Has Your Bible Become A Quran?

Those who engage in debates on a regular basis know that the argument itself can easily shape the points involved. This is another way of saying that some debates should be avoided entirely since merely getting involved in them can be the road to ruin. There are a number of Christian scholars (particularly among the Orthodox) who think that the classical debates between Christians and Muslims during the Middle Ages had just such disastrous results for Christian thinking.

Now when engaging in religious debates it is all too easy to agree to things that might make for later problems. It is possible, for example, to agree to a comparison of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament and the Book of the Quran. After all, Muslims have a holy book – Christians have a holy book. Why should we not debate whose holy book is better?

It is even possible to agree with the Muslim contention that Christians (and Jews) are “People of the Book.” Of course Muslims meant that Christians and Jews were people of an inferior book, but were somehow better than pagans. Again, it is possible, nevertheless, to let the matter ride and agree that Christians are “People of the Book.”

And it is also possible to give wide latitude to the Muslim claim that the most essential matter with regard to God is “Islam,” that is “submission.” After all, if God is the Lord of all creation, then how is submitting to Him, recognizing and accepting that He is God, not the most important thing?

But each of these proposals had disastrous results in the history of Christianity and may very well be the source of a number of modern distortions within the Christian faith.

Thus, at the outset I will state:

  1. The Bible is not the Christian Holy Book.
  2. Christians (and Jews) are not People of the Book.
  3. Submission to God is not a proper way to describe the Christian faith

Further, any and all of these claims, once accepted, lead to fundamental distortions of Christianity. An extreme way of saying this is that much of modern Christianity has been “Islamified.” Thinking critically about this is important – particularly in an era of renewed contact with Islam.

The Historical Debates

Most modern Christians are unaware of the contacts and debates between Christianity (particularly in the West) and Islam (particularly in Spain) during the Middle Ages. A great deal of the learning in early European Universities, especially in the model of scholasticism, owed much to the encounter with Islam scholasticism – this was especially so for the work with Aristotelean philosophy. Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars, such as Thomas Aquinas, Moses Maimonides, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), are foundational for Medieval thought. (Averroes is sometimes called the “Founding Father of Western secularism“). But the rationalist movement represented by these schools had lasting effects in the Christian West – not all for the best.

The notion of the Scripture as the Book whose place and authority in Christian life are similar to the Quran in Islamic life is one such idea. Islam has no Church – no one stands between the believer and Allah. There are communities, to be sure, but not in the necessary form of classical Christianity. The exaltation of the sovereignty of God and the working of the Divine Will (predestination) are hallmarks of Muslim thought. They eventually become hallmarks within certain forms of Christian scholasticism.

The Protestant Reformation is rightly described as a product of Christian scholasticism. Other historical forces shaped it, but it is worth noting that Luther, Calvin and their like were all “schoolmen.” Their ideas, particularly in Calvin, were largely absent prior to the Medieval dialogs with Islamic scholasticism. It is not that the Reformers borrowed directly from Islam – but that Islam contributed certain key notions that have, in time, become foundational for certain segments of contemporary Christianity.

The Bible is not the Christian Holy Book

As I have recently written, the Bible is properly seen as the Holy Scriptures, a collection of writings that span some 1500 years or more. They represent a variety of genres, address very different situations and understandings of God, and lastly (in the case of the New Testament) represent the internal documents of the primitive Christian community. Christians treat these books as inspired, though there are some books not included, or only included by some Christians, that are also recognized as having a case for inspiration.

The Christian Scriptures are books (particularly in the Old Testament) that have a unique history of interpretation. Christians and Jews, traditionally, do not read these books in the same manner. In such a sense, they do not possess an “objective” meaning. Indeed, Christian Fathers have recognized more than one meaning being present in the text.

The Christian community predates its own texts (the New Testament) and is not described as in any way having a foundation on the Scriptures – the Apostles and Prophets are described as the foundation of the Church. And though the Tradition does not describe the Scriptures as somehow inferior to the Church, neither do they consider the Scriptures to exist apart from the Church. They are the Church’s book.

In short, the place of the Scriptures within Christianity are utterly unlike the place of the Quran in Islam. Any confusion on this point is a distortion of the Scriptures.

We are not People of the Book

Christians are not baptized into the Bible. Jews were circumcised and made part of the Covenant people before ever a word of Scripture was written. God revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob some hundreds of years before Moses ever wrote a line.

Christians may rightly see Islam as an ersatz version of Christianity – an attempt to create a rival to meet the peculiar needs and desires of the man, Muhammed. The Quran is Muhammed’s distorted idea of the role played by a “book” in the life of Christianity and Judaism. It is his attempt to create a rival. But this book, unlike any writing or utterance of a Biblical prophet, came with new claims. The Quran is what a misinformed desert preacher thought the Christian and Jewish holy books looked like. It is a poor substitute and a caricature of those writings. In this sense, the Quran is more akin to the Book of Mormon, a fabrication that tells what Upstate New York con-men thought an ancient religious book should look like. It tells us much about the mind of 19th century Upstate New York, but nothing about God. The Quran tells us about the perception of a 7th century Arabian merchant, but nothing about God.

It is thus a supreme religious irony that such a misperception should have changed how Christians saw their own sacred texts. But, it can be argued, this is indeed the case. The movement from authoritative Church to authoritative book that occurs over the 15th and 16th centuries (the Protestant Reformation), should not be considered apart from the dialog with Islam in the two or three centuries that preceded it. It is worth noting that scholasticism in the West was largely begun in Andalusian Islam. It was not a natural development from within. Scholasticism was ultimately rejected in the Christian East.

Martin Luther’s, “Hier, stehe ich!” (demanding that only a Scriptural argument would be an acceptable response to his position) would have been unimaginable four or five hundred years before. The “Bible” had not yet become a Christian Quran. Today, however, many Christians are indeed, “People of the Book.”

Christianity is not submission to God

On the face of it, denying that Christianity is submission to God seems ludicrous. Surely,  if God is truly God, then submission to Him is the only proper response. But submission is not a word that passes the lips of Christ. His invitation to become a child of the Father is not a demand to submit to the Supreme Being. It is why there can be no conversion at the point of a sword in Christianity, and why conversions at the point of a sword have never ceased in Islam. (Such conversions have indeed occurred in Christian history – but have been later subjected to deep criticism and condemnation).

The question placed in Christian Baptism (Orthodox) is: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” This is the language of union, reflecting St. Paul’s teaching that Baptism is union with the death and resurrection of Christ. The modern Evangelical phrase, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” has more in common with Muslim submission. For there need be no union implied in the question – many who have become Christians under the guise of this question have no perception of union whatsoever. 

Obedience to the gospel is, in critically important ways, not at all the same thing as submission. In proper Christian understanding, obedience is a cooperative action, a synergy between God and believer. As such, it is part of the eternal dance of union between Creator and created. Submission (particularly as taught in Islam) contains no synergy – it is the recognition of a force that can only move in one direction. It is the diminution of the human person, even its obliteration. Obedience, rightly understood, is an invitation into true Personhood – and, strangely, the beginning of true freedom.

Classical Christianity exalts the dignity of the human person and proclaims a gospel that unites humankind to God. The proclamation of Christ’s Lordship, though derived from Christian teaching, can easily become a distortion that takes on the submission demands of classical Islam. I have seen such a Christianity. It is not a pleasant place to dwell.

Contemporary Christianity needs to come to its historic senses and reexamine its various distortions of the gospel. Christ is not a cypher for Allah – they are nothing alike. The fullness of Christian distinctives is required in our present confrontation with Islam. The Bible is not the Christian Quran. It is nothing like it. Being able to articulate this is essential. Christians are the Body of Christ and not People of the Book. The absence of a true ecclesiology in contemporary Christianity is a hallmark of its Islamification. The call to relationship with God in Christ, true union in the Divine Life of the Triune God, must be rightly proclaimed and taught among Christians. We have centuries of unthinking to do if we are to reclaim the wholeness of the Christian faith and speak truth to error.


  1. I’m always feel a little below par when I hear and see people debating scriptures. As a recent convert from Evangelical Protestantism, I am still struggling with how now to pray….

  2. Thanks for this clear and precise correction. It is quite easy for Christians to get carried away with other faith’s description of them, while losing our own self-understanding.

  3. Your brief account of the theological results of Christian contacts with Islam might be somewhat enriched by more engagement with the Eastern Orthodox encounter with Islam, which was no less Aristotelian than in the West (given that almost all post-Chalcedonian theology was strongly Aristotelian– think of Saints John of Damascus and Anastasius the Sinaite). I would recommend in particular John Lamoreaux’s translation of the works of Theodore Abu Qurra or the anthology I helped put together, “The Orthodox Church in the Arab World”.

  4. Samn
    I’m sure you’re correct. Though it is important to note the Scholasticism ultimately has another history within the East – at least in the Hesychast Councils that set it in its place. In the West, something similar might have been possible – but did not happen. Rather, certain wings within the Church take flight in the Reformation. This unleashed forces that would ultimately transform Christianity into an unrecognizable shape – individualized, devoid of sacrament, consumer-driven, etc.

  5. Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

    I have made the same argument myself for many years. In fact, I have made the identical statement, over and over again – “The Bible is not the Christian Koran!”

    Indeed, I regard Protestantism as the Islamification of Western Christianity. The great German historian Oswald Spengler made the same argument in the second volume of his Decline of the West, in the chapter entitled, “Pythagoras, Mohammed, Cromwell” (pp. 295-315, Volume II).

    I will go farther than this. I state (along with Metropolitan Jonah) that Protestantism is coming to its end. Because of this, it is entirely possible that British North America (i.e., Canada and the U.S.) may ultimately join North Africa, as a place which was once solidly Christian, but from which Christianity has completely disappeared. Whether Protestant Christianity will be replaced by some form of Islam, or some recrudescence of pagan or animistic religion, remains to be seen. However, it is not likely to survive, as we know it, for another century.

  6. Blessings to you Father,

    Maybe it is because I am Catholic, and therefore a reader of St Thomas of Aquinas, but I am under the impression that you are infering that scholasticism is not only indebted to Islam, but is actually a force of islamisation of Christianity. When reading St Thomas, I am not under this impression. I know that he is not the totality of scholasticism, but yet if the argument does not take him into account, then the generalisation of this school of thought cannot be done.

    If we move away from this, I must say that your text is very inspiring, and I came to the same conclusion regarding the Scriptures. Tradition is above the Scriptures since they were produced by it (especially in the New Testament); said Tradition which was present in the first link between God and Adam long before any written word.

    Thank you again,

  7. Wow, this was fantastic, thanks so much Fr. Stephen for writing it. I learned a lot and will carry it forward with me.

  8. Dear, brave Fr. Stephen,

    Boy, you have taken on a LOT in your last two blog posts (Reformation theology and Islam), and I am so grateful. I appreciate knowing what the historical ties are and the beautiful, life-giving distinctions of Christianity in its fullness.

    Please keep on educatin’ us and duck when you need to.

  9. Fr. Stephen,

    I found this article to be very interesting and informative, especially to one such as me who knows little about history. However, as usual, I am left with questions. 🙂

    While fully appreciating your beautiful description of “the eternal dance of union” between the Creator and the created, we are still called upon to worship God, i.e. we are not His equals. I could not help but feel there was some hair-splitting going on regarding the meaning of “submission”, so as to differentiate Christianity and Islam.

    Most translations I read of James 4:7, read “submit yourselves therefore to God” or something similar.

    I found myself wondering how a sincerely and devout Muslim would feel about your characterization – I suspect that most would condemn a sword-induced conversion as much as a devout Christian would. The first sentence at a randomly chosen Islamic website had this to say: “The word Islam means voluntary “Submission” or “Surrender” to the Will of God. It derives from the root word “salam,” meaning peace.”

    Please be assured that I am not making an argument in favor of Islam or negating the other concerns that you mention. I am just wondering why you chose to make this particular argument. I hope to submit to God (and surrender and unite and dance) all voluntarily and lovingly, by the help of His abundant grace.

  10. Not sure who David Teems is, but bravo David. I am not giving up on Orthodoxy any more than I would give up on a sick child, but I acknowledge the sickness. I am more worried for my children and grandchildren because unless something changes in the Church here in the Western world, they will be wanderers, seeking but not finding Christ in our Church.
    As for this article, I am not sure this gentleman understands the reverence Islam gives Christ and the Virgin Mary, in many parts of the Middle East, nor the idea of Dorotheos that we, of many faiths, are all on the hub of a wheel moving towards the spoke….and the closer we come to God in the center, the closer we come to each other. It serves no purpose, in my way of thinking, to neglect to look for the image of God in every man, or to academically put up walls instead of building bridges. I have no desire to fragment an already fragmented world. If we are people of love, then we need to work out our own salvation, and by doing that, we provide Christ’s light to the world.


  12. As I have been pondering the disappearance of an account of the nature of the church in Western Christianity, I had not seen the link with Islam. As one who has often sought to remind my brothers and sisters that ‘The Bible’ does not equate to Quran, that ‘Comparative religion’ is a way of seeing that is hugely distorted, I rejoiced to read your words.

  13. Thought provoking article but with a number of historical theological problems – at least in relation to Calvin and Luther. To state that they were “schoolmen” is simply not accurate. Both Luther and Calvin (and for that matter Zwingli as well) were reacting against scholasticism. All three were influenced to varying degrees by humanism with its emphasis on returning to the sources – hence the sola scriptura. This is more true for Calvin and Zwingli. Calvin’s primary education was not in theology. One significant commonality between Luther and Calvin was that they were both trained as lawyers before they became theologians this clearely influenced aspects of their theology.
    With regard to Calvin – while he is often associated with strong views on predestination ( hence the supposed influence of Islam) actually union with Christ is central to his theology and in this and a number of other areas Calvin scholars generally recognise that he was deeply influenced by the eastern Fathers.

  14. Reading your article carefully you say that the bible is “the church’s book” but deny it is the “Christian holy book”. But from an orthodox viewpoint, Christian and church ought to be the same thing. I wonder then if you may be overstating your case.

  15. While I am Anabaptist, not Orthodox, I appreciate this blog and this article and the 3 key points made at the outset are excellent. I’ve always thought the same, and have said similar in conversations with Muslims.

    The only difference I have is that I would not describe Islam as an ersatz form etc 🙂

  16. Enlightening article, Father; however, some of the replies reveals an error in many of us who are believers. My point being Christianity is a family and we shouldn’t pick and choose who is actually in the family. Our union is with God thru His Son and we are born from above ! You can choose your friends, but not your family. All schisms reveal this error but Jesus prayed that we would be “one” as he was One. The authority of the Church shows us who is in the family and whomever God has joined together let no man put asunder. Ken

  17. Very interesting. A lot sacred cows slaughtered here as it were. It should be realized by anyone of faith that we humans can’t and indeed shouldn’t limit God to a mere book or set of books. He is far more powerful than that.

  18. Mary,
    Any Muslim who would denounce conversion at the point of a sword would have to denounce Muhammed. I recommend reading on the history of Islam. We are tragically seeing a historical re-enactment event in the Mideast right now.

    As I noted (bringing in the thought of obedience) – the kind of submission taught by many has no proper place in Christianity. There is self-emptying – which is met by God’s own self-emptying. There is no “Islam.”

  19. Glory to Jesus Christ.

    Father Stephen, Thank you for your explanation of Islam’s influence on the way so many of us christians think and behave. You help me understand foundations of some of our modern errors that run rampant within most christian communities.

    There’s just one thing though……. Could you possibly write more on this subject, you know, beef-it-up a bit. I want more, much more, information. I thirst for the truth, Father!


  20. I am not sure how accurate what follows is theologically but it is the fruit of my life moving toward union with our Lord.

    In Islam the submission is to the will of Allah. In Christianity there is a form of submission, but it is not to God’s will per say but to His love for us. Such love is not a one-way street. It cannot be and remain love.

    I know a man from Egypt who was raised a Jew. In his late teens, his grandmother converted to Coptic Christianity and he followed her. He spent a lot of time in the monastic life. He was sent to England to study by the Coptic Pope. There he met Bishops Ware and Bloom and became Orthodox. He knows Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, English and several others. He has studied the Koran and at one point had pretty much the entire Bible committed to heart.

    While in England a Muslim friend came up to him and asked why he was not Muslim. The man replied, if you can show me in the Koran where Allah is love, kenotic love, I will convert Right Now! The Muslim man went away sorrowful because he had no answer.

    He also attends Protestant churches frequently, often, or so he says asking the pastors afterwards why they preach heresy, then proceeds to educate them. He gets away with it because he has a tremendous spirit of love, an overwhelming knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, the Koran and the Torah.

    The problem with the Bible as “A Holy Book” is that such an idea is fundamentally anti-incarnational. It ignores the fact that Jesus took on our full human nature so that we might share intimately in the divine nature, not from afar and not in subjection to anything but the ineffable love that gives rise to the incarnation.

    God’s will for us is mercy, transformation and freedom. Most human beings would rather not be free. We prefer our slavery either to sin or the obedience to some form of law and/or morality.

    The meaning of the Gospel is greatly changed by whether one looks upon it as something we must do or something into which we must be changed by the grace of our Creator. As Father Stephen has said often: Jesus Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

    That is why Orthodox missiology is defined by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and the orphaned as well as teaching the truth of the Church but excluding no one.

