31 January 2009

Check out this video.

HT: Protonamesnik Milovan Katanic

29 January 2009

Issues etc. on the filioque

The Lutheran radio program "Issues Etc." featured a discussion of the filioque--the western addition "and the Son" to the Creed of Constantinople. Speaking on behalf of Lutherans was Pr. Peter Bender, well known in LCMS circles for his catechetical work. I will try to summarize his main points and respond to them.

1. A key point of his defense of the filioque is the notion that in the eastern church, Jesus and his atoning work does not have center stage as it does in the western church. They are diminished, according to Pr. Bender, in the Eastern church.

It is difficult to respond to a charge of this sort, because it is painted with so broad a brush. Pointing out the numerous feasts of the Holy Cross, the fact that (unlike most Lutheran parishes today) the Eucharist is the center of our liturgical life, every Sunday we read a resurrection gospel etc. would be met with "those are exceptions." Perhaps the best response is to point Pr. Bender and others to the liturgy of Great and Holy Friday, with its sparkling-clear presentation of Christ's work for us.

2. Pr. Bender conflates the economic and immanent Trinity, claiming that because Jesus gives the Spirit in time to the Church, therefore the Spirit proceeds from him in eternity.

Those who make this claim would do well to ponder our Lord's baptism--a revelation in time of the eternal Trinity. There the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son, just as the Orthodox faithfully teach.

3. When an email pointed out that the Bible speaks of the Spirit as proceeding from the Father (Jn 14:26), Pr. Bender replied that the whole of John 14-17 has to be taken together.

For someone so sensitive to the words of Holy Scripture, there remains this question: why do the Spirit-inspired Scriptures never speak of the Spirit as proceeding from the Son, but only speak of him proceeding from the Father? In the context of John 14:26, it would have been simple for the Lord to speak of the Spirit "who proceeds from the Father and from me." John 14-17 as a whole is plainly speaking of the economic work of the Trinity. Is the Holy Spirit the "Spirit of the Son"? Of course he is, because the Son sends to the Church in time the One who proceeds from the Father in eternity.

4. Pr. Bender says that the third ecumenical council, the council of Toledo in Spain (589 AD), added the word filioque to the Creed.

It is true that the Council of Toledo added "filioque". But Toledo was not an ecumenical council, it was a local council. The Third Ecumenical Council was Ephesus, in 431 AD. I would have passed over this point in silence, because it betrays an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the Church's history; but it was no misspeaking, since Pr. Bender first alluded to it and then spoke of it explicitly. Nor, by the way, is the Nicene Creed an expansion of the Apostles' Creed.

24 January 2009

Here and now

When God speaks of himself in the book of Revelation, he says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

But when that same book speaks of the beast, notice what it says: "...it was and is not and is to come."

The battle we fight in prayer is to meet the Holy Trinity in the present moment...not to let our minds drift to things past which oppress us, or things yet to come, which make us worry. Strictly speaking, neither the past nor the future exist. There is only the present, which God gives us to receive from his gracious hand as his creation...as redeemed by his blood...as filled by him who is everywhere present and fillest all things. It is false to say that the finite is not capable of the infinite; indeed, we find God here, and now, in this radically finite thing we call the present moment, or we find him nowhere. Here, too, we find the Theotokos and the saints: God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him who says, "I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob."

20 January 2009

The power of the Word

It was Pascha of the first year after the Communist October Revolution. In front of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Lunaciarski was holding an atheist conference. This founder of the "bezbojnik" (without God) movement had declared openly a couple of months earlier that God should disappear completely from the vast Soviet territories. He had made a solemn commitment in the presence of the Soviet Communist party. On that day the meeting was of great size. Country people and workmen from surrounding areas and from far away had been brought forcibly to attend...There were thousands of Bolsheviks applauding and thundering slogans against God. The orator was in his glory.
To make the argument more powerful, an inflamed group of Communists surprised an old priest on the street; they beat him, spat upon him, pulled his beard and brought him on the stage. Lunaciarski looked at him and said, "Do you see these multitudes? from now on, they do not believe in God; they believe in me, in what I tell them. Look, I give you the floor. If in five minutes, you do not convince them that God exists, I will execute you." The priest turned to the people, and, this being Pascha, he felt in his heart a flow of warm love and compassion for these people. He cleared his voice and cried out with a supernatural force, "BRETHREN, CHRIST IS RISEN!" There were a few seconds of dead silence, and then as if from the depths or even from heaven, the answer of tens of thousands of Bolsheviks reverberated through the air: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!" The old man made the sign of the cross in the presence of the speaker and said, "Your Excellency, my demonstration is finished." Then he slipped away through the crowd and disappeared. The writer Nicholas Arseniev, who was an eyewitness, later related the facts of this event in his memoirs when he was in exile.

