Ancient Faith Continued: Theology and Symphony



Today I begin a series I call Ancient Faith Continued. I chose that title with a purpose.

Gregory of Nyssa (Wikimedia Commons)
  • At the most basic level, “Ancient Faith” refers to a radio program I recently appeared on to discuss how the church responds to gay marriage and the culture wars. I wanted to “continue” what I said there by addressing some questions I was told to prepare for but did not have time to discuss.
  • At a deeper level, “Ancient Faith” invokes the modern nickname for the Orthodox Church, and “Continued” points to the way I think about its relationship to culture. This raises questions of about the way I think about the Tradition (i.e. the scriptures and traditions of the Orthodox Church).

I have met a lot of Orthodox Christians who see the Tradition as an unchanging deposit. They basically apply a naive fundamentalist biblical literalism to the Tradition of the Orthodox Church (“Tradition” with a “big-T” in the Orthodox Church refers to the Bible, creeds, rituals, dogmas, and diverse opinions of ancient theologians). For them, “the Truth” was delivered once in history, its meaning is clear, and thus our theology is unchanging and unambiguous.

I disagree with this view. That does not mean I am a “liberal” theologian. I do not think that Tradition and culture are two “texts” with more or less equal weight. The Tradition is not fixed, but neither is it in constant, ambiguous flux. I see the Tradition more like a life-giving stream. It maneuvers through history, swinging sometimes this way and sometimes that in response to its place in the world at a particular point and time. For me, the Tradition is not nebulous, but it is nimble.

We are caught up in that stream right now. We have a pretty good sense of where we have been, which gives us some indication of where we are going, but the exact “shape” of our destination and when we will get there are not entirely clear. I think that is why Fr. John Meyendorff said we have a “living tradition.” The Tradition is not an artifact of the past because it is where we live. The church is its tradition.

From Wikimedia Commons

To see Tradition as a fixed and fully knowable “thing” is to live in intellectual dishonesty, for it requires pretending that the way we view tradition is not informed by our moment in history. It is to pretend that we look at doctrine in the exact same way as our spiritual ancestors.

It is also not very Orthodox. The Tradition is about God, and the ideal way of knowing God in the Orthodox Church is to unknow God. We strive for apophasis, which is the experience of God as mystery. This does not mean God is irrational or that we should be irrational. It means God is mystery. Therefore the Orthodox Christian must always destroy her own intellectual idols. That is why I think fundamentalist views of the Tradition are unOrthodox.

This matters because two believers may agree that theology should adhere to the teachings and traditions of the church, but that does not necessarily mean we are talking about the same thing. While that may not affect where we end up in terms of our theological opinions, it does affect how we get there. Fundamentalism knows the answers before we ask the questions, so it tends not to be very open to any serious dialogue. For a fundamentalist, conversation can always only be debate.

To put it another way, for me, I cannot think of the Tradition as a deposit because I do not think I have faith in a set of assertions. I think faith means to trust in that for which I hope, which means it is a kind of love. The Orthodox ideal is apophasis because theology is nothing more than to love God with the intellect. Truth is that which we do not understand but love anyway. That is why I think we should never treat the Tradition as if it is something everyone can understand if they only think about it rationally. The way we think about the Tradition must always unthink itself because God is love, and love is infinite. God is always an undiscovered country.

56 thoughts on “Ancient Faith Continued: Theology and Symphony”

  1. Here, I think, is a useful definition of “tradition”:

    “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

    G. K. Chesterton “Orthodoxy”
    English author & mystery novelist (1874 – 1936)

  2. I guess I thought this post also was addressing your recent Ancient Faith radio program and the subject matter therein. Forgive me.

  3. To get to the heart of the issue here — since the Scriptures have a very clear teaching that homosexuality is an abomination, contrary to nature, and those who do not repent of it will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and the Tradition of the Church has unambiguously held this same view, why do you bring up the alleged fluidity of Tradition on this question? While there are many traditions which are local in character, and more properly “customs”, clearly the Tradition on Homosexuality is part of the Apostolic Tradition that was once delivered unto the saints. Where is the ambiguity of either Scripture or Tradition on this question?

