(a slightly cleaned up version of a Facebook post)
But before that, here's a great talk by Fr. Seraphim Aldea on Elder Sophrony and what prayer is and is not
. Takes a bit to warm up but worth it.
What struck me most was the emphasis on the encounter and having to shed any (merely cerebral) notion of who or what God is - right after I'd read Melinda Selmys' praise of atheism as the most pious anti-pietism
and Simone Weil's related thoughts
- including the following editor's footnote:
God does not in fact exist in the same way as created things which form the only object of experience for our natural faculties. Therefore, contact with supernatural reality is at first felt as an experience of nothingness.
All this left me wondering how far the forgetting went. Do we even throw out the name of Jesus (i.e., that particular set of syllables by which we refer to Him in our own language)?
Googling that brought me this Evangelical polemic against apophatic theology
, which addresses the concern quite directly and says that such mystical obfuscation is incompatible with the notion of a truly personal God that one can relate to in the ordinary sense. It's long, but I only really have one rebuttal: the approach endorsed in place of the apophatic has left me with no way to discern if any given thing I am seeing, or whatever I think I may be seeing, is God or self-delusion.
Of more interest is the other article on the site respecting Orthodoxy
, not really because I find it interesting but because it works as a surprisingly good springboard for clarifying how Orthodox theology differs from other Christianities I do not believe
This is not intended to be a full rebuttal, but to highlight some of what I think are the most salient points:
The Reformed Protestant position does not eschew tradition as useless, as Brown rightly states, it simply rejects it as authoritative. "Traditions" are necessary in terms of the particulars of living out our faith, and may even express themselves in the distinctives of denominationalism (within the pale of orthodoxy with the small "o") but the essence of the faith is clear and centered on the Biblical truth of the gospel. The Orthodox Tradition obscures the gospel, for it is itself obscure and contradictory, subjective and mutable. It solves nothing that it claims to solve, for the presence of Tradition as an Interpreter of Scripture only serves to set back the problem one step: if the Bible needs an infallible Interpreter, who interprets the Interpreter?
This is a bit of unfortunate polemic: Mr. Carrino describes himself as "an avid student of Eastern Orthodoxy" and reasserts that authority throughout the articles, and yet here is a rhetorical question that has a simple and explicitly stated answer in Orthodox doctrine: the Holy Spirit abides in and is active within the Church to guide that Tradition.
Indeed, that point could have been inferred even if he had somehow not seen it in his studies: whatever your theological basis, some
point up the chain must have God directly involved, or the theology is self-evidently false no matter what it says.
The same inference could, of course, be made for a Bible-centered Protestantism: all the chains lead up to the Bible, which is given to us by God. But both would agree that the faith does not come directly from the transcendent God (whether the Father alone or the Trinity), but rather through the incarnate
Christ. And the most obvious way for that to have happened would be this: Christ proved He was God through His resurrection, then dicated the Scriptural canon to the Apostles, if not physically delivered bound copies of complete Bibles to everyone right on Pentecost.
But the Bible itself does not record anything remotely resembling such an event anywhere. Instead, we see in Acts that the Holy Spirit possessed the Apostles and had them saying things (as He previously "spoke by the prophets") that, per Paul's descriptions later on (in the Bible if not chronologically), were handed down to others... which is exactly what is alleged by the Orthodox Church to be the source of its authority to interpret Scripture. Even going by Scripture as the sole binding authority, the clearest and simplest explanation for the data favours the Orthdox position more than the Reformed one.
A few other points:
Thirdly, no authorized canon of the Church Fathers exists.
This, of course, is a substantial misunderstanding, but its genesis is easy to understand if you assume the writer is lumping Orthodox and Catholics together and has no idea why
the former are so resistant against reunification with the latter. The Orthodox approach to being a Church is less like a gatekeeper that elects bosses to say what's wrong and right, and more like the sort of emergent "hivemind" that has given us the use of the word "Anonymous" as a singular proper noun. A flock of sheep, a school of fish, a colony of bees will have a similar dynamic, if in the former cases much less hierarchical (and accordingly much less like a body).
Mr. Corrino's use of disagreements and squabbles within the Church as a sign of Her lack of authority is one and the same misunderstanding: even ants and bees have freeloaders and rivalries, but no one thereby denies the reality of the colony (also known in A. mellifera
as simply the Bee
). Indeed the little inconsistencies between the four Gospel accounts reflect this known variable perfectly. The heuristic is simple to articulate, if at times difficult to implement: find a pattern to discern the teaching, or if no pattern exists, then there is no teaching. Any biologist, linguist, marketing consultant, stock broker, lawyer or duck hunter can do this.
"Authorized" implies authority - more accurately, a narrow "gatekeeper" sort of authority, in the sense of people (priests, bishops, spiritual fathers) telling you what to do. Such authority does exist in the Church - but it is only that, telling you what to do, not what is right. What is right must be experienced and demonstrated, whether directly by each Christian or by the commonly -
not necessarily always universally but repeatedly, frequently, predictably, typically - lived experience of those who have lived the Christian life in communion with the Church
. That is a very different thing from appointing people to organize everything so anything can get done.
The heavy emphasis on the substitutionary nature of the sacrifice within the pre-Mosaic period as well as in the Levitical system is not only clear, but essential to any proper understanding of the earlier covenants.
There are people who have rebutted this old canard much better than I ever could. Suffice it to say that this "heavy emphasis" simply does not exist when you read the actual prescriptions, except only for the scapegoat which of course is clearly not
sacrificed, merely gotten rid of. (And even that is more of a symbol than a substitution.) A comparative approach with other sacrificial ritual systems - whether offering a chicken to the ancestors or the old champagne on the boat, or even the way "sacrifice" is used in modern military rhetoric - would clarify this rather quickly.
As for the arguments that certain Scriptural passages support a juridical view of salvation:
- Having believed in both at different points in my life, it is clear that the juridical imputed salvation is but filthy rags compared to theosis and is frankly insulting to think that such a morality play is the ultimate plan for us from the God that both loves us as His prize creation but also made the solar flare and the cuckoo wasp.
- The passages themselves can be read both ways, and "worthy" and "undone" suggest to me actually something far more ontological, arete-related, than being liable for something.
I mean... do you really think Wayne and Garth are confessing a horrible crime to Alice Cooper in this scene?
(also note the top comment: "Me and a friend did this for Scott Travis from Judas Priest after a gig. Best 10 seconds of my life." This is not that pale a shadow.)