Sunday, January 22, 2012

I am again reminded how Orthodoxy is truly the fullness of the Christian Faith

I am reading "Victory in the Unseen Warfare" in preparation for Great Lent.  I will also endeavor to read "Virtues in the Unseen Warfare" and "Prayer in the Unseen Warfare," by the same author, in the next several weeks, and "The Lenten Spring" and probably "The Ladder of Divine Ascents" during Lent.  In reading the first two chapters of this fine work by Father Jack Sparks, something struck me.

The first chapter read almost like a "name it and claim it" book to my recovering Protestant sensibilities.  It sounded very much like some of the theology I grew up with and rejected later in life.  It tells us what is required of the Christian (perfection), how we must struggle to achieve it, and how this must be our chief goal.  It reads, put simply, like works-righteous pietist Protestantism.  Then comes the second chapter, which starts as follows:

Avoid self reliance in spiritual warfare.  The nature of our struggle requires that we learn not to rely on ourselves.  This requirement, beloved brothers and sisters, is absolutely essential to the victory.  You must be certain of this:  if you rely on yourself, you will be unable to resist the smallest attack of the enemy.  Engrave this truth deeply in your spirit and heart.
Despite the weakening of our spiritual and moral powers that resulted from the transgression of our forefather Adam, we are inclined to think very highly of ourselves.  Even though our daily experience proves to us very effectively that this opinion of ourselves is false, we continue to believe that we are something and, indeed, something very important. 

Father Jack then goes on to say:

While God abhors this sinful charade and foolishness on our part, there is nothing He loves and desires to see in us more than a sincere consciousness of our insignificance and inability, together with a firm and deeply felt conviction that any good we may have in our life comes from Him alone, since He is the source of all good.
Indeed.  And so it is that every time I begin to see in Orthodox theology something that appears to beckon me to think every so highly of myself and my ability to be ascetical, to achieve virtue, to work toward perfection, I also find the spiritual counter to that hubris -- the realization that nothing I do is good in and of itself, but my good deeds, good thoughts, good intentions are good only because of God, Who is the source of all that is good.

And it is precisely due to this grounding that we are free to discuss asceticism in the first place.  Free to discuss struggle to begin with.  Orthodox Christians are free to actually work toward our salvation, because we are grounded in the knowledge that this work is itself grace, that we have been given that freedom by God in His infinite mercy. In large part, I am still hampered and hung up by my late-in-life rejection of my Arminian Protestant roots.  I have to learn to stop looking for the boogeyman under the bed.  Orthodoxy may be superficially similar to Arminianism, but it is not and never will be Arminian in its theology (if for no other reason than that she precedes Jacobus Arminius by roughly 15 centuries).

And with that, I'm looking forward to the rest of this book.


MRMESQ said...

I always find your posts interesting David. I am also always curious to read some of the non-scriptural early source materials. There are many. Both the Orthodox and Catholic churches claim legitimacy going to the first century, but that has always seemed unlikely to me. Of course, I could be completely wrong, and would be happy to be so shown. I only seek the truth of God's love, grace, and mercy. While I do not have a strong opinion of the Orthodox church, I believe the Catholic church is a synthesis of early Christianity and Roman paganism, brought about but the proclaimed Christianization of the empire by Constantine. Am I mistaken in this belief? (that's an honest question); the elevation of Mary to the status of eternal virgin, born of Immaculate Conception, and being called a co-redemtptrix with Christ always struck me as the partial diefication of Mary. She is certainly a very significant person, one of the most significant, without any question. Do the Orthodox have the same reverence for her? Without any question, the apparent replacement of pagan goddess worship with Mary, the queen of heaven.

David Garner said...

I suppose whether the Orthodox or Rome are "legitimate" back to the first century depends quite a bit on what one means by "legitimacy."

For us (and, I think, for Rome as well) we claim "legitimacy" only in this -- we are the Church, founded by the Apostles, centered around Christ in the Bishops and remaining to this day. Our doctrine is true to the Tradition they handed down and to the Holy Scriptures which are a part of that Tradition. That is our claim.

I do think I disagree with you about Rome. In fact, I think a lot of the anti-Roman Protestant views on paganism have been used to slander all Christians of late by atheists who find such arguments all too convenient. Here's a pretty good blog post by a friend that deals with some such claims:

We would argue Mary has not been "elevated" to the status of eternal virgin, but rather that she has been "reduced" to someone who once was a virgin but is no longer. As proof of this, look at the three major Reformers -- Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. What were their views on Mary's ever virginity? If they didn't "elevate" her, on what basis do later Protestants determine that Rome or the Orthodox somehow introduced an innovation?

I don't know, honestly, if we have the same reverence for the Theotokos as Rome. We might have more reverence for all I know. We do not refer to her as "co-redemptrix" (and I'm assuming without investigating that Rome does, based on your comment). I can say we don't view her as anything close to a "goddess." Here is a good blog post along those lines (sorry to refer you elsewhere, but others have said this better than I):