Not many people know that the charismatic renewal movement which swept through the mainline Protestant and the Roman Catholic churches from the 1970s had an Orthodox component as well. Calling this component a “movement” in the Orthodox Church would be overblown; it was more of a blip than a movement, since it never gathered enough momentum or numbers to actually move. Because of this an historical account of Orthodox people involved in the charismatic movement was impossible to find. That is, until now.
Fr. Timothy Cremeens has written a book which admirably fills this historical lacuna, entitled Marginalized Voices: A History of the Charismatic Movement in the Orthodox Church in North America 1972-1993. The title accurately delineates the content of the book—an in-depth account and analysis of North American Orthodox experience of charismatic renewal during the two decades when it swept through the rest of the Christian world. Fr. Timothy is well-qualified to write this book. He not only has first-hand experience of the renewal, but brings his considerable scholarly skills to bear on the task (Fr. Timothy is also Dr. Timothy; he has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Regent University). The book contains the fruit of hours of interviews with some of the principle players in the renewal movement. It was well that Fr. Timothy took on this task when he did, since many of these principle players have now reposed.
The book is a happy combination—it is thin enough to read in a few sittings, and thick enough to effectively cover the material; scholarly enough to do justice to the assigned task, and popular enough to be immensely readable. It is also wonderfully inexpensive, with a paperback edition available for just over $20. Anyone interested in the topic of Orthodox involvement in charismatic renewal needs to read this book, not only because it is pretty much the only book on the market covering the topic, but also because of its inherent excellence. Yep: two thumbs up.
The book narrates the historical antecedents of charismatic renewal from its pre-history in American Pentecostalism and even its pre-pre-history in Pietism and Methodism. It then quickly examines the charismatic movement itself in its Protestant form (the movement’s original home), and in its Roman Catholic form before getting down to work and focussing upon a number of figures in the Orthodox world who embraced the renewal. Some figures are somewhat well known, such as Fr. Eusebius Stephanou; others less well known, such as Frs. Athanasius Emmert and Boris Zabrodsky. As a Canadian I was delighted to find people and parishes I actually knew, such as the late Fr. Orest Olekshy, in whose parish in Saskatoon I first heard the Divine Liturgy in English when I was yet an Anglican. These stories are told in depth, with recourse to official documents, contemporary literature (such as magazines published by those involved in the renewal), and many personal interviews and communications. The book ends with a thoughtful analysis of why charismatic renewal was “a non-movement among the Orthodox”.
The book is somewhat unusual in that it constitutes neither an apologia for the renewal nor a denunciation of it. Far from whitewashing or minimizing the problematic elements within the movement, the book even quotes from such denunciatory appraisals as Fr. Seraphim Rose’s Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. It also seeks to be fair in its appraisal of the good that the movement accomplished in the lives of those touched by it. Those promoting a two-dimensional view of the phenomenon of charismatic renewal—either positive or negative—will not like this book. Which is all the more reason why they should give it a careful reading.
As someone who was intimately involved in the charismatic renewal and who ascribes his conversion to Christ to involvement in the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, I would like to offer my own tentative two cents, which consists mostly of warning against opposite extremes. One extreme view was the one common among charismatics of the 1970s, which asserted that the charismatic renewal was the final end-time outpouring of the Spirit upon all the churches (note the ecumenical presupposition of ecclesiastical parity) which would increase until all the churches were charismatic, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. In the predictive words of The Second Chapter of Acts, a charismatic singing group of that time, “The Word of God says that we are to wait for the former and the latter rain [Joel 2:23], that in the last days God is going to pour out His Spirit. There is coming an outpouring of His Spirit and an ingathering that will make the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the early ‘70s pale by comparison. We can see that beginning to happen already. It’s gonna rain!” That is one view, the party-line from within the charismatic renewal itself.
The view at the other extreme writes off the renewal as simply and entirely a demonic lie and a counterfeit, another ruse of Satan to confuse people in the last days. It denies that the Holy Spirit works and sanctifies outside of Orthodoxy, so that anyone claiming a saving knowledge of Christ or an experience of the Holy Spirit is simply deluded and self-deceived. Fr. Seraphim Rose is characteristic of this view. Ironically his view is as dependent upon a specific eschatological time-table as the first view. The charismatics regard the renewal as a sign of the end-times, just as Fr. Seraphim does, with the sole difference that the charismatics regard the renewal as Christ’s final outpouring whereas Fr. Rose regards it as part of the Antichrist’s “religion of the future”. Both views, mirror images of the other, presuppose we are in the end times and that the Second Coming is near.
My own view is more agnostic. I cannot say (or deny) that the Second Coming is imminent, and I remain suspicious of any theology that claims to know that it is and depends upon that imminence as part of its foundation. I admit that it looks to me as if the End is indeed at hand, but since St. Gregory the Great also thought the End was at hand (in his Homily 3, from Forty Gospel Homilies), we should sit lightly on such claims and assertions. The historical landscape is littered with people predicting the End and doing things based on that assumption which later turned out to be unfortunate.
I suspect that it may be a bit premature to dogmatize about the lasting fruit of the charismatic renewal. Certainly the charismatic prediction that all the churches would become charismatically renewed powerhouses has been proven wrong, since most mainline Protestant churches continue their slide into theological liberalism and evangelical Protestant churches seem to concentrate on religious entertainment. The Roman Catholic church also has not been transformed as predicted. The only apparent lasting legacy of the renewal movement is the use of what is called “contemporary Christian music” in churches rather than the old hymns—all in all, not much of a legacy. It is still possible, I suppose, that “it’s gonna rain”, but the skies seem pretty cloudless to me.
