Synod Statement

19 June, 2009

From OCANews:

The meeting of the Synod of Antioch concluded Friday morning, June 19, with the issuance of a brief Statement regarding the situation in North America. Various reports from the meeting indicate that the gathering was very contentious and resulted in a decision that was not unanimous.

It is reported that those who voted against the Statement of the Synod were those normally aligned with Metropolitan Philip.

As soon as the official English language translation of the Statement is released, it will be posted on

There is a rumor, reported on OCNet, that the Synod has reversed +Philip’s decision with regard to the AOCA bishops. The bolded sentence above would support that, but I’ll wait for the English translation to come out (as far as I can tell, the Arabic statement has not been made public).


Not Exactly Orthodox

13 June, 2009


Interesting Study

10 June, 2009

From the Orthodoxy Today Survey, some interesting nuggets.

90% of Orthodox parishioners are American born, not first generation immigrants.

29% of GOA respondents are converts; 51% of OCA respondents are converts.

41% of respondents described themselves as “traditional,” while 28% called themselves “conservative,” and 31%, “moderate-liberal.”

However, only 30% support female altar servers, and not even 10% support the ordination of women, so “moderate-liberal” is shifted less to the left than it would be for Western Christians. Further support for this is shown in the fact that over half of those self-identified moderate-liberals believe that when there is a conflict between the priest and the congregation, the priest should have the final word.

The survey asked some of the same questions asked in a Roman Catholic survey in 2005. In response to the question, “One cannot be a good Orthodox Christian/Roman Catholic . . .” Orthodox and Catholics responded in the following ways.

  1. without believing that Jesus rose from the dead.

    Orthodox: 98%
    Catholic: 77%

  2. without believing that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.

    Orthodox: 97%
    Catholic: 64%

  3. without going to Church every Sunday.

    Orthodox: 40%
    Catholic: 24%

  4. without donating time or money to help the poor.

    Orthodox: 72%
    Catholic: 56%

The first two are theological, and unsurprising. The third, however, is somewhat unexpected, given that the Roman Catholics have a tradition of “social activism,” and the “social gospel” heresy has never established itself in Orthodoxy. The fourth is also intersting, since Catholicism has a weekly obligation to attend, but Orthodoxy does not.

Anyway, it’s an interesting study. I’m still perusing it. In general, the study bears out to some extent that converts are more conservative than cradle Orthodox, and while on many (but not all) questions, OCA priests are more conservative than GOA priests, laity in both jurisdictions seem mostly the same.


7 June, 2009

Catholic Answers is suing the IRS.

The apologetics organization Catholic Answers has filed suit against the Internal Revenue Service claiming the federal tax collection agency has “intimidated” churches and non-profit groups into silence on politically controversial moral issues.

Let’s hope other groups who have been harassed into silence by the IRS join the suit.

“Styli and wax tablets” old school

5 June, 2009

A Baptist minister discovers Orthodox worship.

Shelby and Lillian went with us. On the way we warned them that this was going to be different. “They might not have changed their worship service much in a thousand years or so,” I told the girls.

That was an understatement.

Saint Anthony the Great isn’t just old school. It’s “styli and wax tablets” old school. We arrived ten minutes early for worship and the room was already filled with people lighting candles and praying. There was one greeter. I said, “We don’t know what to do.” She handed me a liturgy book and waved us inside.

Pews? We don’t need no stinking pews! Providing seats for worshipers is SO 14th century. Gorgeous Byzantine art, commissioned from a famous artist in Bulgaria. Fully robed priests with censors (those swinging incense thingies). Long, complex readings and chants that went on and on and on. And every one of them packed full of complex, theological ideas. It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation. And just to make sure it wasn’t too easy for us, everything was read in a monotone voice and at the speed of an auctioneer.

I heard words and phrases I had not heard since seminary. Theotokos, begotten not made, Cherubim and Seraphim borne on their pinions, supplications and oblations. It was an ADD kids nightmare. Robes, scary art, smoking incense, secret doors in the Iconostas popping open and little robed boys coming out with golden candlesticks, chants and singing from a small choir that rolled across the curved ceiling and emerged from the other side of the room where no one was singing. The acoustics were wild. No matter who was speaking, the sound came out of everywhere. There was so much going on I couldn’t keep up with all the things I couldn’t pay attention to.

[ . . . ]

Shelby tried to tough it out. We were following along in the 40 page liturgy book that was only an abbreviation of the service were were experiencing. I got lost no less than 10 times. After 50 minutes Shelby leaned over and asked how much longer the service would be. I was trying to keep from locking my knees because my thighs had gotten numb. I showed her the book. We were on page 15. I flipped through the remaining 25 pages to show her how much more there was. Her mouth fell open.

[ . . . ]

So what did I think about my experience at Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Church?

I LOVED IT. Loved it loved it loved it loved it loved it.

In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me.

“You don’t know what Theotokos means? Get a book and read about it. You have a hard time standing for 2 hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape. It is the Lord our God we worship here, mortal. What made you think you could worship the Eternal One without pain?”

See, I get that. That makes sense to me. I had a hard time following the words of the chants and liturgy, but even my lack of understanding had something to teach me.

“There is so much for you to learn. There is more here than a person could master in a lifetime. THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU ARE. Your understanding is not central here. These are ancient rites of the church. Stand with us, brother, and you will learn in time. Or go and find your way to an easier place if you must. God bless you on that journey. We understand, but this is the way we do church.”

