October 24, 2020

Fr. Ernesto: Orthodoxy and Scripture


Note from CM: Today we welcome our friend, Fr. Ernesto Obregon, to whom we turn regularly with questions about Orthodox Christianity. In this post he gives an overview of the Orthodox view of Scripture.

• • •

I was asked to write on the Eastern Orthodox view of the Bible. Let me quote from one of our scholars here in America. Dr. Jeannie Constantinou said in an interview:

First of all, the Church does not rely on the Bible for its doctrine. We don’t rely on the Bible, because the Church came first. First of all, we’re talking about Christian texts. We’re talking about the New Testament. That came after the existence of the Church, so the Church does not need to find justification for its beliefs within the Bible. The Bible is the written form of apostolic tradition, and before it was written down, it was passed along orally. It was passed along orally. What we know about Christ we know—initially, the Church knew from the oral tradition. …

Okay, well, we would say the reason why I’m saying that is because if we were to say that our Christian doctrine comes from the New Testament, for example, then what that means is that the Church existed and they had to wait around until those books were written to find out what they believed, and that’s ridiculous. The Church knew what it believed about Christ before the books of the New Testament were written.

So, the short way to phrase this is that the Orthodox Church looks at the New Testament as the record of what the Church already believed about Jesus Christ and about dogmatics. The Gospels are of supreme importance because they record the memory of the Church regarding what Our Lord did while here on Earth. The Bible is authoritative in that it records what the Church had received from the Apostles and the apostolic bands that were around them. The Bible did not form the Church, the Church formed the Bible, and the Apostles formed the Church, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.

worshipHaving said that, there is little doubt that the Church received the writings as being true and authoritative. But, they are true and authoritative under two conditions. One condition is that they are so because they agree with what the Church had already been teaching. Second, they are so provided they are interpreted in the way in which the Church historically interpreted them. The writings record what the Church received, but they are an accurate record insofar as they also are received with the interpretation in which the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Church had.

Finally, the Bible does not record all that the Church believed and taught, for two reasons. One, any reasonable reading of the development of the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Church either shows that the Church immediately forgot what they were taught, or they were taught additional teachings that were not reflected in the written Scriptures. This latter idea is reflected in the Bible when Saint Paul states that, “So then, brothers, stand firm, and cling to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter,” (2 Thes. 2:15).

The relationship between the Church and the Bible is complex and not simple. It is complex in that the Church received oral tradition, not written texts. What written tradition it received was mainly from the Septuagint. Many New Testament quotations from the Old Testament are quotations from the Septuagint translation of Scripture, not from the much later Masoretic Hebrew text. What it received from the Apostles was a set of oral traditions about Jesus which were not set down in writing until several decades after the death of Jesus. By that time, Saint Paul had already written some of the New Testament epistles. He based the doctrine in those epistles not on a written record but on the verbal teaching which he received and on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who guided him into doctrinal truth. The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a test of whether the doctrine preached by Saint Paul (and other members of his apostolic team) is fully in accord with the received Tradition and Teachings of Jesus.

Thus the Orthodox Church is a bit looser on verbal inerrancy in that the Bible does not form the final source of authority for the Church. But, it is tight on infallibility, provided that the Scripture is interpreted in the way in which the Early Church believed. Because the Orthodox do not rely on the Bible to be the end all and be all of the Church, verbal inerrancy is not quite as necessary a doctrine as it is for the Evangelicals. But, because the Orthodox Church believes that the Bible is indeed the accurate record of what the Church believed, it is indeed infallible, provided it is interpreted per the Early Church.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church does not believe that there is ongoing revelation of doctrine. At Pentecost, we received Truth. That Truth is expressed in different words for different generations in order to make it understandable, but there is one Truth. That Truth may be explained in different ways in different cultures, but that is merely to aid in understanding. Truth is Truth. It is beyond development, but not beyond changing ways to explain it to changing cultures.

The Bible is True. The Bible is Authoritative. But, the Bible is not such unless it is interpreted in such a way that it reflects the teachings of the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Church.

• • •

For further insights, Fr. Ernesto suggests that IM readers might want to check out the following article/podcast: The Eastern Orthodox Approach to the Bible, with Dr Jeannie Constantinou at Ancient Faith Radio.

Fr. Ernesto blogs at OrthoCuban.


  1. Faulty O-Ring says

    In the first and second centuries, Christianity was a diverse family of regional traditions, including many quite alien to the religion as we know it today. Proto-Orthodoxy emerged during the third and fourth centuries, and as the church of Constantine and Theodosius, took advantage of imperial power to suppress alternative forms of Christianity. The new creeds formulated politicized doctrines which the historical Jesus, as a Jew, would have regarded as an abomination.

    The myth that Catholicism and Orthodoxy were founded by the apostles is just that–a myth, similar to the folklore of their ancient competitors. Its purpose to justify a certain hierarchical and authoritarian institutional structure. The texts of the NT have diverse origins, but were edited and embedded into a framework designed to perpetuate this institutional power. This authoritarian spirit is still with us, and is well represented by modern Orthodoxy, with its corruption, intolerance, and naked power-seeking.

    • Christiane says

      It’s not that easy to wipe away the ‘myth’, Brother Faulty, when a catacomb directly underneath St. Peter’s Basilica (five levels downward into Roman times) has a place that harbored some bones and was marked with an engraving in Greek that read “Petros eni,” or “Peter is here.”

      possible? yes, when you consider the ancient way that the Church had of building sanctuaries over the relics and bones of dead saints, if not on the very place where their blood was shed if they were martyred . . .

      is it a ‘sure thing’ ? no, but there is some accounts that verify those bones belonging to a first-century Middle Eastern man, and no ‘foot’ bones are present . . . why is that detail special? well, St. Peter, out of humility, asked to be crucified upside-down, feeling too unworthy to be slain upright as was Our Lord. By tradition we have it that the Romans complied with his request and Peter was placed upside-down on his cross . . . when he died, it is said that the soldiers simply chopped his body down by severing the bones of the ankles so that the feet were no longer connected to the corps . . .

      in the end, can it be proven that the bones are those of St. Peter? no, not at this time, with our present knowledge, but long ago, someone took those bones out of their official casket and, hiding them in some purple and gold material, placed them deep into a niche, and there they marked ‘Peter is here’ . . . perhaps at the time when the relics of saints were being hunted and destroyed . . . ?

      myth? or something more? 🙂

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        It’s also dimly possible that Jesus sold Thomas into slavery, as a means of conveying him to India, where he would found the several churches there which claim him as their spiritual ancestor.

        More likely, neither Peter nor Thomas existed. They are characters in a family of narratives, who may or may not have been based on a historical prototype.

        Even if they never existed, early Christian churches would have had every reason to invent them, as well as their connection to them, and scriptures in which they featured prominently. Some Gnostic groups claimed Mary Magdalene as their spiritual ancestor.

        • flatrocker says

          Ah yes, all of history can be de-constructed into legends, myths and fairy sightings. Where Aesop and Grimm reign supreme. Where anthropological possibilities are eliminated due to lack of verifiable DNA evidence or the video on the six o’clock news. Where CSI-Jerusalem hasn’t turned up enough forensic evidence to neatly fit into the hour long format. So we petition the court to throw out the case because we can’t convict. It is never enough and never good enough. So we live in our intellects – stoically rejecting anything that leads us away from the holy grail of hard evidence.

          This is our life when we see our journey as “understanding seeking faith.” It’s just never good enough.

          • It’s not a matter of a court conviction of guilt or innocence; it’s a matter of what level of reliability the evidence needs to have before you stake your life on it and make it the way by which you understand and conduct your existence. Apples and oranges.

          • flatrocker says

            And for all of us, there will never be enough evidence to stake our lives on it. The stake is on something else. It’s not that our intellectual assent doesn’t matter – it’s just not the leading hand.
            Faith seeks understanding not the other way around.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And when everything has been deconstructed (with Appropriate Ironic Quip), “WHAT *I* WANNA!” will still remain.

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            You would be equally skeptical if the subject were the Qur’an.

          • flatrocker – Yes, I believe in order to understand, as Anselm said.

            But when a tradition such as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy grounds its current claim to authority in its uniquely apostolic antiquity, then it should be able to substantiate that claim to apostolic antiquity with sober, balanced historiography, using the standard tools of the discipline of history, not special pleading and hagiography pretending to be historiography. Roman Catholicism has not done this with regard to the Petrine Primacy, and Eastern Orthodoxy has not done it in substantiating its claims that its extra-canonical traditions have greater antiquity and stability than those found in the books of the New Testament.

            Given this, and given the fact that the EOC and the RCC both make contesting claims to the same unique authority grounded in apostolic antiquity, making a personal commitment to either church’s disputed and tendentious claim would not be for me a faithful step into light, but a doubtful leap into darkness.

