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Author Topic: Why is the Orthodox Church "the Church"?  (Read 1717 times) Average Rating: 0
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Protestant seeker
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« on: May 09, 2003, 11:36:27 AM »

I took a lot of the stuff below from a post on another board. It deals with something I have been thinking about, namely why the Orthodox Church is "the Church" as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church?
  I have been wondering of late about the Orthodox idea of councillarity and why the Orthodox Church is "the church" as opposed to say the Copts, the Armenians, the Assyrians (basically any other non-Orthodox eastern communion). Or one could even bring up the Old Believers or any group that has broken from Orthodoxy and claims to be "the Church" and that world Orthodoxy is "graceless". If the way we know whether or not a council is ecumencial or not is whether it is "accepted" by the laity and the whole church, how does that tell us where "the church" is? What I mean is that many of the early ecumenical councils were rejected by one group or another, and certainly were not accepted by the whole church at the time. That is how current non-Orthodox eastern communions got started in the first place.
  So is "acceptance" of a council by the whole church a valid way to determine whether a council is ecumenical or not? Also, I know the Orthodox claim that the you have to look for the movement of the Holy Spirit, but every church claims that their church has listened to the Holy Spirit, so where does that get us, especially looking back at things today with all the divisions?  
   Anyway, one Roman Catholic describes this problem quite well (and better than I am doing not doubt) on his testimony on his website. I don't think he will mind me posting it here, so it is below. I would be interested in how Orthodox folks here would respond to this, especially what he has to say.

A Roman Catholic wrote on Orthodoxy:

"The eastern churches seem to have ended up with a very squishy view of the infallibility of the church. They say that you can't tell ahead of time whether a council will be infallible -- there's no distinguishing mark. Some councils have been overturned by other councils, and even by the laity. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, and it's only by reflection, after the fact, that the church recognizes what the Holy Spirit has done and accepts one given council as infallible, rejects another as erroneous and regards another as a bit of a mixed bag.
   I simply couldn't get my hands around that. Whose after-the-fact-reflection decides the issue? If we adopt that standard, haven't we just moved the whole issue somewhere else? Under the eastern scheme it seems that we're not asking which councils are infallible, but which council critics are infallible.
  I have tried to understand the Orthodox view on this, and I've had no success at all. When I ask Orthodox apologists why one council is infallible and another isn't, the reply is usually to the effect that it just turned out that way. When I follow up with the obvious question, "How do you know it just turned out that way?," they say that's the faith they've received from the church, and they trust the church. And then I ask, "What church? Who is it that you're trusting to tell you which councils turned out to be infallible?," and I hear the same circular stuff -- we trust the Orthodox Church. "But what is it that defines the Orthodox Church?" It's the Church that follows the apostolic tradition and the great councils, they say.
  Pardon me, but I can't do that too long or I feel as if I'm going to explode. Some people like circular reasoning, but it drives me mad. And then they tell me that I can't understand it because I'm thinking like a westerner. In the east they view these things differently.
   Mea culpa. I am a westerner. But when I have tried to nail down what the difference is between western and eastern thought, I'm told that I simply can't do it that way. You see, trying to "nail down" the differences and evaluate them in an analytical way is western. You can't understand eastern thought that way.
  So had to give up on all that. If I end up a damned heretic because I'm trying to think analytically, then so be it. It's the only way I know how to think. The only trouble, of course, is that when I ask St. Peter why I can't get into heaven, he'll tell me to stop thinking like a westerner.
  Rome, on the other hand, is conveniently western, and they have a western answer for all of us damned analytical heretics."

God Bless,

Protestant Seeker
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« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2003, 12:12:24 PM »

Let me just get a quick point in before I leave, but the Orthodox Church once a council is decided to be Ecumenical, follows the canons, such as no kneeling on Sundays or during Pascha, except for occasions of the Feasts of the Cross. The Roman Catholic Church doesn't follow all of the council teachings like Orthodoxy does.
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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2003, 12:51:43 PM »

A few thoughts on a fair question.

