The Fullness of Faith

fralexander 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. In this post I offer a short list of what seem to me important consequences of giving one’s life to the “fullness of the faith.”  This is a reprint from earlier – but one which bears re-reading.

  • 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 Professor 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.

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41 Responses to “The Fullness of Faith”

  1. Marigold Says:

    “… we recognize the unique place of the Mother of God… ”

    This phrase jumped out at me. I have just begun using a different prayer book which places a lot of emphasis on the Theotokos. As a former Protestant, I have some trouble understanding (/appreciating) the place of Mary in the great scheme of things. I would be interested to read your thoughts on this. Do you think, for example, that she could be justified as ‘co-redemptrix’ (“through whose cooperation with the working of God, salvation became incarnate”)? I know this is a specifically RC term, but perhaps it is often misunderstood, i.e. as making her equal to Christ… ?

    Marigold.

  2. isaac8 Says:

    Thanks for this great list Father. I agree that the term “true Church” never seems to go over well with people from other Christian traditions.

  3. handmaid leah Says:

    Marigold,
    Maybe while you are waiting for Father Stephen to answer, you can read what St John the Wonderworker had to say about our Lady Theotokos: The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God
    By St. John Maximovitch

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    Marigold,

    If the term were sufficiently nuanced it could be understood in an Orthodox manner – though it is not an Orthodox term – thus will not be accepted by the Orthodox. It does run the great risk of being misunderstood – which is already the case with much of the Church’s language concerning the Theotokos (I mean – it is already misunderstood by many outside the Church). Thus I would be hesitant to add to that.

    Probably the place to begin with Mary is not to begin with her – but to begin with the understanding of our participation (koinonia) in the life of Christ. This is the very heart of the Orthodox understanding of salvation – but is greatly neglected in Protestant theology and piety. We are saved by Christ’s participation in our life and our participation in His. Thus in Baptism, we are Baptized into His death and resurrection. In the Eucharist, He dwells in us and we in Him. The questions at Baptism: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?”

    “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” etc.

    Spending time, as you read the Scriptures or attend services, to listen carefully for this language and to ponder what it means – this is the place to begin.

    Then when we understand that this is also true of Mary – and on such an intimate level – “He took flesh of the Virgin Mary.” Her union with Him, from the beginning, is spiritual, physical – it could not be more complete except that (like all of us) they are separate persons. Christ becomes “consubstantial” with humanity in the incarnation – but the epicenter of that is the womb of the Virgin Mary.

    As we begin to understand our participation in the life of Christ we also begin to see that everything about Christ involves all that are in union with Him. He dies for us – but we also die with Him. The cross is not just an event that is external to us that accomplishes our salvation outside us – but is an eternal moment as well – in which we are united with the crucified (and the risen) Lord. Christ’s entry into Hell is a union with us in our sinfulness (“He made Him to be sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God”). His resurrection is the means of our righteousness for, united with Him, we too are raised from the dead (and seated at the right hand of God – as Paul notes in Colossians).

    I think that Protestantism fails to give proper honor to Mary because it fails to recognize just how utterly concrete and real is our union with Christ. In many Protestant accounts our salvation is discussed in a completely extrinsic manner – something accomplished apart from us rather than within us. It fails to understand the mystery of our salvation.

    This is a suggestion of a place to start. My beloved wife would say (as she has many times) that if you want to understand the Theotokos you must get to know her. Be silent for a while before her icon. Pray the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God and listen to its words. Let them pierce your heart (as hers was pierced). I’ve always appreciated my wife’s approach because she doesn’t treat all of this as an idea to be understood so much as a friend and mother to be known and a participation with her in the life of her Son and God.

    St. John Maximovich’s book is good. Also the book by Gabriel Mary, the Untrodden Portal. But I would wait a year or two before reading Gabriel. He boldly goes into the depths of the mystery – very rich food. It staggered me when I first read it – but have come to love it.

  5. spiritof76 Says:

    Excellent!! Father, excellent. Each of these points is worth meditating on.

    ” O God your way is in the holy place…Your way is in the sea.”

  6. Irenaeus of New York Says:

    Hello Marigold,

    The RCC does not accept Mary as the Co-Redemptrix. It is not a dogma of the Catholic Church nor will it ever be. It falls into the same dubious classification as liberation theology. What I mean by that is, that it is an opinion held by a vocal few which falls far short of the truth.

    Thanks,
    Irenaeus

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Irenaeus,

    Thank you. I remember now that it had only been discussed. I know that the Orthodox had more or less officially said that it would be a great problem for them if Rome adopted the doctrine. Sometimes zeal carries people away. I should be more zealous…

  8. Irenaeus of New York Says:

    Handmaid Leah,

    I read that link you posted on St. John Maximovitch because I had never heard of him.

