In an email, commenter Kwon Mega left me some links on the Orthodox Church. There is an Orthodox Church very close to my home, and on various occasions I’ve stopped by the bookshop and even chatted with a few people. Though I’ve never attended a service there, I’ve lately felt a desire to do so. It is probably a sign of my utter wretchedness that I’ve passed this Church daily, even drunk on occasion, for over six years without ever once attending a service. When I question why I never attended a service, I realize that until very recently, I wasn’t aware of the differences between Orthodox and Catholic. I simply assumed that the Church I was walking past was Catholic, and for that reason, I never really gave it much thought. In short, I suppose one could say I failed to worship with all of my mind.
This is the first post of a new series, Exploring Orthodoxy. I’d like to share my initial reactions to the first link Kwon Mega provided (and thanks, Kwon Mega, for providing the links, and the inspiration for this series).
The first link Kwon Mega shared with me was, Christians You Must Know Christ! by Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov. Overall, I felt good, meaning, I felt that most of my beliefs tracked well with his. For example:
Salvation consists in the recovery of communion with God.
Damnation is the lot of all people, whether virtuous or evil-doers.
In order to restore man’s communion with God, in other words, for salvation, redemption was necessary.
You are quite wrong, then, if you think and say that good people among pagans and Moslems are saved, that is enter into communion with God!
All feeble works of men, which lead to hell, are compensated by a single powerful good work: faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews asked the Lord: “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” And the Lord answered them: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent” (St. John 6:29). One good work is necessary to us for salvation: faith; but faith is work!, By faith, and by faith alone, may we enter into communion with God, with the aid of the sacraments which He has granted us.
Although I’m a little curious as to exactly what he means by “with the aid of the sacraments,” I affirm all of that as worded. Though I won’t deny that an occasional doubt has crept in, I always have affirmed those sentiments. However, the following was news to me:
It is not only sinners who descended into hell at the end of their earthly pilgrimage, but the righteous men of the Old Testament as well. Such is the power of the good works of men; such is the worth of the virtues of our fallen nature! […] If the righteous men of the true Church, the lamps from which the Holy Spirit has shown, prophets and wonder-workers who believed in the coming Redeemer but died before His coming, if they descended to hell…
That stopped me in my tracks. I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover a few times, but I never walked away with that. He cites Genesis 37:35. The context is Joseph being sold by his brothers. They had plotted to kill Joseph, and threw him into a well. Then they decided they could make some money by selling Joseph to the Midianites. Then they lied to their father, Jacob, making it look like Joseph had been mauled by an animal. Jacob refused comforting, and replied, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” The Hebrew word used is Sheol. I’ve always thought of Sheol as something distinct from the “Hell” that awaits the unrepentant, but, apparently I need to look into things some more. By the way, my (unfinished) series on Mike Gantt’s book has an entire post dedicated to Sheol.
I really appreciated his exposition of James on faith and works, which seems distinct from the Catholic position that more than just faith is required. Again, Christ said the robber would be with Him in paradise today, and that robber was never baptized, never said a Hail Mary and couldn’t have identified a rosary if you asked him to. This, to me, is clear proof from the Lord Himself that faith alone is sufficient for salvation, and Bishop Ignaty’s exposition confirms (to me, at least) that I’ve understood this matter correctly. This is all wholly compatible with the idea that faith without works is dead.
When he writes of “The Ecumenical Church,” I can only assume he refers to something besides the current ecumenical interfaith movement. I can’t see how anyone with a sound understanding of Scripture could support that ecumenical church. If anyone can shed light here, please do. Did the Orthodox Fathers refer to theirs as The Ecumenical Church?
Bishop Ignaty writes approvingly of St. Flavian’s pronouncement of heresy on Eutyches:
Eutyches, until now priest and archimandrite, is entirely convinced, both by his past actions and by his present statements on the errors of Valentine and Apollinarius, whose blasphemy he obstinately follows, all the more so as he did not even listen to our advice and instructions directed to his reception of sound teaching. And therefore, weeping and sighing over his complete damnation, we proclaim before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ that he has fallen into blasphemy, that he is deprived of every priestly rank, of communion with us, and of the direction of his monastery, and we give it to be known to all that from henceforth whoever shall converse with him shall himself incur excommunication.
I have to admit, this is where I feel myself wanting to part ways. I’m not saying heresy should be taken lightly. I’m not denying that Eutyches departed from sound doctrine (to be honest, I don’t know if he did or not, I’ve never investigated the matter). Rather, questions arise: is it possible to lose one’s salvation according to Orthodox teaching? If not, why should Eutyches be pronounced completely damned for holding a false belief, unless of course he was never the Lord’s in the first place? Plenty of modern Christians hold at least one false belief, I’m certain I am included. Am I completely damned? Why should another be excommunicated for simply conversing with Eutyches? I can understand why one might receive that threat for adopting Eutyches’ beliefs, but, just for talking to him? According to Orthodoxy, if somebody has been made anew by faith in Christ, does believing a false doctrine nullify their salvation?
What was the heresy? Bishop Ignaty writes,
The heresy of Eutyches consisted in his failure to confess in Christ in His Incarnation two natures, as the Church confesses, he admitted only one Divine nature.
May the Lord forgive me for uttering the very response Ignaty condemns, but, is that all? I may be wrong here, I’m ignorant on the matter, but as far as I can see, it’s not like Eutyches preached salvation through some means other than Christ. It’s not like Eutyches said pagans are saved. They have a disagreement over natures, on which—as far as I know—Scripture is silent (if it is not, may somebody correct me here). How does “admitting only one Divine nature” constitute “rejecting the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Perhaps I just don’t understand the theological dispute in question. If anybody else does, again, please enlighten me.
Despite these questions, I agree with Bishop Ignaty on almost everything written, and the two points of question probably arise from my own ignorance. I look forward to continuing this series, and learning more about Orthodoxy.