    1. Ah! That’s where you were going. Actually, none of what I was gearing this series toward has a direct bearing on issues of same-sex orientation. I realized I had to write this piece halfway through thinking about Syrian Christianity and Jacob of Serug’s sermons/poems about Mary. I was not thinking about gay people.

      As for the question begging, you are basically arguing that the Bible is infallible because the Bible says so.

    2. But you began the article by saying that you were covering questions related to the show that we didn’t get to.

      I’m not sure how I could be begging the question by saying that the Bible is infallible because it says so, when I didn’t say anything remotely close to that. The Bible is infallible because it is inspired by God. The Church is infallible because it is the Body of Christ, and Christ is its Head, and it is guided by the Holy Spirit. And this is the Faith that we have received from the Apostles, which they received from Christ.

    3. Ah! One more thing. I just saw this comment.

      As Kevin said, the purpose of the show was not to focus on same-sex orientation but issues of church/state or church/culture. Not every question we were told to prep for involved LGBT issues.

    4. By the way, I have got to say this about your choice of language.

      1. The biblical use of the term “abomination” to describe gay sex has nothing to do with violations of nature. Daniel Boyarin has convincingly argued that it has more to do with “mixing” things that cannot be mixed. It is a ritual purity thing. Thus the same term is applied to the practice of weaving two kinds of cloth together. So you are being a bit eisegetical there.

      2. As for violations of nature, I have two problems with this claim. First, it is essentially Catholic. There is not a strong tradition of natural law theory in the Orthodox Church. Second, it is basically an argument from Scripture in disguise. There is overwhelming evidence of same-sex relationships not only in the human historical record but also in the animal kingdom. So arguments from nature only hold weight if one presumes a certain understanding of the term, which is informed by a certain reading of the Bible. So I find arguments from nature to be a bit duplicitous.

      Read into that comment what you will. I make it only to propose more constructive terms of discussion. Like I said, I did not start this discussion to talk about issues of same-sex orientation. I suppose I might have made that more clear in the post, but it did not occur to me that someone would see an agenda in it, especially since I already made my views on the subject as clear as I can make them. Nothing has changed in a week, Father.

    5. Robert Gagnon’s book, “The Bible and Homosexual Practice” is the most comprehensive book on the subject in print. The argument that Leviticus 18:22 is about ritual purity is completely bogus on three obvious grounds:

      1. The context: the section begins and ends with reference to the gentiles that God is driving out before the Israelites, and it states that the Israelites are not to do what they did, lest the same thing happen to them. There is no instance of a law regarding ritual purity being cited as a basis for God’s wrath against the gentiles. And of all the sexual sins mention, only homosexuality is called “an abomination”. There is also no instance of such a law warranting the death penalty (Leviticus 20:13).

      2. The NT use of the word “arsenokoitai” is clearly based on the Septuagints translation of Leviticus 18:22, and this sin is not seen as a matter of ritual purity there.

      3. The Fathers never interpreted it as a matter of OT ritual purity.

      Also, I am very curious to know how one can be guilty of eisegesis when they use the exact words of Scripture, in reference to the same thing that the Scriptures apply the term to..

      The idea that homosexuality is contrary to nature is not “essentially Catholic”. It is explicitly Scriptural — see Romans 1:24-27, especially verse 26, where we find the phrase “παρα φυσιν” (contrary to nature), which is a phrase both Plato and Philo used in exactly the same context (i.e. in their arguments against homosexuality).

      If you read St. John Chrysostom’s homily on Romans 1:26-27, he makes the same argument too:

      But even if I was merely making an argument from Scripture… we Orthodox hold the Scriptures to be of some significance too.

