Friday, November 5, 2010

Thoughts on an Orthodox Evening

Having just driven home from Tulsa, the adrenaline won't let me sleep, so I figured I would just write about my evening.

Tonight I heard Jonah Paffhausen, Orthodox Archibishop of Washington and Metropolitan of Canada and the US, speak on Orthodox approaches to spirituality - the main thrust being, "Do not react, Do not resent, Keep inner stillness."

The basic, quick and dirty summation is as follows:

1. You can think of your mind as having two parts - the lower, which is the Ego, which deals with so much rational concerns, and the Nous - the mind/heart/spiritual aspect, which comprehends spiritual matters.

2. Spiritual growth in part entails the stilling of the Ego and its worries and fears so that one can have "consciousness" of God in your Nous.

3. Discipline is important for it enables one to beat down the thoughts of the Ego that would distract, distort, and entrap in sin - including the reactionary, vengeful thoughts.

4. This is hard.

Now, for those of you who are familiar with Eastern thought at all, this is roughly familiar. What I thought I would do is just give the comments I noted (I know, I reacted, oh wretch of the Western Rite that I am!) and use them as entry points for my comments.

Masks of God This is a more positive note I had. One of the points the Archbishop made is that when we let go of our poor reactions, we will see other people as what they are - people whom God loves. I think this ties in very nicely with Luther's "Masks of God" - that when we see our neighbor, we are simply seeing a mask that God is wearing. When our neighbor does good, it is truly God who is blessing us. When we serve and love the neighbor, we are truly serving and loving God. This plays into the next idea...

Seeing Reality I do appreciate the idea that the Archbishop was driving at with his focus on the "nous" as opposed to the cold, rational Ego. We have been trained to think that what exists is only what we can measure, add, subtract, experiment upon -- that our Ego can interact with. On the contrary - we do not see all of reality - God is the Creator of all things, visible and... invisible. To be a Christian is to begin to see and understand spiritual realities, things that aren't obvious. The world sees a lousy sinner, I see one for whom Christ has died (slightly more Western focus there, as we will see). We go to the Supper - the world sees a bit of bread and wine, I see the very Body and Blood of Christ given to me. The world sees a small congregation with only a few folks there - I see angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

We are not always aware of this reality at the moment - we confess it, we believe it, and when we ponder, we understand now in part - but then it will be clear. When the Archbishop touched on these aspects, I thought he spoke very well, and that idea of "nous" - especially with repentance being "metanoia" - changing of the nous - works rather well.

+ + + + + + + + + + +

Then of course, the big thing was synergism, which all the following comments sort of play into somehow.

One of the early points was about synergism, how we cooperate with God, we work along with Him. I actually thought his discussion on synergism was a touch weak, lacking many wonderful scriptural insights -- a proper discussion of synergism, rightly speaking, can be summed up with the prayer, "Thy Will be Done" -- work through me and in me, Oh Lord, according to Thy Will, for I am Thine workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the works that Thou dost wish!

Sadly, it didn't flow that well. Here are the comments I noted:

Greek is Active -> Passive.
I am Passive -> Active A lot of his focus was upon the work that I must do as regards repentance and struggle against my Ego in order to still myself to where I could be more fully aware of God. There was a lot of focus on my activity in order to achieve the passive state where I would be more aware of God.

I tend to reverse that order. I begin passive - I am called to God's house to hear His Word proclaimed, to receive His Supper. I am passive, I am receptive - He calls me out of the world and makes me to be still, to receive His gifts -- and then from this, out of this, His love which I have received wells up and out and through me in spiritual activity, which is the love of the neighbor.

I don't know if this is more that he was focusing on internal purification (for he would not deny works towards the neighbor as part of a spiritual life) specifically, but his approach ended up seeming a little flat. Who cares what my experience of God is - if it is more wondrous and deep, if I see the 7th heaven, that's nice and all, but I was put here love my neighbor, to be a right and proper steward. That is my spirituality -- expressed and realized in service to the neighbor. And then...

Synergism, but all me, little Theos Although the claim was made that this was synergism, that it was my working with God, there was very, very little God involved, at least in a causitive, energistic way. God was more of a goal - that I could condition myself to see Him and be aware of Him more... and that if anything His grace to me was almost a matter of, "well, of course you've received God's grace - now how are you going to discipline yourself to see more of it?"

Again, this strikes me as somewhat spiritually shallow (as well as dangerous). Where is the energy for this spiritual growth - is it me working with God, with the energy that He has given unto me by His Word and Spirit, or is it me trying to find God and mesh with him. The Archbishop even sort of used the image of his fists passing by, not quite connecting, to describe the hardship of learning to do this. This just removed God from things, from my work. So suddenly it is no longer true synergism, where my work is in actuality God's Work, but almost as though I am totally independent from God and left to my own devices to get into line with him.

The Egocentric Abandonment of Ego This really sums up my thoughts. For as much as the focus was upon abandoning of ones passions, desires, resentments - of being still that one might know the Lord (he never quoted, "Be still and know that I am the Lord" -- I think that's what he was driving at, but never quoted it), it was very EGO-centric. Over and over it was a matter of what I do. And then, even though the Ego is the rational thing that demands rational explanations, and this is what we strive to silence, he used some very rational explanations. He trashed scholasticism and its incessant categorization, but then spoke often in terms of resentment objectifying people. It was very odd.

But the saddest part is that it makes things needlessly hard. I will concur that the Ego must be kept in check (this is Luther's ministerial use of reason - where it is a servant at our beck and call, not our master). I will concur that I should beat down my desires . . .but how, and why?

The words of John the Baptist (not spoken tonight) come to mind - "I must decrease, that He may increase." And this sums up what I found so lacking. There was no focus on the increase of Christ - of Christ being more and more the center, the focus, the heart of all things. I heard much about "God", and knowing "God" -- but I didn't hear much of Christ Jesus - of being focused and meditating upon His love for us - of our Lord being the only way to the Father, of the way in which we can know the Father (for He is the Icon of the invisible Father. . . hhhmmm, knowing that which we can't see -- should be right up this alley). In fact, I think he spoke more about Mary than he did Mary's Son. Again, it was almost like Jesus was assumed, a mere thing that we all knew about and then could get onto the real work.

So in other words, while there was some nice discussion and imagery of spirituality - I found it lacking, lacking Christ - and therefore woefully inadequate. Now, I will say that I hear wonderful Law - really, really neat and engaging Law. The Archbishop spoke very well of what I must do, and in an interesting way. But the Gospel. . . eh, well... not so much, which leads to my final observation:

What and Who, but Why is missing This is my ultimate critique of Eastern Theology. They understand that Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, died for us upon the Cross -- but they don't seem to know why. I heard that God is love - that God is not angry. So then, why does Christ die upon the cross? As far as I can tell it really is just a humiliation thing - a descending fully into the depths of what humanity suffers so that He might pull all of fallen humanity through the grace unto His resurrection. A valid point - but not the fullness.

There was no atonement. There was no propitiation. And this really came out in how they talked. When you are simply trying to experience the love of a God who already loves you, there is no need for a focus on Christ. The idea of forgiveness was merely overlooking sin - God overlooks it - He isn't just, because we couldn't stand up to His justice (he actually said along the lines, "Thank God that He isn't just").

While the pious idea is that if we received God's Justice we couldn't not stand... well, that's right - and that's why Jesus Christ, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. It's as though we weren't really saved from anything. . . just. . . able to be awakened?

Now, I know you have wonderful points in the Greek Liturgy that point to Christ as the Savior. The Archbishop encouraged everyone to go to Confession so that God's grace could work upon you (especially when you have found that stubborn point of Ego that won't go away) -- but that emphasis, that focus wasn't there. And as such, there was no Gospel, no good news for me -- just works and efforts that I must undertake.

It just seemed so sad that there was so little focus on how God creates - how He makes new, how He makes me new in His Son, how He renews my mind.

It was a good evening - I benefited, I was drawn to ponder many things. And while I am very glad that I know folks who are Orthodox, while I consider the East to be higher than the typical Protestant (for they are sacramental), I was reminded why I am not going East.

1. Not enough Christ for me.
2. All the wondrous things in their spirituality, I have already in Luther and Lutheran spirituality, and more properly done, for in Luther it is always done in light of Christ, clearly in the light of Christ.

I think Grace taped this - if they post it I will have to link it.

And now the adrenaline leaves, and my bed summons me. Good night all.

85 comments:

William Weedon said...

Quite perceptive and well stated.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Why thank you =o)

Subdeacon Benjamin said...

Eric, did you get a chance to ask Met. Jonah about your questions?

I think you revealed the difference between Orthodox and Lutheran theology very well: "When you are simply trying to experience the love of a God who already loves you, there is no need for a focus on Christ." This is why you did not hear what you wished to hear.

The Orthodox believe that Christ really saves, His crucifixion really puts guilt and corrupting sin to death, His resurrection really imparts a new life that Christians share in and live in right now through participation in the sacramental life of the Church. It's all dependent on Christ and His cross and resurrection, but none of it happens in order to change God's heart so He will love mankind. Rather, God purifies man in Christ by the cross - and this purification from sin is the cause of propitiation, so that man no longer is self-condemned as haters of God (Jn 3:19), but receive and abide in the peace and love of God that has never ceased.

I think Met. Jonah is focusing on how those who live in Christ should pursue repentance (as he says) and Life in the Holy Spirit. Life, after all, is lived in activity, and results in growth and maturity by the Grace of God. Or, put another way, he is describing the Life of Faith that the Orthodox Church has known and grown into over 2000 years.

His talk was long, but it is only a fraction of the richness of Christ's Church. His perspective did not lack Christ in the least, but what full of Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Subdeacon Benjamin said...

Sorry my comments came so late after you shared the link with me. I've been unable to keep up with things for a while.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ben my friend,

I didn't get a chance to question - I just gave regards and thanks, as there was a large crowd and many there were more deserving of his time.

And actually, it is not that God ever stopped loving man (He spoke to His beloved Son, "'Tis time to have compassion. Now go bright jewel of My crow, and bring mankind salvation. From sin and sorrow set them free; slay bitter death for them that they may live with You forever) but rather if *we* are to *know* this love, we know it in Christ.

For God thus loved the world - He gave His only begotten Son... that's how Jn 3:16 reads rightly translated. Or that God shows His love for us in this - that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

And this ends up being the flaw in the East from my perspective -- how does one experience the love of God but by meditating upon the way in what that love is made know to us? Christ on the Cross is concrete. Forgiveness is real. In these things we know God, in these things we know love... why would I wish to ever look elsewhere?

David Garner said...

Pastor Brown, thank you for pointing me to this post. A brief observation to add to what Subdeacon Benjamin said, specifically when he said "his talk was long, but it is only a fraction of the richness of Christ's Church." You write:

This is my ultimate critique of Eastern Theology. They understand that Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, died for us upon the Cross -- but they don't seem to know why. I heard that God is love - that God is not angry. So then, why does Christ die upon the cross? As far as I can tell it really is just a humiliation thing - a descending fully into the depths of what humanity suffers so that He might pull all of fallen humanity through the grace unto His resurrection. A valid point - but not the fullness.

There was no atonement. There was no propitiation. And this really came out in how they talked. When you are simply trying to experience the love of a God who already loves you, there is no need for a focus on Christ. The idea of forgiveness was merely overlooking sin - God overlooks it - He isn't just, because we couldn't stand up to His justice (he actually said along the lines, "Thank God that He isn't just").


This is an interesting take, and one that I struggled with in my own conversion from Lutheran to Orthodox. The East sees the cross not as mere humiliation, but as Christ truly taking on all of our humanity in order to heal it in His own Divine Person. You see forgiveness as absent. We see it as up front and manifest, probably because we are constantly talking about it in the Liturgy, in confession, etc. If you spent a few months in an Orthodox Divine Liturgy I think you would see that far more clearly. Forgiveness absolutely litters the Divine Liturgy. And in a very real way, not just "overlooking sin," and not even merely "forgiving" sin, but actually remitting sin. In the Sacraments, God not only overlooks and forgives sin, He actually heals us. That doesn't mean we don't sin again, it just means that we see forgiveness as more remission than God saying "it's good -- I'm not angry anymore." By the way, I know you can't actually visit a DL for several months, so this is not a challenge, just an observation. I think that which you found absent in His Beatitude's talk is present in a very real and tangible way in the Liturgy and the Sacramental life.

