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A few questions about an Orthodox understanding of Scripture


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#1 Brad D.

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 03:14 PM

In my denomination (Methodism), there is a large contingent of well educated clergy who have what I would call a very un-orthodox view of scripture.  For instance:

 

1.  Some deny that the virgin birth was a reality, but instead that it is a literary technique to prove Christ's importance to the masses.

2.  Some question the historicity of people like Elijah or Elisha, and say those elements of the text were added to prove certain theological points.

3.  Some question the reality of even Christ's recorded miracles.

 

Is there a group within Orthodoxy who also question these things?  As much as I love the brothers and sisters who hold these views, I think they have read too many books.

 

Brad



#2 Phoebe K.

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 04:19 PM

As far a I understand it none of the things you mention are questioned by faithful orthodox, in the case of questioning the virgin birth the beliefs were subject to an ecumenical councle which defined the true beliefs and declared the rest as heretical.  the hymns of the orthodox church make it clear that we believe in the virgin birth, the hymns also make it clear we believe that the Prophets were real people.  As for the miricals of Christ we do not question that they happened, over the weekend I herd stories of miricals which happened in the last few months in on of the parishes in London where their is a wounder-working icon.

 

As a trained theologian (in the western tradition) I have no issue with any of the beliefs, and it is being shown by some areas of research that the archaeology is supporting what the scriptures say.  Though as the Fr say true theology is a relationship with God not in books, some of the best theologians were the desart fathers many of whom were illiterate, the self brought back to God is the only place where true theology occurs as the fallen reason cannot truly understand the things of God.

 

Phoebe



#3 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 05:40 PM

As Phoebe indicates, the Orthodox position is lex orandi lex credendi.  The service texts are our theology.  We cannot pray that which we do not believe: in other words, we believe that which we pray.  Regarding the virgin birth of Christ in particular, even Muslims believe in that (for what that's worth).  The fact that the clergy referred to are "well educated" means nothing - educated in what?  In western liberal heresy, it appears.  Their faith is limited by their intellect.



#4 Brad D.

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 07:10 PM

Phoebe:  Thanks so much for your thoughts!

 

Andrew:  Yes, I think that is an important point.  I think some of our seminaries are ruining our faith.  I know there are some issues there for you, on your side, towards any Protestant seminary...but you get my point.



#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 08:22 PM

You mention their view of scripture.  Scripture cannot be considered separately from the Holy Tradition of which it is part, and the rejection of Holy Tradition by Protestants (at least, I think they reject it - I was never a Protestant myself) is key to their failure to understand scripture.  I once asked a Protestant minister if she thought the Mother of God was to be called 'blessed', and she hesitated.  I said that as a good Protestant, she should have regard to the plain words of scripture and to Luke 1:48.  Perhaps they skip Luke 1:46-55.



#6 Brad D.

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 08:38 PM

Well, it depends on the group.  In Methodism, we (are supposed to) use Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience to make these determinations.  Sadly I think the second half of our "quadrilateral" are trending towards defacing the first two.  John Wesley was quite fond of the Fathers, well, and Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole.  I am Protestant, and I personally love the Church Fathers.

 

Part of your Protestant friend's hesitation was the conditioning many Protestants have been subjected to, which tries to scare us from being "too Catholic".  The baby was thrown out with the bath water (I hate that saying) during the Reformation, and so there is a disconnect.



#7 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 09:03 PM

I'm sure you are right, and I was once told that the Wesleys were steeped in the Holy Fathers.  A pity that Protestants allow 'conditioning' to conceal the truth from themselves.  Perhaps they know nothing about Orthodoxy.  Some years ago, I was asked by a local Methodist church to deliver a series of talks about the Orthodox Church.  I was struck by two things: their ignorance of Church history, and their inability to peer over the parapet of their entrenched beliefs even in the face of the most obvious refutation of them.  They were happy to lie in the hole of their own making.



