What Faith Shall I Defend?

mikhail_nesterov-evening_bells_1910.jpg

Contemporary challenges to the Christian faith, whether from children’s writers such as Pullman or various scientific voices in the world of mass media, are frequently not challenges to the Christian faith but attacks on the misperceptions of the Christian faith. By the same token, many professions of the Christian faith are not professions of the faith, but professions of misperceptions of the Christian faith. To some degree, one can beget the other.

I occasionally find myself in social situations in which a conversation partner has left the Christian faith for one reason or another – or becomes curious about why I am an Orthodox Christian rather than the Anglican I once was. The conversation frequently reveals the fact that short of a full-blown catechism, including a removal of masses of misinformation, no real progress can be made in communication. What many people understand of Christianity and what I believe the faith to be are simply worlds apart.

It is for such reasons that I struggle to find language to help people re-understand the faith. The language that I have been writing about in recent months – that of a One-Storey Universe versus a Two-Storey Universe – is simply one of those efforts. God is not as many people imagine Him to be and has not revealed Himself to be as His detractors frequently claim. Indeed, God cannot be the subject of discussion in a manner similar to the discussion of some object we may have before us. God is never an object before us.

Indeed the knowledge of God is not analogous to the knowledge of anything else, for God has no true analogy. Thus conversations that are productive of an encounter with God tend to be idiosyncratic. In sharing a story, or explaining an idea, in singing a song, or sitting in silence, God is encountered. The same story, idea, song, or silence will not necessarily yield the same result (indeed it would be rare) with another human being. For God has revealed Himself to us as Person and is thus always Free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” St. Paul says (2 Corinthians 3:17). He will not be at our beck and command or standby as our object. If we know Him, we will know Him in His freedom, just as we must approach Him in our own freedom.

There is a living witness among us that this God who revealed Himself to us in Christ is indeed the True and Living God. That living witness is His Church – itself maligned and misunderstood. To see the Church as merely a human organization or as an association of like-minded individuals is not to see the Church at all. When the Church is described in Scripture as the “Pillar and Ground of Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) or the “Fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23) it should give us pause. If the Church is such as St. Paul described it – what does he mean? How is it that the Church can be this?

Answering such questions is an inherent part of the search for God and I have no other purpose in writing than to share and encourage that search. The knowledge of the true and living God is the only faith that I care to defend. I have no interest in defending someone’s misperceptions of the faith.

My own experience is that those who want to know the truth eventually find their way – sometimes despite overwhelming odds. Even a man bent on murdering Christians can become Christianity’s greatest apostle. The wonderful truth behind all of this is that God is searching for us and always has been and will go to the depths of hell to find us. If I have not found Him, then what have I done so that I missed Him?

47 Responses to “What Faith Shall I Defend?”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: Evening Bells by Mikhail Nesterov

  2. curtismchale Says:

    I personally don’t work on explaining the faith to a person again unless they ask. I work more on living a life that causes them to ask. I admit that I don’t always accomplish that but that is my goal. I don’t think that intellectual argument will be the thing that creates a long lasting love for Jesus in people’s lives.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Of course.

  4. epiphanist Says:

    I have been finding joy in your site, and admiration for the abundance of ideas. Misperception is a strange thing, God calls to us from beyond our understanding.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Indeed He must call us from beyond our understanding – we all begin with misperception. Our hearts are not pure and we do not see God. What wondrous mercies that He calls us all.

  6. Blake Says:

    In my overzealousness as a catechumen, when someone asks about the faith I end up starting back in Acts, going through the Ecumenical Councils, explaining the Schism, the Protestant Reformation, on and on and on, and I find that people are either sorry they asked, half asleep, or even with the facts before them it produces a mild interest at best.

    I’ve learned in this that God isn’t found in theology alone, and no matter of words or persuasion will change a person. We can plant little seeds this way, and pray fervently that the Spirit showers them and brings them to abundance, because only God can work that change in someone. Reminds me of Saint Paul to the Corinthians:

    “Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.”

