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[The Creation of the Chicken]

An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Monday, August 30, 2010


A very good article about teens and their Christianity.

I'll first say that I am apprehensive about referring to anyone as a "'fake' Christian" (except perhaps myself), however I think I do understand what the author's point is with regards to "moralistic therapeutic deism." Of course, everyone has an opinion about what Christianity ought to look like and as such therefore have a view on what a "mutant" form of it would look like. I would say that another mutant form of Christianity would be a sort of "social justice deism" and concerning that I think we can say that just because Mom and Dad went to Bolivia doesn't mean they practice authentic Christianity anymore than does a Buddhist who goes to help Bolivians. In other words, good deeds will not alone make you a Christian.

Don't get me wrong, though, sitting on your sofa all day and watching TBN while voting Republican won't make you any less of a faker than me either. Heck you might even hold all the right doctrines (despite TBN) and alas it too will not earn you the title.

So what makes one a Christian? Well, all theological complexities aside, I think it is simply that you have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, I know...all evangelicals claim this for themselves and in turn, most Orthodox get nervous over such terminology - rightfully terrified of the absurd "Jesus is my best bud" mentality. But I think there is a deeper reality to the idea that we develop a relationship with God. If, for the Orthodox, hell is being in God's presence and not wishing to be, then avoiding hell is a process by which we acclimate ourselves to God. We commune with Him. We work on getting used to the bright light that would otherwise blind and burn us. We change via our relationship with Him and in so doing grow even closer to Him.

The article ends with the author suggesting that we must show our children a radical life devoted to our faith. I agree, I guess, but I have to ask: how radical is radical enough? Does one have to turn down a particularly amazing job for a selfless cause? Or is it perhaps enough to regularly demonstrate self-control in areas of anger or other passions? I mean if your children see you filled with a spirit of love, peace, and joy will this not speak to them about the reality of your faith? Will it not overflow into other areas of life and thus give even more evidence of a living relationship with God? Sure a trip to aid Bolivians says a great deal, but is that level of radical action necessary? For certain I think an otherwise unchanged life that occasionally goes to do charity work really won't help in the long run.

Parents: taking our faith (God) seriously and letting it (Him) seriously change us will.

This part is particularly important:
In "Almost Christian," Dean talks to the teens who are articulate about their faith. Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says.Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says."

I do not doubt that this is true. So, for my Orthodox brothers and sisters out there: what are we doing wrong and what can we do to change this?

...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 4:19 PM [+]


It's about God's uncreated energy penetrating my life in a beneficial way rather than a destructive one, I'd say.

The two dangers that an unguarded Orthodoxy is most liable to fall into are Moralism (usually Pelagianism in some form) and Exemplarism ("St. So-and-So did thus-and-such; why can't you?"). Frankly, I've never really been helped much by anyone's example. I've been made to feel inadequate, bad, and guilty, but not particularly empowered. It occurs to me that both of these errors overestimate the power and/or necessity of our cooperation, while most Evangelical errors underestimate the same. Balance is so delicate.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:19 PM  


Very well said Gary.

I totally get what you are saying about the "exemplarism." I often feel the same way and to be honest the most beneficial stories for me re: saints are the ones that open my eyes to some new (to me) concept of Christian living - some aspect of the faith that I had not considered...at least that as best as I can describe it.

Good stuff, thank you Gary.

By Blogger fdj, at 8:24 AM  


I remember similar issues arising when I was a card-carrying Calvinist. No one really knew how to systematize the Preservation/Perseverance of the Saints (the 5th petal of TULIP) with the 2nd petal (Unconditional Election) and the ABSOLUTE---and seemingly arbitrary---sovereignty of God. The best preaching, that of Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards, Machen, John Murray, etc., just told us to affirm all this without trying to reconcile the components. Laying aside the tremendous problems with consistent Augustinianism/Calvinism, that's not bad advice in general. Apparently, this relationship between faith and works has always been problematic, at least on the surface (St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James). That's why I think St. Gregory Palamas and others did us such a huge service. If salvation means making myself open and pliable to ENERGY, rather than conforming myself to IDEAS (or RULES, or LAWS), then salvation is about ontology first and foremost. I can't possibly be something I'm not, and no amount of fear or manipulation through moralistic finger-wagging or "Why can't you be more like your big brother?" nonsense is going to increase the energy flow. It's as though the Good Samaritan stood over the victim in the ditch and said, "This would not have happened to Samson." True enough; also totally irrelevant.

I've seen, experienced, and committed enough Pelagianism and Exemplarism masquerading as Orthodoxy to make something of a protracted issue of this. I insist that they are clear and present dangers, and like all the most potent dangers, they appear as the best intentions. We who fall into these things are not even aware that we are doing so, and at the risk of sounding rationalistic, this is where dogma can save us, if we will let it. If salvation is quintessentially ontological (energy-based), then it becomes easier to see faith, reason, and works, not as competing agents, but as different wavelengths of the one white light. (After all, what ISN'T energy?) It's the Gnostic, the Pelagian, the Moralist, and the Exemplarist who poses false dilemmas and then spends their lives either explaining how they're not really dilemmas, or demonstrating how to (supposedly) slip between the horns of the dilemmas.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:54 AM  


I'm not sure I follow on teh "examplarism" front. Can you elaborate, provide examples?

I heartily agree with the "moralism". There is a I supppose a related "liturgism" whereby orthodox is reduced to a minimal set of practices and/or morals and God is conveniently excluded in practical terms.

