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Author Topic: Required beliefs for a prospective convert  (Read 1706 times) Average Rating: 0
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The Iambic Pen
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« on: December 24, 2009, 02:42:48 AM »

I've been listening to a series of talks on Ancient Faith Radio by Fr. Andrew Damick on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.  It's been an interesting series so far, and I have learned a great deal about Orthodox theology and how it differs from other forms of Christianity.  In some of his talks, he talked about the difference between Western and Eastern view, specifically the difference between Orthodox and Catholic views.

He reached a point where he said there were a few issues where a westerner converting to Orthodoxy would have to change their views.  I don't remember all that he said, but one thing that stuck out is that he said a convert would have to reject the concept of a "simple God" and accept the "essences and energies" distinctions.

This puzzled me, as I have thought of Orthodoxy as the "Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils," but it was my understanding that all this talk about "essence" and "energies" was from the theories of St. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century.

Is this rejection of a "simple God" a required belief for Orthodox Christians?  How about the belief in "essences and energies?"  I mean no disrespect to people who fiercely defend these beliefs, but to me it seems like a great deal of speculation run wild about something we cannot hope to understand.  It seems to me that the exact nature of God and how He interacts with His creation are mysteries, and that any attempt to define them is foolhardy at best.

One problem I have with Catholicism is the idea that Christians today somehow know “more” than the apostles did.  I don’t much like the concept of development of doctrine, particularly since a faithful Catholic from AD 1000 would be a heretic today, if he or she did not change his or her views right away.  When I see this development in Orthodoxy, and without even an ecumenical council to back it up, it confuses me.

If I wish to become Orthodox, will I have to first assent to the theories of St. Gregory Palamas?  Are there any other doctrines not found in Scripture or an ecumenical council that I will have to accept?

Please feel free to move this topic, if another forum is more suitable.  I am very perplexed by this issue, and wading through pages of discussion on the subject doesn’t seem to have helped.  Thank you for any help you can provide.
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« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2009, 02:57:55 AM »

Many Orthodox consider said council to be Ecumenical.  The whole 'Seven Holy Councils' thing is really just one view among many.  Some say there are eight or nine.

As far as I know, the essence and energies distinction is dogmatically binding.  That being said, 98% of Orthodox Christians have never heard about any of it.  So if it's hard for you to understand or accept, don't let that be a stumbling block for you.  A lot of my extended family was recently received into the Orthodox Church, and I can guarantee you that they have never heard of St. Gregory nor read any of his writings.

I asked for a book of some of his writings for Christmas this year, but as of yet I still really don't understand what this is all about as opposed to the Western view.  Don't feel like you have to figure everything out to be Orthodox.
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« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2009, 02:59:40 AM »

Simply put, the essence of God is "what He is", the energies of God are "what He does". Does this help?
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« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2009, 03:05:54 AM »

St Gregory did not teach a theory or speculate. He spoke from his direct experience of deification, and only to clarify essential truths that were being denied by Barlaam and Akyndinos. This book (not all online; it's worth buying) goes in to this:
http://www.vic.com/~tscon/pelagia/htm/b12.en.the_mind_of_the_orthodox_church.00.htm

The book is not perfect (it has some overstatements and oversimplifications of non-Orthodox beliefs) but it is a useful corrective to the mindset of Western Christianity and should provide you with a way to start approaching things like an Orthodox, even if it is incorrect in some of its details.
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« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2009, 03:11:11 AM »

I would agree with what Alveus, LBK, and Fr. Anastasios said. As for my own 2 cents... I was under the impression that the Orthodox also believed in the divine simplicity. For example, I think the Orthodox still accept what St. John of Damascus says:

"We, therefore, both know and confess that God is without beginning, without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, unchangeable, invariable, simple, uncompound..." - Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 1, 2

Regarding development of doctrine within Orthodoxy, here are two quotes from the Church Fathers which perhaps begin to articulate the Orthodox position:

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But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ's Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged n itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant's limbs are small, a young man's large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church's field. It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of grain, should reap the counterfeit error of tares. This rather should be the result—there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last. From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind— wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensue in the character of the plant. There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles. God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam, darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God's Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection. For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties.