  7. tootallburd Says:

    I am writing a University essay at the moment on the way that Jesus prepared His disciples for ministry,and one of the points that both comforted me and heartened me ,was that they were ordinary men, fallible and lacking understanding at times.But despite this God used them to further his Mission to save the world.We ,too, are just asked to “follow”and to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit as we witness for Him .

    I find great peace and encouragement here on this site ,I am challenged and my faith is enriched here,despite being an English Baptist!Thank you.It is wonderful to have such a diverse range of brothers and sisters in Christ.

  8. RLS Says:

    The thing about a cherished mis-perception is that it becomes an easy out for some. I think this is why a clarification is often met with something ranging from indifference to annoyance.

  9. d. Alexander Says:

    One of my struggles is to know where does “not throwing pearls to swine”, or simply boring my conversational partners with an exposition of faith end, and not defending or glorifying Christ sufficiently begin.

    I’m always struck by the thought, “those that do no acknowledge Me before men, I will not acknowledge before the Father”.

    For this reason, I’m always hesitant not to speak (i.e. just letting my actions speak for themselves), but conversely avoiding pride that comes from “lecturing” people on the Orthodox faith. Its never my intent to lecture, but its a fine line (for me) between being proud and glorifying in the Risen Christ and personal pride…. any hints, guides, etc.?

    When is it too much information? When it is too little? Am I not fulfilling my duty as an Orthodox Christian by just giving a cursory overview and thus doing Christ a disservice?

  10. justinian Says:

    Blake,

    I know exactly what you mean. As a recent convert, the most delightful (and terrifying) thing has been to learn that, while I might understand the highly abstract theological arguments of all seven councils, I am still no closer to knowing God. That’s so radically different, I think, than anything I knew before. This is what I tell people: Orthodoxy is not just some denomination; because I no longer think about God, I know God. I no longer think ‘Thank you, God, for such-and-such thing happening to me.’ It’s a strange (and wonderful!) thing to KNOW that God is ‘everywhere present and fillest all things.’ Heaven is beside us and around us, and all we have to do is stop focusing on ourselves to see it. What a great challenge!

  11. candleprayer Says:

    Oh goodness, Blake – you’re so right. I *have* managed to figure out a five minute version of the history and schism for all the people that say ‘so why aren’t you Catholic?’ but…I’m trying to keep my mouth shut.

    It’s so easy to get over-excited about the things I’m learning, but it’s even easier to do that and give people the wrong idea, which is what I’ve been discovering to my shame recently. Just because I might find such and such practice, or belief, or obscure 6th century Saint (my priest would be proud of that one, he often tangents to ramble about one) fascinating, it’s so easy to cause people to stumble by presenting it out of context. Not at all fun to discover.

    Justinian, you’re right – it’s weird to discover that it’s ‘not about me’, and that all of this is so much bigger and more wonderful than I ever thought anything could be – and that God surpasses everything!

    “Heaven is beside us and around us, and all we have to do is stop focusing on ourselves to see it.” That’s a great quote, I’ll have to remember it 🙂 It sums up a number of things very well.

  12. Steve Says:

    justinian,

    I l ike the way you put that: “‘Thank you, God, for such-and-such thing happening to me.'” That’s so true.

  13. Ezekiel Says:

    The other day, a friend resurrected a discussion of my journey — during the course of the brief conversation, I mentioned that Christ’s Church, the Church of the Apostles and Saints is still alive and well. I also mentioned that the liturgy that we use is ancient and flows from that source. He was a bit shocked, it seemed to learn that Holy Church isn’t a ground up sort of thing, a gathering of like minded folk who want to do a religious thing or something like that.

    In this country, we are so steeped in such thinking that early discussions of Holy Orthodoxy are just beyond comprehension! One must build “thought bridges” — and above all remain patient and loving.

    I remember several years ago, as I was “journeying East,” a good friend, Theodore (of Archangel Books in Maplewood, MO) gently saying “God has this in His hand” when I mentioned some concern with the parish I was about to leave.

