Book Reviews, Charles, Christian History, Christian Theology, Religion
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Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition (James R. Payton Jr.)

I have always been keenly interested in comparative theology. However, as a recent adherent to Eastern Orthodoxy, I approach analysis, as opposed to knowledge, of Orthodox theology as presumptively above my pay grade. This book combines both. Written by James Payton, a Protestant academic, Light from the Christian East is a fairly accessible text meant primarily to introduce Western Christians to Orthodoxy, and to challenge them to understand and appreciate the Christian faith better through a grasp of Orthodoxy.

Payton wrote this book to encourage what might be called dialogue. As he concludes, “I pray that this volume will enable some Western Christians to open themselves anew to the Christian faith through the insights of their Orthodox brothers and sisters.” Nothing wrong with this, of course, but let’s not use the term dialogue, because for very good reasons, “dialogue” has lately acquired an odious reputation. What it almost always means in a Christian context is that some group of Modernist heretics uses a pleasant- and reasonable-sounding request for “dialogue” as a wedge to begin formal rejection of some long-settled part of Christian faith, in order they may more fully abase themselves before modern sensibilities and thereby ensure their social respectability in the eyes of the acolytes of Baal.

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In this oft-repeated scheme, a faithful Christian’s refusal to engage in “dialogue,” that is, his refusal to agree that any given doctrine can be changed, is used as conclusive evidence that doctrine should, in fact, be changed. And if he does agree to “dialogue,” but then after hearing what his interlocutors have to say, refuses to agree the faith should be changed, this means “discussion,” meaning threats and insults, must continue until he does agree to change the faith. The beatings will continue until morale improves. Heads I win; tails you lose. This transparent malice seems like it should never work, but it works all the time. It has destroyed all the mainline Protestant churches, and is well on its way to destroying Roman Catholicism. I expect it succeeds because many of those of whom “dialogue” is demanded, the leaders of churches, are in fact in agreement with the heretics, and looking for a climb-down. They are weak men and women who, whenever some meaningless modern epithet such as “sexist” or “homophobic” is thrown at them, run for the hills, rather than doing what they should do, which is punch those who demand “dialogue” in the face.

And, of course, when the target doctrine is, sooner or later, changed, “dialogue” on that topic, if it might reverse the change rather than extend it, is suddenly deemed unthinkable—retrograde and evil. The new, cretinous morality is imposed as absolute and unchangeable. You can be sure, for example, that those who rule the Episcopal church now aren’t interested in about whether female “priests” should be defrocked, or, to take a much more important set of doctrines, changed earlier, whether divorce and artificial birth control should be again forbidden. No, the arrow of “dialogue”only points one way.

Fortunately, this is not Payton’s type of dialogue. Nor does it appear likely that the Eastern Orthodox churches have any interest in such dialogue (although all believers have to be on guard against the roaring lion who pushes it). Payton is himself a Protestant in the Reformed tradition, a professor (now retired) at Redeemer University in Canada. His career revolved around the Christian East, its history and theology, both ancient (Byzantine) and modern (Eastern Europe), with a common denominator being Orthodoxy. Payton also studied the Church Fathers, writing, among other books, a condensation of Against Heresies, the classic work by the second-century theologian Irenaeus. Thus, he’s well-qualified to write a book of broad comparative theology. Nonetheless, this is a tricky business, for on many matters there is wide divergence among Western Christians, and it is impressive that Payton can avoid the extremes of lumping disparate ideas excessively together and getting lost in the details. Still, there is necessarily some simplification—he does not cover the Oriental Orthodox, for example, such as the Copts. This book is a gateway, not the final word.

Light from the Christian East is written for the educated Western Christian layman who has little familiarity with Orthodoxy. Anyone not well-versed in Christian basics would be largely at sea reading this book. Payton does provide a base of necessary knowledge, beginning with a good historical overview of Christianity’s beginnings, as embedded in the cultures in which it arose. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, this meant that Christian thought often revolved around interaction with Greek philosophy, especially Platonism (though Payton is at pains throughout the book to reject the claim that Orthodoxy is tainted by Greek thought). In the Western part of the Empire, theologians such as Tertullian, who famously said “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?,” ignored Greek thought in favor of the Roman emphasis on law. There was still only one Church, of course—this was a matter of emphasis, not of doctrinal belief.