    What needs to be ‘reformed’ in the Church especially here in the U.S. is that we need to do more of the activities the Gospel of Matthew indicates are salvific–not because we are ordered to, but because we can’t help it.

    ….and I am lacking the most in this of anyone I know. May God forgive me, a sinner.

    P.S. One of the most inspiring examples of the Christian approach I know is the life of a Roman Catholic saint, Damien the Leper. He exiled himself to the ‘sour tongue of land’ where the Hawaiian leper colony was to care for the native Hawaiian lepers. He built houses, infrastructure, fed and educated and tended to the health needs of those under his care as well as guiding them spiritually. He wrote in his journal that the happiest day of his life was when he came down with the disease. He was finally at one with his people. He also wrote: “…….I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ. “

  21. Dianne Farah, the idea of being on a wheel with many spokes moving toward the center only works if folks have the same God or are actually seeking the truth.

    Certainly, our Lord will race out to meet us when He sees us coming from afar, but only if we are going in the right direction.

    The metaphor can so easily be used in a false egalitarian manner that denies the Truth so that all we end up doing is wandering more deeply into the desert of our own passions and getting further away from God.

    Does Islam give veneration to Mary as the Theotokos? Does Islam acknowledge that Jesus Christ, one of the Holy Trinity and incarnate Lord is our savior?

    I doubt it.

  22. No. Islam has a problem with exactly that unfortunately Michael, namely God’s humility and sacrifice. The words exchaned between the many Greek neo-martyrs at the hand of the Turks (as documented mainly by St Nikodemus) demonstrate precisely that.

  23. I am personally always a little surprised when otherwise very traditional and reasonably informed Christians have a ignorant view on “the Muhammadans”. I do not use the term “ignorant” in a disparaging manner, but in it’s original meaning of “lack of understanding or awareness”. A few posters on this here have asserted a sort of ignorant syncretism, even to say that the Muhammadans long history of conversion at the point of the sword is somehow a perversion of “the prophets” religion! This happened recently in my own family when my wife’s parents (who after growing up Southern Baptist recently read the Fathers and converted to Roman Catholicism) both asserted to me that “we (the Muhammadans and Christians) worship the same God”.

    Muhammad was (among other things) a military general whose soldiers quite literally raped, killed, and pillaged. To compare him to Jesus Christ (or other Old Testament prophets, or even the Buddha) is a very strange thing indeed. Is it the modern persons general ahistorical philosophy and that we are all in some way victims of the government schools? When a president Bush, and his successor repeatedly say in public that “Islam is a religion of peace” is this some Machiavellian political ploy, or are they truly that ignorant? Someone said above that the Muhammadans have in the past achieved relatively stable (and perhaps even “peaceful” in their own way) societies. True, but is it because of or in spite of their religion?

    Here are the basics: Our Father, and His Son and Spirit do not = Allah and Islam does not = peace.

    One of the things said about Muhammad (by the Quran and his followers) was that he was the best of the deceivers (liars), especially in war (thus beguiling the enemy). Is this what his “moderate” followers are doing when they beguile so many of the secularized Christians in the West? Perhaps…

  24. Fr. Freeman,

    I admit that I reacted negatively to this post. I have some honest questions, and I do not intend to be argumentative.

    Why do you feel that we should find true Christianity and use it to parse the errors of Islam, and to follow the thread of those errors to erroneous strains of Christian thought?

    While you clearly know a great deal about both Islamic and Christian traditions (and their historical connections), I reached the end of this post and felt twinges of fear and judgment – reactions that, admittedly, may have more to do with me than with your words. But we are living in a time where fear of Islam is rampant in the Christian world, and that fear is driving a wedge between Christians and a billion peaceful people.

    Some may argue that “peaceful” Muslims are deluding themselves about the nature of their religion, but that seems like a dangerous direction to focus our thoughts. Christ is not a “God of the Book,” but I worry that Christians are increasingly judging the relationship between Muslim people and God through *their* book.

    I guess I’m wondering how the historical perspective that you’ve provided should inform our spiritual lives – particularly as we relate to our Muslim brothers and sisters.

    Forgive me if I have understood your post badly or not at all. I appreciate your perspective very much.

  25. Tyler says:

    “But we are living in a time where fear of Islam is rampant in the Christian world, and that fear is driving a wedge between Christians and a billion peaceful people.”

    Interesting, excluding those Christians (Orthodox of course, but also Oriental, Latins, and Protestants) who actually live in dhimmitude (a somewhat problematic term I know but relevant in this context) under the Muhammadans I find a distinct lack of fear among Christians. They seem mostly ignorant of the religious, or even existential threat, posed by such an intolerant philosophy. Indeed, they are quite naive about the intentions of robust non-modern and non-western forms of thought and quite happy to believe gross untruths like “Islam is a religion of peace”

    “But we are living in a time where fear of Islam is rampant in the Christian world, and that fear is driving a wedge between Christians and a billion peaceful people.”

    Difficult not to be somewhat flippant here. “rampant”? “wedge”? Well, if only. I would say that you might be more correct in Europe, where virtually unrestricted (and well intentioned) immigration is revealing to the now mostly non-Christian Europeans just what it means to come face to face (in society, government, business, etc.) with a robust and anti-modern religion. In a 3 or 4 generations when France is “Francostan” and what few “Christians” are left (along with many many more completely bewildered modernists) are living in dhimmitude – well, then perhaps “rampant fear” will be the actual reaction…

  26. Christopher:

    I apologize if I chose hyperbolic terms that are misleading. They seem to apply within my western, largely protestant circles (and in Europe, as you mentioned).

    I am not arguing that “Islam is a religion of peace” or dismissing the intolerable conditions that practitioners of other faiths encounter when living within an Islamic society of particular character. Instead, I am asking whether blanket statements like “Islam is a religion of peace” or “Islam is a religion of violence” move us towards Christ.

    Muslims themselves differ greatly about what their religion says about humanity and God (as do Christians, obviously). Why must we pick sides? I’m not trying to be a relativist. I just get the sense that these religious comparisons aren’t far off from political squabbles, and ultimately serve as distractions: they keep us focused on ideologies instead of God and people.

    Even in your dire scenario where the West has been subsumed into Islam within 3 to 4 generations, how does that mean that we should change as Christians right now? Are we supposed to take up arms and fight? How are we supposed to talk to our children about Muslim people? Maybe I’m being naive, but if the end result of my exploration is to see “Muslim” before I see “person,” and then to be afraid, I may have let myself be blown off course.

    This is an interesting and important discussion. I appreciate everyone’s comments.

  27. Tyler,
    A question. What do you consider the greatest danger for Christians in today’s world? Is it any different for Orthodox Christians?

    My concern in the article is for, not the historical trail, but the current reality of a Christianity that has become deformed and morphed into something it should not be. It is Churchless, and without the Sacraments. It distorts the place of the Scriptures, and I could go on. The most precious gift in our faith is what it means to be a Person created in the image and likeness of God and that salvation, through Christ, is union with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.

    The article is a way of drawing attention to these deformations and a description of a return.

  28. My comment here is only regarding Islam and it’s present and past use of war and violence. I recently attended a talk given by a Catholic theologian Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio where he was giving a talk entitled “Islam: Friend or Foe”. He admitted that while he was not an expert on Islam he had studied the Koran and had many friends who had converted from Islam and therefore is very familiar w/ its teachings. He said the fundamental reason Islam has historically always been prone to war and violence is that their view of man differs from that of Christianity. Islam puts no inherent worth in man. He is not made in the image of God/Allah. Even a practicing Muslim is only considered a slave and those outside of Islam are infidels and are to be subjugated. It’s a very slippery slope to violence when there is no inherent worth given to themselves much less their non-Muslim fellow man.

  29. I have always wondered how faithless the examples of us Christians must be in the West for a westerner to turn to Islam in order to find the missing fervour he seams to be longing for. I have even admired the plain-for-all-to-see ‘testament’ of Muslims’ attire, which we only have priests and monastics practicing in Christianity (Orthodoxy). But if one studies Muhammad’s words in the Quran, they will soon see that the fervour is misdirected: he clearly declares a total and everlasting war against all who do not believe (infidels). The main topic that keeps returning throughout in fact is all about “believers and unbelievers”.

    All non-followers of the of Muhammad cult, are therefore starkly offered the following three choices:

    Either (A): Convert and be saved.

    Or else (B): Submit to endless and complete dishonour – this is permitted as an option for the ‘peoples of the Book’, as they describe Jews and Christians (and Zoroasterians to my knowledge).

    Or else (C ): Be killed, enslaved or forced into conversion, for is the option for Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists etc.

    Those rare exceptional sects that have been influenced by Christianity and demonstrate a different spirit –at odds with the Quran itself – are most certainly just that: exceptional and at odds with the Quran.

    In the lives of the new Martyrs, martyred by the Muslims, we see that they certainly saw “persons” and not Muslims and tried to open their eyes to their Muslim delusion. However, we often witness, unfortunately, with what scarcity this eye-opening would take place…
    We talk differently about the Quran and the Muslim religion to our children and differently about every single human soul (whether Muslim, Atheist, Christian or other) for whose salvation Christ is crucified. We, ourselves, and our children need to see all as the Merciful Lord who desires their salvation sees them, and with a belief in this eschatological purpose of God’s Kingdom for them. But being innocent and well meaning as the dove is combined with being wise and discerning as the serpent.

  30. I wish I could read all the comments as the ones I read were quite valuable, as was the article. I particularly appreciated this:

    “obedience is a cooperative action, a synergy between God and believer. As such, it is part of the eternal dance of union between Creator and created.”

    It made me happy because I’ve been thinking lately about how the first verse in the Bible says, “God created,” not, “God dictated,” or even, “God commanded.”

    As a creator He is an artist before being a law-giver, or so I suggest tentatively. Pope Benedict drew a parallel between the ten commandments in Ex 20 and the 10 “And God saids” in Genesis one, arguing that the commands echo the creation and reveal the pattern contained in that creation. When we break one of the 10, we sing out of tune.

    It’s submission only in the sense that a violinist submits to the conductor or a wide receiver submits to a quarterback. It’s a synergy.

    God forgive me.

  31. The Eastern Christian world suffered greatly from contact with Islam and its ideas. This is what created centuries of Iconoclasm and facilitated a rift between the Church and Monophysitism. It is no coincidence that Islam slithered into Western Europe through Spain. This is where Charlemagne’s kingdom was, where his alternative theology was formed, and the beginning of the feudal tyranny of the triangle over the Roman Christian circle. This circle emulates the three persons of the Trinity dancing in conciliar Love, and the synergy between God and His creation. The Frankish triangle matches the “submission” learned from Islam, and is not the conciliar triangle of the Trinity.

    As Mohamed creates “a rival” to Christianity, so Charlemagne’s creates a rival to the real Roman Church, which lives in the East. Charlemagne’s new theology, the distorted Islamic/Frankish relationship of God and man, and a new vision for the Church in Western Europe seeds the further disasters of the Reformation.

  32. ” I just get the sense that these religious comparisons aren’t far off from political squabbles, and ultimately serve as distractions: they keep us focused on ideologies instead of God and people.”

    I get what you are saying and agree to a certain extant. I would add though that in the diverse culture in which we live (well, at least non-monastically) you can’t really hide from certain “ideological” or “political” squabbles because they are at bottom about who and what we are (anthropology). For example, it turns out that some in my small mission parish are involved in a “faith discussion” group in the community. One of these discussions that took place this past summer was a “dialogue” with the Muhammadans. The first assertion, and principle on which this discussion took place was that we worship the same God. Obviously I did not participate ;). Like I mentioned above, a similar discussion took place at our most recent family gathering. These reveal a deficiency of knowledge about their own faith. I agree with Dino and the Tradition, “being innocent and well meaning as the dove is combined with being wise and discerning as the serpent.”

    For me, I start with my family and friends. So I will be educating my children when they are old enough about what the Muhammadans really believe, encouraging my fellow parishioners to look a little deeper, etc.

  33. Great post! It wasn’t until I came upon the Eastern chruch, that I saw the similarities between Islam and protestantism. Sadly many in our historically illiterate culture fail to see this. The belif that our raltionship with God is one of submission, plays a large role in fundementalism, which is based largely in fear. As a former Protestant I can truly say that it was the fear of hell that made me refuse to see the world from any other prospective.

  34. Fr. Stephen,

    I enjoy reading your thoughtful posts! One question and a comment. First, what do you do with the passage in James that calls for submission to God? Are we to understand submission in this text as subservient to the Pauline and Johanine understanding of union with Christ? Second, the doctrine of predestination in the Reformed tradition (even the strongest ones) still put the human response to God in Christ as the determining factor for salvation which is very different than the deterministic, capricious doctrine of divine sovereignty present in Islam. In your post you show that in chronology there is a historical link, but how does it work out that the two are conceptually similar? Thank you for taking the time to read my question and comment. God bless and keep you. Andrew

  35. Fr. Stephen,

    RE: your comment to me at 8:01 AM today (Thursday)…I am always honored when you take the time to respond to my comments even when I am foolish and ignorant. I am most grateful.

    First, let me acknowledge that I know the purpose of your post was not to insult Muslims. I get that and appreciate very much the overall point you were making – excellent as always.

    My primary reason for following up on this point is because I know how it can feel (as most can) to be on the receiving end of religious misunderstanding. Several times now it has happened to me that I have been deeply and prayerfully involved in reading a book by or about an Orthodox elder or saint, only to be slapped with an anti-Catholic passage, often based on gross misunderstanding. (Or perhaps proper understanding of my Catholic ancestors of centuries gone by who have little or no bearing on my faith.)

    It is always a tricky thing to interpret another’s faith, even after “reading history”. Whose history do I read and what meaning do I attach to it, even if the facts could be agreed upon? Just by doing a Google search regarding “forced conversion”, I find under Wikipedia a great number of examples of this practice in both Christianity and Islam. If I search the question specifically for Islam, the Islamic sites all say that forced conversion (“by the sword”) is a misunderstanding and that this is not taught or condoned at all. The same thing we Christians say. Yet people carrying the banners of both religions have done it.

    Again, I am not writing this to claim any expertise on Islam, though I have known some Muslims whose faith moved me. Are we worshiping the same God? I have no way of knowing. To use a C. S. Lewis allusion, I know that Tash is not Aslan and that Tashlan is the worst kind of heresy. But I do not know how many Emeths there are in the world who may be reading your words or mine.

    Though I am certainly not saying this of you, Fr. Stephen, there are so many Christians seeking an excuse to hate Muslims that I feel a need to make the case for love, even though I do not share many of their beliefs.

    Forgive me.

  36. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply, and your question earlier. I think Mary expressed what I meant to say, but far more gently and eloquently.

    I’m a young-ish, struggling Orthodox Christian, who converted with my family from a distinctly Western and fundamentalist belief system. I’m so used to seeing everyone as a threatening “other,” and it’s exhausting. I’m beginning to see Orthodox Christianity as a place where I can let those divisions go. But I think that Americans with my particular upbringing have to be especially careful when drawing lines of distinction, as those lines can quickly become barriers against love.

  37. Over the last decade or so, the issue of Islam has captured the attention of a number of Christians. A number of books have appeared claiming to unmask Islam, detailing aspects of its theology and history that “prove” it is a threat. As a result, calls are made for Christians to learn more about Islam and educate themselves.

    Ironically, similar calls are not made in regard to Orthodox Judaism. As a result, Christians assume the rabbis are like “elder brothers in the Faith.” So, Christians never learn about what is said in the uncensored Babylonian Talmud or the theology of the Kabbalah. Why is that? Is it because Christians assume nothing pernicious could or would come from their “elder brothers in the faith?” Sanhedrin 43a and the claims in the Talmud that Jesus is boiling in Hell in excrement for his crimes against the Jewish people are never mentioned. Or, that the Talmud teaches that a Roman soldier, Pantera, was the father of Jesus and Mary a loose woman. The Talmud also teaches (Sanhedrin 408) that Black people are the cursed descendents of Ham because Ham copulated with a dog while on the ark. How are these “teachings” any less toxic for Christians or history? Or, what about rabbi Zalman of Lyady’s interpretation of the Tanya document and his teaching that gentile souls derive from evil? And yet, few among Christians know of them or could tell you the difference between Mishnah and Gemara, kelipot and sephirot, the Torah shebich tav and the Torah shebeal peh —

  38. Fr Stephen, bless in the Name of The Lord!

    This was a wonderful article to read. Do you have any other articles or resources that I can read more about. I would definitely like to read the holy Father’s writings about how Orthodoxy is the true faith and refutes all the teachings of Islam.

  39. “Orthodox Judaism…So, Christians never learn about what is said in the uncensored Babylonian Talmud or the theology of the Kabbalah. Why is that?…How are these “teachings” any less toxic for Christians or history”

    Well, to state the obvious:

    1) Orthodox Judaism is not on the ascendancy in either a religious (evangelical), political, or demographic manner.

    2) Orthodox Judaism has no real history of conquest (excepting perhaps a small strip of land on the eastern Mediterranean – and this quite some time ago 😉 and subjection of the people it conquers to various indignities (what history it does have in this area is ancient).