        • That’s more circumstantial and question-begging than any claim that Orthodoxy places on the earliest church that I’ve ever heard.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It’s not that easy to wipe away the ‘myth’, Brother Faulty, when a catacomb directly underneath St. Peter’s Basilica (five levels downward into Roman times) has a place that harbored some bones and was marked with an engraving in Greek that read “Petros eni,” or “Peter is here.”

        Which does seem to give precedence to the Western (Catholic) Church over the Eastern (Orthodox).

        The main difference between East & West is that in the East the Orthodox Church enjoyed state-religion status in a stable centralized Empire. While Eastern bishops went into more and more complex Liturgy and Theology and Hymnology under Imperial patronage (and sweetheart partnership), Western bishops didn’t have that luxury. Western bishops often found themselves the ONLY legitimate authority in a given area in a post-Holocaust situation — Road Warrior without the motor vehicles. You ended up with the pampered theoreticians and the hands-on gritty. Then Islam came out of the Arabian peninsula to further stir things up.

        • Christiane says

          no disrespect to Eastern Orthodox Christianity intended in my example . . . I love the deep spirituality of the Orthodox and I wish that it was more prevalent in the Western Christian world

          when I was a student, the nuns taught us that, if we got hit by a bus outside of the Greek Orthodox Church, the priest could come out and give us the last rites . . . that made an impression on me that has not faded over the years . . . when a nun says there is a ‘connection’ that important, you believe it 🙂

    • I’ll have to agree with NT scholar Michael Birds’s view on that: “…we find both tolerance and boundaries functioning within the matrix of proto-orthodox Christianity. Those boundaries did not occur ex nihilio but were already emerging as part of the struggle of Christians to create and discover their own identity vis-à-vis Judaism and Paganism. Thus the proto-orthodox did not impose uniformity across the board, but they did set limits to diversity. What is more, those limits were not created by a numerically small elite that imposed their iron will upon the unwilling majority, but those boundaries were successful only because they resonated with the pre-existent beliefs, attitudes, and convictions of the majority of Christians across the Mediterranean.”

      Proto-orthodoxy was already existing/emerging as early as the writing of the NT, as seen in some pre-creedal/creedal statements such as 1 Cor 15. Likewise, the Rule of Faith, the Baptismal formula, etc… all were early and establishing an orthodoxy that saw fulfillment in the larger creeds.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        Wishful thinking. It could easily have gone in some other direction, and factional politics was decisive at several points. Anyway, the Jerusalem church, which we may assume to have most closely resembled the teachings of the historical Jesus, had a radically different theology.

    • One of the hardest parts for me is Constantine. He sees a cross in the sky before he slaughters his enemy in battle and then converts. In my mind I cannot come to peace with the slaughter of men and Christ. I just never see my Lord raising a sword to kill to further His cause. Constantine then goes on a crusade to make everyone believe as him. It is really hard to swallow for me

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And politicians today don’t do the same?

        • HUG for sometime I have seen where the poor put there lives on the line so others can keep the temporal things that fade away which they consider wealth. Washington redecorated Mt. Vernon while the people in Philadelphia ate rotten potatoes so they wouldn’t starve. Lincoln who loved bare knuckle fighting decided it more important for people to believe like him and was certainly willing to put hundreds of thousands of lives on the line to prove it instead of finding a peaceful solution. I see it as one of the worse decisions this nation had to endure. Of course acting in love and exhibiting the light would of never crossed those minds because even here we have the I am right syndrome and don’t cross me HUG cause I know where you live and I can find you. ( sarcastically of course). I have got hold of the idea that when a generation of people drop their weapons and say no ” I believe God and I’m not going to do it ” that will be a bride worth coming back for. What might have to be endured that might be the hard part. My grandfathers brother buried in France off the beaches of Normandy not so we could beat the Germans but to stop the Russians from running over Europe worse than what Germany did It was known by the other leaders what kind of man he was and then to say under the pretension we had to open another front to beat Germany. God can use things for my good so I have to look at Constantine as something that was not so good as he looked out on the carnage of a battlefield and wonder if at some point he didn’t ask for forgiveness.

    • F-OR, You of course have a right to express such skeptical views. Just know that you will find little agreement from the community on this site.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        This site is not a community. It is an audience.

        • flatrocker says

          That reply needs to be enshrined in the zinger hall of fame.

        • You just do not seem to like the conclusions people, for the most part, have come to here.

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            This is true. Of course most of us reached our conclusions before coming to the site.

        • An audience for whom — you?

          • That is how I read it. We’re an audience for O’Ring. I have suspected that for some time.

            However, he does play the role of reminding one what outside critic would quip.

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            I’m surprised so many of you object to being described as an “audience.” We are dealing with one-to-many communication (with “one” here being a small group). You should ask about the agendas of the names on top.

          • I’ve known Chaplain Mike for over twenty years and have a good understanding of what his agenda is. 🙂

          • Ooh, does that mean I’m part of the agenda? I feel like a Rosicrucian or something.

        • Thanks for letting me know that, FO-R, but I disagree. Audiences usually don’t get the chance of which you have taken such advantage: to express one’s opinion and interact with the host and other audience members freely. We work hard to promote and maintain that and I think it has long set IM apart as a unique kind of community in the Christian blogosphere.

          • Preach it, CM. The number of arguments/disagreements/varied opinions that pop up in the comments sections of most IM articles would suggest this community is NOT an audience…LOL.

          • Christiane says

            FAULTY O-RING, if you want to see a different kind of blog, go and observe the ‘amen Charlies’ over at SBCvoices, where even the occasional donny-brook over Calvinism versus non-Calvinism is highly discouraged . . . . if you speak freely there, you might possibly be soundly lectured, or put into ‘moderation’, and eventually banned . . . which is their right to do as it is their blog

            wouldn’t you rather be among people here who respect one another and appreciate and learn from the many different points of view, and who will respond to your writing with thoughts of their OWN ? Most of the people here respect that privilege greatly, because many have been a part of that other world where ‘dialogue’ was not appreciated. Now go and pour another cup of coffee and come back and enter into the conversation. You won’t find another blog quite like this one out there.

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            I had no idea that you thought of the comment board in such exalted terms. However you describe it, the fact of the matter is that not everyone here posts on an equal footing. You’re used to accepting this kind of arrangement as a “community,” I suppose, because your churches are also top-down structures.

            • Of course, you have a point. There would be no “community” without someone who continually prompts discussion by posting his or her thoughts and opinions, beginning with Michael Spencer (whose early blogs were much more one-way communication than what we do here today). I’m not sure that’s actually “top down,” as though we exercise some kind of authority over people’s lives, other than the right to choose the content and moderate the comments. So I guess you could say that I and the other authors are in some kind of “power” position, but it’s a pretty “soft” kind of power. After all, no one is obligated whatsoever to read or comment. But it’s also far from a mere “audience,” as though this were simply a one-way production. At any rate, I don’t know of any human institution or endeavor where every individual has exactly the same voice. Is that what we’re supposed to be after?

        • If this was an audience, you wouldn’t be posting.

          • “That reply needs to be enshrined in the zinger hall of fame.”

          • OldProphet says

            Hey, FOR, I love your posts but you think this blog is an audience? Really? And the teacher we’re listening to and taking notes from is……..? Isn’t an audience composed of a learned speaker and a willing and eager people waiting to hear? There are a lot of obviously intelligent and thoughtful contributers to this blog and I find myself daily being challenged here. One thing for sure, I WOULD NEVER think that this group of people would nerd me to teach them.

          • OldProphet says

            Sorry, “need”. I was thinking of me! LOL

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            The blogging group associated with this site has somehow decided that Orthodoxy is worthy of being promoted. I am offended that non-Orthodox Christians would just not care about their ongoing crimes and atrocities, and consider themselves to be in the same group–even while giving the cold shoulder to liberal alternatives to these authoritarian strains of Christianity.

            As yourself–why does the site make common cause with Orthodox spokespeople, but not (for example) liberal Quakers? I suspect that it is because the agenda here is not so different from the “bad” evangelicals they are trying to distance themselves from. The fact that they have a comment board is inconsequential.

            • FO-R, as the administrator and lead writer of IM, let me remind you that there is no “blogging group” that oversees this blog. It’s just me.

              As for any supposed “promotion” of Orthodoxy, I would submit that that is a mis-characterization. Michael Spencer used to say that one way forward for contemporary Protestant (especially evangelical) Christianity involved learning to appreciate the history and traditions of the church in order to reform our own perspectives and practices. Fr. Ernesto has been a friend of the blog for many years now. He himself is a former evangelical who now practices in the Orthodox tradition. I turn to him (and others like him) when I myself want to learn how the Orthodox view certain Christian doctrines and practices and think that his perspective can inform our readers.

