Monday, June 19, 2017

Uncovering the Truth: Head Coverings and Revisionist Biblical Interpretation

The misnamed blog Public Orthodoxy, which spends most of its efforts attacking the tradition of the Orthodox Church, recently published an article by Mark Arey, "Submission, Sexism, and Head Coverings," which attempts to undermine the Church's long established tradition of women covering their heads in Church. The article focuses its attention on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which provides the Scriptural basis for this tradition. What is most noteworthy about this article is that it does not cite a single Father of the Church to support any of its contentions regarding the practice in question -- which is of course because there are none that could have been cited for that purpose. But in addition to lacking in any support from the Fathers of the Church, the interpretations put forth by Mark Arey also have scant support from Protestant biblical scholarship.

Mark Arey's argument in this essay runs along these lines: He first argues that this passage is focused only on married women. Then he argues that when St. Paul speaks of the need for a woman to have "authority on her head because of the angels," that this actually means that a woman should have authority over her husband (whom St. Paul refers to as the head of the wife) in a sense analogous to the mutual authority that a husband and wife have over each other's bodies in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-4), and that it somehow pleases the angels to see the mutual balance in the equal relationship of the husband and wife. He further argues that St. Paul is not really requiring any women (married or not) to wear any kind of head covering, so long as they have long hair, which he argues is an alternative covering, according to his reading of this passage.

So lets take a closer look at the merits of his line of reasoning here..

Married Women, or All Women?

One thing that Mark Arey does here, is he translates the word "woman" (in Greek: γυνή gunē, from whence the word "gynecology" comes) as "wife", without any acknowledgment that this is a highly questionable choice in translation. Few translations do this, the ESV being one exceptional example, but most (the KJV, DRV, RSV, NRSV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, CEV, etc) do not. Anthony C. Thiselton, in his his rather exhaustive commentary on First Corinthians, acknowledges that the husband and wife relationship is a major aspect of the context of this passage, but states that this nevertheless "does not justify restricting the translation of γυνή  to wife rather than woman (NRSV, NIV, REB, NJB) as if the emphasis were exclusive" (The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2000) p. 832).

Mark Arey cites an article which claims that it was Jewish custom for unmarried women to be unveiled, and so he again tries to advance the notion that head coverings were only obligatory for married women. However, whatever his intended point here might be, it is difficult to see how this argument squares with his subsequent argument that long hair can serve as a covering in place of a veil. If that is so, then is he arguing that unmarried women at the time had short hair until they got married? If all that St. Paul was concerned about here was that women have long hair, why mention head coverings at all? And is it really likely, that the problem in the Corinthian Church was a rash of women with butch haircuts? I am not aware of any published commentary of any significance that makes such a case.

Greco-Roman Cultural Norms, or Christian Standards?

It has often been argued that in this passage, St. Paul was simply demanding that women maintain the cultural norms of the time and place in which they were written, but the fact of the matter is that in Roman and Greek culture, it was not mandatory for women to have their heads covered in public or in religious services. Head coverings were certainly not unknown, but there was no cultural requirement for it. There is no evidence that only prostitutes in that culture went about with uncovered heads either. If you look at Greek and Roman statues and paintings of women, you find both covered and uncovered heads. It was not the cultural norms of the pagan Greeks or Romans that St. Paul was advancing, but rather the cultural norms of pious Old Testament Jewish custom that he was instructing Christian women everywhere to follow when praying or prophesying. It should also be noted that one should not assume that later Jewish customs prevailed in the first century, but rather look at the more contemporary evidence of that practice. For example, Tertullian, who was a North African Roman living in a culture very close in time and practice to that of St. Paul, noted that Jewish women were notable and stood out of the crowd because they so consistently covered their heads (De Corona, 4, see also Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 3, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1964-1976), p. 562f) -- and so the actual evidence points to this being a specifically Christian requirement, rooted in Jewish custom.

But how can we be sure that St. Paul really intended to say that this was something he expected of all Christian women, regardless of the cultural norms of their society? Well, for one thing, he brackets this passage with two appeals to the tradition of the Church. At the beginning, he says: "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions, as I delivered them to you." And at the end of this passage, addressing those who wish to do contrary to this tradition, he says in verse 16: "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do the churches of God." The universal practice of the Church (and even of those mainstream Christian groups outside of the Orthodox Church) prior to the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show was for women to cover their heads in Church. I was raised in an Evangelical Protestant context, but I am old enough to remember the vestiges of this practice as a boy, even among the non-liturgical "holy-rollers" that I observed. And so we know that this is what St. Paul meant, because this is how two millennia of Christians have understood what he meant. It is only within living memory (i.e. post-sexual revolution) that this question has suddenly become a problem for some.

A scene from the 1955 movie "A Man Called Peter," which was a biographical film about the (then) nationally known Presbyterian minister Peter Marshall. The scene is depicting a Church service in the 1930's in Washington D.C., and you will note that every woman has some sort of head covering.

Furthermore, we can look at our iconographic tradition. It is extremely rare to see any icon that depicts a mature woman without a head covering. St. Mary of Egypt and our First mother Eve are the only examples that comes to mind to the contrary. In the case of St. Mary of Egypt, this is because the clothes that she wore into the desert rotted off of her, and she had only the tattered monastic cloak given to her by St. Zosima. In the case of Eve, she is depicted before fall in such a way as to convey the fact that she and her husband were "naked and unashamed." And then after the fall, she is shown with either the fig leaves she and Adam cobbled together, or the garments of skin given to her by the Lord. In both cases, their own stories require these depictions. Aside from that, if there are any other examples, they would be extremely rare, and probably aberrations from the general mainstream iconographic tradition.

Authority on the Head?

The King James provides a very literal translation of verse 10*:
"For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels." 
"διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους." 

The word translated as "power" here (ἐξουσία) is usually taken to refer to the power of an authority. and most translations add some words to clarify the meaning. for example:
"For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head because of the angels."
Mark Arey dismisses this, because the word "sign" or "symbol" is not there in the Greek. However, it is often the case when translating from one language to another that one has to supply some words that are not literally in the original in order to convey the actual sense of what the other words (which are in the original) actually mean in their particular arrangement in a given context.

And for Orthodox Christians, if we have any doubt about the meaning of a text like this, our first resort should be to the Fathers of the Church, and as Thiselton observes,
"most patristic commentators saw no problem in understanding ἐξουσία in an active sense as a metonymy for a sign of power over. Chrysostom observes: "Being covered is a mark of subjection and authority" [St. John Chrysostom, Homily 26:5 on First Corinthians], and Theophylact explicitly understands the metonymic sign of power. Ireneaus understands κάλυμμα [veil,  Against Heresies 1:8:2] here" (Thiselton, p. 838).
To these three fathers, we could add the following examples:
"By authority he referred to the covering, as if to say, Let her show her subjection by covering herself, and not least for the sake of the angels, who are set over human beings and entrusted with their care" (Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Vol. 1, trans. Robert Charles Hill, (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), p. 205).
"The veil signifies power, and the angels are bishops, as it says in the Revelation of John, where, because they are men, they are criticized for not rebuking the people, though good behavior on their part is also praised" (Ancient Christian Texts: Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians, Ambrosiaster, translated and edited by Gerald L. Bray (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2009) p. 143).p. 172
Furthermore, I think it is safe to say that no Church Father ever took this passage as if it referred to a wife having authority over her husband, because if any did, those who dispute the traditional practice of head coverings would have alerted us to such statements long ago.

We should also wonder why, if in fact St. Paul was affirming the equality of the wife with her husband in verse 10 that he would have felt the need to follow that verse with a statement that affirmed that very thing, but which begins with "Nevertheless" (πλήν):
"Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God" (1 Corinthians 11:11-2).
Clearly, these verses are meant to balance out what precedes it, which would be unnecessary if what precedes it said essentially the same thing. Thiselton, approvingly referencing the commentary of Gordon Fee, writes:
"Fee rightly observes, "With these two sets of sentences, in each of which woman and man are in balanced pairs, Paul qualified the preceding argument." The strong force of πλήν, nevertheless, confirms this" (Thiselton, p. 842, emphasis in the original).
There are some Protestant commentators that argue that what St. Paul is saying here is that a woman ought to keep power over her own head by wearing a veil and thus either protecting herself from others in public (through her modesty), or from fallen angels, or both; and some have argued that it was a sign a woman was empowered to prophesy (Thiselton, p. 837-841). However, no Protestant commentator of any significance, as best as I can tell, has ever attempted to put forth any interpretation remotely similar to that of Mark Arey.

The idea that a wife is in some respects under the authority of her husband does not require an affirmation that women are inferior to men, anymore than the fact that Christ submitted Himself to the will of His Father implies inequality in the Godhead. Commenting on the meaning of "head" (κεφαλή) in this passage, Thiselton notes:
"Chrysostom is highly sensitive to the multivalency of κεφαλή in 1 Cor 11:3. Chrysostom is aware that a parallel between men/women and God/Christ should not give "the heretics" grounds for a subordinationist Christology. In certain respects head denotes a kind of primacy, but both God and Christ on one side and men and women on the other are of the same mode of being. "For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection... he would not have brought forward the instance of a woman (or wife), but rather of a slave and a master.... It is a wife (or woman) as free, as equal in honor; and the Son also,  though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God; it was as God" [Homily 26:3 on First Corinthians]. ...Chrysostom (a) reflects Paul's notion that in the context of love between God and Christ, or between man and woman, obedience or response is chosen, not imposed; and (b) reflects the endeavor to do justice to the duality or wholeness of difference and "order" on the one side and reciprocity and mutual dignity and respect on the other" (Thiselton, p. 818f).
For more on what the meaning of the phrase "because of the angels" in this verse, see: Stump the Priest: Because of the Angels.

Head Coverings or Long Hair?

Mark Arey concludes his essay with the claim that St. Paul is not really concerned with any woman, married or not, actually wearing a head covering in Church, because St. Paul speaks of a woman's long hair as being a covering, This is an interpretation completely absent from the Fathers. You do find a tiny minority of Protestants that will make such arguments, but few serious scholars buy such arguments.

The point that St. Paul makes is that just as it is a shame for a woman to have her head shaved -- which was a punishment sometimes given to women of ill-repute, so is it a shame for a woman to not cover her head in Church. Any other reading of this passage makes everything that precedes this point meaningless.

It is especially difficult to see how St. Paul could have in his mind the notion that long hair is the covering he wants the woman to wear, when he says:
"For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.(1 Corinthians 11:6).
You would have to believe that he is arguing that if a woman has short hair, her hair should be cut short... which it already would be. Furthermore it is hard to imagine how a woman's hair could ever grow long again, if it was being cut, because it was short.