    3) Millions and millions of unassimilated Orthodox Jews are not about to change the very cultural and legal foundations of western Europe (yes, America/Canada/Australia are relatively safe for now – again because of demographics).

    4) Countless numbers of Christians are not now being brought to martyrdom by Orthodox Jews.

    I am also a little surprised about some of the posters here who seem to think that to speak of or outline the very real differences between Orthodox Christianity and the Mohammedans (or any other “world religion” for that matter) is necessarily indicative of a kind of crass, unloving, or even hate filled disposition towards them as persons, etc. The Mohammedans are unique in that their religion calls for the death of unbelievers (and this is not a perversion as it is of Christianity), has a strong political component, etc etc. etc.. No other “world religion” currently is like this. Was the medieval church of Rome just as dangerous? Perhaps so, depending on how you rate the crusades, etc. (though the Mohammedans themselves were much more concerned about the Mongols than Rome). Is some modern “Holy Roman Empire”, or the Hindus, or Confucianism, or Orthodox Jews, or Buddhists, or some militant “fundamentalist” Protestantism a real evangelical/cultural/existentialist threat to authentic Christianity or even our liberal, democratic, and secular culture in which we live? Of course not. Authentic Christianity has two robust competitors for the hearts of western man: A militant, materialistic atheism and it’s attendant neo-epicurean morality (which is increasingly being forced upon traditional Christians by the culture and the legal system), and the Mohammedans (today Europe, in 50-100-150 years the rest of “western civilization”).

    Also, a note about Wikipedia (and much of the rest of the web): It’s fine for relatively “non-controversial” topics, but for anything religious, political, or cultural it’s “community” based editing model means that partisans get into an editing/propaganda battle – and the top level editors who are almost exclusively from the “tech world” and thus are uncompromising modernists politically/culturally – they usually decide on the final edit which is why it reads like something written from a journalist (no real understanding or depth to it…)

  40. This piece certainly touched a responsive chord, on conversations happening all around us. Islam, wearing the guise of “just another religion,” has more in common with a mass movement, and an existential confrontation seems inevitable.

    The importance of Christians being able to map out the chasm separating Christianity from Islam can’t be overstated.

  41. The current “world order” of things in Western Europe may indeed vanish as classical Rome fell, but the monasteries carried on the tradition and eventually created another great civilization, medieval Europe; and Rome itself continued in the East. Let the future come, and let us Christians be faithful to the gospel, for we have no power of ourselves to influence the course of history. Forgive me.

  42. Meg Photini,
    indeed, the paradoxical triumph of failure, the exultation of loss, the resurrection through the Cross is the only way. Those martyred in one way or another in the hands of Atheists, Muslims, Talmudists somehow bring about the greatest cosmic change of all. But for this, a more durable, a more substantial, a more unwavering and more perfect union with Christ is required.

  43. Christopher,
    I agree with your comment, but the catch with talmudists seems to be that they use far more underhand, covert methods… I have heard this time and again from insiders, and it almost seems like a far-fetched conspiracy theory sometimes, but I cannot ignore what I have witnessed so many times in my life about that particular strand of the ‘synagogue of Satan’.
    May the Lord give us unpretentiousness and discernment, ardor and unremittingness in pursuing Him only, because no matter how we approach it, “this whole world lieth in wickedness.” And (in the words of the Apostle John) “all that is in the world” in the final analysis, “is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

  44. All,
    I have no interest in saving civilization or the geopolitical arrangements currently effecting the planet. I wrote not long ago about the “Long Defeat,” a phrase of JRR Tolkien. We are not promised a final victory in this life. Neither am I interested in stirring up hatred against Muslims or any other religious group. Anyone who thinks they see that in my article is projecting something into it.

    I am, as always, interested in discernment within the modern culture of our Orthodox Way of life and those things that confront us and draw us away. At the same time, that same discernment is offered to others who have to negotiate their way through the cultural landscape to find a way towards the harbor of salvation.

    The “renewal of your minds” mentioned in Romans 12 is an essential part of our daily salvation as Christians. I have written endlessly about the problems of a “churchless” and “non-sacramental” Christianity – that it is a loss of everything that is fundamental to the Christian way of life as given to us by Christ. This latest article is simply one more such example.

    It does seem to me to be poignant and perhaps a wake-up call for many Christians to consider that the form of their faith is alien to the Tradition given in Christ and has more in common with the heresy of Islam (I do not consider Islam to be a world “religion” but a very successful Christian heresy – this is the general opinion of the Fathers).

    The only proper response to any human being is love – self-emptying love. But love does not mean a refusal to speak the truth. As dark as the current slaughter of innocents at the hands of radicals – darker still are their hearts and world they are creating for their own women and children. Christ enters this darkness in order to free the captives – and we must be willing to enter the same darkness.

    The darkness of mass-culture secular life has a different form – but may be darker still. We live within that darkness – and it is thus appropriate that I write mostly about that one.

    We have many commenters on this article that have never spoken before. I don’t know if they are new to the blog or not. There are certainly many new readers – for the article drew record number of views. I would encourage them to go back to read over the postings for the last few months (it’s not that many and it’s better than watching television). Look at this article in context. It’s how I wrote it.

  45. “On the feast of St. Nicholas in 1273, Aquinas was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the ‘Summa Theologiae’ unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, «The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.» When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, «I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.»” (Alban Butler’s “Lives of the Saints”)

    «GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob»
    not of the philosophers and of the learned.” (Blaise Pascal’s “Mémorial”)

  46. Since you’ve mentioned Thomas Aquinas…

    “On the feast of St. Nicholas [in 1273, Aquinas] was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the ‘Summa Theologiae’ unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, «The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.» When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, «I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.»” (Alban Butler’s “Lives of the Saints”)

    «GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob»
    not of the philosophers and of the learned.” (Blaise Pascal’s “Mémorial”)

    “…and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Eccl. 1: 9)

  47. I think Father, that part of the problem is that we live in a mind that is egalitarian so we are trained to find as many similarities as possible in a comparison and contrast way. When something pops up that is dissimilar it is minimized to preserve the ideology. OR for those who understand the dissimilarities it tends to be maximized and its importance highlighted.

    It is tough to consider something as it is. Certainly there are always connections but we should be able to know what we believe, who we love without reference to another. Converts to the Church have this problem in particularly. There is always the tendency to see the Church through the lens of the faith they left. When addressing Islam or Judaism we want to make sure that “ours is better”.

    The Creed does not say anything about any other faith. If one is unable or unwilling to profess the Creed, one is not a Christian. To the extent that we adulterate the Creed in thought word and deed, we loose some of our faith.

    Christ, one of the Holy Trinity
    Christ, born of a virgin
    Christ, and Him crucified
    Christ, risen from the dead
    Christ, the grantor of mercy and the forgiver of sins and therefore our judge
    Christ, the only lover of mankind
    Christ, the author and finisher of our faith and our life

    The choice as David Bentley Hart aptly put it is Christ or nothing.

    “If we turn from Christ today, we turn only towards the god of absolute will, and embrace him under either his most monstrous or his most vapid aspect.”

    As to the Muslims all I really have to say is:

    Al-Masih qam min bain’il-amwat,
    wa wati al mowt bil mowt,
    wa wahab’l hayah lil ladhina fi’l qubur!

    For those who don’t know, that is the Arabic Paschal Troparian:

    Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

  48. Devout Muslim here. I stumbled upon this article through a relative. Father, your conceptions of the Islamic perspective seem a bit strange to someone from within the traditional Islamic faith-are you saying the Quran is not interpreted within its historical context? I have only encountered that in certain salafist circles. Also, what Islamic scholars are you basing your views of the religion and Islamic philosophy upon? How does alGhazali fit into your conception of Islamic philosophy, given his impact? Thank you for your time and consideration.

  49. [Part II]

    “Francis [of Assisi] knew that book-learning and study could be useful, but he saw the temptations to pride and vanity which often came about through scholarly endeavors and he feared for the spiritual welfare of the Friars Minor. Nevertheless, he had a great admiration for theologians and teachers of sacred scripture. Francis wrote a letter to Anthony of Padua, who joined his Order, saying, «I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the Brothers, provided that, as it is contained in the Rule, you do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion during study of this kind.» On another occasion he said, «A great cleric must in some way give up his learning when he comes to the Order of Friars Minor, so that he may offer himself naked to the arms of the Crucified.» God illuminated Francis’ mind and heart with a kind of wisdom that could never be obtained by mere book-learning. When a Brother asked him for permission to take a leave of absence to study, Francis told him that if he would often repeat the ‘Glory be to the Father’ he would become very learned in the eyes of God. He himself was a perfect example of knowledge so attained.” (Source unknown)

    “[John of the Cross], having finished his studies and returned to the monastic life, showed that he had a high opinion of himself on account of his great learning. To cure him, his director gave him a catechism, telling him to lay aside all other books and read this alone, picking out the words syllable by syllable, like a child. He continued to do this for a long time, and with great application, and afterwards confessed that he derived from it not only a high degree of obedience, but many other virtues as well.” (“A Year With the Saints”, 1891)

    “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16: 31, esv)

  50. Samuel M.,
    Of course the Quran can be interpreted in various ways, perhaps even ways that are somewhat reminiscent of a basic Hesychasm [Hesychasm being the height and depth of Man’s “marriage” to God – the heart of Christian Orthodoxy] (!) – as demonstrated by some Sufism – but one of the fundamental problems of any belief that is not ‘Christian Trinitarianism’ is made manifest in the radically different fuel fueling one’s -still at the incunabular stage- relationship to their God.
    We can only discuss Islamic ‘devotion’ (as I see no point in discussing the overall ‘faith’ itself since, you can guess that on this blog someone like me considers all faiths as containing various amounts of delusion and falsehood- I am an Orthodox Christian- and the fulness of the Truth is only to be found in Orthodox Christianity) and irrespective of a person’s natural affinity and desire for union with God, when that person is a Muslim, there is no escaping the Quran’s ingrained preoccupation with believers and unbelievers and infidels (with all the behaviours it condones concerning them) , much more than with union with God…

  51. I am not familiar with christian theology so I cannot comment on the hesychasm. As for the faith remark, I don’t think we are thinking of the same definition. For I am speaking more of the sociohistorical institution with all of its attendant ideas. As for the union with God part, we do not hold that as a belief no andit seems like it makes god like human beings or a human being which I obviously don’t agree with. As for the quran- which ayats and accompanying tafsir do you find problematic?

  52. I also like to say that I am not a member of the ulema so I will not necessarily comment on some things but rather refer you to certain scholars.

  53. Fr. Freeman,

    As always, you have written another terrific post. I do have one complaint to make, though. I am a Mormon-to-Orthodox convert and I felt this bit was in poor taste:

    “The Quran is what a misinformed desert preacher thought the Christian and Jewish holy books looked like. It is a poor substitute and a caricature of those writings. In this sense, the Quran is more akin to the Book of Mormon, a fabrication that tells what Upstate New York con-men thought an ancient religious book should look like. It tells us much about the mind of 19th century Upstate New York, but nothing about God. The Quran tells us about the perception of a 7th century Arabian merchant, but nothing about God.”

    I believe stating your disagreements and objections to other faith traditions in a more irenic fashion will set a better example and be better received by those outside the Orthodox faith.

  54. As a rejoinder to a point raised by Christopher, the view of gentile souls as presented by the Tanya document is not unrelated to the persecution of Palestinians and Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. One need only read what is said on the part of certain representatives of Orthodox Judaism to see the ideology put into practice to justify what is happening over there. I would also add that Abe Foxmen recently called for the Orthodox to revise some of the liturgical texts because he believes they are offensive to Jews. In June of this past year, a retired Egyptian military official called for the destruction of St. Catherine’s monastery. That received a fair amount of attention in some Orthodox circles. However, Foxman’s call for a revision in Orthodox liturgy was met with silence. There is also the fairly regular problem of some haredi spitting on the Cross when it is being processed in the Holy Land. One might discount these things as unimportant blips on the screen of religious conflict. What they betray, however, is a deeper issue — Orthodox rabbinic Judaism is premised on the rejection of Christ. The implications of this are evident in the so-called Noahide laws which, under Reagan and his celebration of Lubavitch rabbi Menachem Schneerson, went into law in the US. True, there is no outright enforcement of them now but the idea that they even exist should cause one to pause.

    Let me add this as well. A lack of knowledge of other religions can lead one into accepting certain things about it without realizing the threat it poses to Orthodoxy. For example, most of the yoga practiced in this country in local fitness centers is based on Hatha Yoga. Hatha yoga adopts bodily poses and engages in stances to facilitate the activation of the chakras — points within the body that can allow for the flow of divine energy. The poses used by Hatha yoga are actually reverential poses offered to various gods in the Hindu pantheon. So, when you’re at your local fitness center simply participating in yoga as a form of exercise, you’re actually adopting stances that were developed as reverential, worshipful poses towards Hindu deities. Further, these poses are intended to facilitate the release of “kundilini,” a tantric notion of the coiled serpent that rests at the spine, ready to ascend up it and activate the chakras. This has both physical and spiritual implications which is why one can find any number of websites out there discussing the dangers of yoga.

    Yet, there is a local Orthodox church — a cathedral, no less — here where I live that offers yoga classes. Dangers don’t have to be “global” — they come in different forms.

  55. Samuel,
    subjugation and submission to the rule of Islam as well as the use of the sword is to be found in many ayats and accompanying tafsirs (even if certain scholars take a much more transcendant interpretation of the original Arabic than what has become the harsher English translation) but forgive me that I am afraid I have little to no interest in delving the intricate details of your belief – as stated earlier, you will find Orthodox Christian believers who know that the Truth is the Person of the Incarnate God of Love (Whom the Quran aknowldges in certain Surahs at the end, although again it is a matter of interpretation how you -as a Muslim – see that). One who has found the Truth cannot be expected to want anything other than going deeper inside that same wellspring – and not looking in other wells.

  56. Patrick,
    indeed, if Christianity could in some absurd theory use underhand means to promote itself [as others -Islam and Hinduism- can do], then we might have created a 1500 prostrations class at a fitness club near you… 😉

  57. Patrick,

    I do see your point, and perhaps I too easily discounted it in my last post. I would not be too hard however on those who use certain yoga poses and movements as a mere form of exercise. I use a few to “unlock the spine”, however such a concept (as a mere physical movement/benefit) is present in western “gymnasium” (going back at least to the 19th century, probably before) and is divorced from any “spiritual” content.

    This reminds me of a something that happened concerning my young daughter recently. I walked into her Kindergarten class (she attends the local RC school) a few days after Sept 11th and up on the wall were finger paintings all the children had done of Holtmon’s “peace sign”. Now, it originally was created for a British nuclear disarmament movement. I would not and don’t support that, because my grandfather was to be part of the first wave to go invade mainland Japan. It later became part of the cultural revolution of the sixties. To my father, it is associated with the accusations of “war criminal” and “baby killer” he faced upon his return from Vietnam. Today, if it has any meaning at all, it is probably best associated with shallow consumerism and pop culture as it’s found on all sorts of silly places. When I asked the teacher why they did this particular project, she said “oh, it was spontaneous when we were talking about Sept. 11th”. Should such a problematic symbol be used in an educational setting, in a Roman Catholic school no less? Not really, particularly when they have far superior signs and symbols that truly represent the Peace of Christ. Would it have done any good for me to explain this to the teacher and ask her not to present this symbol to my child anymore (I gave this some consideration)? Not really – she has no real understanding of even recent history, and to her it’s probably really does mean “peace”, perhaps she even thinks of the Peace of Christ when she sees it. It did give my wife and I an opportunity however, because the next weekend we spent a part of Saturday morning talking about and drawing “Peace Signs” – and we came up with some good ones: the Cross, an innocent child, the Baptism of our Lord, etc.

    Anyways, a bit of a tangent but I thought of this when reading about the yoga happening at the Cathedral. Naive? Perhaps, but then maybe the good men and women of God at the Cathedral are part of the process in which God is “transforming” yoga into union with Himself (hard to believe I know…;)

  58. I think that Muslims also believe that the Quran is factually inerrant … and that is what many evangelicals believe of the Bible. But that has really painted Christians into a corner as more and more scientific evidence comes to light. I wish that the Orthodox view was better known. I went to a site that worked on dinosaur bones and everyone there assumed that Christians would argue that there are no dinosaurs and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

  59. Dino,
    You keep making claims but do not provide any facts nor valid interpretations and the thing is you are, like this article, making claims about what I and 1.4 billion other people believe-and giving me nothing besides your claim and some language regarding your ownbreligious experience. Useful to be sure but if you don’t wish to engage meaningfully let me know.

  60. Samuel,
    Forgive me but I do not wish to engage further in what I -asking to be excused- see as a fruitless exercise of referring to other sources we probably won’t have the time to even study in any depth. There are millions of all sorts of other believers and non-believers, numbers most certainly do not equate with truth though…
    Trees are ‘known by their fruits’ and my experience convinces me beyond any shadow of a doubt that truth lies in Orthodoxy (and only half-truths everywhere else). I make a claim while perhaps not providing any facts again – besides this is not the platform to do this, it wouldn’t even fit – but I cannot conceal my faith because of this.

