away from the thoughts about what our relationship to other Christians should be to what it actually is, came the realisation that in practice, ecumenism is the oil that keeps the wheels turning. Of course, like all virtues, it can become a vice, and if it becomes nothing but syncretism then it really becomes nothing at all. Only God knows if you can be a Muslim and a female Anglican vicar and be saved; but most of us can see that such a combination makes it difficult to describe yourself as a Christian in any sense where the word means anything at all.

The truly illumined heart should surely, be seeking the opportunities for inclusion which you mention. That does not have to mean concelebration of the Eucharist with those who do not hold it to be what Orthodox hold; but nor does it mean a narrow exclusivity where we privately thank God that we are not as other men.

Without the cooperation of Anglicans and others, we might have difficulty having many premises from which to conduct our Orthodox services; their recognition of what we stand for is a sign of their true ecumenism, and I am grateful for it.

You write
Quote:By God's grace, there were only other Christians in my local Orthodox church who spoke of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Love. I am not sure that there was a time when I was not one of them from the beginning to be honest with you in this respect.
That I can relate to. And what I have found since becoming part of the BOC is that this is what is at its heart; a simple, yet profound longing to worship the Risen Lord before all else - and the sense that the most satisfactory way to do this is the one practiced by the early Church and preserved in Orthodoxy.

'Most satisfactory' is not the same as 'only'. I am not sure that I had an answer to my son's question - or even if this is a satisfactory way forward with our discussion here, Rick, but I hope the thoughts were worth sharing.

In Christ,

John


- Rick Henry - 20-07-2007 04:38 PM

A Generous Orthodoxy:

"Our Ultimate Faith"

Dear John,

From where I stand, your thoughts are well worth sharing to say the least.

And, as we might consider what may be called, 'the nature, limits, and boundaries' of a Generous Orthodoxy, it becomes apparent at once that this is not a short conversation. This is not a question that is limited to even such questions as O.O. and E.O. relations for example. This is not a topic that is without varied implications in relation to many questions (including some that we may be afraid to even ask as it relates to evangelism/missons and other areas).

And as you shared with your son in your last post:

Quote:I said to my son that my poor view was that such matters lay in God's hands for us all, and that I could not presume to make any comments.

I am at once reminded of the title of the last chapter of +Ware's book, "The Inner Kingdom," which is Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All? And, we are moved, I think, to consider just exactly 'where' our ultimate faith resides!

Yes, I agree John, such matters as these lay in God's hands for us all! It would be foolish for us to speculate on such things, as none other than the revivalist Billy Graham seems to have concluded, as he said last year at the age of 87 years old. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or secular people, Graham said:

Quote:Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't . . . I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe that the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think He loves everybody regardless of what label they have."

As I consider your words John, and those of Bishop Kallistos Ware, and the above by Graham, I think this really says it all. Who is the one that would presume to speak definitively on this subject?

I understand this subject can be the source of much anxiety for some. I know that for some even just the mere mention of certain words and concepts surrounding this question can be a great source of insecurity. And, this brings to mind another quote by a well known Trappist monk:

Quote:Now, anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity. It is the fruit of unanswered questions. But, questions cannot go unanswered unless they first be asked. And, there is a far worse anxiety, a far worse insecurity, which comes from being afraid to ask the right questions--because they might turn out to have no answer. One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another is society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask.

What a picture Merton presents here! Who has seen this before first hand? 'A society marked by insecurity--huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question that we are afraid to ask.' Any who have either witnessed this or been a part of this in the past know just what misery this is.

But, moving on here John . . . I must say, as you describe your trip to Wales, I am struck by the beauty of this land, and I am reminded of the rich history of the Protestant tradition that lies here, as well as in England. I am reminded of such things as the Welsh Revival of 1904, and the predecessors of those like Billy Graham; men such as Evan Roberts, and women such as Jessie Penn-Lewis.