      And as for same sex relations in human history and in the animal world — first off, even if we grant some sort of genetic predisposition to homosexuality, which is far from proven, the fact remains that the human body was not designed for anal or oral sex, and that is why homosexuals die 25 to 30 years sooner than heterosexuals. That is why they are far more likely to get rectal cancer and throat cancer, not to mention STDs, and many other associated diseases. You do not see exclusive homosexual behavior among animals. For the most part, you see some fondling, expression of dominance, but those animals mate with females, and reproduce naturally. But in any case, many animals eat their young… hardly an argument for humans to do it. Many animals engage in incest… hardly an argument for humans to do it.

      You also wrote: “So I find arguments from nature to be a bit duplicitous.”

      How so?

      Also, I don’t think you have made your views on homosexuality completely clear. You keep leaving yourself room to “evolve”. When pressed by Kevin on the show about whether you would be OK with active homosexuals receiving communion, you did not say “no.” You said that you weren’t “there”. That is hardly an unequivocal answer.

    6. Drat! I took the bait! I said on my Facebook page, Father, that I was so not interested in talking about same-sex issues for a while, but I could not resist responding to your earlier point. Lesson learned.

      (Sigh!) Okay. I will say this, let you have the last word, then be done. (The caveat, of course, is that the last word not be mean, patently false, inflammatory, etc.)

      1. I began to look at Gagnon’s research a couple of weeks ago, when you first brought it to my attention. I have not read the book, but I did look at a rather compendious summary, and I focused on the point he raised vis-a-vis “abomination.” I will only say I remain unconvinced. Since the opinion of one scholar does not settle matters on either side of a debate (there are folks who dispute Gagnon’s arguments), for now we must agree to disagree.

      2. As for your statistics, I am going to kindly ask that you not bring them up again, unless you are willing to cite their confirmation by credible scientific journals. Such claims, without substantiation, are simply offensive. My bet is that your information comes from Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute. Cameron has been formally rebuked by a number of professional organization for repeatedly doing shoddy research and misrepresenting the work of others.

      3. As for your question in another comment about how you are begging the question, replace the word “Bible” with “Tradition.”

      4. Relatedly, arguments from nature are duplicitous because they are not actually about “nature” but a certain view of it informed by presumptions about things in nature that are “unnatural.” Thus one argues against oral/anal sex on the grounds that they are unnatural, while also arguing that we should not pay too much attention to nature because animals also eat their young. That is why I said it was an argument from the Bible in disguise. The philosophical presuppositions the Fathers (who were not Jews) brought to the Scriptures are beside the point.

      5. Regarding my “evolution,” when I was going into my Junior year at ONU, a professor said something to me that made a profound impact on the way I talk to others. He said, “It is unethical for me to try to convince you of my point of view, if I am not equally willing to be convinced.” I leave myself room to grow in any issue I discuss. Or at least I try to. Otherwise I can never really have a conversation with anyone. Just debate.

    7. You need to read Gagnon’s book. It is published by Abingdon Press, and so it is hardly a toothless “fundamentalist” text. It covers the subject from every angle, from the Bible, history, Tradition, science, etc.

      But in any case, if we are having a conversation here, I just presented you with three reasons why the text in leviticus was not just about ritual purity. Now if you want to disagree, you need to engage those points, and say why you disagree with them… not just that you disagree.

      As for the statistic I cited, you will find them in the above referenced book on pages 471 -484. The 25-30 year statistic came from a book by psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover: Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. Also referenced in that regard is an article by Paul Cameron, Kirk Cameron, and William Flayfair, “Does Homosexual Activity Shorten Life?” from Psychological Reports 83 (1998):847-66, and also s Canadian Study by Robert S. Hogg, et all, “Modellin the Impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men, International Journal of Epidemiology 26 [1997]: 657-61. He does on to detail the health problems related to Homosexuality, and cites numerous studies from various government and private sources. You need to get your hands on a copy.

      The fact that people might criticize those who say anything negative about homosexuality in our day is hardly surprising. We have agenda driven science and academics in more than a few areas in our politically correct culture.
      You wrote: “As for your question in another comment about how you are begging the question, replace the word “Bible” with “Tradition.””

