General church history/theology question (Eastern Orthodoxy)

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Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
I have been interacting with Eastern Orthodox friends and this has led me to focus on certain doctrinal and historical points in Christianity. Following, I will post some points, some ideas and then questions. If you guys could jump in and give me your input I would greatly appreciate it.

1) The Church and the bible. This one pertains to church history and the fact that there was not a set canon until a later time in church history. In my discussions, the Orthodox will point out that the bible as we have it today was not yet around for the formative years of the church. Because of this, they will claim that it was the church, through the guidance of the holy spirit, that had authority and kept things together. Essentially, what the Orthodox are trying to get at here is that Protestantism and Sola Scriptura was not even a viable option if one wanted. My thoughts on this are as follows. Although the bible, old and new testament, were not yet canonized, the church was never without holy writ. I realize that very early on only the old testament was available, but I think this was enough given the fact that the witnesses to Jesus' ministry were still around to expound the old testament. Over time, what we now call the new testament followed. However, I must confess that it seems odd the apostles did not write earlier than they did. My question here would be, what is the Reformed response to this part of church history where people were gathering more for the eucharist than hearing God's word (as the Orthodox would say)? The Orthodox see sitting in the pew and listening to a sermon bizarre, compared to the liturgy experienced in their service. They say that the Protestant service is a later development in church history and they have a more historical one. Even more, they say that the Protestant idea was not even possible because the bible was not yet canonized, and who is to say what scripture was? (This is all to show that the early church looked more Orthodox than it did Protestant).

2) Church authority. Because of what I mentioned in my first point, my friends will say that it was not the Protestant vision of a church being informed by the word that operated in the early decades and centuries of the church. Rather, it was the authority of the church, under the guidance of the holy spirit that was operative. Because the promise of the guidance of the holy spirit, the church was "the pillar and ground of the truth." On this understanding, there is no emphasis on church visible/church invisible distinction. Instead, it is understood that there was always a visible church on earth that had the truth. The liturgy is always being performed in some visible place on earth, and at the very least we must say that Christ is there. From the Orthodox perspective, they would hold that they are that church, to the exclusion of the Roman Catholic, and "their Reformed descendants." What is the Reformed response to the Orthodox claims of being the true church found by Jesus and the apostles?

3) Trinity. The Eastern Orthodox have never allowed for the filioque insertion into the creed. There are different conceptions on the Trinity. Whereas in the West, following Augustine perhaps, we tend to start with the unity of God, the divine essence, in the East they start with the persons of the Trinity. The Orthodox view the more Western development as essentially leading to modalism, or some other deficient view of the Trinity. Instead, they claim it is correct to start with the persons and place emphasis on the Monarchy of the Father and the begetting and procession of the others to arrive at their divinity. Is the Eastern view in peril in any way. Is there something deficient on their persons>monarchy,begetting,procession view as opposed to the divine essence>persons view? I do see a bigger danger in the West with the emphasis on the simplicity of God that has led many to a modalist view. However, I do also see a subordinationist type tendency in the East.

4) Trinity, two. Essence/energies distinction vs. incommunicable/communicable attributes. In Orthodoxy, following pseudo Dionysius and Gregory Palamas, they maintain the former distinction, and the Reformed the latter. What is problematic of the Orthodox view here, and why is the Reformed better?

5) Salvation paradigm. The Orthodox make mention that the satisfcation and, even more so, the penal substitionary atonement view is a later development. The first thousand years of the church operated on more theosis, deification understanding of salvation. The Orthodox see the "developments" in the West as a result of Latin and judicial understanding of Christianity. In the East, on the other hand, they view the atonement in more "healing" terms. Jesus was necessary for the atonement, not so much for the wrath of the Father to be poured out on his Son, but rather for the God-man to bring humanity back to the divine. For this reason, the Eucharist is important, because it is through the elements and the life of the church that we partake in the divine. In my brief study of church history and the theories of the atonement, I do find the Reformed and general Protestant view to have weaker patristic and early church support. Also, in reading the new testament, I do find myself reading with "Protestant judicial" glasses on. In being charitable I have found that I can read from a theosis informed perspective. At the same time, I do have a harder time doing the latter. Maybe this is Reformed/Protestant influence, or perhaps, that is what the bible explicitly and implicitly teaches. Anyhow, what can be said about this?