As, I read of your travels through Wales, I am reminded of a little book on my shelf which provides a short history of these days (c. 1904) by Eifion Evans. In this book there is a map of Wales and it is somewhat part history part travelogue--a very good book. And, regardless of one's views on the subject of revival as it relates to the Hebrew Scriptures, or the subject of revivalism as it relates to the last 200 years or so, even here we are forced to consider, as D.M. Lloyd-Jones says, in the foreword of this book, regarding a conversation such as ours today (viz. a Generous Orthodoxy):

Quote:It will reveal whether our ultimate faith is in 'the power of God' or in human ability and organizations.

And, as it relates to everything that we are discussing here in this multi-faceted thread, at this point, I can say nothing other than Amen!

In Christ,
Rick


A Generous Orthodoxy - John Charmley - 20-07-2007 10:05 PM

Dear Rick,

Thank you for your kind remarks; sometimes it is difficult to find the exact words one wants, so it is good to know that even the approximations can serve some purpose.

I am struck, in reading what you and Peter have said, and in the light of your opening post, by a seeming paradox. On the surface it might seem odd that someone who believes what I wrote in my last post should have made a pretty big decision about leaving the Church where he had been for thirty odd years to join Orthodoxy; what was that about then? If we can all be saved, why bother going through the turmoil of leaving one Church and joining another? As I talk to my two eldest sons (one of whom is a Baptist pastor) I find much in what they say I consider very Orthodox, and they are both far better read, theologically than I am (Dr. Lloyd Jones being a great favourite with both of them). So was it just a personal fad?

The best answer I can attempt is to refer to the phrase that it is the fullness of the Faith that is to be found in Orthodoxy. For me it is the difference between parts of a meal, which are nourishing enough to keep me alive, but which does no more; and the full meal which nourishes all parts of me and enables me to do something with my life other than barely survive; does that makes sense or have any resonance with anyone here?

As an Anglican I 'knew' a lot about Christianity; as an Orthodox, I 'know' less and experience more; the sense of being on a journey that transforms me is something I did not have before. The ocean upon which I travel seems vaster and deeper, and in theory I ought to be far more frightened of it; but that does not seem to be the case. Even the sense that there is so much I don't know, does not make me despair. At the Eucharist, as I encounter the Risen Lord, I know His love for mankind; I am humbled at His sacrifice and in awe of His compassion. If He could do all that He did for a sinner like me, I should, at the least (and why is it always the least that is what I do?) try to walk in His way by repenting of my sins and trying, as best I can with His help, to amend my life.

This fullness of the Faith is something I would wish for everyone, but His will is what will be done, and the ways in which He works are not to be questioned by me. But His command was to love one another, and He said that others would recognise us as His followers by that love; if we love only those who are like us and love us, what is that - even the pagans do that! His call to us is a harder road; not in itself, but for us.

As you say, Rick, a long conversation - but, I hope, a good beginning.

In Christ,

John


- admin - 21-07-2007 09:48 AM

I would want to echo all that John says..indeed I have been mulling over this question of the Church and the churches for perhaps 25 years or more. I can remember being in the town library instead of at college and writing the outlines of a paper which I called even then as an Evangelical discovering the Orthodox-Catholic tradition - the Church and the churches.

In my own mind I have rather separated thoughts of other Christians and other communities, so that I could think that various systems of belief and organisation were not THE Church, but that faithful believers in other communities were indeed Christians.

So I have felt comfortable in the past in criticising some Methodist theology and praxis (for instance) while not criticising any Methodists. Likewise by noting real defects in the theology and praxis of my own Plymouth Brethren (that I have to consider real defects) without criticising the devotion and holiness of Plymouth Brethren.

When I read - where two or three are gathered - I cannot deny that where two or three or four or more Baptists or Brethren or Roman Catholics are gathered in His Name, Christ makes Himself present, as He Himself knows and chooses.