    I’d say we can’t “argue” anyone to Faith! 🙂

    Ezekiel

  14. loopyloo350 Says:

    The greatest teachers are not translators. Instead they are those that teach us to question and after the question, to listen for the answer. When we decide we are necessary to translate we lose the ability to hear the answers ourselves. God does not exist in the past, but the here and now and the future also. To limit God is to limit ourselves.

  15. Michael Bauman Says:

    Father says, “Thus conversations that are productive of an encounter with God tend to be idiosyncratic.” Yes! The deciding point of my catecumenate was a disjointed, rambling, untheological, seemingly pointless hour and a half conversation I had with my priest in response to my question, What (Who) is the Holy Spirit? At the end of the conversation he leaned back in his chair and said, “I think we’ve accomplished quite a bit tonight.” I was at first flumoxed because an “answer” was never given, at least to my all too literal mind. Then I reflected a little and had to admit he was righ

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    Indeed.

  17. Robert Says:

    If Christians can’t get their faith right, after 2,000 years, why should anyone take it seriously?

    By what method did you arrive at the conclusion that “many professions of the Christian faith are not professions of the faith, but professions of misperceptions of the Christian faith”?

  18. Ezekiel Says:

    In reading Michael’s post, I was reminded of an event in early 2005. I and a group of other Lutheran pastors were in a retreat with Orthodox at Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI. We joined with the sisters for prayer. They began a 5:00 am and prayed the hours until 7:30 — later in the day they prayed the hours from the 9th hour on.

    It was my first experience of Orthodox worship. The sisters did pray the hours in English (they were Rumanian) … the words and chant rolled over me like an ocean — although I was “lost” much of the time, I experienced heaven on earth.

    Returning home, I told my lovely bride, “It is no longer ‘if’ but ‘when.”

    All of the discussion that we were having were important, to be sure, but the highlight of that retreat was the prayer of those humble nuns.

    Ezekiel

  19. Thoughts for Today « Butterfly Impressions Says:

    […] November 20, 2007 by gwnn I happened upon this blog this morning :  https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2007/11/19/what-faith-shall-i-defend/ […]

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    Robert:

    Method: the teaching of the Fathers of the Christian Church and the faith as received by the Orthodox. As compared to constantly invented new versions of Christianity by the 20,000 various denominations created by man. There is a difference between a received Tradition and an academic system invented by a German monk, or a French lawyer, or independent preachers with their own take on the Bible. In a nutshell, that’s the method, though I would not have used the word method.

    I have been a Christian pastor for 27 years and am not without some experience. That experience does yield some observations as well. One of those observations is that many Christians have a misperception of the Christian faith when their faith is compared to that taught by the Fathers of the Church and classically taught by Orthodox Christianity.

    I need only mention the mushrooming movement of prosperity gospel preachers to prove my point. What they teach is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but a misperception, at best.

    And may God have mercy on my wretched soul for offering such judgments. But I am a teacher of the faith, and sometimes such statements are appropriate.

    If politicians can’t get their government right, who should take it seriously?

    The Orthodox Church has taught the same unchanged faith for 2000 years. Take it seriously.

  21. Ezekiel Says:

    Robert,

    I think you may be on to something in your first statement: “If CHRISTIANS can’t get their faith right ….”

    The problem is not with the Faith, nor with Christ’s Church — it is with the wandering of those who often “claim the name” but who do not follow St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

    I was a Lutheran pastor for 33 years, a Lutheran all my life up to about two years ago. Especially in the last decade or so, I sought the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” Church confessed in the Nicene Creed. As a Lutheran, that church was at best an ideal, hidden — but that Church has been alive and well, as Father Stephen has pointed out, from the time of Christ. It needed and needs no reformation or relativization. Unfortunately, sinful humans pridefully think that everything needs fixing, especially when it calls them to sacrifice.

    Central to the Faith is the call to repentance. “Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner” directs me to humbly confess my own sin, and to speak the truth in all love.