I will probably add more later, but this is it for now. I do realize this is a long-winded post, but I had a lot to say. I just ask for the responses to actually engage what I wrote instead of just brushing things off with anti-Catholic rhetoric, as is often the case in the non-Orthodox vs. Orthodox polemics. I had to say this because some of the arguments leveled against Roman Catholicism does not have the same effect against Orthodoxy.
 

Leslie

Puritan Board Junior
In the NT the meeting of the saints was on the model of the synagogue. Jesus went there. Paul went there. They spoke and reasoned from the Word of God. The OT scriptures were known and respected as authoritative. Until the last evening of Jesus' life there was no eucharist at all. God prepared His people for the church, culturally, by instituting the synagogue system which came with the destruction of the first temple and the exile. It continued in the rural areas after Herod's temple was built and continues until this day, similar in form to Protestant meetings.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
The Church and the bible. This one pertains to church history and the fact that there was not a set canon until a later time in church history.

It depends on what one means by this. If you mean that no church council took a position until the 16th century, then yes. If, though, one means that there was no recognized group of apostolic writings which were taken to be inspired, then of of course not. If one reads how the apostolic fathers made use of the New Testament (as well as the old) the only conclusion is that they viewed these writings as authoritative.

As for liturgy, one has merely to read the homilies of the church fathers to get rid of the notion that the word was not as essential to the early church as the sacrament. The problem of modern protestantism is not too high a view of the word or even of the sacraments, but a downplaying of both and an overly-exalted view of the worship team.


Church authority. Because of what I mentioned in my first point, my friends will say that it was not the Protestant vision of a church being informed by the word that operated in the early decades and centuries of the church. Rather, it was the authority of the church, under the guidance of the holy spirit that was operative.

Why the dichotomy?

Trinity. The Eastern Orthodox have never allowed for the filioque insertion into the creed. There are different conceptions on the Trinity.

This is a quagmire all too easy to get drawn into. Suffice it to say that the objection is to the insertion, not necessarily to the theology as such. The EO (from my understanding) have no problem with holding this position, merely with making it the rule of faith. It was inserted into the creed in the west in the 7th or 8th century to combat specific errors which I cannot recall at the moment.

Trinity, two. Essence/energies distinction vs. incommunicable/communicable attributes. In Orthodoxy, following pseudo Dionysius and Gregory Palamas, they maintain the former distinction, and the Reformed the latter. What is problematic of the Orthodox view here, and why is the Reformed better?

Some of that may be a semantic difference. We can also speak of the immanent and the economic trinity. I wouldn't get too hung up on this one.

Salvation paradigm. The Orthodox make mention that the satisfcation and, even more so, the penal substitionary atonement view is a later development. The first thousand years of the church operated on more theosis, deification understanding of salvation. The Orthodox see the "developments" in the West as a result of Latin and judicial understanding of Christianity.

Have they read the Old Testament? The ancient Jewish view of things was far more legal than many (particularly the hipster-theologian crowd) would like to admit. Even in the church fathers (particularly Athanasius) we have the courtroom paradigm present (though not well-developed) such that we can draw a line from Athanasius to Augustine to Anselm, to Thomas Aquinas, and then to Luther and Calvin. However, don't make this argument without adequate research and the ability to quote from the fathers on the point. Also consider defending Anselmian substitution first and then moving toward penal substitution.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
1) The Church and the bible. This one pertains to church history and the fact that there was not a set canon until a later time in church history. In my discussions, the Orthodox will point out that the bible as we have it today was not yet around for the formative years of the church. Because of this, they will claim that it was the church, through the guidance of the holy spirit, that had authority and kept things together.

