Friday, February 22, 2013

The a-MAZE-ing Orthodox Church

Having been traveling in the ecclesiastical maze of the Orthodox Church for eight years, half of that being in the Old Calendar maze, some air of reason has filled my lungs. This deep breath has given me the strength to ask a question in this public forum: What does the ecclesiastical disunity, independence, battles, conflicts, secluded sects, disputes over which bishop/jurisdiction is authentic and which isn't, say about the claim that the Orthodox church is that true, unified expression for which Christ prayed? 

The heart of my question is better illustrated, not by me, but by a convert to the Catholic Church. His article compares the disunity of Protestants with the central unity of the Catholic Church. Could the same be said of Orthodox disunity? Here is a section of his article with my contribution:

Unity: Jesus’s fervent prayer

Thirdly, the prayer of Jesus in John 17 had long haunted me as I surveyed the state of the Protestant [Orthodox] world. It records that Jesus intercedes for His disciples and repeatedly prays for their unity – a required ingredient if the world is to know the Gospel as truth. Consequently, unity and authority are of paramount concern, for unity is sustained and directed by authority. A Church led by the Holy Spirit, made up of Spirit-filled people, would by definition be consumed by these prayer concerns. There is then an inconsistency in claiming to be Spirit-led while furthering disunity and rebellion.

I once read the words of Sagoyewatha (ca. 1758-1830), also known as Red Jacket, a chief of the Seneca tribe. He responded negatively to the request of a Protestant [Orthodox] missionary to work amongst his people by saying, in part, “Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book?”

He further stated, “[Also] we have been told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place … we will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them.”

Sagoyewatha intuitively understood a painful fact: disunity and increasing fragmentation is a witness that brings disrepute to the Gospel. Jesus established a Church that was united under a hierarchy of bishops, whose authority is traced to the Apostles, and focused in its message and purpose, not a fragmented, chaotic entity that communicates to the unbelieving that the love of God is weak and His purpose in the Gospel is a failure. Those who remain divided are unwilling to consider how disunity has worked against the growth of the Kingdom. +

Well, I too have "waited a little while" in the doors of the Orthodox Church and I am not sure I am as settled in this question as I once was. What say you?


  1. However, I think it is important to note that the Roman Church's unity is one of only of exterior and superficial authority. For example, Gerry Wells, Raymond Brown, and many others have and are, notorious examples of people who blatant attack fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith (the Real Presence, Eucharistic Sacrifice, Ministerial Priesthood, the Perpetual Virginity, the integrity of the New Testament Canon), and are well known as prominent Roman Catholic teachers. By any stretch of the imagination, should not people like Dr. Wells have been excommunicated for heresy by now?

    On the contrary, Orthodox laymen who are guilty of heresy are accused, and if they do not clarify a misperception, or repent, they are excommunicated.

    The history of the Church has presented many cases in which a temporary and confused conflict among the faithful was preferred over the false unity of the non-Orthodox (for example, the multitudes of attempts by the Arian emperors and patriarchs in the 4th century, against the disparate and confused state of the Orthodox in the same period, some Orthodox of which accused the others even of heresy!).

  2. Hiermonk, Not too sure Catholics agree with your assessment of Brown.
    "Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who has written presenting the infancy narratives and John’s Gospel as historically reliable,[20] was personally complimentary of Brown and his scholarship, and has been quoted as saying he "would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown"
    Not sure about Wells.

  3. The statements about Brown are strange. Perhaps he changed later in life; but, I do know, from at least two former Roman seminarians in the late 60s, who attend Brown's classes, that he explicitly said that they (the clergy) did not have to believe in the Virgin Birth or in the actual Resurrection of Christ from the Tomb; but, that they were required to tell the laity these were true, even though you believe them not to be.

    However, the view even among 'conservative' type establishmentarian Roman Catholics is one that approaches the 'Neo-Orthodox' view found in 20th century Protestantism, as regards Holy Scripture. They believe it is full of legendary fables, and contradictions, and this as something inherent, and not, on the other hand, due to manuscript and textual variants, etc.

    I did spell Dr. Wills name wrong; it should be 'Wills' and not 'Wells'. This has been reported on extensively:

    Nevertheless, I would encourage you, if you haven't already, to read the Eerdmans volume that deals with St. Basil (vo. 4, post-nicene?), as well as the Eccl. Histories. of Socrates and Sozomenus found in the same series.

    Nathan, are you saying you are wavering between the claims of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy?