Second, and final, observation. It seems to me much the same dynamic is at work in Orthodoxy as in Lutheranism -- the Law kills us and the Gospel restores us. But in Orthodoxy, this is lived out in the Sacramental life, the prayers, the fasting, the almsgiving, etc., wheras in Lutheranism it is primarily preached. That is not to say one approach is right and the other wrong -- again, just an observation. For us, it is precisely through trying to keep the Law that we understand most clearly how inept we are at actually doing it. And the Gospel, likewise, is lived out in those Sacraments. When someone says "you can't read about Orthodoxy, you have to live it," this hits Lutherans like a cop out. But it's not. It took becoming Orthodox for me to see that.

There are very real distinctions between Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. But the idea that we don't take sin and forgiveness seriously is not among them. I see this not as a flaw in Eastern theology, but rather as something that you missed because you were not where those things are primarily dealt with.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Here would be my counter. You write: Forgiveness absolutely litters the Divine Liturgy. And in a very real way, not just "overlooking sin," and not even merely "forgiving" sin, but actually remitting sin. In the Sacraments, God not only overlooks and forgives sin, He actually heals us. That doesn't mean we don't sin again, it just means that we see forgiveness as more remission than God saying "it's good -- I'm not angry anymore."

I feel sorry for the "Lutheranism" you were exposed to, for if you think forgiveness is lacking in the Divine service, it was folly. Luther rightfully points out that the Liturgy is absolution given over and over and over again.

And of course, this absolution is not to be reduced to a mere "yo chief, we cool" in some sort of emergent church way -- it does have tangible effects.

Baptism is so that daily the old man might be drowned and that daily a new man might arise... is that not healing?

After the Supper, we pray that, having received the Lord's Body that we would grow in "faith towards Thee and fervent love toward one another." Is not not healing?

It saddens me when I hear folks who have gone East talk about how they craved the very things I receive daily and richly. So I do not think saying, "You can't read about Orthodoxy, you have to live it" is a cop out... I think it just rings hollow to one who lives out his Lutheran heritage.

Which that means I get Christ as the focus not only in the liturgy and Sacraments, but also in the preaching =o)

David Garner said...

Oh, gosh, I didn't mean to imply the Lutheran Divine Service lacked forgiveness. Not in the least. My point was you assumed it was missing in Orthodoxy, where you would easily find it in our Liturgy. I never meant to imply Lutherans didn't have it. Not in the slightest.

In fact, I would say that I did in fact crave the things you richly receive when I was in a parish that did not have them (or had them obscured or in less rich form). But I am fully aware they are there. I have been in a parish where they are there in loud, vivid colors, and what a blessing it was at that!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ah! Let me make sure we do not talk past each other. I do totally acknowledge that there is forgiveness in Orthodoxy, especially in their liturgy (much of which I like) -- but in their extra-liturgical formulations of the faith, I have the previous complaints.

Here it is - would that the East would take their Liturgy and let it shape all that they say!

David Garner said...

Alas, we have far too much to say to pull that off. I would think whether an extra-liturgical formulation of the faith deals with forgiveness would depend quite a bit on what that formulation is intending to say.

The presentation at Grace Lutheran, as I understood it, was a talk on Eastern spirituality, particularly of the Desert Fathers. This would be typically filed under "sanctification" in the Lutheran understanding. In that light, he did deal with forgiveness, but it was more in line with repentance, which was the emphasis of his talk.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

Yes, Lutherans do not reject John 3:16, but they read it differently than it's original intent. The crux of Lutheran atonement theology is that God must be paid with a man's eternal suffering and death (or the equivalent) in order to get a person past the blockade of His Justice into the verdant pastures of His love. In Lutheranism Christ reconciles the Father to us (AC XX:9), and the way Lutheran theologians lay this out - beginning with Luther - is to say that atonement means Christ pays the Father in the tender of a human soul's eternal suffering and death in hell, which is what Christ offers in equivalence to the Father on the cross. This is what it means for "we" (Lutherans) to "know" this love in Christ, as you put it.

This atonement belief held by Luther and those who follow his ideas is not actually in the Scriptures. Rather, it is an assumption carried in from the outside, a deduction that is in error. It's easy to see it everywhere when one thinks that it is everywhere to be found. But you cannot find it stated anywhere.

Orthodoxy, from the Scriptures, does not know this idea of offering to God suffering, death, or hellfire. Orthodoxy knows, from the Scriptures, the idea of God providing forgiveness, righteousness, life, and Paradise in Christ through the Spirit. That these things come through suffering and death is related to the conditions following from man's fall and exile from Paradise. The divine value behind suffering is not payment to God, but faithfulness - in despising everything this fallen world can throw at you in order to make you reject God so that you remain estranged from Him in sins (the weight of the word goes well beyond the forensic implications).

So, Eric, no one here is saying that Lutherans don't love forgiveness, or highly prize the sanctifying effects of the Sacraments (I'm always thankful for what's right about Lutheranism). I'm saying that Met. Jonah spoke a lot about Christ, but you didn't notice. That might be because you expect to hear someone talk about an atonement that isn't Orthodox.

Let's go one step further. Hearing the message of Christ's death "for you" again and again does not magically change people, unless they carry severe guilt all the time. Any self-respecting Orthodox teacher can speak of the reality of Christ's death and it's benefit. But speaking of this benefit is an introduction into a whole new way of life. It is not a formula for creating and sustaining faith, because faith is not passive but active. Faith's creation is a mystery between God who sanctifies and man who believes, but it's continuance depends on active participation in the new way of Life, the Life of the Church. The faith that Met. Jonah speaks to is one that is active in the spiritual life of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

There's a lot of other things that pertain to what's going on in Orthodoxy, but regarding your concerns, I think this is where you are finding your frustrations. You expect to hear about an atonement that Orthodoxy has never found in the Scriptures, and you expect it to be presented in such a way so as to sustain a concept of faith that Orthodoxy has never known (again, according to the Scriptures).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Hearing the message of Christ's death "for you" again and again does not magically change people, unless they carry severe guilt all the time. Any self-respecting Orthodox teacher can speak of the reality of Christ's death and it's benefit. But speaking of this benefit is an introduction into a whole new way of life.

And this is (and remains) my critique of the East -- they speak more of the trials of this life as being... no longer a reality, rather than a very real reality that Christ and His life is opposed to. Guilt is not just a matter of a feeling or some such thing - David declares that his sin is ever before him. Sin always has "guilt" - not as a emotion, but a weight, a burden. That burden needs constantly be lifted in this life... for we still struggle against the sinful flesh. Part of our despising of the sinful flesh is the recognition of it's continued influence upon us (if it had no influence, why would we need to despise it - it would be a former thing, remembered no more).

I tend to think this is a weakness of the Greeks - it was what Paul warned us of -- Greeks seek wisdom... they love to live in the realm of thoughts and ideals and forms - as a way of escaping or ignoring the banal and horrible realities of the flesh. Flesh and Spirit are opposed - the cry will remain always in this life, "I believe, help my unbelief" - the cry will always be "forgive us our trespasses" - for they are real.

The Greek Liturgy acknowledges this so well - over and over sins are confessed, mercy is beseeched, and forgiveness forgiven. Would that the Liturgy would be viewed as the true and highest reality of life (in both our parishes) and not just a spring board to the "real" life out in the world.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

What are you talking about???? The trials of life are real. Who says they aren't? However, our life in Christ is not opposed to trials (as you say), but accepts them as chastisement of the sinful flesh. If life in Christ were opposed to trials, then the cross would be incompatible with salvation. The Author of our salvation instituted new life through trials. The entire spiritual life of Christians in the world is a passover from death to life, which means very hard trials that kill the passions of the flesh and give way to God's working in the Spirit. Thus the very real trials of this life, when experienced in faith by those participating in Christ's life through the sacramental life of the Church, are a cross that God uses to bring us from the power (not feeling, as you accuse us) of sin into the Grace of Life. The trials are very real, but they become sanctified so as to no longer be instruments of death leading to death, but death that passes over to Life, by the working of God. Thus trials are seen in Orthodoxy as Paschal in nature.

When a person experiences guilt as a weight or burden, that's a feeling. It may be an appropriate feeling, or it may be inappropriate. Guilt exists apart from feeling, for sure, but to say that our experience of that guilt as "weight" or "burden" is not a feeling doesn't make sense. Your options are 1) guilt experienced intellectually (which makes guilt a theoretical concern) or 2) experienced emotionally. If you experience it 3) "spiritually" then that will by default involve both emotion and intellect.

In Orthodoxy sin has guilt. Guilt is especially forgiven in Orthodoxy, too (otherwise how could we have peace and joy in Christ??). Even so, there are many examples of people who have the same experience that David did regarding his sin - it is ever before them. But this remembrance of guilt does not need to be constantly lifted because sometimes it can be a necessary burden, one that has a special work to do. Put it in the category of godly sorrow. In fact, it could be entirely harmful to try to constantly take away people's weight of guilt, because then people think the power and hold of sin is a trifle. To remember one's culpability for transgressions enables one to come to terms with one's wretchedness before God, and then enables us to know better God's mercy in Christ as the entire life of the Church gives it to us. We do not preach away guilt on a weekly basis, but we accept it, confess it in the Sacrament of Repentance, and then we might even remember it for the rest of our life while simultaneously remembering and believing how Christ forgave that guilt. What great love and humbleness of mind comes from this! Thus the remembrance of guilt provokes faith within the Church, and facilitates the spiritual life. The entire spiritual life that Met. Jonah talked about is a struggle against the weakness of the flesh and its predilection for sin out of faith in Christ!

It boggles my mind how you can say the Greeks (Orthodox) live in the realm of ideas and deny the realities of the flesh, or that Orthodox worship is just a springboard into "the real world." It boggles my mind. Flesh and Spirit are opposed, but body and soul and spirit are created by God. Flesh and Spirit are opposed in that "Flesh" refers to what is fallen and resists God, and in that "Spirit" refers to what is redeemed and made alive in Christ. The entire spiritual life that Met. Jonah spoke of is about subduing the Flesh so that the Spirit may accomplish the Paschal mystery upon it, the Paschal mystery instituted by Christ.

Eric, I know you believe in a future resurrection, but don't you believe that you have communion with the Resurrected Christ now?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ben,

If you are finding peace - so be it. But the idea that a person who is feeling guilt needs to feel it more, needs to be under it long -- especially citing David, who the moment he confesses hears Nathan say, "The LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die" -- where is that taught in the Scriptures? When does God ever hesitate to speak mercy to the repentant, to the Christian who feels guilt?
Indeed, the very Psalm of David that addresses his guilt then moves to the mercy of God.

Now, can the Christian become hypocritical - can the Christian forget that he continues to sin? Yes. And those folks must be opposed in their pride - they must hear "Thou art the man!" lest their faith be destroyed.

And a discussion that is about synergism and working with God... and yet is more and more about me and less and less about God... that simply does not satisfy me. It rings in my ears just as the argument of the Pietist or old school Methodist -- just with a much better liturgical and sacramental understanding.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I know I have communion with Christ now - for as I grow I see more and more my lack, my flaws, my weakness an flaws. It is when I am weak that I am strong - for then I see more and more that Christ is my all. It is when I recognize the depth of my sinfulness that I marvel at what Christ works in me now, and barely try to marvel at what the life of the world to come will be. Let all boasting in the self be gone.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

You wrote, "But the idea that a person who is feeling guilt needs to feel it more..."

You spoke of taking away the burden of guilt on a constant basis. My response did not in any way say that mercy is withheld, but that a person should not use mercy to avoid the humbling work that *experiencing* guilt has on a person. I said this because you expressed the belief that guilt is a constant burning issue that always needs to be addressed up front, and you found fault with the Orthodox because we do not meet that expectation.

In regards to David, we are dealing with the objective nature of guilt. God deals with that objective guilt with mercy. So does this mean that David would say, "Phew, glad I'm past that." No. My point is that coming face to face with his guilt has a sobering affect. The work began when the Prophet Nathan revealed his objective guilt, wherein David experienced his guilt subjectively - and heavily so. The objective guilt was absolved by God's mercy. The coming to oneself that was caused by the experience of subjective guilt ought to remain, and with David this seems to be the case. In this way the "weight" or "burden" of guilt (these your terms express subjectivity, so that means we are talking about subjective experience) vis a vis oneself is not to be taken away, though the objective guilt vis a vis God must needs be removed (to this there is the sacraments of Baptism, Repentance, and the Eucharist).

However, if I just preach (or only expect to hear) repeatedly that Christ takes away our guilt, so now God's justice is appeased and we can enjoy God's love, then I have constructed an impediment to Christ's saving cross in the lives of my people. What is that impediment? That the problem with my guilt is that God doesn't like it, but Christ took care of that, so now I'm okay. It also presupposes that the Christian's greatest spiritual threat is a guilt that tempts him to not believe that Christ can forgive him.