    Probably one of the more extreme anti Catholic polemics I have read in a long time. My guess is that he writes similarly harsh polemics about new calendar Orthodox and the Patriarch of Constantinople.

    I am always struck dumbfounded when I read comments that the theology of the Immaculate Conception was a medieval invention. I can understand arguments that it was “unnecessary” from an Orthodox perspective to declare it a dogma. That is a reasonable argument worthy of debate. But any suggestions that it being codified by the West diminishes the deposit or was a completely new opinion is simply false. The IC is an ancient opinion held by many fathers of the undivided Church. Eastern Christianity included. Many notable Patriarchs of Constantinople as well.

    The especially strong polemical language by Maximovitch toward the RCC is not grounded in historical truth but seems to be rather a device for persuasion and self assurance. I found it interesting reading his bio that he like my ancestors fled the Bolshevik revolution. So much hate and distrust. What a waste.

  9. Irenaeus of New York Says:

    [—
    My guess is that he writes similarly harsh polemics about new calendar Orthodox and the Patriarch of Constantinople.
    —]

    And quick search of mine just revealed both.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    The calendar was a very different issue, to a degree, when St. John wrote the Patriarch of Constantinople of whom he complains is certainly one of the odder 20th century patriarchs. The bitterness between Orthodox and RC has certainly been strong at points within history (despite the occasional common enemy). History has much to do with it. I have read fairly good material from RC’s on the Immaculate Conception that point out precisely what you are noting. I would be interested sometime to read a more contemporary response from the Orthodox on the matter.

    St. John Maximovitch’s life is worth reading – he’s an interesting saint – both a bishop and a “holy fool” (urodivi).

  11. Ryan Says:

    I have no knowledge of patristic opinions either way, though I have read Aquinas’ oponion on the subject. But as a former Roman Catholic (who was taught the dogma very poorly. It was kinda glossed over in CCD, and in my wife’s RCIA lessons…), I struggle with several elements of it. Irenaeus, I’d be interested in hearing your learned opinion.
    1) The original sin punishment vs ancestral sin consequence angle has been discussed already. But from that perspective, do Roman Catholics dogmatically believe that Mary ever died, or that she was assumed while alive? The ancient story, of course, is about her funeral and 3rd day ascension. Moreover, the older art (such as in Basilica di Maria Maggiore in Rome) also represents her death. How does this reconcile? If she had been freed from the power of death, should she have ever died? Or would it be more like considered a “pre-conception baptism”.
    2) Much is made in both traditions that Mary is the New Eve. That she said “yes” to God, as opposed to Eve’s “no”. If she had been free of original or committed sin, could she have even said no? It seems to me that she would instead have been among the angels. It also seems to me therefore, that the dogma downplays her virtue.
    3) What is the role of St Joachim in a system where original sin is transmitted via concupiscience?
    4) Lastly, I want to say this, particularly in light of John Maximovitch’s lecture. (who I take was simply forcefully defending a certain position toward an Orthodox audience. This was not meant to offend Catholics, because it wasn’t addressed to Catholics) It seems to me that IC was a pious opinion held by many, meant to further exalt the Blessed Mother. Though original sin is a topic that warrants discussion in ecumenical dialogue, the *intent* behind the dogma of IC is virtuous and does not need to be criticised harshly.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    I have taken the liberty to remove some responses centering on the Virgin Mary and current doctrines (specifically differences between RC and Orthodox approach and understanding).

    These distinctions involve some relatively subtle matters and should be handled with respect and care. Orthodox and Catholic theologians speak carefully in these matters, I suggest. There are Orthodox objections to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception – this is well known. Some Orthodox support for it (in some of the fathers) is, I think, a failure to distinguish between the Orthodox acceptance that Mary is free from sin (maintains the integrity of her person, etc.) and the whole matter as understood in a more Augustinian sense.

    But I would prefer that we not engage in debates on this matter here on this site. The Mother of God and her place within the Church, it seems to me, should be handled with greater care.

  13. alex Says:

    Ryan,

    I don’t know what the intent was. I don’t think, however, that anyone is criticizing the intent. Whether the dogma itself should be criticized harshly, I think it should, as did many Cathoilcs who vehemently opposed it.

    Regarding your first question, I asked this to my own Catholic priest when I was going through RCIA. The answer was that you can believe either way. HOWEVER – many Catholics, especially those brought up in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council, were indeed taught that she did not die.

    I actually brought up this point to a friend of mine in the Catholic seminary, and his answer horrified me. His words were that the Blessed Mother didn’t want to appear more powerful than her son, so she willed herself to die.

