Friday, September 28, 2018

The Protestant Doctrine of "Faith Alone"


Salvation by faith alone and not by any sort of works is the orthodoxy of Protestantism. I toed the party line when I was a Protestant, as I could not quite accept Catholicism, and I did not think that the truth would be in isolation. However, I could not really relate to Protestants who spoke strongly on it, as if salvation by both faith and works is the heresy of heresies. How could these people hold such disdain for the faith of virtually all Christians for so many centuries? It is usually accompanied by an extremely presumptuous statement such as, “The problem is, it is just not Biblical,” or, “Well, let’s look at what the Bible says,” as if no one read or cared about the Bible for over 1,000 years! In actuality, the Protestant understanding of this issue does not come from the Bible, but the historical context of the Reformation. They incorrectly assume that the Bible is discussing ideologies which developed in the West after the Great Schism.
The Apostle Paul mentions that Abraham was justified by faith before works of the law such as circumcision. If Abraham was counted righteous by faith without works of the law, then obviously the same can apply to us. We do not have to be circumcised. But, does this mean that no sort of works were part of Abraham’s righteousness? The Apostle James says,
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” –James 2:21-24.
Some Protestants will respond that the Bible so clearly teaches salvation by faith alone, that using this verse to counter the doctrine of Sola Fide must be taking it out of context. But, if the Bible so clearly teaches the doctrine of faith alone, then why did the great founder of this phrase, Martin Luther, feel the need to both add to and subtract from the Bible- for the very sake of this doctrine? He added the word “alone” after “faith” in his German translation of the Bible, and attempted to remove the Book of James. If you accept the doctrine Luther formulated on this issue, this fact must be seriously considered. Is this the way that God would reintroduce a core doctrine of the Christian faith to the human race after millennium of profound error?
The real reason Protestants hold to the doctrine of faith alone is not because it is in the Bible, but because it best fits their understanding of salvation. The foundation of Protestant understanding of salvation begins with the Catholic Saint Anselm (1033-1109), who taught that Christ’s death paid off an offended honor. This later developed to the Medieval Catholic doctrine of Christ’s death generating merits which can be transferred to our spiritual account. We get access to the treasury of merits through the Pope, who has the keys and can dispense merits at his arbitration. We do not need to worry about the merits running out, because the saints add to the treasury with their surplus of merits. Catholic popes literally taught this. They could dispense merits as a reward for visiting a saint’s shrine, or buying an indulgence, usually prescribing a certain number of years off purgatory.
This crazy theology has nothing to do with the Bible, but it is foundational for the Protestant understanding of salvation by which they understand faith alone. The early Protestants taught that it is only Christ’s merits by which we are saved, and we have full access to this by faith. Sounds better right? They patched up the Catholic understanding of merits, but the problem is this whole understanding of salvation by transfer of merit is wrong to begin with.
To show that this understanding of salvation is unbiblical, consider the parable of the talents. A lord gives each of his servants a talent, and commands them to work with these talents until he returns. One servant produces ten talents with the talent given him and is rewarded with ten cities. One servant produces 5, and is rewarded with 5 cities. The servant who did not work with what was given him, had his talent taken from him. If the fore-mentioned merit system were applied to this parable, then the Lord’s uncountable talents would be transferred to the accounts of his servants regardless of their work. Instead, this parable fits the Orthodox doctrine of synergy- cooperation with God. We receive grace by God (represented by the first talent), and we must work with the grace that God has given us in order to increase it. Note that grace is not merely something forensic and external to us, but the uncreated energies of God operating within us. Even after we become servants of God by faith, our reward hangs on the work we do with the grace given to us by that faith.
The Protestant understanding of salvation developed from merits to double-imputation. Christ’s righteousness is transferred to our court sentence, whereas our condemnation is transferred to Christ’s court sentence. Christ did not just die for us, but died instead of us in a total replacement. This transfer happens when one has faith. In this understanding, our works cannot affect our court sentence, because God just sees Christ’s works. When the Bible talks about Christ’s sacrifice and Him ransoming us, Evangelicals assume it is talking about this doctrine.
Now to show that this understanding of salvation is unbiblical, consider the parable of the fig tree. A man asks the keeper of his vineyard to cut down a fruitless tree. But the keeper intercedes for the tree, asking for time to dig around and fertilize it. If the tree bears fruit after a year, it is saved, and if not, then it will be cut down. An Evangelical understanding would necessitate that the keeper offers fruit on behalf of the tree, and that he offers to be cut down in place of the tree. Instead, it corresponds yet again to the Orthodox understanding of synergy. Christ works with us for our salvation, but we must cooperate with Him. Whether or not we bear fruits directly corresponds to our judgment.
Christ’s sacrifice reconciles us and God, but this cannot be understood as an absolute replacement. He did not take up the cross so that we don’t have to- He took up the cross so that we might take up our cross and follow Him (Mat 16:24). He did not run the race for us, He is the way. We must run the race so as to win the prize (1 Cor 9:24).
Jesus said “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able (Luke 13:24).” In Matthew 17:13-14, He says it this way: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
“Life” and “destruction” here are not existence and non-existence. They are existence in the life of God and existence in alienation from God. Life in God means that the uncreated energies of God animate a person in co-operation with their will. This is the uncreated light that the Peter, James, and John saw radiating from Christ on Mount Tabor. There is a precursor to this when Moses came down from speaking with God on the Mount Sinai and he had to cover his radiant face because people could not look at it. This was brought to its fullness in Christ, who did not just become human to die for us, but to transfigure humanity. When Stephen was martyred in Acts, it is said that his face was like that of an angel.
The greatest gift of God’s grace is to see this uncreated light of Mount Tabor. No one can see God’s innermost essence, but we can see His energies, which are God Himself and not creation. The light is not created light. So in this way we directly experience God. This is a manifestation of what is to come in Heaven. In every generation in the past 2,000 years, a few people are granted this grace in the Orthodox Church. They have also be seen within this light by other witnesses.
There are many records in the Orthodox Church of this light being seen at the celebration of the Eucharist. Christ said:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Christ became transfigured in the flesh and defeated death in the flesh by His resurrection. There is a physical aspect to how Christ saved us, so there must be a physical aspect to how we access that salvation. However if our will is not in co-operation with God, then the Sacraments are for our harm and condemnation instead of salvation. St. Paul says to the Corinthians,
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (1 Cor 27-30).”
At that time the Eucharist was part of a meal (in the Orthodox Church, we still consider it part of the meal after the Liturgy.) The problem with the Church in Corinth is stated by St. Paul here, “Therefor when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating each one takes his own supper ahead of the others; and one is hungry and another is drunk (1 Cor 20-21).” The problem here is a lack of love, as well as a lack of temperance.
This is where asceticism comes in. The Orthodox forbids from the Eucharist its members who are not fasting and expressing love through acts such as almsgiving. This is how one strives to enter the narrow gate of life. This is how one runs the race.
There are people in the Orthodox Church who have produced ten talents. This is because we properly understand salvation, which involves striving and the sacraments. Orthodox people have been granted corresponding grace, as is manifested by the visions our members are granted of the uncreated light of Mount Tabor.
If someone still thinks that the sacraments are merely symbols that are not ontologically united to the realities, this is disproven by the Apostles laying their hands on people to grant them the Holy Spirit. Even if someone has faith and has been baptized, they are not full members of the Church and do not have the Holy Spirit, unless they are given the sacrament of Chrismation by an apostolic minister of the Orthodox Church. The Bible also says to have elders anoint the sick with oil, which is done in the Orthodox Church, but not in Protestant Churches.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Three Perspectives on Church History