In reality the Christian's greatest threat is that his love will grow cold and faith become dead (inactive, passive). The actual problem is that my guilt is the personal-responsibility component of my sinful corruption - a corruption that takes hold entirely throughout all aspects of my being, and grows in strength over me the more I serve it, filling me with blinding pride, self-love, all carnal passions, etc., until I am so overwhelmed from feeding sin's power that I come to hate God or am not able to recognize Him. This happens to people all the time. Thus the actual problem is that sin is a corrupting, enslaving, power that turns my natural activity against God instead of toward God in faith and love. So when I preach (or listen to a preacher) the best thing I can hear about my sin is that in Christ I have passed over from bondage to sin to citizenship in the Kingdom of forgiveness, Life, and sanctification. I am freed by the Grace* of God to be in my soul the good creation God intended me to be, because in His Church He supplies every Grace and help to work against my sinful flesh and subdue it to the "law of the Spirit" at work in me. And the good preacher will teach me how to struggle in the spiritual life - as Met. Jonah described - so as to grow in this life in the Spirit, as opposed to being inactive and dead in faith and cold in love.

Having remembrance of guilt is to be conscious of what I as a sinner actually am according to what God has shown me about myself, which goes beyond seeing myself as sinful and unclean as an ideological concept. It goes more to the heart. It is not the same as withholding forgiveness or making someone think they aren't forgiven in order to get an effect. This is more complex than the simple "you're guilty-Christ took it away" paradigm.


* Grace means in Orthodoxy the sanctifying energies of God Himself, as opposed to "grace" in Protestantism.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric, I have more written, but I'm going to hold off for the moment. One of our priests fell asleep in the Lord, and we are a bit preoccupied with his funeral rites now. I will post the rest soon, when I've had time to be sure it's what I want to say.

I've been enjoying this :-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Of course things are more complex than a simple "you're guilty - Christ took it away" paradigm... for then the Lutheran question is to be asked - "What does this mean"? Wherever there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation -- these things flow and are to be taught and proclaimed. On that I'm sure we are agreed.

And this remains my Critique of the East -- that they put too much focus on what man must do as part of his life, instead of simply delighting that our life is what comes from faith, from being united to Christ. He is the vine, I am the branch... there will be fruit, not when I concentrate on making sure I grow fruit, but when I am connected too Him (let me beat down anything which would sunder me from Him!). I walk in the works which I have been created for by God (He is the One who does it) -- and this flows from that grace which forgives sins.

And of course - I will agree that sin turns our activity against God - but again, I'd much rather ponder the ways to serve the neighbor whom God has given me, for ones' service to God is always shown by serving the neighbor. Consider the martyrs - who did they serve with their death? Was it not a witness of God they bore to the very people who killed them?

I suppose I will end with this. Yes, a good preacher will instruct on how to struggle in the spiritual life... but that growth comes not from your struggle, but from the power and strength of Christ Jesus. It is just as a danger to begin to trust in your own strength and wisdom as the reasons one grows in the faith... it isn't that much of a shift of deification to self-idolization (not saying that one automatically leads to the other). Mystics, in their search for the Spiritual can often lose their grounding.

+ + + + + +

To illustrate a point - you have mentioned Christ, in this brief discussion, more than the Metropolitan did - and not just in response to me, but in bringing up Christ on your own. I hold your thoughts to have more theological depth and value....

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

An additional thought on your Asterisk, which notes: * Grace means in Orthodoxy the sanctifying energies of God Himself, as opposed to "grace" in Protestantism.

I think here you hit upon a great flaw of Protestant thought, of the Radical Reformation, which sadly has crept in more than it should among some who claim the title Lutheran. There is that strong idea of grace as *simply* being a washing away of sins.

However, this has not been the Lutheran teaching - this is just one half of the blessed exchange - Christ takes my sin and in return gives me His life, His strength, Himself. And again, this is shown over and over the Catechism -- that I may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom (and of course, in the Lord's Prayer under "Thy Kingdom Come") or in any of the sections on the Sacraments (that daily a new man might emerge - that there is life and salvation).

I do find the idea of referring to grace as "Sanctifying energies" to be interesting... what I will say is this. I am still much more comfortable identify Grace first and foremost with justification -- the problem comes in when people forget that justification always is accompanied with sanctification - that you don't have one without another.

Or maybe to put it this way -- God is the both the Justifier and the Sanctifier. Too often in America God as Sanctifer is disconnected or ignored. My concern is that the East, in putting such an emphasis on God as Sanctifer might fall into the opposite but equal problem... we are to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith... both poles must be rightly shown.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

(This is long, but I could see no other way.)

If I mention Christ here so much, it is because I know to whom I am speaking, and I know what the Lutheran expects regarding Him. I am not in the least surprised that the lack of direct references to Jesus Christ and His saving work is bothering you. In my case, while still coming to terms with Orthodoxy, I was bothered by this. But there is a rationale behind why this is so (it's a long presentation, though). Of course, that the question is even asked in the first place is due to Lutheran theology above and beyond all else, so I think that must be kept in mind because it is fundamental to the answer.

LUTHERAN BELIEF

Let me bring in 1 Co. 2:2-5, "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

This passage alone is enough justification for Lutherans to insist that Christ be preached clearly, up front, and alone. By preaching Christ is meant preaching the Gospel, or the proper distinction b/w Law and Gospel. Rom. 10:17 indicates that faith comes through hearing the Word of God, and we all know that faith saves. Ergo Christ crucified must be preached for there to be faith.

In Lutheranism it is said that in this way faith is *created.* Faith's existence depends entirely on God and in no way, shape, or form on man, since man is dead in sins. Hence Bondage of the Will. Without God's operation faith cannot be, and without God's continuing operation through Word and Sacrament faith will whither away and die. But where the Holy Spirit creates/strengthens faith (as noted above) there follows good works and perseverence in the faith. Thus man's relationship with God is passive in regards to salvation. And of course salvation is to be justified in Lutheranism, which is specifically a forensic righteousness that is imputed to one's record, not an actual righteousness inherent in the individual.

Please forgive me for stating what should be obvious, but it is necessary to make the appropriate comparison.

Benjamin Harju said...

ORTHODOX BELIEF

First, to get it out of the way, the word "justification" in Scripture has always been read in Orthodoxy with a similar force as "sanctification." "Justification" is not a forensic word (there is a special Greek word for that, which is used in connection with the Final Judgment), but a moral word. If one follows how this word has been rendered, translated, and treated throughout the patristic age and on, it becomes clear that this word has been consistently understood as a partner of sanctification in force of meaning. Both sanctification and justification come through communion with Jesus Christ, for the holiness and righteousness are actually Christ's (even as Lutherans say) and are shared with the believer through the Holy Spirit. Thus salvation is communion with God. I will come back to this.

In Orthodoxy, man retains an element of freedom, which I am going to identify here as "personal responsibility." Orthodoxy can agree that man is dead in sins, but I observe a difference: in Lutheranism this death is often compared with a bodily death (unable to move or function); in Orthodoxy it is like the condition of a soul in Hades. In Lk. 16:19-31 we see that, though dead, the Rich Man has consciousness and freedom to choose (though no ability to accomplish anything). The will of the unconverted is a bit like that: one can exercise choice for a spiritual matter, but lacks any power to actually carry it out. This is what remains of man's original freedom of will from creation, but which has been corrupted by sin. Just as the Fall did not immediately and completely render Adam dead in body and soul, or completely un-intellegent like the animals, so did it not completely immobilize man's will to the point of unusableness - only to the point of a certain ineffectiveness.

Thus in Orthodox teaching, in conversion, a man is unable to achieve union with God on his own, because the will (where both Lutherans and Orthodox locate faith) cannot make it happen. What actually happens is that God comes to man through preaching Christ crucified, and in this way the Holy Spirit works upon a man to sanctify his will in some mysterious, undefined sense. The man is illumined, enlightened, but one thing is lacking: man's totally free acceptance, even if it is of the most timid and impotent kind (I believe, help my unbelief).

The issue at hand is freedom. In Orthodoxy God honors man's freedom. It's like coming to a slave and saying, "Do you want me to save you?" and him saying, "Yes, because I cannot do it myself." (Salvation is primarily about redemption from demonic bondage - sin, death, devil.) That one element of personal freedom - of personal responsibility - remains. In conversion this is a mystery: one cannot observe where God's activity ends and man's begins. That's a really, really important sentence, so consider it repeated.

Benjamin Harju said...

ORTHODOX PREACHING

In regular preaching, that personal freedom is magnified. Why? Because the one baptized into Christ, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and a partaker of the Most Holy Body and Blood is filled with the Grace (uncreated energies) of God, who "energizes" the Christian. Unfortunately in our weakness we give in to temptation, and by serving sin we give sin power over us again to a degree, though this can be healed (this is the battle against the Flesh, but is also our battle that is not against flesh and blood).

Yet the spectrum does not run in majority on the sin-repent-absolve-thanksgiving scale. Preaching, as St. Justin the Martyr indicated, may be about "the imitation of these good things" (1st Apology ch. LXVII). It may involve what you heard from Met. Jonah. It may be on anything relevant to Christian faith and life. It will probably include an exhortation to do something, which is really giving direction for one to apply his will in cooperation with the Grace of God. This is because Christ is in us, and as members of Christ Himself our task in the world is to be as Christ, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (for it is God in us at work), to struggle in the spiritual life to the end that we may love God and love all people as if they were Christ Himself, and yet despair of any good that we have of ourselves to supply.

You probably will not hear about the cross bringing forgiveness every Sunday in the sermon. The cross was to end sin and the law, to supply righteousness and life to those lacking it due to sin and corruption (thus effecting forgiveness), to allow Christ to enter our death so as to sanctify it by His presence (thus leaving only its outward force on the body as a temporary sleep from which all shall awaken), and to rise triumphant as the beginning of the New Creation. Thus you may hear about some aspect of God, some aspect of the New Creation, and/or instruction on some manner of actively living as citizens of the New Creation - which is faith working through love.

This is a lot, but I have been doing my best to get to the heart of your concern.

Benjamin Harju said...

CONCLUSION

In Orthodoxy it is not possible to forget about justification because of an overemphasis on sanctification, because the Protestant concept of purely imputational justification as salvation has never existed. The Protestant position is not Scriptural - but it is hard for one enmeshed in it to see that because the difference lies in the force/use of Greek words versus how etymological scholars have rendered them in the past 500 years. We can certainly talk about this issue if you would like, but I shouldn't get too far afield here.

In Orthodoxy Christ institutes everything, and the Holy Spirit constitutes everything in the Church and in individuals who are members of the Church (the fullness of Christ; His Body). Man's freedom as a principle of personal responsibility is absolutely required by God. It is not hard to see, by looking at the Church Father's writings - even as far back as St. Irenaeus, that this is the Orthodox belief. If you can get your hands on a translation of the Greek Augsburg Confession you will see that the article on the freedom of the will is much longer than in the German or Latin, because the Greek copy is sent to the Orthodox to try to get them on board. They knew the Lutheran position seemed different than the traditional position on the topic.

So the Orthodox preacher aims at directing his hearer's participation in Christ through the Holy Spirit working Grace within him/her. That's very broad. The goal is growth in Divine Grace, to know our God better and closer in faith and love, to grow in love and mercy toward all people, etc. Guilt is not an ever-present, weekly burden, nor should it be made so by the preacher (outside of serious manifest sin), because there is not only our sins but also Grace at work toward fruitfulness in love. And it is for fruitfulness that we have been crafted and made alive in Christ. This entrance into new life is caused by Grace, received through faith (not works). And for us to believe at all requires God's action and man's totally free agreement together mysteriously.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And the point is this -- I think the East, in its desire to appeal to the Greeks, who love the idea of Freedom, down play sin and death.

We confess the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the *Giver of life*.

It was only when God placed His Spirit in Adam that Adam became a living being.

It was only when Ezekiel prophesied to the wind, to the Spirit, that the dry bones lived.

The East's desire to protect man's dignity ends up stealing God's thunder and glory -- this can be described as a mystery all one wants, one can blur the lines and distinctions all one wishes... but when it boils down in it the "vital" thing ends up being the some remnant of man's freedom. Note the use of "vital" - of life giving. The key ends up being man, the individual, the self -- I become the subject of the sentence rather than the object - as though the branch that springs forth from the Vine is the vital cog in its generation.

I just can't buy it.

And I know that the Lutherans were aware of the East's position on this -- there had been difficulties between East and West on this for quite some time.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

Your logic is intriguing. Because the Greeks love freedom, therefore the entire Eastern Church (which is more than just Greek) has gone overboard on the theology of freedom in order to pander to them. This is an ad hominem. Yet not even the Latin Church embraces the Lutheran teaching on Bondage of the Will, nor has it ever. I don't suppose the Latin Church has been pandering to the Greeks, too? Or what about the laundry list of early saints that all agree on the topic, but nowhere teach the Lutheran view?