And I see from our own British Orthodox practice that we believe this is so, because one of the aims of the British Orthodox Fellowship is to encourage members of other Christian traditions to meet together and pray using our Orthodox Agbeya prayers. How could we encourage this and desire this if we did not believe that when they gathered they would be in the presence of God?

And the historical practice of our Oriental Orthodox communion had always been to receive those from the Byzantine, Roman and Nestorian communities by confession and prayer only, accepting them as already Christians. Indeed our brethren in the Syrian Orthodox Church receive Roman Catholics into the Church as already baptised, even while the Coptic Church (I think under the pressure of Roman Catholic proselytism among the Coptic community) requires baptism of such.

I have wondered whether the Orthodox should at least consider all other Christians as at least catechumens, if members of various communities cannot be received as baptised. I mean so that all Christians are understood as belonging to the Church in various degrees of relationship, because there is only One Church and One Christ.

This also perhaps explains why almost intuitively the British Orthodox Church seems to want to deal with other Christians in terms of education and catechesis rather than in terms of evangelism and conversion. If others are already on the journey of the catechumenate then they have already turned to Christ and to the Church, and our role is to help them bring their catechumenate to fruition rather than to treat them as outsiders and others.

Is this possible or reasonable? Is it what we believe?

I do not sense that we have any thought, as some do, that only Orthodox are in any relationship with Christ, let alone that only Orthodox are 'saved' and have hope of eternal life

Peter


On the 'Fullness of the Faith' - Rick Henry - 21-07-2007 01:42 PM

A Christian Particularism?

Dear John, Dear Peter, Dear All,

Yes, John, a paradox to be sure! There are an increasing number of folks moving from other Christian traditions and denominations, as I have, and to Orthodoxy. And, possibly, while we all have our own 'individual' reasons for doing this, I have observed that the one thing that we all seem to have in common is an aspiration to make a move to what we perceive to be a fuller faith. And, as any who have made such a move know, this is not something which is done lightly. It is not without varying degrees of sacrifice. And, regardless of the reasons why, I think much of the draw of the Orthodox 'community,' is to be found in this perception of an historic and a genuine common ground, 'a fuller faith.' Whereby, here I think we start to see into this paradox in a most helpful way!

But, here I am drawing distinctions and lines of divisions with great speed aren't I? The one who prays for unity of the Church, following after our Lord Jesus Christ in the priestly prayer of John 17, is now beginning to draw lines. Me, the one who normally will avoid the language of "us" and "them" in all such discussions is starting to speak of such concepts/categories as 'individualism' and 'community.' This doesn't really make sense does it? But, this is because I feel strongly that unless we begin to understand such things/shapes as it relates to the Work of the Holy Spirit, while we may find ourselves still able to become harmless as doves, we will not be able to fulfill the command to be wise as serpents.

Specifically, I am referring to the concept of 'particularism.'

If we define 'particularism' as being: "Exclusive adherence to, dedication to, or interest in one's own group," then what in the world does this have to do with anything spoken of in the above. Or, in this thread, in its entirety so far, what does this have to do with anything that has been said to date? This is a very subtle thing here, I think, and the full meaning of what I am introducing for discussion may not come out at the present. However, again, to put it another way, what does a Generous Orthodoxy have to do with a "Christian Particularism?" Those words just don't even sound right when strung together do they? In light of the priestly prayer of Christ, how can we even think about subscribing ourselves or prescribing to another such a thing?

So, yes Peter, I am agreeing with you when you say:

Quote:I do not sense that we have any thought, as some do, that only Orthodox are in any relationship with Christ, let alone that only Orthodox are 'saved' and have hope of eternal life

But, God willing, saving for a later date, a more in depth discussion about such things as 'individualism,' 'particularism,' and 'community,' I would like to consider another aspect of what we are considering at the present.