#8 Olga

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Posted 04 November 2013 - 10:21 PM

As Phoebe indicates, the Orthodox position is lex orandi lex credendi.  The service texts are our theology.  We cannot pray that which we do not believe: in other words, we believe that which we pray.  Regarding the virgin birth of Christ in particular, even Muslims believe in that (for what that's worth).  The fact that the clergy referred to are "well educated" means nothing - educated in what?  In western liberal heresy, it appears.  Their faith is limited by their intellect.

 

Our service texts indeed express our theology, and so do our icons, the visual counterpart to the verbal. On the virgin birth of Christ, this is expressed in the composition of icons of the Nativity, where St Joseph is set at some distance from the cave where the Mother of God is with the newborn Child. Moreover, the ever-virginity of the Mother of God is expressed in any icon of hers by the painting of three stars on her garments - one above her forehead, and one on each shoulder, denoting that she was a virgin before conceiving, maintained her virginity during giving birth, and remained a virgin throughout her life afterwards.



#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 05 November 2013 - 12:32 AM

Indeed.  All aspects of Holy Tradition reinforce each other - no 'cleverly devised myths' (cf 2 Peter 1:16).



#10 Kosta

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Posted 05 November 2013 - 08:49 AM

In my denomination (Methodism), there is a large contingent of well educated clergy who have what I would call a very un-orthodox view of scripture.  For instance:

 

1.  Some deny that the virgin birth was a reality, but instead that it is a literary technique to prove Christ's importance to the masses.

2.  Some question the historicity of people like Elijah or Elisha, and say those elements of the text were added to prove certain theological points.

3.  Some question the reality of even Christ's recorded miracles.

 

Is there a group within Orthodoxy who also question these things?  As much as I love the brothers and sisters who hold these views, I think they have read too many books.

 

Brad

 

 

Brad, if everything is an allegory then Christianity should not exist and its time to find a new religion.  The real question is why these 'well educated clergy' remain in the faith? Cozy position?  The money?

 

If the apostles memoirs recorded in scripture are fictitious, then the theological points are fictitious and your simply wasting your time believing in the fiction.



#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 05 November 2013 - 09:46 AM

In my denomination (Methodism), there is a large contingent of well educated clergy who have what I would call a very un-orthodox view of scripture.  For instance:

 

1.  Some deny that the virgin birth was a reality, but instead that it is a literary technique to prove Christ's importance to the masses.

2.  Some question the historicity of people like Elijah or Elisha, and say those elements of the text were added to prove certain theological points.

3.  Some question the reality of even Christ's recorded miracles.

 

Is there a group within Orthodoxy who also question these things?  As much as I love the brothers and sisters who hold these views, I think they have read too many books.

 

Brad

 

With regard to the words in bold, the Orthodox say the Creed, starting with 'I believe'.  The Creed includes an article setting forth the virgin birth of Christ as fact, so it is hard to see how any Orthodox could deny this.  I have never heard of Orthodox denying the existence of the prophets: what then could be said of those Orthodox commemorations and the icons of them?  In the Gospels, Christ is recorded as Himself referring to His own miracles (cf John 10:37-38) - I doubt the Orthodox do not believe what Christ said.



#12 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 05 November 2013 - 01:01 PM

If any Orthodox (right-worship/true-belief/correct doctrine) believer does not believe these things, they are not an orthodox believer! As Andreas says, if you do not accept anything in the Creed (from the word "Credo" which means "I believe") then you are a liar every time you participate in just about any Orthodox worship service. We say the Creed in many services, certainly at the Divine Liturgy, and often in our daily prayers. As an Orthodox Christian, you can't get away from it and if you try you are no longer within the bounds of Orthodoxy.



#13 Lakis Papas

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 01:11 AM

However, there is a fine line, that makes the issue more complicated.
 
1) The virginity of Mary, the Triunity of God, the consubstantiality of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, the miracles of Jesus and other issues, over the centuries have progressively analyzed through theological conflicts and through extensive process by Church members. Let me say that all these do not constitute our faith - theology is not our faith, theology is talking about our faith, theology is an effort to express the experience of faith.
 
