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Good evening everyone. I'd like to welcome everyone here. Thank you for praying with
us during the Service of Faith vespers. We are very honored to have with us for a second
evening of teaching, Archpriest John Ericksson. We are very pleased to have Fr. John with
us to continue his teaching. I had the opportunity to visit a little bit with Fr. John this past
couple of days. We had some discussion and he mentioned the title of the book he had
written a few years back called The Challenge of Our Past. He mentioned that St. Vladmir's
Seminary Press has invited him to contribute a follow-up volume called The Challenge of
Our Future. Those of you who were here on Thursday evening would have heard a little
bit of Father John's presentation regarding our history as Orthodox Christians and Orthodox
identity, in particular here in North America. Tonight we will continue on with the presentation
and perhaps we will hear a little bit about some of your perceptions about the challenge
of our future.
We welcome you, Father John. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Fr. Matthew. Thank you, Father Alexander. For those all of you who
are here. A number of you were here on Thursday, if you weren't that's okay because I'll give
a short summary of some of the things that I've said before moving into things that may
be a little new. Also I'll be briefer than I was on Thursday, you'll be happy to know.
We had a lovely vespers service but I don't want to impose too much on your time.
I began on Thursday with a deceptively simple question. What is the Orthodox Church? How
do we present this Church, our Church, to others? How do we present this Church to ourselves.
As a point of departure, I suggested looking at the word IDENTITY which, I mentioned, could
be used in several ways. In its proper sense ... etymological sense, it means self-sameness.
What makes something one and the same now, yesterday and forever. This is the sense of
the word that theologians most often use, have in mind rather, when they speak of the
Church. This is the sense the sense of the word we have in mind when, in a very particular
way, we identify the Orthodox Church with that one holy catholic and apostolic Church
that we confess in the Creed.
As I pointed out on Thursday, in everyday English the word IDENTITY also is used in
a looser sense to mean individuality. What distinguishes one thing from others. The dictionary
definition has it to "a set of behavioral or individual characteristics by which a thing
is definitively recognizable or known." Much of my presentation on Thursday had to do with
Orthodox identity in this second sense of the word. It was not meant to be a theological
so much as, historical. The way that the Church has presented itself that we have apprehended
the Church in time through history. I offered historical perspectives on the formation of
Orthodox identity through the centuries. Those behavioral and individual characteristics
by which the Orthodox Church may be definitively recognized and known by people who might just
wander in off the streets to our Church services with whom we may speak.
As I suggested, for much of Christian history, Orthodoxy ecclesio identity was formed in
the context of Christian divisions. Formed by emulation and contradiction, by imitation,
by opposition was what we ... distinguished us from others. What distinguished our Church
from others. Very often we would explain our selves by saying we were not, for example
like the Catholics. We don't have a Pope. We are rather [kon-see-lee-ar 00:05:06]. There
was very often an element of defining ourselves over against others.
The question that I ended by posing, or nearly ended by posing anyway, was what is the relationship
between these two aspects of our identity? What is the relationship between the ultimate
reality of the Orthodox Church, as a spirit-filled body of Christ, and the Church's externally
perceived identity? This identity formed through emulation and contradiction, in the midst
of all those historic failures and losses, perplexities and changes that Florovsky spoke
of in passages I quoted on Thursday. Perplexities and changes, failures and losses that theologians
May acknowledge but only grudgingly and they seldom explore them.
This question, what is the relationship between these two aspects of identity, doesn't seem
to have troubled most Orthodox Christians through much of the past, whether Hierarchist
theologians or ordinary Church-goers. This question has acquired a particular urgency
over the last century and especially over those so-called diaspora, even more specifically
in countries formed by massive immigration. The United States, Canada but also others
like Australia, many parts of Latin America at this point.
What does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian? To go to the Orthodox Church in this new context?
What does it mean to speak of the Orthodox Church in this context?
Certainly, in North America we're faced with a plethora of views as to what constitutes
authentic Orthodoxy ... real Orthodoxy. At least in the United States, and I think probably
in Canada, within a single jurisdiction one can find, depending on bishop or parish or
priest or faction, an ethnic reduction of Orthodoxy. A hyphenated American reduction
of Orthodoxy. A conservative ... an evangelical reduction of Orthodoxy. A traditionalist reduction
of Orthodoxy and possibly, other reductions of Orthodoxy.