As it relates to the expression, "The fullness of the faith," . . . I have some questions about this. I know that I am the new guy here, and I don't want to get flagged for stepping out of bounds on my first few posts here; however, what are we really saying when we say this? I have said this in the past, possibly you the reader have said this as well at times, in fact, John has just used this expression above in his last post. But, honestly, what are we really saying when we say something like, 'the fullness of the faith is to be found within Orthodoxy?"

Before I come together with others, to pray as one, in the one crucified and risen Lord, I like to know who it is that I am praying with to be honest. I don't need to know every little detail about the theological positions of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But, as it relates a genuine unity as opposed to an artificial unity, I like to know how I am viewed by my so called brothers and sisters. And, I would think many who are following this thread whom may be a candidate for such a coming together--in the real world of British Orthodoxy --would want to know the same thing. So, I think this is a fair question.

And, this too is a very subtle thing. But, if we could just pause here for a minute and camp out on this for even just a couple beats. If we say that within one particular group 'the fullness of the faith' is to be found, then what are we really saying?


In Christ,
Rick


A Generous Orthodoxy - John Charmley - 21-07-2007 03:42 PM

Dear Rick, Dear Peter,

One of the things we have to acknowledge is the reality of the historical situation within which we find ourselves.

Elsewhere we have discussed the 'nature, limits and boundaries of the Church', and have concluded that whilst we can say where the Church is not, we cannot always be sure where it is. So what is the narrative that links us to the past; from whence have we come?

Christianity is an Eastern religion; it did not originate in the west; it did not reach Russia until nearly a thousand years after the death of Christ; and it did not reach the Americas for nearly another half millennium. The Russian Orthodox inherited Byzantine Orthodoxy because they encountered no other form of the Faith; the real split in the undivided Church came in 451, with both sides anathematising each other. If we accept the reports of the commissions on unity, this split was based on a series of misunderstandings, and both sides share the same Orthodox faith.

That would leave the East and the Orient united, even if many will not admit it. But in the west the predominant form of Christianity was an Orthodoxy which rejected Byzantine mores, but which remains a global witness to the Faith in a way in which neither Eastern nor Oriental Orthodox are able to be. But western unity was shattered at the Reformation, and now we have so many Churches that no one can really count them.

Now, either Christianity is the most monumental failure, and only a small handful have retained the Faith, or it has been an enormous success, but tainted by our sinfulness, has succeeded despite that in bringing at least something of the Risen Lord to most of the globe. The nature of that 'something' is where Orthodoxy finds its boundaries.

The early Church did not believe that it did not mattered what you believed as long as you were 'nice'; it is quite clear that both St. Paul and St. John thought it mattered hugely what was taught to the faithful, and there is a strong case for saying that Orthodoxy was defined only in terms of the challenge from heterodoxy. If we do not believe that the Incarnate Word was fully human and fully divine then we do not see how the Incarnation has redeemed us; what was assumed has been healed. If we do not believe in the Trinity and in the equality of the Three Persons, we descend into heresy. Christology was so important in 451 because upon it depended our salvation, and so both sides, convinced the other was in error, anathematised the other. Byron once wrote that 'Christians have burned each other, quite persuaded, that all the Apostles would have done as they did.' One can see from whence he came - but that is not what the Apostles did; even St. Peter, headstrong as he was, accepted correction from St. Paul. Our human failure has been that we have not behaved as the Apostles.

As inheritors of this fractured and fractious situation we have a choice. We can behave as if our small corner was all the light there was and demand that others submit to that light; or we can seek to share the light with those who have part of it and seek its fullness. One of the most impressive things about the BOC and the Copts is that they instinctively seem to take the latter position. Few groups of Christians can have suffered as long, as persistently and as severely as the Copts. The Russians had seventy five years of severe persecution, with large numbers fleeing abroad; the Copts have suffered for a millennium and a half; first at the hands of their fellow Christians, then at the hands of Islam. Yet their desire is to share what they have preserved with such sacrifices with those of us who come to the vineyard at the end of the day.

