Crypto- ???

It may sound funny to some, but I’m trying to decide whether I’m crypto-Catholic or Crypto-Orthodox. It isn’t just a struggle with minutiae either. Of course I’ve never seen an Orthodox crypt…

On the Catholic side:

1. Saints Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, and I could go on.

2. There is a unifying principle and a final authority in matters pertaining to doctrine and church authority. While the organized chaos of Orthodoxy can be invigorating, it can also be alienating, confusing, and on occasion lethargy-inducing.

3. The theology is eminently accessible to me. Not that theology always must be, because I enjoy a challenge. But it helps avoid the lethargy that wading through something I completely don’t understand tends to give me.

4. The Catholic Church is more open to Eastern expression within their ranks than the Orthodox Church is about Latin expression.

On the Orthodox side:

1. The mystery and otherness of it.

2. The willingness to leave somethings undefined.

3. The lack of such juridical language.

Hm. I can’t help but notice that the appeal of Orthodoxy for me largely has to do with an “other”-ness and that the Catholic Church, in her wisdom, has left this route of growth open. Interestingly enough when I started this list, I expected the Orthodox side to come out ahead…

Oh well, we are all a work in progress and I’m still plumbing the depths of the Christian Tradition.


~ by crossingthebosporus on June 28, 2012.

43 Responses to “Crypto- ???”

  1. A really interesting exercise, which I should try.
    It may be no help, but my brother in law, who began as a Methidist (yes) and became an Anglican, then converted to Orthodoxy (new baptism and all). He is a grea devotee of apophatic theology, but in the end found the ‘otherness’ of Orthodoxy too much like a demand to adapt to ethnic customs with which he felt uncomfortable . He was particularly struck by the nastiness to gay people, which was claimed as Orthodix, but was plain old- fashioned prejudice not uncommon in Russia.

    In the end he crossed the Tiber, becoming sure that there needed to be a source of authority, and that it was the Bishop of Rome.

    • Hm, yes. I had forgotten about how there seems to be a definite idea of giving up your ethnic identity. I think the relationship between church and culture is far more nuanced than Orthodoxy often seems to make it, as I believe you mentioned in one of your recent posts.

      I’m also slowly coming around to the idea that there needs to be some source of authority. But I’m being dragged kicking and screaming as it were due to past negative experiences with theological abuse from religious authorities. Still, I shouldn’t let past “charismatic” experiences color the fact that there is nothing inherently wrong with authority if it is properly practiced.

      I tend to be overly organized and of a list-making nature, hence this experiment!

      • I think it is a great idea myself. On the theme here, take a look at the exchange here
        The comments are most illuminating. I am afraid that I find Fr. Stephen’s attitude as off-putting as possible, real gnostic traces – a danger for converts here. Be interested in your view

      • Hm, I don’t agree with his view that the Church Fathers in the West are NOT the foundation of Church teaching. Hilary of Poitiers for example. Although perhaps Fr. Stephen would say that he’s acceptable since he knew Greek unlike Augustine? One would also have to ignore basically every theologian coming out of Rome for a few hundred years. What about Saint Jerome, for example? Both churches recognize his importance. Benedict of Nursia (although not as important in the East) is accepted as a saint by both churches. I’ve even seen an eastern ikon of Benedict. The popes in Rome also participated in the councils in the East. So, I find that rather off-putting and either ill-informed or just overlooked. And I think Fr. Stephen speaks too quickly and broadly about the West, especially when he claims that there’s been no beauty from our heritage.

        By gnosticism do you mean the discussion of the Philokalia, or the talk about “two wills” in a person? I think Fr. Stephen makes a good point about the two wills and explains that decently. I can understand how it could been seen as a gnostic two natures, but I don’t think this particular interpretation gets into gnosticism. Although it can be murky waters. I’m not too familiar with this explication of two wills. This is the first I’ve heard of it.

        If you mean the Philokalia, where the accusation of gnosticism gets pulled out, then I can see what you mean. I had one of the volumes of the Philokalia once and found it completely impenetrable. The work commonly titled something like “Sayings of the Desert Fathers” is far more accessible and very profound. Fr. Stephen does seem to hint at some secret and special knowledge granted to the especially holy. I assume he would deny such a characterization though. It reminds me of something Karl Barth wrote (while quoting Augustine) in his commentary on John (I think). He wrote about how when we approach God’s self-revelation, we are as hills looking up to a mountain from whence comes the light of revelation. However, Barth would vehemently deny that any of this is secret. There is perhaps revelation that demands more spiritual growth and maturity, but nothing secret. So I can totally see where Fr. Stephen seems to be veering close to claiming some kind of special or secret knowledge in the discussion of the Philokalia. It’s yet another reason why I’m veering closer to Catholicism. The mystic experiences in Catholicism overwhelmingly remain, by and large, open and accessible.

      • Yes, it is precisely this dismissal of the Western fathers which worries me. Leo the Great is someone they totally ignore, despite his contribution to Chalcedon. Augustine gets dismissed because he had no Greek (which isn’t quite true), but they have no problem dismissing all the Western Fathers; that simply smacks of parochialism. I noted that Fr. Stephen didn’t say he’d read Augustine or Calvin, and yet felt able to dismiss the latter. That’s what worried me about Orthodoxy, as I have seen this so many times.
        yes, it is this business about the Philokalia being full of knowledge which can only be revealed to the initiated (for which I fear I read brain-washed) which I see as gnostic.
        I have, as you do, a huge respect for the Greek Fathers, but there are two lungs to our Patristic heritage, we shouldn’t breath only through one of them.

      • If I remember my Augustine correctly, he talks about learning Greek in his “Confessions.” He admits he’s not as big of a fan of Greek as he is of Latin, but I got the impression he was at least functional. Although it has been a few years since I’ve picked up the “Confessions.” I can understand why the Orthodox look askance at Augustine’s interpretation of original sin, but to dismiss him out of hand is going too far. I think some people want to read the Great Schism backwards into history.

        I can understand if someone says that the Philokalia is obscure and mystic and so wouldn’t make sense to someone outside of the tradition which produced it. I think that may be what Fr. Stephen is trying to get at and he may simply have made a poor choice in words. In fact, I suppose charity requests that I put that interpretation of what Fr. Stephen said in this interaction. Yet, as I said before, somehow the western mystic tradition manages to be both deeply mystical and more accessible.