I also suggest that the view which asserts that no salvation, grace, or work of the Spirit is possible outside the boundaries of canonical Orthodoxy is too limited a view to account for what actually occurs outside the boundaries of canonical Orthodoxy. Fr. Rose, for all his many virtues, had little direct experience of charismatics in the way that Fr. Timothy did and the people featured in his book. And there is nothing like direct experience for complicating the picture and requiring nuance. Or, come to that, for inspiring humble agnosticism.
The last word should belong to Fr. Timothy. In the final chapter of his book he writes, “The Orthodox Church in North America has yet to address the overall issue of the ongoing charismatic life in the Church [i.e. spiritual renewal in general, not the Charismatic Movement]. No thorough, serious, or authoritative study has been undertaken to give guidance to or provide spiritual formation for Orthodox laity who have been endowed with certain charisms that do not easily fit within the framework of the ordained Orthodox priesthood or the monastic life.” It is good to examine the brief passing history of the Charismatic Renewal. It would be even better to examine how Orthodox laity may be renewed today. Life has been given to all through the sacramental Mysteries. The question is: How can the laity become what they are?
Father, thank you so much for this. I find the whole charismatic renewal tremendously off-putting and appreciate your nuanced perspective. I’m an Orthodox wife and mom with a busy career who also feels a desperate calling to silent prayer and spends as much time at monasteries as possible. I often wonder how I can fulfill my charism in my parish. Bless you!
I admit, I’m probably one of those “extremists” but for the life of me, I can’t imagine what could convince me to waste time reading a book like this (other than maybe morbid curiosity). First, let me say “been there done that” and probably with many of the people (I recognized both Frs Boris Z and Athanasius Emmert, btw) who would be featured in this book. Fr E. (Stephanou) was one of the first Orthodox priests I met – many of my friends were involved with him directly (oh the stories that shouldn’t be told!) and I was baptized in an OCA parish that was heavily influenced by the “charismatic Orthodox” proponents. I “wasted” a lot of time, both pre and post baptism in the “charismatic Orthodox” “blip”. My personal experience is that the only way I really made any real progress and growth in my faith was to completely and totally turn my back on and walk away from those charismatic experiences and ideas. I spent a lot of effort looking into the justifications and criticisms of the charismatic experience and what passed for “theology”. Quite honestly the only commentary that a had any real substance and made sense to me – even before my baptism – was Fr Seraphim (Rose). The rest of it (both Orthodox and non-Orthodox and pro- and con-) was no better than fluff, smoke and mirrors. I can’t speak for everyone that I knew back then, but I know that for me the “charismatic” element only served to hinder my spiritual life and delayed my real spiritual development. So tell me, why should I waste time revisiting a wasted time of my life?
Thank you, Father, for your comments. Like you I have experienced some unfortunate things in the charismatic renewal. But unlike you, I also experienced some things which helped me to grow. Given your negative experience, you might not appreciate the historical documentation in the book. But as I said, the book is not an apologia for charismatic renewal, nor does it lionize it. But it does document both the renewal and the Orthodox Church’s official reaction to it (especially the checkered career of Stephanou) and offer analysis and suggestions as to why the renewal made so little headway in Orthodoxy. The book thus has value for church historians, since no other volume that I know of deals with this part of the Church’s history. It is as an historical resource that I recommend the book, not as a celebration of charismatic renewal or as a sentimental trip down a personal memory lane.
” suggestions as to why the renewal made so little headway in Orthodoxy.”
Short of reading the book, I’d suggest it was God’s Providence and the Orthodox should be grateful for dodging the bullet. You can’t separate charismatic movements from ecclesiology. Only the true Church can have a charismatic “revival” from within. Whatever movement arises without, if it’s of God, it should drive people to the true Church, not generate new errors or confirm people in their existing errors. I’ve only been acquainted with Orthodoxy for a bit over a year, but I’ve been around. I’m not sure what a charismatic revival in Orthodoxy should look like, but I’d imagine it would spur people to greater humility and piety and revive an interest in the Fathers. I wouldn’t expect any whiz-bang stuff that makes headlines in Christianity Today or Relevant. As much as I’d like to play a guitar during the Liturgy, I don’t think that’s happening and that’s fine with me. I can’t play all that well in Western scales, no less Byzantine modes.
This article and one from a few years ago is the first place I’ve found reference to Fr. Seraphim Rose on this site. I’ve never read his books, but I have been reading his lecture notes from a series on Western history that forms some of the basis for “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future.” He made the last thousand years of European history make sense in a way I’d never considered before. So much of what ails our culture is traceable to the departure of Rome from Orthodoxy and the subsequent philosophical and theological degradation in the West. The charismatic movement is really just a modern symptom of that ancient disease because it is a reaction to rationalism in a society that is becoming more secular on account of this trajectory away from an orthodox worldview. Maybe it’s better to view the movement as the angina that signals some serious heart problems that will be fatal if not addressed.
My own sense FWIW is that charismatic renewal’s theological premises were incompatible with those of Orthodoxy, and that an Orthodox Christian could access a deeper life of the Spirit without departing from his Church or embracing the Protestantism inherent in much of charismatic theology. Stephanou tried to adapt openness to the Spirit’s working to Orthodox theology but (in my view anyway) was insufficiently aware of and critical of the premises underlying charismatic theology. In particular the link between ascetical effort and the Spirit’s fullness seems to be lacking. Regarding Fr. Seraphim Rose, may I commend to you my piece about this life? It is found at: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/nootherfoundation/appreciating-seraphim-rose/
I read that yesterday after reading this. I’m also reading some PDFs of Orthodox Word magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. In a way, his views on culture and our point in history weren’t much different than those of the evangelical fundamentalists at that time. There was a lot of stuff in the air back then, it seems. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t live long enough to compile his extensive historical analysis into a magnum opus. I recently watched some lectures by Jordan Peterson and it hit me how he is almost an antithesis of Fr. Seraphim Rose. Peterson is really popular with “intellectual” Christianity right now. As I was watching, I was thinking, “Oh, man, you’re closing in on something, but you’ve got it backwards. You need to read some Fr. Seraphim!”
