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Nature of EO/OO discussions in the Community


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#21 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 03 November 2006 - 03:31 PM

I would have say that I still find myself mystified that any of the discussions here could be thought to be outside the remit of Patristic studies in recent times and apart from the EO/OO thread?

As has been stated clearly, St Isaac of Syria is a member of a communion considered heretical by my own Orthodox Church so that the idea of raising this matter is polemical is simply unbelievable. I could not even imagine such a view would be taken. I have also only quoted, as far as I can see, from +Hilarion and a Russian archpriest who has been published in SVOS' journal. So the idea that any of this discussion is polemical is also completely misplaced.

I would want to say that in all the time I have been Orthodox, sice 1994, I have always eschewed polemics, as the papers I have written and the websites I have supported and maintained clearly show.

As for the question about undermining faith? I must ask again, is this a forum for Patristic Studies, which may well undermine not faith but mere received opinion?

Is it really the case that the thread on St Isaac should have proceeded thus?

Q. Was St Isaac a Nestorian?

A. No.

Q. Thank you.

How is that studying patristics?

It is suggested that EO would not ask such questions on an OO forum. Why not? There are many questions that an intelligent, thoughtful EO should ask. Questions like:

Q. In what way does the reception of Eutyches at Ephesus II not make the anti-Chalcedonians Eutychian?

Q. How is the distinction between the humanity and Divinity in Christ preserved if you reject the phrase 'in two natures'?

Q. How can the OO both condemn the Assyrian Church for Nestorianism while venerating one of her bishops as a saint?

These are all reasonable questions that intelligent and thoughtful OO should be able to answer without finding their faith shaken. Indeed they should be asking themselves these questions in any case.

I am disappointed, truly disappointed, that in a forum which has a reputation for scholarly content in fact all of these sorts of questions are obviously precluded in case the laity are shaken in their faith. I am not convinced that 'received opinions' are at all the same as the Tradition, and in many cases we all need to be shaken into thought at some time.

If the EO are not able or willing to answer these questions here then I am more convinced that they need asking elsewhere, and others must provide the answers. I could easily have become EO 12 years ago but in all honesty I do not think I could have remained Byzantine if it is not permitted to ask the sort of questions I am always asking of my own OO tradition, and find large numbers of other (more) intelligent OO people asking and answering.

Perhaps I had better just keep silence now and only contribute on threads that have no possible controversial content. Truly I am disappointed. The idea that questions are the same as polemics is really disheartening and makes me feel that if this view is widespread then there is no hope for real dialogue with the Byzantines.

Best wishes

Peter


This is the thread I think we need to be most careful of. As I said when I mentioned the problems we were getting into in this discussion there are times when a family or even parish needs to sit down & talk things out. The risk is of hurling personal accusations at each other. But if through discussion we can express the thinking behind the concerns we have then perhaps something of good can be achieved.

Anyway Peter- it seems we are both moving in the same circle because last night I actually thought of the same example as you bring up, to try to illustrate what I am getting at.

To be honest I would never go to the forum of another Faith except perhaps to gain some information about them. Why else be there? I'm not part of their church and have no first hand experience of their Faith. So it's not right of me to assume a teaching role about their Faith.

Am I there to challenge them about their Faith? Well, that's up to the conscience of each of us. But at least we need to be aware of what we're doing in this case.

But what of discussion? Especially in our case where talks have occurred, there is some sort of closeness of our churches, etc. there could be this sort of discussion. But the above still applies. Beyond reading, if I was on an OO forum, I am not a member of your church, I'm not sure of my interpretation of what I may have read or heard or even encountered in you.

But along with this if I go on an OO forum somehow I am in OO church space, a bit like a guest entering a parish. The space I am entering is not a neutral, 'intellectual' space. It is a church space.

So let's say I enter this OO forum and someone from among your laity asks about Dioscorus for example. Well you know what we EO may well think about him. The 'facts' are all out there easy for anyone to find even from among your own OO faithful.

So let's say one of your OO faithful reading some of this negative info on Disocorus comes away now with real doubt on his/her mind. On the OO forum they ask, "How can Dioscorus be considered a saint? Scholars who are not even Orthodox are saying such & such about him."

So here I am an EO priest on your OO forum reading question from your laity. What to do?

What I do is let one of you people answer the question. Why? Because I want you to strengthen the faith of your people, not weaken it. In an OO space I actually have no place answering this question in a negative way (actually I would probably answer it in a positive way even if an OO asked the question in my parish- or if I felt I couldn't in conscience give a positive answer I'd tell the person to speak with their priest). Actually I have no place answering this question in this context even though I possess the intellectual knowledge to engage in a discussion about it. Why?