This is done with no dilution of what is believed. The Copts have held to the one Faith once received; to it they have added nothing, and from it subtracted nothing. That does not mean it is a museum piece. I read a book recently which described Orthodox priests as museum keepers; if that were so then we should have a mummified Faith and not a living entity. The challenge at all times and in all places is how to live the Christian life in this world where we are always strangers.

One of the best ways is to accept that others believe, and to accept the reality of their beliefs - and to show by the way we conduct ourselves the reality of our belief. How often have I heard non-Christians make the criticism that if they judged us by what we do and not what we say, we are hypocrites; and if they judge us by what we say, we are priggish hypocrites at that!

If we are particularist, then we do not act on the Great Commission; if we treat others as the Pharisees did, then we are condemned by His lips. What, indeed, does the fullness of the Faith mean if it does not include the willingness to love our enemies? Is it a compilation of ancient texts, or do those texts express the faith we live today?

For me, one of the joys of Orthodoxy is discovering the richness of the treasures of the wisdom of nearly two thousand years of Christian experience. Of course I could have discovered that without being Orthodox - and indeed, I did so; but in discovering it I recognised where the best spiritual hospital for what ails me was to be found. All Churches are spiritual hospitals; but not all hospitals are equally good. For many years I was in one hospital; the one I am in now provides a treatment I have never had before.

Of course I want to share that with as many others as possible; but I recognise the healing they receive where they are.

In Christ,

John


- Rick Henry - 22-07-2007 01:24 PM

An Expression of "The Faith We Live Today": Livin' In the Real World

Dear John, Dear All,

Thank you so much for this last post! I gave you more than a few 'silent amens' while reading your words which spoke to:

Quote:. . . the reality of the historical situation within which we find ourselves.

Because, seriously, how can any thoughts and or conversation of such matters as we face today become anything but an absurd thing without an honest acknowledgment of the "reality" of the situation in which we find ourselves? As you move to direct our attention to the development of Christianity in first the East, and then the West there are many valuable lessons and precepts to be drawn from this one post.

But, today, I would like to assert that I feel a continued look at the different historical developments of the western and eastern parts of the World and Christianity herself will show that there *are* two distinct orientations to be found in Christian theology, both in theory and in practice.

Kyraicos Markides has said it very well I think when he has said:

Quote:While Western Christianity became more oriented toward this world, Eastern Christianity remained monastic and eremitic in character.

and, in my view this sums up very well 'the reality of the historical situation within which we find ourselves' today. As, you have indicated somewhat John, if we were to trace back through sixteenth century activities of men such as Luther (whose activities served mainly to remove the heart from Christianity in the end), and back through the scholastic efforts of men such as Aquinas (whose activities served to pave the way for scientific revolution and the rise of rationalism), and back to the beginning of the earliest activities in the western and eastern parts of the Roman Empire in particular, I think it is very easy to see the two distinct orientations that we have running through all of Christendom today. If one will just stop for a minute to consider even a very superficial look at the History of the Church (and the History of the World during this time), it is not hard to get a good grip on the situation in which we find ourselves.

I think we can consider the effects of the industrial revolution and communism for examples (and I think there is a great return of the investment for doing this), and we can consider what 'parts' of Christianity were cut off or isolated from these things and what 'part's were heavily influenced by them (or even planted the seeds for some of them); however, at the end of the day, I think, the more we do these things the more we will only support my proposition which is there *are* two distinct orientations to be found in Christian theology which is as said above: the one is more oriented to this world, and the other is more oriented toward an eremitic or monastic character. And, again as you well say John:

Quote:As inheritors of this fractured and fractious situation we have a choice. We can behave as if our small corner was all the light there was and demand that others submit to that light; or we can seek to share the light with those who have part of it and seek its fullness.