This was a very sober review. I’ll have to read the book.
It is indeed worth reading. I suspect that I am more critical of the movement as a whole than is Fr. Timothy, but he is owed a debt of gratitude for the historical research of an often-ignored topic.
I am not at all a ‘fan’ of what is commonly known as “the Charismatic Movement.” But I will say, for what it’s worth, that Fr. Boris Zabrodsky is local to me. I have been to his parish, he has been to mine, and I’ve talked personally with him a few times. He never once pushed or even discussed (with me anyway) any of what – at least in the Evangelical/Protestant/Roman Catholic world – is understood as ‘Charismatic theology,’ and he served the Liturgy according to the prescribed rubrics.
I cannot speak to any of his writings on the subject or any of his other activities. But as a man and as a priest, I would hate to see his name inadvertently associated with some of the crazy delusions that many (including myself) normally think of when we hear the term “Charismatic Movement.”
I appreciated all that I read in his periodical Theosis, and thought that it seemed very sensible and balanced.
Providentially perhaps, our parish has Fr. Timothy coming in to give a retreat two weekends from now. Anyone have any questions? 😉
I also have a history with the Charismatic movement, but from the outside looking in. I grew up in liberal protestantism in the Tulsa Oklahoma in the large shadow of Oral Roberts. My wife’s family has a history with JPUSA, she spent a few months there and her sister lived there for several years where she met her husband.
The protestant theology/ecclesiology behind the charismatic movement does not interest me, but I do look at it in the way Fr. Timothy does (based on my reading of some of his essays – have not read this book) in that it is a kind of emphasis or perhaps correction within Protestantism, or at least at its best it can be that. Now that he is Orthodox (well, 20+ years now if memory serves), Fr. Timothy is willing to ask hard questions of Orthodoxy or at least our normative “expressions” of it here in North America, like now that we have this tradition and sacramental life, how is it working out? Are we really carrying the implications of our beliefs out into the rest of our secular lives, so to speak?
In a slightly different way he is noticing the same things and asking the same questions Rod Dreher is with his Benedict Option, and that is a very good thing in my opinion. Orthodoxy does not appear to be any more ‘successful’ in its encounter with Modernism/Secularism than any other Christianity and so we have to, one way or another, start thinking about our ascetical, traditional, sacremental, and “theological” lives in relation to the way we live and “do” Church, Orthodoxy, etc….
I would love to hear Fr. Timothy’s talks. Are they going to be recorded?
Like you I do not think that charismatic theology has much to offer the Orthodox. It became too addicted to novelty and emotional fireworks, usually at the cost of discernment and ascetic discipline. And of course like the Protestantism out of which it grew, it suffered from an almost total historical amnesia. But I do think that its emphasis on the experiential (what Lossky called “the mystical”) and a sense of expectancy in meeting Christ at worship is consistent with our tradition and in many places needs to be recovered. Stephanou was in some ways unfortunate in what he offered to the congregations, but he was not wrong in discerning that something more was needed for spiritual health than ethnic-centered food festivals and middle class respectability.
Good question. I am not normally in the audio-visual loop, but I assume we will at least get the audio like we do every Sunday. I will get the talks to you – reminded me if you don’t hear from me!
Yes, the tendency to become respectable middle class people at prayer (which is to say, a secular people) is such a temptation, in particular in our western secular situation. This is well known within Orthodoxy, and Florovsky, Schmemann, and the like all discussed it and worked against it in their own way. Vigen Guroian’s new book (coming out Nov 6th) is going to be important in this area I think. Those who are in my opinion deeply compromised and/or offer a false path (Public Orthodoxy, etc.) seem to have the loudest voices in this area unfortunately. Fr. Timothy approaches this in his own way from what I can tell, so I am looking forward to hearing his perspective…
Thank you! And thank you too for the notice of Guroian’s new book.
With respect, Father, I think this book at least verges on being an apologia for the Charismatic Movement and for those who tried to create space for it in the Orthodox Church. There’s a difference between saying that God works, at times, outside of the Church (something which virtually every Orthodox Christian would acknowledge) and that the Charismatic Movement is a) the work of God and b) something from which the Orthodox Church could benefit. In my reading, this book comes way too close for comfort to suggesting both of those things. It’s not a completely dispassionate academic treatment of the subject. On the whole, it is sympathetic to both the Charismatic Movement and to those figures within the Orthodox Church who suggested that Orthodoxy might benefit not simply from an internal spiritual renewal in keeping with its own Tradition, but from opening itself to the same movement that was “sweeping over” mainline Protestantism and parts of the Roman Catholic Church when the Charismatic Movement was in its heyday. The book may quote Fr. Seraphim Rose and others critical of the Charismatic Movement – or of Fr. Eusebius Stephanou and his fellow travelers- but where it does, it attempts to mitigate the criticism or to characterize it as off-base or rooted in a lack of understanding. It also seems critical of those within the Church who resisted the efforts of Stephanou & co. and to make their “marginalization” out to be lamentable and unjustified, the work of stiff-necked pharisaical bishops and monastics who were “fighting the spirit”. It even concludes by expressing the hope that those Orthodox converts who have not “burned their bridges” with the Charismatic Movement might yet stoke some of the embers once ignited by Stephanou & co. in spite of the “unfortunate” fact that the Orthodox monastic communities in North America are “decidedly anti-Charismatic”.