      • Good points. Augustine clearly has Greek, and your recollection of the ‘Confessions’ is spot on.

        What I find difficult here is that you and I can admire and respect the Greek tradition, but do not find any reciprocation. I have met quite a few Orthodox theologians through a close relative of mine who was Orthodox, and never found one who thought Augustine worth reading, or had read him.

        I find the dismissal of Calvin quite shocking. His ‘Institutes’ are one of the great theological works of the Christian tradition, and the fact that some of his interpretations seem incorrect to many, would never lead me to dismiss him.

        It is this dismissal of our tradition which concerns me; the early Church made no such distinction; nor should we.

  2. Thanks for following me. I am glad to be along for your journey, too. 🙂

    All four of the reasons you list were important to me, too, but the question of final authority was a crucial factor for me. Growing up I always felt so lost in the evangelical world, with no claims to real authority at all. But then enter the Catholic Church, which not only claims authority, but can rightly justify its claim: St. Peter is the Rock on which Christ founded the Church. And the Church truly is catholic, or universal — that’s why it can encompass and embrace so many expressions and traditions.

    You might check out my “Affinities,” category, in which I relate some of the most important aspects of Catholicism that drew me. I still have so much more to add…

    • As I mentioned in reply to Jessica, I’m (rather reluctantly!) finding authority to be more and more of a factor.

      My journey away from evangelicalism started with reading a book titled something like “Catholics are Christians Too.” Sad that evangelicals even need to be told that! It was a great read and when I re-examined my Bible, I couldn’t help but notice that the evangelical interpretation was lacking such depth and even reason. One classic example is when Jesus says “Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you have no part with me.” Evangelicals say that obviously this passage must be metaphorical. But it’s not obvious at all. In fact, the passage lends itself more readily to a literal interpretation.

      I look forward to browsing through your affinities category. I still have so much more to add as well!

  3. Hi guys,
    I am a catechumen in the Orthodox Church and have been wrestling with many similar issues over the past couple of years.
    I know that the Orthodox perspective can be quite foreign and off-putting, but it is very important for Protestants considering the ancient and one-holy-catholic-apostolic-Church to consider the *best* arguments from both the Catholic and Orthodox sides. Being put off by Father Stephen Freeman\’s ad-hoc remarks, even if they represent a large stream of current Orthodox thought, is not a fair way to assess Orthodoxy.
    If you have the book available to you, it might be interesting (esp. JessicaHof) to have a browse through a few recent Orthodox works on the issue of authority, Scripture, Tradition, Church. For example: The introduction to Fr. John Meyendorff\’s _Byzantine Theology_ lays out the Orthodox perspective on \’authority\’ in the Church in contrast to Western Protestant/Catholic perspectives. He would argue that Protestantism and Catholicism are both sides of the same (misguided) coin in this regard. The whole book is good. Also, Fr. Georges Florovsky\’s _Bible, Church, Tradition_ (volume 1 of his collected works) lays out these themes. Phillip Sherrard\’s _Church, Papacy, Schism_ might also be of interest. Come to think of it, *PLEASE* read Clark Carlton’s _The Truth: What Every Roman Catholic Should Know About the Orthodox Church_.

    It is important to keep in mind – and I don\’t mean this pejoratively or as something that you\’ve never heard before! – that the Eastern half of the empire really was the center of Christianity (thought, etc) for the first millennium of Christianity. Four out of the five patriarchates, most of the churches that the apostles started, the same Greek language as the Scriptures and apostles spoke, all of the first 7 ecumenical councils (responding to mostly eastern heretics, obviously) – all of these were in the East (even Leo\’s Tome was measured against Cyril\’s theology before it was accepted by the council Fathers). It is generally recognized that, regardless of one\’s view of their current situation, the Orthodox Church does generally *best* represent the faith of the first millennium (obviously Catholics would want to say \’minus canonical submission to the bishop of Rome). That is, *everything* in the Orthodox Church is *soaked* in the christology theology of the first 7 councils. If they can be faulted for anything, it would be failing to move with the times, not failing to hold the faith of the Church from the first millennium.

    Anyways, I know that all of this will sound like \”blah, blah, blah, Eastern superiority and arrogance, blah, blah\”, but I just wanted to encourage you to make sure that you really soak in a truly Eastern perspective on God, man, the Church, salvation, before you \’cross the tiber.\’ I know that when Fr. Stephen speaks out of this perspective and makes claims about the Western tradition, it can be really off-putting (and not all Orthodox agree with him – listen for example to Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon\’s podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio). What people like Fr. Stephen Freeman are trying to get across is that if one really dives deep into the theology of the first 7 ecumenical councils and the teachings of people like Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, etc, then one cannot reconcile them with the teachings of Anselm and Aquinas. Their paradigms don\’t line up. That is why Orthodoxy is much less \’open to\’ and \’accepting of\’ Rome than the latter is of the former.

    It is much easier for a Protestant to initially *get* Catholicism, because they are basically working out of a similar paradigm with very different answers to similar questions. It takes a lot more work to *get* Orthodoxy, but it is very enlightening. Besides, if one is truly convinced about Rome then it is obviously considered safe to encounter the Eastern Fathers anyways!

    Perhaps browing around the archives of might be of interest? Or searching for \’Perry\’ in the comments of many posts on Called To Communion. He generally does a good job of interacting out of the Eastern theological framework.

    Forgive my intrusion here. I just feel really sad when people get disinterested in Orthodoxy because of its \’foreignness\’ and its \’mystery.\’ I strongly felt those things for a year or so, and then after sustained reading and praying and attendance at the Divine Liturgy I began to see their perspective making sense as a beautiful harmony in which everything is related to everything else in the most magnificent way. I understand that many others (including perhaps yourselves) with much more holiness, study and prayer under their belt choose differently.

    May God bless and guide you in your journeys.

    Kyrie Eleison.

    • Joel,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading as well as for recommending those books. I’ll definitely have to see if I can get them and read through. Also, if you’ll look at my most recent blog post, you’ll see that I’m actually reconsidering my decisions made on this blog post. And, interestingly enough, I’m reconsidering largely because of thoughts occurring to me after I was praying some prayers from an Orthodox prayer book. The work of the Holy Spirit in my heart perhaps?