For if once this license of impious fraud be admitted, I dread to say in how great danger religion will be of being utterly destroyed and annihilated. For if any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole? On the other hand, if what is new begins to be mingled with what is old, foreign with domestic, profane with sacred, the custom will of necessity creep on universally, till at last the Church will have nothing left untampered with, nothing unadulterated, nothing sound, nothing pure; but where formerly there was a sanctuary of chaste and undefiled truth, thenceforward there will be a brothel of impious and base errors. May God's mercy avert this wickedness from the minds of his servants; be it rather the frenzy of the ungodly.

But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another's, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view—if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined, to keep and guard it. Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,— this, and nothing else—she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name. - St. Vincent of Lerins, The Commonitory, 23

Quote
To this I may compare the case of Theology except that it proceeds the reverse way. For in the case by which I have illustrated it the change is made by successive subtractions; whereas here perfection is reached by additions. For the matter stands thus. The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun's light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory, the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated.

For this reason it was, I think, that He gradually came to dwell in the Disciples, measuring Himself out to them according to their capacity to receive Him, at the beginning of the Gospel, after the Passion, after the Ascension, making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them, and appearing in fiery tongues. And indeed it is little by little that He is declared by Jesus, as you will learn for yourself if you will read more carefully. I will ask the Father, He says, and He will send you another Comforter, even the spirit of Truth. This He said that He might not seem to be a rival God, or to make His discourses to them by another authority. Again, He shall send Him, but it is in My Name. He leaves out the I will ask, but He keeps the Shall send, then again, I will send,—His own dignity. Then shall come, the authority of the Spirit. - St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 31, 26
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« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2009, 08:52:19 AM »

I think it is a natural conclusion that must be drawn when approaching such verses that refer to becoming "partakers of the Divine nature". How are we to explain to people that this verse doesn't mean that we actually become God? (i.e. pantheism?) We have to make a distinction here, and I think the essence and energies does just this, although admittedly the terminology is a bit abstract. I think this distinction was always made within the Church, but in the face of heresy it was necessary to be proclaimed and clarified.
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ialmisry
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« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2009, 11:24:47 AM »

I think it is a natural conclusion that must be drawn when approaching such verses that refer to becoming "partakers of the Divine nature". How are we to explain to people that this verse doesn't mean that we actually become God? (i.e. pantheism?) We have to make a distinction here, and I think the essence and energies does just this, although admittedly the terminology is a bit abstract. I think this distinction was always made within the Church, but in the face of heresy it was necessary to be proclaimed and clarified.
Yes, the Vatican latches onto St. Gregory Palamas only to say "see, you have development of dogma too!"  The ideas of St. Gregory were not his own, they are found (and quoted by him) in the Cappodicians, the school of Alexandria, [Pseudo-] Dionysios etc.  The reason why they are associated with St. Gregory is because only with the rise of his opponents that they were denied, and he answered on behalf of the Church.  Besides ignornance, another reason why 99% Orthodox don't know of the distinction (to accept Alveus' assertion for sake of argument) is because it is given, and woven in the seamless garment of Orthodox Dogma. 

The divine simplicity that is rejected, btw, is the idea that reduces the Persons of the Trinity merely to relationships.
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« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2009, 11:39:45 AM »

The ideas of St. Gregory were not his own, they are found (and quoted by him) in the Cappodicians, the school of Alexandria, [Pseudo-] Dionysios etc.  The reason why they are associated with St. Gregory is because only with the rise of his opponents that they were denied, and he answered on behalf of the Church. 