  61. I mean no insult Dino, and I am not challenging your faith itself. Proclaiming the truth of Orthodoxy is what this blog is for- but do you think you can make claims about another religion without having to back them up with something besides your own assertion? In fact flat out refusing to do so? Myassertionsay not be true in your eyes, but treat me as you would wish to be treated if someone were speaking on christian orthodoxy. Peace be upon you.

  62. Samuel,
    Claims on other religions (without the necessary ‘facts’ all being offered there and then) cannot be avoided unfortunately. The ‘Pluralism’ that characterizes modern diversity does not of course condone this. It prohibits any faith to declare the fullness of truth and claim to be the only way of salvation.
    My thoughts on this matter are that proclaiming the one absolute Truth is sort of “not allowed” (it makes it an undisputable matter). By doing so I risk being branded a “totalitarian”. It is seen as ‘preaching’ something inconveniently (and inherently) absolute – a threat to all other notions.
    Pluralism attempts to denigrate the uniquely singular and unparalleled apocalyptic revelation of Christ (“I am…”), to the conventional level of the legion of ordinary human religious experience (Theosophical Syncretism).
    This “relativism” advocates the dispute of all ideologies except for its own.

    However, Christ’s absolute claims –if studied honestly- only allow for one of two positions, (a third is mathematically impossible) these are (at least the basic) “facts” if you like, creating a ‘disquieting’ stalemate to the non Christian:
    1) one either accept that He is what He says He is (the True God, the only Way, the Truth, the Light, the Resurrection and the Life – Whom I can only love above all and accept that all others are “thieves and robbers (John 10:8)


    2) I am “stuck”, unable to explain away his historical existence, since describing Him as something any less than what He claims (as, for instance, a great ‘Philosopher’, a ‘Prophet’, a ‘Mystic’ etc. etc…) axiomatically doesn’t stand to reason: it automatically makes Him the greatest and most demanding liar in existence…! He has not really left this open.

  63. Sorry a little correction to the above:
    My thoughts on this matter are that proclaiming the one absolute Truth is sort of considered “not allowed”

    (So I obviously would not be able to accept a belief that doubts Christ as God as serious in any meaningful way)

  64. Another rejoinder to Christopher — thanks for your thoughts. Unfortunately, in my reading on other faiths, I have also had occasion to read a number of books on “the occult.” While I never studied “primary texts” — for example, the actual writings of Mme. Blavatsky, Alistair Crowley, Eliphas Levy, Paracelsus, Boehme, etc, I have read more than I wish I had about them and movements associated with them.

    There is an argument to be made that the peace sign is actually an inverted todesrune, referred to among practitioners of the occult as “the crow’s foot” or “the raven’s foot.” I won’t bother to go into some of the sordid details of how it can be used and the part it plays in denying Christ. However, with these sorts of things its important to remember that there is always an exoteric meaning — a commonly accepted understanding available to the uninitiated public — and an esoteric meaning for “adepts.” In this way, occult symbols and meanings can hide in plain sight, misleading the uninformed into accepting something as morally neutral that is in fact quite sinister. How many Christians were duped into adopting the peace sign in the 60s and 70s, wearing what is in esoteric circles little more than a satanic symbol? I won’t even mention the culture this encouraged with things like “Jesus Christ Superstar” — remember when that came out in the early 70s and the way it borrowed on hippy sentiments?

    This Janus-like quality is rife in the symbolism of occultism, playing off of shadow and light, what is revealed and what is hidden. This sort of ritualization of the commonplace is used to transform consciousness — at least that’s what some occult practitioners believe they’re accomplishing. This can be seen in movies like, “The Matrix,” “Pleasantville,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Truman Show” and “Oblivion” — all of these are Gnostic movies that seduce and initiate the uninformed into the esoterica of Gnosticism. That’s what the matrix is or the town is in Pleasantville — creations of an evil Demiurge that only the acquisition of esoteric knowledge will allow us to escape. That is the point of view of Hollywood, where Scientology is quite popular, the same Scientology founded by L Ron Hubbard, an initiate into Alistair Crowley’s OTO at the hands of Jet Propulsion Laboratory founder Jack Parsons.

    Does this mean if you watch these movies you’ll become a Gnostic? No, but for those that do not believe in Christ or do not live the life of the Church such movies serve to prepare them for any number of “alternative spiritualities.” In this way, science fiction is the vehicle for the preparation for, and mass initiation into, of the masses for the “religion of the future.”

    Additionally, I’m guessing that Elder Paisios and other Athonite fathers would have frowned on Christians using yoga in any way whatsoever. True, flexing exercises may be very similar but their purpose is not to unleash kundalini, thereby transforming consciousness. As for what happened at your daughter’s school, if it had been the swastika I’m guessing people would have had a number of reservations, even though it’s an ancient symbol and was reversed by the Nazis. Why?

    Perhaps my reading up on the occult has made me overly sensitive but if something has its roots in darkness I don’t think Christians should have anything to do with it.

  65. “The Bible and the Church
    The Christian Church is a Scriptural Church: Orthodoxy believes this just as firmly, if not more firmly, than Protestantism. The Bible is the supreme expression of God’s revelation to the human race, and Christians must always be ‘People of the Book’.”

    —(Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, p.199)

  66. I had never read any Koran, so I just spent 2 hours reading some, and another hour googling quotes. For one, the quotes about the Jews read like a Nazi recruitment manual. This is the worst one I saw.

    “The Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: ‘Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him;’ but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.”

    Everything I read was about how god is butterflies and candie to Muslims, and sadistic tormenter to everybody else. Bunches of verses ending with “Do not forget the cruel punishments of god”

    I had always assumed the hate speech was more subtle, and that the terrorist groups were cherry picking versus, and exploiting poor/angery/unstable people. But anyone who believes that book is the word of god and doesn’t strap on a bomb must just be using it to play scrabble.

    I apologize for my harshness, and perhaps the 10% I got through was the worst 10%? (One can hope) but I’m really shocked right now.

  67. Michael Cooley,

    Love Kallistos, but I doubt he is contradicting Fr. Stephen’s point. Was he responding to a criticism that the Orthodox Church didn’t put proper emphsis on scripture? It is human to swing right of your stance when criticized from the left, and vice versa. The Church, and the Scriptures are two parts of a whole. A church that rejected the Scriptures would no longer be a church. In that, it’s not wrong to say that we are “people of the book” as a passing comment. But, if you attach to the phrase the full connotation, historical context, and Implications Fr. Stephen has, I don’t think Kallistos would have stated it identically.

  68. One thing missing in most of these posts is the perception of the Arab Orthodox Christian on Islam, the 1400 years of interactions & dialogues in the Arabic language, the employment of the Arabic language in Christianity before & after Islam, Arabic scriptures of the Bible & the Quran, etc. Sam Noble recommended the book, Theodore Abu Qurra. There are many great books that can be sought and read at his Araborthodoxy.blogspot.com
    Sam’s latest book, The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, is a must read along with other great readings by Professor Irfan Shahid and Professor Fr. Sydney Griffith. I have read too many biased and insufficient writings on Islam from Westerners who mean well but produce a different outcome or misguided views full of gaps. I may take issue with those who portray the Arabic word, ‘submission’ or ‘Islam’ to mean oppression via surrender when that is not accurate. The Arabic Bible speaks of Jesus of “islaming” or “surrendering” his Spirit while on the Cross. I am reminded of “Thy will be done” as a form of submission to the Divine. These are examples of divine humility. Receiving Eucharist requires submission as the priest recites to the communicant, “the servant or slave (abid Allah in Arabic) of God”. These are some samples that non- Arabs cannot or do not see nor understand. Unfortunately in the West the Arabic word Allah is perceived as the God of Islam and not that of Christianity.Worse yet that the word Allah is derived from Arab paganism rather than from monotheism. I do believe having a strong grasp of languages or the meaning of words can fill in the gaps that we may have about our Orthodox faith or that of Islam. Muslims are seeking to know God and it is our sacred duty to share with them the gospel (injeel), the greatest news that God became man to save all of us. Amin.

  69. James,
    I couldn’t have said it better. Knowing Met. Kallistos personally, I have no doubt of his intent in his statement, nor of his agreement with my take on the matter. Blessings!

  70. Scribe errant,

    Since your name is new to the commenting forum, I do not know if you have been reading the blog for long. I appreciate what I assume was a well-intended comment from you but you do not know my heart.

    We Catholics share Tradition with our Orthodox brothers and sisters and we also share many saints. The schism that occurred between us was, I believe, based on nothing other than human sinfulness and needs to be healed and repented of. (I am not saying who sinned or how – not for me to judge; but we all sin and need to repent.)

    We are one Body, the Body of Christ. I celebrate that Oneness, even if imperfectly understood in our human brokenness.

    (Also, none of the Catholic priests I have spoken to have suggested that I discontinue this reading and sharing. In my area next week, there is a seminar, 28th annual, in which Catholics and Orthodox gather, that the Western church may better understand the Eastern church. So relax…)

  71. Patrick,

    “As for what happened at your daughter’s school, if it had been the swastika I’m guessing people would have had a number of reservations, even though it’s an ancient symbol and was reversed by the Nazis. Why?”

    It’s interesting, right after I replied to you yesterday I went to the store with my list in hand. Right up front was a display of body lotion that was on sale. It’s name was “Peace” and of course the “peace sign” was it’s most prominent marking. I think that answers your question and reveals just what a shallow, banal this symbol has become (assuming it ever had any real content in most peoples minds).

    I grew up reading science fiction and still do to this day (being regular subscriber to Analog, Asmov’s etc. for most of my life). It is a spiritual minefield fer sur, but I especially enjoy the writers who have some old fashioned humanism left in them (though these types of writers are becoming more scarce). It is also becoming harder to find writers who are not hopelessly infatuated with neo-Darwinian themes. Still, I occasionally find a diamond in the rough. I do see your point on the dangers however.

    Fr. Stephen,

    One of the first persons I ever met who was Orthodox actually studied under Bishop Ware at Oxford. He had one of the first printings of “The Orthodox Church” and couple of later printings (and this was more than 20 years ago now). He would point out how Bishop Ware had changed his wording on certain things (ecumenism being one example). He actually warned people off of reading him, or encouraged them to seek out an early printing. I read it anyways, and today I can see my friends point though I think it was over emphasized. Today, on the rare chance a non or nominal Christian asks me about Orthodoxy, I point them to Ware. For more traditional and serious Christians/seekers I usually go with Clark Carlton’s “The Faith”. What do you think?

  72. Met. Kallistos is as solid a teacher of Orthodoxy as I know. There are some who are either ill-informed or deeply fearful and are constantly on guard that someone is selling out the faith. I first met Met. Kallistos when I was a seminarian (in the 70’s). I have seen him many times since, and made pilgrimage with him in the Holy Land in ’08. His reputation is unsullied and he is well-received everywhere.

    I recommend his work. He is not an “ecumenist” as some use the word. But he is an Orthodox scholar, teacher, bishop and monk who is not fearful. Clark Carlton is a good friend as well. I often serve as his confessor. He is very solid and would say the same of Met. Kallistos.

    The landscape in the 80’s and 90’s was very much colored by the strains between Moscow and ROCOR (and ROCOR with everybody else). It made for many difficulties and a lack of trust. I think great strides of brotherhood have been made in the past decade to the benefit of all Orthodoxy.

    When Met. Kallistos wrote his book he was still a layman and had been Orthodox for only two or three years. He asked not to write it but was pressed into it along with Church support. That he would edit it later is no surprise. He is a man with a great breadth of experience within Orthodoxy and across the world. He is held in the greatest esteem everywhere I’ve been.

  73. Mary Benton…glad you’re a ” relaxed” Catholic on this site. I’ve so enjoyed your comments these last couple years…reflections from a different facet.

  74. Thanks, Dean…though we might want to say that I am “a Catholic who is relaxed”, lest anyone misunderstand and think that I am relaxed about my faith. 🙂

    BTW, I perhaps misrepresented the intent of the event in my area (that Scribe errant felt a need to take a jab at). It is co-sponsored by Orthodox, Catholic and Byzantine and it’s actually the 30th annual. Fr. Thomas Hopko will be one of the speakers. Anyone in the Cleveland, Ohio area may check it out by searching the seminar name: “Icons: Witnesses to Christian Faith and Life”.

    Many of us in the Western church are woefully ignorant of the Eastern Church and I am pleased to know that there are others gathering to share and learn.

  75. Where (and indeed How) does one begin to disagree with virtually everything this guy (Fr Stephen Freeman) and his cronies put about? I know how ‘Scribe errant’ feels at 4:15.

    To take one example (there are zillions)
    the paragraph:

    The Bible is not the Christian Holy Book.
    Christians (and Jews) are not People of the Book.
    Submission to God is not a proper way to describe the Christian faith
    Further, any and all of these claims, once accepted, lead to fundamental distortions of Christianity. An extreme way of saying this is that much of modern Christianity has been “Islamified.” Thinking critically about this is important – particularly in an era of renewed contact with Islam.

    is TOTALLY false (and one can only assume downright malicious) in so far as (any)one can contradict each and proposition and arrive at a much clearer (and orthodox) statement of Christian Orthodoxy (eg. The Bible IS the Christian Holy Book, Christians (and Jews) {and others] ARE the People of the Book, and Submission to God IS a [perfectly] proper [if clumsy] way to describe the Christian Faith [or any other ‘Faith’ for that matter].
    Furthermore, the paragraph (article) isn’t (even) well-written or closely thought out (or even edited). Otherwise the fourth sentence would never have got in (think about it in the context of the three before it).
    Do I have time (would anyone?) to correct the (multiple) inaccuracies and shoddy (lack of) scholarship? I doubt it, but only time (rather than reluctance) might deter me. If anyone responds to this I shall attempt to.

  76. correction:
    …can contradict each proposition and…

    not “can contradict each and proposition”

    (You see I check what I post)

  77. Dear Father Stephen
    Do you know an ancient work by Count De Maistre, “Les Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg”?

    In this book, De Maistre predicted the progressive “islammification” of Protestants.

  78. anthony,
    Yes. Indeed. Each of those statements can certainly be contradicted. If nuanced properly each of them could be true or false. The article provides the nuance required to understand how they are meant. The Scriptures are indeed the Christian Holy Book, but not if Holy Book is understood in the manner of the Quran. Christians are not people of the Book. I would be hard put to nuance this in a way that would change my statement. And, yes, submission is proper if rightly understood – as I described in the notion of Christian obedience.

    Badly written, poorly edited. I can easily accept the criticism and continue to work on future articles. This one was difficult – and I’m not sure that I disagree. Writing isn’t always easy.

    This is not a scholarly article – a book would be required to do justice to its thesis. If it causes anyone to reflect and think on the topic and thesis, then it was effective.

    “This guy” prays God’s blessings for you.

  79. Dear Fr. Stephen;

    I usually follow my parents’ advice and never get involved in discussions involving politics or religion, but this post has provoked so much thought I feel that I must respond briefly. Just three points.

    Firstly, a Sufi would undoubtedly interpret the Quran’s admonition to fight the jihad allegorically as a battle against the devotee’s passions and false self. The ultimate goal is fana or extinction of the false self and complete union with God. Of course, many Muslims do not understand this. Thus, for example, the Sufi Al-Hallaj was executed for proclaiming, “I am Truth” during a mystical ecstasy.

    Second, as a Roman Catholic, I believe that I am required to follow the example of St. John Paul II, who actually apologized to Muslims for the atrocities committed by Catholics during the Crusades. This was a humble recognition by the Pope that Islam is not the only religion that has converted people by the power of the sword. I presume that this also reflects the more tolerant post Vatican II attitude towards other faiths. Is Orthodoxy significantly different on this issue?

    Third, as a recovering alcoholic living in the New York City area, many members of my recovery group are Muslims. I know that they certainly do not subscribe to the notion that non-believers may be converted through the use of force. In fact, they are horrified by the current atrocities committed by extremist groups like ISIS. I believe that this represents the mainstream view of Muslims currently living in the United States.

    In general, I am a great fan of the views which you express on this blog, but I must respectfully disagree with this particular post.

  80. John H,
    I did not write in order to describe Islam in general – other than certain ideas that had a strong influence within Christian culture. But, I would quickly recognize that there is a mitigating presence throughout the world that tends to make us better than we might be otherwise – that mitigating presence is the grace of God which He pours abundantly on all creation. Thus, I would agree that many Muslims are better than the text of the Quran. I think of the misuse of Scripture by Christians – such as the violence of the Old Testament – as something of a heretical view. There was a plenary indulgence given to Crusaders. Orthodoxy did not extend such a thought but maintained, as always, that killing is a sin requiring penance – even if done in war or self-defense. John Paul apologized to the Orthodox as well for the actions of the Crusades. It is ironic that no apologies have come from Islam considering the many millions of Christians (even in the 20th century) that they have killed. But I welcome any embrace of peace that comes.

    The point in the article was certainly not to see Islam as a static, unchanging force. The influences from scholastic Islam and our dialogs was also a two-way street. Sufism is a good example. There are clear evidences of Christian (even Hesychast) influences within Sufism. Islam today is a very complex religion, with a very wide variety of expressions – with at least as much diversity as Christianity. And its history has to be taken on its own.