I’m going back again on Sunday. I started to write, “I’m looking forward to it.” But that’s not right. I’m feeling right about it.

And feeling right is what I’m looking for.

And he went back.

Pray for the AOCA

4 June, 2009

Outlook Let me say up front that I have my own disagreements with +Philip. I am by no means a member of the Metropolitan Philip Fan Club. However, +Philip has built a forty year legacy of evangelizing the United States and building the foundation of an American Orthodox church, usually when no other Orthodox bishop had the courage to do so. One can admire the legacy even if he doesn’t always like the methods involved.

That was up until the latest scandal. Those who despise +Philip apparently find his actions transparent. I, however, do not see how undoing everything one has worked for for over forty years to be transparent, understandable, or rational, so I have avoided chiming in on this unfortunate chain of events (if you’re interested in details, OCA News posted links here).

And every event or statement serves to muddy the waters. The latest chapter saw His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, invite the Antiochian bishops with the notable exception of +Philip to Damascus, where they are now. Richard half-seriously questions whether the contrast between two pictures reflects what this may mean. Perhaps he’s onto something, or perhaps not.

We do not know whether all of this comes from +Philip, +Ignatius, or the Synod in Damascus (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as coming from the Patriarch). It would be slightly more rational if it had come from +Ignatius or the Synod, but His Beatitude does not have a history of Byzantine political plays, or if he does, it has been kept quiet. I have no reason to take such a cynical view of +Ignatius. Perhaps the visit of the bishops to Damascus will reveal what is going on here.

Ultimately, I find it sad that this will almost certainly overshadow everything +Philip has accomplished. He came to the United States to reunify a split and bleeding ethnic church, and built it into a truly American church. Let us hope and pray that nothing he accomplished is truly undone.

Upon this rock

1 June, 2009

If I were asked to identify one fundamental characteristic that separated the East from the West, I would not hesitate for even a second or two before answering.


I do not mean political conservatism (although most Eastern Christians are politically conservative). I mean a fundamental, philosophical conservatism that is not apparent to an outsider,  a conservatism that is unknown in the West, a conservatism that is perhaps the primary roadblock to any ecumenical effort between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

As I put it in a comment on a traditionalist Roman Catholic blog some months ago, if we use politics as an analogy for theology, Roman Catholics are Joe Lieberman and we are Mike Pence. Jimmy Carter and Pat Buchanan. You get the idea.

Few Roman Catholics understand why the filioque is such an important issue to us, for example. The reason is that it is an innovation. It worked its way into the Western church, but critically, was not discussed, agreed upon, or added by the Church. That it changes the theology of the Trinity is almost a secondary issue. There are those who insist that it does not change the theology of the Godhead, but they are ignoring the primary issue, that the Church did not agree upon it, or put it in the Creed. It is, as such, the ultimate violation of that Eastern conservatism, and will never be acceptable.

But the filioque is only one issue of many, all of which can be reduced to Eastern conservatism vs. Western liberalism. Anything which was declared to be dogma after the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 AD — the last council at which all of the ancient patriarchates, and therefore, all of the Church was represented — will never be accepted as dogma by the East. The Orthodox see Roman Catholic dogma as an unwarranted extension because after the Great Schism, Rome kept declaring more and more beliefs to be dogma. Every such belief is unacceptable as dogma to the Orthodox.

To look at it from a different perspective, there has always been an almost obsessive drive to further define and specify belief in the West that has not existed in the East. In the East, dogma is not the whole of the faith; in the West, it is, and it is expanded, continually and unilaterally.

Let’s take as an example the assumption of the Theotokos. An Orthodox Christian may or may not believe that the Theotokos was bodily taken into heaven. It is not dogma. If a Catholic asks, “Do you believe in the assumption?” the answer is technically no, but only because it is not dogma. “No” doesn’t mean that no Orthodox believes that the Theotokos was taken into heaven; indeed, many do. “No” means that no Orthodox is required to believe that the Theotokos was taken into heaven.

Another example is transubstantiation. The Real Presence is absolutely Orthodox dogma. Transubstantiation is not. We do not know how or when the gifts become the Body and Blood of Our Lord, nor do we particularly care. We are far more comfortable with mystery than Western Christians.

Nothing that was not dogma by the last Ecumenical Council can be dogma now, no matter who declares it such, because dogma is what all Orthodox Christians have believed from the beginning. It does not grow or expand. It merely is.

We are extremely conservative, and eye innovation, or anything that vaguely looks like innovation, dubiously. Catholics see themselves as conservative, but what they do not understand is that to us, they look like innovators. Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan. And one sees this granite-like conservatism not only among the Orthodox, but also among Eastern Rite Catholics.

And for some reason, the West is very uncomfortable with leaving points of faith up to the individual. An Orthodox Christian may, for example, believe that the gifts are transformed at the Words of Institution, or the Epiklesis, where the key concept here is in the modal, “may.” When the transformation occurs is not dogma, and we feel no need to define it. Rome felt the need to add the when and how, and to us, this is an innovation. That we believe in the Real Presence does not make transubstantiation as dogma any more acceptable to us.

No innovation is acceptable. It makes no difference how logical or defensible it may be. The only “addition” to dogma that is acceptable is that which has been declared at an Ecumenical Council, at which the entire Church is represented, and which can be documented in the writings of the Church Fathers.

Western Christians who are interested in ecumenical discussions with us need to fully understand that rock of conservatism upon which our faith is built. Otherwise, their understanding will be at best partial and faulty.