    You are correct: many “christians” have gotten it wrong, to be sure. But thanks be to God that we are called home, forgiven, redeemed, and given new life in Christ’s body the church as we are drawn in to close communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    Ezekiel

  22. David Says:

    Two thoughts. Both of which I hope encourage Father Stephen for different reasons.

    I don’t know how you look at it (or how Tradition does) but I don’t think any conversation needs to lead people through catechism in the alloted time available. Conversations, like all other manners of living the faith you hold fast to, should exemplify Christ. I think you do this remarkably well at this website. You are neither miserly with the Grace given to you, nor do you pour it over people’s heads in desperation. You sow the seed. Remember our Lord’s response to the disciples. He offered an explanation to those who asked. If the crowd don’t inquire for more then they weren’t given any more insight. Those who do ask, to them it should be given.

    Praise the Lord for what grace we have received, no matter how un-full it is because of our relationship to the Church. I think I used the words “even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table” before. 🙂

    Second, I thought I’d mention that I’m going to attend Divine Liturgy this weekend. I’ll be going Saturday evening if I can as well. I am stuck. I feel I have learned almost as much as I can in the scholastic fashion about Orthodoxy. I must taste and see. I don’t know whether it will amount to anything (my wife plans attend after I’ve gone once alone). But even if it’s just another crumb of Grace, I’ll come away rejoicing.

  23. The Scylding Says:

    Thing is, in an argument or discussion the basis is most often rationalism. I find it easier to poke holes in the general understanding, than try a rational defence of the faith. By this I mean that it helps more to shake the apple cart, than to build up a rationalisitc defence. Anyway, when rationalsim is our guide, will it not become our God?

  24. Ezekiel Says:

    Good for you, David!

    Plan to attend for several Sundays in a row, though! The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is rich beyond measure, it is as an ocean overflowing!

    Blessings in Christ our God!

    Ezekiel

  25. kevinburt Says:

    Father,

    Continued thanks for your postings. I came from that “biblicist” sect you recently described in a podcast (Stone-Campbell “Church of Christ”), and I’ve had to relearn the truth about the truth. As you’ve repeatedly said, the truth of Christ is not a “system” or a list of facts. Peter Bouteneff has stressed that truth is used biblically as a verb (“truthing”) as opposed to a purely “objectifiable fact.” I find that many, upon hearing that I am now Orthodox, want me to explain in a few minutes “why” and “what.” I find that I simply cannot do it without at some point telling them that it’s just “too big” to put into words or a simple list, etc.

    David, glad to hear you’re going to make it to DL! Don’t be frustrated if your first time seems weird or foreign. It did to me, and a nice deacon told us to “give them four visits before we made up our minds.” Well, it took us more than four visits to make up our minds, but by the third visit, the Cherubic Hymn brought tears to my eyes. I hope your visit goes well!

    Thomas (Kevin B.)

  26. Robert Says:

    Father Stephen,

    I suspected this was your method, but I believe it a flawed one, since it’s essentially declamatory. You’ve declared the Orthodox denomination to be The Standard, and so, ipso facto, every other Christian denomination is a “misperception”. You propose “received Tradition” as something which differentiates your denomination from all the others, but you know of course, that Catholics (at the least) claim the same. And why should “received Tradition” be a litmus test? In early Christianity, there were a variety of Christian sects, each with quite distinct beliefs, many of whose followers, unfortunately, were quite ruthlessly extinguished by this “Tradition”. Perhaps the correct denomination was snuffed out during the time, only to be restored later.

    “If politicians can’t get their government right, who should take it seriously?”

    Government is a man-made institution, while Christianity is the alleged creation of a deity. I’d think the latter would be superior to the former.

  27. Robert Says:

    Ezekiel, you wrote:

    The problem is not with the Faith, nor with Christ’s Church — it is with the wandering of those who often “claim the name” but who do not follow St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

    How are you able to determine whom Christ lives in? You must have some criteria.

  28. loopyloo350 Says:

    To clothe yourself in tradition is to limit God to the past as if He has no present. To limit God is to limit yourself to stagnation. God is not limited to the past. He talks to those who listen. If you choose tradition over future, you will not hear God speaking.