      And what is your point. I didn’t say that the Tradition is infallible because the Tradition says so, I said it is infallible because of its source. Obviously if you deny the source, then other questions have to be covered first, but for Orthodox Christians, this should be a settled question.

      And as for arguments from nature being “duplicitous”, are you saying St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom were duplicitous? …because they both make arguments from nature.

      You wrote: “Thus one argues against oral/anal sex on the grounds that they are unnatural, while also arguing that we should not pay too much attention to nature because animals also eat their young.”

      Me: It is a demonstrable fact that the anus was not designed for the penis. The health problems that come from that are also demonstrable. It is not demonstrable that animals were designed to eat their young. The fact that many do is, from a Christian perspective, a result of the fall.

      You wrote: “That is why I said it was an argument from the Bible in disguise. The philosophical presuppositions the Fathers (who were not Jews) brought to the Scriptures are beside the point.”

      Plato never read the Bible, and yet made the same argument.

      As for your studied ambiguity on the morality of homosexual sex, you may cite a professor at ONU that supports such an evolution. You will not find a single Father or Saint of the Church who ever suggested that what the Church has taught in the past and teaches today may not be what it teaches tomorrow. You need to seek the mind of the Fathers, not the mind of liberal Protestant academics.

    8. Fr. John: Well, if you want to talk about “agenda driven,” Paul Cameron seems to take the cake.

      This site, for example — — details the ways Paul Cameron, as David said, misuses data, distorts his citations, publishes on obscure, low-ranked journals, and openly advertises an anti-gay agenda. Not to mention that he promotes the long-discredited link between homosexuality and pedophilia.

      Of course, my red flag was the fact that -Kirk- Cameron, he of many atrocious and illogical “defenses” of young-earth Creationism, was involved as well.

      As for Robert S. Hogg, I have no questions about his professionalism. He has a follow-up paper from 2001, specifically responding to the ways his paper has been used by anti-gay groups since its publication. He makes clear that his stats were extrapolated from one Canadian health center, and “In contrast, if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996.”

    9. Fr. John, are you referring to a Canadian study other than the one headed by Hogg, because that’s the one the link you provided is talking about.

    10. The Canadian study describes sequelae and disease related to “men who have sex with men,” which may or may not be related to homosexuality. This would specifically impact any prediction as to a reduced lifespan for “homosexuals” in general. For example, I work in prisons where sexual activities between men is frequent, yet the vast majority would deny they are homosexual by orientation, nor are they likely to pursue sexual activity with men outside prison confinement. I would further note that the data relied upon for this article is seriously outdated.

      Unlike Fr. John, I attempt to maintain contemporaneous sources and data, and address the “charlatans” he cites:

    11. No, the Canadian Study I had in mind is the Hogg study. If I could have edited my comment after I posted it, I would have rephrased it to make that clear, but while the folks behind that study may not like how others have used it, the fact remains they have not done a new one that shows any significant difference, and neither has anyone else. HIV is one risk fact, but it is not the only one, as this article details: If anyone wants to prove that the data in the Hogg study is invalid, all they need to do is produce some studies that show that homosexuals are pictures of health and longevity. And if you read the section in Gagnon’s book that I mentioned, you will see that he goes into great detail on the various risks factors, and much of his data is from government studies that focus on more narrow issues. As for Michael, as I have repeatedly made clear, when I speak of homosexuality, I am using the term in its historic sense, not in your peculiar sense. A homosexual *is* a man who has sex with other men. Just like a rapist is a person who engages in rape, and a pedophile is a person who has sex with children.

    12. I am curious, Father, what standard of evidence would be sufficient for you to retract your claim? Because it seems pretty high.

    13. In a letter to the editor of the International Journal of Epidemiology (2001:30:1499), RS Hogg writes, “It appears our research is being used by select groups in the US to suggest that gay & bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is unhealthy to themselves and others. These homophobic groups appear more interested in restricting the human rights of gay and bisexuals rather than promoting their health and well being. The aim of our research was never to spread more homophobia, but to demonstrate how the life expectancy of gay & bisexual men can be estimated from limited vital statistics data, and assist health planners with the means of estimating the impact of AIDS on groups.”