I’m very much in agreement with Fr. David Moser and Kevin, and like yourself and Fr. David, I’ve had extensive direct experience with the Charismatic Movement, so I can’t be dismissed in the way that some attempt to dismiss some of its other Orthodox critics. The Orthodox Church may need authentic spiritual renewal in some quarters, but it certainly doesn’t need what the Charismatic Movement has to offer, which, as Kevin has pointed out, is out of step with our ecclesiology, and also our pneumatology.
You’re very welcome! I appreciated the historical documentation, but (I suspect) have a more critical and jaundiced view of the charismatic renewal than does Fr. Timothy. I think that if the charismatic renewal as it then was had made much headway in the Orthodox Church the results would have proved unfortunate. Even in its Protestant form, much of it went off the rails very quickly, and did not leave much lasting fruit. But anyway I am happy to recommend the work of a friend.
A journey from Charismatic Christianity to the Orthodox Church and back again.
I grew up in the protestant church and was a part of a few different churches: Christian Reformed, Missionary Alliance, Baptist, Pentecostal and experienced the beginnings of the Vineyard Church and experienced the “Toronto Blessing”. Along the way I got a degree from Bible college, served in inner city ministry and was a youth pastor. I was always seeking the most radical form of Christianity and felt that the evangelical church was too tied up with north american consumer culture and watered down the counter-cultural aspect of the gospel. In all the churches and para church ministries I was involved in I didn’t see evidence of the radical nature of Christianity that I read about in the Bible.
Eventually I found a book on the sayings of the desert father and thus began my journey to the Orthodox Church. I attended an Antiochian church for 5 years before converting with my wife and young children and have been Orthodox for 10 years. About a year and a half ago I experience a total loss of faith because of my
frustration with seeing no spiritual growth in my life and actually a regressing in my Christian life. I stopped going to church and dove deeply into atheist writings. I considered myself atheist for a few weeks until I realized that atheism took more faith to believe in than faith in God. Through prayer and reading my faith in Christianity was rebuilt from the ground up. I came to the point where I believed in Christianity from a rational point of view but had no spiritual feeling of joy or salvation. I figured I would live out my life with faith but living out the “dark night of the soul” that I had experienced for so long.
This summer we were at a protestant camp that my wifes family has attended for decades. To make a long story short I had a revelation of Gods forgiveness for me that was completely transforming. For the first time I had a deeper understanding that I was saved by grace alone and all my religious striving had done nothing for me. My identity as a radical christian seeker was completely shattered when I lost my faith and now I realized that I was no different than anyone else: I was a sinner saved by grace. Why it took me 47 years in the church to understand this I don’t know. My guess is that I never really knew what it felt like to be lost.
Things started to get crazy after this. When I went home I started to watch “spontaneous” charismatic worship music on YouTube. It broke me. The hunger and longing and passion was so powerful. I think it was so impactful to me because I just longed to exhuberantly express the joy I was feeling in my heart now. I spent the next couple of hours worshipping along with all these worship songs from Upperroom Dallas, Bethel Church, Hillsong United, United Pursuit and others. I was crying and dancing, lifting my hands: full charismatic style. I hadn’t worshipped like that in over 15 years. It felt so good. I just let all my emotions out before God. I was just pouring out all my hurt and joy, desire and longing to Jesus Christ. It was incredible. Since then I have spent many more hours worshipping with these songs. I don’t feel like listening to any other music at the moment. My heart is more free than it has been in years and my love and hope in Jesus Christ in stronger than ever. I finally have hope that He can make something out of my broken life.
I began to rethink my opposition to the charismatic movement. After all, I left a pentecostal church to become Orthodox.
Charismatic churches are full of seemly strange and contradictory teachings but they ARE lifting up the name of Jesus. They are seeing lost people being saved, they are reaching out to their communities in practical ways, they are sending out missionaries, they believe that God changes lives and does miracles today. I began to read up on the spread of Christianity today and learned that it is still spreading faster than any other religion. It is growing like crazy in South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It is still the fastest growing religion in the world, and it is primarily through charismatic churches.
In the past i thought that the sheer number of protestant denominations and the differences in their teaching as a sign that they were not part of True Christianity. But what if the lack of authoritarian structure is part of their strength? I couldn’t deny that peoples lives were being changed and Jesus was being exalted in these churches. Because of the adaptability of protestantism the simple Gospel was able to be quickly adapted in every different culture in the world in order to reach people. Within these churches was there false or weird teachings? Was there the health and wealth gospel? Were there fake healings, Were there crazy teachings about the end times, Were there self styled prophets and apostles?…. Yes, but it was undeniable that there were also millions upon millions of people coming to Christ, sseking to follow Him and and worshipping Him passionately in their own language and cultural style. Maybe the craziness of this movement was also its strength.
But just because a movement is growing and successful it doesn’t mean it’s right. Jesus said that not everybody who calls Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. He said that the gate was small and narrow was the path that leads to Life. The Orthodox Church is definitely a narrow path in this life. Only 11% of people who claim to be Christians are Orthodox. 3% of the world is Orthodox. That’s a pretty narrow path. Why would God make his Ark of Salvation so difficult to enter? If His desire is that no one would be lost wouldn’t He want to make his path a little more accessible?
Wasn’t Jesus regarded as crazy by the religious leaders of his day because of the lengths he went to seek and save those who were lost?