I say 'amen.' But, then I hold up a mirror that moves beyond ourselves and provides a perspective of what is around us in terms of both our other brothers and sisters, and the one's who have not yet heard the proclamation of Christ. And, I bring up again the question of our motives and our intentions. Beginning with your words in relation to those who have 'not heard':

Quote:If we are particularist, then we do not act on the Great Commission; if we treat others as the Pharisees did, then we are condemned by His lips. What, indeed, does the fullness of the Faith mean if it does not include the willingness to love our enemies? Is it a compilation of ancient texts, or do those texts express the faith we live today?

The last five words in this hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it by the way, ". . . the faith we live today?" And, possibly, you can guess about my level of agreement with what is said initially as it relates to particularism and the Great Commission (let alone the Priestly Prayer)! But, this is IT John as we move to break out the brass tacks--"the faith we live today."

As we consider both Church Unity and Evangelism/Missions via education or just plain simple talk in a very straightforward way when given the chance--what are our motives, what are our intentions?

And, I don't want to push this to the point where it becomes counter productive; however, are we saying that the East cannot learn from the West, or vice versa? Are we saying that one hospital is superior to all others? Is one hospital a teaching hospital for all the others, and one that cannot be taught? If this what we believe?

I do know that when you say:

Quote:All Churches are spiritual hospitals; but not all hospitals are equally good.

I again give you another big 'AMEN' because this is a very true statement. But, this is not the question. And, I am receiving a treatment that I have never had as well here in Orthodoxy. In this sense, your experience is my experience. But, this is not the question either, is it?. To me the question is, as it relates to both Church Unity and Evangelism/Missions: Is there one particular group which offers an umbrella to all others?

Is there one particular group which is superior to all others in their service/treatment (and education) which they provide?

And, if so, what is their name?

In Christ,
Rick


A Generous Orthodoxy - John Charmley - 22-07-2007 03:13 PM

Dear Rick,

When you write
Quote:Is there one particular group which is superior to all others in their service/treatment (and education) which they provide?

And, if so, what is their name?
then the rubber does indeed hit the road.

Perhaps here we see dimly one of the problems with the sola scriptura approach so popular in some quarters?

There is a level at which it is seductive to say that we put nothing between us and the Word of God; but in so doing, do we not restrict ourselves terribly? Do we not run the risk of thinking that we are 'superior' and have a better understanding than others? Part of what we mean by the 'fullness of the Faith' has to do with a humility on our part; a recognition that the Scriptures are part of the tradition of the Church, and that they are best read in the light of that tradition - and not just by the feeble flicker of our individual candle?

What is superior is not our understanding as such, but the recognition that Orthodoxy developed out of the need to identify the True message and distinguish it from what seemed plausible to some; we rely not on our understanding, but upon what has been believed at all times and everywhere. When Newman applied those words to his own time he realised, with horror, that he belonged to an Arian Church and he sought the closest he could come in his time to Orthodoxy. For all the attempts to claim the totality of his thought from the Roman Catholic Church, Newman seems to me a genuine Catholic; his horror at Papal Infallibility reflects a sense that in a battle that he knew was necessary, the Church had resorted to a weapon which was not. What Newman left for Anglicanism was a renewed realisation of the importance of Tradition and of the Fathers, and it is no accident that the modern collections we use for the Fathers dates from his time and from that tradition.

That does not make our reading of scripture superior in itself, it simply means we read it in the fullest illumination, and therefore what we receive is fuller. However, part of that fullness is the realisation that Christianity is an experiential Faith; we cannot just read it in a book, or practice it by believing in certain doctrines and accepting certain dogmas. There is the living encounter with the Risen Lord in the Eucharist. There is also the realisation that living the Christian life is a process, as is Salvation; the notion of Theosis seems to me one which the West has indeed lost sight of.

Those Orthodox who criticise 'western' ideas have, until recently, been able to do so from the comfort of not having to live with them; it will be interesting to witness the encounter between western ideas and Orthodoxy as it works out in the USA - which is the only country in the world where every variety of the Christian Faith flourishes.