      I really enjoy reading Fr. Stephen’s blog, so I meant no disrespect to him, he’s one of the most challenging blogs I’m subscribed to (in a good way!) And I agree with your point about Anselm. I’ve never much cared for his arguments. Especially his ontological argument for the existence of God, because I don’t think such an argument even NEEDS to be made. I think Anselm is working from a poor paradigm.

      I’m definitely going to check out the blog you linked too. Thanks for taking the time to write everything out and recommend so many resources. You’re definitely not an intrusion since I want to hear what each side has to say. I wish I could lay claim to your compliment of “holiness, study and prayer,” but I’m sure my spouse could tell you a different truth! 😉

      Feel free to visit here anytime and may God bless you and your journey through the catechumenate.

  4. Crossingthebosporus,
    I found this post via a link on somebody else’s site (can’t even remember who now…I was browsing!), and so I haven’t read your other posts. As soon as I’m done with this comment I’ll check out your latest ones! I suspected from your tag name that you weren’t sold on Rome…and I posted the comment in large part to direct JessicaHof to some sources (though I don’t presume to know anything about her or what she’s already read or considered!! She seems much more capable than myself.).

    I find Fr. Stephen to be *very* good at giving one a picture of what an Orthodox perspective looks like from the center. However he is often not the best way for one to be *introduced* to Orthodoxy. 🙂 He is not gentle (and can get quite harsh at times, which is obviously hard for those like me outside of the Holy Orthodox Church to receive) – but he is profound. I often find that ‘introductions’ to Orthodoxy miss the point – largely because the biblicist evangelical converts writing the introductions probably never seriously thought of these issues before their conversion…although I don’t presume to judge! Really, for the Orthodox, Christology is *everything.* It wasn’t until I began to see how a properly Niceno-Constantinopolitan-Chalcedonian-Cyrillian-Maximosian (?) Christology completely unravels my Protestant (Reformed, Calvinist) heritage that I *truly* began to open up to the Orthodox Church and their totally different perspective.

    I made reference to one blog from Rome named “Called to Communion” assuming that you’d heard of it, but I now realize that I saw a different ‘searcher-for-the-ancient-church’ reference it. It might be dangerous to send one considering the Orthodox Church here, because it is really an intramural conversation between Rome and Geneva, but when they do allow Perry to have a say he usually bats it out of the park. If you read nothing else on the site, read the comments on the link below. Even doing a search for “Perry” and just reading his responses is very illuminating regarding the truly profound effects of a proper christology on the rest of one’s ecclesiological, anthropological, soteriological and theological perspectives.

    God’s grace and peace to you,

    Kyrie eleison

    • Oh dear, someone re-blogged me somewhere? I hope they were gentle with poor, ignorant me.

      And you’re right, I’m not entirely sold on Rome and actually for a lot of the same reasons that most Orthodox people are not entirely sold on Roman Catholicism. I’m leaning more toward Orthodoxy at the moment, and the problems there are far more practical. By that I mean that the nearest Orthodox congregation is at least one hour away, and (I’m an expat living in Germany) I’ve had trouble finding a church that does services even in German. They seem to be even more “ethnic” than the Orthodox congregations I visited in the USA. So I can’t even find someone in “real life” to discuss everything with. Hm I just thought of St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, “How can I understand without someone to explain it to me?”

      But anyway, I don’t want to drone on about practical problems. I’ve also found Orthodoxy to blow my perspective wide open from my Methodist heritage. It was actually taking an interest in Orthodoxy that steered me away from a loss of belief. So the entire paradigm-challenging aspect of Orthodoxy is one I enjoy, even if I sometimes find it hard to access. Thanks for all your help and information!

  5. Dear Joel, thank you so much for the guides to reading. I have read the Meyendorff, tried, but failed with Florovsky (I just can’t make out what he’s trying to tell me, however hard I try). I will look out the others though, as I am not familiar with them.
    My own contact with Orthodoxy is quite extensive, but it is with Oriental Orthodoxy (through the Copts), so from the start I am wary of any claim that there is an Orthodox view, or even that the Eastern Orthodox can claim to be the Orthodox Church; well, of course, it can, but you know what I mean 🙂

    If you pop over to my blog there’s a set of good posts (not by me, I hasten to add) about St. Cyril of Alexandria.

    Like you and our host here, I am on a journey, and letting myself be guided. In many respects Anglo-Catholicism give me much, and whatever happens, I’ll always be grateful to it. I wish you so much joy on your journey, and pray that your catechumenate may take you to where you need to be.

    In His peace,


    • Jess,

      My current understanding (with very little actual contact with Coptic Christians) is that the Copts and the ‘Eastern’ Orthodox Church are very similar. There are three Copts who worship regularly with us at the Orthodox parish (as well as their own parish on Saturdays!) and they find nothing in Orthodoxy at odds with their Coptic Orthodox selves (one of them is our parish’s reader, although I’m not sure how ‘canonical’ that is…). I have spoken with him on the topic and he says that they basically share the same faith, with some unfortunate mutual misunderstandings along the way (and many Orthodox are saying this as well, as far as I know). The Coptic Orthodox Church has been the most persecuted Christian community on earth through their history, with the ‘Eastern’ Orthodox Church close behind at the hands of Turkish and Communist oppressors (with all due respect to other groups that have faced much persecution as well!). Thus they have not had much time or freedom for ‘theological innovation,’ again here more or less similar with Orthodoxy – at least in the last millennium. They are a people of deep and persistent prayer.

      I just started reading a book by a the Coptic Matthew the Poor called _The Communion of Love_, and the first chapter on reading Scripture was one of the most profound things that I have ever read. My spiritual father said that this book was fine for me to read and that he has known a bunch of people who have loved the book. So I guess all of this is to say that my (however limited) experience of Orthodox Christians has been one of openness to the Coptic Christians.

      Although I am new and ignorant, I would imagine that the easiest ‘ending of broken communion’ would be that between the Coptic and ‘Eastern’ Orthodox communions. That said, please let me know if I am sorely misunderstanding the similarities due to my general ignorance of Coptic Christianity.

  6. Thanks for responding so kindly Joel – it is much appreciated. If you were to ask an Athonite monk (which of course I couldn’t, being a girl) he’d probably knock your priest’s block off for having a heretic reading at your Church; and I am sure Fr. Stephen would not approve at all. If you look at what the orthodox information exchange site says, you’ll see why!