Again your logic is intriguing. You state the recurrent Lutheran conclusion: the East is weak on sin and death. But this is only in comparison with what Lutherans claim. The issue is not who can make man's fallen state seem the worst, but who faithfully teaches what has always been taught from the Apostles. It's about truth, not artistic license. Only the communion that teaches about sin and death faithfully can be said to teach them in their full severity. But, on the other hand, the communion that teaches about sin and death in a skewed fashion can never apprehend their full severity.

Your *emphasis* on God as *Giver of Life* does not demonstrate in any way that the Orthodox position is wrong, but only that you find death to preclude freedom, and life to involve no freedom at all either. In fact, you demonstrate God more as the puppeteer of life than the Giver of Life, since one without freedom must have his will controlled by another. When God breathed into Adam's nostrils, did then Adam have no freedom? Of course he had freedom of the will, and Lutheranism teaches that it was so! It is by man's misuse of freedom that he fell. And the dry bones, when they were given life, did that mean they lacked freedom? The Scriptures don't say anything about freedom, only that they lived. But given the similarity to Adam's creation we could say they did. And since the Dry Bones are a prophecy of the eschatological kingdom and the resurrection to come, wherein the faithful will be as Christ is, then we are once again led to believe that man has freedom, because Christ is free.

But both of those instances that you refer to place us outside the condition of man's fall. It is about after the fall, before the Eschaton that we speak.

And Christ has no problem making us the subject of sentences: "...and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father." And, "Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."

How can faith be faith if there is no freedom? Isn't then faith just programming? How can love be love without freedom? Isn't it all then just control? Why do you suggest that being made alive by God's working defeats the notion that man has freedom? How does that make any sense?

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

To add just a bit more.

In the East we do not blur lines and distinctions, but do our best to refrain from defining more than we should, because it can lead to error. The Ecumenical Councils defined dogma only to exclude heresy, not because the mystery of our salvation requires thorough definitions. Sometimes it's best to avoid over-defining something.

The "life-giving" thing is never man's freedom. Only one with life can give it. But God honors our freedom in this, just like He honored the fallen angels' freedom to rebel, the good angels' freedom to not rebel, Adam's freedom to rebel, the Serpent's freedom to tempt, and the freedom of men to rebel unto condemnation on the Last Day. Judgment Day depends on personal freedom, otherwise how can Christ judge by works?

Man's soul is dead, but not confined to Hades/Sheol right away, nor is he tossed in the Lake of Fire at once. God grants man time for repentance, as the Scriptures teach. In this time for repentance fallen man is like one drowning in the sea. God throws him a rope, will do all the pulling and saving, but man has to accept the saving by taking the rope. Once he's sunk to the bottom it's too late.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ben,

That was not an "ad hominem" attack... because it wasn't an attack. There was no "and thus they are evil" or anything like that. If anything it was a charitable statement, putting a nice construction on a theological shift.

It was a historical observation. After Justin Martyr makes his Logos Theology appeal to the Greeks on the basis of wisdom, there is in the East (and to a lesser extent the West) an appeal to the mind, to the way by which man apprehends logic and wisdom as the way by which man apprehends God.

This plays off of what the Metropolitan spoke off - the Nous functions as the spiritual center of man. That is a highly "Greek", a highly Philosophical approach -- and it is an approach that, while I can see to an extent, cuts across the approach that is present in the Scriptures.

Consider your use of freedom. This doesn't mesh with how Christ uses freedom - he tells the Jews in John 8 that they are bound in slavery, that they are *not* free and will not be free until the Son of Man sets them free.

Freedom only comes with the gift of faith, with the gift of life. Works only come with the gift of faith, with the gift of life. Or in other words, faith and works both come from being given Christ.

You ask, "How can faith be faith if there is no freedom? Isn't then faith just programming?"

Two things: First - the above is an appeal to a non-Scriptural value of wisdom. I am His workmanship... am I diminished because He created me, rather than I shape myself via self determination? Is a piece of pottery thereby diminished because the Potter shaped it? The weight, the impetus, the fear behind your question is one that doesn't mesh with the Scriptures. It meshes with the wisdom the that the Greeks have sought... but not so much the Scriptures.

Second, a life of faith is not just programming. Remember, this is a discussion about the creation of faith, how one comes to faith. Lutherans assert that after one has been given life by Christ, one has freedom in works -- you should know that.

But even after faith has been given, I would not put the onus on myself. Our Lord has said, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing." He is the vine, I am a branch, if I abide in Him, I will bear much fruit, and thus be shown, be demonstrated, be judged righteous by my works, which are mine because they are given me by Christ, prepared by Him that I should walk in them.

"Why do you suggest that being made alive by God's Working defeats the notion that man has freedom" -- I don't. I deny that may has any freedom apart from God's working... and East places man's freedom as that which responds to God, not that which flows from and out of God. That's the different -- you are placing the freedom in choosing whether or not to have life... I will place freedom only with those who have been given life by God. Or to put it this way -- it is not that I grab the rope - it is that God drags and rescues my unconscious carcass from the sea... God grant that I in folly do not jump overboard!

You ask - "How can faith be faith if there is no freedom?" I will ask this -- how can Paul at the same time delight both in his freedom in Christ and yet also over and over proclaim that he is a slave of Christ?

Perhaps the freedom the Scriptures speak of isn't a freedom of the mind to act, isn't about my ability to do or choose as I will, perhaps it's not the Greek freedom *to*... but perhaps it is freedom *from* -- freedom from sin.

God grant that He create in me a clean heart, God grant that He renews me, God grant that He not remove His Spirit of life from me, God grant that He give me joy and upholds me with a willing spirit (hmmmm, my will ends up flowing from Him). And then, I will do many thing.

Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise!

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

Even St. Paul knew how to speak to Greeks in Greek ways. Rather than explain the whole history of "nous" language, I encourage you to research for yourself the link between Orthodox usage today and St. Paul's usage. You may find St. Paul to use a lot more "philosophy" than you expected. Lutheran theology itself is highly dependant on the philosophy of the West in the Middle Ages. I have heard more than one Lutheran scholar on the subject reveal it to be so, and this by invitation of Confessional Lutherans.

Lest we talk past one another, I wish to point out that we both agree that fallen man is in some state of bondage, of which the solution is for Christ to free us. Even in the East there is a certain bondage to man's will, but it just does not eliminate the principle of personal responsibility.

Regarding John 8, Christ says in v31 that one must abide in His word in order to know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. He proceeds to explain that the one who commits sin is its slave. But if the Son makes him free, then he is so.

You wrote, "Freedom only comes with the gift of faith, with the gift of life. Works only come with the gift of faith, with the gift of life. Or in other words, faith and works both come from being given Christ."

Response: We are agreed that freedom comes with the gift of life. But Christ here does not say faith is a gift that excludes free choice. He says freedom is a gift. But freedom in what respect? Freedom from sin that enslaves us to commit sins. He does not elaborate on how that applies to the will. I can easily read this passage to mean that Christ frees me from being a slave to sin's power (and thus death and the devil). As a slave I can, like the Israelites in Egypt, cry out to God for help in my bondage as one who cannot free myself. Also, to abide in Christ's word does not necessarily mean to hear a Law and Gospel sermon, but could easily mean practicing His word, as He indicates at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew. Thus, this does not speak to your position, but demonstrates how you are importing certain presuppositions into the text.

Benjamin Harju said...

We are finally at a place where I can make a point that is very important. Up till now we've only been talking about differences in conclusion, so to speak. (The Orthodox think it's this, the Lutherans think it's that.) It's very important to do this, because if we don't then the real work cannot be done. The real work is to go through the Scriptures with a fine-toothed comb. The nature of Orthodox belief is not attributable to appealing to the Greeks or sloppiness or accident. Orthodox belief is from the Scriptures. It is not enough to say, "This is the model of thought that leads Met. Jonah (or any Orthodox teacher) to function this way." We must, after identifying where the key differences lie in theological conclusion, go to the Scriptures and see for ourselves (just as the one who would be exposed to Orthodoxy must himself go to Orthodox services and begin to practice Orthodox spirituality).

We must read carefully through the books, passages, and even individual words in order to "hear" what the Orthodox belief is, from which our practice comes deliberately and purposefully. We must be aware of the disputed words - hilastarion, hamartia, thanatos, dikaiosune, etc - and read them in the Scriptures with the Lutheran reading on one hand, and then the Orthodox reading on the other hand. We must do the same with disputed teachings, and unpack each of them bit by bit. We must reveal what assumptions we have when reading a passage, and determine from whence they come.

I do not mean to say you and I must do this here. I am happy to talk about any Scripture you wish, in connection with any disputed teaching (predestination, free will, sin, death, justification, propitiation/expiation, etc.). You may find it more satisfying to challenge Orthodoxy in this respect at your own pace, though, and from other people than me. I would encourage you or anyone interested in taking the debate to this next, critical level to go to Ancient Faith Radio. There are many podcasts there that do this very thing. Asking questions on Lutherans Looking East is another great resource for this, because there are a number of helpful people there. You don't have to be interested in converting to Orthodoxy to use these resources. It's okay to want to understand it correctly so as to give satisfactory critiques.

Benjamin Harju said...

You wrote, "I am His workmanship..."

Response: To be God's workmanship does not automatically mean I have no self-determination. However, self-determination apart from communion with God is sin, as is self-determination that leads away from God. Really it's not "self-determination" but free obedience to God - faith manifest in works. Your presentation assumes the Scriptures back you up, but as of yet you have not produced anything that conclusively supports your beliefs. You have only produced passages that are filled with prior assumptions. You don't have to prove it to me; I think it's enough for me to point out that a person needs to evaluate the Orthodox Church based on the reading of Scripture and what Scripture actually says.

You wrote, "this is a discussion about the creation of faith..."

Response: Actually, we are discussing the nature of freedom as it applies to faith before conversion and after. More time has been spent on the former.

You wrote, "I would not put the onus on myself. Our Lord has said, 'Apart from Me, you can do nothing.'"

Response: That's exactly what freedom does. It freely rejects putting the onus on myself so as to live from this statement from Christ. Freedom diminishes the self and prays to God to do all. And in this very freedom God is already at work, too. When freedom operates without God we come into sin.

You wrote, "I deny that may has any freedom apart from God's working... and East places man's freedom as that which responds to God, not that which flows from and out of God. That's the different"

Response: No, that is not a correct evaluation. Freedom in Orthodoxy flows from God in creation. Freedom after the fall is not the same as before. The issue is not over where man's freedom comes from, but to what extent man after the fall can use his freedom that comes from God.

You wrote, "it is that God drags and rescues my unconscious carcass from the sea..."

Response: This is the Lutheran position. It is at this point that Scriptural proof must be given, all the while hearing what Orthodoxy's read of those same Scriptures is. Otherwise we'll just spin our wheels.

You wrote, "I will ask this -- how can Paul at the same time delight both in his freedom in Christ and yet also over and over proclaim that he is a slave of Christ? "

Response: Good question! I did a bit of research on slavery at the time of St. Paul, which you're welcome to read at my blog. Here I will just say that St. Paul is a slave in the sense of being the kind that is the steward of the household of God. He could run away if he wanted, but that wouldn't be good for him. Look at the passages where St. Paul speaks like this and ask where he identifies his slavery as negating personal freedom (responsibility).

If you wish to continue talking about this, that's okay with me. I would just prefer to move on to reading the Scriptures in connection with the points of disagreement. If not, that's okay, too. This is getting a bit long in the tooth (and that's my fault). Whatever you like, Eric. Thank you for letting me talk about these things with you on your blog.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think this illuminates well the difference in approach between East and Lutheranism. I find the East to be an odd mish-mash of Scripture and reason... in one comment there is a comment about how special attention is paid to the terminology of Scripture, and then the next moves on to a discussion of self-determination... about which, well, at best the Scriptures don't speak about (and at worst... well, y'all do what you want, but as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord -- is that an assertion of self-determination or is that an assertion of submitting to God).

This is not to say that I don't like any Philosophical discussions -- they can be quite useful. But just as Lutherans reject the term "transubstantiation" because it is a forcing of foreign theological concepts onto the mysteries of God, likewise... to much philosophy makes me... ewwww.

I trust it not....

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or to put it this way -- if it is "free obedience" to God, which I agree with and is Scriptural... why in the world spend time trying to assert "self-determination"? What is the goal - how is the thrust towards self-determination used?

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric, I suspect you mean something different by self-determination than the East does by freedom.

Sometimes an outsider sees philosophy and reason just because it is foreign to him. And sometimes a person, regarding his own beliefs, does not see the philosophy and reason right under his nose.