  29. Onemorecup Says:

    I find when speaking to either non-believers or those who have walked away or astray, I try to keep as much focus on our Creator as possible; however, given the state of misconception and misperceptions most people I speak with have very little understanding of the omnipotence of God.

    Therefore, as I begin to ask them such questions as: “How does a fingernail cell automatically know that it is a fingernail cell and not an eyelash cell…?” And of course, on and on… Using this technique accomplishes several matters. One, it brings what is seen to the conversation while at the same time it brings an awareness that there is something about our universe, our existence, that goes far beyond Darwin and certainly far beyond anything that we will ever know (until that day!); moreover, these ostensibly simple questions still are void of answers to those who do not believe; yet, one thing is certain—it sure makes them start thinking.

    Love your blog!

    OMC

  30. Michael Bauman Says:

    Robert, please forgive me if I put more blocks in your way, but your questions reveal the truth of what Fr. Stephen is saying. You speak in empirical terms and expect, even demand empirical answers. You speak of the Church as if she were a man-made institution formed by the exercise of human power and infer equivalence amongst all who profess the name of Christianity from that artificial standard. I once had the same attitude. My empiricism and logic only brought me to the dead-ends of nihilism, hedonism and rationalism. I wanted more. I wanted the truth.

    It turns out that the truth is not an idea to which one gives mental agreement. The Truth is a person, Jesus Christ. I am sure you will agree that there are many different versions of Jesus Christ presented. Our brain and our thinking alone does not suffice to allow us to discover Him anymore than rationality alone reveals to us whom we love.

    The interplay of love, the communion a Christian shares with His Lord is only complete in the sharing of the Eucharist for as Jesus Himself said, “Unless you eat of my Body and drink of my Blood, you have no life in you”.

    The empirical, historical reality is that the Orthodox Church is the only Christian tradition that has maintained in unbroken continuity the reality of the Eucharistic celebration. It is a living tradition given life by the Holy Spirit and so is ever in the present, ever new, yet always the same in essence uniting us across time and space. It is quite easy to recognize those who actually live in Christ. I gravitated to the Church, in part, because of the joyful witness of Orthodox believers. It is an ineffable reality the power of which I could not turn from. From time to time, I see that joy in others who are not Orthodox and we rejoice in it. I have never seen it in one who denys Christ and I’ve been around a few years.

    Christ will find you if you want Him to as soon as you want Him to.

  31. kevinburt Says:

    Loopyloo,

    Father may choose to explain this better and in more detail, but if you’re intending to say that Orthodoxy is flawed because of this “Tradition” idea, consider what Orthodoxy means by “Tradition.” It is the “living faith of the dead,” per Pelikan (as oppposed to “traditionalism,” which he calls the “dead faith of the living”), and Orthodox are fond of saying that tradition — far from being some stagnant relic from the past — is actually the “Life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.” Tradition IS the present, past and future. It is the life of God in His people. Since it is “past” as well as present and future, then it follows that the future life of the Church will not contradict the past life. But it is anything but stagnant.

  32. kevinburt Says:

    Michael,

    I should have read your post before submitting mine; you said that much better than I did. Thanks for your thoughts…I always find them helpful.

    Thomas Kevin

  33. Michael Bauman Says:

    Thomas Kevin. I love St. Thomas, the one we all too gleefully want to label a doubter. He did not doubt so much as attempt obedience. Not long before Jesus was crucified, He warned His disicples that false Christ’s would come and that they should take care not to be deceived.

    In his Apostolic ministry, Thomas was the only Apostle who went outside the Judeo-Roman world, traveling to India. The success of his mission is revealed in the fact that when the Portugese landed in India centuries later, they found Christians there–much to the explorers’ surprise. Every once in awhile some of Thomas’ great, great, great….. spiritual grandchildren have come to my parish and worshipped with us.

