Why I'm still not Orthodox (pt 2: mysticism)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

If you missed the first installment, you can check it out here. This time I'd like to take up where I left off by sharing some of the things I've been learning about personal relationship with God from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.

One thing that can be quite confusing in a dialog between Orthodox and Protestant believers is the two ways that the term "salvation" is used. In Protestant usage it commonly refers to justification, and thus it is stressed that "salvation is by grace, not works." What this specifically means is that justification or redemption is by grace not works. Of course just about everyone would agree that we need to respond in faith to this. So is that a "work"? No, because works are about earning and merit, and even if we accept a gift (the response of faith) we are still not meriting it. So far so good. On the Orthodox end "salvation" commonly refers to sanctification and so the emphasis is on our participation, our praxis, what we do. Again, just about everyone would agree that we do need to participate in our sanctification, through a life of obedience to God, devotional life, repentance, and so on. We do not do this to earn God's favor, we do this in God's favor, as a response to grace.

Both of these uses of the term "salvation" are legitimate, the Protestant "getting saved" type and the Orthodox "work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12) variety. But since one side is speaking about justification/regeneration (the inception) and the other about sanctification/deification (the continuation/fulfillment) using the same word it can get pretty confusing and lead to a lot of misunderstanding. Put in relational terms, we need to enter into a relationship with God (regeneration), and we then need to grow in that relationship (sanctification).

What I appreciate about Orthodox theology is that it is very much focused on the experience of a lived relationship with God. As Vladimir Lossky has said, "all theology is mystical theology". What that means is that all theology needs to be connected to our living it, to our being in a real transforming relationship. Theology always needs to be joined to praxis. In the end, the real meaning of "orthodox" is not "right doctrine" but "right worship" (as in doxology). Now of course we also find in the Orthodox tradition its share of head-theology entrenched in lots of metaphysics and formulas. One common categorization scholars make is between two schools in Orthodox thought - one of the "head" and one of the "heart". We find this same tug of war in the evangelical church as well of course, and what we need is a balance. We need to be smart about stuff, we need to use our brains, but we need to also have our feet on the ground and have our theology be practical. This sense of "pietism" (I see that as a good word) is very present in orthodoxy. We can see it in ancient writers like the author of the Macarian Homilies, or Symeon the New Theologian, and we can see it in contemporary theologians like Kallistos Ware. Bishop Ware writes that, "All genuine theology must be mystical theology – something based upon a personal experience of God granted in prayer, upon a conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit."

What I find absent in all of this, as I mentioned in my previous post, is a lack of focus on being born again in the Orthodox church, or in other words, a lack of the initial expereince of regeneration. Not just as an assurance of forgivness for a guilty conscience, not simply as a judicial requirement, or as an end in itself, but as a way of entering into new life and lived relationship with God as a way to begin living in grace, in the Spirit. The Orthodox understanding of salvation lacks this experiential beginning, this initial experience of God's indwelling presence and love to begin our participation of growing in God and through God. This expereince of "assurance", of God's indwelling presence and love, (which clearly is the end goal of ascetic praxis and mysticism in the Orthodox faith) was what turned the world upside down for Luther and Wesley (and for me), and I just don't find it in Orthodox writing. That is, I do find them speaking of our pursuit of union with God as the end of ascetic struggle, of experiencing this intimacy with God after struggle and seeking. I think that is all good. But what is missing is how we begin that pursuit of God with God. How we, as Augustine said, at the same time taste of God, and yet hunger for more, how God allows us to experience his love and nearness, and that this embrace makes us long for more. A pursuit we do not embark on on our own, but with God and through God. "I tasted, and now hunger and thirst. Thou touched me, and I longed for Thy peace."

Now I certainly think we can learn a lot from the emphasis of the Orthodox on sanctification. But I also think it goes both ways, and that there needs to be a discovery of the relational transformative expereince of a born again conversion experience in Orthodoxy. New birth in conversion is often rejected by Orthodox Christians who associate it with a legal end, rather than as a relational beginning (Ware for example takes this position). But from the shared relational perspective of our two traditions, this initial experience of the indwelling of the Spirit calling out within us “Abba, Father” is vital, not only because of the transforming assurance of knowing who and whose we are, but because union with God is something that begins and ends in the Spirit, lived together with God, through God, and in God. Despite the emphasis on experience in Orthodox theology, that personal experience of the indwelling of the Spirit previous to, and thus as the cause and means of ascetic struggle, is missing in Orthodoxy.

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80 Comments:

At 1:24 AM, Blogger A new Christina said...

Is that all? Do you have any other objections when it comes to the Orthodox Church? The reason I ask is because I'm coming from a Calvinistic Pentecostal perspective and I'm looking into Orthodoxy. I freak out a little bit when I abandon my Sola Scriptura and private Biblical interpretation, as well as many other smaller beliefs I once held/still hold to.

 
At 1:36 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Well to me that is a pretty major objection.

But one of the nice things about a blog is that it is interactive.
So why don't you elaborate on your objections.
For example, where do you see a conflict with sola Scriptura and Orthdoxy?

 
At 7:40 AM, Blogger A new Christina said...

Actually, let me change my question:

1. As a Protestant have you always been so comfortable and accepting of the other teachings of the Orthodox Church that arent so commonly accepted in the Protestant realm (things such as having the Church interpret Scripture for us, the use of tradition along with scripture, the Virgin Mary and her role in the Church)?

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger jcoolio said...

Let me interject and say that Sola Scriptura is not compatible with Orthodoxy. This is readily apparent when you read through the Greek Fathers of the first five centuries, or in fact, anything Orthodox at all when the subject of the interpretation of the Scriptures is broached.

I've seen Calvinist James White quote Saint Athenasius and from White's perspective, he's an early Sola Scriptura advocate. But what White does not do is also quote Athenasius' views on the Church's interpretation and that interpretation rooted in Apostolic Tradition. This prooftexting is very misleading on his part.

I'm not sure how much you've read, but I can readily affirm that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not Orthodox, Patristic or Biblical.

John

 
At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Jcoolio,

Just to make sure we are on the same page, how would you define sola scriptura, especially as you see it conflicting with the early church fathers?

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger jcoolio said...

The early fathers kept the Church's interpretation in mind when reading the Scriptures. This is the same interpretation that Saint Athanasius speaks of when he states that:

'But what is also to the point, let us note that the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the catholic Church from the beginning was preached by the Apostles and preserved by the Fathers. On this the Church was founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is, nor any longer ought to be called, a Christian.'
Ad Serapion 1,28

Sola Scriptura basically states that all one needs is the capacity to reason and the Scriptures in order to come to its proper interpretation. But the Fathers would say that without the understanding of the Church which she has received from the Apostles and handed down until now, there is no understanding to be had except heresy.

Saint Ignatius uses a good analogy. The Truth is like the mosaic of a King. The tiles that compose the mosaic are the Scriptures. Without the guidance of the Church to inform one of the image (the King) the Scriptures can be rearranged into any likeness, even that of a fox.

So very true, it seems in light of the reality of over 30,000 different Protestant denominations. Without the interpretation of the Church, anyone can make any image that they want and base everything within the Holy Scriptures. This prooftexting is a Protestant practice that results in their great disunity.

I hope that helps. I do understand that Saint Athanasius speaks of the sufficiency of the Scriptures. But when we look at the entirety of what he wrote, we see that his statements are not to be prooftexted by Sola Scriptura advocates. Rather he, along with the other Fathers of the Church, always reminded their readers of the importance and necessity of the Church's interpretation, handed down from the Apostles until now, uncorrupted.

John

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger jcoolio said...

Also, if you were basically Orthodox in all of your theology, then I wonder what your theology of the Church is. For if you agree in your ecclesiology then you would most certainly be Orthodox. Orthodox ecclesiology is a huge piece of the theological pie, so-to-speak. In fact, all of Orthodox theology is intertwined. You cannot rightly speak of one subject of theology, for example soteriology, without broaching the subject of something else, in the example of soteriology, the theology of relics. You can't just believe one bit of Orthodox theology while simultaneously rejecting another piece because to do so would lead to large inconsistencies in your mishmash of theology.

Waiting for your views and definition of Sola Scriptura, I would bet that if you accepted the normative definition used by most Protestants, then Orthodox, no matter what theology you agree with, you are not.

 
At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Okay, first things first. If sola scriptura means "all one needs is the capacity to reason and the Scriptures in order to come to its proper interpretation" I would disagree with that. Let me say what I do believe about the Bible.

The Christian message is rooted in historical reality of the incarnation as the ultimate source of knowledge of God. The NT witness is thus not authoritative because it contains superior doctrinal formulations or laws, but because it bears direct personal witness to that historical and personal encounter with Jesus as God's own self-revelation.

That story of what happened in the incarnation and how it transformed the Apostles sets the trajectory for tradition that follows it. Tradition as far as it points us back to that encounter in history and thus leads us to encounter the risen Christ in our own experience is indeed valuable. We have a heritage or interpretation in the church that helps us to interpret Scripture. However, when push comes to shove the primary and most direct account of God's encounter in the flesh with humanity is contained in the NT. The NT therefore trumps tradition where they contradict. This is an important principle because there has been human corruption and distortion in the church, and so we need to be able to go "ad fontes" (back to the sources).

As a general rule of thumb I see the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience) as a good guide. Scripture provides the interpretive lens through which we can understand our experiences. Its story gives us the larger context in which to understand our stories, as part of that larger Gospel story. Scripture provides the starting point from which the trajectory of tradition begins, and acts to pull us away from the danger of worldly reason towards the godly wisdom of the cross which at first glance can appear as foolishness (1 Co 1:18-25). Reason when it begins in fallen and subjective human assumptions cannot lead us to God because our thinking is just as landlocked in sin as is all of our experience, but through God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ we can learn - as we abide in that relationship - to have the “mind of Christ”. This entails learning to think in the counter-cultural and counter-intuitive way of Jesus where we lose our life to find it, and the greatest is a servant.

