The Church and the Scriptures

tanzaniaMy recent articles on the place of the Scriptures, their relationship with the Church, and the proper manner it which they are to be regarded have drawn more than a little comment (and some fire) including on other blogsites. In this article I want to take time to answer some specific points and to add some further observations. A Reform article, by Michael J. Kruger (Professor of NT at Reform Theological School in Charlotte), does a fairly careful treatment of my recent article There Is No Bible in the Bible.

Kruger’s first points are to take me to task for arguing that “books” themselves are late inventions and contending that the Bible was not therefore thought of as a “book.” He indeed cites some early codices from the late 2nd or early 3rd centuries – but gives examples that actually reinforce my central point. He notes examples of bound gospels and an example of bound epistles. What he cites are precisely what we would expect: liturgical items. The Orthodox still use the Scriptures in this form – the Gospels as a book (it rests on the altar), and the Epistles as a book (known as the Apostol). They are bound in such a manner for their use in the services of the Church, not as private “Bibles.” These are outstanding examples of the Scriptures organized in their liturgical format for their proper use: reading in the Church. They are Churchly items – not “The Book” of later Protestantism. They are the Scriptures of the worshipping Church.

And this is my point. The Scriptures are not “above” the Church nor the Church “above” the Scriptures. The Scriptures are “of” the Church and do not stand apart from the Church. Kruger says:

Here is where we come to the real issue with Freeman.  One might wonder:  Why is Freeman so intent on lowering the authority of Scripture?  Every argument in his article, whether historical or theological, has one simple end in mind, namely to convince the reader that the Bible is a problematic construction with less authority than people think. So, why would Freeman, an Orthodox priest, do this?

The answer is simple. He wants to lower the authority of the Bible so that he can replace it with the authority of the church.  He wants to convince Christians the Bible has problems, so that they will rely on the church instead.

It is very difficult to have a conversation with certain Protestants (such as the author of this Reform article). They have a view of the Scriptures as “Bible” rather than a more contextualized position as part of the life of the Church. Any attempt to rein in their run-away Bible agenda is seen as an attempt to diminish the Word of God or to exalt the Church to some wicked deceiver of Christians. But this is simply the tired rhetoric of the Reformation. I do not seek to convince readers that the Bible is a problematic construction – rather – Sola Scriptura Christians are problematic interpreters. The fruit of their work bears me out.

Sola Scriptura, as taught and practiced in Protestant thought, is simply wrong and an invention of the Late Medieval and Modern periods. All of the writers cited by Kruger for their “lists” of books are eventually described as the “Canon of Scripture,” are Orthodox Christians, mostly priests and bishops. They spoke and thought as the Orthodox do to this day. They never (!) saw the Bible as a book “over the Church.” These were men of a thoroughly sacramental world. The Bread and the Wine of the Eucharist was universally believed to be the very Body and Blood of Christ. These men ate God (using the language of St. Ignatius of Antioch). Yes, the Scriptures are theopneustos (“God breathed”), but so is every human soul. The God-breathed character of the Scriptures does not exalt them over us but raises them up to the same level as us. For ancient authorities (and the Orthodox faithful to this day) were Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ and were thereby united together with Him. The Church was not and is not “under” the Bible, for it cannot be. Christ is Head of the Church, part of His Body. Is Christ “under the Scriptures?” All of the “lists” that are cited in the notion of the evolution of the Canon are lists of what the Church reads. And the Church reads them in her services as the Divine Word of God, just as the Church herself is the Divine Body of Christ, just as the Liturgy is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, etc. The “Canon” of Scripture is as much a statement about the Church as it is about the Scriptures.

But all of this is lost, because for those who have reformed themselves out of communion with the historical faith and practice of Christianity, the context has been forgotten. They do not understand statements about the Church because they have forgotten the Church.

There are crucial tests that can be applied that reveal the truth of things and the errors of Sola Scriptura. The championing of the Bible as the Word of God “over the Church” is a ruse. It is and has been a means of exalting culture and private fiefdoms over the proper life of the believing community, disrupting the continuity of faith. A very grievous example can be found in the very American reform community from which Kruger criticizes my Orthodox teaching. For the very groups that exalted the Bible as Sola Scriptura, for years also exalted a Bible-based justification for the most egregious racism the world has ever seen. It has been a matter to which reformed Christians are today attending with repentance (to their credit). But by what criteria did their fathers find such racism in the Scriptures? And by what criteria do they themselves now not find it in the Scriptures? Are they not simply giving voice to various cultural winds and using the Scriptures as a convenient support? Have they not always done this? Today’s proponents of the radical sexual agenda rightly point out that these “Bible-based” teachers have always found Biblical support for their own cultural prejudices. Their history should leave them speechless.

Orthodoxy is not without its sinners. But in the 2000 year unbroken life of the Church, error has never been raised to the place of “Biblical teaching.” The Orthodox have never said that blacks do not have souls. The Orthodox have never declared one race to be inferior to another. Biblicists do well to repent of such things, but they fail to see that their own hermeneutical principles are at fault. Only a life lived with a true, genuine continuity of the tradition that is the very life of the Church can “rightly divide the word of truth.”

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2Th 2:15)

God promised to the Church that the gates of hell would not prevail. He declared the Church to be the Pillar and Ground of Truth. He revealed the Church to be the Bride of Christ (and I could fill pages with such statements).

This is not to exalt the Church “over” the Scriptures, but to recognize the Scriptures place within the Divine Life of the Church. The Orthodox do not exalt a bishop over the Scriptures, nor do we declare a bishop to be the head of the Church (we declare that to be error). But we acknowledge that the Scriptures cannot be rightly read outside of and apart from the life of the Church. Such decoupling of the Scriptures has only created false churches, false brethren, and false teaching. No gathering of Christians hears as much Scripture as the Orthodox do in the context of their services. The Orthodox liturgical life is the singing of Scripture in the praise of God (from beginning to end).

But in the name of “Biblical authority” contemporary Christians are today subjected to a growing and continuing phenomenon of rogue organizations built around charismatic personalities with little or no accountability (except to “the Bible” as they see it). Orthodoxy lives by the same rules (canons) that were in effect when the Scriptures were “canonized.” Those who canonized the Scriptures venerated the Mother of God, honored the saints, prayed for the departed, believed the Eucharist to be the true Body and Blood of Christ. They were the same Orthodox Church that lives and believes today. You cannot honor their “Canon of Scripture” while despising the lives and Church of those who canonized them.

While the Orthodox Church lives the same life under the same canons, reading the same Scriptures as it has always done – those who champion “God’s un-changing Word” and claim to be under the authority of the Bible cannot point to even two decades in which they have remained the same. They are a moving target. It is to be welcomed when they repent of past institutional sins – but their history reveals that they have primarily been subject to the spirit of the age, even if it’s a conservative spirit.

Christ never wrote a word. Christ never commanded his disciples to write a word (an exception being in Revelation). They were commanded to go forth, preach the gospel and to Baptize. Christ established the Church. The Church is the Scriptures and the Scriptures, rightly read, are the Church. This is the declaration of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth:

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2Co 3:2-3 NKJ)

Is that epistle of less value because it is not written in ink? It is only by being the living Scriptures that the Church can and does truly read and interpret the Scriptures. There is no “Bible” in the Bible. My original article stands.


  1. I am from the Protestant tradition, but I give you a straight “A’s” for context, reason, fairness, and balance. Your presentation has the ring of truth beyond apologetics or polemics.

  2. This sums it up – “the context has been lost.”

    As you note, it is simply impossible to have a conversation about this subject with some Protestants.

    But your articles stands indeed – it stands with 2000 years of church history. A sure footing.

  3. Thank you, Father! Well said. Being a Southerner living in the “Bible Belt” and a cradle Orthodox this topic of conversation comes up quite frequently.

  4. Thank you Fr. Stephen! This post of yours is honestly, quite simple, and yet, it’s a masterpiece.

    I love this part in particular:
    “You cannot honor their “Canon of Scripture” while despising the lives and Church of those who canonized them.”
    As a former Evangelical and wanting to be Orthodox, yet still surrounded by Evangelicals, I just want to scream this point from the rafters. It’s so obvious that I just don’t understand how people can’t get it.

    Finally, this part is pure gold:
    “While the Orthodox Church lives the same life under the same canons, reading the same Scriptures as it has always done – those who champion “God’s un-changing Word” and claim to be under the authority of the Bible cannot point to even two decades in which they have remained the same. They are a moving target.”
    Every Evangelical needs to stand up and admit to this basic point. One commenter (whose name I have forgotten) summed it up by saying: “even if you like your current Evangelical church, the odds that said church will exist in its current form when your kids grow up are somewhere between slim and none.” That’s so true, especially in this day in age where, to the modern mind, newer = better. The constant drive of Evangelicals to chase after the culture and constantly reinvent themselves is proving to be a total disaster.
    I thank God for His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

  5. This is the kind of article that makes me want to move….to wherever you are, Father. God grant you many years of such witness.

  6. So very well put….
    I admit to being appalled at Michael J. Kruger’s article – being somewhat unaccustomed to such strong Protestantism. I realised even more how true the key notion of your article on the Islamisation of Protestantism is.

  7. My reformed friends conflate the authority of Scripture with their interpretation of Scripture. They seem unable or unwilling to separate these two concepts. I’ve asked many this simple question, “Why is your interpretation correct and someone (as sincere and learned as you) with a different interpretation is incorrect?” The subject is then changed because, it seems, no one wants to say, “It’s because I’m smarter, wiser, … whatever”.

  8. Dino,
    This kind of virulent Protestantism, particularly among Reformed folks, is quite common in the US. Many young Protestant Evangelicals, hungry for a meatier, more intellectual approach, are drawn toward Reform Protestantism (Calvinism). But it is a fake intellectualism – that is only successful arguing with and among itself (among itself? Can I say that?)

  9. God bless you, Fr. Stephen! Your writings are so beautiful and ring true. I have a similar background as you (Baptist -> Anglican) and for several years you’ve been leading me to Orthodoxy. May God richly bless you and your work.

  10. Hi —

    A parishioner (I believe — is that the proper term?) is a regular on a “politics and religion” message board that I frequent. It’s a little “rough and tumble” there — football guys. “Dan” posts your essays often. I find them to be always thought-provoking, and at times sublime.

    He posted this essay, which I commented on. He suggested I share my comments at this link, which I am doing. I come in peace. ( – :

    God Bless.

    As is often the case, I’m not sure what brother Freeman’s point is.

    He seems to be making a firm stance against an attack I’m not aware of; and launching an attack against an enemy I don’t see.

    But then, I’m not much into “organized religion”; that may be the source of my ignorance and blindness on this issue.

    He apparently is not happy that (e.g.) Evangelicals accept the inerrancy and infallibility of the 66 Books recognized across all Christendom as “The Bible” (some Christians accept more; I’m referring to the ones that are agreed on).

    He wants to make sure that it is understood that the Church — the “body of Christ” — is just as important; or maybe more important… I’m not really sure.

    The two don’t exclude each other, do they?

    The Church (as we know it) does not exist without the Scriptures.

    There is no “Bible” in the Bible? What does he mean, exactly?

    That the word itself is not used? Neither is “Trinity” — should we dispense with that, as well? (neither is “Rapture” — but let’s not go there).

    One thing I do know he’s flat out wrong about:

    “Christ never commanded his disciples to write a word.”

    “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

    10 I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” ”
    — Revelation 1:9-11 (NKJV)

  11. Volbrigade,
    I stand corrected on the Revelation quote. I suppose I was limiting my thoughts to Christ in the historical setting (rather than Christ in this heavenly vision). But you’re correct. As to the rest that you’re not sure about – yes – most Protestant Christians do not know anything about Orthodox Christianity (the oldest and original form of Christianity) nor why we are critical of modern Protestantism. We believe that they have changed and are changing many fundamental things about the faith and distort the gospel of Christ. That’s the short version.

    I have edited the article to incorporate your correction. I should give prizes for things like that!

  12. I remember during my catechumenate that it was told me quite decisively that the Bible
    -could not – be ‘over the Church,’ for three reasons: the Church -wrote- the Bible for use -by- the Church and -in- the Church.
    Of course the Church also decided what was of spiritual value to be used in the Liturgy – therefore excluding the Apocalypse; and what was to be discarded altogether: the so-called ‘Gospels’ of Thomas, Mary Magdalene and the like. It is Church which ‘writes the Bible’ inasmuch as it decides what is to be included and excluded.
    [ While I am close to a similar topic – it is both annoying and of no value to put up with
    those who”cherry-pick” eg. “call no man Father” as if those four words invalidate, somehow the entire Orthodox and Latin Churches.
    “Have you read the Bible recently?” ………. well, no;
    Have you been in a C/church recently? well when Peter was married, you were there
    ((yes, it was 8 or 9 months ago.))But I have my wife and the kids and we all go skiing on the weekends.
    Bible; why bother – it’s not relevant anymore.?
    These are of course the people, not the scholars. They all would swear that Jesus spoke Tudor English……! or is it ‘spake’?

    I’m sorry, but it is ‘our’ Bible we are the ones who ‘wrote’ edited and use it: and yes, it is the’ in-spired’ Word of God as you said; ‘theo-pneumatos.’

    Sorry Brother John, the Bible is the Church’s and the Church is ‘above’ it.

    Please excuse my rant.

  13. Thank you Father Stephen, for yet another compelling post. The Protestant churches I am increasingly seeing, ironically have no time for The Church, The Body of Christ

  14. Attributing psychological motives to a theological perspective is always a weak arguing tactic since that same tactics can always be turned right back on the person trying to use it. Assuming for the moment that we may all work from sinful motives, however, we need to at least entertain the possibility that the fear of the diminishment of the authority of scripture stems in reality from a fear of the diminishment of spiritual autonomy. And between a person clinging to his own interpretations of scripture and a person surrendering himself to the authority of the Church (which in one respect is all the people who did likewise all down the ages) I think the latter is less likely to emerge from self-delusional motives.

  15. A slam – dunk to be sure, Father.

    Scripture and the Church co-inhere by the fact of their sacramental participation in the living and eternal Word of God. Not to play fast and loose with analogies, but I like to think of Scripture, Church, and Tradition together in a perichoretic dance somewhat like the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. There is distinction, but there is interdependence, unity, and a common source. And each one can only be known in and with the others.

    “Authority” seems to be the big sticking point in these debates. And it seems to me, as an outsider (I am not Orthodox), that one of the problems with these debates is that the Orthodox do not think about authority the same way Western Christians do. Catholics and Protestants alike see authority as an external thing, and so of course many Protestants will take offense at what they see as a threat to their source of authority. The Reformed guy’s comment accusing Fr Stephen of replacing the authority of the Bible with the authority of the Church demonstrates this. That accusation, or even that way of framing the debate, is wildly inappropriate in an Orthodox context. It just goes to show that so many Protestants simply view Orthodoxy as a more exotic form of Roman Catholicism minus the Pope but plus beards.

    That said, there are some pockets within American Orthodoxy that I’ve heard referred to as “the new mainline”, meaning it appears to be similar to typical mainline liberal protestantism on many current issues. This has no effect on the actual teaching of the Church but does affect public perceptions. It is unsurprising that conservative evangelicals and reformed Protestants might hear Fr Stephen’s argument as advocating either a 16th century Roman Catholic view or a modern liberal view.

    Thanks, Father, for this concise and incisive witness to the historic understanding of Church and Scripture.

  16. I recently was talking with a disenchanted former Catholic (hasn’t been to church in a very long time and therefore only hears about “Christianity” in the news, typically when popular Protestant preachers take stands on hot-button political issues).

    It was interesting that one of his objections to the Church was that it seems that all that is available is one person’s opinion about what the Bible means. One person can read the Bible and say that it means “ABC” and another person can read it and claim it says “XYZ”.

    Although I’ve never believed that to be case, I realized in having a simple discussion with him how much I have learned from you, Fr. Stephen, about this question. And you have reiterated it here very well. Christianity and the Bible become meaningless if anyone can proclaim themselves an authority and started selecting passages to support their opinions. If the Christian faith is to mean anything, it must be based on much more than opinions.

    I had the privilege tonight of hearing a talk by Fr. Thomas Hopko (as I mentioned in previous thread). Though his primary topic was icons, he spoke of both Scripture and icons. He stated that, while based in historical events, they are not intended to be history but “confessions of the Christian faith”. The Church must determine which texts or images are true – not true in the sense of accuracy of historical detail – but true confessions of the faith.

    It was interesting that he mentioned some of the differences between the Gospel accounts regarding certain details, as there are some non-Christians who might take these discrepancies as evidence that they cannot be “true” because they cannot all be right. Fr. Hopko discussed how each of the Gospel accounts was intentionally confessing the faith in a somewhat different way. He also noted how this occurs with intentional “errors” in icons, such as placing St. Paul at the Ascension, where he could not have historically been.

    It takes courage to believe, to embrace Mystery in a God who far exceeds our understanding. Too often we humans would rather have set facts and rules. Unfortunately, when we try to reduce the Scriptures to facts and rules (and, in reality, end up with opinion), they no longer speak to the hearts of people nor do they announce the Gospel of the Christ. However, the living Tradition of the Church can – and does – as we live the Mystery in Scripture, icon, Sacrament, worship and discernment.

    (As usual, sorting out my thoughts; please correct me if I am wrong.)

  17. Reformed Theological Seminary is a premier seminary for conservative (in the Protestant sense), reformed seminarians. I actually almost went there 12 years ago as they have a number of professors who are well-respected amongst the reformed and Calvinist crowds.

    By God’s grace, I passed on RTS. I later saw that an unspoken, and perhaps unrealized (by seminarians), goal of this particular seminary is to produce dogmatic graduates skilled in winning theological debates by whatever means necessary — be it straw-men, red herrings, etc. they seem to be taught certain verses that play as trump cards all the while ignoring other verses that don’t quite jive with their theological positions (for instance, quoting 1 Tim 3:16 while saying nothing of 1 Tim 3:15).