The more common argument that contemporary Protestants make, who try to to avoid the obvious intent of this passage, is to argue that St. Paul was simply addressing a culturally specific issue, and that the principle at work in this passage would only be that one should not use Christian liberty to flout cultural norms and gender distinctions. N. T. Wright, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, evidently feels the weakness of this argument. After laying out all the reasons why it might be that this was a culturally specific question, he writes "That's a lot of 'perhaps'es" (Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), p. 140). He then adds a few more 'perhaps'es, and then says:
"The trouble is, of course, that Paul doesn't say exactly this, and we run the risk of 'explaining' him in  terms that might (perhaps) make sense to us while ignoring what he himself says" (Ibid, 141).
Perhaps, because N. T. Wright is a Protestant, we can cut him some slack for approaching this text in this way, and ignoring the history of the interpretation of this text in favor of one that comports to contemporary Protestant sensibilities, but Mark Arey should know better.

On what basis does Mark Arey present his novel interpretations as if they were the correct Orthodox understanding of this passage? Certainly not on the basis of the Fathers. Certainly not on the basis of how the Church has always understood this passage. And he can't really claim much of a basis for his readings of this text in Protestant biblical scholarship.

In the service for receiving converts from other heterodox Christian groups, one of the questions the convert is asked before he is received is:
"Dost thou acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which hath been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, hath always held and still doth hold?"
The correct answer to this question for a right believing Orthodox Christian is "I do," ...not, "I don't."

*The King James Version, while providing a very literal translation of this verse, also provided a margin note that says: "That is, a covering, to sign that she is under the power of her husband."

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: Head Coverings

Stump the Priest: Because of the Angels.

The Woman’s Headcovering, by Michael Marlowe (Protestant author, but interesting)

Stump the Priest: Men with Long Hair

Friday, June 09, 2017

How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible


Before getting into the question of how you can teach your children to read and understand the King James Version, we should probably first discuss why you should want to do so.

If you are an English speaker, even if you are an atheist you should want your child to be familiar with the great works in the history of the English Language, and the King James Version is certainly close to the top of the list, if not at the very top.

Even some of the greatest skeptics were of this opinion:
“It is the most beautiful of all translations of the Bible; indeed it is probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world.”  -H. L. Mencken 
“The translation was extraordinarily well done because to the translators what they were translating was not merely a curious collection of ancient books written by different authors in different stages of culture, but the Word of God divinely revealed through His chosen and expressly inspired scribes.  In this conviction they carried out their work with boundless reverence and care and achieved a beautifully artistic result.” –George Bernard Shaw
"It is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form."  -Aldous Huxley 
The influence of the King James Version on the English language has been huge, and there aren't many other texts that would be comparable in that regard.

It also happens to be a very fine translation. It is not perfect, but it has many advantages over most other options. See: An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible.

Isn't it too hard?

For many centuries, even poorly educated people read and understood the King James Bible, because they made the effort to do so. For the most part, the King James Version is perfectly understandable for a modern reader. There are perhaps a hundred words or so that one would have to acquaint themselves with, if they were not already familiar with them. All of these words are found in a standard dictionary, and the intended meaning of the word in question will usually be listed as the primary or secondary meaning. There are also some handy guides online and in print that provide quick definitions with these words. And you could always look up a difficult text in the New King James Version, for clarification.


First off, you have to teach them how to read, and teach them to love reading.

My wife and I home schooled our children, and the single best text we used was a book entitled "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons," by Siegfried Engelmann. It provides a parent with simple and clear instructions as to how to use the text, and it effectively teaches a child how to read phonetically, and also how to understand the many quirks we have in English spelling (something that is often not taught in public schools in our times). Most importantly, it works. I started teaching both of my children how to read with this text when they were three, and had them reading on a basic level within a few months.

The first books I had my children read were in a series of Bible story booklets from Concordia Press that are designed for beginning readers -- the closest thing that they have to what we used in print now is in a series called "Hear Me Read.".

You should regularly read to your children. For very young children, I found reading them stories that rhymed got their attention, and so I read them rhyming Bible stories. Concordia Press has a large collection of short Bible stories that rhyme -- many of which I remember from my own childhood.

As they got a bit older, I read them a comic book collection of Bible Stories (The Picture Bible), and as their reading improved, they would read it on their own. This gave them an overall understanding of the Bible in broad strokes, and helped to improve their own reading.

In addition to reading books directly connected to the Bible, reading other classic texts to your children helps to develop a love for reading.

We did not have our children read much of Shakespeare, because Shakespeare's plays were not meant to be read -- they were meant to be watched. We had them watch all of his major plays -- some in multiple versions, and they enjoyed them. And this helped to familiarize them with Elizabethan English, and in a way that was not at all tedious.

Finally, when their reading level got to the point that they could begin to do it, I had them read the Bible to me. This helped their reading and pronunciation, and it also gave me a chance to explain any words that were obscure, and to discuss the meaning of the text. We started with Genesis, and stuck to the narrative portions of the Law and the Historical books. We eventually brought in the Wisdom books, the prophets, and also the Gospels and Epistles.

A very important help to this whole process was to get an edition of the King James that had modern spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing -- and to have the same edition in everyone's hand, so we were literally all on the same page. At the time, we used the Third Millennium Bible, but what I would recommend now is using the Cambridge New Paragraph Bible with the "Apocrypha". This edition is laid out in a way that is much easier for contemporary readers, and the more I use it myself, the more I have come to like it.

One other thing I did was to have my children memorize the names and order of the books of the Bible, and then we would do something which I learned from Sunday School as a child -- "Sword drills". When we finished reading the Bible, I would call out random Scripture references, and we would see which child could find it first. This taught them how to navigate their way around the Bible.

For more information:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

A Simple Approach to Reading the Entire Bible

King James English and Orthodox Worship

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Soft-Pedaling Christian Morality: A Review of a Curious Review

In 2011, Archdeacon John Chryssavgis wrote a review of Homosexuality in the Orthodox Church, by the openly homosexual Episcopalian priest Justin R. Cannon. This review was published in the  Saint Vladimir's Theological Quarterly (Vol. 55, no. 3), and is now featured prominently on Justin Cannon's pro-homosexual website "Inclusive Orthodoxy."

Archdeacon John Chryssavgis is not just any deacon. He is the most prominent spokesman for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and a professor of Theology at Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, and so the semi-endorsement of a piece of pro-homosexual propaganda is profoundly disturbing.

You can read the portion of this book that repeats the usual bogus arguments of homosexual apologists which attempt to argue that the clear condemnations of homosexuality in Scripture don't really say what they actually do say, here:

You can find these arguments refuted in the book, "The Bible and Homosexual Practice," by Robert Gagnon (an actual Biblical Scholar, and a book endorsed by some of the most prominent Biblical scholars of the past half century) or by watching his lectures on the subject.

Fr. John Chryssavgis begins:
"There are some topics that Orthodox Christians are singularly uncomfortable about broaching—even if it is simply to affirm their outright rejection and unqualified condemnation—and homosexuality is certainly among them. Indeed, any questions in general related to sexuality or gender—including the nature of homosexuality, or the divorce of clergy, or even the ordination of women—are subjects that arouse much passionate emotion but little rational exploration within theological and especially ecclesiastical circles.
This has always astonished, if not perturbed me, because it is not as if these issues are either absent or even diminishing in our society and church. Indeed, one of my gravest concerns over the years is that the oppression of homosexuality and silence on sexual issues in a hierarchical institution, such as the Orthodox Church, not only results from unjustifiable and unacceptable ignorance and prejudice. It also results in the church's complicity in discrimination as well as the church's reticence concerning sexual abuse in our own communities. Saying we hate the sin but love the sinner can sometimes be rejection masquerading as acceptance. It is, after all, so much easier to label than to listen.
This is why I was pleased to see the publication of this edited collection of stories and reflections about homosexuality. The editor is proactive in encouraging dialogue and discussion about this complex, albeit controversial topic; he is also the author of a small study on biblical perspectives on the subject that appears in an edited version toward the end of this book and the manager of a website dedicated to "inclusive orthodoxy." As he correctly observes in the introduction: "We cannot explore the issue of homosexuality without hearing the life, stories, and witness of faithful, Orthodox Christians who happen to be gay." (12)"
I don't know of any clergy who do not have great compassion on those who are struggling against homosexuality, or any other sexual addiction... and I doubt Fr. John Chryssavgis does either. So I have to wonder what it is that he is really objecting to, and why, during the course of his review, he fails completely to recognize the propagandistic nature of the book he is supposedly reviewing, or to clearly state what the actual position of the Orthodox Church is on the question the book is all about.

And when it comes to other sins, such as adultery -- should we not label that as a sin, as Christ does Himself? Should we instead listen to the adulterers to try to understand their sin better first? No. We ought to have compassion on them, and seek their repentance and restoration, but there is nothing about the sin of adultery itself that we don't already know sufficiently to label it a sin. You may have a very mean wife, and a very nice mistress, but whatever extenuating circumstances you may raise, it is still inherently sinful, and we know this without any doubt or ambiguity. And that is true of any sin that is clearly condemned in Scripture and Tradition.
The book contains four such stories, with names changed to safeguard the anonymity of the individuals: by Helena, whose gay son was painfully rejected and spitefully ostracized; by Barry, for whom prejudice and exclusion on the part of a parish priest led to further traumatic confusion and harrowing anguish; by Matthew, whose raw honesty and heartfelt confession sparked a long soul-searching journey for healing and wholeness; and by Elizabeth, whose disclosure and divorce were ultimately only reconciled in theological reading and support groups in "some seemingly 'unorthodox' faith communities." (42)
There is no doubt that their stories cry out for hearing and healing. And there are surely numerous others. We will doubtless be judged by God for failing to notice and to respond compassionately, instead opting to find security in easy scriptural texts and theological castigations. Both of these comprise a simplistic approach and perhaps provide a convenient way out. However, the Incarnation of God's Word that "assumed flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14) implies and imposes a messy spiritual wrestle and not a black-and-white pastoral response. After all, who among us can cast the first rational comment?"
There are two separate issues that Fr. John Chryssavgis is making into a false dichotomy. There is the question of what the Orthodox Church teaches about homosexuality, and then there is the pastoral question of how to deal with people who struggle with it. On the first question, failing to be clear about it is not only unpastoral and unloving -- it is pastoral malpractice. St. Paul tells us clearly and unequivocally that practicing homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). If we take what he says seriously, soft-pedaling this truth is not defensible. It is moral and spiritual cowardice. We can and should both unequivocally condemn the sin, and have love and compassion for the sinner. If we don't do both, we enable the sinner to kid himself into believing that his sin is not a sin, and thus fail to help him to overcome it.

Of course we should deal with people who struggle with that sin pastorally, just like we do people who struggle with alcoholism, adultery, drug abuse, or any other passion that is especially difficult to overcome. But if we fail to communicate what sin is, it is impossible for those whom we have confused to overcome sins that they do not recognize to be such.