              As for why we don’t include “liberal Quakers” or any number of others, I am always happy to broaden our scope. The breadth of the blog reflects my own limited knowledge, relationships, experiences, reading, and interests. It wasn’t long ago that commenters were accusing IM of becoming a “Lutheran” blog, selling out to the liberal ELCA.

              Bottom line: I post that which I find interesting, and that which I think will contribute to meaningful discussion. All within the limited framework of my life and the friends I have.

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            (“Ask yourself,” not “As yourself”)

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Bart Ehrman put considerable effort into demonstrating that proto-Orthodoxy was just one strand of early Christianity. I am satisfied that he was successful in showing that there were other, widely divergent strands. He was much less successful in showing that they were on equal footing with proto-Orthodoxy. That is to say, that these various strands had roughly equal numbers, rather than proto-Orthodoxy being a central trunk around which the others grew.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        I admit that this is difficult to know either way. But regardless of numbers, it seems clear that proto-Orthodoxy made a number of major departures from anything that Jesus would have recognized.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      That is an interesting hypothesis; however, I don’t believe it bears the weight of the historical evidence. Hell, even Crossan disagrees with you. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but you sometimes come across like a cranky fundamentalist.

  2. If what is being said here is that all that Orthodoxy now is sprung into full form at Pentecost, or was fully revealed at Pentecost without further need of doctrinal or cultus development, if this is what it means to say that the Church knew what it believed from the very beginning, that is historically impossible, because the historical record plainly shows diversity and development in both doctrine and cultus. Surely the Roman Catholic view on this point,that the deposit of faith was fully present from the beginning, though it needed to be authoritatively unpacked through time (this is actually what Roman Catholicism believes, not, as said in the post, that revelation is ongoing), makes more sense, and is more historically realistic (though the idea that Petrine supremacy existed from the beginning of the Church is not historically realistic, since historical records indicate that other bishops in the early Church did not defer to Rome).

    Add to this that the early Church Fathers routinely referred to the authority of Scripture for doctrinal justification (this was during the earliest times when the canon had not yet coalesced, though all the books of the canon were in the possession of the Church, making the books that subsequently coalesced into the canon the oldest forms of stable tradition that the Church possesses), and the picture regarding the histories of both RC and EO becomes far more difficult to discern.

  3. One major problem I have with the EO view of the Church as having sole authority to interpret Scripture. For one, I don’t have the same optimistic view that they seem to have about the preservation of that tradition and institution from error. Both the Old and New Believers in early modern Russia believed they were the proper Apostolic authority, and wound up shedding blood over IMHO pretty petty differences – all doctrinally supported. Second, the Old Testament is full of examples of prophets – men and women of God who essentially stood alone against the ecclesiastical authorities of their day when they were corrupt and needed calling out onto the carpet. There is no provision for anything like that in EO that I can tell.

    In summation, I am still (and will likely remain) Protestant on this issue at least. The consequences aren’t great, but it beats the alternatives.

    • +1 and well said.

    • In fact, Athanasius is one such who stood against the institutional Church when Constantine sided with the Arians, and against Athanasius, making Arianism the official doctrine of the Church for decades, and resulting in the exile of Athanasius. Only after Constantine’s death was Athanasius able to return, when the Church again officially adopted the now orthodox position on the person of Christ.

      • It is a little more complicated than that. Constantine died not that long after Athanasius was exiled, but he endured other exiles under Constantine’s successors who were favourable to the Arians. The church however had established the nicean creed, and affirmed it during Athanasius life time. Every time Athanasius exiles ended he was welcomed back to his position in the church.

        • Thanks for the clarification. I think the point I was making still applies: the official church of the Empire adopted Arian doctrine, and exiled Athanasius, however many times it received him again after each exile.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          I will give you a pass on losing your apostrophes. However, ancient names of Greco-Roman origin ending in “S” are made possessive by adding a single apostrophe at the end, a form usually associates with the plural possessive. This form is also used with Jesus’ name.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > to have about the preservation of that tradition and institution from error

      Did it say they are without error? I did not read that.

      > early modern Russia believed they were the proper Apostolic authority,
      > and wound up shedding blood

      This can discredit anyone from anything. I do not accept the thrust of this kind of argument. Slaughter is what Homo Furious does – it is part of what We are – the Scriptures make that plain enough. Then in time we recoil from that act. Often shortly before we do it again. This defends or damns the doctrine of no one, there is not a thread of human history unstained by the blood of our fellows.

      Doctrines are refuted or confirmed by debate and consideration – not history.

      > In summation, I am still (and will likely remain) Protestant on this issue at least.

      BTW, Protestants have butchers aplenty. And no shortage of apparent would-be butchers.

      • The butchery is not the point. The point is, the EO position is not immune from the same “who watches the watchmen” dilemma that they accuse Protestantism of, and with less of a theoretical ground to resolve it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Second, the Old Testament is full of examples of prophets – men and women of God who essentially stood alone against the ecclesiastical authorities of their day when they were corrupt and needed calling out onto the carpet. There is no provision for anything like that in EO that I can tell.

      Which is why the Eastern Emperors (and the Tsars and Autocrats) were into Holy ORTHODOXY in their realms.

    • My thinking runs along these lines as well. On one hand, I am convinced of the argument that we need, or at least ought to want, to refer to tradition when we interpret scripture. Scripture is best understood as having been written for a community that was already there to receive it. The New Testament, in neither its parts nor its whole, gives the impression that it is trying to be comprehensive: it assumes there are other sources of information. Further, contemporary persons, if they purport to be members of a community, ought at minimum to respect its history and witness. If God can speak to the current generation, then surely it was possible that at some point in the previous 2000 years God had done the same; if not, what makes you so special? Escatological luck? So, one does not disregard the sources of direction or information that are available, without good reason. The modern does not have enough experience or clever tricks to replace hundreds of years of aggregate experience.

      On the other hand, tradition must be a dynamo. It has to be appropriated and lived, in theory, it arises from experiences of ‘the church.’ If the individual ought not be all alone in trying to understand the Bible or doctrine, tradition needs the individual to be something of an agent. So there must be a lively interchange.

      Of course, the way I put this is reflective of my background as both modern and Protestant. But that is kind of the point: I know that within Protestantism, I can easily assert the importance of tradition, and submit myself readily to it. The Anglicans are particularly well positioned to pull readily from East and West, Protestant and Catholic streams, even if they are sometimes schizophrenic or fair-weather while doing so. Sufficient ground has also been laid for me to articulate my responsibility as an individual to reflect responsibly on such things, prone to error though I could be. If Protestantism suffers from the chaos caused by the empowerment of the ordinary lay person, or even the run of the mill pastor, it has also benefited from the fact that it became impossible in the West any longer to prevent people with spare change and access to books the ability to use their new powers. The sheer unlocking of potential, even if it is so often wasted, is important. Modern man, in all his banality, is on the move.

      The question is how Catholicism adjusts to the same conditions. Can its even more robust concept of tradition (which I do admire) be articulated alongside a vigorous respect for what all the participants in ‘tradition’ might bring to the table? I don’t know the answer to this. I know the conversation is alive in Roman Catholicism to some degree, which is so embedded in the West that lots of people in high places know the conversation is necessary. I certainly know dedicated catholic lay theologians or writers and others who work on the premise that they participate in some kind of broad magisterium. Yet as an outsider, who never went so far as to corner a few priests and actually pose the question directly, I’ve never been certain exactly how one integrate individual conscience and catholic obligation. That uncertainty lead me to feel shy of conversation without being able to assent fully to all points of doctrine and moral teaching, which at this time I cannot, or do not.

      It is far less clear to me how the Orthodox address this, because the dominant concerns and language are so strongly toward the subsuming the individual within an unchanging tradition that does not even concede developing sophistication across time, only different ‘cultural expression’. Of course, the fact that Orthodoxy is centered in totally different cultural contexts, and often has other fish to fry, is not lost on me. It is also not lost to me that it is mostly used to operating in more traditional cultures where authority may be assumed.

      But I’m listening.

  4. Asinus Spinas Masticans says

    The Authority in the Church is Who it has always been since Seth, our Lord the Spirit, Who spoke through the prophets. The Scriptures have merit because they are His deposit, and Tradition has merit because it is the life of the Spirit in the Church.

    Ringer is right. We Orthodox a bloody lot. Finn is right, too. So is everybody else. I don’t think you can make much progress in Christianity until you realize that you, your own precious moral self, are fully capable of signing off on the Holocaust, tossing it into your out box, and continuing on to your “main work” approving grain shipments. You need God’s help in not doing it.

