Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Final Orthamerica Blog Post

Orthamerica has been a blog where I have had the opportunity to chronicle my own conversion of mind and heart from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy since 2010.  It served as platform that enabled me to contrast some of the basic differences in ways of thought and practices between the two faiths.  My growth in the Orthodox way is still only in its infant stages; nevertheless, the transition is complete.  As a Result, I will no longer be adding posts to this blog. 

 
For those who have read the blog, I hope it has been of some help or at least edification.  I am opening a new blog called “Coenebion – A common life”. The theme of the blog will be the recovery of ancient Orthodox wisdom. I am looking forward to this new vehicle of expression, and I cordially invite you to explore it.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Orthodoxy and the Bible

The Bible is much more than a single book; it is a sacred library containing a collection of books divided into two main parts. The first part of this library is the Old Testament, written to by Israel to Israel in order to prepare them for the coming of God into the world as a man (Christ). Its content deals with the fragmented condition of humanity due to Adam’s freewill choice to live separate from God who is their source of life, and humanity’s journey back to union with God by way of a new Adam.

The Old Testament has various major themes:
1.     Adam and his exile from paradise (as experienced in vespers),
2.     Preparation for a new Adam who will bring humanity back from exile to paradise (as experienced in matins).
3.     Events that are examples of the future life of humanity in paradise (Moses ascent up the holy mountain[1]).
The second part of this library is the New Testament, written by the Church to the Church in order to reveal that God has come into the world as a man in Christ, and has saved the world. As such, the Bible is primarily a guide for those in the Church to enter into Christ’s salvation.

The New Testament has various major themes:
1.     God the Word comes into exiled humanity by assuming flesh- the new Adam (incarnation).
2.     God the Word destroys sin and death – The new Adam recapitulates all things (crucifixion, resurrection and ascension).
3.     God the Word brings humanity back into paradise the faithful – the new Adam is the Savior King (life in the Church).
4.     God the Spirit provides his own energies to help bring about the recovery of humanity (by illuminating, purifying, and deifying to Christ-likeness).


The whole bible contains pieces that comprise a mosaic of the God man, Jesus Christ, who creates, preserves, and restores all things to Himself. The Bible is the written Word of God made up of human words inspired (lit. exhaled) by God Himself, and is without error or contradiction regarding the relationship between God and creation. One of the Bible’s authors, the apostle Paul, tells us that the Bible is the genuine Word of God for those who he calls “the people (man) of God”. Jesus Christ abides in His Church by the Holy Spirit and opens human minds to understand the Bible (Jn 14.26, 16:13). The same apostle Paul contends that when the bible is read by those outside the One Church, a “veil” hides its true meaning from them “because only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Cor 3:14). 




[1] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses

Saturday, July 26, 2014

How To Have A Fruitful Inter Religious Dialogue


Every religion makes truth claims. Proving or at least defending these truth claims is required if the religion is to be taken seriously. One cannot normally use the scientific method for proving or defending religious truth claims, because the claims extend beyond the reach of the material science’s inquiry. Nevertheless, these areas that lie beyond the scope of the empirical sciences are not beyond exploration. One can study the historical, moral, philosophical, therapeutic, and social aspects of any religion to compare and contrast against the religion’s claims.

We can inquire into the formation of the religion.
  • We can investigate the major events that created the religion.
  • We can inquire into the morality of its formation.
  • We can inquire to see if there was deceit, bloodshed, in its formation, and if so whose deceit and blood was shed?
  • We can trace the religion’s track record regarding life, and goodness?
We can inquire into the theological claims of the religion, and check them with real history to see the consequences of their outworking.

We can inquire into the lives of the saints of a particular faith. 

Does the religion really produce holy persons and if who, and how?

Are there sects, and if so, how many, how did they come into being, and how do they vary in their beliefs and practices?


These topics are much more appropriate and productive when we dialogue about any particular religion.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Interpreting Scripture like the Apostles

No matter how differently modern interpreters assess the subject matter of the Bible, or its religious significance, there exists a united front among them. [To the modern interpreter] the Bible is important in light of its capacity to refer to some “x”, i.e. what really happened, or certain timeless truths. To our surprise, these views about the Bible’s meaning were not held by premodern readers.

Premodern readers assumed that events depicted in the Bible actually occurred as described, but surprisingly little of their interpretation depended on this assumption. They simply did not ask: “What is the event or truth to which the Bible refers?” For them, the text was woven into the fabric of truth by virtue of being scripture.

As Irenaeus affirmed, “the scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His spirit.” For Irenaeus and for the patristic tradition in general, the Bible was not a perfect historical record. Scripture was, for them, the orienting, luminous center of a highly varied and complex reality, shaped by divine providence. It was true not by virtue of successfully or accurately representing any one event or part of this divinely ordained reality. Rather, the truth rested in the scripture’s power to illuminate and disclose the order and pattern of all things.

The fathers differ from modern readers, not in any particular assumption about a verse or episode, or in any specific method, but in their overall assumptions. Modern readers assume that the Bible means by accurately referring to an “x”, whether event, mode of consciousness, or theological truth. For the fathers, the Bible is the array of words, sentences, laws, images, episodes, and narratives that does not acquire meaning because of its connection to an “x”; it confers meaning because it is divine revelation. Scripture is ordained by God to edify, and that power of edification is intrinsic to scripture.

The image of direction illuminates the difference we discovered in the fathers. Ancient readers of scripture moved within, across, and through the text, exploring its orienting, unifying potency.  Modern readers of scripture move in the reverse direction, adopting techniques that lead out of what seems a confusing, inaccurate, and contradictory text and into a realm of history or theological ideas. [The fathers] did not ask, “What gives meaning to the story of Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai?” They assumed the authority of the dual accounts in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and they sought to order their interpretations accordingly. Instead of looking behind the text to the events, they looked into the text for clues and solutions. The precritical presumption that the meaning of scripture is in the words and not behind them explains why modern readers find patristic exegesis so unfathomable.