      This would qualify as a sufficient standard of evidence for me.

    14. David, a single peer reviewed study with results to the contrary would be a really good start.

      Michael, thus the fact that this study is hostile testimony. However, HIV is only one of the risk factors for gay men, and HIV is still a big cause for shortened life expectancy for gay men. Their behavior is the reason why HIV spread so quickly among the gay population of the west.

    15. This is a completely ridiculous “standard of evidence” because you are citing a study, as I noted, specifically of individuals who have contracted disease. I could just as easily demonstrate to you that gay men who contract small cell carcinoma of the lung have significantly shorter life expectancy than heterosexual men without lung cancer. What great truth have I revealed? Hogg is not a “hostile witness.” You are attempting to have him answer a question he did address. You will not find a single citation in the National Library of Medicine that addresses the question “What is the life expectancy of homosexuals whose health risk factors are equal with heterosexuals?” which constitutes the majority. There is no difference.

      Might I ask you, Fr. John, why you take no comments on your own blog, but seem content to raise issue after issue on Dr. Dunn’s site?

    16. Michael, the study says homosexuals have an 8 to 20 year shorter life span… it does not say people with HIV have an 8 to 20 year year shorter life span.

      I don’t have comments on my blog because I don’t have time to debate (often anonymous) trolls around the clock, and my experience on blogs that do allow comments is that this is often what happens.

  4. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally I was recently in a raging debate on the perfection and infallibility of the Church on the “Progressive Orthodoxy” group in facebook. To my knowledge, the only contemporary Orthodox statement on the infallibility of the Church was made by members of the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. Fr. Florovsky is quite clear, “The true Church is not the perfect Church.” The promise of scripture is that the Church will be guided by the Spirit. Guiding implies movement, change, growth, perhaps even “development.” It does not imply arrival. The promise that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church is also not a promise that the Church will listen without error, imperfection, or struggle. Our faith should not be in the perfection of the Church, but in the work of God in Christ through the Spirit. It should be in Christ. I think David implies this above.

    I think it is worth thinking of the corporate body of Christ as engaged in theosis much like individual persons within the Church. We are, as a community, growing in our knowledge of God as we grow in our experience of God. As body, it is certainly possible for the body to grow, change, mature, develop. I would also argue that it is possible for us to corporately sin, to fail to be perfect, to miss the mark of being a corporate body. Theosis for individuals is a life-long process; it is the same for the Church.

  5. David,
    Is the Church infallible in any respects? If so, in which?

    Do you understand authoritative Church teaching to have changed at any point? In other words, has the Church authoritatively said one thing, and then (at another time) authoritatively said something incompatible?


    1. Yes, but what do you mean by that? I believe the Creeds are normative for our theology, but there is in a sense no creed without the interpretation of it. Otherwise it’s just words on paper. The way we interpret the Tradition is shaped by a number of factors not directly related to it. What does homoousion mean when we reject the philosophical concept of essences? Or do we want to make the Roman mistake and tie our dogma to Aristotelian or some other philosophical concepts, so that we ultimately end up defending the ridiculous?

      The Creeds are normative. I will even say they are inerrant. But how we understand and apply them is always inadequate to the reality toward which they point. Thus there are as many concepts of the Trinity as there are people who confess Nicea. Ask one of them to explain that to you without using the language of the Creed itself, and you will end up with heresy.

      So, does the church mean the creeds and canons? The bishops? The laity? The statements of SCOBA? Or is it all these things at once and more? If it is, then the answer to your question becomes way more complicated than at first appears.

    2. I don’t think “canons and creeds” is in the running for what the Church is. Most would probably say that the Church itself is not a set of statements, beliefs, or even truths.

      Is there any identifiable body, past or present, that has spoken authoritatively and infallibly in interpreting Scripture or in other such matters?