That would seize upon select aspects of our externally perceived identity as being the
quintessence of the faith. I'm sure you can point out even more versions of Orthodox identity.
Finally we come to the question with which I ended my presentation on Thursday. How can
we integrate our externally perceived identity with our ultimate identity as Orthodox Christians?
How can we properly valorize our externally perceived identity? Our ethnicity, our various
distinctives, the various aspects of our historical and cultural patrimony. How can we accept
all these? Appreciate all these. Value these as the constitutive element of our faith.
Something that we cannot and should not simple discard.
At the same time, how can we relativize our ethnicity, our distinctives, our many historically
contingent aspects of our identity in response to the more compelling demands of our faith?
As I ended by pointing out a little bit more simply, how can we hold together the pan-Athenian
dancers that I enjoy so much at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Tucson, Arizona?
Mostly Greek young kids but also two Eritreans, as I pointed out. How can we hold that together
with reading lost east mystical theology of the Orthodox Church? Or reading the Philokalia
and twice during Lent. Certainly, I think we can find a partial answer to these questions
if we return to something else that I was pointing out on Thursday.
On Thursday I sketched some of the ways in which Orthodox ecclesio identity developed.
Suggested by emulation and contradiction. This is the case through much of our history.
We tried to distinguish ourselves from others. From the 5th century on, from the Non-Chalcedonian
Oriental Orthodox Christians. From the middle-ages and continuing through the modern period.
How we distinguish ourselves from the Catholics but also from various versions of Protestants.
By the end of the 19th century, the wider context was beginning to change. It was beginning
to change many things but I would mention just two. With the birth of the ecumenical
movement and with the rise of historical scholarship, particularly in areas of liturgy and Patristics.
These are all things that affected Orthodox. In the 20th century, the full impact of these
new forces would be felt. First of all, in the face of the Scandal of Disunity and the
experience of disunity, especially people in the so-called diaspora have. The émigrés
from Russia and France in the 1920's and 1930's were felt but now we feel here in North America.
In the face of Scandal of Disunity theologians, Churchmen and ordinary people have turned
from polemics to dialogues, or at least conversation with other Christians. In other words, a kind
of synchronous dialogue. A dialogue in the here and now with our contemporaries. At the
same time, Orthodox theologians, Churchmen and ordinary people have entered into a dialogue
with the past. We've looked to history both for a deeper self-understanding and for a
deeper of the many factors which impugned with our relations with others. Let's call
this diachronous dialogue. Dialogue through time.
This two-fold dialogue has been experienced by many groups. It's not unique to the Orthodox
but certainly the Orthodox have not been strangers to this two-fold dialogue. Point out that
the Orthodox Christians been involved in the ecumenical movement from its beginnings even
in the closing decades of the 19th century. This is especially true of the Russian Orthodox
Church in the final decades of the 19th century and in the beginning decades of the 20th.
Certainly, also Orthodox Christians have made significant contributions to historical scholarship,
study of Patristics especially floruishing in Russia in the 19th and early 20th century.
In my own area, canon law, the study of Church history. Many areas are certainly ... especially
in the 20th century, the study of liturgy, study of Patristics, those of you who studied
at St. Vladimir's Seminary know this is what we are known for.
The results of this dialogue however ... dialogue with our contemporaries, dialogues with the
past. The results of this synchronous dialogue, diachronous dialogue ... the results have
been unsettling. For centuries Orthodox identity and its external aspects were formed in the
context of Christian divisions. Through emulation and contradiction, the characteristics by
which we identify the Orthodox Church were those that made us distinct form other Christian
groups. Our peculiar calendar, our baptismal practices, various aspects of worship, our
distinctive Church structure or, put differently, our pope-lessness.