    My point has not been to vilify Islam, though I believe Muhammed to have been a fraud and a warrior – not a prophet (this is certainly the teaching of the Orthodox Church in the matter). But to offer a critique of contemporary Christian culture. My point was to suggest that Sola Scriptura is not only wrong – but even alien to Classical Christianity. No one has said anything in the comments to make me think otherwise.

  81. Father, in light of your past comments on religion it seems to me that you are not writing about the Koran as it is understood by Muslims or even about Islam per se. Rather using the most contemporary/historic example of a religious system and the violence such systems do to authentic Christianity and to Christians no matter the source.

    …and really people just because you know someone of any faith that does not fit the a general description from outside of that faith does not make the description invalid.

    I know many Protestants who are more moral, more faithful in prayer than I am. The Catholics who most often post here also appear to fall into a similar category.

    Nevertheless that does not mean that Catholicism or Protestantism are above theological criticism.

    Legalism, ideology, pedantic moralism, you name is always in the way of allowing ourselves to become temples of the living God.

    Islam as the Islamic commentator here admitted finds such an idea unthinkable. Much of Christianity including many Orthodox have taken the same path. That is the way of the world, the way of death.

  82. A little off topic, but some of the comments here reminded me how I always thought that Sufi Al-Hallaj is a very curious case.
    He demonstrates a few uncanny similarities with mystical Orthodox Saints (such as Saint Symeon the New Theologian almost around the same time), a singular purpose for union with a personal God (which is born first, as he says, in Man’s deepest heart) and a martyr’s death that (to onlookers) did not overcome his joy/smile.
    These are elements that have always made me think that -even for someone immersed in a tradition based on the Quran, which in turn is based on a most duplicitous religious founder (Muhammed)- humility can still attract God’s grace…
    My thoughts are that, though an Orthodox would be ‘lost’ if they ever left the fullness in the thought of finding any truth in Al-Hallaj’s Sufism;
    Al-Hallaj himself -even though he never made it all the way to Orthodoxy- might be tasting, if not the “fruit”, at least of “the leaves of the tree [which] were for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2)
    And I think this must be true for certain other virtious ‘outsiders’.

  83. I guess you would find fault in my following prayer:

    Lord God some see you through the lens of Judaism, others see you through the lens of Christianity, others Moslem, others Buddha and yes many other lenses claim you as well. The lens we see you through is not as important as that we see you!

    You said let there be light when there was nothingness and you created the heavens and the universe. Your design is present on both living and inert things. You gave your son Jesus as the way for man to have eternal life. Help us remember he is your gift to mankind that we may join you in eternal life.

    I know that I have need of your forgiveness and will try to do better; please forgive me of all my failings. Help me to share your Love with all and to restraint my sinful ways. Help me to share your gift with all. Amen!

    I guess you would say only our God is the one true God.

  84. Jack,
    The fact that one might be able to erect a stunning house, despite the odds in a dreadfully nasty neighborhood, does not detract from the fact that we are only allowed to build stunning houses in a regulated beautiful neighborhood. I am not just trying to present the value of what we call ‘being within a tradition’ through the above metaphor:
    What I mean is that, the fact that someone –as an exception- somehow might find some of this beauty outside of Orthodox fullness due to God’s justice, does not mean that the only ‘place’ one will safely and perfectly build his ‘eternal house’ on the Truth (Christ) is not in Christian Orthodoxy. It is.

  85. Jack,
    I am saying that God has made Himself known to us in the God/Man Jesus Christ. People imagine many things. In Christ alone has He made true knowledge of Himself known.

    What you describe in your prayer is an imaginary God. What sins through what lens? It’s all in your head.

  86. Jack,

    The following little story came to my mind, when I was considering this issue in a different context, but it addresses your question to Dino.

    Suppose I had some friends flying into the airport in my city. They are coming from another country and have never been here before and do not speak the language well. The airport is some distance from my house. They call me when they land and I tell them, “Wait, I am sending my son to come and pick you up. He will bring you right to my home.” And suppose they protest, “No, no. We have met some fine people here at the airport and they said that they will bring us to you.” So I tell them, “Dear friends, you cannot trust everyone you meet at the airport. Please, let me have my son bring you. He knows the way and you can trust him.” And they keep insisting that they want to ride with the others they just met.

    They may or may not end up at my house. If they do arrive safely at my house, of course, I will joyfully let them in and forgive them for refusing my offer. But why would anyone refuse such an offer? And why would we who know the Son not want everyone to know this wonderful news?

    BTW, I like your prayer but I think that we must be very careful not to suggest that anyone who offers you a ride knows the way, even if they are well-meaning. (And not all are well-meaning.)

  87. Interestingly, the Summa Theologiae doesn’t contain any examination of Scripture qua Scripture. It is only touched upon explicitly in the first question, concerning Sacred Doctrine, and then the real emphasis is on divine revelation, which is not wholly coincident with Scripture. Cardinal Congar, in Tradition and Traditions, demonstrates that “Scripture” was conceived of in a fluid manner right up til the Council of Trent. For instance, the writings of the fathers were often called “Scripture,” even by the likes of St. Thomas. The medieval masters wrestled with the matter of inspiration: What (if anything) distinguishes the apostolic writings from the patristic writings? This issue was only truly adjudicated in the wake of the Reformation, although long before that some distinction was noted. Just some food for thought.

  88. PJ,
    Yes. My article would probably be improved by presenting the thesis as a suggestion rather than a conclusion (less punch). But the notion of the Scriptures “evolving” in Christian thought to single, authoritative, all triumphant text (qua Quran) is significant – more than I think people realize. That Luther and Calvin do not purely invent Sola Scriptura from whole cloth is the heart of the thesis. The idea was already floating around – quite prominently in the Muslim attitude towards holy books. Of course, even Islam does not maintain the single book theory all the time – they have evolved commentaries and other authoritative works. But the Book idea (root of Sola Scriptura) was already waiting for the critical moment in Europe. It’s not at all a radical thesis. If anything, my suggestion shows that we have much more in common (historically) with Islam than we like to admit. It was a very inclusive thesis 🙂

  89. I stand corrected. I certainly do not have any problem with your overall point that “sola scriptura” is “not only wrong but also an inaccurate expression of classical Christianity.” We Catholics agree with the Orthodox view that Tradition comes first and, in fact, was largely responsible for the determination of the canon of scripture.

    I guess that I got sidetracked by some of the comments posted. For example, I cannot accept the characterization that Islam is not a major world religion or that Muhammed was a fraud. Whether or not Muhammed was a fraud in the beginning, the fact is that he did find a major world faith that now claims over 1 billion followers. And, as Dino pointed out, many of the Sufi adepts, such as Al Hallaj, Rumi and Ibn Arabi, could be viewd as anonymous Christian saints. Karl Rahner’s idea of the anonymous Christian who does not confess Jesus Christ in words but who through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is brought to a state of holiness is particularly pertinent here. Does Orthodox Christianity have a similar notion?

    In general, I am very uncomfortable with any view that just flat out states that Jesus Christ is the ONLY WAY PERIOD. In short, Christain exclusivism is something that I can’t agree with. My current AA centered spirituality makes me lean towards the pluralistic view that all religions/spiritualities can lead human beings to the truth. As a Catholic, I can live with Rahner’s notion of the anonymous Christian, which I guess one would call inclusivist Christianity. But I don’t want to get too far afield here!! Sorry for all of these tangential concerns.

  90. John H,
    God wills our salvation and works all things for good. But he does not make a lie to be the truth, no matter how successful it may be. I mean no disrespect to Muslims in pointing out that Muhammed was a fraud or that their religion is based on a fraud. Grace is such that many Muslims are wonderful people (like Christians). But this is because of the grace of God revealed in and through Christ alone. If Muhammed is saved (ever) it would only be through Christ. Because, there is no other God than the God made known to us in Trinity.
    But your success equals ok formula is just strange. How successful does a lie have to be in order to be acceptable. When will the Mormons pass the success test and turn Joseph Smith into an ok liar?
    This form of ecumenism is what Orthodoxy calls “heresy.” Forgive my saying so. May God bless.

  91. I started reading with a certain amount of sympathy. The evangelical-bashing was not unexpected. The muslim-bashing came as a bit more of a shock. The timing of the article rang alarm bells.

    I’ve spent the last few years delving into the psychology of science denial, accompanied by a certain amount of experience on the front lines of the debates, and a few peer-reviewed papers. And the most important thing I have learned is that people like to have their prejudices confirmed and justified. And any reasoning that does so gets a free pass without the critical examination to which other claims might be subject.

    Freeman’s piece starts by drawing some parallels between aspects of evangelicalism and aspects of Islam. At another time, that would be fair enough – I admit the parallels. But just at the moment it is more than a little provocative. Further, he’s doing this for an audience who are in some measure already hostile to both groups.

    He then builds a premise that this is not simply a parallel. Rather, Islam has infected western Christianity. There is a direct intellectual connection between Spanish Christians talking to Muslims, and the unfolding of the protestant reformation in central Europe. Hence modern evangelicals are acting out Islam. They’re probably just waiting to cut off the heads of good Orthodox believers.

    And the problem is that his audience probably want to believe this. Which is what triggers the alarm bells. The attractiveness of the narrative means it is likely to be accepted without the critical examination that it requires.

    So let us at least start that examination. What evidence does Freeman present for his hypothesis of a causal connection? Christians talked to Muslims, then the reformation happened. But that’s a simple post-hoc fallacy (questionable cause). Just because A happened before B does not mean that A caused B. The restoration did not cause the great fire of London. Freeman presents no evidence.

    Luther wrote extensively on Islam, and those writings have been the subject of much study, so there is a wealth of evidence to be consulted. But, in this article at least, Freeman not only does not point us to the evidence, he provides no clues as to where to look. Has he looked? Your guess is as good as mine – he gives nothing away.

    So while I cannot speak with any authority on the content, in form Freeman’s argument looks like ‘dog whistle theology’. Maybe that’s an unfortunate coincidence. But my alarm bells are ringing.

  92. Kevin,
    I think it would be wise to ignore your alarm bells, I am very afraid that interpretation you have conjured above resonates of paranoia…

  93. Interesting Kevin that you attempt to establish a higher ground of reason by using ad hominum arguments at every turn.

    BTW despite the fact that I have seriously disagree with Catholics, Protestants and Muslims I always give their leaders the honor of their

    That is just basic human courtesy.

  94. I implore your prayers for my wife’s niece Jerriana and her nephew Javan in a terrible car wreck. Jerriana is missing and Javon is being Lifewatched from Guymon, OK to here in Wichita, KS

    Thank you.

  95. Dear Father Freeman;

    I honestly don’t know how to respond to your assertion that ecumenism equals heresy. I obviously disagree with that view, which, in my mind, would require Catholics like myself to erase the teachings of Vatican II.

    Perhaps the most appropriate response is a brief meditation on one of my favorite scriptural passages; “By their fruits you shall know them.” As you are undoubtedly aware from your work with substance abusers, AA is a non-denominational group with a very ecumenical spirituality. The notion of the Higher Power is very personal and may not be limited to the beliefs expressed in any creed. For some the Higher Power is indeed a Person like Jesus Christ. For others it is something far more abstract like “the sublime order of nature” or the ground of being. For still others, there is no clear cut notion of what the Higher Power is; sometimes it can even be AA itself.

    Yet AA works miracles every day. It brings dead people back to life. It did no less for me. And for many others besides, So, then, how can so much good, so many miracles come out of a supposedly syncretistic, heretical philosophy?

    I’ll leave everyone with that thought. And with this simple prayer that has worked wonders for so many of us:

    May God grant us all the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change things that we can and the wisdom to know the difference.

  96. John H,

    The problem of the view you present, is that far from affirming any of the beliefs you list, it in fact denies each one of them, their central claims to truth, their world-views, views of God, what it is to be human and total reality. Each of these religions and beliefs have at times very different and conflicting views on God, reality and what it is to be human and what human destiny it is, and are all exclusive in one way or another. The pluralism you advance is common but is really ultimately the most offensive and condescending thing said to other belief systems, namely that any other view besides the view of God and reality that is allowed in the post-Enlightenment Epicureanism (which is what current pluralism effectively advances) is false, but does so in a way which pats these beliefs on the head saying at least you tried, and you were interacting with a bit of the truth, but of course despite what you thought you didn’t really have a clear revelation. But you can continue to uses the forms you used to use, but only as long as you acknowledge and bow to the great and true religion we are declaring (which of course means your views of reality of false of course, but don’t worry, you can still use the terms if you must), much as other religions were allowed to continue in ancient Rome as long as they bowed to Caesar as Lord and acknowledged the supremacy of Rome, but at Rome was a bit more upfront, honest and lest condescending about what it was doing.

    In short, in reality pluralism is nothing of the sort, despite the fact that many of advocate it honestly do it in the most loving and best intentions, and you do, and for AA groups it is quite understandable that there is a focus just on a higher power or God in the broadest terms in view of the recovery focus of such groups. But that cannot be taken out of context, to address honest discussions and interactions between people of different world-views, the first step is to truly love people at least enough to respect and honour what they actually belief in totality, and that it does in fact conflict and differ in some very major ways from what you or I might believe, in how we view reality and orientate our lives to what we think is true and reality. And that in some key areas these are irreconcilable (for instance, are we resurrected and the world renewed and transfigured with death destroyed, the Christian claim, or do we go off to some disembodied heaven ‘somewhere’ leaving this universe and our bodies behind, are we reincarnated until we escape the cycle of rebirth and achieve one-ness of God losing ourselves and our personal identities, or are we shadows and dust, just sub-atomic particles at random that just create illusions of personhood that vanish at death, and so on, only one of these is true or none of them, but not more than on, and the same could be said for views on God, on humans (are we in the image and likeness of God or not?) ).

    Pluralism denies the truth of all the major religions and philosophies, and in effect and practice declares them all false, false gods, false views and false religions, but doesn’t do it in an honest and clear way, but rather in a condescending and deceitful manner that disrespects them and their traditions, and attempts to coerce them and their followers to accepting and bowing to it’s view of reality (it alone claims to be able to see reality clearer than all the others, for all the flattering language it uses to say this). Give me a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris any day of those advocating Pluralism, I d think there is much to most of their output (which is mostly polemics) but at least their are clear and honest about wanting to end all other religious beliefs but their own (though they would never dream of acknowledging that that is what their views are of course 🙂 ).

    However this doesn’t say anything from a Christian perspective that God doesn’t work outside the Church, or that there is nothing of truth in other belief systems, God is God, and humans bear His image, so as Christians we should expect to find much of truth in the traditions and views of others, and expect that the Holy Spirit is active among all people. Also following the Lord Jesus is far more than just saying His name and participating in the Eucharist and so one, it’s a faithful orientation towards Him and participating in the Life and defeat of death He has brought, to orientate our lives in harmony with the grace of God, the Spirit Himself at work in us, to become more and more renewed in the image and likeness of God we were meant to be, and therefore truly human. And that is one that is one lived in love and self-less sacrifice and service to others, to the extent that all being to follow this, they begin to respond to the grace of God and the Lordship of Jesus and begin to participate in the Life and love of God found in Christ Jesus.

    And it is important in these discussions not to confuse questions of eternal destiny and salvation with discussions of who is currently in the Church and so forth (they don’t necessarily mean the same thing, and I assume discussions here are not commenting on the eternal destiny of anyone as such). The reaction of people to Christ’s appearing in His glory and love will be a result of the response to that love before then, and nothing else, for God is described as a consuming fire and He is love, and the same love that will be joy to some will not be at first for some others (with there being open the possibility whether people are then fixed in their current orientation at the resurrection, as I personally am a universalist in the tradition of St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Issac of Syria, and more recent people such as Sergei Bulgakov, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Metropolitan Hiliarion Alfeyev).]

    I hope this doesn’t across as to attacking to you personally, it isn’t meant to be at all (and this isn’t just a back-handed platitude trying to make a attack seem nice with a finishing platitude) as I both have deep respect for you work in AA communities, and an even deeper respect and admiration for your evident love and compassion. Your care and love that motivates your views and actions is supremely important, and I think it very impressive and is something I hope you both never lose and grow ever more in, my only target is rather the wider view that is being set forth by what calls itself pluralism, and the false choices it presents to people of other belief systems and the danger I belief it really represents, particularly when these things are being said with all sincerity and in compassion by those who advance them.

    If I have misunderstood the pluralism you advocate or have misunderstood you in any other way, please forgive me, and I hope you will bear with me as the flawed person I am.

    Also as a disclaimer, I am an Orthodox inquirer, I am not yet a member of the Church and circumstances make the chance of attending a parish and becoming a catechumen very unlikely at the moment, but I do hope to join myself to the Church one day. As such, any distortions or misrepresented views and ideas are purely down to me and my lack of understanding, and I certainly don’t talk with any authority besides my own understanding (which is both far from complete and will be flawed in many areas).

    Anyway, God bless you John and I hope all is well with you and you know His love for both you and all those around you more and more,


  97. Fr. Stephen,

    I’m sure you know by now that I think very highly of your ideas and writing but I do have a bit of a problem with some of how you expressed yourself in your 10/6 comment at 3:43 PM to John H.

