Questions from someone exploring the Orthodox faith... - Printable Version
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- Eve92 - 02-02-2010
I'm back! I have been reading lots more about Orthodoxy and finding the true Church. These are the books I have read so far: Orthodox Way (Ware) The Way, what every protestant should know about the Orthodox Church (Clark Carlton) Evangelical is not Enough (Thomas Howard) and I have literally about 10 pages to go on Clark Carlton's The life, orthodox doctrine of salvation. I have also read some things about Catholicism (Rome Sweet Home, and Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn). I'm trying to get to grips with the Orthodox view of salvation but I am having some problems.
The books I have read say that Orthodoxy rejects the 'legalistic' view of salvation as put forward by Protestants and Catholics, and I know that Orthodoxy say that Jesus is the Saviour. But if Jesus is the Saviour but he didn't take on our sin on the cross, then what did he save us from? Reading The Life I see that Carlton is saying that Jesus defeated death etc but how? Did he come to live a life to be an example and encouragement for us? What was he doing on the Cross? Also, I have read verses in the Bible such as 'for you know what price was paid for you' and I think even a verse describing the Christian who is seen as 'not guilty' in God's eyes because of Jesus, surely this suggests a 'legalistic' salvation? (unfortunately I can't remember the book or chapter of the verses, will try to find them and get back to you).
On the other hand, I think what Carlton says in The Life about how God doesn't change helped me make sense of Theosis. And I think Theosis makes a lot of sense as I think nearly every Christian believes that God's grace changes them in some way, and the fact that Christians believe in being spiritually 'immature' and spiritually 'mature' shows that they acknowledge growth in the faith.
Thank you so much for your prayer and advice, this forum is really important for me because otherwise I would be completely alone in my studies. It would be great to hear 'testimonies' of how others have come to the Orthodox faith, sometimes I feel really frustrated about how I am 'stuck in the middle' I'm not Protestant, not Catholic and not Orthodox and sometimes I honestly have no clue where God wants me to go. When I try to talk to my Christian friends I feel really down because we don't share the need to find Christ's true Church and I feel like a traitor that I am even doubting Evangelicalism. Some words of encouragement would be good!
I've got Clark Carlton's The Truth what every Roman Catholic should know about the Orthodox Church next in line, and 'A Tiny step away from giant faith' written by a 17 year old girl who searched for the truth and found Orthodoxy, so seems quite appropriate for me!
PS Marc, thanks for your reply, would be great to know more about how you discovered Orthodoxy, what drew you to Orthodoxy rather than any other way?
- Antony-Paul - 02-02-2010
I'll try to help if I can.
I am currently on my journey from Roman Catholicism to British Orthodoxy, and happy to share my thoughts.
I have been RC all my life (I'm in my 60s now!) but recent years have seen me becoming more and more unhappy with the Church that (as Father Simon put it to me) had nurtured me. I spent some time looking around seeking a way forward, even to the extent of looking outside of Christianity. I read Abba Kallistos Ware's book, and realised there was much in Orthodoxy with which I sympathised. Eventually I found Orthodoxy, both Greek and Russian who worship near me, but trawling through Google came up with the BOC. I am perhaps a little more fortunate than you, because I live close to Father Simon, and I was able to contact him easily and discuss matters.
He gave me the DVDs that he has offered you as a starting point. Because I was already Christian there was little I needed to learn from that point of view, but I have a long way to go with my knowledge of Orthodoxy. Under Father Simon's guidance I have attended Divine Liturgy and a local prayer/discussion group. I have come to feel extremely comfortable within the BOC. It is a prayerful place to be, but very loving and welcoming. (Sadly this is apparently not always the case with some other branches of Orthodoxy which are reluctant to accept you if you are not culturally the same as they are. Regrettably much the same can be said of Rome as well. However many are very welcoming, particularly our Coptic brethren.) A few months ago I was accepted as a catechumen, and will probably be Baptised into Orthodoxy in a couple of months.
It is difficult to know exactly what will give you support and encouragement, but if there is anything specific don't hesitate to quiz me on my experiences.