    This is the crux of the matter – if the Catholic Church does teach a doctrine of original ‘guilt’ which many (thought not all) Catholics deny, then we do not agree on that basis. If, however, the Catholic church teaches that she was preserved from an ontological state of fallenness, then she was not fallen and does not need redemption.

    Fr. Alexander Schmemman addresses this latter point very briefly in For the Life of the World, in which he writes (please correct me if I am wrong, I don’t have the book at hand right now) that the true meaning of the title ‘Virgin’ Mary, is that she is waiting. She is waiting for a deliverer to come into her heart. The Immaculate Conception, he writes, essentially denies this.

    For your second question, I think that it’s not unfair to say that the West and East’s understanding of the will might be different here. For example, in the Western Catholic Church, infants cannot receive the Eucharist, the logic being that they cannot comprehend what it is, and therefore cannot ‘say yes’ to it, so to speak.

    For the Orthodox, it is quite possible for Mary to have said yes to God as an adult, as a teenager, as a child, as an infant, and even in the womb (please correct me if I am wrong on this point). Therefore it is possible for her to have been preserved from sin from the moment of her conception, and yet it is not necessary for the Lord to have redeemed her before she ever existed.

  14. alex Says:

    Apologies, Father, I hadn’t seen your post before I put mine up. Feel free to remove it.

  15. T Stanton Says:

    Father –

    I think you’re clearly right on the lack of emphasis within Protestant traditions on the participation and union of the Christian with Christ in salvation.

    It’s most painfully obvious to me as a long-time Protestant in the Biblical texts associated with salvation in the Protestant churches: John 3, Eph 2, and the Romans’ passages. Growing up – Jesus’ prayers in John 17 were never even mentioned as relevant. But even a casual reading of these texts presents a much more radical and complete salvation than the typical notion of “being saved.”

    Thanks so much for continuing to highlight this participatory notion and its fulfillment and example in the life of Mary,

    Tom

  16. Marigold Says:

    Thanks, Fr. Stephen, for your thoughts. They have given me a lot to think about🙂

    My query was not so much about Mary’s ‘level’ of holiness (what with Immaculate Conception etc.) so much as her place in the Orthodox picture of salvation. My original contemplation came about because of this new prayer book I am using, which surprised me with how much emphasis on the Theotokos there was. I started thinking about the term ‘co-redemptrix’ – I’m sorry if I gave the impression I thought it was a RC doctrine, I know it’s disputed – and wondered if it could have a place in Orthodox thinking. I mean the term in its true sense, as in ‘saves with’ or ‘helps save’ rather than any suggestion of equality to Christ.

    Some Catholic friends use the phrase ‘to Jesus through Mary’ as a way of explaining it. While on the one hand, I’ve wondered if ‘co-redemptrix’ could have a home in Orthodoxy, it also seems to me that in Orthodoxy it’s the other way around: ‘to Mary through Jesus’ (though with the obvious difference that Mary is not the ‘goal’). This seems to be more in line with what you write, e.g. “the place to begin with Mary is not to begin with her – but to begin with the understanding of our participation (koinonia) in the life of Christ.” That in looking at everything in the context of Christ Jesus, we can come to know and understand the Theotokos. Is that about right?

    Marigold.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    “That in looking at everything in the context of Christ Jesus, we can come to know and understand the Theotokos. Is that about right?”

    I would think it’s the only way.

    A common phrase in Orthodox prayers is: “Through the prayers of holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us.” I always think of Sodom and Gomorrah, which, had they been saved, would have had to say, “Through the prayers of Father Abraham, have mercy on us and save us.” I might add, I think often of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah and wonder how many Christians would venture such prayer.

  18. Brandon Says:

    Forgive me Father for a brief and incidental comment.

    I would suggest anyone who finds St. John Maximovitch to be hateful or distrusting read his life, “Blessed John the Wonderworker: A Preliminary Account of the Life and Miracles of Archbishop John Maximovitch” (the “green book”). He was caring and loving to all, be they Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, agnostic or atheist. Not having been one to mince words when it came to doctrine does not mean he was hostile to any person or people. He loved and prayed for all.

  19. Dn Marty Says:

    It is a thought provoking question indeed. I tend to start with the name – Theotokos. It is not as much a statement about Mary as the child she bore, and in point of fact is a “Christological” statement (meaning, descriptive of Christ).

    I also keep in mind that when we pray, Mary is described as “one of the saints.” In that light, she may be preeminent among saints, but one of them she remains.

