Father Ted on the Holy Scriptures

Before reading about my journey through the the Holy Scriptures into the Orthodox Christian Church,              I highly recommend that you read all or at least some of these essays by Father Theodore Bobosh concerning the nature of the Word, in Person and in written form, their depth, and our understanding and practice of them in the context of the Body of Christ, according to the spiritual maturity and calling of each member. Fr. Ted is the Rector of St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church, Dayton, Ohio. 
Here is the Parish Church website: http://www.stpdayton.org/index.htm

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Jesus Christ, The Word of God, and the Scriptures:

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/jesus-christ-the-word-of-god-and-scriptures/

Scriptures: The Written Word of God:

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/scriptures-the-written-word-of-god/

Textual Variations:

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/textual-variations/

Hidden Meanings:

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/hidden-meanings/

Interpreting the Scripture (I):

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/interpreting-the-scripture-i/

Interpreting the Scriptures (II):

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/interpreting-the-scripture-ii/

Interpreting the Scripture (III):

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/interpreting-the-scripture-iii/

The Old and The New Covenants:

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/the-old-and-the-new-covenants/

Christ in the Old Testament:

https://frted.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/christ-in-the-old-testament/

Reading the Word of God, Becoming Scripture

The Living Word, Not Literalism

Literalism: The Word of God vs. the Scriptures

The Mystery of Christ: The Word of God Found in the Scriptures

 

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(1) Introduction; Baptism and the Church

For six years after my mother, who was Lutheran, died, I pondered the matter of salvation in Christ. At the time I was a Protestant, having become a Mennonite when I married my wife, who grew up in the Mennonite Church. But really I had for many years been settled into the conservative Protestant evangelical mindset, after my four year foray into a zealous but abusive offshoot of the Jesus Movement, the COBU (another story; see The Depths). For this mindset, Lutheranism is suspect for practicing infant baptism. Were they born again, a conservative evangelical wonders?

But Lutherans certainly believed in Christ, didn’t they? Wasn’t salvation by faith alone? This is a cardinal tenet of the Protestant Christian faith. Is “faith” simply faith or the dynamic result of a decisive, transformative adult decision as so many believed? I mused on this matter long and hard, and the answer, I felt, required a scrutiny of the very foundations of how the Holy Scriptures could be decisively interpreted.

My year at what is now Columbia International University in South Carolina in 1988-89 provided two insights that would later prove helpful.

Insight 1. In one class, there was a debate between a proponent of adults only baptism and another who held that infant baptism was also scripturally justifiable. I was sceptical of this latter claim, but he did bring forth scriptures in defense of the position. These are the three scriptures I remember:

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of God.” (St. Matthew 18:14)

Could this not apply to baptism? Could it possibly be that a little child- even an infant- receives power and illumination in baptism that will help him apprehend and live the Christian faith as he matures?

The prisonkeeper of the Apostles Paul and Silas asked,

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household. Then they spike the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he tool them  the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.  (Acts 16:30-33)

Could Christian identity indeed be a family affair, in which the young learn by watching the adults, rather than by learning Christian propositions, the depths of which require experiential knowledge?

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of th sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in Baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Old Testament circumcision is presented here as a type of New Testament baptism, which succeeded it. In Israel, circumcision was done in infancy; so why not baptize infants in the Church?

Later, it also occured to me that the unborn St. John the Baptist leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when he drew near the unborn Jesus and the Theotokos (Mary, the God-bearer). Here was a spiritual response occurring even before birth! Spiritual life and growth can begin very early!

See Infant Baptism: What the Church Teaches, by Fr. John Hainsworth, for an Orthodox Christian teaching on the subject: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16904 

Also, Entering God’s Kingdom, by Fr. Peter Gilquist: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16962 

Insight 2. The second insight I gained from Columbia is that a Christian mission will be successful only if a Church is planted. Individual decisions for Christ, without the Church, will mostly come to naught, they found. The Church is  crucial to Christianity. See Finding the New Testament Church, by Fr. John Braun: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16918 

“Scriptures taken from the New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.”

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The Church is crucial to evangelistic efforts (6 witnesses)

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. St. John 15:16

Protestant Evangelicals who are serious about effective evangelism recognize that the Church is crucial to their efforts. Here is an essay by a Protestant Christian from the New Hope International Church in regard to this: The Importance of Church Planting in World Evangelization . Their focus is the planting of local churches. But there is no consideration of how and by what means these local churches were connected as the Church.