The first perspective on Church history I wish to discuss is the view that all Christians were pretty much in grave error for over a millennium. I have in mind certain Protestant groups which are vitriolically anti-Catholic (and anti-Orthodox if Orthodoxy is brought up). I also have in mind hardcore liberal Christians who hold disdain for traditional Christian ethics. It is a view which requires cynicism, as one has to be pretty cynical about God’s revelation to the human race throughout history. Apparently, He stopped making people into new creations in Christ for over 1,000 years. Of all the people who spent their lives in fasting, prayer, and reading the scriptures, none of them were sincere enough for God to enlighten them with true Christianity- one’s specific Protestant doctrines which one believes are absolutely necessary.

This historical narrative teaches that the original, true faith that Christ taught was lost, but then reobtained by humanity centuries later. One criticism I have is that if the true faith really was lost and then found by someone after centuries, the event would be like Pentecost in the book of Acts. That person would have been like the Holy Apostles, working miracles and such. Yet none of the Reformers were holy people. Interesting thinkers, yes, but is it not strange that they were not anointed with charismatic gifts? When St. Peter walked the streets, people were healed when his shadow passed over them. When St. Stephen was martyred, his face appeared to be like that of an angel. People touched St. Paul with rags, and then brought these rags to heal the sick (relics). People prophesied and St. Paul mentions speaking angelic tongues. And if these things are not incredible enough, the Book of Acts records St. Philip being carried up into the heavens after evangelizing the Ethiopian. Is not the Reformation, and the modern liberal reformation, oddly dry compared to this? Certain people who took note of this started another reformation for these charismatic gifts to manifest. For the most part, the attempts of the Pentecostals have either been unimpressive, or the spiritual power behind them gives one a disturbingly dark feeling.

One thing no one denies is that Medieval Catholicism had serious errors in its doctrines and practices. No one today believes that the blood in the Eucharist should be withheld from the laity, as was mandated then. Hardly anyone today believes that the liturgy and the Scriptures must be in Latin, as was mandated. I doubt anyone today seriously holds to the crazy medieval doctrine of the treasury of merits- that Christ and the saints had amassed a surplus of merits and the Pope could transmit these merits to people’s spiritual accounts at his arbitration. For example, granting 10,000 years off of purgatory for visiting a particular relic. The first perspective of Church history responds to this by saying that no one in this time had the true Christian faith, but it was found again by certain reformers.

The second perspective I want to mention acknowledges the historical cynicism of the first perspective, and approaches the historical Christians with greater humility. Its response to historical problems is to lower the bar of the definition of what acceptable Christian faith is. The Christians of the past had problems with their beliefs and how they practiced their faith, but we probably do too, and that’s ok. Different Christian confessions, past and present, have their blind spots and strong points. Catholics have consistency, Baptists are great at Bible studies, Anglicans has some beautiful music, and so on. The sad part is that when it gets down to important and specific doctrines and practices of the Christian faith, those who adhere to the second perspective sort of consent that getting all these important things right is probably impossible. It is a more humble cynicism than that of the first perspective, but it is still sadly cynical.

