Author Topic: The sanctity of those outside the Orthodox Communion  (Read 1511 times)

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Offline Father Peter

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The sanctity of those outside the Orthodox Communion
« on: August 09, 2009, 07:44:06 AM »
This is rather a diversion from the main topic so could be separated.

I have often wondered about those godly people who seek to serve God outside of formal Orthodoxy. It is my opinion that if Orthodoxy is life and truth in Christ then all life and truth in Christ is Orthodox wherever it is found, and that therefore those faithful known to God outside of formal Orthodoxy are 'associated with' Orthodoxy in some way by their experience and participation in the life and truth as far as they experience and participate by grace.

I note that some EO will describe Francis of Assisi, for instance, as deluded and even demon possessed. But I am not so sure. How does a person who lives in Italy at that time become formally Orthodox? How does a person who lives in Italy at that time respond to the call of grace? Surely there can be only a partial and provisional response apart from the communion of the Church, but must we say that there can be no response, or that any response must be deluded? There are so many spiritual people who are trying to live the fulness of the Orthodox Christian life with only a few of the resources we have available to us.

I think of the Beguines - a lay movement of mostly women especially in the Low Countries - who gathered together in a variety of community structures, from small household communities to enclosed villages, and who lived a life of daily prayer, service and employment. Many tens of thousands of women came to experience this spiritual way of life for at least part of their lives. I hesitate to describe them as schismatic or heterodox - even though there were aspects of the spiritual life which were heterodox because of the context in which they found themselves.

Or the Auca Martryrs. These were a group of young evangelical men, whose story I grew up with since they had been martyred in 1956 when my Dad was a young man. They had committed themselves, with their wives and young families, to spread the message of Jesus Christ among the most feared of tribes in the Ecuadorean jungle. After many months of contact the missionaries landed their small airplane on a river beach, but the next day they were found dead. I have always found their story, written by one of their wives - Through Gates of Splendour - to be deeply moving and even writing these words I am moved almost to tears at the recollection of their deaths. They knew the dangers they were facing but wished to give their lives if necessary to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who did not know him.

One of them wrote some words I have always remembered.

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose".


I remember that when I was an evangelical I heard Elisabeth Elliot, one of the wives, speak at a conference. I was nowhere near becoming Orthodox at that time, but I had a tremendous sense of the spiritual presence of these martyred men in the conference room. Perhaps I was deluded or had convinced myself it was so, and such feelings are not a basis for dogma, but I hesitate to say that those who loved Christ so manifestly, even to death, have split their blood pointlessly and are outside of God's grace and mercy. Seeing that they lived their lives far more courageously than I do, yet without the benefit of all the blessings that are showered on me, I wonder if they are not far more worthy than I of being received by our Lord.

I am quite sure that they knew nothing of formal Orthodoxy. And this was not their fault as far as I can see. Orthodoxy has been very slow to engage in mission in the West and presents itself rather as a collection of inward looking, controversy ridden, ethnic enclaves. (This is how it often appears). Did they respond to the call of Christ as they heard it? Or are they guilty of rejecting a call that was never made through our own weakness and sin? Where were the Orthodox missionaries to the Auca Indians? If there were none, and have never been any, then should we wonder that God raises us servants for himself wherever the call is heard and responded to in obedience?

All of these thoughts go round in my mind and never settle into a firm dogmatic position, nor am I sure there is one. The best I can come up with is that the Church, the life of the Spirit in the world, is wider than the bounds of our formal Orthodox communion and we should recognise the work of the Spirit where we find it, because all such workings belong to the Church. This does not mean that we cannot be critical and reject non-Orthodox systems of theology, or non-Orthodox practices, nor that we should consider all Christian communities equivalent, nor cease to confess that we believe that our own communion is truly the Church of Christ. But I do think that we should be able to recognise the work of the Spirit in bringing souls closer to God in many situations which are not formally Orthodox - and that we should rather judge ourselves as having failed to bring knwoledge of formal Orthodoxy to those places, than judge those who seek to know and serve God as far as their circumstances allow.

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Offline Salpy

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Re: The sanctity of those outside the Orthodox Communion
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2009, 11:12:35 AM »
This topic was split off from the following thread:

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,22674.new.html#top

Offline Gebre Menfes Kidus

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Re: The sanctity of those outside the Orthodox Communion
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2009, 05:12:22 AM »
This is rather a diversion from the main topic so could be separated.

I have often wondered about those godly people who seek to serve God outside of formal Orthodoxy. It is my opinion that if Orthodoxy is life and truth in Christ then all life and truth in Christ is Orthodox wherever it is found, and that therefore those faithful known to God outside of formal Orthodoxy are 'associated with' Orthodoxy in some way by their experience and participation in the life and truth as far as they experience and participate by grace.

I note that some EO will describe Francis of Assisi, for instance, as deluded and even demon possessed. But I am not so sure. How does a person who lives in Italy at that time become formally Orthodox? How does a person who lives in Italy at that time respond to the call of grace? Surely there can be only a partial and provisional response apart from the communion of the Church, but must we say that there can be no response, or that any response must be deluded? There are so many spiritual people who are trying to live the fulness of the Orthodox Christian life with only a few of the resources we have available to us.