And ask them how they know the church had that authority? Any answer they give will be circular reasoning. They usually defend the Bible by teh witness of the Fathers and teh Fathers by the witness of Scripture.


My question here would be, what is the Reformed response to this part of church history where people were gathering more for the eucharist than hearing God's word (as the Orthodox would say)? The Orthodox see sitting in the pew and listening to a sermon bizarre, compared to the liturgy experienced in their service. They say that the Protestant service is a later development in church history and they have a more historical one. Even more, they say that the Protestant idea was not even possible because the bible was not yet canonized, and who is to say what scripture was? (This is all to show that the early church looked more Orthodox than it did Protestant).

Even in Ignatius' epistles, the president of the Eucharist was not necessarily the same thing as what they mean by "bishop" today. Secondly, the sermons of Chrysostom and Nazianzus are well over an hour long!

2) Church authority. Because of what I mentioned in my first point, my friends will say that it was not the Protestant vision of a church being informed by the word that operated in the early decades and centuries of the church. Rather, it was the authority of the church, under the guidance of the holy spirit that was operative. Because the promise of the guidance of the holy spirit, the church was "the pillar and ground of the truth." On this understanding, there is no emphasis on church visible/church invisible distinction. Instead, it is understood that there was always a visible church on earth that had the truth. The liturgy is always being performed in some visible place on earth, and at the very least we must say that Christ is there. From the Orthodox perspective, they would hold that they are that church, to the exclusion of the Roman Catholic, and "their Reformed descendants." What is the Reformed response to the Orthodox claims of being the true church found by Jesus and the apostles?

If they can appeal to the Holy Spirit "as making things right" then why can't anyone else? If they claim from the Bible, then that must mean the Bible is authoritative. Even worse, ask them why the True Orthodox are considered schismatics and by what standard? Why can't the True Orthodox view be the normative one and they be the schismatics? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

3) Trinity. The Eastern Orthodox have never allowed for the filioque insertion into the creed. There are different conceptions on the Trinity. Whereas in the West, following Augustine perhaps, we tend to start with the unity of God, the divine essence, in the East they start with the persons of the Trinity. The Orthodox view the more Western development as essentially leading to modalism, or some other deficient view of the Trinity. Instead, they claim it is correct to start with the persons and place emphasis on the Monarchy of the Father and the begetting and procession of the others to arrive at their divinity. Is the Eastern view in peril in any way. Is there something deficient on their persons>monarchy,begetting,procession view as opposed to the divine essence>persons view? I do see a bigger danger in the West with the emphasis on the simplicity of God that has led many to a modalist view. However, I do also see a subordinationist type tendency in the East.

Admittedly, we have done a TERRIBLE job on the Filioque. It should shame us that one of the most thorough defenses of the Filioque is by Karl Barth. I cringe and cry when I read modern Evangelical theologians express confusion over why this is a big deal. The monarchia of the Father is by no means an Eastern prerogative. Even Augustine held to it. Further, it's not entirely clear what Nazianzus meant by "monarchia." Further, a lot of Eastern fathers even held to something like the Filioque (I got yelled at for giving this evidence).

4) Trinity, two. Essence/energies distinction vs. incommunicable/communicable attributes. In Orthodoxy, following pseudo Dionysius and Gregory Palamas, they maintain the former distinction, and the Reformed the latter. What is problematic of the Orthodox view here, and why is the Reformed better?

Ps-Dionysius is actually the pagan philosopher Damasus (or Damascius). Emperor Justintinian shut down his academy and Damascius responded by pretending to be St Paul's traveling companion writing advanced neo-Platonic treatises. The essence/energies view is the same neo-Platonism is purports to reject. According to David Bradshaw, the energies pertain to the economia and creation. But the energies are also fully God and God is eternal. This means either creation must be eternal or the energy of creating must be eternal. Starting to sound a lot like Origen.

