Doctrine of Eastern Orthodox Church

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Mayflower

Puritan Board Junior
Is anyone familiar with the teaching/doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church ? In how far is the teaching the same or in far is it different as the Roman Catholic theology ?

Are there some great theologions of the past or today whom are worthy to read from the Eastern Orthodox Church ?

I don't know much about the Eastern Orthodox Church, and so i did not put under topic of Cults & World Religions , because i don't know in how far the teaching is false or biblical ?
 

Puritanhead

Puritan Board Professor
Do a search on Puritanboard... This isn't the first time Orthodox doctrine has been inquired about.

To answer your inquiry best I can, Monergism.com has some online resources that might interest you.
 

Puritanhead

Puritan Board Professor
A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy
by Jack D. Kinneer

During my studies at St. Vladimir´s Orthodox Theological Seminary, I was often asked by students, "Are you Orthodox?" It always felt awkward to be asked such a question. I thought of myself as doctrinally orthodox. I was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. So I thought I could claim the word orthodox.

But I did not belong to the communion of churches often called Eastern Orthodox, but more properly called simply Orthodox. I was not Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, or Antiochian Orthodox. As far as the Orthodox at St. Vladimir´s were concerned, I was not Orthodox, regardless of my agreement with them on various doctrines.

My studies at St. Vladimir´s allowed me to become acquainted with Orthodoxy and to become friends with a number of Orthodox professors, priests, and seminarians. My diploma was even signed by Metropolitan Theodosius, the head of the Orthodox Church in America. From the Metropolitan to the seminarians, I was received kindly and treated with respect and friendliness.

I am not the only Calvinist to have become acquainted with Orthodoxy in recent years. Sadly, a number have not only made the acquaintance, but also left the Reformed faith for Orthodoxy. What is Orthodoxy and what is its appeal to some in the Reformed churches?

The Appeal of Orthodoxy

Since the days of the apostles, there have been Christian communities in such ancient cities as Alexandria in Egypt, Antioch in Syria, and Corinth in Greece. In such places, the Christian church grew, endured the tribulation of Roman persecution, and ultimately prevailed when the Roman Empire was officially converted to Christianity. But, unlike Christians in the western half of the Roman Empire, the eastern Christians did not submit to the claims of the bishop of Rome to be the earthly head of the entire church. And why should they have done so? The centers of Orthodox Christianity were as old as, or even older than, the church in Rome. All the great ecumenical councils took place in the East and were attended overwhelmingly by Christian leaders from the East, with only a smattering of representatives from the West. Indeed, most of the great theologians and writers of the ancient church (commonly called the Church Fathers) were Greek-speaking Christians in the East.

The Orthodox churches have descended in an unbroken succession of generations from these ancient roots. As the Orthodox see it, the Western church followed the bishop of Rome into schism (in part by adding a phrase to the Nicene Creed). So, from their perspective, we Protestants are the product of a schism off a schism. The Orthodox believe that they have continued unbroken the churches founded by the apostles. They allow that we Reformed may be Christians, but our churches are not part of the true church, our ordinations are not valid, and our sacraments are no sacraments at all.

The apparently apostolic roots of Orthodoxy provide much of its appeal for some evangelical Protestants. Furthermore, it is not burdened with such later Roman Catholic developments as the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, the immaculate conception of Mary, and her assumption into heaven. Orthodoxy is ancient; it is unified in a way that Protestantism is not; it lacks most of the medieval doctrines and practices that gave rise to the Reformation. This gives it for many a fascinating appeal.

Part of that appeal is the rich liturgical heritage of Orthodoxy, with its elaborate liturgies, its glorious garbing of the clergy, and its gestures, symbols, and icons. If it is true that the distinctive mark of Reformed worship is simplicity, then even more so is glory the distinctive mark of Orthodox worship. Another appealing aspect of Orthodox worship is its otherness. It is mysterious, sensual, and, as the Orthodox see it, heavenly. Orthodox worship at its best makes you feel like you have been transported into one of the worship scenes in the book of Revelation. Of course, if the priest chants off-key or the choir sings poorly, it is not quite so wonderful.

There are many other things that could be mentioned, but I´ve mentioned the things that have particularly struck me. These are also the things that converts from Protestantism say attracted them.