The third option is to acknowledge the history of the Orthodox Church. The true Faith is beautiful, and has been beautifully practiced in every generation. All the important specific doctrines and practices are fully accessible now, and have been fully accessible to the people of the past as well. The bar is raised, and when one embraces the Orthodox Faith there is not a need for such historical cynicism. The reformers and Catholic saints are mostly interesting thinkers, but the Orthodox saints in every age were apostles to their generation, living the same incredible lives as those of the first generation, and witnessing with the same power of the Holy Spirit. For those who have trouble approaching Church history from a non-Orthodox perspective, there is a way out.t.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Christian and Liberal Perspectives on Gender and Life


There will always be conflict between Christianity and liberal ideology with regard to gender and life. There will be people who call themselves Christian and accept liberal ideologies, but there will always be Christians who hold out against it. This is not because they are afraid of change and have a conservative temperament; liberal beliefs on gender and life are built from the ground up on atheistic and other non-Christian foundations.
Feminism and the LGBTQ movement is rooted in the idea that gender is arbitrary. Gender can be arbitrary from the ideological foundations of our modern, atheistic, secular society. The fact that human beings come in male and female is by accident, not design. Since everything is physics to the atheist, the only difference between men and women is physics. Since physics is arbitrary, the difference between men and women is arbitrary. If gender is arbitrary, you can do whatever you feel like with it and call it whatever you want. From the atheistic worldview, there is the physical world and there are ideas created by humans, but there is no deeper reality off of which these two things are based. So they are limited to the following definitions: sex is a biological feature, while gender is a social construct.
Christian belief has very different implications. God designed sex (both the action and the physiology) with intention and purpose. Gender is not a social construct; God had gender in mind when He created human beings as male and female. Since this is by design rather than accident, gender is not arbitrary. You cannot do whatever you feel like in regards to it and call it whatever you want. Going against God's design will result in someone not functioning properly as a person and separating him or herself from God by working against His purpose. This is why all those pesky Biblical authors and Church fathers have gender stereotypes. Not to mention Jesus Christ Himself.
Intersex conditions, same-sex attraction, and gender dysphoria are disorders according to Christianity. Having a sickness is not disobedience, but indulging in that sickness and calling it health is. From a materialist perspective, there is nothing deeper than physical features. As such, since some people do not have purely male or female features, then people can be objectively more than two sexes. A hermaphrodite is neither male nor female, but its own sex which is just as legitimate. Since Christianity believes in realities deeper than physical features, having features of the opposite sex does not change the fact that someone is objectively a man or a woman.
Many times liberals will recognize a real difference between men and women, but men are portrayed as deficient human beings- Peter Griffins and Homer Simpsons. There is also the bizarre example of the blatantly anti-male movie Maleficent. Christians cannot accept a philosophy that portrays either males or females as deficient human beings since both were designed by God. The heretical Gospel of Thomas is an example of portraying the female as deficient.
From the atheistic perspective, conception is an arbitrary event. All that has happened is some biological material has gotten mixed up. As such, abortion is not really a big deal. And since human life comes from an arbitrary process, we can end our own life at any time.
Christians believe that conception is the creation of a human being involving God. Being in the image of God, Christians believe that human life is sacred. Saint Porphyrios was a man with the spiritual gift of clairvoyance. Here is what he said in regards to pregnancy:
“A child’s upbringing commences at the moment of its conception. The embryo hears and feels in its mother’s womb. Yes, it hears and it sees with its mother’s eyes. It is aware of her movements and her emotions, even though its mind has not developed. If the mother’s face darkens, it darkens too. If the mother is irritated, then it becomes irritated also. Whatever the mother experiences – sorrow, pain, fear, anxiety, etc. – is also experienced by the embryo.
If the mother does not want the child, if she doesn’t love it, then the embryo senses this and traumas are created in its little soul that accompany it all its life. The opposite occurs through the mother’s holy emotions. When she is filled with joy, peace and love for the embryo, she transmits these things to it mystically, just as happens to children that have been born.
For this reason a mother must pray a lot during her pregnancy and love the child growing within her, caressing her abdomen, reading psalms, singing hymns and living a holy life. This is also for her own benefit. But she makes sacrifices for the sake of the embryo so that the child will become more holy and will acquire from the very outset holy foundations.
Do you see how delicate a matter it is for a woman to go through a pregnancy? Such a responsibility and such an honour!”
This also goes back into gender roles- how God has given men and women different gifts and abilities. Back to the topic of conception, I heard a Christian say that he saw a woman and he knew she was pregnant because he could see her literally shining. I am not arguing about the legitimacy of his and St. Porphyrios’s spiritual insight, I am bringing them up because I think they provide great examples of the Christian perspective- that the creation of human life is a sacred event. Because God creates human life [in conjunction with a father and mother], life is a sacred gift. This is why Christianity takes issue with abortion and suicide.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Orthodoxy and Protestantism: First Contact

This is my senior seminar essay. Footnotes are not in my current starter edition of Microsoft Word, so I do not have the citations at this time.

