My Foundations of the Orthodox Faith series is now fully online at Ancient Faith Radio. This series represents an attempt at a sort of catechism—approaching the faith from four foundational angles: the revelation of God to man, authority in the spiritual life, worship, and morality.
As with most of my work, I attempted to keep these talks fairly free of religious jargon, approaching the subjects with only a minimum of assumptions shared with the listeners. My hope is that these will be digestible not only to Orthodox Christians, but to other Christians, members of other religions, those who are “spiritual but not religious,” and even unbelievers.
There’s something of a progression here, so skipping ahead is advisable only at your own risk. The progression makes some sense to me: God reveals Himself (1), leading us to ask what we should trust as authoritative (2), propelling us into acts of worship (3) and ethics/morality (4).
Here’s the full series with all the links:
Whatever assumptions you may have, this series is probably not quite what you might be thinking. (But, hey! Maybe it is.)
My approach in this talk reflects one of my ongoing concerns—preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Trinity, in a world that increasingly is either totally ignorant of its Creator or only takes a sort of intellectually deistic approach to Him. The question I asked myself in working on this talk is how I would begin with the assumption that listeners were not Christians at all or only had minimal Christian knowledge. I move from there to the height of Christian worship—the Eucharist.
I believe it’s impossible to move with reason alone to the Holy Trinity, though I suppose one could get to a sort of deism. The line one must cross to get to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. That is, we do know not the Trinity because of reason, but because of revelation. Ultimately, that means conversion and communion will require an encounter with that revelation, which can come in a lot of forms. Its perfection is found in the Eucharist, in which the revealed, incarnate God makes Himself available to us as food. Mystical union is only possible if there is revelation. Otherwise, we and the rest of creation remain forever detached from the Creator.
Anyway, I’m not sure if this talk is one of my better works, but it’s certainly one of my favorites so far.
This talk is the first installment in the four-part Foundations of the Orthodox Faith series and was originally delivered on May 16, 2010.
- Dr. Seraphim Bruce Foltz: Nature and Other Modern Idolatries: Kosmos, Ktisis, and Chaos in Environmental Metaphysics. (Dr. Foltz is philosophy professor at Eckerd College, a founder of SOPHIA, the Orthodox philosophical association; author of “Inhabiting the Earth: Heidegger, Environmental Ethics, and the Metaphysics of Nature,” and co-editor of “Rethinking Nature: Essays in Environmental Philosophy.”)
- Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick: The Cosmic Cathedral: Orthodox Liturgy and Ecological Vision. (Fr. Andrew is pastor of St. Paul’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA, and author of the “Roads from Emmaus” and “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio, as well as of the blog “Roads from Emmaus.”)
- Abbot Sergius (Bowyer): Monasticism and the Restoration of Creation. (Fr. Sergius is abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery and music instructor at St. Tikhon’s Seminary.)
- Prof. Alfred Kentigern Siewers: The Desert Sea: Early Irish Ascetic Landscapes of Creation. (Prof. Siewers is associate professor of English, and Nature and Human Communities coordinator, at Bucknell University’s Environmental Center; author of “Strange Beauty: Ecocritical Approaches to Early Medieval Landscape,” co-editor of “Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages.”)
- Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff: Environmental Concerns and Orthodox Christian Witness. (Dr. Theokritoff is visiting lecturer at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge; author of “Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology,” co-editor of “The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology.”)
- Protodeacon Sergei Kapral: The Orthodox Church and Non-Orthodox Eco-Justice Movements. (Protodeacon Sergei is deacon at Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and a member of the National Council of Churches Committee on Eco-Justice.)
The above blurbs are from the conference schedule.
I enjoyed this conference. It was much less political (and by that, I mean in the annoying, activist sense) than I had been prepared for, leaning far more heavily to questions of ecological vision which, I believe, are more critical to us. Blundering about with big policy recommendations can be, frankly, rather silly, when one is not guided by anything of a higher order. It also depends greatly on whatever the “scientific” fad of the moment is.
Both parts of my March 7 talk at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, are now up on Ancient Faith Radio, at the Roads From Emmaus podcast. (They’ve got it titled “Evangelism and Orthodoxy.”)
You can download the referenced Orthodox Gospel tract here.
Both parts of my February 3 talk at Bucknell University are now available via Ancient Faith Radio, on the Roads From Emmaus podcast.
A fascinating event held recently at St. Paul’s was this seminar and discussion led by Prof. Alfred Siewers of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (referenced in this previous post). You can now listen to both parts of the recording made of the seminar via Ancient Faith Radio:
- Part One—the bulk of the seminar, introduced by your host, in which I warble on a bit about my 2001 pilgrimage in the British Isles. Prof. Siewers gives a fascinating talk about Irish Christian monasticism and how it lived in terms of ecology (“the story of home”).
- Part Two—the question and answer session, featuring both Prof. Siewers and your humble servant.
Interested parties can also download Prof. Siewers’s handout here.
