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Answering doubting seekers questions on non-dogmatic Church teachings.


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#1 David Lindblom

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 10:10 PM

This is a question that has occupied my thoughts for the entire time I've been Orthodox, almost 2 years. I also hope some long term Orthodox folks will take notice of this post and add their insight.

These 'net forums and blogs are a bitter/sweet opportunity for the Church. On the one hand it provides us w/ what can be a great medium to introduce the Faith to the non-Orthodox as well as correct misunderstandings. On the bitter side, let's face it, compared to most popular expressions of Christianity w/in the Protestant world we are, in their view, unnecessarily complicated. With their either/or approach and our both/and we often talk past one another. We are an easy target for those who present Christianity in simplistic terms. We often have to qualify and explain things to a degree that stock-and-trade Protestants simply don't and in a simplifying and reductionist culture we are at a disadvantage. This bugs me. Further, and this is a big one, we have beliefs that are widely held, though not dogmatic, that cannot really be defended via the Bible and therefore will give the non-Orthodox ammunition in their attacks and polemics against us. Some of these beliefs are for the faithful only. As Fr. Hopko once stated, things like icons, certain beliefs about Mary, saints etc. should never be discussed w/ the non-Orthodox. These things are only for the believing faithful i.e. the Church. If you're not a part of the family they are not for you. This does make sense to me but what does one do when it is brought up by the non-Orthodox and to leave it unanswered does harm to people's view of us?

There seems to be concentric circles of teaching w/in the Church. The inner most one being the absolute dogmas of the Faith that one must hold to be a Christian. Subsequent circles involve ever increasingly non-dogmatic teachings till you reach the outer circles that many Orthodox do not hold to and yet these are often the very ones Protestants will bring up in their attempts to prove our errors. How do we deal w/ these? Examples I've seen are Toll Houses, the 40 days the dead wander the earth, stories of Mary's family found in the Evangelium of St. James etc. I've often thought of the methods of Jesus in teaching. Those who had a heart to hear and sought to learn were given much more than those who approached His teaching w/ a predetermined, unbelieving heart. That was the main reason for parables. Truths were delivered in such a manner as to hide the truth from scoffers but would teach those who desired to learn from Him. This was exemplified by the disciples coming to Him and asking what He meant, they were always told. Is this what we should do? Give answers to true seekers but ignore the scoffers? How do we decide who's who over the internet?

I would really like some direction and insight on this issue.

#2 Father David Moser

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 11:40 PM

These 'net forums and blogs are a bitter/sweet opportunity for the Church. On the one hand it provides us w/ what can be a great medium to introduce the Faith to the non-Orthodox as well as correct misunderstandings. On the bitter side, let's face it, compared to most popular expressions of Christianity w/in the Protestant world we are, in their view, unnecessarily complicated. With their either/or approach and our both/and we often talk past one another.


This does not address your question, however, I would like to point out that this forum (and indeed many such forums) are not "evangelistic" ventures. Monachos is a discussion Orthodox Christianity in its patristic, liturgical and monastic expression. As such, many of those "non-dogmatic" as you say, issues will be discussed as they frequently appear in this context. Thus I wanted to point out that you cannot expect this forum to be what it is not - it is not an "evangelistic outreach", it is not a pastoral advice column, it is not a discussion of Church politics, it is not an interconfessional debate. Do not suggest that people who have no interest in these "non-dogmatic" topics, read this forum because they will be immersed in them.

More in line with your question, I'm thinking that this may actually be addressed by my homily tomorrow (since there are two extra-scriptural feasts that we mark - the Dormition of the Virgin today and the Icon not made by hands tomorrow). If it turns out that it is applicable, I will post a link later.

Fr David Moser

#3 David Lindblom

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 12:18 AM

This does not address your question, however, I would like to point out that this forum (and indeed many such forums) are not "evangelistic" ventures. Monachos is a discussion Orthodox Christianity in its patristic, liturgical and monastic expression. As such, many of those "non-dogmatic" as you say, issues will be discussed as they frequently appear in this context. Thus I wanted to point out that you cannot expect this forum to be what it is not - it is not an "evangelistic outreach", it is not a pastoral advice column, it is not a discussion of Church politics, it is not an interconfessional debate. Do not suggest that people who have no interest in these "non-dogmatic" topics, read this forum because they will be immersed in them.

More in line with your question, I'm thinking that this may actually be addressed by my homily tomorrow (since there are two extra-scriptural feasts that we mark - the Dormition of the Virgin today and the Icon not made by hands tomorrow). If it turns out that it is applicable, I will post a link later.

Fr David Moser


I do understand that Monachos is not a place for evangelizing but, w/ all due respect, what else would you use a forum titled Evangelism and Mission for than for someone like myself seeking to get some practical advice so as not to respond in any way that is not in keeping w/ the Church?? I am not directing anybody to this site or this posting. This is a real area I'm seeking help in and it is most certainly going to be an immediate area of discussion for anyone who does reach out in an evangelistic endeavor as Orthodox Christians. I might also add that irregardless as to the reason one might create a website on the internet one is going to attract detractors and it would be helpful to be prepared to, in some way, defend the Faith. Please forgive me, I don't mean to be disrespectful but I'm finding the responses I get from some of the more well heeled, mature Orthodox here are little more than non-answers that are quite off putting.

I look forward to your posting a link to your sermon.

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 12:32 AM

If people don't want to believe, they will find an excuse not to and no amount of words, no matter how eloquent or clever will change that. We may change minds but we cannot change hearts, that is the Holy Spirit's job and that will not happen unless they want it to, that synergy thing, something to do with "free will".

Christ Himself didn't convince everybody, don't be surprised if you don't either.

The Holy Apostle Paul does not tell us we have to convince anybody, but simply to be ready to defend the hope within you. And St. Theophan the Recluse says when you reach an impasse with someone, simply say "so you believe" and walk away.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.
Herman the Pooh

#5 David Lindblom

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 12:45 AM

If people don't want to believe, they will find an excuse not to and no amount of words, no matter how eloquent or clever will change that. We may change minds but we cannot change hearts, that is the Holy Spirit's job and that will not happen unless they want it to, that synergy thing, something to do with "free will".

Christ Himself didn't convince everybody, don't be surprised if you don't either.

The Holy Apostle Paul does not tell us we have to convince anybody, but simply to be ready to defend the hope within you. And St. Theophan the Recluse says when you reach an impasse with someone, simply say "so you believe" and walk away.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.
Herman the Pooh


I think you are 100% correct. Perhaps, though, I am an anal person. I think it takes wisdom as to know when to answer and when to walk away. At this point, I'm just trying to know some aspect of the answer. I'm trying to follow what Fr. John Whiteford did. After becoming Orthodox he would not teach at all for 3-4 years till he had enough of a knowledge of the Churches teaching to present it accurately. That is my goal. One of the ways I am attempting to do this is using forums like this. I have stepped away form all internet activity that I previously took part in till I have the Faith much more firmly under my belt. Any further insights you might have I would love to hear them.

#6 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 12:20 PM

All of the most holy teachers spent some time "in the desert", but not necessarily literally. We do, indeed, need to gird our loins and take the steps necessary to be able to "defend the hope". This assumes a couple of things: one that you are taking time to learn and acquire the "one thing needful" and two, that there is a palpable thing signifying "hope" that is evident to others that they ask you about it. They have to see that you have something that they do not have. If you don't, then your words are merely words and they may indeed be better off than you are, so why should they listen to you? You must obtain the pearl of great price before you can offer it to others.

Perhaps the question then is "how do I do this?" Consult your priest/spiritual advisor, but in a general sense I hope that I am not exceeding my own boundaries by saying these are things that have helped me: Pray. Learn the faith, but more importantly, LIVE the faith. Learn forgiveness. Attend as many services of the Church as you can. Pray. Visit a monastery or two. Pray. Read and learn the mindset of the Fathers. Practice charity to the best of your ability. Oh and did I mention to pray?

Obtain the one thing needful and the rest will be added to you, that is what our Lord Himself promised. And remember humility and patience.

#7 David Hawthorne

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 11:25 PM

Herman- what is the source of the quote of St. Theophan you gave?

#8 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 12:12 AM

I seem to recall reading it in The Path to Salvation, although my memory may be faulty and my copy is out on loan (again).

Herman the forgetful Pooh

#9 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 12:21 AM

You might find this thread useful: How to defend against 'sola sciptura' apologetics?

#10 David Lindblom

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 01:03 AM

All of the most holy teachers spent some time "in the desert", but not necessarily literally. We do, indeed, need to gird our loins and take the steps necessary to be able to "defend the hope". This assumes a couple of things: one that you are taking time to learn and acquire the "one thing needful" and two, that there is a palpable thing signifying "hope" that is evident to others that they ask you about it. They have to see that you have something that they do not have. If you don't, then your words are merely words and they may indeed be better off than you are, so why should they listen to you? You must obtain the pearl of great price before you can offer it to others.

Perhaps the question then is "how do I do this?" Consult your priest/spiritual advisor, but in a general sense I hope that I am not exceeding my own boundaries by saying these are things that have helped me: Pray. Learn the faith, but more importantly, LIVE the faith. Learn forgiveness. Attend as many services of the Church as you can. Pray. Visit a monastery or two. Pray. Read and learn the mindset of the Fathers. Practice charity to the best of your ability. Oh and did I mention to pray?

Obtain the one thing needful and the rest will be added to you, that is what our Lord Himself promised. And remember humility and patience.


Once again, good points. I have tried to be careful and maintain my relationship w/ the Lord. I also look to a number of sources for help in learning and understanding the Faith...this site being one of them.

I have yet had the opportunity to visit a monastery. All those in my church who have tell me repeatedly how important it is to do so. As my family and I are able we will.

#11 Father David Moser

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 01:50 AM

As promised, a link to this week's homily. While it does not directly address the question here - it does encompass an approach to it. If you can't access the above link, the homily is also online for the coming week only here.

Fr David Moser

#12 Anna Stickles

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 10:03 PM

This does make sense to me but what does one do when it is brought up by the non-Orthodox and to leave it unanswered does harm to people's view of us?


I would suggest that a simple answer of "I don't know how to address that issue" is going to appeal to those who have some real sense of Christian virtue rather then harm their view of us. Our lives are a message that people listen to as well as our words and humility is a rare virtue.

#13 Jason H.

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 03:35 AM

David,

I also share with you the vision of spreading the Word of God through the Holy Orthodox Church to people who have not had the chance to know about it or understand what "Orthodoxy" is. Have you checked out the Antiochian website for their evangelism and mission? If not, check here:http://www.antiochian.org/node/18550

I greatly appreciate Anna statements above and agree with them. There will be times when one cannot have a direct answer at a certain moment. But that we go to those who are knowledgeable; like our Deacons, Priests, and Bishops for clarification. We aren't always expected to have the right answer at the right time rather that when posed with a question in which we do not understand that we must get clarification from someone who is more experienced in theology of the Church. It is a very humbling experience. One does not know everything and possibly can't, that is why we must search for the answers to those who have spent their lives dedicated to Scripture, Tradition, and Patristics.

Peace be with you!

-Ignatius (Jason)

#14 Eugenia Vasiliadis

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 02:43 AM

David,
As I read your comments I can see your love for the True Faith and you wanting to share it so eagerly.
I love my faith and teach it to 8th graders every Sunday.

I just got back from a teaching mission trip, my first one, and I have to say, God taught me more than I was a ble to give.

One thing I learned very clearly was that God will teach and do the work in the hearts of people, we must pray for them to be ready to receive Him. Prayer is so very important, it can move mountains as scripture tells us. I was very releaved to know that it was in God's hands and not mine to change these people. I will continue to pray for them for the rest of my life since God has honored me with that responcibility and hope someday when I go back I will see wonderful miracles in them. Keep praying for the people in your life and God will reward you in due time.

God Bless you ,
Eugenia

Edited by Administrator, 02 September 2010 - 03:17 AM.
Fixed broken lines; added blank lines between paragraphs


#15 David Lindblom

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 01:45 AM

As promised, a link to this week's homily. While it does not directly address the question here - it does encompass an approach to it. If you can't access the above link, the homily is also online for the coming week only here.

Fr David Moser


Sorry for the delay in responding I've had some medical issues and been busy. Thanks for the homily, it is very thought provoking and is pretty much on target. Thank you.

#16 David Lindblom

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 01:49 AM

Thanks all of your, Eugenia, Jason and Anna for your replys. I will look into what you have said and admit that there is pride on my part that I need to deal w/ along w/ the old evangelistic monkey on my back. Yet there is also legitiment (sp?) desire to share the truth. Need wisdom on separating this all out.

#17 Antonios

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 05:46 AM

Teaching someone faith is like explaining colors to a person blind from birth. Faith is not something explained but revealed. It is not described, but experienced. Like sight, faith is a gift from God.

Rather, we should pray for our neighbor and put them above our own self, and then the love that is shared is not one explained or described, but revealed and experienced. Thus, the gospel is made real.

#18 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 01:06 PM

To me, it's insufficient to say, just pray for them. We can all witness as to how we came by faith. It can evoke the same experience in others.




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