In the 20th century, this identity has been challenged in various ways. When I say challenged,
I don't say threatened. We have been given new opportunities for discovering what it
means to be Orthodox Christians. Perhaps the most conspicuous and most controversial aspect
of this 20th-century challenge to our perceived identity has been ecumenism, a controversial
subject at various Church councils, the internet and all over the place. This has raised the
question of whether we really are so different from others as we have insisted in the past.
I will not go through every aspect of Orthodox ecumenical discussion, just point out one
of the least controversial, our relations with the Non-Chalcedonians or Oriental Orthodox
Christians I referred to on Thursday. Our relations with, for example the Coptic Oriental
Orthodox Christians. Those of you who were participating in things on Thursday ... on
Friday went by a beautiful Church, very large Church of St. Mary and St. Mark, over five
hundred families, very large congregation. The Copts, Armenian, Syrian, Melankara, Indian,
Eritrean, Ethiopian, our relations with the Non-Chalcedonian Christians.
Discussions over the last decades of the 20th century reached the conclusion that, I'm quoting
from agreed statements, "Both families of Churches have always loyally maintained the
same authentic Orthodox Christological faith and the unbroken apostolic tradition, notwithstanding
our many centuries of separation." One area in which we are no ... all that divides us
now, the Oriental Orthodox seems ... all that divides us is division itself. That's the
conclusion that leads practically to everyone. It's just a question of finally getting all
the details, how this re-recognition is going to take place. I have used this just as an
It leads some nervously to ask whether we are in danger of falling into relativism,
indiffirentism because there May be some aspects of this dialogue with our contemporaries make
us nervous. Some of you May be familiar ... I think I mentioned this on Thursday, with [eh-mee-ma
00:17:41]that you see on the internet. Herman Hyperdocks, the guy who mimicked a catechumen
for six months and has already changed jurisdictions three times. who, when about to give a presentation
at his office begins by saying, "Wisdom let us attend." Who, when his family wouldn't
call him Barsanuphius at a family reunion reflected to himself, "Well, Jesus said that
his followers would be persecuted." You get the idea. I think you May have met people
of this sort.
It's not just ecumenism that sometimes is perceived as a threat to our identity. Equally
decisive or challenging our perceived identity, the less often noted has been a better knowledge
and understanding of the faith and practice of the early Church. The faith and practice
of the Church of Ecumenical councils, the faith and practice precisely of our Church.
Those who have gone to seminary, those who have had Father Schmemann or more recently
Professor Paul Myendorf, also read in this area certainly are aware of ... that for example,
our worship has changed in many ways over the centuries.
We've always liked to say we don't change but you Catholics have changed because you
do this, that and the order's different now. Certainly over the centuries there has been
a number of changes in worship and other areas. Other areas call into question some of our
insistence on distinctives we once had. The obvious question, one obvious area might be
the question of the Paschalia, the dating of Paschal, Easter.
In antiquity there were a number of controversies on this subject, the one of concern to us
right at the moment relates to a decree from the 1st ecumenical council, Council of Nicaea
in 325. The council ... the decree in question was directed against celebrating Pascha, Easter
[foreign language 00:20:27] With the Jews, what it means literally. Now, it's clear from
a number of accounts from this period and from when Pascha actually fell for many centuries
after, that this decree was directed against dependence on contemporary Jewish ways of
reckoning the date of the Passover. It was not directed against a coincidence of dates
or even celebrating at an earlier date.
There were a number of times, in the centuries following the Council of Nicaea, that Christian
Passover, the Jewish Passover coincided. The dates fell on the same days. Only centuries
later, with the increasing lag of the Julian calendar, it became impossible for them to
coincide. A new interpretation was developed. This prohibition against celebrating with
the Jews was interpreted in a symbolic way to mean that the Jewish Passover, as a type
of a true Passover, must necessarily precede the Christian Passover every year. Another
was it has to come after the Jewish Passover.
This interpretation enjoyed renewed popularity in the context of polemics against the calendar
innovation in the West that led to the Gregorian calendar. Certainly, this interpretation that
I was just mentioning, I'm sorry, May be a little complicated, this is still uncritically
accepted by many people, maybe even a majority of Orthodox Christians. I noticed that regularly
in OCA publications, an old and very good article by Archbishop Peter on this subject
has been reprinted. Often as not, you can also find reprinted exactly an incorrect interpretation
or presentation of this question of the dating of Pascha. In fact, a number of people say,
"Yes, this is authentic Orthodox tradition." but in fact it flies in the face of the historical
evidence. It's quite contrary to the spirit of the Council of Nicaea itself which wanted
to exclude dependence on contemporary Jewish ways of reckoning.