    The way indefectibility [I won’t call it infallibility] works when all you have to work with are sinners is that it has to be distributed. That’s kind of scary. Orthodoxy has hung by a thread several times in our history – Athanasius contra Mundum, Maximus on a boat with hands and his tongue cut off, Mark of Ephesus refusing to sign the act of false Union, but since the indefectibility is distributed over time as well as space, eventually the Church comes back to plumb. He it was that was given at Pentecost, and it He has never left the building.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Orthodoxy has hung by a thread several times in our history – Athanasius contra Mundum, Maximus on a boat with hands and his tongue cut off, Mark of Ephesus refusing to sign the act of false Union, but since the indefectibility is distributed over time as well as space, eventually the Church comes back to plumb. He it was that was given at Pentecost, and it He has never left the building.

      You can say the same about Western Church History, Mule with creepy icon.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        If history had been a little different, you would both be equally confident in affirming Arianism or something.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

        Winners win for a reason, Ringer.

        I guess you never heard of Providence.

        If everything is random chance, and our brains secrete dogma like my pancreas produces insulin, there is no reason to prefer the product of any one brain over another, not even yours.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

        What I see in Western Church History is a dissolution of the polarities of Unity, Similarity and Difference, into the opposing forces of Identity, which reached its zenith in the High Middle Ages under the papacies of the 13th century, and Schism, which began with the popes of Avignon, gathered force during the Reformation and is approaching endgame now.

        Couple that with the rise of the Whig Antichrist in the cradle of the Filioque, and it made sense to shelter under the wings of the Greeks and Russians [albeit I worship with the Arabs now], bloody-handed tsars and knout-wielding Cossacks notwithstanding.

        • Faulty O-Ring says

          The Western church was relatively centralized and independent of other states. The fact that Orthodoxy is so decentralized makes it virtually impossible to reform–the most signficant counterexample would be the “reforms” of Patriarch Nikon, Sure, there is gradual popular evolution, e.g. in the acceptance of the theology of the Uncreated Light and the Jesus Prayer, but much the same forces are behind its alliance with ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism. The situation is in some ways comparable to the (mostly decentralized) leadership structures of Islam or Tibetan lamaism.

          • Yes. Decentralization lead to extraordinary conservatism in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy. The EO Church can only officially change practices and beliefs when all the Bishops gather together in council, and that is so rare as to be stupefying. But this does not mean that in the first centuries there wasn’t a rather quick development both in practices and cultus; the Church of the first couple of centuries could not have looked much like the Eastern Orthodox Church today (for one thing, the tradition of devotional icons had not developed, and mark that word – developed).

  5. Asinus Spinas Masticans says

    PS – Off Topic

    My thanks to the Lutherans for putting the Coverdale Psalter online where I can read it on my phone. You have done all of us an immeasurable service

  6. Yes, Eastern Orthodoxy sounds like it has good arguments for its apostolic authority and maintaining of the traditions. Until you do further study of church history and examination of the assumptions which Eastern Orthodoxy accepts and promulgates. It is hard to continue to drink the Kool-Aid once you analyze its ingredients.

  7. David Cornwell says

    Although one can manage to shoot holes into the structure of any tradition, we know that the Church, thus tradition, was in place when the scriptures were read and used as part of that tradition. The Church, warts and all, decided on the canonical writings, thus our bible of today. More and more it seems to me that tradition had to supercede the bible. So the teachings of the Church, held in the balance of the ages, must be given important weight when it comes to interpretation. When someone discusses a doctrinal controversy involving biblical interpretation, we must ask first, what has the Church historically taught? With all the divisions in Christianity we now have we will have diverse answers, but the oldest traditions and teachings must be consulted first.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The Bible(TM) didn’t just drop down from Heaven in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe.

      Verbal Plenary Inspiration (i.e. word-for-word recitation) was originally more characteristic of Islam’s Koran.

  8. Flowing off of some of the comments here…

    Do those verses in the Bible about nature revealing God, so man has no excuse, have any bearing on sola scriptura?

    • It partially depends on one’s view of general revelation v. special revelation, one’s view of election, and one’s definition of sola scriptura (v. prima or nuda scriptura).

  9. Patrick Kyle says

    There is no Church without the Word speaking it into existence. Scripture says ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God’ He calls the Church into existence through the Word, just as He spoke Creation into existence. Their is no belief or Church without the preceding Word.

    Secondly, Jesus Himself said that even the elect would be led astray (Matt 24) so how are we to trust that the Church reliably and accurately has added all this other stuff not in the Scriptures as rightly reflecting God’s character and will? Short answer is, we can’t.

  10. Asinus Spinas Masticans says

    …how are we to trust that the Church reliably and accurately has added all this other stuff not in the Scriptures as rightly reflecting God’s character and will? Short answer is, we can’t.

    Why does this line of argument remind me so much of our friend Faulty?

    • Patrick Kyle says

      ASM, When the canon was formed, the Church as a whole agreed that the entirety of the OT was God’s Word. They also agreed that the majority of the books in the NT were also God’s Word and are binding on the entire Church and all Christians. (The deutero canonical books were not universally agreed upon but included, though we take no central doctrines from them and do not consider them binding for all consciences.)

      The Church however, has never been in universal agreement that the Bishop of Rome is in authority over the entire church. Likewise, the church has never universally agreed that the Pope’s counterparts in the East are endowed with authority over the whole church. The universal church has never been in lock step agreement concerning the ‘Traditions’ handed down. The Scriptures and the creeds are the only things that the Church Universal has held in agreement. (There is some disagreement over the later creeds.)

      So forgive me when I am skeptical about manifold and conflicting traditions placed on the same level as the Scriptures. Jesus said that even the elect would be led astray (Matt 24:24) and apart from the Scriptures, we have no way of being sure that all these accretions to the faith (eg. Cult of Mary and the Saints, the sacrifice of the Mass, the Papacy as a divine office, the institution and canonization of the Eastern Liturgy, etc) are not just made up.
      You may say, ‘None of the hundreds of Protestant sects agree about the Scriptures either.’ To which I say ‘So what?’ Most Lutheran and Protestant interpreters are pretty careful not to add stuff that isn’t there to begin with, and at least we are all contending for our views in a field fenced in by what we are sure God has said.

      • Yes. Some of the most essential argumentation used to support the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches claims to uniquely apostolic authority and antiquity are anachronistic, projecting back into the earliest historical record evidence that cannot be attested to in those earliest times. There is no tradition in Church history more stable or of greater antiquity than the books of the New Testament that later coalesced to form the canon. They have been with the Church in largely unaltered form since the late first century, and have are extremely well attested to by documentary evidence.

        The same cannot be said about any of the other traditions that come down to us through the Church. There is no evidence supporting the contention that they have anywhere near the stability of the books of the New Testament, and though some extra-canonical traditions may be of equal antiquity, few, if any, are of greater. This means that the books of the New Testament form the earliest, most authoritative layer of tradition that the Church possess, and should be given very great authority when assessing the practices and beliefs of the Church.

        The fact that the canon did not finally coalesce (I say coalesce because no universal council ever defined the New Testament canon, although some local councils did; the New Testament canon organically shaped and asserted itself, shedding pseudo-canonical books gradually across the centuries until the canon we have now was left, with hardly any authoritative manipulation involved) until the fourth or fifth century is no counter-argument here, because the books that came to form our canon were with the Church from almost the very beginning, by the end of the first century. Has purgatory been with the Church that long, have devotional icons been with the Church that long, have the the canons surrounding the Rite of Reconciliation been with the Church that long, has the liturgical calendar been with the Church that long, has the current concept of episcopacy been with the Church that long (episcopacy started early, but some Church historians argue from the evidence that its character in the first couple of centuries was completely different from the institutional episcopacy that exists in EO and RC today), etc.? There is no substantial evidence that any of them have been.

        • Robert F – yep.

          I would add the (to my mind extreme) emphasis on fasting in the O. churches, developed liturgies, vestments as now used (not only in the O. anc RC churches, but in other traditions as well), the entire theology of icons which is now accepted by the O. church (absolutely *not* there for the 1st several centuries of church history, and largely where it is today due to the raging battles between iconoclasts and the iconodules), veneration of relics in the West, etc. etc. etc.

          Orthodox folks, I find much to admire in your church and have no quarrel with the many good things. But the alignment of many Eastern churches with the secular power structures of their day, the ongoing anti-semitism (and other “anti-” ideologies) promulgated over centuries by many of the patriarchs in collusion with heads of state (if you’re thinking the tsars, you’re right), as well as the current alignment of the RO church with Putin and his dictatorship, well, then…

          • Yikes! Meant to say that it’s clear that various liturgies, etc. (all of the stuff in my 1st ‘graph above) developed over time, and were not present in the early church.

