The Consequence of a Full Faith

As noted in a number of earlier posts, I prefer to use the term “fullness” when describing the Orthodox faith because it is far more explanatory than simply saying that we are the “true Church,” etc. “Fullness,” of course does not deny this, but it moves us onto more fruitful ground. I want to take a short look in this post at some of the consequences of giving one’s life to the “fullness of the faith.”

  • It is to accept the corporate nature of our salvation. The model of what it means to be a Christian is to be found in the life of the Holy Trinity. Thus we live no longer for ourselves but for everything and everyone.
  • It is to embrace the Christian faith “without onesidedness” (to quote Fr. Serge Verhovskoy of blessed memory). Thus we do not reduce Christianity to a tension between grace and law, or to an expression merely of the sovereignty of God or any such other reductionist models that have come to be in the past half-millenium.
  • It is to embrace the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, as the full and complete revelation to us of God. His words, His life, His actions, are the complete salvation of all mankind. As He said on the cross: “It is complete.”
  • It is to accept that the faith is larger than we are and that we cannot reduce it to anything less than its fullness and be faithful.
  • The consequence of this last point is that we attend Church always with an attitude of humility for we are standing within the larger life which is itself revealing God to us.
  • We renounce our selves as “autonomous individuals” and recognize instead that we are children of the One God who directs our lives in His commandments and He alone is the definition and meaning of our life.
  • We accept that the Holy Mysteries of the Church (such as Baptism, Chrismation, Penance and Eucharist, Unction, Marriage, and Ordination, are sure means by which God gives His very Life to us, though He may give His life to us in many other ways as well.) Thus we view this Life of Mystery as our true life and not simply an organizational expression of the Church.
  • We accept that we are only the current representatives of this faith on the earth, but that we are joined by a great “cloud of witnesses,” the Saints, by whose prayers we are aided and by whose Holy relics we are encouraged to run the race faithfully to its end. Thus we honor them as Holy friends, and our companions on the road of salvation.
  • Among the saints we recognize the unique place of the Mother of God, whose obedience to the word of God undid the disobedience of Eve, and through whose cooperation with the working of God, salvation became incarnate in the God-Man, Christ Jesus.
  • We recognize and accept that our salvation is nothing other than true and living communion with God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit. This salvation is a whole life and not a single decision. It is lived in a community (the Church, the Body of Christ) and lacks nothing for God has provided it with all that is necessary for our salvation.
  • We recognize the authority of the Scriptures within the life of the Church and accept with the Apostles that all of Scripture is understood only as it reveals Christ, for “these are they which testify of Me.” We recognize as well that Scripture is a gift to the Church and read them in and through the living Tradition of the Church as expressed in the Fathers, the worship life of the Church, and the decisions of the Holy Councils of the Faith.
  • We see in the world an icon of the world to come – the Scriptures as icon – the Saints as icons – the Church as icon and we live for the age when all things will be made known.
  • We believe that the fullness of the faith can only be known through the revelation of God as we follow the way of the Cross, tracing the steps of Christ’s humility, taking upon ourselves, as He took upon Himself, the sins of the world, and from within that humility praying for all to the gracious God Who alone can save.

I could, of course, continue writing until my last breath for no lifetime can exhaust or express completely the fullness. This modest list, however, seems a reasonable place to begin. In particular they are points which have been written about in some detail in the posts I have placed on this blogsite. God, forgive me, for I fail so completely in all of them.

22 Responses to “The Consequence of a Full Faith”

  1. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    What is the icon? The resurrection at the lower-left corner reminds me of the icon of the Anastasis…

  2. stephen Says:

    Wonderful!

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    It is the icon of the Fathers of the 7 Councils.

  4. Seth Says:

    Hello. I have come to believe (from personal experience) that the belief that one church holds all the answers also has other consequences. they tend to be lack of tolerance and a sometimes closed mind specially to thoughts which contradict the teachings of a person’s faith. This is just my personal opinion and in no way is it meant to be an attack on your faith or your article which I found to be enjoyable and interesting.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Seth,

    I think that you describe a genuine temptation and agree that it exists. I would suggest, however, that the existence of the temptation should not result in the adoption of “different strokes for different folks,” but rather for a proper humility with regard to the faith and the Church. I think that some of the way Orthodoxy is discussed and presented are themselves holdovers from previous experiences. I appreciate both your candor and kindness.

    I should probably have added that one of the consequences of fullness is the inability to “master” it. I think my last point:

    We believe that the fullness of the faith can only be known through the revelation of God as we follow the way of the Cross, tracing the steps of Christ’s humility, taking upon ourselves, as He took upon Himself, the sins of the world, and from within that humility praying for all to the gracious God Who alone can save.
    Essesntially says this.

    Of course, there is a problem with refusing to believe that the Orthodox faith is not the fullness given to us by Christ, but that we should instead be open to other things as well and that there is some kind of lack in the faith. First, it seems to contradict Christ’s promise viz. the Church. But worst of all, it places the individual into a particularly “individualized” existence, necessarily having to judge everything for himself and then picking and choosing. This was the nature, absolutely, of life as an Episcopalian, and I can tell you that it is utterly destructive of the spiritual life.

    Learning to be Orthodox is also learning the practical consequences of a God Who Is Present and Reveals Himself. It’s nothing to brag about, but rather a Reality to submit to. You can’t be in charge of your own faith any longer. Without such a revelation we are simply autonomous individuals fumbling around in the dark doing the best we can with what we think. There is a better way.

    However, those who speak the loudest about the Truth of Orthodoxy are probably speakers of the word rather than doers of the word. A sin that afflicts most of us, myself more than any.