Because I'm in a church space first. This doesn't preclude an intellectual discussion at all. But in a church space (I'm not sure why it wouldn't be this way even in the secular sphere for an Orthodox Christian but anyway...) intellectual discussions need to take place within the larger context of the Church. The purpose of these discussion needs keeping in mind.

So no I wouldn't offer an answer about Dioscorus to an inquiring OO faithful on an OO forum. Perhaps if after this question someone appeared that clearly wanted to discuss Disocorus in the OO-EO context. Maybe.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#22 John Charmley

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Posted 03 November 2006 - 05:07 PM

To be honest I would never go to the forum of another Faith except perhaps to gain some information about them. Why else be there? I'm not part of their church and have no first hand experience of their Faith. So it's not right of me to assume a teaching role about their Faith.


This is given, I hope, but it may be that a point that is distinctive to a Patristics website is being missed.

You write, Father, as though 'their Faith' was an uncomplicated matter. Well, before Chalcedon it was one Faith, indeed, as the discussions elsewhere indicate, the notion that it ceased to be that at Chelcedon may be too simplistic except for those who dislike their history in shades other than monochrome. This raises potentially interesting points about conversations that might take place on a website devoted in part to Patristics; to claim sole ownership of the 'Faith' before Chalcedon might well, unwittingly, seem rather provocative.

As for the teaching role, your point is well made and well taken, but since St. Isaac was, whatever modern historians may think, not a member of a Chalcedonian Church, yourselves and the OO should either stop trying to sheep steal from the Church of the East, or begin to face up to what lies behind your common veneration of him. To take what your final sentence says to heart would actually debar you from commenting on St. Isaac, which would be undesirable, since you come to him with considerable insight. In the work of St. Isaac there is a reflection of what the Orthodox Church declares as the True Faith; how interesting that that reflection is recognised by both EO and OO.


But along with this if I go on an OO forum somehow I am in OO church space, a bit like a guest entering a parish. The space I am entering is not a neutral, 'intellectual' space. It is a church space.

So let's say I enter this OO forum and someone from among your laity asks about Dioscorus for example. Well you know what we EO may well think about him. The 'facts' are all out there easy for anyone to find even from among your own OO faithful.

So let's say one of your OO faithful reading some of this negative info on Disocorus comes away now with real doubt on his/her mind. On the OO forum they ask, "How can Dioscorus be considered a saint? Scholars who are not even Orthodox are saying such & such about him."


I will have to let our OO brothers and sisters answer that, but it doesn't seem to me, when I have asked them questions about it, that it presents to them the problems it does to you. They come back to me with information which allows me to make a more informed decision; it is the difficulty which you have in doing this that worries me.

Any faith that can be shaken by the need to answer genuine questions that come from outside it is in a vulnerable position in this society. Of course there are many forms of Christianity that flourish by providing safe havens for those who want the certainty that comes from a cosy community dialogue that shuts out questions from others, and everyone in this western society actually gets a choice on this in a way that was not once the case.

My choice is to pray for guidance. I have had no revelation. I do not even know how I know God exists, just that He does. I do not know where He means me to go, but I do know what He has given me to help me on the journey.

INXC

John

#23 Matthew Panchisin

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Posted 03 November 2006 - 07:32 PM

I've always found Monachos.net to be a good forum Peter with good people.
:)

In Christ,

Matthew Panchisin

#24 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 03 November 2006 - 11:25 PM

Dear friends,

I am attempting to sort through the various comments I’ve received, and to take on board many people’s thoughts as to some of the issues discussed in this thread. I’m keen to have things thought through thoroughly, as always; but also to not be too long in putting out a definitive response, from the perspective of the forum, so that people can get back about the various conversations always taking place.

That in mind, here is a fairly definitive response. Some of the material herein comes from bits and pieces I’ve posted or e-mailed previously, but much is also new.

A reminder of the nature of the Monachos.net web site and Discussion Community.

As many members have pointed out, it is important to bear in mind that the Discussion Community is only one part of the much larger Monachos.net web site, which exists:

"to further the study of Orthodox Christianity through reflection on its patristic, monastic, liturgical and ecclesiastical heritage. Its aim is to be a resource for academic, scholarly and personal study, a forum for the provision of patristic source and secondary materials as well as ecclesiastical information on related matters, an environment for the discussion of and reflection upon the Church's patristic, monastic, liturgical and ecclesiastical heritage, and a means of providing access to materials on the Church's thought and life."


