Saturday, July 21, 2007

There are some wonderful things to be admired within Eastern Orthodoxy. I believe there is a humility and simplicity in their approach to faith that is wonderful. While I would not describe them as being childish in their thinking…I do think they make a real effort to be child like in their approach towards spirituality. Both Roman Catholicism and the Reformed branches are dominated by the western view of science and reason. Both traditions feel compelled to iron every wrinkle and answer every question...both traditions have a very hard time with the tensions created by mystery.

To be very honest…the scions of the Reformers struggle with mystery even more than Roman Catholics do. Yes, those of us from the Reformed tradition can precisely map out the end times and creation. We can chart out Bible prophesy and explain everything in Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation with confidence! We can tell you which spiritual gifts are operating today, which have passed…if any of course. And of those that have (or might have) passed…we can even tell you when they have passed. Yep…we leave no stone unturned (or so we assume).

Roman Catholicism is just about as bad.

Eastern Orthodoxy is not like that. They do not seem to be compelled to explain what they believe is unexplainable. God is God and we are not…God does what God does. For example…God is Triune. God is not bound by time, space or ignorance. They do not lay in bed at night, it does not seem, and try to get their minds around it. It’s weird…you just have to have a few good talks with a faithful Eastern Orthodox person. Because we like to think that we just accept God as God…but I’ve rarely met either a thoughtful Evangelical or Roman Catholic who simply accepts with the same peacefulness as the Eastern Orthodox.

I just think that is very cool. I want to be that child like in my faith…I need that in my life.

The next cool thing that I am digging is their use of apophatic reasoning. This goes along with there not be compulsive with mapping God out. In the west we have no problem at all saying “God is eternal”, “God is just” or “God is merciful”. Have we ever stopped to think that it is a big thing to define God? Whoa. Saying that God “is” this or God “is” that can get very comfortable…next thing we know…we’ve got Him all figured out and packed nicely into a shinny box! While I don’t think Eastern Orthodoxy never speaks of God in the affirmative…they do employ apophatic language often. They are much for comfortable saying, “God is not bound by space or time”, “God is not unjust” or “God is not unmerciful”. They feel it is more humble to say what God is not than to limit His scope by defining what He is. The line of thinking is sorta like this…since we can not fathom how vast God actually is and since we have no clue what eternal actually is…how can we just come out and say “God is eternal” unless we are simply quoting from His Word? In what other way are we justified making that statement? Saying what God is not leaves Him and His glory far more open ended and far less compartmentalized.

That’s deep…and I like it. Or should I say, that is not shallow…and I like it!

The Eastern Orthodox believe in miracles and in the spiritual realm. You’ll not find them wondering how the Red Sea was parted…God parted it and that is that. They simply accept the accounts in the Bible of ax heads floating, bodies of water parting, prophets being fed by ravens, rods turning into snakes, the virgin birth, a man with two natures, men walking on water, 5,000 men being fed with a few loaves of bread and fish, blind receiving sight and the bodily, physical, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. They also believe in Angles, Demons and Satan. They believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell. They are so child like that they believe God actually inspired the pages of Scripture in both an inerrant AND infallible way… (Gasp!) Beyond all of that…they believe miracles happen today. All throughout Eastern Orthodox history, accounts of the super natural have literally filled her history books. Things we read about now in the west and shrug off as unsubstantiated legend…they sincerely believe! Such accounts are significant pieces of the traditions passed down to them…they no more doubt those accounts than they would the ones spoken of in Holy Scripture! And they believe such things happen with regularity today.

I think it is so cool that they believe that the God who is…is a wonder working God full of wonder working power. And I think it is so cool that they believe that the God who “was” is the God who “is” and will always “be”. I wish the egg-heads that fill so called seminaries had such faith in the accounts of Scripture.

Finally, I think what is possibly the very thing that churches within the Reformed tradition lack the most is one of Eastern Orthodoxy’s greatest strengths…the use of beauty in the context of worship. Some of the most stunning artwork, symbols and gestures in all the world originated within Eastern Orthodoxy. They will hit every one of your senses…sound…thought…smell…sight…touch. This might be what is underlying the great interest Eastern Orthodoxy is having with the postmodern/under 40 crowd. With the mega-seeker driven churches all but stripped bare of their traditions and history it is shockingly beautiful to see artwork and blatantly “Christian” themes all around an Eastern Orthodox church. They are clearly not ashamed of their Christian heritage. What was appealing to our parents in the 80’s, auditoriums instead of sanctuaries, talks instead of sermons and flowers instead of crosses now tends to smack of inauthenticity to many gen xer’s and millennial’s…and no matter what you think of the Eastern Orthodox…being inauthentic can not be said of them.

Of course…there is the simple weight of her history…which I alluded to last time. That is also very appealing to me…Christianity did not start with Martin Luther, John Calvin or Billy Graham…

So there you have it…some of my very first impressions of Eastern Orthodoxy. But wait…there’s more! There are reasons why I have not converted…big ones. And I will get into those things next time.


Mark Jones said...

Interesting reading... I'll wait until you complete all of your comments before drawing any conclusions.

derek said...

my guess is that hes about to make their beliefs small so he comes out big

irreverend fox said...

thanks mark!'ve got me all figured out...way to go!

Zac said...


So far I think you've got it right. I would only perhaps say that Orthodoxy does have works of systematic theology and certainly does not look upon God-given reasoning and logic as "anathema" in an approach to theology-- but at the same time, I think, apophaticism is an attempt to cast our reasoning and logic at the Feet of the Almighty, acknowledging that the Truth was not "figured out" but revealed to us... and revealed to us primarily not through words from Heaven but the Word Himself, in person.

From an apophatic point of view, Orthodoxy would have no problem saying that God is "just" or God is "good." But then we must say that His justice is beyond the ability of the word "just" to capture what we mean... because He is Uncreated, and created language cannot contain 100% accuracy about the Uncreated God. We would also say that God is "good" but then at the same time we would say that His goodness is not bound to our own created concept of goodness, but far beyond it. So it's not simply negation, but an affirmation that God is not bound to our language or thoughts about Him.

I too have noticed a simplicity toward God which I wish that I could attain to, if ever God would grant it to me.

I do hope that whatever you conclude, you will attend one of our services-- if not Divine Liturgy, then perhaps Vespers? We have this the night before Liturgy around 5pm, and it's short.

And of course, I have only really given you introductory materials... if you wish to look at a more systematic, comprehensive volume of "Dogmatic Theology," then I can offer that to you, to aid you in your understanding.

I suppose for me the intellectual journey was only part of it.

Zac said...

By the way, let me just tell you that I love your picture as your representation of Orthodoxy, although I doubt many of your readers will understand the nature of a liturgical "procession" with our sacred hymns and icons...

Where did you get this picture? It looks like the majority of people are monks, at least in the front, where it is obvious (to me) that several of them are priests. I'm guessing Russia? Ukraine? Possibly Georgia or Estonia?

If you are interested in some other good Orthodox photos, check out

irreverend fox said...

thanks zac! I think I just googled "Eastern Orthodoxy" and found that pic...I think it was taken in Russia if I remember correctly...

Tim said...

So far so good. This is extremely interesting. It's funny reading the account of the miracles, etc. I guess I must have a little of that thinking in me because I don't try to figure out how these things happened, I just accept that they did and that God made them happen. Zac, I think the points you made in your first comment are dead on. The words we use to describe God can't fully capture an awesome God. Can't wait for the next installment.

irreverend fox said...

good stuff tim...thanks...I always need the words of affirmation...I agree with everything you mentioned...if we could figure it all out and have it all together…we would not need faith nor the object of faith.