    Misrepresentation of sacramental, historic Christianity is, unfortunately, commonplace amongst reformed Christians. Prof Kruger is no exception.

  18. Excellent rebuttal, Father!

    As a not-quite-yet Orthodox (will be received into the catechumenate soon) and already ex-Evangelical, I was a bit shaken up at first by Mr Kreuger’s rebuttal of your other article. I’ve been so entranced with everything Orthodox that I have moments where I worry that maybe where I came from had it right and then I’m at square one again (because I’m not going back there. Ever.) You have a lovely ability to bring sense and balance to a potentially volatile subject, and much of my anxiety is gone now. 🙂

    Against good advice, I do read quite a bit of theology and Christian opinion on the internet, and I’ve seen the tendency with Protestant (especially Calvinist) apologists to willfully misunderstand the Orthodox church, especially when we step on a Sola or two. I wonder if there’s an anxiety there that if they were to give Orthodoxy fair consideration that it would shake their foundations too much, threatening their livelihood and comfortability in their Reformed tradition.

    I think we’re just at the beginning of seeing clashes between the American Orthodox and the American Protestants: as Orthodoxy receives more and more ex-Protestant converts, the ‘true believers’ in the Protestant camps will circle the wagons and fight back with whatever means possible to try and stop the bleed.

  19. Dear Father,
    I really am enriched and empowered by your writings.
    Sanjay Verghese from India – New Delhi

  20. Christ never wrote a word.

    Father, I think this calls for just one more correction:

    …they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

    Christ never wrote a word that we still have a known copy of.

    That aside, this article is definitely one of your keepers and big “go-to” pieces in my view (along with “God’s Absence on the Cross”, “The Erotic Language of Prayer”, “Tolkien’s Long Defeat”, “A Particular Scandal” and “The Modern Project” among others). I also hereby adopt and second everything Loo said (except that I haven’t actually read Prof. Krueger’s rebuttal until now, typing this very parenthetical).

    Now that I have read it, though, I am amazed, Father. Even with your quote here I’d thought, reading your response, I was expecting something much more genuine and in good faith, but this reads… well, let’s just say I see no salvation in whatever drives a person to write the way Prof. Krueger does in that rebuttal.

    I should keep Prof. Krueger in my prayers. If what Tommy mentions is true then he is held back from truth in ways I never was as an atheist, and I consider my own conversion nothing short of a miracle.

  21. Fr. Stephen,

    Excellent article!

    I have not read Mr. Kruger’s article that is referenced here; however, I come from a solidly Reformed Protestant background and have a pretty good idea what the major points he made were.

    Over the past year I have been examining Sola Scriptura more closely with a specific interest in learning more about how the Church has viewed the scriptures over the past 2000 years and the unintended result has been a crumbling of the Sola Scriptura ramparts that I had once stood so firmly upon. The second and third order effects of this change in how I view the scriptures; however, has led me to subsequently re-examine many of the pillars of Reformed Protestant belief that I have promoted and defended so vigorously in the past.

    I’ll be honest. While I still currently identify as a Calvinist and am not completely ready to renounce my “citizenship” so to speak (Reformed Protestant), I am increasingly feeling like an expatriate who has recently moved to a new land and is learning a new language and culture (Orthodoxy). What I have discovered so far in the Early Church, specifically in Orthodoxy, has had a radical impact on my understanding of Christianity and I believe the journey I’m on has not ended…My family and I continue to attend a PCA Church (Reformed Presbyterian)….for now.

    Thank you for the great posts! I am grateful.


  22. “Yes, the Scriptures are theopneustos (“God breathed”), but so is every human soul.” What a beautiful line. Thank you for that.

  23. Father,

    (1) i’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but i’m tempted to say there’s some latent correlation between this discussion and a modernist/Enlightenment sort of preference for written records over oral/institutional. Reliance on oral/institutional “records” can appear antiquated or unscientific in nature to a modern mind.

    (2) i have to express some sympathy for Protestant reaction to this point–not that i agree with the stance. In fact, it was this very issue that “broke” my Protestant “house.” But that’s just the thing. i felt so emotionally jarred about this issue because it was the epistemological foundation of my whole belief system. Surely we can acknowledge that experiencing such foundational “blows” is a very scary thing. Some people react quite defensively; i reacted with shock, fear and a sense of “nakedness.” Surely both are understandable, no?


  24. The critical dimension missing from reformed thought is the sacramental. Without an appreciation of sacramental reality nothing makes sense in Christianity and you have to find created anchors for belief.

    Not surprising that said “anchors” would eventually erode under the repeated battering of the worldly mind. Nor that such erosion would produce fear.

    I am looking at an icon of Peter sinking in the lake and Jesus lifting him up. Our Lord is always faithful to those who love Him even when our fear seems to overwhelm us and we begin to sink.

    He penetrates the entire creation . How could one book be sufficient in itself? Indeed St. John says as much.

    It is easy to believe, easy to doubt, easy to go one’s own way. An interrelationship in which we partake of divine life and the divine persons simply out of love is quite different.

  25. I commented directly in response to Dr. Kruger’s article. Please allow me to re-post it here:

    What a great exchange!

    Fr. Freeman and Dr. Kruger address a critical question: Is the Bible (capitalized in respect for modern usage) over the church?

    Dr. Kruger says Yes because the Bible is the ‘highest’ authority. Fr. Freeman says “the Bible–as something that is an authority over the church–is a modern, post-Reformation invention. … The Scriptures are not ‘above’ the Church nor the Church ‘above’ the Scriptures. The Scriptures are ‘of’ the Church and do not stand apart from the Church.” In other words, the relationship is intimate but NOT one of authority or one over the other.

    By contrast, authority is the primary focus of Dr. Kruger’s position:

    “Since the time of the Reformation, protestants have argued simply that the Bible is the highest authority (not the sole authority). And the church is one of the other authorities that we should follow. … the proper posture of God’s people (the church) is always one of submission to God’s word. There is no higher authority than God himself.”

    I understand why Dr. Kruger is concerned about authority. Protestantism came into existence reacting to RCC claims and abuses of authority. Indeed, Orthodox Christians have some of the same complaints!

    But it is troubling that Dr. Kruger almost conflates the Bible with God: “submission to God’s word. There is no higher authority than God himself.” This is not how God comes to us; It is not the gospel. He did not appoint the Bible to stand in his place. Christ sent the Comforter to be with us.

    Let us recall that the mother RC church made itself a supreme authority, even in political matters, and early Protestants responded by replacing that (claimed) authority with the Bible. The RCC had it wrong and the Protestants went wrong in a similar manner, also fixating on authority. Both lost their way. Unfortunately the children are still damaged. God-as-Authority is an Islamic notion.

    God wants a love relationship with His children. We –His bride– receiving the unmerited gift of His energetic grace are raised up to share in the Glory of His nature. This is life. This is the gospel. This is the kingdom the scriptures teach. The church lives in this glory now before the face of the risen Lord who rules in our hearts with divine, Trinitarian love that cannot die.

  26. Please forgive me. I hit a key that sent my post before I finished. To continue . . .

    The Apostle Paul wrote to his young son Timothy to “pay attention to the PUBLIC reading of Scripture. “Faith comes by hearing . . . .” The Apostle Paul would also write to the Church gathered in Thessalonika, and he commanded them to pray WITHOUT CEASING.

    For at least the last 200 years, Protestants have grown up with a private copy of the Scriptures–collected letters as volumes in a single book–because Protestants themselves appear on the scene in the context of the printing press. Prior to the press, however, private copies of the Scriptures were very rare, especially all of the letters. As Fr. Stephen notes, the Scriptures are the purview of the Church not individual members of the Church.

    Today, Protestants esteem, even worship, the Bible such that they have turned the Apostle’s commands into pay attention to an UNCEASING, PRIVATE reading of Scripture. So, what has happened to prayer?

    Prayer, not the reading of the Scriptures, is our individual role in the church. According to the Apostle Peter, we are a “royal priesthood.” According to the Apostle Paul, the Sword of the Spirit, our offensive weapon against our invisible enemies is prayer, the SPOKEN word (rhema) of God. He follows with examples of prayers the Ephesian Church should pray.

    If Protestants placed proper individual importance on prayer rather than the individualizing of the Scriptures, then they would be Orthodox and NOT Protestant.

    Thank you for reading my long comment.

  27. Please indulge me one more observation.

    Protestants can never claim that the Scriptures are THE authority because they muddy the waters by their hermeneutic. They fail to realize that their hermeneutic, not the Scriptures, is THE authority they actually embrace. Their argument against Rome and now against Orthodoxy rests on hermeneutic. Who has the authority to interpret Scripture?

    Rome’s hermeneutic is the Papacy. Rome doesn’t apologize for their Papal hermeneutic because the Pope is the final authority of the Church for them. The Reformation freed individuals from Rome’s papal hermeneutic.

    Orthodoxy’s hermeneutic is Holy Tradition. Orthodoxy does NOT accept papal authority, neither does Orthodoxy accept individual papal authority, which is the Protestant view. As Fr. Stephen so gloriously teaches us, the Scriptures in Orthodoxy reside within the interpretive framework of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, NOT within one man, NOT within many men.

    In addition, for the Orthodox, interpretation of the Scriptures requires obedience to the Scriptures, to the commands of God and His Christ. Holy Tradition doesn’t merely tell the constituency what to believe or how a text should be understood. Holy Tradition offers to all who hear the Scriptures examples of saints who demonstrate how the Scriptures are read through their obedience to the text.

    Thus, “faith seeking understanding” ends in experience not cognition. One knows that he understands because he obeys. Others know that he understands and recognizes his spiritual discernment because they see his obedience.

    This explains why every icon not only presents a translation of the Scriptures but also interprets the Scriptures. The Scriptures translate the saint, and the saint interprets the Scriptures. The saint’s interpretation of the Scriptures through his obedience becomes a fresh translation of the Scriptures. The icon depicts this fresh translation of both saint and the Scriptures.

  28. Guy,
    The “hermeneutical shift” truly rocks foundations for people and can require the entire reordering of their mental universe. It is, I think, a re-ordering required by reality because the Enlightenment mindset was simply not at all accurate – but it worked so long as everyone agreed to pretend that the Emperor actually had clothes on.

    I was certain for many years that Foundationalism was wrong, but I had no words for it (this would have been back in the 70’s). Later work introduced me to some of the Post-modern anti-foundationalism. It was a philosophical tool that was helpful and allowed me to go back and see what, in fact, the Church in the East was doing when it handled questions of knowledge and authority. Fr. John Behr is magisterial in his work on this in an Orthodox context.

    God not only gave us a text, He gave us a community in which the text was birthed and that was and is the context of its reading. You cannot remove a text and take its meaning with it – every new community will read it differently. This often creates a “chicken and egg” problem – but in Orthodoxy, the chicken and the egg (the Church and the Scriptures) are virtually simultaneous and they have continuity through the ages. It is one of the most convincing and important reasons that Orthodoxy describes itself as the “true Church.” That continuity has been disrupted everywhere else.

  29. MichaelPatrick, your observation that “the mother RC church made itself a supreme authority, even in political matters, and early Protestants responded by replacing that (claimed) authority with the Bible.” reminds me of an article my godfather suggested to me: Alexie Khomiakov’s “On the Western Confessions of Faith.” Khomiakov’s thesis very much lines-up with your observation. Here is a link to the article:

  30. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think the “hermeneutical shift” is the encounter with a personal idol that very much needs to be smashed. The visceral resistance to it has all the trappings of spiritual pride. You can see this partly in the refusal to distinguish the interpretations of traditions and individuals from the authority of the text itself. A portable Bible becomes like a spiritual backpack for the individualist who will be placed under no spiritual authority on earth. I’ve seen it many times. I’ve seen it in my Baptist father-in-law who interrogates every new pastor at his church or simply moves to another church when he decides the pastor there has violated the scriptures, which are now one and the same with his own ego. I don’t want to give these people a hard time, but I think there is some deep spiritual sin and pride at work in bibliolatry that really can make a soul impervious to deep repentance, which we all have to undergo. My mom told me that one of my uncles and aunts had started their own little church where they now considered the Bible to be the third Person of the Trinity. They had literally come to make a god of the books which, in reality, was making a god of their own authority and ego. Nothing new there, but it is frightening how that kind of thing can assume the language of piety and devotion to the scriptures.

    As an aside, I think the scriptures are more deeply loved and lived and experienced in the Orthodox Church than the evangelical and fundamentalist churches I was raised in. If you are told to read Dostoevsky in order to write a report for a course that will determine whether you will pass the course or not you will never enjoy Dostoevsky because you will be using him for a different focus and purpose. You get steeped in Dostoevsky when the pressure to make his works perform or accomplish some rhetorical act is no longer present.

  31. Father, with reference to your comment to Guy, allow me to add a supporting illustration:

    We might be very uncomfortable hearing someone else read letters we wrote to people we love, not because the words they speak are wrong, but because the meaning can so easily be lost just because a stranger is reading them.

    The Church reads the scriptures faithfully day in and day out. This tradition preserves the meaning and, in some cases, has even helped to preserve the texts.

    In any case, we are never meant to leave God’s nurture and this is why the Church with the liturgy and all its readings remain vital today.

  32. There are many things in Scripture can will never be understood in the Reform tradition. The entire mystical experience of Orthodoxy, which is real, true, concrete, even physical in its manifestation, is alien to them. They do not and cannot understand “light” because they do not know the uncreated Light of God. Nor will they understand prayer, the heart, righteousness, etc. All of these things are alien to their consciousness and they cannot even be aware of it because they are only known in the continual, living Tradition of the Church.

    It is more than possible to have this conversation with Roman Catholics sometimes, because we share some common ground. But I’m not certain that the conversation is possible in any way with Reform other than to interest them in becoming Orthodox so that they might understand. Most often, when one of them begins to understand, he is already a catechumen.

    But how, when the other thinks that his meaning of the words is the actual meaning (and it is not), can you talk with them. Worse still, is a strong tendency in Reform circles to read the Scriptures in a uni-valent manner, that is, a manner that a word means the same thing every place it occurs in Scripture. They will often admit no historical element whatsoever. It’s absurd. Their tendency to talk mostly among themselves makes them increasingly cult-like, forgive me.

  33. Isaac,

    They had literally come to make a god of the books which, in reality, was making a god of their own authority and ego.

    Is as concise a description as I can think of concerning the ‘Sola Scriptura spiritual delusion’ and the real reason it flatters our pride.

  34. It is the rendering of God as an idea. An abstraction and a cypher. This is at the heart of the “Two-Storey Universe” that I write about. God becomes a set of mental propositions to be used as an “authority.”

    St. Paul shows how deeply contrary his own thought is to this when he can call the Corinthians his “fleshly epistle.” He’s looking for the reality of the Kingdom of God. And it is this reality, truly enfleshed, that we look for in Orthodoxy. As St. Paul says, it is not in words but in power – that is in reality. I would put all of the talking Sola Scriptura preachers together against a single Holy Elder. The weakness of their manmade babble would dissipate against the solid rock of incarnate holiness. They are the “debaters of this age.”

    BTW, Dino. I just bought a couple of books with some of Elder Aimilianos’ teachings. I’ve been feasting!

  35. Terry –

    I just wanted to mention that I don’t believe that the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church are as far apart as many Orthodox believe. I am not trying to open any debates about papacy (trust me, I’m not) but I believe that there are many more people within the RCC (including clergy) who look to Tradition to understand Scripture than who look to one man (the Pope).

    While one might say the Pope has the “final say” in the RCC, in Orthodoxy a council would have the final say (correct?) Yet, such “final says” are seldom required in the daily prayer life and scriptural reading of the Church.

    Thank you for the overall direction of your comment which I found quite helpful. Perhaps my comment isn’t necessary – but I find that many people misunderstand this about Catholicism.

  36. Dino and Fr. Stephen,

    I will be grateful if you would share some titles you’ve found with writings or sayings of Elder Aimilianos !

  37. Father,
    your comment on Elder Aimilianos delighted me.

    I think that a good start in the English language for now would have to be:

    The Way of the Spirit: Reflections on Life in God Hardcover –
    by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra

    His two books based on homilies that were commentaries on (the Ascetical Homilies of) Abba Isaiah and on St. Hesychios, (On Watchfulness) -which are considered very special are currently being translated as far as I know.
    And there is much more under way, his little gem on the life of St Nilus of Calabria (which contains in a condensed form a great deal of his teachings in a way I have never encountered anywhere else) should also follow swiftly after…

  38. A little of topic but, concerning the reading of Scripture, (since Elder Aimilianos was mentioned), here’s a little excerpt I found with something he has to say on the how to read it:

    “When one undertakes to examine Scripture in an idle, intellectual way, he creates hatred and quarrelling. Why? Because the intellectual approach to Scripture does not help us turn and reflect on our sins, but instead makes us focus on problems and concepts related to the study of Scripture – as a result our logical and intellectual faculties are aroused to no real purpose. “Knowledge” by itself adds nothing. On the contrary, it encourages the cultivation of the individual and his private sense of things; it fosters the self-sufficiency of his own personal opinions, which he then seeks to justify and impose on others. This kind of approach to Scripture immediately places you in conflict with others; it opposes your will and opinion to theirs, prompting you to disagree and argue with them, and to make enemies of your brothers. Filled as I am with my own opinions about things, I am not able to receive anything from God.

