Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Letter 2

Dear A,

I'm glad to be of help. I understand how it is when you get these questions. You know someone doesn't really want to get the whole history of Christianity and the schism and the Orthodox position concerning everything under the sun that makes it distinct from other Christian bodies.

A quick answer I give, if someone asks me how we differ from the Roman Catholics (and the Protestants) is this: Historical Continuity. Even if the person doesn’t have time for a full dissertation, you can give him the basics of Church history, the Schism, and the filioque, which is more than 90% of church-goers know.

The thing about Orthodoxy, in my opinion, that makes it distinctive in modern America, is that we don’t claim to try to recapture or to have recreated a modern version of what we think was First Century Christianity. Nor do we have a guilt complex about our faith statement being “inaccessible” or “outdated” to the young or the modern mind. What Orthodoxy is, is the Church founded by Christ at Pentecost, and led by the Holy Spirit throughout history.

When non-Orthodox make their argument-of-choice against the Virgin Mary, icons, calling no man Father, confession, etc. it’s based upon the mistaken notion that the Church went into limbo after 33 A.D. and these issues were irrelevant to the Early Church.

What we have in Orthodoxy is preeminently Holy Scripture, the Liturgy, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the History of the Church in the lives of its Saints. In the daily readings of the lives of the saints from multiple centuries, we have some being martyred by the iconoclasts, one being boiled in pitch or flayed by a Roman emperor, another being exiled by leaders of a now-debunked heresy, and one or two sometimes reposing peacefully in a quiet village or monastery. Reading these lives makes church history real and imminent, but also personal.

I don’t think it’s necessary (unless you have an aptitude for this kind of thing) to read and to be able to spout off the Orthodox positions on every point of theology a non-Orthodox asks of you. Rather remember and be confident in the fact that the Orthodox Church has continued in unbroken continuity since the Apostles. It is and has been, for lack of a better phrase, alive-and-breathing for almost 2000 years. The best books to read are Bishop Kallistos' The Orthodox Church (for the history), and The Orthodox Way (for theology).

Something you might find easy and helpful is listening to a podcast by Fr John Whiteford on the Protestant perspective of “Sola Scriptura.” It’s an enjoyable and edifying talk on the differences between the Protestant and Orthodox understanding of Scripture.
Here’s a link for the Prologue (I can't find a main page where you select the date, but here's one day).

Let me know if this helps.

BTW we had a lovely visit with Bishop George and the monks from Holy Cross in West Virginia. Here's an excellent video of theirs on living the Christian life.

Some pictures of Bp George's visit are posted in the church photo gallery. More will be put up soon.

Much love,
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