November 24, 2017

“Things New and Old”–”Fr. Ernesto’s Testimony

Thanks to friend of IM Fr. Ernesto Obregon for this testimony.

A word from Chaplain Mike: As we begin our week of emphasis on the Ancient-Future movement, I thought it would good to hear the testimony of someone whose faith journey has taken him through different streams of tradition and ultimately led him to find a home in an ancient expression of the “one holy and catholic church”.

Lately there has been much discussion about Emergents and the groups/churches they are founding. Are they dying? Are they entering a new phase? Were and are they simply a transitional phase from an institutional paradigm to a more “tribal” paradigm? There is some very lofty language being used to try to explain what happened back then and what is happening now and where the future might lead.

But, for me it brought back some memories. . . .

You see, I arrived at the same point in the late 1980’s and that led me to leave the Evangelical group I was in, looking for something old and stable. I had become an Evangelical after being raised Roman Catholic and had bought into the whole idea that I had never really known Christ inside the Roman Catholic Church. Years later I realized that this was not true, but that is another story. The group I was in went from Jesus People, through almost-shepherding, through the “realization” that apostles, etc., still existed today, through a study into Early Church history and doctrine, through a split, through an association with the Word of God Community (which was funny since it was mostly Roman Catholic in outlook and connections), through John Wimber . . . . Well, you get the idea.

After all that, I found myself longing for stability, for knowing that the same God I woke up with yesterday would be the God that I woke up with today. For all our talk about God being the same “yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” this seemed like a God who certainly seemed to like frequent changes of direction, all of which we were able to discern in a very accurate fashion. The other possibility, of course, was that we had no clear idea of what God wanted which would then tend to keep invalidating all my past experience every time we learned a “new” truth. I finally started thinking that option two was the more accurate. We did not have a clear idea of what God was saying and we were simply floundering around needing a compass.

Well, I ended up Orthodox, but that is another story. What I would like you to note is that there is a danger that Chaplain Mike and others have already pointed out. That danger is that of using the Holy Spirit as a convenient reason to do what one wishes without regards for prior Christians or prior interpretations of Scripture or even current fellow Christians who are trying to warn one. One need only claim a move of the Holy Spirit to start doing what one wishes. The problem is that eventually one ends up not knowing which end is up when it comes to who God is. “Just because someone told you something you didn’t know doesn’t make it true.”

But, there is another side to that saying and one that we also need to look at, one which almost contradicts the saying. You see, some of my biggest joys have been in delving into the Early Church Fathers. As I read the history of that era, and read what they actually said, and read what the Ecumenical Councils said, etc., I keep noticing myself telling my wife that, “they never taught me that in seminary.” Often I have found myself wishing that I had known that the Church had already gone through a particular doctrinal argument 1500 years ago and that I did not have to relive that argument anew. For, of course, during the years in the Evangelical changeableness, we mightily worked ourselves through many arguments that might well have been quickly solved (or doctrines that might have been even more quickly dropped), if only we had known that the particular point had already been argued ever so long ago, and all its implications drawn out, and reasonable conclusions already drawn. There was no need for us to recapitulate Church history.

And so, in one sense, I am constantly being told new things by the Holy Scriptures, by the Church Fathers, by the Ecumenical Councils, by Holy Tradition, etc. But, there is a difference between the changeableness of following every “move of the Spirit” and what now guides me and lets me learn “new” things.

The Church Fathers come already vetted by centuries of thought, discussion, and (yes) Holy Tradition. I can read them through the filter of the long history of the Church, through the filter of the generations of holy bishops (and even some unholy ones), through the filter of the hierarchs that are over me today. But, even back then, when they were yet to be Church Fathers and were only bishops and priests trying to explain the faith, they did not rely on “moves of the Spirit” but on Scripture, prayer, reflection, fasting, consultation with their fellow theologians, and even on the counsel of the Church as expressed in Holy Council. Only at the end of the process would they use phrases like that found in the Book of Acts, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . . The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written. . .” And so, I can also read Scripture through the same long history of the Church, and while I learn “new” things, I always seem to find out that they are very “old” things.

And perhaps that is the difference. When all too many people speak of a “new” thing that the Holy Spirit is doing, they all too often mean something for which there is little backing in prior practice (whether that practice be Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant), prior theology, or prior views of the Scriptures. When I speak of learning a “new” thing, it really almost always means that I have learned something very old, and which I did not realize was part of the great stream of the Church.

Fr. Ernesto blogs at OrthoCuban.

Comments

  1. Thanks Ernesto –

    What was it that lead you into the Orthodox setting? [what Orthodox type are you?]

    Thanks

    • I am tempted to reply that I am a very odd type of Orthodox, in fact on my website I have an alter-ego called Father Orthoduck. However, I suspect that what you wish is to know that I am under the Patriarchate of Antioch (here in the USA) which is part of the Eastern Orthodox family of Churches (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and so on).

      What led me to Orthodoxy was not our penchant for arguments or politics, or because I held a romanticized view of vestments and incense. GRIN. Rather, as one who loves C.S. Lewis, I began to realize that much of his theology pointed East (think of what Aslan said after his resurrection) and much of his approach was Eastern. Also, oddly enough the writer Francis Schaeffer (the father, not the son) did such a good job in destroying the development of Western theology that both his son and I ended up looking East for better answers.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I am tempted to reply that I am a very odd type of Orthodox, in fact on my website I have an alter-ego called Father Orthoduck.

        And as an “Odd Orthoduck”, he’s also a classic SF litfan.

  2. I’m gonna jump the gun on one question:
    “[what Orthodox type are you?] “?

    He is a priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese of America.

  3. Thanks for sharing part of your spiritual journey with us, Frank.
    As for myself, I just don’t see myself picking from one of the several ancient (or, at least, old) church traditions and submitting myself, my thinking habits, my beliefs, and my activities as a Christian completely to that tradition. I guess I’ve studied too much into the darker underbelly of Christian history to really trust any of them as truest or best — or to swallow any of them as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I see a lot of good, rational, well-argued decisions that were made and a great deal of very Christlike charity and activity in ancient church history. I also see a lot of arguments that were reconciled by the sword, decisions that were made for obvious reasons of personal gain or political expediency, and religious systems geared toward absolute control and the silencing of any dissenting voices. And I see much of the same mix of good and bad in all the new church movements and experimentation that’s coming down the pipe these days.
    Maybe I’m just arrogant, but, honestly, I guess I really do trust my own thought processes and my own ability to interpret scripture and listen to the Holy Spirit more than I trust theologian X, pope Y, or patriarch Z. Besides, the ghosts of Christianity’s past are so numerous and various and often contradictory that one would go insane trying to follow or submitt to all of them. Now that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be studied or considered. I would just prefer to make up my own mind whether or not I agree with them, and I’d really hate to be in a position where my continued fellowship with my church family depended on what conclusions I reach.
    The church has always contained its fair share of conformists and noncomformists — those who seek to preserve the past and maintain stability and those who are always asking annoying and dangerous questions and looking for new frontiers to explore. And church history has witnessed a great deal of head-butting between these two kinds of people — but I think God uses both types to preserve what He wants to preserve and to rock the boat when it needs rocking. And, of course, the enemy has used both to either create unity around the wrong things or to spawn division for the wrong reasons.
    Jesus — who both challenged the religious and political establishments of His time and was also completely submitted to His Father’s will — was the only person I know of who really mastered the art of being a conformist and a noncomformist at the same time.