If Fr. John Chryssavgis was simply arguing that we should have a discussion about how best to deal with those who actually are struggling to overcome homosexual temptations, few would argue with him. But that is not what this book is about, nor is it what Fr. John's review of this book is about.
Part of the problem of ignoring homosexuality is that it will invariably be restricted to and debated in fringe groups, prompting spurn and dismissal of it and related issues by those in mainstream Orthodox churches and society. Hence, instead of including stories from clergy in recognized Orthodox churches, the editor resorts to leaders within communities unrecognized by most Orthodox churches who, as a result, may further ignore the issue.
The problem in the Orthodox Church in the United States today is not that we are ignoring homosexuality. It is that so many in our Church are failing to take a clear stand on what we actually teach on the subject, and instead, like Fr. John Chryssavgis, choose to focus on how compassionate we ought to be to homosexuals, to the exclusion of clarifying whether or not the Church considers homosexual sex to be incompatible with the Christian life.
The foundation and history of the support group for gays and lesbians, known as "Axios: Eastern and Orthodox Gay and Lesbian Christians"—originally in Los Angeles (1980), but then in other cities of the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia— is a sign of the "work, even suffering, [that must occur] through an honest orthopraxy on the issue." (80) However, even such an organization is forced to "carry the baton underground." (84)
So is Fr. John Chryssavgis endorsing "Axios"? And if so, is he speaking on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Axios notoriously does not believe that it is inherently sinful for a man to have sex with another man, or for a woman to have sex with another woman... and that is clearly and unambiguously contrary to the teachings of Scripture, and the Orthodox Tradition. I don't believe promoting such views is the kind of work that should occur in the Orthodox Church.

Finally, towards the end of his review, we have a few tepidly stated reservations expressed about the actual content of the book:
"Frankly, I remain unconvinced by the scriptural and terminological analysis provided in this book (87-113) that lends support to homosexuality, just as I am cynical of the simplistic parallels drawn between prejudice against homosexuals and the problems of anti-Semitism or slavery (62-65). Indeed, despite the truly fascinating and stimulating scholarship of John Boswell, whose work focused on religious understanding and social tolerance of homosexuality, I feel that it is a forced endeavor to re-imagine—if not re-invent—history for purposes of identifying the medieval rite of adelphopoiesis or "brotherhood ritual" (sometimes referred to as "adoption") with same sex marriage or union."
He "remains unconvinced" by a book that argues counter-factually that Scripture and Tradition do not unequivocally condemn homosexual sex? Anyone familiar with Fr. John Chryssavgis' very opinionated style knows that he is quite capable of expressing vehement disagreement. If someone suggests that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is something less than the eastern equivalent of the Pope, or that the recent council in Crete was not exactly pan-Orthodox, he is quite capable of expressing his opposing view with great strength, enthusiasm, and eloquence. Try telling him that you don't believe human activity is causing catastrophic climate change, and  you are liable to get a response reminiscent of the shower scene in the movie Psycho. But let someone write a book that presents a fraudulent case against the moral Tradition of the Church, and the best he can say in response is that he "remain[s] unconvinced"? Our people, who are bombarded with pro-homosexual propaganda every day need something a bit more clear and direct than that from their clergy.
"Still, the truth is that, as Orthodox Churches and as Orthodox Christians, we are going to have to discuss homosexuality with far greater candor and with far greater charity, admitting that the issue is far more prevalent among both laity and clergy on all levels and in all positions. After all, why would we be afraid of such an interchange ? Or what would we be afraid of in such an exchange? Seeking the way of God is not resorting to fear, but searching for compassion and honesty, especially among all the other dishonest places that we walk. We are called to strive for simple human decency—indeed, Christ-like decency—in a subject that is so often complicated by selfishness and pride, contempt and rejection, natural desire and degrading lust.
In that respect, I welcome the book as a first—and important, sometimes the most difficult—step in a long process of honest dialogue."
I wonder if Fr. John Chryssavgis thinks Christ objected to St. John the Baptist's denunciation of the immoral marriage Herod had with his brother Philip's wife? There is certainly no evidence of that in Scripture, and every reason to believe just the opposite. Does he think Christ or St. John the Baptist would welcome a book that defended Herod's right to marry his brother's wife? Does he think St. Paul was unpastoral when he directed the Church in Corinth to excommunicate a man who was in an immoral relationship with his step-mother? Would St. Paul have welcomed a book defending that kind of relationship? Why should we ever welcome a book that endorses sin, and especially one that does so with disingenuous argumentation?

It is disappointing that St. Vladimir Seminary would attach it's name to such a review, but far more disappointing to see such a prominent clergyman in the Ecumenical Patriarchate write such a review in the first place. We live in a time when the culture in general, and a very large number of our own flock in particular are confused about whether or not homosexual sex is compatible with the Christian life. True shepherds of that flock should speak clearly on the matter. Those who not only fail to speak clearly, but who actually add to that confusion ought not go unanswered.

For More Information:

The Bible the Church and Homosexuality: Obscurantegesis vs the Truth, by Fr. John Whiteford

Robert Gagnon: The Bible and Homosexual Practice (7 Video Lectures)

Statement of the Brotherhood of the Orthodox Clergy Association of Houston and Southeast Texas on the Comments of Fr. Robert Arida on Homosexuality

Homosexuality and Shrimp, by Fr. John Whiteford

Church History and Same-Sex Marriage, by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

Statement of the Russian Orthodox Church on Homosexuality (see section XII. 9).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Stump the Priest: Sporting Events and Church Services

Question: "What should parents do when their children are involved in sports that have games or practices that conflict with Saturday evening or Sunday morning services?"

The answer to this question really is applicable to any activities that interfere with Church attendance that are not matters of great necessity.

The Fourth Commandment says:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8-11).
You can listen to a sermon I gave on this subject for more details on why this is so, but suffice it to say here that the Tradition of the Church teaches us that in the New Testament this commandment applies especially to Sundays, Great Feasts, and other especially solemn days (such as Holy Friday). And as it was in the Old Testament, these holy days begin on the evenings prior -- so this includes the times of the vigils, as well as the liturgies on those days.

There is an illustrative story from the life of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco on this issue. In 1964, the Russian Church Abroad officially gloried St. John of Kronstadt on November 1st n.s. (October 19th on the Old Calendar). This happened to also be a Sunday, and so there was a Saturday Vigil that was especially important because of this holy occasion -- which marked the first glorification of a saint by the Russian Church since the Bolshevik Revolution. But that Vigil also happened to be on Halloween, and so many Russians in the parish attended a ball, rather than the vigil. Our own Archbishop Peter tells the story of what happened:
"I remember vividly being twice with Vladika at a San Francisco ball [which was a Halloween Ball]. The first time was after a vigil on the occasion of the glorification of St. John of Kronstadt. There were people in the cathedral but not as many as would he expected on such a day. After vigil Vladika usually went to some hospital. But this time, in answer to the chauffer's question, "Where?' Vladika answered, "To the ball at the Russian Center." On arriving, we made our way upstairs to the main hall. Vladika walked around the hall in silence. 'We looked on as elderly men and women and leaders of society literally hid under tables, one woman, on seeing Vladika, joyfully exclaimed, 'Vladika's here! Vladika's here! We must give him some tea? Vladika looked sternly at everyone, but at the same time I noticed that he had no anger towards anyone personally. And without having said a single word, we left as we had come. The second time Vladika went to the hall he asked for a microphone and addressed those present. I knew how upset Vladika was over all this, but his speech was calm. The next morning the clergy were informed that anyone who attended the ball was not to participate in the service, whether they were serving in the altar as acolytes or singing in the choir" (Remembering Vladika John. You can also listen to him tell this story in a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, at about the 33 minute mark).
There certainly are exceptions to the rule. For example, if you are a police officer, a doctor, or a nurse, you may have to work on some Sundays and Feasts, and that is completely understandable. As Christ said in the Gospels, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. There are other exceptional circumstances that may come up that would also prevent you from being at Church on these occasions. However, this should not be the norm -- unless physical infirmity or distance prevent you from being present in Church. And in such cases, if one is able, they should observe these days at home, to the best of their ability to do so.

I also understand that in our times, most team sports have events that conflict with Sunday or Feast day Services. But we should consider why this is so... because it has not always been the case that these conflicts were routine. These conflicts have become routine because too many Christian parents have allowed themselves to go along with this. This accelerated in the wake of Vatican II, when Catholics were told that they could fulfill their "Sunday obligation" by going to Mass on either Saturday evening or Sunday morning. However, if more parents put their foot down and simply said "No", fewer teams would try to do violate Holy days. It is of course difficult to be one of the few that take a stand on this, but your stand might inspire others, and in fact, you might want to reach out to other Christian parents, so that you are not the only ones taking this stand.

Attending the services is much like a tithe of our time, and when we refuse to place sports above the services of the Church, we show what our priorities are... to the world, to God, to our children, and to ourselves.

A good example to follow here is that of Eric Liddell, whose life was partially portrayed in the movie "Chariots of Fire" (which won best picture at the Academy Awards, in 1982). Eric Liddell was a sports legend in the UK, especially in his native Scotland, where his fame was comparable to that of a rock star, both in terms of running and rugby. But he was also a deeply committed Christian who took the Fourth Commandment very seriously. In 1924, he had his chance to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal, but the event he was planning on competing in was the 100 meters, and one of the heats for that competition was scheduled on a Sunday. He famously refused to run on a Sunday, and so had to compete instead in the 400 meters, which was not an event he was favored to win. Before that race, he was handed a piece of paper, on which someone wrote a note, which said: "In the old book it says: "He that honours me I will honour" [1 Samuel 2:30]. He not only won that race, but set a world record in it.

What is less well known is that in 1925 he walked away from all of his fame and glory, and went to China to serve as a missionary. During World War II, he was placed in a Japanese internment camp, along with all other westerners that were captured by the Japanese in the area. While there, he taught the children, and also coached them. He was asked to coach them on Sunday, and initially he refused to do so. However, in his absence, the children often got into fights, and so he changed his mind and coached them on Sunday as well -- showing that he was not a legalist. He understood that there were exceptions, but did not make them lightly, simply to suit himself, even when it cost him.

I think we would teach our children very important lessons if we would follow this example. And if you wanted help explaining this to your children, you might start by having them watch the movie Chariots of Fire.

For More Information:

Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy, by Fr. Victor Potapov

Sermon Audio: The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy, by Fr. John Whiteford, 9/16/2012.

The Catechism of the Russian Orthodox Church, by St. Philaret of Moscow (see the section on the Fourth Commandment)

The Story of Eric Liddell (a documentary)

Friday, May 05, 2017

Stump the Priest: The Feast of the Entry

Question: "Is the story of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple historical?"

There are many questions that we cannot answer as fully as we may wish, simply because we are limited in terms of the information that is available to us, and I think this is one of those questions. We have all the information that we really need... just not all that we may wish we had.

One point that I think is often misunderstood about this is that this tradition is not based on the Protoevangelium of James -- that text reflects to a large extent the oral tradition of the Church which preceded it. Were this text our primary source, it would have been included in the New Testament. We should instead look to our services, and to the writings of the Fathers as our best sources of information on this question.