          Protestantism was bursting out of the seams of the Roman Catholic Church wherever it had the opportunity in the 16th century. Yet, there was not a single reformation in the Orthodox East resembling the reformations of the Lutherans, the Reformed, the Radical Reformers, or the Anglicans. The reason for this is not entirely a geographical or political coincidence. While geography and politics certainly played a role, I will show how the differences between the Christian East and West in matters of faith and practice greatly hindered the potential for reformation in the Christian East.  The ideas coming out of Germany could not inspire the Greeks to reform to the extent that they inspired Westerners such as the Scots. To show this, I will primarily examine the correspondence between the Lutheran Tubingen Theologians and Orthodox Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople from the years 1573-1579.
            The relationship between Orthodoxy and Lutheranism was present at the beginning. Luther, based on his knowledge of Church history, expressed appreciation for the faith and practice of what he called the “Greek Church” over and against certain aspects of Roman Catholicism. The first real contact occurred when Patriarch Joasaph of Constantinople sent the Serbian deacon Demetrios to investigate the Reformation in Germany.  Demetrios was taken in by Philip Melanchthon, whom he greatly admired.  In 1559, Melanchthon wrote [his authorship is disputed] a Greek edition of the Augsburg Confession called the Augustana Graeca. This document has a few alterations for the intention of making it more understandable to the Eastern Orthodox. Melanchthon sent Demetrios with the Augustana Graeca and a cordial letter to Patriarch Joasaph. However, it appears these documents never arrived. Demetrios was diverted in Wallachia, and died before reaching Constantinople.
            In 1573, a group of theologians in Tubingen, led by Martin Crusius and Jakob Andreae, set out to reestablish contact. The opportunity arose when Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II chose a devout Lutheran as his ambassador at the imperial embassy in Constantinople. Ambassador David Ungnad was a graduate of the University of Tubingen, and requested a court chaplain from there. Crusius was the classics professor at the university and was supposedly the greatest classicist in Europe at the time. He was naturally excited at the prospect of contact with the Greeks for academic purposes. Andreae was the most highly renowned theologian at Tubingen, and he and Crusius had religious interest in contacting the Eastern Orthodox. They selected a promising graduate named Stephen Gerlach to be the embassy chaplain for Ungnad. Crusius often exercised his incredible linguistic talent by translating Andreae’s sermons into Greek as he preached them on Sunday. They sent one of these sermons with Gerlach, in addition to a letter from each of them to the Patriarch. On October 15, 1573, Gerlach ceremoniously delivered the letters from Andreae and Crusius to Patriarch Jeremias II, initiating the first meeting between a clerical representative of the Protestant Reformation and the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.
            Having established contact with the Orthodox, the Lutherans followed up by sending the 1559 Augustana Graeca on September 15, 1574, asking the Patriarch for a response. Their motives of initiating a reformation in the East are expressed by Crusius, who wrote, “If they wish to take thought for the eternal salvation of their souls, they must join us and embrace our teaching, or else perish eternally!” Gerlarch received five more copies of the Augustana Graeca, which he distributed to the theological advisors of the Patriarch. After receiving his copy on May 24, 1575, Jeremias set to work on a careful point-by-point response, which he completed on April 30, 1576, urging the Lutherans to convert to Orthodoxy. The Lutherans, realizing that uniting the Orthodox to their cause was unlikely, shifted their efforts from conversion to apologetic defense. The Lutherans replied to Jeremias’s response, as well as to two other letters sent by him. In his third doctrinal response, Jeremias signals an end to the correspondence with the words, “Therefore, going about your own ways, write no longer concerning dogmas; but if you do, write only for friendship’s sake. Farewell.”
            Before discussing the lack of potential for Reformation in the Christian East, it is appropriate to examine the extent that the Protestant reformation did have impact. Several Orthodox, such as the previously mentioned Demetrios, were greatly sympathetic to the cause of the Reformation. Michael Katakouzenos was a Greek prince who received one of the five copies of the Augustana Graeca. He held the document in such high esteem that he had it bound in red leather and translated into contemporary Greek. Under the yoke of Turkish rule, most Greek theologians had to receive training in the West by Protestants or Catholics. Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril Lukaris published his Confession in 1629, a work that expressed Calvinist teaching. His Protestant influenced work was quickly rejected by several Church councils. To secure power for himself, Peter the Great abolished the Russian patriarchate and established a Holy Synod. He modelled this after the infrastructure of the Lutheran Church in Germany rather than Orthodox precedent. Under Peter’s Synod, the Orthodox Church in Russia experienced a temporary and partial Westernization in art, music, and theology. Despite all this, it must generally be said that, “The forces of Reform stopped when they reached the borders of Russia and the Turkish Empire, so that the Orthodox Church has not undergone either a Reformation or a Counter-Reformation.” None of the Western influenced theologians became an Eastern Luther or Zwingli, and Peter the Great did not come near to matching King Henry VIII’s legacy.
            The first formal declaration of a Catholic abuse in the Augsburg Confession is Article 22, which complains against the restriction of the laity from the blood of Christ in the Eucharist. The Patriarch’s response to this is the shortest of all the article responses, reaching 44 words [English translation]. It gives a simple statement of agreement with the Lutherans, with the clarification that the Orthodox use leavened bread. This contrasts greatly with the official Roman Catholic response in The Confutatio Pontificia. The Catholics zealously defend the practice of withholding the wine in a 1,258 word [English translation] refutation of the article. Using Scripture and Tradition, they argue that to offer the blood of Christ to the laity, rather than just the clergy, is an “abuse and disobedience.” Even the Catholic Church has ultimately found the practice of withholding the wine to be undesirable, as Catholic laity now frequently receive wine at the Eucharist. Many found the practice to be undesirable before the Catholic Church changed its position, and the Reformation was a potential solution here. However, there is no need for a solution if there is no problem. Luther himself highly praised the Orthodox Church for its administering of both elements, saying the practice,
still continues among the Greeks, whom even Rome itself dare not call heretics or schismatics because of it. . . I now say that on this point the Greeks and Bohemians are not heretics or schismatics but the most Christian people and the best followers of the Gospel on earth.
When considering this quote, it is little wonder that no parallel to Luther rose up in the Orthodox Church. Melanchthon also praises the Greeks, saying, “in the Greek churches this practice [Communion in both kinds] still remains, as it also once prevailed in the Latin Church, as Cyprian and Jerome attest.” The desire for allowing both kinds is also expressed by the Anglicans on article 30 of The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. On the point of the Eucharist, the Catholic Church had a weakness against the Protestantism not shared by the Orthodox Church.
            The second abuse declared in the Augsburg Confession is the restrictions of the clergy from marriage. To this, Jeremias replies, “We too permit those priests who are unable to remain celibate to marry before ordination. God has ordained marriage, and we are not ignorant that severe disorders take place among those in the clergy who have been prevented from being married.” One difference here is that the Orthodox restricted priest from marrying after ordination, whereas the Lutherans encouraged former Catholic clergy to disregard their vows of celibacy. The Confutatio reaffirms the Catholic position of celibate clergy. The Anglicans also complain against the Catholics on this point in Article 32 of their Articles. This is a complaint that the Orthodox Church was far less vulnerable to than the Catholics.
            The third abuse listed in the Augsburg Confession is the way in which the Catholics perform the mass. The Lutheran theologians argue that using the vernacular teaches the common people what they should know about Christ. It is also commanded by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:19. Jeremias makes no comment on this aspect of the complaint, for the Orthodox Church has always encouraged, rather than restricted, the use of the vernacular. The Divine Liturgy was performed in Greek for the Greeks, Arabic for the Arabs, Slavonic for the Slavs, Georgian for the Georgians, et cetera. There are examples of parishes in the West using Greek, but this is due to the fact that these parishes are often composed of Greek-speaking immigrant communities. On the other hand, the Confutatio defends the use of Latin for the sake of unity. Some Catholics point to examples of vernacular use in the Roman Catholic Church before the Protestant Reformation, but this does not change the fact that, as a rule, Latin was used at the expense of the vernacular. As the Confutatio states, “First, it is displeasing that, in opposition to the usage of the entire Roman Church, they perform ecclesiastical rites not in the Roman, but in the German language...” In Article 24 of their Articles, the Anglican Reformers express their shared concern with the Lutherans over the use of language, “It is a thing plainly repugnant to the word of God and the custom of the primitive Church, to have public prayer in the Church, or to minister the sacraments in a tongue not understood by the people.” Like the issue of the two substances, the Roman Catholic Church has, in practice, adopted the position of the Protestants and Orthodox by using the vernacular during mass. This is an issue that pressured Reformation in the Western Church and could not be applied to the Church in the East.
