Journey to Orthodoxy:
Conversation with Father Tom

by Thomas Katsampes

October 19, 2007

I had the opportunity to chat with Fr. Tom today for an hour at the Orthodox Church. We had a very good conversation. The bottom line is that I misunderstood him when I thought he said that my wife had to be baptized Orthodox. For me to receive communion, she only has to be baptized trinitarian Christian OR I must seek a dispensation from the Bishop. I believe that, if and when we do bring this up with the Bishop, my own history will aid in obtaining a dispensation. The fundamental premise of my argument is simple. One must be cognizant in order to be accountable. One cannot be held accountable to a particular faith if one was not raised in that faith and did not understand the rules of that faith. Of course, I speak of the man-made rules of the Church, which here on earth, is composed not of angels but of men.

I did, incidentally, ask the question regarding how the Church went from poor fishermen and tentmakers to the very ornate ceremonies and rituals we have in today's Church. Fr. Tom says - and I'm paraphrasing here - that the Church built up the traditions over hundreds of years, adding to them little by little until we have what we have today. He said that it was vitally important to remember that every word, every symbol, every vestment has a meaning that can be found in the Holy Tradition and by extension in Scripture. In other words, things are done for specific reasons and these reasons go back centuries.

Another interesting point Fr. Tom made was regarding the relation between the Bible and the Church, or more broadly speaking, between the Western (Augustinian) way of thinking and the Eastern (Cappadocean?) way of thinking. That is, western theology puts the Bible against the Church and makes a decision as to which one is pre-eminent - that is, the final authority. Therefore, the Bible being the inspired Word of God, is the final authority. Eastern theology suggests a mystical union between the Bible and the Church. The Bible cannot exist without the Church and the Church cannot exist without the Bible. They are one in the sense that they have one purpose, to share the salvific message of the Gospel - but to put one clearly above the other in an "A or not-A" sort of manner is not the approach that the Eastern Church takes.

To expand on this, I put the question to Fr. Tom: so what then, is the Church? Does the authority of the Church refer the people who are ordained, the laypeople, or both? I suggested as an example the following. If I were a member of the Orthodox Church in full communion (having access to all of the sacraments which would be appropriate to me at this time in life), would I be able to write a well-reasoned article for an Orthodox newsletter or publication on some point of theology and have it be considered as valid? Somewhat to my surprise, Fr. Tom said yes, Scripture is interpreted by the Church within certain boundaries. That is, there are views that would be considered wrong (such as if one were to deny the divinity of Christ) but within those boundaries there is room for different viewpoints. So therefore it appears to me that when we are formally received into the Church, at that time God grants us a special grace, in that He reveals unto us an understanding of all things as we are moved by His Spirit (John 14:26). It still remains a mystery to me why receiving this grace would depend on being received into the Church.

Once again this goes back to the approaches of East and West. The West believes that the Bible is the Bible and would be just as valid even if there were no one on earth to believe in it. The East believes that the Church and the Bible are inextricably linked - the Bible is pointless without the Church and the Church is lost without the Bible. It seems that in the view of the East, because the Church is the primary vehicle by which God brings people to Himself, it is believed that the Comforter of John 14:26 will be given to a person only when he is received into the Church.

So what does all this mean to me? Fr. Tom wants me to continue studying, meditating, and of course, coming to Church. Obviously I'm only a couple of months into this exploration. Attending the Introduction to Theology course in January will be very worthwhile as well. I think by this time next year I shall be able to make a commitment regarding Orthodoxy, if all goes well. One must recall that the differences between Orthodoxy and the charismatic church I was attending are huge, and so it's going to take some time to get used to everything. But so far I seem to be on the right road, and I sense that this is, so far, a good direction.
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
Differing Viewpoints
Can we truly know?
Faith and Works
Child Baptism