I use this simple as a long example. Many more examples could be mentioned from the
realm of practice, from the realm of doctrinal formulation. They suggest, at the very least,
that sometimes we have presented our Church and our Church's history in ways too simplistic,
too triumph-alistic to be taken seriously.
This also raises some more fundamental questions. Have we unwittingly mistaken a derivative
external identity for the Church's ultimate identity? Have we allowed the Church's living
tradition to be replaced by traditionalism? By a self-satisfied attachment to received
forms that no longer serve ... no longer express the organic continuity of this spirit-filled
Body of Christ that is the Church.
I pose all these simply as problems that we have to consider. The dialogue that we have
been engaged with other Christians, with our own past has been unsettling. In certain respects
though it's also been very liberating. Among other things, this has helped us to recognize
how the ... I'm quoting here from Florovsky again, I quoted it on Thursday ... helps us
to recognize how the ultimate identity of the Church is grounded in her sacramental
structure. Here, the rediscovery of the Eucharist and of the ecclesiological significance of
the Eucharist is important. What the Eucharist means for the Church.
I've already alluded to this briefly on Thursday. Many modern Orthodox theologians have come
to recognize the Eucharist isn't simply one of the several means of grace at the Church's
disposal. The Eucharist is the very basis of the Church's life. When we, with all our
diversity of gifts, gather together in the one Eucharist the Church becomes truly herself.
The Church becomes truly the icon of the kingdom which is to come, foretaste of that heavenly
banquet. This bring me to the principal point of the evening.
This adventure of discovery needs to go farther. So far Orthodox theology in the 20th, continuing
in the 21st century, has devoted ... has focused on the Eucharist and on the ecclesiological
significance of the Eucharist. Those of you who have read the books of Fr. Schememan or
by Finasia or by many people, are familiar with this term Eucharistic ecclesiology, refer
We've devoted far less attention to baptism. We've tended to ignore what early Christians
knew very well. The Church is indeed a Eucharistic organism but only because the Church is, first
of all, a baptismal organism. The Church is born of water and the spirit to new life in
Christ. What are the reasons for this neglect of baptism and its significance? Certainly
and maybe, that for many of us baptism has been reduced to a few ritual acts we ... most
of us don't remember. A three-fold encounter with water quickly followed by a multiple
anointing with chrism on various parts of the body but divorced from the catechesis,
from other the elements that once made it the real locus, the real place for formation
of Christian identity. It's in baptism that Christian identity and finally the Church's
identity is formed.
Today we talked a lot about building community. You hear that expression used very often.
Early Christians knew that this community had to be a community of faith. Hence the
importance of the catechumenate in the early Church. We shouldn't consider it important
simply because it was long or a number of other things. It wasn't simply a matter of
acquiring certain vital information. It wasn't about learning how to refute the filioque
or to explain the palamite essense energy distinction. It involved instruction in the
crux of the Christian faith certainly but it also involved practice in Christian living.
It included exorcism of demons, rejections of false gods. It involved and entire re-orientation
of life and the values. It involved a living appropriation of the creed not simply the
memorization of the words of the creed. That was part of it also.
Consider this question posed to early Christians and it is posed to us. What is it that gives
meaning and direction to our life? What is it that receives our commitment? In antiquity
there were many false gods. One of the most widespread forms of idolatry was expressed
in emperor worship. Behind emperor worship stood the idea that the Greco-Roman way of
life, with the maintenance of law and order, was an ultimate good. In our day we have our
own false gods. Consider what media, what advertising, Madison Avenue has to say. What
is Madison Avenue in Canada? I don't know but I'm sure there must be such a place.