    • My post was not so much to recommend a particular Church, but to recommend a particular way of thinking, one that is not only “washed in the blood of the Lamb” but also washed in the great stream of the Church.

      • “Washed in the great stream of the Church”, very well put, Father.

        Ron, I am a Protestant wobbling towards the Orthodox Church. And for years I have trusted my judgment and understanding more than most others ( especially dead foreign guys). What I see after twenty -plus years of that is signing on with several different traditions, even though some had mutually exclusive and contradictory doctrines. While also wearing out and confusing my family and discovering that I have an over-inflated sense of my theological abilities.

        Many issues and arguments roiling through various Christian traditions really are old school and have already been named, debated and rebuked a long time ago in these councils, etc. I am finding a deep refreshing well, in Eastern Orthodoxy, but any Christ-seeker should at the very least investigate what our ancestors had to say and do as they travel along the way.

  4. Thanks Fr. Ernesto for your testimony,

    I have been in the wilderness for quite time and am in the process of deciding between a small Lutheran church and even smaller Eastern Orthodox church. I would rather go for the EO church because I have a friend there (big factor for me) but I love the Lutheran thinking, especially the emphasis on the distinction between law and gospel and the theology of the cross vs. glory.

    But I also love John Armstrong and his emphasis on missional ecumenism and I am not sure about the position of these churches in this area. So can you try to tell me, whether somebody who is basically deeply protestant in his thinking (Lutheran direction) but longing for the One Holy Catholic church (EO direction) should even consider the idea of finding home in an EO church and retain his/her protestant convictions? Is it possible or is it unrealistic?

    Thank you very much
    Peace, Martin

    • What I found when I finally began to live out Eastern Orthodoxy is that it is neither Protestant nor Catholic but at times agrees with one or the other. It was a culture shock, and not because of the ceremonies but because a phrase said in one way in Western theology means something somewhat different in Eastern theology. Eventually I had to work through not so much whether or not to retain my Protestant convictions, but whether or not to retain my Western way of thinking on some issues.

  5. “Well, I ended up Orthodox, but that is another story. What I would like you to note is that there is a danger that Chaplain Mike and others have already pointed out. That danger is that of using the Holy Spirit as a convenient reason to do what one wishes without regards for prior Christians or prior interpretations of Scripture or even current fellow Christians who are trying to warn one. One need only claim a move of the Holy Spirit to start doing what one wishes. The problem is that eventually one ends up not knowing which end is up when it comes to who God is. “Just because someone told you something you didn’t know doesn’t make it true.”

    This strikes me as a real danger, both when people justify a new project or describe how they make decisions in their everyday lives. God told me to plant a new church! God says we need folding chairs, not pews. God told me to confront Greg about his sin! God told me it’s OK to buy the house! God told me to go to the summer missions trip! (After State Department releases travel warning): God told me not to go on the summer missions trip!

    I’ve never known exactly how one is supposed to know the difference between God speaking and merely feeling very enthusiastic about something, after praying about it. So it makes a lot of sense to ground something in Scripture, tradition, and strong feelings of many people reflecting over time, etc. When one doesn’t have those things (and even when one does), it seems so much saner to me to say, “I *think* God is leading us in this direction” — not necessarily “God spoke to me on Tuesday and here’s the message.” Some humility to accept correction and to admit one actually reaches possibly incorrect judgments seems like a good safety-valve on the highly spiritualized language of Christian decision-making.

    • . God told me to confront Greg about his

      and on Monday, no less….well , go ahead, yesterday it was a speeding ticket (36 in a 25) on my way to church….looks like it’s going to be one of those weeks 🙁

      Greg R

    • The very few times I am pretty certain God was saying something specific to me it has always been something that both blows away and deepens whatever my curent thinking was at the time. It also inevitabely challenged me. And it’s never been something I’d immediately go and talk excitedly about. Not sure if that helps, and maybe God really did tell someone they need folding chairs rather than pews, but my admittedly very limited experience has been rather different. Peace.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Not sure if that helps, and maybe God really did tell someone they need folding chairs rather than pews, but my admittedly very limited experience has been rather different.

        “Miracles do not come so cheap.”
        — G.K.Chesterton, “The Miracle of Father Brown”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But “GOD TOLD ME/GOD SAITH!” is such an Ultimate Trump Card, a Cosmic-level hammer to use on anyone who dissents.

      Years ago, JMJ/Christian Monist got his head taken apart that way. His resulting journey into his Post-Evangelical Wilderness is the subject of his blog.

  6. I love this post. I will be re-reading and quoting for a long time!

    “That danger is that of using the Holy Spirit as a convenient reason to do what one wishes without regards for prior Christians or prior interpretations of Scripture or even current fellow Christians who are trying to warn one.” I am going to print this out and remind evangelicals every time they claim God told them to believe or do something.

  7. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    Fr. Ernesto,

    Have you followed some of the recent Orthodox/Anglican discussions led by Metropolitan Jonah and Archbishop Duncan regarding moves toward eventual full communion between the Orthodox and the Anglican Church in North America? It seems that there’s a lot of ground to cover before that potential endgame, but even the fact that there’s talks about it really excites me.

    • I agree. The possibility is energizing.

      As a long-time protestant, I was discipled and led by men over the years who were seminary-trained, but their idea of church history was “The Billy Graham Era”, or if you were lucky, you might find a pastor familiar with Billy Sunday. During the past two years, after a decade of enduring worship wars, division on church programming, and helter skelter church discipline, I purposefully removed myself from ministry to examine the ancient faith, to see what it was I had been missing.

      What I discovered was a gold mine of literature, early Christian thought, and documents that we as believers should know about, regardless of our denominational preference…The Didache, the writings of Eusebius, Justin Martyr, Bernard of Claiveaux, Desert Fathers, etc., etc.

      I’ve embraced Anglicanism, and am working toward ordination in the priesthood there. I’m the classic “Evangelical on the Canterbury Trail”. I have traveled extensively in Eastern Europe, and do deeply appreciate the practices and commitment to history of our Orthodox brothers and sisters, as well.

      I think it was Derek Webb who described our current church as a band of bickering harlots. I hope for the day that we all become a unified bride, rather than this. I believe that our “Ancient-Future” brothers and sisters will be at the forefront of this movement.

