Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Eastern Orthodox Church - Through Western Eyes

After a visit to Christian Focus Publications, I came away with a copy of Robert Letham's book, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy, A Reformed Perspective. The book did not start well since it begins with this opening sentence: "The doorbell rings. Outide there stands a complete stranger. It is obvious he is from Australia - the hat, with pieces of cork dangling of a string to ward off the flies, is a giveway, and so too is the tanned complexion. First impressions are confirmed by the nasal draw. Apparently, he is a distant cousin. How can this be? He seems so different and alien from one's comfortable surroundings in the English Home Counties. Heis a stranger." This is an example of how you can have a relative who is so completely different. All I can say is: (1) The idea that all Australians walk around with hats with corks in them is a myth; (2) What "nasal drawl" are yout talking about? If you want to talk to someone who is nasal got to Connetticut or New Hampshire where they drink "corfee"! Anyway, my Australian drawl aside, Letham's book is interesting.
Personally, I've always been fascinated by the Orthodox Church. Nice hats, funky beards, and you get to wear black alot. More seriously, I love much of the Greek liturgy esp. that associated with John Chrysostom. In a forthcoming devotional that myself and Jim Hamilton have written, I quote a fair bit of Chrysostom. I think the Orthodox Church (OC) has a better explanation of how the eucharist can look and taste like bread and wine and yet be the body and blood of Christ. I would paraphrase their answer as: "Stuffed if I know, it's just a mystery." I think that is better than the Roman Catholic Church's reply: " Well, you see, there was this guy, Aristotle, who like had this really cool theory about substance and accidents, and you see, the thing is ..."
A few interesting points:
- Athanasius was accused of corruption and organizing the kidnap and murder of a rival bishop. Out of46 years as a Bishop he spent 17 in exile. (I get the feeling that certain orthodox bishops in the American Episcopal Church could find themselves deposed and exiled soon enough!).
- The Arians were known to take out contracts to have certain opponents assassinated by professional hitmen.
- Gregory Nazianzen was ordained as a priest against his will and at the behest of a mob.
- John of Damascus did very well as a theologian under Muslim rule.
- Cyril of Lukaris (1572-1638) Patriarch of Constantinople from 1620 until his death, spent time in Poland in 1596 to strengthen the Orthodox against the Greek Catholic Church. He worked alongside Lutherans and Calvinists and eventually became convinced of Calvinism.
- The OC uses the Septuagint rather than the MT as their OT (why don't we all!). Although I do not know what Letham was thinking when he said that the LXX was the version of the OT that "Jesus and the apostles usually cite" (though Stan Porter would probably be open to the possibility that Jesus did on some ocassions teach in Greek). The OC also includes Jubilees, Mart. Isaiah, and the Ass. Mos. in their apocrypha.
- According to the Orthodox Theologian Theordore Stylianopoulos, the Bible itself is not revelation, but merely the record of revelation. I think Daniel Fuller and perhaps even G.E. Ladd held to something similar, but I would need to confirm that.
- You get a lot more Scripture read in an OC church service than you do in most Evangelical churches.
It is an interesting book with a fairly balanced intro to the OC.


Peter McKeague said...

Thank you Michael for this intro, I'll be looking out for the book. "Stuffed if I know, it's just a mystery" would equally do as a paraphrase for the theology of eucharistic presence of that great 17th Century Anglican divine, Lancelot Andrews, and lots of us Anglicans before and since.
Peter McKeague

shadow said...

The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (SBC) said that the Bible was a record of God's revelation, as I recall.

C said...

Shadow, as a former SBC'er the F & M also said that it had "truth without mixture of error" for it's content.

Here's the whole statement:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.

PS I think Fuller called the Bible infallible but not inerrant.

Charles @

shadow said...


As I recall, the proponents of the 2000 F&M said that the "record of God's revelation" language was "Barthian." Personally, I have no problem with the 1963 language, but, more simply, I go along with Hauerwas:" Of course the Bible is true, I would die for it."