Again, returning to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Scripture is primary because it informs experience, shapes reason, and is the source from which tradition develops, as well its constant spur to reformation. As the reformation motto has it: ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the Reformed church is a church always reforming according to the word of God).

Scripture acts at the center point of the Quadrilateral not to define abstract doctrinal formulas, but to shape how we reason, how we experience, and the direction our tradition develops out of and into. In other words, the goal of Scripture is to relationally encounter us with God's own self-revelation Jesus Christ.

 
At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

p.s. I'm quite sure I'm not Orthodox. That's why this post is titled "why I am not Orthodox". :^)
I'm Wesleyan Pentecostal. However I do think there is quite a bit in common between my faith tradition and the Orthodox tradition which it would be rewarding to explore.

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger jcoolio said...

Well, given your detailed explanation of Sola Scriptura, I'd still have to say that the Fathers would not agree. Your dichotomy between Scripture and Tradition, for example, is unknown to the Fathers because the two are a seamless whole; one does not contradict the other and both are preserved by the Holy Spirit.

Also, I almost forgot where I was going with that last statement about you not being Orthodox. I read the post title, but in my hurry I kicked out more than what I was meaning to say. Sorry about that.

 
At 2:28 PM, Blogger robert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger robert said...

"I'm Wesleyan Pentecostal. However I do think there is quite a bit in common between my faith tradition and the Orthodox tradition which it would be rewarding to explore."Derek,
I agree. I was raised the same but have made the leap into Orthodoxy and have found it to be the soil that Wesley's reclamations were meant to bear fruit in.

But let me push against the argument of your post here a bit. Your next-to-last-paragraph is beautifully stated. But how is what you're describing there not baptism/chrismation? Whether speaking of infants or converts, they are by definition the initiatory experience that you're speaking of, no?

 
At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Apologies for all of the deleted posts and whatnot here. Blogger had an error where it was not accepting comments from anyone (including myself). Looks like its fixed now. If anyone's comments got inadvertently lost, let me know and I will repost them.

 
At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Jcoolio,

The difficulty with your assertion that the "dichotomy between Scripture and Tradition... is unknown to the Fathers because the two are a seamless whole" is that it just simply does not hold up when one reads the patristics. There is not a consistent party-line throughout the church fathers, rather we see a development or evolution of thought. Evagrius is quite different from Pseudo-Macarius, Pseudo-Denys is different from them both, Maximus is different again. That's why Orthodox scholar John Meyendorff speaks of theologians like Maximus and Palamas introducing a "Christological corrective" to earlier writers like Evagrius and Denys. A second aspect Meyendorff brings up is how the Orthodox tradition moved away from Scripture towards a neo-Platonic philosophical worldview and assumptions (hence the need for a corrective). If one reads all of these writings it becomes clear that there is simply not one consistent unbroken tradition in line with the original Apostolic teaching, but rather quite a bit of diversity. This is something that major Orthodox scholars like Meyendorff and Andrew Louth readily admit.

The reality is that humans in power (which includes the church) are susceptible to politics and corruption. So there needs to be a way to return to the Scriptural sources when tradition takes a wrong turn, as it has repeatedly. This is of course true of any church, not just the Orthodox church.

 
At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

First of all, Robert, its great to hear from you! You write:
"Your next-to-last-paragraph is beautifully stated. But how is what you're describing there not baptism/chrismation? Whether speaking of infants or converts, they are by definition the initiatory experience that you're speaking of, no?"

No, I do not see it as the same as baptism, especially when one refers to infant baptism. In Orthodox mysticism, the focus of the mystical way is in achieving the experience of union with God, in other words of experiencing the reality that took place at baptism. This experienced reality is found in the writings of Macarius, Symeon, and Palamas, and it is picked up again by contemporary Orthodox theologians like Kallistos Ware. Basically, through ascetic practice one seeks the experience of union with God as the end goal of the ascetic struggle. Theologically this is known as the process of sanctification or theosis.

What I am saying is that the Orthodox understanding of salvation lacks the experiential beginning which is what Evangelicals call being "born again," an initial experience of God's indwelling presence and love to begin our participation of growing in God and through God. This makes for a spiritual praxis which is focused works rather than on living in a relationship. In the Orthodox conception of sanctification, before one reaches that union, an intimate relationship is not experienced. It is a theoretical deduction inferred from an ecclesiastical rite. But one can experience God's transforming indwelling presence immediately. This is the new birth Wesley speaks of. In that embrace we can in engage in ascetic practice as a participation and response to that relationship with God, as a way to grow in it. That's what I see as missing: the immediate experience of God's indwelling Spirit transforming our lives.

To their credit, I think the Orthodox with their focus on mystical experience are much closer to the heart of relationship that many evangelicals are who focus on a merely legal understanding of salvation. But I think they need to expand that understanding of mystical experience to include the life transforming experience which Wesley helped to recover.

 
At 8:39 PM, Blogger Peter Gardner said...

I think a lot of the "born again" experience you're looking for can be found in Confession.

Take one old lady in my parish for example:

She was born into a devout Orthodox family, and went to church frequently from infancy. She was a pious child, and at one point, wanted to be a nun, though she ultimately decided to get married instead. She has continued all her life to pray, fast, go to church, and everything; as far as I can tell, out of a sincere love for God. As far as I know, there was never a one moment of conversion in her life. If a moment of conversion is emphasized, she'd be left out.

Except that she, every week, makes long tearful confessions. (I'll admit this is a rather extreme example.) The beauty of Confession is that you can, on a regular basis, be confronted with your sins, express your repentance of them, and be assured of God's forgiveness through Christ.

It's probably because we have Confession that we don't emphasize the "born again" sort of thing so much. One consequence of this, though, is that it's not very visible unless you're actually in the Church to some degree -- Confession tends not to be emphasized in interactions with the non-Orthodox world.

 
At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Peter,

I can appreciate that confession can be a very good thing. But I'm not sure I follow why it would be a replacement for the initial expereince of regeneration in someone's life? For me the central issue has to do with a conscious awareness and expereince of our being loved and indwelt by God as the beginning of our Christian faith and pursuit. Confession, seeking, and repentance would be how we continue to grow in that, but I don't see how they would replace it. People who's hearts cry out for God need to know that they are loved by God, fully embraced and adopted. That needs to be the foundation out of which they grow and seek.

 
At 8:53 AM, Blogger Peter Gardner said...

The thing is, that initial experience does not happen consciously in every person. Some people are raised Christian, never have any serious doubts, never fall away for a while, and continue as devout, committed Christians all their lives without ever having a moment of conversion. The beginning point would be their Baptism, which they wouldn't remember.

Another thing is that we do absolutely believe that it's important to be consciously aware and experience being loved and indwelt by God, as you put it, but that it doesn't need to be a one-time thing.

I don't think I ever had a dramatic moment of conversion; I was raised Baptist, and went to church from my earliest childhood, and always knew that God loves me. When I was six, for reasons I don't clearly remember, I asked to be Baptized, and the pastor explained repentance to me. While I'm sure it had an effect, I don't remember my awareness or experience changing particularly. Later, I decided to become Orthodox, not out of any noticeable conversion experience, but because I came to the conclusion that it was the appropriate thing to do.

It's hard for Protestants especially to think about this sort of thing without using the language of nineteenth century American revivalism. It's not that nineteenth century American revivalism is inherently bad, but that it's not a universal expression of the Faith. Orthodoxy contains all the good aspects of nineteenth century American revivalism, but places them in a different context and uses quite different words to express them. But it's all there, I promise you.

 
At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

"we do absolutely believe that it's important to be consciously aware and experience being loved and indwelt by God"

Yes, and I agree that it should not be a one-time-thing. It's like a marraige: the wedding is not the end, it is the beginning. My concern is that in the writings of Orthodox mysticism one seeks this conscious expereince of being loved and indwelt by God as the final end of ascetic practice. Palamas for example goes into great detail about how this comes only after great effort. What you are saying (and I think it is significant that you have a Baptist background here) is that you went in knowing that God loved you as the starting point. That's a very different statement from Palamas. Palamas and other Orthodox mystics speak of only having that awareness after long and hard ascetic struggle. I can appreciate that one does not need to have a "dramatic" awakening. I even agree with Palamas that there is indeed a struggle involved in growing deeper in our union with God. But I do think that we need to begin with a foundation of knowing first hand God's love - whether dramatic and sudden or not - as the soil out of which that seeking grows. So theologically I think Orthodoxy does not have any concept of experiential redemption, and instead goes from a theoretically inferred redemption based on an ecclesial rite (infant baptism) straight into experiential sanctification.

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger Peter Gardner said...

Ok, I think I see where you're coming from now. The awareness of God's love that St. Gregory speaks of is not the same thing as the awareness you speak of. While I have never read anything by St. Gregory, if he's talking about what I think he is, it's like that fleeting feeling where you glimpse the immensity of God's love for just an instant, except that they've been purified sufficiently to be able to experience that continually. Unless someone's a lot holier than I am, at least, that's not going to be the starting point.

As you say, the starting point for everyone needs to be the knowledge that God loves us. At the least, this should be intellectual knowledge, though preferably the sort of deep intellectual knowledge like our knowledge that grass is green or the sky is blue -- the sort that if ever the question arises as to whether God loves us, the answer is instinctive and obvious. At this, the Orthodox Church does wonderfully. No one who goes to the services with any attention at all is going to miss that God loves us. No one who reads the morning and evening prayers from almost any Orthodox prayer book, let alone who goes to Confession and Communion regularly, will miss that. And I can't imagine someone going through Lent and Holy Week, and then Pascha through Pentecost and not getting that message.

 
At 11:21 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

"it's like that fleeting feeling where you glimpse the immensity of God's love for just an instant, except that they've been purified sufficiently to be able to experience that continually."