    […]It’s one thing to read Scripture because you want to collect information, and another thing to read it because you want to acquire its true content, that is, the Holy Spirit. This kind of knowledge is the life of God (cf. Jn 17:3), the entry and extension of God into our life; it is God’s descent and dwelling among us. We can judge whether or not our study of Scripture is authentic based on the number of tears we shed when we study. To be sure, I can also read Scripture without shedding tears, and without a strong sense of my sins, but with the hope that God’s grace, through my reading of Scripture, will break open my hardened heart. Read Scripture, then, but don’t forget about your sins and reduce Scripture to an object of intellectual inquiry, for at that point it ceases being the word of God and you start seeing it as something human. The criterion for your study should be this: the way you read the Bible should bring peace to your heart, communion with God, love of neighbors, and the consciousness of your own sinfulness: the recognition of how unworthy and ill-prepared you are to stand before God.”

    Elder Aimilianos, On Abba Isaiah

  39. I would have questioned what Mary said up until recently. After having had a couple of years of experience in and around my daughters RC school (which like most RC schools depends heavily on volunteers – so I coach soccer, do some IT work, etc.), I can say that at least some of RC is not “two sides of the same coin” with certain strains of Protestantism. I even have occasion to sit in on a Mass (contra the cannons I know 😉 and while I did not say the philoque, etc., I was better for it. Both scholasticism and purgatory are nowhere to be found as far as I can tell. Would I ever agree to Vatican I, immaculate conceptions, “two lungs” (varying interpretations notwithstanding), etc.? No. I affirm “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” and that Church is the Orthodox Church. Do I believe that this is still a “schism” and not a deeper divide? I suspect it is more, and has been for a long time. However, an honest assessment and dispassionate reading of (at least my local) RC church is that character and spirit is very close to Orthodoxy – it is certainly safely withing the realm of “Classical Christianity” in my opinion. Indeed, there are some people there who I am sure are much further on the road to salvation than I am.

    Father Stephen, you mentioned upstream (or a recent previous thread) of a formal dialogue between RC and Orthodoxy. Is Moscow leading certain efforts? I have not made a study of this, but the only formal dialogue I know of is lead by the EP, and he explicitly (unless he is simply lying when he signs on to these various pronouncements) accepts the “two lungs” ecclesiology of Rome…

  40. Christopher,
    The formal dialog with Rome is a general Orthodox thing, thought the EP has taken a lead. The flow of the “dance” seems to be Constantinople takes two steps to the left and Moscow pulls everything back three steps to the right. Frankly, I often think that the “dance” is really about relationships between Constantinople and Moscow rather than about Rome and Orthodoxy – with Rome being a convenient provider of the music. Orthodox “diplomacy” (for lack of a better term) is a very complex, multi-faceted, truly “byzantine” long-term process. No one should ever read too much into any of it. The two lung stuff has been roundly rejected by Orthodox across the world.

  41. I am not very versed in Theology of the different beliefs amongst Christians. I do know the Bible is the Word of God, spoken, handed down to us to know God better. In Christ Jesus we learn from it, draw strength from it and cling to it for our every need.
    I also know that in the last days (which I believe whole heartedly we are living in) the
    Bible clearly states many will “fall” away. Is it possible we are seeing the beginning of such things clearly proving beyond any doubt that the Bible is Truth word for word, every book, every verse, every single word!
    I also believe because the Bible states the Devil our Adversary roam about seeking who he may devour. Oh, that we would not tear apart the Very Word of God, lessening it in Any way!
    I pray we all stand strong, cling to God’s Holy Word and find protection and Victory in His Son Jesus Christ until He makes all things new in that perfect place He has told us of. God bless us all .

  42. Father Stephen, thank you for your articles. The fruit of sola scriptura is well known: Division, strife and hatred among those who call themselves Christian on an unprecedented and ridiculous scale. Certainly this is not the fruit of the Spirit.

  43. To God be the glory! Слава Богу!

    Enjoyable reading. Sometimes I wish that my Evangelical brethren in the USA could see how the Scriptures are reverenced here in Russia. Such, if possible, might alleviate fears that the Orthodox minimizes the holy writ. I shall forward this link to a good friend who is employed at a Christian television media in Nashville as we in good nature spar on such matters from time to time.

  44. I’m kinda getting tired of the Orthodox talking about what they believe by bashing Protestants. They’re sounding more and more… Evangelical.

  45. Tobey,
    There is no bashing here, just a place of discerning truth that is so necessary. We all need this clarity.
    I thank God for giving Fr. Freeman the strength and the wisdom to help us all better know truth, the Way.

  46. So very well said, Father! Having spent fifteen years or so of my life in Reformed churches, when I found Orthodoxy I finally found what I had sought all my life.

  47. Tobey. Untruth is toxic. The Protestant approach to the Scriptures is untrue because it makes the Scriptures an idol; effectively denies the incarnation and leaves people naked before the world.

    Calvinism in particular was declared heretical by the Church.

    Father does an admirable job declaring the truth on its own terms most of the time. That is not always possible.

    Sometimes a parent has to point out what is harmful and why.

  48. I like the comment I heard from Fr. John Matusiak:
    When people ask, “Do you believe in the Bible?”, his reply is, “I believe in the One whom the Bible proclaims.”

  49. Correction:

    I think Father John said, “I believe in Jesus Christ, whom the Bible proclaims.”
    It’s been several years since I heard the comment, and I don’t want to start any arguments about the nature of Christ. I only wanted to point out that we believe in God, not in the Bible.

  50. Nathan,
    I have deleted your comment. I do not maintain a blog in order to provide a pool for you to troll for readers, nor to post attacks on the Orthodox faith. You’ll need to get readers in another manner.

  51. Father Freeman,

    I am not interested in trolling for readers. I am interested in engaging you substantively on these issues – and to get to the truth of matters. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that I have ever had a deleted comment on any blog in over ten years. Most persons find me to always be a cordial interlocutor, and I have indeed been doing so with you here off and on for almost eight years.

    So I am greatly disappointed by this turn of events.

    I really have no need to link to posts from my own blog – while I would be foolish to think that I do not have an ego that likes to be fed, I really can say I linked to my critique of your post at my blog because it seemed the best way to do things. Would it be acceptable for me to share here the issues that I have with your post?


  52. Nathan, I particularly objected to the videos embedded in your post. I have my own responsibilities to my readers – plenty of whom are inquirers to the Orthodox faith. Sending them somewhere that incorrectly disparages that faith is not going to happen.

    Conversation here is always welcome, under the “Rules of the Blog.”

  53. I find that Orthodox and Roman Catholics argue set up a straw man with regard to Sola Scriptura, typically in the form of “Sola Scriptura is not found in the Bible.”

    As a “Protestant,” I can only answer: Duh, we’ve never argued that this is a doctrine FROM Scripture. Rather, it’s a principle by which the Church is to TEST doctrine. Doctrines are ultimately to be judged by the disclosure of Scripture, not, e.g., the Bishop of Rome.

    You don’t have to listen to me. In fact, you won’t. So here’s Gregory of Nyssa: “For we make Sacred Scripture the rule and the norm of every doctrine.”

    The discussion of this quote in Vol. 1 of Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition is especially illuminating.

  54. BV,
    Of course, Scripture is always the rule and norm of every doctrine. But the Scripture has to be read in the mind of the Church and not in the brain of some independent reader. My point, over the course of the article, is that the practice of Sola Scriptura, without proper reference to Tradition, simply makes Scripture subject to the whims of whatever reigning culture is driving its readers. I gave the entirely appropriate example of an institutionalized and approved racism (over the course of more than a century) in a major Reform group. And that its error was not corrected by Scripture, but by the cultural shift around it. At the very time Martin L. King Jr. was marching and be set upon by dogs, these “Christians” were continuing to defend their racism.

    Orthodoxy is itself the culture of the Fathers and intentionally embodies that Tradition in its life, prayers, etc. It is the way the Scriptures were given to us and how we have always kept and read them.

    But Sola Scriptura (in its various guises) has been, as I said, “a ruse.” In that it is constantly used to defend novel ideas and practices, the constant multiplication of denominations, the creation of private religious fiefdoms, etc. It has been a wholesale disaster leaving the Christian Church in ruins. Nothing that Rome ever did or ever does will begin to compare with the destruction wrought by the Reformation and its continuing aftermath. And I’m not a fan of Rome.

  55. I don’t understand how your first sentence fits with the rest of your comment. Are you really suggesting that individual Christians should NOT read Scripture with their own minds engaged in that process? Please tell me I’ve misunderstood that first sentence, because right now I’m understanding you to argue that Christians should not be developing and testing their own understanding of Scripture.

    Perhaps what you meant was the individual Christians should not articulate and promulgate their own doctrines upon reading Scripture. Protestantism has no quarrel with that. As Alister McGrath argued in Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, doctrine crystalizes from debate, sort of a self-consistent approach where ideas are presented, argued, and refined across the Church. Is that not reading Scripture with the mind of the Church?

    To be sure, Protestant sects have arisen over the course of its history that have lead to things like spiked cool-aid and racist attitudes. But I fail to see your point. Should I hold against structural Orthodoxy those Orthodox politicians presently arguing for legalization of same sex marriage? Surely the Orthodox affirm marriage as the mystical union between one biological man and one biological woman.

  56. BV,

    “As Alister McGrath argued in Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, doctrine crystalizes from debate, sort of a self-consistent approach where ideas are presented, argued, and refined across the Church. Is that not reading Scripture with the mind of the Church?”

    No, as his understanding of tradition is radically different from the Eastern Orthodox.

    It is not a matter of understanding, but one of practice.

  57. WHAT is not a matter of understanding but practice?? You used the indefinite pronoun “it.” As such, I’m supposed to guess what “it” is.

    Perhaps you can see my confusion: the doctrine of the Trinity is a matter of practice rather than understanding? While it may be true that we, living in the 21st century, understand the doctrine of the Trinity through our life in the Church, the doctrine and the idea behind the doctrine, historically, had to come from somewhere. This doctrine had to be developed, or at least discovered. That takes intellect. That takes engagement of the mind in reading Scripture, and, upon reading Pelikan, I feel pretty confident in saying that this doctrine emerged from rigorous reading and debate by many members/leaders of the Church.

  58. Father Freeman,

    Thank you for your explanation. Of course, I understand the need you have to keep an ordered house. Please know that I am conscious of always trying not to link to my own posts when I comment on other person’s blogs.

    “I particularly objected to the videos embedded in your post…. Sending them somewhere that incorrectly disparages that faith is not going to happen.”

    Father, have you watched the videos? I have done quite a bit of reading about Eastern Orthodoxy, and I a particularly interested in what Pastor Weedon – whom I have the greatest of respect for – might of said that you think was incorrect or unfair (as I indeed said I felt this post was unfair…)

    If you would be so gracious…


  59. BV
    The problem I have with your response to Fr. Freeman and Robert is that you believe in engaging in the passion of argument, whereas the Church teaches to divest yourself of the passions to more clearly understand God. The debates of the earlier church were not held in rooms full of men drunk on their passions, it was held by men who had demonstrated that they were true servants of God, and a hallmark of that servitude was not being enslaved to their passions.

  60. Nathan,
    I do not have time to watch the videos. But you own characterization – indeed – invitation – that for anyone leaning towards Orthodoxy to watch them first. This, my friend, is trolling.

  61. BV,

    It seems jrj1701 has a point based on the ALL CAPS (internet shouting) in some of your comments. You, in your comments here, do seem to take a rather pugilistic posture. Assuming, however, that on some level you do want to better understand what is being said, allow me try to clarify a couple of points:

    I believe you have, indeed, misunderstood Father’s first sentence in an earlier comment. I would say of course, individual believers (insofar as their capacity allows) read (or hear) the Scriptures (and the Church Fathers, and the lives of the Saints and the Divine Liturgy, etc.) with their own minds engaged. But, when it comes to centuries of established dogma/doctrine and practice in the Church, we submit our own judgment and limited understanding to the mind of the Church (i.e., actual conciliar decisions and creedal formulae, practices, and teachings as they have been handed down to us, especially as exemplified and affirmed in the lives of the Saints of every age).

    Where Robert writes “It is not a matter of understanding, but of practice,” I believe “it” is indeed referring to the Tradition of Orthodox faith (of which, the Scriptures are the written expression and the Orthodox Church and her practices down through the ages is the living expression). I might rephrase his sentence to read, “The formation of the Tradition of the Church (as this has taken expression in the Church as a whole down through the ages and also in the lives of the Saints) is not a matter of human reason/rational deduction from the statements of Scripture (or of the Fathers), but of the practice of the faith (i.e., the experience of Christ and actual encounter with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit–first by the Apostles and contemporaries of Christ in His incarnation, and subsequently through the prayer life and walk of obedience to the commandments of Christ of those in the Church). On the personal level, the bottom line is that ultimately we only understand the Tradition, the real meaning and intent of the Scriptures, to the degree we are inclined toward and walking in obedience to Christ. This is not to deny that debate (indeed, vigorous debate and use of intellect) played a role in that process of discernment, but for Christians historically the limits of the power of human reason did not reign supreme over this process as it has tended to do in the modern mind (including the modern Christian mind) since the Age of Reason (Enlightenment philosophy) transformed the way the West (and eventually great parts of the world) view the nature of knowledge, including spiritual “knowledge.”

    I hope this helps.

  62. Father Freeman,

    A definition of “trolling”, from Google: “make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.”

    Simply put, such was not my intention. I would spell out my intention in putting them up and linking to the post containing them, but I think I made that clear earlier and I do not want to goes further upset.


  63. Nathan,
    I’ve had a different understanding. Perhaps I’m not using the right word. We used to “troll” for fish when I was a kid…boat goes very slow (called a trolling motor) and your line is slowly pulled through the water to see what you catch. Your linked post purposely sought to draw those interested in Orthodoxy away. You’re fishing in my water and are not welcome to do so. My readers come here to read me and the comments section, not to be lured away (another fishing image) to various other sites. If you want to be part of a conversation, fine. If you want to go fishing, then please stay away. Do you understand how this is seriously beyond the boundaries of proper behavior?

    This blog represents a serious number of readers. Some of them may even be in vulnerable, inquiring periods of their lives. The kind of link you offered is predatory. It’s my job to moderate such predation and keep it away. People are free to go wherever they want. I don’t make anyone read me. But neither do I feel at all compelled to provide links to every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to have a competing website and sow confusion in their minds.

    I have no control whatsoever for your website…so sending others there is pastorally irresponsible. I might add, that if you are a Lutheran pastor, you should identify yourself as such when you post notes here.

    Maybe there needs to be a different word than “trolling.” But I think this note should explain the difficulty.

  64. Fr. Stephen,

    In regards to the verb “to troll”, I believe the verb closer to your intended meaning is “to trawl” – to drag a net along the bottom of the sea, or in mid-depth. Then again, English is my second language, so I might be wrong.

    Unrelated to this, thank you very much for this continuing labor of love. I benefit greatly from it, each and every day.

    Best regards,
    Milos Dobic

  65. BV,
    McGrath is wrong (from an Orthodox perspective). Doctrine (the true teaching) is not argued or developed through argumentation. It is discerned, because it has a reality of its own. Doctrine is not an idea, it is the truth. Fr. Georges Florovsky described doctrine as a “verbal icon of Christ.”

    We do not understand doctrine as a human activity – the product of reasoning. Reasoning might be used as part of the process of discernment. But ultimately, the Church does not argue its way to doctrine or agreement (for that would finally be compulsion). Those searching for the truth state it, restate it, and restate it again. And this continues until the icon (verbal) comes to the place that the Church says, “Yes. This is Christ.”

    The Church already knows all doctrine, and has since the beginning. If we didn’t know all doctrine, then we would never be able to say to a new heresy, “This is wrong.” For example, the Trinity was not explicitly stated until Nicaea and Constantinople. But the Church had always known it. Such that, when Arius stated his heretical teachings, it was easy for an Athanasius to say “this is wrong.” How could he know such a thing? Because the Church always knew it.

    The process of the 4th century required the Church to say explicitly what it had always known implicitly. And the struggle, which included not a little interference from our adversary, caused a great deal of damage to the wounded souls of the faithful.

    The reading of Scripture on the part of the faithful is not something undertaken in order to determine doctrine. It is undertaken in order to know God and to have communion with Him. Some knowledge of doctrine, as taught by the Church, is required prior to reading Scripture or it will be of no use. It will need to be refreshed and deepened. But doctrine is not the work of every reader of Scripture.

    You cited questions of Orthodox politicians – I assume meaning that Orthodox people sometimes publicly do things that deny the teaching of the Church. Yes, they do. My example regarding racism was not about the bad behavior of Church members, but the publicly stated teaching of a Christian Church – formal error – damnable error that continued for over a century. It was simply a case in point that Sola Scriptura did not work as a mechanism, nor is it working now. I think I have argued effectively that they are not correcting their error by Scripture, but by the same mechanism of cultural norms that produced the racism in the first place. As such, I have argued that Sola Scriptura is a ruse – a delusion behind which people hide. It excuses their wickedness in the name of being Biblically faithful. It’s serious business.

  66. Nathan,
    I watched the first video, and though I can’t speak for Father Stephen, I will give my own 2 cents if you don’t mind. I was particularly interested in reading what you have to say and watching the videos because before becoming Orthodox I was a confessional Lutheran for 8 yrs (and before those 8 yrs I had virtually no church experience).

    So, here it goes, my 2 cents:

    First, after Paster Weedon read an Orthodox prayer to the Mother of God he misinterpreted it as worshiping the Mother of God. Why did he misinterpret it? Because, as Father Stephen has said in a comment above, “the Scripture has to be read in the mind of the Church and not in the brain of some independent reader…without proper reference to Tradition, simply makes Scripture subject to the whims.” Paster Weedon makes a comment in the video that reveals he mistakes his fear of worshiping the Mother of God for the Holy Spirit telling him not to accept this particular Orthodox prayer. He mistakes his own thought to be the voice of God because he does not share the single, common heart of the Church. If he had shared the heart of the Church he would not have interpreted the language of the prayer as worship language.