Madison Avenue? (laughs) Do you remember old ads for a car that is no longer made, "Buick
is something to believe in." Or "GE brings good things to life." An old Nike ad, a runner
is briefly resting silhouetted magnificently against the sky and the Nike swoosh logo very
prominent and the words, "Test your faith daily." How often the faith by which we actually
live is formed by advertising of this sort. Our gods become financial security or stages
or power or successful personal relationships often defined in *** terms. How does one
move or how is one moved from faith in such gods to Christian faith?
In antiquity there was a similar question. How did one move from the culture of death
that was epitomized in the gladiatorial arena? From the fatalism of the various philosophies
of the day? To Christian faith with its horizon of hope. How did one move from the worship
of the emperor and his global empire to confession of one Lord, Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit,
the Lord, giver of life? How did one from various dualistic cults that preach liberation
of the inner self from this visible world of meaninglessness? To belief in one God,
Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible?
In our own day, we have many of the same challenges, same questions. In a world that lives by a
conspicuous consumption. In a world where aggressiveness and competition are highly-prized
characteristics. In a world where the only alternative seems to be death through mass
***, mass suicide or drugs. Can we really believe in the Lordship of someone who preached
humility, poverty, responsible concern for creation and love for enemies? When have you
seen an advertisement for a CEO asking for someone poor in spirit or humble and meek.
It doesn't happen in the United States, anyway. Canada may be different.
Of course, there May be more reasons for this neglect of baptism. It May be also that we
are afraid to address the issue because it's so controversial and potentially divisive.
What is, for example, the significance if any of baptism, quote, outside the Church?
I think all of us, I wager, would have met or at least heard of non-Orthodox Christians
who nonetheless show distinct signs of that new relationship to God and to the world that
one associates with baptismal faith. The example usually given is Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Just as all of us have met a few insiders who are in fact, as I use the expression the
other night, hardly more than Eucharisticized pagans. I was mentioning the other night,
in the course of questions, the divorce rate, the you-name-whatever rate, the rate of white-collar
crime, at least in the United States maybe not in Canada, for Orthodox Christians is
right on the national average. How transformed have we been in Christian initiation? And
in that, the strengthening of baptism that we are given in the Eucharist? It's a question.
In the creed we confess our belief in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church, just as
we confess one God, the Father Almighty, one Lord Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, Lord the giver
of life. The Church is an object of belief. The Church is part of our faith. It is important
to keep in mind that for the Orthodox there exists no dogma of the Church that's analogous
to the Trinitarian dogma or Christological dogmas of the ancient ecumenical councils.
The kinds of direct challenges that led to [kon-see-lee-ar 00:34:51] limits in those
areas. This is largely absent in ecclesiology.
Orthodox ecclesial Identity, as I have suggested, developed over the centuries in other less
formal ways. Maybe as a result, very often, our identity, our sense of what is the Orthodox
Church has been derivative, reactive, negative, formulated against someone else by emulation
and contradiction. Formulated against those we ... this is hard to say ... whom we regard
as being outside the Church. Over this past century or a little more, we have had the
opportunity to take a more positive approach. We have the possibility of looking at ourselves
and at our Church not simply on how we differ from others but also to appreciate more deeply
what we are given in baptism. What we are meant to sustain in our Church life, in our
communities but also in the world. The only question that I think remains ... Do we have
enough confidence in that ultimate identity of the Church and of our identity as Christians
formed anew by water and spirit in baptism? do we have enough confidence in this identity
to brave the risk of further dialogue, whatever subjects?
As I promised, be shorter this evening than I was on Thursday but that leaves more room
and more time for more questions if you have them.
Thank you Father John. I'll pop to facilitate some of the questions. I think the presentation's
not only instructive but spiritually sobering as well, for us as Orthodox Christians. Any
initial comments or questions for Father John?
In the early Church there was a lot of division, as you said, to begin with...By the context
of the early Church and today's Church, there was a lot of divisions and today we have the
same divisions as you were saying. Can we say that it's normal, this divisions we have
today, and we don't need to go further on or we need to go further on and...