Yes, that is what I am talking about. That is the starting point.

You frame this as if it is something only the most holy can have. Symeon the New Theologian stresses that it should be the expereince of every believer.
One can expereince this not through their own righteousness and holiness, but as a gift from God.

 
At 9:11 AM, Blogger Peter Gardner said...

A continual experience of this is something that you have to be holy to have. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." While I can only speak for myself, I'm certainly not so pure in heart as to get more than fleeting glimpses of God.

But no one is denying that these fleeting glimpses of God are given to anyone God wants to give them to. I don't quite see how you think we're denying this.

Also, St. Gregory is not exactly normal reading for most non-monastic Orthodox. For most of the rest of us, we generally assume the ascetic writers are talking mostly about things we won't understand in this life anyway, and go on with our spiritual lives normally.

I remain unconvinced as well that that experience is a universal starting point. From what I've observed, it's frequently a middling point, or a renewal point, and often, though not at all always, a starting point too. These sorts of things are different for each person, which is why it's very problematic to try to *emphasize* something that people experience in different ways.

 
At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

"A continual experience of this is something that you have to be holy to have"

I agree. The question is how does one become holy? Is it through our own effort, or is it something God makes us? While I would agree that one needs to participate with God in holiness, the idea of regeneration (which the rite of baptism points to) is that God makes us holy and sanctified, as as a result we can see God.

"I remain unconvinced as well that that experience is a universal starting point. "

The main idea here is that the starting point is in the holiness that God imparts. Our own ascetic struggle is then in response to that. Because that holiness imparted by God is real, it is experienced in our lives. But the point is not that one must have certain feelings, but that salvation has its origin in God's work not in our work. Gregory (along with much of the monastics) I think gets this backwards saying that we begin through our ascetic struggle and in response God acts.

"Also, St. Gregory is not exactly normal reading for most non-monastic Orthodox."

Maybe they should be :). All I can do here is quote Kallistos Ware who writes that "all theology is mystical" and Symeon who stresses that every Christian should be a mystic. I just can't agree with having one class (monastics) that has deep expereince with God and and another (liturgical laity) who do not. I think in this the majority of Orthodox theologians would back me up. The expereince of God's love is not meant to be elitist.

 
At 12:13 PM, Blogger jcoolio said...

Might I comment here on Derek's last comment. I don't know if this will help the topic that you two are discussing so if I take a dive off the deep end, ignore me.

Paul, when speaking about marriage, states that he wishes that everyone were not married as he is. This is because one is able to devote their entire lives to the Lord, without having to take part of that time and attention and give it to a spouse. Similarly, the monastic has more time to devote to God. The experience of God's love certainly is not elitist. But given that some families not only consist of husband and wife but sometimes a few or even many children, one has to wonder how much time can said person take away from that family and give it solely to God.

Paul seems to acknowledge that the division of priorities, even good priorities like children and spouse, can indeed take ones attention off of the Lord, or at least focus on the Lord through the family (indirect attention so-to-speak, because marriage is God ordained).

So, to wrap this up, the liturgical laity certainly can and do have deep experiences with God, but that depth and length would certainly be affected if there were other priorities in place, such as a spouse/children.

John

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Peter Gardner said...

"The question is how does one become holy? Is it through our own effort, or is it something God makes us?"

God makes us holy; I believe that is what the ascetic writers mean by "participating in the Divine Energies" -- God making us holy. The point of asceticism is making ourselves receptive to God. This is why Christian asceticism and Buddhist asceticism are different -- even when techniques are similar, we're working on being receptive to different things.

(As I was writing that, it suddenly made more sense than it had before; thank you for bringing it up!)

"While I would agree that one needs to participate with God in holiness, the idea of regeneration (which the rite of baptism points to) is that God makes us holy and sanctified, as as a result we can see God."

We would say that Baptism doesn't merely point to regeneration, but that it is regeneration.

"But the point is not that one must have certain feelings, but that salvation has its origin in God's work not in our work."

Ok, here's where the confusion lay: it sounded to me like you were, in fact, saying that having a certain feeling was an essential starting point in the Christian life, which the Orthodox Church inexplicably omits. That's what I found odd.

"Gregory (along with much of the monastics) I think gets this backwards saying that we begin through our ascetic struggle and in response God acts."

While I'm not certain, since I haven't even been Orthodox for long enough to come close to what St. Gregory talks about (two years plus a year as a catechumen), I think what he's saying is that we work in ascetic struggle, and in response, God lets us perceive more of His action.

"I just can't agree with having one class (monastics) that has deep expereince with God and and another (liturgical laity) who do not."

I'm happy to report that from what I've seen, the difference between laity and monastics is mainly one of degree, not of kind. This makes sense, because monks have more time to focus on prayer than those living in the world. It usually works out pretty well in practice. Anyway, it's not a race, and we'll have plenty of eternity to catch up later.

 
At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Liz said...

I don't really understand why you put so much emphasis on one moment. The initial conversion experience that you find among Protestants can often be short-lived. It seems much more fruitful to have a long-term focus.

 
At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/ec_salvation.aspx

 
At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/ac_personhood.aspx

 
At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

So The above link on Personhood is a rather lengthy letter from Archbishop Chrysostomos. He contrasts Evangelical piety with Orthodox mysticism, in particular the notion of a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ". The crux of his argument is here:

"salvation is personal, centered on the distinct human being who draws on his essence—renewed in Christ—and who, in his person, becomes a small Jesus Christ within Jesus Christ, to quote one Church Father. So it is that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and our Savior. In this profound sense of the personal, and in an apocalyptic encounter with redemption (for salvation is closely united to spiritual vision and to the noetic revelation and knowledge of God), we find, through experience, what the more fundamentalistic Protestant Evangelicals understand only in empty form. We know through the attainment of true personhood in Christ, which is the enlightenment or salvation of man, what these seekers know only intellectually and in terms of a theology of affirmation and commitment crippled by the unrestored senses and passions."

Other than just being insulting, I really can't see what the difference is between an Orthodox Christian who focuses on a personal relationship through expereince of God, and the exact same thing in Evangelical protestantism. One could easily reverse the statement and accuse the Orthodox of having empty form. The fact is, there are those in both churches with rich personal expereince of God, and there are those in each who only follow an empty form. And there are those in each who are... well... intellectual blowhards. I find the Archbishop's comments in the end are really just mean spirited rather than insightful. That meanspiritedness to me reveals a lack of spiritual depth on the part of the Archbishop. Again, we Evangelicals have our fair share of meanspirited folks, but I don't listen to them either.

 
At 5:48 AM, OpenID sergei1975 said...

This is a very interesting discussion. I would say that the initial point, Derek is talking about, that Orthodox brothers lack is the assurance of salvation. As Peter said, we may not have a dramatic conversion experience, but I believe we should have a moment when we get the assurance of salvation.

 
At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Orthodox doctrine,relevant to the regeneration experience, is due to better understanding of fundamental Greek. From a technical standpoint, the English interpretation 'born again' is far more accurately rendered 'begat from above'. In all classical and koine Greek texts translated by others, I've never once seen 'palin' rendered 'again', or something even close.

That said, I quite agree with your premise. It took a long time for me to learn to read Greek and Hebrew, but it has been immensely helpful. I fully agree with the sentiment expressed by Muslim scholars referring to translations of the Koran as commentaries at best, applying it to the bible. The caveat of course applied to the Masoretic text, it sure would be nice if the Israeli Antiquities department would release high quality digital photographs of ALL the dead sea scrolls. (The oracles of God were entrusted to the Jews (not to the translators of ancient Hebrew text into Greek...))

 
At 12:18 AM, OpenID Яic said...

Thanks for sharing your honest view here, Derek.

I'm having trouble understanding why you and others find the Wesleyan Quadrilateral so appealing.

Presumably, it is not a framework constructed by reason alone, nor by Scripture alone, nor by experience alone, nor by tradition alone.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral framework is constructed, rather, by appeal to the framework itself, encompassing all four components of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

But how does one justify this norm if not without appeal to the norm again?

If it justifies itself on account of itself, this commits the logical fallacy of begging the question, that is, circular reasoning.

(This would be tantamount to saying that God exists because the Bible says so, and we know that what the Bible says is true because it is the word of God.)

Am I wrong?

 
At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Rik,

No I do not think it is circular. It would only be circular if it tried to prove the validity of Scripture with an appeal to Scripture, etc. Instead it operates within a christian framework that already recognizes these things as valid sources of knowledge. What is helpful about the quadrilateral is that, by using multiple sources, it helps us to uncover our blind spots and biases. So it is a tool more than a proof, and needs to be used with a good dose of humility, aware that our human knowledge will always be limited.

 
At 5:32 PM, OpenID Яic said...

Thanks Derek for your comments.

I know that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is not a proof. I'm not sure I said or implied this. I referred to it as a norm, very much along the lines of a guide. I was asking whether there is any justification for using this specific guide or rule as opposed to another.

I'll cut to the chase:

The Orthodox Church has its own rule of faith, which is best expressed in terms of its Holy Tradition. This includes the canons of the Orthodox Church, namely, the decisions of the Holy Ecumenical Councils. The very term "canon" signifies rule or guide.

It goes without saying that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral does not include the canons of the Orthodox Church.

But notice the great significance of this: Why weren't the canons of the Ecumenical Councils included in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral?

Now I will take it for granted that Wesley had seemingly plausible reasons for accepting and rejecting the decisions of some of the Ecumenical Councils (e.g., accepting the canonization of the Bible), in which, using his own Quadrilateral, he determined how some decisions were inspired by the Holy Spirit and others were not.

So my question is quite simple: Why should anyone accept the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, as opposed to, say, some other guide or tool that includes the canons of the Ecumenical Councils?

Simply put, what is the justification for subscribing to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral?

Яic

 
At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I'd say that "tradition" would include the ecumenical councils, and also the canons of the Orthodox church. So I would not want to rule them out, I'd want to listen to them.