    The participation an individual has in one’s salvation has always intrigued me. The idea of theosis as the goal of life is certainly an encouraging, if not mysterious, element to our daily life. I also consider the central gift of God to be our free will – he gave many things life, but free will is the exclusive property of mankind. Somehow an “immaculate conception”, to me, compromises free will. Co-redemptrix could be applicable, but to the extent that others participate in our salvation, they are also co-redeemers.

    The Africans have a word – Ubuntu – meaning “I am who I am because of who we all are.” That may be the best description of salvation I’ve yet heard.

    In Christ,
    Dn. Marty
    Dayton, Ohio / Nashville, Tennessee

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    Brandon,

    That’s quite true. I know people who knew him and have read much about him. I have never heard of any unkindness. He was indeed a “holy fool” and quite unique – but, if you will, “foolish” in his kindness and love for others.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    After reading some responses to Catholic teaching here, as a Roman who loves the East, I want to say something…Feel free to delete or keep. But if you, as a priest, will read it on your own I would be most blessed. Thank you.

    While I love your blog, Father Stephen, and I have been blessed greatly as a Roman Catholic by my experiences within the Orthodox Church, I must say that there is a strong strain of anti-Catholicism that runs through Orthodoxy every day. Especially in the US where much of American Orthodoxy, like the OCA, is made up of converts from former Protestant churches. Converts who were already raised to be anti-Catholic and never challenged to give up some of that prejudice on becoming Orthodox. The arguments made in defense of Orthodoxy can often be found in defense of Roman Catholicism as well. Most of these converts know so little about the RC Church that they have no idea they are claiming Catholics believe things they never have. But yet, they speak with the same false authority against Rome as a silly Jack Chick tract at Halloween. When I speak of authority I am speaking just as I said and not authority through the Sacraments.

    Orthodoxy has far more in common with Roman Catholicism and especially with the Eastern Catholic Churches than it does with any other Protestant denomination on earth. However, as a RC I have had the door slammed in my face more times than I can count by Orthodox pals, because I mentioned, casually, prayer through the Rosary or the Immaculate Conception or Latin, because these are part of my life as a Catholic, and as a Catholic, I can find much more in common with my Orthodox neighbors than I can with the Baptists. However, I have learned that the Orthodox often side with curious Baptists long before they would with curious Romans. They even still often rudely refer to us as “papists” and “romanists” just as they did when they were part of the Assemblies of God and had no idea what the Eucharist was when we were taking it every Sunday after Confession.

    Disagreements between Orthodoxy and RC doctrine or dogma are fine. Dogma will never change, but doctrine is fluid. But what I hear most often from Orthodoxy – which Rome considers as having the same Fullness of the Gospel – is, “We have long memories.” As if the sacking of Constantinople is still something that anyone on Earth today should be struggling to forgive. Even our grandparents did not face this. The Doctrine of Original sin is still haulted on the Orthodox end, because they say they have not had enough years to discuss it. Though Catholic sources have been trying to discuss if for years with the East. It is as Frederica Matthews-Green says about the Orthodox response to the Catholic outreach to what it alone considers its Sister Church, “Take this olive branch and shove it.” It makes no difference that Rome has apologized and tried to backtrack many times to bring its Sister along, to consider fully her side of the story. It’s over. We are an unforgiven people in Rome. This is the message I get from the Orthodox, and when former Protesting Christians are added to that mix – it gets even uglier for the Catholic trying to make peace with or simply experience Orthodoxy.

    It seems that every other Christian is bound to forgive and not keep a record of wrongs, but the Orthodox can freely – especially against their Roman Catholic brothers – hold whatever sin against them they choose. I am sure the Orthodox would see it differently, but I have met very few Orthodox who actually care what Roman Catholics feel in the presence of Orthodoxy. It feels the same as attending a Seventh Day Adventist Church that refers to Rome as “The Whore of Babylon”. To be Catholic in the non-Catholic East to promise to disappear as a Catholic completely.

    I urge you to just skim through a few highly acclaimed Orthodox blogs and see how often Rome is attacked. Try and see it through Roman eyes and not former Anglican ones. The one thing that makes Orthodoxy exactly like every other church on Earth is their strong dicontent for the Church of Rome. It is one of the main reasons I cannot bring my family into the Orthodox Church. Why? So they can hear their beloved – though shrinking in our part of the country – Roman Catholic faith be maligned and corrected at every turn?

    Rome has no friends in Orthodoxy, and yet, Rome is both East and West. Often, I see this on your blog as well. Mostly through comments, but sometimes, even you, Father Stephen, speak out against Rome in a manner that does not rightly reflect what Rome teaches at all.

