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March 10, 2006


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Huw Raphael

Seraphim... without knowing Chris' context, forgive me for offering my own epxerience in reply to your question:

I'm curious what your response would be to those who love all the things you love about the Orthodox church, and who then do become Orthodox - but with an active hope to add to their experience the various elements that you find missing?

Horrors! trying to "change the Church". "We've never done it that way". "You're too western". (That last is the kicker - because what they really mean is 'Russia/Greece didn't do it that way in the 18th/9th century' as if that even holds true now in those places.)


For the Eastern Orthodox, who or what decides what gets included as tradition and what does not?

There certainly isn't any one Church father we can look to, because the EO agree that (1) no Church father is entirely right and (2) no Church father says all that is included in the tradition. Many Church fathers are praised for one part of their theology and denigrated for others--EO tend to dislike Augustine's City of God, yet appreciate his mysitcal works (this is especially odd since theology for the Orthodox is so based on mystical experience. If Augustine was an amazing mystic, why is his theology not included in the tradition?) Origen's mysticism is also seen as good, while his view of the Trinity only barely avoids being heretical, and that if you're willing to read the more questionable portions extremely charitably.
Tradition is also not determined by early doctrinal developments, because the filioque and the papacy both appeared pretty early, while the essence/energy distinction (1) wasn't hinted at for quite awhile after Nicea, and (2) did not reach its full form till Palamas, several hundred years after the Great Schism.
Tradition isn't determined by a sort of majority vote either, because then all the EO would have to side with the West in the Great Schism. Moreover, the Western Church has always been larger numerically than the Eastern Church

So if I was EO and wanted to tell what was tradition and what was not, what would I do?


Here's a good example of the term "tradition" having a rather fuzzy meaning:

It's a paper by an Eastern Orthodox author, arguing that Roman Catholics and Protestants are seen as heretics within "the Tradition." On page 5, he quotes an 18th Century EO saint discussing the filioque, saying "All the holy ecumenical teachers who have interpreted the Scriptures as if with one mouth say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and nowhere have they written that He proceeds from the Son also." Upon reading that, the obvious question to ask is, "Who counts as a holy ecumenical teacher?" If the author means people who look like Christians discussing theology, than he's made a rather horrendous factual error. Yet if he's referring to people who agree with him, than essentially he's saying, "Assume that I'm right. Now, everyone else is heretical." That's both circular and useless.

I'm really curious about this--how are the Eastern Orthodox able to make a non-circular definition of tradition? What does it depend on, and why that?

Chris Jones


Contrary, perhaps, to appearances, Orthodox vs. Western polemics are not the purpose of this weblog. So I don't think this is really the appropriate forum for your question.

That is not to say that it's not a worthy question. It's just that it takes this discussion in a direction that was not intended by the original post, and also that the readership here may not include the best people to answer your question.

I can't tell from your comments what your own Church affiliation and/or sympathies are, but if you are coming from a Lutheran perspective the best place for your question may be the Orthodox - Lutheran Dialogue forum.

Perry Robinson

It is interesting to me to read the account of an LCMS pastor who recently converted to Orthodoxy. The resemblance to Chris' comments as to why he is not Orthodox is rather uncanny, though it goes in the other direction.


Clement Ng

Up here in Canada, I'm acquainted with someone who, after years of being a low-church evangelical, began a search for the true Church (as the familiar story goes), and ended up in the Orthodox priesthood, only to leave it after a decade. He's a now a chaplain with the Reformed Episcopal Church (the REC is continuing Anglican jurisdiction with a confessional Protestant bent) and, because there's no REC parish in the area he serves, he often attends a contemporary Pentecostal church(!).

While he indeed developed problems with Orthodox theology, it seemed that the "ethnic" factor (his words, not mine) was the breaking point for him. One time a parishioner remarked to him casually, "Father you'll never truly understand the Orthodox way, because you weren't born a Slav." What a hurtful thing to say. Anyway, he still treasures his Orthodox journey.