I began to have some serious doubts about the Orthodox Church. The main one I have now is that Jesus came to save the lost and he did it in the language and culture of the people on the streets. From the reading of the gospels his main purpose in coming is to save sinners. Would not His Church exemplify this? The Orthodox Church is not set up to make it simple for an unbeliever to come to Christ. How could the spread of the gospel around the world not be a move of the Holy Spirit? Could the millions upon millions of Chinese who have come become Christians have ever happened through the Orthodox Church? Whereas in the past I criticized seeker friendly large churches for watering down the gospel when I looked on their websites they were very intentional in structuring themselves so that they could reach the lost and disciple them in the context of this culture? Doesn’t that seem Christlike? And they all believed in the Nicene Creed (with a different interpretation of “One Holy and Catholic Church”
What I am feeling now is that I want to go to a church that is seeing people come to Christ, is intentional in making disciples and is one I could invite my peers to.
I’m sorry this is so long but I would really appreciate a reply. There is so much more I could say but this is long enough. I’ve read your blog for years and really appreciate your insight. From what I have read of your background I think you would understand my struggle. (My parents went to the Catacombs in Toronto and their worship cassettes were so powerful to me even as a young child.)
Thank you for your heartfelt (and long) comment. Responding fully would require another blog post. Here I will only make a couple of comments in reply. 1) In fact many people are finding Christ through His Orthodox Church, including our own little mission in Langley, which consists largely of converts and young families. 2) A surer indicator of the right group to pick is its fidelity to the early church, not its numerical growth, for fidelity to the early church is the only guarantee that converts will grow and be safe in their growth. The Pentecostals, for all their sincerity and enthusiasm, emphatically reject truths that the early church deemed essential, and this alone is reason to look elsewhere.
Thank you so much for your kind reply. I really appreciate it
Fr., what would your thoughts be about your experience of the Spirit in the beginning of your conversion , not the filling out in Orthodoxy, but it sounds like something real happened , something moved in you and you responded?
I don’t think we can doubt people’s experience of Christ, however they /we were converted
My charismatic experience was important to me, but brief and very limited. More important was my formation in the Anglican church. I was converted to Christ within a charismatic Jesus People milieu, but I was attending the Anglican Church throughout that time. I have no doubt that I genuinely experienced the Holy Spirit in my conversion, since St. Paul tells us that we cannot even declare “Jesus is Lord” apart from the Holy Spirit, but I now have no opinion regarding the question of whether or not my experience of speaking in tongues and prophecy was genuine. Certainly there was much “peer pressure” to speak in tongues, and also much that even Pentecostals at the time considered spurious.
I’m reading a book by Fr. Harry J. McSorley called “ Luther right or wrong…,”
It’s not just about Luther’s disdain for semi- pelagianism ( Ockham and Biel) But about how God first moves in us w/o monergism , more of the two levels of causality in synergism , not the old 50/50 formula. The point being the Spirit moves first as grace always precedes us, I gather Protestant faith , even charismatics agree that the Spirit is the antidote for pelagianism , semi – pelagianism .
Happy to hear of my old prof, Harry McSorley, who taught church history during my first year of college. I have not read his book. The term “semi-pelagian” is interesting; I have heard it used to describe St. John Cassian. What some in the West would decry as “semi-pelagian” we would celebrate as Orthodox. But I suppose I should read Harry’s book first…
Yes, awesome read , no stranger to ontological categories either …., I live locally , I can drop off my copy if u like .
It is nice to have a serious, critical discussion of this book and topic in the comments section.
As Fr. Cremeens writes in his book, St. Symeon’s idea was that there was a sacramental baptism and also a second baptism, one of the Spirit. The Charismatics, including the ones in the Orthodox church, saw the Charismatic movement and phenomena as being the enactment of this second baptism and as a “baptism” missing in the Orthodox Church prior to the Charismatic movement. My criticism of this view is that it denigrates the state of the Orthodox church before the arrival of the Charismatic movement as lacking the second baptism. The Charismatic movement typically took the view that (A) the Holy Spirit’s charismatic working and the necessary second baptism was generally missing in Orthodoxy and was meanwhile yet (B) working and present in the non-Orthodox Charismatic movements.
In contrast, I think that a pious Orthodox would accept the concept of both a Spirit baptism and a Water (ritual, sacramental) baptism, and yet not see this concept as implying that the Spirit baptism was absent in non-Charismatic Orthodox Churches.
Another criticism I have is that, as Fr. Cremeens says, the Charismatics saw conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence in believers to be a requirement of a pious believer. They pointed to St. Symenon for support in their teaching on this issue. To quote Fr. Cremeens’ book, “St. Symenon wrote considerably about having a conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit, even beyond the sacramental experiences of baptism in water and Chrismation (confirmation). This conscious awareness he attributes to what he called a ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit.'” Fr. Cremeens quotes St. Symeon:
“You have given repentance unto a second purification and You have fixed it as a term for the grace of the Spirit that which we received before in the first Baptism, for it is not only by water as You have said that grace comes, but also rather by the Spirit in the invocation of the Trinity. Because therefore we have been baptised as children with no awareness, having been imperfect, so we received imperfectly the grace when we received the pardon of the first transgression… Such was Adam before his sin, such also are all those who have been baptized and know the cause, but it does not apply to those who in their insensibility have not received the intellectual awareness which the Spirit brings about in coming by His works.”
My question is: What is the “intellectual awareness” that the Spirit brings about according to St Symeon? Fr. Cremeens takes it to be an awareness of the Holy Spirit’s charismatic working in the person? But perhaps St. Symeon means an awareness of the Trinity and of one’s baptism?