    Please forgive me if I have offended. I will say no more, nor will I respond to other comments on this subject. I just wanted to speak in defense of Rome for a moment.

    Anonymous

  22. Fr Paul Yerger Says:

    Very good, as usual Father. Just one correction – Professor Serge Verhovskoy was not a clergyman.
    – Fr. Paul

  23. fatherstephen Says:

    Anonymous,

    I appreciate your candor – and I sure your observations are accurate. I cross the line, I am sure. There is an Orthodox witness of Rome – that is fair and honest – and would carry appropriate (from an Orthodox understanding) critiques. Having said that is also to say that it is not appropriate to declare “open season” and repeat unfair or inaccurate accusations, etc. And I’m sure that stuff is painful to hear.

    There is a defensiveness in Orthodoxy, sometimes appropriate, when we are told how close we are to Rome – and there is a reaction to in fact say that from the “inside” we are quite distinct. But this is sort of one of the sticking points between Rome and Orthodoxy. For Rome, there is the possibility of the “big tent” (if you will) such a tent, from an Orthodox perspective, seems to mean the end of Orthodoxy, and thus there’s a sort of stiffness when such suggestions arise.

    There is an Orthodox fear of Rome – a fear that she simply means to swallow us all. Something that would be perhaps less frightening (though still frightening) were not the state of Roman Catholicism itself in such shambles (not that Orthodoxy is without its rickety points as well).

    I appreciate the feedback and will do my best to pay attention to myself wherever charity and kindness could be more greatly extended. May God bless you and keep you!

  24. Fr. Vasile Tudora Says:

    Greetings in the name of the Lord!
    As everybody knows already the “disagreement” with our brothers from the RC is not new. The roots are deep: theological, political, cultural.
    The problem I have with all the “closeness” between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the RC is that this is more of a wishful thought than a material thing. There are for sure some very good people that want this closeness genuinely, but I don’t think this is true at the high levels of the hierarchy.
    The fear that the Orthodox have, as very well Fr. Stephen has noted, is that of a massive absorbtion in the great vacuum cleaner of the global papal ruling of the world.
    This is not just a paranoid dream. I am originally from Romania and I know what the RC can do when it decides to convince people to join in. The Uniate Church in Transilvania is a living example of that. Orthodox priests, bishops and laity were lured by Jesuits into a great scheme, promissed this and that, just to be incorporated in the RC. Monasteries were blassted with canons, priests and people killed for it. The same happened in Ukraine, Poland and so forth.
    I agree that sometime the Orthodox tone may be a bit rough, and may not plese the RC ears. We can probably do better there. But none of this changes the Truth, and the truth hurts sometimes…

  25. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, Fr. Paul. My mistake.

  26. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless!

    Anonymous, as a former Protestant with all of those anti-RC prejudices, my heart goes out to you! Do please forgive us! I did learn over the course of my Christian life as I matured that all the vices I was initially overeager to attribute mainly to Roman Catholics in my ignorance were also present in any and all other Christian communions and religious (or non-religious) faiths! I hope it will encourage you to know that becoming Orthodox made me repent of much (if not all) of my anti-RC prejudice. As a Protestant, there were already Roman Catholics I really appreciated: Mother Teresa (an obvious choice!), Henri Nouen, a couple of the nuns in the convent where I worked as a dishwasher in between high school and college, to name just a few. When I was little before such prejudice had a chance to take hold, I lived in Northern Ireland, and our next door neighbor was a quiet RC widow. She seemed like a perfectly lovely neighbor, and I couldn’t understand why two groups of people Protestants and Catholics who both claimed the name of Jesus Christ could live in such enmity with one another (I didn’t even know the Orthodox existed at that time). Oh, to have the eyes of a child in all things! It has been strange indeed to realize as an Orthodox that in many areas (such as ecclesiology and sacramental understandings, and many aspects of the life of prayer) I now really feel that greater commonality with my Roman Catholic brethren than with my evangelical ones. I know you would find a warm welcome in my OCA parish. Our Rector is himself the son of an Orthodox dad and RC mom. Another of our Priests is a former Byzantine Catholic. I pray you may find such a parish in your area where you feel welcome as an inquirer. In the meantime, forgive many of us our boorish ignorance!

  27. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Vasile’s concerns are not uncommon within Orthodox and are rooted, not in ancient history but a much more living memory. The world is not America.

    My larger concern (not with Rome but with the world) is the vast, all-pervasive challenge of secularism (as culture and philosophy). It is with this that my series on the “One-Storey Universe” concerns itself. No greater challenge to the fundamental life of Orthodoxy exists.