    I would share your priest’s irenic attitude, but many Orthodox would not; is it Antiochene by any chance? My co-author was a Coptic Christian who worked for reunion with the East for years, but gave up in despair, broken by the attitude of men like Fr. Stephen. Whenever there is something which is difficult to justify, they go all ‘oh this is tough love’ about it – which is convenient.

    I love Matthew the Poor. Indeed, I met the late Coptic Pope twice and love the Copts. I just wish all Orthodox took your priest’s view – of which I strongly approve!

  7. I worship at an OCA parish. I think that the bishop is quite aware of the situation, although there is a chance that I am misinterpreting the situation.
    To my knowledge, the OCA in general is quite ready to *work towards* communion with the Coptic communion (even if it will be very hard in practical terms), or at least that is what His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH has explicitly said. The recently reposed Coptic Pope was also remembered and prayed for on the official OCA website the day of his repose

  8. By “orthodox information exchange” do you by any chance mean ?

    • If this is the website being referred to, I’d just like to toss out there that this is a website that I’ve had other Orthodox people (online) warn me about before. I don’t think there’s anything heretical on this website, but they take a… how should I say it? A “hardline conservative” approach. Perhaps an accurate parallel is to say that this website seems to represent the Orthodox version of SSPX. For example, I can’t help but think that they are completely misrepresenting the Orthodox who are engaging in ecumenical dialogue on this page:

  9. Yes, I’d agree – though they wouldn’t – all of which takes us back to our question of who speaks for Orthodoxy? The guys running that site seem to, the ecumenical guys say they do, and the Athonite monks are darn sure they do. In the end this was what drove my co-writer, ‘Chalcedon451’ into the Catholic Church – at least he knew who was speaking with authority 🙂

    I’d be really interested in your ‘take’ Joel – and thanks for the heads up on the site.