Philosophy: What is that? How do I know it? How do I know I know it? What is it's value? How can I talk about it? etc.

Also, Greek is a much more precise language than Latin or English (I suspect the same of German), having many words to describe something that in Latin or English has only one word. Obvious example: love. There are many more examples.

Benjamin Harju said...

That is, I suspect Greek is more precise than German, not the other way around. :-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

... which is why I don't end up talking about self determination -- its just the focus the East places on freedom seems to drive at a focus there upon.

Benjamin Harju said...

And we disagree as to whether or not the Scriptures teach and/or presuppose such a view.

David Garner said...

Stay away for a few days and you miss so much!

Pastor Brown, I don't have much to add to what Sbdn. Benjamin has said, but I do want to respond to this:

And the point is this -- I think the East, in its desire to appeal to the Greeks, who love the idea of Freedom, down play sin and death.

I find this statement stunning. I don't say that as a criticism of you -- I've heard it from Lutherans before, but honestly as a Lutheran who converted to Orthodoxy I can't imagine where it comes from. I wrote this blog post a while back on the subject, during Great Lent.

http://forheisgoodandlovesmankind.blogspot.com/2011/04/we-take-sin-seriously.html

I'll only say that wherever this notion that the Orthodox downplay sin and death comes from, it is manifestly untrue, and that would be immediately obvious to anyone who spent Lent and Pascha in an Orthodox Church.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

This ends up being the problem for me -- I have great respect for the Liturgy of the East. It's just what I hear outside of the liturgy that I find... lacking. It is what I found lacking when I heard the Metropolitan -- if his speech had sounded more like the liturgy of the East, I would have probably liked it much more.

David Garner said...

It may, then, be the case that one cannot properly evaluate Orthodox theology apart from our Liturgy and sacramental life. That certainly has been the case with me. I didn't "get it" until I began living an Orthodox life, immersing myself in her Liturgies, her prayers, her fasts and feasts.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Archbishop Dmitri was given good advice as a young man.

"Archbishop Dmitri was born Robert R. Royster into a Baptist family in Teague, TX on November 2, 1923. He often credited his mother with providing him and his sister with a strong, initial faith in Christ. After discovering Orthodox Christianity as teens, he and his sister asked their mother for a blessing to convert, whereupon she asked one basic yet predictive question: “Does the Orthodox Church believe in Christ as Lord and Savior?” As it turned out, a specific emphasis on the person and work of Jesus Christ became the hallmark of the future hierarch’s ministry, profoundly influencing his preaching and writing. The Archbishop would later recall that an Orthodox clergyman and mentor advised him early on in his priesthood to include always the name of Christ in every conversation, to make Him the focus of every sermon."

The advice he received is lovely advice - and when the East does that, they are at their best. When they don't... eh.

Of course the same holds true of Lutherans.

http://oca.org/news/headline-news/the-repose-of-his-eminence-archbishop-dmitri

Benjamin Harju said...

David,

I think the criticism that the Orthodox Church "downplays" or "undervalues" or "is weak" regarding sin is levied by Lutherans because the Orthodox believe in freedom of the will, as the Latin Church always has, but many reforming groups have not. For the Lutheran, if sin hasn't bound your will so that God has to make you into a willing believer apart from your assent, then you don't believe in sin correctly. So it's basically the charge that if you don't believe as the Lutherans do, then you're deficient. That doesn't really promote healthy conversation, but casting down judgments from on high never does. The average Lutheran has never even bothered to compare their teaching on the will (and predestination, which is connected) with that of the Orthodox.

I think, though, that since Lutheranism arose in direct reaction to 16th century Rome and some Protestant groups that it is pretty close-minded to just write off Orthodoxy when it says something that doesn't agree. Orthodox interpretation of Scripture was never seriously considered by the Reformers (it wasn't accessible at the time). I've heard plenty of Lutherans say they think Orthodoxy needs a reformation, but has it ever occurred to them that maybe Lutheranism needs to be reformed by Orthodoxy?

Eric,

When it comes to preaching, just like in Lutheranism, you will find a wide-range of skills. I like it when they include Christ in every sermon, too.

Also, in Orthodoxy praxis is just as important as dogma. As for what dogma is, check Orthodoxwiki here.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"So it's basically the charge that if you don't believe as the Lutherans do, then you're deficient."

...and then...

"I've heard plenty of Lutherans say they think Orthodoxy needs a reformation, but has it ever occurred to them that maybe Lutheranism needs to be reformed by Orthodoxy?"

So casting judgments from high never promotes healthy discussion, eh? =o)

I'd assert that any group of Christians that take their dogma seriously think that those that don't believe properly (i.e. as they do) think the others are deficient. Wasn't that the Greek Response to the Lutherans back in the 16th Century?

And I'd expect nothing less. We are speaking about the realities of life - and in many ways nothing new. Folks in the West have been critical of the East for the past 1600 years when it comes to Original sin and such.

The position of the East on this issue doesn't satisfy me. This is not just a matter of "oh, you don't *get* it" -- this isn't a matter of me being ignorant of philosophical ideals or things like that. It simply becomes too Ego centric, too man focused in how it speaks.

I'm much more comfortable with a theology that plays off of the Hebrew Causative mood when it comes to works, as I think that is not only more accurate but also safer as the focus remains upon the working of Christ in and through a person... rather than the workings of the person as an after effect or something that was enabled by Christ.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Hmmm... finding a thought deficient simply because they haven't had it... almost like the East and Forensic Justification. >=o)

In fact, doesn't the East tend to use that "The Fathers never spoke this way" to help dismiss an argument? Just saying =o)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Interesting... looking at the readings for this upcoming Sunday... the 2nd Epistle Option is 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, and of note is verse 10:

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, thought it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

Even when Paul for a moment speaks of himself working, doing something - no, although I see myself working, in reality it is God's grace that does it.

Of which Basil says, "This is the perfect and consummate glory in God: not to exult in one's own righteousness, but recognizing oneself as lacking true righteousness, to be justified by faith in Christ alone. Paul gloried in despising his own righteousness. In seeking after the righteousness by faith which is of God through Christ, he sought only to know him and the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death, so as to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT VII: 153)

And as the Gospel lesson, Luke 18:9-14 ends with the warning "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" -- I just don't like talking about or taking any credit what so ever for my works, or perhaps more accurately the works that God brings about in me.

David Garner said...

The position of the East on this issue doesn't satisfy me. This is not just a matter of "oh, you don't *get* it" -- this isn't a matter of me being ignorant of philosophical ideals or things like that. It simply becomes too Ego centric, too man focused in how it speaks.

And yet when you say we in the East "down play sin and death," I have no choice but to conclude that, in fact, you do not get it at all. I'm not charging ignorance of philosophical ideals, but at some point you have missed something. What you describe in your words does not exist in reality.

As to your last post, Pastor Brown, I have little to criticize. The East does not teach a concept of taking credit for our works, and in fact it is the notion that credit exists in salvation at all that we would speak against. As St. John Climacus said in The Ladder of Divine Ascent,:

"While it is disgraceful to be puffed up over the adornments of others, it is sheer lunacy to imagine that one has deserved the gifts of God. You may be proud only of the achievements you had before the time of your birth. But anything after that, indeed the birth itself, is a gift from God. You may claim only those virtues in you that are there independently of your mind, for your mind was bestowed on you by God. And you may claim only those victories you achieved independently of the body, for the body too is not yours but a work of God."

So when you say "I just don't like talking about or taking any credit what so ever for my works, or perhaps more accurately the works that God brings about in me," I have to say again, when it comes to the East, you don't get it. I take no pleasure in that, but to imply that we teach "taking credit for our works" is just not accurate at all.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

David,

Do not get me wrong, there is much in the East that I respect - and there are times I think that they are spot on on many things... if I were to rank the Churches they would rank very highly.

However, when I complain about the East... note the initial post. I would have delighted and rejoiced in hearing the quote from John Climacus.

But that wasn't what I heard. And often, that isn't what I have heard in other conversations -- I hear more Ego.

The fact is, that just like other places, there are streams of thought within the East. Different people in the East emphasize different things -- and if you have a faithful priest and bishop who are proud to teach proper humility and the denigration of your own righteous - wonderful!

But then you also get things like Chysostom saying on 1 Corinthians 15:10 "Did you see how he reaped the benefit of God's liberality adn then how abundantly he contributed his own share, by his zeal, his fervor, his faith, his courage, his patience, his lofty mind and his undaunted will? This is why he deserved a larger measure of help from above."

It is this stream, which I see in the East too often, that I reject and worry about. Paul says that it is not about him, and then Chrysostom says, "see how it is about Paul". Paul teaches that he deserves nothing - Chrysostom assures us that he did. That's the type of language that concerns me - when I see that stream in the East.

Just as I'm sure you and Ben can point to streams of thought in Lutheranism that you would reject and worry about (and on many of those I would myself).

Thus, I look to the Confessions - I look to what we officially say, "This is what we believe, teach, and confess." I acknowledge there will always be rogue ideas and unfaithful thoughts in any body... but I look at what we say, and I am content. I can say, "What this Lutheran says here is in fact not what we teach."

I enjoy hearing from the East - there are many things there that I think are wonderful and wise. I acknowledge them as part of the Body of Christ; they are indeed Church. But all in all, I don't think they have a better grasp on things than Lutheranism... and this isn't just mere ignorance, but it is also perspective from outside.

David Garner said...

The Chrysostom quote is from his Fourth Baptismal Instruction. Have you perchance read the entire Instruction?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Just the first and the second. Much that is good, and some that makes me go... eh.

David Garner said...

The very next sentence after the end of your quote is "this is why he (Paul) writes to the Corinthians and says: I have labored more than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." In the next paragraph, he says "even though you had never done anything good, even though you had the burden of your sins lying heavy upon you, He imitated His own goodness and judged you worthy of these great gifts. For He not only delivered you from your sins and gave you justification by His grace, but He also showed you forth as holy and made you His sons by adoption. If He has taken the lead in giving you such gifts, if you are eager, after receiving so much, to contribute your fair share, if you will show care in guarding and managing the gifts that have already been given, how can He fail to judge you worthy again of still greater liberality?" So this isn't really about ascribing merits to our good works but rather appreciating the gifts that we are given such that the gift-giver will then give all the more abundantly.

Note that St. John is speaking precisely of the gifts of God being made manifest in the lives of believers, not unbelievers. And his point is exactly that God is gracious to us without any worth or merit on our part, and so if He judges us worthy though we are unworthy, how much more abundant His gifts should we show forth virtues after being so generously given to in the first place. This is not really all that out of sorts with Lutheran doctrine, since I have heard numerous times from Lutheran pulpits "God has saved you of His own free pleasure -- now go and live like it. Go and do good works knowing nothing depends on them," etc. Likewise, St. John is speaking to the newly baptized -- those who are now illumined. He makes clear throughout the Fourth Instruction that the virtues he speaks of are God's to begin with, such as when he says "the outward appearance can be a clear image of the inner condition of the soul, and the movement of the limbs is the best indication of inward beauty," or "after once and for all we have put on Christ and have been judged worthy to have Him dwell within us, we will be able, without uttering a word, to show to all, by the discipline of our lives, the power of Him who dwells within us." But he urges us to do the works nonetheless, to live as children of God. Again, it is my understanding that even Lutherans consider good works a free choice after conversion, so I don't see this, in context, as being problematic for Lutheran soteriology.

I would also say that the context in which "deserve" is used elsewhere in this Instruction and in the others seems to give the impression that this word is not being used in the sense you seem to be taking it here. St. John is not saying we have earned anything based on how hard we work. For example, he writes "you have deserved now to go under the yoke of Christ and you have enjoyed the benefit of filial adoption" and "in His judgment, we deserve this great honor even before we have shown forth any good deed but rather deeds worthy of punishment."

(continued below...)

David Garner said...

Pastor Weedon once compiled a list of quotations from the Fathers that support various Lutheran dogma. You can review it here (you commented on it, for what it's worth):

http://weedon.blogspot.com/2008/02/patristic-passages-of-interest-for.html

You may have noticed that St. John is heavily represented under both Sola Fide and Sola Gratia. I would be careful there as well, but my point to you on this particular subject is simple. We have to take what St. John wrote as a whole and use that to determine what he believed. It is not really helpful to cherry pick his quotations to prove St. John as an Eastern Father is really teaching salvation by the merits of our good works, particularly where your brother Pastor (who I greatly admire and respect, for the record) has liberally quoted him to say basically the opposite of that. I don't think St. John is being schizophrenic here. Nor do I think you are being disingenuous or trying to pull a fast one, so please don't take me the wrong way. I just think you missed his point in the quote you cited, and that's probably because it was taken out of its context. Reading the entire Fourth Baptismal Instruction, I don't see St. John saying anything any good Lutheran wouldn't agree with.