I would like to introduce you to five who asked these questions as well. Fathers John Braun, Peter Gillquist, and Gordon Walker, as well as Fathers Richard Ballew and Jack Sparks of eternal memory, were very zealous leaders with Campus Crusade, a Protestant Evangelical organization which focused on evangelism and discipleship at institutions of higher learning. They saw many young people make decisions for Christ, but later drift off from Christ. It dawned on them that the crucial missing element in their efforts was involvement in Church. And so they began to explore the question. In 1987 they, along with about 2000 others, were chrismated into the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

How they got there is chronicled in Father Peter Gillquist’s book, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, which is featured on the website Exploring Orthodoxy along with a four part video account of their journey (approximately 24 minutes  long): http://exploringorthodoxy.blogspot.com/2010/12/becoming-orthodox-by-peter-e-gillquist.html 

Also, From Arrowhead Springs to Antioch: Oddysey to Orthodoxy, by Frs. Peter Gillquist and Gordon Walker, from Journey to Orthodoxy: http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2010/05/02/arrowhead-springs-to-antioch-odyssey-to-orthodoxy/#axzz1DVhi485R

A Parish which made this journey: http://www.stathanasius.org/site/content/38 

Just a sampling of their contributions attesting to the reality that the Church is central to life in Christ in this world:

Fr. Jon Braun: Finding the New Testament Church   http://www.antiochian.org/node/16918 

Fr. Peter Gillquist: Entering God’s Kingdom http://www.antiochian.org/node/16962 

Fr. Richard BallewHeavenly Worship http://www.protomartyr.org/heaven.html

Fr. Gordon Walker: (in regard to the Orthodox Church in Indonesia) http://www.antiochian.org/node/24529 

Fr. Jack Sparks: from the weblog Khanya, Ministry to Street People and Hippies http://khanya.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/ministry-to-street-people-and-hippies/ 

a Virtual Memorial of Fr. Jack (with an audio interview about him with Father Peter Gillquist, including a picture of all five of these spiritual Fathers- from left to right, Frs. Gordon, Peter, John, Jack, and Richard): http://www.virtual-memorials.com/main.php?action=view&mem_id=18884&page_no=2 

“Scriptures taken from the New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.”  http://www.biblegateway.com/

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(2) Salvation by Faith (what Faith entails)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

As an evangelical Protestant I emphasized the first two verses, which focuses on what I would have considered the main thing. Does it say “faith alone?” One could contend these verses imply this, especially as they include the phrase, “it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It is clear that we are saved by faith. But genuine faith entails a life of good works, as we are His workmanship. A “faith alone” stance does not take into account this unbreakable connection.

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing. (St. John 15:5)

Later in this discourse Jesus speaks of keeping commandments, sacrificial love, and bearing fruit. But the passage above reinforces that we are saved by faith, by abiding (a continual reliance and trust) in Christ. Without this, we can do nothing good. The word “abide” connotes much more than mere intellectual assent to propositions. And the verses that follow presuppose obedience, acts of sacrifice, the fruits of the Spirit: faith followed by works, and not faith alone.

In his struggle against the circumcision party, St. Paul writes,

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

The kind of “works salvation” St. Paul was contending against was this very circumcision party which dogged his steps and sought to keep converts in the Pharisaic Jewish way of thinking and doing things. In this verse I found that faith works. Faith works through love. Again. this is not assent to propositions but a living, striving disposition toward God and those made in His image. “Alone” is not an apt descriptor of this disposition. Faith impels one to loving action.

But he who endures to the end will be saved. (St. Matthew 24:13)

Saving faith is a faith that endures to the end, through everything the enemy of our souls (as God allows) throws at us. Assurance of salvation based on a confession of faith is comforting to many, but I find scriptures which clearly confute this. (See also 2 Peter 2:20-22) Saving faith endures. It prays and keeps on praying; it hopes against hope. We are warned not to falter, not to let our seed of faith be received in a shallow way but make sure it becomes well rooted in us, and that weeds (distractions) do not choke it. (Christ’s parable of the sower and the seed)

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His vioice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:28-29)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

We’re not saved by works, but by faith. But genuine faith brings forth good fruit. I can no longer affirm that we are saved by faith alone because I have found so much in the Holy Scriptures which makes it clear that faith abides and endures in perservering trust in Christ, works through love, and brings forth good fruit. Perhaps in historic Protestant polemics with the Roman Catholics and their conception of faith and works, the Protestant reformers had a rationale for the extra-Scriptural addition of alone. But in the entire scheme of God’s economy, it’s simply misleading.