  4. H.E. Again, I think the Catholics as a whole would be surprised to hear that, "the view even among 'conservative' type establishmentarian Roman Catholics is one that approaches the 'Neo-Orthodox' view found in 20th century Protestantism, as regards Holy Scripture. They believe it is full of legendary fables, and contradictions, and this as something inherent, and not, on the other hand, due to manuscript and textual variants, etc." This seems to be the opposite of my experience with them. Please forgive, but there are liberal thinkers in Orthodoxy as well. Does this discredit the whole? Which Orthodox Bishops no longer believe that Christ is the only way to heaven and that Muslims are our Brothers? I have written about it here on JTO. Lastly, why does it have to be "wavering" to discuss these issues?

  5. But, Nathan, we wouldn't count those 'liberals' like Bartholomew as Orthodox. In Roman Catholicism, it is all a dependent institution upon the Vatican; can you be a Roman Catholic but not be in communion with the Pope? But, you can be Orthodox and not have any popes, or patriarchs, etc.

    Reading the other post about questions and such, I would re-vise the 'wavering' statement.

    I guess, I can call Bartholomew and the other World Patriarchate bishop to be heterodox and not part of the Church of Christ, because, in my understand, Orthodoxy doesn't depend upon one bishop, or a group of bishops. It does depend upon the existence of true Orthodox bishops.

    On the other hand, can one claim to be Roman Catholic if they denounce the Pope as an heretic and say he is not a true Pope?

    One Church depends upon a centralized organizational structure, the other doesn't.

  6. Yes, H.E., I know the mantra well, have come though Antioch to Agafangel. Your comment highlights the issue in my article. The filter from which you speak says you are Orthodox and they are not. The divisions are a result a self, or jurisdictional, determination that "they" are not "orthodox" in your eyes. Thus the numerous jurisdictions, sects, and "false" bishops. etc. Again, the Patriarch of World Orthodoxy would be surprised to learn he is not Orthodox. I have even endured, for almost two years, public attacks from someone in my own church, who has been allowed to claim I have never truly entered the church. Vitriolic judgement of the state of another's soul seems to be a pervasive spirit in the Old Calendar world. If communication breaks down, then claims of "heretic" abound. I have watched it, not only from within the doors, but from the unique vantage point of JTO since 2006. Frankly I have little desire to be around such people anymore. See JTO article "Run To The Hills." Having a form of Godliness they deny the power thereof and they are void of the fruits of the of them being LOVE. Frankly we would be better served here, if you would not deny the divisions by redefining them saying, "Oh there are no divisions here, those people aren't even part of us. On our island we are of the same mind. That's a totally different island with folks who used to be with us, but they floated away". Isn't the core of Protestantism the fact that everyone is his own pope and gets to determine truth for himself? Seems as though the true/old calendar groups may be infected with the same ideology. I do value your input, however, to this point, nothing you have contributed is more than redundant demagoguery, albeit civil and caring, which is greatly appreciated.

  7. If I've offend you, I'm sorry. But, I've not denied divisions. I've simply pointed out that things have been quite confused in Christian history. We have to accept why you had St. Meletius vociferously opposed by St. Paulinus, who's followers even re-baptized those who came over from St. Meletius' group, for example. Or the horrendous accusations thrown at St. Basil during his life time (i.e., he was accused by zealot monks of being a Macedonian heretic). If I was put in the middle of 360s Cappadocia or Syria, and confronted with whom I should choose, knowing I didn't want to be with the Arians, and assuming I had no prior knowledge, I don't know what I would have done; since it would seem I'd have to choose between different groups that were extremely inimical and out of communion with the other.

    The world is extremely divided. Those who call themselves Orthodox are divided. Now, ofcourse Pat. Bartholomew would say, "Of course I'm Orthodox,", and I'm sure he would refuse to acknowledge that he isn't. I'm also certain that Met. Agafangel or Abp. Chrysostomos of Athens would both be surprised if someone told them they weren't Orthodox.

    But, what if you are a Sedevacantist Roman Catholic, or SSPX RC, and you either believe there is no Pope, or he became an heretic? How is it decided then? Or, what about during the whole Great Western Schism, where you had two or even three popes? All the claims seemed to be strong.

  8. Thank you H.E. Not offended, just in a cut-to-the chase mood. You just put my post in your own words. Alas, we agree! But what to do...As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. I'd just prefer to do it where the Joy of the Lord abounds. Tired of judgmental sourpusses. They are like whitewashed tombs in which an Old Calender hangs. Fini.


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