            The seventh and final complaint against the Catholic Church in Augsburg Confession is the power of the Bishops. They criticize the Catholic Church for having its clergy exercise religious matters with the authority of a position of the State, saying, “the power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded.” Jeremias expresses agreement, saying, “there is not small difference among the [civil and religious] commandments.” It should be noted that Patriarch Jeremias himself was assigned by the Ottoman Empire to be the ethnarch, a religious and civic representative of the Christian Greeks. However, any secular powers of Orthodox bishops hardly paralleled those of many Catholic bishops, who often ran theocracies and led armies into battle. This is the fourth, and final, major criticism the Lutherans weighed against the Catholic Church in which they did not find fault in the Orthodox Church.
            It has been shown that several protested issues the reformers used against the Catholic Church could not be equally applied as reasons to reform the Orthodox Church, but what about where the Orthodox and Catholics agree against the Protestants? Even here, while the Catholics and Orthodox have many external similarities, they often have a different foundational reasoning for these similarities. The Protestant Reformers shared with the Roman Catholics certain Western understandings of the Christian faith, and were therefore able to fight on the same ideological battlefield. However, the Tubingen theologians and Jeremias often spoke past each other when they argued during the correspondence. As Jorgenson says it,
Lack of previous contact enhanced a myopic insensitivity to the church life and theological perspectives of the other. The Greeks were profoundly unaware of the pervading spiritual and theological restlessness which sparked the revolt against the medieval Roman Church. The Lutherans, on their part, shared, in general, the unfamiliarity of the Latin West with the theological, spiritual, and liturgical tradition of the Greek Church.
Certain Protestant positions could not be applied as easily on an Eastern foundational understanding as they could on a Western one.
            The responses to Article III of the Augsburg Confession reveal a difference between the East and West. Article III is a short relatively short statement concerning the nature and mission of Christ. The Catholic Confutatio offers a short statement of agreement, saying, “In the third article there is nothing to offend...” For some reason, Jeremias neither confirmed, nor denied the Lutheran statement. Rather, he responded by restating the 12 Articles of the Creed, and by discussing what Christ accomplished using reasoning independent of what the Lutherans had stated. The Augustans Graeca put it this way:
So then one Christ, truly God and truly man, born of the ever-virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried, in order to reconcile the Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for the ancient transgression and the calling to account of the human race, but also for all things whichsoever are worthy of condemnation which are done by man in transgressing the law.
While Jeremias provides a far more exhaustive explanation of the work of Christ, nowhere in his response to article III does he explain Christ’s work as reconciling the Father to humanity as a sacrifice for transgressing the law. Today, the Orthodox reject a penal substitution understanding that the Lutherans would have had, and would say Christ worked to reconcile humanity to the Father. In his response to the fifth article, Jeremias does present a penal substitution metaphor, but, like Jesus’s parable of the vineyard workers, it is narrowly applied for a specific purpose. Jeremias was likely unprepared to understand the extent that the West had taken a judicial understanding of salvation after Anselm.
            In his response to the third article, rather than explaining Christ’s salvific work in the Creed by a satisfaction for transgression, Jeremias expands upon the incarnation and life of Christ:
Humility is aroused by the descent of God, the Logos, from the heavens; modesty, by the Incarnation; poverty, fasting, and purity, in that He was like that; patience and forbearance because He had all these, and finally endured the cross and death. The Savior abolished every iniquity. By humility, He abolished pride from which comes unbelief and blasphemy against God. By lowliness, He abolished ambition from which are engendered madness, envy and murder. By poverty, He abolished greed from which come stealing, deciet, lying, and treachery against God.” (Mastrantonis 35)
This is only a section of Jeremias’s larger discussion on the work of Christ. According to Jeremias, the salvific work of Christ was to fix human nature by living and dying properly as a human. Through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, the Logos overcame sin and death in the human person. To clarify the distinction: the West has an emphasis on the death of Christ not shared by the East, and the East has an emphasis on the incarnation of Christ not shared by the West.
            The concern in the West was how to attain the merit of Christ by having His condemnation cancel out one’s own condemnation. From this, the Catholics developed the idea of a treasury of merit to which the Church had access. If a Christian does a certain act of penance for a post-baptism sin, the Church can bestow merit on the individual and release that person from penalty for sin. The Lutherans argued that Christ’s merit is fully accessible by faith alone, “The Holy Scriptures ascribe righteousness before God and everlasting salvation not to our virtues and works, but alone to the superior merit of Christ, which we can acquire only through faith.” Rather than attaining the merit of Christ on account of His death, the concern in the East was how to grow in the nature of the Second Adam on account of the incarnation. This renders the Protestant Reformation as far less effective in addressing Eastern concerns than Western concerns.
            While arguing on the topic of justification and good works, Jeremias emphasizes the link between salvation and the incarnation, “the Logos of God, out of merciful compassion, has set us free by becoming man.” This shows that when Jeremias speaks of “justification,” he hardly means what the Lutherans do when they speak of it. As Jorgenson says, “The Orthodox Christian has no way of relating immediately to the sharp cleavage between the three levels of faith, to justification as a forensic non-imputation of sins, and to the separateness between justification and sanctification.” On this topic, Jeremias and the Lutherans frequently spoke past each other. For example, the Lutherans wrote,
it is a matter lacking merit that our salvation be divided between us and Christ, as if we are able to absolve our own sins together with God in such a manner that a part of the achievement of the Mediator Christ would be attributed to us, also, and that it might happen to be said that we would in some way also be saviors, which would be an extreme absurdity.
The book Orthodoxy and Catholicity explains the disconnect between this Western way of thinking and that of the Orthodox:
In Christ, our will is active, but in a redeemed, new manner; it does not only “receive,” it acts, but not in order to fulfil a “requirement” which would have been left unfulfilled by God; our will acts in Christ in order to fulfil in itself the image of the Creator which was obscured by the fall but which has been restored in Jesus- in its former beauty.
It is from this framework that Jeremias reasons for the necessity of human effort in his third response. Man was made in the image of God, with the potential for attaining His likeness, for Genesis never mentions the completion of the likeness. By definition, Jeremias understands attaining the likeness of God (deification) to be salvation. If, Jeremias argues, it were not necessary for us to participate in attaining the likeness, then why did God not grant it to us at creation as He granted the image? Jeremias argues that the attaining the likeness of God demands our participation by its very nature. Both the Lutherans and Jeremias argue brilliantly, but they fail to address each other’s arguments, as they were working from different theological foundations. This shows one aspect of why the Protestant Reformation was not compatible with the East: the Protestant ideas could only be constructed well if they were built upon a Western foundation.
            The Protestant Reformation had less to complain about when it reached the Orthodox. The Lutherans expressed great joy at this, saying, “We are very glad indeed (how think you?) that between Your Holiness and us there is agreement on many of the subjects in question.” Jeremias felt they had enough in common that the Lutherans did not have many obstacles preventing conversion, “since we have agreed on almost all of the main subjects, it is not necessary for you to interpret and understand some of the passages of the Scripture in any other way than that in which the luminaries of the Church and Ecumenical Teachers have interpreted.” The fact that many Protestant complaints against the Catholic Church could not apply as easily to the Orthodox Church prevented the Orthodox from feeling the necessity of a Protestant Reformation. While some of the Protestant arguments were aimed at Orthodox positions, which were shared by the Catholics on a surface level, many of these arguments missed the Orthodox theological foundations on which these positions are built. These two things considered, the Protestant Reformation did not stop at the Eastern borders by coincidence, but because it was less applicable in matters of faith and Practice.