Looking at this question from what we know of history, it is certainly unlikely that the Virgin Mary literally entered into the Holy of Holies of the Temple -- which was the most sacred inner sanctuary of the Temple, that only the High Priest was allowed to enter. If this did literally happen, it would have been something that would have, by divine intervention, remained hidden from most people,

The fact that it was unlikely, does not mean that it did not literally happen. Miracles are by definition unlikely occurrences. However, I think it is possible that the services use the phrase "Holy of Holies" as a more general reference to the Temple as a whole, and I think they do this in part because the Holy of Holies was a foreshadowing of the Lord's incarnation in the Virgin Mary's womb. In a very real sense, she became the Holy of Holies in a way that was more of a reality than the literal earthly Holy of Holies ever was. God was given flesh in her womb, and dwelled there bodily.

What is not unlikely about this story is the idea of a female going to live in the Temple precincts. We have an example in Luke 2:36-37 of a woman who lived in exactly that way:
"And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day."
Furthermore, we know that the Prophetess Anna was not a unique example of such a woman from the Old Testament. In Exodus we have a very interesting, but brief mention of such women who served at the Tabernacle, which was  the Tent version of what became the fixed Temple in Jerusalem:
"He made the basin of bronze with its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting" (Exodus 38:8 NRSV).
Interestingly, in the Septuagint Greek, the word "served" is translated  "fasted," which was probably a paraphrase intended to describe their primary activity, which was to pray and fast (as seen in the case of the Prophetess Anna in Luke), though they no doubt had other duties related to the Temple.

And these women are mentioned again in 1st Samuel, in the context of a description of the abuses the sons of the Priest Eli engaged in:
"Now Eli was very old. He heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting" (1 Samuel 2:22).
One thing that this passage indicates is that these women were likely not all widows in their 80's, for Eli's sons to be seducing them. And it was especially egregious that they slept with these women, because they were women who were dedicated to serving the Lord.

The Hebrew word translated as "served" is very interesting. It is tsâbâ' (צבא) which has the same root as the word "Sabaoth," as in "Lord of Sabaoth" -- which means "Lord of Hosts" or more literally "Lord of the Armies". This word means "to serve," like a soldier, in troops... and is often translated as "to fight", and it is similarly used in reference to the male Levites who also served in the Tabernacle and the Temple. And so this refers to a band of women who were dedicated to the service of the Lord, and who served at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple.

Unfortunately, I am limited by the reference material I have available to me, and it is striking that the Protestant sources I have generally show a surprising lack of curiosity about who these women were, or what they did. However, Brevard Childs's commentary on Exodus says:
"This verse, which has no earlier correspondent, has evoked much discussion as to its meaning. Who were the 'ministering women'? Why is  their work described by the verb sb' which denotes an organized service like the professional Levites? Some commentators have suggested a cleaning and repairing service, others singing and dancing. The only parallel is I Sam. 2.22 which is of little real help. Driver suggests that the verse implies that the service of the tabernacle had already been under way. There is insufficient evidence to decide whether older historical material is involved or later midrashic exegesis. The literary form would favor the first alternative" (The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), p. 636).
The Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos is undoubtedly part of our Tradition, and we know that we are celebrating both an historical and theological truth in this feast. However, when it comes to hymnody in particular, how literally we should take what is said will vary -- that is the nature of any kind of poetry, including much of the poetic material we find in Scripture. For example, the Prophet Isaiah, in foretelling the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity says:
"For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12).
This prophecy foretold the joy of the return of the Israelites to their land, but we do not need to believe that they were literally greeted with singing mountains and clapping trees for this to be true.

Likewise, in the Akathist to the Theotokos, when it speaks of the Archangel Gabriel speaking to the Theotokos, I don't think anyone would argue that this is intended to be a stenographic account of was actually said at the Annunciation. But in the form of the poetry of the Akathist, we are given a truthful reflection of the meaning of that historical event.

For More Information, see:

Homily on the Entry of the Theotokos, by St. Gregory Palamas

Mary in the Protevangelium of James: A Jewish Woman in the Temple? (Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 53 (2013) 551–578), by Megan Nutzman

Did Jewish Temple Virgins Exist and was Mary a Temple Virgin?, by Dr Taylor Marshall

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stump the Priest: Relics

Question: "What is the basis for venerating the relics of saints?"

The veneration of the relics of the saints is rooted in several Biblical truths, as well as in the Tradition of the Church.

1). Unlike the pagan Greeks, we believe in the goodness of creation. As we are told in Genesis 1:31, when God completed his work of creation:
"And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." 
Consequently, we believe that God can and does use material things to impart grace, as is seen throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

 2). God honors those who honor him.
"for them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30).
"if any man serve me, him will my Father honor" (John 12:26). 
"Wondrous is God in His saints; the God of Israel, He will give power and strength unto His people. Blessed is God" (Psalm 67[68]:35 LXX).
3). God has worked miracles through the relics of the saints in Scripture.

We are told that when the Prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven in fiery chariot, his mantle fell to the Prophet Elisha:
"And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over" (2 Kings 2:14).
Furthermore, when the Prophet Elisha himself died, he was buried in a cave, but then a man was raised from the dead by touching his relics. After his death, the Moabites invaded, and when some men where burying another man in that area, when they saw the Moabite raiders, "they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet." (2 Kings 13:20-21).

And in the New Testament we read that "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them" (Acts 19:11-12).

Countless examples could be cited from Church history, but let me cite perhaps the earliest example, which is found in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, St. Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, ans a disciple of the Apostle John. His martyrdom was written down soon after he was martyred, around the year 160 a.d.. At the end of his martyrdom we not only see an example of the veneration of relics, but also an explanation of the difference between the worship due to God alone, and the veneration we should give to the saints. We are told of how some sought to have the Roman magistrate keep the Christians from retrieving the body of the Holy Martyr
"'lest,' so it was said, 'they should abandon the crucified one and begin  to worship this man'—this being done at the instigation and urgent  entreaty of the Jews, who also watched when we were about to take it from the fire, not knowing that it will be impossible for us either to forsake   at any time the Christ who suffered for the salvation of the whole world of those that are saved—suffered though faultless for sinners—nor to worship any other. For Him, being the Son of God, we adore, but the martyrs as  disciples and imitators of the Lord we cherish as they deserve for their  matchless affection towards their own King and Teacher.... The centurion therefore, seeing the opposition raised on the part of the Jews, set him in the midst and burnt him after their custom. And so we afterwards took up his bones which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than  refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place; where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birth-day [i.e. the anniversary] of his martyrdom for the commemoration of those that have already fought in the contest, and for the training and preparation of those that shall do so hereafter" (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:2-3; 18:1-3).
For more on the question of the veneration of holy things, see:

The Icon FAQ, by Fr. John Whiteford

And for more on the question of the veneration of relics in particular, see:

The Place of Holy Relics in the Orthodox Church, by St. Justin Popovich

On the Veneration of the Holy Relics and Remains of the Saints, by Archpriest Vasily Demidov

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Stump the Priest: General Unction and Holy Week

Question: "Why do we not do the Unction Service on Holy Wednesday?"

The common practice among Greeks, Antiochians, and in some other parishes, of doing General Unction on the evening of Holy Wednesday is not an ancient practice. There is no mention of doing this service on that day in the Typikon, or in the Triodion. The Unction service makes no mention of Holy Week, and so stands completely outside of the liturgical cycle of Holy Week.

There is a service that is appointed to be done on Holy Wednesday evening and that is the Matins of Holy Thursday, which is what we do in our parish. This service commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, the Mystical Supper, the washing of the feet of the disciples, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas. So this service is not an inconsequential part of Holy Week, but unfortunately, those parishes that do General Unction on Holy Wednesday, rarely do this service.

So why is it that this practice originated? There is evidence of doing General Unction in conjunction with Holy Week that is ancient -- though it was never the universal practice. At various times, it has been done on Lazarus Saturday, Holy Saturday, or Holy Thursday. Unction is the sacrament of healing, both of soul and body. If you are seriously ill, you can ask the priest to do an Unction service, so that the parish can pray that you will be healed. Also, if you have a serious spiritual illness, you can do the same. If you read the letters of the saintly Fr. John (Krestiankin), for example, you will find that he often counselled people to do so, and to take the unction oil home, and anoint themselves with it daily. The purpose of doing General Unction in conjunction with Holy Week was to prepare the faithful spiritually for Holy Week.

During the period of Turkish occupation, there was a more practical reason for the spread of this practice, and also why it was done on the day prior to the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday. The Turks made it very difficult for the Church to properly educate its clergy. Consequently, the only educated priests were generally monks, and so only they were usually given a blessing to hear confessions. This led to the unfortunate practice of infrequent communion, because it was not possible for the average laymen to confess to such priests, and during Holy Week, the need for confession was greater than the supply of those priests who could hear them. And so on Holy Wednesday, General Unction was served as a substitute for confession, so that the faithful could receive communion at the Holy Week Liturgies that were to follow. The original practice was not to displace the Matins of Holy Thursday, but rather to precede it. However, if you do the General Unction service fully, it takes about 3 hours, not counting however long it takes to actually anoint the faithful, and so over time the Holy Thursday Matins was general displaced. The reason why the practice developed is understandable, but it is problematic for a couple of reasons.
1. Unction should not be used as a substitute for Confession, under normal circumstances. In fact, in Russian practice, one must have gone to Confession recently in order to receive Unction. The problems created by Turkish occupation were not normal, but there is no reason why the exceptional should become the norm, when the exception is no longer necessary.
2. This has generally encouraged an indifference to the need for regular Confession.
3. Doing this service on this day, as noted already, obscures some of the most important commemorations in Holy Week,
For those who have grown up with the practice of doing General Unction on Holy Wednesday, the service is one of the best attended services, and I can understand their reluctance to change it. But be that as it may, this has not been the Russian practice, and we have never done it in our parish.

Furthermore, even if I wanted to adopt this practice (which I don't), our bishop would not allow it. In the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, different bishops have different practices, but generally they do not allow a single priest to serve General Unction by himself. Some bishops only allow General Unction to be served when they are presiding, and they generally require that 6 priest concelebrate the service with them -- the service ideally should have 7 concelebrating priests or bishops (there being 7 Epistle and Gospel readings, and 7 anointings). Our own bishop serves this service once each Lent, when we have our Lenten Clergy retreat, which allows for there to be enough priests to serve it. Archbishop Peter allows priests to serve this service elsewhere in the diocese, without the need for him to preside, but there must be a bare minimum of two priests, and preferably, at least 3. But doing this service instead of Holy Thursday Matins is not the normal practice anywhere in ROCOR that I am aware of.

I do think the practice of doing General Unction during Lent as an aid to preparation for Holy Week has value, and we may, in the future, serve it, if at least one other priest is willing to concelebrate it with me. If so, we will probably try to do it during the sixth week of Lent (depending on when Annunciation falls). But I cannot imagine failing to serve the Matins of Holy Thursday, and it is unfortunate that so many Orthodox Christians have never seen this service actually served.

I would also encourage more of our parishioners to ask for the Unction service when they have a serious physical or spiritual illness (such as an addiction, depression, etc).

For More Information:

"The Anointing of the Sick," by Paul Meyendorf

"A Liturgical Explanation of Holy Week," by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stump the Priest: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?

Question: "Is it possible for someone to be pro-life and pro-choice?"