Christopher Orr

There is a reference to this in the life of Fr. Seraphim Rose. While Frs Herman and Seraphim were still in the world, Gleb (Fr. Herman) remembers his realization that Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) felt even more deeply than he did. Gleb shares the common trope among Slavs that they feel more deeply than mere Europeans (and Americans).

We seem to be able to forgive all sins apart from those that distinguish us in culture. This is as true of North Americans as it is of the "ethnic Orthodox". We North Americans have our pet idols of to contrast with those from overseas- we just tend to see only theirs and not ours. It is more often that we North American Orthodox simply don't see where we place our ethnicities above those of Orthodoxy in the same way that we decry the "ethnics" when they do it.

Photios Jones


Instead of giving you any criticism which has already adequately been given by many here, I will choose not to. Perhaps I read more into what I see, but this topic of why you aren't EO seem like an existential rather than a rational or even spiritual one. It is obvious to me that it is a deep personal struggle. I am hopeful that it will work itself out in its own course and time and whatever direction you stay-in or go.



Chris Jones,
I agree with your position, although it is unusual. I grew up Catholic, and for 15 years of my life I hadn't heard the Gosple, never had the Bible taught to me in a way to apply its principles to my personal life (actually, at all), nor taught the importance of personal conversion to Christ.

Then, through contact with some Protestants, my world was turned upside-down, and I experienced repentance and salvation.

It takes more than correct doctrine to make a Church. I wasn't being spiritually fed in the Roman CHurch. Truely, I think my children would have a better chance to be saved in a Protestant church than the Catholic one -- BY FAR!

Anna P.

Thank you for your post. I'm a Greek-American evangelical Christian, who has just spent three months in Athens, working and visiting cousins there. How often my kin said, "Anna,WHY aren't you Orthodox?" Some were hurt, others angry, with one lady even accusing me of betraying my Hellenic roots. When I returned home (2 days ago), my Dad told me that our cousin, an Orthodox priest, is eager to meet with me to try to convince me of Orthodoxy's truth. So, what I have discovered--not only through this three month period, but through about a decade of searching, ready, observing, asking, is that you are right: Orthodoxy isn't about the fullness of truth, and while (as you wrote), on paper, Orthodoxy truly contains the truth, they are not eager to share the Gospel with their people, and are content instead to give them a dimly filtered creed that has more to do, or so it seems to me, with ethnic nationalism and triumphalism, than with the light and life and centrality of the risen and living Lord Christ. Thank you for sharing this truth,
Anna P. in Chicago


It is more often that we North American Orthodox simply don't see where we place our ethnicities above those of Orthodoxy in the same way that we decry the "ethnics" when they do it.

Good point, Christopher Orr. I find my Orthodox mission parish, as well as other parishes I am familiar with, to be in fact more ethnically diverse than most Lutheran parishes that I've been in. And we are quite focused on not only leading our people to repentance and theosis, but communicating the Truth to those we can reach.

I also notice that many of the reasons given contra-Orthodoxy are not in fact arguments against Orthodoxy, but against the weakness of individuals and communities that practice a caricature of Orthodoxy. That problem is universal. I need only mention my wife's upbringing, which was as a Wisconsin Lutheran. Her parents would drop her and her many siblings off at the church on Sunday morning and proceed on to the tavern. Their Lutheranism was almost purely cultural. Sounds familiar, eh?