      Certainly words require interpretation, so is there any identifiable body that has/could authoritatively and infallibly give interpretation?

    3. Alex,

      To answer your questions:

      1. Yes. Definitely. But as soon as the words are “released” they become part of that which they propose to infallibly interpret. So, again, it is never a simple matter of saying, “Well this canon says,” etc.

      2. I see this as the same question in slightly different terms. Words do not require interpretation. That implies words are something separate from our hearing and understanding of them. Words are the “dance” between two conversation partners. They are not things that *get* interpreted. They *are* the interpretation.

      As for whether a body can infallibly interpret words. I believe the answer to this question has to be “yes.” The word “infallible” literally means “cannot fail.” In a certain sense, the church really is the act of reciting the Nicene Creed, because that communal recitation is what calls and gathers us into God’s presence. It is one way God manifests the kingdom among us. The church is the interpreter of the Creed, to be sure, but this means the whole church, and the whole church has not arrived yet. Thus, while the Creeds are inerrant, infallible, and thus authoritative, their power is always more in liturgics than polemics. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

      To get a better sense of what I am talking about, you might look at what I say on “How Authority Works in the Orthodox Church.”

    4. Here is what St. Cyril of Jerusalem has to say about the infallibility of the Church: “[The Church] is called Catholic, then because it extends over the whole world, from end to end of the earth; and because it teaches universally and infallibly each and every doctrine which must come to the knowledge of men, concerning things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings every race of men into subjection to godliness, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals every class of sins, those committed with the soul and those with the body, and it possesses within itself every conceivable form of virtue, in deeds and in words and in the spiritual gifts of every description” [18,23].

      So the Church does not just have an infallible Creed, but it teaches infallibly.

    5. David,
      It seems like on your view we have no way to determine if a theological statement or position is true or false. If a person takes a theological position, is there a way for us to determine if it is in line with the Church’s teachings, if it is authoritatively and infallibly taught for or against (or neither)?


  6. The problem with your view of Tradition is that it is contrary to the Tradition. Just for an example, take the view of Tradition and the Church found in the early Hieromartyr Cyprian of Carthage:

    You might also take a look at any Patristic commentary on Jude 1:3. The idea of living tradition does not imply dogmatic development in the Roman Catholic sense.

    Also, throwing around the word “fundamentalist” is not helpful, because basically when the word is used outside of its historic meaning (in reference to Protestant Fundamentalists) it is simply used as a synonym for “stupid”. For one thing, Fundamentalism is by definition minimalistic, because it focuses on what the minimum standards of acceptable doctrine are. Orthodoxy is by nature maximalistic. Orthodox Christians who stand for the Tradition of the Church are “Traditional” and “Orthodox.” Not Fundamentalists.

    1. I think fundamentalism claims to be minimalistic but in practice tends toward the opposite.

    2. Protestant Fundamentalism is minimalistic. They not only affirm certain “essentials” that the Bible clearly teaches, as they understand it, but reject what they do not see in the Bible. Orthodox Tradition does not have any concept of the lowest common acceptable denominator. Also, Fundamentalism is by nature rationalistic, and has a lot more in common with Protestant liberalism than either has with Orthodoxy.

    3. “Words, words, words… the satirical rogue says here.” And that would be Hamlet.

      Fr. John, those who stand by the Tradition of the Church are “Orthodox,” they are not traditionalist. This is a contrivance of exclusion, that ignores St. Chrysostom’s instruction that, “our God is a jealous God,” who equally invites “those who ignored the Fast.” the “minimalists,” with those who have kept it from the first: “The table is heavily laden,” he says, “and the Lord welcomes the last even as the first.” They are both, first and foremost, Orthodox. We are wisely instructed to “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well,” (Prov. 5:15) and the water is “living water,” (Jn. 4:14), not stagnant. And throwing around the word “maximalistic,” is not helpful because it it is simply used as a synonym for “superior.” I do not find his view “contrary” to Tradition.