    Your references to the founders of other religions as “frauds” and “liars”, while saying you intend no disrespect to their followers makes me uncomfortable. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to agree with Mohammed or Joseph Smith but to accuse them of intentional deception seems unnecessarily inflammatory to me.

    I am certain that you know more than I do about the history of religions. However, it would seem to me that only God knows the intentions of others’ hearts. Was Mohammed misguided in his thinking, deceived himself by the evil one, or did he purposely deceive? Did Joseph Smith fabricate his story alone or was he misled? I don’t know – and don’t need to know in order to believe that they reached erroneous conclusions.

    I certainly agree with your overall point though that we cannot judge what is true by what seems to “work”. For we know that God can use any means to save us if we are willing to be saved. If someone turned to God because of a great tragedy, we would not recommend tragedies for all.

    And I do believe that all who are saved will be saved through Christ – even if they do not know (at first) that it is Christ who saved them. Again, I cite Emeth in C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle. Would you accept this perspective?

    Please forgive me. I am (quite obviously) a sinner.

  98. PJ, what matters with regard to the scriptures is NOT how they are conceived but how they are received. They liturgical documents traditioned to us.

  99. With regard to the sentences: Martin Luther’s, “Hier, stehe ich!” (demanding that only a Scriptural argument would be an acceptable response to his position) would have been unimaginable four or five hundred years before. The “Bible” had not yet become a Christian Quran. Today, however, many Christians are indeed, “People of the Book.”

    To cast Luther as the progenitor of the Bible as a Christian Quran is an unjustifiable redaction. Luther regarded the Bible as God’s infallible Word, yes. He did so because it bore witness to Jesus Christ at the center. He held Scripture highly as Christ did himself for He proclaimed that all Scripture pointed to Himself.

    Luther’s argument at the Diet of Worms was not one of blind allegiance to a “holy book”. He concluded his polemic with the words: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures OR BY CLEAR REASON (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen. In saying this, Luther pointed out that papal authority and ecclesiastical traditions fell short because not only did they stray from the focal point of Scripture but they failed to pass the test of logical non-contradiction. The Reformation promoted Sola Scriptura for only one reason, Sola Christus.

    Christian can, and do fall into error, when they replace Christ as the center with “Christ-plus” and focus on passages taken out of context away from the whole of Scripture. Modern American Evangelicalism may have created a Christian Quran, but neither Luther nor Calvin developed their systematics on such a premise.

  100. Kevin,
    I do not posit direct cause and effect in the article, much less a direct cause to Martin Luther. Rather, that the shift in attitude towards the place of the Book (the Scriptures) from its classical position in which it is deeply integrated within and part of the life of the Church towards a disconnected position to which all must submit (ultimately, Sola Scriptura) is an evolution that occurs as part of and under the influence with the ideas of Islam, where the position originated.

    I cited the conversations in the circles of scholasticism, in which Islamic scholars (like Averroes) were major players, as an example of the mechanism where this change gradually occurred. Those conversations (which were long-lasting) began in about the 12th century and continued through the early 15th century. Sola Scriptura, championed by the Reformers, was not invented by them. The ideas had already begun to surface in various places.

    The Humanism of Erasmus and other leading Scholastic figures also has historic roots in the conversations with Islam. I’m not saying anything strange or novel here – this is simple Western history. Some of the responses make my thesis sound like I’ve asserted something from another planet.

    Averroes’ influence in the rise of Scholasticism is historically so strong that he is called the “Father of Western Secularism.” The Aristotelian revival of which St. Thomas Aquinas was the greatest figure in the West, happened specifically through contact with Islam where the writings of Aristotle were being reintroduced. St. Thomas treats this is a decidedly Catholic, Churchly manner. Though the rise of rationalism, of which I would be critical, is certainly part of his legacy.

    But historically, that rise is clearly an event that began through contact with the Scholasticism of Islam in Spain. It was extremely intellectual. There were formal debates and exchanges of writings. This is all very well known to historians.

    Read good introductions to Medieval thought. Pelikan has a volume or two. Coppleston has some well-worn stuff as well.

    But, the contention that the Scriptures as Sola Scriptura being an Islamic treatment of Christianity, and a diversion from its proper historical form is not new – the Orthodox have said as much for a long time.

    I am not being alarmist in this. As to the heads of Orthodox believers, Muslims have been cutting them off regularly since the 8th century. Only our newspapers only recently began to notice when a couple of Western reporters joined the party. The persecutions of Christians under Islam (who have dominantly been Orthodox) has been unrelenting. It has long been accompanied by the silence of the Western powers and Christians.

    Maybe some alarms should be sounded. But this is not one of them.

  101. James,
    I agree. The original premise of Luther and Calvin was more nuanced (and reasonable) than it quickly became (cf. Melanchton). Modern evangelicalism has taken the ball much further – but they have run in a direction that was set in the original notions of Sola Scriptura.

  102. Mary,
    I think that historical evidence points overwhelmingly to Muhammed’s fraud (and worse, much worse). I would never use fraud or liar with regard to Buddha or Lao Tzu or any number of religious figures. I used it with regard to Muhammed and Joseph Smith for the very precise reason that I think the evidence overwhelmingly points to that being the case. For both men, if they were “deceived” then we would be talking about a very interesting, amazing appearance of the enemy, or their being insane, or their being right. Since I know that neither of them are right, then I have to look elsewhere. Fraud is by far the most plausible answer.

    We’re not talking about figures who are teachers, whose teaching goes a little awry. We are talking about men who claim specific visits and dictated messages by an angel (or golden tablets in Smith’s case). That’s not the same thing at all.

    Now, as to their followers, the comparisons with Tash and Aslan are more apropos. But Tash is not Aslan. Muhammed is not a misguided, well-intentioned religious leader.

  103. John H,
    I hold AA in the highest regard and think it is indeed a measure of grace that God respects even the agnostic faith in a “higher power.” He is such a good God that He makes this so. But this says something about God, not the virtues of the language of higher power. The miracles do not come from a philosophy. They come from God, who is so kind as to hear the prayers of all.

    “He is kind to the evil and the ungrateful” (Luke 6:35).

    Orthodoxy rejects any ecumenism that would relativize the faith that we have received.

  104. Stimulating article and commentary! I actually noticed this past Sunday the pastor summing up the gospel as a submission to Christ of sorts. I get that evangelicals want to boil their message down to the essential elements for easy accessibility, but as this conversation has showed, a foreign, bitter salt has been dissolved in the “gospel” as it were, and when boiling this down, we get more poisonous mineral deposits than anything resembling the beauty and hope of Immanuel.

    The end of your article, Fr. Stephen and this comment from Michael B:

    “The problem with the Bible as “A Holy Book” is that such an idea is fundamentally anti-incarnational. It ignores the fact that Jesus took on our full human nature so that we might share intimately in the divine nature, not from afar and not in subjection to anything but the ineffable love that gives rise to the incarnation.”

    Reminds me of a poem by Edwin Muir, “The Incarnate One” from which I will paste one stanza:

    The Word made flesh here is made word again
    A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook.
    See there King Calvin with his iron pen,
    And God three angry letters in a book,
    And there the logical hook
    On which the Mystery is impaled and bent
    Into an ideological argument.

  105. …this is simple Western history….Read good introductions to Medieval thought. Pelikan has a volume or two. Coppleston has some well-worn stuff as well….”

    This suggestion is quite novel to modern “educated” man – even those who have university educations. Can you imagine what this conversation would be like if even only a minority of posters had actually read Pelikan, or Coppleston?!? What are the chances of these two authors even being on a suggested reading list in today’s academy? I was blessed to have had a history professor force me to read (and I mean really read) Hyman and Walsh’s “Philosophy in the Middle Ages”. How rare such an experience must be…

  106. Dean

    Thanks much for your well wishes. I will not be participating in discussions on this blog because my views have essentially been anathematized by Father Freeman. May God bless you.

  107. Anthony Daly,
    with due respect, have you read the Ground rules for this Blog? (on the right margin)
    Your comment must have been rightly deleted (as was my response to you) because it did not adhere to these.
    We must remember that to describe someone as a ‘bigot’ etc. -which you seem to repeat here above again:

    the priest and that guy’s bigotry

    only serves to make your comment seem bigoted – not the persons you describe as such.
    In fact when you resort to characterisations like ‘ludicrous’ etc -forgive me but one struggles not to think that- your comment itself takes on a ludicrous tone.
    My thoughts are that deletion of these exchanges (of such a tone) are to the credit of this blog.

  108. Anthony,
    Your comments of late have been deleted because they do not adhere to the ground rules. Persistence will result in being blocked from commenting. I wrote and have answered questions appropriately. My statements are simply characterized as bigotry, etc. You have used slanderous descriptions of myself and my priesthood (charlatan, etc.). This contributes nothing to the conversation.

  109. The meaning and use of such words as “racist” and “bigot” used to be reserved for the most obvious cases of real condescension and hatred. These days they are used willy-nilly in ad hominum attacks against those who differ in opinion from one’s own.

    It is sad evidence of the intolerance of the secular world that likes to pride itself on having tolerance.

    Such attitudes make it quite difficult to understand the traditional Orthodox beliefs especially those which claim exclusivity such as “No man can come to the Father except by me.” “There is no salvation outside the Church” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

    One thing that needs to be remembered: There is a difference between statements of dogma and the pastoral application of those truths. Pastoral applications are unique to the particular person or situation and cannot really be addressed in a venue such as this.

    Upon entering the Orthodox Church I discovered that she does one crucial thing which every other Christian and non-Christian expression of faith I had investigated (a lot) did not do. The Orthodox Church takes the whole of the Gospel and one’s life into account. That is a demonstration of the reality that the Church is the fullness of the truth.

    EXAMPLE: St. Paul says many times in his epistles that we should not deviate from the truth under any circumstances or the consequences are dire.

    At the same time he says that we should go boldly before the throne of Grace.

    Every other tradition I investigated took one of those statements (or similar ones) only and used it as the norm. Either everybody risked damnation (and they could tell you who) or actions simply did not matter. All was forgiven anyway.

    The Orthodox Church in her teaching and practice treats the totality of both statements in addressing the unique situation and needs of each person. (Clearly not always and not to perfection each and every time OK?)

    Many people have a great deal of difficulty maintaining the balance of the antinomies of the Christian life. That difficulty has lead to most heresies. That difficulty certainly is present in the way in how the Holy Scriptures are approached, used and interpreted.

    Thus when Father Stephen makes the comments on the Bible he has made recently, that means to some that he is trashing the Bible. When he simply asserts the truth claims that Jesus Christ and His Church have always made he is castigated as a bigot and one who pronounces anathemas.

    In fact he is simply exercising his priesthood in obedience. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

    Father, thank you for your work and your prayers.

  110. Dino…”dittos” to your comments to Anthony. Ad hominem attacks have no place on this site.
    John…I hope you continue on the blog with both reading and responses. Another Catholic, Mary Benton, often spars with Father Stephen. But they hold one another in high esteem and despite some jabs and punches know that they “fight” 🙂 for the same Manager.

  111. Somewhat related to this discussion: Hans Boersma has written a fine book called “Heavenly Participation” which is a popular – level treatment of his research into the nouvelle theologie movement of the 20th century. In it he argues that evangelicals and Catholics both suffer from a “cutting of the sacramental tapestry” woven by the Platonist-Christian synthesis of the Fathers. The sacramental ontology of the Fathers gave way to nominalism, univocality, and voluntarism, effectively rending the sacramental link between earth and heaven rooted in creation ‘ s participation in the eternal Word of God. Nature and “supernature” were now unlinked realities (the “two stories” analogy?) whose relationship had to be rethought and redescribed.

    This cutting of the tapestry was done well before the Reformation and indeed planted the seeds of it.

    This had tragic consequences for the western church’s understanding of the Church, Scripture, Tradition, and Sacraments. Boersma ‘ s only real mention of Orthodoxy is a passing comment that they never really lost the sacramental participation ontology:-)

    His basic thesis is that only by recovering this sacramental ontology, this tapestry of participation of earth and heaven via the eternal Word, will the west ever come close to resolving the protestant/catholic disputes on these issues. Of course, the Orthodox would probably say just solve the disputes by becoming Orthodox:-)

    Although, Boersma does not engage with Islam in this book, I’m interested in the Islamic influence on the Scholastic a mentioned in the comments here. Boersma names names like Berengar, Scotus, Ockham etc. I’d love to hear more about the influence of Islam on these thinkers. Thanks for a fascinating discussion!


  112. Part of the problem some of the Catholic’s and others might be having here is one we all face when we try to understand other “world views”. Can one truly “dialogue” with another “faith tradition”, and if so, on what grounds (of reason, language, etc.) do you do this since it is this very ground that can not be agreed upon. One thinks of just the title of one of Alasdair MacIntyre’s books “Who’s Justice, Which Rationality”.

    Stanley Fish and Fr. Neuhaus had a very interesting debate in the mid nineties over at First Things that is still on the website (start with Fish’s “Why we can’t all just get along”). In the end, I think it is Fish who has the better of the argument, though Fr. Neuhaus had some important counter points (and Fish is an Atheist!). He articulates well why classical Christianity can not accept the “tolerance” of “the liberal round table” – namely because the ideas that such a space/discussion presuppose.

    Of course, the diversity within Orthodoxy itself about what “ecumenism” is and what sort of “ecumenism” is acceptable is a problem. Someone mentioned Vatican II above. Well, Istanbul seems to have wholly accepted Rome’s “two lungs” ecclesiology, yet I would wager most of the rest of Orthodoxy has not (e.g. Athos’ has been resisting this for decades). What is an outsider to make of that?

    In the end, most of those who have problems with the characterization Muhammad as a fraud, or AA’s “higher power” as a certain kind of philosophical assertion, etc., seem to be (unconsciously mostly?) presupposing Fish’s “liberal round table” and all that entails…

  113. Ron,
    I’ve not read Boersma, but it sounds like I would like him a lot (and find him largely in agreement). Fr. A. Schmemann was pretty much a starting point for me in his observations regarding the secular and the destruction of true and classical symbolism (Boersma Platonist-Christian synthesis). He points towards a much earlier loss of this in Roman Catholic thought as well.

    I do not like pinpointing these things, because cultural change and the history and evolution of ideas is broader and slower, I think. Thus we have to point to a number of things. But he is correct that the East does not go in that direction and maintains the Patristic synthesis (which is already present in the NT, we would say). The East came under an onslaught of cultural domination and difficulties (the so-called “Western Captivity”) over its last few centuries and has been recovering itself since a point in the late 19th century. Many complain about “West bashing” in Orthodox writers, but it’s just the sound of the East coming back to its own senses.

    The process that I’ve described (broadly) of the Medieval discussions involves things of which the Reformation and Enlightenment are the result. Things don’t just “happen” – they have precursors, etc. Anyone who thinks that Sola Scriptura is a Protestant invention and not just a Protestant emphasis, doesn’t understand how history works.

    The absence of Sola Scriptura (for example) in the East is simply evidence that it was a later development – for the East, as Boersma notes, has preserved earlier thought and understandings.

    And yes, the Orthodox would say the only solution for these things is a return to Orthodoxy (conversion) because they really cannot be “re-invented.” The fullness is just too large to borrow. But Orthodox is generous, and receives converts (like myself) very gladly and then treats us with amazing respect and kindness.

  114. MacIntyre’s always useful…Fish was at Duke when I was there…

    It is indeed hard for others to grasp the Orthodox approach to notions like ecumenism. The fact that we actually think we are right and that our main task is remaining faithful to what has been given to us is decidedly outside the paradigm of the modern world. Others do not see that a “relativizing” of that inheritance would mean its rapid destruction. They “like” Orthodoxy, but not on our own terms.

    Oddly, Orthodoxy would rather deal with Rome without ecumenism. The distinctions are valid and worth discussing. The kind of dialog that seeks to blur differences in the name of “getting along” etc. muddy the waters. We can respect and discuss differences – but not if the differences are neglected.

    I like the little book “The Nature of Doctrine” by Lindbeck in its understanding of these things. Orthodoxy’s anti-ecumenism is greatly misunderstood (and often interpreted in terms of “mean-spiritedness” etc.).

    The Pat. of Constantinople’s ecumenism is often a source of dismay to most of Orthodoxy. Frankly, from a Russian Orthodox point-of-view, his ecumenism is often seen as an effort to position himself as superior to Moscow (or any of the other Patriarchs). Thus, there may be more inter-Orthodox politics going on than true ecumenism. The West forgets that “Byzantine” also has a meaning of “cunning,” “baffling,” “intrigue,” etc. I almost never take major pronouncements at face value. I also am decidedly pro-Moscow in most things ecclesiastical.

  115. Fr. Stephen,

    I agree that you would probably find much value in Boersma’s book, certainly with disagreements with Boersma’s optimistic ecumenism and purposeful focus on the West.

    I think one of the valuable take-aways from “Heavenly Participation” is that it locates Catholic/Protestant differences with regard to authority, church, scripture, tradition, and sacraments well before the Reformation and sees the breakdown leading up to it as a systemic problem in the West. If an Orthodox says that, it’s “west-bashing,” but Boersma writes as an ecumenically-minded Reformed Protestant and so offers a critique very similar to someone like Schmemann but from within the Western tradition.