We should define our terms here. By "pro-life," we mean that we oppose the shedding of innocent blood, at any stage of development, including unborn children. If someone is "pro-choice" they mean that they believe it should be up to the mother to decide whether or not she will have an abortion, for any reason. If someone says that they are pro-life and pro-choice, this can only mean that they personally oppose abortion, but they think that others should be free to decide the matter for themselves, because they don't want to "impose their morality" on anyone else.

Is this a morally defensible position? To answer this question, we first have to ask why a Christian would oppose abortion? We oppose abortion not because we don't like it. We oppose abortion because we believe that it is the murder of an innocent life -- the only exception being the very rare circumstances in which it is necessary to save the life of the mother, and in such cases it almost always would mean the death of both mother and child to do nothing.

The Scriptures are abundantly clear that God takes the shedding of innocent blood very seriously. We are told that God destroyed the kingdom of Judah because they engaged in child sacrifice:
"And he [Manasseh] made his son pass through the fire [a form of child sacrifice], and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger" (2 Kings 21:6).
"3 Surely at the commandment of the Lord this [the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians] came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, 4 and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon" (2 Kings 24:3-4).
The belief that abortion is murder is not a recently adopted Christian position. In the Didache, which is the oldest Christian document outside of the New Testament, it says unambiguously:
"Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born" (Didache 2:2).
Canon 91 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council says:
"As for women who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortion, and those who take fetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to the penalty prescribed for murderers."
Likewise, St. Basil says in his second canon:
"A woman that aborts deliberately is liable to trial as a murderess." 
So an Orthodox Christian that actually believes what the Church teaches can only oppose abortion on the grounds that it is the wrongful taking of an innocent human life.

So can a person really be opposed to rape, but not want to "impose their morality" on others? No.

Could a person oppose lynching, but not want to "impose their morality" on others? No.

Can a person oppose abortion, but not want to "impose their morality" on others? No.

And as a matter of fact every law reflects someone's morality. There is no reason why Christians should not use their power to vote to influence the laws to protect innocent life.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fundamental Errors: A Response to "Tradition Without Fundamentalism" by George Demacopoulos

In a recently posted lecture on the topic of Fundamentalism, George Demacopoulos (hereafter "GD") fell into many of the same errors evident in his original article that began this discussion. He continues to make sweeping and unsubstantiated assertions, and he alleges connections between some of the most disparate ideas and groups found in contemporary Christendom without providing any evidence to substantiate his claims. He again fell into gross overstatement, oversimplification, and often evidenced a superficial understanding of the issues he raised, particularly with regards to Protestant thought and history, which he clearly has not spent a great deal of time familiarizing himself with. When you disagree with someone else, you should at least attempt to engage their actual positions, and when you state what those positions are, they should be stated in a way that is fair enough that your opponent would actually recognize them. There was unfortunately very little evidence in this lecture that GD has tried to understand the positions of those he disagrees with, much less that he actually has understood them, or has good reasons for disagreeing with them.

For those who would like to review the various exchanges in this discussion, you can read his original essay here:
Orthodox Fundamentalism
You can read my response to that essay here:
Response to "Orthodox Fundamentalism" by George Demacopoulos
You can listen to a debate we had on Ancient Faith Today on this subject here:
Orthodox Fundamentalism: What is it and does it exist?
That link also includes a transcript of the discussion.

I posted some further comments after that debate, which you can read here:
"Orthodox Fundamentalism" Discussion on Ancient Faith Today
To begin with, let me address one point that GD made well into the lecture (at about the 42 minute mark). He made the statement that every written criticism of his original essay that he had seen was written by a former Protestant convert, and then said "Maybe it's a coincidence... I don't know." In the context of his other comments, the suggestion was that at least "some" Protestants are more susceptible to a certain kind of "Orthodox Fundamentalism," and that perhaps those who disagreed with him fell into that category. As is true of his comments throughout the course of this debate, this was a part of what was largely a series of ad hominem arguments. While it may well be the case that he had not seen any written criticisms of his essay that were written by authors who were not converts from Protestantism, it is not true that such essays were not actually written.

Fr. Emmanual Hatzidakis, who is a retired priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdioce of North America, wrote a response, which can be read here:
What is Orthodox Fundamentalism?
Fr. George Maximov, (who is a professor at the Moscow Theological Academy, a member of the Church of Russia's Synodal Working Group on the Elaboration of the Conceptualization of Inter-Religious Relations, a member of the Expert Council of the Russian Federation's Justice Ministry on the Countering of Religious Extremism, a member of the Theological Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate's Interconciliar Presence, and the Head of the Sixth Day Missionary Educational Society) wrote an extensive rebuttal of GD's original essay, which you can read in Russian, here:
For those who do not read Russian, you can read a google translation to get some idea of its contents.

He ended his essay by stating "A wonderful criticism of Demacopoulos' article was written by Fr. John Whiteford," and then he links to his own translation of my original response:
So given that such a prominent Orthodox Theologian not only agreed with what I wrote, but thought it worthy to take the time to translate it into Russian himself, and publish it on his website, I think I am on very firm Orthodox ground here, despite the apparent handicap of having converted to Orthodoxy after having been convinced that it was the True Faith.

Unfortunately, this typifies GD"s entire lecture. He does not engage those that he disagrees with. He simply seeks to dismiss them with ad hominem arguments. In this rebuttal I am going to respond to GD's lecture at some length and in a fair amount of detaill. It will be interesting to see if he will at some point actually engage the merits of any of the criticisms of his positions on the issues he raises, but I would not recommend anyone hold their breath.

Misunderstanding the History of Fundamentalism

GD asserts that Protestant Fundamentalism was a reactionary response to the then current expression of "biblical criticism and academic theology as they were being pursued at elite universities," and that it had a "self conscious anti-intellectual character" from its very beginning.

The problem with this claim is that it simply is not the case. GD is basing his comments on a caricature of Protestant Fundamentalism, rather than on their actual history. It is true that the Fundamentalist movement was a response to modernist and skeptical Biblical criticism, but the suggestion that it was those who were not educated responding to those who were is not at all true. The leaders of the early Fundamentalists included B. B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen who were prominent professors at Princeton Theological Seminary. Machen is still known to many because of his New Testament Greek Grammar, which is still in use (it was used in my first year of New Testament Greek at Southern Nazarene University). Princeton was considered even in those days to be an "elite university."

It is true that if you look only at those Protestants who today like to refer to themselves as "Fundamentalists," you are more likely to find people with more than a bit of an anti-intellectual bent, but there are many conservative Protestants, who continue to hold to the same positions that Warfield and Machen espoused, but who do not typically use that label, because it has acquired a negative connotation, and also because they consider their historic confessions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican) to be better descriptions of their faith. And whatever you may think of groups, such as the Missouri Synod Lutherans or the Orthodox Presbyterians, they are hardly anti-intellectual, nor do they devalue education, and contrary to GD's suggestions, they are neither Dispensationalists nor Restorationists.

Inerrancy and Innovation

Then GD went on to assert that the Fundamentalists were "far more innovative than the scholarship [they] found so egregious." And as an example of their allegedly innovative positions, he cited their belief in biblical inerrancy, which he claims was given its first "widespread endorsement" by them. 

First off, even if you disagree with the idea of biblical inerrancy, it is simply ridiculous from an historical standpoint to claim that this belief is far more innovative than denials of the deity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth of Christ, or the physical resurrection of Christ -- which were all things that modernist scholars were teaching, that the Fundamentalists rightly rejected.

He went on to assert:
"The very notion of biblical inerrancy is a modern idea. I know of no patristic or medieval author -- and I have read quite a few of them -- who believed that the Bible was without error, which is what "inerrancy" means. Nor do I know of any ancient or medieval author who thought that the Scriptures were literally dictated to their authors by the Holy Spirit. Those are modern assertions, not patristic, not Byzantine, not medieval." 
This is truly an astonishing claim. The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy is usually dated as beginning in the 1920's, though you could see  the beginnings of it in America as early as the 1890's. The inerrancy of Scripture was a belief universally held by mainstream Christians prior to the 19th Century. The idea that it was invented by Fundamentalists is a claim that has no basis in history. You might take issue with how Fundamentalists argued for inerrancy (and I would take issue with them there myself), and you can make a case that their approach was innovative, but not the very idea of inerrancy.

As for the suggestion that Fundamentalists believe "that the Scriptures were literally dictated to their authors by the Holy Spirit" -- no one believes that in any literal sense -- not even among Protestant Fundamentalists. You do find many writers long before the Fundamentalist controversy using dictation language, but this was never taken literally, but was simply used to emphasize the Divine origins of Scripture. Harold Lindsell, who was one of the staunchest Fundamentalists wrote "...there are no evangelical scholars who hold to mechanical dictation, although it is true that those who hold to Biblical inerrancy do believe in verbal inspiration..." (The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 55). And by verbal inspiration, he simply means that they believe (as St. Paul teaches) that all Scripture is inspired by God, and this includes every word of Scripture -- but this does not mean that the writers of Scripture played no role in the writing of Scripture. But one thing that this assertion shows is that GD has clearly read a lot more about Fundamentalists than he has ever bothered to read that was actually written by them. His belief that they would espouse a literal dictation view of inspiration is based on listening to those attacking Fundamentalism, rather than reading anyone who ever actually articulated such views. 

Having been a Protestant from the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, I once did an historical study of Methodist theologians, beginning with John Wesley himself, and found that every major Methodist theologian affirmed inerrancy prior to the end of 19th century.

John Wesley, speaking with regard to someone who questioned the complete inspiration of Scripture, wrote:
"If he is a Christian, he betrays his own cause by averring that all Scripture is not given by inspiration of God, but the writers of it were sometimes left to themselves, and consequently made some mistakes. Nay, if there be any mistake in the Bible, there may well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth" (qtd in Wilbur T. Dayton, "The Bible in the Wesleyan Tradition," Asbury Seminarian 40 (Spring 1985): 32). 
In fact, you do not find a major Methodist Theologian failing to specifically affirm inerrancy until you get to John Miley's Systematic Theology, which was published in 1892. And only with Olin Curtis, in 1905, do you find one who specifically denied the complete inerrancy of Scripture. So clearly it is contrary to fact to claim that the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture only came into prominence among the Fundamentalists in the early 20th century.

The Roman Catholic Church also clearly and unambiguously affirms the inerrancy of Scripture (see A Catholic Understanding of Biblical Inerrancy). And so the idea that this teaching was invented by American Protestant Fundamentalists in the early 20th century, or even by earlier Protestants is simply a ridiculous assertion, contrary to actual history.

But not only did this belief predate the Fundamentalist controversy, and not only did it not originate within Protestantism -- you will find it clearly taught by the Fathers of the Church. You will find numerous quotes from the Fathers in which they express their belief that the Scriptures were without error in this article:
The Inerrancy of Scripture
However, here are a few examples:

First, to cite GD's favorite Church Father -- St. Gregory the Theologian wrote;
“We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation” (NPNF2-07 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration II: In Defence of His Flight to Pontus, and His Return, After His Ordination to the Priesthood, with an Exposition of the Character of the Priestly Office , ch. 105, NPNF2, p.225).
Here St. Gregory references the words of the Lord: "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail" (Luke 16:17, c.f. Matthew 5:18). St. Gregory not only affirms verbal inerrancy, but in fact affirms every jot and tittle inerrancy.