---from "On the Way of Faith", by Archimandrite Roman Braga

03 January 2009

"I am a Protestant who..."

Over at his blog, Pr. William Weedon talks about the word 'Protestant' as it applies to him. He says, in part, "I am an original Protestant. That means, I am one who believes that Baptism is for infants and adults and through it the Blessed Trinity saves us; I am a Protestant who believes that in the Eucharist Christ gives me to eat and drink His most holy body and blood beneath the appearance of bread and wine; I am a Protestant who believes that the words of Christ's called servants release me from sin, forgive me, and open wide the gates of heaven; I am a Protestant who believes that the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church's life; I am a Protestant who rejoices in the liturgy of the Mass and the Daily Office; I am a Protestant who acknowledges the Office of the Holy Ministry as divinely established and ordained for the salvation of our souls. Please don't call me 'high church' or 'hyper confessional.' Just call me Lutheran. For that's what I am."

It is worth reflecting on these words. Here the term "Protestant" functions as a genus-term (like homo in homo sapiens), and the clauses beginning with "who believes..." set forth the differences (like sapiens in homo sapiens) that mark his sort of Protestant (as he says, Lutheran).

What makes him as Protestant as the most ardent Baptist, or the most 'Spirit-filled' Pentecostal? "Lutherans most certainly ARE Protestants vis a vis the papal claims." In other words, for Pr. Weedon the term "Protestant" is, at its heart, a negative description--it tells what he and the Baptist and Pentecostal are not.

The list of what makes Pr. Weedon the kind of Protestant he is, serves to distinguish him from other Protestants--even some who use the term "Lutheran" to describe themselves (including Luther himself--didn't he give thanks somewhere that people were free from the "vain babbling" of the daily hours?)

Pr. Weedon's statement is an excellent example of what Florensky calls the confessional formula as guarantor of ecclesiality, which I cited in my previous post. But there is no oneness of mind in Protestantism--only a shared revulsion of papal claims. And there is no oneness of mind in Lutheran bodies--only a likeminded holding to certain positions and tendencies, while allowing freedom to understand those positions in vastly different ways. The vastly different practices and beliefs concerning lay absolution, grape juice and disposable cups all serve to demonstrate that we are dealing on the level of abstract concepts, not on the level of flesh-and-blood concrete reality.

As a thought-experiment, imagine someone saying "I am an Orthodox who...", in order to distingish himself from some other Orthodox. Some may argue that there are a few differences within contemporary Orthdoxy--e.g. old vs. new calendar--but none of these rise to the level of a doctrinal dispute. "Orthodox" is not a genus-term, like "Protestant." It's a corporate term, an organic term describing a living reality: the bride and body of Christ.

Let it be noted: in no way do I mean these words as a personal attack or criticism of Pr. Weedon, whom I consider to be one of the best representatives of contemporary Lutheranism in its attempt to be catholic. My argument is, rather, that if Florensky's analysis captures so refined a statement as Pr. Weedon's, how much more does it capture more generic protestant views!

Florensky on ecclesiality

"Ecclesiality (tserkovnost)--that is the name of the refuge where the heart's anxiety finds peace, where the pretensions of the rational mind are tamed, where great tranquillity descends into our reason. Let it be the case that neither I nor anyone else can define what ecclesiality is! Let those who attempt such a definition dispute one another and mutually refute one another's formulas of ecclesiality. Indeed, do not its very indefinability, its ungraspableness by logical terms, its ineffability prove that ecclesiality is life, a special, new life, which is given to man, but which, like all life, is inaccesible to the rational mind?...

Where there is no spiritual life, something external must exist as an assurance of ecclesiality. A specific function, the pope, or a system of functions, a hierarchy--that is the criterion of ecclesiality for Roman Catholics. On the other hand, a specific confessional formula, the creed, or a system of formulas, the text of the Scripture, is the criterion of ecclesiality for Protestants. In the final analysis, in both cases what is decisive is a concept, an ecclesiastical-juridical concept for Catholics and an ecclesiastical-scientific concept for Protestants. But by becoming the supreme criterion, a concept makes all manifestation of life unnecessary...

The indefinability of Orthodox ecclesiality, I repeat, is the best proof of its vitality. Of course, we Orthodox cannot point to any one ecclesial function about which it can be said that it sums up all of ecclesiality, for what would be the sense of all the other functions and activities of the Church? Likewise, we cannot point to any one formula or book which could be taken as the fullness of ecclesial life. And if such a formula or book did exist, what would be the sense of other formulas or books, of all other activities of the Church? There is no concept of ecclesiality, but ecclesiality itself is, and for every living member of the Church, the life of the Church is the most definite and tangible thing that he knows. But the life of the Church is assimilated and known only through life--not in the abstract, not in a rational way."--Fr. Pavel Florensky