"I have tried to understand the Orthodox view on this, and I've had no success at all. When I ask Orthodox apologists why one council is infallible and another isn't, the reply is usually to the effect that it just turned out that way. When I follow up with the obvious question, "How do you know it just turned out that way?," they say that's the faith they've received from the church, and they trust the church. And then I ask, "What church? Who is it that you're trusting to tell you which councils turned out to be infallible?," and I hear the same circular stuff -- we trust the Orthodox Church. "But what is it that defines the Orthodox Church?" It's the Church that follows the apostolic tradition and the great councils, they say. "

The issue here is that there simply is no external criterion by which councils are considered ecumenical and binding.  This can, at times, lead to chaos for a time in the church, and historically this is what has happened, as we can see from the history of the iconoclastic controversy.  However, the Orthodox Church does not recognize a set of external criteria on which the "ecumenicity" of a council can be judged, and it never has.  There are numerous factors that go into this ... the degree of consensus, the circumstances of the council, the degree of reception in the broader church, to name a few.  Frustrating for westerners who like firm, objective criteria, but that's not the way this has played out historically.

I think ultimately it comes down to what one believes the faith is.  I believe that the Orthodox faith is true because it is of God, not because of the councils themselves, so the fact that there is no set of external criteria upon which to proof the councils does not bother me at all, because my own personal link to the faith is internalized and revolves around chrismation and communion -- which are not dependent on the external criteria for validity of any council.  I don't think one becomes Orthodox because one is convinced of our position on this or that issue, or on the formal basis of the councils.  I think that one becomes Orthodox because one is convinced, interiorly, of the truth of the Orthdox faith, and that is an act of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every believer through the Body of Christ that is the Church.

Your issue about "how do we know we are the true Church" is answerable in the same way -- we just do.  The Armenians, Copts and Syrians are Orthodox in faith, too, by the way, and it appears now based on the work of the joint theological commission that the disagreements in theological formulation between these communions and the Orthodox Catholic Church of the East is largely one of semantics, so again, that doesn't really bother me.  We will be in full communion with all of these relatively soon (in Orthodox terms ... which means as a practical matter it might take a while).  Our differences with Rome, on the other hand, are not semantical, but real -- no less than what does it mean to be "Church", and what one believes about that.  I have reflected on this for years, both as a Catholic and as an Orthodox, and I am firmly convinced that the Orthodox view of this -- which admittedly has pragmatic issues -- nevertheless is closer to the truth than the Catholic view.  It's just an interior matter, however, and each believer has to reflect deeply on what they believe and why.

Brendan
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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2003, 03:26:06 PM »

A few thoughts on a fair question.

.......Your issue about "how do we know we are the true Church" is answerable in the same way -- we just do......  

Brendan

Dear Protestant Seeker,
In fairness, you deserve an answer. The quote above may seem trite or unconvincing but it is not. Your question is similar to "proving a negative", which logically cannot be done. YOUR question should be -"At what point in time did the Orthodox Catholic Church cease being the New Testament Church?" If you truly seek, you will find the answer that it never ceased being so.
As to your question about ecumenical councils, one must go a bit deeper than a Robert's Rules of Order defintion. The Greek word "ekklesia" is usually translated as "church". It's true meaning is "community". The Orthodox Church is both concilar and episcopal is nature (and different from the Roman "top-down" episcopal only model or the congregational, bottom-up model of many Protestant churches.) Remember that ALL Orthodox bishops are equal and when they meet in a Great Synod or a local council to have the Holy Spirit direct them to resolve an issue they reach a consensus. This agreement is "tested" by the "community" - clergy and laity and if found by the Community, the Church (Episcopate, Clergy and Laity) to be the Truth as revealed by the Holy Spirit, then that council is accepted as "Ecumenical" -universal.
Is this messy? You bet; just as messy as political democracy. BUT it preserves the New Testament Church. We have a blessed self-correcting form which protects Christ's Church from heresy (even our own.) No council which "moderizes", makes improvisions/innovations is deemed Ecumenical.  
In Spirit and Truth,
Demetri
« Last Edit: May 09, 2003, 07:34:00 PM by Aristocles » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2003, 08:13:40 PM »

What confusion you must see in our attempts to answer your question! Sad E.g., Communion with the monophysites mentioned earlier would place those who entered into such communion outside of Orthodoxy... but that would mean that many in North America would be outside of Orthodoxy! Sad

No, no, our answers as Orthodox Christians are never up to par if you need rational proof of one's position, almost as though you could "prove" your case in a nearly-scientific investigation. No, we Orthodox have but faith and history on our side: both of which can be bent and distorted (many times unconsciously, of course).