Works Cited
The Augsburg Confession. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, n.d. eBook Collection          (EBSCOhost). Web. 5 May 2015.
Jorgenson, Wayne James. "The Augustana Graeca and the Correspondence Between the   Tuebingen Lutherans and Patriarch Jeremias: Scripture and Tradition in Theological     Methodology.” ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 1979.
Mastrantonis, George. Augsburg and Constantinople: The Correspondence between the     Tubingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg     Confession. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox, 1982. Print.
Meyendorff, John. Orthodoxy and Catholicity. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1966. Print.
            Shaffern, Robert W. The Penitents' Treasury: Indulgences in Latin Christendom, 1175-      1375. Scranton: U of Scranton, 2007. Print.
Reu, Johann Michael. The Confutatio Pontificia. Champaign, IL: Project Gutenberg, n.d. eBook    Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 5 May 2015.
The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion. Dublin: Printed by Andrew Crooke, 1715. Web.             <http://www.cofec.org/The%2039%20Articles%20of%20Religion.pdf>.
Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. New York: Penguin, 1997. Print.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Veneration of Mary and the Saints

Tomorrow is the feast day of the Dormition, commemorating the death of the Theotokos (the Mother of God). It is a major day in the Orthodox Church, as we lead up to it with two weeks of fasting and prayers to her, asking for her assistance and intercessions for us. This is quite controversial considering the context of American Christianity and my Protestant background. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to address the topic of prayers to saints and veneration of the Theotokos. Before starting, I want to point out that the Orthodox Church does not hold Mary to be completely free from original sin in the same way that the Catholic Church does.
The first thing I want to point out is that people interact with Angels very frequently in the Bible. They talk with and are assisted by these spirits time and time again in the Old and New Testaments. There are even depictions of heavenly beings in the Tabernacle. In the Orthodox Church we have prayers to angelic beings from the Archangels to our personal guardian angels. There are many stories in the history of the Church where angels interact with Christians in a Biblical fashion.
Just like we interact with spirits aligned with God, we interact with the spirits of dead who are aligned with God. This is also Biblical. On Mount Tabor, Jesus Himself spoke with Moses and Elijah [Elijah himself never died but was lifted bodily into Heaven]. After Christ conquered death, the spirits inclined to God were freed from Hades to be in Heaven. Through the Holy Spirit, the souls of the saints can now hear us asking for their intercessions. Many of them had very profound gifts of the Holy Spirit during their lives, and these did not go away at their deaths. Take St. Paul in the Book of Acts for example. People simply touched him with rags and brought these rags to the sick and healed them. This is why the Orthodox Church saves items associated with holy people, as well as their bodies. These relics still give grace and healing as when the saints were alive. Also, the prayers of St. Paul are still able to have the profound effect as they did when he was alive. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are still present with the holy saints after their deaths.
As holy as the likes of St. Paul and the Archangels are, we hold Mary to be the highest of all creation. Only the uncreated Trinity is above her. Many Protestants, such as my former self, take the stance that she was a perhaps a cool person, but that traditional Christianity has taken it too far. The veneration of Mary can be hard to appreciate in Western Christianity because Western Christians tend to see the incarnation as a means to an end. In Protestantism, the entire focus of salvation is on the cross (generally speaking). Christ died in our place so now we do not have to be punished for our sins. In the Orthodox Church, Salvation begins with the Incarnation [the conception of Christ]. The Word of God took on human flesh to restore and raise human nature to what it was meant to be. A new type of human being has come into the world with Christ the Second Adam. This new humanity is transfigured and has overcome sin and death. This new humanity was forged in Mary’s womb. The redemption of human nature and all of creation was a process that started within her. As such, the conception and birth of Christ through Mary is not an arbitrary event, but makes Mary the Queen of Heaven. She was not God’s mother temporarily, but will always have this this connection with God which is greater than that of any other created being.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"If His Grace Abandoned Me, I’d Be Just Another Bum"