The Shortcomings of Orthodoxy

So then, is this Orthodox Presbyterian about to drop the "Presbyterian" and become simply Orthodox? No! In my estimation, the shortcomings of Orthodoxy outweigh its many fascinations. A comparison of the Reformed faith with the Orthodox faith would be a massive undertaking, made all the more difficult because Orthodoxy has no doctrinal statement comparable to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Orthodoxy is the consensus of faith arising from the ancient Fathers and the ecumenical councils. This includes the forty-nine volumes of the Ante- and Post-Nicene Fathers, plus the writings of the hermits and monastics known collectively as the Desert Fathers! It would take an entire issue of New Horizons just to outline the topics to be covered in a comparison of Orthodoxy and Reformed Christianity. So the following comments are selective rather than systematic.

First, in my experience, the Orthodox do not understand justification by faith. Some reject it. Others tolerate it, but no one I met or read seemed to really understand it. Just as Protestants can make justification the whole (rather than the beginning) of the gospel, so the Orthodox tend to make sanctification (which they call "theosis" or deification) the whole gospel. In my estimation, this is a serious defect. It weakens the Orthodox understanding of the nature of saving faith.

Orthodoxy also has a real problem with nominal members. Many Orthodox Christians have a very inadequate understanding of the gospel as Orthodoxy understands it. Their religion is often so intertwined with their ethnicity that being Russian or Greek becomes almost synonymous with being Orthodox. This is, by the way, a critique I heard from the lips of Orthodox leaders themselves. This is not nearly as serious a problem in Reformed churches because our preaching continually stresses the necessity for a personal, intimate trusting, receiving, and resting upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Such an emphasis is blurred among the Orthodox.

Second, the Orthodox have a very inadequate understanding of sovereign grace. It is not fair to say that they are Pelagians. (Pelagius was a Western Christian who denied original sin and taught that man´s will is free to choose good.) But they are definitely not Augustinians (Calvinists) on sin and grace. In a conversation with professors and doctoral students about the nature of salvation, I quoted Ezekiel 36:26"“27 as showing that there is a grace of God that precedes faith and enables that human response. One professor said in response, "I never thought of that verse in that way before." The Orthodox have not thought a lot about sin, regeneration, election, and so forth. Their view of original sin (a term which they avoid) falls far short of the teaching of Paul. Correspondingly, their understanding of Christ´s atonement and God´s calling is weak as well. Their views could best be described as undeveloped. If you want to see this for yourself, read Chrysostom on John 6:44"“45, and then read Calvin on the same passage.

Third, the Orthodox are passionately committed to the use of icons (flat images of Christ, Mary, or a saint) in worship. Indeed, the annual Feast of Orthodoxy celebrates the restoration of icons to the churches at the end of the Iconoclast controversy (in a.d. 843). For the Orthodox, the making and venerating of icons is the mark of Orthodoxy"”showing that one really believes that God the Son, who is consubstantial with the Father, became also truly human. Since I did not venerate icons, I was repeatedly asked whether or not I really believed in the Incarnation. The Orthodox are deeply offended at the suggestion that their veneration of icons is a violation of the second commandment. But after listening patiently to their justifications, I am convinced that whatever their intentions may be, their practice is not biblical. However, our dialogue on the subject sent me back to the Bible to study the issue in a way that I had not done before. The critique I would offer now is considerably different than the traditional Reformed critique of the practice.

Finally, many of the Orthodox tend to have a lower view of the Bible than the ancient Fathers had. At least at St. Vladimir´s, Orthodox scholars have been significantly influenced by higher-critical views of Scripture, especially as such views have developed in contemporary Roman Catholic scholarship. This is, however, a point of controversy among the Orthodox, just as it is among Catholics and Protestants. Orthodoxy also has its divisions between liberals and conservatives. But even those who are untainted by higher-critical views rarely accord to Scripture the authority that it claims for itself or which was accorded to it by the Fathers. The voice of Scripture is largely limited to the interpretations of Scripture found in the Fathers.

There is much else to be said. Orthodoxy is passionately committed to monasticism. Its liturgy includes prayers to Mary. And the Divine Liturgy, for all its antiquity, is the product of a long historical process. If you want to follow the "liturgy" that is unquestionably apostolic, then partake of the Lord´s Supper, pray the Lord´s Prayer, sing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," and say "amen," "hallelujah," and "maranatha." Almost everything else in any liturgy is a later adaptation and development.

A Concluding Assessment

But these criticisms do not mean that we have nothing to learn from Orthodoxy. Just as the Orthodox have not thought a lot about matters that have consumed us (such as justification, the nature of Scripture, sovereign grace, and Christ´s work on the cross), so we have not thought a lot about what have been their consuming passions: the Incarnation, the meaning of worship, the soul´s perfection in the communicable attributes of God (which they call the energies of God), and the disciplines by which we grow in grace. Let us have the maturity to keep the faith as we know it, and to learn from others where we need to learn.