As the “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” podcast rolls on with publication on AFR (having been completed in “the real world” about a week and a half ago; all handouts are available here), I am receiving more and more email with regard to its contents. Most of the messages are just kind words of thanks, which are of course very nice to receive. Some few are outright denunciations, strongly worded. But then the bulk of the rest may be summarized by either or both of the following statements:
1. You did not cover my religious group with the sort of detail it deserves.
2. You are wrong about my religious group’s teachings. We’re actually right.
Many such messages are also strongly influenced by the fact that the commenter has not listened to all the parts of the particular lecture in question (AFR is dividing them each up into two or three parts, which turns seven lectures into at least fifteen episodes), so they’re not actually getting everything I said in that whole lecture which might be pertinent to their group. Others comments are a permutation of that sampling error, based usually on the fact that the whole series hasn’t been aired yet—I have some rather detailed comments to say in general about all religions vis-à-vis Orthodoxy in both the first and the last lectures of the series. That’s particularly important, since I don’t intend my remarks to be taken outside the overall educational and evangelistic purpose of the talks. But of course I acknowledge that those are hazards of the format, so I just keep responding with “Be sure to listen to the other parts of the lecture” and “Be sure to listen to the first/last lecture.”
In any event, regarding the two primary objections noted above, I find myself in my replies frequently repeating several observations. Again, it’s understandable that people should have these objections, given the format—after all, by submitting them for AFR’s editing and publication, I am removing them from their original intended context and allowing them to be apprehended by a diverse population whose presuppositions and experiences are likely far different from the original.
So here’s what a bit of I’m repeating:
- 1. This lecture series is an “encyclopedia-level view” of the various groups in question, designed for parish education for people who are already Orthodox Christians. It is not meant in any sense to be a detailed examination of all the various permutations of each religious group covered (well over 100!). There is simply not enough time for that, given the design, and I rather doubt that the people attending the lectures would be interested, for instance, in an in-depth examination of Confessional Lutheranism or the less-hyper-than-hyper-Calvinists.
This was a particular problem in dealing with Roman Catholicism, to which I dedicated an entire lecture. What the Magisterium teaches is not identical to what Catholics are hearing in the pulpit and in confession, nor is it identical to the vast world of Roman Catholic theology which has, it must be admitted, somewhat revolutionized Catholic life over the past century. In many regards, the Magisterium is somewhat “lagging behind” all those trends (and good for them!), some of which are in my opinion worth pursuing (e.g., the Eucharistic ecclesiology of Henri de Lubac), while others are very much not (e.g., Liberation Theology). But who am I, as an Orthodox Christian priest, to try to sift through all that stuff and declare which versions are the “true” Roman Catholicism, over and above the sorts of official statements in the Catechism? Not going there; don’t have the time for it, anyway.
As a result of all this, I deliberately have simplified much of what I say about other faiths. No doubt many adherents would regard it as oversimplification, but I’ll at least say that I tried my best not to do that.
2. These lectures are not evangelistic in their immediate purpose. That is, they were designed for Orthodox Christians to learn about and begin to engage people of other faiths. One of their ultimate purposes, of course, is evangelistic, but only in terms of helping Orthodox people understand other faiths better so that they can enter into conversation with their adherents. The other purpose of these lectures is to educate Orthodox people better in their own faith, by means of comparison and contrast.
3. The series is deliberately non-ecumenical. Its purpose is not to enter into dialogue or debate, which I think is largely pointless on the “official” level but often fruitful on a personal level (see #2). This means that, for instance, when a member of one of the Reformed faiths tells me that his communion really was saying nothing new during the Reformation, just purging innovations accrued by Roman Catholicism, I am not going to agree with him. (If I did, I’d join their church!) The explicit purpose of these lectures is to present an Orthodox Christian view (note the “an,” not “the”) of these various faiths, which necessarily involves the use of critique, since Orthodox Christianity is not identical to any of the faiths being discussed.
Honestly, I would hope that serious members of these faiths would regard their own faith in the same way—if it’s really true, then that means that, where other faiths differ, then they must be false. I’m not sure how one can otherwise have any religious integrity.
In the past, I personally spent a lot of time debating with members of other religions, and I’m done with that now. So when I present a lecture on comparative theology, I deliberately favor Orthodoxy and make no pretense at being unbiased or neutral. I also make no claim to expert status on any of what I’m discussing. No one should be citing me in papers (though I just found out that a high school student at my home parish has done so!), and no one who is seriously interested in exploring any of these subjects should consider my little lecture series the last word on the matter. Go check out the handouts (each of which includes an appendix of sources) for further reading, and go beyond that.
Yesterday, my khourieh asked me if all this email was stressing me out. It’s not. I expected it, though I didn’t expect the volume that I’ve received (which has been manageable). I do find it fascinating, though, that so many of the responses can be sorted into the above two objections. I certainly didn’t expect that.
One of the reasons I talked with AFR about recording and publishing this series is that I think there is precious little being done along these lines. Very few Orthodox writers seem interested in doing work to help parishioners engage the theologies around them. Yet if we do not do this, we both risk losing people to these heterodox groups and we also cut the legs out from under many evangelistic possibilities. So I’ve thrown in my contributions. I hope others do far more detailed and better work than I.