      Thanks for the “Ancient-Future” series, IM…looking forward to reading more.

    • Yes, and I am quite excited about the possibilities. This lets me mention that many people do not realize that just like the Roman Catholic Church has an “Eastern Rite,” a couple of the Orthodox jurisdictions have a very small group of “Western Rite” churches. Neither the Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic are as monolithic in their liturgical practices as most people believe.

      The biggest part of the process will be the inner one, the process of working through and internalizing a way of thinking about God and his Church.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        I’ve noticed that a lot of the “Western Rite” Orthodox parishes use adaptations of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for their liturgy. In fact, I just bought one of those adaptations from Lancelot Andrewes Press and am really impressed with it.

        • The two basic liturgies used by the Western Rite are either an adaptation of the old Anglican book or an adaptation of the pre-Vatican Council I Catholic liturgy.

      • Do you think this will be the beginning of other talks between Orthodox and Anglicans, or between Orthodox and Roman Catholics? Or is it a more isolated case?

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          I’ll give my $0.02 on this based on what I’ve been reading, watching and observing, though I’m sure others may have more informed opinion and analysis. While the liturgical roots of Anglicanism are definitely Roman Catholic, I think classical Anglican theology and polity has more in common with Orthodoxy. Some of this is due to some of the unique history of Christianity in the Isles, and some of this has to do with some earlier Anglican/Orthodox dialogs.

          Orthodox/Catholic dialog has been much warmer in recent years than in previous… centuries, also. But I think the barriers between Catholicism and Orthodoxy are more difficult than those between Orthodoxy and the Anglican Church in North America. The least of these is the greater size of Catholicism; ACNA only has a little under 1,000 parishes. That said, if ACNA and the Orthodox come into full communion, I think it would be the start of something that could lead to a lot more folks in communion with each other, maybe even (one day in the far, far future) Rome and Orthodoxy.

        • The Orthodox-Catholic conversation has quite a history and is on-going: http://www.scoba.us/resources/orthodox-catholic.html

          I think with the split between the conservative Anglicans and the larger Anglican group, there is an opportunity for discussions as well, yet I would expect that these discussions will take quite some time as there are quite a few issues to address.

  8. >>”When I speak of learning a “new” thing, it really almost always means that I have learned something very old, and which I did not realize was part of the great stream of the Church.”

    Isn’t that exactly what we see in the hundreds of Christian books published each year? After reading my fair share, I noticed it came down to this; do what God’s word has been instructing us to do for thousands of years. Now I’m saying this in total support of what you have said. I continue to learn “new” things which I find have been in God’s Word for a long time. I find my eyes are open more when I hear “have you read the passage in INSERT BIBLICAL BOOK.”

  9. As I read the history of that era, and read what they actually said, and read what the Ecumenical Councils said, etc., I keep noticing myself telling my wife that, “they never taught me that in seminary.”

    Father Ernesto,

    Not sure if I left this comment on your blog or not, but I was very appreciative of the church history that I was taught at the evangelical seminary I went to. It definitely gave me an appreciation of the early church fathers that I did not have previously. I felt sad that you did not get the same opportunity in the seminary that you went to.

  10. Appreciated hearing the personal testimony, Fr. I also have noted many times reading Augustine or Aquinas how many questions they address that I’m surprised at and say to myself, “I thought that was just a modern issue.” I grew up in a Pentecostal church, but even as a kid, I often felt that many in my church sphere simply claimed the Holy Spirit was speaking to them as an excuse for saying or doing whatever they wanted.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Are you familiar with the term “Reinventing the Wheel”?

      When you have no sense of history (or what others have done before you), you find yourself constantly Reinventing the Wheel. And Reinventing it anew every generation.

      From there, it’s all too easy to wind up “banging rocks together trying to reach Tech Level One” over and over and over and over and over, never getting anywhere.

  11. Kenny Johnson says:

    I wish we could have “Ask an Orthodox.” Can I take this as an opportunity?

    I’m thinking I’m still firmly Protestant, but very interested and drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy. I can’t see myself leaving my church family though — part of the Evangelical Covenant Church. But here’s some questions I’ve wondered about…

    As a Protestant, I am fairly free doctrinally to believe what I want as long as I’m orthodox (small ‘o’). The ECC denom pretty much affirms the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds and adds the Bible as authority for teaching, etc as our doctrinal statement. From there, I can believe pretty much what I want about a multitude of issues. I can be Arminian, Calvinist, or Open Theist. I can be premil, postmil, or amil. I can believe be rapture ready or not believe in the rapture at all. I can accept evolution or be a creationist. I can be spiritually formed and informed by Catholics, Protestants, or Eastern Orthodoxed saints. So to my question…

    How dogmatic is the EO church? How much do you have to agree on all the official doctrine? What are congregants expected to believe and accept? Lay leaders? Priests? What if I disagreed with the church’s position on what happens to someone who commits suicide? What does it look like to submit to the church?

    • Kenny,
      I’m not answering—-just saying I’m glad you asked and hope you (we) get some useful responses.

    • Here, I would say, are three dogmatic things:

      1. You have to believe and confess the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos (Mother of God, i.e., Mary).

      2. You cannot take communion with anyone outside the Orthodox Church (including other non-EO Orthodox like Coptic, Egyptian, so-called “Oriental” Orthodox).

      3. You have to believe and confess that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and that it really is His body and blood. From The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (in fact, you should read the whole Divine Liturgy):

      Priest (in a low voice): Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented. And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. (He blesses the holy Bread.)
      Deacon (in a low voice): Amen.
      Priest (in a low voice): And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. (He blesses the holy Cup.)
      Deacon (in a low voice): Amen.
      Priest (in a low voice): Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. (He blesses them both.)
      Deacon (in a low voice): Amen. Amen. Amen.

      People: I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen. How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me. Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation. Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.

      (The priest proceeds to receive holy Communion.)

      Priest (in a low voice): Behold, I approach Christ, our immortal King and God. The precious and most holy Body of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is given to me (Name) the priest, for the forgiveness of my sins and eternal life. (He then partakes of the sacred Bread.) The precious and most holy Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is given to me (Name) the priest, for the forgiveness of my sins and eternal life. (He then drinks from the holy Cup. Afterwards, he wipes the holy Cup, kisses it, and says:) This has touched my lips, taking away my transgressions and cleansing my sins.

      (When administering Holy Communion, the priest says:) Priest: The servant of God (Name) receives the Body and Blood of Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

      • Kenny Johnson says:

        What if, as a parishioner, you don’t believe those things?

      • Dana Ames says:

        Eric, I’ve been curious about why you have stepped away from Eastern Orthodoxy. Are you willing to share? If not, please forgive my intrusion.

        Dana

        • Dana:

          I wrote the following letter to the priest of the church we attended:

          “Without elaborating, I’ll say that a major reason I stopped attending Divine Liturgy was that I realized that I do not, or no longer, accept the Orthodox teaching about the Eucharist, esp. re: the bread and wine being or becoming the body and blood of Jesus and the role and necessity of the priest in the process.