I didn't read all of these comments, but I want to say a couple of things. You are right that the OC doesn't seem to be evangelizing like they should. I think one problem with this is that it's just not dumb enough for people today. I say that as a non-Orthodox Christian. There are huge cultural issues here. Joe Sixpack is not going to walk off the street and into an Orthodox Church. But, he will walk into a megaplex Evangelical church with the jumbotrons and rock bands and boiled-down, common-denominator theology. And I think it's hard for the OC to make their church appear "relevant" to the current culture because they feel like they are compromising their values by doing so. Also it's good to keep in mind that in America, a lot of the Orthodox churches are still very nationalistic, and they are just happy to have their own place to worship. They haven't quite gotten to the point of realizing that they need to evangelize. They haven't been here that long, you know. And in some cases, like the Russians, many were literally running for their lives when they came here. So we can cut them some slack. Hopefully they will eventually come around and leave their cultural ties behind, but let's go easy on them. And as far as "religious formalism and barren ritualism", that can happen in any Church tradition. I am sure that just about any Orthodox priest would tell you that something is wrong if you are just "going through the motions." We all want to avoid that, but it's so easy to fall into with anything, not just the OC. So yeah, I do think that many Orthodox believers have a problem with nationalism and ritualism, but these problems are not foundational. They are problems that need to be dealt with, and there are many Orthodox believers who hate this as much as you do.

Another Joel

In Scripture, the truth is not only something to be believed but also something to be DONE. It is in this wider sense that the Church demonstrates her credentials as "the pillar and foundation of the truth." Chris seems to have found the Orthodox Church lacking in the doing of the truth and that contradicts her claims to have the fullness of the truth. Just so. In the life of the Church as well as of the individual believer, practical shortcomings are as serious a matter as doctrinal shortcomings. Witness, for example, the Bible's list of qualifications for the office of bishop and see how many requirements relate to doctrinal prowess compared with how many relate to more practical matters. The parable of the sheep and the goats. All denominations within the church, RC, EO, and Prot, have both doctrinal and practical shortcomings. We are not so full of the truth as we may let on. But I find Prots have more freedom to confess their shortcomings and pray for amendment than churches that claim to infallibly uphold the truth in all its fullness. As a result, for the patience and faith it requires, Protestantism is the true way of suffering and self-denial.


Peace to my brethren, the Eastern Orthodox, the Lutherans and the Reformed.

The problem with what "Another Joel", is that I don't believe he has acknowledged how severely Protestantism has wounded Christianity and the Church the Lord instituted. We have a pluralistic, self-indulgent, philosphy built Church, rather than the one of the mindset of the Apostles, with One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.

The Reformed Churches are far from self-denial- it has made the believer the centre of his own understanding of the heavenly mysteries. The Reformed leans on their own understanding and can interpret the Word of God given to the Churches through his own individual wisdom. This has cripled the West, as the countless divisions that have ensued has made the curious unbeliever tragically confused at what is Christianity!

Lets take heed of the words of holy St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple." (Rom 16:17,18 NKJV)

Instead, in Orthodoxy we fast(suffering) and live a life of ascetic ideals, and we are obedient to the words of the Church fathers. We heed their words and practice them. We continually pray, "Lord have mercy". We request the petitions of Saints. Early in our search for the Lord's life-giving teachings, we deny our own wisdom that has been shaped by the world, and we read those who have credible understanding of the Lord, such as St. John Chrysostom.

My brother Chris, as a fellow Orthodox, you are not alone in your frustrations. But we are members of the Church. You can be part of the solution.

But, may I add, the only way we will be seen as followers of Christ, is if we love each other, as He loves us...not doctrine, creed, Apostolic succession etc.

God bless.