Indeed, just as the definitions of St. Cyril or the Faith of St. Athanasios were already present since the Apostles and early Fathers (whom they quoted in their writings), but are attributed to them because of their work in compiling and clarifying what had already been written and believed.
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« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2009, 12:13:53 PM »

The first seven councils certainly have a primacy, as we see in the Encyclical of 1848, where the first seven are called the "seven pillars of wisdom" and yet the 8th is also referenced.   As for the Palamite Councils, they were held to defend the teachings already pronounced by the 6th Ecumenical Council on Essence and Energy.   Scripture speaks of God as simple in His inner essence and yet also speaks of Him as diverse (diverse modes of operation, or Energy).  St. John of Damascus goes into great deal as to God's Essence and Energy.   Again, the distinction is that of the Holy Trinity as they share their common Essence on the one hand, and God interacting in various ways with His creation (a creation that does not share His essence, yet is able to interect with the divine energy). 

--He is beyond all things with regard to His essence, but He is in all things through his acts of power.  (St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, 4th c.)

--No one has at any time seen the essence of God, but we believe in the essence because we experience the energy.  (St. Basil, 4th c.).   

As St. John of Damascus says, there can be no energy without an essence.   

Vladimir Lossky puts it this way: “Grace ...signifies all the abundance of the divine nature, in so far as it is communicated to men; the deity which operates outside the essence.” (Myst. Theol. 162).

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« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2009, 01:31:40 PM »

I've been listening to a series of talks on Ancient Faith Radio by Fr. Andrew Damick on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.  It's been an interesting series so far, and I have learned a great deal about Orthodox theology and how it differs from other forms of Christianity.  In some of his talks, he talked about the difference between Western and Eastern view, specifically the difference between Orthodox and Catholic views.

He reached a point where he said there were a few issues where a westerner converting to Orthodoxy would have to change their views.  I don't remember all that he said, but one thing that stuck out is that he said a convert would have to reject the concept of a "simple God" and accept the "essences and energies" distinctions.

This puzzled me, as I have thought of Orthodoxy as the "Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils," but it was my understanding that all this talk about "essence" and "energies" was from the theories of St. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century.

Is this rejection of a "simple God" a required belief for Orthodox Christians?  How about the belief in "essences and energies?"  I mean no disrespect to people who fiercely defend these beliefs, but to me it seems like a great deal of speculation run wild about something we cannot hope to understand.  It seems to me that the exact nature of God and how He interacts with His creation are mysteries, and that any attempt to define them is foolhardy at best.

One problem I have with Catholicism is the idea that Christians today somehow know “more” than the apostles did.  I don’t much like the concept of development of doctrine, particularly since a faithful Catholic from AD 1000 would be a heretic today, if he or she did not change his or her views right away.  When I see this development in Orthodoxy, and without even an ecumenical council to back it up, it confuses me.

If I wish to become Orthodox, will I have to first assent to the theories of St. Gregory Palamas?  Are there any other doctrines not found in Scripture or an ecumenical council that I will have to accept?

Please feel free to move this topic, if another forum is more suitable.  I am very perplexed by this issue, and wading through pages of discussion on the subject doesn’t seem to have helped.  Thank you for any help you can provide.


I would  also recommend to you listening to www.ourlifeinchrist.com

It is another on-line Orthodox radio site with a long list of hour long talks on all of the topics of interest to converts.
It is run by two laymen who are Evengelical Converts. They present the topics in a very easy going conversational manner. 
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« Reply #10 on: December 24, 2009, 01:51:54 PM »