    The reason I recount the story here is simply to illustrate the strength and life that lies in Holy Tradition. As you so aptly said, “Tradition IS the present, past, and future. It is the life of God in His people” Your very name is a witness to that reality.

    Another way I look at Holy Tradition is that it is the call of God to come to Him that reverberates through His creation. It is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow only the nature of our response differs. Holy Tradition both shows us the way to encounter the living God in our own time and circumstance but protects us from delusion as we reach out to Him.

  34. fatherstephen Says:

    Well said, gentlemen. It is a great tragedy that modernity has without thinking made “tradition” a bad word. The lack of tradition is the rootlessness of our age. The Life of God is indeed the Tradition of the Church – such that the faith we profess today is the same faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints. This is the faith that the Scriptures teach us to keep. This is the faith that transforms us. It is the faith in the God who cannot be contained and yet was contained in the womb of the Virgin. But the Tradition of the Church is not to put God in a box, but to prevent us sinful creatures from teaching something other than what He has given us to teach. We have no other authority.

  35. RLS Says:

    Something that has become clear to me regarding the efficacy of apologetics is that by and large they are only useful to remove intellectual objections. People make nous-level decisions when it comes to God and a person with an apparently open mind on the intellectual level can have a very hardened and closed heart. In that case, apologetics becomes largely a futile endeavor.

  36. RLS Says:

    Got cut short above… I meant to add that therefore it is the gift of discernment that will reveal when it is time to explain and when it is time to remain quiet. I know that I get too excited and over-explain the Orthodox faith to others and it becomes all too obvious after that it was the wrong time to explain those things. Not that a believer should ignore a straightforward question, but there is a way to answer the question in a manner that doesn’t over-explain.

  37. Lucas Says:

    RLS,

    Well said. When one begins studying Christian apologetics, it is easy to mistakenly believe that the right argument will force the other into Christianity. Ultimately, when we call another to the Church, we ought not to be calling him to assent to a number of intellectual propositions (although such are secondarily attendant), but to the Life in Christ.

    It would be absurd for me to believe that I could argue someone into having a relationship with another. I can, perhaps, clear up misconceptions about such a person–or relationship–on a rational level, but this is all.

    We must then ask together with Fr. Stephen’s question, “What Faith shall I defend?” the related question: “Just what is it that I am defending?” Many are looking for a properly-wrought, airtight syllogism, but they won’t get one. Their questions are not disingenuous–ultimately, they’re simply the wrong questions; what we are bringing them to is not a formula, but Christ Himself.

    the sinner,
    Rdr. Lucas

  38. Robert Says:

    Greetings Michael Bauman,

    You wrote You speak in empirical terms and expect, even demand empirical answers.

    Certainly. Otherwise, how does one know the material is simply not made up?

    You continue, My empiricism and logic only brought me to the dead-ends of nihilism, hedonism and rationalism.

    From this, I gather that empiricism and logic are bad words words in your book, inferior to other methods of discernment. Fine. But then you state,

    The empirical, historical reality is that the Orthodox Church is the only Christian tradition that has maintained in unbroken continuity the reality of the Eucharistic celebration.

    Now, I’m confused. It appears that at least one empirical reality is important to your beliefs, if not central to it. Why the exception?

    Christ will find you if you want Him to as soon as you want Him to.

    Every religious sect tells me the same about their deity, and amazingly, it finds them.

  39. Lucas Says:

    Robert,

    What is it, precisely that you’re after?

  40. Lucas Says:

    Robert,

    Apologies; that last posted before I had finished so it comes across as rude. But I’d like to know what you’re real question is–heretofore most of your posts appear to be scrutinizing the formal structure of the others’ posts. As such, there seems to be some confusion about what question you’re really asking.

    the sinner,
    Rdr. Lucas

  41. fatherstephen Says:

    Robert,

    Of course there are empirical aspects (of a sort) with regard to anything – it’s just that they do not do justice to the full reality of anything – thus followed (with nothing more) it leads to dead ends. But I don’t think any Christian (certainly Orthodox) despises empirical evidence of any sort – he just recognizes its short comings. There are certain empirical things that an Orthodox Christian would point to, if you find it helpful in understanding what an Orthodox Christian believes. If you’re not interested in understanding, o.k. But you’ll only have circular discussions as a result. If you like going around in circles enjoy the ride.