 
At 11:15 PM, OpenID Яic said...

What do you mean that tradition in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral would "include" the Ecumenical Councils, and also the canons of the Orthodox Church? "Include" cannot possibly mean "apply".

The Roman Catholic Church is not in communion with the Orthodox Church precisely for not being canonical, for not following the canons established by the Holy Ecumenical Councils.

Now, Protestantism, as a movement that consciously split off from the already uncanonical Roman Catholic Church, rather than returning to canonicity, moves further away from accepting the canons of the historic Holy Ecumenical Councils, to the point of rejecting the authority of the Church altogether.

By the time Wesley shows up on the historic scene, no other Christians except the Orthodox accept the entirety of the canons and decisions of the Holy Ecumenical Councils. Even the Roman Catholics went out of their way to convene councils to "revise" previous canonical decisions, especially to accommodate new interests concerning canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon.

In what possible sense are the canons "included" in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral? As some possible set of good or bad ideas that, depending on the work of the Holy Spirit, we can freely choose or reject?

 
At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I think you are taking the "Wesleyan" part way too literally. A lot of Protestants, myself included, have been interested in dialog with, and learning from, the Orthodox church. So when I speak of using the quadrilateral I would include ALL the traditions (including Eastern Orthodox) in there under the category of "tradition" as one of the four sources.

Do I see them as some infallible source of authority? No, of course not. They are made by people, and people are not infallible (myself included of course). That said however I think there is a wealth of wisdom to be gained from listening to the voices from the past, and paying attention to their collective wisdom.

 
At 12:59 PM, OpenID Яic said...

I suspected the "traditions" part of the Quadrilateral was all-inclusive. Thanks for clarifying that.

But now I understand its main purpose: In your last two comments you emphasized "listening" -- meaning, listening to the variety of traditions and manifestations of Christianity, not in the actually sense about adopting them necessarily, but to have a certain open attitude or disposition toward them.

Thinking out loud now, this partly explains why earlier you emphasized that the Quadrilateral is helpful in that it exposes "blind spots and biases" requiring "a good dose of humility, aware that our human knowledge will always be limited."

Here I think we've run into an impasse: The Orthodox Church believes that Holy Ecumenical Councils were not subject to fallibility, but they were entirely guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit in very much the same way as the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15: "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us."

This is not to say that each individual is infallible, but that, as the Church over and above the individual follower of Christ, the Orthodox Church believes what our Lord Jesus Christ promised to His Church in John 16:12-14, that the Holy Spirit will guide it "into all truth."

In the same manner that the Church in the New Testament humbly submitted itself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit for wisdom in its decrees (e.g., that circumcision is not required for following Christ), so to, the Church in the Holy Ecumenical Councils humbly submitted themselves to the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The decrees of the Holy Ecumenical Councils, in other words, are not at all based on finite "human knowledge" but revealed knowledge from and of God Himself (i.e., revelation), just as in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. No human individual himself could have possibly come up with such truths all by himself/herself (See: 1 Cor. 2:1-16). The inspiration of the Holy Spirit in this sense is always organically communal, always directed to the fullness of the Body of Christ.

For the Orthodox, the Holy Spirit does not contradict itself, or "reveal" contradictory truths to His Church. Its truths are eternal and unchanging, for they are about God and how we can be united with Him.

It is for this very reason that the Church vigorously fought against heresies, the choosing of "human knowledge" over and against revealed knowledge of God ("heresy" quite literally means "choosing"). There was no sense of uncertainty about the knowledge of God made known to His Church by the Holy Spirit.

 
At 12:59 PM, OpenID Яic said...

Admittedly, there may be uncertainty about "human knowledge," say theological opinion or small 't' traditions, but the Church has no doubt about God's revelation to man from which correct doctrine and practice is defined. "Correctness" here precisely captures accordance with knowledge from and of God: revelation.

As Bishop Kallistos Ware puts it, "Tradition is far more than a set of abstract propositions — it is a life, a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit. Tradition is not only kept by the Church — it lives in the Church, it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church."

Therefore, for the Orthodox, the very notion of 'picking and choosing' what the Holy Spirit has in fact revealed to His Church -- Holy Tradition -- is precisely what is meant by "heresy." Without Holy Tradition such a notion would not even make any sense, since it functions as the absolute standard by which one can differentiate between those who accept the fullness of the revelation of the Holy Spirit in the Church and those who cherry-pick from what the Holy Spirit has revealed in the Church.

By its very design, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral trivializes the profound seriousness of heresy, for it has little to no qualms about allowing some provisional validity (out of "humility") to what in the authoritative and infallible Holy Ecumenical Councils has regarded as contrary to the unchanging, eternal, revealed truth of God.

Holy Tradition, therefore, is fundamentally opposed to heresy, not because it has some egotistical desire to be correct, but because it acknowledges that full obedience to God and His revelation is required of all of us, for the sake of our salvation.

On the contrary, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is, by its very design, "open" to knowledge that does not conform to the unchanging, eternal, revealed truth of God, it is open to knowledge outside of what has been revealed in the Church by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, it cannot be said that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral includes Holy Tradition since Holy Tradition itself would not permit the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in so far as it is open to knowledge outside of what has been revealed in the Church by the Holy Spirit.

 
At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Having seen throughout history how the church has abused power, and how this has lead to all sorts of atrocities, I have to say that I am extremely skeptical of any claim of a group of people to be infallible. I think that reveals a lack of understanding of the corrupting nature of sin, and is as a result extremely dangerous. The Orthodox church, being composed of humans, is no exception. If any institution wants its people to not think for themselves and simply blindly follow authority, that is a recipe for disaster because it means a person needs to shut down their conscience. This is a profoundly damaging thing to do to a person's soul. So being against abuse (both on a corporate and individual level), I cannot affirm what I hear you to be saying. If that makes me a heretic, then I wear that badge proudly in Jesus name.

 
At 8:10 PM, OpenID Яic said...

Perhaps I need to study more on this, but I'm not aware of any abuses of power or atrocities done by the Orthodox Church as a whole, in its conciliarity.

This is not to say that the Orthodox Church is "perfect," since it is far from that, and many Orthodox Christians would affirm that it is not "perfect." The fact that most if not all heretics were once Orthodox bishops is case in point.

It goes without saying that every single Christian, beginning with the Apostles themselves, are sinners. Doesn't matter whether orthodox or heterodox.

But notice: Saying this hardly constitutes a good reason for being skeptical about how the Holy Spirit has in fact guided the Church made up of them. If no Christian were a sinner, the Holy Spirit would not be needed. Every Christian would already be one with God. The Church has the Holy Spirit precisely because He is needed for our salvation.

Wesleyan Pentecostal and Orthodox Christians are on the same page on that, so I'm not sure if you intended this to be an objection of some sort.

The point of objection or skepticism is leveled against the claim that, when the whole Orthodox Church gathers together in conciliarity (as it has done in the past in the Holy Ecumenical Councils, say, for canonizing Holy Scripture), the Holy Spirit truly guides it in its decrees.

But according to your skepticism, it doesn't seem that you can possibly ever know when the Holy Spirit works, guides, illumines the Church, since knowledge of this sort would be pretentious or beyond our proper capacity to have. Am I right?

If so, for all we know Wesley was probably not guided by the Holy Spirit, Pentecostalism was probably not a movement inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, the canonized Bible as we enjoy it today was probably not inspired by the Holy Spirit, and much less so our very own knowledge about the Holy Spirit in general (or even everything about Christianity) is probably not inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even your very own skepticism is probably not based on the work of the Holy Spirit. None of these things we can truly know to be inspired or given to us by the Holy Spirit. Such a skepticism entirely undermines Christianity.

The Orthodox Church knows for a fact that the Holy Spirit works and guides it, and most concretely in the Holy Ecumenical Councils. This has nothing to do with egoistic pride. The certainty is based on simple trust in the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church "into all truth."

 
At 8:21 PM, OpenID Яic said...

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, it seems, is posited to counterbalance the lack of authority and infallibility of a concrete, conciliar Church led by the Holy Spirit. If one has skepticism regarding the former, then the Wesleyan Quadrilateral appears appealing. But if that skepticism is shown to be self-defeating, then the Wesleyan Quadrilateral no longer has the same appeal it had before.

I don't find the Wesleyan Quadrilateral appealing for the very reason that such a skepticism undermines the entirety of Christianity, that is to say, what it means to follow Christ.

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

This is obviously something you feel strongly about. But the tactic you are taking of making these bold sweeping judgments is not convincing me, it's just making me see you as combative. I don't want to get pulled into a debate like that because I find that they are ultimately unproductive. So I'm going to stop now. Peace.

 
At 10:20 PM, OpenID Яic said...

This is your blog, you call the shots. You determine what's proper or what's not.

I have been respectful, reasonable, and I've engaged you, however critical I may be. In general, I'm a critical person. I can't help it. But know that 'being critical' does not necessarily mean 'being combative'. Those two are not identical. No need to make this personal.

If I wanted to make this personal and win points I could have brought to attention that I feel you were making a bold sweeping judgment when you said: "Having seen throughout history how the church has abused power, and how this has lead to all sorts of atrocities."

At any rate, I appreciate the time you took to respond to some of my questions. I don't understand why you don't want to continue, since I personally felt it was productive. But you're the boss. Just know that bailing out like this is quite sucky.

 
At 12:23 AM, Blogger Robert said...

Ric,
Chill, son. Our tradition doesn't need you to defend it, least of all from Derek. Even the truth can become vain babbling.

Derek,
Hope all's well, man. Still in school?
Coincidentally, my parish hosted two weekends ago a seminar on Christian Mysticism you'd probably enjoy. It was given by a monk who's working there in your neck of the woods (assuming you're still in San Francisco). Enjoyable listening and possibly productive. Your sketch in this post is pretty much in line with his presentation.
http://ancientfaith.com/specials/eastern_orthodoxy_and_mysticism

 
At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Robert,

Yup I'm still in school and still in SF. I listened to the first part the talk and enjoyed it a lot. I'm looking forward to hearing the other parts of the series too. Good stuff.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Robert said...