Orthodoxy in many ways fascinates me, but it does not claim my heart nor stir my soul as does the Reformed faith. My firsthand exposure to Orthodoxy has left me all the more convinced that on the essential matters of human sin, divine forgiveness, and Christ´s atoning sacrifice, the Reformed faith is the biblical faith. I would love to see my Orthodox friends embrace a more biblical understanding of these matters. And I am grieved when Reformed friends sacrifice this greater good for the considerable but lesser goods of Orthodox liturgy and piety.

Dr. Kinneer is the director of Echo Hill Christian Study Center in Indian Head, Pa. This article originally appeared in New Horizons, the official publication of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
 

VirginiaHuguenot

Puritanboard Librarian
Theodore Beza on the Orthodox Church from Questionum et Responsionum Christianarum, pars Altera, Quae est de Sacramentis (1577):

I infer that, Popery is by no means Christianity, but rather, it is such a great aberration, that the one who embraces and abides in it actually falls from Christianity. I say the same about Greek Orthodoxy, which also itself is such a great deviation from Christianity that no man today may truly be a Christian and Greek Orthodox [at the same time]. I say however, that the Gentiles (who now are generally comprehended in these same two factions and are inclined to that same excision of which Paul manifestly foretold) are not, for all that, to be considered as cut off, as long as the outward note of baptism should endure there; and further I say that the Church is gathered out of the midst, and in the midst, of Popery.
 

Ravens

Puritan Board Sophomore
In my opinion and in my limited reading, Orthodoxy stresses the work and agency of man in salvation even more than non-Augustinian Roman Catholics. They have very sensual worship services, usually oriented more towards the Risen Christ and resurrection than Roman Catholicism, the liturgies of which probably focus more on the crucifixion and sacrifice.

You can find strands of determinism and Augustinian thought in the Western church from Augustine, and Gottschalk, Remigius and others in the Carolignian Renaissance (well, technically, it was still one corporate church then, with widening cultural differences, so technically Gottschalk could be "Orthodox" in a loose, anachronistic sense), and the scholastics, but... as far as I can tell I can find barely any in Orthdox history, except Cyril Lucaris, who was, I believe, the patriarch of Constantinople around the time of the Reformation or very shortly thereafter, maybe in the early 1600's (I'm not sure). I think he made a confession of faith that included references to predestination, and refered to books written by certain evangelical teachers in the west (the Protestants)... and was roundly criticized for it.

Anyway... that's probably mostly right, its from memory, so double-check.

:bigsmile:

From what I've heard, the second volume of Jaroslav Pelikan's History of the Development of Christian Doctrine (or something like that) series, "The Spirit of Eastern Christendom" is an excellent overview of Eastern Orthododox thought, I believe from circa 600 - 1700 or something like that.
 

Puritanhead

Puritan Board Professor
Originally posted by VirginiaHuguenot
Theodore Beza on the Orthodox Church from Questionum et Responsionum Christianarum, pars Altera, Quae est de Sacramentis (1577):

I say the same about Greek Orthodoxy, which also itself is such a great deviation from Christianity that no man today may truly be a Christian and Greek Orthodox [at the same time].

I doubt Beza was ever acquainted with any Orthodox and while they rejected the Nicene Creed, they embraced the Trinity. Jack Kinneer noted Orthodox's upsides vis-a-vis Romanism,

Furthermore, [Orthodoxy] is not burdened with such later Roman Catholic developments as the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, the immaculate conception of Mary, and her assumption into heaven.

Grace can save people in spite of doctrinal errors, and my belief in sovereign grace is so strong I believe this. They do believe in Trinity despite their rejection of Nicene Creed. I pose the same maybe with a question mark that they pose for us Protestants. I see Orthodoxy's capacity to bring a dead hand on Gospel by smothering the Gospel in a sea of sacerdotal ritualism and works-righteousness just as Romanism does. Having talked theology with Orthodox friends and acquaintances-- I'm aware of Orthodoxy's errors, but I am very reluctant to toss them all out of the spiritual body of Christ and make so blunt an affirmation as Theodore Beza does. I think when you get past their conception of Trinity, in many ways they are not as taken in by the innumerable superstititions that encrust Romanism. Most of us Protestants always believed anyway that God had a body of believers within the old medieval church even as it was corrupted.

As an aside, the Wikipedia article on Eastern Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy are worth a glance.
 

biblelighthouse

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by Puritanhead
I doubt Beza was ever acquainted with any Orthodox and while they rejected the Nicene Creed, they embraced the Trinity.