“My child, I’m just a human being.  I pray to Christ and he replies.  If His grace abandoned me, I’d be just another bum on the streets of Omonia” (Omonia Square in Athens, known at that time for being populated by drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves.) – Elder Paisios

It is St. Paisios’s feast day again, and I was motivated to do another blog post on him. I read the above quote while ago. I thought it was interesting at first, but later I was struck by how profoundly true it is. St. Paisios had pretty much zero success by the world’s standards. As a monk, he lived in voluntary poverty and never had a family. He was never even ordained into the priesthood. I am pretty sure he never went to college. He had missing teeth and eventually died of a very painful disease. There are very few pictures and recordings of him throughout his life. He hardly had any sort of official job, sometimes supporting himself by gardening and selling carvings he made. So, on the surface level, he basically amounted to a bum. Yet, thousands of people went to his funeral and he had the second fastest canonization to sainthood in the recent history of the Orthodox Church.

I have done some thinking on nostalgia recently. I think I actually have an idea of what it is. You look back on your life and you see the story of a human soul. It is incredibly beautiful seeing this human soul which is you. It is truly precious. You might also feel sad. You look at your life now and what you have accomplished. You wonder if the life you are living and what you have accomplished is worthy of the value of your soul which you just recognized. Your soul has gone through so much in life, but what for? There might be a little despair in recognizing that the life you lived is not worthy of the precious value of your soul.

Christ is the bridegroom to our souls. Christianity says that at the end of time there will be a great wedding feast for Christ and His Church. Then, we will truly live happily ever after. Without Christ, the soul is in a dark place. With Christ, the beauty of the soul is fulfilled. I have found a bit of a cure for nostalgia by reading the lives of people like St. Paisios. Reading about people with such a close connection with Christ gives me a foretaste of the wedding feast.