St. John Chrysostom wrote:
"Don't worry, dearly beloved, don't think sacred Scripture ever contradicts itself, learn instead the truth of what it says, hold fast what it teaches in truth, and close your ears to those who speak against it" (Homily 4:8 on Genesis, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 56).
And this quote from St. John Chrysostom is simply one of many in which he routinely assures his hearers that there is nothing in Scripture that is in error.

St. Augustine also stated the matter very clearly:
"For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it" (Letter to St. Jerome, 1:3).
You can find countless other examples from the Fathers, as well as from the Protestant reformers to show that they held this belief in this essay:
Inerrancy and Church History: Is Inerrancy a Modern Invention?, by Jonathan Moorhead
So if indeed GD had never before read a single patristic or medieval writer who affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture, now that examples have been pointed out to him, will he bother to engage the evidence? Unfortunately, his approach to this discussion up until now does not inspire much hope that he will, but we shall see. If he does wish to deny that the Fathers believed in inerrancy, I would challenge him to provide examples of Fathers who actually asserted that what the Scriptures intended to convey was actually erroneous. I know that he cannot, not because I have read everything that every Father ever wrote, but because if such quotes could be found, I am sure people like GD would quote them ad nauseum.

Historical Critical Biblical Scholarship

GD seems to be under the impression that the Biblical scholarship that predominates modern western universities represents some empirical science, and if you question it, you are in the same anti-intellectual camp as members of the Flat Earth Society. This is hardly the case. Certainly, there are aspects of such scholarship that provide useful and valuable information, and there are aspects of it that are more empirical than others, but this scholarship does not come free from ideological agendas. In particular, the German Biblical Scholarship that emerged after the religious wars following the Protestant Reformation had a consciously secularizing agenda. I talk about the ideological assumptions of such scholarship in my essay on Sola Scriptura, but for more on why this is the case, I would refer the interested reader to two books on the subject:
Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture (1300 - 1700), by Scott W. Hahn and Benjamin Wiker (New York, NY: Herder & Herder Books, 2013)
The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies, by Michael C. Legaspi (Oxford University Press, 2010).
When Rudolf Bultmann, for example, argued that Jesus was not only not the Christ, but that he did not even believe himself to be the Christ, this was not a scientific conclusion that we are bound to accept unless we wish to be anti-intellectual and deny reality. This was the expression of Bultmann's opinions, cloaked in scholarly bluster in order to make it sound scientific. His opinions were not based on any hard evidence or undeniable facts whatsoever. This is true of quite a bit of what passes for Biblical scholarship today.

Having said all of that, I would never suggest that Orthodox scholars or clergy should not be familiar with such scholarship. In fact, I think it is very important that they be familiar with it, but like the Methodist theologian Thomas Oden, I would encourage them to apply the same hermeneutic of suspicion to that scholarship, which its practitioners so love to apply to Scripture. As Oden observes:
"Scripture criticism is more firmly captive today to its modern (naturalistic, narcissistic, individualistic) Zeitgeist than Augustinianism ever was to Platonism or Thomism to Aristotelianism. Trapped in modern prejudices against pre-modern forms of consciousness, reductionistic exegesis has proved to be just as prone to speculation as were the extremist forms of Gnosticism and as uncritical of its own presuppositions as supralapsarian Protestant scholasticism" (Agenda for Theology: After Modernity What? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) p. 111).
 “We violate a primary ethical demand upon historical study if we impose upon a set of documents presuppositions congenial to us and then borrow from the canonical prestige of the documents by claiming that it corresponds with our favored predisposition. That lacks honesty. The modern attempt to study Christ has done this repeatedly. The text has often become a mirror of ideological interest: Kant’s Christ becomes a strained exposition of the categorical imperative; Hegel’s Christ looks like a shadow-image of the Hegelian dialectic. Schleiermacher’s Christ is a reflection of the awkward mating of pietism and romanticism; Strauss’s Christ is neatly weeded of all supernatural referents. Harnack’s portrait of Christ looks exactly like that of a late nineteenth-century German liberal idealist; and Tillich’s Christ is a dehistorical existential idea of being that participates in estrangement without being estranged…. The historical biblical critic was “not nearly so interested in being changed by his reading of the Bible, as in changing the way that the Bible was read in order to confirm it to the modern spirit”” (The Word of Life: Systematic Theology Volume Two, (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 224f).
"Historical biblical criticism has been allied with polemical concerns since its eighteenth century inception as an ideological agent of "Enlightenment." It has expressed a determined interest from the beginning in discrediting not merely the authority of Scripture, but authority in general -- all authority as such. Just read the biographies of Reimarus, Rousseau, Lessing, Strauss, Feuerbach, and of course Nietzsche (cf. Jacques Derrida, The Ear of the Other). It has operated especially as a partisan "ideology for the demystification of religious tradition"... It is astutely described as the strike force of modernity, "the Wehrmacht of the liberal Church"... The hermeneutic of suspicion has been safely applied to the history of Jesus but not to the history of the historians. It is now time for the tables to turn. The hermeneutic of suspicion must be fairly and prudently applied to the critical movement itself... One obvious neglected arena is the social location of the quasi-Marxist critics of the social location of classic Christianity, who hold comfortable chairs in rutted, tenured tracks. These writers have focused upon the analysis of the social location of the writers and interpreters of Scripture. Yet that principle awaits now to be turned upon the social prejudices of the "knowledge elite" -- a guild of scholars asserting their interest in the privileged setting of the modern university" (Ibid., p. 225f).
Patristic Inerrancy

GD never offers any citations of anyone who actually asserts that the fathers of the Church were inerrant and always agreed. Again, we are expected to trust the accuracy of his caricature, but I for one do not. I have never read a single writer who has ever asserted such a thing. We certainly do believe that the Church itself is inerrant, and St. Cyprian of Carthage (who was martyred in 258 a.d.) clearly taught this, as has the Church ever since. No individual father is inerrant, but the consensus of the Fathers is... and we find this consensus most clearly expressed in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.

Fr. George Florovsky observed:
"The teaching authority of the Ecumenical Councils is grounded in the infallibility of the Church. The ultimate "authority" is vested in the Church, which is forever the Pillar and the Foundation of Truth" (The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century).
The Patriarchal Encyclical of 1895, which was written in response to a Papal encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, in which he called for the reunion of the Orthodox Church with the Roman Church, states:
"...having recourse to the fathers and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church of the first nine centuries, we are fully persuaded that the Bishop of Rome was never considered as the supreme authority and infallible head of the Church, and that every bishop is head and president of his own particular Church, subject only to the synodical ordinances and decisions of the Church universal as being alone infallible, the Bishop of Rome being in no wise excepted from this rule, as Church history shows."
And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain states, as he begins his famous commentary on the Ecumenical Canons:
"So every ecumenical council that possesses these characteristic features is in fact the Holy and Catholic Church itself in which in the Symbol of Faith (called the Creed in English) we profess to believe. ...being infallible and sinless. For the Church, which the Ecumenical Council takes the place of as its personal representative, is a pillar and framework of the truth, according to St. Paul (I Tim. 3:15); accordingly, whatever seems right to Ecumenical Councils seems right also to the Holy Spirit of Truth: for, it says, “He shall teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said unto you” (John 14:26)" (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 157).
Canon 1 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council states, with regard to all the Ecumenical canons and decrees of the previous Councils (as well as those of local Councils and Fathers whom these Councils specifically affirmed, states:
"For those who have been allotted a sacerdotal dignity, the representations of canonical ordinances amount to testimonies and directions. Gladly accepting these, we sing to the Lord God with David, the spokesman of God, the following words: “I have delighted in the way of thy testimonies as much as in all wealth,” and “thy testimonies which thou hast commanded witness righteousness,… Thy testimonies are righteousness forever: give me understanding, and I shall live” (Ps. 119:14, 138 and 144). And if forever the prophetic voice commands us to keep the testimonies of God, and to live in them, it is plain that they remain unwavering and rigid. For Moses, too, the beholder of God, says so in the following words: “To them there is nothing to add, and from them there is nothing to remove” (Deut. 12:32). And the divine Apostle Peter, exulting in them, cries: “which things the angels would like to peep into” (I Pet. 1:12). And Paul says: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any gospel besides that which ye have received, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8). Seeing that these things are so and are attested to us, and rejoicing at them “as one that findeth great spoil” (Ps. 119:162), we welcome and embrace the divine Canons, and we corroborate the entire and rigid fiat of them that have been set forth by the renowned Apostles, who were and are trumpets of the Spirit, and those both of the six holy Ecumenical Councils and of the ones assembled regionally far the purpose of setting forth such edicts and of those of our holy Fathers. For all those men, having been guided by the light dawning out of the same Spirit, prescribed rules that are to our best interest. Accordingly, we too anathematize whomsoever they consign to anathema; and we too depose whomsoever they consign to deposition; and we too excommunicate whomsoever they consign to excommunication; and we likewise subject to a penance anyone whom they make liable to a penance. For “Let your conduct be free from avarice; being content with such things as are at hand” (Heb. 13:5), explicitly cries the divine apostle Paul, who ascended into the third heaven and heard unspeakable words (II Cor. 12:2-4)."
And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain adds two comments in his notes to his commentary on this canon:
"Note here how respectable and reverend the divine Canons are. For this holy Council, by calling them “testimonies” and “justifications,” and the like, dignifies these very same divine Canons with those title and names with which the divinely inspired and holy Bible is dignified."
"That is why Photius, in Title I, ch. 2, says that the third ordinance of Title II of the Novels invests the Canons of the seven Councils and their dogmas with the same authoritativeness as the divine Scriptures." (Rudder, p. 428f).

Everyone I don't Agree with is a Fundamentalist

In the course of his lecture, GD somehow manages to link groups as diverse as the Protestant Fundamentalists (which include pacifist Seventh-Day Adventists) and ISIS; Dispensationalists (who tend to be more Zionistic than Jewish Zionists) and Greek and Russian Antisemites; American Protestant converts to Orthodoxy (who tend to not favor Orthodox ethnic xenophobia) and radical Greek and Russian nationalists; Protestant Restorationists (who believe that the Church ceased to exist for most of its history, and had to be recreated) and Orthodox Traditionalists (who believe the normative practices of the Church should remain unchanged, and needs little or no reform).

With at least as much justice, one could speak of modernists as a broad category, and lump GD into the same basket as French revolutionaries, Russian Bolsheviks, the Chinese Red Guard, sexual libertines, Unitarian-Universalists, the Living Church movement, the Masons, and the most extreme liberals found in mainline Protestant denominations. However, not only would that be unfair, it would also do very little to help anyone actually understand GD's actual positions. The same is also true of GD's "basket of deplorables."