5) Salvation paradigm. The Orthodox make mention that the satisfcation and, even more so, the penal substitionary atonement view is a later development. The first thousand years of the church operated on more theosis, deification understanding of salvation. The Orthodox see the "developments" in the West as a result of Latin and judicial understanding of Christianity. In the East, on the other hand, they view the atonement in more "healing" terms. Jesus was necessary for the atonement, not so much for the wrath of the Father to be poured out on his Son, but rather for the God-man to bring humanity back to the divine. For this reason, the Eucharist is important, because it is through the elements and the life of the church that we partake in the divine. In my brief study of church history and the theories of the atonement, I do find the Reformed and general Protestant view to have weaker patristic and early church support. Also, in reading the new testament, I do find myself reading with "Protestant judicial" glasses on. In being charitable I have found that I can read from a theosis informed perspective. At the same time, I do have a harder time doing the latter. Maybe this is Reformed/Protestant influence, or perhaps, that is what the bible explicitly and implicitly teaches. Anyhow, what can be said about this?

Reformed people can adopt a form of theosis under union with Christ. We also have a juridical model for the atonement. This is just all over the text. Ask them specifically about Joseph P. Farrell (the reactions are funny). He was the finest Orthodox apologist ever, but he saw judicial Calvinism all over the Old Testament and abandoned Christianity partly for that reason.

I've blogged extensively on this topic here. I wrestled with EO for four or five years. I read most of the Church Fathers. I even had EO guys contacting me for my articles on the Trinity and Orthodox Russia (still have them asking; I just forgot the password to that blog).

Also, EO like to say how their church takes the unified teaching of the Fathers (Patrum Consensus). I watched a Messianic Jew debate these guys on that point and it was awesome.
 
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a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
For point 5: see the epistle to Diognetus, chapter 9:

But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

I am not familiar enough with the church fathers to know where else to refer you, but I can't imagine this is an isolated incident: it occurs so naturally in the course of this early epistle.

I was wondering this morning if the 'relief' some people experience over dropping a substitutionary paradigm is that it may take some of that very personal appropriation of Christ (spoken of in a recent quote Rev. Winzer posted, but in a different context) in salvation out of the equation? I wonder if it easier to 'fall under an umbrella' than come to grips with a personal transaction. I wonder if the much too inward/subjective focus in matters of assurance in many Protestant circles plays into that. Perhaps speaking about your own comfort in the substitutionary aspect of the atonement, and the way it points you away from your own heart and to Christ, would be at least as important as intellectual arguments, and something that would be remembered even if you don't seem to make an impact now?

I am having trouble understanding point 1, regarding the lack of preaching in the early church. All that we know of the ministry of Christ himself, the apostles, and the early church fathers suggests that the church gathered to hear preaching, exposition of the Old Testament, and went and searched out the veracity of those things that they had heard (cf the Bereans)? However, on the Old Testament Canon, I remember Alfred Edersheim making some good points (if I am remembering correctly) in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. I don't know if points on the OT canon would be helpful to you, but if so, I can try to relocate them.

Also -- I hope it is all right to say (just as a very small sister in Christ) that I think it is important to be aware that it is much easier to sow doubt than faith. Faith is a work of the Holy Spirit: you aren't going to be able to accomplish it in their hearts, no matter how superior your arguments. Doubt is easy, natural to us, and it will be much easier for them to cause you to doubt. It's not that engagement isn't a good thing; and I am very grateful for those who are strengthened to do it. Yet there may be a time to step away and simply pray that the Lord will work in their hearts, and strengthen your own heart in the truth. For me, the bottom line is that a reception of these doctrines would detract from the sufficiency of Christ, and I have simply no other hope -- certainly not the too often sinful, worldly, misguided (but oh so eternally beloved) church.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Admittedly, we have done a TERRIBLE job on the Filioque. It should shame us that one of the most thorough defenses of the Filioque is by Karl Barth.

I would agree with you there. Barth convinced me of its importance and the only reason that I didn't mention it in my earlier post is that I try to be careful who I recommend him to. He's only for the historically and confessionally grounded.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
It depends on what one means by this. If you mean that no church council took a position until the 16th century, then yes. If, though, one means that there was no recognized group of apostolic writings which were taken to be inspired, then of of course not. If one reads how the apostolic fathers made use of the New Testament (as well as the old) the only conclusion is that they viewed these writings as authoritative.