I think if we don't go further ... if we say, "Well, they May be very nice people but they're
not nash. They're not us. They're not ours." If we just stick to ourselves, this will be
a terrible counter-witness in the world. If we have enough confidence in our identity
as Orthodox Christians ... confidence in an identity that is not simply a collection of
ethnic folk ways or inherited misinformation, we have enough confidence in our baptismal
identity, we should have the confidence, or at least the challenge to see whether we can
find elements of this identity, of what we stand for, others and in other Christian groups.
For example at St. Mary and St. Mark of the Coptic Church. Do we see that re-evaluation
of life, that re-orientation of life, the same lines of values and concerns? Then it
would be important to affirm this in some way. To engage in closer relations and strengthening
one another even if this outside the walls of this, really very charming and very lovely,
temple. I don't know if that helps.
Yeah, that helps.
This is more of a comment than a question. I don't how many of us talk to each other
at work and say, "Are you baptized?" Is that a proper thing to say In a conversation? ...practice
who we are.
Of course, we don't go saying, "Are you Orthodox?", either. (laughs) There are many things that
we don't say at work. I think that one of the difficulties is that we so often limit
... our conception of baptism is limited to, "Are you baptized?" "Well, yes. Three times."
or "Yes, okay. I was baptized." The fuller significance of baptism is not really appreciated.
Baptism as a process leading us from one way of living to another. From one way of reacting
to another. I think it's important not to say, "Are you baptized?" Maybe a better way
to begin is simply words from the Scripture, "Come and see. Come with me sometime to Church."
We got the Oriental churches, I think probably in North America were right in our presence,
Church doesn't have to view the Oriental or Middle Eastern as much as the American...brings
this type of unity or...has to take place.
You touched on a very important point. One of the things that I was ... its' one of the
challenges and blessings of being Orthodox in the context of North American society today.
I was mentioning on Thursday how often, even our fellow Orthodox ... sometimes even in
this country, but certainly in Old World Orthodox countries. How can you really be Orthodox
not living in an Orthodox country? Living in America ...
You know how often we got that question but this gives us a whole lot of opportunities.
So often, it doesn't take really very much study of facts and figures as published to
recognize that Orthodox countries have a lower rate of Church attendance, a higher rate of
abortion and any number of other things than many places that may seem to us less Orthodox.
I think that we have here in North America the opportunity of meeting other groups like
the Oriental Orthodox on, to use an over-used phrase, a level playing field. We are not
diaspora in the sense of being away from our native land and our proper place, a little
colony of outsiders in someone else's world.
Canada is as much as your world as it is ... you name the group. Whether French-speaking from
the 17th century or English, Irish, so on in upper Canada, in Ontario from the, let's
say, 18th century. Also in the United States. We are in a very new position in these lands
of the so-called diaspora. These lands of massive immigration. some people think that
this means more opportunities for compromising the faith but it also gives many more opportunities
for witnessing to the faith.
You mentioned something about the...
As I've mentioned on Thursday, certainly there is a lot of really positive here. Re-discovering
the Eucharist. The Eucharistic revival of the 20th century, I think, has touched all
of us. It was certainly once upon a time. People didn't go to communion or certainly
didn't go to communion more than four times a year. The danger that I mentioned also on
Thursday is once upon a time we didn't go to communion out of habit. Now we go to communion
out of habit. Without recognizing ... another thing that has changed, of course, and this
is one of the positive changes, receiving communion used to be regarded as and used
to be seen as an individual act of piety. It is my personal ascetical effort, first
of all, of a certain number of days of fasting and preparation, the sacraments, generally
speaking, and certainly the Eucharist in this way becomes practically privatized. An individual
act of devotion.
The corporate significance of the Eucharist, expressing our life together as the body of
Christ was absent. Now that is present and that's really very fortunate. It think we
can even go further and recognizing the implications of this for our life beyond the very comfortable
walls of this Church. Very often in Orthodox Church will be very proud of itself for having
rediscovered the Eucharist and the number of people who go to communion and the amount
of participation and the wonderful fellowship of the coffee hour afterward. That doesn't
mean that there is ... does that guarantee that people are going to be less-likely to engage in white-collar
crimes or any of the other things that we talked about. No, it doesn't.
The point is to extend this faith beyond where we are, being aware of this at all times.