I too was a seeker not too awful long ago, having realised smack dab in the middle of a year at Bible College that I couldn't be Protestant anymore (for doctrinal reasons). So the search began, to the liberals and cafeteria Christians, then to the traditional/historical Christians. I became Orthodox, though it was quite a struggle to do so. And now you are in the same boat perhaps, and are thinking about switching to our boat, but you think you've spotted a couple holes in our boat.

Well what can I say? Maybe we do have holes in our boat. Jesus Christ promised that the gates of hades wouldn't prevail against the Church, he never said that the Church would be invincible. The sobering phrase "the world woke up and found itself to be Arian" (to paraphrase) comes to mind.

And so how does one demonstrate the validity of Orthodoxy? Do we give you all the arguments, historical and theological, that we found persuasive? No, that stuff is already easily findable on the web, apologetics and expositions on such matters are easily found. (I would only mention one page, that dealing with the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.)

Perhaps the most helpful thing I can say is: look around for yourself. But don't ask "what do they believe," don't be like Pilate and focus on the "what". "What truth is" will come in time, but it is the last step in the road. This is what most people stumble on, because they want to know all of the "what," and then decide which group best lives up to that truth. We as humans need to do the opposite, though. We need to first ask "Who is truth?" It's not that we don't have any idea what the answer to "what is truth?" is--certainly we can figure some things out even if we've never even heard of Christianity or Christ--it's just that we can't be sure that what we believe to be truth is truth, and so we must start with He Who IS Truth incarnate.

After we determine the Who, we must ask "Where is truth?" In other words, where does the Who reveal the truth? What is a "truth telling thing" (to borrow the phrase of Chesterton)? We are not asking "what comes pretty close to getting it"! We are instead thinking here: "Where did Christ designate as the place through which He would reveal Himself?" After the where, understanding the Why and What would come next. But again, the Who and Where must come first, or we will have everything backwards.

I'm sure you can guess how the Orthodox Christian would answer all these questions, so there's no point in giving a long discourse as to our answers. All I can say is that I hope you ask the right questions, and seek to find the answers not only intellectually, but also experientially, for man is made of both a body and a soul, and without either he is not a man (so we must not neglect either on our spiritual journeys). May you find He who is the truth, and that place at which you may find the truth!

Justin
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« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2003, 01:58:50 PM »

"Orthodoxy is the Church of Tradition. Orthodoxy preserves inviolate the Dogmas and Canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Orthodoxy is the Church of the holy and victorious Martyrs, the Church of the holy and God-bearing Fathers, the Church which possesses Christianity in it's original form; her worship is unadulterated and genuine, and her teaching unchanged. Hence, without a doubt and without any exaggeration whatsoever, only Orthodoxy is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ."  -Our Orthodox Christian Faith by Athanasios S. Frangotoulos
 
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« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2003, 04:03:46 PM »

Let me just get a quick point in before I leave, but the Orthodox Church once a council is decided to be Ecumenical, follows the canons, such as no kneeling on Sundays or during Pascha, except for occasions of the Feasts of the Cross.

Christ is Risen!

Nik,

While I do not disagree with this in theory, there are many parishes, especially of the Russian tradition, where the faithful kneel on Sunday, I have even seen the priest kneel at the "Our Father."

I don't think that in and of itself that argument is sufficient.

Tony
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Nigula Qian Zishi
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« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2003, 11:36:01 PM »

Tony, that is the exception rather than the rule however. And liek I said it was just one quick example.
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