Do you agree with the idea that a pious Christian needs to be consciously aware of the Holy Spirit miraculously present and working in their life, or does Orthodoxy require of the pious that they be aware of their sacramental baptism itself and leave it up to God how much and whether He wishes to bestow His divine Holy Spirit on the person miraculously?
I am not sure I understand what you mean by “miraculously”. I would say that a pious Orthodox needs to have a real relationship with Christ and not simply regard his baptism as a component of his ethnic identity. I also think that this is what St. Symeon was insisting upon.
A teaching of the Charismatic movement that Fr. Cremeens was alluding to was the role of the Holy Spirit. In the Charismatics’ theology, the Holy Spirit gives the person the Second, Spirit Baptism and this is evinced by Signs, Miracles, and Wonders (“SMWs”), like speaking in tongues. These miraculous signs show the Spirit’s presence and give evidence to achieve the awareness of the Spirit’s presence in the second-baptised Charismatic Christian.
So for example, Fr. Cremeens writes in his book:
The leaders of the Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Orthodox Church saw in St Symeon the New Theologian a spiritual father who clearly taught that receiving the sacraments of baptism and chrismation in the Church were not sufficient… they were in need of a renewal of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and that RENEWAL NEEDED TO BE A CONSCIOUS ENCOUNTER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Orthodox participants in the Charismatic Movement witness that their baptism in the Holy Spirit was precisely this renewal of second baptism.
That is, for the Charismatics, it’s not enough to receive the sacraments and believe in the Trinity, but also to be INTELLECTUALLY CONSCIOUSLY AWARE and RECOGNIZE that the Holy Spirit is present in you. They see St. Symeon’s writings that I quoted above as demanding that the pious also have this clear, conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence and state of this “Second Baptism”. And then they go on to focus on the Signs, Miracles, and Wonders as evidence to create the required awareness of the Spirit’s presence and activity in them.
But I am inclined to think that the Charismatics are reading modern Charismatic theology into St Symeon’s writings. I see him as saying that the pious can have a contemplation and recognition of the divine reality, along with the tears that follow, but not that a conscious recognition of the Spirit’s presence in the person is a necessity. We read in the Nicene Creed that we believe that Jesus resurrected and we believe in the Holy Spirit, but we don’t chant something like “We are directly and clearly aware of the Holy Spirit working in us as individuals”. The Orthodox Church doesn’t have an expectation that each pious individual of the Church will, when holding the Holy Spirit in themselves, typically evince the paranormal SWMs of the Charismatic movement’s participants like speaking in tongues, laying on hands for healing, prophesying, etc.
Did I do a sufficient job explaining my criticism?
In an Evangelical school I attended, one of the themes was to ask Christians, as well as strangers, “Are you saved?” The question was not just pressuring people to express belief in the Trinity, but their community wanted to hear people say that “Yes,” they know that they have the status of a saved person. The Orthodox view tends to be more that we hope we are saved, and that the faithful are saved through their communion with God, and that simple awareness of the right doctrines is not the gold standard, but there must also be obedience to have a living faith, and besides that, a baptised infant can also be saved. For the Evangelicals on the other hand, salvation demands CONSCIOUS AWARENESS and ACCEPTANCE of theological teachings, and hence infants cannot be baptised in their community.
Based on Fr. Cremeens’ writings that I’ve quoted, it looks like the Charismatics take this teaching about conscious awareness and apply it to the Holy Spirit. For the Charismatics, it’s not enough to believe in the Holy Spirit, or believe that it comes onto the faithful in a second baptism, or to believe that the pious receive it at their baptism. Rather, each pious Christian must also have a direct, clear, intellectual, conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit’s very presence itself in them, with the individuals’ “SWMs” (signs, wonders, miracles) being proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity in the particular believer. Hence, some Charismatics go as far as to see speaking in tongues as being a requirement, as it is a SWM that shows the Spirit’s presence.
I sympathize with what you are saying about having a balanced approach. I don’t have an extreme view on the Charismatics and see that they did some good. I am hesitant to say that they are demon-possessed. Maybe some of them are, whereas others are led into a psychological state of spitting out words and sounds due to social and psychological pressures. I could be wrong, but I remember reading that EWTN, a Catholic TV channel, was started as a result of the charismatic movement, so I can see how they have done some good: the Charismatics emphasized energetic activity, and this can include helpful outreach.
Fr. Lawrence, et al:
I am thankful for all of the comments that have been expressed here regarding my book, “Marginalized Voices”. There are some clarifications that I would like to make on this forum. First, and foremost, the term “Charismatic Movement” or “Charismatic Renewal” is by NO MEANS a monolithic term. The term Charismatic covers everything in the Christian world from the sublime to the ridiculous. There is, for sure, a large swath of that which identifies itself as Charismatic that is outright heretical. However, and this is totally based upon my experience, which I claim is very broad, since I have traveled internationally as well as attended “Charismatic” meetings, conferences and gatherings of Roman Catholics, conservative Protestants, Evangelicals and classical Pentecostals, and I can say I have seen and heard it all! In my informed opinion it is a grave mistake and error to paint the Charismatic Movement with a broad brush. There is, the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. Whenever one encounters a counterfeit it follows that there is the genuine. I am not one of those Orthodox converts who burned his bridges behind him. I encountered the Holy Trinity BEFORE becoming Orthodox and it was the Holy Spirit, which I encountered in, shall I dare use the term the orthodox Charismatic Movement, that eventually led me to the Orthodox Church, for which, thanks be to God, I will be forever and eternally grateful.