    Here, I tend to be less than sanguine about relations with the Roman Catholic Church, simply because it has uncritically imbibed in the secular culture within the late 20th century. Too much of the Orthodox world has this battle as well. Ecumenism is a side-show in comparison. I am not interested in closer relations with anything that is more deeply secularized than Orthodoxy already is.

    I am interested, however, in being of help to any and all Christians in their struggle with the same thing. I believe, ultimately, that this battle is best fought as an Orthodox Christian. I am uncertain about what help Rome can be at the present. It has so much of its own life to address. The recovery of an authentic Christian life – formed from the Tradition and not as an accommodation to modernity – would make conversation more fruitful.

    Actually – I’m interested in the RC’s who pray the Rosary and struggle to fast in a traditional manner. When I read RC material it reminds me very much of the material I knew as an Anglican. Those who hold the tradition tend to see much of the Church (other than the one on paper) as the adversary. There is almost nothing but the wind of reform (blowing in two different directions).

    I would like to see the wind settle a bit before much conversation. Reform is a modern spirit even when the wind is blowing in directions that I like.

    I prefer a life of obedience and not reforming the Church. Thus I am touchy in the area of these conversations. But I seriously do not want to be unkind.

  28. Fr. Vasile Tudora Says:

    Neither I don’t wish to be unkind Fr. Stephen. I genuinely think that there is more that unites us than takes us apart. Some of the differences however are substantial and cannot be easily passed by for the sake of a misunderstood ecumenism.

    The secularism is indeed a great negative force in any Church today and our beloved Orthodoxy is not immune to it, especialy in America, but not necessarily. Greece, Romania, even the pravoslavnik Russia are infected by this virus.

    The current generation has a tendency of accepting the modern many times before accepting tradition. The modern seems to bring freshness, novelty, but unfortunately one that does not last. While Tradition, as old as it may seem to some has a certain ingredient that keeps it from going bad, the Holy Spirit.

    A Russian theologian (Kuraev) said once in an article that Orthodoxy is Christ seen through the eyes of the Apostles. I like that because is the genuine vision of Christ. This vision is preserved in Tradition. Reform has the tendency to blur it and make it unrecognizable.

  29. Meskerem Says:

    To add another history to Fr.Vasile’s point the same happened in Ethiopia the first Bishop Freminatos or Abuna Salama ordained by St. Athanasius in Alexandria was never broken until the 16 th century. King Suseynos (1607-32) became Catholic in the hope of an advantgeous militry alliance with the west, but his successor drove the Catholic missionaires out of Ethiopia again when they tried to assert full-blown Catholicism. Alphonsus Mendes (Catholic), who was sent out as patriarch of Ethiopia, demanded that all Ethiopian Christians be re-baptized, and the priests re-ordained, though he permitted the married priests to remain married. He prohibited the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition and customs (mostly Jewish)and suggested a lot of changes. There was war and people were so strong to keep the faith and overturned to go back to Orthodoxy until the late King there was no other. Catholic Missions were not allowed in Ethiopia until the early 19th century because of this.

  30. Steve Says:

    This is not a happy time for Ethiopian Christians (nor for Eritreans — Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in the early 90s).

    All churches apart from ‘state sanctioned’ churches have been closed or are in the process of being closed, in both countries.

    Hundreds of Christian leaders (mostly Pentecostals) languish in prison, many have been tortured, some killed.

    Both governments are competing amongst themselves with regards to their use of repressive force and both have shifted radically to the left (like China). It is illegal to leave Eritrea, even for a holiday.

    When the Eritreans pray for rain, it floods.

  31. Steve Says:

    Just thought I’d add some context to your history, Meskerem. Thank you for your time.

    Steve

  32. Darlene Says:

    I will address this to Anonymous in particular but all in general, for I think that all of us, whether we be Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, other, can relate to what I have to say in some fashion.

    Having been raised as an atheist/agnostic, I was basically made to feel that all those who believed in God, (whatever God/god that was) were mistaken. So, I didn’t have an anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant upbringing so much as an anti-theist one. Although if my grandmother had opportunity, she would caution me against trusting my Catholic friends because they could lie and then just go to Confession. However, the same woman could watch Billy Graham Crusades and make snide, sarcastic remarks. So it was equal opportunity prejudice on all that had some kind of faith in God.

    With that said, things changed when I became a “born-again” Chrisitan. Anti-Catholic sentiments existed in abundance within most of my Protestant experince. Some of these sentiments were subtle, others outright Jack Chickish. Fact is, I handed out those nonsensical tracts when I first became a Christian. But I was a mere infant in the faith and arrogant to boot.