See also Faith Alone and Faith and Works in the Scriptures: An Orthodox Christian Approach              http://www.stpaulsirvine.org/pdf/Faith%20Alone%20and%20Faith%20and%20Works.pdf 

“Scriptures taken from the New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.”

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saved by faith through grace

From the Prayer Manual of the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline, http://stphilipsprayerdiscipline.org/index.php , a ministry of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, http://www.antiochian.org/fellowship-of-st-john , of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America http://www.antiochian.org/ :

A Prayer from a hymn by St. Symeon the New Theologian:

My most merciful and all-merciful God, Lord Jesus Christ, through thy great love thou didst come down and take flesh to save all. And again, O Savior, save me by thy grace, I pray thee, for if thou shouldst save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift, but rather a duty. Indeed, in thine infinite compassion and unspeakable mercy, thou, O my Christ, hast said: Whoever believes in me shall live and never see death. If faith in the saves the desperate, save me, for thou art my God and creator. Impute my faith instead of deeds, O my God, for thou wilt find no deeds which could justify me, but may my faith suffice for all my deeds. May it answer for and acquit me, and may it make me a partaker of thine eternal glory.  And may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that he has torn me from thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior, whether I will or not, save me. Make haste, quick, quick, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant me, O Lord, to love thee now as once I loved sin and also to work for thee without idleness, as I worked before for deceptive Satan. But supremely shall I work for thee, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Orthodox Church names three of Her Saints theologians: St. John the  Apostle, St. Gregory of Nazanzius, a fourth century Archbishop whose five theological orations are considered the definitive homiletic exposition of the Nicene Christian faith, and St Symeon, a monastic elder who lived around the year 1000 A.D. who emphasized that a true encounter with God was the basis for salvation and theology.

“Saved by faith through grace” is familiar territory for Protestants, but Protestants understand these terms differently than Orthodox Christians. While there are substantial beliefs we hold in common, Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism have different teachings on salvation in Christ.

See Why I Cannot in Good Conscience Be a Protestant: http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2011/09/12/why-i-cannot-in-good-conscience-be-a-protestant/#axzz1XqbQ48C2

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(3) Salvation: Partaking in the Divine nature (Sharing in Christ’s Life) 2 Peter 1:4

For if when we enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10) 

St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is where the Protestant Reformation received much of its ammunition to protest the Roman Catholic view of salvation and its indulgences, with passages such as . . .

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith … .”  (Romans 3:23-25a)

Back in my Protestant days I once left a Church because the Sunday School superintendent minimized the centrality of the substitutionary atonement. The Protestant world understands it as central; the Reformers considered justification by faith by means of the substitutionary atonement  the keystone of the Faith.  

St. Paul was explaining the New Covenant in legal terminology, as his opponents were insisting on the continuance of Old Testament legal strictures. And while the force of these legal retorts by St. Paul indeed hold true, how so?  Consider these texts:

“. . . the law brings about wrath . . . .  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 4:15b, 5:9).

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

Does St. Paul really mean the wrath of the angry Father inflicted on His only begotten Son instead of us? The early Church father St. Gregory of Nazanzius taught that it is highly unworthy of God the Father to hold that the  crucifixion of Christ is an appeasement of His anger; He loves us. (St. John 3:16) The law served as a tutor to the people of God before Christ came; fear of the consequences of disobedience is but an initial stage, though one most of us hardheads need to experience for an extended period time! When one comes to understand the depths of God’s love in Christ, His adoption of us as His beloved children, one is motivated to press on in faith toward union with Him; the limits of the legal salvation metaphors become apparent.

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love
Him. For love casts out fear.”

And so I came to recognize that my faith is not in merely a legal transaction, but in the love of God the Father, in Christ, communicated to me through the Holy Spirit. The removal of the Law’s demand is just the first act in the great drama of my salvation. Protestant evangelicals use the phrase “personal relationship with Christ.” As long as this phrase doesn’t mean a merely individual relationship (just me and Jesus), it can serve as a basis for common ground with the Orthodox Christian understanding of  salvation as “life in Christ.” For we (together!) are “being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18) by His Life. 

 For more detailed explications of the Orthodox Christian understanding of these matters, see:

Orthodox “Justification by Faith”  http://www.orthodox-christianity.com/2013/11/chrysostom-on-justification/

The Cross in My Life, by His Grace Bishop Joseph http://www.antiochian.org/node/16716

The Orthodox View of Salvation Video, Steven Robinson http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/2011/02/orthodox-view-of-salvation-video.html

as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you many be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4) 

When I began to seriously explore the Orthodox Christian faith, I read a book, Salvation in Christ: A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue, by the late Father John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias. Augsberg, Minneapolis, 1992. I found myself favoring the Orthodox Christian chapters, and I thought, “Oh my, now I’m in trouble.” I realized that I would probably be making big changes in my life because of what I just read. 