However, as with the two nature of Christ, the Human and the Divine, the Church, His Body, also has two natures, the major difference, of course, being that the Human nature of the Church is not perfect, but rather comprised of fallen, corrupted men and women. The dogmatic theology of the Orthodox Church is salvifically infallible, the issue IS, IS the salvific theology of the Orthodox Church being LIVED, EXPERIENCED and PRACTICED? Unfortunately, and again this is based upon my 25+ plus years experience as a priest and pastor, the Orthodox Faith is contained between the covers of some beautiful books but very seldom fleshed out in the parish setting. In my years as a priest I have had to fight bishops on one side, and parish councils on the other, who were less then happy when I called these parish communities to LIVE the Gospel. Again, I am ONLY speaking about my experience as a priest, but I also could reference the hundreds of telephone calls and emails from other Orthodox clergy and laypeople who have testified to the same. So, in this case, yes, the Orthodox people (for some it would be blasphemy to use the term Church) could learn a great deal from the “orthodox” Charismatic Movement. One does not have to endorse everything in the Charismatic Movement in order to discern that there is “something of the Holy Spirit” that is present here and there in the Movement. While I agree that the size of a Movement is not in and of itself proof of its authenticity, it is no coincidence in my mind that the “Charismatic Movement”, in its many and varied forms, is the largest and fastest growing Christian movement in the world. Eight of the ten largest congregations (parishes) in the world are either Charismatic or Pentecostal, the largest congregation in the world, Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, South Korea, has a weekly attendance of 800,000+ . Then there are the testimonies of multiplied thousands of men & women, who give witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in the multiplied thousands of charismatic congregations throughout the world. Deliverance from demonic possession, drug addiction, sexual addiction, violence, greed, racial bigotry, etc.
I know ALL the arguments, I’ve heard them over a thousand times. While I believe that the fullness of the Apostolic Faith is held and confessed within the Orthodox Faith, I CANNOT believe that God the Holy Spirit only works or manifests Himself in the Orthodox Church. If so then His own work of salvation would be self-defeating, considering that the Orthodox Faith is so inward focused and seems to be “allergic” to proclaiming the Gospel with vigor and passion. Orthodox parishes are much more concerned with their ethnic food festivals than with evangelization.
The bottom line is this…IF the Orthodox Church is TRULY a Charismatic Church, or as some would argue, the Charismatic Church par excellence, then its people must be Charismatic people. However, to CLAIM this, and there be no evidence to support it, then it is a hollow claim. I appeal to the life and teachings of St. Paul the Apostle and St. Symeon the New Theologian as the NORMATIVE definition of what it means to be a Charismatic Church and a Charismatic Church. Anything less then that is in my opinion, sinful as it is, mere sophistry.
I hope that this discussion will continue on into the future, again, with grateful thanks to Fr. Lawrence.
With all due respect, I think you and Father Stephanou are the two most intelligent priests I have encountered in the Orthodox Church. I think you are being mightily used of God to do a great work. May His bountiful blessings continue in your life.
I feel you are somewhat misrepresenting Fr. Seraphim’s actual views of the Charismatics and their movement. There is no doubt, of course, that he was opposed to it, and his published writings on the subject initially come across as rather harsh (I myself, having recently come out of Pentecostalism when I first read them, was a bit put off; not that I felt that he had erred in anything he wrote, per se, just that it was not a complete picture.) But context is everything: I believe there are a couple reasons for why he wrote the way he did. The first can be seen from his letters. In 1972 he wrote to Fr. Niketas concerning Fr. Eusebius Stephanou:
“Fr. Eusebius’ ‘charismatic’ experience is not nearly as spectacular as many others’, and in fact seems to belong more to the category of Protestant-revival type emotional release than to some of the darker aspects of the ‘charismatic’ movement. Frankly, I doubt that he’s had the full ‘Baptism in the spirit,’ because in ‘charismatic’ literature it’s unheard of for someone who wants ‘tongues’ not to get it if they’re really ‘baptized.’ Our article will be quite strong, as it becomes increasingly evident that the movement could become widespread—the necessary conditions are all present in the ‘American” jurisdictions.’ – Letter to Fr. Niketas, April 18/May 1, 1972
We see that he felt the need to come down strongly on it because he was concerned, in the light of Fr. Eusebius’ shenanigans, about the danger of the charismatic movement making greater inroads into the various Orthodox jurisdictions. He initially wrote those articles (first published in The Orthodox Word, later republished as part of “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future”) as a strong polemic to warn off Orthodox Christians, not as a full theological appraisal of the movement; he was not trying to give a fully nuanced and balanced view, he was intentionally focusing on Charismatic errors and dangers because that was the issue at hand. So have all the saints done in all ages when dealing with heresies.
The second reason that he wrote about the way he did, I believe, is less explicitly stated, but becomes apparent by the context of the book “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future” itself in which the articles were republished. None of the religious movements he discusses in that book are looked at for their own sake. I think we could even say that, in and of themselves, he considered them unimportant. Rather, he was teasing out what these (apparently disparate) movements had in common in the context of the “New Religious Consciousness”; not considering them in isolation, but as a whole, as a part of the project of softening people up for the coming religion of Antichrist. Therein I think lies the insight and genius of the book: it is exposing something which has been very cleverly hidden; a conspiracy, but a demonic one, not a human one. One should not read the book, therefore, to get a full analysis or even Fr. Seraphim’s full views of Pentecostalism or the Charismatic movement, because that is not how or why it was written.
