Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'Unknown and yet well known' - 2 Corintians 6:9

'All Protestants are Crypto-Papists...To use the concise language of algebra, all the West knows but one datum a; whether it be preceded by the positive sign +, as with the Romanists, or with the negative -, as with the Protestants, the a remains the same. Now a passage to Orthodoxy seems indeed like an apostasy from the past, from its science, creed, and life. It is rushing into a new and unknown world.' - Alexis Khomiakov

I'm reading (again) the book The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware. This book is split into two parts, the first is history and the second is a short overview of Orthodox theology. The theology gets expanded in his other book, The Orthodox Way, which I have also read multiple times. :)

Anyway. I really like this first quote from the introduction. I think it really does express a certain level of truth about the difference between the West and the East. It's not even so much about Roman Catholic v. Orthodox, though that was the 'beginning' certainly. But since Protestantism grew out of Roman Catholicism they share certain patterns of thought. Certain focuses and concerns. There's a very Western, scientific drive to understand and quantify and know things in detailed and controllable ways that drives, in my opinion, much of Western theological thinking.

Now a Protestant and a Roman Catholic (or even varying flavours of Protestant) may ask the same question and get different answers. They do, obviously, most of the time. :) But because of the thinkers that they learn from. Because of their traditions of thought they do ask the same questions.

Orthodoxy though doesn't share the same thought patterns. The questions themselves are different. It's an almost entirely different way of looking at the world. The neat thing is (or at least I've found this to be true) that you can study Orthodox theology and keep going, 'Well, yeah! That's what I've thought/believed all along.' Even if sometimes you couldn't quite put it into words. Or you come across things that didn't quite click before and they're explained slightly differently, maybe with a different emphasis or a different understanding of the meaning behind it and it makes perfect sense.


  1. Interesting. :)

    I was all excited because yesterday I picked up a book called The Orthodox Church that someone was giving away, but it's not this one. It's by someone named Sergius Bulgakov. Still, it should be good.

    By any chance, can you recommend a good book on icons? And/or on the saints?

    Sorry, back to this post. I think there's a lot of truth to what you're saying, and I've heard similar things about the Orthodox church from one of my professors. I'm spending some time studying both Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity now, which I have never really done before. I find them both really fascinating and it's a lot of fun so far. :)

  2. Oh, I really liked this. I remember reading a good while back that we are more law (innocent/guilt) oriented whereas Eastern cultures are more honor/shame oriented. The author was talking about dealing with Muslims and how our Western-flavor of Christianity was so foreign to them because we spoke in legalese (you are guilty, but you can be free/innocent in God's eyes) in a sense whereas they wanted something to clean them and give them honor. I think it's really interesting how people see things differently based on their culture.

    Just yesterday I was talking to my Syrian friend who is studying in Germany. He reminded me how some people there offered him a "free meal" at a religious event. To an Arab, he said, this is insulting. "Do I look so poor that I have to have something for free?" Although he knew what they meant, he told me his cousin absolutely refused to attend the event because of the "free meal" choice of wording!

    Sorry to digress from the topic. Do share more of this book if you find some interesting stuff. I'd like an example of what you mean in the last paragraph -- what sort of different questions and "aha" moments?? Or are you going to tell me I need to get the book? you are tempting me, Woman! :)

  3. sanil,

    Oooh, let me know what you think of that one when you get around to reading it. I haven't heard of it before but it looks interesting. I looked up the author and apparently some of his theology was controversial - some even declared it heretical on the same level of Nestorianism.

    I actually haven't read any books specifically on icons yet. Most books on Orthodoxy cover them to one degree or another so everything I know I've learned from those. I did pick up a book on icons to read called 'Sacred Doorways' by Linette Martin which was recommended to me as something of an icons for beginners to help learn the symbolism, etc.

    As for saints I haven't read anything covering saints in general as a topic. Again they're covered to one degree or another in all the other Orthodox texts I've read. Most books that focus on saints will focus on the lives of the saints or a specific saint. I don't know that I've ever seen one that just discussed the phenomenon of saints in general.

    They're both (Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy) very different from the average Protestantism. The history and the theology are both really interesting to study. At least if you're me. :)

  4. Susanne,

    Huh. I find the story of your Syrian friend interesting. It would never occur to me that the inclusion of a free anything would be seen as insulting. But that's the culture difference right there. Because here it's seen as an enticement. Not saying that the person/people need charity, but just added value. But on the other side there's that whole perceived status and what other people see you as. Actually, it's again very similar to Southern culture in that whole saving face, honor kind of thing. I think it's even more ingrained in the Eastern cultures than the South, but it looks similar.