All of Christian theological doctrines and positions are the results of the human ability to process everything and to express them through words. For example, physically we all obey gravity. There was not a proper position on the issue of the gravity as a phenomenon until Newton formulated his laws for gravity. This has not changed our lives in a period before and in another period after Newton. Gravity has always operated in the same manner. It was not necessary for someone to know and to understand Newton's physics to walk on earth pulled by earth's gravitational force.
 
Similarly in Christian life there are some spiritual laws that define hierarchy, relationships and processes. These laws are like the law of gravity. They are not constructs of our mind, nor are symbolic theories. As the drop of a physical object from a height, has the effect for man to formulate a theory for the phenomenon of gravity, similarly for Christian issues, the wording of a theological or doctrinal position is the phrasing of a fact that has been experienced by the Church and its members. But, while we all share the same experience for gravity, for Christian issues, all do not have the same experiences. So, while Newton's law expresses a universal experience, the formulated Christian truth is not expressing a universal experience.  
 
2) It is commonly said that in order to be a Christian you have to believe the whole package and nothing less. This seems to be logical but I think it contains an absolutism. Saints have certainly experienced a complete and authentic Christian life. They have experienced what the Christian theology talks about. But the rest of us -non saints- lack this experience. For example, when Saint Silouan pronounced the Creed: "... And in the Holy Spirit, ...", he was talking while having the experience of presonally receiving the Holy Spirit. Those of us who do not have this exprerience, we spoke about a foreign exprerience, when we repeat the same Creed. I think, this is why St Ignatius wrote: "Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church."
 
My point is that in order to be Christians we must belong to the authentic Church of saints. Our beliefs and theological acceptances are irrelevant to a large extent. Our shortcomings are corrected and perfected by the Holy Spirit in the Church. Our duty is to practically follow the life of saints, as they followed the life of Christ.  We are not saved for having the right opinion about a theological issue, or for following the right worshiping practice - nor are we condemned for having a wrong theological idea. Simply put, the "Ten Commandments" - actually all commandments - have no direct theological reference, they just propose a salvific way of life.


#14 Lakis Papas

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 01:35 AM

In my denomination (Methodism), there is a large contingent of well educated clergy who have what I would call a very un-orthodox view of scripture.  For instance:

 

1.  Some deny that the virgin birth was a reality, but instead that it is a literary technique to prove Christ's importance to the masses.

2.  Some question the historicity of people like Elijah or Elisha, and say those elements of the text were added to prove certain theological points.

3.  Some question the reality of even Christ's recorded miracles.

 

Is there a group within Orthodoxy who also question these things?  As much as I love the brothers and sisters who hold these views, I think they have read too many books.

 

Brad

 

As far as I know an Orthodox is not heretic only by having a peculiar or diverging opinion on theological issues. Human mind is so creative that makes theories about everything. But when someone tries to influence others to follow his/hers theological convictions knowing that these are not compatible with the teachings of the Church then he/she is heretic.

 

In my parish some brothers/sisters have expressed in a seminar's Q&A section similar views with those you mentioned - or even more radical ones. The "official" Orthodox theology and dogmatic was presented to those brothers/sisters during a debate. They were left to "digest" the official position in their own time and they since remain as members of the congregation. They never tried to impose their opinions to others either privately or in groups.


Edited by Lakis Papas, 06 November 2013 - 01:41 AM.


#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 06 November 2013 - 07:42 AM

Lakis makes an important point which may, if I am right, be expressed as the difference between divine revelation and human exegesis.  There is, however, a core of exegesis which is accepted by the Church - which is guided by the Holy Spirit - as divinely inspired and forms part of Holy Tradition in a way other exegesis (which may be useful) does not.  Thus, I would qualify the statement "All of Christian theological doctrines and positions are the results of the human ability to process everything and to express them through words."  The doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils and core teaching by the most important Holy Fathers were inspired by the Holy Spirit as I indicated.  Our faith is in what has been revealed to us but our faith is delineated by what has been given to us from on High through the Holy Fathers.



#16 Brad D.

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 03:05 PM

Very interesting contributions.  Thank you all for your thoughts.






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