I remember visiting a wealthy family friend many years ago. He had a stunning wife who had recently given birth to a beautiful baby. He had a really nice house, a nice car, and an awesome gaming computer. He was good looking and socially charismatic. I imagine he had a prestigious job as well. I thought, “Man, if I could just be like this guy, I will have made it.” I believed that all these things would fulfill the value of my soul. But now I know that even if I could have all of those things it would be hopeless without Christ. Ironically, it is a would-be bum who has shown me this hope.

To those who do not know, I always recommend the book The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios.

A blessed feast day to everyone!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Book Review: The Gurus, The Young Man, And Elder Paisios

I said in my first blog article that, since investing myself in the Orthodox Church, I have become as excited about reading as when I first invested in Christianity. Those first readings, years ago, included the Scriptures, C.S. Lewis, and material from my Catholic High School. By this time, I have read several Orthodox books, and have recently finished what I consider the best of them I have read next to Holy Scripture. I felt that this was something I should share at some point, so this July 12, 2015, the first annual feast day of the recently canonized Saint Paisios, I decided it is time to write a review of The Gurus, The Young Man, and Elder Paisios.

C.S. Lewis pointed out that much of society is looking for the "new man." Many look for it as the next stage of human evolution (like X-Men), or as a result of technological advancement (such as the recent movie, Chappie). Christians claim the new man is already here; he came with Christ. This was the reason the Word took on human nature through the Incarnation, in order to make a renewed humanity. There are already people who have been born and grown to maturity into the nature of the Second Adam, walking among us about the Earth. As recorded in Acts, the Apostles started to become like Christ. The woman with the blood condition touched the hem of Christ’s cloak as He walked by, and received healing. In a similar way, people touched Saint Paul with rags, and these rags were brought to the sick in order to heal them. Even Saint Peter’s shadow healed those whom he passed over. These saints exhibited an unearthly Christ-like love and unity with the Holy Spirit. Such people have advanced God’s Kingdom of love, healing, truth, and communion with God throughout the centuries. While I have been reading of the modern saints, such as St. John of San Francisco, or St. Paisios, I recall the exclamations of the Roheryns when they hear the story of the fellowship of the ring in The Two Towers- something along the lines of, “We have heard about such things in tales of old. They seemed so distant, and we wondered if they were even true. To hear and see such happenings in our time is truly strange!”

The book is a memoir by an author writing under a pseudonym. He is a Greek who grew up with the view that the Church and Christianity were superstitious and powerless. At the beginning of his story, he starts getting involved in psychological and spiritual exercises such as yoga and hypnotism. Frightening phenomenon start to occur and his life begins to fall apart in general. By a spontaneous decision, he and his friend take a trip to Mount Athos, a monastic area that is one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity. There, he has a miraculous encounter with Elder Paisios. On this mountain, much of the theology of Orthodoxy, and true Christianity, comes to life through experience. Theology in Western Christianity has been conceived as a sort of science. A western theologian is a well-educated man who can argue about Scripture by using the arts of literary criticism, history, philosophy, etc. The author of this book discusses the scriptures and theological concepts as he encounters the Grace of the Holy Spirit on Mount Athos, and in Saint Paisios, who lives true Christian theology to its fullest. The miracles and supernatural experiences are not arbitrary phenomenon separate from the theological concepts, but a natural manifestation of theology. For a Scriptural example, the Lazarus incident was not just a random event to show the power of Christ, it was a foretaste of the Resurrection. The healings of Christ are a foretaste of the World to come, when Christ fully heals the cosmos.  Theology must always be an encounter with God, and that is what I found in this book. Having just graduated with a religion degree from Baylor University, I have read the best of non-Orthodox Christian material, some of it being pretty good. But none of that comes near to what I read here. It granted me confidence in Orthodoxy Christianity, as I found myself asking, “If this is not the truth of religion, then what could the truth possibly look like? How could it be more profound or reasonable than this?”

These encounters with the saint and other things on the holy mountain force the young man to recognize the value of the Christian faith. Yet, his overly reserved and skeptical nature is strong enough to make him want to give a fair chance to other spiritual teachers. Thanks to his research, and even experiences in the occult, he knows that there are people other than Christians who have spiritual power in the world. To find a possible alternative, he decides to go to India to find the greatest spiritual gurus he can. He even ends up in something of a Satanic counterpart to Mount Athos, where he says everything he knew from witchcraft, paganism, yoga, hypnotism, and more is culminated in its ultimate manifestation. The gurus he encounters do indeed have spiritual abilities, but nothing to the extent that the Elder has (not much different from comparing the pagan priests and sorcerers to the Apostles). They also lack love (though they sometimes have politeness), whereas the Elder radiated Christ-like love that was immeasurable in magnitude and universal in scope. The young man is in extreme danger, both physical and spiritual, and manages to escape the spiritual centers of India by the skin of his chin, much to the thanks of the prayers of his friend, the Elder. He then attempts, and eventually succeeds in, living as a Christian.

The author is quite the philosopher, and he records his thought process that he had during his experiences, as well as reflections after the fact. I took great pleasure in following his reasoning. This, combined with the incredible experiences he records, make this book an essential read for any person who is at least open to the possibility of the Christian faith being true. The book also serves as a reminder for those trying to live as Christians. Paul said to "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." We are all called to be Saints, and this book provides great encouragement by giving a modern example.