I think I was a bit harsh and a little too defensive of Orthodoxy. While there is truth to what I say, I perhaps conveniently disregarded the goodness that has been sprouted by the Protestant Church. While I disagree with sola scripture and sola fide as they know it, what Jay said hits a chord with me. I am the second generation of the diaspora, and there is still a transition from the native language to that of English. So, I feel many times neglected. What gets me through is there is increasing (perhaps not adequate) efforts for progress in the way of serving us English-speakers. I feel that in a few decades, the Church will have enough resources to be able to evangelise. The Apostles had gifts of speaking tongues (which ceased) etc. and so we must approach this a bit more strategically. I pray that God may use me as a instrument later for His glory, and His bride, my Church.
In the meanwhile, the heterodox Church I believe are those gathered by Christ Himself, because His Church was not ready. It reminds me of the message in Ezekiel 34. Though our holy fathers are His Shepherds, due to politics, things we had not much control of and perhaps also things that were in their control, they have failed to "search for My flock".
So I feel that the personalisation of Protestantism was a mechanism employed by God to go and gather His sheep. Perhaps when the Shepherds are equiped, He will direct his sheep to our holy fathers, but our fathers should take heed (not all would be guilty):
"Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require my flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My clock from their mouths that they may no longer be food for them. For thus says the Lord God: Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out."
I think it is as relevant to the Pharasis as it is to the presbyters.
The Truth is a person- He is Jesus Christ, our Lord. I think that as long as we are always trying with our limited minds to conceive our Lord, feeling His promise of freedom by the truth from the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the writings of our fathers should be validated by the sincere Protestant faithful (more and more in their personal relationship with God); not their scholors but those who practice the teachings. Divination or sanctification? Whatever, they are both persuing righteousness from God through synergy if they are sincere. May our merciful God, seeing the deprivation of the heterodox in not being allowed the true Eucharist, has given them mercy for the ignorance and thus life. But the heterodox who knows and is convinced that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Christ, but rebells consciously, he/she has blasphemed the Spirit of Truth. One of these days, I believe, when Orthodoxy is fit again, the faithful can see the glory of God in His Church and welcome them in.
The onus on us is showing we are the followers of Christ by love, not by sound doctrine.



Dear All,
I have a comment about the fact you made that Orthodoxy is centered on 'Orthodoxy,Orthodoxy,Orthodoxy'.
I have a background of going to Russian Orthodox Church, as well as Orthodox Church is America. According to my background and personal understanding, the Orthodoxy, which is practiced in Russian Church, is not that centered on Orthodoxy, but more on Christ's Gospel. This centeredness on Orthodoxy is, unfortunately, more vivid in the American parishes, for reasons not completely understood. One reason might be that, since my current parish is made up of converts, this distinction between Orthodoxy and their previoud background is very important to them. I would like to stress that Orthodoxy in my previous parish was not like this. Hope this would help.


Hey is there any way that you can answer some questions I have on orthodoxy and your thoughts privately? I know you don't want to talk about them publically but I am not an orthodox and having a hard time understanding where an orthodox friend is coming from in all of his beliefs. That would be much appreciated...just give me an email

Chris Jones


You didn't leave an e-mail address (at least, not one that I have access to), but if you would like to e-mail me with any of your questions, please feel free: ckewinjones (at) yahoo.com. Or just click the e-mail link at the bottom of the left-hand column on my main weblog page.


if you can't access my sb1388@messiah.edu email (which you should be able to) then try nhlguy89@aol.com you should be able to respond there. I did send you an email..if you didn't get it let me know. I am very curious about your beliefs.


hey Chris, try my sb1388@messiah.edu email first...then nhlguy89@aol.com .... i emailed you so I hope you got it! thanks, Sean


Protestant liberalism came from Germany, and the so called gospel centered church talk didn't save the Lutherians or much of western christianity in general from that movement.

Revivals come and go,.....being on fire comes and goes, so it is up to Orthodox individuals to step up to the plate to do the work that needs to be done. Your confessional Lutherian church maybe conservative now, but what will it look like 50 years from now?


cynthia curran

Well, thre are a few orthodox that hold it against both Roman Catholics and Protestants because of the 4th crusade of 1204. So, yes there is still a lot of nationalism among the Orthodox and some anti-western feeligs. As for the Lutherans, I once went to the Elca in Orange County Ca, It wasn't that bad of a church. And Orange County had few blacks, the minorities are mainly Mexician and Asian. In fact, that old church now has a Vietnamise congretion. What interest about the orthodox is that its a great possibly that some of the saints are involved in our lives. I heard two people, one that John Maxoivch appeard to him before surgey and that St Serphim pray the Jesus prayer with him, a told him to tun to Christ. Both these visitations are different than the usual mary visitatins reported by Roman Catholics.


I think you are not quite right and you should still studying the matter.

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