          “I also have some other concerns re: doctrine and praxis, one being that I am not willing to refuse communion to or with those who name Christ’s name but don’t confess or hold to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition. I do not find the case convincing that the Orthodox Church is correct on these and some other matters and that non-Orthodox churches and Christians are wrong enough about these things that we cannot share worship, prayer and communion. Whether or not they would commune [with] me is up to them, but I cannot stay on the side of the line that the Orthodox Church has drawn….

          “Don’t blame yourself or anyone at St. ______ for my current status. As best as I can tell, I was ready to enter the Church and stay in it when I was baptized and chrismated, and did not in any way foresee that a year later I could or would have this change of understanding.”

          The priest responded to me, and I clarified some of my statements for him as follows:

          “I in fact do believe that the Eucharist is our participation in Christ’s body and blood (I Corinthians 10:16). I just do not believe that the bread and wine change into His body and blood, nor do I believe that is what Christ and the Scriptures teach.

          “Regarding ‘the heterodox and heretics,’ I find myself at present not willing or able to call ‘heterodox’ and ‘heretics’ some of those whom the Orthodox Church so labels as being outside the communion of, or communion with, the body of Christ.

          “While I understand and accept that by taking this position I have excommunicated myself from the Orthodox Church, I do not believe my position is at all points ‘against … the historical record … and the very Scriptures.’ In fact, my present position is partly due to coming to believe that the Orthodox Church is on some of these things against the historical record and the very Scriptures.”

          Hope this helps. 🙂

    • How dogmatic is the EO church? How much do you have to agree on all the official doctrine? What are congregants expected to believe and accept? Lay leaders? Priests? What if I disagreed with the church’s position on what happens to someone who commits suicide? What does it look like to submit to the church?

      This depends on whether the Church has dogmatically addressed a certain issue.

      The main elements of the faith, addressed in the Creed and the Councils and the Tradition of the Church are to be believed to the extent that they are dogmatic. There is, however, not the same tendency in Orthodoxy to “define everything” as there has been in some elements of Western Christianity, particularly Catholicism, but not only there. Regarding issues on which there is not a universal “Orthodox teaching” there is freedom to believe according to one’s convictions provided, however, that this does not contradict the Tradition of the Church.

      The submission to the Church is simply that — acceptance of the Church as authority when it speaks as Church and as it speaks as Church — through creeds, councils, church fathers, the hierarchy and the Tradition. No-one is going to be excommunicated for having a specific view about what happens to someone who commits suicide, to use your example, for that issue has never been dogmatically settled by the Church.

      So, it’s both more open than Catholicism is (where much more is defined, and which also requires all Catholics to submit to the “ordinary magisterium of the Church”) but more closed than much of Protestantism, particularly the more “free” churches in Protestantism.

      • Kenny Johnson says:

        So in Eric’s example, if you would have to submit to the authority of the church in the matter of the Eucharist and the perpetual virginity of Mary? What if you simply could not believe that? Are you still allowed communion, etc?

        What is the consequence for disagreeing with the church on “settled” matters?

        • If you don’t believe what the Orthodox Church believes and teaches and prays and chants and confesses and proclaims and declares and does over and over and over again in its services about the Eucharist and the Theotokos, why would you want to partake of its communion? Why would you want to identify with a Church whose foundational beliefs you reject? The Eucharist for the Orthodox is a sign of unity and agreement – unity with each other but more importantly unity and agreement with the Church in what it is or claims to be and what it teaches. If you aren’t in unity/union with the Church, you should not partake of the Eucharist. In fact, if you confess your rejection of these things as part of your regular confession, the priest IMO would be wrong to permit you to partake of the Eucharist.

          Seriously, if you’re considering Orthodoxy, read the entire Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

          Then read Daily Prayers for Orthodox Christians edited by N. Michael Vaporis, available online here: http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/daily_prayers

          These are the prayers you will be saying daily and weekly. They express the faith of Orthodox Christians.

          And buy some icons and start venerating them:

          Face the icon and cross yourself 3 times bowing after each time: First form your right hand so that your thumb touches your two first fingers (these 3 together represent the Holy Trinity) and curl the last two fingers in so they touch your palm (these 2 fingers represent the 2 natures of Christ): touch your fingers to forehead – abdomen – right shoulder – left shoulder – bow. As you bow kind of let your hand swoop down and then up again so it’s at your forehead when you straighten up. After the second crossing/bowing, lean forward and kiss the icon, and then cross/bow before it for the third time.

          With each time you cross yourself, you can say: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Have mercy on me” or “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” or “Lord, have mercy” or some such prayer.

          • Kenny Johnson says:

            I’m not seriously considering the EO, but I am curious, which is why I ask. The system sounds way too rigid for me and my Protestant sensibilities. 🙂 I understand why people appreciate the stability, but I’m not sure I can submit my mind to things I don’t believe. I think the Bible clearly teaches that Mary did have children after Jesus, so I don’t accept her continual virginity. And I’m not sure I can be convinced otherwise.

            I’d rather be a part of a faith community that allows me to question, disagree, and have my own opinions on those matters.

          • I think the Bible clearly teaches that Mary did have children after Jesus, so I don’t accept her continual virginity. And I’m not sure I can be convinced otherwise.

            Nor should you have to be. There was not agreement about this among the Early Church Fathers and Christians, and to make it a divider between who is in or out of “the Church” is therefore IMO one of those lines you shouldn’t have to draw or cross with respect to other believers. Same with the Quartodeciman controversy and what type of bread to use in the Eucharist. The list goes on…….. 🙂

        • Fr. Ernesto would be the best one to answer your questions since he is a priest, but I think I’ve answered your questions the way our priest would have answered them.

          • Eric, thank you for helping us understand EO from another perspective through your comments. I feel as though I should say to our other readers that we are not advocating that people join the Orthodox tradition here. That’s not why we put up this post. Fr. Ernesto’s story is an example of someone who has a faith journey which has included Roman Catholicism, evangelicalism, emerging styles of Christianity, and so on. He ultimately found his way via an “Ancient-Future” path. He exemplifies, therefore, a pilgrim on one road that people have found through the post-evangelical wilderness.

            Just want us all to keep our eyes on the ball, here.

        • Yes, those are dogmatic teachings of the Church. If you disagree with them, or cannot believe them, you’re de facto out of communion with the Church. Normally, as a practical matter, if one is struggling with this or that Church teaching, one addresses that with one’s spiritual father, which is often but not aways the parish priest. It may be, for example, that you don’t disbelieve, but simply don’t completely understand what the Church actually teaches. However, if after clarification and so on, one still cannot believe what the Church teaches dogmatically, one should not approach the chalice.