            What little religious art was produced – that is, what’s still extant – prior to xtianity becoming a privileged religion in the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman empire is fragmentary at best. Afterwards, things changed, though even then, depictions of the cross and crucifixion didn’t start appearing until after crucifixion had been abolished as a form of capital punishment.

          • The fact that there was a raging battle between iconoclasts and iconodules even as late as the, what was it, seventh century, indicates that there were plenty of people in the Church even until that time (and probably after) who were passionately opposed to the use of icons in worship, and that the practice was by no means universally recognized even then, as is assumed in Eastern Orthodoxy today. Many in those first centuries adhered to the “orthodox” faith without the use of icons, so there must have been development and change in practices and beliefs.

          • If you are going to ground the authority of your tradition in unique apostolic antiquity, then you need to have the historical chops to back it up; anachronism, followed up by obfuscating claims which imply that historiography is an Enlightenment discipline that cannot measure the authenticity of Christian tradition, won’t do.

          • Robert F – re. iconoclasts and iconodules, there are some facinating and startlingly beautiful icons found in the trove at the moastery of St. Catherin at Mt. Sinai that predate the iconodule victory. They clearly show some of the reasons for the controversy, in that they’re highly realistic and look like portraits of livingmpeople (a la much later works by Rembrandt, Titian and others), rather than looking flat and essentially “dematerialized” as they’ve developed post-controversy.

            In many ways, the iconodules’ victory killed off the last vestiges of Greco-Roman portraiture (painting and sculpture), because realism -or even a kind of impressionistic naturalism that is present in many Roman wall paintings – became theologically incorrect. A whole lot was lost, though we don’t really know the scope of it, given the iconoclasts’ wholesale destruction of realistic images and imagery. The find at St. Catherine’s is one of the only windows we’ve got into the kinds of icons that were being produced prior to the 7th century, and even then, lots of them are very stylized, in the way that became the *only* acceptable means of depiction later on.

            If anyone truly wants to dig into all of this, Leonid Ouspensky’s books on icons are *the* go-to source in English. I have his 2-book Theology of Icons, but there are others, with more reproductions and less text, that would probably do for most purposes. All his titles are available via St. Vladimir’s seminary press – Google will get you there.

          • It’s interesting to visit the Dumbarton Oaks study collections in D.C., as DO is a major center for the study of Byzantine art, and the library is one of the few places in the West that contains so many books and resorces on Byzantine as well as Russian, later Greek O and other Orthodox church art. (Though the concentrate on the Byzantine Empire, and their holdings reflect it, in that there’s not much re. Armenian etc. O manuscript illumination, architecture and the like.)

            I had to spend a lot of time there for a class, and found it a strange and fascinating place. Ended up buying books on the St. Catherine’s trove as a result.

            Fwiw, even a great scholar like Ouspensky does a bit of backward projecting, but he’s much more clear-eyed than many who write about icons, their history, veneration etc. on the internet.

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

            Historiography and other positive disciplines are a niggardly basis for faith. They are good at establishing a bare minimum which everyone must agree on without violating the canons of reason or of the discipline, but they are useless for determining what can be prohibited in a maximalist expression of the faith.

            I didn’t need an exhaustive art history of the Mediterranean basin to accept the Church’s teaching on icons. One glimpse at the Roman catacombs was enough to assure me of the instinct that was being expressed.

          • Sounds sorta like, “The Tradition says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” Maybe you haven’t come so far from your evangelical self, Mule.

          • Also, i think one of the big gaps re. Eastern church histpry is that most of the best works on it are not in English. Unless you can read Greek, Russian and/or a number of other languages, you’re going to have to look *very* hard for accurate and detailed historical analysis (and even basic textbooks).

            That leaves too much room, imo, for people to pull out something like the wall paintings found at a synagogue in what was ancient Dura Europas as “proof” that icons wrre always with us, even in Judaism. Well, no. What that find proves is that in *one* synagogue, there are extensive murals of Biblical scenes. We have no other comparable archaeological finds (or other ancient documentation) to be able to claim otherwise, but it seems to be a truism in many Orthodox circles. I have *no* problem with people citing Dura Europas so long as they are clear that it’s a singular find, but when they get into “Icons because Dura Europas” mode, i just plain tune out.

          • Mule, The persistence of the evangelical perspective would also go a long way toward explaining why you can feel so certain of the EO teaching about icons based on a personal experience in the Roman catacombs.

          • Oh Mule – straing out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

            Belief isn’t the same thing as history, and we all believe many unprovable propositions here. So no, you don’t nedd history in order to *believe,* but history was being recorded in the Byzantine centuries, just as it is now. Uncritcal thinking is, imo, the bane of faith.

            As Robert said, you sound like you’re applying various kinds of fundy/evangelical thinking to Orthodoxy. I’ve seen the same with former Catholics who converted to evangelical Protestantism, albeit in reverse.

            Jesus’ thimking and intetpretation of Scripture and tradition differed radically from that of many of the religious authorities of his day. I personally believe that allows us a lot of freedom in both study and faith, as opposed to uncritically embracing X simply because it makes claims to be X, but then, what can a heterodox historian like me possibly know about your church’s history, or even the history and development of icons? [/irony]

          • Re. the Roman catacombs, it took QUITE a while for depictions of ghe human figure (i.e., Jesus, angels, etc.) to start showing up on the walls, and even the, they were *nothing* like what most Orthodox and Catholics would recognize as actual religious art.

            The earliest paintings of Christ show him as a beardless youth – a common type in Hellenistic art, known as “the young scholar” today. The only clue that these pieces are something other than secular paintings is found in cettain details, such as sherp and a shepherds’ crook – and even then, they could eadily have bern understood as secular pastoral scenes by non-christians.

            The cross didn’t start showing up until well after crucifixion had been abandoned.

            And so on.

            Also, your Roman catacombs experience *does* sound evangelical. (This from someone who was raised in a liturgical Proestant tradition, btw.)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            As Robert said, you sound like you’re applying various kinds of fundy/evangelical thinking to Orthodoxy.

            As in “You can take the boy out of the Baptists but you can’t take the Baptist completely out of the boy”?

        • Thank you for that Robert

  11. Father Ernesto wrote:
    “Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church does not believe that there is ongoing revelation of doctrine.”

    The Catholic Church does not teach that there is ongoing revelation of doctrine. It teaches:

    “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.” (CCC par. 66)

    The Church can grow in its understanding of what has been revealed, but that is not the same as new revelation of doctrine.

    • Yes, I stated this in a comment above. The deposit of faith came at the beginning of the Church, and according to Roman Catholicism unfolds and is unpacked across the centuries, as the Church is ready and able to assimilate what is contained in the deposit. No new revelation. Father Ernesto is misinformed on this subject.

  12. Thanks, Mule. I must have thinner skin.

    Sure is interesting reading the comments after coming back from Liturgy today. After years of prayer, reading (not the Orthodox Party Line, but real historians and source documents) and asking plenty of questions, I gather that the outcome of all that for me is that I have come to believe specious myths, am part of an incurably bloodthirsty and/or arbitrary religious system, and that I have “drunk Kool-Ade.”

    I will not argue with the points of critique – there are reasons for the critique that I will not gainsay – there is no argument, I’m not good at it, and I don’t want to get good at it. But Mule is right in that the only creatures that God has to work with, ultimately, are humans.

    What I found in the theology of the Orthodox Church is a God who is good all the time, who loves mankind, who is not angry at humans and has no need to sacrifice his Son, and is constantly at work to heal us and unite us with Himself. Orthodox Christianity is the only Christianity I know that at its core values the dignity of the human being; there has never been any notion in it that humans are anything like “snow-covered dung.” I’ve never found that in any other tradition that values scripture. That’s why I’m there, and that’s why I’m staying there. Yes, we have problems.

    w, I would be interested in any documentation about Constantine waging a crusade to make people Christians. He surely did shed blood, but I can’t find anything about such reasons for a “crusade” in any historical record. C. made it possible for Christians not to live in fear of persecution any more, and also actually tolerated other religions. I’m asking this of you directly because I’m more than willing to be enlightened by someone with your basic kindness.

    I guess I’m being a bit defensive. I don’t recall saying to any of you that you’ve “drunk Kook-Ade.” It’s fine with me if you don’t agree and never want to become Orthodox, or if you’ve been Orthodox and left. In the Orthodox Church, I get to actually believe in a merciful God who will make all well and all manner of things well, and I don’t get to write anyone off, because the Orthodox view is that, especially since the Incarnation and Resurrection, every human being is united to every other one in Christ, as a matter of ontologly and not as some fluffy wish.

    Forgive me.