    • Jess,
      I proceed with fear and trepidation, knowing that much of what I might have to say would be swiftly corrected by those more capable than myself. My (long and scattered!) ‘take’ is to be heard in the context of my general ignorance of these things of which I speak as a new catechumen and my terrible sinfulness. This issue of ‘who speaks for Orthodoxy’ – and more particularly, what is to be said about particular issues like ‘the status of the non-Orthodox’, etc – has occupied much of my mind space over the past two years and also kept my Dutch Reformed wife (thus far, lord have mercy) from entering the catechumenate with me. I will share some things that come to mind from my journey in this regard:
      – Rome’s centralized and easily discerned authority structure, which can give ‘certainty’ to those searching for such comforting and guiding authority, doesn’t at all imply that it is true. After all, ‘certainty’ is a description of psychological disposition, not a description of reality itself – one can be ‘certain’ and quite wrong. So the difficulty of discerning a contemporary Orthodox ‘authoritative teaching’ on the status of the non-Orthodox and on the requirements for ecclesial communion should not be a deciding factor, in my humble opinion.
      – History reveals that this is a messy business. Where was the clarity (from Rome’s or Orthodoxy’s side) when St. Maximus was on trial for his teachings and his accuser’s brought forth the evidence that *Rome* and *Constantinople* and other apostolic sees were opposed to his teachings. Where was the ‘obvious’ authority there? Where was ‘immediate certainty’ to be found then? Ask St. Gregory the Theologian where the ‘immediate certainty’ was in the 4th Century when he arrived at his 40+/- person parish in Constantinople? There are numerous instances that the Orthodox would bring up (like the instance of Pope Vigilius being condemned in the fifth ecumenical council and the council’s apparent assumption of authority over him), but the Catholics have their responses. The Catholics have their quotes about ‘the See of St. Peter’ from numerous Fathers, and the Orthodox also have their responses. Some become convinced one way or the other (I am compelled by the Orthodox perspective) but regardless, this goes to show that the idea of ‘certainty’ in a mechanical sense (‘the bishop of Rome says this’) is just not really to be found in key times of the history of the Church (at least in the first millennium…) in the way that many today assume that it should. Many Catholics accuse Orthodoxy of being no different than Protestantism in their lack of immediate papal authority. That is ludicrous. The difference between Orthodoxy (and Rome) and the Protestants is that the Protestants have *no* normative conditions with which to determine whether they are teaching correctly over against others making the same claims, *ever*. Orthodoxy *does* have these conditions, but they are just not always available immediately in the midst of a dispute. The Orthodox, and Rome, have the means by which to look backwards and declare *normatively* whether the Arians or Athanasius was correct, etc. The Orthodox will come to a unified voice on the important questions of today. It just may not be obvious for a hundred years. I wish I could articulate this more clearly, but basically history is messy.
      – Forgive me if you’ve heard this many times and are sick of it, but it seems to me a big point. Contemporary Orthodoxy is adjusting to life after some brutal historical circumstances (Communism, etc) and is struggling to articulate itself ‘canonically’ in the midst of a new situation – *especially* in the Western context where it now for the first time has to deal with a multitude of denominations in its immediate vicinity challenging it from all sides. For example, the overlapping jurisdictions in North America (and I think a couple other places) are technically uncanonical. However, it was an historical necessity. In the early years of Orthodoxy in North America, everybody was under the Russian Patriarchate. There were not multiple bishops in North America in a given area. When the Bolshevik revolution (or Russian Revolution?) severed contact with the Russian mother-church in the early 20th century all of the ethnic parishes were left stranded, so they each appealed to the their homelands in desperation. And thus we have this situation today. However, (most of!) the Orthodox recognize how this impedes their life and witness , and so they are currently working to change this. There is a great and holy council being planned that will seek to settle this question. It will probably get *very* messy. But it always has. YET, in spite of this ‘messy’ administrative life, it would be fair to say that the Orthodox have maintained a unity of faith and worship and life throughout the years that few other communions can come close to. Some would say that this is the presence of the Holy Spirit. How else to account for this? Rome’s worldwide and historical unity (real or projected) makes sense. Everything goes through the papal office. Orthodoxy’s doesn’t. But it is there.
      – Many times, those who end up entering Rome do so due to ‘the authority question.’ Same with those who enter Orthodoxy. But this can be over-emphasized. Was St. Gregory the Theologian, or St. Maximus, or St. Cyril simply telling others to ‘recognize the teachings of the bishop of Rome’ or ‘submit to your local bishop’ ? No, because obviously there were heretical bishops (even of Rome, so the Orthodox would argue). BUT, what about the *truth* question! Sts. Gregory and Cyril and Maximus were willing to suffer for their teachings because they thought they were *TRUE,* and they didn’t always have papal ratification or ecumenical councils to back them up (at the time). The question of ‘authority ‘is not the *only* way to discover whether Orthodoxy or Rome is the faithful guardian of the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ Another important complementary approach is to discover whether the teachings of today are in organic harmony with the Christological and Triadological teachings of the first seven councils and their Fathers. The latest post here about Hopko’s ‘doctrinal development’ podcast made me think of this. The argument made by the historically aware Orthodox Christians is that contemporary Western teachings (Papal ecclesiology, filioque, immaculate conception, original guilt, Aquinas’ teachings on absolute divine simplicity, etc; or Calvinist predestination, limited atonement, penal substitutionary atonement, etc) are incompatible with the Christology and Triadology of the (mostly Eastern) Fathers of the first millennium. And I specify Eastern only in the sense that the first seven councils were all held there geographically, and the main defenders of the faith in the face of the heretical teachings in the background were mostly Eastern Fathers (Sts. Athanasius, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, St. John of Cassian, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, etc , not to mention Chrysostom; the West also obviously also contributed through Augustine, Jerome, Leo, etc). I am not qualified to go into detail about this, so take that as you will.
      – Two things regarding the stance of the Athonite monks: 1) I have been struck recently with how different the modern ecumenical tone is than that of the Fathers of the Church regarding those outside of the Church (when there was no “Orthodoxy” and “Roman Catholicism”). It was believed and taught that heretical/heterodox teachings placed salvation in the balances; that is why it was so vehemently rejected via councils and the teachings of individual Fathers. Schismatic groups were received back into the Church via repentance and. Now people are taken aback at the firm tone of the Athonite monks. But if the papal claims really are false (per Orthodoxy), then they are horribly deceitful, deeply problematic, and revealing of a heretical/heterodox Christology and Triadology, without which such claims could never be possible (again, from an Orthodox perspective). So then why would the Athonite monks not treat it with a firm and canonically harsh spirit? It is not small matter! If Orthodoxy has truly maintained the apostolic faith, then nothing less than repentance and the acceptance of that faith will qualify one (individual or group) for full communion. That said, obviously the Orthodox are still responsible to love those we disagree with. Nothing I said was meant to take away from that. 2) It is important to keep in mind that monks in general, and especially Athonite monks, are seen in Orthodoxy as residing in the trenches of the battle against the kingdom of darkness. They are on the frontlines. There is no ‘economia’ for them. Their salvation is not in ‘concessions’ but in ‘strictness.’ They do all the services, keep all the strict fasts, hold all the canons, etc. If they didn’t, who would? Where would the *fullness* of the faith be found? This isn’t to say that a married Orthodox Christian in the world is a ‘second class’ Christian, but it is to say that the monk is in a much better position to focus on the fight against evil than one also concerned with monthly insurance premiums, children’s clothing getting too small, whether to buy an Apple or a PC, etc. Many of them are also charismatic spiritual guides to thousands and thousands of Orthodox pilgrims and Christians every month (or couple weeks!). This spiritual guidance is coming out of their years of formation in the fullest possible life of the Orthodox faith. Perhaps they are able to see more clearly than others the implications of hasty communion with Rome/Anglicans/Coptic groups, etc.
      – Come to think of it, many of the ancient Fathers even spoke with much harshness to those with whom they *were* in communion.
      – I guess I haven’t really answered your question: “who speaks for Orthodoxy today.” Maybe I can’t actually answer it. Speaking generally, Orthodoxy does not give infallibility to one individual (Church Father or Bishop of Rome, Constantinople, etc). Any and every individual bishop is capable of error. It sees infallibility as residing in the Church, which is the life of the Holy Spirit. The symbols of faith, definitions, decrees and canons of the first seven Ecumenical Councils (and those with similar binding authority after these; cf. the two documents below for reference to the ‘eighth ecumenical council’, etc) are an expression of this, the collective mind of the bishops and the faithful. The liturgy itself is an expression of this. The collective voice of the Fathers and Saints (received as such by the Church) are an expression of this. The ascetical life and the life of the ‘holy mysteries’ are an expression of this. The Scriptures are an expression of this. Those searching for the certainty of the papacy on a wide variety of exegetical and theological matters will never find it in Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church has only ‘dogmatized’ Christological and Trinitarian matters (and this appears ‘minimalist’ until one begins to realize that these have implications for *everything*). The rest are simply seen as flowing out from these central matters. This could be seen as a weakness, but also a potential strength in that there can be a difference of opinion tolerated as long as it is in line with the Church’s teaching on Christ and the Holy Trinity, and in harmony with the services, prayer, and Holy Mysteries of the Church. I can only recommend re-reading Fr. Meyendorff’s introduction to _Byzantine Theology_. Perhaps others will be able to give a better answer to this question.
      – These historical documents are interesting:
      – Usually (but perhaps you would want to say, ‘not always!’) the things which the Orthodox appear to lack unity on are not Orthodoxy *in itself* but Orthodoxy *as it relates to the non-Orthodox.* That is a very different thing. It sucks for those who want these answers, and it means that many flock to Rome who might otherwise ‘cross the Bosporus,’ but be that as it may….

      • First of all Joel, thank you for such a long and detailed response. It’s great to have you here and your contributions to help sort us all out. These are exactly the type of discussions I was hoping to have with my blog.

        Your point about easily distinguished authority is almost exactly where my thought process has been leading me as I lean back toward Orthodoxy over Rome. I think you’re absolutely right that a centralized authority is not always compatible with something being true. Even in Orthodoxy the Patriarch of Constantinople has been called out for false teachings before. I think we, as limited human beings, prefer to have a distinctive and centralized authority. It helps us feel comfortable. We can draw lines and say that X is inside the lines and Y is outside the lines. However, I’m not entirely sure that this is how God always works. There are the lines of correct dogma, orthodoxy if you will, but perhaps it is wiser to allow such leeway within those lines. I think I mentioned somewhere else that Orthodoxy takes a long-term view and appears to think that some ideas should be allowed to grow for a while so that we can see where their logical end lies. Sometimes the end lies in a deeper understanding of the ancient faith, sometimes it lies in heresy. But we can’t really know until we see the fruit of the growth.