          Keep in mind, however, that the Orthodox position on communion is quite strict. Our communities are small, and if your priest knows that you no longer hold to the truths of the faith, he may not permit you to communicate. If you were to hunt around and try to find a parish where they do not know you and simply approach the chalice and explain you are Orthodox, you may be able to communicate, but why would you do this?

      • I wonder if I might ask a related question (of anyone who knows the answer). How important does the Orthodox church regard one’s beliefs on the typical “culture war” issues (women’s ordination, women’s role in society and home, homosexuality, and birth control)?

        • It varies by the issue, really.

          Women’s ordination: There is some exploration of ancient practices regarding the ordination of women as deacons, but this is preliminary. There’s no discussion of the ordination of women to the priesthood or the episcopate.

          Women’s role in society and home: This varies quite a bit, in practice.

          Homosexuality: Homosexual acts are considered immoral and sinful. Orthodoxy hasn’t opined as to whether a homosexual orientation is inborn or not, but focuses on the actions of specific persons in the context of morality in this area.

          Birth control: The only moral setting for sexuality is inside heterosexual marriages. So the issue is constrained to that context. As a practical matter, the use of non-abortificient contraception by married couples is one on which there isn’t a consensus within Orthodoxy — generally couples are encouraged to discuss with the spiritual father the reasons for wishing to do so and so on, but the EO as a whole has not made any dogmatic pronouncements about the use of birth control by married couples.

          In most of these areas, the context is personal sin. One can, for example, believe that the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex is wrong, but that’s not the kind of personal belief that would be per se excommunicating — however, of course, if you yourself are engaging in homosexual sex, then of course that would be a serious and excommunicating sin. Same for birth control and women’s ordination, for example.

  12. Dean Arnold says:

    I became Orthodox (after being raised by a Fundamentalist pastor) through asking this simple question: who is in charge and who makes the rules?

    If you are Protestant, the ultimate answer is: you are in charge, and you get to make the rules! Pretty cool, except that the result is anarchy and chaos . . . which is pretty much what we have.

    It wasn’t until several years later that I learned there was another option besides Catholicism for getting authority, unbroken, from the apostles. Then I’m told “the Pope was the first Protestant.” It all kinda fell in place after that.

    • I know that this a little bit off the point of the post, but I’ve heard this type of criticism from a number of people regarding Evangelicalism. I think the most obvious answer from a Protestant perspective is that “Christ is in charge – He makes the rules”. That is, in practice, no man or tradition can take precedent over what Scripture says. Of course, the obvious retort to this is there isn’t universal agreement on how Scripture should be interpreted, but personally, I’m willing to err on the side of “anarchy and chaos” opposed to a man, or a group of men, having too much power.

      I’m not saying this to demean anyone at all. I’m actually good friends with a deacon from the local EO church. From my conversations with him, I never got the idea that his conversion was based on being a part of the church that put to rest all disagreements.

  13. Really appreciated this post. This issue is one of the main reasons I remain in the post-evangelical wilderness most of the time. The small church we are sometimes attending right now has much to commend it, but it’s great weakness is being part of an organization that eschews creeds on the grounds that they are divisive. The natural outcome of this view is an absence of grounding in and reference to the deep and rich history of the church and a tendency to make everything up as we go along. (sighs)

  14. Thank you, Father Ernesto. It’s so true that many of today’s trends are dressed-up versions of notions whose implications the ancient Church Fathers hashed out thoroughly many centuries ago.

    Those Protestants who cannot imagine becoming Catholic or Orthodox would still benefit from Daniel H Williams’s
    Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants.

  15. “Often I have found myself wishing that I had known that the Church had already gone through a particular doctrinal argument 1500 years ago and that I did not have to relive that argument anew. ”

    This! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen theological re-invention of the wheel or some Bright Spark piping up with the latest Daring Challenge To Orthodoxy and gone “Didn’t we settle this in the thirteenth century already?”

    🙂

    • “Didn’t we settle this in the thirteenth century already?”

      Or even in the first…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      When you have no institutional memory, you have no past.

      When you have no past, all the Old Mistakes look like Fresh New Ideas (What could possibly go wrong?)

      When you have no past, you’ll always be Reinventing the Wheel.

  16. I’m not a biblical scholar nor theology student. My questions are ones of some naivety and curiosity. If you happen to read any of my comments to previous threads, you will know that I was raised in non-denominational (Protestant) churches. I have no idea what people would label me now. Actually, I don’t want a label but I think some might call me emergent or social gospel activist. I didn’t choose a group or label.

    Here are some questions this post has me pondering:
    Why is it “ancarchy and chaos” as Dean Arnold commented above if you are not Orthodox?

    Would I be considered a chaotic anarchist for bucking against the organized religion of my youth and adulthood (whose prosperity gospel failed me in times of deep pain and searching)? My family is selling our home and relocating to our urban downtown to be the physcial presence of God there. We believe God is leading us there. Does He not lead his people?

    For me, I never took Jesus’ words seriously. I was never really willing to loosen my grip on materialsim and the American dream, but I sure did enjoy a wonderful community of like-minded friends through church. When I suffered greatly and raised a weary hand to heaven and begged God to show me if he was real. I cried out to him for days, weeks, months. And I have experienced miraculous restoration (in my marriage that was broken, and to God). I didn’t walk with God before that suffering, so I am thankful for it. My chuch upbringing and training didn’t lead me to Christ, really. I thought it did, but it was suffering and surrender that led me to count the true costs in my life. It caused me to read Jesus’ words, to seek him to know him, and from their I’ve been blessed with many unlikely neighbors that are not being loved by the church in four walls. My husband and I believe God is calling us so we’re stepping out in faith by putting our new home on the market so that we’ll have more resources (especially time for me) to share his love with our new unlikely neighbors.

    Is that anarchy? Does God not lead people outside of organized religion? For me, I just find my life radically changing by seeking Christ, loving God and loving unlikely neighbors. I wasn’t taught this, nor do I think I could have been. It has been the outgrowth of the sweet joy of restoration.

    I’m truly just curious what I’m missing. Please feel free to share your thoughts to my questions.

    Respectfully,
    kris

    • Why is it “ancarchy and chaos” as Dean Arnold commented above if you are not Orthodox?
      It’s not always. That’s one person’s opinion. Balance it with others. I think his point was that it can be chaotic if we just make things up as we go along, as sometimes happens in American evangelicalism.

      I’m truly just curious what I’m missing

      I don’t really think you’re missing anything, with the possible exception of the realization that your journey is not unlike what many believers in the church’s history have experienced both within and without organized religious structures. To discover the path of sacrificial Christ-following is to do what many before have done and so is both ancient and ever new. Peace.