    Second, Paster Weedon makes the argument that the Orthodox Church does not understand, or refuses to acknowledge, that Church Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Palamas, and others, specifically describe a type of substitutional propitiatory atonement in their various writings that is rejected by Orthodoxy. But again, Pastor Weedon is reading his own interpretation into the selected writings of these Church Fathers. He believes that the language is so clear that its undeniable what the Church Fathers meant by it. But, as Ive heard father Stephen say on many occasions, even understanding the Church Fathers requires a purified heart that cannot be acquired outside of union with the very Body of Christ (which is the Orthodox Church). But I know the Lutheran response to this, being Lutheran myself for a while, which is that the Scriptures are Sacramental in that when you read or hear them you are actually experiencing Christ Himself breaking into this world. This is why they give Scripture the same title of the Word of God that Himself Christ also bears, because He is sacramentally present within them. This presence of Christ could/should/would grace anyone with perfect understanding of truth so long as they do not reject it with a hardened heart. I think Pastor Weeden assumed that, since Christ is truly present wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, and since the Gospel was being proclaimed in what he read of St. John Chrysostom, and St. Palamas, etc, then this presence of Christ actively caused him to interpret and understand what he was reading. He assumed that Christ’s presence at that moment caused himself to be perfectly illumined, while never questioning whether or not his heart was adequately purified through synergistic cooperation with the Holy Spirit within the life of the Church for the task of interpreting what he was reading. Lutherans reject synergistic cooperation as the means for salvation, and they don’t understand that purification (sanctification is their preferred term) and salvation are the same exact thing, and that this purification/salvation can not be acquired apart from the Body of Christ/Orthodox Church.

  67. BV,

    if I might add to Karen’s excellent comment, the nature of Knowledge is understood very differently in Classical Christianity, in Orthodoxy, compared to post-Enlightenment Reformed (even Christian) thought…
    Christ taught that to know (Him) you have to love (Him) (personal approach), whereas post-reformed Western thought would say that you have to get to know something first (object approach) in order to love it…
    It is a key issue (well one of many) in the Sola Scriptura notion.

    Father Stephen,
    I found your clarifications extremely edifying and I thank you.

  68. I want to add a small editorial insert to a portion of my comment above:

    “Why did he misinterpret it? Because, as Father Stephen has said in a comment above, “the Scripture [AS WELL AS PRAYERS OF THE CHURCH] has to be read in the mind of the Church and not in the brain of some independent reader…” I

  69. Fr. Stephen-
    Could you possibly expound on this paragraph from an earlier post?

    “There are many things in Scripture can will never be understood in the Reform tradition. The entire mystical experience of Orthodoxy, which is real, true, concrete, even physical in its manifestation, is alien to them. They do not and cannot understand “light” because they do not know the uncreated Light of God. Nor will they understand prayer, the heart, righteousness, etc. All of these things are alien to their consciousness and they cannot even be aware of it because they are only known in the continual, living Tradition of the Church.”

    I currently attend a PCA church, but am closet orthodox for a number of reasons(I know,I know, but that is for another string). Most members seem to be good, solid Christians, at least they would profess what it is to be “saved”. They hold to most of the values I think we should as Christians, especially as we are being attacked from all sides about what we thought was “right” for so long. What are you saying about their salvation? Their walk with God? Would you call them brothers in Christ? What, if anything, can we stand together on, united Christians against a hostile culture and world?

    This is something I struggle with a lot, as my wife and children are not as far along the orthodox path as I am. I have my ideas, but you are such a blessing to me, I will simply ask you to guide me as an authority and holy man if you would be so gracious.

    Peace and thank you. Can’t tell you how much I value your podcasts, posts, insight, guidance.

  70. Michell,
    Thank you for taking the time to do something I couldn’t do…and your response seems quite to the point. Such statements would easily cause confusion. If Nathan so misunderstands the Orthodox that he thinks it’s ok to say the we worship the Mother of God, then he is in profound error. And it is not ok to lure readers away to read such slanders. Not ok at all.

    Arbp. Michael of the OCA recently heard me lecture at St. Tikhon’s seminary. I was quite clear on the absence of a forensic approach on the atonement in the Eastern Fathers. He has promised to send me a citation in Chrysostom that bears this out – one concerning the nature of shame. I will probably make an article out of it when it comes.

    It is probably troubling for some to hear this, but not being able to “speak Orthodox” will mean a failure to understand the Fathers again and again. For they do speak Orthodox. St. John Chrysostom, Augustine, etc. venerated the Mother of God, honored the saints, loved their relics, kissed icons and burnt incense before them, etc. In short, they were card-carrying Orthodox Christians, mostly from the Middle East, Greece and North Africa. Protestant readers dress them up in business suits and make them sound like Germans and Franks.

    I recently had some conversations (not online) with someone about the ordination of women to the priesthood. In that exchange it became clear to me that if you do not venerate the Mother of God in an Orthodox manner, then you will not understand the Orthodox understanding of men and women and their relationship to the priesthood. I cannot make a clear, rational connection. But it was clear to me. It was a very deep, grammatical thing.

    We “know” the rules of grammar in our native tongues. We may not know how to say the rules, but we know how to use them. Thus, a foreign speaker makes mistakes. We can correct them. If they ask us for the rule, sometimes we have to say, “I don’t know the rule but the way you are saying it is wrong.” The Orthodox faith is often like this. We teach the practice (the doing) of the faith long before any discussion of the rules. And some never learn the rules, but “speak” it fluently.

    It is one of the reasons that I deeply treasure some of our “native” speakers in the comments community (such as Dino). Orthodoxy is a second language to me. I have been immersed in it, and I do my best to stay “under water.” But there’s a wonderful resource to be had in native speakers – particularly one like Dino whose native tongue is also Greek. Don’t mean to embarrass him, but I’m grateful he’s around.

  71. Milos,
    Nope. It’s trolling. And the fishing term is older than the internet. Here’s a little something from Wikipedia:

    Trolling is a method of fishing where one or more fishing lines, baited with lures or bait fish, are drawn through the water. This may be behind a moving boat, or by slowly winding the line in when fishing from a static position, or even sweeping the line from side-to-side, e.g. when fishing from a jetty. Trolling is used to catch pelagic fish such as salmon, mackerel and kingfish.

    Trolling can be phonetically confused with trawling, a different method of fishing where a net (trawl) is drawn through the water instead of lines. Trolling is used both for recreational and commercial fishing whereas trawling is used mainly for commercial fishing.

  72. “The Church already knows all doctrine, and has since the beginning. If we didn’t know all doctrine, then we would never be able to say to a new heresy, “This is wrong.””

    The whole idea of “the development of doctrine” is simply presupposed by most thinkers in the west, whether they consider themselves Christians or not.

    Fr Stephen,

    Your comments on “grammar” made me think of a quote by Archimandrite Sophrony in the back of my unfortunately named (for this conversation) “The Bible and the Holy Fathers” by Johanna Manley:

    “The language of human words and concepts is able only to a very limited extent to convey one man’s inner state to another. The indispensable condition for mutual understanding is a common or identical experience. Without it there cannot be understanding because behind our every word lies our whole life. Into every concept each one of us introduces the compass of his own experience, and it is therefore unavoidable that we should speak in different tongues. Yet since we all share a common nature it is equally possible to provoke by words a fresh experience in the soul of another, and thus awaken new life in him. If this applies to human inter-course, how much more so does it apply where divine action is involved. The word of God does, in fact, given a certain inner disposition of the soul, offer new life – the eternal life which is contained within it.”

  73. Father Freeman,

    I understand what you are saying – and I thank you for the gracious manner in which you handled me. Forgive my rude intrusion. I could have expressed my concerns in a way more fitting for this forum – again, your house. I will try to do better if I comment again (and you welcome me again).

    I trust you understand that I too have strong convictions and it seems to me that we can never quite separate conversation from fishing (the holistic life right? How can we not desire to share Christ with all those we meet?)… but again, I will try to do and be better.


    My understanding is that Pastor Weedon did indeed have a hard time with that prayer because it seemed to him to be attributing things to Mary that we Lutherans would only be comfortable attributing to God. I will have to go back and listen to it again.

    As for all the atonement passages he read from the Fathers, yes, many of us struggle to understand how the argument about context can be taken so far as regards understanding and misunderstanding language. It seems a bridge too far.

    All I can say for the rest of the day….


  74. BV, Sola scriptura has lead precisely to the thousands of protestant denominations we have today, many with wildly varying beliefs, yet each somehow, magically, claiming to just take “the plain teaching of scripture.” Can you please explain for me how that can be? Sola scriptura lead to, among other things, the false teaching of the rapture. One person read the Bible, and decided it taught the rapture, and today in America, virtually all Evangelicals believe this, despite the fact that NO Christian believed this for the first 1800 years of Christianity. That’s mind boggling.

  75. Nathan, you said;

    “..many of us struggle to understand how the argument about context can be taken so far as regards understanding and misunderstanding language. It seems a bridge too far.”

    Ok, I will throw a couple examples out here that demonstrate how we can read and interpret the language of a specific passage completely out of context, and utterly un-illuminated as to what the author is trying to convey:

    ““But to one who does not work, but who believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. When an ungodly person converts, God justifies him by faith alone, not for the good works he did not have.” -PELAGIUS (that’s right, the heretic), From his Commentary on Romans, 4:5

    Now, maybe dear old Pelagius has been terribly misjudged all these centuries, OR just maybe during the 4th century this kind of language had quite a different use and meaning to people back then (they spoke “a different language”), as opposed to us who have been so entrenched in post-reformation language that are brains simply automatically revert everything we read into a post-reformation dialect.

    And now for a more historical, biblical example:

    “..then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” -Deuteronomy 19:19-21

    This seems to be pretty plain language, and yet Christ would have us interpret this passage differently than what its external appearance exudes;

    ““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” -Matthew 5:38-42

    Was is that Christ actually changed the rules, implying that at one time God commanded the opposite of what Christ is saying here in this passage? Or is it that though Deuteronomy’s plain language seemed to be saying one thing it is expedient for us to interpret this passage with a purified, Christ like heart in order to understand its true spiritual meaning?

  76. Father Stephen,
    I would like to take “an eye for an eye” and express how grateful I am that you’re around.
    To read these beloved words in the English language, verbalized so authentically, sure makes my heart rejoice and wonder with great satisfaction. At times they have even evoked some other wondrous words I have only ever heard from extraordinary Elders in my native tongue. Those words had thrilled me on the one hand (with their content) but I was also subsequently upset on the other – due to such precise articulateness and electrifying dynamism always appearing to become lost with any attempt at English translation (especially my beloved Elder Amilianos). But as I said, coming here abolishes all such disappointment… ☺

  77. Nathan,
    The Mother of God was honored and held in honor by Luther in a way that most modern Lutherans would find unacceptable. I suspect this was because Luther was formed and shaped in a differing language and he still had regard for certain parts of it. I do not doubt and fully understand that Orthodox prayers, first encountered by a Protestant, feel like “worship” of Mary. But they don’t feel that way to the Orthodox. We have a very clear and utterly defined sense that she is not God. We would fight anyone who said that she was. But we find the vocabulary of Protestantism deeply, fatally lacking in devotional words. You have almost no honor for anything other than God and the Bible. It’s one reason many Protestants feel like Muslims (with Jesus substituting for Allah) to the Orthodox – and of course some Muslims have greater honor for the Theotokos than Protestants – go figure.

    But someone’s “discomfort” is just that – “discomfort.” The hymn “Beneath Your Compassion” a hymn to the Theotokos, is the oldest known written hymn to Mary. WE have a papyrus scrapdating back to the 200’s. This is the faith of the Fathers.

    Beneath Your Compassion, we take Refuge,
    O Virgin, Mother of God (Theotokos).
    Despise not our prayers in our necessity,
    But deliver us from harm.
    O only Virgin, only blessed One.
    Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

    (and to make it even harder, in the Russian Tradition we sing it on our knees)

    And the hymn has continued to be sung, unchanged until this day. All of the Fathers – ALL OF THE FATHERS – would have known and sung this hymn. If you can’t sing this hymn then you do not know or understand the Fathers, despite anything they say that you can take out of context. For this hymn is part of the context of their heart.

    The fact is simple. Protestantism, including Luther’s version, represents a radical break with Holy Tradition and the faith of the Fathers. It is the experience of something different. That is simple, straightforward arguable fact.

  78. Fr. Stephen,

    I sympathize with Guy’s earlier comment about it being a shock to someone’s system when the very backbone that they have been hanging everything on is crumbled by someone before their very eyes. It’s very hard and gut-wrenching. I have also watched Nathan’s replies and noticed that he has tried to be humble and not argumentative – though your last reply to him seemed to have a bit of fire in it.

    This is a small reminder that our enemies are not flesh and blood and that we are called to speak the truth – but to do it in love. We here on this site have the luxury of reveling in the truth while being surrounded by a loving online community. May we be gracious in that exercise to those who do not, remembering once again to not only be wise as serpents but also gentle as doves.

  79. Thank you for your observation, Drewster. The “fire” in Nathan’s response was “off-site” where readers were invited to watch a video disparaging Orthodoxy (incorrectly I might add – particularly viz. prayers to the Theotokos). Yes, there was fire in my response. There could have been more. Sometimes I have to draw the boundaries very clearly. This, for me, is one of those places.

  80. Nathan,

    You may find this article (printed in the April 2010 issue of Evangelical Quarterly) to be of interest. It is by Derek Flood, a progressive Evangelical, but I found it very useful in its rebuttal of those who teach/taught the early Fathers taught a Penal Substitution view of the Atonement. Perhaps it may be helpful to you as well, since the author fills in much of the Fathers’ theological context that does not match the theological view and world of the Reformers and their modern successors who emphasize PSA teaching. In the article, Flood, it seems to me (Fr. Stephen can offer his more-learned opinion) does a fairly decent job of presenting the considerably more Orthodox mindset of the Fathers than those this article is a response to.

  81. So much of these discussions, at heart, I still think go back to that very basic ontological breakdown between autonomy and communion.

  82. Father,

    Thank you for this wonderful post and for the comments. I’ve enjoyed reading it.

    I’m the choir director at our small Orthodox mission parish, and every time we sing “Beneath Thy Compassion” (the oldest known hymn to the Mother of God, as you note) — specifically Bortniansky’s arrangement — I get chills up my spine, and for that I’m very thankful to God.

    Our parish is on the old-style calendar, so today (Oct. 14/Oct. 1) is our feast of the Protection of the Mother of God. A wonderful Feast!

    From the appointed Bible readings for today is: “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (Luke 11).

    And then also in Luke is the famous Canticle of Mary (called the “Magnificat” in the West, I think), where she sings that “all generations shall call me blessed.” This is also part of the Orthodox matins service. Yes, there is more scripture for Orthodox Christians in vespers/vigil/matins/liturgy in a week than most Protestsnts see in 6 months!

    Anyway, I’ve been blessed to be Orthodox all my life (baptized as a baby in the northeastern U.S.), and I cannot imagine my spiritual life without veneration to the most holy Mother of God. I feel bad for my Protestant friends who don’t have this, or who, through hardness of heart, refuse to acknowledge the reality that veneration to the Theotokos is and always has been an integral part of the Christian life.

    Most Holy Theotokos, save us! (as a Father exclaims at Vespers.). And yes Father, without an Orthodox mindset, one has no clue what this exclamation means. I’ve heard Fr Tom Hopko explain it as “Orthodox poetry.” Your thoughts on how to explain the meaning of this exclamation?

    Thanks again for your fantastic blog.

  83. Michelle,

    Thank you for the questions you ask. I don’t have time to deal with them fully now (perhaps I can come back a bit later), but in short, I think the answer to all of those is “more context”. For example, while what Pelagius says about Romans 4:5 might sound right to Lutheran ears, we certainly would have to read other things he wrote – things that we would clearly understand to be wrong. Our views did not fully track with St. Augustine, but in this fight we would have seen him to be on the side of the angels.

    As for the Deuteronomy and Matthew passages, I believe that Christ is saying that in spite of the presence of such Old Testament passages, those who walked by faith (in Him) even in the Old Testament knew that God desired mercy above all – even if at times these harsh laws, tragically, may have needed to be enacted (without losing the “taste” for mercy, for mercy triumphs over judgment).

    Re: Mary. I do have questions. First of all, what would you say Mary is saving us from? Is a person dishonoring her if they do not ask her for salvation from sin, death and the devil – but perhaps only thanks her for her faith and bearing the Author of Salvation? (or perhaps just ask her for personal guidance for this or that). I mean, I will ask my friends to pray for me, but not to save me, even as I know that they have been sent by God to give Christ to me who does save me – and they delight to shine the spotlight on Him!

    While confessional Lutherans do not see Holy Scripture as the only form of tradition but are willing to accept many traditions, many of us will balk when we come across things that do not clearly seem to be attested to in the Scriptures that were accepted with unanimity in the entire Christian church. I get the impression that you are saying that it would not be possible to be in communion with a person who accepted all of your doctrines save this one. Is that the case? Would you withhold the right hand of fellowship from someone who did not condemn your own veneration of Mary – which, as you say, is *not* worship (I’ll trust that with your laypersons we do not see the same confusions that many think some RC laity have) but would not be able to do it themselves – because they, with Irenaeus for example, believe that those things that were most important to the early church were those things that were written down? If I recall, Martin Chemnitz, in his Examination of the Council of Trent, quotes a number of 4th c. fathers who to have difficulty with the kind of things some say to Mary (I will have to check on this).


    “All of the Fathers – ALL OF THE FATHERS – would have known and sung this hymn.”

    On what basis can you assert this though? I certainly *know* that most all the fathers would have been familiar with the homologoumena – which say nothing of hymns like this, but rather look to Christ. I delight to call Mary blessed, to honor her, and to venerate her (not the same meaning, yes).


    Thanks – hope to check that out.

