We have learned from no others the plan of our salvation than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down (tradiderunt) to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith… Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome, and laying the foundations for the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish the Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the Law and the Prophets; and one Christ the Son of God.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 3.1.1-2
The above quotation, taken from John Behr’s The Way to Nicaea, underscores the Gospel as the faith of the Apostles. That what the Apostles taught was doubtless the teaching of Christ is made sure in the common witness they share, described by Irenaeus as the “Apostolic Hypothesis.” Scholars, looking for a notch in their belt, can allow themselves to be caught up in the delusional notions of multiple Christianities, suppressed by an all-powerful Catholic Church (the anachronisms involved in such notions are beyond credulity). That some disparate groups taught various things and attached them to the name of Jesus is certainly true. Irenaeus was writing to refute them. What is lacking in these disparate groups is an inner unity or any connection to the Scriptures of Israel.
The Apostolic preaching bears common witness to an interpretation of the Scriptures which, they said, was fulfilled in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. That interpretation, rooted in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, tells the world the story of a loving God, whose love is manifest in His willingness to empty Himself and enter the depths of Hades, conquering death by death, and raising humanity together with His Divinity to the very right hand of the Father.
In the Orthodox Church, the better part of June (new calendar) will be taken up with the Apostles’ Fast, ending on June 29, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It is easy amidst the riches of the Church’s life, to forget that what we have, is the Apostolic faith. Their witness, almost unanimously ratified by their martyrdoms, is indeed the pillar and ground of Truth – for their witness was and is the living community of the Body of Christ, the Church.
The miracle of the Church (and it must be called nothing less than a miracle) is that it received such teaching, and maintained such teaching, rejecting all attempts to change what had been given once and for all. I speak of this as a miracle because the New Testament describes Churches that were as weak and sin-laden in their beginnings as is the Church of the 21st century. This same Church, despite every weakness and sin, survived Emperors (I think many of them to have been as at least as dangerous as many heretics), persecutions, attacks from within and without. And despite the nightmare of the Dhimmitude, Communist oppression and assaults by modern philosophies, the Church and its Apostolic faith abides.
To keep this fast and pray for the grace that kept the Apostles to keep us as well today, is a fast well kept and prayed. There are probably more temptations and trials ahead of the Church than there are behind us. As has been true for much of history – this is a difficult age in which to hold the faith intact. This faith alone upholds the dignity of human nature, created in the image of God. Every assault on the Apostolic faith is equally an assault on humanity. The modern world, in the name of humanity, would settle for so much less.
O Lord, You have taken up to eternal rest
and to the enjoyment of Your blessings
the two divinely-inspired preachers, the leaders of the Apostles,
for You have accepted their labors and deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice,
for You alone know what lies in the hearts of men.
Kontakion of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
A great beginning to the Fast. I hope that yours is productive!
Irenaeus rocks. I’ve always thought of him as the crucial “link” Father between the Apostles and the Fathers. His early, early writings convinced me that the later Fathers were not just “making things up” but explicating with higher philosophical terminology (for their particular audience) that which was already there in Irenaeus (and the Apsotles and the Scripture and the Tradition) — ecclessiology, soteriology, etc.
My prayer: since the westerns claims Irenaeus as a Latin Father (LOL!), would that they would read and truly digest him.
One of the things that strikes me is that the good or bad of the breaking of communion (a topic I read on your blog recently with much heartache as someone who would be but cannot be Orthodox), was always returning to these great unifying truths, these Gospels.
Hearts broken by theology and theopraxy, may be unified in the telling of Christ.
It is my hope and prayer that Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 is fulfilled in a way we cannot understand. That only whatever is “human” about the Church is sundered but that what is “spirit” is whole even as we cannot see it.
If sharing communion could be done without unity of doctrine and practice then it would not mean much, just as doctrine and practice mean less and less to many. I am hopeful because of Christ. I am hopeful about the salvation of the non-Orthodox just as I am hopeful about the salvation of the Orthodox – but in both cases – only because I am hopeful in Christ. His love for us is so radical that it makes me hopeful. But as much as I want unity, I do not want unity at the expense of the truth. There is a unity, of a sort, in that we share a common humanity which is the object of Christ’s saving actions.
Another thought. When I was not Orthodox but would visit Orthodox services – I kept the Eucharistic fast along with them (eating nothing after midnight until after receiving communion). In that I prayed that God would receive my action of union – that I would willingly embrace this minor suffering. My prayer was for my own conversion and God’s mercy. I found an interesting comfort in the fast – an action that no one could deprive me of. It also seemed to me a proper way of approaching union in my sinful state.
One of the revelations to me as I have begun to learn about Orthodoxy, is the miracle of the apostolic faith. As a Protestant I believed that God has miraculously preserved Scripture. If I believe He did this with His written word, why is it so hard to believe He would also preserve the apostles teaching? Makes perfect sense to me!