So what of his views of Pentecostals themselves? You write in your post: “The view at the other extreme writes off the renewal as simply and entirely a demonic lie and a counterfeit, another ruse of Satan to confuse people in the last days. It denies that the Holy Spirit works and sanctifies outside of Orthodoxy, so that anyone claiming a saving knowledge of Christ or an experience of the Holy Spirit is simply deluded and self-deceived. Fr. Seraphim Rose is characteristic of this view. ”
That “view”, as presented, is a caricature, and ascribing it to Fr. Seraphim is either lazy, or a smear. One can “write off the renewal as … a demonic lie and counterfeit” without also denying that “the Holy Spirit works… outside of Orthodoxy”; you are conflating two different things. As for Fr. Seraphim, he expressed his views on the subject in another of his letters:
“… I myself can accept the experience of Protestants being “born again” in Christ; I have met people who have changed their lives entirely through meeting Christ, and I cannot deny their experience just because they are not Orthodox. I call these people “subjective” or “beginning” Christians. But until they are united to the Orthodox Church they cannot have the fullness of Christianity, they cannot be objectively Christian as belonging to the Body of Christ and receiving the grace of the sacraments. I think this is why there are so many sects among them—they begin the Christian life with a genuine experience of conversion to Christ, but they cannot continue the Christian life in the right way until they are united to the Orthodox Church, and they therefore substitute their own opinions and subjective experiences for the Church’s teaching and sacraments.” — Letter to the catechumen Anna, Nov. 14/27, 1980
Here he expresses nearly the opposite of the view that you ascribe to him above. I say nearly, because you wrote that he “denies that the Holy Spirit works and sanctifies outside of Orthodoxy.” Here again you conflate two things which need to be distinguished: working, and sanctifying. I believe Fr. Seraphim, with the Church, affirms the former and denies the latter. To put it more clearly, Fr. Seraphim is most emphatically not saying that the Holy Spirit cannot work outside the Orthodox Church: He can and He does, obviously. What he is saying, however, is that the saving grace of the mysteries is absent. This is something on which Fr. Seraphim is quite clear (and fully Orthodoxy) but so many other people are very fuzzy when discussions come up of the presence or absence of Grace in this or that group: what is at issue is the grace of the Sacraments, not whether or not God acts outside of the Church. The sanctifying grace of the Mysteries, does not and cannot exist in any form outside of the Orthodox Church, because bodies outside of the True Church are not churches at all; to say or imply otherwise, in any measure, is heresy, besides being simply absurd (it is akin to saying that a lung removed from a human body can continue to breathe on behalf of that body while outside of it; to even conceive of the idea is to immediately see it as ridiculous). But that is not to say (and Fr. Seraphim explicitly does not say) that there is no grace given to individual people outside of the Orthodox Church. How could that be so, when it is precisely the grace of God that illumines us to find the Church in the first place?
One needs to distinguish between the illuming grace that calls us to the Church, and the sanctifying grace which exists only in the mysteries of the Church; it is precisely a failure to make this distinction which has ensnared so many Orthodox people in our day and age. (As an aside, I have observed again and again that a failure to make basic distinctions is one of the defining characteristics of our times). Does that mean that those outside the Church cannot be saved? Let me again quote Fr. Seraphim in an earlier passage from that same letter as above: “…it is not for us to define the state of those who are outside the Orthodox Church. If God wishes to grant salvation to some who are Christians in the best way they know, but without ever knowing the Orthodox Church—that is up to Him, not us. But when He does this, it is outside the normal way that He established for salvation—which is in the Church, as a part of the Body of Christ.”
To all this, I can add my own personal experience. My own “conversion” took place outside of any “church”, before I had any inkling of Orthodoxy, and it remains the single most transformative event of my life; I certainly consider it to be genuine. But it was years before I found the Church; it was only the beginning of God setting me on the right path. Fr. Seraphim, for all his lack of “direct experience” of the Charismatic movement, I think understood its better than most people who do (certainly he expresses my own experience better than I could myself), and he understands it precisely from the perspective of the Church, which so many people seem to not even care to attempt. To misrepresent Fr. Seraphim on this point is to misrepresent the Church, and that is to lead people away from salvation instead of towards it.
Thank you for your (rather long) comment. It illustrates the necessity of reading works within their historical context. The push to lionize Fr. Seraphim and reprint his many articles in a single volume does nothing to help this contextualization, and so I appreciate all the more your citation of his other works. I still disagree with much of what say about the Spirit sanctifying only within Orthodoxy and find the distinction between working and sanctifying ultimately too artificial. But I appreciate the irenic spirit of the dialogue and your scholarship.
For all his good intentions, Fr. Stephanou seems to me to have done a great disservice to the project of the renewal of the gifts of the Spirit in Orthodoxy- his writing is extremely Protestant evangelical in theology, even referring (IIRC) to the “rapture.” (Fr. Timothy is a wonderful man- he was a parish priest of mine when I first converted to Orthodoxy eleven years ago.)
I believe that the pentecostal and charismatic movement is a work of God which will only be itself when realized in the fullness of apostolic tradition and liturgical life. Yet Fr. Stephanou led many Orthodox to dismiss the question of charismatic gifts for “normal” (i.e. not extraordinary ascetics) laypeople as irredeemably wedded to a deficient theology.
Well said! I recall first reading some of his work and being surprised to see a number of themes simply lifted from the usual charismatic Protestant writers and grafted onto Orthodoxy in quite an unassimilated fashion.
In my humble opinion, your cogent analysis of Father Stephanou is excellent. I have noticed that his theology is much too protestant. I got the opinion that he believed in a pre- trubulation rapture, and his comments about an Orthodox understanding of “the restoration of Israel” is sheer dispensationalist heresy. Father Timothy Cremeens is much more fair and balanced.