    I am quite busy. Thank you for your engagement but this will be all from me today.


  84. Nathan,
    All of the Fathers would have sung the hymn because it was, and is, a very popular hymn of the Church. And they went to Church – a lot. I can say this because the Fathers were part of the same Church as I am today. All Orthodox Christians know and sing this hymn. It’s pretty simple.

    But you made another erroneous assumption…”accepted with unanimity in the entire Church”. All of the Orthodox accepted these things…and we were the entire Church. Protestants today have invented new Churches and want to create a new unanimity. And they use phrases such as you have used, but you do not truly mean it. Orthodox is the unanimity of the Church. That, again, is historical fact.

    As to things “written” – I showed you a picture (by link) of the written text of the hymn. And it’s written in other places as well.

    As to how Mary “saves” us. First it would require that you learn the true meaning of salvation and not a later re-invention of the word. The New Testament uses “save” in many senses. It’s only a later imposition that sought to narrow its meaning. This is a difficulty for the Orthodox. Protestants talk a great deal about the Scriptures and even the New Testament Church, but they have a matrix through which they see the Scriptures that make them mean new things. Orthodoxy in its practices, hymns, etc., all of extremely ancient origin, continues to read and sing with the same meanings. This is the effect of the continuous unchanged practices of her life.

    If you truly love the Scriptures, and not just a later hermeneutical redaction, then you’d run with joy to hear them read and sung in their original meaning.

  85. OK – made time for one more…

    Father –

    You said: “But you made another erroneous assumption…”accepted with unanimity in the entire Church”. All of the Orthodox accepted these things…and we were the entire Church.”

    I was not talking about the hymn per se. I was talking about the homologoumena – and how things like the hymn do not clearly seem to be attested to in those Scriptures accepted by the whole ancient church.

    Had a chance to skim the article Karen… the distinction between “substitutionary atonement” and “penal substitution” is helpful for thinking this through. I am not convinced that some version of both of these are incompatible though.

    The atonement is a great mystery, and Lutherans, while always keen to emphasize Christus Victor, have always had a place for the punishment/wrath of God aspect as well (even as there is no clear theory here – we do not say Anselm or Calvin is right, for example – Isiah 53 does not demand either view). We do like Ambrose very much (who Flood admits had something penal going on).

    Can one perhaps see it like this?:

    God permits man to give even the most perfect of men – their New Adam and Head, sent by the Father – the death penalty. In short, this means that, in His wrath, He gives them over to the full extent of their desires and wickedness. Everything culminates and comes to subsist in this most heinous of acts, sin becoming utterly sinful, as Jesus Christ takes into Himself all of our sin and becomes sin for us (here, perhaps He is fully identifying with man as He did in His baptism, sanctifying the waters for all of us). And sinful man really deserves the death penalty He receives – but by virtue of the Perfect Man also being the Son of God, He reverses the horrible logic of all of this, and by taking man’s deserved punishment – the death penalty, appropriate for high treason – on Himself (man’s punishment man’s own hands) brings life to all men. Such, of course, is the Father’s will from the beginning of time. As such, the disciples should not have opposed this and fought against it, but have been willing to die with Him at the time of His death.

    I don’t see why something like this – which seeks to combine restorative and retributive justice concerns – would necessarily be antithetical to the EO emphasis.

    Flood writes about modern penal-substitutionists: “they would nevertheless see the central function of the atonement as appeasing God’s anger through retributive punishment as a precondition for God’s forgiveness, and our resulting healing and sanctification”.

    Father Kimel also wrote something similar: “the penal construal of atonement makes justice prior to mercy: the latter can only be displayed once the demands of justice are fulfilled.”

    Actually, no – that is a misunderstanding. Put that way, of course there would be a problem. After all, God’s merciful heart not only flows from the cross, but leads to the cross. Anyone who fights against penal substitution tooth and nail without acknowledging this is fighting a straw man.

    I have done a post that goes into more detail about this, but will refrain from linking to it here.

    Also, in Pastor Weedon’s first talk (around 36) he about atonement passages that are not mentioned in the article by Food: the Golden Mouth talking about the punishment we deserved, St. Cyril of Jersualem talking about Jesus “staved the wrath of God”, and Palamas stating how a sacrifice was needed reconcile the Father on high with us… the human race.


  86. Nathan,
    I think it’s noteworthy that for an Orthodox believer, reading the Fathers (as you just mentioned some examples) describing God’s “wrath”, feels like a paraenetical nudge for repentance and not much more, without altering the theological perception of God’s “ontology” (by introducing a “need” –higher than our God of love- that “demands” atonement), I am not so sure it is seen this way by you…

  87. “Isaac,
    you make a valid point indeed.”

    I was thinking the same thing. Does not Fr. Stephen have an article more explicitly on this theme somewhere here (can’t seem to find it at the moment)?

  88. Nathan,

    Forgive me but you are just being silly and running in circles. On the hymn to Mary you said

    I was not talking about the hymn per se. I was talking about the homologoumena – and how things like the hymn do not clearly seem to be attested to in those Scriptures accepted by the whole ancient church.

    Yes, you were talking about the hymn. Homologoumena or not, re-invoking Bible this way just illustrates what a wearisome confusion of church and scriptures the Reformation produced.

    Finally, still arguing for a forensic idea salvation you said

    I have done a post that goes into more detail about this, but will refrain from linking to it here.

    I will be thankful if you don’t. Protestantism has a wearisome mental obsession over doctrines and can’t stop arguing. Please consider that God is not an idea in need of protection by scholars and debaters.

    He must be eaten, i.e., taken in whole without reduction. He gave us this capacity for our salvation. Salvation is not less than to forever dine with him on His own divinity. He is the bread of our life, our salvation and being broken thus and given is the very purpose for His condescension to our low estate.

  89. Nathan,
    Forgive me, but this is all so clueless. I think you are fascinated with the rational word games of Scholastic Protestantism, so-called “Confessional Lutheranism.”

    These various examples of penal substitution – Lutherans, et al, find “straws,” just isolated instances of “wrath” or “punishment” etc. and say, “See there!” But they cannot find an extended treatment that even remotely resembles their false teaching. For St. John Chrysostom – the obvious place to look for his treatment of the atonement is in his Anaphora, something that the Orthodox hear almost every Sunday. Or his Paschal homily, which we all hear every Pascha in every Orthodox congregation. The same could be said of St. Basil’s anaphora.

    Believe it or not, but I studied Luther under David Steinmetz at Duke, one of the leading historians of Luther in the world. And I did my work there on Luther and the atonement. Interestingly, I used Luther’s hymns. With only about 2 exceptions, they were Christus Victor – it was clearly his preferred treatment of the topic. But this is not at all so of the Lutherans who followed him. Gustav Aulen had a long, protracted debate with a German Lutheran theologian, Paul Althaus, in which Althaus excoriated his non-penal substitutionary views. Of course, Althaus will also forever be remembered for having cooperated with the Nazis. It was a sad case.

    If modern Lutherans are talking about Christus Victor, we can thank Aulen. But it is revisionist to pretend that this has been the dominant Lutheran view. It has not.

    Its fault are quite simple – the atonement does not take place in order to change anything in God (appease His wrath). This is simply false, even heretical and blasphemous. But it’s been around long enough and repeated long enough that many Christians believe it. It is not the Orthodox faith. It’s not even Christian. It describes a God whom I do not know.

    Attempts to find such a teaching in the Eastern Fathers is an attempt to make them say things they did not say. Attempts to misuse and misunderstand the imagery of wrath, for example.

    It is an error that should be renounced. Plain and simple. It’s not a “minority view” or even an “acceptable” or “tolerable” view. It’s wrong. It’s not true.

  90. Nathan, you say,

    “…the answer to all of those is “more context”…while what Pelagius says about Romans 4:5 might sound right to Lutheran ears, we certainly would have to read other things he wrote – things that we would clearly understand to be wrong. Our views did not fully track with St. Augustine, but in this fight we would have seen him to be on the side of the angels.”

    A historical context where any Church Father expresses the Lutheran notion of monergism, or agrees with the doctrinal position that “reject(s) every kind of synergism” as is described in “A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932)” does not exist. (Im assuming you are LCMS since you state you teach at Concordia St. Paul on you blog). All of the ancient Church Fathers were synergists. All of them. I really do believe that monergism and synergism is at the heart of our discussion about differing “languages.” Lutherans use the monergistic “language” that was invented and developed during the Reformation, of which they cypher all of Scripture and the ancient writings of the Church Fathers, rejecting what they don’t like (as you put it, “Our views did not fully track with St. Augustine”) and keeping what bodes well with their monergistic language (as you put it, “but in this fight we would have seen him to be on the side of the angels”). Lutherans aren’t fully on track with any one of the Church Father, because as I said, they all were synergist. The fact that they all subscribe to synergy means that the Lutheran notion that “rejects every kind of synergism” is a new dogma that previously did not exist within the Church. So ultimately this is what you suggest Lutherans should do with Pelagius; read all of his writings, weigh what sounds monergistic against what sounds synergistic (in other words, run him through the Lutheran cypher), and then decide what side of heaven he stands on according to an dogma invented 500 yrs ago. This is nothing more than proof texting.

    The Church Fathers use a synergistic language that is clearly antithetical and irreconcilable to Lutheran monergism. They would have all condemned Lutheran monergism, just as the Orthodox Church does today, because synergism is “attested to in the Scriptures [is/has always been] accepted with unanimity in the entire Christian Church.”

    Here’s just a little more on how monergism is at the heart of our discussion by using Paster Weedon’s problem with the Orthodox prayer to Mary.

    Here’s the prayer:

    “O most holy Lady Theotokos, the light of my darkened soul, my hope, my protection, my refuge, my rest, and my joy. I thank you, for you have permitted me, the unworthy, to be a partaker of the most pure Body and precious Blood of your Son. Give the light of understanding to the eyes of my heart, you that gave birth to the True Light. Enliven me who am deadened by sin, you that gave birth to the Fountain of Immortality. Have mercy on me, O loving Mother of the merciful God. Grant me compunction and contrition of heart, humility in my thoughts, and a release from the slavery of my own reasonings. And enable me, even to my last breath, to receive the sanctification of the most pure Mysteries, for the healing of soul and body. Grant me tears of repentance and confession, that I may glorify you all the days of my life, for you are blessed and greatly glorified forever. Amen.”

    Why does it seemed to be attributing things to Mary that Lutherans would only attribute to God? Because monergism has developed into a dogmatic language capable of excommunicating all other language that does not meet its criteria; namely the criteria that “holds that the grace of God is the only efficient cause in beginning and effecting conversion” (the definition given by the LCMS, Hence, all salvific, redemptive, restorative language is now narrowed down to exclusively refer to the sole act of conversion from being dead in sin to alive in Christ (having His righteousness imputed to the individual) that God alone performs.

    But monergism and the exclusive language that developed from it is not the language of the of the Church Fathers, nor of the Saints, and is not the language of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It is, rather, solely the language of Post-Reformation Protestants. So, when Pastor Weedon proclaims, “that prayer I can only regard as being like mail with the wrong address on it!” he has effectively ran it through this same exclusively monergistic cypher that began its development only 500 yrs ago, as opposed to the long standing traditional language of the Church, of which this prayer belongs to.

  91. All theological controversies have dissimilar ecclesiologies as their root cause.

    That is not to say that controversies present themselves as ecclesiological disputes.

  92. If anyone contests with asking the Mother of God to save them, then they must also contest every reference in Scripture to the word ‘save’ in regards to St. Paul. He routinely states that others can ‘save’, including himself. “I become all things to all men that I might SAVE some.” This is but one example. St. James likewise says, “let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will SAVE his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” St. Jude says “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; SAVE others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

    Just use a reference tool to see how the word ‘save’ is used by the NT authors. To ask the Mother of God to save us is to use the word ‘save’ in its fullest sense, and that sense which conforms to the NT usage.


  93. Thank you all for the wonderful engagement here. I’ll start from the back.


    Good points – and I note that you can appeal right to Scripture to make them, i.e. Scripture itself can helps us see the wider context. Nevertheless, the point remains that in the O.T. and the homogoumena – the Scriptures shared by the entire Ancient Church – we never see examples of this kind of prayer to the departed. It is just not there. And as Irenaeus pointed out, what the Holy Spirit had written down in the Scriptures was the key stuff of the Apostolic proclamation. If these kinds of prayers to Mary and other saints are as important as you say, why not even a hint of this kind of thin in the Scriptures? And again – this is a church dividing issue for the Orthodox? Just trying to understand. Again, I will have to find the quotes in Chemnitz from the 4th c. fathers who express misgivings about these prayers.


    The synergism rejected in the Brief Statement simply has to do with the fact that we do not cooperate with God in our justification (John 1:12-13, for example). This is where you must understand our context and live in our world deeply to realize that. Further, any EO believes this about justification as well, do they not – at least when it comes to the baptizing of infants and baptismal regeneration? Anyone who knows Pastor Weedon knows that he emphasizes synergism all the time – although of course the doctrine of justification must be safeguarded for the sake of terrified consciences (this just means that we can give the penitent the absolution that creates peace with God – that they may know they have eternal life). I, and any good confessional Lutheran can indeed say that we are synergists as it pertains to salvation broadly understood (the whole of our Christian life), but not as pertains to the doctrine of justification (the thief on the cross really is saved and should have full certainty that He is, and so can terrified sinners). Monergism is nowhere used in our confessional documents and though some confessional Lutherans talk this way today, I advise persons to avoid this language, which is not typically Lutheran and causes confusion. From everything that I have read of the Fathers – and from those I know who read them widely – Lutherans for the most part are very comfortable reading the Fathers… they certainly were more Lutheran than Roman Catholic (See Jordan Cooper’s book “Christification” which points out the emphasis on theosis on Luther and the early Lutheran Fathers). So when you say “The Church Fathers use a synergistic language that is clearly antithetical and irreconcilable to Lutheran monergism”, it simply does not match my experience or those of other Lutherans.

    Re: the prayer to Mary, I see what you (and John) are saying. That said, I repeat to you the words I said to him above. And a further question: would this kind of prayer to Mary be something that a person could say to other saints like Peter and Paul? (this is my indirect response to your reaction to Pastor Weedon’s “wrong mail” quip). Or does this have to do with her being the unique Queen of Heaven? Honest question. Again, believe me when I say I don’t really have a problem with people praying to Mary – in fact, I addressed her myself this morning re: our discussions (well, I addressed her and her Son simultaneously, and told them my dilemma). My key question above, which I really would like to know the answer to is whether or not this is a fellow-ship dividing issue for you. I think about Paul delighting in the oneness he discovered he had with the Apostles, who after talking with him offered him the “right hand of fellowship”. I’m always eager to get at what really are non-negotiables for persons as we learn more about each other and how our views differ or do not (by the way, I have done a four part series on the similarities – it is called “If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy” Perhaps you’d like to check it out and we can talk some more based on what I say there.


    *Forgive me* but I do not understand what you are talking about when you say “this is all so clueless”. What “word games” are you talking about? What have I said that you really do not understand at all? I re-read everything I wrote and i at least think it is very clear. Let me ask you this: what specifically, is our false teaching? It is not necessary Calvin’s. Some Lutherans may teach what Calvin taught, but something like Calvin’s teaching is not found, to my knowledge, in the Book of Concord. All we need is Isaiah 53:5, Romans 1-3 and the book of I John. All those elements – punishment, wrath, God reconciled to us, etc… are clearly there and we might not know just how it works, but Christ somehow took upon Himself our punishment which God allowed. Just because the Golden Mouth and Basil do not emphasize this – as Luther himself didn’t (as you point out) – does not mean that they could not have believed something similar. Again, in my experience, their writings, in their full context, would indicate that they did even if their theory of the atonement is not fully developed. What do you think about Palamas saying that the sacrifice of Christ reconciles God to us?

    Further, as I pointed out to you: “God’s merciful heart not only flows from the cross, but leads to the cross”. You say, “the atonement does not take place in order to change anything in God”, but you are talking to a confessional Lutheran, so we see the wisdom of what you say here and offer you words like I just did. Please do not ignore this point – I want conversation, not straw men.


    I am not being silly and running in circles. I really wasn’t talking about the hymn (I should never have said “per se” by the way – not sure where that came from).

    “Homologoumena or not, re-invoking Bible this way just illustrates what a wearisome confusion of church and scriptures the Reformation produced.”

    Have your read the argument at my blog? My whole point there is that we cannot be lumped together with other Reformers. Our view of “Sola Scriptura” is very distinct if understood rightly.

    “He must be eaten, i.e., taken in whole without reduction. He gave us this capacity for our salvation. Salvation is not less than to forever dine with him on His own divinity. He is the bread of our life, our salvation and being broken thus and given is the very purpose for His condescension to our low estate.”

    Why do you think I disagree with you? I am a confessional Lutheran.


    “by introducing a “need” –higher than our God of love- that “demands” atonement…”

    Dino, perhaps I am wrong here, but to my knowledge, all of the talk in the Book of Concord about the penal aspects of the atonement do not insist that God “demands” this. That is Anselm, not us (and I actually have read a lot of Anselm and disagree with him vociferously).


    This has been very good for me and I hope you as well. My only regret is that I cannot meet you all personally. I would like to continue the conversation but will not be able to do so for several days. Please know I will, God willing, come back.

    Christ’s peace to you all.


  94. Nathan,
    thanks for your response, your statement that:

    “I don’t really have a problem with people praying to Mary – in fact, I addressed her myself this morning re: our discussions (well, I addressed her and her Son simultaneously, and told them my dilemma).”

    made me think that the best solution by far would be for us to spend at least three to four times more, praying rather than thinking, reflecting, anlysing, reading and writing, I don’t know if you agree but I think we all have far greater needs in ‘that department’… 🙂

  95. Nathan,

    You said: “And as Irenaeus pointed out, what the Holy Spirit had written down in the Scriptures was the key stuff of the Apostolic proclamation.”

