September 9, 2007
Today I visited the Antiochian Orthodox Church. This church is just two blocks from home, and it will probably be the Orthodox church we attend, if and when I make the decision to go back to Orthodoxy.I was very impressed with both the service, especially the music, and Father Thomas, the presiding priest. As is traditional in the Orthodox church, there is a coffee hour after the service where parishioners can "meet and greet" following the service. Father Thomas stopped by our table to chat with us for about 15-20 minutes. I introduced my family and explained to him that it was Prof. Nassif's opening essay in Three Views of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism which caused me to take a look at Orthodoxy with a fresh perspective once more. Father Thomas told me how he too had converted from a evangelical background (he is a graduate of Oral Roberts university) to Orthodoxy. After exchanging a few more pleasantries, we parted. There are still a few theological loose ends that I want to tie up before I can make a decision regarding the Orthodox Church. They are:
Theosis/Deification: Although Father Andrews eloquently says below it means that "what God is by nature, we [human beings] are called to become by grace," I'm still somewhat concerned with the doctrine, from two standpoints: (1) I want to be very sure that it has not ever claimed that man can become God or gods (or if such claims were made, that they have been since refuted), and (2) What is the Biblical support in the New Testament for the doctrine of theosis/deification. (I have to confess that the use of both words theosis (theos in Greek = God) and deification (deus in Latin = God) is somewhat jarring. The doctrine's name alone seems to promulgate man's becoming God or gods but then upon closer inspection pulls back and claims, "well no, that's not what we really mean." With all due respect to Orthodoxy, for me, this is difficult.)
Father Rick's response on Theosis/Deification: Regarding Theosis of Deification, I'll have to do some more research to answer this but suffice to say, humans can never become God as you understand this dynamic. God's nature is wholly other than the created realm. However, through His Divine Grace we can become God-like. This means that we grow in His caracheristics and qualities but we this is a miniscule approximation. St. Gregory Palamas wrote about this in the 14th century articulating the difference between God's essence and energy. I would suggest reading: Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature by Mark Shuttleworth published by Conciliar Press 2005; www.conciliarpress.com.
Pacifism: In looking through the Orthodox catalog from Light 'n' Life Publishing, I noted a book called The Pacifist Option: The Moral Argument Against War in Eastern Orthodox Theology which claims to set forth how the doctrine of pacifism is supported by the Orthodox Faith. However, I believe that pacifism is an immoral doctrine which leads to "limitless cruelty," for the six reasons that Jewish theologian Dennis Prager lays out in chapter 33 of his book, Think a Second Time.
Father Rick's Response on Pacifism: I read a little bit of your blog and wanted you to know that pacifism is not an official teaching of the Church. Orthodoxy understands the nuances of when pacifism might be appropriate such as a personal response to violence directed against oneself. The martyrs are good examples of this. At the same time, pacifism [would] not be appropriate when other people's lives are being threatened. [Emphasis mine. Fr. Rick is exactly correct. This is the crucial difference. Government never acts on behalf of the individual. Government acts on behalf of all citizens. One has the right to sacrifice one's own life on the altar of pacifism (e.g. by going to Iraq and becoming a human shield), but one has no right, and government has no right, to sacrifice others' lives on that same altar.] That's why we have police and military and the Orthodox Church blesses their existence in this fallen and sinful world to protect innocent lives and prevent the spread of tyranny. Reasonable people might disagree about the most appropriate methods for police actions and war but I think Orthodox understands the balance. For more info, check out www.orthodoxytoday.org and this book: http://www.reginaorthodoxpress.com/viofwaalfwea.html
9/11 Response: What is the Orthodox Church's response to 9/11? Can the Church categorically state that those who fly airplanes into buildings for the purpose of murdering as many innocent people as possible are themselves evil people?
Father Rick's response to 9/11: Regarding 9/11, there is no question that Orthodox Christians would condemn such acts and anything similar to them as patently evil. Classifying people as evil is a little more tricky. Orthodoxy would say that no matter how depraved a person becomes, they still retain a spark of the divine within them that makes it possible to repent and return to God. Of course, when one becomes extremely depraved, his/her ability to freely choose repentance and good is greatly impaired. People are evil in as much as they have given themselves over to the Evil One and participate in evil acts. Although not directly related to your question, this encyclical might give your a better perspective into the Orthodox response to 9/11: http://www.goarch.org/en/special/september11/clergy/encyclical-9-11.asp
While the last two points don't seem to be theological but rather moral and perhaps political, the way those questions are answered would be indicative of the larger moral underpinnings of the organization. I'm sure there are some minor issues too (like the role of Mary, the role of sacred icons (I actually like the art of the icons), the difference between veneration and worship, the role of the priest in the forgiveness of sins, etc.), but these are personal theological issues. I can disagree on one or two points (for example I might not believe in the veneration of the icons) and still have positions mostly compatible with Orthodoxy. I would be willing to join in the church despite those differences. But the above three issues aren't just individual preferences. They are corporate issues and positions held by the Church affect the parish and society at large. For example, if the doctrine of the Orthodox church is pacifism*, and/or the response to 9/11 is "we need to engage in a dialogue with Islamic terrorists to understand what their grievances are, we did wrong, and how we can foster a mutual understanding" etc., that would cause me significant consternation.
Update: Father Rick
Andrews at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church took the time to respond to all the queries, see below. I am very heartened and encouraged by his response. While I recognize that each
individual will, of course, have their own views (including Father Rick), what's important to me is what the Orthodox Church teaches as a matter of doctrine.
*Note as soon as one says that he would kill a sniper who is shooting schoolchildren, one becomes an opponent of pacifism and a proponent of the moral use of violence.
Journey to Orthodoxy
God Became Man and other thoughts
Thoughts on Mary
Visiting the Church
Returning to the Church
The Communion Question
Losing the Sense of the Sacred
Conversation with Fr. Tom
Icons and Worship
Can we truly know?
Faith and Works