  6. Justin Farr Says:

    I just wanted to thank you again, Father. This post in particular will be of great aid to me as I try to explain the Church to my family, who are just now beginning to seriously ask me to tell them more about it.

  7. Michael Bauman Says:

    Father, I keep trying to formulate a statement concerning the Holy Scriptures within the fullness and an not coming up with anything adequate. Could you help?

  8. Robert Says:

    Father Bless!

    Fr Stephen how would you respond to the non-Orthodox Christian who claims they have “all that” – the fullness you describe? At the heart it seems to boil down to Apostolic Succession and Authority, which they ultimately reject (by means of redefinition). So what, then, is the essense of the fullness, if one accepts the existence of non-Orthodox Christianity?

  9. Robert Says:

    Michael Bauman:

    Not to take the wind out of Fr Stephen’s sail (or to interfere – please forgive), but I believe you will find of interest a lively conversation about a month back in response to a post called “Orthodox Hermeneutic” on this blog. The Scriptures can only be understood properly, in fullness, as experienced and interpreted by the Church.

  10. Hartmut Says:

    Thank you, father, for this article.
    To only say: “Ours is the ONLY TRUE faith and yours is false and heretic” often seems to be self-righteous, arrogant, self-opinionated. And it doesn’t help the other one. But as you show it, to speak of all the fullness of our faith – in all humility, of course – that can be heard (if one has ears to hear) as a loving invitation.

    Please excuse me, but one tought I don’t understand:
    “… or to an expression merely of the sovereignty of God or any such other reductionist models that have come to be in the past half-millenium. ”
    Can you please help me?

    Ioannis

  11. Isaac the Syrian Says:

    I think describing the EO Church in terms of fullness is preferable to triumphalist statements about a monopoly on Christian truth, but I know that especially when it comes to fundamentalist/evangelicals the description of “fullness” as a reason for conversion to Orthodoxy often doesn’t have much appeal. I know of one pastor who was friends with a man who eventually converted from evangelicalism to Orthodoxy and even became a priest. When the pastor asked him why he converted he expressed his decision in terms of finding fullness in Orthodoxy. The pastor, recalling this conversation to my wife years later, remarked that he didn’t “understand why a person would need more than Jesus.”

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Michael,

    It would indeed be good to read the discussion and posts on an Orthodox Hermeneutic. It might be helpful.

    I would want to describe the Scriptures in the context of the fullness, not somehow separate from everything else. I might describe the Scriptures as being “within the Church.” Outside the Church they cannot be rightly read for they exist as Scripture within the Church (not that God won’t use them elsewhere).

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    Robert,

    With silence. We cannot argue anyone into the Truth. If someone thinks they have the “fullness” outside of Orthodoxy there’s no way to tell them they don’t. And there is no need. We have to be told these things by God. He has to create the hunger that can be satisfied only by Him.

    There should be no compulsion on the part of the Orthodox to make others agree. Our compulsion should be to become truly Orthodox (which is a very hard thing in itself). When there is enough light, enough peace, then thousands around us will be saved.

    Remember, most people argued with Jesus. How do we stand a chance?

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Hartmut,

    I’m referring there to the various Protestant systems in which a single idea (justification, sovereignty, etc.) has been used as the foundation for a systematized theology. Orthodox theology cannot be systematized. To do so always reduces it to something less than the fullness.

  15. fatherstephen Says:

    Isaac,

    I liked your story. I would respond, “I wanted more of Jesus.” As I have said in some earlier writings, “Why would we want less than everything?”

    One of the problems comes when we speak of the Church is that many listeners do not have a proper understanding of Church and think we’re talking about something else and do not see the Church as the “Body of Christ, the Fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” But the Church is the Fullness only as it is the Body of Christ, not as some sort of institution.

    My Archbishop DMITRI always seems to speak about the fullness of the faith, and talk about Christ when others would spend time talking about the Church. It is right for us to remember, “It’s really all about God,” to quote Fr. Thomas Hopko.

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    I have added a couple of paragraphs to the post that seemed useful.

  17. frodo441 Says:

    As is written, “not a generation should pass that doesn’t come to know these things…”

  18. Karen C Says:

    “My Archbishop DMITRI always seems to speak about the fullness of the faith, and talk about Christ when others would spend time talking about the Church. It is right for us to remember, “It’s really all about God,” to quote Fr. Thomas Hopko.”

    How wonderful! Would that all of us Orthodox could keep this focus. Grant this, O Lord. In my short lived parish experience, I feel too much time at my church has been devoted to talking about “Orthodoxy” and comparing “Orthodoxy” with Protestantism (we are in a heavily evangelical enclave) and not enough talking about Christ and His fullness, much less practicing being truly Orthodox in our approach to life and relationships. Admittedly, this is a long process, and one can only truly learn by doing. Most of us are neophytes (including our Priest). It is a bit discouraging because my husband who is evangelical, but who wants to understand Orthodoxy for my sake, says that he experiences the constant comparison as abrasive. Because of this, he is disinclined to attend with me frequently. Why, he wants to know, can’t we just explain what Orthodoxy is–the same way a teller learns to recognize real money from the counterfeit–by gaining a thorough familiarity with all the attributes of the real thing?

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    My Archbishop says we should avoid disparaging our former churches. Sometimes I have to say some things that need to be said, but it should be ruled out of bounds for most parish conversation.

    “Let you speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).

  20. Seth Says:

    Father, there are things I would like to ask outside of this forum. Is there a way to do this? I feel a need to do so and I would be most thankful.

  21. fatherstephen Says:

    Seth,

    You can email me at glory@ancientfaith.com

  22. Petra Says:

    So much helpful wisdom in the post and comments. Thank you!

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