    Fast-forward to about three and a half years ago when the doubts about my faith tradition began to emerge regarding Protestant Evangelicalism in particular, yet all Protestants in general. I took the route of seriously investigating Catholicism, sneeking off to Mass (just like a did as a young adolescent with my Catholic friend :)) and having long discussions with a priest. I latched onto anything Catholic that I could get my hands on. I began attending RCIA with the intention to become Catholic, even if my husband, family and friends all rejected me. My Protestant friends who were former Catholics were the most upset and astonished that I would want to go the way of Rome. The warnings were issued, the attempts at convincing me of the RCC’s departure from the truth.

    During the course of my quest into Catholicism, the priest made it known that for me to become Catholic, I would have to “believe all that the Church teaches.” What a daunting task lay before me, but I pursued it with great earnest and intensity. Every waking moment aside from work was consumed with reading about Catholic doctrine/dogma, practices and history. And I must say that I prayed during this time with such a yearning to know the truth.

    Needless to say, all the studying raised MANY questions of which I would present to Father “P.” As time went on, I came to realize that I could not resolve some very nagging questions within me and therefore, I could not in good conscience become a Roman Catholic. One of the most nagging, puzzling questions that would trouble me to no end was the vast difference between pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Catholicism. What I discovered is that a conspicuous chasm existed between tradtional Catholic teaching and practice, and current Catholic teaching and practice. For example, when I would read various Catholic books on piety, prayer, devotion, worship, etc., and then attend Mass, I could barely even see a resemblance between the two. How could the reverent worship in song, praise, and prayer of the past be replaced with psuedo-Protestantism, I wondered. And what of these Teen Masses and modern liturgical music that attempted to make the faith more relevant. Even worse were the liberal ideas that seemed to flourish in the post-Vatican II RCC. The Catholicism I longed for I could not find in actuality, only on paper and in history.

    I say all of this with great sadness as I did go through a period of mourning in realizing that I could not be a Catholic. But I have come to believe that the biggest problem within the RCC is a misled ecumenism. So it is that I have an ardent mistrust of this kind of ecumenism for I believe it compromises on the most holy, unchanging, apostolic, Orthodox, Catholic faith. Due to my strong conviction on this matter, it may seem that I am anti-Catholic, but I am not in the sense that many Catholics use that term. I know what it was like to be anti-Catholic having been one as a zealous Protestant Evangelical. I no longer hold on to those false notions. However, this does not mean that because I have this strong conviction against Roman Catholic ecumenism that I personally judge the salvation of Catholics or have ill-will toward them. But I must disagree and sometimes disagreement can be misunderstood or misconstrued.

    May God bless you as you grow closer to our Lord Jesus Christ. If I have offended you in any way, Anonymous, forgive me. It was not my intention.

    Lex orandi, lex credendi!

    Darlene

  33. Stephen Says:

    I was thinking that sometime there is a hang up on the words that we use but sometimes just the presence of Orthodoxy can be hurtful to many. Saying that we are the “True Church” seems to close many doors to thoughtful dialog. I am not sure that “The fullness of Faith” rings any better for the same people that would take offense at “True Church” terminology. Saying one thing is full implies that another thing is less than full, even if unintentional. Even while saying that “I am not saying what is not the Church, I am only saying where the Church is” can avoid a yelling match or a fist fight it also stands as a statement that makes someone feel small. We also live in a culture that is afraid to step on toes during discussions and debates are almost considered rude and uncalled for. We are often times willing to cover the truth for the sake of appeasement. I say all this to say that, I am not sure there can always be fruitful ground for discussion with a good majority of people standing outside of Orthodoxy. Even within the Orthodox Church the word ecumenism can be a word that connotes abandonment of all that is true for some and simply a healthy dialog for others. But we do have to take a stand for what we believe and I am not saying that discussion is a bad thing but I am pretty sure that at the very least our words should match our actions and that our Orthodox lives should stand as a witness to the “Truth”. In my own case I must personally refrain from telling family members and friends that I am in the true faith however true this may be. (I had a book sitting on my shelf at home entitled “the Fullness of Faith” which provoked a pretty strong reaction from a protestant Christian and as long as I held the views that the title suggested the conversation was over.) On the internet, no one can see how I live my life but in real life people are watching carefully to see how this truth that is claimed is lived out. I also realize more and more how foreign Orthodoxy is to our culture and that it leads us down a path that can separate us from others in different ways. For example the simple word “quiet” or “stillness” doesn’t mean quite the same things outside of Orthodoxy- at least when speaking to Protestant Friends and family. The spirit of the world and culture that we live in is anything but quiet, yet this doesn’t seem to bother the majority of those I come into contact with who consider themselves Christian. Just some thoughts as I try to live out an Orthodox life and maintain genuine conversation and peace with others. Sorry for the ramble, just some observations and a desire to know how to relate to those around me with sincerity and love.