One thought that may help you relates to Salvation. You mention your puzzlement about the distinction between the legalistic Roman view and "whatever the BOC thinks about it" so to speak. Perhaps you would find it helpful not to see Jesus' salvation of us as 'paying for our sins'. Rather, consider that mankind has become ill through rejection of God's way. Just like if you are ill you seek a cure from your doctor, so Jesus provides us with healing. He makes us well again. Being well, we are restored to communion with God - hence salvation. I hope this is not too simplistic - I'm sure Father Simon can, and will, put it much better than I can.
With love and prayers,
- Simon - 02-02-2010
What our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ saved us from on the cross was death - and in saving us from death He saved us from sin. If you go to the Education section of this Forum you can read my Paschal Sermon in which I try to explain this.
I believe that truly a price was paid for us at Calvary, even a very great price indeed, quite literally an infinite price since the price paid was God Himself. This was the price God was prepared to pay to redeem us or buy us back from death and sin. This is what it cost God to redeem us back to Himself. The price was not paid to anyone in the legal or transaction sense - it's simply this is what it cost, this is the price God was willing to pay to redeem lost mankind.
I think Tony puts it well enough about salvation as healing. The Great Physician at great personal cost to Himself at Calavry provided for us the medicine to make us well, to save us or heal us from this fatal spiritual disease called sin, even His Body and Blood. And He founded a spiritual hospital called the Church, where we can receive this medicine.
Wherever did you manage to get hold of a copy of A Tiny Step away from greatest Faith? I thought it utterly magnificent but after giving my copy as a present to someone wasnt able to find another copy anywhere to buy.
- marc hanna - 02-02-2010
The RC mode of thought on our redemption through Christ is legalistic in a cause and effect sort of manner in that every temporal sin must be repaid in temporal form despite Heavenly forgiveness. In this case Christ paid our debt in our place by suffering and dying in instead of us because sins could not be forgiven (and thus salvation could not be attained) if there was no one to pay the price. Furthermore, this is the reasoning behind RC indulgences, where when we confess (or rather RC's confess) our sins we are forgiven in Heaven but there is still a price to pay on Earth.
As Oriental Orthodox we know that Christ forgives sins in Heaven and on Earth and that this forgiveness is all encompassing and requires no residual temporal payment - this is not to say that there are not consequences that naturally occur on Earth. From our perspective, Christ was (and is) a sacrifice for our sins, in which He bore the full weight of our sins in order to reunite us with God. Yes, He did pay our debt in our place, but not because He had to, but because He loved us so much that He desired that none should perish.
Christ conquered death, in that He was the perfect sacrifice. Where the Jews sacrificed animals for their sins, those sacrifices were unable to provide salvation but were little more than an atonement for what they had done, unable to affect their hearts and did not prevent their deaths and imprisonment in Hell. Christ was perfect and blameless, and could not be contained in Hell; and upon His death He descended into Hell and reclaimed those souls who were imprisoned, vanquished Hell's monopoly over human souls, and rightfully claimed the throne of Judgement over mankind.
Prior to recent decades Theosis was not taught in Oriental Orthodox churches, but remains integral to the Eastern Orthodox churches as part of their tradition of hesychasm, mysticism and spirituality. I know that some will disagree with me on this, so I won't push it any further. We do believe that we are transformed by Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that participation in the sacraments and keeping God's commandments is our contribution in our own salvation.
- Eve92 - 03-02-2010
Thank you again for all your replies, it's beginning to make sense to me though I think I still have a long way to go. I'm hoping to go to Sheffield University in September and according to their website there is an Orthodox Christian society, so maybe I will find some like minded people there. Is there a BOC in Sheffield?
Simon - I was browsing through <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/">http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/</a><!-- m --> where I found an extract from 'A tiny step away from deepest faith' and thought it sounded really good, so I searched amazon and found one they have everything on there! I read half of it last night, at first I found a lot of what she was writing about quite depressing, but its really interesting and I can't put it down!
- Simon - 03-02-2010
Sheffield is I think only about twenty miles from our BOC Cusworth Church (near Doncaster) - half hour by car? I have no idea what public transport is like up there - hopefully no worse than down here!
And thank you very much for flagging up that excellent little book "A tiny step..." and now that copies are again listed as available I have ordered it. I found it wonderfully insightful and just so right for so many teenagers (and adults too for that matter) stressed out and depressed in this world.