    4. My point, Fr. John, was that there is a difference between what a group says and what a group actually does.

      As for the polemical nature of the word, I can see your point, and I certainly did not intend it that way. I will reconsider using it in the future. Nonetheless, it is useful shorthand insofar as fundamentalism is characterized by a rather naive hermeneutic.

    5. When you say “fundamentalism is characterized by a rather naive hermeneutic,” what do you mean? It sounds like that supports my definition that the loose use of the word is as a synonym for “stupid”.

    6. Fr. John, I will look at the text when I can keep my eyes open. I like St. Cyprian, more or less.

      But I have to point out that the structure of your argument begs the question.

    7. I looked at Cyprian’s treatise and am quite familiar with it. I have done quite a lot of work on the Donatist controversy, and that text was essential to it. Could you help me narrow in on the point you have in mind when you read that text?

  7. Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, “In modern Church thinking, the past frequently oppresses and enchains rather than being creatively transformed into faithfulness to genuine tradition. This reveals an inability to evaluate the past, to distinguish the truth in it from mere bygone history and custom. Unless a distinction is made, true tradition becomes confused with all sorts of traditions that should themselves be judged in the light of the eternal truth of the Church. What is partial, one-sided, and even distorted is frequently proclaimed as the essence of Orthodoxy.”

    Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote, “The Church, which establishes herself in the world, is always exposed to the temptation of an excessive adjustment to the environment, to what is usually described as “worldliness.” The Church which separates herself from the world, in feeling her own radical “otherworldliness,” is exposed to an opposite danger, to the danger of excessive detachment.”

    The “undiscovered country,” as you say, in my mind is the manner by which eternal Truths are boldly “re-articulated” in each generation. If everything that needs to have been said, has already been said, then what? We would be a “mortuary” rather than a vigorous, dynamic, animated icon of the Energy of the Father. And who are the “culprits” in the stifling of creativity and fear that dialog, discussion, and “re-articulation” will destroy us? The “traditionalists,” because, in my view, they are “oppressed and enchained” and not “creatively transformed.” Tradition was never decreed, determined, proposed, or voted upon by Father or Council. It was sanctified by time and the Holy Spirit and revealed to us. It is only by arrogance that anyone can insist, “It is complete.” The Holy Spirit goes where He wishes.

  8. Hi David, Is this going to be part of a book you are writing?
    I don’t know that I can reconcile what I have come to understand about theosis with the end statement of this piece.
    Also, have you had a chance to listen to Frederica Mathewes Green’s podcasts?
    Thanks for responding!
    God bless you!

    1. What part of theosis can you not reconcile with the last statement? Love being an undiscovered country?

      I thought of your link this morning. I plan to listen next week when I’m not working 15 hour days. (-:

    2. While I’m not claiming to have wrapped my head around all that theosis can entail, drawing closer to God — here on earth — is what it means to me so far. I personally would not say that God is always an undiscovered country because I believe we are in the process of discovering, while still living in mystery and communion.

      Anyway, thanks for responding and I look forward to your comments about Frederica’s podcasts.

      And are you writing a book? Thanks!

    3. I have finished the draft of the proposal, and I have finished the draft of the first two sample chapters, both of which pull from and modify parts of my dissertation. Now I just have to find the time to revise everything and submit it for review. Easier said than done. But thanks for asking.

  9. I like your formulation of Tradition as not constant. Inspired by the nimble wordplay between nebulous and nimble two sentences later, I’d suggest that Tradition is not constant, it is consistent. Your post made me think about the excellent introductory essay in Bl. Theophylact’s Explanation of the Gospel of St. Matthew that explains the summative nature of the explanation as a distillation of the teaching that has come before. This seems to require an immersive knowledge of scripture and theology and a humble application of these to particular place and time.

    The community I live and work in (Texas A&M) is very concerned with the idea of “tradition” and I have explained to my students that for traditions to survive, they have to be adopted and adapted by each successive generation. An adoption of tradition that has no experiential knowledge of why a particular practice emerged or what it means within the community is necessarily just an adoption of a veneer that fragile and likley to die out soon.


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