The monk that gave the talk is headmaster at a school just across the bay from you. I was blessed to be invited with a group to dinner with him after the seminar. He's very generous and quite brilliant. He'd make a great conversation partner for you.
http://www.stjohnsacademysf.org/home

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Justin said...

"If that makes me a heretic, then I wear that badge proudly in Jesus name."

This.

Wow.

I like.

Justin

 
At 12:00 AM, OpenID boehadden said...

Nice blog and nice discussion. I just fount it and perhaps, thought I know it is from about 2 years ago. As briefly mentioned in the comments:
The Orthodox do not deny or hide the idea of being born-again, from my understanding. BAPTISM is being born-again. The job of the Orthodox Church then is to educate its people on what their baptism means and that their life should be a constant effort to "live out" your baptism. If someone, for example, only later in life finally understands what their baptism was and what God has done for them, that's not really a born-again experience-- it's the intellect catching up with the spiritual reality already begun in their life.

It brings up the question of how much intellectual understand is required to be saved? What exactly to I have to understand intellectually to be "born-again"? and does the answer to that question exclude people with "limited intellectual capacity" (the severly mentally retarded. brain damaged, etc...)? and where's the line? what do I really intellectually understand about God? God is vast--my intellectual understanding is so little compared to Who He is... what is the salvific level of intellectual understanding and who decides what that level is?

Good discussion-- sorry I'm two years too late :)

 
At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi boehadden,

I am defining being "born again" as the experience of the indwelling of the Spirit calling out within us “Abba, Father.” If you would like to give that experience a different name, that is fine. Perhaps we could call it "assurance." At any rate it is a conscious awareness of God's love and acceptance.

It is not intellectual. It is relational, and so a severely retarded person would have no problem experiencing it since they have no problem loving and being loved. So could a child.

In orthodox mysticism this is something that happens to a few people after years of contemplation and searching. It is what happens at the end of the journey. I am saying that it needs to happen at the beginning of the journey, as the basis for it. It is like the wedding that begins the marriage.

A second issue is that there needs to be a conscious choice on our part to make Jesus Lord, to follow. This was originally the purpose of baptism. But when the church began baptizing infants who cannot choose anything, this was lost. We need some way, some ritual, where a person can say "yes" to Jesus. That is missing from both the Easter Orthodox church, the Catholic church, and Mainline Protestant churches. There is in some churches a confirmation class, but that is really just intellectual education and not focused on making a relational decision to give our hearts to Jesus and make him Lord. I am saying that we need to have a way to do that, and as far as I can see that ritual is missing in both Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Mainline Protestantism.

The obvious ritual is believer baptism. But as long as infant baptism is practiced (which is really just a baby dedication not a baptism) that ritual cannot be used. I don't see that changing, but I really think it should.

 
At 4:11 PM, Blogger Chris Jones said...

I'm also a couple of years late, but since Perry just linked to you in the last few days, here I am.

In your first "Why I'm not Orthodox" post, you say the following:

Pretty much all of my theology is very much in line with the Eastern Orthodox church.

And yet in this post you demonstrate that this statement is not true. If you insist on "believer's baptism" then your theology of what baptism is and what it does is completely different from that of the Eastern Orthodox Church (and of the Catholic Church and of the Lutheran Church, into the bargain).

Per your last comment, you are looking for a means, a ritual, by which one can say "yes" to Jesus. But that is not the Orthodox way. In the Orthodox way, the sacraments are not about us saying anything to Jesus; they are about Jesus saying something to us. They are about Him saying to us "your sins are forgiven" and saying to us "This is my body, which is broken for you." Where we say "yes" to Jesus is not in baptism (believer's or otherwise) but in our participation in the liturgical, sacramental, and ascetic life of the Church. Every time we pray in His name on the basis of the union with Him that is given to us in baptism, every time we fast or give alms in His name, every time we go to confession and receive His forgiveness, we are saying "yes" to Him.

A subjective feeling of assurance is no substitute for the objective reality of the sacraments and the promises of God.

 
At 2:05 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Chris,
My first concern is to be consistent with Scripture before tradition. I am aware of course that infant baptism is the tradition of the church (predating the Orthodox church AFAIK). What I am not at all convinced of is that it is biblical.

Secondly, I am not interested in a "subjective feeling" but rather in a volitional act on our part where we decide to make Jesus Lord in our life, where we say "yes" to Jesus. That volitional act is the first step in a lifetime relationship with God that is experiential.

I do not think that act alone is salvic of course (god saves, we don't), but I do think that is a vital part of entering into God's salvation in Jesus. We cannot be Christ's disciple apart from our will, because belonging to Jesus entails obeying his commands.

 
At 6:31 AM, Blogger Chris Jones said...

Derek,

I'm not trying to do an "I'm right, you're wrong" polemic here -- just trying to point out that "pretty much all my theology is in line with Orthodoxy" is a stronger statement than I think you can really make.

Also in the interests of full disclosure I should note that I am not currently a member of an Orthodox Church (I'm an LCMS Lutheran). But I was Orthodox for about ten years and my theology hews pretty close to the Orthodox line.

ISTM that the statement My first concern is to be consistent with Scripture before tradition is very problematic indeed, since tradition truly is coeval with Scripture (indeed it is older) and is of equal authority (see 2 Th 2.15). The constant liturgical practice of the Church must form the matrix within which we understand Scripture and (more importantly) allow Scripture to do its transformative work in us.

For me the question is less infant baptism vs. adult baptism (as important as that question is) than it is whether baptism is something that we do as an expression of a conscious faith or something that God does to work faith in us and bestow forgiveness of sins on us. I do not believe that the "something we do" view of baptism is at all Biblical.

I am curious: on your About page you describe yourself as a "spirit-filled" Christian. Can you explain what that means, and how it differs from any other kind of Christian? (It is not a term that I am familiar with.)

 
At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Chris,

I'm not claiming to be EO. However several people have noticed that in many ways my theology is closer to the Orthodox perspective than it is to the Protestant typical one, and as a result asked me why I identify as a Protestant rather than as EO. Hence this blog post and the previous one were an attempt to identify some of my reasoning. The issue of infant vs. believer baptism is not really a substantive reason since the church I do identify with (Methodist) also practices infant baptism. I disagree with them too on that, but still am a member.

We seem to come be coming from pretty divergent perspectives, so I will try to concentrate on the main point so as not to spin us off onto rabbit trails. You ask whether baptism is
a) something that we do as an expression of a conscious faith or
b) something that God does to work faith in us and bestow forgiveness of sins on us?

I would stress first that what we are really talking about is "what is salvation?" and answer that while both A and B are important factors, that B is the most important part. God acts to draw us, and of course God is the one who creates new life in us. Salvation is primarily God's life-giving act. We respond to that act in faith. Now as far as baptism goes, the question is: what does it represent? I would say it symbolically represents the reality of what God has done in us. It is a symbol of the reality of our salvation and regeneration. Water does not save any more than circumcision did, the Spirit saves. Water is a symbolic recognition that God has saved us.

To you final question: "Spirit filled" refers to what we charismatics refer to as the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" as described in the book of Acts.

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger Chris Jones said...

We seem to come be coming from pretty divergent perspectives

So it would appear. Nevertheless the answers you have given are very helpful in describing what your perspective is.

As I said, my intent is not polemical but only to understand where you are coming from. You've answered that very well. Thank you.

 
At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

u bet.

 
At 2:23 AM, Anonymous Patrick said...

A passing point on Tradition and Scripture. Scripture is the written testimony for the tradition passed on by the Apostles, as taught and seen in Christ. Therefore Scripture and Tradition are consistent with each other. Tradition encompasses the whole body of teaching both written and unwritten. The written Tradition in Scripture becomes a good tool to use to test the truth but itself can be misread without reference to the wider Tradition; this point is well shown with the multitude of groups claiming to be Scripturally consistent yet teaching contrary doctrines. One may question: how does one know the unwritten Tradition and that what is said to be unwritten Tradition is in fact Tradition? This is answered not by rejecting unwritten Tradition and using Scripture alone but through the process of councils where the leaders of the churches scattered across the world come together to share the common Tradition passed on to each. Should a teaching be shown to be inconsistent with the common reception or unknown by many then it is rejected as Tradition. Not only this, the Holy Spirit continues to work in the church and various Councils of the leaders (Bishops) have written down more regarding the Tradition of the Church with the inspiration of the Spirit and we can now trust these recognised councils as providing further written testimony as to the Tradition by which we can test various teachings etc. Having come to Orthodoxy from a Protestant background with a commitment to Scriptural consistency, I have found that not only are all the formally recognised Conciliar decisions consistent with the Scripture but also that the Orthodox Church in its formally written testimonies of Faith is the only Church that is completely Scripturally consistent; no Protestant Church comes close. I had to rethink how I understood some things but the Orthodox teachings have always proved themselves more consistent with the Scripture than the previous Protestant interpretation. One as a Protestant may think that they are interpreting the Scripture freely but in fact one is very influenced by the Protestant framework on how to interpret the Scriptures. One cannot get away from such a framework; it is a matter of finding the right one. As a Protestant I was aware, though, that the Protestant and even Roman Catholic frameworks were not proving themselves to be fully consistent with Scripture, the Roman Catholic surprisingly being more so, but I couldn't self-know the correct framework, it was only once exposed to Orthodox theology that I found the correct framework and then I needed to trust the Tradition and re-look at the Scriptures to undo the baggage from Protestant times. This is not to remove critical thinking or be brain washed into another way of thinking but to allow a fresh look, which I found not only consistent with Scripture but much, much more profoundly so.

 
At 3:04 AM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Chris,

A few points about Orthodox Baptism.