    • Dana, There is more than enough thin skin to go around. As a Protestant, I couldn’t help feeling as I read Father Ernesto’s post that my faith tradition was implicitly being devalued and minimized because of the way it balances extra-canonical and canonical traditions differently than Eastern Orthodoxy does. As a result, I felt that my own status as a Christian was being indirectly questioned. If my arguments to the contrary were intemperate and not irenic, I do apologize, but please understand that they were intended to secure (mostly for myself) a clear enunciation and articulation of why I am and will remain Protestant, and why that does not mean that my status as a Christian is any less authentic than yours or Father Ernesto’s or Mule’s. As a thin-skinned Anglican with a fragile ego, I sometimes need to be bolstered in my faith tradition, even if I have to do the bolstering myself. My apologies for any hurtful things I may have said in the process.

      • Thanks, Robert. I re-read the post; I see Fr Ernesto providing an explanation of the O. view of scripture, not denigrating anyone. Perhaps I missed something. You may know that Fr Ernesto spent many years as an Anglican, including as a missionary in South America. Everything he has written about those times is full of gratitude, and I doubt he was intending to question anyone’s status as a Christian.

        I’ve no problem with articulating what one believes. God knows we’re all doing the best we can in terms of trying to navigate all of this. Again I say, it’s all a matter of interpretation, including how we interpret.


        • Dana, as I said, I am thin-skinned, and perhaps I over-reacted. I’m aware of some of Father Ernesto’s background, and I apologize for any offense I may have given him.

          Yes, it is all a matter of interpretation, including how we interpret, and how we give an account of history.

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

      Thanks, Dana.

      I love a good dust up and I can take as well as I can give. I’m kind of the house fascist, which is a thankless job but somebody has to do it.

      My primary point, the one thing I wanted people to carry away from everything else I said was that “our Lord the Spirit” is the final authority in the Church. I guess the Pentecostals have spooked everybody so badly they don’t even want to deal with the Holy Spirit. And I have been in Anglican and Lutheran churches that might as well have hung out the shingle as Orthodox.

      Nothing certain can be established by argumentation. The dialectic never ceases. And I also never learn my lesson.

      • Oh for crying out loud, mention of the Holy Spirit isn’t “threatening”! (At least, not to this particular Lutheran, with admittedly Anglican – and even Orthodox -leanings on some points.)

        Nobody has to play “house fascist.” As for Lutheran and Anglican churches that seem very close to the Orthodox version of orthodoxy, well, yes – but we’re still Protestant. Which, imho, means that the Holy Spirit is still speaking to the churches. And i suspect that most of us would prefer to remain Protestant, the late (and much-loved) Jaroslav Pelikan notwithstanding.

    • Dana, apologies if i’ve said anything to offend – it was not my intention. I have a great deal of respect for you, and for your place and the path you’ve followed, and i’m heartily glad you ferl at home in the O church.

      I also think you understand that not everyone can or will make that same choice, but i think we have much more in common than we will ever know, in this life, on this planet.

      • I know you don’t mean to offend, numo; sometimes you’re very much the voice of sanity. This set of comments I found dismissive, though. Okay, you’re not convinced by Orthodox reasons around iconography, etc. That’s fine. You (and others) want to remain Protestant; that’s fine. I tried mightily for years to remain Protestant with the theology crumbling between my fingers; believe my testimony or not, that’s fine. We interpret differently.

        BTW, Ouspensky was the teacher of the monk, Fr Patrick Doolan, who is the main fresco artist of our church building, and of our priest’s wife, also an iconographer.


        • I honestly didn’t intend to sound dismissive of icons. It is the lack of historical context in many O discussions of icons that i find frustrating, not icons (or other religious art, from East and West) per se. I feel like something big – about how and why icons are important to you guys – is being ignored when people oversimplify and say things like Dura Europas = Judaism had imagery = direct link to icons *as they are now.* i think what we actually do know about that is more complex, much more fascinating (though certainly puzzling and incomplete in many respects), and has the ability to deepen understanding (among the O folks as well as us non-O folks) as to *why* it can be not only important, but a beautiful part of prayer and devotional practice.

          If we don’t ask question, we are in danger (imo) of missimg out on a lot, not least a dedper understanding of what we believe and why we believe it. At least, for me, that’s very important, and has a lot to do with my reversion to the Lutheran church after decades of being in the “you’ll never be good enough for God” wing of evangelicalism. While i never formally left the Lutheran church, i wish i hadn’t made that decades-long detour, because so much of what i needed and truly wanted was already there in front of me. And the reality of it never left me, even during all the time i was away.

          Btw, i like Ouspensky’s work (what i’ve read, at least) very much, and wish i could have been able to sit down and ask him questions, because his work brings so many things intomfocus, but for me at least, mraises even more questions about who, what, when, where and why. It’s very cool to know the connection between him and your vety gifted iconographer!

          As for theology crumbling between your fingers, i so get that, even though my experience and yours are two different things. Thank you so much for your kind words re. being a voice of sanity – they are very much appreciated.

          As a ps, i wish somebody *would* find more sites like the Dura Europas synagogue! Those murals are absolutely amazing and such a tantalizing hint at things we know nothing about, due to the depredations of time. (Much like thosemicons that were forgotten for nearly 1000 years at Sinai and rediscovered hy accident.) Also fwiw, my undergrad degree is in studio art, so this all means more to me than i’m able to articulate in a comment.

        • I miised the part about your priest’s wife being an iconographer – are there anymlinks to icons she has written. If so, i, would love to check them out!

    • I guess I’m being a bit defensive. I don’t recall saying to any of you that you’ve “drunk Kook-Ade.”

      Dana, at least you’re not a Wesleyan. A few months ago someone commented here that the work or influence — can’t recall which — of the Wesleys was demonic! As a Wesleyan, my heart most definitely was not strangely warmed! 😉

      • Oh dear…

        I’m grateful for the Wesleys, too.

        Chuck, it only bothers me so much because this is one place I have felt able to “talk shop” (theologically speaking) without sensing I’m being regarded as beyond the pale. I don’t say this very often on the Internet (though now somewhat shamelessly trying to make people feel sorry for me – there you have it) I can’t talk shop with my own husband, who believes that because I have entered the Orthodox Church, I must be spiritually deluded and as good as an idolater (because the Orthodox “worship graven images”). He will allow that I’m still a Christian, but just barely. He still loves me and I still love him… and it has been quite a strain.


        • Dana, prayers are (as they say) being offered. I can’t imagine how hard that muet be.

        • Dana, i coild have been much cleater about one think in my original apology+ post, and that is that my mention of Lutherans and Anglicans was for Mule, really. I have read many of your comments about the journey that brought you to the O church, and really appreciate your helping me (us) to get a glimpse into the how and why of it.

          From myown pov, i have *never* understtod the graven images attitude toward icons, though i am aware that there are places where they are sometimes revered in that manner, due to an admixture of folk/pre-xtian religious belief. But i think even the most fundy of fundies have that in them – we all do. I think it’s easier to pinpoint in something that’s alien to us, and very hard to see when it’s been part of our own lives, you know?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I think the “most Fundy of Fundies” show it by worshipping the Bible.

            After all, a book isn’t a graven image(TM).

    • I am sorry Dana I must be wrong. I thought through Constantine Christianity became accepted and through a council he came up with creed and made that universal through the empire. To me IMO a man with that kind of power should not be crossed and my use of crusade might be off base. It is like when a man of that power decides there should be no more smoking well you might not want to smoke around him. If he was tolerant of others then that is good. It still leaves me with the way it started out which is hard to swallow. I am not saying that many other things are not hard to swallow and it doesn’t change anything. A bloody battle pointing to Jesus when the martyrs lay down their lives seem to be in contrast to me. Then again it is a personal struggle I am dealing with there. I have often thought I could endure a physical cross better than having to live with some humans. Christ told me that he didn’t want me to hang on a cross he wanted me to love and live it out day to day and believe me some days that is extremely hard.

      • Oh I am really trying hard to learn more

        • It’s okay, w. We Americans don’t know much about history in general, and Christian history in particular. Like everything else, “history” has interpretive aspects to it.

          We all need to learn more about how to love and live it out day to day… hugs to you, dear-to-God w.


          • You are right about history and its many interpreters! I think truly good historians are well aware of the pitfalls therein, though nobody’s immune to it. 🙂

  13. My knowledge of the Eastern wing of the church is relatively superficial, but I find much that is admirable as well as much that bothers me. I always like it when folks from that tradition comment here and look on those comments as a needed balance. Ernesto’s account of how Scripture followed the initial telling of stories and teachings makes sense and I don’t see how it could have happened any other way.

    As to that early oral teaching having survived uncorrupted to this day, I have questions. Was it ever written down? If not, have you ever played the game of Telephone where a simple statement is whispered from person to person and changes dramatically. And if so, can I go to Amazon or elsewhere and buy these teachings in book form? If not, why not. Do only those wearing funny hats and knowing the secret handshake get to participate?

