Tuesday, January 1, 2008

An Orthodox priest weighs in on CatholiDoxies...

There is a new blog out there: CatholiDoxies. The reason for the blog is, well, let the blogger speak for himself:

Welcome to CatholiDoxies! This blog is an attempt by your anonymous blogger, a frustrated Protestant Evangelical, to work through issues related to finding a home in either Catholicism and Orthodoxy. (You might know me by the handle "Irenaeus" on other blogs.)

The big philosophical question: how does one leaving Protestantism decide between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, when a major reason for one's frustration with Protestantism is the necessity and difficulty of having to decide, based on one's own reading of Scripture, what to believe and what confession/denomination/church to belong to?

For many folk the decision between Protestantism and Catholicism is becoming a no-brainer, given the 30,000 odd Protestant denominations and the inane ramblings of Martin Luther whose disturbed psyche started the mess we have in the West. Protestantism simply doesn't work; sola Scriptura doesn't function, because Scripture is not fundamentally perspicuous. And so on and so forth.

But once one comes to that point, how might one decide between Catholicism and Orthodoxy? Now the problem is interpreting and evaluating church history, not Scripture. So the formal problem is interpretation in general, whereas the material problem concern Scripture on one hand (the Protestant-vs-Catholic question) and history (the Catholic-vs-Othodox question) on the other.

So along the way, I look forward to discussing church history and Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theology and practice, and I'll share some of my experiences, thoughts and reflections as I make what may be a long journey. I'd appreciate your thoughtful input at every turn.

I've weighed in on several of the posts on CatholiDoxies (which by the way is anonymous since if his spiritual struggles became know he would lose his job at an Evangelical college) and have found it to be quite helpful for me as I struggle with issues of lay spiritual formation in the Orthodox Church.

While the posts on both sides are always respectful, no punches are pulled. It is very good to see the Orthodox Church through the eyes of those who have recently entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Many of these folks seriously considered the Orthodox Church and their reasons for going West rather than East provide the Orthodox with serious food for thought.

Not unexpectedly a chief criticism is our close (and really uncritical) association of the Church with ethnicity. For many Orthodox Christians, the Church is simply an extension of their family rather the wellspring of grace from out of which the family comes.

Additionally people fault us for

* our lack of engagement with the wider culture (especially here in America)
* our tendency towards triumphalism and anti-Catholic polemics and
* the disconnect between a beautiful tradition and the lack of serious evangelical outreach.

All of these are reasons that serious Christians look elsewhere.

Look, this isn't meant to set up and "Us vs Them" kind of thing--but we need to take seriously the possibility that people are walking away from the Orthodox Church because, well, of Orthodox Christians. Several months ago, on commented on just this topic to a brother priest. His response was to justify our shortcomings and then say that inquirers need to understand why we (Orthodox Christians) weren't doing our job.

My own view is this: If I want you to understand me and think well of me, than it is my responsibility to explain myself--but as part of that I need to take your questions, criticisms and misapprehensions of me seriously.

As Orthodox Christians we need to take to heart the reasons people do not see joining the Orthodox Church as a viable option. Yes, certainly some of the reasons people walk away have to do with their sinfulness--but "some" ain't "all" is it? If even a small part of why people walk away reflects my shortcomings then don't I have an obligation to at least consider changing?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Another Orthodox blogger writes:

Irenaeus, over at CatholiDoxies, has a post about Vladimir Soloviev’s classic Russia and the Universal Church (currently in print only in an abridged English edition, under the title The Russian Church and the Papacy). I too have read through the abridged work, and I have mixed feelings about it.

On the negative side, those who know a bit about Soloviev’s philosophical background will be justly wary of the strange ideas which underlie his ecclesiological and ecumenical thought. I am very nervous about Soloviev’s sophiology and his ideal of world “all-unity”, which of course informs his idea of the “Universal Church” and the Papacy as a “universal fatherhood” for all mankind. Personally, I think that both Orthodox and Catholics would be right to be a bit nervous about these esoteric and utopian concepts.

On the other hand, Soloviev was undoubtedly a genius, and I think that he makes some very good points that Orthodox should not simply reject out of hand. If a solid Orthodox theologian like Florovsky can praise Soloviev for his passion for Christian unity and call his contribution to the solution of this problem “momentous”, I would hope that more Orthodox would seek to engage with Soloviev’s thought seriously. His identification of the disasterous effects of imperial interference in the Eastern Church, while in many ways exaggerated, nevertheless do seem to have solid basis in the history of both Byzantium and Russia; and I think that one can still discern the negative effects of this today even where Orthodoxy is not subject to imperial autocracy. One scholar has summarized Soloviev’s criticism of Byzantine religious particularism thus:

The root of Byzantine exclusiveness was its ahistorical religiosity, which attempted to protect the mystical contemplation of Truth, but which did not call for its realization in history. In the Byzantine experience, Soloviev maintained, the perfection of the Church was linked to a past historical era and to a specific geographical place, causing eastern Christians to lose the sense of the universal character of the Church, a universality which needs to be realized in the history of all nations and throughout the world. In reaction to what he perceived as Byzantine particularism and exclusivity, Soloviev sought for a more universal expression of the Christian Church … Soloviev emphasized the “catholic,” or “universal” character of the Church, as contrasted with self-affirmation, exclusivism and arbitrary human willfulness. “Universality” versus “particularism”: this was to become the heart and core of Soloviev’s ecclesiological concern and was to guide the development of his thinking. (Chrysostom Frank, “The Problem of Church Unity in the Life and Thought of Vladimir Soloviev,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 36:3, 1992).

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