First: The Scriptures confirm that Baptism does save us (1 Peter 3:21) Christ in the Gospel of John (Chapter 3) confirms that water is as necessary as the Spirit and we know from Paul that without the Spirit we are not in Christ. While water is not alone sufficient, it is also required with the Spirit and so is what saves us. When Christ speaks of being born again He refers first to water and Spirit as being the means of being born again only after mentioning faith. Thus baptism is the primary event of being born-again. It is done in the context of faith as Christ later says when discussing this matter. A confession of faith is not the primary event later symbolised by baptism; this would not be consistent with the teaching of Christ in the Gospel.

Second: Having baptised a number of adults, the baptism event is experienced as a genuine transformation. The person baptised has a real sense of being born-again in a manner more profound than that of a confession of faith. The person is often said to "shine." Infants also experience this to the level that they are capable but in some ways perhaps more deeply due to their purity of heart.

Third: Orthodox baptism is always done in the context of faith. In the early western rites this faith was expressed by the candidate for each person of the Trinity at each of the three immersions. In the east it is part of the catechism process where the candidate even proclaims themselves united to Christ by this faith but in the knowledge that they are not yet born-again. At infant baptism or for those who cannot speak for themselves, a sponsor or god-parent is required to speak for the infant and declare its faith. The god-parent is responsible to ensure that the child grows in the faith and owns the faith for itself. Children, as a rule, own their parents beliefs by trust and then more critically as they mature into adult life.

 
At 3:41 AM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Fourth: Baptism is not an act that the believer does, it is a gift conferred by Christ. This is shown by the rule that only a Priest may baptise because he is the proper icon of the presence of Christ, the God-man. The Priest, in unity with the Bishop, decides when to baptise the candidate, with also the consent and desire of the candidate. The candidate does little during the rite other than accept it being done and confessing his faith after earlier rejecting Satan. Baptism clothes one in Christ and unites one to Him. This is only something that God can do for us through man, because it requires both a physical and spiritual aspect since we are creatures of physical and spiritual nature. We cannot of our own ability cloth ourselves with Christ and unite ourselves with Him in one Body. Our act of faith does not achieve this either rather it is achieved in the gift of Baptism by which we become members of the Church, of the body of Christ in a real and holistic manner with the whole man, soul and body being united in one.

 
At 3:44 AM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Whoops, the comments about baptism are directed to Derek, not Chris. Sorry about using the wrong name.

 
At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Patrick,

You make some very good comments on the value of reading Scripture within the context and thought-world of the early church and the apostles, as opposed to inadvertently mapping our own worldviews and received doctrines onto the text.

As far as baptism goes, all I can say is I definitely received the Spirit of Christ and was born again long before I had an opportunity to be baptized (although I of course made every effort to be as quickly as I could). So I was saved and reborn without water. We see this happening a number of times in Acts as well, and I also know many people who have experienced this. So the reality of what God actually did in my life and in the lives of many others trumps for me what is supposedly "supposed to" happen. There are many ways that the Spirit moves, and I don't think we can lock it down to a certain formula. The wind blows were it wants to as Jesus says.

What I am interested in is the experiential reality of the infilling of the Spirit, which leads to the ever developing knowledge of God's love and the mind of Christ developing in us. In other words, not salvation understood as an act done to us without our knowledge or consent as some divine legal degree, but rather entering into a transformative relationship with God that leads us into theosis (i.e. Christ-likeness).

Now I am not Orthodox, so I don't think I can say much about how that is experienced, but I can say that in the Mainline churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) where infant baptism is also practiced there is very little emphasis on cultivating this transformative relationship with God, on growing in knowledge of the indwelling Spirit, letting the Spirit teach us, comfort us, convict us, and interactively lead us ever more to become like Jesus. My concern is that for many people (again I am thinking more of Mainline Protestants than EO, but if the shoe fits...) there is no experience of that active life-changing first-hand knowledge of Christ. Believer baptism is one opportunity for that transformative relationship to begin. Infant baptism on the other hand, is for most Mainliners very little more than a "baby dedication." If that is what it is, then we should just call it that.

In the end we need to ask: who is the ceremony for? Does God need it? Can God only love us if we get wet (or if we say a certain prayer)? I don't believe that for one second. No, the ceremony is for us, and a baby is just not able to participate in anything at that age. So it is not for them. At some point though, once we are able to make choices, it is important to be able to say yes to God, to say (like in a wedding) "I do." Again, no one is claiming that this alone saves us, but the NT stresses over and over the importance of our participation in faith, Jesus says "if you love me you will obey my command" and that the ones who are his brother, mother, sister, are those who do the will of his Father. Our response does matter. Note that even in the passage you quote from 1 Pe 3:21 baptism is defined as both our act "the pledge/response/request of a clean conscience" and God's act "that saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ". What saves is the resurrection, but baptism is our entering into that, our "pledge/response/request" (eperotema).

 
At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Derek,

The experiences in Acts are such that those of the Gentiles who believed received the Spirit before water, which is not the normal process (cf. Acts 2:38). This circumstance can be seen as an exception to the normal pattern because it was only the visible sign of receiving the Spirit that the Apostles were certain that the faith was also for the Gentiles. Then they were baptised in water immediately because receiving the Spirit meant that they could not be refused water and so entry into the Church. Being born-again is of water and the Spirit; the process of being born again was not complete until they had received baptism in water, even though the Spirit came upon them. The presence of the Spirit alone does not mean that they are born-again. To think such reflects a Protestant understanding of being born-again and not necessarily a Scriptural or early church understanding. Not it is not for the believer to seek baptism when they can but it is given by the Church when it is ready to receive the believer into the Church as the rite of becoming a member of the Church. Please list the number of times in Acts when the Spirit was recorded as being received before water.

How do you know you were "born-again" when you received the "Spirit"? How do you know that your experience was the genuine early Christian experience and what is "supposed to happen"? I completely accept that it was a genuine experience and undoubtedly a good experience for the better, I had experienced all this also in the same context as yourself, but what framework are you using to confirm that it is the genuine Christian experience? Mormons also have a genuine experience and so do buddhists but does this mean it is the Christian experience. What test are you applying other than what the people who are associated with the experience say it was? I know that Buddhists and other spiritual type of people have genuine "divine" experiences for the better but they don't attribute it to God. Their experiences were very similar to the experiences of Evangelical Christians. I don't think that the experience in itself is sufficient to determine the matter unless you wish to believe that any faith path leads to God.

Agreed on the act of baptism being transformative not merely a legal degree. I also share a concern for the lack of self-ownership of faith of many baptised but this does not mean that the baptism was not transformative only that the transformation requires a continued exercise of faith and development of the virtues. Please beware of relating experience of mainline Protestant churches with the Orthodox Church. I know you are aware that they are not the same but your comment betrays that you are still making a link.

 
At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Patrick,

How do I know it was real? Because it had an ongoing and profound effect on my life that began on that day and continues til now. When I later got my hands on a Bible for the first time, my heart lept again because I recognized that the One who had been speaking to me, pouring his love into my heart, was this Jesus fellow in the Gospels. I read his words and instantly recognized him. There is nothing I could possibly be more sure of, and I am sure of it because Jesus changed my life.

All of this of course made my Evangelical friends nervous because it did not fit with their expectations of how one is "supposed" to be born again, and in the same way it seems to be making you uncomfortable because it is "not the normal process" according to the Orthodox church. But I am not really that concerned if the Spirit's actions do not fit into the "normal process" of men (and I do mean just men). In fact, the entire Christ event is one that did not fit into the "normal process" of what the Jewish nation and their priests and biblical scholars all had expected. They also doubted the healings of Jesus, asking similar questions of "how do we know this is not of the devil?" His answer is the same as mine: You know it by looking at the fruits. In my life the fruits have been a transformed life, falling head over heals in love with Jesus, and devoting my life to following in his way, making him Lord.

Now on the other hand, I could equally ask how one knows that the Orthodox baptism is the right one (and I presume you would claim all other Christian baptisms are false). Not based on the experience of God in someone's life, but based on what a bunch of men in hats tell you. I'm sorry but I do not need to have some alleged "authority" tell me who God is when I can know God first hand. That is the whole point of the new covenant in fact. We do not need to know God via proxy, we can know God first hand, God can indwell our hearts just as Jesus knew the Father. That is what Jesus promises in Jn 14, and it is what mystics from all branches of the church have experienced over the centuries. Mystics in the Orthodox church, mystics in the Catholic church, mystics in the Protestant church... all of us have encountered the same real Jesus, and all of us mystics have made those who sit on the institutional structures and places of authority in each of these tribal factions very uncomfortable. I recognize my fellow mystics, I recognize those who know and love Jesus regardless of their tribe. I do not recognize any tribe.

One very big reason that I will never join the Orthodox church is that they would deny that I already know and belong to Jesus. So in order to join the Orthodox church I would need to deny Christ, deny that all the things he has done in my life over the years are real. I would rater die first. The very fact that the EO church would ask me to do this, that they would not recognize the reality of the Spirit active in someone's life, is to me solid evidence that they do not know the way of the Spirit of Christ, and as a result lose all credibility and authority in my eyes.

Again, I fully acknowledge that there are many within the EO church who know Jesus, just as I do. They are my brothers and sisters. I however deny the authority of the EO church when they close their eyes to the moving of the Spirit.

 
At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Yes, the rite of Baptism is for us. Does this mean it is not needed? God loves all without distinction, including the worst sinners; being saved does not make God love us more. God does not need our love but we need to love Him and others. God does not need our baptism for His own sake but He requires us to be baptised for our sake. Without baptism we cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven; these are the words of Christ. Why is a baby not able to participate in anything? What are you defining as "participate"? When Christ commands that infants are not to be denied coming to him; it was likely that they were kept back because some thought that infants were not of age to participate, why else prevent them as little children? Christ calls them even though they don't understand and are not consenting with self-understanding, so we also bring them to Him in baptism and communion. For an Orthodox Christian, denying infants baptism is denying them to come to Christ. They participate in Christ as far as they are able as we do also because we do not fully understand our participation either. They too will eventually become critically aware of their consent but as infants they are brought to Christ because they are no more able to critically make that right choice as they are of making the wrong choice in knowledge, so we make the right choice for them. Later, as adults, they will need to do so for themselves.