As for liturgy, one has merely to read the homilies of the church fathers to get rid of the notion that the word was not as essential to the early church as the sacrament. The problem of modern protestantism is not too high a view of the word or even of the sacraments, but a downplaying of both and an overly-exalted view of the worship team.

One fellow I talked with said that not even the Jewish scriptures were set until after the formative years of the early church. What strikes me is the fact that Jesus and the apostles quoted from the old testament, taking them as authoritative. So regardless of even the old testament being canonized, they were taken as authority. However, the question comes to who determines what is authoritative. My Orthodox friends are quick to point out that it is the church that recognizes what is canonical. The Reformed position, as I understand it, is that over time, God's people have come to recognize, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, what is canonical and what is not. It did not take the church to do that. The issue here for the Orthodox, as they see it is that this leaves things open for anybody to essentially come up with their own canon, taking or adding from the scripture as they see fit.

Have they read the Old Testament? The ancient Jewish view of things was far more legal than many (particularly the hipster-theologian crowd) would like to admit. Even in the church fathers (particularly Athanasius) we have the courtroom paradigm present (though not well-developed) such that we can draw a line from Athanasius to Augustine to Anselm, to Thomas Aquinas, and then to Luther and Calvin. However, don't make this argument without adequate research and the ability to quote from the fathers on the point. Also consider defending Anselmian substitution first and then moving toward penal substitution.

This is what I keep falling back on (ot/ancient Judaism being more judicial). Some in the West may have excluded some of the non-legal understanding of religion (I find this somewhat in the Lutheran tradition, where there are some differences when it comes to talk of "works"). But the Reformed position appears reasonably balanced in that it maintains a robust legal understanding combined with Union with Christ. For me that couples both sides very neatly.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
Admittedly, we have done a TERRIBLE job on the Filioque. It should shame us that one of the most thorough defenses of the Filioque is by Karl Barth. I cringe and cry when I read modern Evangelical theologians express confusion over why this is a big deal. The monarchia of the Father is by no means an Eastern prerogative. Even Augustine held to it. Further, it's not entirely clear what Nazianzus meant by "monarchia." Further, a lot of Eastern fathers even held to something like the Filioque (I got yelled at for giving this evidence).

Reformed people can adopt a form of theosis under union with Christ. We also have a juridical model for the atonement. This is just all over the text. Ask them specifically about Joseph P. Farrell (the reactions are funny). He was the finest Orthodox apologist ever, but he saw judicial Calvinism all over the Old Testament and abandoned Christianity partly for that reason.

I've blogged extensively on this topic here. I wrestled with EO for four or five years. I read most of the Church Fathers. I even had EO guys contacting me for my articles on the Trinity and Orthodox Russia (still have them asking; I just forgot the password to that blog).

Also, EO like to say how their church takes the unified teaching of the Fathers (Patrum Consensus). I watched a Messianic Jew debate these guys on that point and it was awesome.

I'll check out the links. Thanks for the input!
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
Admittedly, we have done a TERRIBLE job on the Filioque. It should shame us that one of the most thorough defenses of the Filioque is by Karl Barth.

I would agree with you there. Barth convinced me of its importance and the only reason that I didn't mention it in my earlier post is that I try to be careful who I recommend him to. He's only for the historically and confessionally grounded.

At risk of somewhat derailing the OP, could you expand a little more?
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
At risk of somewhat derailing the OP, could you expand a little more?

Barth argues that since the Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, it is essential that we understand him as revealing the Son and therefore proceeding from the Son. Christ sends the Spirit, therefore the Spirit is understood as the Spirit of Christ, not merely the Spirit of the Father.

Here I'll quote from my paper on the subject:

"If the Spirit is not the Spirit of Christ, then how can Christ be said to be in our midst? How can Scripture be Scripture? Barth points out that this doctrine, far from being an irrelevant bit of sophistry, a grammatical holdover from meaningless quibbling of the early fathers, is actually a very important one that helps us in our understanding of how we know God."