Until recently, and still in some quarters, it has been the case that Orthodoxy has been an expression of ethnicity. But as second and third generation Orthodox come to maturity, and as other groups convert, that is becoming less so, and I have a sense it creates strains the like of which we see but pale shadows of here. Nowhere is the encounter between modernity and Orthodoxy rawer than in the USA.

For all the awfulness of oppression by Communism or by Islam, it served to cement the Faith in a way that persecution always has; it also served as a guard against innovation; defence tends to preclude that. Exposure to the aggressive secular materialism characteristic of the modern west, presents fresh challenges. Being ignored and treated as irrelevant is, in some ways, a greater challenge than being thought important enough to warrant persecution. Who needs God when science says he doesn't exist and you can fill that gap with hedonism easily available?

The modern west, witnessing the triumph of secular liberalism, says that it has the superior way of being, and the answer to all our problems via a seductive mix of social welfare, scientific medicine, education and entertainment; man can create himself in his own image.

Is it not in the recognition of the inadequacy of this answer that we make common concern with our fellow Christians? Those who espouse the 'prosperity gospel' commit the greatest heresy - that of creating a God in the image of man, rather than preaching repentance and the effort to recreate us in His image.

I hope this is saying more than that Christians should hang together for fear of hanging separately; after all, secure in the Risen Lord, what have we to fear from death? It is more about bearing witness to the Life Abundant which He has brought.

In Christ,

John


- Rick Henry - 23-07-2007 12:04 AM

Dear John,

As usual, when reading your posts the problem is to be found not in the lack of golden nuggets, but in determining which one to run to first!

How provocative it is, to me personally, when you point to the seductive element contained within a removal of all which would stand between us and the *Word* of God. But, even more so, if I were to change one word in your proposition/question, and recast it again in the following:

There is a level at which it is seductive to say that we put nothing between us and the *Church* of God; but in so doing, do we not restrict ourselves terribly?

I think this question could be understood differently by different folks; but, I wonder what some others may think on this very point?

And, when you say:

Quote:That does not make our reading of scripture superior in itself, it simply means we read it in the fullest illumination, and therefore what we receive is fuller. However, part of that fullness is the realization that Christianity is an experiential Faith; we cannot just read it in a book, or practice it by believing in certain doctrines and accepting certain dogmas. There is the living encounter with the Risen Lord in the Eucharist. There is also the realization that living the Christian life is a process, as is Salvation; the notion of Theosis seems to me one which the West has indeed lost sight of.

I think you have answered my last question very well[!], if I may be so bold. Yes, I especially appreciate your linking of the words 'fullest'-'fuller'-'fullness' with such concepts as illumination and experience. Because, from where I sit, as you say, "Christianity *is* an experiential Faith." It is a process; but even more so, may I suggest that it is a Presence.

To me this is a 'given' thing. Much like I feel catholicity is a 'given' thing. All questions of superiority or a higher standing (or who does or will sit at the right hand of the Lord) fall to the wayside when the view is focused on this ground. In reality, even the question that I asked initially:

Quote:"Is there one particular group which is superior to all others in their service/treatment (and education) which they provide?

And, if so, what is their name?

is an absurd question that makes no more sense now than it would have if asked in the days of the early Church! Can you imagine the looks that I would get from some of the earliest Church members if I would have posed this question to them?

There is no one particular group is there? Because our unity is constituted in the person of Christ. And, this unity, this 'experience' and 'illumination' necessarily has to involve a catholic ethos, doesn't it? So how could there be one particular group to the exclusion of others? To even speak of such a thing would be to make a move to a plane whereby a sort of an 'autonomous catholicity' is established. And, I am not one to shy away from a metaphysical plane just because it is a metaphysical plane; but, I must confess, to set up a system which is constituted by a catholic ethos which is understood only in itself does not sound too good to me.