- Eve92 - 09-02-2010
Hello again, just browsing the BOC website and have thought of a rather random question, I looked on the page with pictures of the clergy of the BOC and am wondering why every preist has a beard?? Just curious!
- Simon - 09-02-2010
There are various reasons that go back a long way in the Church for priests having beards, including:
Not spending time shaving and making themselves presentable and attractive according to the ways of the world.
As icons of the bishop who is an icon of Christ it is thought by some that priests are better physical icons of Christ if they have beards
Since priests are presbyters or elders (= old men) it makes us look older (though I will resist any comments concerning wiser!)
- Eve92 - 03-05-2010
Just wanted to know any general Orthodox views on the Bible. Is it the literal word of God to be taken very literally? Is it Godly inspired by written by humans so therefore may contain errors? Is it just one huge metaphor? I've read some things about the Bible which do not put it in a very good light, for example in two of the Gospels Jesus' heritage is given, but they both give conflicting accounts, so surely one of them is wrong and therefore there are mistakes in the Bible? And what about the Old Testament where there is a lot of killing going on??
- John Charmley - 03-05-2010
Good to have another Norfolk person here.
The first thing to say about the Orthodox view of the Bible is that it is the written part of God's revelation to us, not the whole of it. Christ did not drop off a book of instructions, He founded a Church. That Church it was which discerned, in the fourth and fifth centuries, the surviving Apostolic deposit and canonised it; that same Church also decided that the Jewish Scriptures familiar to Christ and His Blessed Apostles should be added to that canon and read with it - producing the Bible.
Christians got by without a Bible for a long time, and as long as Christ's Church exists, they know that in the Church there is best illumination for what that Book means; as St. Peter tells us, no prophecy is by private inspiration.
So, the Bible is certainly the inspired word of God, but it is not, by itself, sufficient. For example, where, in the Bible, does it state what books should be in the Bible - or even that there should be such a thing as the Bible? We know these things because of the Church, which also tells us it is God's inspired word to us.
The late nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a distressing and very non-orthodox split in the Western world between those who, influenced by the new German scholarship coming out of Gottingen, thought that the Bible was, at best, a beautiful metaphor, and those who reacted against it by asserting that every word was literally true. The OC has never taken either position because neither is that of the ancient Church.
In terms of the human ancestry of Christ, the Gospel writers use the oral testimony available to them, that that testimony clashed means simply that. Of course, if you think the thing was dictated by God, that would be very distressing and you could (and people have) come up with a complicated explanation). But if you accept it as a human document inspired by God, there is no problem.
Is there a lot of killing in the OT? Yes, but then there is, regrettably, a lot in history full stop. We are a fallen race and we need the redemption brought by the Lord.
You raise an interesting point which I'd be very happy to discuss further.
An additional point - John Charmley - 03-05-2010
I might add to this that for the Orthodox Holy Scripture is, whilst being a central part of Holy Tradition, just that - a part and not the whole. Because Christ founded a Church and because we know what is and is not Scripture through it, we lean also upon those other survivals of the early Church: the works of the Fathers (whose citations of what was and was not considered Scripture was one of the ways the Church came to know what was an was not Scripture); the ancient liturgies (and for the Orthodox the way we worship is the expression of our theology); and the decisions of the first three Councils, are all part of a seamless web.
To take one example, although the Holy Scriptures tell us that baptism was in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that Christ said He and the Father were one, it no where uses the word 'Trinity', neither does it tell us anything about the nature of the Holy Trinity; for that we have to look at the Nicene Creed formulated at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, and at the works of the Cappadocian Fathers, and of St. Athanasius.
From our perspective, the mistake Protestants seem to make with the Bible is to treat it as though it were the only revelation which God had made to us, when it is a revelation made plain by the Church founded by Christ. That being so, we need the Church to fully illuminate the Bible. Although Protestants often talk about how they have rejected the Pope and his infallibility, they seem often to claim for their own reading of the Bible and infallibility way beyond the limited claims made by the Papacy.