    • Kris, I can really relate to your journey and your testimony.
      You ask whether or not God leads people outside the boundaries of organized religion. I think the answer to that question lies in whether or not Jesus truly is (in and of Himself) the way, the truth, and the life. In my studies of church history, I’ve found that, while organized Christian religion has largely upheld Jesus as the necessary doorway to the Father, it has far too often been in the business of propping up additional doorways through which a believer must pass. In some cases, these additional doorways have been constructed for well-intentioned reasons as a way of herding people toward the true Door, which is Christ. In other cases, additional prerequisites have been designed in order to bolster the power base of a particular religious system and to keep people utterly dependent on that system for their salvation.
      Sure, ancient Christian institutions contain a great deal of wisdom and scholarship which should be looked into and seriously considered. They also (in my opinion) have developed a very deeply ingrained habit of automatically equating institutional positions and interests with God’s will — and have also developed a kind of tunnel vision that only sees Christ’s kingdom along a single institutional or traditional line. And to be fair, many not-so-ancient Christian institutions, organizations, and movements have fallen into these same bad habits in a frighteningly short period of time.
      Kris, if you have come to a period in your life where you are much more focused on the person of Jesus and His teachings than a particular religios tradition, and you are genuinely seeking to be obedient to the direction of the Holy Spirit in your everyday life — then please, please, please, don’t let the mountainous pile of accumulated religious stuff we Christians have been collecting over the centuries distract you from following Him.

      • Kris, have you had a chance to read Mere Churchianity, Michael Spencer’s book? He wrote it for people who are where you are in your journey of faith. I think he would agree (and I do too) with Ron’s counsel here. I also believe that any pastor worth his or her salt would speak words of encouragement to you, not rebuke, for feeling that you must spend some time “outside the boundaries.” A full reading of church history would reveal that many have felt it necessary to walk that path for at least a season, and that this is as much a part of Christian Tradition as some of the more “church-centered” things we are writing about these days.

        Be well, there is no place you can be where Jesus is not present and available.

        • John, RonP and Pastor Mike,
          Thank you for your counsel and encouragement. I did read Mere Churchianity, and it was a great encouragement to me. I read Shane Claiborne next and wanted to know Jesus for myself. I keep coming here and reading hoping to diaolgue and learn. It’s a rather lonely path (at least for now), but my husband and I are seeking Jesus and while we do we are lead to unlikely neighbors and, we believe, a calling to live among our new friends. Few understand us. Some family and friends warn us and we think they fear we are making mistakes we’ll regret.
          Anyway, I truly had been wondering why we can’t just follow Jesus as we have such confidence He is our guide in this.
          Thank you for your kindness in reply as well.
          Best,
          kris

          • Oh, I should have added, while I wonder why we can’t just follow Jesus, we are doing it anyway. That is because, for us, He comes first. You can kill us, but we’d still have Jesus. We might have to be separated from friends and family for a time, but we’d still choose Jesus. There is really nothing that is more important than following our Savior. He has truly rescued us from deep despair and as we’ve leaned on him, when the church failed us, we’ve found Him and finally believe He is all we need.

    • The Seeker says:

      I know how I interpret ‘anarchy and chaos’.
      I have seen some of that in my journey. It is:
      over 20,000 protestant denominations, the attitude that says : if I don’t like what my church says I can start another, the other one that says ‘me and Jesus got our own thing going’ because it’s all about me so I don’t need a Christian community, it is going to church services that feel like Rock concerts where the so called worship leader doesn’t bother to sing in such a way that everyone else can follow, or the words are so shallow as to be meaningless.

      It is where the only thing that counts is if we have said the sinners prayer, or in some cases being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues’.

      It is hundreds of Christian leaders not tied to a church or a community out peddling themselves or their books, each having their own groupies. It is the myriad of televengelists whose only real ministry is to get on the tube and entertain and pry money out of the old folks. The problem with all this is that so many are just doing their own thing and submitted to no one

      BTW I am speaking from my experience, and it is sad because it is not necessarily Christ centred. And it is the current state of protestantism.

      • It’s pretty amazing when you step back and survey the scene, isn’t it? I’m sorry you’ve had such bad experiences with church. We’ve not always represented our wonderful Jesus very well. Still, for many, “one true holy catholic and apostolic church” is a dream toward which we aspire.

      • And people having an outward form of unity, but whose heart is far from Him and from each other, and whose lips speak one thing but whose actions speak another is… better?

      • Those facts can’t really be disputed. The number of Protestant denomination is astounding. I guess I would offer this perspective, though. I grew up an AoG pastor’s kid, and my grandfather was an AoG pastor as well. In many respects, we were taught to believe the church history really didn’t begin until the early 1900’s… Although, I will say, for as much as my family was immersed in that particular denomination, I don’t think any of them actually thought Christians outside that denomination weren’t saved. In that respect, I feel like my upbringing was a little different than most fundamentalists. When I read Mere Churchianity and see Michael Spencer talking about his history, I can relate somewhat to it, but a lot of it doesn’t resonate. Again, I don’t dispute that what he wrote about does happen – I’m sure it does, a lot. I just was able to be one of the fortunate ones who grew up in a semi-fundamentalist household with suffering a lot of damage from it.

        Getting back to denominations, I’d say one thing that is rather amazing to me has been that even though there are all these churches that are break-offs from one another, they for the most part, have been able to coexist peacefully. You do not, for the most part, have bands of Baptists roaming the streets beating up Methodists or Presbyterians. Now, I know there was some violence in our Protestant roots – particularly, the way Luther treated the Anabaptists. But in recent history, I find that most these denominations are willing to extend grace to one another. I find that people of my generation and younger really want very little to do with denominations as an identifier. Yes, they may attend a Baptist church, but it’s very rare that someone will say, “I am a Baptist”. They will most likely simply say, “I am a Christian”. If they move, they won’t necessarily look for another Baptist church first, but simply the church where they feel most at home.

        My point isn’t to say that everything is absolutely fine. There are all sorts of problems I could point to in Protestant churches. Of course, though, I could say the same for RCC and EO churches (the RCC being a particularly easy target right now). I think the church in all its manifestations will have its fair share of “anarchy and chaos” simply because its made of people, and people are and will always be flawed this side of the eschaton.

      • I see the same scene. I also worked in Christian publishing for a decade–thoughts for another post.

        But what saddens me is that I am the one now getting warnings about anarchy and chaos as I seek Jesus and as He leads me outside of organized religion of any kind. I seem to see the same kind of warnings from everywhere I look, whether directly from my family or indirectly through certain discussions here and elsewhere.

        I am no theologian. I have no seminary training. I accepted Christ into my life in 3rd grade and have lived a “good” girl Christian life. But I just met the real Jesus of the bible. Is not the answer just Jesus? It seems the discussion is so often us/them, Catholic/Protestant, emergent/ancient, this way/that way. But can’t we let people seek first the Savior of the world? Can’t we let them be lead by the Holy Spirit in very different, but not necessarily wrong, ways? I’ve either been “good” but unhappy in casual Christianity — or “warned” but confident in following Christ.

        Just thoughts I have. No judgement meant. Just dialoge.