But, you are not suggesting this here John. You are pointing to an experience and an illumination as a way of knowing and truly participating in the Life of Christ. You are not demanding anything, least of all what is already 'given.'

And, as we continue to consider such things as a fuller Faith or the fullness of the Faith, God willing, we can move beyond such mindsets which involve questions of particularism and superiority. Because what do such things have to do with a Generous Orthodoxy? What do such things have to do with the Presence of Christ? And, I guess this is why I keep harping away at this, this is why I keep hammering away over and over about such things as individualism, particularism, and community . . . because I am fully persuaded that until we fully understand that the fullest Faith is found in a Christological reality then, in my view, there can only be a running around in circles in the dark.

In other words, I think, there can be no ecclesiological notions of any sort of catholicity, if there is not first a recognition of the very fact that Christianity is a Christological reality and 'an experiential Faith' as you have said. Otherwise, we are left with what we have, particular groups of Christians claiming autonomous catholicity. And, now we are really getting up in the clouds here, but again in my view it can only be a Generous Orthodoxy which transcends all divisions in Christ--and regardless of what name or label we give to this or these who stand on this common ground what else is there?

And, this is getting too long now, so I will cut if off right here. But, yes as you have concluded in your last post about the abundant life, I would like to agree with you wholeheartedly when you say:

Quote:It is more about bearing witness to the Life Abundant which He has brought.

Possibly, after all is said and done, this *is* really all we can do.

Hopefully, to some degree we are.

In Christ,
Rick


A Generous Orthodoxy - John Charmley - 23-07-2007 11:30 AM

Dear Rick,

I hope that some other members of the Fellowship will feel emboldened to join in this conversation. The questions which you raise are vital ones.

There is a level at which the obvious answer to the question of whether or not there was one particular group which was superior to the others should have been 'yes', with the words 'the Orthodox Church' following closely afterwards. Orthodox = 'right worship' - and that, surely, can come only from 'right belief'?

In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-15, St. Paul writes:
Quote:2:9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
2:10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
2:11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,
2:12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2:13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,
2:14 to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

For our purposes here the authorship of the letter is not strictly relevant (although it has always seemed to me unlikely that a congregation who had an authentic letter of St. Paul would be the obvious place to send a pseudonomous letter - but that's a different discussion); what is the text of the whole letter.

Here we see why 'right-belief' matters; the Thessalonians will be sanctified only through the Spirit and believing in the Truth; those who believe otherwise will perish; God allows those who wish to persist in error so to do; those who do not love the Truth which saves will not be saved. Now, to one who has always veered towards apocatastasis such passages always have the effect of stopping me in my tracks; but it would seem here that St. Paul is talking about those who have been shown God's Truth and Grace and have rejected them; in that case it is man's free-will that condemns him to separation from God for, as we are told in John 3:16 and foll., it is God's desire that we should all be saved.

So there is a seeming paradox here with our generous Orthodoxy. It is right, proper, and our bounden duty, to bring the Word to all who will hear it; but there will be those who will not; or those who will pervert it and claim that theirs is the True Word. It is, in part, for this reason we need the Church; only through it can we have the assurance that we are not following the wrong path.

As you say, Christology is at the heart of our salvation, and this is one of the reasons St. Cyril of Alexandria spent so much time, energy and passion on the dispute with Nestorius; those who followed the teachings of the latter would not be saved - and that exercised St. Cyril greatly - as it should us.

Is this to argue that there is a 'common ground' upon which all Christians stand whether they know it or not? To be honest, I am unsure. When I was an Anglican I thought that what I believed was fully Orthodox. I had followed Newman through the Fathers but that road did not lead me where it led him; indeed, I am unsure it would have led him where it did after 1871. And yet, whilst what I professed to believe was Orthodox, it was not the fullness of Orthodoxy, and the Eucharistic encounter was quite different in kind.

The conclusion? I don't really have one - except to invite our fellows here to help us out.

In Christ,

John