Payton sketches how this division became wider after the fall of the western Roman Empire. The eastern Empire continued to flourish, but communication with the West faltered, as did the internal sophistication of the West, and it was therefore under the eastern Emperors that much of the first millennium of Christian theological development occurred. Broadly speaking, eastern Christian theology de-emphasized reason—not entirely, but never demonstrating the western need for precisely delineating the rationales of every single belief, rather simply relying on the wonder and awe of revealed truth in many instances. Theologians in the East were not those who trained for years or decades to build an internally-coherent written structure in the Augustinian mold; they were rather those who were best able to, in this life, commune with God, and write down the fruits of that communion. In this vein, Payton contrasts Saint Thomas Aquinas, western systematizer, and Saint John of Damascus, who wrote the “great textbook of Orthodox theology,” The Orthodox Faith, which Payton says is disorganized and elliptical, yet just as great when examined and understood. Humility and silence were the watchwords, not intellectual fireworks. (It is at least in part from this tendency that the Orthodox requirement that bishops be monks arose.) And Payton sketches the conflicts arising from the Crusades, the evangelization of Eastern Europe, as well as the fall of Constantinople, and brings the history of Orthodoxy to the present day.

Next Payton corrects common Western errors about Orthodoxy. It is not, as some Protestants believe, basically the same as Roman Catholicism. Yes, certain formalities and many key doctrinal points overlap, but the perspectives from within the thought of each are often very different. In fact, Orthodox thinkers often lump Protestantism and Roman Catholicism together, in an inversion most Western Christians find strange, as legalistic and sharing core premises rejected or deprecated by Orthodoxy. Nor is Orthodoxy ossified; quite the contrary—often it is more vibrant than many versions of Western Christianity. That doctrinal change is (or seems) functionally impossible under Orthodoxy, and therefore Orthodoxy is doctrinally unified, unlike fragmented Western Christianity, is not to the contrary.

Nor is Orthodoxy tainted by pagan Greek thought; it wrestled, and always has, with Greek thought. But as shown in the writings of the Cappadocian fathers, the intellectual cousins of Saint Augustine (Saint Basil, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory Nazianzen), Orthodoxy has always rejected the pagan aspects of that thought. The analogy used by Saint Gregory of Nyssa was that, as the Israelites plundered the Egyptians to beautify God’s tabernacle, so did they use Greek thought to spread the Good News. Those who went too far, such as Origen, were condemned; these men were aware of the danger. (This is a general principle—men of ancient times usually saw problems we flatter ourselves only we can see, and often with more insight. One present-day example of this is modern atheists who think they are coming up with new arguments, rather than simplistic arguments that were soundly beaten well nearly two thousand years before.) Not to mention that Western Christianity itself relies on Platonism, and even more Aristotelianism, so claims of Greek influence by Western Christians are really the pot calling the kettle black.

Before turning to specific matters, Payton goes to some length to explain that small-o orthodoxy in the East is much less about doctrinal precision than in the West. True teaching is certainly necessary, but the style of life and worship, giving proper glory to God is equally important to Christian truth, and to salvation. That is the starting point of Orthodox theology, not reason. Knowing God, not rationalizing about Him, is the main matter; one who is drawn to theology must first become “saturated with wonder.” Thus, Orthodox theologians rarely center on, or are even drawn from, academics, unlike in the West. Orthodoxy has always opposed excessive scholasticism. Rather, Orthodoxy is focused on meditation and contemplation. And to the extent some element of doctrine is not fully worked out, doing so is simply not a major goal, or a goal at all; the Orthodox accept that some matters are mysteries, and there is no reason to obsess about it—another approach that helps prevent schism. “Orthodoxy expects not clarification but adoration, not teaching but praising.”