        The other thing that I wonder about is can the same criticisms we’re discussing about Orthodoxy be applied to Roman Catholicism as well? Sure they have the Pope, who is in some ways the final authority, but that doesn’t always stop the uncertainty. Look at the contemporary struggle among traditionalists, conservatives, and liberals. Especially regarding the fallout of Vatican II. Some traditionalists don’t even accept the validity of Vatican II and claim to speak for Catholicism, others think that Vatican II didn’t go far enough and they claim to speak for Catholicism too. So I can’t help but feel that Roman Catholicism suffers from the same criticism when you really start to push the system and see where the boundaries lay. In theory, it operates one way. In practice, perhaps sometimes it seems no different than the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion.

  10. Any conversations I usually have about Orthodoxy are had with Calvinists or Baptists. It is a much different type of discussion bringing Orthodox into conversation with Roman or Coptic topics of interest!
    I’m not sure if my last comment went through; it was quite long…

    • Your comment went through. For some reason WordPress is requiring that I approve them, even though I had already approved your previous comments (and so all future ones should have been approved as well.) Being on European Central Time, I might have been asleep when you originally posted these comments, but they’re up now.

  11. Oh, and I recently spoke with a priest who said that many commune Coptic Christians out of economia, as long as their Christology is Chalcedonian – even if they describe it slightly differently (and they see that the Orthodox are not ‘secret Nestorians’). He thinks (and hopes) that it won’t be long before we’re drinking from the same cup. I know that delegates from the OCA (and maybe other jurisdictions, I don’t remember), including His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH, came back from an official meeting with the Coptic delegates and declared that they found nothing wrong with their Christology. I hope I’m remembering that right!

    My Christology has been thoroughly shaped by Perry Robinson at, which means to say thoroughly shaped in an Orthodox context. I am not really familiar with the Coptic perspective. Do they worry about speaking of Christ as one divine person *in two natures*?

  12. Dear Joel – I am ever so grateful for the trouble you have gone to with your responses; thank you 🙂

    I did think you might be with the OCA. The Russians and the Greeks will not agree with you on the Copts; the Athonite Monks would take a sledgehammer, I fear. That epitomises the problem for me. I love your attitude and that of the OCA, it so speaks to the Christ I have come to know. But, after 1600 years, the American ‘can do’ spirit might point towards the problems being small ones which can be solved, and the weight of history may point the other way. There is no authority which can rule here. Yet, if the Athonite monks are right and this is a matter pertaining to salvation, that means millions being condemned to hell because a group of clerics can’t get their ducks in a row; that doesn’t seem as though it could possibly be God’s will; it does seem like the doing of prideful men.

    As I am not a Roman Catholic, I have no great axe to grind for the Pope, but, as my blog essays are exploring, I do think that there is merit in the Petrine claims, and I do wonder whether, in the modern world, what worked for the OC when it was under persecution and ethnically based, can really work? Rome, after all, allows a diversity of approach – if you look at the UK Ordinariate and compare it with the Ukrainian Catholic Orthodox, they have quite different traditions, but they acknowledge the authority of Rome; beyond that, there is as much diversity as one sees elsewhere in the world.

    The other thing which makes me stop to think is missionary activity. The idea that God’s church subsists in the Orthodox Church would mean accepting that for centuries God did not care about the rest of the world. There was virtually no Orthodox missionary activity, despite the fact that the Russians were not under Communist persecution until 1917. Compare that with my own Anglican Church, or the Roman Church, or the Protestant churches, all of which went out to the ends of the earth as the Apostles did, Compared to that, St. Herman in Alaska is a drop in the ocean.

    I am not really convinced by the expression ‘Eastern Fathers’. Jerome spent much time in Jerusalem and knew Greek and Hebrew well. All the men you mention were part of the ‘Romanitas’ of Late Antiquity. The Cappadocian Fathers, like Jerome, like Cyril, like Origen, were part of Roman culture, which itself, was, of course, heavily influenced by Greek culture.

    If one really wants ‘Eastern’ Fathers, I go to my beloved St. Isaac of Syria, or Araphat, or St. Ephrem and the riches of the Syriac church; or even to the Church of the East, whose missionaries got all the way to China.

    But then I stand in a church whose attitude towards so many things is now placing it outside the Apostolic tradition; brighter women than me tell me it is the working of the Spirit; I fear the only spirit at work is that of the age.

    Bless you for being kind enough to help me, and I shall pray for you on your journey, and please, if you can, pray for me.

  13. Jessica,

    Thanks for the response, and for the prayer. I will include you (and this blog author) in my prayers.

    I hear the reality and weight of your concerns. I suppose that, in many ways, I have simply chosen not to keep them at the forefront of my journey. They still burden me – and sometimes threaten to halt my journey towards communion with the Orthodox Church – but I have chosen to focus on Truth (Christology, Triadology, etc) instead of these practical concerns. Don’t get me wrong, by ‘practical’ I don’t mean unimportant or small. They are *huge.* But I simply mean that: 1) I could spend the rest of my life in the middle of nowhere if I try to figure out a way forward that will save everybody that I want to be saved [cf. below on ‘saved’]. 2) Ultimately, if one or another of these communions really has kept and passed on the Truth whole and intact (and the others haven’t), then these other questions will work themselves out, however much I will grieve some of the implications (and pray for their reparation!).

    I hear what you’re saying about missionary activity. But, again, that could be nothing more than a mixture of historical circumstances (don’t forget Islam, with the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch being under Turkish domination, if memory serves me correctly) and the sin and failings of Orthodox Christians. Truth is Truth; missionary activity isn’t Truth. The Jehovah’s witnesses would be a good example of this (not sure where you live, Jess, but here in Canada they knock on our doors almost once a year). One can point to the failings of every tradition/communion, but that really in effect says nothing other than that you are looking at a whole lot of sinners – not that you aren’t looking at the Church.