So that the kind of values that we profess here and the politeness with our relations
with each other, that this carries over when e are driving in downtown Edmonton. When we
are parking our car, when we are perhaps in a hurry to get someplace. When we're getting
in or out of the elevator in our office building. There are many times when we are really not
very nice people and I'm just mentioning the ones that are really not personal.
We are all hoping that we can have another ecumenical council and that we could have
one bishop for all the Orthodox Churches of America. We have this idea that's what we're
looking for. Of course, that depends on the unity of all the churches. The question is,
the division started a long time ago. In fact there was no unity because of good reasons.
I'm pretty sure there was another and the Church was in disunity for certain reasons,
and I'm sure that these reasons are justifiable or not. Because the Chalcedonians....
You see, there were a lot of other factors. Let's just stick to the Chalcedonian Non-Chalcedonian
for the moment. There were a lot of non-theological factors involved. Let me mention those quickly
first. By and large, the Churches of those groups who were in favor of the dogmatic decisions,
decrees of the Council of Chalcedon were those that were supportive of the imperial authority.
They tended to be also, in most places, aristocratic and favoring even a certain chariot party,
a certain baseball league. There were many sociological factors entering into this. They
also, in many cases, tended to be the non-Hellenized, the non-Greek population of the empire. Syriac
is distinct from Greek. Coptic is distinct from Greek. Armenian is distinct from Greek.
Many factors entered into this that did not have anything to do with theology. What is
more important to recognize at this point ... two things. First of all we no longer
have this empire and the emperors that in many ways shaped the lives of our Chalcedonian
Orthodox Churches. Second, at this point because of that rediscovery of our past, the historical
study that I was mentioning in Patristics and other things, theologians on both sides
have recognized that the points that divided, largely verbal, and a question of people using
words trying to say the same thing but using different words and a different vocabulary.
It's easy to say that theologians of that period all spoke Greek, read well in Greek,
thought in Greek so also today. Everybody in world writes in English, speaks in English
but bad English and then it was often bad Greek. You don't always understand the same
words in the same way. What does it mean to speak of something as existential? That was
a big word in the 1950' and the 1960's. People meant so many things by this, so also the
technical vocabulary of theology in the period of the 5th century and 6th century. There
were ... the situation is different now as it was then.
At this point, as I was saying, after long discussion not only at the level of theologians
but also Churchmen and otherwise, there is the recognition that even though we used different
formulations, in fact the Christological faith is the same. The result is in some places,
in Greater Syria for example, in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere but especially in Syria, there
is everything short of bishops concelebrating with each other between Eastern Orthodox and
Before things got terrible in Syria I've been to Aleppo and my hosts were the Eastern Orthodox
and the Oriental Orthodox bishops. We'd have service in the Oriental, we'd have service
in the Eastern. When we were in the Oriental Church, the Eastern bishop would enter the
altar and do absolutely everything. The one thing that they didn't do together is serve
the Eucharist together. If you are in a town ... in a village that is Syriani then it's
Oriental. The clergyman who presides and if someone goes there so the bishop who presides
is the bishop of that community. You go to some other communities maybe it's the other
If you are married in one village it counts in the other village, the other community.
You have mutual registration of marriages, baptisms and of everything else. I'm not explaining
this very well at this point but in some places where these communities actually live together,
there are very close relations. In many parts of the United States we have this possibility
of very close relations, much closer cooperation than would be the case if we were living in
a monolithically Eastern Orthodox or monolithically Oriental Orthodox situation.
I have one question for you, Father Counselor. What do you believe is the...
Sort of. I don't know what's that expression. What I encountered at...years ago was ... my
first encounter was the difficulty of a different language. And then my brother...It was like
a spiritual beginning. That was a wonderful thing for many, many years and then after
about maybe five or ten years the leadership is horrible. It was embarrassing...they say
come and see through the Church, I was often embarrassed...here and there, right?
But we're over here, right? That is true. Again notice here and in many places the disconnect
between what we say and what we claim. The way we actually appear and the way we actually
act. I don't know of any easy solution for this at all. Here is actually a situation
not unique to the OCA, it's across the board in the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North
America and I'm sure elsewhere. Ease of communication makes a big difference here.