Are you sure they rejected the Nicene Creed? I've been studying Ancient Church History at Westminster Seminary under Dr. Barker (via his lectures on tape), and that is not the impression I got.

Rather, my understanding is that there was an addition made to the Nicene Creed, saying that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son, as well as from the Father. And the Eastern church rejected that particular change to the creed, because they thought the phrase somehow demoted the Holy Spirit.

I completely agree that the Eastern Orthodox believe in the Trinity. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from just the Father, or from both the Father and the Son? I think the later. But I also think that specific distinction is neither here nor there as far as salvation is concerned. At that point, I think it is theological hair-splitting.

Have I misunderstood the relationship of the Eastern church to the Nicene Creed? If so, please correct me.

Thanks,
Joseph



[Edited on 9-23-2005 by biblelighthouse]
 

Puritanhead

Puritan Board Professor
Originally posted by biblelighthouse
Originally posted by Puritanhead
I doubt Beza was ever acquainted with any Orthodox and while they rejected the Nicene Creed, they embraced the Trinity.

Are you sure they rejected the Nicene Creed?

No they didn't in whole... I should have better articulated what I was saying, but they rejected later revisions (?) that include the so called Filioque clause relating to the nature of the Trinity.

Though, there is a further schism in Orthodoxy over the Chalcedon creed, and the nature of Christ. The Coptic and Syrian church are Anti-Nicene and Anti-Chalcedon.


[Edited on 9-23-2005 by Puritanhead]
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
Second, the Orthodox have a very inadequate understanding of sovereign grace. It is not fair to say that they are Pelagians. (Pelagius was a Western Christian who denied original sin and taught that man´s will is free to choose good.) But they are definitely not Augustinians (Calvinists) on sin and grace. In a conversation with professors and doctoral students about the nature of salvation, I quoted Ezekiel 36:26"“27 as showing that there is a grace of God that precedes faith and enables that human response. One professor said in response, "I never thought of that verse in that way before." The Orthodox have not thought a lot about sin, regeneration, election, and so forth. Their view of original sin (a term which they avoid) falls far short of the teaching of Paul. Correspondingly, their understanding of Christ´s atonement and God´s calling is weak as well. Their views could best be described as undeveloped. If you want to see this for yourself, read Chrysostom on John 6:44"“45, and then read Calvin on the same passage.
If I can dissent a bit from this assessment, I don't think their view of original sin is "best described as undeveloped." I do think that the Orthodox have given thought to their view of original sin, and that they simply disagree with the Reformed view. They view original sin, or more properly the fall of man, as passing on inherited mortality and death rather than guilt. That's why they believe that a man's will is unaffected. It has similarities to Pelagius, and is not altogether different, but nonetheless does differ. When, for example, you read Augustine's work, Answer to Julian, Augustine replies to Julian's attempt (Julian the Pelagian) to appeal to Chrysostom for support. The Orthodox believe that original sin leaves its stain on all mankind, but it's (as I said) a stain of inherited mortality and death. One of the foremost Orthodox theologians comments...
John Meyendorff: There is indeed a consensus in Greek patristic and Byzantine traditions in identifying the inheritance of the Fall as an inheritance essentially of mortality rather than of sinfulness, sinfulness being merely a consequence of mortality. The idea appears in Chrysostom, who specifically denies the imputation of sin to the descendants of Adam; in the eleventh-century commentator Theophylact of Ohrida; and in later Byzantine authors, particularly Gregory Palamas. John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 145.
Here are a few more quotes that tend to give one an understanding of how the Orthodox view soteriology and sin...
Meyendorff: Byzantine theology did not produce any significant elaboration of the Pauline doctrine of justification expressed in Romans and Galatians. The Greek patristic commentaries on such passages as Galatians 3:13 ("œChrist redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us") generally interpret the idea of redemption by substitution in the wider context of victory over death and of satisfaction. They never develop the idea in the direction of an Anselmian theory of "œsatisfaction." John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 160.

Meyendorff: In the east, the cross is envisaged not so much as the punishment of the just one, which "œsatisfies" a transcendent justice requiring retribution for man's sins. John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 161.

Meyendorff: The point was not to satisfy a legal requirement, but to vanquish the frightful cosmic reality of death, which held humanity under its usurped control and pushed it into a vicious circle of sin and corruption. John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 161.

Meyendorff: Just as original sin did not consist in an inherited guilt, so redemption was not primarily a justification, but a victory over death. John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 161.
The orthodox view the Reformed, and indeed all of western Christendom, as having gone astray with an over-emphasized Augustinian view of original sin and an Anselmian view of the Atonement.