Extracts from
SANCTIFIED VISION:
 AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIAN INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE
John J O’Keefe and R R Reno


Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005

Monday, June 23, 2014

Metamorphosis



Every human being is born in the flesh (in Adam), with our very being in a fragmented condition; our mind, body, and soul (heart) is misaligned and therefore darkened. At some point as we grow, we encounter the law. First, the law of our homes, then that of our community & land, and perhaps in due time even the law of God.

Being darkened from birth, these laws produce a certain rebellion within our being. This is particularly true when it comes to the law of God. Consider our contemporary American society, things such as fornication, gluttony, pride, and the like are the rule rather than the exception. Worse yet, these things so opposed to the law of God are even socially encouraged. Consequently, our rebellion against the law of God further darkens and fragments us causing us inner distress. Consider the number of people that are taking anti-depressants in our land.

Wanting to be our own god, we choose a life apart from God who is the only source of life and true peace. This universal principle that we all experience is the law of death working within us, & it is that principle which ultimately destroys us if we stay in its current.

The apostolic Christian tradition has some good news for us- news that has changed the history of the world. It tells us that something has happened to alter our metaphysical situation. We are told that God himself, the one who is life, has taken on manhood in a real, historical person- Jesus of Nazareth. In doing so, He has re-created mankind (new Adam), killing off the old kind of man with his principle of death, and creating a new kind of man, one who is dead to the law and alive to God. The apostolic Christian claim is this: the universe has been metaphysically changed by the birth, death, resurrection, ascension of the God man. These historic events have enabled God to fill of all things in the giving of the Holy Spirit to the new creation.

What this means to each person is that we are born in the flesh, fragmented and subject to the power of death, but we need not remain in that condition. It is now possible to become another kind of being. This metamorphosis however is not accomplished merely by our own will or by our own power, but by trust in the love of Christ for us and by dependence upon His energy to work in us. This is possible for us to experience because it is what God desires for us if we too desire it.

The life of one who desires this metamorphosis  is a life of continually dying and being reborn. The truth is that this experience is truly attainable; we can take possession of God in Christ because he has made it possible. He comes to us in baptism and chrismation, planting the seed of his Spirit. He remains with us throughout our life as we turn to Him.  This life of turning (repentance) feels like a battlefield, or an arena, it is a life made up of an invisible warfare resulting in a Metamorphosis. This transformation from beginning to end is what the bible calls 'salvation'.  By the way 'salvation' is more appropriately translated by the term 'healing' – in the Greek of bible both terms are synonymous. Change or metamorphosis is the healing of the whole human person: body, mind, and spirit.

The question remains - is it possible for a person to truly change?  The answer is irrefutably, YES! If you need proof all one need to do is study history. Namely, look at the lives of the great saints of Orthodox Church. St. Mary of Egypt, and St. Augustine are two prominent figures, but there are hundreds if not thousands more. Change is the new order.

Are all of you ignorant, brothers and sisters (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.    
        Romans 7:1-13

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Trendsetters

It is a natural thing among our human race to desire to fit in with the people of our surroundings. In fact, contemporary psychologists consider it a malady when a person desires not fit in.  They call it by various names, but these maladies are considered an inability to attain normal social skills. Notice that we dress certain ways for particular events, and more importantly, that we look at the way that others do things and emulate them so that we are not perceived as strange. Desiring to fit in is normal.   


At the same time, there is another principle at work within us.  It seems that those who set new and desirable trends are even more respected than those who follow the mainstream.  Trendsetters they are called. There is hardly a greater compliment that can be given to a person in our day than being a trendsetter.  This trend setting is in fact the norm in the contemporary world of music, and entertainment.  

Both of these human tendencies can be quite problematic when it comes to our relationship with God, and to the Christian life.  The questions that must be wrestled with are twofold.  One, who set the Christian trend we follow. and two, are we correct to follow it. To be more specific, could it be the we are following a trend set 1000 years after the birth of Christianity by a schismatic Pope and his followers, or could it be that we are following a trend set by a rebelling monk in the 16th century. Even more troublesome, could it that we are following be a trend set in the last 200, 100, or even 20 years.

To address this problem the Orthodox Church looks to its unified voice in the first millennium and clings to it for safety. One such voice is quoted below.

"Some one perhaps will ask, since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. 

For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. Moreover, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent."

(A Commonitory (A Reminder), Vincent of Lerins, 434 AD)

The Commonitory of St. Vincent is one of the most prized possessions that the Orthodox Church owns. It contains within it the ultimate formula for stripping the fake wool from the disguised wolves in the Lord’s garden. This claim is not easily accepted by some, especially those who know little about the consensus of biblical interpretation found in the church fathers, and less about the conciliar theology hammered out in the seven ecumenical councils. Nevertheless, Vincent is abundantly clear in pointing out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with scripture, yet, its depth is such that every heretic from Novatian to Nestorious was able to build and support their theological conclusions from the very scriptures themselves. Hence, the problem is not the scriptures, but the interpreters. This leaves a rather large and even embarrassing problem at our doorstep, and it is this: how do we know for certain, and with complete and whole certitude that our interpretation is the actual meaning that God placed on the texts of a particular scripture? The answer given to us by Vincent, our interpretation must be in accordance with that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. He states it another way: it must be inline with the universality, antiquity, and the consent of the church. Any other kind of interpretation is not apostolic; in fact, it is a renegade approach to God’s truth, and places us in the footsteps of the heretics.