Re: Eve's questions - John Charmley - 03-05-2010
Eve92 Wrote:In short, here are my general questions about the Orthodox faith:
I see, looking through the thread that whilst we have engaged with some of your questions we have not, perhaps, answered the list you initially appended. They are ones I have heard from other enquirers and perhaps it would be good if we could, between us, try to deal with them. I'll do my best, if only to encourage those more knowledgeable to correct my errors or amplify anything which is correct
You ask how we are saved, positing the classic Western dichotomy of Faith and works, or faith. We are saved by Christ. Salvation is a process. We were saved when we were sealed as His by our baptism; we are being saved by wlaking in His way and by received Him into us at the Eucharistic feast; and we hope to be saved at the last through His mercy. Any one who tells you they know who is and who is not saved tells you what he cannot possibly know. God makes this decision; He alone has the wisdom, love and compassion so to do. We are saved by His mercy.
This really answers the question about predestination, although it does not address the issue of the 'elect'. To believe, as some do, that God creates certain people knowing they will be damned forever runs so contrary to the God I know that I find it difficult to comprehend. What earthly father would not do all he could to save his child? God sent Christ to be our Saviour; we can, of course, reject Him.
On prayer, we pray to God, we pray to Him through the Saints and the Blessed Mother of God (THeotokos). Let us face it, we can use all the prayers we can get, and if God's Mother will pray for me, I am always going to ask for her help.
On your fourth point, this is probably culturally conditioned. I suspect that in Egyptian Coptic homes it is similar to elsewhere in Egypt; in the UK it is likewise.
Your fifth point has, I hope, been eloquently dealt with.
On your sixth point, it is the service before the Divine Liturgy, when a good deal of incense is raised
On the seventh, Litrugy is, literally, the worship the people offer to God. In the OC it is usually an hour and a half to two hours long and divided into a number of sections which lead up to the taking of the Eucharist.
On the final point, do look at Abba Seraphim's wonderful You Tube entries on the newly designed website. He deals very well with the talks which have revealed that the misunderstandings of the past are now supported only by the long history which, alas, still divides us, despite the fact that there is so much more which unites us.
There, that is my go, now over to the others
- James-Antony - 03-05-2010
As part of our Enquirers' Course of DVD lectures we use in Portsmouth and along the South Coast, and also other people in the country are following this course, my priest has prepared supplementary reading to go with the lectures. This is from his supplementary reading for the second lecture in the course on the subject of the Bible.
May God guide you in your studies
THE SOURCE OF THE FAITH: TRADITION (THE APOSTOLIC DEPOSIT)
What this reading should help you towards is an Orthodox appreciation of the source of our Faith: the Apostolic Deposit. This is the deposit of Faith and practice received from the Apostles and passed on or 'traditioned' (like a baton in a relay race is passed on or 'traditioned' from one to the next) even unto us today. You will find that some Orthodox writers refer to Scripture and Tradition as two sources of the Orthodox Christian Faith - but this, I believe, is an influence from Western Christianity. There is but one source of the Faith: the Apostolic Deposit, the Tradition, that which has been received. Now this, of course, includes the Bible for the Bible is quite clearly among that which has been received from those before us, even going back to the Apostles. But the Bible should not be seen as something separate from Tradition. Tradition is that which has been passed onto us, that which we have received - and this, you will agree, includes the Bible.
The books that make up the Bible also are among that which has been received - though here you may begin to notice certain differences. Orthodox include within the Old Testament books which Roman Catholics and Protestants call the Apocrypha (the former, if I understand their position, accepting them as slightly âlowerâ than the rest of the Old Testament while the latter reject them as Scripture at all). Jordan Bajisâ statement that the Orthodox accept only the same books as the evangelicals is seriously open to question. He should be cross-checked with Ware who whilst acknowledging that âmost Orthodox scholars at the present dayâ may hold an opinion similar to the Roman Catholic view that these books are in some way âlesserâ than the other Old Testament books does point out that two Eastern Orthodox councils declared them âgenuine parts of Scriptureâ. Thomas Hopko also states that these books âare considered by the Orthodox as genuine parts of the Bibleâ. Given that the Orthodox Old Testament is the Septuagint (the Greek translation as used by Jesus and the Apostles) and the Septuagint included all these books then they clearly are scripture. . The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church accepts still further books as canonical scripture - for example, Enoch. Given that the Epistle of Jude quotes from Enoch I would not find it easy to argue against them on this. Now if I held to a verbally inspired (dictated, in effect) evangelical protestant understanding of the Bible this variation might cause me greater difficulty. But given my Orthodox appreciation of the Bible within Tradition (within that which has been received from the apostles) I do not panic. The Eastern Orthodox may not count Enoch canonical scripture but they quote it and refer to it with reverence as a part of Tradition, the received source of our Faith. Now as Kallistos Ware explains within Tradition a greater emphasis is placed on some aspects than on others. The Bible may have a pre-eminence within but it is not isolated from Tradition. Even in terms of Bible books some would be seen as more important than others â the Gospels being supreme. Whereas in Protestantism there is a harsh divide between the Bible and all else that is not the Bible, in Orthodoxy it is more graded, there are degrees of emphasis and importance within Tradition.