On another note, the Eastern Orthodox differ from Romanism in their recognition that the Roman concept of the papacy (i.e., papal primacy) was never held by the ancient, Eastern (Greek, Syriac) ECFs. Unlike Romanism, they have been more careful not to dogmatize everything from A to Z. But they do believe in the infallibility of the church, although such infallibility is not necessarily lodged in the teaching office of the church as Rome views it.

Blessings,
DTK
 

Peter

Puritan Board Junior
Ironically, the iconoclasts were from helenistic christendom which would later become the icon worshipping E.O.C.
 

rgrove

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by Mayflower
Is anyone familiar with the teaching/doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church ? In how far is the teaching the same or in far is it different as the Roman Catholic theology ?
I had an Anglican friend looking seriously at becoming Orthodox in the beginning of the year so I read quite a bit on it. There are many surface level similarities, but ultimately it's very different in many ways. Since I was raised in the RCC I had to try to disassociate myself from that past and study them as they define themselves. They frequently use the same words as the RCC, but the meanings are different. They ultimately see the RCC and Protestantism as different sides to the same coin. Be prepared for a lot of mystic thinking, lack of definition and precision in vocabulary, etc.

Are there some great theologions of the past or today whom are worthy to read from the Eastern Orthodox Church ?
Depends on your purpose. If you want to have read widely in all groups who call themselves Christian, even if you may not believe them to be Christian, then yes. If you're after learning good theology, then don't bother.

My favorite bookstore to go to when I ordered all of the books I ended up reading (a lot more than this) is "St. Vladimir Seminary Press". I got a lot of books from there and will be happy to answer any questions about some of their selection if I researched it. The ones I gave above were just for introduction.

Theologians that are important to read for them are Chrysostom, the Cappadocian fathers especially, Pseudo-Dionysius, Gregory Palamas, Maximus Confessor, etc. Knowledge of Plato is good too.

The best book I've read on EO has already been quoted by DT:
"Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes" by John Meyendorff

Then read a popular book (this would be an EO version of Bunyan's book) following an EO pilgrim. Very helpful in seeing how they view things:
"Way of the Pilgrim"

This book was helpful to me as well:
"Counterpoints: Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism" - Michael Horton is one of the contributors

This one is by one of the most popular EO writers today:
"The Orthodox Way" by Bishop Kallistos Ware (Eastern Orthodox Bishop)

And then there is one you see a lot at Christian bookstores that's okay, but easier on them than I am (he's Methodist, which should say a good bit...)
"Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective" by Daniel B. Clendenin

I don't know much about the Eastern Orthodox Church, and so i did not put under topic of Cults & World Religions , because i don't know in how far the teaching is false or biblical ?


Manifestly unbiblical if you ask me. Their view of sin has already been addressed in this thread. Their view of salvation is the doctrine of deification, or "theosis" as they call it from the Greek.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
The quote below is from an Eastern Orthodox service book and is the formula for an adherent to a Reformed confession to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. Indicates what they see as most defective with Reformed theology.

The Bishop questioneth the convert from the Reformed Confession after this wise:

Dost thou renounce the false doctrine that, for the expression of the dogma touching the Procession of the Holy Spirit, the declaration of our Saviour Christ himself: "who proceedeth from the Father": doth not suffice; and that the addition, of man's invention: "and from the Son": is required?

Dost thou renounce the false doctrine, that the predestination of men to their salvation, or their rejection, is not in accordance with the Divine foreknowledge of the faith and good works of the former, or of the unbelief and evils deeds of the latter; but in accordance with some arbitrary destiny, by reason of which faith and virtue are robbed of their merit, and God is held accountable for the perdition of sinners?

Dost thou renounce the erroneous belief that in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist the bread and wine are not transmuted into the Body and Blood of Christ, and are merely emblems of the Body and Blood of Christ?

Dost thou renounce the erroneous belief of the Reformed teachers, who reject five Sacraments: Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, Anointing with Oil, and the Priesthood itself, which administereth the other Sacraments, and presume to administer Baptism and the Eucharist, never having received, through the laying-on of hands by a Bishop, that Ordination which hath been transmitted from one to another, even from the holy Apostles?

Dost thou renounce the erroneous belief of the Reformed teachers who receive not the traditions of the Holy Church, reverence not the Saints, and deprive the dead of spiritual aid, and the living of consolation, in that they reject prayers for the dead?
 

Puritanhead

Puritan Board Professor
Daniel B. Clendenin has written two books on Orthodoxy from a Protestant perspective for outsiders.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective by Daniel B. Clendenin

Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Contemporary Reader by Daniel B. Clendenin
 
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