I agree that our response does matter but that doesn't forbid an infant from participating in the transformation of baptism then having the responsibility for his own response when he is of age to do so. The Lord nowhere commands that only the response of an adult accounts for a response. Your take on defining baptism through the text of 1 Peter is again not the only way to handle the text. St Peter is not defining baptism but is here ensuring that the mystery of transformation that saves us in baptism is not understood as just a washing of the body of physical dirt but as a transformation that saves us because Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Thus, we are able through baptism to unite to him in life through the participation of His death and resurrection in baptism (See Romans 6); if Christ had not resurrected then baptism could not save us. Yes, it is only saves those of a good conscience rather than receiving it with a bad conscience but this does not necessarily mean that it is merely a token of that good conscience.

I recommend this link which is quite relevant to this point of discussion: http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/what-st-paul-reall-said/

 
At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Derek,

I accept that your experience of God and the joy of knowing Jesus is completely that of God. I accept that it is able to change the way you live; I too experienced this and see it in many lives. However, this does not mean that you have experienced all that God wants you to experience. It does not mean that your experience is that which is meant by being "born-again". It does mean that you have been touched by the love of God that He has for all men to the level that you have, so far, been willing to accept it. Because you experience the love of God does that mean you necessarily belong to Christ? This belonging may not be something that is knowable just from experience of God's love because He loves all men, but from a formal connection to the Body of Christ, the Church. We can exercise many spiritual gifts but still not be known by Christ. (Matthew 7) The Orthodox Church does not deny your previous experience of God by your coming into the Church but affirms that you can experience God in a much more profound manner and that in coming into the Church one can have a relationship with Christ that is not available outside the Church, one that leads to theosis, which is a holistic union as one with God and all other saints; one cannot be saved individually without union with other believers in the Church as one Body in a physical and spiritual manner. This has been my experience; I loved Jesus too before becoming Orthodox and it was from this love that I realised I needed to enter the Church to fully realise that love. I realised the need to live within the Tradition of the Church to have a full relationship with Christ as He fully intends.

We require preachers to bring the good word (Romans 10). The Apostles were initially those preachers. They appointed elders/bishops to govern the Church and they commanded us to obey them. We do things because the Apostles tell us; this makes sure that we have a genuine relationship with Christ. That is why we have traditions from the Apostles. That is why over the centuries there were countless debates to ensure that we have a genuine relationship with Christ by keeping the genuine traditions of the Apostles in faith and practice. The mystics of which you speak, especially the Orthodox ones, were all within the structure of the Church and also they nearly all had spiritual directors/fathers to whom they gave strict obedience and by whom they were taught the path to Christ. Trying to go on one's own is a dangerous path that easily leads to delusion in their experience of the love of God. These authorities are not about prescribing our experience of God but ensuring that our response to that experience is one which will save us. Many have been deluded in the great experience of the love and power of God, leading to great spiritual gifts and virtues, that they are somehow perfect of their own faith/works falling into pride and separating themselves from God. Obedience helps to keep us humble, hence also one of the reasons for the hats, a symbol of being under obedience and humility.

 
At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Patrick,

I do not believe in "individualitic" salvation, that is, I do not believe in salvation separate and isolated from others. I am not separated from the body of Christ, or the Apostolic faith, I am very much a part of it. What I deny is that the EO church, or any other man-made institution, has a monopoly on that. I also do not need to be any closer to God. I'm plenty close already.

I'm happy for you that it was helpful for you to join the EO and that brought you closer to Jesus. But I find it rather annoying that you are now trying to proselytize me. The medicine that was good for you is not good for everyone, and I think you are not really listing to the Spirit of God now, nor are you really aware of my needs and spiritual state, you are simply assuming de facto that everyone needs to become EO. Maybe you did. I don't.

While the EO may acknowledge my experience of God's love as you say, the EO refuses give communion to anyone outside of their church, and they (with some exceptions) do not recognize the baptism of those who wish to join from other Trinitarian branches of the church. That means they deny the salvation of anyone outside of their clan. I wont deny my salvation. That would be a sin.

 
At 4:15 AM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Derek,

Please explain how you are not separated from the body of Christ nor from the Apostolic Faith. Please justify the claim that the Orthodox Church is man-made: which man: Christ; the Apostles? Your comments seem to portray that you are thinking of the Orthodox Church as an ethnically defined denomination or similar. However, it claims to be the one Body of Christ, the household of God, the Church that was founded by the Apostles. It teaches that there is only one Body and one Church of the saved not many in accordance with the Scriptures(Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians). It teaches that one must be united to the Church both in spirit and flesh in accordance with the Scriptures (Ephesians). It teaches that we must keep the traditions of the apostles in accordance with the Scriptures (Corinthians/Thessalonians/Jude). It is governed by the hierarchy established by the Apostles of Bishops/Presbyters and deacons in accordance with the Scriptures(Timothy, Titus, Acts, Philippians). In all its marks it appears to be the Church founded on Christ and the Apostles to which the Scriptures testify. The scriptures declare that there is one faith in the Church, so that if one proclaims a different faith then one cannot be said to be within the Church, can they? The Church of the Scriptures is one that has a monopoly of the saved because there can only be one Body of Christ. That is why it would be appropriate for it not to give communion to those outside itself nor to recognise baptism outside itself because in doing so it would confess another Church apart from itself and deny itself as the one Body of Christ since these rites are the very rites that define one as belonging to the Church. Those who refuse to join Church are refusing to unite with Christ. Do you think that those who refuse to unite with Christ can be saved? If the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Scriptures then surely everyone needs to join it. The Church is one Body by its union with Christ; it is not a clan defined on human relationships other than Christ. In a manner it is the clan of Christ; is there a problem with this? Do not the Scriptures confess that believers are a chosen race,... a holy nation? Your critique of the Orthodox Church needs to show that it cannot be the Church of the Scriptures. The main area that we may be at variance is in the physical presence of the Church; you need to show how such a presence in contrary to Scripture and the apostolic faith.

How do you know how close you should be to Christ? Have you achieved theosis? Can you read the innermost thoughts of those who come to see you and provide inspired words of spiritual healing? Have you helped someone find water buried deep in the desert while being on another continent? Have you reached a state of dispassion where the urges of the body for sex, anger or other such passions no longer affect you? Have you reached the state of loving all equally and yet as unique persons, so that each one's unique pain becomes yours, carried in unceasing prayer even in sleep? And in all this are still persuaded that you have not yet begun to repent and that you are the least of all men? These are some of the recent experiences of those that know Christ well, who participate in Him and are becoming perfected in theosis. They do not seek these gifts in themselves but only to live a quiet and peaceful life in godliness and piety.

 
At 4:16 AM, Anonymous Patrick said...

I doubt that in a discussion as to the truth about a matter where one may be wrong that there is any way to avoid a sense of proselytism if both parties are intent on being right and are open to admitting that they could be wrong. Do you think that Aquila and Priscilla were aware of Apollo's interior spiritual state and needs when they pulled him aside and better explained the way of God to him? Did Apollo refuse to hear them on these grounds? Finally, are you sure that by rejecting joining the Orthodox Church, with its claim to be the one Body of Christ, that you are not by so doing denying your salvation and sinning? This would be what you are doing from an Orthodox perspective. I am asking you to provide a reason for your salvation and a reason why your experience, so far, is of itself a sufficient and Christian reason consistent with the Scriptures and the Apostolic tradition. Can you answer this?

Anyway, I may be pushing you to provide a reason for your faith when you may no longer wish to do so. My apologies if I am continuing the discussion without welcome.

 
At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Patrick, I've given my reasons a number of times, with a good deal of clarity. At this point it is quite unedifying. I'm done with this conversation.

 
At 7:29 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Derek, if you haven't already read it, you might enjoy Jordan Bajis' book, Common Ground: Eastern Christianity for the American Christian. I read it on my journey to Orthodoxy (several times), and it was very helpful. It might put some of your Orthodox interlocutors' comments in this thread into better context.

I began my journey with Christ as a Methodist (i.e., in the Wesleyan tradition), made an excursion through Pentecostalism (to the point of serving short-term in one of its mission fields) and was consciously broadly Evangelical for 30+ years. It took me several years to figure out and come to terms with what Orthodoxy was teaching (as opposed to what I thought it was teaching using my basically Evangelical framework). In the end, I felt it made the stronger case in terms of is sacramental and ecclesiological teaching, and its soteriology was the deal breaker for me with all of modern Evangelicalism on some level (not just Calvinism).

Making the leap of faith to become Orthodox was one of the most difficult and scary things I have ever done. My family didn't make the leap with me, which is a difficulty for all of us, but by God's grace, not insurmountable. We found a wonderful Orthodox parish in town where my whole family feels welcomed (we attend both our churches on alternate Sundays). I have a special needs daughter, and the Orthodox sacramental understandings are far more accommodating to someone like her being able to participate fully (despite her rational limitations) as a member of the Church and of Christ's Body, than is my husband's (and my former) Evangelical church, which theology is baptist, and I have come to understand that Orthodoxy consequently gives a truer and more comforting picture of the nature of God's grace.

 
At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks for your post Ofgrace. I like the idea of finding common ground.

I really appreciate EO theology and doctrine, and my own theology fits very well with theirs, although there are some very important things about the atonement that I think the Church Father's missed:

A big one is the importance of God's passibility--that the cross reveals a suffering God. Another big one is that the Father's largely accepted their culture's assumption of retributive justice which has lead to lots of violence and hurt. I think we need instead to live in God's restorative justice, not just in our individual lives, but as a society. The Father's got that right with their view of the atonement, but do not apply it to our lives together. In other words, the missed how we should live the cross (which admittedly is very hard to live out).

