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Re: Wondering about Orthodoxy

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Ephraim
September 08, 2003 10:46PM
Dan,

You have left me with quite an array of things to consider and I shall do so. Although, I may not agree with all of your conclusions, I appreciate your free-thinking spirit as well as your zeal for research and pursuit of discernment. I have such an appreciation for it because I too consider myself a free-thinker.
I doubt I can keep it as concise as I’d like; but I’ll try to respond without writing a book! If I veer off subject, forgive me, as I may not have fully grasped the true subject that you mean to tackle in your posts.
I can see how you have doubts regarding tradition in the Church. The fact that they are not included in Scripture can seem suspicious. But I also think we all understand that the apostles were the stewards of the early Church. However, not only did the Church begin under the teaching of the Apostles, but she was also instructed to "stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (II Thessalonians 2:15). The Apostle Paul insisted that those matters delivered by him and his fellow Apostles, both in person, and in the writings that would come to be called the New Testament, be adhered to carefully. Thus, followed such appropriate warnings as "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ... withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (II Thessalonians 3:6). The doctrines taught by Christ and His disciples are to be safeguarded by "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15) and are not open for reinterpretation. Understanding that corruption and politics infiltrated the Church in various times in her history, the Church (in the east) and its teachings have never relied nor have ever been coerced by outside influences to alter or change Oral tradition. Because the Orthodox Church has never been structured the way the Roman Catholic Church is structured, no one man or political group had authority to change or alter tradition.
Thus, your argument, in my view, applies solely to the church of the west. Holy tradition has been faithfully guarded in its true essence by the Orthodox Church despite the transgressions against it. Additionally, I defer back to the understanding that the teachings of the Church are derived from two sources: Holy Scripture, and Sacred Tradition, within which the Scriptures came to be, and within which they are interpreted. As written in the Gospel of St. John, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21:20). Thus, much of the teachings transmitted orally by the Apostles, has come down to us in Sacred Tradition.
You said, “If at any time the succession of Bishops was broken by appointing someone who was clearly outside of the qualifications, one has to wonder how that succession can be legitimately restarted and be considered an unbroken succession.”
IF at some point a line of succession was broken, which is debatable if we’re applying it to the Eastern Church, surely you must see that the east was not reliant on one specific Bishop for apostolic teachings as the Roman Catholics are. Even after the Schism, the Eastern Church relied on an ecumenical approach to the traditions, while the west relied on papal authority. Had the “line” of Bishops been broken by one particular event in the East, the Bishops of the other Churches were there to correct it because their “line” was not broken. Also, since this “line” was not a genealogical one, a replacement for a corrupt appointment would be a simple matter of “promoting” someone else by consensus of the other Bishops. Thus, the “succession” issue is not a difficult problem to rectify if you see it on those terms.
When you said, “It is too easy to say that one who seeks honest answers has a ‘hard heart’ or is simply ‘rebellious.’ And anybody can use the word ‘heresy’ fairly easily. I really caution (gently) the Orthodox against relegating all of Western Christianity to the ranks of Heretics like Arius or the Gnostics. Did the Holy Spirit really abandon the whole Western world in 1054?” I became a bit uneasy. There is a fine line between questioning things, as a free-thinker does and should, and being skeptical of tradition because our personal conclusion is that it isn’t quite as legitimate as scripture. As much as your conclusion may be well researched, it remains possible that the full picture is represented in your sources. Also, not that I am accusing you, but how does a person who is “hard-of-heart” know that their “hard-of-heart?” Is a rebellious person able to discern that they are being rebellious? Again, I’m not saying you are or aren’t. It is mostly a rhetorical question. That is a question for all of us to think about.
In the end, as all matters of faith do, it depends on your faith obviously. If you do not have faith that the teachings of the apostles have been preserved in oral tradition, then any evidence against it will only serve to strengthen your doubts. In my opinion, it is the same mindset that Arius and the Gnostics had when they crossed that very line that I just spoke of; which planted the seeds that lead to the split between east and west, in my view. It is because of such heresies that the “negotiations” of the ecumenical movement began.
For example, in terms of the negotiations, as you put it, between midway through the first century, a dispute over adherence to Old Testament laws arose in Antioch. The matter could not be settled there, and outside help was needed. The leaders of the Antiochian Church, the community which had earlier dispatched Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, brought the matter to Jerusalem for consideration by the Apostles and elders there. The matter was discussed, debated, and a written decision was forthcoming.
It was James, the brethren of the Lord, and the first bishop of Jerusalem, who gave the solution to the problem. This settlement, agreed to by all concerned, at what is known as the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), set the pattern for the use of Church councils in the centuries ahead to settle doctrinal and moral issues that arose (in accordance with Matthew 18:17). Thus, in the history of the Church we find scores of such councils, and on various levels, to settle matters of dispute, and to deal with those who do not adhere to the Apostolic faith. It is the Orthodox Church who through these councils has been able to maintain apostolic accuracy.
Please remember, the history books reveal that it was Rome who no longer participated in the ecumenical movement with anyone outside their own self-conceived teachings—all of the other Churches who remained in communion with the Church’s original teachings. The issue goes back to the conflict between the Roman “Pope” and the East, which mounted—especially in the West's dealings with the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was even asserted that the Pope had the authority to decide who should be the bishop of Constantinople; something that violated historical precedent and that no orthodox bishop could endure. The net result of this assertion was that the Eastern Church, and in fact the entire Christian Church, was seen by the West to be under the domination of the Pope.
A series of intrigues followed one upon the other as the Roman papacy began asserting an increasing degree of unilateral and authoritarian control upon the rest of the Western Church. Perhaps the most antagonistic of these political, religious, and even military intrigues, as far as the East was concerned, occurred in the year 1054, as you may well know. A cardinal, sent by the pope, slapped a document in the altar of the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople during the Sunday worship, excommunicating the Patriarch of Constantinople from the Church! So, again, the breaking of the succession as you say is mainly relevant only to the church of the West.
Lastly, I’d like to add my humble view on the following statement/question: “…did the fathers speak of succession for the sake of succession or because they were simply arguing that the faith itself had been preserved and using the testimony of successive bishops as evidence? Were they simply arguing for the faith or formulating a doctrine of succession?” To me, it was Jesus who started the precedent of succession when he chose His apostles. Were His teachings to die with His chosen apostles? I believe not. Were the teachings of Jesus not meant to be carried on through the ages to all people of all generations? Since the apostles were mortal men, it was their responsibility to the Lord Jesus to ensure that this became a reality. I feel that asking, “For example, was succession the means of preserving the faith or was succession the evidence of faith preserved?” may be an over-analysis of the issue. It seems to me that these matters can easily be over-esteemed in the big-picture. Jesus chose His apostles to carry on his teachings. The apostles did that through succession—no more, no less.
One thing we both may be able to agree on is that only God really knows all the answers.

Best wishes and God Bless,
R. Ephraim
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