Much of what you are concerned can be easily understood when undergoing catechesis & one need not have to become a theologian. One can develop an appreciation of faith and trust and grow spiritually afterward. I know my main questions were when pondering what church had the truth was how does one properly worship and live a Christian life? My first liturgical experience (cold) anwered that and when I was told of a life involving prayer, alms giving, & fasting (Matthew 6:1-18) with confession and the Eucharist the essentials alongside the Lord's commands make the basic understanding easy (in concept) but spiritually a lifelong delicate growth process; why search elsewhere where explanations are uncertain? If you find a nice parish you will strike gold although the church suffers from varying human problems like all institutions so do not be disillusioned from the Orthodox faith. Much of what you need to learn will be implicit within catechesis. Also if you want to read some great homilies of St. Gregory Palamas there is a collection in a book called "The Saving Work of Christ" edited by Christopher Veniamin (Mt. Tabor publ. isbn # 978-0-9774983-5-2) in which the great saint speaks in a more down to earth manner than what one may find in his writings within the Philokalia for instance. (posting at work added to over 3 hr period perhaps out of step in thread at post).
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« Reply #11 on: December 24, 2009, 07:02:10 PM »

Thank you all for your posts.  Perhaps it is silly to make so much of this.  This just seems to be one of the few, perhaps the only, areas where it appears that the Orthodox Church has defined something more precisely than has the Catholic Church.  As defining the exact nature of God and how He interacts with His creation seems impossible for us, why cannot we simply say God's essence and His energies are mysteries and our views about them should not be a source of conflict?  I see a great deal of what appears to be "disputing about mere words" going on in Internet threads on this topic, and I fear that this is more the behavior of the pharisees than the behavior of Christ.  It is like having bitter arguments about beards or pews or bearded pews.  Nothing is gained by such arguments, and it only leads to discord among brothers and sisters.

I think it is a natural conclusion that must be drawn when approaching such verses that refer to becoming "partakers of the Divine nature". How are we to explain to people that this verse doesn't mean that we actually become God? (i.e. pantheism?) We have to make a distinction here, and I think the essence and energies does just this, although admittedly the terminology is a bit abstract. I think this distinction was always made within the Church, but in the face of heresy it was necessary to be proclaimed and clarified.
And yet, this idea that something was always believed, but only defined when challenged, is something said by the Catholic Church in defense of its own late doctrines.  I admit to being wary of such an argument, though it could admittedly be valid at certain times and for certain doctrines.
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« Reply #12 on: December 24, 2009, 11:32:20 PM »

Thank you all for your posts.  Perhaps it is silly to make so much of this.  This just seems to be one of the few, perhaps the only, areas where it appears that the Orthodox Church has defined something more precisely than has the Catholic Church.  As defining the exact nature of God and how He interacts with His creation seems impossible for us, why cannot we simply say God's essence and His energies are mysteries and our views about them should not be a source of conflict?  I see a great deal of what appears to be "disputing about mere words" going on in Internet threads on this topic, and I fear that this is more the behavior of the pharisees than the behavior of Christ.  It is like having bitter arguments about beards or pews or bearded pews.  Nothing is gained by such arguments, and it only leads to discord among brothers and sisters.

Actually, it only became an issue when the Western scholastics accused us of polytheism.  It was, and is, just assumed by the Orthodox.  I was taken by Lossky's defense, that God by nature cannot be contained by His Essence.

I think it is a natural conclusion that must be drawn when approaching such verses that refer to becoming "partakers of the Divine nature". How are we to explain to people that this verse doesn't mean that we actually become God? (i.e. pantheism?) We have to make a distinction here, and I think the essence and energies does just this, although admittedly the terminology is a bit abstract. I think this distinction was always made within the Church, but in the face of heresy it was necessary to be proclaimed and clarified.
And yet, this idea that something was always believed, but only defined when challenged, is something said by the Catholic Church in defense of its own late doctrines. [/quote]

Actually, no, the argument is that dogma has actually grown.  A prime example would be the distinction between the issue on the ultimate fate of the Theotokos.  It wasn't challenged when proclaimed a dogma by the Vatican, but it was claimed it was always believed, although it, as the Orthodox point out, wasn't part of the Church's proclamation for the first 4 centuries, so much that the Emperor at Chalcedon asked for the relics of the Theotokos from Jerusalem.

Quote
I admit to being wary of such an argument, though it could admittedly be valid at certain times and for certain doctrines.
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