I was raised orthodox Roman Catholic, but I attended a Reformed (Calvinist) elementary school. In my nature, a legalistic approach to religion always appealed to me. I like having certainty and all the answers (in fact, as you can see, my political writings do provide all the answers—you’re welcome). Roman Catholicism offers an answer to every possible question; it provides certainty. But at what cost? Examining Orthodoxy comparatively gives the answer—at the cost of awe and wonder as a core basis of the faith. True, Western Christians sometimes focus on the awe and wonder. Mystics do, and, famously, this is what started C. S. Lewis down the path to conversion, the occasional glimpses of unsought wonder and awe, close to ruptures in reality, what he called joy, that he got reading Scandinavian epics. Maybe this is what some Evangelicals, or even more Pentecostals, experience. Sadly, whatever awe and wonder Catholicism offered in the past has been lost since the Catholic Church embraced the serpent of Modernism. John Paul II failed to take the necessary actions to expel poisons from the Church, and Benedict XVI buried his talent in the ground and still hides his face in shame at his own weakness, as he should. And so the odious Jorge Bergoglio was elevated, to not only erase any vestiges of awe and wonder, but also to demand “dialogue,” which will result inevitably in the practical destruction of the Roman Church if he is not taken out. Bergoglio, like some type of Bizarro Samson, is pulling down his own Church, not the temple of his enemies. That may not seem like my problem anymore, but it is, because the Roman Church is critically important to the West, given Orthodoxy’s limited reach here. However, we are drifting into politics, and away from theology, so let us return to the book.

Payton then turns to one of the foundational questions of Christianity—how do we talk about God? This is not a question of credal belief; it is rather tied to what we can say about God. As David Bentley Hart has said at book length, we can show clearly that God is the ground of being, but that does not tell us what we can actually know about His being. Western Christianity tends to approach this question through positive (cataphatic) theology—what can we say directly about God? Orthodox theology tends to approach it through negative (apophatic) theology—what can we say about God by saying what He is not? Orthodoxy believes we can say some things about God, but this this approach is inherently limited, since God is ineffable and incomprehensible, and metaphor is necessarily limited.

Eastern Orthodoxy thus rejects univocity, the belief that God in his essence shares any characteristic in common with created beings. Univocity is the rock on which, some argue, Western Christianity foundered, by laying the groundwork for viewing God as demiurge, and therefore making possible the Enlightenment and its consequent evils. Apophatic theology, on the other hand, while not inherently incompatible with cataphatic theology, usually leads practitioners to contemplation, sometimes to complete mysticism, but certainly away from bean counting and hair splitting. The favoring of apophatic theology also lies at the root of the core Orthodox distinction between God’s essence, which man can never approach or grasp in this life or the next, and His energies, God’s actions that are still God but which man can approach, on rare occasion, in this life, and to which he will be fully exposed in the next. (Payton in this context also discusses the complex thinking of East and West on the topic of grace, which the Orthodox view as a manifestation of the uncreated energies of God, and thus God Himself.)

Given that God’s essence will remain forever outside our grasp, Payton narrates how Orthodoxy believes that God has nonetheless assigned each created thing, from rocks to men, a logos, “what each created nature ultimately is and is more fully to become in God’s creative intention.” The purpose or goal of each logos is its skopos; and ultimately, “the skopos of each created nature is communion in the divine energies; that is, each created nature is increasingly to dwell in and be transformed through communion with God.” In Eastern Orthodoxy, nature and grace are not distinct; there is no such category as “supernatural.” Humanity is the highest expression of God’s creation, but all nature participates in the divine energies. (From this, although Payton does not conclude it, it seems to me we can logically conclude that our pets likely participate in the next life.)

Narrowing his focus, Payton turns to humanity. Mankind is uniquely privileged, in his logos partaking, unlike any other created thing, of both the spiritual and material. Moreover, he is assigned the privilege of mediator of creation, and made in the image of God (though in the usual pattern, the precise parameters of what this means are not a major Orthodox focus). Of course, man fell, in the disobedience of Adam, but the Orthodox do not impute this sin to Adam’s descendants, which means they reject the Western conception of original sin. We children of Adam suffer consequences from Adam’s sin, to be sure, but our only guilt is our own, individual, sin. We suffer corruption as the result of death and other suffering, but human nature is not depraved, as many Western Christians would have it—our logos and skopos remain unchanged, and our natural will still impels us to God.