        • The Seeker says:

          Kris:
          In this forum you will stumble into a group some of whom are in a mode where they are asking deep questions about where they came from. I don’t think the questioning is a bad thing, especialy for those of us from more fundamentalist backgrounds.

          But as I have read your posts the question that has popped into my mind is this:

          Is Christianity something we can practice alone?

          • “Is Christianity something we can practice alone?”

            Ideally no, and not long term, but sometimes there is no other way.

          • Thank you for your reply. I’m just one of those in this forum asking deep questions about where I came from and where I’m headed. I suppose I am struggling even here because I haven’t yet found my way to people whose questions are more like mine. I pray about that, and I do apologize if my questions back have offended anyone.

            You asked if Christianity is something we can practice alone? I don’t want to walk this road alone, and I pray for like-minded believers to journey with, but where I am. Oh, where I am. I’ve been rescued from a deep, dark pit where I could only reach a hand to heaven and cry for mercy. I was all alone. Though I had not “fallen” from Christ, when my marriage was suddenly crumbling and I was hurting deeply, two friends from church (I’d been in small group with for 2 years) didn’t ever call me back (not even once), and a leader prayed with me once but then didn’t return a couple of calls. I hadn’t “fallen” but I realized how far I was from the real Jesus of the bible while learning who He really is. Who held me when I cried? A non-believing co-worker and a non-believing friend. I see now that God allowed that so that I would learn that He is enough. I couldn’t pick myself up. I couldn’t forgive and I couldn’t even look ahead more than a day at a time. I am miraculously restored to my husband, and I am totally and completely sold out for God. I am in a place that following Christ is quite literally making me to choose him over family and friends. I am in a place that following Christ and praying the two greatest commands over my life has brought me real friends from unlikely neighborhoods, and also the confidence that we are to loosen our grip further on the American dream (a house bigger and more expensive than we need). So I’ve had to practice Christianity alone to find Christ. I hope God will bring to me some like-minded believers to encourage and be encouraged by. And, finally, it fair to say I am finding like-minded believers in our new unlikely neighbors. They just don’t go to my church, they don’t live in my suburb, some don’t speak English, they don’t have computers and internet to join this discussion, and they don’t look like my other friends and family.

            Thank you for this discussion.

          • Marie,
            If I’d read your comment below, I could have saved a few hundred characters and just agreed with you. “Sometimes there is no other way.” Unfortunately true for me.

  17. the idea of new & old – Emerging or Ancient-future seems to ask – how do we see the history of God’s people. – I believe our history is much more inflenced by events than people.

    started as nomadic tribes – “people of the covenant”
    then they made kings Saul, David, Soloman, etc.. – “theocracy”
    than w/ Ezra & scribes they focused on the Torah – “people of the Book”
    JESUS
    a small decentralized Church – “Early Church”
    Constantinian Shift – “Christian theorcracy”
    separation in politics, language, culture in Rome – “schism of east & west Church”
    invention of printing press, politics, war – “reformation”
    discovery of new world & religious experiments – “evangelicalism”
    internet & 9/11 – “??????”

    this out line is over-simplified to say the least 😉 & i ignored theology & spirit on purpose.
    but I think events of today will effect the Future of the Church & w/ the internet we as Christian now know more about our history & different beliefs. It is much harder to live in a shell & ignore the outside world.
    I think the Emerging Church wants to make sure our Church is ready for the changes that are happening all around us. (future)
    while the Ancient-future wants to make sure we don’t forget were we came from. (past)
    I would like to know how Fr. Ernesto understands the painful & beautiful history of the Church
    – sorry I’m kind of rambling, peace

  18. Fr. Ernesto,

    Thanks for giving us a bigger piece of your story. It explains a lot about how you moved from evangelicalism and how you fit into the iMonk community.

  19. Wow, I have not been able to hook in for 12 hours, and has this post ever grown. However, rather than answering the questions, I would agree with Chaplain Mike that the purpose of this posting was to present a way of thinking rather than a particular Church. If we get caught up in the details of a particular Church, we may miss the point of this week of postings.

    I will simply say that the Orthodox Churches are not as tightly defined doctrinally as the Roman Church. But, as with quite a few Christian groups, eventually there comes a point where you can cross the line and put yourself outside the Church. That is the whole point of the Ecumenical Councils. Heresies arose and it became necessary to speak to them and to call people to repentance. If they refused to repent, then they were considered to have put themselves outside the Church. And that is the reality in over 90% of the groups that call themselves Christian. There are boundaries in every group that if crossed will lead to one being tossed from that group.

    But, the Orthodox Churches are, by and large, more pastorally oriented and less juridically oriented than Western groups. Thus, it is one thing to have theological doubts or to even just not be able to quite believe something and another thing to proclaim your disagreement. In the first case, you speak with your priest and try to work through it. Most Orthodox priests work with you a long time and are not as concerned if it is taking you a while to sort through issues. Do you know how many pastors are excited by finally having someone who is asking serious questions and trying to work through them?!! However, if you start proclaiming your disagreement and begin to openly cause dissension, why that is another matter altogether. You see, in the first case, you have a Scriptural/theological problem that you are trying to faithfully resolve. In the second case, you ARE the problem.

  20. “One of the most striking features of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia has been the muscular Christianity of the Serbs. Many of the atrocities recorded by journalists, including impalements, throat-slitting and rape, have been preceded by appeals to convert to Orthodox Christianity.

    “As the war unfolded, it became clear that the entire Serb religious hierarchy was ranged behind Karadzic and his nationalists. […] The Church-backed militias in Bosnia, their consciences clear thanks to the bishops fervent prayers and blessings, grew ever more ferocious in their attacks on civilians. […]

    “In Bosnia itself, every bishop has supported the extremists, and condemned the more moderate Serbs who continue to believe in a multi-ethnic Bosnian state. […] The Greek bishops have voted in their Synod to give Karadzic a medal for services to Christendom, calling him a most devoted servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Russian Orthodox Church has declared that it is the Serbs, not the Bosniaks, who have been the victims of genocide.”

    http://forum.mpacuk.org/showthread.php?t=2596

    If you ride with outlaws…

    • Whereas the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland have been motivated by brotherly love and sound doctrine. We’re all outlaws, every last one of us. Every church is a combination of shameful and hopeful. Our full-time work is repentance, repentance, repentance. I don’t condone any of the violence in the former Yugoslavia. Different Christian groups have committed terrible crimes, but if we hate an entire denomination because of its past, are we not committing the mental murder Jesus talks about in his deeper interpretation of the Law?