Connecting this scope so explicitly to 'Orthodox Christianity' and 'the Church' makes it clear that, while a scholarly resource in many ways, it is also a site deliberately framed within the context of this particular Christian heritage. To make clear to readers the more precise nature of this orientation, the following text is included on the web site's http://www.monachos.net/welcome.shtml'>Welcome Page:

"The Orthodox tradition represented on Monachos.net is what might be called 'Chalcedonian Orthodox'; that is, it terms as 'Orthodoxy' the Churches of the seven ecumenical councils, including Chalcedon, as found in the ancient patriarchates of the Eastern Orthodox communion. The web site is not operated by any sole Orthodox jurisdiction, but represents the Chalcedonian Orthodox traditions found in, for example, the Russian Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, etc."


This is repeated in the Discussion Community's Terms of Use document, in the http://www.monachos....#faq_tos_part2'>Community Outline section:

"Given the nature of the forum, readers and members should be clear that the Monachos.net Discussion Community, as the Monachos.net web site as a whole, is what might be called 'Chalcedonian Orthodox'; that is, it terms as 'Orthodoxy' the Churches of the seven ecumenical councils, including Chalcedon, as found in the ancient patriarchates of the Eastern Orthodox communion. The web site is not directly affiliated with any Orthodox jurisdiction, but represents the Chalcedonian Orthodox traditions found in, for example, the Russian Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, etc."


It is quite clear from the web site's six-year history that this focus is in no way meant as a negative characterisation of other traditions that share much of common Orthodox heritage in their own communions ( e.g. the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Churches of the East, etc.); but from its own standpoint, Monachos.net takes as the 'Orthodoxy' that forms the broadest context for its articles, texts and discussion fora that of the Eastern Orthodox patriarchates and heritage. For this reason, on the web site it is not necessary or customary to refer to 'Eastern Orthodoxy' as a usual habit, but simply 'Orthodoxy', given the nature and orientation of the site.

Within this broadest context, the Discussion Community, as one part of the Monachos.net web site as a whole, has its own specific purview that lies under and is directly related to that of the overall site. Again from the Community Outline:

"The Monachos.net Discussion Community is [...] provided for the discussion of patristic, monastic, liturgical and ecclesiastical studies in an Orthodox Christian context."


This focus is directly related to the focus of the whole web site; though where the majority of the site is a reader-based resource (on-line sources texts, articles, studies, links, and so on) the Community is discussion-based. But its focus remains the same, as does the broad context of what some might call 'Chalcedonian Orthodoxy'. In the same manner as the rest of the web site, it is not customary or necessary in normal circumstances in the Community to refer to 'Eastern Orthodoxy' unless a specific comment is being made in which it would be unclear whether 'Orthodoxy' meant Eastern Orthodoxy, as it normally does on Monachos.net, or another Orthodox Church. Again, this is in no way meant to challenge the title 'Orthodoxy' in churches other than those of the Chalcedonian communion; but the Monachos.net web site is of this background and orientation, so on this site it is what is meant and directly inferred by the term. This is in part a matter of clarity to readers, who come to the site seeking information on an Orthodox context of understanding patristics, ascetical traditions, etc., from its contents. If the term 'Orthodoxy' is always being qualified or modified, this makes the focus of Monachos.net and its Discussion Community less clear.

This leads into a reminder of an important section of the Community Outline, which reads:

"The Monachos.net Discussion Community is not an interfaith forum for general discussions on Orthodoxy with respect to other Christian churches, denominations or religious faiths. This means that general discussions on, e.g., 'Orthodoxy vs. Protestantism' are beyond the purview, and conversations which transform to such points of focus will most often be terminated. The same holds true for inter-church discussions with respect to groups of common heritage, e.g. 'Eastern Orthodoxy vs. Oriental Orthodoxy'. Discussions which occasionally compare doctrinal or practical issues across churches / traditions, and which do so explicitly for the purpose of attempting better to understand the patristic, monastic, liturgical and ecclesiastical heritage of the Church (rather than modern differences), are welcome; in such conversations, however, the over-arching theme of discussion under the above purview, and not simply expression of personal opinion or confessional comparison with Orthodoxy, is paramount."