But GD somehow connects all of the groups he lumps together as "Fundamentalists" because they all are reacting in someway to the process of secularization and globalization. By that logic, one would have to assume that there was some ideological connection between the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, the Kingdom of Ethiopia, the Kingdom of Greece, and both the Nationalist and Communist Chinese... because all of them responded to being attacked by fascists in World War II by resisting it vigorously. But obviously, there was no ideological connection at work here. What was at work was the very basic instinct of any nation to want to survive as an independent nation rather than to be subjugated by a foreign power.

Modernism and secularism are not neutral results of the march of progress, as GD seems to suggest. They represent ideological views that are generally at odds with traditional religious faith. People who adhere to traditional religious faiths (of any kind) are generally going to resist attempts from the outside to impose foreign beliefs upon them, which contradict their deeply held beliefs. And in fact it is only the cultural imperialism of such modernists and secularists that would lead them to assume that adherents of such faiths had some obligation to bow the knee to their foreign worldview. Such modernists actively are pushing for moral relativism, and it is not surprising that any religion with a strong moral code would resist being "assimilated."

Deliberately Combative

One of the defining characteristics of Fundamentalism, according to GD, is its "deliberately combative" style, and yet in the course of this lecture we see ample evidence that GD deliberately adopts a combative style himself. For example, to explain his use of the term 'Fundamentalist" he mentioned that at a recent conference on Tradition, Secularization, and Fundamentalism at Fordham University, they had 14 international speakers, about 100 people in attendance, and said: "I think it's fair to say that no one in the room really agreed whether or not "fundamentalism" is an appropriate term... right? Because it is such a loaded term... right? And I acknowledge that it is a very very loaded term, and when I first wrote the blog I did it deliberately to be provocative... right? It worked... right?" and then he laughed. One has to wonder why he continues to be deliberately provocative, rather than attempt to engage in a constructive discussion on the many disparate issues he raises. For example, if he condemns Antisemitism, he would find me agreeing with him wholeheartedly. I've preached sermons on the subject before, and I think it is important to be clearly opposed to it. If he could find someone who actually opposes rational thought or theological education in the Orthodox Church, I would agree with him that they are wrong on those points too. However, when he lumps those people in with those who take issue with ecumenism, or theological and liturgical renovationism, he is not trying to engage in rational discussion -- he is simply engaging in name calling in order to avoid engaging in an actual rational discussion.


One of the more novel claims GD made was that Vladimir Lossky, Fr. George Florovsky, Christos Yannaras, Fr. John Meyendorff, Fr. John Romanides, and Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), all got it wrong on the differences between Orthodox spirituality and western spirituality. To make this claim, he confuses and conflates a number issues. He attempts to refute the contrast that these theologians made between the post schismatic west (which is obvious) by saying that there were no such differences during the patristic period... which would be pre-schism, and so obviously a very different matter. He also repeatedly conflates rationalism with rational thought, and so suggests that those who oppose rationalism are opposed to rational thought, and are thus anti-intellectual. Perhaps he was not reading his lecture notes properly when he made such statements, but the error is too obvious to waste time refuting. He also suggests that Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) somehow opposes "employing rational means," "critical thinking,"and "drawing upon non-Orthodox sources to make theological arguments." I'm pretty sure Metropolitan Hierotheos is not opposed to any of those things. But as is usually the case, we are left with bare assertions, and are presented with no actual evidence that what he claims is in fact true, nor with arguments that engage the person he is making these assertions about.


GD suggests that converts to Orthodoxy are prone to "embrace a restorationist approach to the Church. By "Restorationist" I mean an attempt to construct and pursue an imagined Orthodox past experience which never actually existed." His comments on this issue were based, I suspect, either on Fr. Oliver Herbel's recent book "Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church" or perhaps on him having heard a lecture by Fr. Oliver on that same topic. However, I think he takes this idea much further than Fr. Oliver does in his book. 

For one thing, I don't think GD understands what Restorationism really is, or realizes that it is a very particular strain of Protestantism, and that not all Protestant come from such a background. 

Among Protestants, there are broadly speaking two views of Church history. There are those that believe that they are a reformation of the Catholic Church... which they see as having been the visible Church, but which fell into a state that needed reform -- in this group, you would find the Lutherans, the Reformed Churches, the Anglicans, and those historically connected with Methodism. None of these groups could be described as "Restorationists." You often (at least historically speaking) find in such groups a clear sense that the Roman Catholic Church became an apostate Church, but this was because it was that part of the Church which refused to be reformed, as they thought it should be. So they see themselves in continuity with the same Church that St. Augustine and St. Athanasius the Great belonged to. Theologians from such groups frequently quote the Fathers as having important ideas that they wholeheartedly affirm.

Then there are those who either believe that they descend from a hidden and long persecuted remnant of the early Church (such as Anabaptist and Baptist groups -- see for example the book "The Trail of Blood" for a classic expression of this view), and then there are those that believe that the Church actually ceased to exist, but was brought back into being by their group (such as the various Church of Christ denominations, the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, etc). Some would include both of these groups under the label of "Restorationists," but it is really only the second group that are truly "Restorationists" in the proper sense of the term. Such groups find little to no value in the Church Fathers, and would generally consider them to be apostates, though many of these groups are Trinitarian.

It is true that Protestants who come from a Restorationist background may well be drawn to Orthodoxy because they sense they have otherwise been disappointed by Restorationism, and Fr. Oliver Herbel makes a good case that this is what motivated the Evangelical Orthodox Church to eventually convert to Orthodoxy and become the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission. However, this is not what would motivate someone who converted from Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, or the Methodist movement.

Speaking from my own experience, I had an appreciation for Tradition before I had any real idea of what the Orthodox Church was, or had any thoughts of converting to it, because I came from a denomination that explicitly affirmed that Tradition had a role in theology, and which saw itself as being connected with the rest of Church history, rather than as a restoration of the Early Church, which had disappeared because of a complete apostasy. For me, it was because of this appreciation of Tradition that I eventually went looking to the early Church Fathers for answers to questions, and in the process of doing so, came to the conclusion that the denomination I was born into was not in fact in continuity with the Church of the Fathers I was reading. In particular, when I read the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch (who was a disciple of the Apostle John), I became convinced that I did not belong to the same Church that he did, but wanted to. Had I lived a hundred years earlier, I quite likely would have become an Anglo-Catholic, and been satisfied with that, but the Anglican Church of the late 1980's did not strike me as being any closer to St. Ignatius' Church than the one I was in.

The problem with the suggestion that converts are approaching Orthodoxy in a "restorationist" manner is that such people would not be embracing the received Tradition of the Church, but would rather be seeking to reconstruct the Church into something else altogether. The irony here is that it is actually Orthodox Modernists that are trying to do that. They tell us we should not have an iconostasis, or at least not close the curtains or the doors, because they say such things did not exist in the Early Church. They argue that we should do the secret prayers aloud, because even though the Church has done them secretly as far back as any surviving service books would indicate, they tell us that such prayers were not said secretly in the Early Church. We should have deaconesses again, because they had them in the Early Church. We should have married bishops, because they had them in the Early Church. We should have baptismal liturgies, and weddings done in the Liturgy, because, they tell us this is how they were done in the Early Church. It is the Modernists who are the Restorationists in the Orthodox Church, not the conservatives -- converts or cradle.

When a Protestant converts to the Orthodox Church, he has taken just about as opposite a course from that of Restorationism as is possible.

Toll Houses

In conspiracy theory fashion, GD, goes on to try to connect all of his other asserted Fundamentalist traits with the Toll Houses. However, after first asserting that "It seems that a few Russian monks decided that it was a good idea to scare the peasants, and so they invented the teaching on the toll houses," he went on to say that "there is evidence in our teaching for this tradition, I don't mean to say that there isn't. There is." He hastens to add that it was "a minor, and somewhat suspect teaching" found in "some Byzantine texts." However, it is obvious that if this is a part of our teaching and if it is found in Byzantine texts, it is hardly possible that Russians monks invented the idea to scare the peasants.

What's more to the point is that there is nothing about affirming a Tradition that GD concedes is part of our teaching that makes someone a Fundamentalist. Fr. Thomas Hopko was hardly a Fundamentalist, and yet he stated that this tradition is found in virtually every Father of the Church (see The Illumined Heart: Toll Houses: After Death Reality or Heresy?, September 30, 2007: He interpreted them in a mostly allegorical way, though he believed that they did indicate that demons attack the soul at the time of death, and that at the point of death a person has to answer for his life. Whether his interpretation is more accurate than Fr. Seraphim (Rose)'s or not is really not that important to me. I think both opinions are within the bounds of acceptable opinions on the matter. However, the often vitriolic dismissal of a verbal image that is found in the Fathers and in the Services of the Church, that we often encounter in our times, reflects an unhealthy attitude towards the Tradition of the Church.

In short, GD's primary objection to the Toll Houses is that they are not fundamental to our Faith. Perhaps he should come up with a list of what he considers to be fundamental beliefs... maybe including the virgin birth, the death and bodily Resurrection of Christ, and maybe a couple of other points that he believes to be fundamental. But he should recognize that he is the one being a reductionist Fundamentalist here. 

Black and White

At one point in the lecture, someone in the audience asked if GD considered Fr. Seraphim (Rose) to be a Fundamentalist. He answered, without any sense of irony: 
"Seraphim (Rose)? Absolutely! Anyone who wants to say that things are black and white is either willfully ignorant,or is lying... right? It's one or the other, because you simply cannot read Orthodox Christian history and think that it's always black and white."
That seems an awfully black and white perspective. Once again, it is obvious that GD has read a lot more about Fr. Seraphim (Rose) than he has bothered read that was actually written by him. Fr. Seraphim (Rose) does not fit the bill of GD's definition of an Orthodox Fundamentalist. He did not see everything as black and white. He criticized extremists. He wrote an essay on why we should call non-Orthodox Christians "Christians," and be cautious about using the word "Heretic" for people who have never been in the Church. He was highly educated, and encouraged education. One can disagree with him on some points, as I do myself, but he was not the caricature that GD would have us believe.

Ironically, when asked why people embrace those who see everything as "black and white" he answered that it was because it was "easy." But that is the problem with GD's entire lecture. He never acknowledges any nuances among those he attacks. He never concedes that their criticisms have any merit. It is all black and white. He has opted for easy, lazy responses.

Also, if one looks at GD's Twitter feed, you will see that there are a great many issues that he sees as black and white.

Opposition to Ecumenism

GD's sweepingly asserts that opposition to Ecumenism is by definition Fundamentalism. To see if this is so, let's first ask a question that GD never bothers to address: what do we mean by Ecumenism? Ecumenism is the belief that the Orthodox Church is not itself the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, but that the Church exists in separated branches that are somehow spiritually united (which is the Protestant notion of the invisible Church), and needs to be united together for the Church to be fully one. In its most extreme form, Ecumenism even goes beyond the Christian world, and promotes religious syncretism as an ultimate goal. The problem with those who promote Ecumenism is found in their use of the very word "Ecumenical." In the Orthodox Church, the word "Ecumenical" has a very particular meaning, and when we speak of an Ecumenical Council, we do not mean a council in which the Orthodox and all the various heretical and schismatic groups send representatives, and sing kumbaya. At Ecumenical Councils, quite the opposite happened. The Orthodox met together to reject heretical and schismatic groups who refused to be united with it in a common confession of Faith, and in a unity of communion.