    I guess all of the people that I have been influenced by do not have a ‘everybody else is damned’ mentality. They may say, ‘we can only say where we know the Church is, and not where it isn’t,’ but they don’t say ‘everybody else be damned.’ Perhaps many Athonite monks do. I honestly haven’t read many of them. But I have been taught that there are different degrees of ‘outside of the Church’ in the Fathers (I think this was actually pointed out by somebody from ROCOR or a bishop in the Russian Patriarchate). There are heretics (worst), schismatics (bad), those who follow heretics (bad), those who follow schismatics (not good), and those who in no fault of their own are born into a schism or a heterodox group. Most people since the ‘great schism’ (or Chalcedon) are in the latter category – be they Protestant, Catholic or Coptic. So who am I, as an Orthodox catechumen, to judge any of them – many of whose lives bear much closer resemblance to Christ than myself! I guess the question of sacramental realities gets confusing. Fr. Florovsky’s ‘The Limits of the Church’ is helpful in explaining this from an Orthodox perspective. And ‘salvation’ is a wide concept in Orthodoxy. To my knowledge, it is widespread (today and in history) for Orthodox Christians to believe that many outside of the Church will ultimately be saved. God will be the judge of that. The bishops can only be the judge now according to the Truth that has been passed down to us and according to the explicit teachings of Christ. So we can’t commune Roman Catholics or Coptic Christians (presently), but that doesn’t mean that we are presuming to pronounce on the eternal destiny of Roman Catholic Christians! Perhaps some Athonite monks are (and, you say, Greeks and Russians) – but the beauty of Orthodoxy is that the Athonite monks are not the only voice. Perhaps they are the voice who, in the end, will be affirmed as the Patristic voice filled with the Holy Spirit. But perhaps not. There has always been – both in history and today – a variety of voices. Sometimes some go far enough that communion must be broken, or even anathemas pronounced. But the Church has lived with ‘tensions’ for its entire history. Heck, even when (from an Orthodox perspective) Rome started to claim more and more illegitimate authority for itself, the eastern patriarchates were still in communion with Rome. That took *years* before it actually led to a permanent break in communion.

    Your point on the ‘Romanitas of Late Antiquity’ are well-spoke, although I think it would be fair to say that there was already a difference of emphasis between East and West well before the supposed schism date of 1054 – although, in reality, that doesn’t seem to be a helpful date. Communion was restored after that and East and West gradually grew apart for hundreds of years. That said, the developments in Roman Catholicism in the last 2-300 years are actually the biggest obstacle for reunion, because they seem irreversible and irreconcilable with Orthodox life and Theology. See here for one (albeit controversial) assessment:

    Forgive my link-craze, but I’ll include a few below that might be of interest. (this is what I was referring to earlier – from the *Greek* patriarchate, not OCA – although I have heard statements from the OCA along these lines) ( I haven’t read this yet)

    I appreciate you guys listening to my ramblings. It is helpful to have to try to articulate things on these topics that I don’t normally have the opportunity to talk about.

    • Joel,
      Thanks for including me in your prayers. I try to remember all those I interact with online in prayer too.

      I think you’re absolutely right that the Orthodox leave the doors of salvation open, as it were. I think it was St. Isaac who said something like “the limits of God’s mercy are wider than we can ever imagine.” Even though Orthodoxy has never embrace universalism, and has condemned some forms of it, it seems to me that they continue to allow a distinctive strain of universal hope to run through the Church.

      I think you’re spot-on when you point out that the past 2-300 years of Catholicism are more problematic for Orthodoxy than many of the earlier problems. Some of the dogmatic statements in Catholicism from this recent time are the statements that are most difficult for me to accept.

      And, as before, thanks for taking the time to put so much great information into the discussion here.

    • Hey, me too, I really appreciate the trouble you are taking here – and as you guys know from my blog, I am much in the same sort of place!

      I am essentially in agreement with Bentley Hart about the huge price Orthodoxy is paying for the dominance by the Russians. It has indeed led to the narrowing he describes, and I’d add to that some infection of a traditional Russian distrust of all things Western. How you guys dig yourself out of that when the Russian Orthodox Church is so dominant and St. Vlad’s so prominent will be interesting to see. If DBH or the OCA spoke for Orthodoxy, it would be more attractive. If the Patriarch of Moscow or the Monks at Athos did, I’d run a mile! As it is, they all do, and none of them do. So at the end, would I be any less confused as to where authority lay?

      • Oy. I think my brain has turned to mush on this topic. I’m so turned around with the definitions of what an ecumenical council is, Pope Vigilius, Khomiakov, pentarchy, patriarchate, and so on ad nauseam.

        I’m thinking perhaps a better approach for me was my original one in this “Crypto-???” post. That is, examine evidence and claims that are striking to me. Or at least that are understandable short of multiple doctoral degrees!

        And I can’t help but find the entire history of the Catholic Church deeply compelling. Especially the saints, monks, and corpus of thought and literature. The mysticism in the West is no less than that of the East. And yet, the Catholic Church leaves to door open to eastern practices and I can’t help but think that the Pope may be the only one (or at least the leading figure) in any reconciliation that is to take place.

        I still may not like some avenues of Catholic thought such as Anselm, but then again Thomas Aquinas wasn’t a fan either! And really, if we search out an avenue of belief that fits exactly what we want to believe, then we haven’t really submitted to anything other than ourselves. Sometimes there is a value in obedience, especially when we disagree. It pulls us out of our tendency toward narcissism.

        Anyway, just my Mexican food-inspired ramblings of the moment…

  14. Jessica,

    Can you point me to some of these Athonite sources that you are making reference to? Where can I find the statements of these Athonite monks who damn all outside of the Orthodox Church?

  15. (sorry for my multiple comments!)

    I was thinking yesterday about a few things yesterday:

    – the ‘mission’ issue. If I remember correctly, I seem to think that most of the far-reaching Roman Catholic missionary activity happened from the Reformation forward. The Jesuits (?) were the main players in this regard. They sent missionaries to (now-called) North and South America and deep into Asia. But at this same time, the Orthodox Church had basically entirely come under Turkish dominance. So the Orthodox were at a disadvantage in this regard. That is not to say that they didn’t or couldn’t engage in any ‘sending’ missionary activity, but that they had no way of doing it in such a massive, organized manner (like the Jesuits). Am I wrong on this?

    – Also, there is *much* very very good Orthodox literature on all of this history, theology, exegesis, etc. However, unfortunately, most of the good stuff is not written in English (nor yet translated). If we could read Russian and Byzantine/Modern Greek, then research might just become much more interesting!