Salvation, the crucial matter for all Christians, is an area with significant differences between East and West. In the West, the focus tends to be on Christ’s suffering, and on arguments about why his death was necessary for our salvation. But in Orthodoxy, Christ’s death (and his subsequent descent into Hades) is depicted as a victorious battle, where “The King of Glory,” as the icons name him (usually omitting the common inscription in the West, “INRI”), smashed the Devil and his works. (This is very well covered in Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s Christ the Conqueror of Hell.) Christ, as the last Adam, thereby led man back to his proper logos and skopos, conquering sin and making all things new, reversing the corruption of death to which sin had led. Substitutionary atonement and similar other dreary, counter-intuitive ideas have no place in Orthodoxy. If Christ did ransom us, he did it as part of defeating Satan, and again the specifics are not that important. For the Orthodox, therefore, Christ’s resurrection is much more the focus than Christ’s death; the Orthodox celebration of Easter is overflowing with joy, the joy of triumph in which we all participate.

That salvation we have been granted, for which we are now eligible, is literal union with Christ—the end God intended for humanity from the beginning, theosis, a type of deification, union with the energies of the Trinity, the divine, uncreated light. This is not a swallowing up of the individual, as in some strains of Buddhism—very much the opposite. The Transfiguration, an event extremely important for the Orthodox (in church, my family sits below a large half-dome icon of the Transfiguration), more so than for Western Christians, prefigures this state, which, of course, we cannot understand in this life, although some saints have been given a taste. God’s essence will remain forever remote from all creation, but not his energies. In the West, this idea of “divinization” is regarded as bordering on pagan, and is usually rejected in favor of, on the one hand, harps and clouds, or on the other hand, a claim of simple ignorance, that we see “through a glass darkly” and can have no real concept of our future state.

A range of other topics round out the book. The author talks about the critical importance of the Church and of individual church communities, where collective worship is taking place with the actual, literal presence of both the angels and those who have already reposed in Christ (whose icons depict their presence, such that the church is “opening onto eternity”). The Orthodox see the boundaries of life and death as more porous than modern Western Christians, heavily tainted by materialism, do. Those in eternity are here (monks, in fact, apparently often see and interact with them), and we can ask them to pray for us just as we might ask any other Christian. Payton also covers icons, central to Eastern worship and far more than simply “books for the illiterate,” the medieval Roman Catholic rationale created in response to claims that religious art encouraged idolatry. Because of the Iconoclastic Controversy, the East early developed sophisticated analyses about art missing in the West, scriptural, Christological, and logical.

It has always interested me that Orthodoxy forbids depictions of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, since both are pure spirit, but encourages depictions of the Son, for he had a body that can be depicted, and in fact that incarnate body is a living icon of the invisible God. Thus, the Orthodox icon of the Trinity, commonly found, depicts the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah, viewed as a manifestation of the Trinity. They sit around a table, being served by Abraham and Sarah, looking at the viewer—and what is not obvious until pointed out, the viewer is being invited to sit at the fourth, open seat at the table, the one that faces him. This is probably my favorite icon.

Payton concludes with thoughts on the relative importance to Orthodoxy of Scripture and tradition, quoting Bishop Timothy Ware, “In reality there is only one source [of the Christian faith], since Scripture exists within Tradition.” And he adds thoughts on prayer, especially the important Orthodox goal of prayer being as constant as possible, often through the use of the Jesus Prayer as a nearly subconscious device. After two thousand years, this book can only scratch the surface of the topics it covers, but for the interested layman, this book is a great introduction to the matters within.

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23 Comments

  1. Altitude Zero says

    Thanks for a fine book review, as always. There are so many things about Orthodoxy that are appealing and impressive, and yet so many that seem so alien to me, a man of the West. I guess that one of my problems is that I am the farthest thing from a mystic, and I find Aquinas a far more appealing figure than the “Holy Fools” that seem (to an outsider) to be so prominent in Orthodoxy. But any religion that can count both Vladimir Putin and Seraphim Rose as adherents is certainly interesting, to say the least!

    • Charles says

      I doubt if Orthodoxy will ever sweep the West. But it does offer something currently missing from the West. Apparently there are quite a few evangelicals who seek to learn more about the early Church, and then become Orthodox, realizing that the Orthodox functionally operate as the early Church did.