I think of the Beguines - a lay movement of mostly women especially in the Low Countries - who gathered together in a variety of community structures, from small household communities to enclosed villages, and who lived a life of daily prayer, service and employment. Many tens of thousands of women came to experience this spiritual way of life for at least part of their lives. I hesitate to describe them as schismatic or heterodox - even though there were aspects of the spiritual life which were heterodox because of the context in which they found themselves.

Or the Auca Martryrs. These were a group of young evangelical men, whose story I grew up with since they had been martyred in 1956 when my Dad was a young man. They had committed themselves, with their wives and young families, to spread the message of Jesus Christ among the most feared of tribes in the Ecuadorean jungle. After many months of contact the missionaries landed their small airplane on a river beach, but the next day they were found dead. I have always found their story, written by one of their wives - Through Gates of Splendour - to be deeply moving and even writing these words I am moved almost to tears at the recollection of their deaths. They knew the dangers they were facing but wished to give their lives if necessary to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who did not know him.

One of them wrote some words I have always remembered.

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose".


I remember that when I was an evangelical I heard Elisabeth Elliot, one of the wives, speak at a conference. I was nowhere near becoming Orthodox at that time, but I had a tremendous sense of the spiritual presence of these martyred men in the conference room. Perhaps I was deluded or had convinced myself it was so, and such feelings are not a basis for dogma, but I hesitate to say that those who loved Christ so manifestly, even to death, have split their blood pointlessly and are outside of God's grace and mercy. Seeing that they lived their lives far more courageously than I do, yet without the benefit of all the blessings that are showered on me, I wonder if they are not far more worthy than I of being received by our Lord.

I am quite sure that they knew nothing of formal Orthodoxy. And this was not their fault as far as I can see. Orthodoxy has been very slow to engage in mission in the West and presents itself rather as a collection of inward looking, controversy ridden, ethnic enclaves. (This is how it often appears). Did they respond to the call of Christ as they heard it? Or are they guilty of rejecting a call that was never made through our own weakness and sin? Where were the Orthodox missionaries to the Auca Indians? If there were none, and have never been any, then should we wonder that God raises us servants for himself wherever the call is heard and responded to in obedience?

All of these thoughts go round in my mind and never settle into a firm dogmatic position, nor am I sure there is one. The best I can come up with is that the Church, the life of the Spirit in the world, is wider than the bounds of our formal Orthodox communion and we should recognise the work of the Spirit where we find it, because all such workings belong to the Church. This does not mean that we cannot be critical and reject non-Orthodox systems of theology, or non-Orthodox practices, nor that we should consider all Christian communities equivalent, nor cease to confess that we believe that our own communion is truly the Church of Christ. But I do think that we should be able to recognise the work of the Spirit in bringing souls closer to God in many situations which are not formally Orthodox - and that we should rather judge ourselves as having failed to bring knwoledge of formal Orthodoxy to those places, than judge those who seek to know and serve God as far as their circumstances allow.

Father Peter

I think very much along these same lines Father. Someone (maybe Augustine?) said that "All truth is God's truth." So those who are living truthful and righteous lives are not doing so by the power of the devil are they? They must be following Christ in some way, even though it may be unOrthodox.

I cannot see Gandhi burning in hell, and yet he clearly declared that he didn't think one man could atone for the sins of another. Perhaps if he had encountered true Orthodox Christians instead of Protestant apologists he would have embraced the Christian Faith. And yet he respected and admired the sincerity and goodness of some of the Protestants he met.

The Cross is bigger than we realize. The grace and mercy of God are greater than we realize. So I guess we must simply strive to be faithful Christians, and endeavor to articulate our glorious Orthodox Faith with humble words and virtuous lives.

Selam

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Offline AlexanderOfBergamo

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Re: The sanctity of those outside the Orthodox Communion
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2009, 09:25:31 AM »
Dear Father,
I subscribe entirely your conclusions and those of Gebre Menfes Kidus on this. While the Orthodox Church gives "certainty" of Grace (not salvation, of course), there is the possibility of saints being raised by God outside of Orthodoxy, of course with the purpose of approaching their own correligionaries to Orthodoxy. About Francis of Assisi, I might say that since some benedictines who converted to Orthodoxy were allowed to preserve their worship for this "fool of Christ", then there his a large chance that he was a true saint of God, no matter what extremists say. Also, we have a precedent in st. Isaac the Syrian, worshipped in the Orthodox Church but having been a saint in the Nestorian Church long after the Schism of Chalcedon. Both Francis of Assisi and Isaac the Syrian are real signs of how a Christian can be raised by God's will alone to become a lighthouse of His grace, which is an entirely different thing then advocating the permanence of grace in the sacraments of unOrthodox communions (of course, the situation of Oriental Orthodox is different since they're not truly heretics, just schismatic, in my opinion).

In Christ,   Alex
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Offline AlexanderOfBergamo

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Re: The sanctity of those outside the Orthodox Communion
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2009, 10:18:59 AM »
Errata corrige... by worship and to worship OF COURSE I meant veneration and to venerate. Sorry for my linguistical errors...

in Christ,   Alex
"Also in the Catholic Church itself we take great care that we hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and properly Catholic" (St. Vincent of Lérins, "The Commonitory")