The Orthodox Way

Derek Ouellette —  November 23, 2010 — 2 Comments

“Because the Orthodox have a different background from the west, they have been able to open up fresh lines of thought, and to suggest long-forgotten solutions to old difficulties.”[i]

The quote above summarizes quite well my reasons for exploring the beliefs and practices of the Orthodox Church. Over the years I have collided with many an impasse of my theology and traditions. I am tired of the endless Calvin/Arminian debate, as but one big example of the impasse I find myself facing. Another one was the issue of “imputation”. Fortunately, N.T. Wright has opened up a line of thinking for me which has presented a solution to the problem presented by the Reformers understanding of it in light of their reading of scripture. But we also have the issue of “Eternal Security” or “Once Saved Always Saved”. There are those who do not believe in eternal security and there are those who do believe in eternal security. Either view has repercussions in other areas. Is there, I wonder, a fresh way to approach this old debate which frames the question differently and thus may suggest a “long-forgotten solution” to this problem? These and many other debates internally among Protestants and well as between Protestants and Catholics are the reason why I am looking to the Orthodox East for possible solutions. It is time to get off of the arrogant high horse which Western Christianity has been straddling at least since the Reformation, and to approach these subjects afresh.

After reading The Orthodox Way I have more questions than answers. Yet there are many things in the doctrines of the Orthodox Church which are quite familiar to me, and universal among Christendom. Below are series of quotes taken from The Orthodox Way, representative statements which are different to the way I have understood things. This is not to affirm or deny these statements, but only to acknowledge them and to open the way to discussion and provoke some thoughts:

On the Trinity:

In the Latin West, it is usually held that the Spirit proceeds “from the Father and from the Son”; and the word filiioque (“and from the Son”) has been added to the Latin text of the Creed. Orthodoxy not only regards the filioque as an unauthorized addition – for it was inserted into the Creed without the consent of the Christian East – but it also considers that the doctrine of the “double procession”, as commonly expounded, is theologically inexact and spiritually harmful. [p.32]

Consequences of the Fall:

[In the Fall] Man became subject to inward alienation: weakened in will… [p.60]

The Orthodox tradition, without minimizing the effects of the fall, does not however believe that it resulted in a “total depravity”, such as the Calvinists assert. [p.61]

[Does Adam’s original sin] also imply an inherited guilt? Here Orthodoxy is more guarded… Original sin is not to be interpreted… as if it were some physical “taint” of guilt, transmitted through sexual intercourse. This picture, which normally passes for the Augustinian view, is unacceptable to Orthodoxy. [p.62]

Our condition as sinners – sinful by virtue of the fall, sinful through our personal acts of wrongdoing. [p.68].

Salvation:

Only God can save us. [p.73]

[Salvation is to be understood in terms of sharing.] This notion of salvation as sharing implies – although many have been reluctant to say this openly- that Christ assumed not just unfallen but fallen human nature. [p.75 – quoting Hebrews 4:15]

[Regarding 2 Cor. 5:21] We are not to think here solely in terms of some juridical transaction, whereby Christ, himself guiltless, somehow has our guilt “imputed” to him in an exterior manner. [p.76]

However careless and indifferent the baptized may be in their subsequent life, this indwelling presence of the Spirit is never totally withdrawn. But unless we co-operate with God’s grace – unless, through the exercise of our free will, we struggle to perform the commandments – it is likely that the Spirit’s presence within us will remain hidden and unconscious… We are to become what we are. [p.100]

The first stage… begins with repentance. The baptized Christian, by listening to his conscience and by exerting the power of his free will, struggles with God’s help to escape from enslavement to passionate impulses. [p.106]

It is of course true that there are many who with their conscious brain reject Christ and his Church, or who have never heard of him; and yet, unknown to themselves, these people are true servants of the one Lord in their deep heart and in their implicit direction of their whole life. God is able to save those who in this life never belonged to his Church. [p.108]

We are to hold in balance two complementary truths: without God’s grace we can do nothing; but without our voluntary co-operation God will do nothing… Our salvation results from the convergence of two factors, unequal in value yet both indispensable: divine initiative and human response. [p.112]

The beginning of salvation is to condemn oneself… Repentance marks the starting-point of our journey. [p.113]

Mary and the Virgin Birth:

Orthodoxy, while holding in high honour the role of the Blessed Virgin as Christ’s Mother, sees no need for any dogma of the “immaculate Conception”. [This is because] as already noted, Orthodoxy does not envisage the fall in Augustinian terms, as a taint of inherited guilt. [p.77]

We Orthodox believe that after her death she was assumed into heaven. [p.77]

The Atonement:

And if the cry “My God, my God…” is to signify anything at all, it must mean that at this moment Jesus is truly experiencing the spiritual death of separation from God. [p.80]

If Christ truly “descended into hell”, that means he descended into the depths of the absence of God. [p.80]

We should not say that Christ has suffered “instead of us”, but rather that he has suffered on our behalf… not substitution, but saving companionship. [p.82]

The Spirit and Baptism:

The gift or charisma of the Spirit is not conferred only upon bishops and clergy but upon each of the baptized. [p.94]

The Spirit’s descent at Pentecost reverses the effect of the tower of Babel. [p.94]

(Under the subheading “Become what you are”): All the baptized without exception are Spirit-bearers. [p.97]

What happened to the first Christians on the day of Pentecost happens also to each of us when, immediately following our Baptism, we are in the Orthodox practice anointed with Chrism or myron. [p.100 – myron is similar to “confirmation” in the Western tradition]

Discernment is even more necessary in the case of “tongues”. Often it is not the Spirit of God that is speaking through tongues, but the all-too-human spirit of auto-suggestion and mass hysteria. There are even occasions when “speaking with tongues” is a form of demonic possession. [p.101, quoting 1 John 4:1]

The Bible:

The spiritual Way is not only ecclesial and sacramental; it is also evangelical… At each step upon the path, we turn for guidance to the voice of God speaking to us through the Bible. [p.109]

The real purpose of the Bible is much more than [to study it] – to feed our love for Christ. [p.111]

End Times:

There are, however, at least three things that we are entitled to affirm without ambiguity: that Christ will come again in glory; that at his coming we shall be raised from the dead and judged; and that of his kingdom there shall be no end. [p.134]

[The scriptures give us no ground] for supposing that, through a steady advance in “civilization”, the world will grow gradually better and better until mankind succeeds in establishing God’s kingdom upon the earth. The Christian view of world history is entirely opposed to this kind of evolutionary optimism. [p.134]

At the Second Coming of Christ, we shall be raised from the dead in our soul and in our body; and so, with soul and body reunited, we shall appear before our Lord for the Last Judgment. [p.135]

Hell:

How can a God of love accept that even a single one of the creatures whom he has made should remain for ever in hell? There is a mystery here which, from our standpoint in this present life, we cannot hope to fathom. The best we can do is to hold in balance two truths, contrasting but not contradictory. First, God has given free will to man, and so to all eternity it lies in man’s power to reject God. Secondly, love signifies compassion, involvement; and so, if there are any who remain eternally in hell, in some sense God is also there with them. [p.135]

My thoughts on some of these will follow in an upcoming post. Until then, what do you think? Any surprises? I know that in some of my circles many of these statements would be considered heresy, yet the Orthodox Church have held to them faithfully since very near the beginning.


[i] Ware, Tomothy; The Orthodox Church, p.3

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.