This is really critical because the central key to true orthodoxy is in demonstrating Christlike enemy love. Here I see the most fruit from the Anabaptists. So while I like the orthodoxy (doctrine) of the EO, I would want to combine that with the orthopraxy (practices) of the Anabaptists.

Where I disagree most though is with EO ecclesiology. There I am more Anabaptist too. That is, I do not believe in hierarchical leadership, that I need a human mediator to connect with God (i.e. we do not need priests), or that any single human institution can have a monopoly on truth. I maintain that the body of Christ needs to be an anarchy, or rather a Christi-anarchy. I therefore think that people can find God in an EO church and rejoice with you that you have found there a way to connect with God, but I do not think that the EO church (or any human religious system) is the only way to connect with God in Christ. That would limit the Spirit too much.

Just as the early church recognized that the Spirit was working in the Gentiles and that they did not need to become Jewish to be with Christ, the EO church needs to recognize that the Spirit moves in many others and that they do not need to become EO to be fully part of Christ's body.

With that in mind, I appreciate your position of open dialog, and am sure that there is lots I can learn from the EO perspective and visa versa.

 
At 8:41 PM, Blogger Prometheus said...

Derek, your blog has been a help as I think about Orthodoxy. I have other hangups with orthodoxy, but I thought I'd comment on a couple of yours.

Infant Baptism: I have been a credo-baptist growing up and as an adult up until recently, but recently all four of my kids (0, 4, 6, 7) were baptized. What changed my mind? Seeing communion withheld from my children when Jesus said, "Let the little children come, and do not forbid them." Because I knew that Jesus said this to his disciples as they tried to stop parents from bringing their children and infants (in Luke) to him for blessing, I couldn't see how I had the right to keep my children from taking communion. So, while it was meaningful for three of them, all four were baptized and given communion. As a parent, I've felt compelled to preach salvation to my children as repentance rather than "asking Jesus into your heart." All three of the older ones seem to understand the idea of a) God loves you b) you need to repent when you sin c) he will forgive you d) no need to sin all the more so that grace may abound (they Laughed when I read Romans 3 to them as we have been reading through the Bible together - they couldn't fathom such a silly idea!).

Priesthood of all believers: When Peter talks about the priesthood of all believers (we are a royal priesthood) he is quoting an OT passage about Israel. They were a royal priesthood, but nonetheless had a hierarchy. I also think you misconstrue hierarchy as introducing other mediators. Besides, if Christ is the one mediator and the church is Christ's body . . .

Assumption that a visible church is man-made: This to me seems to be an assertion without clear claims. My own personal biggest problem is that I'm not sure Orthodoxy makes a convincing claim that Orthodoxy is true and Roman Catholicism is false. I'm not saying there isn't a one true visible church. But the history is too messy for me at this point to say that Orthodoxy is it.

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger Victor Weis said...

Born-again experience in Orthodoxy? It's the Mystery of Baptism and the Mystery of Chrismation. That's what you're looking for, I think.

 
At 12:51 PM, Blogger Prometheus said...

Victor,

I agree. An emotional experience is not necessary, nor is it necessary to point back and say, "it was then that I decided to follow Jesus." If my kids never can remember a time that they first wanted to follow Jesus, that won't negate their faith or baptism. That said, many paedo-baptists do have an experience with God and a turning over of their life to him. We shouldn't diminish that experience. But to claim that that is the only way people can know they are "born again" seems unduly restrictive.

 
At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I've learned a great deal from this particular conversation, and have appreciated hearing from my Orthodox brothers and sisters and how they experience the Spirit in a personal and intimate way.

I agree with Prometheus that we all have different ways that we connect with God. For me that was through a born again experience leading into a life of growing friendship with God. However lots of others (including a lot of evangelicals like me) cannot point to a particular event. So I would not want to restrict the Spirit.

For me the bottom line is simply that I know that I have had a real experience with God, with the Spirit. Not just as a single event, but as an on going relationship. From that I know that I belong to Jesus. And I will not ever deny that. How could I deny Christ after all the love he has shown me?

So what I object to is that some Orthodox would deny that experience, they would deny that there can be salvation/sanctification outside of their church. But for me to deny what I have experienced would be to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and I certainly wont do that.

On the other hand, if Orthodox folks can recognize that Christ is in me, I am also perfectly happy to recognize Christ in them, and to call them my brothers and sisters in our common faith. In that exchange of mutual acceptance and respect I think we could learn a lot from each others different perspectives.

 
At 6:40 AM, Blogger Konstantinos said...

Hello Derek, I know this is an old post and an old discussion but I can't resist of adding my experience on the subject. I was born in Greece, in a country where to be Orthodox equates with national identity. I was baptised as an infant, as everyone else, and then left to my own devices as most of my contemporaries. My godfather who was suppose to be responsible for my spiritual growth, did limit his guidance (this is the common practice) on the social necessity of buying me an Easter candle, a delicious Easter cake (I highly recommend it, is called "Tsoureki") and a present. As a young person I was drawn to God and to Church, I became an altar boy (didn’t miss a Sunday) till the robes couldn’t fit to me and the priest had to ask me to give space to the younger ones. I tried to go to Sunday school by my own initiative, however the teaching was/is left to the State, the Church catechesis was very superficial and moralistic in nature. While growing up, the moralism couldn’t keep me; I was drawn to God but didn’t have existential experience. Post modern nihilism and relativism was too strong to be resisted without a living God. At the age of about fourteen I lost any faith left, but I kept the hope. At the age of eighteen my Pentecostal converted mother tried to evangelise me and I answered back to her that she is weak in mind and primitive in thought, God was a social necessity and science is the future. However in my inner thoughts I wanted Him to exist, if God is dead then there was nothing left, there was no intrinsic meaning of life, of the word good, of morality or anything else, no real purpose to live. Few times I did to my mother the favour and followed her to the Sunday service, which had no real effect on me. However the last time I went a miraculous event followed the next day. That night I came back proud of ridiculing the Christians who tried to evangelise me; I was so sure for my intellectual superiority and felt contempt for the poor guys. Next morning, I woke up but I was not the same! I felt a real presence with me, and I knew Who the presence was, I felt a change inside me which I couldn’t explain. My whole world came upside down. Soon I understood that my previously full mouth couldn’t say at all a bad word! I couldn’t get angry that day to anyone; I was overwhelmed by His Love, I was humbled! That day my life changed completely that day I became Christian, God was not an idea was an experience, was a reality that I tasted. That day my Journey with Him started. When I went back to the Pentecostal church I met people with similar experiences, I met people who had a living relationship with a living God. That reality, the Orthodoxy I grew up never taught to me or showed me, although it had every opportunity, and this is the praxis till today!

 
At 6:41 AM, Blogger Konstantinos said...

I later read the Fathers (as my everyday life permits), I was mesmerised by Chrysostom, the mystics of east and west, Luther, Wesley, I found Antony Bloom and Kalistos Ware (both an oasis in Orthodoxy) and I came to conclusion that I do share with Orthodoxy a lot in theory, but in practice there is a big gap. That fundamental big gap was evident when one day while I was participating in an evangelistic mission in Greece, that gave free New Tastements to people in the road, an orthodox Christian (having in his hand the prayer rope) stopped and ask me “why?”, “why you do this while the orthodox never try to convert!”. I told him that I can’t deny my faith that Jesus is the Saviour of the World and he is the only Hope for every human being. And on that account I can’t stop speaking about Him and passing the Good News to my fellow humans, inviting them to read the New Testament and ask Jesus to their lives. Truth demands action, reality demands a real, continuous and active testimony. That testimony can be seen by the 1000s of Evangelical missionaries in Asia, Africa and Middle East. I am afraid that Orthodoxy can’t show that dynamism in mission with few exemptions, for centuries are confined to their nationalistic boundaries (Greeks, Russians, Antiochians, Armenians, Serbians, Romanians etc.) with only a very recent and reactionary new love for mission.

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger Konstantinos said...

Having lived in an Orthodox country and influenced by the thought of the Orthodox mind, I can say that many times I questioned myself on why I am remaining a Pentecostal when I have so much in common with the Orthodox thought and I love their Mystics and Fathers. I came to the conclusion that although their Mystics point to Christ (ex. The Jesus Prayer, which I also practice) the Christian life for the laity that the Church teaches does not.
Few years ago, I found in youtube the testimony of Antony Bloom, I was so stricken by the similarity of his conversion with my experience. An Orthodox who was Born Again! I believe who ever listens to it will be edified so I share it in your blog. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2OtD5OkHHo

Derek I want finally to say that I really like your blog and what you write ! Keep up the good work and may Christ give you strength and wisdom

 
At 1:04 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks for sharing that Konstantinos. So glad you have found a living faith and love that you want to share with others!

 
At 10:34 PM, Blogger Jon Boatwright said...

Not sure when this blog scroll was active but I stumbled upon it. As an Orthodox Christian I'd like to add if I may that first of all one must have a true and accurate interpretation of scriptures to know where to land. To be born again in Greek means also to be born from above. We don't gauge how God is acting in our lives by our feelings as most Protestants do. By the way I was saved as a Baptist growing up. So we say that we are saved (by the sacraments instituted by Christ to His Church), are being saved and hope to be saved (lest we fall from our faith). Scripture alone is not Biblical. Luther added the word "alone" may God have Mercy on him. The church was active for over 300 years without a Bible then produced the Bible. This Church is the Holy Orthodox Church. I hope that my poor addition to your blog might add a little. May God bless us all in these times.

PS; it is true that whether in the Orthodox faith or outside of it we must hunger for God otherwise we have just ritual. The Orthodox faith IS experiential or supposed to be. Sadly many have made it an ethnic club. This is not the faith.

 

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