    First, there is a distinction in Orthodoxy between the proclamation of the Gospel and the inner life of the Church. What we find in the Scriptures is, of course, the Gospel as well as occasional letters regarding varying dilemmas in the life of the Church. But these issues that are addressed assume a context. What context? Is that context important? When reading the epistles one has to understand that much of what is not said (that is, shared knowledge by all) is just as important as what is said. You can’t read the Scriptures in a vacuum, nor were they written in one. Nobody ran around writing things down just for the sake of writing them down. In a primarily oral and communal culture (unlike our culture of print and individualism), writing down things was helpful but it wasn’t seen as a necessity. Sometimes I think we impose that 21st century cultural notion onto the first century Church, even reading it into writings of the Fathers and the Scriptures themselves. We must be careful how we read them. Rather, the Christian life was lived and passed down in doing as much as in writing, arguably more so since much of the early Christian worship, hymns and prayers (other than the Psalms) are not written down. So is Irenaeus right? Absolutely! But he’s talking about the proclamation of the Gospel which was for all. It is not shocking, then, to find that the early Christians guarded the sacraments from the sacrilege of pagan non-believers. They didn’t write them down often, and when they did (like St. Cyril’s catechetical lectures) he explicitly states that these aren’t to be shared with unbelievers and anyone that copies them out to put the same note that he has above it!

    You make an assumption about the Scriptures that I can’t agree with (and don’t think St. Irenaeus would have either). It seems that if something is “important” it must be written down. Says who? Why? What counts as “important”? Important to the Gospel? Important to the inner life of the Church? I agree that the Gospel is fully available in the Scriptures. St. Paul and St. John in letters to Christian communities (the Corinthians and the community referred to in John’s epistles) both state that they want to come to them in person to share information with them; St. Paul specifically speaking about the celebration of the Eucharist. Is the Eucharist not important? If we take your assumption as true, clearly it wasn’t. If it wasn’t that important, then why did St. Paul want to come to show them personally? A personal visit for a ceremony that apparently didn’t make the cut in any great detail in the NT. You make so many assumptions about how the early Church “must” or “ought” to have operated and you have imposed those assumptions upon the early Church!

    As far as the Mother of God goes, here’s a tidbit. She’s the Queen of Heaven. How do we know this? Well, in Israel’s history we know of a few of the wives of various kings. In fact, many kings had more than a few. But we do know a great many of the mothers of said kings. Why? They, not their sons’ wives, were the queen. (If I may, Father Stephen, I am adding a link that I do not think you will take issue with, but if you feel you must, please remove it from my comment.) It is a list of the the Queen Mothers of Israel as well as some information on the Hebrew word for the Queen Mother (Hebrew: Gebirah)

    So, who is the King of Kings? Jesus Christ. Who is the Queen who rules with the King in Israel and intercedes on the people’s behalf? The mother, our Lord’s mother, the Theotokos. (1 Kings 1:11-31; 1 Kings 2:13-21). That is but a brief glimpse into the matter. Much more has been said regarding the issue and I believe Father Stephen may have written on the subject in the past.


  96. Excellent, excellent, excellent! One of the best articles I have ever read on this issue, which for Orthodox, is a non-issue, really. Thank you for your courage and wisdom in writing this piece.

  97. Nathan,
    You create perverse rules. You take the single quote from Irenaeus, viz. what is written, and elevate it to a principle for the sake of your argument. This, despite the fact that oral tradition was (and is) held to be of value. It was explicitly defended by St. Basil. Also your constant invocation of “homogoumena” is again just a facile rhetoric trick in an effort to create a Lutheran canon of Scripture where none existed. These are not efforts to arrive at the truth, only perverse efforts to create a logically argued position. So long as you continue to make up rules (Lutheran rules) you will never arrive at the truth. Only at Lutheranism.

    As to the “right hand of fellowship.” There is no “fellowship” in the New Testament. The word is “koinonia” and means “communion.” The notion of fellowship is a modern invention and serves an ecumenist agenda.

    St. Paul recognized and was recognized and the right hand was a certification of being “in communion.” Today, it means the Cup of Christ. And there is no communion with untruths of Lutheranism or the various guises of Sola Scriptura or the efforts to void the Orthodox faith.

    May the Mother of God pray for you indeed. But the continued pressing of these various invented rules for Lutherans is simply too tedious for discussion.

  98. Nathan,

    You seem sincere in your desire to come to an understanding of the impasse that exists here – and a bit baffled too perhaps. I believe the answer is context – not primarily the context of the scriptures in question, but of where you are standing when trying to discuss these things vs. the others in the discussion. It plays out in at least a couple ways:

    1. Material vs. Spiritual
    You are part of a Western culture which traditionally believes first and foremost in what it can see, touch and measure. While Western Christians definitely believe in God, their experience of Him is most palpable through physical mediums. Often that comes down to the themselves, the Bible and the people around them – and also what we see in nature. These are the ways they experience and learn about God.

    Those who are part of an Eastern culture tend to be more mystical, believing that there is much more to the world than meets the eye. Orthodox and other high-church bodies use things like incense and icons and elaborate dress to help make these things to be physical realities for them.

    So in the discussion above you are looking at your usual mediums – the Scriptures, other Lutherans, your experience – and honestly not seeing the things people on this site are telling you. This of course does not mean that they aren’t there, simply that you can’t see them.

    2. The Bible – Primary or Piece
    The second point stems from the first one. Of the Western mediums through which you learn and relate, only the Bible can have a claim to be inspired and unblemished. You, the people around you and even nature fails you time and again. But something physical must be clung to, so the Bible is it. If something cannot be justified there, it is suspect at best.

    On the other hand the Orthodox think of the Scriptures differently. Fr. Stephen put it very well in this series of articles. First they think of the “Scriptures” instead of the “Bible”. This is significant. Instead of it being this entity on its own (the Bible) which was canonized at one point and then proclaimed untouchable as the Ark of the Covenant from that point on, it is a collection of writings (the Scriptures) that the church has used over time, more like a working copy that has proved to be wisdom and life to the church throughout time.

    Secondly it is only a piece of the Christian life, a piece that dwells within the life of the church – the church as a whole but also as one parish. Besides the scriptures there is the living witness of the current church body, the teaching and wisdom of the church fathers, the current work of the Holy Spirit, and so on.

    This is different from the current Western view. If that group of people displeases me, they aren’t the church. I’ll take my Bible and go somewhere else. This isn’t said in meanness; it is simply the common way in this culture. In an Orthodox setting one would take it more seriously. Going to another church (even parish) should not be done lightly and certainly not just based on feelings. But I digress…..


    Though I probably didn’t explain it perfectly and much more could be said, I believe these differences in context and mindset keep you from seeing and understanding in this situation.

    For example, just because it wasn’t referenced in the Bible, doesn’t mean everyone in most of the church’s history (up to the Reformation) did not treat Mary with the reverence that is spoken of here – and sing to her the hymn in question. I’ll just remind you that the West tends to give honor and reverence to as little as possible, as often as it can help it. So therefore it would be natural for someone in this culture to look for all possible reason to not give Mary this kind of veneration.

    There is no real ill will here, just a divide in culture and understanding. This is an impasse that logic alone cannot bridge. You can be open to learning new things with your heart – for there is much to learn here – or you can simply ponder these things and leave it for another day.

    You seem to have a good heart and a great love for God and His knowledge. I wish you all the best, no matter which you choose.


  99. Dear All,

    Someone earlier stated, “If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide?”

    All theology is ecclesiology, not christology. Before there was christology, the Ecclesia existed. The Church is the context of Tradition, how it is that we know what we know.

    At the end of the day, it is not assent to a set of propositional truths or familiarity with Patristics that matter. It is doing, it is practicing. It is learning and learning to live within the communion of the community of Tradition.

    Now and then someone comes along and wants to teach the community of Tradition how tradition is done. So it is that, for instance, they don’t agree with certain prayers, it just doesn’t sit right with them. You see, the community has it wrong, and the new reading of tradition should be accepted. Why can’t the community accept their new sensibility?
    Well, you see, this new sensibility is not how the community of Tradition has received and practiced the faith. This living reception of the faith has a pedigree that can be traced back through the centuries as an unbroken chain all the way back to the Apostolic Tradition.

    This new sensibility is declared (time and again) by the Ecclesia as ‘strange fire’, inconsistent with the Christian faith.

    So it is then one has two options: cling to their own sensibility, or accept the community of Tradition and learn how to live and practice the Christian faith as it has been lived and practiced through the ages everywhere.

    All theology is ecclesiology.

  100. When Christ utters, “I am the Way”, the fathers say it denotes the first stage of spiritual life – “purification”-, when He continues, “and the Truth”, this symbolizes the second stage – “illumination”-, and when He concludes “and the Life”, that is a mystical symbol of the final stage – “glorification or theosis”. Now, to someone outside of this tradition, the depth of the words of St. Paul: “The letter kills but the spirit makes alive” (II Cor. 3:6) is lost. This is because only someone who is at the third stage (‘deification/theosis’) or, at least the second (‘illumination’) has that quickening Spirit. Everybody else who is – hopefully – at the very least, on the path of ‘purification’ must trust those enlightened Saints who interpret Scripture as well as everything else. The Orthodox Church is the Church of those saints that have the word of God written “not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of their heart”. And as a whole it is free from error. Individually, this is not possible –being 100% free from delusion-, and for people like us who are still some way away from those two advanced stages of distinctively different Grace (to that of ‘purification’), remaining delusion free is not possible and we must therefore remain within such “tradition”.

  101. Robert,
    Well said! Another way of saying this is “The Church is what theology looks like.” Years ago I was in the Doctoral program at Duke and decided to stop my work, take a terminal MA, and go back to parish ministry. Stanley Hauerwas, who was on my committee, asked me why. I told him, “I’m leaving the academy so I can go do theology.” He liked the answer a lot.

    There is, of course, a place for the academy, and academic-like work. But it is always, always, always about the life lived in the Church. And the life lived in the Church is a communion – living active, true and utter participation. It is only in the life of the Church that there can be true “One-Storey Christianity.” Everything else would ultimately be an abstraction. And the communion of the Church is visible, historic, mystical. Someone may quote the Fathers, but they are not in communion with them outside of the Orthodox Church (pace my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters). The Fathers (and the Scriptures) are not texts, inert, objects to be used and tossed about. Even the Scripture is “living and active” according to Hebrews. If you are not in that communion with is visible, historic, mystical, then the treatment of the Scriptures and the Fathers – all theology – will be defective at best. And even within that communion it is a constant struggle in which the truth is only found in repentance. The greater the repentance, the more profound the truth.

  102. Nathan,

    I’ve noticed around the interwebs here that one of the things Reformed (I know, I’m being loose with the term here…) folks love to do is argue and argue in the comments section in large swaths of text until everyone is blue in the face and we can’t even figure out what’s being argued anymore. I guess I’m not sure what you are trying to accomplish here — are you genuinely interested in Orthodoxy to the point that you would change your beliefs if you were presented with compelling enough evidence, or are you simply here to tell us how we have mischaracterized your tradition (and all the while prove that it is the superior interpretation of the Christian faith)?

    If it is the former, and you are truly interested, my advice would be to find a local priest to speak with IN PERSON, with whom you can debate and question in the context of an actual relationship. That would be a much more useful environment than arguing with disembodied souls over the internet and potentially hijacking the comments on someone’s blog. Orthodoxy is so much more than just writings and debate: it is a rich, complex life that can’t be fully understood in just words.

    If it’s the latter, please just make your point, stand by it, and move on. I see you already have a long-form blog of your own, and that’s a great place for you to say whatever you want to at whatever length you choose to, and those who want to engage further in your lengthy discussion can do so there (and without the clickbait/reader trolling. I don’t want to say that you’re not welcome to disagree and comment on blogs such as this one (indeed, it’s not even my blog to police!); please, ask questions, object. But if you are so very assured of your own opinion, then stand by your objections as they are and invite people to do their own research. I mean, SOME dialogue is great, but getting to the point of writing a book in the comments section is crossing a line, IMO.

    Perhaps my attitude is wrong, but as a former Evangelical, I discovered that we can argue all we want; if someone’s heart is closed to what you are saying, words mean very little. The best we can do is love each other, and something about these endless arguments by Reformed-sorts (not that Orthodox don’t love to argue too…) just has too much of the feeling of some sort of rhetorical game than admonishments or objections made in love.

    I could say more on this, but I’ll try and keep from writing a book of my own and let my thought rest here. Thanks.

    (Father Stephen, please forgive my frustration and correct me if I’m wrong in my thinking, but as a devoted reader of this blog it becomes hard to read through the comments section when these situations occur like this, not that they aren’t informative at all — just distracting. I will not be at all offended if my post is deleted and welcome your censure.)

  103. Dino, thank you very much. I absolutely love your comment from today at 5:27 AM. Very wise counsel.

    Loo, I heartily concur with your last comment. Thank you.

  104. Nathan,

    By monergism I mean Lutheran confessions and doctrines of salvation that leads to such statements as these (All quotes are from “A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod, 1932”):

    “As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God’s grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it. From Scripture we know only this: A man owes his conversion and salvation, not to any lesser guilt or better conduct on his part, but solely to the grace of God. But any man’s non-conversion is due to himself alone; it is the result of his obstinate resistance against the converting operation of the Holy Ghost…….”

    “The Formula of Concord describes the mystery which confronts us here not as a mystery in man’s heart (a “psychological” mystery), but teaches that, when we try to understand why “one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is converted again,” we enter the domain of the unsearchable judgments of God and ways past finding out, which are not revealed to us in His Word, but which we shall know in eternal life.”

    “By the election of grace we mean this truth, that all those who by the grace of God alone, for Christ’s sake, through the means of grace, are brought to faith, are justified, sanctified, and preserved in faith here in time, that all these have already from eternity been endowed by God with faith, justification, sanctification, and preservation in faith……To be sure, it is necessary to observe the Scriptural distinction between the election of grace and the universal will of grace. This universal gracious will of God embraces all men; the election of grace, however, does not embrace all, but only a definite number, whom “God hath from the beginning chosen to salvation,” 2 Thess. 2:13, the “remnant,” the “seed” which “the Lord left,” Rom. 9:27- 29, the “election,” Rom. 11:7; and while the universal will of grace is frustrated in the case of most men, Matt. 22:14; Luke 7:30, the election of grace attains its end with all whom it embraces, Rom. 8:28-30. Scripture, however, while distinguishing between the universal will of grace and the election of grace, does not place the two in opposition to each other. On the contrary, it teaches that the grace dealing with those who are lost is altogether earnest and fully efficacious for conversion. Blind reason indeed declares these two truths to be contradictory; but we impose silence on our reason…”

    These are antithetical and irreconcilable to the long standing proclamation of synergy by the entire Church for the last 2000 yrs (including ALL of the Church Fathers). Bishop Kallistos Ware expresses this same synergy:

    “As we have seen, the fact that man is in God’s image means among other things that he possesses free will. God wanted a son, not a slave. The Orthodox Church rejects any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon man’s freedom. To describe the relation between the grace of God and free will of man, Orthodoxy uses the term cooperation or synergy (synergeia); in Paul’s words: “We are fellow-workers (synergoi) with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). If man is to achieve full fellowship with God, he cannot do so without God’s help, yet he must also play his own part: man as well as God must make his contribution to the common work, although what God does is of immeasurably greater importance than what man does. ‘The incorporation of man into Christ and his union with God require the cooperation of two unequal, but equally necessary forces: divine grace and human will (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Orthodox Spirituality, p. 23). The supreme example of synergy is the Mother of God (See p. 263).

    The west, since the time of Augustine and the Pelagian controversy, has discussed this question of grace and free will in somewhat different terms; and many brought up in the Augustinian tradition — particularly Calvinists — have viewed the Orthodox idea of ‘synergy’ with some suspicion. Does it not ascribe too much to man’s free will, and too little to God? Yet in reality the Orthodox teaching is very straightforward. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). God knocks, but waits for man to open the door — He does not break it down. The grace of God invites all but compels none. In the words of John Chrysostom: ‘God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence. He wishes all men to be saved, but forces no one’ (Sermon on the words ‘Saul, Saul…’ 6 (P.G. 51, 144)). ‘It is for God to grant His grace,’ said Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386); ‘your task is to accept that grace and to guard it (Catehetical Orations, 1, 4). But it must not be imagined that because a man accepts and guards God’s grace, he thereby earns ‘merit.’ God’s gifts are always free gifts, and man can never have any claims upon his Maker. But man, while he cannot ‘merit’ salvation, must certainly work for it, since “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).”

  105. I just want to add that the reason the Lutheran quotes repeatedly state that there is a contradiction that cannot be reasoned this side of heaven is because they do in fact believe that God “breaks down the door” in conversion. They can’t figure out how some can resist God’s breaking down their door while others cannot.