I believe the Bible to be the written record of some who experienced God. (There have no doubt been millions and millions who have experienced God - well, ultimately, all people who have ever lived, multiplied billions, have experienced Godâ¦ but not all have been so conscious or aware of the experience of God). Some of the Biblical writers experienced God through visions and prophecy, others through Godâs working in history, while others expressed their appreciation for God and His creation through poetry. Then there were those who experienced God when God the Son incarnate walked this earth - and their precious records we call the Gospels. Then there are the authors of the epistles - writings that also spring from the experience of Jesusâ¦ So these scriptures are the record of those who experienced God.
Now when I refer to these books as the writings of those who experienced God exactly what am I trying to say? Well, here, as with certain other beliefs, I think it is easier to say what I don't believe - to apply apophatic or 'negative' theology. I do not hold to the evangelicalsâ doctrine of inspiration together with their related doctrine of inerrancy. I do not hold that each and every word of the Bible tells the exact literal word for word account of what was said, for example, by Jesus (as if someone had tape recorded His teachings and was playing them back to us). Nor does it bother me that, for example, in one Gospel the colour of Jesus' robe is purple but in another Gospel it is red. If these accounts were considered as evidence in a court of law, total agreement on all details would suggest fabrication and collusion - it is precisely these differences of incidental detail that show we are dealing with real accounts by real people so that when they agree on the more important points we find them trustworthy. (The argument can be gone into at rather more depth than this but I think that will do for the moment).
Now does this mean that I can't trust the Gospels to tell me what Jesus said? This rather depends on what is being asked by the question. If the question means can I trust that the Gospels report verbatim the exact word for word teachings of Jesus then I would deny this. For example consider the Gospel According to John. The way John writes Jesus as speaking is radically different to the way the other Gospels record His speech. Furthermore the way John recounts Jesus as speaking is the same way most of the characters in John's Gospel speak and even the same way that John writes his Gospel as narrator. One example of this is John chapter 3 where it is notoriously difficult to tell whether John 3:16 is supposed to be words spoken by Jesus or words of explanation inserted by John, the author. Indeed this applies to the whole conclusion to chapter 3 with different versions ending the words of Jesus and beginning the narrative of John at varying places. But if the question about trusting the Gospels to tell me what Jesus said means whether I can trust them to accurately convey to me the teaching of Jesus, even the essential message of salvation that our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ taught, then I have no hesitation in declaring that I do indeed trust these writings, even implicitly and absolutely. As already indicated they can be shown to be trustworthy documents in human terms and according to various ways of testing the veracity or trustworthiness of such writings. Furthermore it is the belief and teaching of the Orthodox Church that they contain no errors appertaining to salvation. And this is the very same authority that gives you the Bible in the first place. The same authority that declares to you that this is the Bible, declares also to you that you may trust these writings, that you may have confidence in what they teach you for your salvation. I want to offer another illustration here. According to the Peshitta, the ancient Aramaic text, in Matthew 19:24 Jesus refers to it being more difficult for a rope to go through the eye of a needle whereas many of us are more familiar with the report that He referred to a camel through the eye of a needle. Whichever word He actually used, the accuracy and truth of the teaching remains.