  34. Karen Says:

    Stephen, being the only Orthodox in my family, I can really relate to what you say. May the Holy Spirit guide all our thoughts and words as we seek to live out the Truth and communicate it to others. Context is really everything, and in my experience it takes a long time to even begin to understand the Orthodox context for most western Christians. I have found it helpful to qualify any statements about Orthodoxy being the fullness of the faith with the understanding that the Orthodox Church does not have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, and we are speaking about what is dogmatically and liturgically taught (and experienced as it is lived faithfully), not about the personal holiness or salvation of individuals within and without the fold (except perhaps as pertains the Saints!). I also genuinely find heroes of the faith who stimulate and encourage my faith even outside of Orthodoxy, and I try to be quick in my acknowledgement of such. (Even St. Isaac of Syria was technically outside the Orthodox Church in his lifetime, though he is one of the most beloved Saints claimed by the Orthodox!) Knowing we might never have a chance to explain these things to some though, I always come back to Fr. Stephen’s posts about living the Cross being the only true and effective Orthodox apologetic. On the other hand, don’t be discouraged if you think you have said too much or non-Orthodox in your acquaintance come upon some Orthodox teaching that offends them. It was precisely in grappling with Orthodox ecclesiology and soteriology (though it initially frightened and offended me) that I came to realize indeed that the fullness of the faith is found in the Orthodox Church, and that I needed to be united with her.

  35. Revealing Orthodoxy – 1 « Sowing Seeds of Orthodoxy Says:

    […] https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/the-fullness-of-faith/ […]

  36. Stephen Says:

    Karen, Thanks for the encouragement. There are no easy answers or guidelines here. When we are dealing with people and not just words, therfore words can quickly become inadequate to express our lives in the Church.

  37. sowingseedsoforthodoxy Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen,
    I’ve been giving quotes from the Church Fathers on my new blog-webite site which is to help make Orthodoxy known. I recently was shown that this approach was lacking in telling my readers about Orthodoxy. Having already been given your permission to quote your material, this blog on the “Fulness” will be of great help. Thanks. Herman Art

  38. J.D. Says:

    As a relatively new convert from the protestant world it seems to make more sense when I say, “for me I have come to appreciate a deeper understanding of communion with God and a fullness of the divine Holy Trinity”. I can always stand on that because I am striving to live it and absorb it. Of course I find that in Orthodoxy, but I am discovering that many born and raised into Orthodoxy might not even understand what I just said. Protestants see the church as a collection of the people. One’s personal public journey either presents Orthodoxy’s fullness or it creates puzzlement if it is not kept real.

    And oh to God that I could always keep it real.

  39. Fr. Vasile Tudora Says:

    Ssome people accuse our protestant brothers of quoting the Bible too much and actually hiding behind the Bible. Others say that protestant-converts to Orthodoxy keep doing the same thing as they discover Holy Tradition only now they quote the Fathers. Of course this is not true in all cases🙂

    In fact what we are called to do is live the Bible as we live the Holy Tradition. That’s why I personally have a problem with the term “Bible study” per se, because the Bible is not to be studied and analyzed like a novel or a scientific paper, but it exist first of all to be followed, to be applied in our daily lives.

    This is why sometimes quotations seem dry and inadequate. I for one prefer the Lives of the Saints or the stories of the Desert Fathers, because they are not just theoretical theology, but is theology embedded into practice. It is so much easier to follow a living example.

    Here is one of my favorites (I quote form memory)

    A father that had a good handwriting was asked by a brother to copy for him the New Testament. While doing this the father was taken up into prayer in ecstasy and skipped a number of chapters. A week after, the brother that ordered the copy came back saying: “you skipped a number of chapters, please copy them for me”. The father handed him back the copy saying, “Fulfill first what I’ve already copied for you and then come back to me for the other ones”

    In the end it is not how much we know of the Fathers but how much we apply…

  40. Steve Says:

    Meskerem,

    In Ethiopia, members of Churches that are not ‘state sanctioned’ are not now persecuted by government, a welcome policy shift.

    In Eritrea the situation remains difficult but it is precisely in this that the glory of God is made visible. (God’s glory is never anywhere diminished of course…).

    Once again, thank you for your time.

    Many blessings to you and your family.

    Steve

  41. Fullness and Focus « Arms Open Wide Says:

    […] here what Father Stephen has to say about The Fullness of the Faith at Glory to God for All Things: https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/the-fullness-of-faith/ Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)the 318 Fathers of the 1st Council of […]

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