  106. Alan F,
    Saint Isaac the Syrian puts it thus:

    …Without unceasing prayer you cannot draw near to God; and to introduce some other concern into your mind during the toil of prayer is to cause dispersion in your heart. If fiery thoughts arise in you when, through the consuming flame of divine things, you enjoy a taste of God, but when you seek to find them again, you discover them to be tasteless and cold in your soul, {then know that this is because] carefree converse with men has rushed upon you from some quarter…

  107. Nathan, you asked about saying prayers to St. Paul and St. Peter that are like the one to the Mother of God. Here’s some beatiful Orthodox prayers with some Salvivic language to both of them:

    “O holy Peter, chief of the apostles, rock of faith steadfast in thy confession, foundation of the Church immovable in Christ, pastor of the rational flock of Christ, keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven, fisherman most wise who from the depths of unbelief dost draw forth men! Thee do I humbly entreat, that the net of thy divine draught encompass me and draw me forth from the abyss of perdition. I know that thou hast received from God the authority to loose and to bind; release me who am bound fast with bonds of sin, show forth thy mercy on me, wretch that I am, and give life to my soul which hath been slain by sins, as before thou didst raise up Tabitha from the dead; restore me to the good path, as before thou didst restore the lame man at the Beautiful Gates, who had been lame from his mother’s womb; and as thou didst heal all the infirm by thy shadow, may the grace given thee by God overshadow me, healing my ailments of body and soul. For thou canst do all things, O holy one, through the power of Christ, for Whose sake thou didst forsake all to follow in His steps. Wherefore, pray thou to Him in my behalf, wretch that I am, that by thy supplications He may deliver me from all evil and teach me with a pure heart to send up glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

    “O holy Paul, eminent among the apostles, chosen vessel of Christ, recounter of heavenly mysteries, teacher of all the nations, clarion of the Church, renowned orator, who didst endure many misfortunes for the name of Christ, who didst traverse the sea and didst go about the land, and didst convert us from the deception of idolatry! Thee do I entreat and to thee do I cry: disdain me not, defiled as I am, but raise me up who have fallen through sinful sloth, as in Lystra thou didst raise up the man who had been lame from his mother’s womb; and as thou didst give life unto Euthyches who lay dead, so also raise me up from my dead works; and as at thine entreaty the foundation of the prison once quaked and thou didst loose the bonds of the prisoners, so draw me out of the snare of the enemy, and strengthen me to do the will of God. For thou canst do all things by the authority given thee by God, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, with His unoriginate Father and His allholy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

  108. Well, heckfire.

    I planned to spend 3 minutes reading Fr. Stephen’s most recent article on Sola Scriptura and ended up spending an hour and a half reading one amazing thread of comments.

    What I sense happening here is that Fr. Stephen (and Orthodoxy in general in America) is getting close to the jugular of Protestantism. It’s fun to watch.

    I would like to echo a few of the good comments encouraging a continued loving and longsuffering attitude toward those in the discussion most vociferously arguing against us. I was raised in the Reformed tradition (PCA) and know it well. These are generally very good people. Don’t get them mixed up with some of the petty, more argumentative standouts who are more wannabes than solid, reflective, sincere people seeking Christ and the truth.

    Here’s what the Reformed people have going for them. 1) They have not given up on the intellect. They are committed to loving God with all their minds, unlike much of Evanglicalism. 2) They still believe in church authority. Evangelicalism has become a joke in terms of authority. But the PCA and other Reformed groups take it very seriously.

    Yes, their foundation is rotten. But these people didn’t devote their entire hearts to their position understanding their foundation is almost completely eroded. So, yes, it is an epistemological crisis for them to come across Orthodox teachings that finally make sense of the non-sensical fact of the canon of scripture in relation to Sola Scriptura. Give them some time to process things.

    The Reformed Christians are very stubborn. They are also very strong. They are about to give way, and when they do, they will be an incredible boon to Orthodoxy. Most of them truly desire God, and they are passionate to follow Scripture and obey God’s Church. When they figure out that the Orthodox Church is the institution that actually and truly does this, Katy bar the door!

    So .. be kind. Be loving. Keep at it. The fruit of your reward is coming soon.

  109. Dean,

    Well said. I fear that false doctrine (and it is false) sometimes gets confused with false piety. True, one does have an impact on the other. But it is primarily personal knowledge that reveals the truth of doctrine, not the other way around. Few, if any, come to Orthodoxy of faith by logical arguments. Most simply come to recognize the One they already know, although with a fullness once thought impossible in this life. For most who have been immersed all their lives in a set of ideas, it is a gradual process. Gentleness and patience are required of us all.

  110. This thread illustrates something like archaeologists who have discovered an artifact of some kind that’s so valuable they all want to be experts. Irony, though, is that this artifact belongs to people who are still in their midst, who are witnesses to the both the artifact itself and the traditions that explain its meaning.

    Yet the archaeologists ignore these people, set up schools to teach about the artifact, produce their own experts and become utterly convinced in their own minds that they know what they’re talking about.

  111. Please let me add: I became Orthodox about 20 years ago after realizing that I owed it to the oldest church to hear what she had to say for herself. I brought lots of concerns like prayers to saints, icons, clergy vestments, liturgical rubrics, and so on — I knew many of these were not essential or required by God. But even that kind of critique came from a spiritual reductionism. I was suspicious of particular things that anyone claimed came from God because He, I thought, had left us only the Bible. I did not know then that I was conditioned by secular thinking reinforced by my Evangelical faith.

    When I showed up and saw for myself I heard more scripture and prayer read in Orthodox church services than any I had ever heard before. I realized that all the particular objections of mine, including icons, vestments, and so on, were human particulars which God ordained or for which He has no disdain. He Himself became particular, for example, to make us in His image! He embraced the particular variety and vintage of wine made at the wedding at Cana. He approached his mother frequently as a child to get her protection, comfort and advice. If God does not disdain the church and it’s particulars who are we to judge them? He saves us through low means in order to raise us into His glory. We cannot think ourselves above low things if this is where He wants to meet us.

    The scriptures have their context in the people and the people are in our midst. The real question is, are we in the midst of these people, solidly placed somewhere in our place within His temple of living stones?

  112. Brian, your comment to Dean reminds me of a NOVA documentary I saw on “Stonehenge.” It was the story of archeologists trying to uncover the meaning of Stonehenge to the people who erected it. Western archeologists knew it to be a burial ground, but it took an archeologist from Madagascar to recognize the ring of stones as being connected to the honoring of ancestors because such rings are a familiar presence in his region of the world and their meaning a living memory among the people.

  113. Hello all,

    Grabbed some time this morning to catch up here and respond.

    Thank you for continuing to engage me and offering such thoughtful answers. Please know I have not ceased that God would lead and guide me – and others – into all truth. I pray this kind of thing all the time.

    Loo asked:

    “are you genuinely interested in Orthodoxy to the point that you would change your beliefs if you were presented with compelling enough evidence, or are you simply here to tell us how we have mischaracterized your tradition (and all the while prove that it is the superior interpretation of the Christian faith)?”

    Loo – but here is my question: what kind of “evidence” are you talking about offering? I am not even clear about that… I have met and talked with E.O. priests in the flesh. One of them – a very highly respected one – on hearing what I believed, thought that my beliefs and his were actually basically the same as his (again, I wrote that series of posts trying to find common ground with E.O.: “if all theology is Christology, how wide the divide?”) Loo – are you also suggesting that *reading* the great E.O. writers could not be of help to me at all? See Robert’s point and my counter-question to him directly below…. I think it gets more to the heart of things.

    Referring to prayers to Mary in particular, and stating that “all theology is ecclesiology”, Robert said:

    “Now and then someone comes along and wants to teach the community of Tradition how tradition is done. So it is that, for instance, they don’t agree with certain prayers, it just doesn’t sit right with them. You see, the community has it wrong, and the new reading of tradition should be accepted. Why can’t the community accept their new sensibility?

    Well, you see, this new sensibility is not how the community of Tradition has received and practiced the faith. This living reception of the faith has a pedigree that can be traced back through the centuries as an unbroken chain all the way back to the Apostolic Tradition.”

    Well that is the claim – and I understand that many believe that to be true. I think I would be right in saying that many are saying here that whatever evidence or lack thereof there might be in regards to the presence and rightness of this (I believe Father pointed to evidence showing that a famous hymn to Mary from the early third century was being used), they will believe it. *If that is the case*, let me say that, I do not find this emphasis on trust per se (vs evidence we can begin to clearly determine the meaning of) to be a problem – I think that simple trust that one is right, has received right teaching, and is in right place may very well be commendable.

    Here is what I find puzzling though. Even as I say this above about trust, in the book of Acts, Paul himself ***commends*** the Bereans for testing what he says according to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). We see a similar concern in Isaiah 8:20. In my view, this is acceptable because God also wants His people to *trust* that the Scriptures contain all that we really need to know in order to have true faith in Him (an “eternal life” relationship) and to live a God-pleasing life – even the O.T. Scriptures pointed ahead to the Christ (Jesus explaining this in Luke 24 exemplifies this). The Scriptures and pure oral teaching and practice are always meant to go hand in hand.

    So I think I do understand what all of you are saying here, but I would like to understand more about how you see and interpret these passages: how to E.O. persons commend persons for testing things according to the Scriptures (what does the context for this look like more specifically)?

    Here is what drives this concern: In the O.T. we see how badly the church went off the rails – and yet the Lord provided persons who knew the Scriptures well who did indeed speak the truth (and Scriptures they wrote were further recognized as from God and preserve). These were prophetic voices who called persons back… perhaps even infallible voices to accompany the infallible homologoumena. Would it be accurate to say that the E.O. do not believe that this kind of apostasy could happen today – at least among themselves?

    But if that is the case, why does Christ Himself, when he talks about the Last Days, speak about how the love of many will grow cold and whether or not He will find faith on earth… That sounds like a really tiny remnant.

    I would point out that it is not only the church father Irenaeus who speaks the way he does, but others as well uphold the Scriptures as the only pure and true fount worth depending on (I’ll refrain from listing quotes [and yes, I am considering their context as well]). I am familiar with the one passage in the early church that really seems to challenge this from Basil which Father Freeman mentions, but do not think it means what he says it does (and it really is the only one like it to my knowledge).

    Father Freeman – I am discouraged to see that you only have strong words for me. As I try to be humble and explore the Scriptures and the Fathers I cannot reconcile your confidence with them. And while I respect the utter certainty that you portray, I can only say that I have a similar certainty based on my knowledge of the Scriptures and the Fathers, which I understand you feel is a great misinterpretation due to my lack of E.O. context.

    I also believe in the living witness of the church, exemplified more or less in the eight traditions that Martin Chemnitz was forced to outline in his conflict of the Western church when it had severely gone of the rails and culminated by explicitly putting its errors in official form in the Council of Trent:

    The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: [8] traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traitiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14.

    As all of you can see, there is a room for other traditions to be received besides Scripture in this framework… Yes Father – I know you will find this to be nothing but “theory”. I think that, given what Chemnitz had in the West as far as “living authorities”, his approach makes a lot of sense and should, at the very least, be something worth interacting with and working with the Lutherans on (for those who feel so called). I understand that you think this kind of thing reads all kinds of stuff back into the Fathers… Of course I don’t see that at all even as I don’t think I have been closed to considering that possibility.

    Point taken about communion (“fellowship”).


  114. Nathan,
    I generally see that your point is that there is not much need to continue discussing this. What I really think you are looking for is “validation” from the Orthodox (hence your citing of a misguided priest who saw little difference). It will not be forthcoming here.

  115. Nathan, I also sense that perhaps you are so committed to your understanding of the Christian tradition, that it will not be possible for you to really absorb and accommodate the Orthodox context for understanding the Scriptures and the Tradition handed down in our midst, which is what is required. Instead you will assimilate the parts of Orthodox teaching that can fit into the framework you have received (and unwittingly warp their meaning in the process: But I do appreciate your polite spirit and persistence in asking questions about what is not clear to you.

    With regard to interpretation of the Bereans passage (with which I, as a former Evangelical, am very familiar), there was some recent online discussion in a comments section of that here that may be of interest:

    Kind regards!

  116. Nathan,
    I am certainly not familiar with the details of Protestant thought -as a cradle-Orthodox- and I frankly find them terrifically tedious due to their confused disparity. I remind you that Orthodoxy (“right belief”) is constantly producing Saints (for two thousand years now) that utter the same thing; meanwhile, Protestantism is producing a different fad for every day of the week.
    It is true that only Saints, the ‘living icons of Christ’, the God-bearers who encountered Christ in His Uncreated light – having partaken of the power of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ – are capable of subsequently reliably recognizing truth and interpreting Scripture rightly. All others need their aid not to fall away.
    The earliest Christian writings we have, the letters of the God-bearer Paul (who had encountered Christ in His Uncreated light), are addressed to Churches that had already started misinterpreting the Gospel he had delivered them due to individual’s interpretations that did not share or even venerate and obey the authority of the holy God-bearers. So the “hidden treasure” of Christ can only be recognized properly and fully (in the “field” of Scripture) by those who have already encountered Him first-hand and know Him through the Holy Spirit – the illumined and deified Saints who have proved themselves “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22)
    Otherwise we end up with the many tens of thousands of different denominations Protestantism has – all somehow claiming a different truth through the same Sola Scriptura approach, whether Anglicans, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Later-day Saints, Congregationalists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Adventists, Methodists etc…

  117. This is a good article Father, keep it up!!

    Kruger can go ahead and play a game of twister with the facts but it doesn’t prove his point defending it.

    Perhaps what’s odd about Kruger’s article is that he didn’t bother to take into account as in relation to the Assumption of Moses, the fact that Jude refers to it ala as in something that is believed to be occurred or is at the very least, part of Jewish tradition as Jude 1:9 says,

    “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”(KJV)

    The above citation was just so casually written by the author himself as if having the intended recipients to understand and know what is meant by this reference to the Apocalypse of Moses.

    But what’s rather odd about Kruger is that he never bothered to mention the fact that each “Canon” of the Church Fathers are different. Some of the Fathers view the Didache or the Shepard of Hermas as Inspired Scripture. Yet, all Christians today don’t see that such is the case which really raises the question of “The Sufficiency of Scripture” since there are extra Biblical books being perceived as Scripture.

  118. Sakura,
    Kruger’s easy dismissal of Jude 1:9, noting that he did not say, “As the Scripture says,” is about as lame a response as I can imagine. I have become used to a very forensic use of Scripture from the Sola Scriptura crowd. They are like lawyers parsing some obscure document and cannot allow themselves to stand back and ask even the most reasonable of questions. It is obvious that Jude thinks of this as received and acceptable knowledge (i.e. Scripture). It is also obvious, historically, that “Scripture” is a much looser term than the Sola Scriptura crowd would like.

    But their make-believe games work because, among themselves, they all agree not to ask any troubling questions. Blind leading the blind…

  119. Beyond the lists of books that eventually come to be described as “canon”, I am wondering how certain books of the New Testament were ever circulated for wider readership, specifically in the first century.

    In broad terms, it makes sense how the Gospels and the letters written to various local Churches would be copied and given to other local Churches. But what about Paul’s letter to Philemon, for example? How does this correspondence between individuals about a very specific issue reach wider readership?

  120. Indeed Father. Evangelicals have a tendency to “lawyer” their way around things. Sometimes, they would even ignore fundamental contexts and variables as to argue in favor of their doctrine. I had seen Evangelicals hurl in misinterpretations of the Church Fathers before, particularly whenever they uphold the Scriptures. They fail to realize that Tradition must agree with Scripture just as Scripture agrees with Tradition. It is a two way relationship in which the two compliment each other and disallows the two to be separated from each other or have one place above the other. When one is deeply informed in the History of the Church or has some knowledge of it, Sola Scriptura ends up being nothing but a mere innovation.

  121. Ed,
    Good question. The exact mechanism of collecting St. Paul’s letters is not known. But a faithful tradition holds that they were gathered by none other than Onesimus (the slave of Philemon). He became the Bishop of Ephesus (mentioned by St. Ignatius in his letters). He gathered St. Paul’s letters, including Philemon (for obvious reasons). This tradition, though it cannot be proven, has a very ancient provenance and a fairly general acceptance.

    Such a collection would have had to have had some central authority (such as the bishop of a major Church). Since most of the Letters were sent to Churches in Asia Minor, Ephesus would be a very strong candidate. Though only a city of ruins today, was a major port until the 7th century or so when the harbor began to be unusable due to silting. It was the cite of a number of major councils, including the 3rd Ecumenical Council in 431.

  122. Father,

    “I generally see that your point is that there is not much need to continue discussing this. What I really think you are looking for is “validation” from the Orthodox (hence your citing of a misguided priest who saw little difference). It will not be forthcoming here.”

    Father, in all humility, I do not understand how you can conclude that. Again, your approach to me continues to frustrate, discourage, and sadden. I only mentioned the “validation” from the well-known E.O. priest because it is something that really happened and directly pertained to the discussion at hand – the point being that it would be helpful for me to meet with real E.O. priests. I have done this several times – and with laypersons as well.


    Thank you for the note and kind regards. Please know, I am always trying to be subservient to the Living Tradition of the Church – even if there are some here whose own context, I suggest, does not allow them to begin to understand this. In the article you refer me to, Gabe Martini says “There was no Bible or even recognized set of such scriptures at this point in history (nor would there be until at least the middle of the second century, as far as the Gospels are concerned)” and “Paul himself writes in numerous places to hold fast to both the written and oral apostolic traditions”. As regards the first quote, this is frankly too easy, given Jesus’ words identifying the well-known “it is written” Scriptures of the day, particularly in Luke 24. This would seem to go hand in hand with Paul commending the Bereans, would it not? Regarding the second quote, of course Paul would desire that persons hold to his teaching, which were in harmony with the O.T. Scriptures, which it would seem to be why he readily invited and commended such testing.


    “I remind you that Orthodoxy (“right belief”) is constantly producing Saints (for two thousand years now) that utter the same thing; meanwhile, Protestantism is producing a different fad for every day of the week.”

    Dino – you paint with too broad a brush. Us confessional Lutherans claim those ancient saints as ours as well. And we claim our own faithful ones who, if we were to officially pronounce saints, would earn that title. All those other “Reformers” you mention (the “tens of thousands of denominations”) would certainly do well to return to the faithful Ancient Church in the West.

    Sakura 95,

    “I had seen Evangelicals hurl in misinterpretations of the Church Fathers before, particularly whenever they uphold the Scriptures. They fail to realize that Tradition must agree with Scripture just as Scripture agrees with Tradition. It is a two way relationship in which the two compliment each other and disallows the two to be separated from each other or have one place above the other. When one is deeply informed in the History of the Church or has some knowledge of it, Sola Scriptura ends up being nothing but a mere innovation.”