Barth's mistake is in not taking this understanding far enough to include Scriptural inerrancy.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
I might jump in more later (we have quite a vocal EO crowd here in Wichita as well and I've spent a fair bit of time interacting with them) but for now I would recommend two works that are helpful in that they specifically (and non-dismissively as you mentioned) interact with the Eastern Orthodox position. Michael Horton and Keith Mathison both do a good job of this; Horton with his systematic theology (obviously covering more than just EO but unlike most systematics he includes them in the discussion where others are silent and has some interesting things to say about the essence/energies distinction). Mathison's work on Sola Scripture The Shape of Sola Scriptura: Keith A. Mathison: 9781885767745: Amazon.com: Books also specifically engages the EO position on the issue of canon and authority. I'd also imagine that Michael Kruger's work on the canon would be helpful. :2cents:
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
At risk of somewhat derailing the OP, could you expand a little more?

Barth argues that since the Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, it is essential that we understand him as revealing the Son and therefore proceeding from the Son. Christ sends the Spirit, therefore the Spirit is understood as the Spirit of Christ, not merely the Spirit of the Father.

Here I'll quote from my paper on the subject:

"If the Spirit is not the Spirit of Christ, then how can Christ be said to be in our midst? How can Scripture be Scripture? Barth points out that this doctrine, far from being an irrelevant bit of sophistry, a grammatical holdover from meaningless quibbling of the early fathers, is actually a very important one that helps us in our understanding of how we know God."

Barth's mistake is in not taking this understanding far enough to include Scriptural inerrancy.

Could you PM me your paper on this? I would love to read it.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
At risk of somewhat derailing the OP, could you expand a little more?

Barth argues that since the Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, it is essential that we understand him as revealing the Son and therefore proceeding from the Son. Christ sends the Spirit, therefore the Spirit is understood as the Spirit of Christ, not merely the Spirit of the Father.

Here I'll quote from my paper on the subject:

"If the Spirit is not the Spirit of Christ, then how can Christ be said to be in our midst? How can Scripture be Scripture? Barth points out that this doctrine, far from being an irrelevant bit of sophistry, a grammatical holdover from meaningless quibbling of the early fathers, is actually a very important one that helps us in our understanding of how we know God."

Barth's mistake is in not taking this understanding far enough to include Scriptural inerrancy.

Could you PM me your paper on this? I would love to read it.

Ditto
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
At risk of somewhat derailing the OP, could you expand a little more?

Barth argues that since the Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, it is essential that we understand him as revealing the Son and therefore proceeding from the Son. Christ sends the Spirit, therefore the Spirit is understood as the Spirit of Christ, not merely the Spirit of the Father.

Here I'll quote from my paper on the subject:

"If the Spirit is not the Spirit of Christ, then how can Christ be said to be in our midst? How can Scripture be Scripture? Barth points out that this doctrine, far from being an irrelevant bit of sophistry, a grammatical holdover from meaningless quibbling of the early fathers, is actually a very important one that helps us in our understanding of how we know God."

Barth's mistake is in not taking this understanding far enough to include Scriptural inerrancy.

Very good! This actually interests me. Could you guide me to some resources that deal with this at more length.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Robert Letham has a section on it, as I recall, in his work on the trinity. I could also recommend just reading the relevant sections in Barth (with appropriate caveats).
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Robert Letham has a section on it, as I recall, in his work on the trinity. I could also recommend just reading the relevant sections in Barth (with appropriate caveats).

Letham actually praises Barth and defends him (succesfully, I think) from the charge of modalism. Letham's work is okay, though he really doesn't come down on a point. Further, I am not convinced that the East/West paradigm as a strict person/nature correspondence as he makes it out to be. Fewer scholars today are following De Regnon's paradigm. Letham's criticisms of Basil and Palamas are fine as far as they go, but he he doesn't deliver the ultimate one against Palamas.
 
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