    It supports the claim by many Orthodox thinkers that RC and Protestantism are “two sides of the same coin.” As such, Boersma’s work is not well-received by either hardline confessional Reformed folks or hardline Neo-Thomist Catholics. It’s much more welcome in circles of Protestants and Catholics of the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” type.

    Orthodoxy certainly has its problems, but Boersma makes an important point that I wish he would’ve pursued further: That the EO on the whole have never lost the patristic mindset regarding Church, Scripture/Tradition, and Sacraments to which he refers.

    As an Anglican, I’m struggling with the optimism of his view that all this can be recovered by ecumenical consensus vs. the Orthodox view that one need only (and *can* only) approach the Church where this was never lost.

    Re: the email address, thanks. I sent you a note few days ago but perhaps it got lost in cyberspace.


  116. Regarding the Patriarch of Constantinople: It is usually useful to remember that he and the Patriarchate in general are under constant pressure from the (supposedly secular) Turks. They want to cleanse the Turkish lands of Orthodox Christians–Greek ones anyway. Pat. Bartholomew receives death threats on a regular basis and there have been a number of small bombs found near the Phanar (the Orthodox neighborhood in Istanbul) over the years.

    His approach to protect himself and his office has been to curry favor with Rome (and certain western elites) while trying to ‘pull rank’ within the Orthodox world. One can argue with the wisdom of his approach and its effectiveness, but it has a number of historical precedents.

    IMO, he would be better off working with other Orthodox rather than trying to curry favor with non-Orthodox. We’d all be better off. But, he is a Patriarch and I am not (praise God!!!)

    I have found that many here in the U.S. are perplexed by a non-monolithic hierarchy. It is difficult to understand the unity and strength the Orthodox Church has in spite of our rather public squabbles.

    I have a friend who is a former RC Priest. He decided in seminary that the Papal approach was a better way to protect traditional Christian doctrine and practice rather than the conciliar Orthodox way. That was why he finished seminary and was ordained. He has since changed his mind.

  117. Father,

    “Many complain about “West bashing” in Orthodox writers, but it’s just the sound of the East coming back to its own senses.”

    I am all for critical dialogue. But it must be informed. If, for instance, one wants to discuss the “Scholastics” (a category that includes such diverse figures as Abelard and Aquinas, Bonaventure and Banez), one should actually read Scholastic theology, and not just Orthodox critiques thereof. At very least, one should read competent, sympathetic accounts of Scholasticism. I assume that both Catholics and Orthodox want to see an end to this terrible schism. Reunion requires a genuine effort to understand — and appreciate — each other’s identities. I have tried to encourage Catholics to read eastern fathers, to think with an eastern mind, to take seriously the critiques emanating from the oriental churches. In doing so, I follow the lead of popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, all of whom praise the “light from the east.” I pray that this generosity of spirit and openness of mind is reciprocated among you, our brothers in Christ.

  118. PJ,

    I understand the good will and intent that you express. Some of what you describe is made difficult in Orthodoxy for the very reason that Scholasticism was effectively rejected in the Hesychast Councils of the 14th century – that is – it is not just a different way of doing theology – but was found to be a wrong way, or a way contrary to Orthodoxy.

    It’s possible to overplay that. St. John of Damascus, for example, has some early (extremely early) tendencies towards a Scholasticism – but does not represent a School of thought, etc.

    Scholasticism today is not the method within Roman Catholicism. It has not repudiated it, except in practice. Am I not right in thinking that there is a tension about this within Roman Catholicism itself?

    Most of the dialog between Orthodox and Rome is built on the common mind prior to the schism – and that mind is pre-Scholastic. The dialogs on their formal level have in no way asked of Orthodoxy that it somehow make an accommodation for Medieval Western Scholasticism.

    And the common mind of the pre-schism Church is not anti-Western. It was the mind of the West as well. I have stated any number of times that the “critique” of the West is an extremely “Western” thing.

    I myself am probably one of the most Westernized Orthodox writers that I know – but that is another topic.

    But I appreciate the thoughts. Blessings!
    Fr. Stephen

  119. Father,

    I hardly expect you all to become Thomists! My point is to encourage a critical but sympathetic familiarity with the each other’s traditions. Scholasticism (which I use only as an example) has lost some of its prominence, but it is and always will be part of Catholic identity.

    Truthfully, there is abundant spiritual sustenance in the writings of a St. Thomas, a St. Bonaventure, a Richard of St. Victor, even for Orthodox. That is why Latin writings proliferated in the east into the fifteenth century — even among anti-unionists. St. Thomas especially has much to offer, for he labored intently to understand and incorporate the wisdom of the “Greeks” into his corpus (including some who lived after the schism!).

    I recognize that there are real differences between us. So be it! But that is no excuse for ignorance or polemic. We are Christians and we love the truth. If we study each other’s traditions closely, with eyes that are at once critical and appreciative, then we can engage in productive discussions that are characterized by charity and truth. That seems like the only standard for which Christians should strive.

  120. By the way, I don’t know if I’ve told you all, but my wife recently gave birth to our first child, a son: his name is Augustine. 😛

  121. PJ,
    Father Nikolaos Loudovikos (highly respected Professor -President of the University of Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Winchester in Cambridge) has recently deviated from his usual Maximian-Palamite specialization and written on this very topic of Thomist theology. His recent book (which I read in Greek but I am guessing exists in English)

    ‘The strive for participation: Thomas Aquinas and Gregory Palamas”,

    demonstrates a depth of knowledge of Aquinas probably unrivaled in Orthodoxy, he is very positive and insightful. His books are difficult and highl philosphical terminology is required –

  122. Dino,

    That book sounds wonderful. Scholarly interest in St. Thomas’ relationship with the east seems to have increased lately, among both Orthodox and Catholic scholars. Few realize that the Latin world “rediscovered” the Greek fathers in the thirteenth century. (It was Richard of St. Victor who first realized that St. Paul never used the word “predestination.”) St. Thomas was always trying to get his Italian paws on decent translations of the great oriental masters. The Summa is structured according to the exitus-reditus model he learned from the likes of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, the thirteenth century saw a miniature “renaissance,” as the European universities were flooded with Islamic and Greek learning (both Christian and pagan), by way of cities like Naples, in which St. Thomas often dwelt. Fascinating stuff.

    Thank you for your prayers.

  123. Another intriguing point: St. Thomas’ christology was deeply influenced by his time spent studying the acts of the great patristic councils, which were housed in the Vatican library. Apparently, few Latins (if any) had thought of methodically examining these documents. By carefully reading them, he “touched” the minds of the ancient eastern fathers, especially St. Cyril of Alexandria.

  124. Fr. Stephen, in your comment from 10/9 at 1:25 PM, you stated…. “Fr. A. Schmemann was pretty much a starting point for me in his observations regarding the secular and the destruction of true and classical symbolism….”

    If you are referring to specific books by Fr. A. Schmemann, would you be so kind as to mention the names of those books? I’d like to read them.

  125. Alan,
    It is Fr. Schmemann’s two essays appended to For the Life of the World that I have in mind. Oddly, I like them and find them more important than the entire rest of the book!

  126. I am surprised no one has mentioned Marcus Plested’s recent work, nor the sympathetic criticism of Fr. Louth. We have narratives of history of course – the most powerful are rarely accurate. I suspect much of the Eastern critique of Scholasticism benefits and suffers from this tendency.

  127. Father, as a muslim, I find your points very valid
    1. The bible is not comparable to the qur’an, it is possible that the miraculous nature of the qur’an (you should google it!) drove christian scholars to elevate the status of the bible in return, thus giving it a status it was never meant to have in the first place.
    2. We agree that modern day christians are not ‘people of the book’ in the qur’anic sense as they have paganism (easter, Christmas etc) included in their religion which wasn’t there at the start
    3. I also agree that christians should return to the originals, which is closer to islam.
    We should meet up! Have a good day…

  128. patrick and Christopher,

    I’ve been thinking about your comments about yoga these past few days. As an Orthodox Christian, I share your concern, patrick, not to inadvertently engage in a spiritually destructive practice. However, I also work in healthcare, and I’ve found the physical benefits of yoga to be instrumental in some individuals’ rehabilitation.

    It’s occurred to me that perhaps we can draw an analogy between the use of yoga for physical purposes (without guided meditation, for example) and the variety of body language meanings throughout the world’s cultures. The “OK” and “thumb’s up” signs do not have transcendent meanings, only culturally relative meanings. Context provides the appropriate clues necessary to decode the intended meaning. There are many examples of this kind of variation in body language.

    Perhaps the Physician of our souls and bodies can therefore use yoga postures intended as physical exercise to the benefit of those with innocent intent?

  129. Dear Father Freeman;

    Please allow me to follow-up on your comment that Orthodoxy rejects any ecumenism that relativizes the faith that we have received. Would you have any problem with the following statement by the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner which explains his notion of the “Anonymous Christian”?

    “Anonymous Christianity means that a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity… Let us say, a Buddhist monk… who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God; of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. But I cannot do that. And so, if I hold if everyone depends upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and if at the same time I hold that many live in the world who have not expressly recognized Jesus Christ, then there remains in my opinion nothing else but to take up this postulate of an anonymous Christianity.”

    As a Roman Catholic the above statement represents my position with respect to Christianity’s relationship with those of other faiths. Do I wish that it went even further? Of course, but I recognize that this is simply not possible without completely relativizing the message of Jesus Christ. Having clarified my position with respect to ecumenism, would you kindly retract your charge that my views are heretical?

    I must admit that I am very sensitive to any charge of heresy. To me it is a dirty word, analogous to a person being labeled a criminal in the legal arena. And it is unfortunately a charge that tends to stick; the passage of time does not mollify its negative effects. Let us consider the example of Origen of Alexandria. He was a staunch defender of the Christian faith, vigorously combatting the heresies of his day, namely Gnosticism and Marcionism. He was one of the earliest theologians to make use of the allegorical method for interpreting Scripture and he died a martyr’s death. Yet 300 years after his death, when he was hardly in a position to defend himself, he was anathematized by the 5th Council for advocating the Christian doctrine of apokatastasis and for purportedly being a subordinationist. Never mind that the Origenism of the 6th Century had absolutely nothing to do with his actual views. That’s rather like holding Thomas Jefferson and John Adams responsible for Roe v. Wade because they wrote the Constitution!! And to this day theologians debate whether Origen should have been declared a heretic by the 5th Council. Just for the record, what is your personal view on this issue? I have deduced from your writings that you are “hopeful universalist” so I presume that you at least have some sympathies with Origen’s views.

    OK, I’ve ranted enough. I do hope that you will reconsider the charge of heresy; it is a serious matter for me. Thank you and God Bless!!

  130. John H,
    I certainly withdraw that comment. I only used the term because it is something that at least for some Orthodox currently has the force of being formally condemned by a Holy Synod.

    I would never have used Rahner’s language for various reasons. First, salvation is something that belongs to God, not us. God is not willing that any should perish, according to the Scripture. It is certainly possible that someone’s religious practice (Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) could be salutary – viz. Acts 17:27. It is also possible for religious practices apart from Christ to be positively harmful. And it is possible for Christian religious practices to be done in a manner that is harmful as well.

    But God is kind and works in all things at all times for our salvation. But salvation does not mean going to heaven. Salvation means being eternally in communion with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Thus there can only be salvation in and through Christ, because that’s what salvation is.

    I think Rahner’s view reflects a too much institutionalized understanding of salvation. Orthodoxy does not have such a view. Neither does Orthodoxy declare that only Orthodox Christians will be saved. God alone knows who will be saved, but is at work to save us all and everything.

    Orthodoxy has become very sensitive on the topic of ecumenism because it sees it as a peculiar modernist deformation of the very heart of the Christian faith, that is driven primarily by a political view of the world and salvation. Salvation is the process and end of being truly and fully in communion with God in Christ…nothing more…nothing less. Orthodoxy is not an institution, but is the fullness of that life of salvation. It does not see itself as an institution among other institutions, nor does it see Orthodox Christianity as a religion among religions. The problem therefore with ecumenism is that invites us to see ourselves in a false manner.

    It is in this sense that we therefore call it a “heresy.”

    I hope that is helpful.

  131. John H,
    I do not think that Father’s words are a “charge of heresy” –an ad hominum criticism on your “views being heretical”. It is rather a necessary pastoral clarification, an important reminder that salvation outside of Orthodoxy cannot be labeled an “ok formula”.

    I thought that all he was saying is that (irrespective of God’s power to save through “a lie”) we must never “call the lie acceptable” (as this can mislead others). Orthodoxy’s rejection of ecumenism as a power relativizing “the faith we have received” is quite a simple notion is it not?.

  132. I am naturally curious on a lot of things but I will have to admit, as a practicing heathen, and just between you, me and Connie Chung, a Protestant, I probably would not have, under normal circumstance, read Fr. Stephen Freeman’s article, despite its catchy title, had it not been brought to my attention by a friend from long ago who also happens to be an Orthodox Christian. I am not at all certain just why Bill, short for William, emailed me with a link. Maybe it’s because I had just returned from a three week trip to Russia or the fact that my wife was born and baptized in a Russian Orthodox Church in the former USSR, a country which prided itself for its atheistic tendencies, or maybe he simply remembers me as a fellow that couldn’t resist jumping head first into a good debate such as is going on here. For whatever reason he sent it to me; I am glad he did for I found it thought provoking and the follow-on comments, most of which I read, added spice to the “Friar Tuck’s” dialogue. Suffice it to say it shed light on an area that had for me remained mainly in the shadowy recesses of my mind, until now. I will shortly end this preamble to get to the meat and potatoes of what I really have to say after letting you know that neither my wife nor I are church going practicing Christians. Oh we are believers, of sorts, but my other half got baptized as a baby while still in diapers, as I believe is customary in the Orthodox Church, something that I never thought counted for much – be patient with me, remember I am a backslidden Protestant – given she never had a word to say about what was happening to her at the time. Oh don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to her being Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant or Buddhist, the Moscow Patriarch or the Pope (I know such a thing isn’t possible, you know, given she is a she.) so long as she had a primary role in making that decision.

    Whatever I may have read of John Calvin or Martin Luther was eons ago but the impression left by the good Father is a good deal different than I am able to recall from my limited reading on the subject matter at hand. While I admire Father Freeman’s attempt to enlighten the flock and those who have been sitting on the sideline soaking up everything that was said, where even at times I found myself in agreement, I held my tongue, waiting to see how things played out. I also thought it most likely a pointless effort on my part, to paraphrase an earlier statement made by John H, I chose not to participate in a discussion on this blog because my views would have essentially been anathematized by Father Freeman. Maybe that is ‘unfriar’ to Fr.Freeman, even a bit harsh. It is his blog after all and it is an Orthodox blog to boot so what right do I, an outsider and potential trouble maker, have to join in? As you can see, I overrode my own inclinations, reservations and common sense so here I am. Howdy! Father Freeman if’in I were you, I might give consideration to not publishing what I have to say on your blog. If on the other hand you do then my hat is off to you!

    Over the centuries Muslims and Christians shared more than just the zeal of war, as is the tip of the iceberg, expressed in the conflicts in the Balkans, the Crusades (excluding the fourth Crusade- it being Roman Christendom against Byzantine Constantinople), the whole Mediterranean basin itself, including the Battle of Malta and Lepanto. Fortunately there was more interchange between Muslim and Christian than depicted between the French Hugunots and the Ottoman Empire. For Protestants in general and England in particular, the age old adage, ‘the enemy of my enemy…’ was, to some extent, shall we say, fitting. Protestants, like Jews, found a haven in Moorish Spain that was not available in the Holy Roman Empire. And yes Protestants and Muslims did share a theological viewpoint or two – both were opposed to monastic orders and to the use of icons in the worship place (Iconclast). Elizabeth I also reportedly said ‘Protestantism was closer to Islam than Catholicism’ but surely no one with any sense of fair play would deduce that she believed Protestantism to be anything but Christian. Correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that Christian Orthodoxy and Islam also share a theological precept or two, starting with the belief that homosexuality is a sin and also that life in the womb is sacred. Digging deeper a person might discover other commonalities between the two but surely any such similarities should not be interpreted to mean there exist a touch of ‘Orthodox Islam’ among the Orthodox faithful. Martin Luther is also reported to have said that, ‘A smart Turk makes a better ruler than a dumb Christian.’ It would be a great leap forward, however, to infuse Protestantism and Islam based on this and similar comments. Other comments, quiet opposite in substance and tone, were offered by Martin Luther. It would be interesting to see the primary sources used by Fr. Freeman that led him to draw several of the conclusions he made in his article. Perhaps they are available and unbeknownst to me and if so we all should be exposed to them.