    – More thoughts on ‘Romanitas.’ There were differing languages of emphasis (especially as time went on). There were two capital cities. The barbarian invasion and ‘sacking’ of Rome didn’t effect the eastern half of the empire. Etc. So even though it is true that they were a part of the same empire, and that there was overlap and interchange (like St. John Cassian, for example) this doesn’t mean that the existence of ‘east’ and ‘west’ did not have early implications. After all, something like the Pelagian issue didn’t effect the East at all, and the differing theology (Augustinianism and Eastern thought) meant that the East didn’t get what all of the fuss was about. Or, maybe more accurately, they thought that Augustine’s response was just as much of a problem as Pelagius’ teaching (cf. St. John Cassian’s _Institutes_ and St. Vincent of Lerins’ _Commonitory_, which many [Orthodox] believe was written in response to Augustine’s new teachings on original sin, predestination, etc).

    – Forgive me if this is all old hat for you guys.

    – Are both of you in Europe?

    • Joel,

      I would recommend you also check out one of my recent posts, “The Myth of Schism.” It’s a re-blog from an Orthodox perspective and it talks about how the Great Schism has not necessarily been the unclimbable wall that people from both sides have made it.

      I think you’re right about the geographical and political disadvantage that Orthodoxy was up against in missions movements. Catholicism basically had wide open frontiers to the west and south and then around to the east. Orthodoxy was either up against occasionally hostile nations to the south or the vast and empty expanse of Russia to the east. (Both churches had already expanded about as far as possible to the north.)

      I am in Europe (an expat.) I think I mentioned that this makes it even more difficult for me to find an Orthodox church since they use whatever language the church is from (Serbian, Greek, Russian) rather than any language I can speak (even functionally.)

    • Yes,I am an Anglican – well, just about. English Christianity was, itself, the result of the mission of St. Augustine in 597, so there’s a very long history of Catholic activity of that sort. Your Bently Hart piece was fascinating, and well worth rereading, I think he is more or less on the button with it. There’s not much I disagree with there.

      Pelagianism was about the only heresy to come out of the West – all the others were from the East – for which there was no doubt a good reason.

      • Sure, almost all of the communities planted by the apostles were in the East. The East was also more or less the center of the Christian intellectual world for 1000 years. Would you debate those two points?

      • I have trouble with the concept of ‘the East’. At the time it did not exist. There was the Roman world and there was what lay beyond it. Some Apostles, like St. Thomas, went to India and founded a Church there. Others went into the areas to the East of Roman domination and founded Churches in the non Roman parts of Syria and in Persia. To me, as to those at the time, these are Eastern Churches.

        I fear that to retrospectively call Greece (the cradle of Western civilization) the East does violence to history. To say it is ‘the East’ and so is Russia, which was never part of Roman civilization is also ‘East’ is to empty the word of real meaning.

        Alexandria was the powerhouse of theology in the early Church for a long time. That has not been part of the ‘East’ since 451. Is St. Cyril ‘Eastern’ – says who? Athanasius and Jerome collaborated – was one Eastern the other Western?
        The only Church which uses this rather odd terminology is the Eastern Orthodox. Is Augustine ‘Western’ – the Western part of North Africa. Was Theodore of Tarsus, the archbishop of Canterbury in the seventh century ‘Western’ even though he came from Paul’s hometown?
        Do you see why I think these are later and artificial constructs?
        It isn’t I don’t want to debate them, it is that I don;t accept the basic premise.

      • Jess, I was responding to this: “Pelagianism was about the only heresy to come out of the West – all the others were from the East – for which there was no doubt a good reason.” You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  16. I subscribed to your blog, but I haven’t been receiving the feed. I do see now that you’re added posts and am now up to speed! I also remember you mentioning that you were in Europe (Germany?) as an expat. Are you in school? or working?

    The problem of the languages still exists in Canada/America as well. I think, however, that this problem will correct itself soon. It will have to. The ethnically-tied Orthodox jurisdictions have lost a whole generation of young people. Now, with much more attention to mission (and not just preservation and ethnic festivals, forgive me) – and with the upcoming great and holy council to address the problem of the jurisdictions – I think the Greeks and Serbs and Ukrainians and Russians will become the wiser in this regard and at least make some attempts to add a lot of English to their services. Our parish is 95% English with some Russian in one section. We also have the Lord’s prayer recited Russian, Greek, French, and the language of India (forgive my ignorance, I should know this) subsequent to the English. It is really cool to hear that every Sunday.

    • Joel,

      I’m in school, but I’m also married to a German. So that explains the expat status. I didn’t realize that the language problem still existed in America. I think every Orthodox church I went to was in English. Although some of the prayers might have been in Greek or Slavonic, but the majority was in English. As to whether the language problem will change here, I’m not so sure. One major reason is that, unlike in the USA, being born here does not automatically confer citizenship. So if your parents are Greek, you’re Greek. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to Greece and if a deportation happens, this is actually a very serious problem. Largely because of this it seems the Orthodox churches remain ethnic enclaves. Or at least they do in my area. Perhaps in some other areas this is not the case. I just checked and in Germany Orthodoxy is definitely a minority (1-5%). So I think things here might (unfortunately) move a bit slower. I’m not aware of any action like in the USA to normalize into a single jurisdiction.

  17. True, Joel, I should have been a bit more rigorous in the first place and rightly stand corrected (Jess walks to corner quietly).

  18. No worries. These issues are enough to make one’s head spin and one’s heart crushed. I do affirm that you are right to accuse many Orthodox of minimizing the unity that the Church did have in the first millennium. However, even with your ‘romanitas’ points taken, I can’t help but think that there were obvious political (two capitals, etc) cultural and linguistic differences that historically *did* basically lead to two separate manifestations of the empire (if nothing else). They even faced different military opponents which affected their futures (and led to the breakdown of communication that was the beginning of the end of their unity).

    Anyways. Forgive me for any zeal I have that is not according to knowledge (even in the above). And I assume that there is much. I admit that I sometimes literally want to cry with all of the historical and theological issues that seem to demand attention in a journey like ours, and I am not of the intellectual capacity to attempt that task. So I will simply pray.

    God’s grace and peace to you.

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