Did the Fathers speak with those who were in error in an attempt to correct and reconcile them? Yes, of course. Did they ever have pan-religious prayers for peace, or have endless hobnobbing cessions with the various heretical groups of their times, and then do "Ecumenical Doxologies" with them? No. The canons clearly condemn praying with heretics or schismatics, and this is precisely because engaging in such joint prayers suggests a unity of faith that does not actually exist.

GD at various points suggests that those promoting Ecumenism are following the Tradition of the Church more closely than those who oppose them, and he speaks of them as "engaging in cautious but hopeful Ecumenical encounter." But here he completely ignores some of the most outrageous Ecumenical abuses we have seen in the past few decades, which included, for example, Orthodox bishops participating in liturgical processions that could only be described as heretical and pan-religious circuses. And if he believes that the Fathers engaged in such things, he is promoting an imagined history that never actually happened.

You can watch hours of such events in videos posted here:

I would recommend going to the bottom of that page, and watching the documentaries that are posted, starting with the oldest first. These videos were produced by Greek Old Calendarists, but the footage they contain is real, and it is shameful. There are countless examples of ecumenical and pan-religious dog and pony shows in which you see Orthodox bishops playing prominent roles. 

Fortunately, some of the worst abuses, particularly at the World Council of Churches (WCC) have stopped, because the widespread distribution of the footage of such ecumenical atrocities resulted in a backlash from the faithful that forced their bishops to put a stop to such things. After the reforms of the WCC that were pushed especially by the Russian Orthodox Church, there are now no longer pan-religious services, or "inter-confessional" services done at WCC assemblies, and the WCC can no longer issue any statements that are not agreed to by every group represented (which gives the Orthodox an effective veto over anything that they might say that would be objectionable). This has rendered Orthodox participation in the WCC relatively harmless, but I would suggest that one has to wonder what good our continued participation in it has brought about, and those who believe we should completely withdraw from the WCC have arguments that are worthy of consideration. The various heterodox groups that are in the WCC are certainly no closer to us today than they were when our participation first began. In fact, it is obvious that they are drifting further away from us with each passing year. However, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continues to push the boundaries by participating in interfaith prayer services in other context. It is not unreasonable to ask what the goal is with such things, and also what good fruit has come from it? It has only confused the faithful and confused the heterodox about what we really believe.

It is undeniable that there have been gross abuses in the history of Orthodox participation in the Ecumenical movement, both in terms of actions and statements. I would agree that some take extremist positions in response to such things, and that they should be criticized. However, those who are responsible for these abuses will have to answer for the scandal they have caused in the Church, and for causing such temptations in the first place.

However, as far as GD is concerned, there is no difference between the extremists and those who are moderate in their opposition to Ecumenism. Nor has he conceded that they have any legitimate points, because GD prefers to take the easy way, and see it all as black and white, without any nuance.

From some of GD's statements, it sounds as if he believes that Roman Catholics and Protestants are somehow part of the Church, and so it sounds like he too holds to a branch-theory of the Church. 
"We do not have a single shred of evidence from the entire Byzantine period that a synod of Orthodox bishops ever declared that western Christians did not belong to the Church, or that they should be baptized before they were restored to communion with Orthodoxy. The most famous canon lawyers of the 12th and 13th centuries maintained that Latin Christians only needed to offer a confession of Faith."
What does he mean to suggest here? Even when the Church receives someone by confession of Faith, they are receiving them into the Church. You don't receive someone into the Church who is already in it. 

I would encourage the interested reader to read the articles posted here:

For some of my criticisms of Orthodox extremists see: Stump the Priest: Old Calendarists.

Baptism in the Name of the Trinity

GD argues that the insistence of anti-ecumenists that all converts from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism be received into the Orthodox Church by baptism is proof of their rejection of a real historic view of the Church and its Tradition.

For one thing, GD fails to note that not all those opposed to Ecumenism would take the same position. While it is the norm to baptize all converts in ROCOR, with the blessing of my bishop I have received several Roman Catholics, Traditionalist Anglicans, and Presbyterians by chrismation. So again there is nuance where GD sees everything as black and white. However, if you actually read the service used to receive such groups into the Church, the text makes it very clear that they were not in the Church, but are being received into it. 

But as the ultimate proof of the error of those who say that Roman Catholics should be baptized when they convert to Orthodoxy, GD points out that Arians, who "did not baptize in the name of the Trinity" were received by confession of Faith and not baptism. The problem with this argument is that we do not baptize with the words "in the name of the Trinity..." We baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The Arians baptized in precisely the same way. Even Jehovah's Witnesses today do the same. At the time of the Arian controversy, there were many local Churches that moved back and forth between communion with Arians and the Orthodox. It was a fluid situation. But this fluidity was possible in part because in terms of practical piety (how worship was conducted, how the sacraments were administered), there were not big differences. There is no reason that I am aware of to believe that the Arians baptized people in any way different than the Orthodox did. The difference was in what they believed about who the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were... not what they said and did when they baptized someone. In fact, Arian baptism was undoubtedly far closer to Orthodox baptism than you find in Roman Catholicism today or among the Protestants. Under the circumstances of the time, receiving people who had been baptized by Arian clergy made complete pastoral and practical sense. 

The objection that people who argue that all Protestants and Roman Catholics should be baptized have, is not that it is impossible to receive people by economia who were baptized by a triple immersion outside of the Church. Their objection is that the form of baptism that is commonly practiced among such groups is not triple immersion baptism. 

Being baptized by triple immersion (or pouring, in cases of necessity) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the canonical standard of a baptism that is valid in outward form. Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council lists various groups that would either be received by confession of faith, or by chrismation, but specifically mentions that the Eunomians "who are baptized with a single immersion" are to be received by baptism. And most Protestants are baptized today by a single immersion, and often they are baptized with non-standard verbage, such as "in the name of Jesus."

The historic practice of the Russian Church has been to receive Roman Catholics, Reformed (Episcopalians, Presbyterians), and Lutherans by economia. Since the 70's, the practice of the Russian Church Outside of Russia has been to baptize all converts as a rule, unless the bishop gives a specific blessing to receive someone by economia.

Another question we should consider is how does the Church view the baptisms of those outside of the Church? True baptism unites one to the Church, and obviously, those who are baptized outside of the Church are not united to the Church by their baptism. We pass no judgment on the souls of those outside of the Church, and leave that question in the hands of God, but we can say that at least in this life, they remain outside of the Church until and unless they are received into the Orthodox Church.

In the early Church there was a dispute about whether converts who had been baptized by heretics or schismatics should be baptized or not. St. Cyprian of Carthage took the position that they should, and he presided over a council in Carthage that declared there is no true baptism outside of the Church. And this canon was affirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in its second canon. However, that same canon also affirmed the canons of St. Basil, and his first canon, provides a bit more nuance. He agreed that the Church is under no obligation to recognize baptisms that take place outside of the Church, but states that for the sake of "economia" the Church may do so, though he also noted that in different regions, different practices prevailed when it came to how certain heretics or schismatics were received.

So what happens when the Church accepts a baptism that was done outside of the Church, by economia? St. Augustine compared baptism to the "military mark" which was a tattoo a soldier was given when he entered the Roman Army, and it showed what commander he belonged to. St. Augustine said that such a mark could be retained by deserters (schismatics), and it could illicitly be given to those who had never been in the army, and yet unless and until such men actually joined (or rejoined) the army, those marks did not have the real significance that they should have... however if they did rejoin or join the army, the mark would not need to be redone. And so what happens when someone is received by economia is they are finally united to the Church, and their baptism is then given the real meaning of what true baptism is.

So the key question here is whether or not the outward form of baptism of a particular convert is acceptable or not. Particularly in our times, this is an increasingly difficult question, because even what were once "mainstream" denominations have people doing all kinds of crazy things these days, such as baptizing people "in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer.." And so simply confirming that someone was baptized as a Lutheran or even a Roman Catholic is no longer any guarantee of how they were actually baptized.

While one might disagree with how far some people take this issue, to deny that they at least have some reasonable concerns is to deny the Tradition of the Church on the matter.

For more on this subject, see:

Moral Relativism

I would like to conclude this response by getting down to what I think is at least in large part the elephant in the room that is behind much of what GD is arguing,* but which he does not come out and say -- and that is the question of Christian morality, moral relativism, and homosexuality in particular. GD says that those he considers to be Fundamentalists believe that the Church is under siege by modernism and secularism, but that he does not believe that these are serious threats -- certainly no more serious than problems the Church has faced at any other time. However, one of the manifestations of secularism we see in high gear today, is the push against any Traditional morality. Is this really an imaginary threat to the Orthodox piety? If you look at a Pew survey which compared the beliefs of various Christian groups, those identifying as Orthodox have some of the worst percentages on moral issues of any of the groups listed. This shows that secularization has had a very negative effect already on the Church in America, and we would be foolish to not see it as a serious threat.

St. Paul made it very clear that there are some moral issues that really are black and white:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals (malakoi), nor sodomites (arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). 
We have many voices in the Church today who deny that homosexual sex is inherently sinful. They claim it is no more serious a sin than any other, if they do not flat out deny that it is a sin at all -- as very many of them do. Not too long ago we had the case of Gregory Pappas of the Pappas Post who publicly complained that a Greek Orthodox priest refused to commune him, because he was an active homosexual. In his complaint, there is no suggestion that he is struggling against this sin, only justification of his sin -- and in fact, a clear denial that it really is a sin. But the saddest part of this story is that, according to him, Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh told him that while the priest was "technically within his canonical rights" to deny him communion, he would commune him, and that other priests had likewise offered to commune him. He likewise tossed the word "Fundamentalist" around quite a bit too, suggesting that it was Fundamentalism that was behind telling an active homosexual that he could not receive communion. 

Gregory Pappas is a victim of pastoral malpractice -- not because he was denied communion for refusing to repent of a serious sin -- but because he has been given the false impression that he does not need to repent of that sin, because it is not a sin. One cannot repent of a sin that they do not believe to be such. This is a complete departure from the Tradition of the Church, and if anyone thinks that there was a time when the saints of the Church would have put up with the suggestion that one could be an Orthodox Christian in good standing and also live in an active homosexual relationship, they are positing an imaginary history that never actually happened.

My questions for George Demacopoulos are:
1. Do you believe that it is inherently sinful for a man to have sex with another man?
2. Is a priest a Fundamentalist if he denies communion to a man who is having sex with another man, and doesn't believe he needs to repent of it?
3. Is it issues like this that are behind the push for "post-patristic theology," because only when we are ready to "move beyond the Fathers" can such things be "reinterpreted" in such a way as to satisfy the spirit of the age? 
I am old enough to remember when pretty much every Christian group agreed that homosexuality was a sin, because it says so in the Bible. This was not in some imagined Fundamentalist past that never really was, this was not all that long ago.

*I say this based on conversations with past students of GD at Fordham University.