There is a real value to discussions that compare different traditions, and especially which compare Eastern and Oriental Orthodox traditions, customs and practices; however, Monachos.net is simply not a web site dedicated to this subject matter, nor is its Discussion Community so orientated.

Recent directions in discussion.

I write the above because a number of members of the Discussion Community have contacted me over the past weeks, and indeed much on-line conversation such as that found in this own thread has arisen, presenting concerns over the direction that many threads have been taken; namely, that the theme of comparison between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox views has become a recurring theme in a majority of active threads. As the above will make clear, the ‘moderatorship’ of the forum absolutely nothing against such discussions per se and values the realm of dialogue -- but such a dominant focus is not appropriate to the Monachos.net Discussion Community, given the scope and orientation of this particular web site.

Certain appeals have been made in this regard recently, though they have been somewhat unsuccessful thus far -- perhaps because the precise reasoning for the requests has not been fully known to all; hence the rather lengthy details here. Nonetheless, the matter is one that needs addressing.

Discussions that explicitly raise matters of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox relations, viewpoints, histories, etc., or which focus on Oriental Orthodoxy and its views in a distinct manner, should be kept in the http://www.monachos....play.php?f=365'>Ecclesiologies in Relation > Eastern / Oriental Orthodox Dialogue Area. The Monachos.net Discussion Community is really not the place for discussion of Oriental Orthodoxy in its own right (if good discussion fora exist with this as their focus, members are invited to send details to the webmaster so they can be added to the appropriate section of the Links Catalogue as a reference for those visitors to the web site who are interested in such venues). Outside of the http://www.monachos....play.php?f=365'>Eastern / Oriental Orthodox Dialogue Area, please bear in mind the normal context of discussions in this Community, namely that what is primarily discussed is the reading of the patristic and monastic heritage from the context of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. 'The Orthodox view' or 'the Orthodox tradition', as often referred to in the forum, is generally this tradition, as per the orientation of the web site as a whole.

This is the ‘official policy’ of the forum, as the Term of Use spell out, and is really a very important matter for the life and character of the forum. It is altogether too easy for internet fora to become hodge-podge mixes of all sorts of discussions – broad 'open doors' for any and all topics of conversation. The Monachos.net Discussion Community is, however, designed to be a very specific resource with a specific scope and orientation. I trust both longstanding and newer members will appreciate this unique focus, and the need to work to keep it as such. In future we will need to be a bit more direct in moving posts, closing threads, etc., which wander too far from the Community’s focus in this regard.

Freedom of critical discussion.

The above being said, I do wish to respond also to the questions that have been fairly asked about the very nature of ‘question asking’ in the Community. Monachos.net has always embraced critical study of patristic and monastic themes, inasmuch as ‘critical study’ involves asking serious questions, making real explorations, challenging precision and accuracy in both sources and readings. If heated emotions in the recent weeks have caused some to ask questions about this, I would wish to reassure that such authentic critical questioning is always welcomed. It is in authentic, faithfully critical study that the patristic and monastic heritage of the Church opens up its full offering to the present-day world. It is, in a direct sense, part of the very raison d’etre of the Monachos.net web site as a whole.

So long as such critical study is being engaged in from within the scope and nature of the site and the Community, it will always be welcomed. There is of course an often hard-to-distinguish line between genuine critical questioning and ‘prodding’ or attempts to use questions to set up specific readings, etc.; this is simply part of communication between different persons. The line is hard to distinguish, almost impossible to demarcate; and it is part of the reason the Community does have moderation and moderators, to nudge things back on track when such things arise (as they always will, from time to time). But genuine, open critical questioning and discussion will always be welcomed.

The spirit of engagement.

Finally, a reminder of the frailty conversations, given that they are carried out by frail people. Despite best intentions, words will at times clash. We will all, at times, respond in ways that offend others. But a thriving internet discussion forum thrives by forgiveness and understanding.

This should, I hope, clarify and expand on the forum’s Terms of Use and lay out fairly clearly the line to be taken on the specific issues to hand. The Community does have a context and does have boundaries, and these need to be and will be watched over. But the boundaries exist so that discussion can flourish, which it has here now for well over five years, and I am certain it will continue for some time.

INXC, M.C. Steenberg
Monachos.net

#25 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 04 November 2006 - 02:36 PM

A couple of thoughts came to me last night that I wanted to pass along.

Part of the confusion in our discussions may have been caused by the fact that since Monachos is such a good fit for many of us we give the impression that we & Monachos are exactly the same thing. I hadn't even thought about this before.