You raised some interesting points and true enough it really leads to more and more conversation.
One thing that I want to touch again and ask you Father John is your reminder to us of
the significance of baptism. It Is incredibly important and in some way, some sort of antidote.
Even ... as we united ourselves to Christ. What comes into my mind is that it is something
exotic, something good in the Gospel of Christ. In a way it is a kind of mixed approach to
spirituality or something like that. I was wondering what you could say about the Orthodox
identity that resulted from emulation and contradiction... who would call themselves
spiritual but not religious.
Uh-huh. A lot is certainly being said on this subject. I'm not very good at saying much
at this subject. Usually people who say, "I'm spiritual but not religious." have a very
high opinion of themselves and their spiritual acumen.
Even in the 19th century there were those who said, "My spiritual experiences going
to Lake Louis and seeing the sunset." You've run into things of that sort. The cult of
individualism that lies behind this, the suggestion that the individual, that,"I am the one who
counts and anyone else's insights, whether theirs. That's their problem." The view of
the human that Orthodoxy teaches and that we believe basic to being human suggest that
we are human in community and human in relationships with others. Hence that wonderful early Christian
maxim, I believe, of St. Cyprian of Carthage, one Christian, no Christian.
Another thing that is, I think, important to keep in mind here is ... this would be
a biggish word but I think everyone here is familiar with it, the escalogical thrust of
Christianity. It is not static. There is a movement in hope towards something new, unknown
but ultimate. This challenge of looking beyond the present moment, looking beyond our present
needs to the possibility really great, dramatic and wonderful that is in God's hands and not
in mine. That may be also helpful when speaking to people who are spiritual but not religious.
I think, it's also helpful simply when speaking especially to almost anyone, to begin with
being biblical. Again, this is especially true in Christian when you're speaking to
other Christians and I don't mean to proof-text. I mean really appropriate the Gospel which
is ... runs against what North American society, I would say especially United States but Canada
has much of the same ethos, aiming at success, individual fulfillment and without a greater
concern for other people. The decline of altruism in our North American society, i think is
really very frightening.
Yes, there is ... let me mention another example. It's one of that sociologist that I was mentioning,
Peter Berger I believe... please don't quote me on this, who was on talk shows and so on.
She had developed her own religion, Sheilaism.
I think, very easily will construct their own religion. It may seem to them very attractive
but I would say that a more productive pastime would be knitting.
Yeah, I would say though that one positive thing here, even Sheilaism where all the wackiness,
is that very often people want to engage in discussion. I don't mean to belittle this.
On Thursday I was mentioning a case, let's say a child of yours comes and says, "I think
I'm a Buddhist." or attracted to Buddhist. This isn't meant as an occasion for an argument,
it's an opportunity to have an important conversation. St. Innocent of Alaska was wonderful at pointing
out whenever one of the native peoples, whenever anyone around us expresses an interest or
asks a question, pay very careful attention. Don't turn him off.
A person who says or remarks on the beauty of creation, or seeing God's hand in this
but doesn't see anything at all of the divine of the Church or the things that the Church
does, this still allows some possibilities of conversation. Sometimes people will enter
in a discussion of religion supposing that they already know what you believe. They will
have these conceptions about what you believe. What your values are. One of the biggest problems
is, I would say in our society right now, at least in the United States, is that when
people hear the words Christians they consider what are the groups that get the most play
on the internet and in the media. They have in mind, even a rather limited version of
evangelical. Pardon me?
Westboro Baptist, yes. Thank you. You get it. This is the picture that the word Christian
conveys to many people. We have an opportunity to present a different picture not by saying,
"You're wrong and those are really terrible people." granted they are. I think the way
to begin is by showing ourselves at our best, at our most baptismal.
Thank you, Father. I appreciate you talking in this meeting. In particular ....
I would have to consider that.
Because I think there is much to consider in our lives as Christians. You have laid
out for us ... identity as Christians. So thank you Father John. It's great having you
Thank you. Thank you also, Father Matthew for presiding tonight at this. Moderating
the discussion. David was here on Thursday and you have filled in at.