  42. Robert Says:

    Lucas,

    You wrote, But I’d like to know what you’re real question is–heretofore most of your posts appear to be scrutinizing the formal structure of the others’ posts.

    Essentially, what I seek to understand is the basis for Father Stephan’s claim that “many professions of the Christian faith are not professions of the faith, but professions of misperceptions of the Christian faith.” What method does he use to distinguish between true professions and false ones?

    The question should be important for anyone confused by the sheer number of Christian denominations in existence. While I currently don’t believe that any of them to accurately represent any approximation of truth, I grant that I could be wrong. So I search.

    Father Stephen’s response was essentially twofold: a) any faith which does not adhere to that as classically taught by the Orthodox Church; and b) receive Tradition.

    I replied that (a) is essentially declamatory and prejudiced, while (b) is claimed by at least one other church. This may be the method, but I believe it’s a flawed one as the basis for his claim.

    I hope this answers your question.

  43. Robert Says:

    Father Stephen,

    You wrote, There are certain empirical things that an Orthodox Christian would point to, if you find it helpful in understanding what an Orthodox Christian believes.

    I am positive there are, and it’s clear that many Orthodox have found a bounty of spiritual riches within them.

    What I seek to understand is why these empirical things (help) establish the Orthodox Church as the truest expression of Christianity.

  44. fatherstephen Says:

    Robert, a possible answer to this question is to be found in the living experience of communion. For 2,000 years Orthodoxy has been a living, Eucharistic community. Professing one and the same faith has always been a criteria of sharing the Eucharistic cup. It is a continuity of existence. Over the same time there have been those who deviated from the life and teaching of the Church and were placed (or placed themselves) outside the bounds of communion with the Church. Orthodox Christianity was the primary form of Christianity for 1,000 years until its split with Rome. You’d have to go back and look at that split to decide where continuity with the previous life of the Church resides. I believe it resided then and now in the Orthodox Church. The rest of the denominations are the continually reinventing notions of Protestantism that can make no claim to be continuous with the earliest Church nor in communion with the community founded by Christ.

    Christ founded a community and promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. I believe the statement is true and that the community He established has continued and will continue. But the living evidence of that community is the communion shared through the generations in the One Cup. How do I know if something is Orthodox is fairly straightforward: is it in communion with the one Orthodox Church?

    That this community has existed, uninterrupted for 2,000 years, despite its persecution by Muslims, heretics, Crusaders, Communists, etc., is itself a bold criterion. If Orthodoxy is not the “truest” expression of Christianity – then nothing is, for nothing can point to the same continuity of life from the beginning of the Church. If this is not the Church founded by Christ, then there is no such thing.

  45. Michael Bauman Says:

    Robert, the efficacy of empirical reasoning is always dependent upon the assumptions from which one starts. Empirical facts are only as good and only as important as the context within which they are interpreted, how they are selected, etc. Once I was forced to acknowledge the inadequacy of logical and empiricism and philosphy by the existential reality of my own life I began to look for something more comprehensive, complete and real. Eventually, it became evident me that my mother was right. God is real and it is up to me to find Him. (That is pretty much the sum total of my religious upbringing). I sought to be united in communion with Christ. My entrance into the Church was the result. The study of history, the witness of individual believers and my own experience guided me.

  46. Margaret Says:

    What an encouraging exchange between the posters to this article, thank you! May God be with you all and bless your Thanksgiving Day!

  47. wondering Says:

    Justinian,

    You wrote,
    ‘That’s so radically different, I think, than anything I knew before. This is what I tell people: Orthodoxy is not just some denomination; because I no longer think about God, I know God. I no longer think ‘Thank you, God, for such-and-such thing happening to me.

    Can you explain that a little, more about the difference between before and after?

    Thank you!

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