But what of 2Timothy 3:16 and all scripture being inspired of God? A more literal translation of the Greek word would be that all scripture is God-breathed. Now you may well ask me just what exactly this term means - to which I would have to answer that, exactly and precisely, we don't know! But we can surely say some things about it. It surely tells us that these are not merely human writings on their own, the product of men only - but that God was involved in this process: the scriptures are God-breathed. And that they are God-breathed surely indicates the work of God the Holy Spirit, with that same word for spirit and breath. So what these men were writing was not written of men on their own apart from God but rather together with God even if we do not know the exact understanding. There is something mysterious here. Just as to an Orthodox, the Roman Catholic Church has gone too far and tried to explain (by the theory of transubstantiation) the mystery of holy communion, so here the evangelicals have gone too far with their theories of inspiration and verbal inerrancy. All this is deep and mysterious to an Orthodox. We accept that this is of God as well as man - an example of synergy: God and man working together. But beyond this we are reluctant to say too much. It is yet another holy mystery before which we bow in reverent acceptance rather than seeking to over-explore or dissect scientifically. We do not offer exact, precise explanations - we are content to live with mystery.
Please do not think that we Orthodox think less of the Bible than the evangelicals - just remember how we process in Church with the Gospels, in their silver cover or case, held aloft (and think of the bejewelled silver covers of Byzantine Orthodox Gospels) and think how we venerate the Gospels, how we kiss them, how we love them...
Now another aspect of understanding the Bible as the writings of men seeking (as best as can be) to express their experience of God (as distinct from words virtually dictated by God) means that when the writings refer to God being angry or taking revenge upon a people (or whatever it may be) we can begin to appreciate that the
writer is here seeking to express the inexpressible (or, at any rate, something nearly inexpressible). Such terms as anger or hatred are as much (emotional) metaphor as references to God's right arm or to sheltering under His wings is (physical) metaphor.
Now if you then wonder how you are ever to know how to understand these writings, I would direct you to the same source from which you received these writings: the Apostolic Deposit - the Tradition. The Faith is one.
- John Charmley - 03-05-2010
Many thanks for posting the foregoing. [Incidentally, is it just me, but when I tried to go directly to your new post I was told there were no posts, and so had to access it by clicking on the thread and going to page 2; anyone else having this problem?]
One of the difficulties with the notion of the 'Apostolic deposit' undefined is that without some definition it could mean more than Orthodox tradition has it meaning. The document you cite rightly calls the Bible the testimony of those who have experienced God, but since many have done that, something marks the Apostolic Deposit off from the many pious writings which it is edifying for the faithful to read: 1 Clement, Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas as in some early codices, but we (unless you are in the Ethiopian Church, and then only in their greater canon) do not receive them as Scripture. Likewise the other writings of the Apostolic Fathers, which, again, may be read for spiritual benefit, but which do not contain the word of God in the same way as the Bible does.
If we understand the books as their authors did, that is as the recollections of those who had walked with Christ, and of those who had walked with them, then we get close to an answer to the question of who inspired them - God did. But He did not dictate them, neither did He guide the hands of the scribes who wrote them. He could have done either, or both, of these things had that been His purpose. He chose, instead, to found a Church and to guide it to the knowledge of the Apostolic deposit. We can only do as He said and look to the Church for its teaching.
- Eve92 - 04-05-2010
Hello, thank you very much for all the replies they are very interesting indeed and have given me lots to think about!
And yes John I agree with you about Evangelicals and the claims they make about interpreting the Bible. I was talking to my Christian friends today about a youth group they go to (I used to go to) they were saying how they don't feel comfortable expressing their views on spiritual issues at the youthclub if they go against traditional Evangelical teaching, this is because the leaders claim to have it all worked out and reject any view that does not fit in with theirs. There are many mini-Popes out there in the Evangelical area who claim to have a perfect interpretation of the Bible!
Here's another question, is there a particular leader of the Orthodox Church? What do the Orthodox believe Jesus is talking about when he makes Peter the 'rock' of His Church? I have heard Evangelical teaching on this, that Jesus was talking about Peter's faith being the rock of his Church. But Peter is notorious for rejecting Jesus at least three times, is this the kind of faith Jesus admires? But then again I suppose we all doubt and falter, so I don't know?!