He did write such things, mind you, such as the following:

"We should seek the intercessions and the fervent prayers of the saints, because they have special boldness, before God."

I just don't think the Fourth Baptismal Instruction is among the writings of St. John most Lutherans would have a very hard time with, provided it is read in context.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, good - it sounds as though Chrysostom does better later on. Still, the point of that passage in Corinthians isn't a focus on the works of the individual, but rather the power of God bringing salvation and life.

And I am well aware of the post you link to -- if you note, I am one of the folks that commented there.

Of course, I noted that several of the Eastern folks were adamant that they were taken out of context and that Lutherans are basically wrong to cite these.

That's always the case -- if I say something different it's that I neither understand any of the context... or if I get the context of the work, then I have to view it in the "context of the totality of that saint's extant work", so I still don't understand... and so on and so forth.

Of course, when it boils down to it - I tend to be critical of anyone and everyone... and my criticalness tends to rise with the more they speak about our actions.

That being said, this upcoming Sunday I myself will say, "As a Christian, you are to strive to do good. You are to strive to be better today than you were yesterday. You are to strive to serve your neighbor, show forth love." But then I will also warn "But here is the problem. Our sinful flesh loves to look at our Good works and say, “See how good I am.” Our sinful flesh loves to compare, “I do more than so and so, see how good I am.” And do you see the shift – instead of simply focusing upon the neighbor in love and care – instead of our works being truly good and for the benefit of our neighbor, we twist them, we turn our works into things that just stroke our Ego and enflame our pride."

Thus is life in the fallen world, where sin taints all but Christ.

David Garner said...

Of course, I noted that several of the Eastern folks were adamant that they were taken out of context and that Lutherans are basically wrong to cite these.

That's always the case -- if I say something different it's that I neither understand any of the context... or if I get the context of the work, then I have to view it in the "context of the totality of that saint's extant work", so I still don't understand... and so on and so forth.


I don't think that's the case, personally. I DO think you have to take a look at what the Saint in question did, wrote, how he lived, etc. I don't think you can cite St. John as proof against things St. John clearly believed or as proof in favor of things he clearly did not. But my purpose in trotting out Pastor Weedon's post was precisely that I think St. John DID understand that our works are not our own. That our good deeds are done in Christ and to His glory, not our own.

Where I think caution is warranted on the point we've been discussing is only in this: you are citing a Church Father to demonstrate that we Orthodox believe something we have told you we do not believe. In so doing, I think it incumbent upon you to ensure that the quote is in its proper context and actually demonstrates that the Father in question teaches what you are claiming he teaches. That's true for basic decorum (we should always let other traditions speak for themselves instead of interpreting their words as a strawman to flog against) as well as for the very important fact that you claim St. John as YOUR Father as well. Pitting him against himself doesn't really avail you much in that regard.

I'll add that I don't endorse every Orthodox comment on Pastor Weedon's blog post any more than I would expect you to endorse every Lutheran comment. We all have our warts to contend with.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Two things -- first, I have no problem pointing out when the folks before me have spoken poorly -- as people should have no problem pointing out when I speak poorly. When we reference the Fathers, we do not do so thinking that they are always totally correct on every point in every instance. Fallible as I am.

Second, I will concede to assertion that both East and the Lutherans have warts - and getting to the initial post, the Eastern warts that I have seen in a specific instance are listed above.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

Perhaps the stream in the East that honors the saints for the good they've done (like St. John Chrysostom did with St. Paul) is exactly because of what St. Paul said, namely that it is God at work in them to will and to do. The saints in Orthodoxy are often called "God-bearing saints." That is our primary relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit. We expect to see good, and we know that God does it, but those whom He does it through are His co-workers. They are co-workers, not that God possesses them, makes them willing, or does anything to force their cooperation, but in that 1) they have freedom to tell God Yes (like the Theotokos) or No (like the demons), and they say Yes - be that silently within or outwardly in action, depending on the situation, and 2) God is the one working in them through Grace.

Also - of course each side will look at the other and say, "Your deficient." My critique is that Lutherans don't seem to get beyond that point. Very few have had any interest in comparing notes on the interpretation of Scripture regarding a particular topic. My experience in coming to Orthodoxy was that Scripture was a favorite topic of the folks I spoke with, and nothing was off the table for discussion. We often did it over email (comboxes get kinda cramped) or the phone, but we did it. And even before I was convinced I was richer for the experience.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

As you have spoken there, that sounds fairly good. It is not as though Lutherans teach "possession" (your word).

The problem I'd have, and this is splitting hairs is in your distinction between Yes and No. The catagories you give are Mary vs. demons.

There are times where I gladly say yes to God... yet there are also times where I say "no". This is the struggle of the life of every Christian. I would much rather say a Christian in this life will at times say yes (as Paul, a la 1 Corinthians 15:10) and at times say not (as Paul, a la Romans 7:18-23) due to the frailty of the flesh and the continued presence of sin in our bodies until the Last Day.

And this may be why many outside the East perceive the East as weak on sins -- the Saints are often (so it seems) presented as ever victorious, rather than those who struggle, who wrestle alongside of God. This can seem to be a... denial of sin, or an assertion that if *you* just do enough, you can achieve a total victory over sin... and then the discussion moves to the actions of the Saint....

There is a critique and a perception.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

As to how I generally prefer to think on this, I will submit the prayer I have prayed before every sermon I have preached at my congregation.

O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Your glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.

But since You have appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teaching and the instruction, be my helper and let Your holy angels attend me.

Then if You are pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Your glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Your pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of Your Word and that I may diligently perform it.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, shepherd and bishop of our souls, send Your Holy Spirit that He may work with me to will and to do through Your divine strength according to Your good pleasure. Amen.


I think this shows the balance, the interplay that I find to describe things well. The is that explicit focus on God being the author of everything and the One who brings it to completion in and through me.

David Garner said...

And this may be why many outside the East perceive the East as weak on sins -- the Saints are often (so it seems) presented as ever victorious, rather than those who struggle, who wrestle alongside of God. This can seem to be a... denial of sin, or an assertion that if *you* just do enough, you can achieve a total victory over sin... and then the discussion moves to the actions of the Saint....

Pastor Brown,

We don't teach that the Saints achieve "a total victory over sin" based on the merits of their own works. As Sbdn. Benjamin noted, it is a co-operation (and, I'd add, in a more mechanical sense of the word). In other words, we don't get credit for conforming our will to God's. We do it by grace, because God has willed in us to do it and we gladly respond to that (which, again, is quite Lutheran if you work back in the "before/after conversion" distinction and recognize that Sainthood would follow "after").

Something I notice in these conversations is that the assumption of merit always creeps in the backdoor. I don't know if you recognize it (I didn't for quite some time after we began exploring Orthodoxy), but in guarding against the Saint doing anything toward eradicating sin in his life, the implicit assumption is that anything the Saint does earns or merits the eradication of sin. That's not at all what we are saying. Co-operation, thinking in terms of my children helping their mother bake a cake, is not the same as "hey, I helped!" It's much more submissive than that. Yes, we act. But we act in the full knowledge that it is only God's energies working in and through us that allow us to actually do anything.

This is best shown by the voluminous number of Saints who, on their deathbed, were concerned that they had not even begun to repent. A Saint doesn't see himself as sinless. Rather, he sees his sin far more clearly than you or I do.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

This is best shown by the voluminous number of Saints who, on their deathbed, were concerned that they had not even begun to repent. A Saint doesn't see himself as sinless. Rather, he sees his sin far more clearly than you or I do.

Exactly! Which hits to an approach that I hold to steadfastly -- as one "grows" in the faith, the best key for noticing this is by how one notices one's own sin. From an objective, outside point of view, one might argue that Paul "was a better person" after his conversion. He certainly stopped putting people to death. But what does Paul see more and more of - his sin. And thus, he sees more and more his need for Christ and the working of Christ in him and through him.

(As a note, when I first started this blog, I wrote my "Ten Truths of Practical Theology - http://confessionalgadfly.blogspot.com/2007/06/ten-truths-of-pracitcal-theology.html - and these are rules 1 and 2)

Now then, from this perspective, knowing that the saints themselves are ever aware of their sin, that they ever more and more hold themselves to a higher standard, and that they themselves do not seek praise.

The problem then I have is this.
With the Metropolitan's approach, the focus was on actively trying to do that which is good -- whereas the bigger focus of the Saints was upon treading down sin and beating down sinfulness. This is what I dealt with in the "Greek is active -> Passive" section.

That's my critique. Plus, it's easy to make a Lutheran nervous when Forensic Justification gets lambasted (as thought there is no tangible sanctification [or just actions] which flow from this -- God's Word is creative).

I still delight in Luther's Freedom of the Christian. I think that sums it all up the best. I don't need works - but my neighbor does, so I in my freedom do them, for that is what I am created in Christ to do. Simple as that.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

No, I didn't mean to imply Lutherans taught "possession." It's just my writing style.

Regarding your pre-sermon prayer, I used to pray it myself. Reading it again it seems very Orthodox.

You wrote, Exactly! Which hits to an approach that I hold to steadfastly -- as one "grows" in the faith, the best key for noticing this is by how one notices one's own sin.

Response: Very Orthodox, Eric. Very Orthodox.

You wrote, The problem then I have is this. With the Metropolitan's approach, the focus was on actively trying to do that which is good.

Response: It is not actively doing good vs. beating down sin. It is both together. How can you see your sin more and more if you do not try to do the good? You try, and fail. You try, and succeed, but then become prideful. Sin, sin, sin. The miracle is that God heals you over time. Eventually you come to know that God is doing good through you, but you know from experience that if left to you it would not be done, or it would be done to serve sin. So we learn to love God the more and despise our sinfulness the more simultaneously. Plus, doing the good is one aspect of the spiritual life. Intertwined with it is attacking your love of sin and your dependence on it - the passions. Sometimes doing good to others is an attack on your own sins, but in such cases God can grant the sin to recede and love to take over - healing, achievement. Saints slept on hard ground or wore hair shirts to assault the soul's attachment to sin, so they could stir up the sins and make them apparent, and by God's Grace come to repentance and healing over them. That was in no way opposed to doing the good.

We are commanded by Christ to actively try to do that which is good. That is the Christian's occupation in the world. We believe in God, love God, and love one another. We set to work doing the good Christ teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. The one who puts those words into practice is likened to one who builds on stone. The one who does not put those words into practice - that is, does not actively seek to do the good - is like one who builds on sand. We are sent to labor in the fields with the promise of a rich denarius at the end, whether we've worked long or short. Some even receive it like the thief, some receive it after a lifetime of labor. Everyone receives his talent(s) [Grace] to be put to work, of which we must give an account. But the point cannot be stressed enough that we are commanded to actively try to do that which is good wherever God has placed us in life (vocation).

So it is not either/or. It is both.

We can talk about forensic justification if you'd like. It's definitely it's own topic.

David Garner said...

That's exactly how I have learned it -- doing virtues and eradicating sin are two sides of the same coin. You can't really do one without the other.

I'd add also that pride is the greatest sin, and even in trying to be humble we can be prideful, so the danger of sin lurks around every corner, even (or especially) the ones where we think we're doing good. There is a story (sorry, I don't recall the source) of a monastic who wore shabby clothes as an ascetical exercise. A wise brother monk told him "brother, your pride is showing through the holes in your cloak."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ben,

Of course it's Orthodox! Of course it's Catholic! I wouldn't expect it to be any less (which is why I don't call the "East" the Orthodox, nor do I call the Romans "Catholic" - for I contend that I am Orthodox and Catholic in my beliefs).

Maybe it would be more honest if Rome and East called the Churches of the Augsburg Confession something like the "German Catholic Church" or the "German Orthodox" =o)

Two notes: in one I will agree with you, and in the other, I'll quibble. I'll quibble second.

1 - It is not actively doing good vs. beating down sin. It is both together and so it is not either/or. It is both

On this I will agree. Both warnings against sin need to be preached and also admonition to works. The preacher who fails to do both is flawed. You will never hear me condemn teaching one to love his neighbor. However, with this in mind...

2 - How can you see your sin more and more if you do not try to do the good? This question makes me just a touch nervous, because while we are to address sin and also address good, we don't know good only in relation to sin. That's far too dualistic leaning in my sense.

David was not trying to do "good" when Nathan showed him his sin. Adam and Eve were not trying to do "good" when they hid in the Garden and God laid bare their sin. So I worry about making that a hard and fast distinction. Our awareness of good (and I'd say of God, therefore) is not dependent upon the presence or existence of evil.