But to get to the point of my own youth group experience, I can now look back and say that the Christianity that was stuffed into me consisted of one part a) Judgment (i.e. classifying people as either truly christian or else in some sense not; this whole attitude leads directly to the church shopping of later years, because "true christianity" is an intellectual ideal, and church shopping consists of trying to find a place that approximates your ideal, and b) trying to incorporate the "data" of life, the accidents, circumstances, coincidences with something called "God's Will." The idea is that God, using tricks, humor, lessons, tragedies and coincidences, so orders your daily life so as to lead you progressively to holiness. There might not need to be any particular sacrifices or pain. In theory, this is "God-centered" and sort of Reformed in its feel, but in reality it is completely self-centered. The believer's mental life becomes centered on trying to figure out (read "discern") what God is "doing in one's life" and so on. This brand of christianity is well adapted to youth, whose path in life is indeed decided by a series of circumstances, challenges, choices, and the person's response to those challenges. Once that period is over, it is interesting that the Christianity that goes with it gets kind of stale/tiring/superficial.

- My 2 cents.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:03 PM  


Another thought, posed to Gary, a fellow former Calvinist. Is there a possibility that faith vs. works was generally understood in a moral sense: i.e. the capacity of a person who says he plays the guitar to forget to practice, on the one hand, or to practice all the time without tuning his instrument or finding a teacher, etc. In other words, in many areas of life there is a dichotomy/balance. But for the Reformers this dilemma became more overtly theological. Groaning as I read your review of the TULIP stuff, I just wonder if there was a fundamentally unnecessary over-interpretation of this dilemma. I say most people intuitively understand the dilemma and all the theologizing about it has tended to muddy and in some cases even
eclipse the simplicity of the problem.

again, my 2 cents, but this article I think really does a nice job of raising a question in a new way: what exactly are we passing on to our children? What is Christianity? Seeing it from the generational angle is interesting.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:49 PM  


To my anonymous friend:

The issues between classical Reformed Theology and Orthodoxy are too numerous to summarize. For what it's worth, in my view, they are different religions. I cannot possibly see Holy Orthodoxy as just yet another denominational nuance.

Anyway, by Exemplarism I mean the wrong or at least questionable use of the lives of the saints as some kind of motivation toward holiness. There is a right and a wrong way to do this, I believe. The right way is shown in Hebrews 11, where the emphasis is on what a working faith (the only real kind, after all) accomplishes. In other words, the message is, "Do whatever you need to do to safeguard and increase your faith, because faith is power." The message is NOT merely "Be like so-and-so, and if you're not, you're inferior."

As far as "liturgicalism" goes, that's a danger, I suppose, but this is not the fault of Orthodoxy anymore than is Exemplarism. Faulty practice, and the teaching of it, is the problem. It's not authentic Orthodoxy anymore than murdering abortionist doctors is authentic pro-life.

On the whole, I must say that whatever dilemmas and dead ends the Reformers ran into were the inevitable results of their overall Augustinianism. They had NOTHING right: Not the Fall or its consequences, not the meaning of man as God's image, not the Incarnation or its purpose, not the meaning of the Cross, the Resurrection, or anything else. I'm speaking of Reformed dogma as a system, mind you. It doesn't mean that everything in the Reformed tradition is valueless. But of course, once you find the wellspring, why buy bottled water of varying quality?

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:17 AM  


I suppose I'm still struggling to contemplate an example of exemplarism. Would St. Maximos be an example? He spoke truth to power, disobeyed his bishop, etc., therefore we should all do the same? Is this the kind of reasoning you mean?

If so, I agree that it's faulty, but as I think back on my experiences I don't see this as so common. Perhaps I still don't see the problem you're describing.

Didn't mean to be anonymous...

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:42 PM  


Steve, I just mean pointing to the example of a saint, as though the mere existence of the saint's example has power. Aboriginal peoples use totems the same way. I am not speaking against the saints. The only thing that has power is God's uncreated energy, and this is precisely what the lives of the saints demonstrate. If remembering a saint (especially my patron saint) and asking their aid puts me in touch with that, good. But superficially being told to "emulate" them is fairly meaningless, for historical reasons if for no other.

By the way, you'll perhaps remembers that Abelard made this error in interpreting the meaning of Christ's death. For him, it had no real power except as a moral example of love and self-sacrifice. In Abelard's defense, however, he was reacting against the exclusively penal interpretation of the Atonement that had been in vogue since Anselm. Thus goes the West.

If you haven't had problems with this, great. I can't reasonably claim it to be universal. But I even remember it from Protestant Sunday School: Be brave like David, be strong like Samson, be faithful like Caleb and Daniel, etc. Well, it always made me feel afraid, weak, inadequate, stupid, and cowardly to be continually compared to people I was nothing like and to simply be told to be like them, as though being publicly humiliated would inspire me to do so.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:55 PM  


Fair enough. I don't mean to question your experience,.. but I'm just wondering where you're encountering this: sermons? books? chit chat among laity?

You did say it was one of two dangers. And James is saying he totally "gets it." Again, I'm not particularly arguing with you, I just want to make sure I understand what specifically you mean.

I do think that the heroism of the saints in many cases is quite impractical. People should do well what they're called to do. The fact that St. N established a monastery, or St. X lived in the desert for 40 years eating nothing... a lot of that stuff was not meant to be emulated, as you say, but simply to impress people with God's power, surely. Nowadays, saints' lives, curiously, provide a lot more context, because frankly what inspires most of us is to hear something of the weaknesses, frustrations, doubts, etc. that some saints had. It makes them seem more real to us. This approach actually seems more biblical to me, as the bible is fairly blunt about people's infirmities.

There are so many problems, every time it gets discouraging I think back to my Protestant times, and indeed look at the problems they have now, and everything we have looks quite functional by comparison.

- Steve K

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:00 PM  


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