Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Most Unique Orthodoxy and Spiritual Sickness

More on The Most Unique Orthodoxy (TM) from on OrthodoxyToday. Dr. Bradley Nassif reminds us our preaching should be about Christ, or as the expression goes, we must "keep the first thing the first thing." Perhaps the most salient quotation in the article is:

We are obsessed with self-definition through negation. It is a sick religious addiction. We often shore up our identity as Orthodox by constantly contrasting ourselves with Evangelicals or Catholics. I wish we would talk more about Christian faith, and less about "Orthodoxy."
His point, of course, is not that "Orthodoxy" is not "Christian faith," nor that discussions of theology have no place in the Church. He is discussing the need for Orthodox "to possess a truly incarnational, trinitarian faith." To do this, "we will constantly need to recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church."

One must question the profit of preaching about other churches, in order to distinguish oneself thereby; how some present Orthodoxy nearly as a Via Media. He may even be wise to examine the role pride plays in the disparaging of other Christians that invariably arises in the process. Whatever one's conscience may reveal, Christ is always ready to forgive through the grace-bearing ministrations of the Church. If we preached that reality, more Christians would avail themselves of these soul-healing medicines.

(Biretta tip: Huw Raphael.)


Blogger Eric John said...

Ben, it appears this article can be read several ways, tipping off different individuals' pet peeves. I didn't particularly like Dr. Nassif's article. Perhaps I will be lumped with the Orthodox Taliban (beardless though I am) for this, but I will simply beat back my critics with my Anglican Breviary and Roman Missal (which I purchased years after becoming Orthodox and use frequently). I still sing "A Mighty Fortress is our God" both in Luther's melody and Byzantine tones. When Archbishop Fulton Sheen is canonized by Rome, I'm getting an icon of him. And, for good measure, I don't see anything inherently wrong with putting "who was crucified for us" after "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal."

Nassif's article, however, disappointed me. He is supposedly a well-educated theologian and thus should have, I thought, written something more researched and refined. This article appears totally off the cuff.

To me, it seemed to say that Orthodox had forgotten about putting Christ first. (This was the jist of Sam Torode's article "It's about Jesus" which also appeared on Nassif, in stating that Orthodox ought to "reclaim the Gospel," makes a division between the Gospel and the praxy/doxy of the Church. I thought that this distiction was a bit of a non sequitur. If one examines the liturgical texts of the Church, one will find Christ and his Gospel to have prominence. The same can be said for the teaching of the Church--the councils and even the sermons of the priests. Pastoral instructions are as necessary to Christian life as Gospel proclamations. Often, an attentive priest (as someone who will have to answer at the Judgement for the state of the souls in his care) has to preach about the Orthodox faith in opposition to other faiths. The priest does this to educate and catechize his flock. He must instruct them so that they do not stray and get eaten by the wolf of souls.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the article was that Nassif failed to make his audience clear. I felt he was speaking to the whole Orthodox Church. Others, it seems, feel he was addressing the Baptodox adherents to the Most Unique Orthdooxy Ever. I guess the article can be read either way.

I think Nassif was arguing for a Middle Eastern version of church relations which simply does not apply to America. In the Middle East, the Christians band together because the "enemy" is the mass of Muslims surrounding them. In America the "enemy" is composed of a large number of different churches and weird groups and cults--all of which have been successful in causing confusion and apostasy amongst the Orthodox.
Granted, there is also another enemy--rampant wordliness, but bible studies with conservative Christians won't solve that problem so much as create another--confusion in biblical interpretation.

Even if 100% of Non-Orthodox Christians were well-meaning and sincere in their faith, that does not mean that Orthodox Christians should be ignorant or indifferent about their own tradition and faith.

The Orthodox faith teaches who Jesus really is. The Orthodox tradition leads people into a proper relationship with Jesus and shows them how he should be worshipped. This applies no matter the rite.

The grace of the Orthodox Church overflows spatial and temporal bounds because our Church was founded by Christ and his apostles and has not erred in teaching the truth. This belief does not condemn non-Orthodox to hell nor does it degrade the venerable non-Orthodox churches which have struggled with errors for centuries and still heroically preserved much of the apostolic faith and tradition. All this said, the Orthodox Church is still THE CHURCH. If I believe this, do I have a spiritual sickness?

Forgive me for the long post. I do not mean any offence or personal attack on anyone, including Dr. Nassif. I am, however, trying to understand just where you and Huw, etc. are coming from.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I think I agree with Eric on this one. Perhaps some factions of Orthodoxy have this problem of hyper-definition, perhaps those infected with 'convertitis' (hopefully not myself!) and still others with individual experiences that lend to such thinking.

I perceive that American Orthodoxy is fighting hard to establish its identity. An influx of converts as well as the heterodox majority that surrounds her, the Orthodox Church must define itself very carefully, as Eric said, for "catechesis". Along these lines as well, I have found the Sunday of Orthodoxy to have a profoundly internal focus. Instead of boldly proclaiming to the world that we are right and everyone else is wrong, we are actually preaching to ourselves lest we forget or cease to value the distinctives of the Orthodox faith. Last night at St. George in Cicero, with 4 bishops present including one ROCOR bishop and two Oriental Orthodox priests, the dean of St. Tikhon's seminary preached a homily calling for jurisdictional unity in America so that we may fully realize the identity of the Church as "One Body...One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism."

This is what the Sunday of Orthodoxy has come to mean, I believe, for many American Orthodox Christians: a introspection meant to call us back to unity and harmony, not to tout our claims of truth before the world.

7:20 PM  
Blogger seth said...


you were able to put into words what i was thinking! do you think you can post this comment over at scot mcknight's blog ( Dr Nassif is supposed to be respoding to the article there.

7:55 AM  
Blogger seth said...

both erics, please post your comments.

eric jobe,

do you go to st tikon's? if you do, do you know my good friend bill buck?

7:58 AM  

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