So, first, I'd contend one sees sin because of the Word of God showing you your sin.

Now, that being said -- where you go from there is good, excellent even. (Shoot, it's almost pure Luther - and I mean that as a compliment). As I strive after good, I ought see more clearly my sin, because I have come to learn and know what is good only in the light of God's Word... and as I am in the Word, as God Himself is giving me strength to strive, I will see more sharply (and if I'm not, that is a strong warning that I'm not using the Word to light my path and rather have fallen into pride!) and thus I will see ever more and more my sin.

So, do bear in mind, when I have my qualms about the East... they are qualms. Again, there is much that is good and wise.... However, I'd still contend that what the East has that is good is our own heritage as well... we of the Luth... um, German Orthodox Catholic Church simply don't read Luther or Chemnitz or Gerhard like we should.

And David, you are right - doing good and beating down sin are two sides of the same coin -- I'd prefer to focus on beating down sin so that I don't take "pride" in my works... but sin can twist anything in this fallen work into self serving vice.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

Let's not be silly and create straw man arguments. You posited struggling against sinfulness vs trying to do good works, and complained about Met. Jonah promoting one actively trying to do good. I pointed out that that's not how it goes. I did not say that the only way to ever combat sin is to try to do good. It's very clear from my statements that you can combat sin head on through other methods. However, in that I said one cannot find his sin apart from doing good depends on the argument that followed, that we are actively to try to do good by divine command. If you refrain from actively seeking to do good you miss out on a lot - and part of that is seeing your own sinfulness. The dualism you fear is not in my statements; you are taking my statements way too narrowly.

Scripture shows us our sins, for sure. However, Scripture does not enter into my life and magically show me where I have been prideful, or in which instance I am currently blind to my sins. God does that in the life of the Church through a number of ways. Sometimes he sends someone (like Nathan) to do it, sometimes it cannot be seen unless one is willing to be shown (like the one who struggles to reveal his sins [as I mentioned previously] so that he may further repent). Scripture must be used, and used rightly. One must apply the Word to himself, but one must never do such application on his own. An experienced guide is essential. Usually that's the parish priest, though it doesn't have to be.

You wrote:
Maybe it would be more honest if Rome and East called the Churches of the Augsburg Confession something like the "German Catholic Church" or the "German Orthodox" =o).

Response:
Not to be mean, but how is that honest? Contemporary Worship, lack of Communion every Sunday, gutting out the offertory and Canon of the Mass, tossing the Blood of Christ in the garbage in individual plastic cups (or pouring it back in the bottle!). That's just the practice, and it is the predominant practice in the LCMS. It may not be what *you* or *Confessional Lutherans* like, but you still willingly and freely remain in communion with these travesties, which have not gotten better but worse over the years. If you all came out from this mess to stand on your own, then it would be easier to take your idea seriously. Or, if you can get your Synod to change its name to one of those, then maybe we'll talk ;-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ben,

On many things we are talking completely past each other -- for you say I take you too narrowly, and I would contend that you take the Lutheran position too narrowly as well.

I would note one thing - I would say that refraining from doing good as a Christian, as one who has been redeemed by Christ, requires an act of sinful will. This is what I have noticed in myself -- I am more apt to actively create reasons not to show love and thus give reign to my sinful flesh.

Again, if you note above, the approach I tend to favor is that when I am passive and receive God's blessings, this leads to activity. I am not asserting some sort of "never do anything good" -- rather, more "good" will come when I am quick to receive God's mercy and love.

+ + + + + +

Well, would you call some body like Eldona Orthodox and Catholic? The only lack then would be that they have an abbreviated Canon... is that enough in your estimation to "talk".

And I'm actually pleased to report that in my own circuit in the 7 years I've been here, these issues have improved. Doubt that means much, but still.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

Regarding the Catholic/Orthodox monicker: I remember thinking that way, too. But in the end it doesn't matter what I think about it, so I probably shouldn't have even said anything.

Let me ask you a question about your statement: when I am passive and receive God's blessings, this leads to activity. How so? I ask because when I was Lutheran I knew Lutheran pastors who taught that passivity meant hearing the Word properly divided between Law and Gospel and receiving the Sacraments, and that the activity that followed was God working through you apart from you being aware of it. It was a carry-over from conversion - just as in conversion God changes the will from unwilling to willing (i.e. believing), and man has freedom only to resist, so in the Christian life God directs the will to do good automatically, while man only has the freedom to resist. Is that what you mean?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

No, that isn't what I meant. In fact, I don't know who you were getting that from. Again, that is a confusion of the distinction that is made before being brought to faith (where man is totally passive) and in living out his christian life (where the new man struggles against the old).

While it is true that as a new creation I will do good, I have freedom to shape and direct much of this goodness -- while at times I heed my sinful nature and resist.

Here is the image I like to use - that of a hose. If a hose is attached to a faucet, and the faucet is on - water will flow through the hose and out to wherever. It will happen.

Now, can I aim the hose at specific places to water there - sure. I am free to water this part of the lawn or that. Can I also kinky the hose to prevent the flow of water - sure. But nothing I do will make the water flow better through the hose - that is what the faucet does.

So, what is the point of my convoluted example? This. I am the hose. When I am connected to Christ, what I receive from Him - His love, His mercy, His Kindness (one might simply list the fruits of the Spirit) will flow through me and onto the neighbor. This will simply happen -- and it will happen whether or not I am thinking or pondering or evaluating it. It is simply who I am in Christ.

Now, that being said, with thought and reflection I can end up showing God's love and mercy, etc. to specific places or areas... I can aim, as it were. But even then, this does nothing to increase the effectiveness or change the nature of what is done - it is still Christ's love and goodness flowing through me onto the neighbor.

However, if I give into sin, if I despise my neighbor, I can sinfully withhold love - I can kink the hose -- but that is something that I have to do... if my sinful nature were out of the way there would be nothing but good works.

I do think there is a disdain of freedom today, as evidenced by the number of people who end up talking like American protestants trying to discern God's will for every aspect of their lives. As an example - I am called to be the Pastor here at Lahoma. If I were to receive a second call to serve St. John's in the cornfield - I would not try to figure out which one God really, really wanted me to take - I would view this as a matter of freedom. I have a call here, I may "water here" - I have a call there, I may "water there." Both are totally free. In fact, the wonder of Christian freedom is that we are given a multitude of ways to use our gifts, our talents, our love in serving the neighbor. Free to show love as it seems good to us - a great thing.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric, you wrote:
I am the hose. When I am connected to Christ, what I receive from Him - His love, His mercy, His Kindness (one might simply list the fruits of the Spirit) will flow through me and onto the neighbor. This will simply happen -- and it will happen whether or not I am thinking or pondering or evaluating it. It is simply who I am in Christ.

Response:
This is not really that different from what I described, namely that in the Christian life God directs the will to do good automatically, while man only has the freedom to resist. The only thing you added to the description is that you have personal freedom as to where you will direct what God automatically pours out of you. But this really affirms what I described, in that "that you will" is controlled by God, though "where you will" is somewhat controlled by you - an interesting distinction.

In comparison, let me share a quote from St. Mark the Ascetic on "Those who Think They are Made Righteous by Works" (meaning they are not made righteous by works):

"Grace has been given mystically to those who have been baptized into Christ; and it becomes active within them to the extent that they actively observe the commandments. Grace never ceases to help us secretly; but to do good - as far as lies in our power - depends on us."

So what you describe as simply happening through God's working all by itself St. Mark the Ascetic - with the entire Orthodox Church - describes as pertaining to free will. For Grace to be active depends on our free choice to exercise that Grace or not. Grace has its own activity in us that prompts us to do the good, but without usurping our free will (or working around it, which is what your descriptions sounds like). And when we do cooperate with Grace that Grace changes us more and more into the fullness of the image and likeness of Christ (which growth we can undo through willful sin). It does not just pour through us automatically to our neighbor (except when we interfere). If I suggested such a belief to an Orthodox priest, he would conclude I was mad with Pride. I just want to highlight that we are not talking past each other here, but that there really is a fundamentally different belief - one based in Lutheran/Calvinistic conclusions and the other based on the consensus of patristic thought (and both believe they are based in Scripture, though only one can be). We are different in this.


--- Oh, and Eric, please don't "kinky" the hose or anything else. You are a minister of the Gospel, for goodness sake. :-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I am the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in Me will bear much fruit.

He has prepared works for us that we might "walk" - that I might peripatesomen - that we might wander, amble in them... not a focus, directed walk or go -- but just simply live in them, be in them.

Also - just a question: "Grace never ceases to help us secretly; but to do good - as far as lies in our power - depends on us." Why does a discussion on good works look at the self and not the neighbor? Why, if I am thinking about doing good are my thoughts even touching upon myself.

Love God. Love your neighbor. If we are pondering the observing of the commandments, let the indirect object always be our neighbor!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or perhaps to put it this way:

The East, when considering works places a focus upon the impact of works upon the doer.

Lutheranism cares very little for this - not because works are bad, but rather this. First, the concern when it comes to works must always be upon the neighbor whom they are to serve. Second, Christ has given me Himself, all that He is -- what more would I need if all that He is now is mine. The Bride no longer needs to worry about supporting herself when the Bridegroom has taken her unto Himself. She is instead simply free to love and be the bride He has called her to be - washed and clean and without any blemish.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

John 15:4, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."

He says the branch can bear fruit of itself if it abides in the vine. Thus Jesus commands His disciples to abide in Him. Then He says in v.10, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love." So now we are elaborating on the Vine-Branches illustration.

Here Christ puts the keeping of the commandments upon the disciples, but indicates that the potential for doing so comes from communion with Him. Thus this passage of Scripture does not support your position, but rather mine.

From Lectionary.com: Elsewhere, Paul uses this word, peripatesomen, to admonish Christians to "walk in newness of life" (6:4) –– to "walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (8:4) –– and to "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Your disparaging of focus as one walks is way out of place. Even if the walk is leisurely, it does not preclude that one walks intentionally or purposefully.

You wrote, "Why does a discussion on good works look at the self and not the neighbor?"

Response:
Theologically there is an emphasis placed on the "I," because theologically one must use his will to do or not to do, with God at work secretly but definitely within. Practically, the will simply operates toward the neighbor or self. If you investigate the theology of the Ecumenical Councils, and esp. St. Maximos the Confessor, you will find out about the Gnomic Will in man.

You wrote, "Second, Christ has given me Himself, all that He is -- what more would I need if all that He is now is mine. The Bride no longer needs to worry about supporting herself when the Bridegroom has taken her unto Himself. She is instead simply free to love and be the bride He has called her to be - washed and clean and without any blemish.

Response:
You don't seem to get the Orthodox position in the slightest if you can seriously say, "The Bride no longer needs to worry about supporting herself..." as if that's the Orthodox position. God help you to see one day.

Perhaps an Orthodox reader that is unfamiliar with Lutheranism might conclude from your entire statement that Lutherans believe they have already attained perfection, but I know differently. I won't characterize it as that. I will suggest that you are showing to the Orthodox how weak on sin the Lutherans can be. But even that is not the real issue. We are not in disagreement so much on what Christ gives, but to what sort of creature He gives His Grace. Really, the issue between us here is neither Sin nor Grace, but the composition of man. It does no good to demonstrate how great Grace is, or how terrible sin is, because the issue is Man himself, to which both Grace and sin are applied.

We ought to be discussing the scriptural interpretation of Man - his composition (person, nature, will, energy, etc.) and his role in God's cosmic plan from the Scriptures, and how those Scriptures have been interpreted in authoritative fashion. Otherwise we'll just continue to go around in circles (we are going in circles here).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I wonder of teresate takes the thrust of doing or holding sacred. This would track in very well with what Christ says about whoever hears His word and believes has eternal life and that the work of God is to believe the One He has sent. And of course, whoever believes in Him, out of his heart will flow living water (sounds almost like that hose imagery)

John in his Gospel really seems to be hammering the idea of belief... Jesus did many other things, but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing... you might have (as a subjunctive result) eternal life.

Where there is belief - there will be life. I am a new creation -- and because I am a new creation I will do that which is good and pleasing -- it's a matter of whom God has made me to be.

Simul Justus et Peccator. Two wills at war within me, old man and new.

+ + + + + + +

Also, with peripateo - this isn't to decry focus, but rather it is a walk full of freedom. That's all. Look at the Greek word, what it means. We live in faith. Simple as that. You may focus on your breathing, you may train and focus upon your breathing as an athlete - this is even wise... but still, breathing comes natural... for without breathing there is no life.

Hmmm.. breath, spirit... always tied to living in Scripture... walk in the Spirit.

I am much more content to simply say that all my righteous deeds are like filthy rags... and rather rejoice that Christ Jesus is my righteousness. Oh, yes, without a doubt, this impacts me now - I may see it dimly, but then face to face. But if I wish to see it more... well, you know, John in his 1st Epistles tells us that we will be like He is because we will see Him. Maybe the best growth comes from pondering Christ - from hoping in Him (and thus purify yourself).

Thus I will practice righteousness, because I am now a child of God -- but let me not delight or focus on my works -- let them be done so that others may glorify God... and I'll just tend to glorifying God myself.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

One who believes has eternal life, yes, and then how does one operate within that eternal life through the Grace of God? That is the next issue. The command is to believe, but the command is also to abide, which involves continuance in faith and the pursuit of the rest of the commandments (love). Consider 1 John 3:23, "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment." Also consider St. Paul in Titus 3:8 "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men." Not only are the commandments to believe and love, but St. Paul teaches active, conscious pursuit of good works (not passive hose-like talk).

In this context we can see that the welling up of living waters (the Holy Spirit) refers to Chrismation/Confirmation. The Spirit wells up from within, but man is commanded to live by the Spirit by maintaining good works in faith (indicating freedom AND activity), and not to live by the flesh (consider Romans 8).

So I am not denying that believing gains one eternal life apart from works. I am suggesting that a believer actively seeks to maintain good works, rather than passively expects God to accomplish it apart from his own cooperation.

God gives to the Christian - through Baptism, Chrismation/Confirmation, and the Eucharist - the fullness of the new creation. However, it is like a seed planted in soil - as our Lord says - and must grow. Man is called to cultivate himself through the cross in this life so that the seed may grow in him and produce fruit. To suggest that "because I am a new creation I will do that which is good and pleasing -- it's a matter of whom God has made me to be" ignores sin (rocky and/or thorny soil) and the obvious effort that Scripture calls for from us. This effort (according to our ability, as only God knows) is the continuance of faith in action. Yet the seed grows by God's power, as only He knows.

Regarding peripateo, it often is used to describe conduct for which we are responsible. To describe it as faith is not what the Scriptures say. Consider Gal. 5:16,17; Eph. 4:1,2; Eph. 5:1,2. You are assuming passivity and placing it upon the text. The consensus of early and later Christian interpretation does not agree, but sees activity where Lutherans insist on passivity.

Have you read any Orthodox spiritual writings?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Let me quote from above at the very top.

I tend to reverse that order. I begin passive - I am called to God's house to hear His Word proclaimed, to receive His Supper. I am passive, I am receptive - He calls me out of the world and makes me to be still, to receive His gifts -- and then from this, out of this, His love which I have received wells up and out and through me in spiritual activity, which is the love of the neighbor.

I am not arguing that a Christian should strive to do nothing. I'm not saying that a Christian look like a bump on a log. I'm not even saying that Christian shouldn't meditate or consider what is good.

Rather this -- all my thoughts and meditations will not give me strength to do good, or will they bring about growth. That only comes from God -- and it can cause growth even without our awareness (I do not have to be aware of growth, or even aware of my works, for there to be growth or works).

That's all. God can and does do great things even without our efforts. Do we often strive - sometimes. Ought we strive - yes. But whether it is Paul or Apollos... God is the one who gives growth.

Also - the point with peripateo, it's not that there is no activity on my part (not the point), but that it is not focused, not necessarily directed our self-planned. That's my point - God plans things that we walk into.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or, again from above Although the claim was made that this was synergism, that it was my working with God, there was very, very little God involved, at least in a causitive, energistic way. God was more of a goal - that I could condition myself to see Him and be aware of Him more... and that if anything His grace to me was almost a matter of, "well, of course you've received God's grace - now how are you going to discipline yourself to see more of it?"

Do you understand -- it's not just that I don't get the East, or don't understand the finer nuances. It's that I reject it as contrary to Scripture -- it's that I see it as a Greek style of thinking superimposed upon the Scriptures. I see it taking aspects of Scripture (how often in the very first post did I say I was expecting to hear verse ______ and not?) and divorcing them from Scripture and make them philotheosophical arguments.

Benjamin Harju said...

Of your two responses, let me begin with the first: I think we hold to the same beliefs - as far as they are articulated here - for what you have said an Orthodox person could also say. I also think there is an additional perspective that belongs in the theological discussion that is Orthodox, but that Lutherans do not pursue, nor (given you responses here) are they willing to consider.

As for your second response: I find the exact opposite. As you gave a summation, so will I.

I find the Lutheran position to be superimposed upon the Scriptures from a perspective 1500 years past the writing of the same. Lutherans cannot and do not say the same things as the fathers of the AD 100s, 200s, 300s, 400s, and on. The Lutheran read does not maintain continuity with the ancient, well-established, and well-received interpretations of Scripture, but instead sets up new definitions, new explanations, and new beliefs - aiming at the old but missing the mark. Thus it holds the Scriptures out of joint by adhering to a private interpretation of them, not a catholic one. These are not the characteristics of catholicity or orthodoxy, but of a different kind of group. To believe the Lutheran position one must accept much that is at variance with the burden of proof (Scripture and its catholic interpretation) against it.

So you say you reject the East as contrary to Scripture. While we may both love the Scriptures and use them, only one of us uses them rightly. I hope you took the time to examine Orthodox interpretation of Scripture on the points at which there is variance between us and the Lutherans, rather than condemning us because we are not Lutheran - only you can know if you did this, and I don't desire you to tell me whether you have or have not. You don't owe it to me, because I'm not God or the people you shepherd in Christ.

With this I must say adieu. I am moving in a week, and there is much to be done. Once moved I don't know when I'll have Internet access again. I've enjoyed our conversation.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Which Fathers? Those from Alexandria or those from Antioch - for they never disagreed over how to approach Scripture. Or the Latin or the Greek Fathers?

Or perhaps they agreed only so far as they agreed, yet Alexandria had addition perspectives that many from Antioch had no desire to follow. Or the East and the West agreed, yet the East would refuse to even consider implications from the West.

It is not the Fathers I have a problem with - there are specific places where I have problems with specific Fathers (as they Fathers themselves did) - rather, I take with the derivations that are common in the East, especially ideas which become more codified after the 7th Ecumenical Council.

I reject the way the modern East approaches these issues. That's all.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

Your point about the Fathers is not well taken. You are positing the Lutheran position that since the Fathers did not agree on some things, therefore they are unreliable. This is a caricature of the real situation. Perhaps the Fathers would not seem so incompatible with each other to you if you had more in common with them.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

No - I am taking the position that even amongst the Fathers on many issues there was disagreement - therefore, attempting to use "the Fathers" as a monolithic source of ultimate support for the modern theological statements of any one body is wrong. It becomes a bully stick -- the Fathers (as I refer to them) disagree with you, therefore I am right.

Also - why would I think of the Fathers in terms of... reliability? I don't think of them as either reliable or unreliable. I read what they write and teach... much is good, some is off and not in align with the Scriptures. More I suppose I could think in terms of fallibility... but I don't hold anyone to be infallible. That's only in light of Rome's claims, anyway. I didn't think there was an Eastern claim to infallibility of the Fathers, or that they are always right on every point.

David Garner said...

Pastor Brown, in perusing some of my old blog posts, I found a Schmemann quote that I thought you might appreciate in light of this post and the comments that followed it:

"But then the first and essential fruit of all Christian life and spirituality, so manifest in the Saints, is the feeling and the awareness not of any "worthiness," but of un-worthiness. The closer one is to God the more conscious he becomes of the ontological unworthiness of all creatures before God, of the totally free gift of God. Such genuine spirituality is absolutely incompatible with any idea of "merit," of anything that could make us, in itself and by itself, "worthy" of that gift. For, as St. Paul writes: "...while we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why one will hardly die for a righteous man . . . . But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us . . ." (Rom. 5:6-8). To "measure" that gift with our merits and worthiness is the beginning of that spiritual pride which is the very essence of sin."

-- from "Great Lent: Journey to Pascha"

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I do like the quote -- but the question I would ask then is this -- how does one become closer to God? I'd be interested in hearing his answer (or your summation thereof)

I would contend that any answer that does not have as its essence to this Christ Jesus as being improperly focused. He is the way to the Father, the only way I am close to God is when I am in Him.

David Garner said...

My answer would be through the Sacramental life. And in the Orthodox view, that is precisely centered in Jesus Christ, since He is the fount and host of the Sacraments. Asceticism is part of that, and so is prayer, and so are good works. But ultimately none of those things have any power apart from the Sacramental life of the Church.

I find it intriguing that you seem convinced that there is a boogeyman just around the corner waiting to spring out with some meritorious action that we have to do to get closer to God. Maybe I'm reading your question wrong. I said upstream that in these conversations, the assumption of merit always creeps in the back door. You appear to me to have your guard up against something that is just not present in Father Schmemann's thinking.

Here is another quote you might appreciate:

"When the foolish thought of counting up any of your good works enters into your head, immediately correct your fault and rather count up your sins, your continual and innumerable offenses against the All-merciful and Righteous Master, and you will find that their number is as the sand of the sea, whilst your virtues in comparison with them are as nothing."

-- St. John of Kronstadt

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

It seems that St. John of Kronstadt is worried about that same boogeyman =o)

This isn't a thought on just the East - it's something I worry about whenever the focus stays too long on our actions. If the discussion shifts more and more onto A/P/GW and less on proclaiming Christ (for preaching and teaching too is part of that Sacramental life - we receive Christ in the proclamation of His Word) - then I get nervous, regardless whom is speaking.

It becomes too easy to assume Christ, assume goodness -- or was not St. John speaking to those who thought that they were living the "Sacramental Life"?

Or in other words - I am not arguing against prayer or good works (some Asceticism can go overboard I think, but even that I won't knock if it is entered into freely)... but rather I am saying that Christ and His Work should be focused upon much more than ours - not just in the liturgy, but in all that we say or do.

David Garner said...

I don't think we have a disagreement there. Touche on St. John of Kronstadt. I brought the quote up to point out that we deal with the issue in the East. I think the difference is we don't assume it's lurking around every corner. There is a bit of freedom in that.

I don't dispute that freedom can be a dangerous thing, mind you. I also fully understand that we are to a great extent enculturated by the American Protestant world we live in, and that worrying about the boogeyman when dealing with a so-called "evangelical" Protestant is probably wise. It's just really a pretty foreign concept to the East, in large part because the Patristic witness speaks so strongly against it.

Have you read St. Mark the Ascetic's "On Those Who Think They are Made Righteous by Works?"

Benjamin Harju said...

There is a time and place to preach law - meaning that which guides the Christian in his or her conduct and morality as children of God. The East finds greater use for this sort of preaching, not because Christ or the Sacraments are just assumed, but because in the East one's whole life has the potentiality of being sacramental. If as a Lutheran priest I took a baby and applied water to him in the name of the Holy Trinity, according to God's command, I have administered the sacrament of Baptism. In the East if I as a member of the Royal Priesthood (of all believers) take myself and apply myself in love toward another according to Christ's command, then I am in essence enacting something sacramental. Just like with baptism I can claim none of the efficacy to myself, so also in prayer, asceticism, works of love, etc.

No one considers it opposed to the Gospel to teach about how to conduct sacraments. Likewise in the East no one considers it opposed to the Gospel to preach about how to pray, to love, to struggle, etc. The perspective we work with is that our activity, which seems law-oriented to Lutheran ears, is itself sacramental in nature. Our Life in Christ is sacramental not only because it flows from the (defined) Sacraments, but because that life is itself sacrament. This is why, for instance, that Fr. Schmemann calls the Church itself a sacrament.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Of course there is a time to preach and instruct in the Law... much of teaching is that, and I'd argue that Luther's Small Catechism treatment of the 10 commandments is a wonderful example of this -- surely you'd still concede that. In fact, we'd both probably agree that this part of the catechism is too often ignore or overlooked in many segments of Lutheranism.

However - define "sacrament" and "sacramental" and I can tell you whether or not I agree with you on the rest... but you're using a word that doesn't have a fixed meaning. But basically I could almost hear Gene Veith substituting "Vocation" and "Vocationally" (and dropping the "potentiality" -- it is, or at least ought to be).

What precisely do you mean by "sacramental"?

Brendan said...

I was directed here from WE.

Wow, I read about half the comments and then my eyes crossed. As a person on the road to Anglicanism I found this dialogue very intriguing, and as I guess most Anglicans are, I feel pulled in both directions.

Ancient Faith Radio has a series of Lectures that address Orthodox beliefs in comparison to Lutheran beliefs. I would love to hear a Lutheran response to these, particularly to the lecture "Authority of Scripture" that was presented by a former WELS member.

http://ancientfaith.com/specials/lutheran_colloquium