    Sakura 95, we basically agree. As I wrote in my post answering this one for Lutherans, “Sola Scriptura” simply means that if a conflict arises between the wider Church and its Scriptures, the Scriptures, properly interpreted, must certainly correct the Church. Today’s Church cannot contradict yesterday’s Church, assuming that it was in harmony with, and did not contradict the Scriptures. Based on all the reading I have done in this area, this is what the Fathers of the Church always taught. Which brings me to Father Freeman’s last intriguing remark.

    Father Freeman,

    “It is also obvious, historically, that “Scripture” is a much looser term than the Sola Scriptura crowd would like.”

    Father – I would like to invite these “troubling questions”, as you call them (something I have found the best Confessional Lutherans never avoid). Where do you point me first here, in order to learn more about this in particular? Where are the prominent example of the Fathers using the word “Scriptures” with this kind of broad and inclusive meaning?

    And I will repeat one of my key questions, which is indeed sincere and pressing:

    “Would it be accurate to say that the E.O. do not believe that this kind of apostasy could happen today – at least among themselves?

    But if that is the case, why does Christ Himself, when he talks about the Last Days, speak about how the love of many will grow cold and whether or not He will find faith on earth?… That sounds like a really tiny remnant.”

    I see there are many other interesting conversations happening at this blog right now (after this post), but I will stay here. And it might be a while again before I can respond.


  123. Ecclesiology.

    “for Lutherans, “Sola Scriptura” simply means that if a conflict arises between the wider Church and its Scriptures, the Scriptures, properly interpreted, must certainly correct the Church.”


    Here are some questions:
    Who decides what “the Scriptures” are?
    On what basis shall (those with authority) make this decision?
    Who then has the authority to 1.) make “proper” interpretation(s), and 2. ) subject the wider Church to this/these “proper” interpretation?
    What is the nature of this ability to “properly interpret” the Scriptures? Are those endowed with such authority doing so infallibly?
    How is the wider Church to determine whose interpretation is “(im)proper”? And what is the nature of the wider Church’s recourse should their interpretation of the Scripture conflict with so-call “proper” interpretation of the narrower Church?
    Who is to decide the fate of multiple claims of “proper interpretations”?

    Simply. Not so!

    The Protestant Reformers’ revolutionary attempt to appeal to the “Scriptures Alone” was a clever trick that worked, for a while; some sadly insist to continue this trick to the uninformed. It works well as long as you don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

  124. Nathan,
    that Orthodoxy (“right belief”) is constantly producing Saints (for two thousand years now) that all utter (no matter where they happen to be) the same thing, means that their first hand experience of God – their Pentecost – informs their ‘proper interpretation.’ This tradition (having been misinterpreted) and thrown out as a baby with the bathwater in all reformation, producing as its fruit, the Babel-like seen we witness instead of the unity of interpretation of the Orthodox Church. And it’s not just the “ancient saints” (as you -forgive me for saying- ‘sneakily’ claimed) – it is a living stream still flowing…!

  125. It is the lack of true modern saints (wonderworkers,etc) that reveal so much about Protestantism. It is the presence of such saints within Catholicism as well as the Non-Chalcedonians that keep the conversation necessary. It is modernity, ultimately, with its reduction of faith to a rational response, rather than true Spirit-bearing reality that empties the world of saints. Rationality has never produced a saint. Neither thinking, nor rational faithing, makes saints. Just professors, preachers and the debaters of this age.

  126. With respect, Nathan, from my perspective your Lutheran glasses blind you to the proper significance of the apostolic view of the OT Scriptures (it was not Lutheran) and the realities of NT and early Christian history (even in their simplified form) that Gabe mentions. That being the case, I have no wish to argue with you. I accept that you see things as you see things–the Lutheran glasses are well in place–but I do not believe you understand the truth of them. I trust you understand it is not my intent to sadden, but I don’t see what benefit there might be from more discussion at this point. Keep reading if you are interested and someone might write something that lends a greater perspective or makes the “lightbulb” in another “room” go on.

    Again, kind regards!

  127. “Would it be accurate to say that the E.O. do not believe that this kind of apostasy could happen today – at least among themselves?”

    Nathan, I don’t understand some of your questions or where you are hinting at with them. If I understand correctly what you are asking, the Orthodox Church will not be apostatic (the gates of hell will not prevail), but as far as individuals (such as me, x, y, z) are concerned, yes, we might slip away if we aren’t careful. God forbid. Even high ierarchs (bishops etc) might fall, but this doesn’t mean that the Orthodox Church falls — it means that they fall out of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps Fr. Stephen or someone more experienced with how these things are worded in English could explain better.

  128. Dino,

    You are right – it is a living stream… that flows in Wittenberg! Long live Luther, Chemnitz, John and Paul Gerhard, C.F.W. Walther, Kurt Marquardt, and a myriad of other saintly men.


    Yes, feel free to highlight “properly interpreted”. There is nothing to hide from there. It’s only right that I include those words, because the Scriptures must indeed be interpreted by the Church, and as to who is the infallible interpreter the answer is the same as it has always been: the faithful remnant in the true visible Church. And no one decided what the Scriptures were. The faithful saints of old simply recognized them – again, universally (homologoumena) – to be so.

    You ask: “And what is the nature of the wider Church’s recourse should their interpretation of the Scripture conflict with so-call “proper” interpretation of the narrower Church?”

    The answer is the same as it has always been – read the Scriptures, meditate, pray, consult with others you see Christ in, seek the face of the Lord. But especially remember Isaiah 8:20 and Acts 17:11. *This is a part of the true rule of faith*.

    Father Freeman:

    “It is the lack of true modern saints (wonderworkers,etc) that reveal so much about Protestantism. It is the presence of such saints within Catholicism as well as the Non-Chalcedonians that keep the conversation necessary.”

    I am sorry you do not know the good Lutheran people I know. People who love their God and neighbors. People who hunger for the true body and blood of Christ in the sacrament. Further, the greatest miracles are the simple things: Luther talking about fathers changing diapers in love and the like, etc. (and I do believe, for example, that God heals today, knowing many Lutherans who have received such gifts).

    “It is modernity, ultimately, with its reduction of faith to a rational response, rather than true Spirit-bearing reality that empties the world of saints. Rationality has never produced a saint. Neither thinking, nor rational faithing, makes saints. Just professors, preachers and the debaters of this age.”

    Amen father. Again, you are not describing Confessional Lutheranism – we really hate rationalism. That said, I think its reasonable for me to assume that you think you are – in which case, if you wrote an article explaining *why* you are (or perhaps you have already written it) I would read it.


    “If I understand correctly what you are asking, the Orthodox Church will not be apostatic (the gates of hell will not prevail), but as far as individuals (such as me, x, y, z) are concerned, yes, we might slip away if we aren’t careful.”

    Lex – you have the crux of what I am saying. My question is Scriptural: as we *know* the love of many will grow cold and the Son of Man wonders whether or not He will find faith on earth, the question of course becomes: how small will the remnant (perhaps within the larger true visible church) be? 7,000 again? Less? But He will preserve His flock – of which we desire to be a part.


    You are always so kind. Thank you.

    Will try to check back again in a few days. Looks like things are dying down here a bit.


  129. Nathan,
    forgive me saying this, but I cannot help thinking : what are you really doing in this Orthodox blog then?

  130. I recognize my question to you might have sounded somewhat confrontational, but those post-reformation men you present as saintly are all scholarly, commendable intellectuals, people who spent their lives studying (and rather “theologizing” with their minds far more than praying with their heart).
    But, the uninterrupted stream of saints of the original, surviving Church, exhibits far more than this (post-15th century): it is heaving unlettered, first-hand beholders of God. So, I am not just talking of erudites (from Gregory Palamas to Sophrony Sacharov -even though they too, only “theologized” after the Holy Spirit had birthed Word in their praying heart), no! I allude to unschooled, (‘benighted’ as far as the world is concerned, yet illumined as the first fishermen disciples), authentic theologians (ie: God-bearers) such as Silouan the Athonite and Porphyrios the Kapsokalyvite.
    So it looks to me that your mind is perhaps already made up as to what you are prepared to appreciate or not (by displaying no sincere interest in Orthodoxy and a incessant defence of Reformation), and I therefore fail to see the real validity, the point, of your continual return to the same old stuff.
    I come across a little confrontational again – sorry! How else can I put this? …Outside of this blog, in a crowd of atheists, I would obviously find it impossible to resist coming up and befriending you first, a believer in Christ, but this here is an Orthodox vehemently Christ-believing blog (or else one that attracts persons genuinely attracted to Orthodoxy – others last for no more than a few ‘clarifications’ -if they then do not want to accept those clarifications they kind of give up.)
    An Orthodox would generally yearn to invite others to the fullness of the truth, so that they too can love Christ – the Truth – in the same fullness, and one would like to bring all to Orthodoxy, so that they can unite with Him in that fullness. So that all can enter the stream of first-hand ‘beholders of God’.
    But, (especially now that your real ‘Reformation face’ is presented more clearly in your last comment) if the genuine Orthodox do try to love Christ like this, it is unclear in the extreme what else would you want to offer them from your perspective that is missing them?

  131. Lutheranism and its Reformation offshoots are all so wearisome. So much thinking and arguing about truth instead of seeing and tasting it.

    I second Dino asking Nathan why he doesn’t take it back to his own blog where people who want that stuff may surely find it in abundance.

    I’m sorry if this is uncharitable. It just seems to have crossed the line. At least it has with me.

  132. Nathan,
    For the sake of this argument I will play along and allow your assertion that Lutherans and Orthodox determine who and what the Church is, how and by who the Scriptures are properly interpreted, etc, by the exact same means. And, thus, I will allow that Lutherans cannot be equated with Protestant Denominations that take a rationalistic approach to these things. What would any of this prove? Nothing. An outsider could look at both claims and conclude that either the Lutherans are wrong and delusional about being the continuation of the One True Ancient Church, or the Orthodox are wrong and delusional about being the the One True Church, or that both are wrong and delusional, but they could never conclude both are right at the same time. Why? Because both Church’s cannot commune together due to the fact that each one charges the other with heresy. The Orthodox charge the Lutherans with the heresy of monergism, which I described in a comment above (which you never rebutted) revealing Lutheran doctrinal positions on conversion, election and predestination that equate with monergism. And Lutherans charge Orthodoxy with the heresy of synergism as it is expressed by Bishop Kallistos Ware, whom I also quoted in my comment above.

    You seem keen on trying to get the Orthodox to agree with you that Lutherans make the exact same claims as the Orthodox concerning interpreting Scripture, and establishing who and what constitutes the Church, but even if you were to succeed in this it doesn’t accomplish anything of substantial importance. Lutherans have fallen outside of the Church, because they have succumbed to the heresy of monergism. All of the Ancient Church would conclude that the Lutherans have deviated from the “living stream,” because all of the Ancient Church agree with Bishop Kallistos Ware’s synergism, which is antithetical and irreconcilable to the Lutheran doctrine I quoted in my previous comment.

    Ill reiterate what others have asked you; If you absolutely believe that the Lutheran Church flows from the living stream of the Ancient Church, and thus must necessarily believe that the Orthodox Church is heretical, then why are you here on this blog? Is your presence an attempt to convert people to Lutheranism?

  133. “Sakura 95, we basically agree. As I wrote in my post answering this one for Lutherans, “Sola Scriptura” simply means that if a conflict arises between the wider Church and its Scriptures, the Scriptures, properly interpreted, must certainly correct the Church. Today’s Church cannot contradict yesterday’s Church, assuming that it was in harmony with, and did not contradict the Scriptures. Based on all the reading I have done in this area, this is what the Fathers of the Church always taught. Which brings me to Father Freeman’s last intriguing remark.”

    My apologies for my late reply.

    But how is the “right interpretation” of Scripture determined? It simply cannot be drawn from reading Scriptures alone. Anyone could do that and even claim that what they believe wrong or not is consistent with that of yesterday’s Church. Even then, during Christianity’s infancy, many Gnostic sects would use the same methodology to demonstrate their “authenticity”, claiming to hold the “Secret sayings of Jesus” by which they claim to be the original church. How then can the Sola Scriptura approach as you defined it resolve such an issue? It would lead to uncertainty given the same methods used by both sides in determining their “authenticity”.

    From this it becomes clear that there must be Tradition which is drawn by Apostolic Succession and complimented by Scripture.

  134. *I made some errors in my comment, it’s supposed to be,

    ” Anyone could do that and even claim that what they believe is right and is consistent with that of yesterday’s Church.”

    I’m sorry for that mistake I made while typing out my comment.

  135. Sakura 95,

    I am sorry – I did not mean to ignore you. I did not see my name above in your latest post initially, and so passed over it….

    “From this it becomes clear that there must be Tradition which is drawn by Apostolic Succession and complimented by Scripture.”

    Of course. This has always been our church’s position. See my comments to Robert on “October 22, 2014 at 10:40 pm”. In short, part and parcel of the true rule of faith is that it always goes back to the Scriptures.


  136. Father,

    If I might ask a brief favor from you…. in light of your deleting two of my previous posts (here and on another thread), I am wondering if you might be willing, at some point (hopefully soon) to let persons know that you did that. I would not want them to think I have no interest in continuing to talk with them. Of course, your house, your rules…..


  137. Yes. I have deleted some of Nathan’s answers. It is a continuing conversation that needs to end.

    BTW. You might not be aware of how your signature looks to those in Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican circles. The tradition is that a cross + is used by a priest after his name (not a layman). And a cross is used before the name by a bishop.

    Your signature makes you seem to be saying you’re a bishop. Lost in translation.

  138. Nathan,
    no worries concerning your answers (to the above questions) which were deleted. I noted them, thanks. God bless you.

  139. “Yes, feel free to highlight “properly interpreted”. There is nothing to hide from there. It’s only right that I include those words, because the Scriptures must indeed be interpreted by the Church, and as to who is the infallible interpreter the answer is the same as it has always been: the faithful remnant in the true visible Church. And no one decided what the Scriptures were. The faithful saints of old simply recognized them – again, universally (homologoumena) – to be so. ”

    This would be a good answer in my opinion but given that there hasn’t been any sort of an “Official Canon” of Scripture within the Church, even since its infancy, it would be quite a stretch to say that the Faithful simply recognized them. The Didache and the Shepard of Hermas were taken to be “Inspired Scriptures” by some of the Saints of old but today, we simply do not see them as such though being profitable for reading of course.

    Besides that the Syriac Christians do not include the Books of 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation within their canon of Scripture which is the Peshitta. I would acknowledge however that the five books were added in later additions of the compilation but were originally missing.

  140. Father
    I come fairly late to the conversation, but I read what I believe to be the first article you wrote on the Bible and, as a Catholic on the road to Orthodoxy, I found the ideas familiar if not completely in tune with what I know as a Catholic. I have also read this more recent article, but I gather there are more and it would be helpful to have links to all of the articles so I could get more background on what you are saying.

    Thank you

  141. R,
    If you look at the drop down tabs on the blog…the one labled “Scripture” and click on the Scripture option, a list of articles on the topic will come up. That would be the best way to get at them.

  142. Father,
    I noticed that it is possible to post links without the filter catching these anymore -and the usual waiting for approval of a link has gone. Confused’s (appropriately named) pointless link reminded me.

  143. I was drawn to this article and conversation because of my own serious doubts about ‘sola scriptura’ coming from an evangelical background. Many of the points made in this and other articles speak to and confirm the things I’ve been thinking myself. I have a question that is somewhat related to the article, but more to the content of the comments section that I’ve been reading through. I have little exposure to the Orthodox history and paradigm, so it’s been interesting to find out more through people’s comments who seem to come from an Orthodox perspective. It seems the theme is that Roman Catholics final authority is the papacy, the protestants final authority is their personal hermeneutic of the Scriptures, and for the Orthodox its the Holy Tradition or the Church. I’ve also realized that for the protestants that it’s not actually the “Bible” that is their authority, but their personal interpretation of it. Being an outsider to Orthodoxy, I have the same question. Holy Tradition or the Church as defined by whom? Who gets to name or change the “official” tradition? I assume tradition must change with time. For instance, for most of history, a tradition might be that the earth is flat. Evidence comes out that strongly suggests otherwise. The Tradition changes. I see this as a good thing. Perhaps these questions aren’t even applicable, but I’m ignorant to how the Orthodox see things and am genuinely curious. Thus taking the time to write a comment which I almost never do. Really engaging material here from people who I can tell really care about these matters. Thanks everyone for sharing (though I’m just now seeing it years later and may be a dead thread).

  144. GK,
    Good questions. The Orthodox would see the Scriptures themselves as part of Holy Tradition, even a foundational part. But the content of Holy Tradition can largely be described as the consistent life of the Church in its writings, its canon laws, its Councils, its Liturgies, and the pattern of life that has been handed down. Though certain details vary from time to time and from place to place, there is a remarkable consistency through the centuries even into the present.

    Holy Tradition does not include things like flat earth/round earth – those are worldly or scientific opinions. I would note, as an aside, that at the time of the New Testament and during the early centuries of the Church, that the earth was round (a ball) was not only well-known, but was even known to be roughly 24,000 miles in circumference. The Greeks had calculated that before the time of Christ. “Flat earth” has never been a very big thing or even a common thing except in a very narrow range of time – but has become a popular modern misconception often used to suggest that modernity is superior to everything that came before. What most modern people are woefully ignorant of, however, is history.

    Who gets to decide? Orthodoxy is a single communion of churches, defined by a common life expressed in their common recognition of each other and fellowship in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In the earliest centuries, that common life drew them together to reach a common mind on difficult issues.

    I would recommend reading Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church as a great introduction to the Orthodox Church as well as it key place in the history of Christianity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *