I believe that conversation on this forum would be more constructive, interesting, and helpful if folks would focus their attention on texts, especially patristic texts. Invariably, it seems, discussion appears to remain at the level of generalization
, with one or more individuals declaring "Orthodoxy believes ____" or "Orthodoxy teaches ____," as if we are a forum of individual popes who can authoritatively define doctrine. I find these kinds of magisterial pronouncements exasperating, distasteful, spiritually dangerous, and destructive to the evangelical mission of the Church. Too often they elevate one possible construal of doctrine to the level of dogma, without acknowledging the legitimate differences and disagreements that exist in Orthodoxy today. Internet forums are the last place anyone should go to find out what the Orthodox Church teaches. Monachos was not founded to be the Orthodox equivalent of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Monachos.net Discussion Community is an on-line and e-mail based message board system, provided for the discussion of Eastern Orthodoxy through study of its patristic, monastic, liturgical and ecclesiastical heritage. It is not primarily an opinion forum, but an environment for the reflection upon and deliberation of themes within this scope of focus. ... By 'not primarily an opinion forum', we mean that the Monachos.net Discussion Community is principally for discussion and discourse on the thought and heritage of Orthodoxy through its patristic and monastic traditions, and not primarily for the sharing of individual opinions about these themes. Personal opinions do, of course, come into play in any fruitful discussion; but this forum is principally for discerning and discussing the thought of these traditions, rather than debating individuals' personal thoughts about them.
Quite frankly, I am not interested in your opinions
on what the Orthodox Church teaches; but I am interested in your exegesis of specific writings of the Church Fathers, supplemented with discussion of the liturgical texts of our Church. We would still be opining--what else can we do?--but at least we would be opining about actual texts that we can read, debate, and try to understand. Yet have you noticed how infrequent such discussion is on this forum? Postings are peppered with "The Fathers teach ____," but only very rarely does anyone actually ground their opinions in the actual writings of the Fathers. I propose that the phrase "The Fathers teach ____" should be proscribed from our conversation. Few people on this forum, myself especially included, are sufficiently acquainted with the Fathers (Eastern and Western) to be able to make credible pronouncements about what they, as a whole
, believed and taught. Indeed, few of us are sufficiently acquainted with even one Church Father to be able to say what he believed and taught on any given question. The literature is vast, complex, and difficult. Generalizations are perilous.
They should be avoided at all costs. There are real differences between the Fathers, and these differences are important and challenging.
What are the kinds of discussions we should be having? I'm sure we each have our favorite topics. I remember the thread Fr Raphael started on St Augustine. He shared with us his reflections as he read through De Trinitate
. This was one of the best threads we have had on Monachos. Why? Because Fr Raphael thoughtfully introduced us to the actual words and thinking of the Bishop of Hippo. I'd love to see similar threads on St Cyril of Alexandria on theosis, perhaps compared with St Gregory Palamas; St Hilary of Poitiers on the Trinity, perhaps compared with St John of Damascus; St Athanasius on the atonement, perhaps compared with St Augustine; etc., etc. (I'd also love to see a comparative analysis of St Maximus the Confessor and St Augustine on grace and synergism; but this would be exceptionally difficult to pull off.) Wouldn't it be fun if a group of us started reading together specific texts and started talking about them? I've wanted to read St Cyril's Commentary on John for a long time now, but have never found the will and discipline to do so. But perhaps I might do so if a small group of us were willing to commit ourselves to reading it, perhaps one or two chapters a week. Or if that is too much (and it might be), let's begin with St Gregory Nazianzen's five theological orations (my SVS copy cries out to me every day to be read, but I always find an excuse to play on the computer instead) or St Gregory Nyssen's short tract "On 'Not Three Gods.'" But let's read something and learn together what the Fathers believed.
Most of us really don't know what we are talking about. Not only are most of us restricted to reading the Fathers in translation (please raise your hand if you are reading them in the original Greek, Latin, or Syriac), but most of us simply haven't read more than a smattering of patristic texts. How do I know this? Because I've been reading this forum since 2003. I have a pretty good idea of who knows what they are talking about and who doesn't. And most of us don't know what we are talking about, because we haven't actually immersed ourselves in the literature. We don't even qualify as dilettantes.
Instead of sharing our ignorance and prejudices, let's actually learn something together. Isn't this why this forum exists?
Forgive my bluntness, but I want something more from Monachos. I don't want East/West polemics. I don't want ideology presented as dogma. I'm not interested in debating what is and is not Orthodox doctrine, combined with the violent exchange of anathemas. I find all of that soul-destroying. I still believe that Monachos can become what it was originally intended to be--a forum for "patristic, monastic, and liturgical study." If we were to focus on this task, we would grow in our understanding of Orthodoxy.
P.S. The more I think about it, the more I think I'd like to read and discuss St Gregory Nazianzen's five theological orations. Is there anyone who'd like to join me? If you are willing to commit to the study project, please send me a private message. We could begin this week by reading Oration 27
and commence forum discussion next Sunday.