I think I’m going to keep that phrase close to my heart: “but in both cases – only because I am hopeful in Christ”
I appreciate the illumination of your faith Nancy. And I hear the voices of the apostolic fathers as well and have learned much from reading their words and learning from Father Stephen (and other wonderful Orthodox men and women I have met).
But I can’t transition from seeing them as I see my own father (great scholar and teacher he was) to seeing them as “authoritative”. I suppose I’m still a slave to my own conscience. I know the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:19-22, but I cannot see that unity as an earthly thing.
The Jews made the mistake of interpreting the scriptures to expect an earthly messiah. My Charismatic brothers and sisters long for an earthly act of God (speaking in tongues or others) to validate their faith. And those I love of MANY traditions believe their earthly organization of men is *the* Church.
The Orthodox Church has the best claim on that last point, no doubt in my mind, but it still is too “this earthly” for my heart to settle. Maybe that will change someday.
Be careful with that dousing rod of truth Father Stephen. Even those great and wise whom God did bless us with, those apostolic fathers, didn’t agree on every point. You and I are left to decide what differences between us break communion and which do not. I am not the same man I was yesterday, how can I know I will not have communion with you tomorrow?
No, David, I am not in a position to decide many things. I gave my life to Christ and submitted to the faith of the Church and live in obedience to my Bishop. Ultimately, I can only teach the Orthodox faith. I’m not infallible, and if I deviate from the faith, my brothers will correct me. The Apostolic Fathers might not have had perfect agreement on every detail, but they had obedience to one another in the One Church. St. Paul told us to be of one mind (which I believe is a gift of the Spirit). But one mind still is only possible because those who live their lives in union with Christ in the Church, do not intend to be their own masters or to embrace private opinions.
I by no means would claim infallibility for myself, for my Bishop, or for any Bishop (thus I’m not Roman Catholic). But I believe that God, true to His word, has preserved the Church, and living my life in the Church, I am preserved as well – as the animals on the ark were preserved from the flood.
The image is an ark – not a lifeboat – or everyman in his own lifejacket.
I agree that the Orthodox Church has the “best claim” on the point of being the Church – we certainly were for our first 1,000 years, and have remained today what we were then.
I can’t decide what makes or breaks communion, because I don’t have that authority. The day of my ordination (as for all Orthodox priests), the consecrated Body of Christ was placed in my hands and I was told to “guard it.” It is an admonition to a shepherd, and to a steward of the mysteries of Christ. I cannot (because the canons of the Church forbid it – and have throughout the centuries) give communion to any but an Orthodox Christian, or receive from any other. To do so would be to renounce the Orthodox faith, and would result in my being deposed from the priesthood (if I did it in willfulness – as in “I decided”).
It’s not my opinion that matters. Part of being an Orthodox Christian is to renounce our own opinions (not a renunciation of a well informed conscience) and embrace the teachings of Christ as the Church has received them.
It’s very un-protestant to think this way – but I find that this is, in fact, in agreement with the Scriptures and the Fathers. I can’t remember any disagreement about this in the writings of the Fathers. The Fathers are not just ancient authorities that I approach like anyone else – they are Orthodox Christians, whose teaching is part of the living reality of the Church. They are an inheritance whose teaching continues to echo in the services of the Church (many times the same services they themselves attended and heard).
The unity of the Church, in a final sense, is not of this world, I agree. It is eschatological – of the world to come. But I believe that reality of the world to come is made manifest in the historical Orthodox Church. Just as I eat and drink of the marriage supper of the Lamb at every Eucharist, so the Church also manifests the Truth of the age to come in her dogmatic life (the life of her teachings).
I don’t mean this as an argument – but a clarification. This is what Orthodox Christians believe.
I respect you. And I envy you. May God help me keep that clear in every communication with you.
I apologize if I’ve misstepped here. I wear my struggle in this matter openly. Your post about communion before truly distressed me (for all the right reasons).
The tradition I belong to follows from the Anabaptists through the Reformation to efforts called the Restoration. They call themselves the churches of Christ and make many claims to seek out the apostolic faith.
Their errors (apart from cultural issues) come from wanting to separate the scriptures from those who have lived by them. I’ve accused my own brothers and sisters of Bibliolatry more than once.
I’ve become desirous of better communion within and without my immediate community. But I cannot submit where conscience won’t permit. I expect this conflict will remain until I see Him face to face.
But it’s my hope it won’t.
Hello. I am a former minister in the churches of Christ, now a catechumen in the Greek Orthodox Church. I’ve a number of friends also from my background who have become either Roman Catholic or who are becoming Eastern Orthodox.
If you wished to email any with someone from your background, I would be happy to dialogue a bit. Fr Stephen and others like him will be much better selections if you’re looking for good answers, but if you also like the thought of discussing from whence we’ve come, I’m open to listening. I know, from my own experience, how much of struggle what you describe can be.