I “rooted” for the Orthodox views of salvation because they were showing me what I was being saved for rather what I was simply being saved from: the consequences of sin (hell). I was discovering how I was on an amazing, endless journey into deeper and deeper participation in divine life, for Jesus came to share fully in our human predicament (without sinning Himself), a sharing that culminated in suffering and death and descent into hell, so that I could share in His divine life, and “ύξηθήτε είς σωτηρίαν” (Greek)  “grow up to salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2)  a journey of growth into Divine love (self-giving), joy, and peace that is endless. Orthodox Christians don’t see Jesus as simply taking our place, taking the punishment for us; rather, He, the only begotten Son, shares in our fallen predicament that we may share, together, in God’s Life as adopted children. We share in His sufferings, that we may also share in His glory.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  

. . . . And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 3:26-27, 4:6)

In the Orthodox Church this is alternately called, in English, ”deification,” or “theosis.” Though made in His image, we fell. We retain this image, but it is obscured; we no longer show forth His likeness. He came to restore us, that we may increasingly, throughout endless ages, or rather, His eternal, divine now, shine forth in His likeness. This restoration does involve suffering and  relinquishment, but the goal, the outcome, is eternal glory. This is what I am being saved for. What a journey!

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!  (2 Corinthians 9:15) 

See also  Spirituality: The Meaning of Theosis As the Goal of Christian Life by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald

 Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature, by Mark Shuttleworth http://www.antiochian.org/node/16916

Also pertinent in terms of the contrast between the view of fallen human nature between Western and Eastern Christianity (different diagnosis, different cure!): 

 Ancestral Versus Original Sin: Implications for Psychotherapy, by the Very Reverend Anthony Hughes, St. Mary Orthodox Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts  http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/2004-hughes-sin.php

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.

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forgiveness and deification

In our personal relationship with God, while our ultimate destiny is union with God- deification- the matter of forgiveness continues. As long as we are in this world we will soil our feet, and they will need to be washed.

Jesus gave us a prayer,  and central to the Lord’s Prayer is this petition:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

It is an adjustment for a person who has spent decades with a Protestant Christian view of the Faith to see deification as central, as the the ultimate goal of Christ’s saving work. The prophesy of Isaiah, chapter 53, the most prominent prophesy of Christ in the Old Testament (in my opinion) sounds very much focused on forgiveness. It shouts, “substitutionary atonement theory!” to the Western Christian mindset.

Yet a close reading will indicate a number of elements in this prophesy which go beyond the putting away of sin, and address wholeness, healing, (v. 5) and the dividing of the spoils, (v. 12) all of which point to “the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 1:3) which comprise the divine life which the deified in Christ enjoy.

An essay by a Protestant Christian, Fuller Seminary doctoral candidate Patrick Oden, entitled  Theosis East and West, is an effort to explain Theosis to Western Christians unfamiliar and perhaps a little suspicious of the term. He discusses differences between eastern and western understandings of salvation, which he sums up by the terms “communion” (East) and “justification” (West); he considers them complementary.  http://www.dualravens.com/fullerlife/theosis.htm   

Orthodox Christians see the differences (especially in regard to how “grace” and “justification” are understood in the West) as indicative of a misunderstanding by Western Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Letter of St. Jude 3b) Justification as it is understood in the West is not what Orthodox Christians understand it to be. A short Orthodox Christian statement on justification:  http://www.antiochian.org/1123705678  A longer explanation:   http://orthodoxwiki.org/Justification 

On uncreated grace: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/postcards/the_uncreated_grace_that_is_god

On theosis/deification, from the North American Antiochian Orthodox Christian webpage: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16916 

 And for those wondering what Orthodox Christians believe about forgiveness, here is an online Orthodox Christian list of 28 sayings by Orthodox Christians, mostly Church Fathers, on Forgiveness: http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html from the website of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in McKinney, Texas.

Perhaps these sayings do not leave with you with a sense of a concise understanding of the Orthodox Christian meaning of forgiveness. This is because it is an essential aspect of an ongoing life with Christ which is not subject to neat little formulas. Both receiving forgiveness and granting forgiveness to others (which are bound up, inextricably, together) is a day by day struggle we live out, and we grasp it as we experience its dimensions over the course of our pilgrimage through this life.

 “Scriptures taken from the New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.”

 http://www.biblegateway.com/ 

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