  2. John Deere says

    Charles – thanks for the steady stream of quality posts. Am I correct to assume that your comment re: Origen going “too far” refers primarily to his writings/beliefs on Universal Salvation (i.e., Apokostasis)? Relatedly, have you read D.B. Hart’s book “That All May Be Saved”? If so, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on the subject. I personally found it to be one of the most challenging books I’ve read in terms of critically looking on my own beliefs. But that’s probably due to (1) my dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptist upbringing and (2) my relatively long-standing doubts/struggles with the traditional doctrine of eternal perdition. Thanks.

    • Charles says

      You are welcome! Yes, I meant it to refer in part to that, although I think Origen was condemned on a range of grounds, and many were unrelated to that (but were related to excessive Greek-izing). I have not read Hart’s book–I do have a copy, but the reviews by people normally sympathetic were savage, and it appears his argument is quite simplistic, and worse, overwrought, so I haven’t read it. I’ve touched on apocatastasis in several reviews, because it interests me. I’ve kind of settled on the position that it’s above my pay grade (as I said more generally of certain things in this review)–certainly possible, but also perfectly possible that some people simply won’t accept God, even if given multiple chances, perhaps even when given a chance as they die. (C. S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” shows this by metaphor.) After all, if some of the angels, who were certainly well-informed, made Bad Choices, maybe people will too. Hopefully not, though.

  3. Charles, I have read all your reviews, shared some with family and close friends and we share the same philosophy on the most important issues. I too am interested in Orthodox Christianity, but am not from that tradition (I am Anglican / Episcopalian) but have no heritage from Greece, Russia etc. With that background, what advice would you have in terms of which churches might be appropriate options to look into, e.g. the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America has a parish (West Chester, PA) near where I live.
    Thanks for everything that you do,
    AJ

    • Charles says

      This is not an area of expertise for me. I have been very fortunate in my journey as it relates to local churches. But my understanding is that some churches are very heavily focused on their ethnic roots (due to the odd structure of the Orthodox Church in America, there is no “American Orthodox Church,” rather branches of other nations’.) This means some are not welcoming to outsiders. So the goal should be to find a church and priest who are open to new people. The Antiochian has a reputation as being very open, in part because they are less tied to a major ethnic group hjere. I’d just contact the priest there and schedule a talk! That’s what we did, and it has worked out extremely well. (Well, ask me after I’m dead exactly how well, but early returns are good!)

  4. Natalia Padillo says

    Hey Charles,
    when will you convert!? 😀 This was a very nice analysis. Many of the things I didn’t know about my faith but was made clear- and made sense to me! That icon is one of my favorites too (‘ be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise’)
    -from your Orthodox sister

    • Charles says

      Thank you. Oh, I already converted–we were chrismated in 2019. (That’s why I say “recent adherent”–of course, a change in Christian denomination is not actually “conversion.”) I am glad you liked it!

  5. Daniel says

    Charles,

    Why not an Eastern Catholic Church?
    Schism, whether through apostasy, or by refusal of the fullness of truth when it comes, has left members of Orthodox Churches in a position of heterodoxy (e.g. the claim that a real sacramental marriage can be broken by men- the practical situation of annulments in the Catholic Church provide no cover, since abuses here will always be just that in doctrine, no matter how far the hypocrisy extends…), and vulnerable to other attacks the devil has just begun to unleash upon the world.
    In the end, the eternal words of promise that the gates of hell would not prevail has only been granted His own Bride.
    Having valid Mysteries besides baptism is a gift the Orthodox have received from the Lord above our separated brethren in the Protestant circles, but this grace only increases their responsibility to return to full communion with the chair of Peter.

    Fast with me begging for clarity on this. It is not scholastic hair-splitting or above any individual’s pay grade. It’s the question, determining the fruitfulness of our lives and the destiny of our houses.

    Pax Christi

    Daniel

    • Charles says

      1) Well, in a sense there is an Eastern Catholic Church–Uniates, Melkites, and so forth. But I assume that’s not what you mean.

      2) I’m all for unity between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. However, I’m a history guy, and extremely well informed about both Roman church history and Roman theology. There is simply no good historical argument for any of the claims to primacy of the Roman Church, or that the theological questions that putatively led to schism, notably filioque, were not Roman innovations. Thus, to suggest that the Orthodox are solely responsible for the schism, or are necessarily the heterodox ones, in any dispute with the Romans, is silly.

      3) I am fasting, as it happens! The Orthodox fasting regimen vastly exceeds the shreds remaining of the Roman fasting regimen. The Advent fast is cut-rate compared to Lent, but it’s aggressive enough.

      4) O ]n schism, it takes two to tango, and to unite, and the Orthodox are not free from responsibility. Unfortunately, the facts that (a) the See of Peter is occupied by someone clearly either eager to destroy the Roman Church, or in the grip of those eager to do so, and he is too stupid to see; (b) somewhere north of 50% of Roman clergy are homosexuals; and (c) the Roman church is probably heading toward multiple schisms itself; suggest that uniting with the Orthodox isn’t likely, because the Roman Church has to solve those problems, and prevent it becoming a tiny, hollow shell of its former glory, before ending the schism is likely, simply because focus is necessary, and is lacking. (The Orthodox have their own problems, but they are not these, despite occasional suggestions the hierarchy is waffling on one issue or another.)

      5) The best scenario is massive collapse of the West, and more generally those societies dominated by the West, and the rebuilding of something new. From that, a uniting is possible. It’s probably not possible in the declining holding pattern we’re in now. But man proposes, God disposes, and I am quite hopeful about the future, including with respect to Christian unity.

      • Erik says

        Charles,

        I think the idea that 50% of Catholic priests are homosexual is absurd. It is known that there is a large number of homosexuals in Catholic clergy, but I listened to a podcast by Patrick Coffin a short time ago where a priest studying the issue broke down the numbers on surveys and found that priests ordained between 1940 and the 1970 where 1/3 homosexual and after John Paul II become pope the numbers went down greatly. The current generations of priests ordained 1980 onwards are very devout in practice and any homosexuals after that time are deep in the closet and fairly rare.

        As a practicing Catholic in the more traditional circles I have noticed that priests under 50 are nearly always better then those over 50, I have confidence that after this current pope the church will be in much better shape, Francis’s generation is on the way out.

        • Charles says

          Maybe. On the other hand, Maciel was “very devout in practice,” too. There are very many stories of present-day seminaries totally overrun with homosexuals. This strikes me as the type of wishful thinking that characterized orthodox Catholics in the 1980s and 1990s, that John Paul was making the changes at the top that would lead to renewal throughout the organization. He wasn’t (read my review of Douthat’s To Change the Church). And Francis IS making the massive changes that are necessary to ensure the rot continues (again, same review). I’m not convinced.

  6. Sayem says

    Hi Charles,

    Have you read Kyrios Christos by Wilhelm Bousset? Would you be kind enough to post a review if you’ve read this book?

    Thank you.

    • Charles says

      I have not. Looks interesting, though very complicated. i’ll get a copy and check it out!

  7. Daniel Andre says

    Charles,

    Forgive the late reply, I still work in the trenches.

    I do mean one of the twenty-three other autocephalous Churches in communion (and so Catholic) with the Latin-rite Church.
    It is not only the significant number from the Metropolitanate of Kiev who have come into the fullness of truth and communion…
    Some, like the (undisputed) Maronite, may provide a insight to the healthy possibility of such a communion, without the usual (mutual) polemics.
    While the dangers of latinisation have not been altogether overcome (the Roman contingent does remain, alas, the vast majority), the danger to the treasures of their proper (divinely sanctioned) canon law and liturgical and ecclesiastical disciplines simply doesn’t compare to the danger of living outside communion with Jesus’ one visible and mystical Body.
    I think a good historical and theological case can be made for the saving truths of the Petrine chair, which these other Churches also profess. If you would like me to assemble it please give me a word and some time.

    Incidentally, I am a cantor in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and so anything I write must be held in suspicion :). It cannot but be: this is an effect of the other spirit of which you now partake- our faith decisions do have consequences!

    No, I don’t utter the filioque with the creed, but this
    legitimate theological expression does resound in mystery in my heart, as all the truths of the Faith must, even in the mean and vulgar especially beloved by our Lord.

    I’ve heard it said that we set the bar at its height, while the Romans set it at the bare minimum, but in the final analysis each individual engages according to his share in the mystery (my own is no cause for admiration- only Wednesdays and Fridays this year for the full undertaking, and even then my soul shrinks in horror to find a can of Campbell’s tomato does contain oil :)).

    Yes, the apostasy in the Rite of my birth, which has lain hidden in profession but is stinking ripe when one looks to the common morality, will likely manifest violently and soon. It’s the embarrassing and dangerous scene of the hypocrite doubling down when exposed to the light. But again, this will be an amputation from the full Communion of the universal Church, not the Bride and our mother herself being split open. If it’s on such a scale that those of good will can no longer discern the cause and claims of the one Body, He Himself will intervene as He has promised.

    This Communion is the ultimate trajectory of history, and as His own dying words reveal, it is Jesus’ whole mission. Who are we to resist it, and how can we withstand Him? Our individual choice can hasten it or spend our best seed in opposing vanities.

    That you crossed over with your house speaks of certainty, but perhaps it was only an intermediate step, one spurred on by scandal and odour of corruption. These concessions are never the active will of the our Lord, even if He permits them and yet draws good from them. The attractiveness of joy and holiness and goodness you’ve found may be from others who’ve crossed over, but these fruits would be in spite of their grave error, and a witness to what they yet draw from the Vine.

    I will persevere with St Joseph for this intention of your stepping back within fullness, this time motivated and brought to abiding certainty by the Spirit of peace.

    Pax Christi

    Daniel

  8. Eric Holmberg says

    Charles, Great review, as always. And I also appreciate this comment in your response to Daniel: “The best scenario is massive collapse of the West, and more generally those societies dominated by the West, and the rebuilding of something new. From that, a uniting is possible. It’s probably not possible in the declining holding pattern we’re in now. But man proposes, God disposes, and I am quite hopeful about the future, including with respect to Christian unity.”

    I’m a video producer currently working on two videos for which I would love to interview you; if not on camera then perhaps just a phone conversation where I could pick your brain.

    The first to be released will explore America 2.0: first what went wrong with v 1.0 and then what 2.0 might look like and how do we get there while minimizing the inevitable suffering that this rebirth will require.

    The second is “East, West and All The Rest: A Protestant’s Quest for the Church That Jesus Built”. While I can get some idea of the reasons that provoked your move from the West to the East from both this review and your response to Daniel, I would deeply appreciate getting some of the finer points. In addition, I will soon be interviewing a RC scholar with an expertise in the great schism and why the RC church remains the true church, despite it many, many problems. It would be helpful for me to get your historical perspective on why he is wrong, particularly as regards to the West’s claim of papal primacy and infallibility–before I do the interview.

    BTW: I completely resonate with your comment about the massive collapse of the West and the opportunities it may present for the three great traditions to move towards the unity our Lord prayed for as He was about to step into His passion. The West has collapsed because the Church has. And it will be the cleansing of the temple and a corresponding movement towards greater unity that will occasion the rebuilding of something new and better as far as the governments of men are concerned.

    If you are willing, please email me at [email protected].

    Thanks!

    Eric

  9. Eric Holmberg says

    To Daniel Andre: Please read my comment to Charles directly above. If you would like to weigh in, please contact me as well. Would love to pick your brain as well. Thanks!

  10. Interesting review.

    But the review (and book it seems) miss the primary issue: demographics. We can look at demographics to understand the failure of Orthodoxy’s “wonder” theology over Western logic. Man himself is God’s greatest creation, and EO simply does not have this wonder for children and family “on the ground”. Children require flesh and action, but the EO basically reify everything and are very proud of this.

    And we can esp see this re: doctrines of divorce and birth control. The Orthodox have simply surrendered here to avoid the discussion. Catholics are not doing great on these points, but they are at least still in the fight, likely due to having a pope to enforce it. This EO demographic decline compared to other religions has been going on ever since Muslims made their first inroads into EO lands. Orthodox cultures have been, and will continue to be, replaced until they take seriously the “action” part of Christianity. Theology has consequences.

  11. “Christ, as the last Adam, thereby led man back to his proper logos and skopos, conquering sin and making all things new, reversing the corruption of death to which sin had led.”

    Strongly agree there.

    “Substitutionary atonement and similar other dreary, counter-intuitive ideas have no place in Orthodoxy. If Christ did ransom us, he did it as part of defeating Satan, and again the specifics are not that important.”

    Have to stand opposed to eastern orthodoxy there. “He made him to be sin who knew no sin.” This is pictured in the old covenant sacrificial system: particularly the sin and trespass offerings and the sacrifice offered on the day of atonement. (A quick concordance search shows 86 uses of “atonement” in the OT; 4 uses of “propitiation” in the NT.)

    I see recapitulation and substitutionary atonement as complementary.

    Still appreciative of this glimpse into Eastern Orthodoxy as it is new to me (I’m Reformed). Hope it’s not entirely inappropriate to challenge doctrine in this forum.

    • Charles says

      Interesting. Certainly appropriate! I just don’t claim to be any kind of expert, so I can’t specifically respond. But I very much appreciate comments like this.

  12. Hey Charles,

    I enjoyed your review here. I’m not personally all that familiar with Orthodoxy, though I did try to read Bentley Hart’s “Experience of God”. Got about 50 pages in before it reeked so deeply of heresy that I had to give up. Now that he’s turned himself into an anti-Christian progressive, I am glad I gave up on him.

    If you’ll allow me a bit of a digression, we corresponded in the comments of another post about the need for a true restoration of good government and healthy society requiring a renewal of human flourishing from the ground up. Without real structures that are organic, we will simply fall into the progressive trap of trying to re-make the world in some utopian vision. Perhaps the initiators of the revolution won’t do so, but someone will take the helm. In order to see real sociological change, we must rid ourselves of the scientistic view that all problems are subject to a systemic solution. (This was Napoleon’s failure and why he ultimately left France to the left again).

    To that end, I have been reading a lot of literature that points me back to a ground-up view of recapturing an authentic Christian experience as the grounds on which a new future can be built. I also launched a new blog with the hope of pushing away from cultural and political critique (which others have well in-hand, yourself included), and focus on what I think is my real wheelhouse, Christian applied theology. I’m hoping that can help form the basis on which a restored society can grow.

    One of the things I find frustrating in my evangelical world is that many people are deeply pessimistic about the ability of us to make any significant in-roads in seeing the world become a better place. They tend to “opt-out” of politics, which in practice can cause many to surreptitiously adopt the political perspectives of my (very-liberal) hometown.

    This leads me to confront the semi-gnostic strain in Western culture, (Orthodox included), which devalues the world we live in in preference to a weird “spiritual” reality disconnected from the physical entirely.

    One part I really liked about what you wrote above speaks to the effort I have embarked upon. “Christ, as the last Adam, thereby led man back to his proper logos and skopos, conquering sin and making all things new, reversing the corruption of death to which sin had led. ” This theme, and generally the theme of the Resurrection, is core to the New Testament and I think an important basis on which we can recapture an authentic Christian life.

    Christ was the seed of wheat, as he speaks of in John 12, and as he died and was buried, it was the seed of the Kingdom of God that was planted. Now his resurrection-life is spreading across the whole world, transforming our hearts, our churches, our families, and the political realm. The temporary setback of the so-called Enlightenment not-withstanding.

    With that, I have two book suggestions for you if you’re interested in exploring this idea of applied theology to the personal and political:
    * Heaven Misplaced – Doug Wilson (short and easy read, and if you’re not familiar with his stuff, I think you’d like it quite a bit)
    * After You Believe – NT Wright

    Also, if you’ve got the time and inclination, check out my new blog!

    https://worldtocome.substack.com/

    • Charles says

      I have subscribed! Looks very interesting (and just a glance shows you beating me to talking about Christ as the Second Adam). I’m generally familiar with Wilson and Wright (I have some of the latter’s books, including The Resurrection of the Son of God, but it’s a tome). I’ve ordered a copy of Heaven Misplaced, too.

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