What I mean is that at Monachos there are guidelines towards maintaining a certain kind of discussion; these are protective in a way when we try to speak with each other.

But each of us besides this also have our own 'guidelines for discussion' which is our conscience, and which witnesses to itself according to our life in Christ. Monachos is such a good protective tent for us that we (or I anyway) can begin not to notice this but I think it still is very important to notice that our conscience & Monachos are not the same thing. Monachos provides the platform for us and guidelines are set for discussion; but much of what guides us beyond this is our conscience.

I bring this up mainly to try to clarify a certain point which came up during these recent discussions & which was along the line of dissatisfaction about not satisfactorily responding to questions put to us about our Faith. Maybe the impression was at least partly given that out of principle we try to restrict these kinds of discussions & that the Monachos guidelines reflect this. I'm not sure if this was the impression given but if so it probably also came from how I expressed myself.

The main point is that once having reached a certain point in the discussion hesitancy came not from being against discussions in principle- as if this is too intellectual or whatever. The point at which I stopped and I think others also was when conscience said it was not right to proceed further.

Looking at it in this way hopefully helps to clarify what has gone on in these discussions recently. There is a lot to discuss about the whole EO-OO issue. But if it comes to a discussion about unity then no argument should override the fact of what our conscience is telling us as Orthodox Christians is the proper point beyond which we should not move. This is something in which our conscience must guide us & which ultimately is the justification for what was being said - not the Monachos guidelines.

Of course conscience is not mute- it can explain itself. But justifying itself is another matter entirely. Conscience has no justification for itself except itself.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#26 Peter Farrington

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Posted 04 November 2006 - 03:13 PM

Dear Father

No one has asked you to discuss unity.

You have been asked a series of questions, all of which, for whatever reason, you have chosen not to answer, as is your right. But it seems unreasonable to then suggest that you are merely uncomfortable discussing unity. No one has asked you to.

Looking at it in this way hopefully helps to clarify what has gone on in these discussions recently. There is a lot to discuss about the whole EO-OO issue. But if it comes to a discussion about unity then no argument should override the fact of what our conscience is telling us as Orthodox Christians is the proper point beyond which we should not move. This is something in which our conscience must guide us & which ultimately is the justification for what was being said - not the Monachos guidelines.

You have been asked a number of questions, none of which you need to answer if you don't want to, on the topic of Patristic studies. You have not only not answered but have positively made an effort to shut all discussion down.

There does seem a lot of fear and insecurity going around which I cannot comprehend. Why is it threatening to your faith to deal with the issue of St Isaac being a Nestorian? Is the EO faith so fragile? I had not thought so. Indeed all of the material I posted was from EO sources who were quite happy discussing the issue. Would you also be trying to silence +Hilarion if he posted here about St Isaac being a Nestorian, as he has written? Would it be detrimental to the faith of EO laity if HE said it, or is it just because I have asked it?

I am very surprised that the standard response here to any searching questions is the fearful one of wishing to silence the one who asks rather than examining the question and the material being presented. As far as I can see the Fathers were NEVER unwilling to engage in dialogue, discussion, even argument.

Perhaps I should just take the clear hint and not post here, although I hae enjoyed corresponding with even strong characters such as Scott, and with other UK folk such as Kris, but it is a disappointment, especially when the forum is labelled as being for Patristic Studies.

If I visit other such forums which are not especially EO I find a complete freedom to engage in such studies without any members feeling afraid that their faith was being compromised. That has not been the case here, and perhaps it needs to be put even more clearly in the guidelines what the range of questions and studies actually allowed on the forum consists of, because it would seem that every question I have asked here has received a cold and unwelcoming response from yourself.

I had not meant to elicit such a response, nor expected it, and on some other forums I only read because the posting guidelines do not allow for OO to post. If that is the unwritten expectation here then I guess I will have to follow it.

Peter

#27 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 04 November 2006 - 03:43 PM

Dear friends,

I think the time has come to bring this thread on forum policy to a close, since the various points to be made have been made, and there's now been an 'official' response issued (see my post, above). Further dispute is likely to be just that, and it's time to get back to the real discussions in the Community, rather than linger on this issue which has now been spoken to.

Suffice it to say that suggestions that genuinely critical study is not welcome, or that certain categories of individuals are not welcome to contribute, is not at all true -- something that is made distinctly clear in both the Terms of Use and my post above.

Many thanks to all for contributions and thoughts here. If you've further queries about this topic, please feel more than welcome to send me a Private Message.

INXC, Matthew




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