      • Maybe YOU don’t condone these atrocities, but every regional Orthodox church has supported Serbia. They do not repent, but positively revel in their crimes. To align with Orthodoxy today is to support rape and genocide.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          The article you’re citing, Mogoleth, is from Q News, a now-defunct Muslim magazine in England (the ‘current issue’ on their website is from 2006). While I’m not really familiar with their work, the article you cite speaks in the glittering generalities typical of biased or partisan reporting. I.e. it was in that magazine’s best interest to paint the Christian institutions in Serbia as corrupt, evil, etc. Oh, and here’s the way the magazine describes itself: “With a potent and engaging mix of humour, faith and unconventional wisdom, Q-News has repeatedly set the agenda, rather than react to it.” That doesn’t sound like serious, honest, objective journalism to me. All that is to say that while it wouldn’t surprise me to find that there was a religious element to some of the violence in Serbia, the article strikes me as less-than-completely-accurate.

          • And it should be thoroughly noted that there are many pre- and post-communism Orthodox believers who aren’t in line with the political and ethnic shortcomings of some leaders in the Serbian church. Until you spend time in Eastern Europe, you can never really understand the long-term effects that communism had on every aspect of life…politics, religion, even sports, for goodness’ sake! There is a younger generation of Orthodox believers in Eastern Europe that makes me hopeful for the future of the Church there, led by the example of their grandparents before them.

    • Sigh, I suspect that most people do not check out the original story nor the sources for it. Let’s get started.

      The story about Karadzic and the medal: The story is from 27 August 1993, in The Independent (London). I quote here the most important portion: “To many, Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, is a close partisan of the Devil. But to a religious order affiliated to the Greek Orthodox Church, he is “one of the most prominent sons of Our Lord Jesus Christ” and is “working for peace”. At a ceremony in Pale, the Bosnian Serb stronghold, Mr Karadzic was named a “Knight of the Sovereign Greek Order of St Dennis of Zante”, which rewards “merit and humanitarian achievement”, The title and blue sash were bestowed by Mladin Zarobica, an American businessman of Serbian parentage who also is a knight of the organisation.”

      If you look up that organization, you will find the following information on scam busting websites. The Sovereign Order of the Knights of Saint Dennis of Zante: Originally founded by the notorious “Count” Pericles Voultsos, this is now apparently run by “H.S.H. Count Thomas JohnTaglianetti”. This Order claims among its members former President George Bush, yet another example of how these groups send their award to a prominent individual and then claim him for a member. It is closely associated with a Mr Lowell Barker, who calls himself Bishop Mikhail of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

      There was no vote by Greek bishops, but it makes for a good story. You can, however, find multiple citations for the story of the vote by the Greek bishops, but none of them are an original source. They all quote each other. It is a circular story that sounds good and so everyone quotes each other.

      There is little doubt that the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy was behind the Serbian Army, though not all their bishops were. That is true and not good. The Serbian Patriarch at that time, Patriarch Pavle was from Kosovo and originally supported Milosevic. In time that changed, but not before Pavle had heavily damaged the Serbian Orthodox witness. And, though after a couple of years he became involved with the opposition and opposed Milosevic, it was too late. The damage was done.

      I did a search and found no record of the Russian Orthodox Church declaring that the Serbs were the real victims of genocide. I found many quotes of the Russian government’s opposition to the NATO bombing. I found their strong opposition to the declaration of independence by Kosovo in 2008, etc. But, what I did not find, save on a couple of university websites was any reliable reports of the prior history of that area and what had caused the tremendous build up in tensions that led to the horrific genocidal actions. You might wish to check that out, and to the exodus of frightened Serbs from Kosovo as a result of ethnic cleansing campaigns before Milosevic.

      Milosevic was an evil man and a demagogue who used the Kosovo exodus of Serbs in order to gain power and do his Hitler/Stalin bit. Sadly, the UN solution to the problem has been quite bad itself. There are almost no Serbs left in Kosovo now, despite that Kosovo was the one of the birthplaces of “modern” Serbia. UNMIK (the United Nations Mission In Kosovo) reports over 117 Orthodox churches destroyed since the Dayton accords and the end of the UN bombing campaign.

      In effect, the results of the UN involvement and the bombing campaign were, in part, to stop the genocidal killing. But, it has also resulted in victory for those who wished to ethnically cleanse Kosovo. They won.

      • Thanks, Fr. Ernesto, for your always insightful contributions on IM. I look forward to seeing you as part of the Liturgical Gangstas next week!

  21. It seems fitting to ask a question regarding Hell here.

    I am more and more coming across people who either deny its existence or that it is eternal.

    Ernesto and others I am putting this out there in the hope to gain an understanind of what the general consesus is amomngst those worldwide and PARTICULARLY I am interested in seeing what iM readers think. See: http://narrowseventhirteen.blogspot.com/2010/08/is-hell-real-is-hell-eternal.html

    • Matthew, here is what I’ve written over on your narrowseventhirteen blog:

      Hi, Matthew,

      You were asking over at internetmonk what evangelicals think about hell, if anything.

      I don’t know what others think. I’m a Baptist, and historically my denomination is known for its hellfire and brimstone sermons, but they are not part of my pastor’s act. He does take hell seriously, though, and has preached on it. I, as well as he, believe that hell is real and eternal, and I don’t know how believing Christians can deny its existence, as the concept is developed pretty graphically by Jesus himself, as you’ve outlined.

      However, for a believing Christian, hell is irrelevant–because we’re not going there, and have nothing to fear from it. Hell serves only as an evangelism tool, and not a very good one at that in this day and age. If a person being evangelized feels threatened by mention of hell, he is likely to tell the person to go there, and to walk off.

      It’s very possible that Jesus taught about hell not to scare people into heaven (as has been the practice of many) but to encourage believers in the knowledge that only the wicked will go there, that there will one day be justice, and that believers have nothing to fear. In practice, I think that the apostle Paul would agree, applying this to his doctrine of “all things to all people, in order to win some to Christ”. Would Paul preach hell? Sure, if he thought it were effective. But he would also back away from it if he thought it counterproductive.

      Father Ernesto, above, mentioned C.S. Lewis, and that brings to mind something that Lewis wrote, that the devil wants two things from us: either to fear him completely and become paralyzed; or to disbelieve entirely and become trapped unknowingly (I’m paraphrasing).

      As an evangelism tactic, I think that preaching too much about hell is counterproductive. A better tactic would be to preach a more positive approach that points toward God rather than away from the devil. We don’t want to give the devil any credit by entertaining him. God’s truth, God’s glory is what’s important, and our salvation will follow that.

      • I agree wholeheartedly with you Ted. Thanks for your insights.

      • I agree too, Ted. And I have always been bothered by preachers who claim to have a more detailed knowledge of hell, what it’s like, and who’s going to go there than what Scripture provides. And these Judgement House productions that fundamentalist and evangelical churches sometimes put on are like bad, pop culture versions of Dante’s Inferno. As far as I’m concerned, that kind of stuff represents questionable theology, misguided intentions, and really bad taste.
        I think there’s a big difference between truly following Jesus and merely jumping through religous hoops as a means of avoiding hell. Basically, it’s a difference in both motive and focus.