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The Church and the churches - admin - 30-01-2008 09:46 AM

I sometimes receive emails from another forum when someone posts on a thread I had contributed to in the past. I received an email this morning which belonged to an old thread about those who died for their faith in Christ but were not Orthodox. I recall that the thread was about our own non-Chalcedonian martyrs, and about modern groups such as the Auca Martyrs, a group of young Brethren men who had been killed in the South American jungle while seeking to bring the knowledge of Christ to a much feared tribe.

The email I received today was from an Eastern Orthodox who said...

Quote:It's hard enough to tell the state of Orthodox Christians after death, let alone the state of non-Orthodox Christians. I'm not at all comfortable with equating the slaying of non-Orthodox missionaries to those baptized in their own blood in the early age of martyrs. Those holy martyrs had either the explicit intention of being united to the Church or to follow someone who was already Orthodox, like, in latter times, Sts. Alexander and Cyril, the guards of St. Lydia the New Martyr, who were killed for defending her. One of them even said to St. Lydia, "Saint, take me with you." This, to me, seems an equivalent of intention.

It's another matter entirely for those who, at their deaths, are not connected in some way to the Church. Only God, Who knows the heart and all the circumstances and Who has all the criteria and wisdom for judgement can make the call.

It is the sentence I have highlighted which concerns me and disturbs me a little. It seems to me to describe an ecclesiology which is essentially exclusive and introspective. For myself, I am wanting to understand that all those who love Christ are in a sense 'connected in some way to the Church', even if they are not formally members of an Orthodox community.

This does not mean that I think that doctrine and praxis in an Orthodox context are not very important, and salvific. But I am thinking that the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath. It is certainly best for a believer to be rooted in the visible Orthodox Church, for his own salvation, yet it does not seem to me to require that we say that all those who for a wide variety of reasons, not least complete ignorance of the visible Orthodox Church, who have a vibrant faith in Christ should be consigned to the darkness of being entirely unconnected to the Church, and therefore apart from the Body of Christ.

If we can criticise various doctrinal systems as being deficient, I am not sure that we can sop easily judge individual believers. It is a matter of fact that there are baptised Orthodox who have no knowledge of doctrine, or worse an heretical understanding of doctrine, and who live lives which are worthy of judgement - indeed are we all not such people. Yet there are also people who live truly godly lives and have a deep knowledge of God Himself, as well as a greater understanding of Orthodox theology than many Orthodox.

I may not be able to dogmatise on the position of such a one, but I find myself entirely prevented from saying that they are not connected in some way to the Church because it seems to me that they truly are.

And it seems to me that if we begin by considering all Christian truth and life and light as belonging to Christ and to His Church then we meet others looking for what we share and have in common, rather than what divides us.

There have been too many occasions in my life when I have met or read the works of Christians who are not formally Orthodox but who manifest the life of Christ. In so far as He knows them they must surely be 'connected' in some way to the Church, to our own Orthodox Church.

What do others think?

As ever

Peter


The Church and the churches - kirk yacoub - 30-01-2008 10:13 AM

The Church is one, but unfortunately many members of the Church behave as if it isn't. Only God can truly know who the members of His Church are but we are duty bound not to judge, either on this or any other issue because we are supposed to be dealing with our own failings.
If we start from Bar Hebraeus who concluded that no-one can be a heretic if he or she believes in the complete humanity and complete divinity of Christ, then we should understand that we are required to heal the disputes within the Church, which is what Ecumenism is all about. I believe that it was Augustine who said that there are many sheep outside the Church, but a number of wolves within. The logic of this is to strive to bring everyone within the Church and to help cure the wolves of their wolfishness.
When on this forum we discuss our differences of opinion with the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and others, we do not do so to strengthen a wall against them, but rather to build bridges. If we openly say what we believe and how it differs from the understanding of others, then express this in a calm way, then we are attempting to bring all of us closer together. In so many ways the different churches in the one Church are so close together that it is a sin to try and keep ourselves at loggerheads.
As for who is or isn't a saint, this is God's decision, but we should acknowledge that anyone who dies in attempting to bring Christ to those who do not yet know Him are obviously as saintly as any of the early martyrs we revere from the early days of the Church.

Kirk Yacoub


- John Charmley - 10-02-2008 10:55 AM

Dear Peter, Dear Kirk,

No surprise in my agreeing with you both, I guess, but let me elaborate a little more if I can.

We know that the fullness of the Faith is to be found in Our Church; we know God is with us. That is enough. As to where else the Spirit is, that is His business and I should not arrogate to my sinful self His prerogatives.

The Creed is a series of statements, some in apophatic mode, designed to provide a definition of heresy; if one does not hold what the Creed holds, then one defines oneself as being outside the Faith. Some, there are, who have felt able to advance close-reasoned developments of ideas about how it is His body we receive in the Eucharist; or have felt able to turn verses of scripture into the basis for an elaborate system of describing what happens to us after we repose. We choose not to do these things. We choose to stay silent where the early Church stayed silent, recognising that it is in the Eucharistic Feast we truly encounter the Risen Christ, and that in that sacred moment of silence the void in us is filled.

If others reach that in their own way and hold to the Creed, then I am with that great man Bar-Hebraeus. Who shall make windows into men's souls - and with what purpose? Those who die in Faith for Him are to be respected by all of us; those who cannot see that because they wear the blinkers of their own Church need our prayers. Is it any accident that Our Lord spent so much time healing the blind?

In Christ,

John