    These questions aside, it appears to me that the teaching of theosis, divinization or deification, is a genuine example of oral teaching that went from Jesus to the Apostles to us, tho we in the West have mostly either ignored it or given it lip service. I consider it the core teaching of what Jesus came to make possible. It is mentioned in the New Testament, almost in passing. Jesus found it important enough to pray for union with him and with God for the disciples the last night he was alive in his earthly body. Paul speaks of it in many ways that we in the West tend to gloss over as religious speak.

    Perhaps it is not featured more in the New Testament than it is because the concept tends to enrage folks to the point of murder. Go figure. It got Jesus killed. That the Eastern church seems to understand this concept and its importance outweighs the negatives in my sight.

    • Charles, that is very important. Thank you for bringing it up.


    • It doesn’t make sense to me that the “core” teaching of Jesus would be conspicuously missing from the New Testament; all of a sudden, we’re in the kind of religious atmosphere one associates with the various levels and rings within rings of gnosticism, with secret knowledge passed by one adept to another adept. What would fishermen have to do with this? If I thought this was really what was hidden behind the scenes of the New Testament, I would give up on the idea of traditional Christianity altogether and go over to the Quaker (liberal), who have no truck with secret teachings and subterranean histories.

      • So, Robert, when Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that the disciples might be One with him as he was One with the Father, what ring within rings of gnosticism would you call that? This wasn’t public but very private. And he specifically prayed that his prayers would apply to you and me, two thousand years and half a world away. How weird is that? Or maybe by Unity he was talking about warm feelings at the potluck after church.

        Anyway, if you become a Quaker you will get to wear one of those funny hats and get to speak real Bible language. God bless thee.

      • Add to that 2 Peter 1.3-4.

        Might also be a good time to review St Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation.” A. sets out why exactly Jesus became incarnate, and what was accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ.

        What I found was that the farther back I went reading the Fathers whose works were recognized as “orthodox” – not one of those other flavors of supposed proto-Christianitiy – the more I found consistency in interpretation of scripture and in answering those questions about why Jesus came. They were clearly not Reformation interpretations. I was truly, not sarcastically, shocked. There is room for disagreement about non-essentials, as Fr Ernesto writes below. But in the essentials there is remarkable consistency; at least that’s what I’ve found.


  14. Fr. Ernesto,
    Thank you for your post. It was an informative article on Orthodox belief that explains how some of the rest of the Christian family thinks.

  15. I work at a VA Medical Center during the day, so I could not answer the comments until I arrived home. I found it an odd experience to read the comments and then to read back what I had written. I think that if I had written what some of the commentators said I had written, I would most certainly have needed to retract and repent!

    @Dana Ames expressed it well in part of the comment that was made, “Sure is interesting reading the comments after coming back from Liturgy today. After years of prayer, reading (not the Orthodox Party Line, but real historians and source documents) and asking plenty of questions, I gather that the outcome of all that for me is that I have come to believe specious myths, am part of an incurably bloodthirsty and/or arbitrary religious system, and that I have ‘drunk Kool-Aid.'”

    Let me perhaps make several comments in answer to various of the issues brought up:

    I would agree with those that said that the books of the New Testament were considered authoritative from the beginning. But, the books did not mysteriously coalesce into the New Testament. There is significant evidence for discussion between the Church Fathers on whether to consider particular books to be truly authoritative. In every case, the discussion involved a judgment on whether the book in question agreed with the received tradition. More than that, there are various books that were treated as authoritative by segments of the Church, but never made it into the New Testament, the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas are two examples. Did the Holy Spirit guide this? Yes. Can I prove it? No. Which brings my next point.

    A couple of the posters used arguments that, if taken to their logical conclusion, would justify the practices and beliefs of any who care to call themselves Christian. Some of the arguments about proto-orthodoxies and early beliefs almost imply that they were all somehow correct, or at least equally legitimate variant expressions. This argument gives little basis for even ascribing any worth to the accepted canon of the New Testament. “Why this book and not this other book?,” becomes a legitimate question. “Why this practice and not this other practice?,” also becomes a legitimate question. The problem with this argument is that it takes a phenomenological description of what was happening and equates it with a dogmatic description of the Church. I can go to various churches in the city in which I live and I could certainly end up describing various orthodoxies. Very few people, however, would give any legitimacy to various of the popular expressions of Christianity that I would find. For instance, I can find Da Vinci Code “Christians” yet no one would consider these to be fully co-legitimate expressions of Christianity. Why, then, is the argument so often made that the various proto-orthodoxies are all somehow co-legitimate? In fact, the record of the Council in Acts 15, and the various letters of the New Testament point in exactly the opposite way. Various expressions of Christianity were declared illegitimate in that Council and in the epistles. Co-legitimate proto-orthodoxies was not an acceptable view.

    Thus, I find it interesting that the same people who almost insist on the co-legitimacies of the various proto-orthodoxies are so incensed that the Dura synagogue is used as an example of proto-iconography. If the various proto-orthodoxies are co-legitimate, why is the Dura synagogue not a co-legitimate example of a proto-iconography?

    Some of the comments claim that I am saying that doctrine sprang fully written out in the words which we use today. But, I said just the opposite. The Church struggled through many writings by the Church Fathers, and through various synods and Councils to express in understandable terms what they had received, what this deposit meant. I said, “That Truth may be explained in different ways in different cultures, but that is merely to aid in understanding. Truth is Truth. It is beyond development, but not beyond changing ways to explain it to changing cultures.” That appears to me to be a rather dynamic statement of the interrelationship between what is eternally True and constantly changing cultures. What the Church did agree on was that they were in no way changing what had been received. Saint Paul’s attitude when visiting Jerusalem was to ensure that what he had been preaching in words understandable to the Greeks and Romans was truly faithful to the deposit which he said he had received and passed on.

    Though I could say much more let me end for now saying that various people commented that the changing cultus and vestments were somehow proof that there was no truly received tradition within the Church (other than maybe Scripture). But, let me point out that there seems to be a confusion here. The Temple at which Solomon worshipped looked nothing like the Tabernacle in which Moses worshipped. The Temple in which Jesus worshipped looked nothing like the Temple in which Solomon worshipped. Yet, when Jesus spoke of the Temple in which he worshipped, he called it his Father’s house and drove people out of it for disrespecting that house. There was no dogmatic difference between the Second Temple and the Tabernacle, but there was most certainly a very clear external difference. It is the same with many of the externals that were cited in some of the comments. The Divine Liturgy today does not look like the Liturgy in the catacombs, but there is no dogmatic difference. It is the same principle.

    I will stop here for the moment.

    • Father Ernesto, thank you for making these responses to the various questions and criticisms brought up in the comments.

      In one part of your comment, you write: “There is significant evidence for discussion between the Church Fathers on whether to consider particular books to be truly authoritative. In every case, the discussion involved a judgment on whether the book in question agreed with the received tradition.” Where might one find this documentary evidence, Father Ernesto? I for one would be interested in seeing it, if at all possible.

      • In Eusebius’ Church History, Origen is quoted as saying about the Book of Hebrews, “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. (5.25.11-14)” Here what we consider to be a rather modern analysis of authorship is found to actually be rather ancient. Note the importance of his backing Hebrews as being a true and accurate representation of the “apostolic teachings” regardless of who wrote it. In other words, the content was accepted based on its being an accurate reflection of received teaching.

        Dionysius of Alexandria comments on the Book of Revelation saying, “”Some before us have set aside and rejected the book altogether, criticizing it chapter by chapter, and pronouncing it without sense or argument, and maintaining that the title is fraudulent. For they say that it is not the work of John, nor is it a revelation, because it is covered thickly and densely by a veil of obscurity. And they affirm that none of the apostles, and none of the saints, nor any one in the Church is its author …” Here he records the analysis to which books that were claimed to be canonical were subjected. Note that there is serious question as to whether the book reflects that which has been received from the apostles or saints or even anyone in the Church.

        Bishop Papias of Hierapolis says that he was told, “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things done or said by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” There are several points to note here. There is a clear repetition on the accuracy of the transcription of Peter’s words. At the same time there is some very modern sounding textual analysis in that Papias comments on the apparent lack of order in the book and of the comment that what Peter preached had been “adapted … to the needs of his hearers … .” In other words, Peter had been involved in a type of cultural translation of the Gospel events.

        There is an old book that is worth reading to this day that discusses well the issues involved in canonicity. Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 1988.

        Speaking on the subject of tradition, Irenaeus states, “As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it…But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.” Ireneaus, in other passages, defends the Scriptures as being clear records of the received tradition.

        • And thank you for the many quotes. I especially liked the one about Revelation, and like your churchXs overall take on it (insofar as i understand it, which isn’t very.)