    Had it not been for the scientific and artistic interchanges, often informal, between Christians and Moorish Muslims of Cordova, the Renaissance may never have gotten off the ground, leaving the soon to be enlighten Christians in an intellectual Dark Age. Someone on the blog left a comment of the Muslim use of the word ‘infidel’. To be sure but lest we skew its usage we need to remind ourselves that one of the earliest usages of the term ‘Infidel’ was by Pope Urban II in a speech to the Christian faithful, to stir them to action prior to the first Crusade. (Actually five versions of his speech have been attributed to him so I suppose we are free to pick and choose as it meets our fancy.) Depending on one’s proclivities, the Pope reportedly told his audience that ‘Christ commands it!’; for the ‘soldiers of God to go out and destroy the vile/wicked race – to go against the infidels’; The Pope also made his own promises to the faithful Christian soldiers, the well-to-do and the not-so-well-to-do that he hoped would soon be marching off to Zion’s holy war. Compared to the promises we hear today that is ostensibly made to the Muslim faithful dying in a Jihad, in my opinion Pope Urban II could have drummed up more support among those sitting on the fence to go fight the infidels had he not been living such a secluded celibate life behind the walls. It goes without saying and is almost a sure thing to declare that most of the faithful soldiers, Muslim or Christian, were men who were either not practicing celibates or who had plans to soon change their status. I hope I am not out of line in an attempt at levity on this blog but the promise of Seventy-two Virgins in the afterlife would have been, and probably still is, more appealing to the average male than the promise to play a harp at the pearly gates for all eternity – most certainly so for many of the more viral who wished to join in the occupation of God ordained plunders, be it in this life or the next.

    Among those who call themselves Christians, be they Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant, there will never be ecumenicity betwixt and between. Such a declaration will produce a sign among some of the brethren while others will say Amen. Like the Chinese of old, who believed they resided at the center of the Universe, alone and privy to God’s truth and well coded secrets, so too there are those today who believe they are so situated and comfortable with such thinking. On this all I can say is I believe the most convincing argument a person can make of the ‘rightness’ of their faith is for them to live by what they believe and the preaching will take care of itself. The finger pointing becomes unnecessary and counterproductive and others can’t help but be convinced that there’s something irresistible and worth looking into further.


  133. I am following the discussion on ecumenism with interest. Fr. Stephen, could you clarify what you mean by “ecumenism” when you are declaring it a lie? (Words are such interesting things and may conjure up different ideas for different people.)

    Orthodoxy is not an institution, but is the fullness of that life of salvation. It does not see itself as an institution among other institutions, nor does it see Orthodox Christianity as a religion among religions. The problem therefore with ecumenism is that invites us to see ourselves in a false manner.

    In a mystical sense, I understand what you mean – as Truth transcends institution, religion, etc. On the other hand, no one would consider me Orthodox unless I received the sacraments as administered by a priest ordained by an institution call the Orthodox church – regardless of what was in my heart. In other words, I would need to change religions, at least as the world would describe it. Correct?

    Also, if the Orthodox were to engage in dialogue with others (as you do here), pray occasionally with non-Orthodox believers or engage in charitable works in the community along side of non-Orthodox believers – would that qualify as part of the “lie” of ecumenism and is therefore something to be avoided? If so, why?

    If not, what is the “ecumenism” meaning that you would consider the thing to be avoided?

    I am not asking any of this with any sarcasm. As a Catholic, I grew up believing that I must never step inside of the church of my Lutheran playmate for fear that I would taught something “false”. The only impact I see that “ecumenism” (as I understand it) has had on me is to make me more open to understanding and accepting others – not to change my beliefs. I am able to talk, pray and do good works with those whose theology differs from mine and we have mutual respect.

  134. Mary,
    the way you just described it occurred to me that ecumenism would perhaps be a different thing to someone outside of the Orthodox Church (perhaps even a bridge to reception to Orthodoxy) and a very different thing to someone inside it (a bridge to apostasy).

  135. Mary,
    An Orthodox priest is not allowed to participate commonly in a non-Orthodox service. An exception is made for things like a common prayer event in a Civil setting. Some Orthodox object even to the common services of prayer (not liturgies) that the Patriarch of Constantinople has done with the Pope. These are hard for us to understand, given that such things are forbidden by the canons.

    Prayer is “communion” just like the common cup. So it’s somewhat problematic.

    It is possible to describe Orthodoxy institutionally but it is misleading, I think (and some Orthodox do so gladly). It is a way of life lived in communion.

    The ecumenism that is condemned is one that considers the truth to be somehow separate from and invisibly different from any particular expression of that truth. So every particular expression is only relatively true. And we are encouraged to me somehow on the grounds of that non-particular more generalized truth. This we think is false. The Truth is quite particular, even Transcendently Particular as I have written. These various generalized movements are subtle efforts that seek to relativize and devalue every particular. But somebody else is running the general and misuses it to accomplish their own agenda.

    Orthodox professes the particular character of its faith and is willing to suffer the consequences of never relativizing it. But as soon as you relativize yourself, you cease to have anything particular to say – you, in fact, become meaningless and superfluous.

    I personally think that ecumenism is part of the agenda of the Modern Nation States. The “unity” they would put forward to us is a unity that serves the secular state. “Why can’t you Christians all get along?” etc.

    Mutual respect is not a problem. But mutually contradictory claims being treated as somehow equal is simple nonsense. If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, for example, then Muhammed is, at best, a liar. He cannot be true in any way, shape or form.

  136. “of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ”

    There is a way (probably numerous ways) out of this dialectic trap that that Karl Rahner sets up here. Taking Rahner’s dialectic to it’s logical conclusion, would not all people have to be declared “Christians” because as the Church says Christ is “Everywhere present, and fillest all things”. Indeed, you would not even need the modifier “anonymous”. One reason why Orthodoxy rejects Scholasticism is it is just full of dialectical cul-de-sacs and dead ends such as this…

  137. “Perhaps the Physician of our souls and bodies can therefore use yoga postures intended as physical exercise to the benefit of those with innocent intent?”

    This certainly makes sense to me Laura. Just as the “peace sign” is now nothing more than a pop culture symbol and marketing tool, we have to admit that “yoga” is in most people’s understanding a mere form of exercise. They might have a vague sense of it’s religious roots, but could not tell you a single significant detail. Thus, I am not sure how it has any real”esoteric” meaning/gnostic threat, though perhaps Patrick would disagree…

  138. Christopher,

    I agree with your comment here (referencing Laura’s) regarding yoga. I learned some basic hatha yoga when I was teenager more than 40 years ago, knowing nothing of its relationship to Hinduism. For years now, I have done much of my praying sitting on the floor in a “yoga” position (only identified as such because that is where I learned it). My prayer is thoroughly and exclusively Christian – as I would not know how to pray otherwise. But I find it a helpful way to sit because it keeps my back straight, enabling deeper breathing and thus leaves my mind more alert and “watchful”. (My mind still has a ways to go in that area, but I do much better than if I were sitting in a chair or even standing.)

  139. Father,
    seeing the last few comments, please, PLEASE, take time to address tge topic of yoga and other aparently ‘harmless techniques’ — for the benefit of your Orthodox audience.
    From what I’ve observed, they ar pervasive and difficult to remove from one’s practices, once he’s had contact with them.
    Our fathers warn frequently and heavily against oriental techniques and I noticed one wipo do obedience abd move mountains for his priest but only until one is asked to renounce all things yoga — this is a big clashing point.

  140. lex,
    I agree that it is a serious problem, but it also depends on one’s personal circumstances.
    I know of an Elder who is adamantly against oriental practices, almost too much, who nevertheless gave his blessing to one of his spiritual children with a long prehistory of martial arts to use such techniques in his daily training!
    Of course it all depends on where we are on our journey of progressing towards unity with God. We cannot enforce rules that are not freely embraced by the followers of the said rules, that is not Orthodoxy. The rules are there, we know them, yes, but we cannot enforce them on others until they are ready and almost begging to adhere to them.
    Just like a drug addict might be initially asked to take up weight-lifting or martial-arts (if he has such a propensity) as an effective practice, due to its incompatibility with their addiction, but after they are liberated from the addiction, maybe even to the point that they have chosen to become a monk after some years, then the advise of their father might change to asking them to take up a large number of prostrations (something they were certainly not yet ready for in the very beginning )…

  141. Lex,

    Perhaps you don’t understand just what sort of “yoga” we are speaking of. It is simply a collection of physical poses and stretches – it has been truly divorced of it’s “eastern” and “religious” content. Indeed, as I said upstream many of these exercises have very similar antecedents in western “gymnasium”. As a competitive (well, not all that competitive any more – too old and slow!) Jui-jitsu competitor, they simply help me keep my body from being injury and that is all. Indeed as I age, I spend more time doing this aspect simply to keep from being injured. Of the several “yoga techniques” I use, I could not tell you there names let alone any other important “eastern” detail about them.

    Those of us who live “in the world” with God given duties to till the land (i.e. make a living), love our families (in all the ways we do this: for example education – physical, mental, spiritual, musical, etc.), etc. only have a limited time for exercise (which in my case is doctored ordered). So my exercise is vigorous (Jui-Jitsu is Japanese wrestling – though it has it’s western counterpart in ‘catch’ wrestling which goes back to the Greek Olympic games) and these “yoga poses”, if we can even really call them that, help.

    My wife strikes a few poses before her run. She actually knows the names of a few, like “downward facing dog” – if that is even a “yoga” name. We like to crack jokes about “downward facing dog”. Now that I think about it, I would like to see some well intentioned elder or priest tell her that putting her body in the position of “downward facing dog” has a real effect on her acesis, Christian understanding, and the possibility of her Salvation…I will bring the popcorn and chairs…;)

  142. Although I am not Orthodox, I think it makes great sense to discuss such practices with one’s spiritual father, particularly if they are at all extensive. (In my case, I am simply sitting on the floor – which hardly qualifies as “yoga” and some people might sit the same way by chance.)

    I only say this because it can be rather easy to justify doing something outside of one’s Tradition, with lots of reasons why it is “harmless”. It may indeed be harmless – but that judgment can be a slippery slope if we have only ourselves to trust.

    I am reminded of “The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” and how naive the young man was to harm. If something is truly harmless, a discerning spiritual father should be able to reach that conclusion, as with something that is purely exercise.

  143. I am going to be a tad doctrinaire here by saying that, if we were to be unambiguously accurate, almost nothing can be termed ‘harmless’ –as in ‘neutral’- in the spiritual life, as I think things can only be either beneficial or counterproductive, with very little residual middle ground. Of course, the tolerance of “economy” is always at work in our salvation, but that does not eliminate or revise our awareness of what perfection and exactness could be.
    “Living in the world”, as an introductory statement to pronouncing any practice harmless, implies a license (for those “living in the world”). And license is from something…
    It is good for me to be humble (even though I do practice something Christ might have not done Himself) and accepting of my weaknesses, in trust that God can lead me to perfection, but it is not good to re-brand (even the slightest) derailing from perfection as ok, or as ‘harmless’ – (even though it might be effectively ‘ok’ and harmless.)
    Without becoming ‘paranoid’, it remains vital that we keep our focus steadfastly on what Christ Himself would do at every moment (and there is probably very little of what passes as ‘ok’ that He would do – even though we might not be prepared to give this up right now).

  144. Dino says,

    ““Living in the world”, as an introductory statement to pronouncing any practice harmless”

    Ah, but that is not what I said is it! Or perhaps I did… 🙂 What I was trying to say is that for very justifiable reasons (doctors orders not being the least), I need a vigorous exercise program – and certain “yoga” positions enable me to successfully carry on that program. In that sense, “yoga” (here again divorced of all “eastern” and religious content – literally nothing more or less than a physical stretch) is a good (though it takes a number of steps to get to the spiritual good).

    “almost nothing can be termed ‘harmless’ –as in ‘neutral’- in the spiritual life”

    On first thought I want to say that the category of ‘neutral’ is in fact larger than this. For example, what did the color of my shirt I put on this morning have to do with my spiritual state today? It was, quite literally, the one on top of the stack when I opened the drawer – I did not give it a moments thought. Then I thought, perhaps someone was offended or distracted by my shirt and I should have given it more consideration. Being red-green color blind (pretty severe at that) all I can tell you is that it probably blue though purple or pink are also possibilities. Following the social conventions in dress is easier for the color-enabled. On the one hand, I don’t want to allow narcissistic self concern in how I dress come to the point where confession of said sin is not to be avoided, then on the other-hand I don’t want anxiety and the very real possibility of my dress becoming an opportunity for another’s sin to also weigh on my heart…then I think about the car I drive. Surely there is a “spiritual” distinction between my wife’s Toyota and my Honda!

    Seriously, I here what you are saying and I do believe that the Devil can use the smallest crack – it’s just that with me (and speaking for myself) I give him these great big hooks of anger, pride, slothfulness, etc. that “yoga ” simply is not even part of the battle field, or if it is it’s as relevant as the soldiers serial number in the heat of battle. I also hear what Mary is saying about discussing certain things with your spiritual father. As for me (and speaking for myself) I don’t see us ever getting to the historic source of my stretching regime, for again we always have much more important and relevant things to discuss. Pray that one day I reach a point where “yoga” is something to be considered significant in my spiritual life!

  145. I actually would be very interested if someone had a resource that discusses whether gesture or posture have transcendental meaning. I’m open to that in theory– but it seems to me that the transcendent meanings are more likely to be those of goodness and light. I have a hard time imagining a posture forbidden in the Eschaton because of its previous vulgar or sinful connotation– a middle finger will simply be a middle finger because there will be no mean or vulgar intent.

    Mary– I have also read “The Gurus, The Young Man, and Elder Paisios,” and I think it demonstrates quite well that there is spiritual danger in practicing the yogi tradition. But I still think you can make a good argument that it is distinct from the secular-Americanized yoga exercise DVD. If there were transcendent danger in posture and gesture, then it seems to me that even our prostrations would need to be performed in a Christian (as opposed to a Moslem) manner. Does this make sense to you, too? And yes, of course, running this type of thing by a spiritual father is NEVER a bad idea.

    Lex, please know that I share your conviction that practicing the mysticism of other traditions presents a spiritual danger. But yoga as exercise does not, actually, have the power to compel that yoga as spirituality might. Otherwise people wouldn’t quit or give up their yoga exercise classes! 🙂

    Thanks for humoring my few thoughts!

  146. On Yoga,

    “Nothing is unclean of itself…” And though all things are permitted…not all things are expedient…so goes the advice of St. Paul regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols. His reasoning includes as well the possible scandal to weaker believers who might be led astray by someone else’s bold conscience.

    It applies to the case of yoga as exercise. Someone is certainly free to participate in it without sin. But the advice of doing all things with the blessing of your confessor is wise. Always whenever there is a question of conscience (where there is here else the subject would not have been brought up).

    I try never to engage in specific pastoral advice in a setting where advice can only be of a general sort.

    Ironically, I see the American secularizing penchant leaves nothing holy intact. Everything is render inert under the heading of utility. I have enough respect for Hinduism not to practice yoga myself.

    I prefer walking, making prostrations, fasting, and other common practices of the Orthodox faith and accept my suffering as it is. But we are free, as St. Paul says.

  147. Jeremy,
    I was aware of his thoughts on this…but it’s great to have the link. A brief transcript of that segment:

    “…at one point in Western churches the people began to read the Bible like Muslims read the Quran… and if I had time enough I could prove to you that Sola Scriptura came directly from the dialogue between the mediaeval school men and the Muslims. Our Bible is not a Quran and our Word is not a book it’s a Person…”

    Fr. Thomas generally does not mince words. In the talk he described this change in how the Scriptures were viewed as a “Blasphemy of major proportions…”

    Sometimes he makes me feel meek.

  148. Jeremy, Fr, Hopko’s teaching has blessed me greatly and I didn’t know these six short talks existed. Thank you for the link!

  149. There are many comments about sola scriptura here so there’s not much to add. When someone says “bible only” they are making a claim for the Bible that the Bible does NOT make for itself. And according to the the protestant theology that I’m aware of no one is to add to the Bible. The apostle Paul also made the statement to do what he said whether by epistle or word. ( not the written word only but also by word of mouth). The word of mouth is where we get our tradition( handed down ) from. We have the scriptures which are interpreted by the fathers and handed down to us today.

  150. I just happened upon your blog today, “Has Your Bible become a Quran” immediately caught my attention as a most critical inquiry for the organized church, throughout all denominations, here and abroad. I’m a protestant believer, and the designation, “People of the Book” has always struck me as somewhat condescending, although I’ve overlooked my misgivings in the interest of allowing for goodwill.

    But goodwill with one’s neighbor must never come at the expense of diminishing the person of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son given for our sins. “Of the Book”, suggests that the Bible is the essence of what it means to be a Christian, a dry book of rules & philosophies, separate from the Giver. This in contrast with the fact that the God of the Bible is inseparable from His Word, that by His love and grace extends Himself personally and intimately with us in its fulfillment in our lives. From the animal skin clothing He sewed to clothe Adam’s & Eve’s nakedness at mankind’s fall, to the bloody nails & thorns of Calvary , the Holy Son submitting to the Father’s Holy wrath in payment of mankind’s sin debt, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob displays meekness as the essence of Biblical submission…what a mystery it yet is. God with His creation, man made in God’s own image, the just for the unjust, met together in the peace of Redeeming grace everlasting. ( Ps 85: 10)
    vashti varnado
    Oak Park, IL

  151. Can’t say how many times I’ve referenced this article or forwarded it on to friends or discussed it at luncheons after church. As a convert to Orthodoxy from Evangelical Protestantism 35 yrs ago, this article has cleared so much up for me; why our discussions go so wrong so quickly when speaking in the West about our ancient faith. Thank you Fr. Freeman. You’ve even changed the way I feel about Tennessee!

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