    I'll definitely be sharing from the book.

    And yeah. Go get the book. :p

    No, really. One moment I had was the concept of original (or ancestral) sin. I accepted it for a long time, but there was the whole question of how it worked, why should Adam and Eve's sin be the one passed down from generation to generation when we cannot be responsible for anothers sins. Why would this one sin be inherited so that we're all guilty of it and that guilt could send otherwise totally innocent people to hell? Because that is what I was taught and the understanding I got from other Christians. And the answer is, of course, that it doesn't work that way. As Orthodoxy teaches we suffer the consequences, but not the guilt.

  5. I will! And I'll have to do some other research, because I have no idea what you mean when you say it is on the same level as Nestorianism. :D I have learned these things, I just have no memory of them. Heresy doesn't mean much to me, I guess. So it doesn't stick in my head.

    I have seen Sacred Doorways, it looked good. Glad to know it has been recommended to you, maybe I will check that one out first. I was actually referring to books on the lives of saints, rather than the phenomena. And I think I found a few, just searching around on Amazon. Now I just hope my library has them, because my campus bookstore had a sale today, which means I overdid it and am on a book ban again. *sigh*


  6. sanil,

    Well, other people have said that it's on the same level as Nestorianism. I have to assume that they mean 'same level' as in possible divisiveness. I'm just guessing though because I read a brief overview of some of his teachings and I can see why they'd be considered 'problematic' but I haven't read his stuff myself so I reserve judgment. :)

    Yeah, you can find a million books on the lives of the saints. There're plenty that cover several saints and then most saints will also have books written about them individually if you have a specific saint you want to study.

    Book sales are *horrible* for the budget!

  7. Amber, thanks for explaining more. I've always heard we inherited the tendency to sin from Adam and Eve NOT that we were guilty for what they did. Like we really don't have to teach our kids to lie or be selfish...that tendency was inherited. We are prone more to do the wrong thing (bad attitude, curse someone) than the right thing (unless we are guided by the Spirit under our new nature.)

    Maybe if you take the story nonliterally (ha, ha), you could say all of mankind ate the fruit (meaning we followed OUR way instead of God's), therefore, we all are guilty of saying "no, God" because of OUR wants, OUR desires, OUR....pride.

    Yeah, I told him that "free" here is an added incentive since so many things cost. You go to a fair, "we have food for SALE." But for someone to say "free food," is like "wow, they are wanting people to come." I guess it's all in how you phrase it. This happened with two different religious groups offering "free" stuff to them, by the way. Mormons and a college campus Christian group. :)

  8. Amber - I don't know if you'd know the answer to this or not. I haven't been able to figure it out yet, but I'm still looking...are the saints set and agreed on in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches? Or is it sort of like having different canons? :D I've seen Julian of Norwich referred to as "St. Julian" in some places but then when I've tried to search for St. Julian, there's nothing. I was wondering if maybe she's only considered a saint in one tradition, or if the people who call her that mean something else (or just misspoke).

    Susanne - Your comment on the friend and free food made me think of that differently so I wanted to share. I like that you pointed out it meaning "We really want you to come!" I wonder if your friend would understand it better if it were related to hospitality. I think I remember that being a major value in the Middle East, isn't it? So if you want to have friends over, you are going to feed them and so give them free food. It's not so much charity as it is the hosts of the event inviting people to be their guests, and then treating them like guests. I don't know if that makes any sense. :D Oh well.

  9. Sanil, exactly! That's why I think if the Mormons and German Christian group phrased it differently it would have been fine. It was just the way the Arabs translated their words (free food) that made it off-putting to them.

    The same for shoes. Samer said there is a store there called "Shoe on You" which he said would NEVER EVER EVER be a name of a store in the Arab world. Shoes are considered rather unclean...remember the journalist who threw his shoes at Bush to show his extreme dislike?

    I think cultural things are so neat to study and learn about. :)

  10. sanil,

    The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches don't 100% agree on who's a saint between the two of them. There is some crossover, especially in the early centuries - prior to the beginnings of the Schism.

    I looked up Julian of Norwich. She's sometimes called Juliana of Norwich and is apparently referred to as Blessed but has never officially been canonized. Which I guess makes her an unofficial saint. But only in the Roman Catholic tradition.


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