          • Revelation was used by the dissident groups far more in the East than in the West. Just like many Evangelicals in the USA are cautious in quoting Revelation because of its heavy use by those who consistently try to predict the Lord’s return, so did many in the East develop a hands-off policy toward Revelation. The West did not experience those type of dissident groups as directly as did the East.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Revelation was used by the dissident groups far more in the East than in the West.

            I think in Tolstoy’s War & Peace, after the fall of Moscow Pierre Bezhukov goes through a convoluted personal re-interpretation of Revelation (and the numerology of 666) to conclude that not only Napoleon is the Antichrist but he — Pierre Bezhukov — is in Prophecy as the one who assassinates Antichrist Bonaparte. Tolstoy goes into the numerological calculations in obsessive detail (showing Pierre’s growing obsession), and they get pretty convoluted.

            And IRL one of the editions of Protocols of the Elders of Zion was retitiled Antichrist Examined as an Imminent Political Possibility.

          • Fr. Ernesto, could you point me toward some sources re. the abuse and misuse of Revelation in the Eastern churches? I am aware of a little bit (but only a very little) of that in tsarist Russia, but that’s all. I really appreciate your taking the time to reply, and your help and comments are invaluable.

            HUG, I have never been able to finish War & Peace, so didn’t know about Pierre viewing Napoleon as the antichrist (etc.), but it doesn’t surprise me. There is a current of apocalyptic thinking in a lot of 19th c. Russian lit, and that plot line fits well with some of the craziness that comes up in Doestoevsky’s work. And in Solzehnitsyn, come to that.

            Sometimes I feel like East is East and West is West and (etc.), even though we actually *do* meet and agree on many things. But the world is so much larger – and stranger, in its variety – than I can possibly imagine or discover in my time on this planet, and that’s true of the rest of us. Plus, we are never free of ourselves, and the povs that shaped us.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Numo, I’ve only read War & Peace though once in my life, during my college years. It’s typically Russian — long and slow-paced. The only reason I was able to get through it was I’d recently seen a BBC miniseries adaptation on PBS and was able to correlate the two.

        • Thank you, Father Ernesto, for your reply.

        • Father Ernesto, When I said that the canon asserted and formed itself, I of course did not mean that human choices were not involved in it’s formation; that would have been impossible. What I meant is partly illustrated by one of the sources you cite, regarding the question of the traditional authenticity of the Book of Revelation. That Revelation has been included in the canon despite the traditional questions regarding it authenticity underscores the self-authenticating weight that I believe the entire canon has, a weight that superseded other concerns. Add to this that despite the fact that no universal council ever defined the extant and contents of the canon, it was nonetheless more-or-less closed and settled by the fifth century, and it is not unreasonable to see the canon as self-asserting and self-forming through the myriad human agency of selection at the local levels of the Church. For me, as a Protestant, this self-authenticating character of Scripture, in combination with its unmatched antiquity and stability as a source of tradition, is enough to convince me that the Church is answerable to Scripture for its belief and practices in a way that it is not answerable to extra-canonical traditions.

          • I think Irenaeus would agree with much of what you said. The Church Fathers were writing before people were putting tradition against scripture. Irenaeus insisted that the Scriptures were faithful records of the Apostles. And, having said that, he promptly begins to quote Scripture to defend the faith of the Church against the heretics. He further goes on to make some very “Evangelical” statements about how the Church may not violate Scripture.

            In his mind, there was no conflict between tradition and scripture. Tradition validates the received scriptures. The received scriptures keep tradition in line. But, (in the long quote from him in my earlier post) he also has a version of the argument that becomes stronger in later decades and centuries. He has a version of the argument that what the Church has believed in all times and in all places is the only way to properly interpret what has been received, both in writing and verbally.

          • Solzhenitsyn, that is. (grr… my typing isn’t worth beans these days.)

    • Fr. Ernesto, i do object to the oversimplified use of the Dura Europas murals, but i said nothing about co-existeant proto-orthodoxies.m (other than implying that you and i both confess the Apostles, Nicene and Athanadian creeds, which we undoubtedly do.) Faulty OR got the whole thing going re. Agnoticism plus proto-orthodoxies plus other things.

      Myself, i think the monophysites are Christian, but maybe that’s just the deposit of Lutheran contraianism in me talking. 😉

    • And yes, Dura is an example of one of the posdible roots of iconography, but to date, the only site of its kind. To use it as an example of possible pre-existing traditions is, imo, one thing, but to make big leaps as some people do is another. Absent actual evidence, we can say yes, this is likely part of it, but beyond that, most everything is guesswork until the points in time when openly Christian imagery began to exist explicitly for use in public spaces (as opposed to the early catacomb paintings, fir example). I think devotion and the arts go hand in hand, myself, but am skeptical of many of the ways in which certain arguments are presented, which is *not* to say i am against the beliefs and practices per se.

      • This blog post http://russianicons.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/when-did-christian-icons-begin/ from a few days ago may interest you. It is written in a more neutral historical fashion. I do not fully agree with its conclusion, but … .

        I think that, in America, many Orthodox try to make the argument that some practice is earlier than can be reasonably justified, because the push that they are experiencing from “Bible” Christians is consistently to “show me that in the Scriptures.” A bad use of history by one side does not justify a bad use of history by the other side. But, the tendency is certainly to use Scriptures that point to the later practice. Even I do that because to do otherwise is to immediately be told that xxx practice is a non-Christian practice that must be uprooted.

        When speaking to people who refuse to accept any type of verbal transmission of information, even when Saint Paul talks about what was delivered both in writing and verbally, one has few good choices.

        • Thanks muchly for that link, as well as for your clarification, which is very helpful. I guess my liturgical church background is showing. 😉

        • Interesting piece, but it appears that the author has their own biases. However, i suspect that i have mine as well!

  16. Is it safe to come out, yet???

    Not much of a stomach for those (who shall remain nameless, but might have been a contributor to space shuttle failures) only wish to urinate in others’ breakfast cereal without contributing to an adult and serious inquiry into expressions of the Christian faith..

    Fr. E….question for you. A few weekends ago, we were able to tour a newly renovated Greek Orthodox church, as part of the annual Greek festival on site. (We went for the food and music, but did time it to see the new icons and altar!) I was overwhelmed [in a good way] by the beauty and symbolism of the church, especially the altar, its doors, and the history]. Also got a short oral history of the split with Rome, immigration to North America, and doctrine.

    At any rate, my question regards communion between Orthodox and Roman Catholics……I know the Roman version, but want the other side. Would you attend a Roman Mass and receive the Eucharist? Would it be equally valid? [Assume you are a layperson, there is no Orthodox parish in 100 miles, and it is Sunday…] Would love your insight and opinion…..

    • In case Fr. Ernesto doesn’t respond, what we were taught when we were Orthodox was that Orthodox are not allowed to receive the Eucharist in a Catholic or any non-Orthodox Church, not even from a Miaphysite priest. And, conversely, an Orthodox priest is not allowed to give the Eucharist to a non-Orthodox person.

      We were also told that under economia and due to political and persecution and geographical realities, in some European countries some Orthodox Christians did/do receive the Eucharist at Catholic masses, and some Orthodox priests did/do give the Eucharist to Catholics. At the layperson level the disagreements between Orthodox and Catholics are sometimes non-existent or inconsequential – they essentially believe the same things about the Real Presence, the veneration of saints and images, the role of the priest, the exclusion of women from the priesthood, the use of incense and liturgy, etc.

      Technically the Orthodox do not say that a Roman Catholic Eucharist is valid. As Kallistos Ware said, “We know where the Holy Spirit is; we do not know where the Holy Spirit is not” or something like that.

      • I.e., since the Eucharist is an act and declaration of uniting oneself to Christ and His Body, which is the Church, then to partake of the Eucharist from other than the Church – and for the Orthodox the Church is the EO Church, as for the Catholic the Church is the RCC – is to contradict or go against or possibly even deny one’s profession of faith.

        • And this all begs the question of what the EO and the RCC make of those of us Protestants who actually believe in the Real Presence, albeit our underetanding (s) differ somewhat from both EO and RCC views – but by no means as much as a lot of people think.


          • You mean “raises the question.”

          • yes, I did mean that, Eric. Thanks!

          • I would guess the RCC says it takes a properly-ordained priest to confect a valid Eucharist, regardless of how much or how similarly the Protestant priest or pastor or congregants believe in the Real Presence.

            The EOC might be less dogmatic about this.

    • What @EricW said. But, I should note that when Saint Raphael of Brooklyn was first appointed as bishop of North America in the early 20th century, he gave written permission for immigrants to receive the Eucharist from Episcopalians. Within 5 years he had withdrawn that permission, but it did exist for a time.

      I have had more than one Arab priest verify that in the Middle East there are some interesting relations between Melkite and Antiochians.