“That only whatever is ‘human’ about the Church is sundered but that what is ‘spirit’ is whole even as we cannot see it.”
But that would make it somehow less than the Church. Just as Christ was both perfectly God and perfectly Human without loss, comingling, separation, or confusion of either Nature, the Church *must* be both a visible earthly reality as well as an eternal, spiritual reality. I never really understood ecclesiology until I understood christology because they are naturally connected. After all, isn’t the Church supposed to be the Body of Christ? To be an Orthodox and Catholic Christian is something that is essentially *human*. Trying to sever this aspect and be a “pure” spirit is really a task that drives one ever closer to gnosticism and therefore away from the Truth.
Good point on Christology and Ecclesiology.
The Restoration Movement, birthed here in Tennesee and Kentucky, was an interesting idea to create Christian unity, but resulted in three more Protestant Denominations. Good ideas, but unintended results.
I have always thought that Restoration theology, should look at the inner life and understanding of Orthodoxy – that many of the Eastern understandings would be able to solve certain issues – such as Sola Scriptura, which cannot work.
But as difficult as it is, Orthodoxy can only ever bear witness to Christ and to the commandments we received from Him. I pray for unity – although in my own case I realized the unity had to begin with me – I could not make anyone else come with me. I accepted the unity God had established as frightening as that was for me. All schemes for “solving” the problems of denominationalism simply fail – mostly because it is an improperly defined problem – made more complicated by our disparate historical experiences. May God be merciful to us all.
As Fr. Thomas Hopko said (quoting his mother): Say your prayers, go to Church, remember God.
In Mark 9:38,39,40, John complains to Jesus that somone is casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and they forbade him because he does not follow them. Jesus said “do not forbid him, for no one who works a miricle in My Name can soon speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. I believe by Gods Mercy anyone who seeks Christ and finds Him, truly can have salvation, even outside of the Big Two(Roman Churh or Orthodox Church)The Roman Catholic Church also claims to be the only true Church, since there Pope(bishop) claims authority by the hierarchy of St. Peter(Peter being the first Bishop of Rome). However, much of there Holy Traditions and some of there doctrines differ from the Orthodox Church.
The mercy of God is without limit – however, that limitless mercy does not make what is not the true Church into the true Church. It just means that God is so merciful that He is kind to us all. There are plenty within the “membership” of the true Church, who remain enemies towards God. St. Augustine said:
“There are some whom God has whom the Church has not, and some whom the Church has whom God has not.”
Nonetheless, the Church remains the Church and God’s extreme exceptionalism does not thereby create a relativism for the flourishing of denominations.
I agree, unfortunatly the western(Roman) church became so corrupt in the dark ages that people had not much choice but perhaps to protest and most didnt even hear about the Orthodox church. Even in the U.S.A. most people are not educated about the Orthodox Church.
It’s existence, like the entirety of Byzantine history, all of Eastern Europe and Russia, has been a well kept secret here in the West. In my experience, more people have a general knowledge of China than of Byzantium. None (except some Orthodox) have any idea that the Renaissance had any connection with the many Greeks who came to the West fleeing the fall of Constantinople. Most think the West (by themselves) rediscovered Greek (so they could read Aristotle), painting, perspective, math, etc. It’s a sad commentary, though I think there was and has been a long and quiet conspiracy in the West to keep the history of the Byzantine Empire quiet and unknown. I’m not a conspiracy guy, normally, but it served the needs of the growing Western powers from Charlemagne forward to generally ignore the existence of Constantinople and its history. It certainly simplified Rome’s claims.
In my personal quest to explain the Christian Orthodox Church to some of my friends and family members by marriage, I hit a brickwall because they do not understand the Divine Liturgy, that the Orthodox Service is like a great drama, unfolding God’s relationship to humankind from the time of Adam to Christ and the Apostles until now. Expaining the Euchurist to Protestants is even more perplexing. At least now the Greek Orthodox Church does its Liturgies in English as well as Greek. I was talking to one of the Fathers, I think it was Father Kostas of St.Nicholas in Northridge, CA said the Greek Orthodox Church should be called the Christian Orthodox Church of America. There is an Orthodox Church of America in Oxnard, CA near me(Ventura, CA) and it is a Russian Orthodox Church.
It really depends on the ethnic composition of the congregation and some other factors as to what language you hear. My OCA congregation uses English in all its services because that is the first language of most of our members, and the only language the entire parish has in common. There are, particularly in California, a number of Russian language OCA parishes (my son-in-law serves as a priest in one).
It is frequently hard to explain Orthodoxy to those who have no understanding of sacramental Christianity, even though it was the only form of Christianity for 1500 years. Fr. Peter Gilquist’s book, Becoming Orthodox, is easy for Protestants to understand and does a good job of covering many of the questions Protestants have about Orthodoxy.